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Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

"Making Beds in Brothels" by Adam Brock

Following a horrendous childhood, in which he was regularly beaten and possibly sexually abused by his father, a man who exhibited symptoms of mental illness, Adam was raped as a young teenager in a gay mar in Manchester. He became a child prostitute before working as a rent boy in brothels in Amsterdam and London. Somehow he survived. 

In this memoir, Adam reserves his strongest condemnation not for the clients who hired him. “I dislike categorising all those who pay for sex as somehow predatory or deviant; they are drawn from as wide a pool as any other group of humanity.” (C 17) He has compassion even for Mitchell, a long-time friend, who stole from him: “what kind of person steals the crutches from a man with a broken back?” (C 23). He feels that, as a child, he was repeatedly failed by the system. “Three times I went to the austere police station in the centre of Mobberley and reported that my father was abusing me. Three times nothing was done. No social workers were called, no review or check by the police, not a single investigation. All that happened was that each time I was returned to my father, and later received the beatings of my life as a result.” (C 5)
The youth leaders of his gay teenager group encouraged them to go to the bar where he was raped and, later, rented. A teacher refused to discuss his sexuality with him (it was illegal at the time for teachers to 'encourage' homosexuality under section 28 of the Local Government Act). Still well underage, he plied his trade unchallenged: “I regularly worked on the streets, between the age of fourteen and seventeen, and was never once stopped and asked what I was doing by a police officer, not a single time. And I was doing it in broad daylight, in a public area for the entire world to see, often under high spec surveillance cameras.” (C 9) “After escaping my father and moving to Manchester, aged fourteen, I was placed in local authority care with ‘Mad Anne’. Anne had a different man home every other night. Then, at sixteen, there was the city homeless shelter at Downing Street, a square red brick building with dormer roof, long demolished. I was a small, vulnerable kid living with city down and outs; the insane, the hopeless. My abiding memory of that place was simply how scary it was.” (C 13)

Many memoirs suffer from their 'one thing after another' structure (as opposed to novels in which the novelist is able to shape the narrative so that it grows and swells and creates meaning). I didn't notice it so much with this book, perhaps because of the shocking nature of the subject. It isn't strong on the detail of the sex, perhaps because Adam has become a born-again Christian; if you want to know about what goes on between a rentboy and his client I recommend Street Kid by Ned Williams. Both Adam and 'Steven' were sexually abused by their fathers; both identify as gay. Adam has a considerably longer career as a sex worker than 'Steven', perhaps because he spends most of his time in the more controlled environment of the brothel. But he ends up more damaged; 'Steven' starts his narrative with a nostalgic return to the streets and bars where he plied his trade.

