How I learnt to stop worrying and love venery

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The Independent Culture
Sometimes you get a second chance. Sometimes you get a mid-life crisis and make an arse of yourself. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

A few months ago, I reported to you upon a brush with a stripper at Peter Stringfellow's party. On came the birthday cake, out she popped all lovely- like, sat down beside me in her next-to-nothings, me in the fine solara- cloth lounge suiting and struck dumb as a saucepan. Yearning to talk to her but no words would come. Self-loathing. Lost opportunities. The dismal works. But last week, I solved the problem. The answer? Reincarnation. Next time around, I shall come back as a different fellow, abjuring Monteverdi and tensor calculus, devoting my energies instead to the cultivation of a washboard stomach, a deep suspicious tan and an easy manner with beautiful women.

At that point, God intervened and the telephone rang. It wasn't God, and nor would I have expected it to be. God would have used the Internet. But it was definitely His finger in the dial. "Hello," said my friend Marcelle; "They've got table-dancers at Stringfellow's now, and Peter said we must come and see them. Nine thirty, and if you know what's good for you, don't wear the three-piece solara-cloth lounge. Bye."

I was working that evening; reviewing an unsatisfactory play about scientists. Aching on the criminally hard seats of the Cottesloe, jammed between two fat bastards, I tried to concentrate on the meaningful issues being raised on stage, but instead could only think of my aching backside and the dreadful humiliations to come.

I strolled across Hungerford Bridge, gazing at London illuminated beneath a deep velvet sky and trying to persuade myself that I was thinking "Here I am, strolling across Hungerford Bridge, gazing at London illuminated beneath a deep velvet sky," but it was untrue; instead, I was thinking: "Women in G-Strings! Unfulfilled promise of untrammelled venery! Tongue cleft to roof of dry mouth! Inadequacy! Out of place! Poor self-image!" By the time I reached St Martin's-in-the-Fields, I was in an Olympian rage, and it was then that the epiphany struck. Standing on the church steps like a 17th-century malcontent, I thought: "Bugger it."

It's not a great epiphany, as epiphanies go. It's not "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin." It's not the sort of stuff they used to get on the Damascus road. But it did the trick. I arrived at Stringfellow's two minutes later, a changed man, and walked into a vision of heaven on earth. Girls on stages; girls at tables; girls dancing and posing, slipping out of their things, slipping back into their things again, a hallucinatory precognition of such pure Platonic beauty that even the sight of shiny-faced city executives stuffing pounds 10 notes into their garters could not pollute the beatific loveliness of it all.

Germaine Greer once said that women were suprised to find how much we hated them, but I think she's wrong. She made a category mistake. It's not hatred, but a sort of despair, on two counts: first, the existence of so much beauty, almost all of which will remain for ever out of our reach; and, second, the inarticulable, devastating broadside of emotion which comes over us at that beauty's contemplation. It cannot be dismissed as the protean urge to knock it to the ground and absolutely have it, there and then, without preamble; it's more like the inundation of the spirit which comes after prolonged contemplation of the sacred mysteries: a sense of numinous immanence, a desire to cast off one's clothes and one's corrupt and furrowed nature, and devote the rest of eternity to the pursuit of this holy vision, this worldes blis.

So I strode through the room, beaming like a boulevardier, and, yes, the girls were doing it for the money but so do doctors, so do priests, so do I, and it makes no difference. And there was Stringfellow, and Marcelle, and there was Gray Joliffe, the man who drew "Wicked Willy", and A.A., the man from the Sunday Times who thought he might have come to review the food, and A.A.'s lover Nicola, who is what Uma Thurman probably wishes she looked like, and that was all lovely, and girls came over and danced for us, and that was lovely too. And the man who drew "Wicked Willy" (the sweetest-natured man in England, who nevertheless labours under a tremendous inclination towards venery) had sort of glazed over, like one of those computers in the old science fiction stories when you give it a paradox and it blows a fuse, and could only say "Look! Look!" and then, later, "You can't touch them. It's not heaven on earth. It's hell on earth."

But it was still all lovely; though not as lovely as when Nicole, the most beautiful and serpentine of all the girls, came over to talk to Gray, and I remembered my epiphany, and thought "Bugger it," and finally came up with something to say. I said "Hello."

Reader, she sat on my knee. Until closing time. She sat on my knee, being lovely, and didn't go and dance for other Beastly Men although they were yearning to stuff tenners in her garter, and when it was her turn on stage she threw me a rose and came back and sat on my knee again because she wanted to, and the wall-to-wall suits were staring at me with rage and hatred, and it was lovely, lovely, lovely. And then I went home, glowing with pentecostal fire, and the drink worked within my soul, and I boasted about it all to the bad yellow-eyed woman and then got maudlin and burst into tears and said I had wasted my life by not devoting it to venery, which I was then made to understand was neither tactful nor nice.

But it was an epiphany. A second chance. A mid-life crisis. And now I am a changed man or a silly old fool or quite possibly both, but the truth is I do not care. I have been granted a glimpse of my next incarnation - womanising old sod - and, goodness, I can hardly wait. !

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