2015: The Year in Review; or, Bugger Off and Good Riddance

Here we are, nearly two weeks into 2016, a land of promise filled with mistakes yet to be made and nascent errors still unhatched. It is customary, as the calendar ticks over from one arbitrary designation to the next, to look back upon the road traveled and ask questions like “what the hell was that?” and “how in the name of God did I get here?”

In the spirit of that tradition, allow me to take a moment to offer a retrospective of 2015, a year that can well and truly fuck right off.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad. Indeed, many parts of the year, taken on their own, were quite joyful. To help separate the good from the bad, I will be using a thumbs up icon for the bits I liked and a red X for the bits I didn’t, because I’m told clarity in communication is a virtue.

In matters such as this, it is difficult for any of us not to be an unreliable narrator. We are, after all, only imperfectly aware of how others see the world, and even of how others perceive the events in which we take part. That said, I will endeavor to be as objective as I can about the massive suck that made up an unfortunately disproportionate part of the year now past, and to polish what nuggets of win I can find amid the rubble.

Mechanical Difficulties
The year started with replacing the engine in Zaiah’s car, a four thousand dollar expense necessitated when Jiffy Lube installed a defective oil filter and then refused responsibility for the error, causing catastrophic destruction of the engine. Always a nice way to start the year. Lesson learned: Jiffy Lube is not a place where one should do business. This turned out to be a theme; hang onto the thought, I’ll get back to it.

In the meantime…

Seclusion and Murder
2015 (woe be unto it) started on a good note. I spent some time in the same remote wilderness cabin where we wrote More Than Two. It’s a lovely place, far from…everything, really. It’s a lovely place with a lovely (if murderous) cat and a great way to spend the first days of a new year filled with promise and the hope of a bright new future. And the murder of small furry animals by an adorable feline, but you have to take the bad with the good, or so they say.

Carelessness of the heart
I spoke at a poly conference, which was a lot of fun save for the fact that I met a delightful woman whose interest, initially quite mutual, I feel I handled poorly. I was not appropriately cautious and became aware of significant incompatibilities too late to avoid hurting both of us unnecessarily.

So, yeah, lesson learned. Mindfulness at all times in all interactions with other people? It’s a thing I need to do.

This was also when I began to fully grasp the weird–and often dangerous–ways that the one-sided intimacy inherent in being a writer and speaker who offers up bits of one’s inner life for public consumption can distort human interactions, especially with new acquaintances. Another lesson learned: Flirting with fans is a dangerous game, and is a risk I’m no longer willing to take on myself or expose others to.

Bionic penises
The next few months of 2015 were relatively calm and reasonably normal, at least for those values of “normal” as one might expect. Hmm. Normal. There’s a word I use only cautiously, and perhaps should consider striking from my vocabulary altogether, except insofar as it has a negation in front of it…but I digress.

The first third of the year was all about bionic cock. I got serious about launching a business to investigate producing the dildo that provides sensory feedback to the wearer. I enrolled in a business accelerator competition that brought us together with investors and mentors and taught both of us how to say “penis” in a room full of people without blushing–a valuable business skill, it must be said, if one’s aim is to develop a bionic penis.

Penis, penis, penis. See? Hardly a twitch.

It turns out that business accelerators are a lot of work. We did market research about penises. We built business plans around penises, and had our penis business plans examined, dissected, critiqued, and torn into teeny tiny shreds by a procession of investors and business leaders. We built value chains focused on penises. We constructed penis value propositions for penis market segments of folks who want to know what having a penis feels like. I’ve run my own business since about 2001 and I learned more about how to run a business between February and May of last year than in the ten years before.

Sick kitties
My cat Kyla has never been terribly healthy. Shortly after she adopted me and declared me hers, when she was still a very young kitten, she got a respiratory infection that nearly killed her. I spent long nights awake with her, holding her and rubbing her chest, and she eventually recovered.

While I was away in Canadia-land dodging Kurgan raiders, she got sick again and very nearly died.

Well, technically speaking, she did die. Twice. She stopped breathing, and Zaiah brought her back with kitty CPR.

She’s a fighter, Kyla is, and she really, really likes being alive. Kinda like I do. She got through it with minor damage to her balance that seems to be permanent, but she did bounce back. So I suppose on the whole that’s good, or at least better than the alternative, but it’s bad it happened.

Indiana Jones Goes to a Swinger’s Conference
2015 was the year I started getting more speaking conventions than we could hope to say yes to. One of those invitations was a swinger’s convention in Canada that wanted us to talk about ways to do non-monogamy beyond swinging.

Swingers have a problem. Since at least WWII, swinging has been the go-to style of non-monogamy for people outside the leather scene. But now it’s getting harder and harder for swing clubs to find new members, what with Millennials growing up witht he idea that polyamory and other styles of non-monogamy are just options among the many out there and TV shows about polyamory and all. You don’t need the structure and safety of a swinger’s group when non-monogamy just isn’t that big a deal.

So we said yes, hopped into a rented car, and were on our way.

We were driving along the Crowsnest Highway (insert appropriate Scottish joke about taking the crow road here) when from out the window of the car I spied with my little eye something beginning with “ooh, look, pull over, that looks like the ruins of an old mine shaft up there!”

Eve, familiar in the years we’ve been together with my many and varied eccentricities and often given to indulging me, pulled over. We looked at the mine entrance, a few hundred feet up the side of a slope.

“Think we can get up there?” I said.

“Sure,” she said.

So we started the scramble up. We climbed up an embankment, past a row of trees, up over another embankment, and..whoa. Serious Indiana Jones moment.

The detour cost us several hours, dirt all over our clothes, and more than a fair bit of hard physical labor, but man, was it worth it.

Have a nice trip!
I have long been something of a straight arrow when it comes to the many pleasures of chemical mind alteration.

I know, I know, hard to believe, what with me being an Internet sex gargoyle and all, but until I was in my late 40s I never once experimented with any chemical alterant beyond alcohol. I didn’t try any recreational drugs at all until I was 46, when I experimented with hallucinogenic mushrooms–an altogether positive experience, and one I’ve been thinking about writing about for a while. I didn’t even drink ’til fairly late in the game.

We arrived at the swinger event considerably dustier than we had been, and were offered ecstasy by a person who apparently quite likes the experience of swinging while on E.

Now, as I mentioned, I’ve not dabbled far into the ocean of recreational biochemistry, and in fact have barely gone so far as to build sand castles on the beach of recreational chemistry, the waters being not to my liking and even the sand being more coarse and gritty than is perhaps entirely pleasant, and the sun and sounds of the gulls are…where was I going with this metaphor? Anyway, I’ve never felt the siren song of pharmacologicals, but I will admit to a certain level of curiosity about ecstasy. So we accepted his offer.

Ecstasy is not an easy molecule to synthesize by any measure. It’s a complex, fiddly, two-day process that involves a lot of extremely close monitoring and very careful mucking about, and one of the waste products of a more popular synthesis pathway is elemental mercury. All of which means that what’s often claimed to be ecstasy in the dystopian nightmare that is the market for street drugs is anything but.

I’m still not 100% sure what it was we took. Google suggests it was methamphetamine, based on its color, consistency, and the absolutely miserable night we had.

Ten carbons, fifteen hydrogens, one nitrogen, all the rage and hate of Lucifer after the Fall

I want to impress upon you, Gentle Readers, exactly what “miserable night” means. To do this properly, I will wander off for a moment into a story about a bucket of chicken. When I had first met my former wife, she and I were kinda sorta in what kids today might call a “quad” with two close friends of mine, and we spent many a night doing things to make a bishop blush, often with a video camera. We got some bad chicken at a KFC one evening–salmonella, I believe the diagnosis was. My friend’s girlfriend and I spent about three continuous days on the bed together barfing our guts out more or less nonstop. It was a waterbed, see, so whenever she would start throwing up, the waves in the waterbed would start shaking me, and then I would start barfing too, and that would set her off, and…you get the idea.

