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The mid-afternoon sunshine cast a dappled light, through the thinning foliage of lines of silver birch trees, as residents and visitors went about their business in a wide suburban street in the late autumn. The air was pleasantly warm, but with a slight hint of a cool night to come. It was filled with a cocktail of sound, in which the noise from light passing traffic mingled with the buzz of conversation and laughter, the rhythmic pattern of footsteps with various acoustic characteristics and the chirping and warbling of the local bird population, as it took heed of the lengthening shadows and sang out its Vespers canticles.

Among the pedestrians making their way along the popular thoroughfare, with its elegant Georgian facades on either side of the road, was a young woman in her early thirties. She was walking at a fairly slow, deliberate pace and, although she was obviously navigating her course carefully between other pedestrians, it was clear that she was also deep in thought.

Agnes was, in many ways, an old-fashioned young woman. She had been brought up as the third of five siblings, the offspring of a clergyman in an affluent provincial parish and his quiet-mannered, gentle and kind-hearted wife. She had enjoyed a good childhood and adolescence and had made herself very popular amongst deeper-thinking friends by her rare blend of incisive thought, clarity of perception, analytical skills and a gift for diplomacy that ought to have seen her career take root in the Foreign Office.

In fact, Agnes had followed a very different career line after graduating from a good red-brick university with a first-class Honours degree in Psychology. As a child and teenager, she had grown up in a climate in which newspaper headlines and news broadcasts often highlighted the troubled state of industrial relations in the United Kingdom. She had read page after page of comment on the consequences of this turbulence for all who were directly affected by it and she had listened with avid interest to numerous discussions involving her father (her mother rarely contributed to such debates) and his colleagues and friends ? even the bishop, on one occasion ? dealing with the ethical and social complexities of life within industrialised societies. She had been totally absorbed by the passions that the turbulence had engendered and she had been impressed by the efforts of those who had sought to pour the oil of calm and reason upon the troubled waters of strife and conflict. It had, in fact, been such people who had led her to seek a career in conciliation and arbitration, to which her rare blend of characteristics and skills suited her well.

Such is the nature of diplomacy at this level that, no matter how skilled the arbitrator may be and no matter how experienced, the work is bound to affect anyone who is a sentient human being, particularly in cases where all reasonable attempts at bringing people face to face with reality and their duties towards one another lead only to deeper intransigence.

Agnes, who was just reaching a critical point in negotiations involving parties who gave every impression of having a doctorate in obduracy and whose block-headed attitudes had convinced her that they deserved one another, felt herself under particular stress but had been reluctant to seek medical advice. She had no problem where her GP was concerned, for the two women, who were of similar ages, got along very well together, both professionally and socially but, on this occasion, Agnes felt particularly vulnerable, even to the point of being ‘unable to cope’, the kiss of death to many a promising career in this demanding field.

Despite her reluctance, she had finally arranged an appointment with Dr Menzies, an extremely efficient and skilled medical practitioner whom many regarded as a model for general practice. She had graduated with a good medical degree at the same time as Agnes had started her career, some seven years earlier, and had moved into general practice four years later.

Fiona Menzies knew Agnes quite well, but she was also aware, intuitively, that the root cause of her friend and patient’s problems were not so much physiological as psychological. The two young women had discussed the situation briefly at a late surgery, one cold, wet and depressing mid-autumn evening. On the basis of what she heard, Fiona had invited Agnes to visit her socially, since she had an idea to discuss with her, but one that was probably best deliberated away from the confines of the GP surgery.

It was, perhaps, a measure of Agnes’ trust and confidence in Fiona that allayed her misgivings when, half way through a deliciously-chilled bottle of Frascati Superiore, Fiona had suggested to her that she should visit The Bamboo Suite, which had been set up fairly recently by a couple whom she knew well.

Despite Agnes’ gentle persistence, Fiona had not been forthcoming in terms of the detail of her knowledge of The Bamboo Suite, but she did assure Agnes that she had familiarised herself most effectively, not only with the staff there, but also with the services they offered.

