It’s 6pm on a Friday.
The free-form, suck it-n-see travel plan backfired spectacularly.
No-one is free to put you up and everyone has plans.
Heading to the tube you huddle by the entrance and get online.
Anyone who claims social networking is unnecessary has never been stranded at the arse end of London facing a night on a bench.
After two hours of texts, calls and public message boards, each response looking more dodgy than the last, there is a place.
The profile reads “I’m a prostitute”, the picture is obviously a male-as-female transvestite but right now I couldn’t care less if they have two heads and I tell them so.
Within seconds, the baseless waiting becomes a flurry of activity, working out tube lines and memorizing postcodes as I head to an area which sounds too fancy for couch-surfing.
End of a line inwards.
Nowhere to somewhere.
People and tourists and hen nights in pristine makeup
and me in my grubby, sweaty, l’eau de summer tube scented attire.
Getting to St Paul’s and doing a fast slalom of the business suits drinking outside wine bars, manoeuvring my tatty suitcase around their Manolos.
She buzzes me in and I find the right door She’s as little as I am in a basic black dress and a terrible, Halloween quality wig but a friendly smile and the offer of wine.
“I prefer to be called Tracey”
A sidelong glance to tell me it’s a test of my open-mindedness, one which I pass with a shrug and a smile.
Foregoing the drink in favour of a shower I regain some humanity and join m’lady of St Pauls on her sofa. This time accepting the wine, we chat and she tells me her stories.
Irish born and married for a decade before divorce freed him, he now has a string of beautiful girlfriends,(little, dusky, mostly in finance) and a double life.
The CEO of a high-turnover, well known financial company who know nothing of his exploits, he regularly solicits strange men in hotel rooms for the nightly equivalent of my monthly rent, and tells me the thrill is the freedom to be a slut in ways a man cannot.
I don’t press for details but he provides a few anyway:
Military men home from Afghanistan in need of a warm body.
They like her, so he tells me, because he/she’s tiny.
Three hours of conversation and I’m still not sure how he justifies his behaviour as “freedom to be slutty in a way men can’t”. Does he somehow see women who behave that way as free? Is he so blind to other people that he somehow thinks it liberating to ritually allow oneself to be used by a series of strangers? Or is he telling himself the biggest lie of all and refusing to admit that he likes being used? Justifying it by making himself into a girl, designed to passively receive whatever the men he encounters choose to give out. Perhaps punishing himself for failing at marriage?
Questions I keep to myself as it’s hardly the way to begin a friendship and I have no desire to be thrown back on the streets tonight.
“So, does Tracey ever go to work?…”
The one question I allow myself elicits an unprecedented response.
“How do you mean?”
“Do you ever go to the office as Tracey?
Then shock as he has clearly never contemplated crossing his lives in such a way.
“God no! Nobody I work with knows about this.”
Suddenly “I’m a transvestite prostitute” becomes the tip of a horrifically fascinating iceberg, not nearly the whole story, which continues;
Beginning on Craigslist in kings X hotels as an “amateur” (taking no payment) she gradually progressed to fiscal remuneration as a way to up the ante. The thrill is everything and the money irrelevant. A fact borne out by the flat we’re in and the house he’s viewing with his fiancée tomorrow. All 3.9million pounds of it.
The wine flows , the chat continues and she tells me tales of corporate dickering. Ferrari races with the Arabs down Knightsbridge long after the shoppers and tourists have gone home. Rich, bored boys for whom everything is accessible so their thrills become more outre out of necessity.
“Sometimes” (she confesses, giggling like a teen sharing secrets) “I tweet pictures of myself outside a Greggs just to give my friends a laugh..is that really bad?”
I resist the obvious Bateman comparison and raise a wry eyebrow
“…you know it is”
Money from hard work produces a strange sort of yuppie. Endlessly amused by the surreality of the world they’ve ended up in.
Three bottles in and a trifle suddenly seems like a good idea so we finish one between us.
Blink and it’s 3am and the pillow is calling.
Goodnight. Spare room. Go to black.
Hangover and market breakfast.
A quiet tour of a gallery and a silent dark roomful of installation to remind us we got up way too early and the residual wine is still pulling most of the strings.
Breaking off as the last drops of conversation dry up in my brain we go our separate ways….
Early evening and he’s out for dinner (Tracey goes deep into the wardrobe whilst he wines n dines the girlfriend). I keep the couch company and resist sleep. A winey nightcap at eleven and his description of the meal “we’ve taken to calling it Mc’Dorchester coz we’re there so much.” reminds me how far down the rabbit hole I’m sitting.
Nervous morning coffee as he frets over introducing the fiancée (20 yrs younger, not English) to his elderly, Conservative Irish mother. After much reassurance I leave him with a promise to text a get-out clause in case it all goes a bit UKIP and head off in search of adventures of my own.
Frets turned out to be unnecessary as, I’m told, it all went well and the fiancee has been approved of wholeheartedly.
Last night I’m here deserves marking and he needs to decompress so there is a beer on the steps of the cathedral as the sun sets, followed by a Sainsbury’s run for kid food and more wine. (we’ve cleaned him out).
Prosecco and fig rolls with a Quality Street aperitif are our evening’s fare, accompanied by a slow, bleak film about the encroaching horrors of allowing middle age to sneak up unawares.
A film which his subconscious clearly had a hand in choosing as he relates to me a tale of doomed marriage to a woman for whom emotional attachment was optional. Which somehow lasted ten years and ended less than 18months ago.
His current relationship is no better but she pushes him closer to the direction he believes he should be going in so he’s sticking there. The bored rich boy, cynically earning cash he doesn’t need to break the monotony of a life without risk or hardship, has transformed into a lonely, middle aged stereotype, who followed the road to a specific lifestyle at the expense of his soul.
Looking around the flat, I see that personal accoutrements, photographs and music are all conspicuous in their absence. When I inquire, he tells me that he sometimes goes days listening to nothing, the house was a place to be post-divorce but it will never be home.
Whomever he may be may well be lost forever in pre decorated rooms and pristine furnishings.
As I leave, we hug and he asks if I’d like to stay longer. The offer is tempting but the sad eyed stare of a man who doesn’t want the silence returned to his house is too much to bear. I return him to his life and press the button for the lift.
Three floors down.
Go find a Tesco for breakfast.