Young Lads and Ladies of the Night

Young Lads and Ladies of the Night 

Pigalle, Paris 1962

Billy:  What are those women doing up there, Aunt Ella?

Mum:  Where? Where, Billy? Show me, can you point to them?  

Billy:  There, there, in the shadows up there about halfway, they’re kind of theatrically dressed, if I can use that expression for them.

Mum: (Going a few steps up into the alleyway.) Let me see … Oh, dear! I see them, I see them … I don’t think we need to bother about them, they’re not doing anything at all … let’s not worry about them …

Billy:  I’m not worried about them, I’m just interested in why they’re standing in the shadows like that. Do you think it’s a kind of Parisian pastime, a cultural thing, standing in doorways, all dressed up, decked out, lingering in that fashion.

Mum:  Oh, no, I don’t know … no, no, how should we describe it?  They’re looking out, rather I mean they’re waiting for people … 

Billy:  Goodness gracious … a sudden thought just came to me … oh, let me think, it was there a moment ago … got it! Aunt Ella, if you walked up there and stood with those women, do you think I could sing to Graham (Billy sings lustily) :


“Have you seen your mother, Graymy, standing in the shadows?

Have you had another, Graymy, standing in the shadows?” 

Mum:  No, I don’t think you could, Billy, and well you know it, because the Rolling Stones haven’t written it yet, not for another 4 years at least … and I hope they change

“shadows” to the singular. I don’t think the Rolling Stones would want to be associated with Cliff Richard’s backing group. Apart from which fantastical piece of envisioning, you wouldn’t catch me up that alleyway, not on your nellie.


Tell me a story about how you adore me

Live in the shadow, see through the shadow,

Live through the shadow, tear at the shadow

Hate in the shadow, and love in your shadowy life

Have you seen your lover, Grahamy, standing in the shadow?

Mum:  All right, that’s enough now, Billy, you’re getting carried away. Leave it to Jagger and Richards in a few years.

Billy:  Oh well, I thought it was rather clever myself …  way before it’s time. Now where were we?

Mum:  I can tell you where we are, we’re in the nightlife area of Paris, and I think it is very interesting, wonderful to feel that we’re here, certainly couldn’t be Uphall Station, where I was brought up  … oh, look! Look at that over there … (Billy interrupts) …

Billy:  Oh, I remember! I remember you were saying the women up there were waiting for people … What people, do you know?

Mum:  People who want to meet them … you know … you know the circumstances I’m sure, not that we have too many waiters and watchers in our streets back home, I shouldn’t just say 

Billy:  Too cold, I would say back home … however, I’m not sure that I do know about them … I just see a lot of gaily and colourfully dressed women standing in doorways and I’m wondering why they don’t pass their time in a more productive way. Do you think that they’re theatre performers taking a break from the stage in their stage garb?

Mum:  Well, I wish I could say “Yes” but it’s got to be “No”  … I’m afraid they’re simply being attractive.

Billy:  Alluring? Would you say “alluring”?  Attracting what? 

Mum:  Yes, that’s a good word, do you think they’re attractive?

Billy:  Well, I’d have to get a closer look …

Mum:  No, no, we haven’t time, let’s go and get a cup of tea at a nice café … (Billy looks wistfully up the side street.)  All right, yes, it’s attention, they like to get attention … you know …

Billy:  No, actually I’m struggling with the situation … why would they stand in doorways like that, in the shadows, loitering there, lurking there?  Goodness me, there must be 5 or 6 of them.  Why don’t they go to cafés and sit normally sipping café au laits like ordinary folk?  It seems strange to me, are they outcasts or something? 

Mum:   They would be too colourful, even for Paris cafés. You see, Billy, you see …  it’s to do with legality … they couldn’t do what they’re doing if they sat out in the open, in public, I think. Yes, that’s it, of course, it’s illegal … although maybe there’s a bit of turning a blind eye. I’m not terribly sure on the law in France on that kind of thing.

