Cameron Davis was a bright, enterprising young chap who had been through the private schooling system and come out the other end at Oxford University. His father, a hedge-fund manager and senior partner of stockbrokers Palmanure Brown & Co, expected great things of Cameron, and had taken pleasure in introducing him to influential men, who had him gawping in awe at their hard-won wisdoms.
At Oxford he had taken a BA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Oxford was good fun, the people there pleasant, well-mannered and, importantly, well-bred. But he wasn’t so sure about everybody in his class; and it wasn’t just the yapping hippies, either. Even from some of those classmates ostensibly aligned with him he felt apart, thinking their views kind of anachronistic; kind of like a hard sell in the new hyper-marketised age. There was conservatism on all sides and not, he thought, the good sort. Cameron wished to meet some like-minded individuals, as well as those who might challenge – rather than merely reaffirm – his preconceptions. He decided to attend the Societies Fayre that fell in the first week of term.
At first he had very little luck. He contemplated joining the Film Society, but it looked to be full of weirdos and Trots. The Krishna Society was way too pushy, and it seemed like a much duller way to emulate former Beatles than getting a guitar and scoring chicks. That Cameron was to join certain societies was a foregone conclusion; he was already a paid-up member of the natural party of government. But playing an active role in the local Conservative movement would not be enough; he had other desires – desires of the flesh, desires of bacchanalian revelry. And one such society piqued his interest.
The Marquis de Sade Society, named after the radical French aristocrat and sexual libertine, was the polar opposite of the Krishnas. They seemed to be actively discouraging the vast majority of students from joining them.
“Go away!” jeered their representative. “Be gone! Shoo! Shoo!”
Cameron ambled up to their desk nervously. To his surprise, the rep not only acknowledged his presence, but smiled.
“You, sir! I like your turtleneck sweater.”
“Why, thank you,” beamed Cameron. “Your tweet suit jacket is rather fetching, if I do say so.”
“Ta, old bean. I trust you’ve already joined the Conservative Society?”
“Jolly good. My name’s Rupert Spencer Percival Fauntleroy, chair of the Marquis de Sade Society. Rupe Spence Perce for short. I presume you are familiar with our order?”
“Yes, I’ve heard certain…things.”
“Like what, may I ask?”
“Well, is it true that to join you have to get head from a p-“
“No, that is mere poppycock and tittle-tattle and not worth dignifying with a moment’s thought!”
“Well, I do rather like the look of this society,” Cameron said, eyeing the portraits adorning the society’s notice board of such historical luminaries as John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, the Restoration-era English poet who had died not as a consequence of the treason he committed against King Charles II but of venereal disease. “When may I begin my initiation?”
“Tonight, old chap. Meet us at the White Hart and we’ll get the whole process rolling.”
It certainly wasn’t a particularly Bacchanalian scene. Eleven well-dressed individuals – all men, which pissed Cameron off – sat in the corner of the pub, drinking a pint or some mephitic white wine. They made some space as Cameron pulled up a seat.
“Aha!” exclaimed Rupert. “Gentlemen, this is our new chum Cameron. He’s a good sort. He will be one of us but, of course, he has a way to go yet.”
“Nice to meet you,” Cameron said ten times over.
“This is Gideon, our economics whizz-kid,” said Rupert.
“Oh, I see,” said Cameron, curious as to why a drinking club needed an economics expert. “I haven’t seen you in class. Do you take PPE?”
“No, Art History,” Gideon told him.
“Great!” said Cameron. “So, when do we get started with the initiation? It’ll be something naughty, I imagine.”
“Ah yes, your first task,” began Rupert, “shall be to read a book.”
“A book?” Cameron was curious. “I’ve been known to read books.”
“Ah, but have you read the best book of them all?”
“The…Bible?” he hesitated, confused by the direction in which things were going.
“Oh, don’t be so bloody wet…”
“I give up. Something by the Marquis de Sade?”
“No, you’re getting colder. It’s like the Bible, but bigger, and better, and with even more shagging than the Old Testament. I’m talking, of course, about Ayn Rand’s 1957 masterpiece Atlas Shrugged.”