Fiona explained to her friend and patient that it had all started with the notorious ‘MacBride’ case. Bayan Escort Gaziantep She had been accused, baselessly as it turned out when judgment was finally given in Court against the offending parents and an exemplary sentence was handed down for contempt of Court and attempts to procure a miscarriage of justice, of both neglect and abuse of two of the MacBride family’s six children, who were temporarily in her care whilst resident for a few weeks in the area served by the Mitcham, Saunders and Menzies practice. Once it had transpired that the same allegations had been made against other GP practices, with the active help of an unscrupulous firm of ambulance-chasing lawyers, the Police had made further investigations and the entire scam had been exposed publicly and splashed across headlines ranging in tone from measured anger to lurid calls for retribution.

Despite the welcome outcome, the experience had been harrowing for Fiona and her colleagues. Allegations had been made that had left her totally repulsed and fuming with indignation that anybody, whether in their right mind or not, could dream up such a tissue of mendacity. So drastic had been the effect of these dreadful events that Fiona had been on the point of giving up Medicine altogether. However, she had confidence in the substance of her defence and was aware of how resignation would look, at such a critical stage, to a salacious public with a voracious appetite for perceived wrongdoing amongst supposed ‘pillars of Society’. Also to news media with an unhealthy aptitude for Schadenfreude ? delighting in the misfortunes of others ? and with a pathological allergy to rational deliberation and fairness of mind. She had, therefore, resolved that she would not let these unscrupulous people thwart ambitions that were motivated as much by altruism as by the desire to make her mark on her profession.

Agnes was bemused, but she respected Fiona greatly, whilst admiring her in her capacity as a physician and respecting her enormously as a woman. In fact, unbeknown to Fiona and hermetically-sealed against perception by anyone else Agnes felt a deep warmth of comfort and trust when she was with her friend, extending on occasions to what she took for a desire to take their friendship to a deeper level of mutual understanding and enjoyment. Neither woman was immune to the appeal of her own sex, predominantly at a social level. Yet neither had betrayed even a hint of this to the other.

“Agnes!”. The quiet urgency of the tone in Fiona’s voice caught the arbitrator’s full attention. “Please trust me and my judgment and try to suspend your own natural instincts when you go to see Helen. I promise you it will be worth it.”

Agnes smiled at the physician and the latter recognised the hesitancy and uncertainty in what was usually a radiant gesture of precious closeness between trusting friends. Nonetheless, Fiona was confident that Agnes would follow her advice, although it would have been incorrect to say that she was totally confident!

Agnes walked up the short flight of steps, flanked by freshly painted black wrought-iron railings capped with gold-coloured finials, and approached the pale olive-green front door with the brass knocker, handle and letterbox. To the side of the door, there was a polished brass plate that read ‘ The Bamboo Suite ‘, with a tasteful, elegant but simple logo featuring a bamboo plant silhouetted against the sun. As she approached the door, it opened unbidden and she was greeted with a natural and comforting smile from a young woman who appeared to be in her mid-twenties:

“Good afternoon, Miss Carradine, Helen is expecting you.”

Agnes returned the smile with the craft of one able to mask her real feelings beneath a convincing diplomatic social laminate and was ushered into a spacious hallway decorated in very pale olive-green, with dark straw-coloured coving and a pure white ceiling, from which an elegant chandelier hung in sparkling splendour. The receptionist, who was dressed in a comfortable and stylish cream-coloured short-sleeved tunic that came down to just above her knees, with the Bamboo Suite logo embroidered just above the left breast, showed Agnes to a comfortable chestnut-coloured leather sofa and then made her way behind a white American oak desk that had obviously not been a bargain. The receptionist, whose name-badge bore the italicised name ‘Sophia’, sat down and picked up the handset from the trim olive-green telephone on the desk.

“Miss Carradine is here, Helen”, she said, almost in a whisper, to the person who answered her call.

Agnes looked around at her surroundings, taking in the soft and soothing décor and admiring the original ink drawings ? very obviously of Eastern origin ? featuring the flora of the Orient in a style that made the viewer’s mind work effortlessly in following the flowing black and coloured lines against the pale background. In fact, Agnes felt that she could well have been in a Harley Street consulting suite or at the practice of some highly sophisticated practitioner of complementary medicine. In this line of thinking, she was closer to reality than she may have realised ? as she was about to discover.

