The World As Mare Sees It...
London Exploits 2002-11-08










Operation MiniSkirt Status: -30.4 lbs.

Days to England: 5

Mood: I'm a little edgy. And I'm sporting a mild headache. Take it from there.

Less than a week to go before I get on a plane for London, where it's apparently not that cold right now, but pissing down rain like nobody's business. As it always does.

I remember April of '98. That was the month I arrived, and I swear, it rained for about 3 weeks straight. God, so depressing and grey, and everything permanently damp. I felt like Poe; my insides a mirror of what the world looked like from my window.

Of course, that's before I fully learned to appreciate the absolute beauty of the genuine English pub. You really can't walk more than a block in London without passing the front door of a public house, and my theory for this proliferation of ale-serving establishments is based solely on London's notorious precipitation levels.

There is rain, therefore there are pubs.

See, my theory goes like this... and don't attack me too viciously on this one as the theory has holes and you may fall in.

Anyway, once upon a time, when people decided that rain was a rather uncomfortable thing to walk in, they ducked under a doorway or some such thing to wait it out for a bit. Well, eventually, someone else ducked under a doorway, and the two got to talking. They got friendly, and perhaps one of the lads pulled a flask from the inside of his coat and offered the other a wee dram. This situation is common enough, I think, that it could very well have been happening in the next doorway and the next and the next after that. Eventually, under another fall of rain and under another random doorway, one of these shrewd beings decided that he wouldn't just offer a wee dram to the next sorry individual to share his temporary shelter, but trade it for a shilling, or a goat or whatever else the wet one had to offer. Well, this practice got pretty popular, and one day, another wet but shrewd being decided to pull the nearest discarded crate or milk can under the awning, thereby allowing the next 'customer' to sit down.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Eventually doorways were abandoned for random empty rooms and then the random empty rooms became permanent sources of a warming tot in the cold, cold rain.

Oh, I know. But it coulda happened, right?

London pubs. They're not just your neighbourhood warming spots anymore. There was this one time... a rather international bunch of us decided to go visit a friend who a was a bartender at a Goth pub. Good Lord... they almost didn't let poor Mare-Ingenii in, as I looked a little too, well, clean! I had the temerity to wear colour, of all things! Anyway, from the 16 members of our group, Canadians, Americans, Aussies and I think there was a German there too... anyway, from the original 16, it eventually dwindled down to 4. Dave and Eric, Jeannette and I. God knows, Jeannette and I didn't want to be there, but we weren't going to be the ones to suggest decamping. We just kept smiling and continued to avoid staring at the absolute weirdos all around us.

People... please, I'm not a prude, nor am I prissy, ultra conservative or mentally constipated. But c'mon! That much leather just can't be comfortable in a hot and crowded bar in the middle of summer! And don't their faces hurt with all that metal in them? And look, lady... I'm sorry, but you just look stupid with that big ol' cow bell hangin' from your nose.

Anyhoo... so there we are, and it's Jeanette's and my turn to buy the round. So off we go, out of our depths, but bravely pushing through the dark and I-swear-to-God-that-guy-was-eyeing-my-neck-like-it-was-lunch! somewhat disturbing crowd at the bar. We return to the boys... and find the bastards gone! We crane our necks, we walk around, and we search valiantly, until Jeanette turns to me and says rather ruefully in her Australian accent, "It seems, Mare, that we've been royally ditched."

"Bastards," I muttered.

"Well, we could stay and make friends," she said, eyeing the pasty white girl with fangs standing next to her.

"Bastards," I said again, downing first my gin and tonic, and then the rye and water meant for Dave.

"Or we could leave and go somewhere wicked brilliant."

"You know, if I was a guy, and I had no class, I'd go to a peeler right now!"

Jeanette perked up. "Ooh, really? Where can we find one with blokes, then?"

I turned to her with new interest at that point. Jeanette and I had never been more than merely polite with each other. I had always been mildly distrustful of the way she always looked sexy in that rumpled, unkempt kind of way, but still managed to make it to church every Saturday evening before she went out.

"Well, we're not far from Soho," I said, figuring that if there was a place where men took off their clothes and gyrated for the pound notes clasped in the hands of screaming women, then Soho, the sexual capital of London, was going to be the place to look.

"Right, then. Off we go," Jeanette said. And so our search began.

Through both alleyways and brightly-lit streets we travelled, searching for our destination. Girls Girls Girls we saw, over and over. Sexy Ladies for Your Pleasure, L5.99 buffet dinner!

Strip clubs for men, men and more men, but nothing to whet the appetites of women. Every so often, our hearts leapt at the sight of a poster, picturing a man in a thong and a construction hat, but we quickly walked by when we realised that the patrons walking in were insanely pretty boys with well-cut hair and fabulous shoes. So, strip clubs for men of both persuasions, but nothing for a girl who wanted to slum a little. We were starting to get desperate. And embarrassed.

