Start Me Up

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5.15 pm: I’m sitting in Ekki, it’s an Eco restaurant at the backend of Amsterdam’s Central Station, where the police are controlling access (probably in the wake of the London lone-wolf terror attack a couple of days ago) and admission to the concourse is via ticket only. It meant that I had to use the underpass. It looked so good, I photographed it.

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I’m looking out over the Y (pronounced eye), part of a canal which at one end spills into the North Sea. The Cinema Museum (known locally as The Eye) is slightly to the left on the opposite bank and the old Royal Dutch Shell building (I worked for Shell, once upon a time) is towering over everything (information courtesy of the Dutch guy sitting at the next table).

The clear blue sky that I can see is on the house. I’ve just returned from De Pijp. The students who I talked to this morning had been based in the area and I figured I’d take a look. Okay, it’s been something that’s been on my mind for a while but it’s just a little too far out to drop in on without making a bit of effort. I took a tram out to Museum Plein. When I arrived I did something disgusting. I bought a hotdog. It was advertised as pork and beef but they didn’t say exactly which parts of the pig and cow. I washed it down with an indifferent coffee. That was more necessary than the dog (for all I know it actually was a dog, and all that pork and beef talk was just bullshit) because my throat was sore from all the talking. I talk a lot during these talks. Stands to reason, I suppose.

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Well, after eating, I walked across the park (back to Coster Diamonds and with The Museum Shop on my left) in the direction of the canal that would take me to The Pijp. I crossed the bridge onto Ruysdaekade and headed south. I knew it was a window area which is regarded by locals as much better than De Wallen or The Singelgebied (see the 2017 Best Girls page on the Jan van blog) and I felt duty bound to check it out. I found the windows. And I also found The Albert Cuipmarket, which is where I became the target of a mugger or pickpocket, possibly a family of muggers or pickpockets. The market stalls line both sides of a very, very, very long street. It must be at least a quarter of a mile long. I found it interesting checking out the food stalls and other stuff stalls but there were also a lot of handbag stalls. I have a shoulder bag which I bought in Egypt a couple of years ago. It looks like it was designed just to store my laptop, camera, coins, mouthwash, blah, blah. The laptop is more like a notebook, very compact so not just any old bag will do. The one I have has a flat zipped pocket at the back; it’s ideal. However, it’s started to show its age and I’ve struggled to find a replacement.

Anyway, I became aware that a young Asian guy, maybe eighteen or nineteen, was keeping pace with me, walking just a couple of yards behind. Whenever I stopped, he stopped and pretended to be looking at something on a nearby stall. I tested him. I checked out a bag stall and then went into the bag shop that it was nestling in front of. Sure enough, the little prick followed me in. My guess is that he’s a pickpocket rather than a mugger. Interestingly, one of the Dam girls on my last visit warned me about pickpockets. “Keep your wallet where you can feel it. You wouldn’t believe the things I see standing at the window.” I ignored him but contrived to make him exit the shop first. I was going out and he was on my heels and I stopped to check a bag near the doorway. He had no option but to keep going. Outside, he dithered. He obviously didn’t know which way I would go. I left the shop, turned right and walked very purposefully for about five yards before turning around abruptly and walking back the way I’d come. Fast. The little cunt was nearly trampled over and the expression on his face told me that he knew he’d been rumbled (and nearly trampled on). Game over (I hope).

However, on the return journey, about fifteen minutes later, I passed him and what looked like his mum and his dad and his sister. And as I passed I saw from their expressions that I registered with all of them. Looks like they’re a team and I had been marked out as prey. Just in case they still had some interest, I tacked along the street; up onto the path behind the stalls on my left, then back onto the street, then up on to the other pavement.  I stopped a few times to check that I wasn’t being followed; it didn’t matter if they noticed (so much the better).

After that, I needed to do something to relax me. I mean, my bag contained my phone, my camera and my laptop. As artefacts, I could afford to lose them. What I couldn’t afford to do was lose what was on them.