The sound of a perfectly oiled self-closing door mechanism operating at the top of the broad, sweeping staircase drew Agnes’ gaze upwards towards a woman of medium height and build, probably a few years older than her, who was making her way with a light step down towards her. This woman, whom Agnes correctly took for Helen, was wearing a cream coloured two-piece suit and a moleskin coloured satin blouse. For a moment, Agnes could not make out whether this lady was wearing very convincing tan-coloured hosiery or if she was, in fact, sporting a very expensive tan. She looked into the woman’s deep brown eyes as she approached and held out a hand of greeting, accompanied by yet another warm and sincere smile.

“Hello, Agnes, I’m Helen Oakley. Fiona has told me a little about you. Would you like to come upstairs, where we can talk in more relaxed and private surroundings.”

Agnes reciprocated the courtesies and turned to thank Sophia for her courtesy before following Helen up the stairs. Sophia acknowledged her comments with a comforting smile, before moving swiftly ? but with considerable style ? to answer the telephone, which was emitting a subdued warble from the desk. In fact, Agnes mused as she walked up the stairs, subdued was a good way to describe ‘The Bamboo Suite’.

Agnes was ushered into a spacious drawing room filled with warm natural light diffused through straw-coloured vertical blinds. Helen ushered her to a very comfortable, deep armchair upholstered in soft chestnut-coloured leather. Lying face down on the table alongside the chair was a document that looked like a questionnaire. Agnes gave it a cursory glance before turning her attention back towards Helen.

As an observer of people, Agnes was in no doubt that Helen was very much in charge of the occasion.

“Thank you for visiting us, Agnes. Fiona has given us an outline of the sort of person you are. I gather she had your full authority to do this.”

Agnes nodded in assent.

“She has told us nothing of what led her to refer you to us, other than to say that we may be able to assist you as we did her, during a recent episode. Are you happy to tell us a little about yourself and about your situation, Agnes? If you are, we can then tell you how we operate and suggest one or two options that may be of benefit to you.”

Again, Agnes nodded and she was in the process of leaning back into the armchair when a side door opened and a second girl entered, wheeling a small trolley laid out for afternoon tea. Agnes watched in semi-astonishment, but soon succumbed to the seductive and comfortable aroma of fresh Darjeeling tea, accompanied by savoury light refreshments and patisserie that began to ease the gnawing in her stomach.

The second girl left the room and, over the next two hours, the three people worked their way painstakingly through the questionnaire that had greeted Agnes on her arrival. It would be no exaggeration to say that, by the end of this process, she was surprised by what the interview had revealed and Helen was satisfied at the way in which a potentially tricky phase in the process had been completed. Agnes, however, was still none the wiser as to what form of complementary therapy was practised at ‘The Bamboo Suite’ and it was with as much genuine curiosity as uncertainty that she finally broached the subject with her hostess.

For a moment, the colour drained from her face, after which she felt a flush of something akin to embarrassment as she attempted to suppress a fit of giggles that had wanted to burst out when Stephen had solemnly answered her question quietly with the words ‘Therapeutic discipline’.

“You mean I have to get …err…”, Agnes hesitated.

“Corporal punishment in the form of therapeutic discipline, Agnes”, Helen interjected. “The form and style of that discipline are subjects that I would want to discuss with you in far greater depth should you decide to proceed.”

As was often the case, this disclosure provided a useful break point in the conversation. As was also often the case, Agnes overcame an initial urge to run like a frightened schoolgirl from the scene, for she sensed that there was logic in what Helen had been saying to her and, despite all her natural instincts, she had been convinced that the idea was not without merit and potential.

After a brief lull in conversation, Agnes asked if she might talk to Fiona before making a decision and then, if she decided to go ahead, bring her along as a chaperone. Helen accepted the idea happily and noted that Agnes felt that she would be better able to frame her thoughts if she did not have to contend with unnecessary embarrassment. Helen explained that there were two women, apart from her, authorised to administer discipline. She invited Agnes to take her time and to discuss it at length with Fiona before making a decision. In truth, Agnes was rapidly approaching the point where the outcome of any decision-making was academic. She was increasingly persuaded of the wisdom of Fiona’s advice, namely that she should over-rule her natural instincts and feel the effects of physical discipline for the very first time in her life.