“O…K…do you have a copy on you?”
“No, of course not! What are you, some kind of a bloody pleb? Get your own copy!”
The next week was torture. The book was so shit; so long and tedious and high on its own sociopathic hubris, every page was like he was walking across hot coals with dumbbells hanging from his ears. Ayn Rand was the worst writer in the world; so polemical, so prosaic, and above all so mean-spiritedly solipsistic in her exaltation of the superiority of the self. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, everybody was a competitor, and nobody was worth anything more than a figure on the quarterly spreadsheet of your massive global conglomerate (and if you didn’t have a massive global conglomerate, well, you’re weren’t one of the “quality people” and should’ve had the entrepreneurial gumption to inherit a railway conglomerate off your dad.)
But by the quadrillionth page the inkling of a notion had seeped into Cameron’s consciousness; that his father had worked damn hard to keep him afloat and any effort by the powerful to claim what was rightfully his was to be resisted at all costs; that those who lived in destitution did perhaps lack something; had perhaps chosen not to seize upon the opportunities afforded to them, or had been incapable of doing so due to unavoidable personal shortcomings. The latter seemed more likely; he pondered how many brilliant people, such as his father and his father before him, had made it to the top through sheer hard work and ingenuity. Why could others not do the same? He began to see efforts to restrain the power of the market for what they transparently always had been; green-eyed envy.
“I am ready to join your club,” he walked into the White Hart and slammed Rand’s opus down on the table at which the Marquis de Sade boys were sat.
“Ah,” Rupert wagged his finger, “but first I must ask you a question. What is a synonym for taxation?”
Cameron did not hesitate.
Rupert was showing Cameron around the society office. It was spacious and resplendent with the trappings of wealth; antique paintings (all originals) lined the walls and a suit of armour that dated back to the Wars of the Roses stood proudly in the corner. Glaring out from amidst the paintings were three aligned, grandly framed photographs; of Thatcher, Reagan and Augusto Pinochet. Only a large, slightly sordid wooden box in the corner brought down the tone. Banging seemed to be coming from therein.
“What’s in there?” asked Cameron.
Rupert chuckled and opened it up. To Cameron’s horror, somebody was inside the box, writhing in a leather gimp suit. The Marquis would have approved; it was all very 120 Days of Sodom.
“Bloody hell! I won’t have to do this in order to join, will I?”
“No, no, unless…” Rupert paused, “…which school did you go to?”
“Eton, of course.”
“Oh no, you’ll be just fine. This poor devil went to a state comp.”
“Will he,” Cameron took another look in the box and recoiled slightly, “be able to join the society one day?”
“HA!” Rupert spat exaltedly. “Of course not, we’re just seeing how long we can get away with keeping the bugger like this before the crack-addled scum that spawned him start to wonder why he hasn’t called the hovel lately.”
“But how do you get away with doing stuff like this?” Cameron was astounded.
“Simple, old bean,” smiled Rupert. “We pay.”
“So…am I to be reading a lot more books? All due respect to Rand; it seemed a bit dry.”
“No, look, we’re proponents of a very strong philosophy here, and we like our members to be at one with that.”
“Does the name originate from the philosophy? I mean, forgive me, but was the Marquis not,” his lip curled into a sneer, “of the left?”
“Well, you could argue that we named the club after the Marquis de Sade because as a proponent of extreme freedom his philosophy is reflected in our own belief in freedom from regulation, from the sweaty, fumbling hands of the big state…but mostly we just called it that because it sounds sexy and cool. Beforehand we were literally called the Sexy and Cool Society.”
“Yes, it’s not all hard work here. Sometimes,” he leaned in and lowered his voice, “we smoke cannabis and listen to Supertramp.”
“Aha, now I like the cut of your jib even more. I’m rather a fan of both cannabis and Supertramp.”
“And there shall be plenty of both at the next stage of your initiation; one of our legendary Marquis de Sade Society parties.”
