Must I submit to the lesbian club scene?

It's the only way I can surround myself with gay girls. But flirting in Lesbianese is a fine art.

“So, uh, what’s your favourite drug?” I ask a sallow woman with pretty blue eyes.

She has just told me that she likes drugs, so I’m being polite.

“Oh, that would have to be heroin. Heroin’s really nice. But never do heroin.”

My new friend, an ex-junkie, proceeds to list all the reasons why I should steer clear of smack. This is the highlight of my evening. I’m standing in a drizzly smoking area, outside a warehouse, being lectured to about the dangers of drug use. Inside, nearly every eligible young lesbian in London is doing her bit to make the walls sweat.

The lesbian scene has me by the balls. Yet every Hackney girls’ night or Soho piss-up ends with me sitting on the night bus, face like chewed ham, listening to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. “That’s it,” I say to myself. “I’m retiring from The Scene.”

A week later, I’m back for another healthy dose of gin and humiliation. See, submitting to the lesbian club scene is the only way I can surround myself with gay girls.

The advantage therein? Well, the chance of my being in the proximity of a person kind enough to sleep with me goes up 17 per cent. I’ve done the maths. Then again, me in a club is a bit like Nigel Farage in a Polski sklep. The only way to communicate with your fellow woman, when house music is invading your every orifice, is through the arcane medium of dance. When, like me, you don’t so much dance as move weirdly, you have no voice.

If, on the other hand, it was socially acceptable to go up to a woman in a club and scream facts about tropical diseases in her ear, I’d be made. Reality is a sour bitch.While trying to look as dour and inconspicuous as possible, I’m avoiding eye contact with girls I recognise from unsuccessful OkCupid dates. Throw in a regrettable one-night stand and you have yourself a bona fide fruit salad of broken dreams.

Flirting in Lesbianese is a fine art, especially in the inscrutable East End dialect. It involves mastering a facial expression that says exactly this: “I loathe you, but I would dearly like to put my thumb in your vagina.”

From what I can tell, it’s somewhere between a glare and a snarl, with a sprinkling of leer. On the way to the bar, for my seventh G&T, I pass a stunner with a pixie haircut and a baggy, “wouldn’t you like to know . . .” button-down.

We frown at each other, so things are looking good. A bit later, I see her leaving hand-inhand with a girl whose grimace she clearly preferred. I stand at the bar, sipping my drink and praying to every imaginable deity for the DJ to play a song that I actually know. Feigning enthusiasm for early-Noughties R&B tracks remixed by people with beards and opinions about post-ironic synth revival is surprisingly hard work. With a genuine scowl, I empty my glass. “I’m retiring,” I repeat to myself.

The next weekend, I’m lying face down in bed, having a glorious dream about tractors. My phone rings. It’s a lesbian.

“Are you coming to Fanny Palace tonight?”

“To what?”

“The Facebook page says it’s a ‘post-queer trip-hop extravaganza’.”

“Sounds great,” I say.

Is this the ideal place to find a date? Image: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit