After 19 years gentle study of the erotic habits of the British, I can safely say one thing: we are hopeless at orgies. Parisians have upmarket échangiste clubs, with suited doormen, trompe l’oeil murals and velvet banquettes . North Americans have the vitality of San Francisco bath houses to cherish, as well as the touchy-feely excesses of certain jewel-hued marquees at Burning Man. Venetians have their masked revels with a backdrop of medieval splendour. Meanwhile, back here in Blighty, we have Swingfields: a motley collection of caravans, tents and portaloos in a field in Gloucestershire.
Pelling's take on life amongst the swingers is horrifying:
The residents of the nearby village of Flaxey, in the Forest of Dean, have complained bitterly about the noise. As well they might. Anyone who ever had to endure a day wandering around the now defunct Erotica fair at Olympia will know that the alternative sexual lifestyle brigade have a mysterious fondness for the sort of pump-and-grind techno-beat that makes a lap-dance at Stringfellow’s look subtle.
If I were a Flaxey local, however, I would complain to the parish council about Swingfields’ lack of style. A quick look at the website yields one unappetising photo of small garish rugs dotted around an exceptionally grubby striped tent, like yoga mats for wife-swapping exercises. In the site’s midst stands a forlorn-looking Routemaster bus, acting as temporary bar. The effect is disconcerting, like catching sight of Dame Judi Dench in a brothel.
Browsing through the Frequently Asked Questions section meanwhile, I found that, in answer to the perennial conundrum, “How can I identify people’s preferences?”, the organisers had replied: “This year at The Lodge stall you can pick up plastic coloured wristbands that indicate preferences.”
The phrase yoga mats for wife-swapping exercises is as depressing as anything you'll ever find. And the techno music idea is just...appalling.
I suppose it could be worse. There might be "erotica" festivals in Frankfort KY or Texarkana. Country-western erotica and wife-swapping. That's...dear God. And it could be in Berlin, I suppose. Can we just note that naked Germans engaged in group sex would be...a singularly cheerless and graceless occasion?
Germans, like Americans and Brits, really have no competence at group sex. (The Japanese, on the other hand, would be hyper-competent, but in some really, really disturbing and micromanaged way.) The Pelling article describes the Swingfields event as "more Benny Hill than Fanny Hill", which is almost--- almost ---funny. The event is noted as: Instead of off-duty naked supermodels, it was all portly men displaying button mushrooms round the indoor pool.... [I]t was like, “a cheese and wine party from hell, only naked”.
No. We will not even begin to imagine Australian group sex. There are images that even I won't consider.
Once again, of course, this puts me off from ever pursuing erotica parties in real life--- even if, arguendo, I'd be allowed in such places. I know I'd never be allowed in a KK party If sex isn't class-aspirational and literary, then it's nothing. I'm not dealing with anything that isn't, well, literary. Or anything that's aesthetically displeasing.
I have a friend in London Town I must ask about these things. She's been to high-end sex parties as both staff and guest, and I'd like her opinion on such things as "Swingfields"--- an event that seems to combine the worst features of both rock festivals and mass-tourism erotica.
Perhaps there won't be any sort of sex parties that will ever live up to literary expectations. But I regard that as a failure of the concrete world and its inhabitants, not as a failure of the imagination.