"Well, we could ask directions," she suggested tentatively. We happened to be standing in front of a sex store at the time, the kind that sold jungle print lingerie and adult thigh-sized vibrators for your pleasure.

Giggling and shamefaced, I agreed, but only on the condition that she do the asking.

There were two clerks in the store, and we opted to approach the more normal of the two, a pretty girl wearing a leather cobweb of a dress. However, she was intercepted by a lovely, suburban couple asking about the merits of one set of handcuffs versus another, so to the other clerk we were forced.

I stepped back and allowed Jeanette to approach the large, bald man with a tattoo of someone who could have been either Darth Vader or his mother on his shiny pate. He was wearing chaps. And little else.

I pretended to study the penis pasta while he made the appropriate arm waving directions as he spoke. (It really is an international thing. One can not give directions with one's hands in one's pockets!)

"Well?" I asked, as we fairly ran out of the store, chortling and red-faced. (That's right. Despite birth certificates to state otherwise, we had both regressed to 12 years old by that point.)

She explained as we walked. "He wasn't much help actually. He thought that there was one on the next corner, but it might be for poufs too. He wasn't sure, but it's well worth a look, isn't it?"

And so the search went on. Lovely Ladies, the neon screamed at us more often than not. Another half an hour and desperation set in again. At this point, it was like a vendetta for both of us.

We paused in front of a triple-X video store, and I laid out my plan.

"We're gonna go in there," I explained. "We're going to pretend we speak no English, and we're going to get full directions to the nearest strip club. And we're not leaving until it happens, ok?" The fact that Jeanette is Australian and I'm Canadian and we were in England was apparently not enough 'foreign-ness" to cover our shame at that point.

"Right, but what are we, then?" she asked, reasonably enough.

"Ok, my Italian isn't strong enough to really fake it, but I can speak my grandmother's English, and throw in an Italian word here and there for flavour. My accent is passable enough, and this way, I get points for trying to speak the language. OK? Plus, we'll look sophisticated and European, because we want to see men strip, and we're not embarrassed about it!"

"But we are embarrassed about it!" Jeanette still had a grasp on reality. I had long before given up on any pretence of it.

"Yes, but being Italian will hide that!"

(I don't know... I was also fuelled by a few drinks, so I'm figuring that's why my faulty logic made sense...)

So in we went. And we were in luck, too! Not a customer in the store; the good looking dark-haired guy behind the counter looked up and smiled in a friendly manner and I approached.

"Eh... mmm.. we... looka forrr..." and here I thought I'd throw in the Italian word for man... "... eh... cloob forr uomo-"

"Ah, si, uomo! Dove vuoi andare?"

Behind me, Jeanette clamped a hand over her mouth and ran out the door, lest her giggles were heard. At the same time, my eyes widened as I discovered that I had chosen to approach with my act what was probably the only Italian working in porn, in London, that evening.

I muttered something about wanting to perfect my English, knowing full well I couldn't fake this guy out with my pitiful Italian grammar; got the same response we’d been getting all night, and got out of that store as fast as I could. Outside, I found Jeanette hunched over in a fit of unstoppable laughter.

After the giggles subsided, we continued on, a little deflated this time and on the verge of giving up our quest once and for all. We passed another club for straight men, but sitting in the doorman’s position was a lovely matronly lady, wearing a pink sweatshirt that said Have a Nice Day in silver iron-on lettering. Jeanette and I looked at each other, and without a word approached the woman, sans accent, sans guile.

"Can you tell us where we might find a strip club for female patrons?" one of us asked.

"Oh, doilin', they don' essist. I's no' legal."

"What?" we chorused in unison, scandalised at the unfairness of it.

She dragged on her cigarette before continuing. "No, 'ave ya no seen yer film Full Monty? 's'like that, y'see. Troupes that come 'round for the ladies, like 'ot Boys and Chippendales and the like. But no, no established clubs for us girls. 'ats the way t'is."

After thanking her, we wandered off, in no specific direction, dejected, bored, and nursing our aching feminist bones.

"What utter crap," my Australian friend said, most succinctly.

I exploded. "How can it not be legal? Girls can strip for boys, boys can strip for boys, even! But boys can't strip for girls in one permanent spot? How stupidly unfair!”

I glanced at my watch, noted the time of twenty-five to midnight.

Jeanette stopped, grasped her bearings and figured out where we were. "There's a 12 o'clock showing of Ever After at the cinema in Trafalgar Square. If we hurry, we can make it."

And so we ran, and made it just in time and thoroughly enjoyed and gushed over the utter chick flick that is that film. Plus, I made a new friend. Not bad for a Saturday night in London.

Have a lovely weekend, all.

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iimage: Jack Vettriano