For the record, I wouldn't classify anything I do as kinky.

As far as I'm concerned, normal is what I want to do, and kinky is whatever I don't want to do. Golden showers? Normal. Smack me about the face and neck? Normal. Texting photos of my breasts covered in bulldog clips to someone I've not seen in person for almost a year? Normal. Scented candles and having face-holding anniversary sex? Eww, kinky. You won't catch me doing that. Not often, in any case. And definitely not for free.

Rather alarmingly, however, there are a lot of people - many of them with access to newspaper columns, Amazon accounts, and the minds of children - who are happy to label anything that wouldn't pass muster in the third act of a Richard Curtis film as kinky and abusive. Random strangers labelling anyone who enjoys vigorous roughhousing as sick and damaged usually angers me, but only fleetingly, because it is quickly replaced by pity.

Pity that they spent their formative years cooing over Four Weddings when I was watching Urotsukidōji. Pity that they think short skirts and thigh-high boots are for Halloween. Pity that they might not have earth-rocking sex until, as the song puts it, thirty when a girl starts getting dirty.

Respect and equality and soulmates are jolly nice ideas, but not what sex is about. It's the sensation that matters. Orgasm is extreme sensation, but so are many other things, from slap and tickle to pinch and singe. Out of the context of actual violence, these sensations can be surprisingly pleasureable, and when administered by someone whose company you particularly enjoy, even more so.

So if you're one of these people - one of these, you can come inside me or not at all types, one of the legion who don't do doggy style because you want someone gazing into your eyes at all times, a girl (or boy) who's never even felt the warmth of come on her (or his) face, then I pity you. You are missing out. Remember what it's like to be a kid, the butterflies in your stomach as you queue for the roller coaster? The building tension as you are strapped into your seat? The feeling of the world dropping out from underneath you, and the buzz afterward? It's like that. It's awesome, it's life-affirming, it's beautiful and soulful and real and normal. And not at all kinky.

Late addition: this guy's an idiot. It's called communication, arsehole. If you don't know the rules then don't play.
Drawbacks of the Mainstream Workplace #1:

Admin assitants - these were once called secretaries - who sneer when I ask for help submitting expenses on our newfangled online system. Correct me if I'm wrong, but back when they were secretaries, wasn't this their job? Am failing to see how having attended the training session one week before I will qualifies as a reason to sneer.

Also, they have truly shiteous taste in clothing. Don't hate me because I'm working the fiercest cashmere this side of the Himalayas.
Just to clear up any confusion:

It would seem there are two Belles de Jour on Facebook. One is me, and one is not. I was willing to ignore the Other One for a time, but it seems she is now trawling my friends list for people to add. Pathetic.

So, if you need a clarification - the real Belle de Jour does not listen to Maroon 5, for fuck's sake. Her favourite film is most emphatically not anything starring that Dutch bint Audrey Hepburn. And her photos really are of her and her mates, not of some generic porn-alike on a cheap photographer's backdrop. The real Belle de Jour introduced the Fantasy Match app, can give you advice on fisting safely, and is tired of imitations, cheap rip-offs, and two-bit impostors.

Honey, if you think it would be a larf to pretend to be me, then you have zero idea what it takes.
Sigh. My boys love me, they do. And do they ever know what sets my tiny heart a-racing. The last two of my birthday gifts have finally come through: from A2, a gift voucher for Figleaves; from A4, a subscription to the London Review of Books.
Maybe it's genetic. Maybe it's because of where I was raised. Nature? Nurture? You decide:

As the weather grows colder, my skirts get shorter.
SD4 and I met again. I wimped and instead of doing it cleanly, over the phone, I agreed to go to dinner. Probably sending mixed messages but I am a sucker for a man who picks up the bill. Yeah, yeah, bitch all you want about me letting the side down rubbish feminist &c. but come on, I was a hooker - I get off on the man paying. It's how I'm wired.

Incidentally, because he is too damn good at getting information out of me, he managed to extract the chocolate truffles recipe. Not that's it's a state secret exactly (after all I found it on the web), but I do tend to big it up among my friends. It's good to know there's at least one thing you can make, and make well.

Anyway, as far as SD4 was concerned, this was the all-important third date - what I understand in civilian circles is known as "the one with the kiss". Probably he was expecting rather a different outcome to the evening. I let him down sometime between the main course and the coffee.

