It is early Wednesday evening - at the media launch of London's 1995 Rubber Sex Ball - and a whip wielding young lady dressed entirely in rubber approaches me from across the room. Her job, I have been told, is to figuratively (and, I'm afraid, literally) whip the attendant media folk and S&M fans into a frenzy of excitement about the joys of rubber and female sexual domination. But not being well versed in the relevant etiquette, I think I blow it.
"Have you been naughty?" she says, rubbing the end of her whip with her hand. "Hmmm? Have you been a naughty boy?"
"Well," I reply breezily, "it depends on your definition of 'naughty'. I've been quite naughty, I suppose, but not what you'd call terrible."
"Yes, yes," she says, faltering a little. "But have you been naughty?"
"Well," I reply, after a thoughtful pause, "I just don't know. Define your terms."
"Oh, for God's sake," mutters the lady, and she stalks off.
I have never, if truth be told, been great when it comes to the astringent dogmatic assertion of female sexuality. The last time I attended an event such as this was under wholly confused circumstances. A lady from the Planet Sex organisation had telephoned to invite me to an "assertively non-pornographic photographic exhibition of women's vulvas". Unfortunately, it was quite a crackly telephone line, and I thought she was inviting me to a non-pornographic exhibition of women's Volvos. Consequently, a muddled conversation ensued where she had to spend five minutes convincing me that Volvos were sometimes considered pornographic and that it was vital to explode that particular myth.
Today's launch is taking place as a fringe offshoot to the annual Planet Sex Ball and is situated at a "secret location" in central London. This, in fact, doesn't turn out to be all that secret, because there's a big sign over the door saying: "This way to the Planet Rubber Launch," and a lady in a PVC one-piece is standing on the pavement handing out canapes.
The press release proclaims that "tribal, fetish, and space-age clothing" are all compulsory, but I look terrible in silver wings with a large steel girder sticking out of my top lip, so I've opted for a nice casual jacket and trousers. Everyone around me appears furious that I've made so little effort. Any second, I'm convinced, I'm going to be assaulted by somebody dressed as Bathsheba, Slut Queen of Venus.
And so it is that 30 minutes after my arrival, a small man with a pierced everything sidles over.
"Nice slacks," he says, spitting the word "slacks" out, as if there were no greater insult.
"Thank you," I reply. "Nice PVC."
"How," he continues, "do you feel in those slacks?"
"Comfortable," I reply. "Casual. You know ..."
"Sexy?" asks the man.
"Ish," I reply.
"Sexy against your legs?" he asks. "The feel of the material ..."
"About normal," I reply. "Thanks for asking. Casual. You know."
"Ooh," he says. "Casual."
And at that, with a little laugh of victory, he saunters away.