149. Humans of the night

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Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores
On Seventh Avenue
I do declare
There were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there

‘The Boxer’, Simon and Garfunkel


One Friday evening, more than a decade ago, I was waiting for my drinking partner Jono, in the Cricketers pub in Chelmsford. Nursing a pint, throbbing with happiness that another week’s work was complete. The place was about half full, good atmosphere.

A younger bloke asked if he could take a seat opposite. A Geordie, with a wonky eye, also waiting for someone. A cheeky rascal, delightfully affable. We got chatting, and he mentioned that he had recently been in Amsterdam. I said I sometimes went there, and loved the place.

That set him off. “Oh man, it’s just the best. Get out of your head on all sorts, and then shag yourself silly. Amsterdam whores are just the best.”

I said I had no experience.

“Stop fucking around man. It’s what we all go there for.”

“Not me. I get high just walking around the place, it’s beautiful, but that’s it. No judgement. I love my missus. That’s where my body belongs.”

“You’ve never tried out a whore there?…….. Nah, you’re taking the piss mon.”

After another two minutes of incredulity, and shaking his head, he took his bad eye out and cleaned it in his beer. He polished it on his shirt, telling me how he had lost the original in a fight when a chain was swung into his face.

I was listening, but remembering a group of lads walking through Schiphol airport ahead of me a few years prior. Working out aloud how many fucks they might stretch their money to among the waiting array of whores.

Or sex workers, to use PC parlance.


A day or so later, I was sitting by the Amsterdam canals with Ian Lewis, a fellow journalist. A gorgeous May evening.


As we drank our blond beers, a group of Scouse lads at the next table kept disappearing down an alleyway. Overhearing their conversation, it seemed their goal was to get as many sexual favours as possible for their euros, or bangs for their bucks. Using every negotiating tactic against the battle-hardened ladies (or men) of the night.

Group hierarchy was jousted for, with alpha males crowing about their ‘wins’. The group’s lower rungs were ridiculed for their incompetent approach to commerce and copulation.

Two friends who have indulged to a fair degree say many good things about using prostitutes. And it would be no surprise at all if my dad had followed his shipmates into the brothels of Aden and Ceylon, as they poured onshore from the British navy ships. Seamen spraying semen.

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I’m aware that this blog already needs big chunks of context. Starting with the bilious levels of sex trafficking across the world that make many commercial sexual transactions a moral minefield. And including the addiction, despair, crime, extortion and intimidation propping up the industry. I’m swerving all of that, because the people best qualified to talk operate within or very near to the profession.

Can only tell my truth. That I have never paid for sex, or considered it. Have never even come close. But if I had lived alone, and the need for human comfort had gnawed at me through dark, lonely evenings…who knows?

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All I can say, from experience, is that sex has been at its loaded and beautiful best when the angel meets the ape. Where roaring lusts smash into open, aching souls. Nothing to do with money.

Maybe my one-eyed pub companion would have liked Jacques Brel’s take on it all. Lyrics so raw and poignant that David Bowie stepped in with his own genius version back in 1973.

 In the port of Amsterdam you can see sailors dance

Paunches bursting their pants, grinding women to porch

They’ve forgotten the tune that their whiskey voice croaked

Splitting the night with the roar of their jokes

And they turn and they dance and they laugh and they lust

Till the rancid sound of the accordion bursts

And then out of the night with their pride in their pants

And the sluts that they tow underneath the street lamps


In the port of Amsterdam there’s a sailor who drinks

And he drinks and he drinks and he drinks once again

He’ll drink to the health of the whores of Amsterdam

Who’ve given their bodies to a thousand other men

Yeah, they’ve bargained their virtue, their goodness all gone

For a few dirty coins, well, he just can’t go on

Throws his nose to the sky and he aims it up above

And he pisses like I cry on the unfaithful love

In the port of Amsterdam

In the port of Amsterdam



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