At this week’s cabinet meeting, Michael Gove said that MPs hoping for a better deal from Brussels were like “mid-50s swingers” waiting for Scarlett Johansson to turn up to one of their parties. Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, added “Or Pierce Brosnan”. But while the casting choices were up for debate – David Gauke added that they were expecting Johansson to make her cameo on a unicorn – no one at the cabinet meeting asked what Gove, 51, knew about mid-50s swingers parties.
Now I do know about mid-50s swingers parties. I went to one. Killing Kittens Silvers is a club for “the sexual elite” over 45, with, according to its press releases, “attendees from all walks of life, including celebrities, politicians, opinion leaders, the rich and the beautiful”. It doesn’t name the celebrities or politicians who attend, of course; its publicity is more focused on the fact that the organiser, Emma Sayle, used to know HRH the Duchess of Cambridge.
But that’s not why I went. I went because my good lady wife, a journalist, was writing about these parties and she overcame my initial resistance to accompanying her. “You come with me on some of my jobs,” she said. “You came with me to Lib Dem party conference.” I argued that one couldn’t compare the two – one was a tawdry gathering of freaks and opportunists at a grim hotel that I would be ashamed to be seen at; the other was an orgy – but she ignored this Radio 4-topical-comedy pleasantry and begged me to, at least, pick her up from the venue on my way back from work. Now I am a middle-aged man: I am much more excited by the idea of saving money on taxis – we’re both working so we can both claim mileage! – than I am by mere fleshly pleasures.
So I arrived at the hotel, where the party had taken over the penthouse. For me, “penthouse” carries all the glamour of a movie set in New York; I was imagining leather and chrome furniture, glass walls overlooking the city – and that was exactly what it was like. Except it was in Battersea. The glass walls didn’t overlook Manhattan Island, they looked over south London. In the distance, the glittering lights of Balham; just beneath us, a Wickes depot.
And then there were the masks – compulsory for attendees. Here, my expectation was of the decadence of a Venetian carnival; but I had not reckoned on the fact that shops outside Venice do not generally sell masks. With one exception: the Disney Store. The first person I met was Buzz Lightyear.
My wife had sourced an animal mask for me – hamster? Gerbil? Some sort of mammal, fairly low down the food chain, anyway – and I had my first major dilemma of the evening: should I wear my spectacles over or under the mask? Under the mask, the elastic was too tight, and there was a risk of chafing; over the mask and I just looked like Penfold from Dangermouse.
In the end, I followed the majority practice, and removed my glasses completely. The upstairs rooms of the penthouse – whither I followed my wife – were too dim to see anyway: electrical light is very unkind to the over forties. (Like a teenage party, the downstairs rooms were devoted to a parody of a cocktail party, and the upstairs rooms were where things happened.)
But I can remember the sound. I only realised why it was so deeply unerotic at a later date: there was no soundtrack. Whenever I had previously observed other people in flagrante delicto, it had been with the funk soundtrack of a pornographic film; here the only sound was that of flesh slapping on flesh, like someone juggling raw liver.
It was not for me – nor for my wife, who, in the manner of journalists, made her excuses and left. But I liked the philosophy of Killing Kittens, which is that the women were in control. Unlike the “wife-swapping parties” of the 70s, where men swapped women in much the same way as their children swapped toys on the Multicoloured Swap Shop, here the men only come as guests of women, and only women could ask men to do anything; if a man approaches a woman, he has to leave.
The organisers seemed to think that this was a radical departure from the norm, although it is basically what my parents’ generation would call a “Ladies’ Excuse Me”. (Mind you, their publicity also claimed, as if it were a new discovery, “People don’t stop having sex, wanting sex or liking sex as they hit 45”). But whether radical or not, the basic premise of Killing Kittens was that only one party got to make any decisions; the other party just had to take what was offered or be thrown out on to the cold streets.
I leave it to the reader to decide whether this is in any way analogous to our negotiations with Brussels.