I spend much of my time between London meetings in a rather fine Pall Mall establishment. It’s a great place to hide away and catch up with emails – or to stop for an hour or two and allow myself time to think more creatively about work issues and opportunities.
The other day, I found myself in town for two relatively informal meetings. I was more casually dressed than usual, so had to steer clear of the usual grand clubhouse in favour of its more casual near-neighbour. After all, it struck me, one wouldn’t want to be accused of being “improperly attired”.
And oh, how that phrase set my mind wandering. A young lady was visiting a private club, for tea with an older, somewhat strict gentleman of who she was becoming increasingly fond. She’d not realised quite how formal the place was: her casual clothes were quite out of place.
Other members frowned in her direction; the club’s secretary had a quiet word in the gentleman’s ear, and then spoke directly and courteously to her: “Madam: it’s a pleasure to see you today. We do, however, have a dress code in here. Whilst you are very welcome as you are as our guest this afternoon, might I ask that you take a moment to consult it before any future visit?”
That second visit ended up arranged at short notice. He’d called, hopefully optimistic: “I’m at the club. I don’t suppose you’re free to join me for a cocktail when you finish work?”
Happily: “That’d be lovely.”
Caringly: “That’s lovely. It’ll be so nice to see you. Are you dressed appropriately, though, after last time?”
Confidently: “I’ve been at work, so I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Whilst they were sipping their drinks later, the membership secretary appeared once again – this time with two uniformed staff. “Might I disturb you, sir?” “Of course.” He turned to her and asked her to stand.
“We spoke last time about our dress code, I believe, Miss…”
“Oh: Jackson. Susan Jackson.”
“And did you get a chance to read the document in question before today’s visit?”
“I… I came from work. I assumed this would be fine.”
“Indeed? I thought we had an agreement that you would study the document in question.” He turned to her friend. “May I deal with the matter, sir?”
The club secretary turned back to the Susan, the other members now watching and listening intently. “Miss Jackson, had you shown the necessary diligence, you’d have known that this…” – her low-cut blouse, with a button too many open – “… or this…” – the hem of her skirt, above her knees – “never mind your bare legs, all directly contravene our rules. And that’s before I conduct a more, shall we say, thorough inspection. And if girls insist on being inappropriately attired, we have to teach them a lesson.”
“I am sorry, sir, I… No! Please! Stop!” The two staff had seized her hands; the club officer was unbuttoning her blouse. “A lesson, Miss Jackson, that they won’t forget.”
She looked to her friend, pleading, but saw that he was fully complicit in events. Stripping her was done expertly, quickly, without any heed for her protests. The official addressed her as she stood naked before the room – still held tight, unable to cover herself. “We uphold traditions and high standards here, Miss Jackson, as you need to learn if you’re to be a regular visitor. Now, Mr Jenkins: would you care to deal with the matter here, or in private?”
“I think we’ll deal with it in private, thank you.”
“Very good, sir. If you’d care to use the private dining room, you’ll find the necessary items in the sideboard.”
And so it was that she was led, naked, through the corridors, and shown into a fine room with a large oak table, overlooked by stained-glass windows. So it was that he spoke to her firmly about his disappointment in her; about how he expected more from a young lady of her calibre.
So it was that he told her, clearly and starkly, that he was going to teach her a much-needed lesson and punish her. That she should bend over the end of the table and stretch outwards.
So it was that he fetched a cane – doubtless well-used over the years – and informed her that she would receive twelve strokes: six for her failure to check the rules, the balance for letting him down.
So it was that she cried after the third; pleaded her apologies after the sixth; fell silent other than for her sobs for the final few.
So it was that he took her back downstairs, her striped buttocks on display for all to see. Told her to dress. And then, lifting her tear-stained eyes caringly to his, asked whether she would like to accompany him upstairs to his suite…