Fiona and Agnes sat at the latter’s home, side by side, on a long settee with serious sleep-inducing potential, such was the manner in which it was constructed. Sleep, however, was the last thing on either woman’s mind as Fiona recounted how she had suppressed the deafening cries from her sense of reason, thrown caution to the wind and defied the advice even of one of her closest and most trusted friends, from Medical School. Agnes listen with a growing mixture of disbelief and total captivation as Fiona described in great detail how she had returned to The Bamboo Suite to accept the recommendations that Helen had made and how she had ended up, two hours later, returning home feeling as if she was walking on a cloud, experiencing an energy that had re-perfused her self-confidence. To the mind of the daughter of a conservative clergyman, there was more than an element of the shocking about what Fiona was recounting, particularly in the light of her status within the Community, yet the voice of her trained conscience was engaged in lively debate with the warm-hearted and passionate woman who was also very much part of Agnes’ personality.

By the time Fiona had concluded her narrative, it was the passionate woman in Agnes who had scored a points victory over the Rectory daughter and who had decided to go ahead. Agnes’ view of Fiona had been re-written from start to finish by the time the dialogue ended, but the changes were far from negative. That having been said, it was Fiona, rather than Agnes, who won the blushing surprise competition in the final moments, when Agnes asked her, somewhat timidly, if she would chaperone her at The Bamboo Suite during the following week. The blushing simply intensified when Agnes went on to ask if Fiona would ‘take care of the other details as well’.

Both young women were fully aware of the implications of this request and these were then discussed in some depth. The question of propriety in physician/patient relationships was an obvious problem, yet both of them knew, first and foremost, that theirs was not to become a full-time relationship ? rather, a very special shared experience, one that might even be shared in the opposite direction at a later date. Secondly, they realised that, if they were to discuss this with their peers, the laughter that would greet their proposals would, in any case, soon drown out any ethical discussion. The one area in which Fiona did hold back was in the actual administration of discipline. She then explained why she had found the anonymity of the person who had applied the discipline so helpful. She also told Agnes, with a wicked glint in her eye, of something that would surprise her very much indeed.

Having made a telephone call to The Bamboo Suite to confirm her intentions, Agnes walked round to the surgery five days later and set off, on foot, with Helen for Lower Blenheim Street where, just under fifteen minutes later, the door opened unbidden to admit them to the light and airy reception area. The day was less bright than it had been at the time of the first visit, but meteorology was the last subject on either woman’s mind.

The registration and consent process was as well-oiled as any such procedure at a clinical establishment. Once the signatures of Agnes and Helen were on the sheet, along with those of two independent witnesses, namely Fiona and the Receptionist, and once the substantial fee had been settled discreetly, the two women were taken upstairs and along a corridor adjoining the drawing room. There were two doors on either side of the door at the end of the corridor. Helen took out a plastic card and swiped it down a scanner set over the lock. The door opened noiselessly and the three women walked through into what looked very like a well-lit air-lock. The outer door closed behind them and, simultaneously, an inner door opened, admitting them to a spacious room in which autumn colours were the theme, reflected in the thick carpet and in the hangings in front of the ultra-efficient three-quarter depth double-glazed windows, between which a dried flower arrangement stood in simple elegance on a modern coffee table in light wood, with a satin finish.

Fiona shivered, unobserved, as the familiar scene met her. Agnes looked around at the strange, but comfortable room. In the centre, positioned half way across the mid-line of the room, was a strange-looking padded structure which, at first sight, bore a loose resemblance to a hinged ironing board, but of more substantial proportions. The two halves of the device, which stood approximately 2′ 6″ above the carpet and the axis of which appeared to be pivoted around a sturdy wood-encased pillar, leaned out from the vertical plane, forming an angle of approximately 45 degrees. At the base of the near section, there was a brass catch and, on either side of this catch, there was a recess cut into the frame. There were also 1″ strips of triple-layer mid-brown velvet dangling on either side of the crisp, freshly-laundered single-piece cover that adorned the entire frame on both sides. Closer inspection by the very curious Agnes revealed that the nearer portion of the frame consisted of two separate segments, that appeared to be hinged at the top, using a mechanism similar to that found in expanding joiners’ rulers. Fiona smiled at Helen and the gesture was acknowledged with a hint of a smile.

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