Billy:  So it’s illegal to be outcasts?

Mum:  No, no, not outcasts … one thing’s for sure they can’t sit out anywhere overtly in public sipping coffees and doing what they do. 

Billy:  But they’re not doing anything! And they’re not sitting, they’re standing … some of them are in strange poses – arms akimbo, knees in plain view, chins held up jauntily. What’s that about, a kind of fashion thing, do you think?

Mum:  Well, you know, what’s fashionable in Paris may not be what we’re used to back home … oh, my goodness, I should say, not something you’d see there, not even in Edinburgh, I can tell you … and anyway, Billy, you know, I feel they’re trying to make a living and so we shouldn’t judge them too much for behaving … clandestinely. Yes, that’s a good word.

Billy:  So, they’re hiding from the authorities, from the police?

Mum:  Yes, you could say that … they operate under cover, at night, in the shadows. Their customers also don’t like to be seen.

Billy:  Their customers? So they’re selling something?

Mum:  Yes, yes, you know, you know … 

Billy:  But they don’t have anything out on display, I don’t think (he moves nearer to the entrance of the sidestreet.)

Mum:  Billy! Billy! Come away, come away … don’t disturb them …

Billy:  Just trying to see what they’re selling, maybe they have some goods inside the doorways.

Mum:  No, no, the goods are about their persons.

Billy:  Eh? What does that mean “about their persons”? … who they are, you mean?

Mum:  Yes, yes, you know what they are … no, no, I mean they have with them what they sell.

Billy:  Well, I don’t know what they sell and I can’t see anything.  Who are they? What are they?

Mum:  You know, you know … you know … let me ask you … do you know what ladies of the night are? 

Billy:  Ladies of the night? Ladies of the night?  I can’t think that I do. They come out at night, not during the day?  They work at night?

Mum:  Yes, now that’s enough of that!  Come on, let’s look at the joys of Paris, all these beauties here … Oh, aren’t we lucky to be in Paris, walking here,  …Oh, there’s the Moulin Rouge … oh, and look at that fire eater! My goodness, you won’t see that kind of thing in Princes Street … Do you know, if Jo and I had had the chance to visit Paris when we were your age, oh, it would have changed us … 

Billy: Would there have been women standing up side streets back then, do you think?

Mum:  Oh, yes, I’m sure there would have been, it’s been going on a long time. Ladies of the night were very common in the Belle Epoque … but of course, Jo and I weren’t born then so we wouldn’t have been able to come here then, but a bit later, you know what I mean.

Billy:  Ladies of the night! They come out at night? They stay inside during the day … sort of like vampires.

Mum: Goodness me, some would say they are vampires … Oh, the joys of Paris, here we are, can’t you just feel it, the history, like it’s been this way for centuries, it’s in the cobbles, in the stone? … a wonderful thing … now, what will tomorrow bring? There are art galleries – the Louvre, the Orsay (Check) – churches … Saint Chapelle and Notre Dame – statues, ancient quarters full of character, great historic parks, writers’ houses, bookshops,

markets … oh, the markets are said to be wonderful, how about a market tomorrow? … what would you like to see?

Billy:  Well, how about looking at these women a little closer, now that we’re here? Maybe we won’t get the chance again.

Mum:  Billy, come away … we have other things to do tonight. Let’s have an icecream, une glace … what flavour? Paris has so many flavours …  

You know, boys … boys, come here a minute … you know what Ernest Hemingway said about Paris … this is why you are so lucky to be here … he wrote, I should say, I don’t think he said it:  

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. 

 That’s great writing that … a moveable feast; you’ll have Paris now for the rest of your lives.

Billy:  Well, I think I’ll be wondering about those women up that close for the rest of my life, that’s for sure.

Mum: Yes, very good, time for a cup of coffee … oh, look at that juggler! This is the “vrai Paree” for me.