My attempt at S&M was redolent of a botched postmortem - or a bout of bedroom fly-fishing

"We've recently tried a spot of S&M," said Mark with a sweep of the hand, which suggested that he'd been testing a new carpet cleaner rather than pushing back the barriers of erotic love. "Did it work?" wondered Claire. "It certainly freshened things up," Mark told us. "You just have to make sure that it doesn't get out of hand."

Although nobody chose to press Mark for further details, there were enough grunts of approval from around the table to suggest that most of us were only too well aware of the sexual delights that could accrue from a little judicious hanky-panky with a studded belt.

At the time, I managed to absent myself from the collusive atmosphere by vigorously attacking my American Hot, but it occurred to me afterwards that this would have been the ideal moment to raise the whole question of Norma.

I would have started by explaining that Norma and I were something of an item in the late 1970s. We were initially thrown together by a shared interest in humanistic psychology, but after long days working on a paper decrying the atomisation of the individual in laboratory investigations, it was inevitable that we found after-work solace in each others' wholesomeness.

We'd been finding such solace for about six months when Norma chose to bring up the deteriorating nature of the "sexual side" of our relationship. Perhaps, she suggested, it was time to spice up our nights with one of our daytime betes noires: a little experimentation.

Her frankness obviously demanded some more meaningful response than an embarrassed glance into the depth of my pint, so I found myself volunteering to find some textual advice on how we might accomplish our project and eventually returned home with an illustrated manual entitled The Handbook of Erotics. The massage section was rejected on the grounds that the large volume of oil involved might clog up the feathers in our new duvet, and we found ourselves settling almost by default on the S&M chapter. The book gave no explicit advice on role allocation, but as the large line drawing showed a woman flat on her back, Norma gamely agreed to retire to the bedroom and leave me to assemble the other essential ingredients.

"Bind your partner's ankles and wrists to the bedposts with silk scarves." It may have been the lack of silk scarves and the consequent need to use a pair of my greased Norwegian ski socks as substitutes, or perhaps the unavailability of bedposts on our double duvet, which meant that the bonds had to be stapled to the recently sanded wooden floor, but the final picture resembled not so much an erotic scenario as the aftermath of a seriously botched postmortem.

Matters weren't greatly improved when I proceeded to stage four and endeavoured to beat Norma gently with my trouser belt. It was difficult to feel erotically aroused when the arc described by the belt as it descended to the duvet so patently suggested not so much a sadistic encounter with a defenceless victim as a singularly innocuous bout of fly-fishing.

It seemed that Norma felt the same. "I don't like this at all. Please please stop it," she suddenly shouted. That was quite enough for me. Within seconds, I'd undone her bonds and was briskly re-threading my trouser belt. It was only when we were comfortably back in front of the television that she revealed the full extent of my S&M incompetence. "Look at the book," she said. "The bit after Sadist Starts Whipping. What does it say?" I slowly read the instruction aloud. "Stage Six. Masochist moans and says, 'I don't like this at all. Please please stop it'."

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why I am voting for Ken Livingstone

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.