Thank God for the good works of the sisters of Soho
Prostitutes should be celebrated – not left to the tender mercies of policewomen like Anne Ramsay, says Howard Marks
Hoping to read some juicy accounts of police corruption or suggestions that drugs would be safer to society if legalised, I picked up Girl in Blue (Macmillan, £16.99), Anne Ramsay's account of her years on the force in Scotland. And, gosh, does she break new ground.
PC Anne Ramsay finds out during her first few shifts that most male cops are sexist, racist, and sectarian. They get plastered whenever possible and devote considerable time and energy to procuring the next shag. She eventually notices more sinister matters, such as shopkeepers parting with free goods in exchange for dubious favours and the prevalence of Masonic handshakes.
During training, she observes undercover police mingling at raves to determine who might be in possession of drugs. This is the job for her: it's more exciting and requires less standing around. She becomes particularly adept at spotting a drug dealer or user (spotty, skinny, and wearing a baseball cap) or a paedophile (bulbous nose, greasy hair, thick framed glasses, and sweaty vest).
Given that prostitutes are doling out care and spiritual correction, why do we shun them?
Policing Glasgow's red-light district, she concludes many women have complicated reasons for becoming prostitutes - they really need the money to pay the bills rather than feed their smack habits - and no matter how many hookers are busted, the profession will continue. Well, there's a surprise, and one that set me thinking.
A puritanical Welsh village upbringing ensured that dealings with prostitutes remained imprisoned in my mind. The loss of my virginity and other initial real sex encounters were enshrined in a miasma of embarrassment, incompetence, and guilt. The peak of my fertility had coincided with the trough of my sexual inadequacy.
But I was by now in London. The sound of Soho had always excited me, and I remember my heart thumping with anticipation as I first walked down Dean Street and turned into St Anne's Court. The name on the first doorbell was Lulu. Ten minutes later, I was three quid worse off but had been blessed with the experience of conscience-free, sweet and powerful sex. I wandered into a chapel-sized church and thanked God.
Later that night, skint, I strolled again past Lulu's flat. A sad-looking older guy walked in anxiously. A quarter of an hour later, he emerged full of the joys of life. Then Lulu walked out, stared straight into my eyes without the merest hint of recognition, and strode away. She had forgotten me before my pants were dry, but I did not feel hurt: she had made me a happier - indeed better - person.
So, given that prostitutes like Lulu are doling out care and spiritual correction, why has the community shunned and reviled them and revered them less than nuns? Why have they been punished by stoning, whipping, branding, imprisonment, and death? Or, as in the UK now, by fines, harassment, imprisonment and vilification?
There was a time when prostitutes were found in sacred rather than secular contexts, in places of worship rather than in the back streets of slums. Several ancient religions required certain of their priestesses to be prostitutes.
Pure sexual abandon, unadulterated by the distractions of business, parental responsibility, filial duty, and fidelity, takes place only with individuals other than spouses or friends and often involves a monetary transaction, be it today's £50 to the pimp or yesterday's donation at the shrine of Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of sexual love, who was depicted as young, beautiful, and impulsive - but never as a wife or mother. (We should of course note that in European societies, even the highest-ranking women were chattel-bound into marriages to fulfill political and financial relationships.)
I have no idea what went wrong, but surely the time has come for government to rectify this absurdity and not leave yet another lucrative earner in the hands of organised crime. Or in the punitive hands of PC Anne Ramsay and her erstwhile colleagues. ·
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