A COMIC/SERIOUS IMMORALITY TALE FOR OUR TIMES (a fantasy if it’s your sort of scene)
The story starts in London around 18 months ago, beginning in March 2017, when Britain was – albeit unaware of the fact – heading towards a General Election. Miss Lulu is a dominatrix with a sharp mind and sharp heels, full of intellectual curiosity and sexual know-how. She meets Rory Smith, a journalist, in a hotel bar in Soho and their relationship begins over a conversation about politics, morals and the world in general. There’s a bit of bondage and a lot of badinage, some sex-related villainy and a nascent love story. It also reflects contemporary politics – Trump, May, Brexit et al. Put another way, this is the story of a strong woman with a stable of admirers. Among these is a young woman called Summer, a person in whom Lulu can see something of her former self and with whom she strikes up an unusual friendship. Love is a Battlefield is an acerbic take on the cocktail that is modern Britain. It’s zeitgeist on the rocks.
LONDON MARCH 2017
She would later have a point to prove, but who would have thought an inconsequential cancellation might turn into a criminal investigation?…
The hotel was definitively part of the modern Soho. A guy might get a massage here but the word parlour would probably never cross the mind of the clientele in this place. At least not in that context. Some of them may well be employing maids (mind you, she could play at that game!) but this was the sort of establishment that firmly put the word up in market. As well as in yours.
Lulu approached the bar, her vivid red dress hugging her figure to flattering effect, as she well knew. She took a seat two removed from a guy of about her age who was evidently in relaxed conversation with the two men in the next two seats. She ordered a glass of chablis.
“Six is a perfect number,” said the man furthest from her, making it almost impossible not to overhear his remark even if she hadn’t possessed that quintessential feminine trait; the ability to mentally download conversations of people nearby, for later retrieval and analysis if required.
“How do you mean?” replied the man closest to her. At first look – OK, now at second look – he seemed quite cute.
“Well, it’s divisible by three numbers – which are obviously one, two and three – and you also get six if you add those numbers together.”
“Amazing,” her man replied, although amazement was clearly pretty much the last emotion going through his mind.
“Yes,” continued Mr Bore, “and the one after that is 28. It’s divisible by one, two, four, seven and fourteen and they also add up to 28.”
“Your point being?”
“No point at all. I just think it’s quite interesting.”
“I think you were right first time: no point at all.” Mr Cute paused. “OK, so I can’t believe I’m asking this, but what’s the one after that?”
“I can’t remember, you’ll be happy to know. Something enormous, I’m sure.”
“Shit!” exclaimed the middle man, looking at a text on his phone. “That’s from Sharon. The Russians will be at the office in five minutes!”
“What!” retorted Mr Bore, almost shouting. “I thought they’d cancelled.”
“Yes, well now they’ve un-cancelled.” He turns to Mr Cute. “Sorry, Rory. We have to fly. It’s a very big deal. Well, we’re hoping it’s going to be. Let’s catch up again soon.”
With that they left the bar, leaving their drinks, Rory and his glamorous unknown companion. Probably because they were the only two people at that end of the bar, out of politeness if nothing else, Rory gave her a tentative smile. She went further.
“So we’ve both been stood up.”
“It’s OK,” he replied. “Stuff happens. Business stuff in their case, it seems.”
She offered her hand.
“So what’s your name? Rory, did your friend say?”
“Yes,” he said, shaking her hand. “Rory Smith. And yours?”
With a coy grin, she replied: “Miss Lulu.”
Smiling widely, he replied: “So your surname is Lulu?”
“Ha-bloody-ha.” This said with a huge grin. “And what do you do, Rory Smith?”
“I’m a journalist.”
“Is that interesting?”
“Often. Well, sometime very much so. Sometimes it can be a bit dull but then I guess most jobs can at times be pretty boring.”
After a short pause, almost visibly weighing up whether to say what she was about to, Lulu gave an arch grin and responded.
“I have to say that no one ever calls what I do boring.”
Rory, with a curious grin, said: “And what would that be?”
“I’m a dominatrix,” she said simply, taking a sip of her wine while awaiting his response.
“So what does that mean?” he asked, still grinning and looking intrigued. “That if I don’t buy you a drink then you’ll hit me?”
She smiled back. “Yes, that could happen. Although the price of a glass of wine even in a place like this is rather below the rate I normally charge.”
Grin firmly in place, Rory said: “So I was here with two mates just now. What brings you here tonight?”
“I was due to meet with a regular client. Not to be a dominatrix, before you look all shocked, but as his escort for the evening…a drink here first, then off to a cocktail party, and then some swanky dinner.”
“So what went wrong?”
Displaying her iPhone in its red case, Lulu replied: “I don’t know. He left me a voice-mail ten minutes ago to say he’d had to change plans. Selfish bastard!”
Despite this apparent disappointment, she smiled.
“That’s cool – a phone to match your dress.”
“Indeed. And don’t forget the shoes.”
She now showed off a pair of scarlet heels.
“Do you have a phone to match all your clothes?”
“No, but I confess I do have a few mobiles.”
“Why so many?”
