In Edinburgh I did my book shopping first. Although antiquarian bookshops are sometimes run by incredibly old men who dress as Dickens characters, as seen in movies, there are also the women who spent their university years as LUGs (lesbians until graduation), majoring in English and sociology, who finished up slightly puzzled in the book trade.
They can get purse-lipped about customers browsing for David Hume first editions while carrying an instrument of discipline which, since his haircut’s so bad he must be heterosexual, must be for use on the bodies of young women.
The young women, though absent and hypothetical, are even more depressing, letting the side down by consenting and, worse, probably having more fun than they had. Anyway, I’ve had a couple of fraught encounters due to mixing my bdsm equipment foraging with my book searching expeditions. This time I was going to do my shopping in the right order. At least fetish shops don’t start complaining if you walk in clutching a first edition of Medwin’s “Conversations with Lord Byron”.
I was looking forward to the Goth bdsm shop in Edinburgh. I was hoping there’d be a nice Goth girl behind the counter, with a velvet and leather corset, talcum powder face and fire-engine hair, and that we could have a pleasant conversation about thud versus sting, whether she knew of any parties, and … Maybe my sexy non-Scots accent would carry me some distance, possibly even to a pub after work, me with my new tawse and her with her firm, proud corset. And so on. Silly and shallow, me.
But when I finally got there I was met by a couple of blow-up sex dolls on the stairs, tethered but swaying gently in the wind, one dressed as a nurse and the other as a policewoman. They didn’t look very Goth.
Inside there were signs of recent Goth occupation – some ornate collars, bdsm jewellery, and a few black and purple leather wristlets, ankle cuffs and so on. But these things were massively out-numbered by sex-shop tat: dvds again, plastic fantasy costumes, Adult Party Games! lots of lubricants and lots of cocks made of coloured jelly, some vibrating and some not. And lots of magazines, as if the internet never happened.
There was no-one guarding this treasure. But eventually I heard sighing from beyond the fly-strip doorway that led into the back-of-shop area, so I waited. It took about a minute before the flystrips parted for an enormous stomach in a stripey caftan.
The man behind the stomach got himself fully into the room, looking just like the offspring you might expect if Aleister Crowley, in his fat-Elvis period, had had sex with Keith Richards’s liver. He said, “Hrrrrr?”
“Um, hi. I was under the impression this place was run by Goths. And you had fetish gear? The internet said so. But, well, something’s happened to them, hasn’t it?”
“Och, aye, yerr. There were some young people here, a while, bout a while back. Oh aye, they were very strange, yerr.”
“Yes. I bet. Anyway I see they left some stock behind. I was hoping you might have a tawse for sale.”
“Like a leather strap. Long piece of leather, fairly stiff. Split at one end.”
He frowned, not getting me.
“It’s an instrument of discipline. They were used in schools. You know. Here. In Scotland.”
“Ah. Yesss, they did leave a few things like that behind when they – When they … Excuse me.”
I never did find out what happened to the Goths. A few minutes later he parted the flystrips again, and put something on the counter. “They left a tawse indeed.”
We looked at it, both of us disapproving, if for different reasons. It was a leather thing, half-way between a paddle and a strap, about a foot long. It was split at the end into two little leather tags, side by side, vaguely resembling hands. It wanted to be a cheerful, ingratiating, little party thing. “So will ye be taking the tawse?”
To be continued, like life.