I describe this because I can now say it was the second most miserable time of my life.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, not every moment of the experience was bad. The first four hours were great, seeing as how we both had turbocharged libidos and couldn’t get enough raw animal sex, and raw animal sex is not something that I’m normally on distant terms with–Internet sex gargoyle, remember?

But after that…

The closest I can come to describing what the rest of the night was like is I had the visceral experience that there was something in my body that hated me and wanted to hurt me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stop moving…I don’t often use the word “evil,” and when I do, it’s not usually about organic molecules, but meth is an evil, evil molecule. I can not comprehend why any human being would knowingly take that stuff in full awareness of the ride it was going to give them. Dante’s most vivid descriptions of Hell are a walk across a breezy tropical island compared to what meth feels like, assuming that is in fact what it was. Without hyperbole, I can state with confidence that I would rather get hit by a bus than experience anything like that ever again.

One star. Do not want. Should you, Gentle Reader, ever want to go down this road, learn from my example. Do not trod this path without a testing kit, which if you’re in the US you can find here and if you’re in Canada you can find here. Wish I’d’ve known about that sooner.

The weeks following the swinger convention were a whirlwind of chaos, the kind of chaos only two chaosbunnies in the same place can create.

My sweetie Maxine came into town, and we spent weeks traveling the deserts of the Pacific coast photographing ghost towns. Mining towns, railroad towns, logging towns, you name it, we visited it–a journey I’m still in the process of journaling.

Maxine and I are both chaosbunnies, so the two of us together is pure concentrated chaos. Into any such maelstrom good and bad must go. I will touch only on the hilights here, some of which I have not yet documented.

Camping in the Wilderness
This is, as it turns out, something Bunny has become quite adroit at, with a set of mad camping skills that’s little short of awe-inspiring. Seriously, when the Big One hits and civilization collapses, I hope I happen to be on the same side of the pond as she is. Build a campfire in the pouring rain, armed with nothing but a flint and a soggy roll of toilet paper? She’s the one to do it.

We had a fantastic time, even if there was rather less sex than perhaps there could, or should, have been. (Note to self: next time, plan a less ambitious schedule and leave more time for the horizontal mambo.) It was fantastic to spend some quality time with her in the deep desert.

Break a rib!
It is telling, I think, that when you make a list of all the things that went wrong during the year, you keep forgetting “oh, yeah, I broke a rib.”

If I could go back in time and give information to the younger me, I would definitely tell myself “don’t try to cross that stream on that slippery fallen log.” Well, first I would tell myself the Powerball numbers, but after that, I would definitely tell myself the thing about the log. Well, okay, the Powerball numbers, the stock price for AMZN throughout the second half of the year, and then the thing about the log.

But I lack access to a time machine, and so the younger me said “hey, look, a log across a stream! That seems a reasonable thing to walk across!”

Fast forward a few seconds and I was tumbling into ice-cold snow runoff, pausing just long enough on the way down to whack my side against the log.

The desert defeats us
One of the stops on our tour was an old lead mine, closed in the mid-1800s and since left alone, high atop a mountain in the middle of Black Rock Desert.

Or rather, one of the stops on our tour was supposed to be an old lead mine, closed in the mid-1800s.

It took us rather a long time just to find the old road–little more than a narrow, rutted dirt track, really–branching off the paved road in the direction of the mountain. It took us a couple of hours to crawl along that road, such as it was, to the base of the mountain. It took us another hour to climb halfway up it, then two minutes to realize that the grade had become so steep that the van simply would not move, even in low gear–and, for that matter, the wheels wouldn’t spin either. Another minute after that convinced me that any additional tilting at that particular windmill would only destroy the transmission, which was already slipping.

From there, it took five minutes to realize that turning around was an absolute impossibility, five minutes to realize that the van could not back down the grade as heavily loaded as it was without the back bumper digging into the earth, twenty-five minutes to unload everything onto the side of the dirt track, half an hour to back cautiously down to the point where a wide spot afforded opportunity to turn around with only a moderate chance of tumbling off the edge of a cliff, and half an hour to load everything back into the van again.

Black Rock desert. That thin dark line in the lower left is the “road” we came in on.

I still haven’t fixed the damage to the van’s transmission. The shop says the transmission needs to be replaced. So far, they haven’t been able to come up with an estimate. I’m not optimistic.

Bored and Terrified…at the Same Time
Our misadventure in Black Rock Desert was merely the appetizer for the main course of mechanical suck–the price, I suppose, of adventuring in a 23-year-old camper van.

We set out on the last leg of our trip straight over a mountain that Siri, in all her passive aggressive navigational glory, didn’t think to send us around. That particular part of the adventure will most likely get a blog post all its own, filled as it was with ominous signs and squadrons of US Marines, but the hilight, which I will briefly mention here, was definitely the trip down the far side, during which with a thump and a cloud of foul-smelling smoke the van’s brakes failed.

We were, at the time, in a remote area unserved by cellular signal–indeed, it’s quite likely that most of the natives were entirely unfamiliar with any communications technology more advanced than the telegraph, or perhaps smoke signals–and 70 miles from the nearest town.

Therefore, with no other options availing themselves, we spent almost the entire night on a white-knuckle journey across seventy miles of narrow and windy mountain roads in first gear at about ten miles an hour with no brakes, relying on engine braking to manage our speed.

I did not, prior to that night, realize it was possible to be both utterly terrified and completely bored at the same time.

The next day, we found a Les Schwab service center. I’d never heard of Les Schwab before I moved to Oregon, but Zaiah swears by them. “Great customer service!” she told me. “Awesome warranty!” she told me. I was skeptical, but when I bought the van I had the brakes serviced at a Les Schwab.

It took them an hour just to work up an estimate–never a good sign when it comes to brakes. They gave me a number. I choked. “Well, we need to replace everything in the front,” they said. “…” I said.

“We looked you up in the computer. You still have a thousand miles left on your warranty,” they said. “It will all be no charge.”

“…!!” I said.

Sometimes, fortune favors the foolhardy.

Uterine Thunderdome
June decided to continue the theme of random bodily injury started with the rib thing in May, because why mess with what works, amirite? And so it came to pass that I ended up with weird pain that left my doctor scratching his head and muttering about the possibility of a kidney tumor, that got worse and worse until eventually I ended up in a CT scanner shot full of contrast that made my eyes feel like they were melting.

The CT scan was illuminating, both as to the nature of the problem (appendicitis) and to why it was tricky to figure out. Apparently, my internal geography is as unorthodox as my romantic life.

More distressing, perhaps, was finding out that such unusual innards are often the result of a situation whereby a person becomes pregnant with twins, one of which absorbs the other early in development in a kind of uterine Thunderdome–two fetuses enter, one fetus leaves.

I have no idea if Tina Turner was there or not. It was too dark to see.

But hey, there’s a silver lining. From now on, if anyone gets all up in my face, I can say “don’t fuck with me, man, I ate my twin!”

O Canada
Eve, in her ongoing attempt to make me more self-sufficient in the nutrient procurement department, has been encouraging me to learn the dark arts of cooking and baking, by whose secret alchemy ingredients are transmogrified into food.

As part of that ongoing effort, she had me decorate a cake for Canada Day. I must say, I think it turned out rather well.

A most excellent representation of the spirit of Canada, if I do say so myself.

The Big Book of Franklin Gets It Wrong
2015 is the year my memoir, The Game Changer, finally saw the light of day.

Writing it was rough. For years–decades, really–I’ve written about polyamory and kink and relationships, but I’ve never really told my story. I’ve talked a lot about the things I believe, but not very much about how I got there. The Game Changer was a new kind of writing–one that’s not very comfortable for me.

It also tells the story of things I’m not proud of. It’s about the mistakes I made and the people I hurt, because those are the experiences that led me where I am. In fact, while I was writing it, I called it The Big Book of Franklin Gets it Wrong.

The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s reached a lot more folks than I expected it to. I am deeply grateful for that, no matter how hard it was to write.