'Is it the yoga?' he asked.

'No, of course not, it's not the yoga. I think yoga' is generally undertaken by wispy lackbrains with a deep-seated need to convince themselves they are better than everyone else 'sounds interesting.'

'I could understand if you thought the yoga made me seem a little... effeminate.'

Whoah, he's giving me a get-out-of-jail-free card here. Grab it and run! 'No, I don't think that at all.' D'oh! 'You're a nice guy, just not for me.'

'What is it? Is it the way I look? Is it because of where I'm from?'

I sighed. In spite of what everyone tells you, there is actually no way to dash someone's romantic hopes elegantly. I heartily believe in the zipless fuck, but there is no such thing as the zipless date. 'No, you look fine. Also, I don't care about background.' I have that option; I'm middle class. 'I just... think... you're not for me.'

'Is it the car? No? The suit? My job?'

Dear christ on a chicken stick, if he didn't watch it, he was going to annoy me into saying something I'd regret. Breathe, Belle breathe. What would the Dalai Lama do? 'No,' I gritted my teeth. 'None of that. I simply think we'd work. Better. As. Friends.' Preferably the kind of friend you neither see nor speak to again.

'Be honest, were you ever romantically interested in me?'

Oof. The guilt manouevre. Don't take the bait. 'You are very nice, and interesting, and it's just... bad timing.' Shit. The bad timing ploy. I can't believe I've sunk this low.

'You're seeing someone else?'

'I've kind of started talking to my ex again,' I said. Oh, horror, what a terrible lie. For one thing I'd sooner date the entirety of the Inland Revenue than talk to my ex again. It's a chickenshit move, and I know it. 'We're sort of... trying to make it work.'

He nodded. 'Bad timing.'

'Yeah.'

'Well, if you ever...'

'Of course, of course.'

The waiter, who I noticed out of the corner of my eye had been hanging back, swept past. 'Anything else for you two?' the waiter murmured.

'Just the bill,' SD4 said. The waiter nodded and went away.

'Please, let me,' I said.

He waved his hand. 'No, of course not.'

Sigh. A gentleman to the last. A gentleman who flosses his toes with a baby wipe, perhaps, but still. You can't buy class like that.
There's this thing. A small, valuable object that has been at the back of my mind for some time. It stayed in my bedroom. Under a pile of jumpers you'd find it, still in its box, the box still in a carrier bag.

I like watches, always have done. The most expensive thing I ever bought myself, apart from the house, was a watch. I spent more on that watch than most people spend on cars and would have paid twice as much. When that watch went in for much-needed repairs earlier this year, I couldn't bear to wear something cheap and nasty in the meantime, and so bought an even more expensive watch. I don't know why I like them so - just do. I'm not a girl who fancies jewels or cars much, but I love a great watch. Preferably handmade. Preferably Swiss. Something understated that drapes in a whisper over the wrist, something whose bling is hidden, sensual, secret.

Actually, the time I met Billie, I went on and on about watches and what I think of different ones. It's been a useful sort of knowledge to use on rich clients - I always notice the watch, the shoes. She was asking what sort of conversation you could possibly have with a stranger when you're about to have sex with him, so I talked about watches. And then she asked what watch I was wearing.

So this thing that's in a box in a bag in my room, it's a watch. The watch was meant for him, the Boy, one birthday of his. I never felt comfortable giving it to him - he got a meal out at a very nice restaurant instead, that year. He was a little puzzled, because I'd mentioned a gorgeous gift I planned, and on the day it's just a night out? But for one reason and another (one reason's name being Charlie and another's name being Sue) I couldn't bring myself to hand it over.

Cruel some would say. When you give a gift it should just be given, not held on to like ransom for good behaviour. In my defence, I'm not the sort of woman who withholds sexual favours when angry. Even in the middle of stressful, antagonising relationships I am always up for the sex. I can't hold back on the sex, it's too much of a punishment to myself. I can hold back on pressies.

The thing about watches is, they're like little mechanical hearts. They mark your time and mostly go unnoticed and sometimes they stop, sometimes forever. The price of a watch has little to do with its reliability, and we should all have one. Different things make them tick: some run on batteries, others run on sunlight. I've always preferred ones that wind themselves, kinetic I think some people call it now, though I've always known it as automatic.

