A lot of things happen to me by accident. Working at The Railway Club was never part of the plan. It was Stevie’s idea, and as soon as he said it, I knew it made sense.
“The Railway Pub’s opening a strip club in its basement” he said. “They’re advertising for girls. You should go for it. You look the part.”
“Yeah, I heard about that” I replied. “That’s not a bad idea actually. I’m not eighteen for another month though.”
“God – are you that young?” Stevie was forty-something. I had a lot of older guy mates.
“Do you think they even check anyway?” He continued.
I laughed. “Probably not.”
The Railway Pub was famously a den of iniquity.
I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I became a stripper. I already had three part time jobs, college, various after-college activities, and a busy social life, so it was easy to pretend I was somewhere else. Also, I hated my boyfriend. He made me feel sick. Our relationship was another accident.
What happened to cause it was beyond an accident. Monumental disaster would just about sum it up. I ended up having sex with my best mate. After that, it kept happening, and I needed it to stop. Then I met this guy, through a mutual friend, and the mutual friend told me he liked me, so I decided that I would go out with him, for a short while, to put an end to the casual sex with my friend.
The first part of the plan worked out fine. It all just went a bit wrong when my sham boyfriend – who, obviously, didn’t know he was a sham – told me he loved me. I’d not considered that might happen. Also, we’d been together for a really short time, so it seemed a bit silly. The funny thing was, I found myself saying ‘I love you too’, which I absolutely didn’t. I didn’t even particularly like him. Also, I knew one thing for sure – if I had meant it, I could never have said it. Not in a million years.
I felt a bit guilty. My boyfriend seemed like a nice guy, and I was a bad person for stringing him along. I needed to end it, but I just kept not being able to, and then, somehow, I was living with him. We’d only been together six months. That was another accident. It wasn’t my idea. Also, he suggested it in a way that was quite artful. Thankfully, we lived together in a house share, and not just on our own together. That was the artful part. He suggested it to me and my mates Eddy and Daz, when we were all discussing getting a place, and it seemed to make sense. Also, I was going through a phase of trying to make myself love him back, because he was so nice to me and I felt like I’d done a really mean thing.
The breakthrough moment happened a few weeks later, when I realised that my sham boyfriend was an arsehole. I can’t say I felt absolved of everything, because I was an arsehole too, in a completely different way, but it made it not matter that our relationship was a lie.
What happened is a long and boring story, but to cut it short, he started shouting at me in front of all my college mates and tried to make me look bad. We had this group project a few of us were working on, and he offered that his mate Jack, who had a van, would pick us all up and drop everyone off when we’d finished. I’d asked if he was sure, as there were four of us, and he said it wasn’t a problem at all. Then, when him and Jack turned up, he denied having said any of that, and accused me off putting Jack in a bad position, shouting the whole time.
I was baffled.
I couldn’t understand how less than an hour earlier he could say one thing, and then be completely denying it, and making me out to be either a liar or mad. The word, of course, is gaslighting, but I didn’t know much about that then.
The college incident wasn’t entirely out of the blue. A couple of more minor incidents had happened beforehand, but I’d ended up genuinely thinking I’d been in the wrong. This time, it was different. I knew what had been said, and there was no excusing him shouting at me in front of my friends and Jack. It took me a while to get my head around it. It took a few weeks. I started noticing other things happening. Like my boyfriend would berate me and put me down, and he seemed to not want me to go anywhere without him. Every time I did, he would accuse me of cheating on him. I couldn’t do anything right. The penny eventually dropped.
I did get to the point, after far too long really, when I decided I had to dump him. I kept it going for ages, because it was just easy, but it got to the point where I shuddered when he put his arm around me.
He went absolutely mad. Like hysterical mad. I thought he’d probably be upset, but I wasn’t expecting that. After what seemed like a really long time of him screaming and crying, he eventually got his act together, and then he started threatening me. The trouble was, I’d been a drug dealer since I was fourteen, and it seemed he would literally do anything to keep hold of the relationship, so he used it against me.
“I’ll grass you up to the police if you leave me” he said. The guy had no shame. Also, I didn’t leave him. I’d never thought about anyone doing anything like that to me. For one, you didn’t grass people up. You just didn’t do it. Also, I didn’t do anything to anyone that I thought would cause such a reaction. I was just a kid and I never caused any trouble. Until then, for me, gear had always been a positive thing. Where some people take drugs for escape, I took them for exploration and adventure. As for selling them – that didn’t come about by accident. I’d just realised one day what a good way it would be to make money. It also meant that I got invited to loads of great parties. The second part wasn’t a motivational factor initially, but it was a good upshot.
Someone threatening to grass me up – that really scared me. I was a straight A student with a bright future ahead of me. I couldn’t mess that up.
