When I was a teenager living in a squalid bedsit in London, I perfected a trick to meet young single women. It involved a place once pivotal to social life but now sadly disappearing from the High Street: the Launderette.
For those with a privileged existence or who are too young to remember such places, a Launderette was an open-all-hours shop filled with washing machines, tumble driers and discarded items of underwear. People who were either too poor to afford washing machines or who lived in tiny bedsits without the space for such appliances flocked to Launderettes with bin-bags stuffed with soiled clothing and a pocketful of change.
My plan was simple. If, on my way home from work, I spied a young lady in the Launderette, I would gallop home and grab the bin bag. Even if I’d already done my washing, I’d quickly fill it with clean clothes. My thinking was a young lady in a launderette probably lived in a bedsit, and so was alone and a bit bored.
I’d try to calculate which machine her clothes were in, using the linear eye-line method. Few people sat opposite their machine. Watching your underwear circle in the window was too depressing. However, you needed to be able to watch for the lights to go out, signalling a move to the driers.
I’d load my clothes into the machine next to hers, acting as if I’d never seen a washing machine before. Then I’d look around, confused, muttering the word ‘washing powder’ over and over again. More often than not, the nice young lady would take pity on me and point out the vending machine for detergent. Then she’d show me how to add it to the machine, and once it was up and running I’d have one final question.
‘How long does it take?’
‘Just under an hour,’ she’d reply with a shrug.
‘Sod that,’ I’d exclaim. ‘I’m going to the pub. Do you fancy a drink?’
It worked well, although I met a fair share of oddballs amongst the woman-folk of bedsit land. One was Gloria. We went to the pub, stayed for hours and got shit-faced, had a quick snog in the car park and headed back to collect our clothes. She offered to ‘iron’ my stuff, which really meant we were going to shag. I headed to the off licence to grab a few bottles of wine and she headed home, having given me her address. When I arrived there was no answer. Peeping through the letterbox I could see her slumped on the stairs, passed out, using her bag of washing as a pillow.
A few months later I was coming out of the pub on a Saturday afternoon when I bumped into Gloria again. She had her nose stuck in a battered old book she’d got from a charity shop. It was a 1930s compendium of witchcraft rituals.
She waved it in my face and said, ‘I’m going to summon up the Devil. Are you interested?’
Taking the book, I read the page it was open at. The ritual involved candles, a knife, a bell and a naked dancing girl. A naked dancing girl; you didn’t see that every day.
‘I’m up for it,’ I said, ‘but I haven’t got a bell.’
‘My aunt has,’ she replied. After noting down my address in the back of the book she headed off, promising to be back within the hour. I figured I wouldn’t see her again.
To my surprise, Gloria returned around 45 minutes later. She did indeed have a bell, a small brass one with the word ‘Cleethorpes’ and a picture of a donkey engraved on the side. We lit the candles, she stripped off and pranced around the room naked, clutching the communal bread knife, while I rang the bell and read out the listed incantations in my best theatrical voice.
Nothing happened. Well, when I say nothing happened, there was a slight stirring in my trousers, but no sign of the Prince of Darkness. We gave up. I did consider trying to jump Gloria’s bones, but didn’t want her to think I’d only played along to see her dance around naked. Instead we got drunk.
As was the norm in bedsit-land, my tenancy ended and I moved a few miles away, nearer where a few of my friends were living at the time. I didn’t see Gloria again, not in the flesh, but I saw her picture in the newspaper a few years later. She’d been sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter after cutting a man’s throat during what the papers called a ‘Satanic Ritual’. The murder charge was reduced to manslaughter because of diminished responsibility. A voice had told her to do it, apparently.
Looking back, I’m not sure if the Devil failed to turn up that day, or whether she was already there, in my bedsit, naked and waving a bread knife around her head while I rang the Cleethorpes Bell.