Don’t blame the business, blame the punters who go…

I went to London last year to visit a friend. We had a meal, I complained about the hell that is the Tube system (as I always do) and we had a few beers.

Then we went to a lap-dancing club.

At this juncture I should point out that I didn’t actually venture in to the establishment and it was never my intention to do so – in spite of the peer pressure that had been building all day.

I just decided it wasn’t for me. The thought of some young, semi-clad Eastern European girl gyrating in front of a room full of middle-aged blokes just made me feel sad. It still does.

Thus, having been accused of “bottling it”, I arranged to meet up with my friend an hour later and, hopelessly lost in the big city, I toddled to the pub over the road.

Suffice to say I think he had a better time than yours truly.

It took me a good 20 minutes to realise I was in a gay bar. Oh how we laughed.

I spent the longest hour of my life fending off questions from the bartender and wanting a hole to open up in the ground and swallow me.

Suffice to say that by the time my friend emerged from said lap-dancing club my dislike of all things south of the Watford Gap had intensified – particularly as I then had to listen to vivid descriptions of a certain Slovakian lady who had caught my friend’s eye.

Yet despite my less than perfect evening, I have to say I would do the same again (perhaps without the gay bar interlude).

Lap-dancing clubs may not be my bag. But, by the same token, I didn’t berate my friend for his choice of entertainment.

He may not have chosen to participate in the most edifying of spectacles, but who am I to sit in judgment?

It was against this background that I read with interest yesterday’s story about members of Bethel Evangelical Church in Hanley vowing to fight plans to open a lap-dancing club next door to their premises in Hope Street.

The fact is, since 2003 more than 300 lap-dancing clubs have been licensed across the UK and (and I say this as a lapsed Methodist) no amount of chuntering from God-botherers will put them out of business.

Surely there must be a market for such places – otherwise they wouldn’t exist. And so long as that market remains then so-called ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ will continue to thrive.

Some people will tell you lap-dancing clubs are just a step away from prostitution. Heaven knows what goes on behind closed doors, they would say.

They will point to the exploitation of some of the young ladies who work in lap-dancing clubs and describe it as degrading to women.

But the owners, such as Chris Clegg, who is set to plough £250,000 into the new Paradise club and bring one of Hanley’s empty buildings back into use, paint a very different picture of a discrete business and argue there is nothing seedy about their establishments.

I suspect the truth is somewhere between these viewpoints.

Many of the women who earn a living (or pocket money) by working at these places doubtless have sorry tales to tell. But there will also be a number who choose this vocation and make no apologies for it.

Indeed, they would be pretty angry if you suggested otherwise.

Granted, it may not be ideal to have a lap-dancing club adjacent to a church which hosts Sunday School sessions but I would suggest that young people these days are perhaps more worldly wise than we give them credit for.

Of course, the real debate shouldn’t be centred on the validity or otherwise of gentlemen’s clubs or the appropriateness of locating one next to a church.

It should be focused on the sort of businesses we, as taxpayers, want springing up around our now infamous Cultural Quarter and the kind of message we want to send to visitors or potential investors.

Ultimately, it is down to the individuals who frequent gentlemen’s clubs to search their own souls afterwards.

If they need any assistance with that they could, of course, pop next door to Bethel Evangelical Church where I am sure there will be people only too willing to help.

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