By the time Stevie told me about the strip club, as you would expect, I’d lost all respect for my boyfriend, and I pretty much did what I liked. He was desperate to keep the relationship at all costs, and now, when I went somewhere with my friends, or stayed out when he went home, I just took the inevitable tirade of abuse I would get afterwards. It meant so little, it just washed right over me.
The Railway Club was one of my favourite jobs I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve had some brilliant and some awful jobs. I don’t count drug dealing, although you should, really, because it takes a dedicated professional to not fuck it up.
My boyfriend found out that I was a stripper because someone mentioned it in front of him, who didn’t realise that he didn’t know about it. It was a genuine mistake. My boyfriend kept his cool until we were alone, which confirmed my suspicions that his hysterical outbursts were calculated. He still didn’t dump me, though.
A few months before, I’d cheated on him for the first time. He so readily accused me of doing so when I wasn’t, that eventually I figured that I might as well, since he thought I was doing it anyway. Working at The Railway Club, I took this to a new level. That was another thing that happened to me by accident. The club had a private room, where you could go and play pool with the punters. Or rather, where they could go and play pool with you. And do other things. I always found this funny, because pool seemed like such an unsexy thing.
“The only way they could make it worse would be if it was darts” I said to Eddy. He laughed at that.
“Well, The Railway Club isn’t exactly a great name for a strip joint anyway, is it?” He replied. It was a fair point.
The private pool room becomes less funny when I reflect now on how it changed my life. Although, it wasn’t for the worse, which is what some people seem desperate to think. Looking back, it seems inevitable that it would happen sooner or later, but perhaps it wasn’t. I know that some of the girls there would get seriously offended if they were taken for being anything other than strippers. Not me. I would do anything if it paid enough. I could never understand why anybody wouldn’t. So when I was offered a lot of money to go away for a night with one of the punters, I took it, and it became a regular thing. There ended up being a few of these, and they long outlasted my stint as a dancer.
My job at The Railway Club ended as abruptly as it started, and as a result of a casual remark from the same person. I’ve said that a lot of things happen to me by accident, but on the flip side of that, I am strongly driven when it comes to certain things. The thing I had always loved the most was music, and I never approached it as a hobbyist. I sang in a band, and it was all going pretty well.
“You need to get out of that strip club job” said Stevie to me one night. “You’re a serious musician. People will stop taking you seriously if they find out about that.”
I had never thought about it that way, and I saw his point. I quit the next day.
I eventually managed to end it with the sham boyfriend. It was quite simple, what happened – I realised suddenly that he probably wouldn’t grass me up. Eddy once said to me that my biggest problem in life was that when someone said something, I believed them. Partly, that is true, but partly also, it really isn’t. On the one hand, I don’t take things on surface value at all. But also, if someone makes a statement of intent, as it were, I probably won’t question it. I guess maybe because if I were to announce, say, that I was going to fly to Switzerland, it would be because I was going to fly to Switzerland. I would never say it for any other reason. So it took me a long time to learn that people say all sorts of things that they don’t mean. I am still getting my head around it now. I’m often told that I am a very straight up person, but that isn’t really true, either. I say that I hate subterfuge – and I genuinely do – but you also have to remember that I got into a long term relationship with someone I didn’t even like to make someone I did quite like go away. So I’m not really that straight up. Or that nice.
The punters, I carried on with for a long, long time. It was a difficult thing to stop, because the money was so good, and also because, for the most part, I actually enjoyed it. A few years later, I’d moved away, gained a degree, played many gigs in wonderful places, and still there were the punters. I also ended up in another relationship with someone I didn’t like. It started out as casual sex, and I kept telling him that he wasn’t my boyfriend, but he didn’t seem to understand. Somehow, we even ended up living together. I just sort of got swept along with it all. I guess he tried to trap me, and his approach to it all, looking back, was interesting.
I’d known him for a long time, but just as friends – nothing else ever happened. Then, somehow, it did, and at the beginning, it was a lot of fun. But that was all it was ever meant to be for me. He didn’t see it that way, although at first he pretended that he did. At some point, he started saying all these weird things to me. Like ‘It’s a shame you’ve had to do that’ about the gear and the punters and all of that. As if I was some sort of victim. I set him straight many times. I’d not had to do anything. I wanted to. He still carried on repeating himself though, for a long time, until eventually something switched, and then he told me over and over again that I was a bad person, and that I was cold.
I don’t know if I am cold or not. I care very deeply about my close friends, and I wish no harm towards anyone, but I also know that I can’t be in a relationship. It just isn’t for me. Even if I really like someone, I would never want to do them the disservice of becoming their girlfriend, because I know I’ll make us both very unhappy. The thing with me is that I don’t like being answerable to anyone else. If I want to sit on my own for two days making music, then I don’t want to be disturbed. It’s no slight on the other person, they just could never be my number one priority, and I could never compromise. I have tried, but it makes me feel a bit like I’ve died or somebody has put me in prison.