Dancin’ the Blues
One of the many things I’ve been working on this year is learning to blues dance.

I’ve always quite liked to dance–generally more gothy than bluesy, and without a partner–but partner dancing is new to me. Eve’s been teaching me, and it’s turned out to be rather a lot of fun.

In the fall, I went to Northwest Recess, which is rather like Burning Man only with fewer flamethrowers and a lot more dancing.

A whole lot of folks got together in the middle of nowhere, set up tents, and spent several days dancing without the distractions of civilization, like Internet, television, or potable water. And it was absolutely lovely. How come nobody ever told me how much fun blues dancing is?

More bionic penises
2015 was the Year of Travel and Presenting. Most of the presenting revolved around polyamory, but we took just enough time from talking about the whys and hows of multiple lovers to talk bionic cocks at Arse Electronika.

The second-generation prototype lacks the glowing lights, sadly

We were told we’d won the Golden Kleene Award for tech in sex, but weren’t able to pick it up as we had to depart for the airport immediately after our presentation to head to Europe. That right there ended up becoming the theme of the next five weeks.

Roads go ever ever on, over rock and under tree
The book tour. Ah, yes, the book tour.

What to say about it? The book tour was very, by which I mean parts of it were very good and parts of it were very bad but none of it was mediocre.

I started touring with The Game Changer a couple of weeks before the European leg with More Than Two. I also ended up in urgent care midway into the second week, diagnosed with bronchitis.

The bunny ears are mandatory. The bunny ears are always mandatory.

As for the European bits…

We miscalculated, we did. During last year’s book tour in Canada and the US, we lived in the back of the Adventure Van traveling from town to town talking about polyamory. We packed our European schedule with the same density of events, neglecting to consider that:

  1. We would be on foot or relying on public transit for most of the tour;
  2. We would be dragging all our luggage with us everywhere we went; and
  3. We would be dependent on the schedule of the trains for our schedule.

They say good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgment. If that’s true, we’re now so absolutely brimming with good judgment we should be on the Supreme Court and at least seventeen less supreme courts.

Meeting people was amazing. The folks we met on the trip were absolutely wonderful. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so utterly exhausted in my life. By midway through, we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth, putting one foot in front of the other, and all those other cliches that one resorts to when one is too damn tired to be able to think.

This is how most mornings started: double-fisting cups of tea.

And it was still unbelievably amazing.

One thing we never did get used to: no cats. Such a dearth of cats, in fact, that on no fewer than three occasions we were forced to seek company of the feline variety in various cat cafes across the European continent.

We spent our last night in Paris atop the Eiffel Tower, drinking champagne and looking out over the city. I got to cross “spin poi in front of the Eiffel Tower” off my bucket list.

I didn’t even know it was on my bucket list.

We flew home the day before the terrorist attacks in the city. When we hit the ground in San Francisco, we both had a bit of a freakout about it.

Oh, you wanted to breathe with those lungs?
On returning, finally, to Oregon, I visited my doctor to follow up on the bronchitis thing.

He did the poking and prodding doctors do, and then welcomed me to the wonderful world of adult-onset asthma, the result, apparently, of the pneumonia I had in Atlanta a few years back and the more recent spell of bronchitis.

If there were a god, I think he or she should have made us from something a bit more durable than meat. Just sayin’.

The last twist of the knife
2014’s last fuck-you was the destruction of Zaiah’s engine by the incompetent boobs at Jiffy Lube. Not to be outdone, 2015 had to get in its last little dig in the same spirit of giving, when the radiator in her car–the same one we’d only just put a new engine in–erupted in a cloud of steam.

Fortunately, this was a far less expensive fix. Still, they say it’s the thought that counts.

So that’s the way it was, the Year of Very. I still hold out some hope that 2016 will be a bit less very, though I have a feeling that this year will be a bit of a roller coaster as well. And I don’t even like roller coasters.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 34: Too Many Monkeys!

The day after our nocturnal traipse around London’s gristly but sadly amber-free sites-of-historic-horror-cum-tourist-attractions and equally livestock-free Tower Bridge, your humble scribe awoke and, after tea and eggs (marred only by the horrifying sight of seinneann_ceoil‘s flatmate digging into black pudding with gusto) travelled to the House of Joy, the domicile of emanix and company, for a stretch.

The House of Joy has since, I’m told, relocated to a different house, and seinneann_ceoil is now a resident therein, so it would be rather an easier journey to make now. As it was, it required some faffing about on the London Underground, which is interesting from a Yankee perspective on account of its efficiency (relative, at least, to Portland’s public transportation system) and for its maniacal and almost reckless disregard for the safety, well-being, and limbs of its many passengers.

Here in the US, where we prefer not to dismember the public in public (but prefer instead to starve them to death and deny them medical care so that they die in private instead), we build subways that have little folding stair-step things that extend when the cars stop, so that folks don’t fall down between the car and the landing and end up getting run over on the tracks or something. On the Underground, they will have one of that highfalutin’ engineering; instead, they leave a gap between each car and the subway platform that’s just about the perfect size to devour one’s leg, one’s child, or one’s Jack Russell terrier, and play a recording of an English gentleman saying “Mind the gap. Mind the gap.” over and over again as the train arrives. Presumably, folks who don’t heed the warning and fail to mind the gap are removed from the gene pool, for the greater good of the Kingdom or something.

Along the way, I passed the long-disused Battersea Power Station, an old decommissioned coal-fired power plant that was the inspiration for the design of Allied Advanced Power PLats in the real-time strategy game Command & Conquer: Red Alert. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and made me long for the days when I would hear the oh-so-British computer tell me “New Construction Options” or “A-Bomb Ready.”

Once at the House of Joy, seinneann_ceoil left me in the tender merciless hands of emanix for a time.

Her bedroom is, or rather was (in the old house) on the top floor, rightly lit by large skylights. I say this because I quite like skylights, and I have been lobbying zaiah to install some in our house, which we are currently remodeling into a dungeon (as those of you who read my Twitter know). zaiah believes that skylights inevitably leak in rainy climates–something that the skylights in emanix‘s room do not. Apparently, it’s all about the engineering, or something.

We spent the day lounging around, having slinky hex and faffing on the Internet. I got to learn what it’s like to be the object rather than the perpetrator of needle play, which was…interesting. Interesting, and more than a bit scary.

Which reminds me, I still have the story of the lemon drop at the lesbian Halloween party to write about at some point. I’m not quite sure why I tend to end up surrounded by women who enjoy scaring me, but it seems to happen quite a lot.

I also met emanix‘s tiny stuffed unicorn Herbert.

I’m not quite sure exactly how it happened, but we ended up talking about creating a cartoon character based on Herbert, named Herbert the Rape Unicorn. The original conception involved creating a Web site that would mock common rape-culture ideas (like “if she dressed that way, she obviously must have wanted it” or “If she led him on, then it’s her fault”), but we quickly realized that no matter how obvious or over-the-top the mocking was, someone somewhere would probably take it seriously and walk away with precisely the opposite of the intended message.

emanix drew this cartoon on my arm, which is quite likely the only Herbert the Rape Unicorn comic that will ever see the Web.

Every city has That District. You know, the one where all the cool happening stuff…err, happens. In Atlanta, it’s Little Five Points. In Tampa, it’s Ybor. In San Francisco, it’s San Francisco. In London, apparently, it’s Camden.

After the slinky hex, needle play, and other miscellaneous goings-on which involved sounding and you probably don’t want to know the details of, seinneann_ceoil rescued me and whisked me back to her flat. Some amount of slinky hex, a great deal of cuddling, some British television, and another meal in which her flatmate put something horrifying beyond the measure of man into his mouth later, we opted to venture to Camden.

Which was pretty damn cool, really.

We met up with emanix in Camden, in a sort of Gibsonesque ramshackle assortment of repurposed shops offering T-shirts with political slogans, cheap sunglasses, jewelry, posters, and the opportunity to have your feet nibbled by fish in large tanks of water.

