Found this in a guidebook I picked up in an Amsterdam hostel a few years ago:
Prostitutes. If you visit one of the women, we would like to remind you, they are not always women. Do not take pictures of the women. Out on the streets, do not shout or use bad language towards these women. Show some respect. If you have any problems with a girl or a pimp, do not hesitate to ask a police officer. We know why you are there and you can hardly surprise us. So have fun, enjoy our city, and respect this neighbourhood.
The wedding was a long day and by the time the party kicked off in the evening, we were all flagging. There was a table at the back with four free chairs next to a pudgy woman in a cardy. My friend’s pregnant girlfriend went to sit down in one of the seats.
‘Those chairs are taken. All of them,’ the woman said.
I watched the table for an hour. The chairs stayed empty.
At the end of the night I saw the woman again. She was on a different table by the dancefloor, four empty seats next to her.
Do you want to go and see a film, maybe?
I was wondering if you wanted to watch a film?
Hey, do you like films?… No, what am I doing? Come on!
Er, excuse me d-do you mind if…? Here? Is that ok? I was just thinking: there’s a girl who looks like she might be into films. I wondered if you’d like to go and see one – with me, I mean. I can’t imagine there’s much choice because Falmouth is quite a lot smaller than London, but how about it anyway? Do you fancy it? A film?
The lad loitered in the Christmas aisles examining the kinds of calendars you usually find hanging on the wall of a mechanic’s: The Sun Page 3 Girls, one from Nuts magazine, Babes and Bikes 2012.
His girlfriend stood behind him, five-feet tall and buried inside a puffer jacket. Her nose was raw and when she spoke her voice was muffled by snot.
‘What do you like about them?’ she said to his back.
‘Dunno,’ the lad replied, picking up UK’s Hottest Babes.
‘Do you think I look like them?’
The lad didn’t hear. He’d already set off towards the tills.
As I walked down the steps, I was on my phone saying something witty and charming like: ‘Well, he’s just a gormless twat, isn’t he?’
There was a lad sitting on the bottom step with his arm in a sling. As I got level with him, his girlfriend turned up. The lad took out a little bouquet of flowers from his sling and gave it to her.
‘That’s it then, he can fuck off,’ I said into the phone.
The girl smiled at the flowers but the romance of the gesture was marred by an inconsiderate loudmouth on a mobile.
There’s a spectacular view from the cliff top so I stop at a bench for a cigarette.
A family approaches – a sweating mass of red wobbling flesh, the children as overweight as the parents. I shuffle up and the kids spread out on the bench.
‘Darren, don’t sit there, that guy’s smoking. You know what we think of smokers don’t you?’ the dad says, loudly.
‘You chose to sit here and second-hand smoke is the least of your troubles, fatty’ I want to say but I don’t. To save face I wait a minute or so before moving on.
It’s so hot that on the short walk from the café, the caramel on the top of my flapjack has melted. The garden’s packed – I sit amid a huge family who’ve spread out over four picnic tables.
The young child in the pushchair starts screaming as I wait for my tea to brew. There are toilets and baby changing facilities within spitting distance but instead the dad changes her on the seat of the bench opposite.
When the nappy comes off it’s directly in my eyeline. The gooey caramel sliding off my flapjack doesn’t look quite so appetising anymore.
The waiters have treated me like shit. They patronised me when I came in, stuck me at a back table and then ignored me. To order I have to approach one of them with a menu.
The bill comes – £24 for Moussaka, salad and a beer. I don’t want to leave exactly £24, they might think I’ve simply forgotten to tip and I want them to understand how I rate their service.
I put £24.13p on the table and rush out. On the pavement, I panic that I’ve forgotten my camera. I’d rather leave it behind than go back.
‘This is a clothes shop – there isn’t a changing room?!’
The new trousers hang limply over my arm.
‘There’s a 28 day returns policy. Bring them back if they don’t fit,’ the assistant says.
‘Will I get cash back or store credit?’
She looks at me like I’m some kind of genetic accident.
To prove a point, I’m about to take off my jeans and try on the trousers in the middle of the shop. Then I remember what underpants I’m wearing and how old they are.
I storm off, chuntering, and put the trousers back on the rail.
Stony faced, the pensioner stared straight ahead as he drove his mobility scooter at walking speed in the exact centre of the road. Behind him, the queue of cars was backed right up to the roundabout, clogging up traffic coming from all directions. In front, vehicles were mounting the curb in an attempt to get past in the morning rush hour.
As he trundled past me at the bus stop, he patted his handlebars and said: ‘good morning’. He didn’t take his eyes off the road, he didn’t even smile.
It was like watching a butterfly flutter across a battlefield.