This year saw the foundation of The Mortal's Group, a charitable organisation which sets out to help sufferers of Dominatrix Toxaemia, or in lay terms, 'Tops' Disease'. The Group's founder, Mistress Jenny van der Graf explains: "It is a marvellous group and it has done a great deal for Mistresses everywhere. Professor Strangetrousers produced clear evidence that 'Tops' Disease' - as it was then known - is a genuine medical condition, as opposed to a sociological occupational hazard, as has been conjectured. Since then, his findings have been praised in THE LANCET, and lectured upon at the BMA and the Royal Society. At least nobody can deny it exists now."
Published by Methuen, and now available on paperback, WHY IT IS SO HARD TO BE A DOMINANT, details the symptoms of Dominatrix Toxaemia, starting with the inability on the dominant's part to use any verb outside its imperative forms. It develops into an increasing abandonment of the usual social niceties, and an exponentially increasing superiority complex. The sufferer finds it increasingly difficult to conduct a normal conversation, and loses all organisational and practical skills. A posture of looking down the nose and an introspective self-interest takes over. The ego becomes swollen, and a mild form of Glaucoma (tunnel vision) may attend.
Incapacity to treat any person as an equal is often an added complication. In most cases, the sufferer ignores all but the most deferential forms of address. They become incapable of talking about anything apart from how hard it is to be dominant. 'What with all these slaves in need of a beating, not knowing what they want, the state of 'Skin Two'/The Rubber Ball/ the M25/She 'n' Me/Ishmael's whips these days, etc.'
Mistress van der Graf, herself a former victim of DT, tells her own story. "I was an office worker at the time, everything was ahead of me, promotion, company car and executive washroom.
"Then my boyfriend bought me a riding crop. Soon after that, we went to 'Torture Garden'. Then 'The Boat'. Before long I had ditched my boyfriend because I had so many men wanting to do things for me. These fantastically strong women wanted me at their parties. It was great. Soon I had an extensive wardrobe, all sorts of whips, and a considerable income from 'professional' correction sessions. Most men knew they had to pay me for punishment, so I didn't always bother to tell them to begin with. It used to annoy me terribly when occasionally they did argue that they thought it had been for fun - was that what I was supposed to be doing it for? They always paid me in the end.
"Of course I gave up my job, and began the life of a real Mistress. Some little man made me a dungeon, and life was great. My slaves had to pay for the privilege of pleasing me: Even if what pleased me happened to be going to the hairdressers, two hours in Harvey Nicks, or a few chapters of Dostoyevski, that was what they were paying for. If they felt insulted or injured they were out. For a really devoted slave, the fact that I owned a dungeon, whips and instruments of torture was enough. I didn't need to demean myself by using them.
"I was so important that I could see to it that the club scene was run the way that I decided was best. One promoter sent me an envelope of fliers without marking it personal, and I left him such a dominant message in return that he never sent me anything again. I had so much power. Then one night, I overheard two slaves talking over a drink at a club. "She's a bloody snooty cow," one was saying. The other rejoined with, "Pity anyone she has as a slave. I don't know why they do it!" I was busy berating them for ingratitude when I realise that neither of them were slaves but a Male Dom and John the Bouncer, the latter of whom replied to me in the strongest terms. Of course I sailed off with an imperious glance, but I couldn't help wondering for a moment, had they had been talking about ME? So I whipped the first slave who crossed my gaze, just to feel better. Then a slave brought me the Professor's book as a gift. I thought, "At last! Someone who really understands!" But as I read through it, I kept saying to myself, "That's not me. I'm not like that. I talk to people."
"I then wondered how long it was since I had used the word 'please' or 'thank-you'. I realised that, yes, it was me! I was ill! Can you understand that? All the hard work of beating people and giving orders and accepting presents, and now I was the one who was ill!
"I had it very bad, I admit it, but at the time I just didn't know. Yes, I had written an article on how to be a Mistress, describing such high criteria that nobody but me could live up to them. Yes, I had plans of buying an Archduchy in Eastern Europe. Yes, I was roughing-out a best selling autobiography. I was very ashamed and I went to see Professor J. B. Strangetrousers. He told me not to be ashamed; I had caught a disease, like measles or the 'flu and there was a cure."
Professor J. B. Strangetrousers is an elusive man. We tracked him to a Gloucester Place basement flat, where he was changing lightbulbs. He agreed to talk to us in a nearby pub - The Feathers - as long as we bought him several pints of beer. After a while, in which he overcame his nervousness, using terms like, "Oh, that bloody book!" "Had to pay the rent" and "Who told you where I was?" He eventually became very loquacious on the causes of Dominatrix Toxaemia, the disease he had discovered.
"It's in the glands," he explained. "A chemical impulse caused by lots of people doing what you tell them. It floods into the brain, takes over the higher consciousness, first in fits and starts, then altogether. Then it gets into the subconscious, affects the dreams, and ultimately the neural relays and motor functions. It's insidious. Some cases show the symptoms almost as soon as they lay hands on a riding crop, with others, it takes longer. Some of course never get it. It's probably in the genes, or Freud, or something."
Mistress van der Graf takes up the account of the cure. "We started with analysing THE TIMES Leaders, some written by men, some by women. It showed me that sometimes other people can express sensible opinions. After that we explored the poetry of Saliva Path, and the War Poets, then Jacobean Sonnets. Finally a little Shakespeare, until the Professor thought I was ready to listen to Radio Five. All those people holding opinions! I had to learn not to change channels after the first five seconds.
"That was a milestone. After that I was able to watch Zenab Bedawi and Martyn Lewis read the Nine o' clock News, without having to contradict them every two minutes. At long last I could watch Ian McCaskill without calling him a squirming little toad. I considered going on to Barry Norman or James Whale, but the Professor had other ideas.
"One day he introduced me to a tall dark-haired man in a very smart suit, who said he had to explain to me the basics of income tax. I flipped! I screamed at him to get out and found myself reaching for a riding crop that was no longer there! That night I was sick, but the next morning, the man was there again, patient and ready to talk to me. I forced myself to listen to him - I don't suppose I was very polite. After that, I had a plethora of visitors. At first there were policemen, tax officials, a Judge, then a number of complete strangers asking directions. Finally a string of humble men talking at first about train spotting - which was a challenge. Then about their work; accounting, bus driving, stage lighting etc. and at last - S/M. To my happy surprise, I found I could actually listen to these people without over-ruling them or mentally changing their ideas to my own credo. After three months, I was able to return to the Scene. I knew that I was a real person again. I listened, I talked, I danced, I spanked. I even got spanked! It was such a good feeling, and I wanted other Dominants to feel just like I did!"
Which brings us to the point at which we started: Mistress van der Graf's Foundation of The Mortal's Group. Instead of buying a Dukedom in Latvia, she has acquired a small Suffolk estate and turned it, with the help of many submissive male volunteers, into a spa resort for sufferers of DT. Here in the English Countryside, victims of Top's Disease can spend time in luxurious surroundings while Mistress van der Graf and her helpers assist them to recovery.
"I think it's quite right for the men to help as they do." she says. "All the Dominants here have worked very hard over the years. It really is time they were given a better deal. This isn't The Other World Kingdom; Dominants have a hard enough time without having to do SM with a lot of submissives - I abandoned my last whip when we opened, and all such implements are confiscated from our patients upon arrival. I feel very strongly that this is the way forward for those of us who are differently pleasured, I feel I've come to the end and found myself!"
Ms Van der Graf’s autobiography, LIVING WITHOUT THE WHIP will be available soon in Methuen hardback