Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

I shared a taxi from Cheltenham station to the house party in an outlying village with a stripper. Finding a taxi in Cheltenham during the Festival is as difficult as picking a winner in the Bumper, and we were amazed and pleased to have got one so easily. One wouldn't have guessed that the dark, petite young woman, thickly wrapped against the cold night air, was a stripper, but she was proud enough of her occupation to talk about it on the seven-furlong ride between the station and the 'gentleman's club' where we dropped her. She'd come all the way from Cardiff, she said, to dance in a cage from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m., and she very much hoped it was going to be worth the effort financially. The driver, hitherto a picture of exhaustion and apathy, sat rigidly to attention on hearing this, and he closely interrogated her via his rear-view mirror. How big was the cage? Was it suspended in the air? Would she be topless or completely naked? Could the punters reach between the bars and grab her? He seemed to know a lot about this sort of thing, confidently predicting that tonight's clientele would be too drunk to observe the usual niceties. She assured him that her apprenticeship in the nightclubs of Cardiff had prepared her for anything.

We dropped her outside an elegant door in a Georgian terrace. I offered to pay her negligible part of the fare but she absolutely refused. For the rest of our journey, the driver talked at length about the sex industry in Cheltenham, which is surprisingly tiny, owing to the opposition of the police. There are no brothels, for example. Every time a brothel opens, the police shut it down. It is so sad. In a wealthy town like Cheltenham, with so many drug barons and career criminals living there, and the Cheltenham Festival, and gigantic intelligence-gathering centre of GCHQ, you'd think, he said, that there would be plenty of brothels. 'And let's not forget the Cheltenham book festival, either,' I said.

'Many many times, my fare will say, "I want to get laid. Please take me somewhere now." And it is so embarrassing to have to tell them that there is not one single brothel in the whole of Cheltenham. Of course they simply don't believe me and laugh at me.' The only way he could account for the scandalous absence of brothels in Cheltenham was that politicians were worried that Russian spies posing as sex workers might inveigle state secrets from GCHQ workers nipping into town in their lunch breaks for a quick one. …

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