A friend at our karate club, Colin, does bondage and 'water sports' pictures and sells them to a web porn site called 'After Midnight'. When I spoke to Sharon in the pub the other night she said she'd done a shoot for him. She was pleased because the £75 he paid her had gone towards her latest tattoo – a cheeky cherub fluttering across her groin.
Colin thinks he's an artist so there were no 'beef curtain' (Colin's expression) shots or anything gross like that, said Sharon. He simply trussed her up, gagged her with industrial-strength gaffer tape, lit the bedroom scene for a chiaroscuro effect and snapped away in black and white. As well as her fee, Sharon made Colin give her some copies of the snaps and had the best ones made up into Valentine cards, which she sent to her boyfriends. In spite of being 18 stone himself, reported Sharon, Colin has told his besotted girlfriend that until she loses three stone she can't move in with him. Sharon was extremely indignant about the sexist hypocrisy of this and kept returning to it throughout the evening.
With me, Sharon admits to five current boyfriends, as many as four of them labouring under the misapprehension that they are the one and only. In such a small town like this, I don't know how she gets away with it. Practice I suppose. That, and a belief in, and an aptitude for, realpolitik when it comes to relations with the opposite sex. (Start bleating on with words like 'love' or 'trust' to Sharon and you're history.) She sent the Valentine's cards to all her boyfriends except the one who knows about the other four. This one, Brian, who works in an abattoir, thinks she's not the kind of a girl who would appear bound and gagged on an Internet porn site. And in his case, says Sharon, she'd kind of like to keep it that way.
Then there's Tony the fireman. He got a card. Tony she sees on Tuesday nights. It's Tony who's given her the state-of-the-art mobile phone she's always quizzically looking at. Last Tuesday Tony'd got hold of some Viagra. Neither of them had taken it before. It didn't do a lot for her, Sharon said, which didn't surprise me at all. Giving Sharon Viagra would be a bit like giving a crackhead a Junior Disprin. It worked for Tony well enough, though. It worked all night and for most of the next day, too. This was inconvenient, she said, because he had to spend the following day moving furniture.
On Thursdays it's a long-distance lorry driver called Geoff. He got one, too. Here's how they met. A fortnight ago Sharon and her best friend were walking back from a club late at night and encountered Geoff in a subway. Her best friend offered Geoff a piggy-back, which he accepted. Then Sharon gave him a ride as well and the ensuing relationship burgeoned rapidly. The majority of Geoff's body is decorated with tattoos, always a big plus in Sharon's book, moreover he has a pierced nipple. But Geoff has started to bleat about love and trust already. 'I keep telling him,' said Sharon, indignantly. 'Different postcode, different rules. Like it or lump it.' Geoff's days are probably numbered anyway because his bed is too bouncy – Sharon likes one with less give in it. The bounciness or otherwise of a bed can be an important, sometimes crucial, issue with Sharon.
On the wall above us, as Sharon and I talked and sipped, was a poster-sized photograph of Darren, one of the pub regulars. Darren used to be on Sharon's books, but he also made the fatal error of bleating on about love and trust, and was promptly sacked. He took it badly and is now in Thailand licking his wounds. Darren has stayed in touch with Sharon, though, via the Internet. About a month ago he emailed her a photograph of himself dressed as a lady-boy – make-up, stockings, suspenders, the lot – which I have to say is most unlike Darren. In the email Darren asked her not to show the picture to anyone, especially not to fellow regulars in the pub. So what does Sharon do? She has it blown up into a 3ft x 4ft poster and presents it to the landlord, who puts his fag down immediately and pins it to the wall. The poster has since been defaced in a predictable and childish manner with a black felt-tip and a lighted cigarette end.
As always, I promised Sharon I'd keep our conversation about the current state of her love life strictly between her, me and the gatepost. I'd appreciate it, therefore, if the more intimate details of the above could go no further than the 65,000 of us.