I Founded One Of Bristol’s Most Loved Munches, Here’s Why I Gave It Up

A group of friends raise their pints of beer to one another. There are blurred people smiling in the background.

The BDSM scene is a scary place when you’re new.

It was a cool autumnal evening in October 2006. As I sat in the wood-panelled nook of the harbourside pub, I knew that I had only one thing in common with the other people in attendance: we all had a shared interest in BDSM.

At a first glance, there was nothing about us that screamed of our kinky disposition, and that is because a BDSM munch is actually designed to be that way. Unlike a play party, a munch is a chance to meet other kinky people, in a completely vanilla setting and while wearing completely vanilla clothing. Kinky people understand how intimidating attending your first party can be, and so a munch is a chance to get to know everyone before you attend a party. That way, by the time you meet everyone in their finest leather and latex, you’ll at least be on friendly terms!

But making friends with other people is a bit difficult when everyone is at least twice as old as you, already well versed to one another and have already formed their little cliques and bubbles – where do you even fit in?

I didn’t, so I just sat there, too afraid to interact.

Attending SWAMP was a very different affair. SWAMP, or the South West Alternative Market & Party to give it its proper name, would become my new kinky home. Held in an area already renown for its thriving LGBTQ+ community, we would make our way down the stone steps onto Frogmore Street and converge at the venue on the second Sunday of every month. I made friends very quickly and became a part of what felt more like a family with Mistress Anita, the House Mistress, becoming more like an aunt to me. Any time something wrong happened to me, Mistress Anita would have stern words.

Over time, I met other young people in the locale who were interested in attending SWAMP, but many of them were too afraid to attend. What was it like? Would they have to submit? What if someone told them to submit? There were so many questions!

At first, I started by operating a free ‘meet & greet’ service. The SWAMP team did this too, but I designated myself solely towards younger people. My goal was to develop empathy and relatability with them, to understand them and to show them – using my own fairly recent experiences – that attending a BDSM party was really nothing to be afraid of. We’d hang out, get lunch, walk through Bristol and do a bit of shopping together and then, and only if they still wanted to, we might take their first steps into the BDSM scene. I’d be there, they could hang around me, I’d introduce them to people and help them get settled. It felt good to do for other young people what the SWAMP team had done for me.

But over time, I was operating two or three meets in a month. I’d have more people want to meet with me than I could realistically meet with in one afternoon, so then I had another idea: why don’t I set up a munch?

I’ll hold my hands up here and admit it, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing! All I knew was that I wanted somewhere where young people over eighteen and with an interest in BDSM could meet and make friends, but how old was too old for our group? How old was the point at which they maybe could be adult enough to attend the main Bristol munch and not hang out with a bunch of young people instead? Thirty-five I decided, thirty-five would be our limit.

Now we just needed a name.

I toyed with it for a while, trying to come up with something clever and witty, but nothing ever came to me. I needed something that described us, that told you what we were without ever saying too much. Time and time again I came up blank.

So I settled with SWUT munch – the South West Under Thirty-five munch.

Next, we needed a meeting place and a mascot.

Picking the meeting place was easy – The Bay Horse is centrally based in Bristol, quite literally just down the road from the bus station and with several other buses passing nearby. The food was good, the atmosphere great, the staff always smiling and friendly. We were regulars there anyway, so what if we rocked up once a month with a few extra “friends”?

Next, a mascot.

I’m not quite sure what possessed me, but I decided that a charity shop would be the best place to find the mascot for my new kinky gathering. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for, but that was when I saw him right there in the basket. With a little black bandana to make him stand out, I knew that he’d be perfect.

Meet Butch 🙂

A cuddly bulldog doft toy with a black bandana
Butch, the SWUT munch mascot . There is a coffee cup on his bandana 🙂

At first, the munch had a gathering of not more than about six people. Some were regulars, and that was quite an enthralling feeling because it meant that I was doing something right. More and more new faces started to turn up, the munch grew and with each passing month, I realised that the munch was becoming more and more successful. Today, I’m amazed and pleased to say that this lively munch has more than 2,000 attendees.

So what happened?

