Wide-eyed foreigners long ago concluded that masochism was le vice anglais. Impressed by the volume of Victorian spanking pornography, the Italian critic Mario Praz wrote in the 1930s: “It seems to be an assured fact that sexual flagellation has been practised in England with greater frequency than elsewhere.” Or as a successful lawyer once declared on the theme: “Most people probably think S&M – spanking, bondage, whipping, role play like doctors and nurses, sheikhs and harems, guards and prisoners – is harmless and private and even funny.”

The late Christopher Hitchens, who claimed with pride that Margaret Thatcher once “smote me on the rear with a rolled-up parliamentary order paper”, explained it thus: “There is almost no English surname, however ancient and dignified, that cannot be instantly improved by the prefix ‘Spanker’.”

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Vijay Nanda

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