A man wearing nothing but a black fedora and a highly intimate piercing was munching away on some snacks as he propped up the bar. He was eating a packet of nuts. The scene was so thick with innuendo that even Benny Hill running in pursued by some scantily clad policewomen could not have improved it.
The reason I was privy to this (and many other bizarre scenes over the course of the night) was a new quest that I was undertaking to discover find the more unusual side to London. It's a capital with six million people, countless attractions and yet sometimes everything just seems so... normal. Where are the weird subcultures and brainmelting activities which should be the lifeblood of every vibrant capital city?
This thirst for the weird and wonderful took me to The Book Club in Shoreditch for the Velvet Tongue's erotic poetry night. The Book Club is traditionally the epicentre of London hipsterdom, making the venue a rather unexpected one (unless your version of eroticism involves a bunch of students in flat peaks and skinny jeans discussing the merits of organic quinoa).
Nonetheless, I found myself there on a gloomy Sunday evening (although are they ever not gloomy?) to find out what Shoreditch's answers to E.L. James had to offer. Together with a friend, I crammed into the basement, which given the circumstances, seemed a bit too similar to a dungeon for my liking, to survey the scene.
It was a fairly mixed crowd; some seemed to be there out of curiosity, some out of a genuine interest in poetry and a few by the looks of it just wanted to get naked or dress up as 1960s PE teachers.
No stone was left unturned and no sexual act was left unmentioned; indeed, as the night developed we were treated to a song about the love of the clitoris, a former UN peacekeeper talking about the art of DJing with the male member and some touching poems entitled "Ode to Your Erection" and "Can't Get It Up".
A man wearing nothing but a yamulkah and high heels also used the opportunity to make a political point about Gaza, a tactic which I can say with confidence has not been used before throughout hundreds of years of Arab-Israel conflict.
Whilst the night was riotous and highly amusing, the overriding feeling I came away with that it was about as erotic as an unexpected visit from the Inland Revenue (this could well have actually been the subject of one of the poems, I genuinely can't remember).
As the night went on, many of the poems veered towards the crude and explicit rather than the sexual, meaning they mostly attracted laughs and gasps rather sending a frisson of sexual excitement across the room.
Even this initial shock factor wore thin; by the end I was even cheerily tucking into some nachos whilst listening to someone reciting a fairly grim poem about bodily fluids. Incidentally, these nachos were kindly donated by an American poet who stopped seconds into one of his poems before remembering "I'm meant to touch myself during this one"; truly the high point of this (and indeed any) evening.
This slightly offbeat tone was exemplified by one of the poets, Susan Medina, whose act initially consisted of reading out a list of phrases about sex. "Sex in a tree...sex in the mouth...sex on a plane" she carried on, like some sort of twisted Google AutoComplete. Even when it Medina moved onto her fiction, it still misfired, with a mention of a character's "throbbing uterus" sending a man near me into fairly understandable tears of laughter.
It hit me that Medina's work would probably hit the spot if enjoyed at home or with an open-minded partner but how many people's most erotic moments are mutually shared in a room of hundreds of people? (Russell Brand, don't answer this.)
The main saving grace came from a gentleman called Pat Cash (no, not that Pat Cash) who spoke honestly and candidly about a number of issues around sexuality and gender. Disclaimer: I have now discovered Mr Cash also blogs on the Huffington Post but I had never met him or read any of his work before he was stood in front of me reciting poetry in his Superman Y-fronts.
Cash was beautiful and evocative in talking about the discrimination faced by gay people, the folly of 'gay personalities' and the pain of a recent break up. It was heartfelt, punchy and persuasive; indeed, it was so much poetic than those who had gone before him, I'm surprised the other performers didn't burst into flames on hearing it.
I don't want to be too snarky about The Velvet Tongue; it's a fun and weird way to spend an evening and everyone there gave it their all. However, D.H. Lawrence, no stranger to the work of Eros, once said "There is no pornography without secrecy", and maybe the same applies to eroticism as well.
For whilst The Velvet Tongue provided laughs, bemusement and a lot of fun, secrecy and eroticism were both in surprisingly short supply.Suggest a correction