Friday, October 18, 2013

disappearing Soho

card in walk up at 70A Berwick Street Soho
I took this photo on Tuesday this week. It is a card that was on display in the hallway of the walk up at 70A Berwick Street in Soho. It shows one of the two women who were working there that day, informing potential customers what she is like. Yesterday I went back and there were no cards there. From what I can gather the police have insisted that all these cards in Soho are removed.

This card was not visible from the street, you would have to walk through the open doorway and along the hallway to see them. I have been told that the ones that used to be visible from the street at a lot of the walk ups went a couple of weeks ago. I don't know what the legal basis of this police action is, it seems that they are making more and more demands. No one knows where it will end. What you see in Soho could be gone forever the next time you look.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I thought I'd found some street girls

Last month I went to Liverpool again. I didn't look for any sex workers this time. After listening to a radio programme about St James Gardens I wanted to see it again. I used to go there sometimes when I was living in Liverpool in the 1980s. It is described as 'once a derelict no-go area' formerly frequented by drug addicts. This surprised me because when I used to go there I didn't notice any drug addicts or syringes, even though I keep an eye open for that sort of thing.

I only ever saw one prostitute there. Above the gardens is Hope Street which was the red light area. I was riding my bike along Hope Street one day on my way to the city centre. I saw one woman waiting on the street corner. I had never seen her before, she was beautiful. I went into St James Gardens and sat on a park bench. After a while she walked past me with a man, giving me a big smile. I wanted to see where they were going so I followed them. When I found them they were hugging. She saw me and I made a hasty retreat, although the man was a lot smaller than me he might have got aggressive. I never saw her again.

After I came back to London I saw a TV programme that said there were drug addicts and prostitutes causing problems for residents near Brick Lane. There used to be a street in east London called Flower and Dean Street. It was a notorious slum and associated with theft and prostitution. A couple of Jack the Ripper's victims came from there. Today it no longer exists, but there is a Flower and Dean Walk.

I had a look round this area, and where Flower and Dean Walk meets Brick Lane I saw several women standing around. I felt sure that they were street girls. None of them propositioned me, but these days street girls have to be very wary of the police. The only way I could have found out for sure is if I had gone up to them and talked to them. I wasn't interested in doing anything with them though. Now I think they were probably just people waiting outside the medical centre for homeless people.

I thought it might be possible that women have been waiting on that spot since Victorian times. It's an area with an interesting history, today it is a Bengali area but before that it was a Jewish area. There are two shops where they sell salt beef, a Jewish food. When I'm in the area I have salt beef in a bagel with mustard and a cup of tea.

On Channel 4 last month there was an interesting documentary called The Fried Chicken Shop. The most interesting character in it was Jessie, the Clapham Tranny. Especially interesting for me because I remember seeing her on Tooting Bec Common years ago. She used to hang out with the street girls there waiting for men to turn up.

Some people think that Jessie is bad tempered because she got irritated with a drunk girl who she was talking to. The girl kept asking the same question over and over again when Jessie had said she didn't want to talk about that. I can understand why she became irritated. It does seem that drunk people tend to ask the same question over and over again even when someone clearly doesn't want to discuss a personal issue. In another part of the documentary a drunk man kept asking one of the shop staff a personal question, to the increasing irritation of the staff. Later the drunk man tried to climb over the counter and was taken away by the police.

Jessie, the Clapham Tranny
In all three cases, with St James Gardens, Flower and Dean Walk and Tooting Bec Common, people living nearby have complained about drug addicts and/or prostitutes. In some cases people will have exagerated the problem because they wanted to get rid of the street girls. I know that to have been true of Tooting Bec Common. From what people were saying, anyone would think that Tooting Bec Common was strewn with drugs paraphernalia and used condoms. The truth was that there were no needles or syringes and the used condoms were only on one part of the Common in the undergrowth where it would have been difficult to find them. I don't know what all the fuss was about, it's not as if a labrador choked on one.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

protest as 26 Romilly Street is closed

A protest was organized yesterday against the closure of one of the walk ups in Soho, 26 Romilly Street. There is a Guardian newspaper article about it and a post on the Time Out London blog. There is also a video on the Guardian story where you can hear a sex worker and a maid talking about how they feel about the attitude of the police.

One of the maids at the walk up stated "The police have completely changed, they've dragged customers naked out of bed, searched the flat – the girls are scared, they are not criminals. As far as I have understood one girl and one maid is not illegal, it's not a brothel."

The police were putting pressure on the property owner Soho Estates to evict the sex workers. Sex workers in Peter Street near Walker's Court have been told they will be evicted in January. The police closed 61 Dean Street, and more recently all 3 walk ups in Lisle Street, and failed. However, putting pressure on the property owner to evict sex workers might well succeed where other methods have failed in the past.

When sex worker Lizzie Valad was evicted from her flat she started working at King's Cross and ended up being murdered by Camden Ripper Anthony Hardy. The walk ups in Soho are safe places for women to work. Sex workers will be at greater risk of violence if they are evicted.

protest in Soho yesterday outside the offices of Soho Estates