I’m serious about that bit about the fish, by the way. One of the shops we passed had big tanks filled with small fish similar to the ones that tend to cling to the undersides of sharks. For a few pounds Sterling, you could stick your feet in the water and let the fish “exfoliate” your skin. Apparently, it’s all the rage amongst people for whom it’s all the rage.

The place is a weird mix of Victorian-ish sculpture, most of which seems to concern itself with maidens and horses, and neon signs…making it, really, quite like a perpetual steampunk science fiction convention.

She has a gaze that suggests she’s seen it all, and a complexion that suggests quite a lot of it involves pigeons.

Or maybe those are tears, one for each pigeon she has KILLED AND DEVOURED DURING HER UNHOLY ANIMATED RAMPAGES IN SEARCH OF THE SECRET TO ETERNAL LIFE. I don’t know.

The horse sculpture is kind of cool.

It’s always nice to see some commemoration of the life and toil of the essential working man. The working man depicted here would probably have preferred a pay raise to a bug relief erected in his honor, but one takes what one can get.

Maybe I used…

…but isn’t it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?

At one little booth, we found a series of prints of grafitti art by the British artist Banksy, who does some really mind-bogglingly amazing stuff. seinneann_ceoil bought me a print of his “There Is Always Hope” piece, on account of ’cause it totally makes me cry.

Exploration of Camden complete, we went off to a university in London-town which was evidently hosting a series of lectures on sexuality and society called Critical Sexuality, or CritSex for short, which sounded like quite an interesting way to spend an afternoon.

The timing of my visit was fortuitous, as it turned out, because apparently they host these things only once or twice a year or something.

We traveled to the university (mind the gap!), whereupon I saw two things that struck my attention.

The first was in the foyer of the lecture hall, before we’d actually got as far as the room where the CritSex lectures were to take place. I saw, for the first time, a woman wearing a full burqa. Not just the head shawl and cloak, but the whole, top-to-toe deal, that even included the chadri that totally obscures the face, including the eyes.

And it was, if I may put it delicately, profoundly fucked up. Seriously, deeply fucked up beyond any rhyme or reason.

Now, I have heard it argued that one can not impose the value system from one culture on another culture. I have also heard that the burqa is ennobling and liberating to women, because it frees them from having to compete in the arms race of sexualization in order to feel that they have value.

To both of those things, I say bullshit. Absolute, unmitigated piles of fresh, steaming bullshit.

First, to the cultural argument: The notion that human beings are persons inherently worthy of being treated with dignity and respect is not a cultural artifact, like a style of watch or the design of a sofa. It is absolutely possible, without resorting to appeals of invisible sky-beings or the trappings of tradition, to construct a rigorous moral framework that demonstrates the benefit of this idea. One need only look at history, at the fact that people of all kinds have tangibly and materially improved the lot of the human race as a whole, to see that any society which deprives itself of the contributions of entire classes of its members harms not only the groups so discrimated against, but itself as a whole as well.

The first surgeon ever to perform open-heart surgery, Dr. Daniel H. Williams, was black. Alan Turing, the man who arguably won WWII for the Allies, was gay. Double Nobel Prize-winning physicist Marie Curie, who not only developed the first understanding of radioactivity but also pioneered radiation treatment of cancer, was a woman.

Any society that cuts itself off from some portion of its members, deprives itself of the benefits, innovations, and discoveries those people might make. Women can fly fighter jets, lead nations, explore space, build buildings, design bridges, fight fires, create art, and discover new medical techniques. The notion that one society can utterly quash the most basic and essential of all human liberties for half its population, ad then claim it to be merely a “cultural value” neither better than nor worse than any other society’s values, is absolute rubbish of the highest order. “Cultural values” are not and can not be the excuse for atrocity, the justification for oppression.

The same goes for the notion that wearing the burqa is somehow empowering or liberating to women. Leaving aside for the moment that the whole purpose of this garment is to dehumanize women, on the grounds that the sight of a woman will drive men to sin (and how many shades of fucked up is THAT notion?), let’s be perfectly clear on one very important key point here:

You do not, BY DEFINITION, empower someone by saying ‘If you don’t do what I tell you to do I will stone you to death.’

That is, in fact, precisely the opposite of empowerment. Empowerment lies in giving people greater control and more choices in their lives, not in killing them if they fail to wear what you want them to wear. Remember that should anyone try to argue that the burqa represents empowerment; You do not, BY DEFINITION, empower someone by saying ‘If you don’t do what I tell you to do I will stone you to death.’ That includes any rationalization of the ‘do what I tell you to do’ part whatsoever, whether supposedly handed down by an invisible sky-being or not. It certainly applies to any reasoning that concludes with “No man should see a woman nor hear a woman’s footsteps lest it excite him. Women must not speak loudly in public as no stranger should hear a woman’s voice.”

It’s difficult for your humble scribe to even conceptualize in the wildest flights of fantasy the sort of topsy-turvy, up-is-down universe in which any of this could be called ’empowering’ by any person with even the slightest modicum, however small or insignificant, of sense.

The other bit was cooler. One of the presenters that the CritSex lectures we attended used my map of human sexuality in her presentation. So, yeah.

And that, save for a flight out of London the next day and a miserable 20-hour layover at the airport in Copenhagen, brings me to the end of my travels in Eastern and Western Europe. I arrived, after a total of eighteen hours’ travel time, back in my home town of Portland, on a cramped flight with my knees in my nose and no power outlet at my seat for my laptop; my luggage, which had somehow ended up flagged for a hand search at customs in Atlanta, arrived approximately seven hours later. (It was, according to a Delta representative, somewhere over Wyoming as I was arriving at my house, having opted after being searched to take entirely a different route home.)

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 33: London, Land of the Big Architecture

Slinky hex under the English Channel completed, we made our way back to London.

The trip was not without its minor bumps. British passport control, as it turns out, is just as big a pain in the ass on the Channel-facing side as it is on the airport-facing side. On our way outbound to France, the French passport people just waved us through, as if a minivan filled with perverts was simply a normal part of their day; but coming back, we were greeted with the suspicion and hostility that might be reserved for a brown-skinned man in an antique store in Arizona.

The British passport control agents, rather a scowling lot of ever I did see one, pulled us from the line and made us all unload from the van. Two of them searched the van while a group of their compatriots examined our passports. They have, as it turns out, a special line for Americans and other non-EU folks; as all the other perverts in our van were traveling on EU passports, I was singled out for extra special probing.

Which, in other circumstances, might have been fun.

The Brits eventually chose, grudgingly, to let us back in to the land of crumpets and black pudding, on the grounds that they couldn’t figure out a reason not to, and we were off again. Upon our arrival in London, I curled up with seinneann_ceoil, exhausted from a long day of sleeping in a van, and went to sleep.

The following day, we elected to see the sights and hear the sounds and smell the smells of jolly old London. It smelled of a faded empire, spending billions on aircraft carriers with no planes to outfit them with in place of thing like education, which matters more to the safety and security of a post-industrial nation. It also smells of trees and rain and young children forced to eat black pudding (which is neither pudding nor edible) for breakfast.

We headed out to Trafalgar Square, where news of a robot uprising had reached us via the internet-web. We arrived to discover that it was true; an installation of mechanical arms, rising triumphantly from a large metal platform, had indeed arrived there. They were less hostile than I assumed, at least for the nonce.

Look closely, fleshies! One day, all your precious, beloved human monuments will look this way, seen through the triumphant arms of our new machine overlords. Oh, yes. Memorize this image. Remember it well.

After reassuring ourselves that the inevitable coming robot apocalypse had not, in fact, come that day, we headed out to a pub that was a spitting image of the one in Shaun of the Dead for a bite. On the way, we passed a store display that was quite striking, at least for anyone who likes art. urban decay, BDSM, or feminism. I’m not quite sure which one this was intended to be, but I liked it.

I dig that gigantic lock.

Next up on the agenda: the Wellington Arch near Hyde Park.

