ALL THINGS CONSIDERED : My eyes are opened at a leathery landmark

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The interior of Rob of London is dungeon-like, grey and low lit, the atmosphere heavy with ... with something. Not that you'd know that until you go through the door, made of thick black glass, presumably to discourage the casual punter, but also, you suspect, to stimulate the senses of the regular customer, the one who listens to the sound of his biker boots on the stone floor and breathes deep to inhale the manly smell of leather, rubber and PVC. Rob of London, heavy metal, heavy duty for the S&M crowd: butt plugs and douches, fully studded masks, collars and restraints, crotchless leotards, nipple grippers, harnesses to hang in and handkerchiefs with colour codes: yellow is for water sports. Of course.

My heart rate speeds up, really hops, skips and jumps. Could be fear but it can't be fear. What's to fear: Rob is just a shiny, matt black version of a sex toy shop, never mind the electro-stimulation (try the Anal Sparkler) and medical supplies: catheters and speculums available. Small deal. Could be excitement, but it can't be excitement because I didn't know I was coming here, honestly officer. I had an hour to kill while the lenses for my glasses were ground, and I said to my lover, "How about a drink?", and he said, "How about going to Rob of London?", and I said, "Rob of London?". And he repeated Rob of London and I replied OK, Rob of London.

We walk up Oxford Street and my mind is on my glasses, my first pair, thin tortoiseshell frames that make me look shy and boyish. I fixate on this, on how deteriorating eyesight is a mark of time's advance, yet the glasses wipe the years away, and I think, this is a landmark purchase, or at least a passport to a new place called, oh yes, middle age, and then I remember that the man beside me has mentioned Rob of London before and the two thoughts - landmark and leather - stumble over one another, fall, fuse.

We're there. Stepping out of the blazing daylight into the cool, beckoning dark.

The door shuts. Hypnotic hush. I hear men at the counter, heads shaved, banter polished: "They said this guy from New Zealand wanted to see me again." "What guy from New Zealand?" "I'm supposed to have slept with him last week. I suppose I did."

I wander over to the dildos, all black rubber and eerie detail. It's like a dare. I touch, lift, fondle, note that every individual model is named: Dong is the smallest, Victor the widest, Greg the longest. I suddenly wonder why they don't call them after (you should excuse the expression) the members of boy bands: grab the Gary, jump on the Jason, make your Mark, hump the Howard, roger the Robbie. Take This and party.

I suddenly wonder why I'm suddenly wondering when a man who must be a trainspotter or a bird watcher - he's wearing an anorak, for God's sake - comes in and heads straight for the gags. He looks at a hard, round, rubber ball number, then examines an inflatable model: you place it in the mouth and pump it up to the desired size. He has an expert touch; unhurried, contemplative, choosy. He looks as if he's opting for the inflatable. His boyfriend must be a bigmouth.

"Do you think they do square ones?" I ask, but quietly, under my breath, for the calm here is the calm of churches. Only I'm not calm. My heart races and the palms of my hands are damp. So no touching the PVC T-shirts. My lover is over by the posing pouches. He's together, purposeful even, examining a snap-off codpiece and penis ring arrangement and one with laces that allows you to both display and tie down the offending organ. He picks up both, wavers back and forth.

"What do you think?" Decisions, decisions. "The codpiece." "Why?" "Looks better. Easier access." And I do prefer the former to the latter. Preference isn't the same as liking exactly, is it?

Right now it feels the same.

The assistant appears. "Anything I can help with?" "No," I say. "Just looking." "Don't be shy. Try on a harness. There's a changing room." I want to say yes. Reckless behaviour. Why not. "Next time. When I've finished losing weight. You've got to have a good body for a harness." There. That's the right thing to say. "OK. Any time." "OK."

My lover shrugs. "The harnesses look pretty good." Speeding along to somewhere. "Next time." "Let's look at the penis rings." "Yeah. The one with the red stripe." "Sure." He leans over and sort of whispers. Yes.

At the counter I'm Mr Cool: "Do you take Switch?" "The catalogue's free with purchases over pounds 60," the assistant says. I turn to my lover. "Do we want a catalogue?" I ask, not sure what I want the answer to be. "I already have the catalogue."

The light is harsh back at the opticians. Fingers adjust the frames: "It's a big change, isn't it?" "Hmm." "You'll find you can see very clearly. It can be a shock." "Hmm." "Open your eyes." "Sorry." "Well, how do you look?" "Different. Not like me." I keep blinking. "Don't worry," the voice says. "It's odd now, but you'll get used to it. Really, it's you."