News Archive: Year Four

 

News Archives: view stories from Year One of the Club (October 2006 to September 2007), Year Two (October 2007 to September 2008), Year Three (October 2008 to September 2009), Year Four (October 2009 to September 2010), Year Five (October 2010 to September 2011), Year Six (October 2011 to September 2012), Year Seven (October 2012 to September 2013), Year Eight (October 2013 to September 2014) and Year Nine (October 2014 to September 2015)

 

To see many splendid daguerreotypes documenting the Club’s antics, click here.


 

2nd October 2010

 

Wartime Poignance Moves Club Filmgoers

Our Film Night on 30th September was a double bill focusing on the experience of new recruits in the Second World War. One was The New Lot, an unusual official training film—directed by Carol Reid, written by Peter Ustinov and starring Ustinov, John Laurie, Raymond Huntley plus cameos from Ian Fleming, Eric Ambler, Robert Donat and Bernard Lee. The film focuses on the sense of resentment many of the recruits feel at the disruption to their lives, their fears and apprehensions, and the way they ultimately pull together as a fighting unit. We never actually see them engage—only in a exercise against the Home Guard—but by the end of their training they feel seasoned enough to scoff at a romanticised war flick in the cinema. The film was so popular it was later remade as the 1944 feature The Way Ahead starring David Niven. Yet The New Lot was actually thought to be lost until a print turned up in the Indian Army archives.

            By contrast Overlord followed its protagonists all the way to the D-Day landings, with unflinchingly tragic consequences. The film was made much later, in 1975, but mixes period footage with new sequences shot using vintage cameras. It’s a strange blend of sometimes highly stylised personal sequences and raw battle footage that’s mesmerising because you know it’s real. By the end there was more than one moistened eye in the room. Many thanks to Mr Sean Longden for curating the evening.

 

15th September 2010

 

Dubious Tie Offers Cushioned Head Support

A company has released a tie that can be inflated to turn it into a pillow. It is woven from a mixture of silk and some ghastly modern “microfibre” and contains a PVC bladder that can be blown up through a mouthpiece. It can allegedly support a bonce of up to 25 pounds (immediately raising the old problem of how exactly one weighs one’s head). Tragically their reasoning is that “most functions that require a necktie deserve to be slept through”, which is obviously heresy. The Pillow Tie will be available from Firebox.com and Findmeagift.co.uk from October.


 

Buckinghamshire Man Claims Record For Fastest Piece of Furniture

Eccentric inventor Perry Watkins hopes his record will be accepted by Guinness World Records for the world’s fastest piece of furniture, having driven a motorised Queen Anne dining table laid for silver service at 130mph. The vehicle, christened Fast Food, took a year to complete and is built around a Reliant Scimitar boosted by a nitrous oxide kit—making for anything but a comfy ride. “It was actually worse than I thought it would be,” said Watkins. “It felt like 200mph.” (I’m not sure I know what 200mph on a table feels like, but if anyone does it’s doubtless Mr Watkins.) He seizes the record from a sofa that hit 92mph in 2007.

            Mr Watkins has a history of extreme vehicles, as well as bad puns. He is also the creator of the Flatmobile, a rocket-powered car that is just 19 inches high, and Windup, officially the world’s smallest car, a road legal partnering of a Postman Pat coin-operated children’s ride with a quad bike engine. He has also built a nine-foot motorised Dalek (which is also road legal).

 

8th September 2010

 

Club Celebrates the Life of a Wastrel Prankster

I like a joke as much as a the next man—unless the next man is Horace de Vere Cole, who took practical joking to a national level when his most famous gag infuriated not only the Royal Navy but even the King. Cole was the subject for our guest speaker at the September meeting, Mr Martyn Downer, who has recently written a book on Cole’s life. Born into a wealthy family at the end of the 19th century, Cole’s desire was for a military career but a serious wound in the Boer War ruled this out. So he did the next best thing and went to Cambridge, where he fell in with a playful crowd who evidently brought out the mischievous side of his nature. Their most infamous prank there was to pass themselves off as The Sultan of Zanzibar and retinue, nipping into London then travelling back on the train in costume to be welcomed by the Mayor of Cambridge who gave them a tour of their own university. They got away with it too—but this was clearly not enough for Cole, who immediately blabbed to the press, then basked in the publicity, subsequently decking out his rooms like a sultan’s palace.

