ast Sunday night, I went cruising in the park.
Actually, that's not true. My friend "Maxey" (longtime readers might remember Maxey from our 2007 bust-up) took me on a guided tour of London's Hyde Park after dark.
Maxey is a fan of the park. In fact, at the tender age of 24, Maxey likes the park, he likes the sauna, he likes Grindr, he likes Adam4Adam. It's what comes from being brainwashed by Christianity in his native Malawi, and growing up in do anything, do anyone London.
Several years ago, I took Maxey (one of my closest friends) along to the sauna for the first time. He was extremely wary at first, but eventually, it was a curious Maxey bundling me into the dark room; I was spooked by what I couldn't see, and fled, but for him, it was an awakening. I'd created a monster!
Maxey's been keeping me entertained with his tales of the park for a while now - outrageous stories of uninhibited, all male debauchery - so, as we were drinking in the area on an unusually fine Sunday evening, it seemed like the right time for a recce...
There isn't a soul in sight as we venture into a virtually pitch black Hyde Park in central London. But as we move deeper inside, away from the boundaries, shadowy figures begin to appear out of nowhere. Men: on the moonlit paths, loitering in arbours, and disappearing into trees and bushes.
We leave the path and walk up a hill to some trees. Maxey leads me into them, telling me about the well-trodden dirt paths that he knows like the back of his hand. I should hope he does - in the dark, I'm totally disorientated. We pick our way through the trees, passing other men who attempt eye contact.
Maxey is looking for the action.
Maxey is looking for the action.
"Watch where you step," he advises as we pass some muddy puddles. "Don't want mud on your shoes. That's how you know your man's been in the park: mud on the shoes. 'Why've you got mud on your shoes if you've been on road man?' Dirty slag."
I couldn't have hoped for a more engaging tour guide. To him, this is like being at the fairground, and he delights in describing its hidden secrets (and pleasures) to me. Maxey knows exactly who's who and what they're after. One fairly built guy is impatiently stomping from patch to patch, hunting. "He's a power bottom," Maxey explains. "I've seen him before. He just wants to get fucked. My boy's got lube and a condom in his back pocket ready to go." And some back story: "Last time he was pissed, man. Everytime it was on he'd get interrupted. He was getting pissed."
Another guy Maxey calls Chinos, and then there's Black Hood, and the Polish Boy. Just off one dirt path three white men are busy getting it on. Maxey goes in for a closer look, near enough to touch. I hold back, not sure if I should be looking, and if I do, might I be expected to participate? What's the etiquette? It feels rude to stare.
I ask Maxey later about that. "Shut up man," he says, mock-vexed. "If they don't like being watched they can move on." I don't ask what he does when he's being watched.
Our quarry doesn't appreciate our presence, and certainly not Maxey's close inspection. I don't think he wants a piece of the action, just the thrill of blatant, in-your-face voyuerism. The triumvirate zip up and leave, and I see one of them is grey-haired, the other two younger and at least one well built.
"He's into pensioners," Maxey says dismissively, and we move on. Next stop is a circular gravel path with well-manicured hedges. "This is where the fat people come," he says, indicating the benches. "They can't do laps of the park so they wait here." We pass an older man on a bench. "See? Too fat, man," he says, loud enough for our elders to hear. Maxey is endowed with both good looks and the confidence of youth. And, shamelessness.
I ask him how you can be sure what you're getting when it's so dark. Maxey shrugs, "Try before you buy." That seems cold - how can you give someone the green light then turn your nose up at the last minute?
Maxey leads me into a huge tree with umbrella-like branches that reach to the ground. The effect is a sort of large room with a tree trunk in the middle. Men are standing around, silently, eyeing one another up. Someone grabs my dick through my trackies. I step aside without a word. The uninvited touch isn't welcome, but I'm not offended. Outside, Maxey's exasperated by our fellow cruisers. "It just takes two to get it started then everyone'll drop their pants. People are being long tonight, man."
We're followed several times throughout the night, particularly when we venture into the dirt paths in the trees. "People think because we're together we're going to do something," Maxey explains. Ah ha, so the hunters become the hunted... We stand on the hill overlooking the orgy tree, watching guys going in. "Go and see what's going on," Maxey orders me, clearly expecting his student to strike out on his own. I hesitate, curious about the spectacle I might witness in the orgy tree, but not curious enough to put myself in the line of fire. Maxey prods me towards the tree, "Just go man, don't be a lesbian." Again, he's loud enough for people to hear, and I'm embarrassed into going. If I'm a lesbian, then he's a pushy soccer mom.
Nothing much is happening inside: guys are standing around, waiting for someone to make the first move. Black, white, Middle-Eastern, young, old, scene and closeted. They're all here. Everyone looks towards me as I step in. I can smell stale cigarette smoke, beer breath, and that unappealing stale dick smell. It's not nice. Back on the hill, Maxey calls me a frigid slut, and we do a few more laps of the route, a road everyone seems to know.
Although there's been one or two cute guys over the few hours we're in the park, I'm never tempted. Perhaps I really am a "frigid slut" as Maxey joked, or perhaps the relative clarity online hook-up sites offer (pictures, and even video, of exactly what you're getting) - and the fantasy of porn - has rendered this shadowy, uncertain world too much of a gamble. One of Maxey's rules of play is no kissing - unless someone's clearly just arrived - or you could end up with a nasty taste in the mouth. No kissing is not my idea of sex. And the quality control issue looms too large - never mind how many dicks someone's had in their mouth, I want to know they've just stepped out of the shower.
One dark-skinned guy in shorts and an anorak with the hood pulled up, who's been impatiently stalking the park as long as we've been there, has grabbed Maxey and refused to let go whilst I've been watering a tree. "The Nigerian," Maxey says by way of explanation. He doesn't seem phased by it. It's all part of the fun.
And it has been a fun night, but mainly because I'm here with my friend, who happens to be a hugely entertaining (and informative) tour guide, and because it's an eye-opening experience. I suspect I'd get bored and frustrated if I was on my own and looking for sex. Ultimately, although I like the idea of a sexual free-for-all in the park, the reality is a bit too lonely - and grubby - for me.
Pictures: Mikel Martin. Illustration: Zack.