The Wellington Arch, as most people know, was commissioned by George W. Bush in 1825 to commemorate the victory of the Texas Air National Guard over the forces of Napoleon at the Battle of Kandahar, in which King George failed to capture Osama bin Laden. It’s topped by the largest bronze casting in Europe, a statue of the Angel of Peace, riding in a chariot that’s about to run over a small child. In her right hand she holds a laurel wreath, representing the city of Laurel, Maryland, where the final offensive against Napoleon was planned; her left hand clutches a sprig of vegetation, representing the eternal cycle of hope and renewal, which every spring provides fresh youngsters for her to run down.

Our timing, as it turns out, was fortuitous. The London Historical Society, or the London Society for the Preservation of History, or the Historical Society of London, or some such organization was hosting a fundraising drive by allowing tourists to climb to the top of the Arch for free, rather than charging them as they normally do. (Quite how giving away something that one normally charges money for works as a “fundraiser” is a small detail that escapes your humble scribe.)

The view from the top was…well, pretty much what I expected.

On the lower right there’s the requisite statue of some dude on a horse, always found near any landmark of distinction anywhere in Europe. (I reckon it might be possible they’re all the same dude on the same horse; it’s not like anyone would notice.) Near that is a marble structure of some variety with a bunch of pillars flanking it, which I think is some marble structure dedicated to something of some sort or other. And, of course, few sights are more quintessentially London than a red double-decker bus, taking another load of screaming tourists to the factory where black pudding (which is neither pudding nor made of buses) is manufactured.

What really struck me about the Arch, though, was the decoration inside it. Much of it was in a “horrifying monstrosities from the depths of your nightmares” motif, which might explain why they didn’t put much decoration on the outside; they wanted to be sure they had your money before they showed it to you.

Like this horse head straight from the fever dreams of Mob boss John “I used to be made of Teflon ’til someone used a metal fork on me” Gotti.

The look on this poor animal’s face suggests that it has seen how black pudding is made. Such things, once seen, can never be unseen.

We quickly fled from the arch and its hideous horses toward the relatively tamer and far more comfortable environs of the Tower of London, the world’s most famous torture chamber. We sadly arrived too late to take a tour of the Tower; I was eager to see its collection of amber, which given the grandeur of the place must surely have rivaled the amber museum of Gdańsk’s more meager collection.

Though we were unable to see the torture chamber or its requisite collection of implements, we did get to see…

…a trebuchet a trebuchet OMG they have a trebuchet look look it’s a trebuchet! (That’s pretty close to an exact quote, by the way.)

And it’s even bigger than the one I made! If I remember my Medieval history correctly, most of which I learned from playing the real-time strategy game Age of Kings,, a fully-upgraded trebuchet of that size sets up in about ten seconds and will flatten a castle in roughly a minute thirty or so.

The Tower of London gets seriously dramatic at night.

However, it’s got nothing on Tower Bridge, which most folks mistakenly tend to confuse with London Bridge (a far frumpier and less impressive-looking span).

Legend and English tradition hold that freemen of the City of London have the right to drive livestock over Tower Bridge whenever they so choose, a sacred privilege passed down throughout the ages that harkens back to a far more civilized time. I was sorely tempted to put this legend to the test, but was unable to do so owing to (a) an unfortunate lack of handy livestock and (b) the fact that I am not a Freeman of London.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 32: All Good Things…

It turns out that you can’t actually make a living at staying in a castle with a whole bunch of kinky poly folks and having orgies all the time. Not unless you’re, I don’t know, Hugh Hefner or something…and to be quite honest, judging from the outside, I think my sex life is probably better than his.

So it came to pass that the last day of our stay at the castle was upon us, and rather sooner than I would have wanted. After the morning’s slinky hex–err, kinky sex, I spent a good bit of the afternoon running around the castle grounds and exploring the nearby village taking pictures, many of which you’ve already seen.

Later that afternoon, I was joined on the castle grounds by Emily, who suggested we take advantage of the opportunity for more photos. This seemed like a most excellent plan to me.

NSFW. Click on this link only if pics of nakedness in front of a castle won't get you fired or, y'know, make you explode or something.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 31: Minas Tirith and Beyond

The previous day’s exploration around the immediate vicinity of the castle had inspired in some of us a certain wanderlust, which grew inexorably until it eventually became so powerful as to compete with the other variety of lust. So it came to pass that after the morning’s kinky sex activities, many of the folks in the castle took it upon themselves to propose a trip to the nearby town of Chauvigny, which in addition to being surrounded by Outdoors also was allegedly was positively brimming with History.

That combination sometimes produces Neat Stuff To See, so when I was invited along, I said ‘yes.’

Now, it is a truism often repeated in many circles that kinky poly folks are as difficult to herd as a gaggle of cats. And, it must be said, there is sometimes some tiny grain of truth, however trivial or vanishingly small, to this perception.

We opted to take two cars into Chauvigny, which turned out to be something of an error. An unfortunate error in communication between the two drivers of these two cars sent us to entirely different rendezvous points, with the sort of comical results one might normally expect from a Hugh Grant movie.

We, meaning the folks in the car I was in and I, ended up at a rest stop just outside the town, adjacent to a small walled cemetery. French rest stops are fascinating things. Like their American counterparts, they have bathrooms. Unlike their American counterparts, the bathrooms are not segregated by sex. Oh, they look the same, more or less–plain concrete buildings with just enough room for a row of toilet stalls.

But in France, both sides are filled with stalls. The urinals are on the outside of the building, in plain view of the parking lot.

The cemeteries are weird, too. Everything is smaller in Europe, including the cemeteries themselves. The graves are packed in shoulder to shoulder, with scarcely any space between them.

While we waited (hopelessly, as it turned out) for the folks in the other car to arrive, we decided to take advantage of the location to shoot some pictures. I love the look on Emily’s face here.

I wonder if this is sacrilegious.

Eventually, phone calls were made, our mistake was realized, and we piled back into the car to go to the place where we were supposed to meet with the others, who had apparently been waiting for us for some time.

Along the way, we passed the ruins of Minas Tirith. I didn’t realize it was in France, though I suppose in hindsight the fall of its sister-city at Minas Ithil, later renamed Minas Morgul, makes more sense now.

Our path actually took us right past the ruins themselves. Look, you can see the spot where Denethor set fire to the keep, right before the Haradrim started their seige!

In 1775, a man who professed himself to be a doctor invented the word “nymphomania” to describe a condition of unnatural and pathological sexual desire in women, where “pathological” desire was thought, apparently, to mean any desire at all. The good Dr. Bienville, the gentleman in question (whose life could perhaps have benefitted from some greater sexual desire on his own part) wrote that there were many symptoms of this grave and indecent lust, including a fondness for chocolate and the reading of books.

If this is the case, Chauvigny is a very indecent city indeed, because if there’s one thing it has a lot of, it’s books. The history of Chauvigny is closely tied up with the history of printing. When news of Gutenberg’s new invention arrived in France, the citizens of Chauvigny, realizing that literacy was likely to be something big and that the printing of books is a profitable enterprise in a newfangled literate society, fell all over this printing thing like Dick Cheney on a taxpayer’s penny. Even today, the city is dominated by quaint little bookshops–rows of them, all along the narrow twisty streets.

The town pays tribute to this rich literary heritage with many displays of antique and modern printing equipment, that lines the roads and twisty little parks. Emily, who if I recall correctly is a librarian, particularly appreciated the old printing equipment, and asked me to take a picture of her next to some of it.

Chauvigny is a lovely town, with more charm than you can fit in a wheelbarrow. Besides the bookstores, they also have churches, two things one does not normally see in such close proximity.

And, down by the waterfront, tucked back from a narrow alleyway behind a grape-covered stone wall that forms a private courtyard, they have an English café. A real English café, featuring English tea and breakfast.

As we were by this point some hours from breakfast and with dinner still hours in our future, many of our party were beginning to suffer from tea withdrawal. So it was only natural that we should choose to feed our addictions sample their hospitality.

