Soho 1948. A glamorous West End Girl charms a naive young barmaid into her service. This is the maid's true account of life in the decadent underbelly of postwar London.
On this website, you can read book extracts and explore Barbara's interesting world.
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A girl who preferred thieves
Rita was one of the West End girls who will eventually play quite a big part in Barbara's memoir of life amongst the prostitutes of Soho. She was a little different to the other prostitutes, and preferred thieves over ponces. ‘I can’t stand their greasy, lying mugs. And they’re bone-idle! And, if they ever went to school at all, they certainly never learnt nothing. I’ll stick to my feeves. A feeve’s got to use his loaf and know what’s what. They’re clean, upstanding men.’ . . .
"Generally, she disliked men and wasn’t thrilled at having the unwanted attentions of amorous clients round her. She confessed to me one day that the only way in which she could get any sexual pleasure at all was if a man ‘went down on her’. At one time this would have shocked me, but now I took it in my stride. I realised that the only regulars she had were men who liked oral sex and were good at it. These men always stayed a lot longer than five minutes. Their arrival was marked by laughing and talking all the way to the bedroom – though she never forgot to take their money. When they left, she was positively cordial with her farewells.
After these sessions, she pranced into the kitchen saying, ‘Put the kettle on, mate,’ and plonked herself down to wait for a celebratory cup of tea, chattering very animatedly all the while. As I began to recognise these clients and to understand the signs, I put the kettle on unbidden so it was boiling by the time she emerged. Seeing it ready, she giggled, blushed and called me ‘cheeky sod.’ She took to pre-empting me, ‘Put the kettle on’, ringing out through yard as soon as she arrived with a client who was going to do things her way.
The toilet bucket was next to the oil stove, so our exposed flesh wouldn’t get too chilled. One day, Rita, coming out from the bedroom, voluble after one of these nice regulars, pulled her knickers down in something of a hurry to plonk herself on the bucket. Then, partly because her mind was elsewhere and partly because of her short-sightedness, she sat on the oil stove.
She shot up into the air like a rocket, shrieking, ‘Oh, me bum! Oh my Gawd!’