Shit, I'm living next to a brothel
I’m not entirely certain what made me suspect our new neighbours were prostitutes. My experience of the oldest profession is limited to a stroll through Amsterdam’s red light district, having a sneaky peak at the variety of gruesome wenches from the safety of the street, so it wasn’t exactly an informed guess. I suppose it was the stereotypically whorish way they dressed, the tawdry jewellery and heavy make-up, and the way they seemed to silently sneak in and out of the flat next door. I saw them very rarely and presumed they were quiet types, maybe students, but I soon began to notice a lot of nervous, ugly men of varying generations shuffle suspiciously up and down the close stairs. At first I tried to console myself by believing that the women at 4 / 2 were incredibly sociable and hosted parties every night of the week, but if they did they were the quietest parties I’d ever (not) heard. I desperately grasped at other unlikely possibilities – a book club maybe, a big family – but I knew it was hopeless. The flat next door was a brothel.
My girlfriend thought my theory was yet another fantasy developed in my blossoming paranoia, and I can’t say I blame her. We’d been in the new place for about six months, and in that time I had become the consummate curtain-twitcher, keeping a constant watchful eye on my new neighbourhood, taking mental notes and memorising the number for the nearest cop shop just in case. So I kept quiet after the first mention of my suspicions and convinced myself that she was quite possibly right, that I was making it all up. But it wasn’t long before she was convinced too.
It started with our buzzer, which would ring in the early hours of the morning and was especially frequent at weekends, but almost never when we were expecting visitors. The first few times were excusable, it’s easy to press the button for 4 / 1 instead of 4 / 2 after all, and maybe their friends weren’t quite sure which flat the women lived in. But what began as a feint annoyance soon became a ceaseless trial, until we decided to have our buzzer fitted with an ON / OFF switch so we could deactivate it at night and get some peace. And by working from home while my girlfriend was at her place of employment, I could hear the busy turnaround of an afternoon’s customers all day long too. I would wait until another 'John' accidentally rang my buzzer – I kept it on during daylight hours – then decide it was time to pop down to the shop so I could catch a glimpse of the girls as he entered. I tried this many times but it worked only once, the women were always careful to ensure that they weren’t visible from outside, hiding behind the door. On the one instance their caution cracked, though, I spied two of them as they welcomed an old, facially scarred guy into their parlour, suggestively dressed in robes with a hint of nylon on their ankles.
Then one day I found a Royal Mail card in my post, informing me that a parcel had been left with the neighbours at 4 / 2. My girlfriend was home from work early that day, so I left it for her to collect so she could see what was going on next door for herself. She knocked on the door just before 5 PM and was greeted by a flustered, flushed woman in a robe and overpowering perfume. When she returned, my girlfriend’s face said everything; she was finally convinced. We talked about it in hushed voices in the front room for a while, and made a vague decision to let them be. They weren’t doing us any harm, plus they did a good job of keeping the close clean too.
But then business began to boom. Clearly talented girls, their trade and turnaround soared, and the constant queues of eager clients became unbearable. On one occasion, having been buzzed in by the brothel, a man mistakenly knocked on my door. It was early in the morning so I reasonably presumed it was the postman and answered. He didn’t even look at me and said nothing, staring shiftily downwards and trying to barge past me and into my flat, perhaps mistaking me for a bouncer. I stopped him with a hand and he looked up. There was no need to say anything, he understood his mistake immediately and backed away, passionately apologising as he reversed back into the close. This then began to happen so often that I kept a hammer by the door in case I ever needed to protect my girlfriend and my newborn son from some drunken, randy bruiser. Thankfully I never had cause to use it, but things really began to turn dark around then.
The worst episode came a few weeks after. It was very late, my girlfriend and baby boy were asleep but I was up as always, ever the nighthawk. I heard a commotion outside the flat door but ignored it in the way I was accustomed to by then. It was obviously escalating though, so I crept up and viewed the scene through the spy-hole. A thoroughly drunken client was being ejected and was trying to talk and force his way back into the brothel. He eventually gave up but decided the next best strategy was to lie on the stairs in the close and shout obscenities in the general direction of the whorehouse. When this proved futile, he struggled back to his feet and began incessantly punching the brothel door until one of the prostitutes opened it, effortlessly shoved him to the stone landing and told him to fuck off. He tried to get up but couldn’t, so his next tactic was to tell her in extremely graphic terms how he intended to hurt her. She replied: “Fucking come ahead – do you want the knife or the shotgun?” I quickly dialled that police station phone number I’d memorised a few months earlier.
We were planning to take our very young son to see his grandparents in England anyway, so now seemed like the best time. We packed up and disappeared for over a month, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to tackle the problem when we returned. Should we go to the police or would that risk the possibility of reprisals from Glasgow gangsters? I was understandably distressed for us all, but I hadn’t even mentioned the shotgun remark to my girlfriend, deciding it was best to burden the worry alone until a plan of action was decided. I eventually resigned myself to seeking police help, hoping that the solidarity with the rest of the neighbours would provide us with strength in numbers.
But we got home about five weeks later and they were gone. They had apparently fled the scene during the night in our absence, so perhaps the police were already aware of their activity anyway. In doing so, they had left a lot of their stuff, which had been dumped in the street outside by the new tenants of 4 / 2. And there outside, on the corner of our street, lay a gigantic, kitsch leopard-print couch. After weeks of worry, I think I might have even giggled a bit.
This was all about a year ago, and I’ve been wondering where those women are now. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend living next door to it, I still believe that prostitution and brothels should be fully legalised so that the unfortunate women who find themselves in such a dangerous career can at least rely on some kind of protection within the law. I think all the cities in the UK should designate an area for sex work in which every adult who wants to buy sex can, and every whore, male or female, can ply their trade in safety. Prostitution will always be with us whether you agree with its morality or not, and if we just accept that and deal with it then hopefully honest, tax-paying citizens like myself wouldn’t feel the need to keep a hammer by their front door ever again.