The Firm

Night of the Cane - 1999

The evening started with a cheaply produced paper flyer with its de-rigueur John Dietrich print, and the legend Neverwhere: Night of the Cane, and on the reverse side, severe lessons in the classroom, grand caning competition, nursery and boxing booth. In smaller type below pool not guaranteed. No location was given, but a phone number was provided, and on the Friday before the event the answering machine had all the answers. Obviously no journalist or policeman would have got through that.

The Firm has been running Neverwhere, with varying degrees of success, from the old dark house in Zone 3 ever since their tenth birthday party at the start of the year. The venue is a C19 townhouse on a tree lined residential street in Forest Gate. It is allegedly owned by a large swinging group, while being managed and maintained by the Chain Gang, who in turn let it to The Firm.

I arrived to see a young Sandhurst type trying to rewire the wall switch to an overhead light and muttering that the screw heads were live. A blonde glamour puss in red velvet, taking tickets and money asked “How dangerous is that?”

“It could get the place closed down.”

“I thought Phil, the owner, was going to have everything ready for this afternoon”

“No”, said Sandhurst. “He didn't. We got here to find all the chandeliers ripped down and the news that he's prevented anything being put in to replace them”.

It was quite true, all the downstairs rooms bore evidence of recent vandalism, but table lamps and candles were burning, and there was a pleasant smell of incense; nobody seemed to have noticed the crisis, perhaps they were used to it.

In an adjoining room a boxing ring had been erected, and a notice pinned to the wall: Check with your partner before you box. How far do you intend to go? You must not box if – You have a point to prove! You mind losing your contact lenses!

I glanced quizzically at the tall, muscular, good-looking bloke who appeared to be referee; he grinned. “We had someone lose a contact lens last month – most unfortunate – I didn't know she had them!”

The food for the buffet was spread out in varying states of readiness in the large kitchen; chocolate cakes, crisps, sausage rolls, scotch eggs & pork pies, melon (as yet unsliced), tomatoes and olives, which the maid, Alice was decanting into a bowl. ‘She' wore a very smart black waitresses uniform with white pinny, and she told me that is real life ‘she' was a builder. I asked if the party was going to plan.

“I think so, but it was chaotic at the start. From what I can gather, the owner and the letting agent have fallen out and The Firm ends up carrying the can. When I got here there was no downstairs lighting at all. I heard that blonde lady say that Ishmael was ‘psychotic' when she got here. It's my first time, and I'm on my own too”

I immediately offered assistance, though this was clearly not the done thing.

“No, Miss!” Alice replied, looking horrified, “There's nothing to it once you just get on with it. I'll just get a few of the slaves to help take the trays round when the time comes.”

I slipped out past the boxing ring, where the referee was teaching a wide-eyed girl how to do it with the gloves on, and ascended the stairs to the classroom situated in the largest bedroom. Inside six adults in a variety of school uniforms sat at folding desks in front of an old fashioned blackboard and easel. At the back of the room, observers sat on a row of chairs, generally quietly.

The desk by the classroom door was occupied by a tiny Glaswegian woman sporting a crew cut; “I shouldn't be doing this – I'm a bloody subbie - but at least I'm doing a better job than he did!”

He turned out to be a man with half a beard who was holding forth on the landing. “It's all being done wrong”, he was complaining. “I told Ishmael that I was dissatisfied with fetish parties at the last Pleasurezone, and he asked if I could come and help with this one. Well I went to the meeting and told them all how it ought to be done, but when I got here it was completely chaotic, and all they could say to me was ‘Will you put these notices up?' – I didn't come here to be told to put notices up, I've got a very responsible job in the real world…” Above the sight of the black rubber t-shirt, I noticed the overpowering BO. “My name's Alan”, he said, turning to me. Yuk.

“It's not rocket science”, the Glaswegian explained a little later, “There are four classes each with a different teacher Madame Zak, Fraulein Bergit, Miss Sophie and Miss Sarah - six places per class; the classes last 45 minutes.” I looked round the door to see a big oaf of an adult schoolboy being dragged by his seat by a woman affecting a French accent and brandishing a metre rule. “Zat is a disgusteeng smell, eediot boy!”

“George the Greek and stink bombs”, said the Glaswegian, swigging her can of Special Brew.

I finally cornered the mysterious Ishmael at his post behind the bar, where he offered me a glass of wine. I asked him if he had got the kind of people he had been expecting.

“Interesting, isn't it?” he said. “They seem to fall into three categories: School enthusiasts in uniforms or mortarboards; SM Sceners looking black and shiny, and the CP club people. Do you know? I've heard School people denying sadomasochism, SMers categorising spankers as ‘dinosaurs', and CP aficionados looking askance at school games. Yet they're all here getting on with each other – I think it's marvellous!”

I tried to frame my next question tactfully; Was there anything that he thought might have gone better?

“Many things!” he replied, shaking his head. “The venue might have been ready, people might have turned up on time, some people might have turned up at all – we have one prefect out of six, and she was late because the guy playing the caretaker was giving wrong directions to the cab driver. But heck, it's working; everyone's having a good time – even if we can't use the swimming pool!”

I asked why not.

“I don't know”, came the reply. “I've had this one all year with all sorts of reasons that I'm supposed to repeat to my customers. All I can say with any certainty is ‘Ron says', and it's not as if I pay any more or less whether is works or not. I can't advertise the pool any more, but the house is being sold up anyway, it's a shame.”

Was there anything else that he'd like to have done here?

“We did try to get a nursery room going for the Adult Babies, but as you've seen, there's only one here, and that's Freddie who comes every time; none of the others will show themselves, though they have been told the facility is here. I shan't be trying it again”.

Suddenly the school bell rang, “Caning Competition”, Ishmael remarked with a jerk of the head. “You don't want to miss that”. I followed the crowd that was gathering in the room before the kitchen.

The boxing ring had been dismantled and three folding desks set up, complete with exercise books and pens, and in the middle of the room, a padded trestle for the unlucky victims of the caning.

The compere (now sans French accent!) announced the three ‘celebrity' judges as ‘Madam Clare, Sir Guy Masterleigh, and Lucy Bailey', each mistresses and master of the craft, no doubt. Then Glamourpussy ushered in the first couple, a brassy-looking dominatrix, and a plump man in his forties and school shorts, which he was soon instructed to drop before receiving twelve very painful strokes on his bare bottom.

The applause was polite and sometimes enthusiastic, score cards were passed to a tall, imposing woman at a lectern, who was adding the numbers as couple after couple were led into the arena – I must say that much of it made my eyes water. In the end, the winner was announced as Mistress PVC Cat, who came forward to receive the Golden Cane award from the hands of Ishmael himself. It looked suspiciously like a real cane sprayed with gold paint, but Mistress PVC Cat didn't seem to mind at all.

In spite of everything that might have caused the evening to become a total failure, I had actually had a very enjoyable time, and far from being surrounded by seedy sleazoids, I had met some truly delightful people (among the few sleazoids). The Firm are a great bunch of people, and here they were doing what they do best, determined to make their event go with a bang in spite of the thoughtlessness of other organisations. Hats off to them for a hugely fun evening; they will go far.

(I bought a cane from the desk on the way out; there must be something in this.)

Bonnie Bunton

By kind permission of Ms Clubbar magazine.