And oh, God, it was good.

The British take their tea very, very seriously, with the result that they are very, very good at it. This café served vey good tea indeed, and crumpets as well.

Now, here in America, we have these things we call “English muffins.” English muffins are to crumpets what a Segway is to a mint-condition Ferrari F430 Spider. A crumpet is an English muffin touched by the hand of God, and covered in sweet, sweet creamy butter straight from the loins of Aphrodite herself. It is an English muffin that has attained the transcendence of Nirvana and returned bearing the wisdom of Solomon, only with less proclamations about cutting babies in half and more warm melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

The café also had a friendly, playful black cat who immediately decided to adopt the whole lot of us. He was especially fond of seinneann_ceoil‘s long scarf, which he thought was absolutely the coolest thing he’d ever seen in the whole history of ever.

The view from the café was just stunning. I took this picture from my seat at the table:

Bizarrely, the café also featured this mannequin, complete with bunny ears, across from the cash register. I felt compelled to get a picture for emanix, who was feeling unwell and had not accompanied us.

Our unnatural thirst for English breakfast tea slaked, at least for the moment, we headed across the bridge to explore the cathedral (early Gothic, according to seinneann_ceoil) on the other side. The high vaulted ceilings and arched stained glass windows were quite beautiful, though my travels in Russia had led me to expect more in the way of over-the-top religious iconography and gold leaf.

The kneelers were pretty cool. As soon as she saw them, Emily had to try them out.

This picture makes me feel wrong in so many ways, I might not ever want to feel right again.

They’re everywhere. Don’t blink!

We left the church and walked around the small park adjacent to it. This is the view from behind the church.

Just a little ways farther down the river, and a bit to the right of the bridge, we could see the courtyard of the café where we’d had our tea and delicious, heavenly crumpets of heavenly heavenliness.

The flowers were in full bloom, everywhere we looked. As we wandered back toward the car, I found these growing on a bush near the café.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, like the last few crumbs of crumpet on the serving plate of destiny. We headed away from Chauvigny, that harlot, that nymphomaniac, that literate and wanton mistress in a far-off land, with her kneelers and her books and her crumpets topped by the goddess of love, and went back to our castle for an evening of…

…but this has gone on for quite long enough already, and I shan’t bore you further.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 30: Things to Do in France Besides Sex

There are things to do in a Medieval castle located in rural southern France other than orgies, kinky group sex, and strap-on gang-bangs, as hard as that might be to believe.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s rural France! What else could there possibly be to do for entertainment? It’s not like you can go to Wal-Mart or turn on the television to see reruns of “Friends,” so that pretty much only leaves kinky group sex or fishing, right? And given that the van we arrived in lacked the space for fishing poles, that whittled down the pool of available options considerably, right?

As it turns out–and I wouldn’t have known this had I not been there–the south of France has “Outdoors,” and there are actually some interesting things there. So a few days into our stay, having exhausted (temporarily) my appetite for kinky group sex and looked out the window long enough to realize that the invention of Outdoors had skipped across the pond and made it to Europe, where the French had adopted it enthusiastically, I opted to go poking around it.

Just, you know, to see what it was all about. I didn’t expect that the Europeans could make Outdoors to compete with the famed Outdoors factories of the Pacific Northwest, which manufacture such popular classics as Stunning Basalt Cliffs Which Fall Off Dramatically Into The Sea…but I was curious anyway.

The walls of the castle were covered with ivy vines, which I gather are something of a requirement for quaint picturesque castles in rustic rural settings.

The vines were covered with lovely blue flowers that bloomed for about three or four hours in the early afternoon and then closed up again.

There was a path through the woods that partly surrounded the castle, which led down to the water’s edge and also to the old ice house built in the side of an outcropping of rock. The old ice house was home to a single solitary fruit insect-eating bat, which I tried to get a picture of but sadly failed.

The ice house itself was kind of interesting. I was surprised to observe it was not stocked with cheap beer of inferior quality; my media and advertising overlords had led me to believe that that’s what icehouses are for.

At the edge of the river, the path snaked along the riverbank for a while until it met an ancient stone wall, part of some long-forgotten fortification or battlement or something, I reckon. It was interesting to think that this wall was built, stone by stone, by people who lived and died centuries before I existed, ad about whom I know absolutely nothing.

When I discovered the wall, I was joined by a lovely young lady named Emily who was part of the group staying in the castle. She thought that the wall and the river nearby would be a great place for a quick photo shoot, and I agreed.

The result is probably not safe for work, unless you work at Tantus or something.

Clicky this link only if you're not in a place where nekkidness in a picturesque setting in southern France will get you in trouble!

Adventures in Europe, Interlude: The Girl Who Spins Fire

The first thing I noticed about her was the fact that she spins poi.

No, wait, I take that back. The first thing I noticed about her, now that I look back on it, was that she is filled with joy. She radiates happiness in a way that’s very appealing and shiny; she’s a bright spark of joy in human form. The second thing I noticed about her is that she spins poi.

And fire, too, though I didn’t get a chance to witness that.

I didn’t bring my poi with me to Europe, which in hindsight was rather silly. She brought several pair, though, so we spun together at the castle, which was fun. She’s rather better at it than I am, truth be told. In fact, she’s rather better at it than most of the spinners I know.

And she struck me as being a deeply, profoundly happy person, which gets me every time.

Her name is L. Well, her name isn’t L, but that’s what I’ll call her here. She arrived at the castle after the rest of us did, and left before we did, which was really a damn shame.

Now, had someone told me on the first day we met that she would by the following day be doing obscene things to me with a strap-on, I probably would have said something like “I find that highly unlikely.” I don’t, as a general rule, often find myself in bed with someone I’ve only just met, even in Medieval castles with lots of kinky folks who are all part of the same poly netwo–well, maybe I shouldn’t say that, since I appear to be batting a thousand on that one. Every time I’ve been in a Medieval castle with lots of kinky folks who are all part of the same poly network, I have found myself having kinky adventures with a person I’ve only just met. Perhaps some recalibration of my internal model of self is necessary. Hmm. I will ponder this more.

In all seriousness, though, I feel tremendously thankful for the opportunities I had during the trip to France, and privileged to have met the people I did.

And I’m not just talking about the slinky hex. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an enthusiastic fan of slinky hex in all its many forms, and it was a lot of fun, no doubt about it. But a lot of the things that have stuck with me from the trip were less about that then they were about getting the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective. seinneann_ceoil, L, and I spent a good deal of time on several occasions talking about privilege in all its forms, for instance, and applying those ideas to a place where they aren’t often applied, polyamorous relationships. (I have a very long post brewing about polyamory and privilege that I’m working on with seinneann_ceoil and zaiah, which I’ll likely be writing soon; I have just under a thousand words of notes on the subject, and it’s turning out to be fairly difficult to write.)

And did I mention joy?

There’s something about happiness that really does it for me. She is a very happy person, at least in my experience of her, and that’s incredibly shiny. I really, really dig happiness. Combine it with smart and introspective and confident and expressive, and…yeah. It’s…yeah. I mean, seriously, do you see those socks? Those are very happy socks.

One of the nice things about joy is that it’s a bit like ebola: extremely infectious and hard to defend against. I am very happy that she made the trip just a bit more joyful.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 29: What Rhymes with “Slinky Hex”?

It’s a trick question. There are many things that rhyme with slinky hex, like blinky rex or tinky dex or linky necks. The answer that’s probably on your mind, though, is “kinky sex,” at least if you’re a veteran, seasoned pervert like I am.

Choose about a score and change of smart, creative, sex-positive folks, make sure they’re all veteran, seasoned perverts, make ’em all members in some sort of capacity of the same amorphous poly network, and put ’em in a 14th century castle in the south of France, and a certain level of slinky hex is the inevitable result. And just to clarify, when I say “a certain level,” I mean “rather a lot.”