The last part of the book describes Adam finding God. It makes interesting reading if you are concerned about the Problem of Evil, the idea that God cannot be both omnipotent and good because people suffer: 
  • There seems no need for a fiery hell elsewhere anyway, because many of us already dwell in it” (C 24)
  • there is a causality between God and sinfulness. Not that God inspires sin, but rather that we are of God and the world is of God, and sin happens through the sinner’s own freewill.” (C 24)
  • Sometimes my relationship with God seems to mirror my relationship with my father. Why does the omnipresent Deity, who ultimately oversees everything, allow me to suffer so much? If I deserve it and I’m being punished, are the words we are fed about a compassionate God who is radically forgiving, meaningless, empty promises meant simply to placate us? Presumably you can’t be both loving and drive someone into an early grave.” (C 27)
  • God says, I oversaw your abuse, you inevitably strayed due to the damage and de-normalisation of childhood trauma, now I’m going to punish you, perhaps till the strain becomes too much. But this is okay, this is the way to your redemption.” (C 27)
  • If hell is redemptive, as someone once told me, then it’s a bitter cup for all of us who have already suffered it.” (C 27)
There are some great moments:
  • Mobberley struggles along the bottom of a narrow valley, the town clawing unsuccessfully up the sides of the Pennines. The terrain halts the spread of development and the town remains low, dense and grey” (C 2)
  • It was a tough, unattractive place, hard on the lungs. You tasted the toxins in air, which gave the atmosphere a soupy, viscous quality that caught in the nostrils.” (C 2)
  • he grinds his strong white teeth into my face, pushing my head hard against them.” (C 3)
  • We didn’t learn the normal ways of regulating anger that children do. We didn’t throw tantrums or disobey in the normal way, everything was suppressed for fear of retribution.” (C 3)
  • for all the religion in that house there was an absolute absence of God.” (C 4)
  • He claimed that during the time he spent at his grandparents, he was aware of the dead that his grandmother invoked and that they tormented him in the dark.” (C 4)
  • Sometimes she forgot to fry the eggs, the yolks floating in viscous clear whites on your plate, frying the peas instead and boiling the chips.” (C 7)
  • Why did I keep going back after he had done so much? Because I was lonely. Because there was security in our familiarity. If I’m honest, I had no one else.” (C 7)
  • It may seem unlikely but If you want to know about good and bad people, ask prostitutes. A prostitute who doesn’t develop a nose for people’s hidden character – for what they are not telling you, or what they actually want as opposed to what they are saying they want – isn’t going to survive very long.” (C 10)
  • I once knew a man, a regular in the Old Reform bar in Manchester, who told me he purposefully supplied his lovers with drugs till they eventually become addicted, and then took pleasure in watching their lives fall apart. What he did was promote behaviour that might lead to these young men’s death; playing with their lives. He justified himself by saying that the men deserved it in some way: that they were using him and this was his means of revenge.” (C 10)
  • Both of us had been handed the sticky end of the lollipop and felt the world owed us something but we owed it nothing.” (C 10)
  • The Earl’s Court of my recollection smells of dust, the stink of the cars. Dust clings heavy to the buildings, trees, streets with the tenacity of lint, like static adhered to laundry.” (C 13)
  • Every surface is covered with thrift store tat” (C 13)
  • “Her perfume is her most memorable feature. It is mixture of patchouli, cannabis, stale sweat and the yeasty scent of body parts best not thought of; your nose knows of her presence long before your eyes” (C 13)
  • Would I know if I was dead? How do we know which of us are restless spirits that seek to undo what has been done, to untangle the Gordian knot of our lives?” (C 13)
  • One day you are young, the party is in full swing, then you blink, and everyone has left, and you are forty-nine, working reception in a doss house.” (C 13)
  • This was a business where not taking care of the product, in other words ourselves, was counterproductive. If I was going to survive and thrive, I had to take self-care seriously.” (C 15)
  • Commodification of the individual makes it possible to regard ourselves as any other product that is influenced by supply, demand or quantity.” (C 16)
  • I objectified myself as a means of meeting market requirements; I adjusted my appearance and persona.” (C 16)
  • A good scenario could reduce the time of the ‘massage’ considerably, the customer often becoming overwhelmed by the excitement.” (C 16)
  • We were the equivalent of a gourmet hot dog. Street enough to make the men feel as if they were buying into the ghetto fantasy, but without the risk of developing salmonella.” (C 16)
  • When you were in the sex-worker bubble, you ... lived, slept, socialised and worked in a very small area, so it was easier sometimes just to stay in character. The risk is, that you inevitably lose yourself to a greater or lesser degree, when you live a lie over an extended period of time.” (C 16)
  • There is a click and the room is suddenly brightly lit. The glass door in front of us, which initially looked like smoked glass, becomes an impenetrable mirror, through which we can see nothing other than our selves reflected back. In the darkness of the hallway, however, the customer can see each of us clearly under the bright spot-lights. We pull in our stomachs, pout our lips, predicating the duck face of the ubiquitous selfie by decades, as we try to make ourselves irresistible. A few moments pass. There is a sharp tap on the window, and the lights go out.” (C 17)
  • Being the first is almost talismanic, for it means you can relax – anything else will be gravy. Once you have that first client out of the way, everything will be all right. The anxiety is always that you won’t work that day.” (C 17)
  • There is an old saying about prostitutes, two great years, two okay years and two shit years.” ( 21)
  • My needs were always immediate. The immediate need for accommodation, for money or food. I needed drink and drugs to suppress the inevitable anxiety.” (C 21)
  • I needed to polish off entire bottles of neat whiskey to bring myself down from the drugs long enough for a few hours’ sleep.” (C 23)
  • That morning, suffering from drug-induced psychosis and under the impression I was under attack from demons waiting outside my door, that something that I could hear laughing and cajoling me with murderous intent in their voices was about to enter the room and consume me, I defenestrated myself, in spectacular fashion, hurtling myself out of the third story window, and falling in a shower of broken glass. I felt no fear as I flew through the air, toppling towards the concrete below.” (C 23)
  • “I was surrounded by voices of the dead who screamed into my ears, arguing whether I should live or die. I swear that, at that point, I felt as if I was overhearing a conversation taking place around me. That these spirits and others would decide my fate.” (C 23)
  • The most painful lesson you will ever learn is to understand that it is you yourself who is often the chief architect of your own misery.” (C 24)
  • Perhaps death has a quota that needs to be met, and my chance survival has put me on death’s list of escapees.” (C 24)
  • for years I had socialised with those who contributed to my exploitation. I saw these men walking down the street and rather than rushing over to them and screaming in their faces, striking them with my fists, I did nothing. I would sit next to them in a bar, and even nod acknowledgement to them. This normalisation now strikes me as perverse and it’s that normalisation that allows it to continue.” (C 25)
  • when you are hopeless you cling to any possibility that life will improve.” (C 27) Except he didn't. At one stage he tried to kill himself.

Mesmerising reading. December 2020

This review was written by Dave Appleby the author of Motherdarling

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