“A couple private, some for work. But I’m a woman. I can multi-task.”
“So what is it with women and shoes?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why are women so obsessed about shoes? And why do they need so many?”
“We just do,” she said, smiling again. “That’s all.”
“At least you’re choosing to wear them. Did you read about the fuss at the Cannes Film Festival last year when they told actresses that they had to wear high heels if they wanted to appear on the red carpet?”
“The scandal of the sandals? Yes, I did see that. Stupid rule.”
Rory hesitated before ploughing on with this.
“Someone once told me women have a thing about shoes because when you’re trying them on, unlike other clothing, you don’t have to look in a mirror.”
She waited a moment before the comeback.
“I think it’s less complicated than that. Men essentially buy shoes that go with their work clothes. The style doesn’t particularly matter and usually they will be black, sometimes brown. Women need to buy them to go with their nicest dresses, skirts, trousers, whatever, and that will mean they need to buy various styles and colours.”
“So basically you’re saying men just don’t get it?”
“Basically I’m saying that I can understand why men go transvestite.”
Rory smiled broadly.
“Touché.” After a brief pause, he continued. “So is he a nice guy, the one you were supposed to be meeting this evening?”
“Not particularly, but two or three times a year he pays me a couple of grand to be on his arm and impress people.” Rory looked shocked as she carried on. “I’m guessing that he’s not very popular. He only seems to have a small circle of friends. Not very big at all.”
With another smile, she added. “Probably more like a dot, in fact.”
He grinned back at her. “Well, I’m not a good-looking woman, or even a bad-looking one, but I’d find it hard to complain about getting that kind of money for doing so little.”
“Yes, but you don’t have my standards.”
“I can’t figure out whether that’s a good or a bad thing.”
“Bad. Definitely. Anyhow, it’s clear this evening that you’re not going to further my finances, but another drink would be nice. I hadn’t been planning on spending a night in with my vibrator.”
Rory looked shocked again.
“Only kidding.” She paused. “It’s away being repaired.”
They both laughed at that and he ordered two refllls.
“So what kind of journalist are you?” she asked.
“I do all sorts but mostly I’m a columnist.”
“You mean you assail people with your opinions.”
“Yep, I’m the kind of asshole who assails.”
She smiled again as he continued.
“An old colleague once described a columnist as someone who hides up in the hills until the battle is over and then comes down to bayonet the wounded. I think that pretty much gets it.”
“And for whom do you do the bayoneting?”
He mentioned a newspaper.
“And what have you been writing about lately?”
“A piece about the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, the press and his buggered-up budget.”
She looked not especially interested.
“Is it an interesting piece?”
“Not especially, but I guess it had to be done and I happened to be the guy doing it. I think I’d have had a lot more fun with Donald Trump and that guy who allegedly leaked part of his tax return.”
“What happened there?”
“Classic The Donald. He went on Twitter to say that nobody had ever heard of the reporter who had put out the info but it turns out that Trump phoned him less than a year ago to complain about some stuff he’d been writing.”
She grinned. “It’s frightening – the most powerful man in the world is a thin-skinned fool.”
“You’re so right. By the way, did you read that Rupert Murdoch was in the room when Michael Gove got his exclusive post-election interview with Trump for The Times?”
“Yes, that had come to my attention.”
“It’s very funny – Private Eye recently referred to Gove as the presidential proctologist.”
Lulu chortled. “Well, he does look and act like a bit of an arse.”
After another pause in the chat, Rory changed the subject.
“So can I ask how you got into what you do?”
“You just have.”
“Asked me about it.” She paused. “I was [she signalled a two-finger quote marks in the air] a working girl. Quite high-end at the end, I like to think, but a hooker nonetheless. Your rates vary and some clients are nice and some are scumbags. Then in the space of a couple of weeks I took a few days off, accompanied an Italian businessman to a formal dinner – he just wanted me for eye candy, not sex – and I danced on a table in a posh restaurant for three South African businessmen. They paid me £2,000 for that.”
He looked astonished.
“Yes, I’m being serious. Again, no sex. I realised that I hadn’t had sex – at least not been paid for having it – for over a fortnight. I decided that was the way I wanted to go. So I did a rebrand. Out went the website stuff for doing personal. Instead I’d do escort work, role play – you know, dress up in a certain way – and, of course, be a dominatrix. It was a great idea. My best ever.”
“So there’s big demand and good money in not doing sex?”
“A lot of men want to do stuff that doesn’t involve actually having sex. Then they don’t feel they are betraying their wives because it’s not adultery – even if their missus would kill them if she found out.”
“I’m not married but it’s for a reason that an acronym of ‘wife’ is ‘wanking is far easier’.”
Lulu laughed hugely. “The one I’d heard is that it stood for ‘washing, ironing, fucking, etc’.”
They both laughed at that.
“OK, being dominated is not for me. What’s the weirdest role play you’ve done?”
“I’d have to think.” Then, coyly: “Why, you might be interested in that?”
“I don’t know. Your rates are probably out of my league in any case.”
“I mean, we’re supposed to be in a time when money is tight. Or doesn’t that affect your market?”