So the thing in the box in the bag in my room, the watch, it was a little heart I was saving to give away to someone someday. But the day never came, and eventually, the someone was gone too.

Only just today I took the watch back. The shop were very understanding; I'm a good customer. They commisserated - it's fairly obvious when a woman brings back a man's watch, unworn, what the story is - and gave a full refund. The money will provide a nice Christmas meal for A4, who has no family, and gifts for my own family, which gets bigger and bigger every year. Some of it is being donated to a charity. Some is going to buy a bottle of spirits, the better to still my own heart.
Don't suppose you're free tomorrow?

A text from the builder. I texted back:

Nothing in my calendar... love to see you. Where would you like to meet?

In mere seconds, his reply:

Is your bedroom out of the question?

Maybe I'm being dismissive by calling him 'the builder,' as if all he is to me is a young piece of meat. Actually he's some sort of engineer I think? Not the sort who works in an office, though - the sort who stands around on building sites getting all deliciously muddy. Oh, okay, you got me, I'm using him for the sex. But while I'm certain he's really a very lovely, interesting and deep individual, discussing the future of democracy in Pakistan is not entirely what he was invited round for.

Giving me a right seeing-to was more the order of the day. I collapsed off him around 3 a.m. 'Everything okay?' he asked.

'I need to set an alarm, sorry. Early morning tomorrow.'

'Oh, right,' he said.

'Something wrong?'

'You've come, what, three times?'

'Twice.'

'-already, and, well, I haven't...'

'Ah. I see.' I really don't know how it happens. You meet someone when you're 22, you can stay up for days - if not weeks - at a time, fucking and watching telly and making cheese on toast. Sleep is strictly optional. These days, not so much.

'If you're tired we can go again in the morning.'

I like a well-brought-up boy, I do. Always considerate of his elders. I kissed his cheek. 'Sleep well.'

In the morning we managed, just about, to get out the door on time. Sadly, I couldn't offer breakfast, as there wasn't any food in the house, and with no coffee to hand we both had cups of tea (mine: weak, milk; his: strong, two sugars). 'That's no problem,' he said. 'I'll get something on the way.'

'Sorry, I didn't think you'd be staying over.'

'No? Your house is nice, you know,' he said, and I felt a bit of an arse for not being a better hostess and laying in a few provisions at least. I've not seen his place - three other blokes all the same age apparently, and I can imagine the careless squalour. 'It's very house-y.'

'House-y?'

'You know, like my parents' house is house-y.' I must have frowned. 'Sorry, I meant...'

I looked round: the bookshelves, the sea glass in a gold-leafed bowl, the brass clock that needs winding every twelve hours. The antique cake stand on the Welsh dresser. The picnic hamper. The little cat. 'No, it is a bit domestic in here.'

'I like it. Your style's like... Raj-tastic.'

Had to laugh; I've always been a fan of Jewel in the Crown. 'Does that make you Charles Dance then?' He looked at me blankly. 'Um, never mind. We need to go, or we'll miss the bus.'
Went for some essential maintenance in the hair-removal department. Last time my ladyparts saw the business end of a waxing strip was sometime in the Mesozoic era - I'm not so frightened of scaring anyone off as I am of actually losing them in the jungle. The appointment went smoothly, or so I thought, until this morning.

Looking down at myself in the shower, I spotted what looked like purple ink along the remaining hairline. I rubbed, but it didn't come off - and in fact it hurt. I looked closer.

Bruising. A clear, neat line of bruising on my pussy.

Also: TOMORROW NIGHT, people - the first showing of the last episode of the first series of Secret Diary.

Hmm, did I just write 'first' series? Guess I did...
'How was your hot date?' N asked.

'Freezing,' I said. Literally as well as figuratively. SD4 said to prepare for a bracing walk in the out-of-doors, followed by a pub lunch somewhere cosy. Okay, I can do outdoors. And cosy, well, that is practically my middle name. But when he came to pick me up, it was cold, it was windy, it was raining, and he didn't have a backup plan. 'Well, if you waited for the weather to improve in order to do things, you'd never do anything!' he said.

This is something that has definitely changed since I was last on the market: people apparently don't care to put up a pretence of being on best behaviour anymore.

