Can You See Who It Is Yet?

the book: Concertina by Susan Winemaker

published  2007

from regular guest blogger Colm Redmond

Once or twice a week, when there was enough time between sessions and the whim and weather permitted, I blotted out the black liner around the corner of my eyes, slipped my jeans over my stockings and a jumper over my corset – or removed my rubber top – and strolled through quiet, pale stucco land until I came to the high street and Saul’s falafel deli...

Just once when visiting New York, I made a special trip to Upper Manhattan to visit Eve on her lunch break. We sat on the steps outside her brownstone office drinking cappuccinos and eating these sensational chocolate and black cherry croissants. … I was working in a ‘fusion’ restaurant owned by the Mafia, and she was business-lunching with writers and publishers in New York’s finest restaurants. …

Near the end of the visit a gang of loud teenage girls with menacing intent came marching our way. From where we sat at the top of the steps we couldn’t help but watch them as they approached and came to a deliberate halt. The leader of the gang, a girl of maybe thirteen, wearing a track suit and flashy trainers, put her arms akimbo, lifted her pugnacious chin, and called up, ‘And what do you think you’re staring at?’

I sort of snorted. … I was about to tell her not to flatter herself, that we weren’t looking at them, or something, and it would have escalated, no doubt, but it was Eve who came forth with the diplomatic masterstroke. Beamingly friendly while retaining her dignity, she called down, ‘We were admiring your shoes.’

I saw the child’s face freeze for an instant before blossoming into a proud smile. She called up, ‘Why thank you, they’re new.’

observations: Concertina is, in a nutshell: the memoir of a Canadian chef whose life changed dramatically when she became a dominatrix in London, and then changed again when she had a relationship with a client. The subtitle “The Life and Loves Of A Dominatrix” was not chosen by the author, and gives a slightly false impression. (At least they didn’t call it “Confessions Of A Dominatrix.”) There is nearly as much about cooking, and working in top-class restaurant kitchens, as there is about life in the “dungeon” (actually a quaint cottage in a leafy London suburb.)

Eve is a friend who has started “working at a literary agency by day and as a dominatrix by night.” This idea of leading a double life fascinates Winemaker, who talks to Eve when considering going into the domination business herself – although they end up talking about the literature business and not at all about the other one.

The book is great on food and cooking, and little vignettes - like the second extract - and lightning pen-pictures of people she meets along the way. It’s also fascinating and extremely explicit (although not erotic; and definitely not for the faint hearted) about what goes on inside the dungeon, and vivid on the effect of various events on Susan Winemaker’s own psyche.

There is plenty about the women’s clothes many of the clients like to dress in, which seems as good an excuse as any to roll out this pic. It’s the US picture sleeve of an English group’s single. If you can’t work out who they are, the answer’s at the bottom.

Concertina is also often very funny, sometimes in a black or even a surreal way. If you ever find yourself paying to be locked in a cupboard, or tied up and blindfolded, you might be disappointed to know how mundane are the ways the dominatrix might pass her time while you don’t, in all honesty, need her attention. You may also want to keep your ears peeled for the tell-tale sounds of her packed lunch being unwrapped.

The main pic is of an amazing gang of girls, in 1980. Not teenagers, and not particularly scary either, although some people thought they were at the time: L-R top - Debbie Harry (Blondie), Viv Albertine (The Slits), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & The Banshees); bottom - Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Poly Styrene (X-Ray Specs) and Pauline Black (The Selecter). Photo Michael Putland/Retna.

The other is of a gang of girls – impossible to say how old they are – in 1930, assuming the photographer’s mark is to be believed. Flashy trainers not yet a thing.

And those five gents in drag? It’s the Rolling Stones, on the cover of Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?

Another gang of girls came in this recent entry.

For more from the Guest Blogger, click on his name below.


  1. Moira - Thanks as ever for hosting Col.

    Col - This one really does sound interesting. I got that feeling right from the start when she pulls on the jeans and jumper over the other clothes she has. And I love that response to the girl gang. Trainers! That's a masterstroke!

    1. Thanks, Margot. Yes a great line from Eve, and a lovely response from the scary girl.

      Meanwhile, not a big issue but just to avoid confusions and misattributions etc - best if we please keep Colm (me) distinct from Col (long-time valued friend of the blog, contributor and idea-giver, regular commenter, no "m" on the end of his name); we are not the same person, in case anyone was wondering.

    2. *Blush* I'm so sorry, Colm. My stupidity...

    3. Not at all, Margot. Perfectly understandable to get mixed up, given how unusual it is for two Col/Colms to be knocking about the same blog.

  2. I'm annoyed at myself that I could only identify 2 of the 6 rock ladies in the photo. I'm especially irritated at not recognising Debbie Harry! (Not paying attention.) Viv Albertine could pass for "normal" whereas all The Slits photo and covers always came across as slightly menacing and intimidatory. Typical Girls, eh! Selecter lady was recognised retrospectively but I wouldn't have ID'd Polystyrene.

    1. There wasn’t any particular purpose to this female rock summit other than to take a team photo, I believe. There are a number of shots from the same session knocking about - including some in colour - and naturally not everyone looks their best in every shot. Chrissie Hynde looks grumpy, and Debbie Harry demented, in most of them. Viv Albertine is my favourite (although I’ve always thought Siouxsie one of the great beauties of our generation) so I picked the one where VA looks best. She has always looked surprisingly normal when off duty, but let’s not forget that her hairdo looked a lot less run of the mill then than now, when 30+ years’ worth of male rockers seem to have copied it.

  3. This book does sound interesting. I am curious why it is titled Concertina.

    1. That's a good question, Tracy. As far as I understood it: the image is the idea of something (a set of bellows, literally) being at various times constricted, and opened up again to let air in and blossom and express itself. Metaphorically so in the case of one's feelings and ambitions and so on. Apologies to the author if I've got that wrong.

    2. Sounds like a good explanation to me. I have a friend who plays the concertina and I could find no other definition of the word.


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