Bring back the men having sex in the undergrowth. This was the thought that occurred to me and my friend simultaneously in a magical joint epiphany as we rode out over the misty heathlands the other day. Wistfully, we beheld the sandy tracks of Ockham and Wisley from atop our mounts as we suddenly realized what was missing. They used to frequent this heathland most religiously, and many is the time I’ve whined about them, including once in a family newspaper where I posed for pictures with the spaniel Cydney, looking disgusted.
My harrumphing face made it clear: I don’t approve of married men pulling off the road in their saloon cars and getting it on with each other at a local beauty spot on the way home to wifey. Matters were not helped when I found out this particular common land had been designated a ‘public sex environment’ by the authorities as part of strenuous efforts not to confront the issue, but rather to rubber-stamp it with official approval and thus remove any need to police it.
This was why, when I called the police to say I had happened upon three men in flagrante while walking my dog, the operator said: ‘And?’ Because a decision had been made way up high that this was a valid sexual preference and anyone who complained about it was being prejudiced.
The official seal of approval worked its magic, and, with the green light given to all that, they were good to go. What started off as cottaging (gay sex in public lavatories) has expanded into dogging (sex of all kinds in public parks before an audience). Before long a man who looked like a serial killer was banging the driver’s window of my car at 6 p.m. one summer evening shouting: ‘Is this the place for sex?’ And as he grinned at me like he wanted to slice me into quite a few pieces, I dialed the police, and the operator said: ‘And?’
I fought this attitude. But now I’ve changed my mind. Bring back the men in the undergrowth. Why? Because I prefer them to the cyclists. That’s right. The cyclists have chased away the sex people. I should have known this would happen because cyclists are like ragwort. They take over. After lockdown triggered an even bigger explosion of pedaling than has been building for years, the cyclists around here tired of the lanes — mainly, I think, because they were full of cyclists. Having filled up the roads, they decided the roads weren’t good enough. They wanted the bridleways, footpaths, fields and farm tracks as well. So they pedaled off the lanes on to the footpaths and bridleways, across farms, fields and heathland, sending walkers and horses scattering to the four winds. The once peaceful heathland became a mass of pedalers. Mountain bikes hurtled downhill and even flew through the air.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, I was riding a pony home along the main bridleway one day when a monster bike loomed on the horizon. It accelerated towards me on the narrow lane, apparently intent on plowing straight into us and impaling us on its handlebars if that was what it took to deal with us without slowing down. I had only a split second to react so I jumped off and put myself in front of the pony, waving my fist in the air. It was then that I saw the bike had a motor on it.
But my main point is this: there are now so many bikes — racing, mountain and motorized — on the heathlands of Surrey, along with drones and paragliders, that the sex people have pretty much disappeared. The lesser spotted dogger is becoming an endangered species as bikes skid off the tracks, fly through the air and land next to them. It disturbs their mating ritual.
I hope conservationists will join with me to defend the lesser spotted dogger against the encroachment of the common or garden cyclist, which is such a prevalent and unremarkable species it can be sworn at anywhere. It doesn’t need a heathland habitat. The lesser spotted dogger, on the other hand, relies on the sheltered undergrowth and dense foliage of our public sex environments for its very survival.
The cottagers and the doggers were there first, after all. And they don’t frighten horses, much. They’re no trouble at all compared with the pedalers. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s February 2021 US edition.