Now, had I had my wits about me, rather than being addled by a day-long ride in a van with more than a dozen other folks and all their various and sundry bits of luggage, musical instruments, computers, sex toy bags, and other assorted implements of destruction, I would have photographed every room of the castle immediately upon our arrival, before the debauchery began. As it was, I barely managed to get any shots of the castle’s interior, and had to rely on the fact that another of our entourage was more proactive in that regard and kind enough to dump her camera’s card onto my laptop.

This is the main downstairs living area of the castle. This room, like the upstairs turret room, was soon converted into a play space, a process which had already begun by the time this photo was taken:

That’s a king-sized mattress; the fireplace is bigger than you think.

It’s also weirder than you think. There’s a big metal plate in the back of the fireplace, which is adorned with a relief sculpture that looks to me like a bunch of heretics being burned at the stake, which is rather grim decoration if you ask me.

There are also a bunch of big iron chains hanging down from the chimney, ending in a wide assortment of different hooks, some of them very large. I assume they’re probably for cooking or something; I’m sure I wouldn’t know about such things.

The odd religious imagery wasn’t going to deter such a group of seasoned perverts, though, and soon there was a roaring fire going in the fireplace. Not long after that, there was a roaring orgy going in front of the fireplace, though I didn’t attend that particular event as I still hadn’t met many of the folks there, most of whom had long histories with one another.

As the week progressed, though, I had the opportunity to engage in rather a lot of slinky hex, and to get many wonderful photos, some of which are quite lovely and one or two of which are quite sweet as well.

Most of those photos, you won’t see, as the folks involved chose not to have them posted. This is an unfortunate loss, but think of it like cell phone service to a Bronze Age tribesman: you can’t miss what you’ve never seen.

There are, however, some pictures which I do have permission to post. If you’re reading this at work, or you have delicate sensitivities easily offended by carnal images of the human form, or if you are living in China or Australia or any other place where sex is strictly forbidden by law, you might want to consider not clicking on the cut below.

If, on the other hand, pictures and descriptions of orgy in a castle seems your cup of tea, click here!

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 28: Have Fun Storming the Castle!

emanix‘s home is known on multiple continents as the House of Joy.

At six o’clock in the morning, when about twelve people or so are packing all their belongings into a white van and squeezing in themselves, it might more accurately be called the House of Where Is My Tea And Please Don’t Sit On That, or perhaps the House of Uuuungh What The Hell Time Is It Again?

The goal of this not inconsiderable jiggery-pokery with suitcases, tea, and rental vans was to travel to France, where, I was told, a castle had been rented for our enjoyment for the week. This journey, I was told, would probably require about eight hours, not including the time it took to pass through customs at the English Channel.

When we set off, I had the distinct impression that my views and opinions were not well-respected by the rest of the group. I had proposed a number of entertaining diversions to keep us all occupied on the trip, including singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” repeatedly or punching other passengers when cars of a certain color drove by. These gentle diversions were of incalculable value on long trips during my formative years, and yet they were all shot down without so much as a by-your-leave.

My faith in my traveling companions thus restored, we travelled through Britain (which is a bit like Iowa except that the buildings are older and they drive on the wrong side of the road) until we arrived at the Channel.

The tunnel under the English Channel is quite an engineering feat. Vehicles aren’t permitted to drive through; instead, they pack all the vehicles onto gigantic double-decker train cars, and send ’em through on that.

There’s a passport checkpoint on each side of the Channel. Outbound, we passed through French passport control, who looked at a van packed to the gills with people and luggage and just waved us through without even stopping us. The French, you see, who have a history of being invaded, are a lot more relaxed about these things than the British, who don’t.

I don’t have any pictures of the trains or the tunnel complex, which is filled with weird, loopy overpasses designed to straighten out the fact that the French and the English can’t agree on which side of the road to drive on, nor for that matter which side of the train to load on. Signs warned in dire language of all manner of unfortunate calamities to be visited on anyone who dared to take pictures, and I opted not to test their veracity.

Once beneath the channel, we headed out on the roads in France, which is a bit like Kansas only even more rural and desolate. The promised eight hour trip actually turned into something more like eleven, with not so much as a single round of 99 Bottles to be sung.

The trip was pleasant enough in spite of because of that, or at least as pleasant as such a trip can be.

The destination, however, proved more than worth the whole lot of it, up to and including the early morning departure:

This was our home for the week.

And what a home it was.

The group of us, about 20 or so people who were all part in one way or another of the same extended poly network, took over the place. seinneann_ceoil and I scored the room at the top of one of the turrets, the one on the left in this picture:

It was, as we later figured out, built sometime around the 14th century. The castle is located on the edge of the tiny town of Ciron, in the south of France.

Our room, which was to become the epicenter of much debauchery, was just gorgeous:

As it turns out, retrofitting a 15th-century stone building with modern amenities is a nontrivial task. The place did have electricity, and indoor plumbing, both added after the fact at great difficulty and expense.

Internet access was another issue.

There was a wi-fi network within the castle, at least in theory, which was allegedly connected to one of the many tubes leading to the Interwebnet. Sort of.

That tube was more like a sippy straw, like the kind you get with those little drink pouches that are made of the weird silver plastic and that you stab repeatedly with the pointy bit of the straw in a modern ritual of liquid refreshment whose hideous origin of using bamboo slivers to drain the blood from captive peasants on the darkest night of the year is now lost to antiquity.

I once made quite a tidy sum, when I went with my high-school class on a trip to Washington, DC to spend a few days visiting the Smithsonian. I had two cartons of those weird little juice bladders, see, and the bus trip was rather lengthy, and nobody else had thought to bring any drinks along for the ride. So I did what any good capitalist would do, and sold my juice bladders for a nice profit. Had I been a Libertarian, I would have collected the empty juice bladders, filled them with pee, and then re-sold them as juice, and when my customers complained, I would have said “caveat emptor shall be the whole of the law”…but I digress.

Anyway, the Sippy Straw of Internet Access at the castle was in the form of a direct line-of-sight microwave dish in the front of the grounds, which talked to another microwave dish on another building some miles away. It worked just fine, unless the weather was bad, or someone walked in front of the dish, or there was a lot of traffic on any nearby roads, or the name of the day ended in the letter “y,” or…

Complicating things further was the router, which was sore in need of a firmware update and which tended to crash on a regular basis. The router was locked in a storeroom to which we had no access, so the only way to reboot it after one of its frequent crashes was to reboot the entire castle by killing power to the whole building. As the circuit breakers were near the ceiling, this necessitated standing on a chair and flipping them with a cane.

Rebooting the castle became a several-times-per-day ritual.

You may be wondering why a group of twenty-plus sex-positive, kinky, poly folks would even bother with Internet access in the first place, but the answer is obvious: even good sex only lasts for nine or ten hours, and after that, you have to tweet about it!

The top room in the second turret was quickly turned into an enormous playspace, in part because it looked like this.

If those walls could talk, they’d probably say “Hey, are you going to eat that? Because if not, I’d like some too.”

The main living portion of the castle was three stories, not including the underground cellar and dungeon, which we sadly weren’t given access to. (Not that that stopped some of the more enterprising among us, mind, but I sadly wasn’t there for that.)

Now, one might expect a five or six hundred year old building to have certain…structural difficulties, and indeed that proved to be the case. One structural difficulty, anyway. And a doozy at that.

This is what you see when you walk in the kitchen entrance. Nothing too frightening, right? The steps are the foot of the only staircase to the second and third stories, made of a handsome deep red hardwood of some sort or other.

Don’t let this placid, even mundane, image fool you. Those are no ordinary steps! They are, in fact, part of the Stairy Scarecase of DOOM.

The stairway up is a cantilever, with the steps anchored to the wall on one end and floating free on the other.

And like all cantilevers, including such famous examples as Frank Lloyd Wright’s cantilevered house-over-a-stream known as Falling Down Falling Water, it’s subject to considerable stress on the anchored end.