Me, I love best behaviour. Because of my former occupation/blog/book/series/whatever, getting involved in a serious relationship involves a level of auditioning that most people reserve only for their gynaecologists and best mates; I want - no, absolutely require - a long settling-in period.

I forced a cheery smile and trudged for four hours along an exposed coastline, every step reinforcing my belief that outings like this be reserved for Year 5, the year in which the resentment creeps in and you stop speaking to each other. Not, like, the second date?

'You're fucking kidding,' N said.

'I wish,' I said.

Then there was the matter of the feet. 'Uh-oh,' N said. He could see it coming, because I have this foot thing: I believe men's feet should be clean, nicely shaped, and free of toenail dirt, strangely-shaped nails, and, as far as possible, lint. Don't get me wrong - I like feet, but they have to be nice feet. N thinks it's part of my control freakery; I think it's basic hygiene.

So, somewhere between the pub (not as cosy as I'd hoped) and returning to the car, SD4 suggested a sit-down at a spot with a nice view. And the he proceeded to take. Off. His. Shoes.

And socks.

And then, after offering me a baby wipe (!), which I refused, proceeded to floss his rather unkempt toes with said wipe. Again, speed dating aside, this is date 2, for fuck's sake. I pretended to be very, very interested in the father and son off to my left enjoying a fishing outing, but in fact I was trying not to vomit. Then, just in case my stomach hadn't turned enough already, he offered me a piece of chocolate with the same hand that had just been cleaning his feet. Out of concern for my lower digestive tract and the potential risk of athlete's foot, I refused.

'Suit yourself,' SD4 said. 'But you're a woman, and once you see someone enjoying chocolate you know you'll have to have some,' he said jauntily.

This offended me on so many levels I didn't even know where to begin. 'No, I'm sure I'll manage not to, somehow.' I'm more of a savoury person anyway.

N guffawed as I told him. 'One for the next book,' he said.

'I don't think I'll be writing another book, but if I did, yes, this would be in it. And it gets worse,' I said. Turns out SD4's a fraud investigator, and while I'm not committing any fraud as such, I certainly felt under the microscope for most of the afternoon. Slyly disguised as caring about what I said, he managed to get rather a lot
out of me in a very little time. Such as what my father does for a living (something surprisingly odd) and where my mother was born (somewhere surprisingly... er, surprising). In doing so, he rapidly hit what N calls my brick wall - the things I won't talk about. And that usually doesn't happen until somewhere around month 6.

Worse still, he invented an excuse to come in my house - next time I'll claim there isn't actually a loo and guests are required to bury their shit in the back garden - and then wouldn't leave for ages. In spite of the fact that I'd put on a load of laundry, begun washing up, and had Radio 4 on at full volume. Every time something caught his attention I cringed. 'Where's this from? What does this do?' He patted the cat and leafed through a recipe book. His eyes rested, blessedly briefly, on the Cyrillic text of the BdJ Russian edition (incidentally: it's a great cover, I'm going to have it made up larger and framed). Honestly, he was all but taking inventory.

'I feel bad about it,' I said to N. 'He's a nice guy, but.... yeurrrgh.' When he moved to kiss me on the cheek at the end of the date, I actually jumped away. And yet he still sent a text to say he'd had a great time and asking when we could meet again. Wtf?

'Feel bad? What the hell do you have to feel bad for? Chalk it up as a fail and cut him dead.'

'Serious?'

'Serious. What happened to your edge, woman?'

'The rules are different when it's real dating,' I said. 'The last date went pretty well, maybe this is just a one-off disaster.'

'Like fuck. You've not been on real dates in so long you've forgotten what the rules are.'

'We have to get you a book deal, you know. N's Little Guide on Dating.'

'Haven't you basically written two books by transcribing everything I say already?'

'Yeah, true.'
QOTW

I won't go about to argue the point with you - 'tis so - and I am persuaded of it, madam, as much as can be, 'That both man and woman bear pain or sorrow (and, for aught I know, pleasure too) best in a horizontal position.' --Laurence Sterne
Speed Date Bachelor #4 (or, Oh Shite His Parents Live Near Mine)

One of the benefits of my job - apart from lunch on Wednesdays and the fact I can fall asleep at my desk without anyone seeing - is that there is a time-honoured tradition of people calling in sick on their birthdays. For, like, a week. Which obviously is what I have done. Wouldn't want to fall afoul of the corporate norm, no? So when SD4 texted to ask about meeting for a meal and drinks, I had to regretfully reply I was otherwise disposed in the Northern Counties.