The boyfriend who wasn’t my boyfriend didn’t get that about me. Before he started calling me a bad person, he’d say things to me like ‘I bet no-one’s ever been kind to you like this before’ – which apart from being a weird thing to say, was also not right, and I set him straight. A lot of people have been kind to me, and some of them with the intention of us getting in a relationship. I just haven’t wanted it.
I think, as well, that a lot of people get very confused by sex. They bundle it up with love, which can be the case sometimes, but often they have nothing to do with each other. After the boyfriend who wasn’t my boyfriend, I was genuinely afraid of anything that was more than a one night stand, in case somebody else got confused and thought it meant more than it did.
Most of my close friends are guys, so I was quite old by the time I ended up being in a conversation with a group of girls about sex, and it shocked me. A couple of them were saying that they didn’t even enjoy it, and that, even though they were definitely attracted to guys, when they actually got it on with a guy, they couldn’t even come. That really knocked me for six. Apart from when I was really young, and I just did sex so I could say that I’d done it, or when I’ve been completely off my face on drugs, I have only ever had that trouble once, and it was with someone I actually really liked. The fact that I really liked him was the cause of the trouble. It just put me off. It would be good at first, but then I’d just get this overwhelming feeling that I shouldn’t be there, and it would ruin the whole thing.
The thing with sex is, it’s a physical pleasure. Like eating a really good meal. There doesn’t have to be a deeper meaning. It’s quite surprising the number of people who don’t get that.
One of the many disasters that happened as a result of me getting in the relationship that wasn’t a relationship was that I ended up doing a stint in a nine to five job. That is another thing that I am just not made for, and probably a lot of people aren’t, they just don’t question it.
I’m not work shy. As a teenager, I had a lot of grafting jobs, often several at once. My record was three, at the time I worked in the Railway Club. Four if you counted that too, although I wouldn’t describe it graft really. I enjoyed all those jobs. What I’ve never been able to stand is working in an office, doing the same hours every day, and sitting in a chair for an entire block of seven or eight hours, doing the same thing for all that time. It just drives me insane. It’s also really bad for your body I guess, just being sat down all that time.
I didn’t study music at uni. I wanted to study something academic, and I did a brief stint in a nine to five, just after uni, because it would be good for my CV as a freelancer. I knew exactly how it would be, and it confirmed that it wasn’t for me. I felt suffocated and a bit like I was going to explode. Not that you would have known it if you met me there, because I’ve always believed that whatever you’re doing, you should put your all into it, so I did.
In the second office job, at the beginning of the week, you’d get given all your tasks, and mine were usually completed by Wednesday afternoon, and then I’d take on a load of extra work so that I wasn’t bored out of my mind for the rest of the week. That was part of what really drove me crazy. You had to be there. Even if you had nothing to do. That was your time being eaten away, when you could have been working on something of your own. You would never get those hours back.
I also realised that I was in a dishonest profession. It made me feel uneasy. It really upset me, in fact. What I was doing was serious, technical work, but what it was for was appalling. Basically, my purpose was to make people spend money they didn’t have on things they didn’t need. I felt really sad that my actual job – the bare bones of it – was being used for ill purposes. But I was supposed to be proud that I was doing it. As if it was respectable and something to aspire to. I just couldn’t unsee that or ignore it. It played on my mind all the time. It was even worse when I thought about other peoples’ jobs. At least with me, I could leave and do the same job for something that wasn’t some big capitalist corporation. I wondered how all the people who worked in marketing slept at night. I guessed that the only way I would be able to, if I worked in marketing, would be if I was selling something I really loved myself, or something that was useful. I also realised that most of them probably hadn’t even thought about it. Which is probably for the best.
When I was a kid, I played up at school. This was mainly, I guess, because I was bored. Anyway, they made me do all these tests, and they discovered that I was gifted. Whatever that means. I saw an educational psychologist, and she told me that I was a super perceiver. Now, I have always struggled with that phrase, and I wouldn’t say that I agree with it, because a lot of things that other people notice completely pass me by, and a lot of things that other people seem to grasp without trouble completely go over my head. What I am, though, is a different kind of perceiver to most other people. I can never just take things for what people say they are, I always seem to have a different perspective, and it bites through everything.
Since I left the nine to five job, and since things came to an end with the boyfriend who wasn’t my boyfriend, I have thought about what he said quite a lot. What always makes me laugh, when I think of it, is that he got everything completely back to front. He would tell me what a shame it was that I’d had to do the things I’d done, but I never felt like it was. It was all the things I did that you were supposed to want to do, things that were supposed to make you happy, they were the things that really ate my soul away.