There are perhaps two rules in life. The first is there are no rules. The second is never to tell your workmates if you happen to be attending anything that might cause slight embarrassment. Sure enough, ridicule ensued after announcing my proposed venture to Torture Garden. However, as Adam and the Ants once warbled, ridicule is nothing to be scared of. Having been assured of my safety within a sado-masochist environment, I only had the odd 100 qualms as opposed to the previous 1000 about going. To be honest, I was far too curious to pass.
‘Torture Garden’ is the rather self-explanatory name given to the occasional meeting of ‘perverted’ minds - held at ‘The Mass’ in Brixton. Generally known as the half-way point between a ‘normal’ club (i.e. one without whips) and a fully fledged S&M haunt, it welcomes persons of any sexual persuasion as long as they look the part. Leather, PVC and rubber are in order to pass the dress code; otherwise it is quite possible to be turned away for not looking suited to the venue. This is not to say that acting the part will also be required. The atmosphere at TG is relaxed and friendly, and this is possibly because any unwanted harassment of attendees is not tolerated. The ethos is ‘each to their own’, and that is as valid for straight and pain-intolerant as it is for the hardcore S&M practioner. It is perhaps because of this that I felt safer than in some of the conventional clubs I have been to.
Safer, and yet also over dressed. Clothed in a low cut, mini-skirted PVC number. It takes some very artful near-nakedness to bring around that kind of discomfort, I can assure you. No one else appeared to care though, and the confidence with which attendees wear their S&M dress code sanctioned garb is not a threatening sight in the least. Whatever shape, age or daytime occupation, this is a place that people can express their sexuality with anything from skin suffocating ‘gimp’ suits to absolutely nothing at all. From the gorgeous to the ahem, not so gorgeous, the feeling that any costume gives its wearer is perhaps the main reason for appearing in public in their chosen ‘almost second’ skin. Although, fortunately with such interesting views on offer, voyeurism will not earn you an enquiry as to whether you wish to take a picture for longevity purposes. If anything, you can take heart from the fact you will possibly make the recipient feel even better about themselves, which beats helping that granny across the road on the list of earthly good deeds hands down.
However, looking shocked is not perhaps a good thing to do at the club. I was given the advice of ‘expect to see anything - and don’t be shocked when you do’ by a well-meaning friend, and although for the most part I was a picture of all that is cool and cucumber like, a few costumes caused my eyebrows to raise above the permitted centimetre. The winner of my personal ‘Best Costume’ award was a youngish man wearing nothing but a plush velvet jacket and a string of shiny silver self-adhesive beads down the shaft of his penis. The rubber-suited man with the UV glowing penis came a close second. The outlandish dress sense of fellow club goers was almost intriguing enough in itself, but Torture Garden has more to offer than a mere insight into the way S&M practitioners dress. Down in the crypt (literally, as irony of ironies, TG is housed in an old church), is where all the players go to have their fun. Cheekily named ‘the Dungeon’, this is a room of soft furnishings, mood lighting and instruments of torture.
Anybody can go and wander round, even folks like myself, and so I took the opportunity to catch some people doing naughty but nice things to one another in the flesh. Upon entering ‘the Dungeon’, I headed towards the nearest gathering to see what was going on. On the first inspection, it appeared to be two women; one chained to an upright iron frame (and wearing a cute set of cat ears) and one dancing salaciously with a whip in her hand. On second inspection, the cat eared woman’s make up was not quite covering a slight five o’clock shadow. Not that any make up faux pas would have been bothering him, he was far too busy moaning with pleasure as every whiplash struck him. His girlfriend made quite an art of her sadism, rubbing up against her boyfriend, whilst giving him a rather gentle whipping. Then she wriggled her behind up against his legs whilst undoing her corset….
…And then came that Foster’s beer moment. As the strings of the corset came apart, it revealed a hairy flat chest. Whilst musing yet again how unfair it was that some guys had such nice legs, I failed to notice the hush. To be precise, I was not the only one to think he was a girl. The shock of that moment meant that the rest of the show was somewhat over shadowed, and none of the other exhibitionists present managed to put on such an interesting display. Only the Japanese dominatrix was performing an explicit act on her blond submissive, and even then, a hand job interspersed with a quick lashing is not hardcore. As an onlooker, I found that the scenario was curiously unsexy, and I remained detached whilst being near enough to have snatched the whip out of their hand and have a go myself. Though perhaps this is because although I’m a curious orange, I’m neither a nor a masochist, and in not being either the crux of what TG is about is not something that appeals to me.
That feeling is perhaps reflected in the fact that I spent the next hour in the ‘chill out room’. I had seen about as much around the place as I could have done, and after that there was little to do. The music at TG is techno orientated (although one of the other rooms was playing Britney Spears at one point -somehow ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ was cheesily apt), and while that may be a clubbing dream to most, for me it’s a dance nightmare. Though determined to prove me wrong, the TG world followed me into the ‘chill-out’ area. A red PVC clad lady with a middle aged man in a posing pouch and leash sat nearby, and proceeded to re-enact a scene from any S&M documentary on Channel Four. It was kind of curious to see a supposedly independent being licking a woman’s boot (and then being chastised with a riding crop for lifting her leg too high) in the flesh. Though that was the sum total of my reaction. By then, I had seen all I needed to get a flavour of what goes on within these four walls. Seeing more was just extra frills. With nothing left to see, and nothing left to do, I kept myself in the ‘chill out’ room for relaxation until the time came to go home.
My world-weariness by the time I left the club proved only one thing - S&M clubs are fine for people who enjoy those sexual practices, but for anyone else it really is of voyeuristic interest only. Unless techno music happens to be your thing, the rest of the club held little interest for me (and getting drunk was out of the question - £3.50 for a bottle of alcohol anyone?). It is easy to see why people enjoy the place – it’s a very friendly club and the hedonistic events are pleasant experiences. However, I feel I missed out on whatever is everyone else seemed to get out of the event. Not that I’m concerned. Pain and pleasure are as separate as Ally McBeal’s inner thighs in my book.