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Saturday 24th January 2004

I was out having a drink with my friends Danny and Greta in a central London pub and noticed that there were a group of women wearing identical T-shirts going from table to table. One of the women smiled at me as she passed. I said to Danny, "That woman smiled at me. She must be selling something." It turned out that I was not underestimating my sexual attractiveness, because a few minutes later one of her colleagues came to our table and started giving a spiel. The pub was a bit noisy and I couldn't really hear what she was saying, so it was unclear for a moment whether she was collecting for charity or canvassing the opinion of drunks. Eventually it became clear that she was offering to give us shoulder massages. In a pub on a Saturday night? What was the world coming to. Danny was much amused by this concept and though claiming he didn't need one himself, he falsely claimed that I had been complaining about having stiff shoulders all night (this was possibly some form of revenge as I had been going on a bit about having been out on the river again today, for my second and slightly less unsuccessful attempt at rowing). I was already a little merry (I am only drinking at weekends now, or when there's something special going on during the week, or if I'm a bit depressed and in need of forgetting about the world's cruelty. I have had a drink on five of the last nine days thanks to these new specifications), and did not want to have a massage and tried to make the woman go away. But Danny was quite insistent and asked how much a massage would be. "You decide how much you want to pay," said the supposed masseuse, (no-one asked to see her qualifications. For all we knew this could just be a cynical attempt to make money out of drunk men, desperate for a woman's touch on a lonely Saturday night). When pressed she admitted that people usually paid between five and ten pounds. Danny decided I deserved the minimum possible massage and stumped up the fiver and I became a reluctant massagee.
It was a rather surreal experience to begin with and I tried to cover my embarrassment by continuing as if nothing were happening. Yet this was difficult as there was a woman, massaging my shoulders in return for money. Danny seemed to be enjoying my embarrassment, until a second supposed masseuse came to the table and Greta gave her money to massage Danny. Not many women would pay a girl to touch their boyfriend whilst they watch; Danny is clearly one of the luckiest men in the world. I am not saying this is the kind of thing they usually get up to, because I have no evidence of that. But let's just say it all happened very smoothly, as if they were practised at it.
Though Greta now had the presumably hilarious spectacle of sitting at a table in a pub with two slightly awkward looking men being pushed and pummelled by two women that they have only just met.
My "masseuse" asked me to use her outstretched hand as a pillow and as I leant against it she prodded my neck and I found that I had overcome my shame and was beginning to feel relaxed. Maybe a bit sleepy. It crossed my mind that these girls might be part of a sophisticated pick-pocket gang, possibly headed by a slightly kinkier version of Fagin. Much better to have a loft full of attractive women with the gift of massage, than a load of stinky urchins singing songs about petty theft.
After a few minutes the experience was over and I returned to my humdrum life, where for the majority of the time I am not being caressed by dexterous ladies. Usually I am able to relax my shoulders by myself, though if I ever write the self-help guide to that discipline I will definitely include a chapter on the easy way to relaxed shoulder Nirvana. The girls moved on to find some more idiotic men with more money than sense and less relaxed shoulders than dignity.
We reckoned they were on at least sixty pounds an hour. I think I might go out next weekend and try the same scam.
Not sure if there will be such a big market for being massaged by a fat, drunk bloke though. Let's face it, if any women wanted that on a Saturday night, it is fairly easy to manage it for nothing.
None of the women I encountered later that evening showed the remotest interest in anything like it.

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