It’s a cold, crisp Friday night. Hordes of people swarm the streets of London, wrapped in woollen scarves and thick coats. But in a discreet corner, on a dimly lit road, is a sweaty cocoon of sex, booze and wealth. Behind a set of glass doors, down a sticky dark staircase, I’m standing at a bar in a black lace mask, thigh high black suede boots and nothing else. I’m over dressed.
Catullus is not current or sexy. And he not only wrote – he wrote poems, which is a bit naff. Plus, he’s dead. Thankfully, Daisy Dunn is here to save the day. She adores this ancient verse-maker, and now, since reading her first books – published concurrently – so do I.
Remember the fairytale about the girl and the penis bush? No, me neither. But the premises of the nine and a half “fairytales” in Grow A Pair are swollen with surreal eroticism and a weird, lavish imagination. As well as harking back to horny early puberty fantasies, the stories in Joanna Walsh’s collection also resound with tender-hearted humour, aimed at adults whose sexual flights of fancy has been curtailed to the “most private thing I’m willing to admit” field on an internet dating site. Grow A Pair is a short story collection a little like The Bloody Chamber after a couple of gins. ‘A girl passed a penis-bush growing in someone else’s garden, and picked a ripe dick because she couldn’t resist it’ – it grins at you from page one.
Surveillance and censorship were much on the agenda at The Old Doom Bar this week. This was partly inspired by the presence of a London-based Barrister in our midst. As with so many of his trade he was a fund of anecdote. Much of it either reassuring to those seeking to avoid justice or depressing to those who sought it. It is the same with medicine. Both sorts of practitioners of these professions, once drink has been taken, are apt to cast off their normal considered demeanour and treat their audience to the comic version of their work.
As far as socio-sexual meltdowns go, the Ashley Maddison debacle appeared to be a bit of a non-event. A couple of fake identities were released as proof of widespread hackery to a news-hungry media adrift in the doldrums of the silly-season, who then produced more hackery of a different stripe. On the female side there was much thinly disguised Schadenfreude at the prospect of millions of marriages thrown into disarray (but not, presumably, their own partnership arrangements), stuff about the ‘groin-cupping sleazoids’ and even one journalist who could not abide these websites’ ‘incitement to mortal sin’, bringing down the Wrath of Jehovah on the heads of these philanderers, as well.
Thirty-five years ago on June 7 1980, Henry Miller died at his home in Pacific Palisades, California. His had been an extraordinary life, and he left behind a body of work of unique character and quality. Sadly, in the popular mind (if that term can be applied to the mainstream media commentariat) Miller is referenced too often as a notorious author of smutty ramblings. In reality he was in the first rank of radical 20th century writers, and many of his books would qualify as ‘the great American novel’, were they merely novels rather than semi-autobiographical works of polemic and social critique. Lawrence Durrell and Norman Mailer were both unreserved in their admiration of the meaning and power of his work.
I brought three books with me when I moved to Paris on a £14 Megabus: one of them was The Story of O. I'd squirrel away in the predictably unheated top-floor bedroom-cum-kitchen-cum-occasional bathroom (I would say "garret", but it'll make me sound even more of a nob) and read it, while I waited for Ab Fab to stream. Published in France in 1954 by the appropriately monikered Jean-Jacques Pauvert, it's a dirty great romp of chains, castles, masks and leather, and its author was a 47-year-old editorial secretary, whose boyfriend had mouthed off that no woman was capable of writing an erotic novel. Anne Desclos, noted variously as 'prudish' and 'nun-like', wrote under a pen-name at Gallimard Publishers but invented a new one – Pauline Réage – for O, which became an immediate success, was banned in court, and whose author only revealed herself 40 years post-publication. I believe the phrase is "slam dunk".
Fans of Bridget Jones and Girls, rejoice: there's a new kid on the block. Melissa Pimentel's Age, Sex, Location is a wonderfully fresh romp through the modern dating scene, where one wrong left swipe could throw all chances of happiness down the pan. Lauren is 28 and is emphatically not looking for love. Recently divorced from her college sweetheart, she's moved from Portland to the Big Smoke and into a dingy room in Old Street.
The legalised brothel issue has long been a favourite British media topic; and one to which our legislators and moralists of all stripes frequently return. In recent times it has been given added momentum by the trafficking problem. Early in 2014, egged on by commercial interests eager to turn the area into more luxury apartments and sheltered by Articles 52 and 53 of The Sexual Offences Act, police raided a number of the modest Soho flats used by prostitutes and their maids. These sex workers were abused, turned out of their places of business and, it is alleged, had their money confiscated.