Whilst clearing my desk and throwing out a filing cabinet in pursuit of the fabled paperless office, I have come across some weird things on my hard disk as well.
From time to time I review books, usually for small specialist magazines. I shall write later about book reviewing, but my approach is always to be kind, but never appear a fool. Having said that, I have never reviewed a book which is stomach churningly bad, although I have read plenty. Anyway, on my hard disk I have just found a review I wrote for The Friend, a small Quaker weekly journal, in 1997. The title was From Queer to Eternity – Spirituality in the Lives of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People and its publication had be underwritten by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, which is a Quaker body. I usually pause before reviewing books connected with religion, because many religious people are quite plainly bonkers, and write one obscene letters (more of such letters at a later date). However I thought spirituality would be relative safe, and wrote the review.
In fact I encountered little that was surprising in spiritual experience, which ranged from the mystical to some form of pantheism. However, one aspect lay well outside my experience and I wrote:
There are problems with books based on anecdotal accounts: how typical are the accounts? Most seemed to me to be representative, but one or two lay outside my experience, so I checked them out. One was the account of a Sado Masochist funeral, where the mourners linked their nipple rings together with a single chain. I rang around my S/M friends and asked whether they had come across this. No, they said, but it sounded right and it sounded loving.
Examples like this may challenge Quakers who read the book, but that is precisely the point – spirituality is challenging, religion isn’t.
So far so good. But I was intrigued. I view people who dress in leather or rubber in rather the same way that I view Masons who put on funny garb. Would I like to be served and ice cream by someone wearing a Masonic Apron? No! Would I like to be served an ice cream by someone wearing rubber underpants? No! Many years ago when I shopped at ASDA, a young man draped in chains used to check my goods out, and for no reason I felt quite queasy when I bought vegetables. I discussed this funeral with other friends, and they were as perplexed as I: had the mourners linked their rings before going into the chapel, and shuffled in together, or linked rings when they were in there? How had they left? What was the effect on the mourners at the funerals before and after this one: it must be a bit frightening if you have taken time off from your bank job to say goodbye to granddad to find yourself mixed up with a lot of people who looked like scuba divers who have lost their way.
I shall never know, but such is the fascination of books.