Right Idea, Wrong Time

Unfortunately, in 2007 my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and by December 2009, her condition had deteriorated to the point that she needed near constant care. For whatever reason, my grandmother developed an aversion to men that weren’t my grandfather, meaning that only my mother and I could really engage with her and care for her. I was required to help with dinner times, bath times, doing jigsaw puzzles and daily activities. Sometimes I’d have to cancel the munch, either because I was needed to care for Nan or because I was quite simply burned out. The sometimes short notices caused a lot of frustration and tension with some of the regulars, who weren’t quite so empathetic towards my situation.

I Was The Wrong Person Anyway

It turns out that in life, there aren’t just leaders and followers, there are different types of leader. There are extroverts and introverts, and to successfully lead a munch, you need to be a pretty extroverted person. I’m not that person, I’m also quite conflict-avoidant which meant that I usually pooh-poohed it away when some of our rules got broken. Matt too is a quieter person, so if I wasn’t going to lay down the law, then neither would he. It meant that people wore inappropriate clothing or bought inappropriate magazines to our event, it meant people behaved in ways that were inappropriate for the venue and at one point, it even meant that one person stole an item from the pub. I’m ashamed to say that we let it happen because we were too afraid to confront the behaviour in case it meant losing numbers.

The Munch Is Now Run By People Who ARE Right For The Role

Look, I make no qualms about the fact that had I continued to run the munch, it probably wouldn’t have been the success that it is today. I take pride in having given Bristol (and potentially the south west at large) something that many young people will hopefully benefit from for many, many more years to come. I was meant to be the person who got the ball rolling, but I was not meant to be the person who runs the show. Today, the munch operates under a new name and it is run by a group of wonderful, lively and inclusive people, and I take my hat off to them for doing what they do. For so long as the munch remains inclusive to all young kinky people then I have absolutely no issues with things the way they are. There really are different types of leaders, and perhaps I was supposed to go on now to lead and inspire people of all ages online, rather than focus on helping young people over beer and a pizza. As I’ve aged, it seems that my journey has aged with me.

Butch still lives with me, he’s still here, living his best life. In fact, as I ironed out Butch’s bandana ahead of his photo little shoot, Matt had just one thing to say:

“Perhaps now Butch can become the new mascot for your blog?”

2 thoughts on “I Founded One Of Bristol’s Most Loved Munches, Here’s Why I Gave It Up

  1. Whoa, that’s an interesting story right there. I’ve always been interested in real experiences from the community, mostly because I’ve never been able to see any such thing in real life here in Malaysia. I wonder how the community does things here.

    Thanks for opening my eyes to so many things I didn’t know about, and for even sharing your mascot, lol.

    I totally get not being able to lead when you’re conflict-averse. It’s almost as if leading IS conflict settling most times. But what I’ve found in growing that skillset is being stern with self (holding myself to high regard and following through), because the more I can be someone I respect, the easier it is for me to stick out my neck or stand up for myself.

    Don’t stop publishing these stories—or writing in general—Helen. I enjoy your work!

    1. Stuart, a quick cursory Google search would suggest that it’s all very much a hidden thing, with private contacts for sex workers, rather than BDSM clubs. I could be wrong of course and there may be clubs in existence, but they do certainly seem harder to find.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and meeting Butch. Thank you for reading me!

      You are completely right of course, but I often find that I kind of sit on the fence for a while and try and decide between acting too late, and potentially acting too soon. Sometimes it seems we let people – almost quite literally sometimes – come close to committing murder, and other times it seems as though we jump down their throats too soon and potentially ruin a good thing. How do you decide then? Sometimes we don’t seem to be able to find a clear marker. Also, some young people these days are really bloody smart with their words. My brother is only two years younger than me, but he’ll hit you with a very intellectual argument that’ll leave you scrambling for answers and then say that he’s won. Sometimes, you don’t want to get into a heated debate about why the rules are the way they are and why they should listen, you just want whatever is easier if it saves you from having to go swallow a Panadol. You understand where I’m going with this, yes?

      Thank you Stuart, I’m glad that you enjoy my writing, and again, thank you for reading me!

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