Michael Bywater column; They're driving me into business
I love it, and so do you, except you won't admit it to yourself. I love the way that what used to be filthy urinous pits, broken-glassed oubliettes which stole your money ("Sorry, caller, we have no record of a fault") and squirted cold draughts up your flapping trouser-leg, have now become enchanted grottoes, papered with multicoloured incitements to venery, anterooms to a universe of inconceivable hospitality where bliss and fulfilment are available to anyone with a modest wad of fivers and an A-Z ("The young lady is at 491A Thwacknagle Alley, that's the basement flat. Do you know Thwacknagle Alley, sir?").
Just like life itself, the promise held forth is invariably false. The photo is indeed genuine; it's just not genuinely a photo of the woman at the other end of the telephone. The woman at the other end of the telephone is nobody's dream-kitten, withered by time, her variety staled by custom into a parrot-recitation of grudging manipulations.
Like all false promises, though, much happiness is to be found in the willing suspension of disbelief. Secure in the miniature proleptic seraglio of the phone box, the deprived, incompetent or simply transgressive man can let his mind wander, frolicking in the steamy lubricity of an erotic never-never land.
But such harmless pleasures will not do. The hookers' cards Blu-Tacked to our increasingly redundant phone boxes are now, officially, a "menace" which must be "stamped out" and "cracked down on" and generally subjected to the sort of treatment which one popular subset of working girls ("Yes, sir, the young lady does specialise") offers for sale at premium rates. You might wonder about the moral position of a government which is so ready to use the word "menace" for such a phenomenon; you might wonder, if a phone box full of whores' cards is a "menace", what slinging everyone off invalidity benefit (in the cynical hope that the majority of them are too sick or scared or agoraphobic or helpless to appeal) could be called, or bombing civilians, or underfunding schools, or curtailing the right to trial by jury.
My own theory, though, is that it's simply a matter of unenlightened self-interest. Every hooker knows that phone-box cards are rather low- rent. If you want the multi-national businessmen, you advertise in the International Herald Tribune and charge the buggers a thousand quid an evening, making sure they pay for your dinner in the Dorchester first. If you want the freebooting voluptuaries, you advertise on the Internet (ban it! ban it!). But if you want politicians, you advertise in What's On In London or rely on word of mouth. Once again, the plan to Rid London's Call Boxes Of This Offensive Menace is a case of the Government attacking the economically vulnerable. Are we surprised? We are not.
The answer is to legalise prostitution - or, specifically, to legalise brothels. Having once worked as a ponce (I was sacked after producing my first client, who turned up in a deerstalker hat, clutching a pineapple, and demanded a discount for cash), I feel that I am uniquely qualified to advise on this matter. Indeed, for a small subvention - a National Lottery grant, perhaps - I am prepared to establish and operate what will undoubtedly prove to be the Platonic bordello of which all others are mere imperfect copies. Staffed primarily by cultured, enthusiastic amateurs drawn from the Independent on Sunday-reading classes, my prices will be fair, the services of the highest, the premises elegant, spacious and decorated in the most elevated taste. All perversions will be catered for, and complicity, rather than coercion, will be my founding economic principle. At last, London will be able to compete with other major European cities; no longer will there be that embarrassing silence when your international contacts say, "Well, old chap, where can one go to round off the evening?" followed by your shamefacedly muttering, "We could have a look in a phone box." There will, however, even in this splendid saturnalia, be one thing my happy and fulfilled women will not even contemplate doing. Politicians.
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