Streetwalking through our working lives

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THE ACADEMY had closed and we couldn't face the Groucho (all those young slovens doing terribly, terribly well with their mould-breaking Hi-8 video, er, projects; it just makes one feel so small, so vieux jeu, such a loser, you see) and Black's was full of phonies, and the Soho House was out because one couldn't really go to a club where you have to my dear slide a vulgar little key-card up a my dear slot.

"We could go back to my place," she said, all form-fitting skirt, head-tilt, barking stare and pout. "I've got some champagne." Well, huh. I know what that means; I wasn't born yesterday.

So we went back to her place and she opened the champagne and we sat there for a bit, all cosy-like in her posh gaff, and she said: "It's really nice to be able to do this. I couldn't have done this a year ago," and I thought: husband. Gone. Probably. On the other hand (I thought) just look at these oriental silk carpets, the boule marquetry, the ormolu-work, the frog furniture. Husband? No. Lover. Rich lover, sharp suit, head like a bicep, veins standing out, and tonight's the night he'll come bursting in. I'll be the one who gets shot. Love Nest Horror. Normally, it doesn't matter how things go. You have a nice time, you enjoy it; a horrid time, you write it up. It's a consolation. Not when you're shot, though. Nothing worthwhile was ever written by a chalk outline on an oriental silk rug.

"Oh?" I said. "Why's that?"

"Well," she said, "A year ago I'd have been grafting every evening, this time of year. But recently it's been very quiet; very. I like the free time, but I miss the money."

"Grafting?" I said. "Yes," she said. "Didn't I say? I'm a working girl. Are you shocked?" "No," I said. "One of my best friends is a hooker." "Really?" she said; "How did you meet?" "Brothel," I said. "Researching an article, I suppose," she said. "No," I said. "You should have been," she said. "You should have been researching an article about the economy. Bugger your statisticians. We're the ones to ask. We're the ones who see the disposable income of the middle-class male. Disposable sod-all if you ask me. They're all scared. Even my regulars. Executives. Company directors. When they do come round to party, they can't wait for the sex to be over so they can lie there and moan. And you've got to feel sorry for them; all that stuff - cars, houses, boats, one of them's got an aeroplane and it's all on credit, and they don't know how long it can last or where the next penny's coming from. And they've all got expensive wives who don't give a stuff, except, do you know something? I think the wives do give a stuff. It's just that these men won't talk to them because they're too scared of losing face.

"I hear it all," she said. "Never mind this crap about business girls being a social service. It's about sex. But they get the sex by paying the money instead of by putting up a whole lot of front, so they can unbutton a bit afterwards, and I've never known so many nervous buggers, not as long as I can remember."

Quite so. If you want to know the truth, ask a hooker: they've seen the naked underbelly. And I thought: she's right. Almost everyone is scared. The age of Management Information, the Triumph of the Accountants, the Birtian Era... we're supposed to be so much better-informed than ever before; so much more cost-effective, lean and lithe, efficient; so how come everything is falling to pieces? How come the only advice one could give to the young today is: Don't get pregnant and don't buy a house?

"She'd hate me," she said.

"Who would?" I said.

"Mrs Thatcher," she said; "it's just that I was thinking it's kind of ironic. You know: her legacy. She was going to make everyone middle-class. But look what happened. The middle-class has had to go on the game."

Can't argue. We're the new hookers, half of us, living short-term, day to day and hand to mouth, swinging our handbags in the thin oily rain, waiting for the punter to pick us out. "You! In the fishnets and stiletto heels!" "You! With the briefcase and the nice grey suit!"

And even the ones who still have jobs are the new white-collar proles, hunched under the sclerotic, jism-splattered fists of managements every bit as crude and dehumanised as 19th-century ironmasters. Name names? You don't need me to name names. You already know the people I'm talking of. We have somehow allowed ourselves to be sold a bill of goods rotting from the inside. It has been stinking for some time, but now the Chancellor's light at the end of the tunnel is the shine of its corruption, glowing in the dark.

But, sitting in the nice hooker's flat in my gilded fauteuil, I thought: maybe, at last, we've all had enough. I thought about the people I know who, in the past few months, have resigned, walked out, declared they are as mad as hell and aren't going to take it any more. I thought about the corporate hatchet-men who have suddenly seen their proud banner, blazoned Work Will Make You Free (and where have we seen that before?), swing round in the cold wind to face them. I thought: perhaps we are waking up to realise that we can arrest our decline into a third-world sweatshop, that corporate harassment is as evil as any other, that criminal assault does not have to involve physical violence, that maybe we should legislate less against parking and cheese and more in favour of human decency, that we may be motivated less by money than some would like to believe, that we aren't a nation of performing dogs, with the hoops too high and the biscuits too small.

Maybe there really is revolution in the air, or maybe it was just because it was four in the morning. Whatever, I made my excuses and left, as journalists do. But politicians and profiteers make their excuses and stay. The fools; we'll know where to find them, any day now. !