Our Mayfair boulevardier ponders the English penchant for fancy dress and an ultimately disappointing evening at Burning Man
Column by Guy Shepherd
Writing on Bohemians, respective celebrations and festivals last month, has ignited a memory and story from the Burning Man festival. This particular tale seems distantly relevant to the wedding season as well, obviously a particularly buoyant time of year for your Mayfair jeweller. The Burning Man is an affront on the senses where all values are examined and questioned through the power of people and art. You may remember it was the non-commercial party I used to attend 15 or so years ago in the Nevada desert where I used tiny diamonds as my currency of trade. Ironically, I was accompanied by Alex Yearsley who was then investigating the link between conflict and my more oft beautiful trade. He became the world authority on conflict diamonds and played an intricate part in the construction of the United Nations resolution known as the Kimberley Process. This is the legal declaration by anybody selling diamonds that they have come from a legitimate source, thus enabling buyers to trace their purchases back away from the evil minority who would tarnish our industry. He is a very handy man to know when it comes to choosing ethical suppliers at GUY&MAX.
Another benefit of partying with this most wonderful human being is his shared love of fancy dress, an institution which is shared by many self respecting Englishmen to the sometime angst of our American cousins. As an aside, I remember my Rock’n’Roll playing pal, Chris Alcaraz of Phoenix, Arizona, being genuinely gobsmacked as we were joined on Farringdon station platform by 30 or so chaps who were dressed in girl’s school uniforms, complete with stockings, suspenders and mini skirts, waving hockey sticks á la St Trinians whilst their “headmistress” bellowed at them to behave as they got onto the tube train. Although it all made perfect sense to me, Chris was even more confused when I explained that they must be heading off to the cricket (yes, that fabulous game where two teams can play for five days and still draw the match), which I also attempted to explain, unsuccessfully.
Back on the salt flats of Nevada, Alex and I had stumbled across a party called “The One Hundred Brides”. Stacks of speakers, pumping tunes, a margarita bar which sprayed a delicate mist of water over the dance floor and, yes, 100 stunning women dressed in virgin white bridal attire were the predominant features. I think the organiser owned a casino in Las Vegas and had flown in his show girls. Unbelievable. There is a liberalism in the far west of America that can take an Englishman by surprise. It did me. I guess we can chalk it up to revenge for cricket loving cross dressers.
Alex was dressed as an ancient barbarian. I as a Roman gladiator complete with plumed helmet, breastplate, tunic, sandals, shield, sword and significant quantities of body oil. For some reason or other, a couple of bikini clad girls, not amongst the brides, found this rather attractive and we danced for some hours together. We all had a riot but, most strangely, one of the girls then introduced me to her husband who promptly announced that they had come to Burning Man to say goodbye to each other because, on their return to Portland, Oregon, they would be picking up their divorce settlement. Even weirder, he then said his farewells and told me to look after his wife. And her friend. All terribly west coast.
I took her husband at his word and, as night descended on that magically infinite beach, we drifted from party to party, one of which saw the disappearance of my fur clad Visigoth friend. Incredibly for my shy retiring soul, the girls then started gently kissing me before passionately embracing each other. Heaven reveals itself in mysterious ways and sometimes it’s right here on earth. To say that this polite Englishman was entirely overawed is understatement indeed. This newfound enthusiasm was not quenched by their request that the three of us should all return to their camp. For what reason, I could only pinch myself and dream. We walked through the cold night, bubbling with the anticipation of our forthcoming adventure before they asked me whether I would mind upping the ante by being blindfolded for the final stage of our journey. My mind fizzed with premature visions as I consented.
It is a strange experience being denied sight, particularly in such an extraordinary place. Your other senses become heightened and I shivered with a combination of excitement and cold, countered by the tender intensity and warmth of their hands holding mine. They then led me to the side of a fire and told me to wait whilst they checked whether her husband was back in camp or not as, respectfully, they did not want to upset him. The two girls then left me beside the comforting flames, blind. Dressed in my gladiatorial garb, I waited and although the fire was of great reassurance in the icy air, the sounds around me were slightly more alien and then suddenly most worrying. There were groans. There were grunts. There were moans. There were slaps. There were yells. There were slurps. After a little while, these extraordinary sounds became too much for my puzzled and frightened mind and I removed my blindfold. The girls had left me slap bang in the centre of the all male gay orgy area. Almost everybody there was writhing on the floor in a mesh of naked, sexual abandon. Those that were not, were standing right next to me, eyeing up my oiled flesh and smiling at me. I made my apologies and legged it. Bravo, girls. The best wind up I have ever been victim too. Thank you (with significant disappointment).
Guy Shepherd is a contributing writer and Sales Director at Mayfair jewellers GUY&MAX