“We're going to a restaurant tonight,” we told our friends.
“That's nice,” they replied.
“We'll be naked there as well,” we said
“Naked, and it's January? You must be completely mad!'
Little did they know that we were actually going to a lunatic asylum. Well that's what it was originally called when it opened in 1860 but its name was quickly changed to the more acceptable Fairfield Psychiatric Hospital. This was the latest destination in Hertfordshire found by Robert and Pauline for their Eastern Region diners group. The hospital with its amazing architecture (Gothic Romantic style) was huge with the longest corridor in the UK at half a mile. In the past they treated shell-shocked World War One veterans and used electric and aversion therapy to 'cure' gay and cross dressing patients and this went on up to the early 1980s! It is now closed and part of the Bannatyne Health Spas empire and we were dining in The Orchard restaurant.
The January temperature outside wasn't a problem as it was baking inside. The manager wanted to be absolutely sure we were warm enough. What a change that is from some events we have been to with BN. I remember too well the Bier Keller in Blackpool that was possibly colder inside than out in February! Some organisations just don't think it through when taking a naturist booking. The Orchard restaurant was furnished in a clean modern style and Robert and Pauline had long ago sold all seats. Indeed, they have already sold out for the next event in March!
It was good to be able to socialise with those on other tables both before and after the meal. There was a cheerful atmosphere and it was interesting to find many naturists there who were in their 'first year' and some were on their first naturist event as opposed to being on a beach. Richard was one of these newcomers and I asked him if anything surprised him at his first event. He said, “Normally I wouldn’t go into a pub and start talking as I feel uncomfortable. What surprised me here was that once you are stripped bare it’s much easier to talk and socialise than in a clothed environment. I felt very welcome, had a very enjoyable time with lovely food and great company”
Everyone we spoke to seemed very positive including the manager. She told me that her grandmother had told her recently that she was a naturist, much to her amusement. One of the bar staff was also a regular naturist beach user. The manager was keen for us to visit again and told us they could put on a disco as well in the future. Though she had been very cynical in the past about the paranormal she is now convinced that the building is haunted. I checked this out online and sure enough the buildings have quite a ghostly reputation! One of the first stories I came across was of a young nurse being shown the padded cells when the light started going on and off. As we left the restaurant I looked up at an adjoining building and there was a light going on and off.... but I don't believe in ghosts!!
The naked dining movement has really taken off now with events in the last year in Bristol, Hertfordshire, Oxford, Staffordshire, Exeter and Kent. Others are in the pipeline and there is every sign that it will continue to grow. With our generally less than friendly climate it's great that we are being creative in our thinking in BN and the naturist world coming up with these alternatives to sitting on a beach. I think it's also great that this movement is growing through grassroots activities from people like Robert and Pauline. Every time we use a new venue we show staff there what a normal bunch we are and that helps spread the news that a naturist booking is a good one.