No worries, I'll be up visitng my parents this week. Anthony's on Tuesday?

As Starbuck would say, frak.

The only outfit I had suitable for a date that did not a) belong to someone of pensionable age or b) until recently do duty as wedding wear for a pregnant sibling was precisely what I'd worn to the speed dating. Well, at least he would recognise me. We arranged to meet at a local landmark. He said he'd like to browse the bookstores before they closed. I was precisely on time, half five.

Quarter to six passed. Then the hour. A number of other women who'd clearly also been waiting to meet people had already paired off and been replaced by new halves of couples. And the few people who had been sitting in the vicinity all along, who noticed I'd been waiting for half an hour dressed rather slinkily for so early in the evening, were looking at me like I was some sort of hooker.

Well, okay, fair dues. But I'm not just any hooker.

A man in a linen suit (at this time of year?) came up to me. 'Hi, how long have you been waiting?' he asked.

It was my date. And nice though he seemed, I genuinely didn't recognise the fellow.

'Um, half an hour. I was about to go, actually...'

'I texted to say I was in the shop over the road? Had to pick up the new Discworld novel.'

Aha. My phone had been on silent. Probably just as well, since I am violently allergic to the sight and smell of Pratchett. As Dredd would say, drokk. He put out his arm for mine and we walked to the restaurant.

'You look nice,' he said, and ordered drinks. Sazerac double on ice, no water for me; some trendy weirdy beer for him. I silently counted
down from ten in my head. I try not to judge people on their bad taste in alcohol these days. Not often, in any case.

And there were a few other hiccups. Conversations that went a little like:

He: 'What sort of films do you like?'

Me: 'I used to be obsessed with Fritz Lang, but will watch almost anything these days. I like Hal Hartley, and Zhang Yimou's a favourite. Not seen the Ian Curtis biopic yet so looking forward to that. You?'

'Oh, I like sports films.'

'Sports... films?'

'Yeah.'

'You mean like movies about...'

'Yeah, sport.'

'Like, uh... The Longest Yard?'

'Yeah, that was great!'

I know, I know, I'm a spoilt snob. Sosueme. But for the most part it was a lovely date; he's a genuinely nice chap. I steered the conversation well clear of politics, sex, work, and books by Terry Pratchett, and we had a good time. Oh, and he does yoga, apparently. Yoga. He even paid for the meal, which (I'm swiftly learning in the world of non-call-girl sex) marks him as something of a gentleman in the old mould these days.

Analysis:

Boyfriend material? 5/10 - Definite potential here. Then again, we didn't talk about anything real. Must start vetting possible mates by asking how they fold their socks and whether they agree Jeremy Clarkson (or at least his irritating habit of squatting at the top of the bestseller lists) is evil personified, thereby gaining some accurate judgment of how all the important arguments will go.

Fuckable? 8/10 - Nice body, well maintained. No bloody clue if he knows what to do with it, but that's okay cos I do.

Client material? 10/10 - Dream client, hands down. Pays for things. Holds doors. Easy easy easy to talk to.

Would date again? 7/10 - Yes, okay, obviously worried about his opinions re: Clarkson, socks and any possible social connection between our families, but otherwise yes.

Final comments? - Ooh, a text from my friend the lovely young builder. Wonder if he has any reason to come north?
On Birthdays, and What They're For

'You think you're so clever, and classless, and free,' he says.

'You think I don't know the song you're quoting?'

He barks a laugh, and pats my right hand with his paw. His hands are browner - both parents are more olive than me, startlingly so, though if Mum's anything like me I'm probably the milkman's. But my hand, though fairer, is a tiny copy of Dad's, so I know that's not so.

We're driving to our house. I mean my mother's. 'I'm surprised you remember that,' he says.

'Remember? I have entire brain lobes dedicated to the complete post-Beatles outputs of John Lennon and George Harrison whether I like it or not.' There's no need to be able to read minds when I can see what he's thinking on his face. How has his daughter ended up where she is, the one with so much potential, neither on top of the world nor tearing it down, a cog in the middle class machine?

