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All in a day's work - first the courts, and then the hairdressers

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Wednesday, 31 March 2010 00:00

Pencil drawing :Return to the cradle

The West End girls were regularly "arrested" by the police. A tacit understanding with the police required the girls to let themselves be arrested about once a month or so, and the rest of the time they would be left alone. They would then have to appear in the Bow Street courts, at an unfashionably early time (for a Soho prostitute). Barbara must have witnessed this just about every month, and here is her account:

When a girl’s turns came in court, the charge was read out, and they were asked ‘Guilty, or not guilty?’ ‘Guilty,’ they would normally chirp, and because they were so accustomed to the procedure, they would be out of the Bod and almost up to the Cashier’s before they were ordered to pay a two-pound fine or spend seven days in jail. Always after a court session, everyone had time to kill, for nobody wanted to go back home or start work early. They would usually take the opportunity to do some window shopping or have their hair done; and Mae would usually have arranged for me to meet her at the hairdressers. This was an establishment called ‘Gaby’s in a basement in Shaftsbury Avenue, quite near Piccadilly circus.

It was where all the girls went; in fact, I think they were its sole clientele, as I never saw anyone ‘straight’ there, just girls and their maids. I don’t think anybody just passing in the street, could have know it was even there. It had none of the glamour one associates with beauty parlours. It was strictly a ‘three-sink, two-dryer’ sort of place. No two towels were alike, the staff of two laconic women wore odd overalls and weren’t exactly politely-subservient; in fact, there was no staff and customer disparity at all. It was for all the world as though a couple of the girls, by roster, were seeing to the needs of the others; and it wasn’t unusual to find one of the attendants with her own hair up in curlers. Perhaps because of this, the place had a cosy kitchen feel about it, especially as there were always cups of tea on the go, made on the spot by anyone who felt like bothering.

Also, the girls sometimes sent the maids out to get sandwiches, sausage rolls, or cakes from a little café nearby. (this was before the time when all the ‘caffs’ anywhere near the main parts, turned into restaurants and chrome and plastic milk-bars), which was run by a sympathetic, friendly Italian family, whose sole aim in life was to keep everyone’s ‘inner man’ happy. Anyway, two or three hours spent in Gaby’s was a very happy time -- a sort of return to the cradle – drowsing in the steamy warmth, and yawning from the early morning stint, sprawling amongst the clutter of damp towels, basins, bowls and kicked-off shoes. There, the tensions built up in the sort of life we led, oozed slowly away through every pore."

Copyright © 2019. Hannes Buhrmann.

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