“When…?” he began.
“Nuh-uh,” Rupert wagged his finger at him.
“Oh, you’ll find out in good time, dear Cameron. We’ve slipped an RSVP note under your pillow,” he grinned. “Yes, we can get into your room at any time. And we will. We have that kind of access.”
Finally, thought Cameron as he entered Tootswallop Manor, the residence of one of the Sade alumni’s affluent families; revelry that would have pleased Bacchus, or perhaps even the Marquis himself (he wondered if their designated comp gimp was present). It was a fancy dress party, and the theme was the ancient world. Guests snorted cocaine off polished marble and rooms filled with sickly sweet marijuana smoke, Supertramp blasting. Grabbing an unattended bottle of champagne, Cameron was delighted that, contrary to the demographics of the society, the male attendees seemed to be outnumbered by women, as he had braced himself for the worst after Rupert told him “we don’t have much time for women in the Marquis de Sade Society. We find them rather disposable, like Tipp-Ex.” He set his sights on a girl and was about to approach her when there was a tap on his shoulder.
“Hello, Cameron,” it was Gideon, the society’s Art History-specialist economics guru.
“Oh, hello, old chap. How are you?”
“Mmmm”, he shrugged, “can you come with me, please?”
“Well, do you mind if I…?” he began, gesturing at the girl.
“Yes, I do mind,” sniffed Gideon. “Do you wish to join the illustrious Marquis de Sade Society or not?”
“Oh, bloody hell, go on then,” Cameron sighed, begrudgingly following Gideon as she slipped out of view. “This had better be bloody important. Whilst I’m here I would most certainly like to get some action.”
Gideon smirked knowingly and led him down a flight of stairs to the basement; an opulent wine cellar, fully lit and decked out with a circle of chairs, where the Marquis de Sade Society lay in waiting, most of them swigging straight from dusty wine bottles. Rupert stepped out of the shadows.
“Welcome to your official initiation ceremony, Cameron. You must stand in the centre of the circle and repeat the following words; ‘and that is why the long-term economic plan is working.’ Please repeat verbatim.”
“’And that is why the long term economic plan is working.’ Hang on, why is the…?”
“Uh!” Rupert wagged his finger. “Rule number one: don’t ever question our received wisdoms. Now, repeat it again, and imagine we are a bunch of journalists. Abruptly turn your head and run.”
Cameron did so, before Rupert invited him back into the circle.
“Good pace, good pace. Now, take a seat, and let Gideon give you a two and a half hour lecture on tax avoidance methods.”
Gideon dragged a blackboard over from behind a shelf of wine bottles.
“So,” he clapped his hands together, “there are some pretty clever financial products which in effect enable you to pass on your home, or the value of your home, to your son or daughter and then get personal care paid for by the state…”
Once Gideon had concluded with a stirring epilogue on deficit reduction, another member of the club, Iain, wheeled out a disabled person who had presumably been shrouded in darkness all this time, and Cameron felt slightly morally dubious.
“It’s ok,” another member whispered, “they went to Harrow together.”
“Now, we all know that Colin here is a good sort who went to Harrow and has very respectable parents. But what if he had not? What if he wished to claim money off the state,” he spat with derision, “in order to get a free pass not to work – to sit around all day like a lazy dosser! He’d be a waste of space, wouldn’t he? A no-good scrounger,” he turned to Colin, “no offence, old bean, Harrow boys forever and whatnot,” he continued, “he’d be nothing! Your task is to draw me up a list of jobs that Colin could perform for our society, in order to illustrate to him the value of hard work.”
Assuming that the task was purely hypothetical, Cameron drew up a list that got Rupert, Gideon and Iain nodding with delighted concurrence, including jobs such as window cleaning, bomb disposal and chimney sweeping. Rupert walked over and handed him a mirror adorned with a generous line of cocaine, which Cameron gladly accepted.
“You are the most impressive candidate we have ever fielded. You have passed each and every one of the tests we have set for you. Now,” declared Rupert, “stick your dick in a dead pig’s mouth!”