She could grow to revel in a good thrashing

Saturday, 15 July 1995

Those who have been dismayed over the Constitutional Court's call for an end to corporal punishment might be even more upset to see life on the receiving end...

You've seen the ad. "Endorphins: Peptide neurotransmitters occurring naturally in the brain. Effect produced is similar to that induced by opiates..."

I was 15 years old when I was hauled out before the assembled multitudes with my two co-conspirators and given six of the best by the principal. "Leaving the school premises without permission, (thwack), smoking, (thwack), providing a bad example (thwack)..." None of us could sit for a week. But as we made our way into the grounds at break, the first of what grew into a cautious crowd of admirers gathered. We had become heroes.

I thought about that 15 years later — a lifetime away. The drive from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. had taken three wet and chilly hours. The house was a picture-perfect example of suburbia, and our hostess greeted us at the front door with wide and anxious eyes, hinting of hopes for a successful party.

Our names were quickly checked off against the guest list. Inside, people gathered, clutching glasses, making introductions. ("Gosh, you're Nymph? I love your stuff! I'm Road Warrior.")

One couple headed for the door, jackets in hand. They were stepping out for a smoke break. The house was a no smoking zone. There were signs of the odd beer, but not much else. Alcohol appeared to be frowned upon, after all, whipping is serious business.

"Capitol Punishment I" was the theme of the party. The idea had been broached on the Internet, and nearly every guest was a regular contributor to discussion groups on bondage and domination. As respected citizens of Cyberspace, they had names like Lord Veltyn, Pleasure Chest, Dream Dresser, Wraithe, Shayde, FoxTrot and FruitFly. Now as the faces were matched to the pseudonyms, the ordinariness of those present began to sink in. They were better educated than the average American — most had degrees — but otherwise had ordinary lives and ordinary jobs.

Downstairs in the basement, a craftsman had lovingly assembled an Escher-inspired form of cascading wood, steel, and leather. The room was sweaty. Most of the crowd gathered at the back of the room as the first Scene got under way.

The woman who walked up to the rack was about 25. Her pseudonym was FF. She was the "slave" — Asian-American, warm intelligent eyes as she doffed her shirt to show a lean muscular body decorated with black leather and nipple clamps. Her movements as she spread her arms for the waiting cuffs were arrogant, the thrust of her head challenging. She was, I decided, the second most beautiful woman present.

Her "master", Flynn, looked to the equipment with the care of a paratrooper packing his own chute. The cuffs had to be adjusted just so. The straps could not be too loose or they would chafe, he explained. Too tight, and they would affect circulation.

The first crack of the whip sounded like a gunshot in the confined space of basement. As Flynn's arm dropped, I had a flashback to 10 years before, running from a police baton-charge at the University of Durban-Westville. FF flinched, her skin glowing where the leather had bit in. The crowd held its breath.

The frequency of strokes increased as did their strength. Sounds of the strokes were preceded by sharp empathetic inhalations from the audience as the lash was about to bite. The sounds built up to a crescendo. FF slumped against the rack. Flynn dropped the whips and caught her, holding her gently as he pulled a quick release latch on the straps. They hugged each other. The crowd let out its breath, and burst into applause.

A clamour of volunteers headed to the rack wanting to be next up. Our hostess barrelled her way through them singing "It's my party, I'll be whipped if I want to". We picked our way over to the side of the room to talk to Flynn and FF who were catching their breath after their performance. They were laughing as they compared notes about his interpretation of her moves.

I picked up one of their whips and flicked it across my palm.

It hurt.

Durban today is another lifetime away. I have a two-year-old daughter. I smack her across the wrist every so often, never hard enough to hurt her, but just enough to get her attention.

She isn't old enough to understand life and death issues like why she should not stick her finger into the socket, or reach up and yank a pot handle jutting out over the stove, or climb over the balcony.

As she gets older, I'll explain that electricity can be your friend, cooking can be fun, and bungee jumping can be quite safe. But I won't clobber her.

She might like it.