Surrey is frequently named in
surveys as England’s
most affluent county, and Elmbridge is the county’s most affluent borough. Elmbridge takes in such towns as Oxshott,
Cobham, Walton, Claygate and Esher (where I
live). These are names that have become bywords for ‘the good life’ – and I
don’t mean the kind of aspirational suburban lifestyle depicted in the
television series. The Elmbridge towns
are nothing like neighbouring Surbiton.
Elmbridge is a land of bankers, stockbrokers and property developers who
live in faux mansions, many in gated estates with their own golf courses. Their wives drive the kids to exclusive
(meaning exorbitantly expensive) private schools in top-end BMWs and Range
Rovers. They vote Conservative only
because there isn’t a reputable right-wing alternative.
In other words, Elmbridge is the kind
of place that envious visitors are moved to describe in that quintessential
English expression, “a nice part of the world”.
Well, not so nice; it seems, and certainly
not if ‘nice’ is supposed to convey an impression of a leafy suburbia of genteel
respectability. For last week a national
newspaper – no less an organ of genteel respectability than the Daily Mail – reported that Surrey not only
leads the nation in the generation of wealth and well-being but also in the
practice of ‘dogging’.
The term, I should explain, refers
not to the popular local practice of walking family pooches over the area’s extensive
tracts of bracken-covered commons and ancient woodlands, but to the increasingly
popular local activity – using those same tracts of commons and woodlands – of having
sex with strangers in the open air. In
that context, I’ve learned that any open air venue where dogging takes place is
known to the police as a Public Sex Environment. And when it comes to PSE sites, it seems Surrey has more than any other county in the land, and by
a very wide margin.
pre-eminence in the dogging world naturally came as news to me. The word itself came as news to my wife, who
hardly meets the description of sheltered suburban housewife. But she was far from shocked. “Maybe that’s why they drive such big cars,”
she suggested. “We might think about checking the neighbours’ car wheels for
sprigs of bracken.”
I’m quite sure I don’t want to
Is there some sociological reason
for Surrey’s shame, or if you prefer, triumph? Could there be a causal relationship between
affluence and a yearning for outdoor sexual adventure? I can’t think of one. The attraction ought to be greater for the
less well-off; after all dogging is free, as far as I know. If money does change
hands among the participants, it can only be for a voluntary contribution to
fund the Christmas party, say, or for sending a delegate to the National
Actually, I don’t think there is
a NDC. I didn’t find it in my googling
expedition – undertaken, you understand, strictly for the purposes of research. There are, though, a great many dogging
websites, most of them set up as a medium for advertising local events and
attracting new players. I visited just
a few. Websites, I mean. They included Swingers Heaven, Let’s Go Dogging and Come Dogging. I half
expected to find Strictly Come Dogging. I wouldn’t rule that out; it would be perfect
for one of the ‘Adult’ channels, though I doubt that Sir Bruce Forsyth could be
persuaded to host it.
One of the websites I visited allowed
viewers (known as ‘peepers’, presumably) to enquire about local sites. After entering ‘Esher’
I was taken aback to find one no more than half a mile from my house, on the main
road that connects us with the A3. The
site is a car park where dog-walkers and ramblers leave their cars. After dark a chain is placed across the
entrance, I’ve noticed whenever I’ve driven past. Now I know why. Perhaps I should inform the editor of the
website, to eliminate wasted visits.
Anything that helps reduce the traffic on that busy road would be welcome.
I wish I hadn’t found out about
this dogging business, if only because the next time I take the train up to London I may start
glancing at my fellow passengers and wondering….
With apologies to Oscar, what we
have here is Surrey with the fringe on the