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I’ll spare you the details but I was surprised to find the windows on the main drag, and the occupants were clearly a cut above the De Wallen and Singelgebied day-staff. I checked out the area, hung around a while and then made my choice. It’s Sod’s Law that your choice will always disappear in the period between looking and deciding and returning. No worries (I know that she exists). Here there were options. And the option that I took up hadn’t been there on my first walk-through. She was definitely my type (well, one of them). She’s from the Dominican Republic, slim, pretty, about thirty years old, and she’s got an arse that you could stand drinks on. I wasn’t there for romance; indeed, I wasn’t in the mood for romance, this was simple research. The important thing isn’t what happened (cowgirl and doggy), the important thing was the room. It was spacious and modern (very). The window owner was taking this seriously. A lot of thought had gone into the décor, the lighting, decorations and images on the walls. It beat my hotel room hands down. It also boasted a bathroom and a walk in shower. The shower was a feature (and a nice one). I couldn’t help wondering if it might be there for more than simply cleaning up at the end of a shift; say, for a romantic shower or to facilitate water sports.

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I guess it would make sense to comment about her age. I’d made the point with the students that I’m attracted to women in their early twenties (20- 25) but it’s not that simple.  In De Wallen, the legal age is 21 – maybe it applies here, too. At the same time, girls I knew as 22 year olds are now 26 or 27. And you don’t know the age of, say, a Soho girl until you knock on her door or cross the threshold at the invitation of her maid. And I’m not rigid in my approach; when I talked to the students I was generalising. The critical thing is that young women are sexually preferable to older women. Shame, I know, but that’s life.

Between 6.00 pm and 7.30 pm I rested up in the hotel room. On the night before flying out I’d only had two hours sleep. That always happens the night before a journey where ‘being on time’ is critical. Last night I hadn’t fared much better. I slept but it was a restless night. By the time I left the hotel I was hungry and ready to eat. 7.30 pm is a bit early, in general terms, but I was anticipating an early night (and once I’d found a place, ordered and waited, it would be later than that before I got to eat). I decided to find somewhere a bit off the tourist route, but not too far from the hotel. Actually, I fancied an Italian, but not in the way that you probably imagine. I found one. While I was checking the menu on the wall outside, a young woman came out wearing a why don’t you come in smile. It’s the sort of smile you see when perusing the De Wallen windows. I declined. I moved on. But further on didn’t turn up a ready alternative so I went back, went in, and was immediately greeted by a fat old woman (normally a woman’s fatness or oldness wouldn’t be an issue but I guess that here I’m making a point). I sensed a trace of disappointment that I was on my own (from this fat old woman). Let’s be honest, people on their own (in restaurants) are a bloody nuisance. They take up valuable space and represent a decline in profits even before they’ve ordered. The restaurant was almost full but there were a couple of tables for two near the entrance and another at the back of the shop. She suggested that I might like to have a table upstairs. She made it sound like she was doing me a favour. Whatever. I was there because I was hungry.

I followed a waitress up some stairs to a mezzanine. It became obvious why I was going to be located there. The only other occupants were two children (UN definition); we were sharing a space laid out for twenty-four customers. It looked like the old woman was deploying her window mentality. He’s a tourist and we aren’t going to see him again, and I don’t want him messing up a prime location. At least I hadn’t been given a table next to the toilet.

After a couple of minutes, Miss Smiley Face appeared and gave me a menu. I ordered a bottle of the house red wine. The price by the glass suggested that this was a smart move, and I figured that I wasn’t going to be able to easily catch her eye for a refill. For 20 euros I wasn’t expecting anything great and  I wasn’t disappointed (most of the wines by the bottle were at stupid prices – I ain’t that stupid). It was relatively low alcohol (12% by vol) but drinkable. I ordered eggplant in a tomato and mozzarella sauce as a starter and giant prawns to follow. I hadn’t been there many minutes before other customers started filing past me on their way to the toilet (it wasn’t visible from my table but it was there right enough). It wasn’t a huge problem because I was facing away from it. But I did get to see a lot of people, including the young woman who was suffering from cystitis. Typically, a lot of the young women came in pairs. What’s that about? There were a lot of Dutch voices in the mix. Guess I really have gone off piste. As I put the finishing touches to my starter (I wiped the plate clean with some of the bread), the children stacked their plates and glasses (coke) and dirty cutlery and left me to tough it out on my own. They were chattering in Italian. I guess they were probably family.