She shrugged playfully. “Not really. I don’t do austerity bondage. But I will tell you the weirdest escort job I had if you want.”
“What was that?”
“Actually, I didn’t have it because I said ‘No’. A guy offered to take me to the athletics at the London Olympics.”
“What? And you turned him down?”
“Yes. His mother would have been with us as well.”
Now it was Rory’s turn to laugh hugely. “Yes, that is weird.”
Lulu looked at her watch. “Well, Rory Smith, I must go. It’s been a pleasure to meet you. Not necessarily worth the loss of money on the night, but fun nevertheless.”
“Very much so for me, too.” There was a slightly awkward pause. “Can we meet again? Like, for a drink? Or maybe lunch?”
She smiled broadly at him. “That would be nice.”
She rooted in her handbag.
“There,” she said. “One of my more demure cards.”
She handed it over.
“Give me a couple of weeks or so. I’m quite busy in the next two or three weeks – and stop looking at me with such obvious disapproval! – but text me a couple of dates that work for you and we’ll fix it.”
“Great. I’ll do that,” he said, handing over one of his cards in exchange.
“Oh, by the way.”
“The answer is 496.”
“The answer to what question is that?”
“The third number in that sequence your friend was boring you with.”
Not for the first time this evening, he looked shocked. “How do you know that?”
“That you were bored? By your demeanour.”
“No. That you know that number’s the answer to that question.”
“Something I picked up and remembered, that’s all. I’m not just a pretty face, you know.”
And with a sly grin as she bade her leave.
“Or even just a pretty mean spanker.”
Her real name, of course, was not Miss Lulu. It was Cathy St Clare, as evidenced by her address on an avalanche of unopened junk mail that she hadn’t yet got round to dumping. She lived, alone, in a stylish two-storey property in a quiet Knightsbridge side street. In her case, alone indeed meant alone; there wasn’t even a cat. You couldn’t really count mobile phones as company, although if they were animals she might have been able to consider opening a pet shop. She essentially lived in the upper storey, which had a generous-sized living room, a large bedroom and a kitchen that would have allowed her to swing a cat if she’d possessed one, although doing likewise with a large dog would have been problematic. Downstairs was for work.
Upmarket lifestyle magazines were scattered with the abandon of cushions, though if need be she could always promptly locate the one she wanted. The chaos was casual rather than complete.
She logged on to her computer to check emails and look at a couple of articles she’d be meaning to read on FT.com and (obviously!) MailOnline. She then went to the website of Rory’s newspaper and found his column about Philip Hammond.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer unveiled his 2017 budget – in fact, the first of two he’ll announce this year. By Thursday evening the major thrust of it had been discarded. He hadn’t so much played to the gallery as played into the hands of Conservative backbenchers, several of whom have doubtless never forgiven him, and never will, for backing the Remain campaign in the EU Referendum.
The big brouhaha was to do with national insurance contributions (NIC); specifically increasing the amount charged to the self-employed. Philip Hammond probably knew he was in deep trouble when he saw the headline on the front page of The Sun: ‘Spite Van Man’. The man often derided as ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ for being greyer than John Major had just become ‘Spreadshit Phil’ in the eyes of Rupert Murdoch’s go-to attack dog. The man who on Wednesday was perhaps quite pleased with himself for lines like “The last Labour government…and they don’t call it the last Labour government for nothing…” was finding that by Thursday the laugh was on him.
That Hammond was attempting to go down this route in order to help resolve the funding problems in social care would have caused considerable ire for many in the Tory party in any case, but this was massively exacerbated by the fact that the Conservative manifesto before the last election promised there would be no increases in income tax, VAT or NICs for the entire period of this parliament – i.e. until 2020. Yet there it was in black and white. We, the public, were being confronted with something that had surely never occurred before: politicians going back on their word. OK, so the government has had a change of prime minister and chancellor since 2015, but still this was reminiscent of the furore surrounding George Osborne’s marvellously and unforgettably named ‘Omnishambles’ budget of 2012.
Theresa May was sufficiently distracted by the fall-out to sort out her chancellor while she was away at an EU summit. (She was probably glad of the distraction; preferable to the cold shoulders she invariably gets in Brussels.) “It won’t be part of the finance bill,” she said. “It’s what happens with national insurance changes. They will be brought forward in the autumn.” Oh, so it’ll be in the next budget, then? That’s politics for you, I guess. A problem delayed is a problem denied.
Finally, away from the main headlines, there was this story. Hammond had been under pressure ahead of the budget – when nobody was anticipating the NIC increase – to do something to diminish the consequences on small businesses of the impending rise in rates. And he did. In respect of pubs, he declared that those with a rateable value of less than £100,000 would receive a one-off £1,000 discount on their bills for this year. He said this would account for 90% of pubs in Britain. Perhaps, but according to the Evening Standard, that would be of no help to nearly 1,000 pubs in the capital. There’d be no ‘beer bonus’ for them. Which likely leaves a lot of London landlords looking for glasses to cry into.
Smiling, she texted him her compliments. She glanced at her watch and grimaced. Time to get dressed, as in dressed for work.