I wish I could tell him. That I made something, something most people don't or won't understand, but somewhere between the glossy covers and the glossy television series maybe a little of the truth sneaks through. That it's not all about the sex - never has been - it's about the heart of darkness.

And yet, what would I gain by telling them? Nothing that can go in the brag book next to my university graduation photos (black gown, wan smile, my thoughts: this is the last time I ever do something for the sole purpose of pleasing my family) or ******'s swimming certificates (blue swimming costume, loads of medals, and she's never stopped being a people pleaser). Nothing that would see our family name preceding an -ism. Nothing they would see as real genius, revolution or success. This is what it's like to be born to a generation who imagined they were changing the world - you live up to neither their hopes nor fears.

'Is that the turn? I almost forget where it is now,' Dad says.

'Have to draw you a map next time.' I smile, and keep the secret of his lie.

He nods. Whatever's going on in his life, I don't know about it. He doesn't even switch off the engine this time when he pauses by the kerb to let me out. He's seeing the younger sister of Mum's best friend from school now. It's only a fact, not knowledge. If he's happy or not, I don't... whatever. Dad kisses my cheek and, very briefly, we smile before I shut the car door and go inside.

Here I am, what am I supposed to do?
Speed Date Bachelor #3 (In Which Belle is Feeling Rather World-Weary)

I was on time, he was late. As in, half-an-hour late. I'm not the sort of girl who usually stands around waiting so long, only a niceish fellow with curly blonde hair was chatting me up, otherwise I'd have nothing date-wise to report here. We exchanged emails. If nothing else, I came away with that. I think you can predict how the rest of this is going to go...

My date turned up, no apologies for the time. The bachelor in question is a well-regarded* young** man with good prospects*** and much to recommend him****. We join yours truly, trying to keep the conversation light, if a little surreal. GSOH and all that being ever so important:

'...As Kanye left the bar to rejoin his parents, he turned around and told the two "And nobody ever got poor pretending to be robots."' I paused to sip my drink. 'To this day, Kanye West recieves a 10% royalty check from Daft Punk, as well as a VIP Reception whenever he's on French soil.'

'So when are you going to stop this jabberwocky?' Date said, bursting at the seams to tell me how well-travelled, indie-fabulous and bone-crushingly cool he was. Ugh. The only way I've found to tolerate such people is to consider my half of the conversation as an impromptu tribute to Ivor Cutler, complete with Weegie accent. This amuses me, but rarely meets with approval: men who require admiration don't do humour. Like, could you picture Vlad Putin at an Andy Dick gig?***** Exactly.

I sighed. Best get this over with, then. 'What would you like to know about me,' I said, looking him straight in the eyes. 'My useless degree, my boring job, or the details of my mortgage? Will that make you feel sufficiently unconventional? There are no doubt countless other girls happy to fawn and flutter and agree it's a great idea to travel the world with a ferret called Jammin. Why not go find one?'

His (distilled) response: 'Fuck off, Miss Morose. If you think you're the cleverest thing out there you're wrong.'******

Unfortunately, this all went down halfway through round 2, and both of us being loath to leave half a cocktail and face the cold night with not even a sturdy buzz on, a good five minutes of SMS-checking and stony silence ensued. There are few times I am thankful the average volume of music in a bar is too high to hold a sensible conversation, but this was one of them.


* in his own mind
** says 30. Looks 45
*** considering giving it all up for a year of hostel-hopping. Is either Steve Jobs or lying about his career
**** timeliness isn't one of them
***** even factoring in the homoerotic shirtless holiday snaps?
****** oh, undoubtedly. But I'd wager folding money on being cleverer than he is, at least


Analysis:

Boyfriend material? -1000/10 - This chap lost his rag at not being able to drone on about Patagonia or whatever and can't do banter like vegans can't do steak tartare? Buh-bye.

Fuckable? 2/10 - Joke em if they can't take a fuck, I say.

Client material? 5/10 - The sort you would make pay £30 for your taxis, then pocket the cash and take the Tube instead. Also, no candidate for overspill time. A one-off at best.

Would date again? 1/10 - Didn't even get through the first one!

Final comments? - Andy Dick, call me anytime.