The stairs, which in one place had pulled from their mounts and were about an inch from the wall, wobbled precariously when anyone walked up or down them. The bottoms of the steps showed significant buckling where the mounts had been damaged.

Apparently, according to some folks who’d talked to the property owner, the stairs had recently been inspected by a structural engineer, who (if I got the story right) said something like “Ayup, could last another five years, could go at any time,” only in French.

Which made the staircase off-limits for kinky sex, at the very least. And also for running on. Or walking on, or climbing, or descending, or…

I spent some time, as I previously mentioned, wandering the grounds taking pictures. There was a small balcony tucked off the recreation room, where the lord and lady of the house once amused themselves by cutting off the heads of heretics or whatever the hell it is French nobility did during the Middle Ages but had since been turned into an entertainment center with a flat-screen TV and a Nintendo Wii, that looked something like this:

The castle was surrounded by the most astonishing quantity and variety of foliage. I have no idea what these berries are, and not wanting to run the risk of hallucinating my dead grandmother locked in mortal combat with Hillary Clinton in a pink tutu, I neglected to experiment.

The groundskeeper for the castle lived in these outbuildings on the grounds. I wouldn’t mind living in a place like this myself, only with better Internet access and less, you know, rural France.

The one place I was most disappointed we couldn’t get, other than the dungeon, was the quarters of the lord and lady of the manor. The apartment of the castle’s reigning aristocracy was on the upper level, between the turrets. It had its own private, semi-enclosed balcony, but I couldn’t see what the chambers within looked like; apparently, it had not been renovated and was considered unsafe for occupation. Seen from the window of the playroom, it looked like this.

I was game for finding a plank of wood and trying to build a ramp over there, but as with my suggestions for travel entertainment in the van, I was overruled. Probably for the best, I’m sure.

Adventures in Europe, Chapter 27: Welcome to England! Now piss off.

So there I was, in the middle of a busy London Underground station, blindfolded, wrists bound, with an Oyster card that didn’t work, and…

Okay, hang on. Maybe I should back up a bit.

I am a bit of a naïve traveler. Prior to the adventure I’m chronicling here, I’d never been overseas at all. I had traveled to Canada, which doesn’t count because (a) I was three years old or something at the time and (b) Canada’s basically an unofficial US state anyway. I had traveled to Mexico as well, but that doesn’t count because (a) it was a high school senior trip, and (b) it was before the War on Drugs, and so at the time Mexico was almost an unofficial US state anyway. An impoverished US state that bore a depressing resemblance to Lubbock, Texas, only with fewer firearms and more ancient Mayan ruins, but still.

So I will freely confess that some mistakes were made.

For example, I expected it to be easy to get through British customs. I don’t know why I expected that, except insofar as I had expected it to be difficult to get through Russian customs and had been warned, in the most dire of terms, to keep at least 57 forms of identification on me at all times and to say “Don’t shoot! I am American! I have passport and American dollars!” in Russian in the event that anyone pointed weapons at me…and despite all that, it turned out to be a walk in the park. A long, slow walk in the park, where everyone stood in a long line for half an hour and then handed a passport to a severe-looking woman behind a bulletproof shield, perhaps, but a walk in the part nonetheless.

So I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of institutionalized, xenophobic, near-hysterical paranoia that is the British customs service.

I walked up to the man and gave him my passport. There were no bulletproof shields and no automatic gated man-traps, so I figured things would be easy. That’s when I learned the cost of my naïvity. When the man asked me why I was entering the country, I smiled and chirped, “To see my girlfriend!”

In my own defense, I didn’t realize that this is something you never, ever, ever tell any customs agent in any country EVER. As datan0de pointed out to me later, answers like “Because after the virus I just released, the Western hemisphere is pretty much toast” and “Because your citizens are unarmed and I am so very, very hungry” are better than saying “To see my girlfriend!”

That’s when I got The Sigh. It was followed in short order by The Look. And after that came The Questions.

Lots of them. Twenty minutes later, I was still being grilled. How long had we been seeing each other? When did we meet? Was she a UK citizen? Did she have a job in the UK? Where did she work? How much did she make? How long had she worked there? Was she taking time off work to spend with me? How much money did she have in the bank? How much money did I have in the bank? How much money did I expect to spend in the UK? How serious was our relationship? Would she be financially supporting me to any extent during my stay? How many credit cards did I have in my name? What were the limits on them? What did I do for a living? How much did I make? When did my girlfriend first enter the UK? Did she have a passport? Did she travel abroad? What countries had she visited? What countries had I visited?

And those were just the warmup questions. Thank God he didn’t ask how many girlfriends I have.

He finally let me go, about half an hour later, after inspecting my return ticket and warning me of Dire Consequences if I remained in the country any longer than my alloted stay. After that, I felt that very little could be worse, and I was right. Even when I was gang-raped by…

But that’s a story for another chapter.

I didn’t take that picture above, by the way. The picture above came from the Heathrow Airport Web site. To really get an accurate feel, it would have to be jammed with about 26,374,211 angry, tired passengers and a row of grim-faced men determined with the fastness of Hell to make every one of those passengers as grumpy and angry as possible, for King and country. The picture also doesn’t show all the signs warning that anyone taking photographs of British passport control is subject to immediate arrest and incineration. I can only wonder what happened to the airport’s photographer, poor bastard.

seinneann_ceoil rescued me on the other side, and we ran off through downtown London, as I talked about before.

Apparently, she had other Pressing Matters to attend to that evening, so she decided to leave me in emanix‘s tender mercies for the evening.

emanix‘s tender mercies are usually neither tender nor merciful. When she expressed her delight at the thought of being able to kidnap me for the evening, I should have taken that literally. Very, very literally.

seinneann_ceoil took me on the Underground to drop me off with emanix, with the plan being that she would take me on the Underground to a kink social that she was hosting that very night. I didn’t realize that bondage played into it.

The London Underground, for those of you who have never experienced it, is a huge, sprawling system that’s part mass transportation and part sociological experiment. It’s a bit like a subway built by a strange race of subterranean Morlocks with a reckless disregard for basic human safety, permanently crowded to capacity with a most astonishing variety of examples of the human condition, all of them perpetually grumpy.

emanix took charge of me, seinneann_ceoil went off to attend to her errands (leaving me with an Oyster card, the electronic smart cards that are used to navigate the Underground), and off we went.

It wasn’t until I was trapped on the train that emanix informed me that she’d intended the kidnapping bit seriously. And that she had come equipped for the task.

Shortly after that, I was bound and blindfolded.

Some time after that, we arrived at our station, whereupon it was discovered that the Oyster card in my possession was flaky and did not work reliably, and also had only a few pence left on it.

So there I was, in the middle of a busy London Underground station, blindfolded, wrists bound, with an Oyster card that didn’t work, and nothing to do for it but to seek help with a customer service representative, a member of London’s finest civil service personnel. Who was, it must be said, visibly startled to be confronted with a customer in need of service with his wrists bound together, but who summoned up the dogged stoicism the British are famous for in parts of the world where they aren’t famous for being ruthless, genocidal, slave-trading imperialist bastards and who straightened out the situation with the card quite smartly.

Situation sorted, we headed out to a cafe to meet other kinky Londoners, of whom there are rather a lot, the bitter northern winters leaving little to do for three months out of the year save for either practicing being dour or stringing one another up for kinky sex. (The same, it must be said, is also true of Portland, where kinky sex is what serves in place of a state religion.)

The Coffee, Cake, and Kink (or, more accurately, Tea, Little Pastry Things With Fruit On Top, and Kink, though it has less of a satisfactory flow from the tongue or lilt to the ear) was quite lovely, and was followed up by a return to the Underground (sans bondage, but still just as recklessly hazardous to life and limb) to retire to emanix‘s house, known on several continents as the House of Joy.

This was, as it turned out, a part of the cunning plan all along, for early the next morning we were to rise, pack ourselves into a small van with a startlingly large number of other people, and drive for ten hours to a castle in France. And this is precisely what did indeed happen, though that bit will have to wait for the next chapter.