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The prawns were as big as the menu promised. Not bad. Actually, I couldn’t finish the whole dish, but I’d had enough. And I fancied the Italian ice cream to finish. I mean, you always have room for ice cream, don’t you?

At 9.10 pm I downed tools. And waited. At 9.25 pm the waitress came and scooped up my plates. At 9.35 pm she came back up the stairs, walked past me and went into the toilet. At 9.40 pm she reappeared, walked past me, again with no acknowledgement, and descended the stairs. I hope she washed her hands. I decided that the tip would go into the ice cream. I was tempted to sit there and see how long it would take for one of the staff to make contact. Maybe they would just carry on as normal, put the chairs on the tables and wash the floor, that kind of thing (maybe even shut up shop and leave me there for the night).

At 9.45 pm I poured the remaining third of a bottle of wine into my glass and sprinkled salt and pepper on it, which I then stirred in. I resisted the temptation to spit in it. I knew that if I’d left it in the bottle it would have been served up to someone the next night. As it was it will probably go into a sauce. At 9.50 pm I descended the stairs and approached the bar. There were just four female customers left in the place. It was nearly full when I arrived so I guess they all turned up at about the same time, ate and then left.

Miss Smiley Face smiled a winning smile and asked if I would like my bill.

“Please.” (If it wouldn’t be too much fucking trouble.)

It came to 57 euros (which seemed OK value for money). I proffered a 100 euro note.

Fat woman poured me a complimentary digestive (I think it may have been grappa) and smiled at me as she pushed it across the bar. I ignored it. Pour it back in the bottle, why don’t you? Then there was some tooing-and-frooing because there were no coins in the till. The old woman, Miss Smiley, the chef and the waiters all smiled. I didn’t know if it was because they were willing me to tip heavy or because I’d made the plate dishwasher-clean or because of the way they’d fucked with me. Eventually, they came up with the right change. I scooped it up and left.

Need I say more? Yes, I think I will. I suspect that they would put the transaction down to the fact that I was a tourist, had bad manners and had drunk a bottle of wine (even though I hadn’t). Looking back on it, my final take on this situation was probably triggered by the ineptness of the waitress. What she should have done (in my opinion) was to return at some point (sooner rather than later) with a dessert menu and do the, “Would you like dessert or coffee?” thing. Maybe Fat Woman and Smiley Girl thought that it was all in hand. And, yes, I could have explained to them, and I could have called the waitress back after her toilet visit and requested a soiled menu. And they would have apologised and the Fat Woman would have poured me another grappa. But there was more to this than an ice cream, wasn’t there?

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So what about the talk this morning? It was with the second half of a study group. The first group came out at the beginning of the month. It sounded as though they had been split for administrative reasons. I’d explained to the audience that the first 30 minutes would be spent with me talking about me and my window experience. The next 30 minutes would be me rehearsing some things that I wanted to say (but linking it to a question from an earlier group) and the last hour would be devoted to a presentation which they constructed and on which I would put some flesh (with as many prepared answers as I could work in).

Well, it went pretty much according to plan, and as usual, I can’t remember many of the questions. The first one, however, was whether I was a feminist. The answer was a categorical no. I’m not a feminist for a number of reasons but I do share some feminist sensibilities. Good question. Especially since I had a prepared answer, which I hope illustrated the complexity of the question.

Two hours is a long time to be sitting and listening and on this occasion one of the tutors suggested that we take a ten minute break. That seemed sensible. What I wasn’t ready for was everyone grabbing their phone. We have a no-phone, no-recording deal (making a guest appearance on Youtube isn’t my idea of fun). I’m hoping that the moment passed without incident. Another  question that I remember is, “What’s your job?” Another good question, and it’s the first time anyone has asked me. Unfortunately, it’s one of three questions that I’d decided I wouldn’t be answering. What are your three favourite sex acts/positions is something I’m prepared to answer, but I’m inclined to avoid identifier questions, even though I know that it’s no more than casual interest.

