Alexi Duggins is at your mercy: send him to a new weird London experience every week and he’ll do it. This week: a workshop in cuddling…
I like being cuddled by strange men. Well, not strange men. You won’t find me bursting into a Scientology meeting, yelling: ‘Wrap me in your beefy Thetan biceps!’ But dudes that I don’t know from Adam are my favourite snuggle buddies.
It’s thanks to Cuddle Workshop that I know this. For three hours, I wander a cushion-lined exercise studio, playing bonding games with a mixed-sex group ranging from middle-aged men in chinos to twentysomething women in tracksuits. We stroll about clicking our fingers and humming along to ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. We crash into each other while making noises like a reversing lorry. It’s a bit like a really fun kids’ party. Except that most kids’ parties don’t involve instructions to ‘place your sexual energy to one side’. Well, not the classy ones anyway.
Normally, I am all in favour of lady hugs. I’m okay when we’re asked to play a game called ‘Yes, No, Maybe, Please’, where our boundaries are tested by our various body parts being caressed until we offer one of the responses in the game’s title. Assuming I’ll have a female partner, I decide I can just about deal with the uncomfortableness of us needing to maintain lingering, intimate eye contact throughout. But then I’m teamed up with a matronly type who’s the spitting image of my detention happy A-level history teacher. And it’s all I can do to stop my testicles making a dash for the safety of my body. ‘Yes,’ I stammer, as she touches my arm. ‘Maybe,’ I squeak as she kneads my shoulder. Then her pinkies clutch at my cheek. ‘NO!’ Whatever next?
So it’s a relief when we’re instructed to stand and pace the room. But after 30 seconds, we’re told to lie down where we are and start freestyle cuddling. I end up in a corner, behind a geeky looking middle-aged man and woman. The woman beckons. Then she notices the man and sighs, ‘Ooooooh… hello YOU!’ As I prepare to lie behind her, the man scoops her up and she starts to hum like a faulty nuclear reactor. ‘MmmMMMMMM, you’re making me feel NICE,’ she sighs. Their eyes are locked in a gaze so heated that I half expect their specs to drip molten glass droplets. I freak out and move on.
As I sit up, one person has noticed my uneasiness: a friendly European guy I’d chatted to earlier. He unfolds his arms from the woman he’s cuddling and waves me over. I’m so grateful for his approachability that I’m not even hesitatant about being hugged by a man. I curl into a three-person spoonathon with the woman he’s embracing and begin to have my shoulders rubbed down by manly digits. We lie there for about 15 minutes, while my ears are filled with the contented groans of so many spooning men and women it’s like a kittens purring into a megaphone. And it’s really, really relaxing.
As I leave, I feel a weird euphoria that makes me wonder if someone spiked my half-time tea with low-grade MDMA. ‘The best thing about cuddling,’ the organisers had told us throughout, ‘is that it releases “the love hormone” oxytocin, which makes you feel amazing.’ Turns out they were right. I just hadn’t realised I’d be getting my love hormones from a man.
Suggest next week’s task at @alexiduggins.