Afterwards, I grabbed a sandwich with the rest of the cast. I was interested to know if the questions changed once the dynamic changed from group lecture to one-to-one.

“What is sex? How would you define it?”

Well, that was a track stopper. It’s one of those things which you know intuitively what it is but not why you know. I was reminded of a psychology test which Jonathan Haidt references in his book The Righteous Mind. People are presented with a gross scenario and asked to respond. Some are indifferent to the grossness. Others declare it to be disgusting. When pressed to explain why, they can’t. His point is that people make moral judgements instinctively, and not on the evidence. They trawl for evidence after the event. What is sex wasn’t a moral question but it wasn’t straightforward. (And why did she want to know?)

I started by making the point that it seemed self-evident and then I asked if it was a sort of trick Bill Clinton question (for those who don’t know, he claimed never to have had sex with Monica Lewinsky, even though he had put his penis in her mouth on a number of occasions and had at least once ejaculated his Presidential seed onto her very famous blue dress).

“No.” (Not a Clinton question, that is.)

On reflection, I think I could have pointed out that the window girls seem to make a distinction between fellatio and ‘sex’. If asked what they will do for that fifty euros they often say, “Suck and sex, or blowjob and sex.” And when they think that you’ve had enough of the first of these they might say, “Do you want to do sex now?” Bill would have liked them.

I, however, see sex as any sexual activity or combinations of activities. A handjob, is sex. Caressing a woman’s breasts is sex. Licking between her legs is sex. Putting your penis into a woman’s mouth is sex. Doing that while licking between her legs is sex. Vaginal penetration with fingers or penis (or toys) is sex. Any combination of these things is sex. Obviously, I’d make a shit President because I could be impeached in the time that it takes a gnat to shake piss off its cock. Maybe the short answer is that anything involving the touching of sexualised parts of another person’s body is sex. I mean, quite a lot is regarded as a sex crime these days.

I did recover, however, and was able to make the point that in my experience there are different sorts of sex. For example, some of my experiences are at the intimate, romantic end off the scale (kissy and cuddly while, for example, gently stroking between her legs), but In some instances, the sex is very ‘full-on’ and physical and about the intensity and energy of the sex act, or maybe we set out to break my record for Karma Sutra positions. And sometimes I choreograph it: with some women, I make ‘porn movies’ (there is a plot, there might be costumes involved, and the wall mirrors are the cameras – in the sense that what you see is what you get). The choreography is important even if it’s not for a porn movie. Managing an hour session with a girl who isn’t actually your girlfriend isn’t as straightforward as I sometimes make it seem. And occasionally I’ve done BDSM; on those occasions I’ve tied the girl up and done whatever came into my head (our safe word is STOP – it’s never been used), and it’s not because they are gagged (that cuts out too many options).

The most memorable moment?

One question was about the way that there seemed to be a gender imbalance in prostitution, in the sense that there are lots of bought sex opportunities for men and none (or very few) for women. What did I think about that? I was distracted for a moment as I wondered if my questioner was into gender symmetry, but it got me talking about the differences between men and women (according to The Book of Me), and that worked round to orgasms and the fact men can come at the drop of a hat but women take longer.

“Look, it’s a generalisation, but I’ll suggest that all men want to give the woman they’re with an orgasm.” There were only two guys in the audience. One nodded in agreement and the one who (I later discovered) was recovering from a bit of excess the night before did his best to nod.

“Unfortunately, most men don’t know how to do it.”

At which point I felt that I was really connecting with the audience, as thirty, or so, heads nodded in what I would describe as enthusiastic agreement.

Yes, lectures can be fun. And lectures also beget lectures. The audience don’t know it but their questions do inform subsequent talks. And this one is no exception. I’m pretty certain that I’ll be doing another in the summer and I’ll be making all of my presentation about my experiences, not just the first 30 minutes. I’ll keep my thoughts on prostitution as a social phenomenon until the Q & A, and hope that the questions include ‘what is sex’ and do the prostitutes ever have orgasms?

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