            But the most audacious hoax Cole perpetrated was in 1910 when he and his chums passed themselves off as Abyssinian princes (despite the fact that one of them was a woman—Virgina Woolf) and demanded a tour of HMS Dreadnought, the flagship of the Royal Navy. This was done partly to annoy William Fisher, an irritating cousin of two of Cole’s friends, and executive officer aboard the ship. They got away with it too, despite their fake facial hair beginning to slip as the day went on and the fact that they were speaking a made-up language (with Cole this time playing the role of Foreign Office minder; he’s the one in the top hat in the slide you can see above)—through an absurd stroke of luck the one officer on the ship who could actually speak the Abyssinian language was absent that day. But, true to form, Cole immediately told the press again and the hoaxers were lauded and reviled nationally in equal measure. Fisher himself led a posse into London that succeeded in horsewhipping one of the party. While Cole himself escaped with an extremely odd token gesture of satisfaction (involving the two parties taking it in turns to lean over a dustbin and be tapped on the backside six times by the other—psychologists would have a field day), his subsequent career, while filled with further hoaxes, was also one of slow decline and he died in obscure poverty. Yet there were postcards and even a music hall song devoted to his finest hour of mischief, and not many of us can say that.

            My thanks to Mr Downer and his publishers Black Spring. To find out more about Cole’s extraordinary life, you can purchase the book, The Sultan of Zanzibar directly from the Black Spring website.

A quick birthday toast is arranged in honour of absent Member Annette Kippenham

 

1st September 2010

 

The Far Pavilions Meet the Salon d’Été for the Party of the Century

We usually dream up a theme for our biannual parties then try and find a vaguely appropriate venue, but this time, for our event on 21st August, the venue came first—Salon d’Été, the nightclub set up in the spring by Member Ed Saperia, employing other Members Willow Tomkins and Will Sprunt—and the theme of colonial decadence naturally followed.

The Salon has a very central London location, along one side of Selfridges, a stone’s throw from Bond Street tube. And once you get past the dark, nameless frontage you suddenly find yourself in an unexpected tropical paradise. The room used to be a church, given away by the tall, distinctive windows at the front. The DJ booth used to be the organ loft. The high vaulted ceiling is actually glazed and, with this in mind, Ed and his team filled the place with tall palm trees, hanging baskets of ivy and a living canopy of vines overhead. A machine constantly squirts out mist, partly for the benefit of the plants but also because it creates cool lighting effects. There is even one huge spotlight (dubbed the “sun”, I noted on the lighting control computer screen) that shines through the mist and the vines in spectacular rays. From its inception the idea of the Salon was to create an old-fashioned supper club to attract a sophisticated crowd with a vintage dress sense—in fact Luke, another of the men behind the Salon, told me, as he surveyed our party, that this was precisely how they had always envisioned the venue working.

Entertainment came not only from our own Fruity Hatfield-Peverel, DJing from his eyrie above the throng, but from the wonderful Twin and Tonic who, despite missing one half of the Holland twins who front the band, did a sterling job—as you can see by the pictures of manic dancing (top prize for which must go to Sean Rillo Raczka, who was like a Duracell bunny in his urge not only to unleash his happy feet but to get everyone else up on theirs too. Thanks also to those who held Sean upright and retrieved him when he crashed headlong through the doors of the tiny office space, scaring the life out of the waitress within.)

Our balloon shaving contest was won by a lady named Elena, who managed to get all the foam off the balloon without bursting it in 55 seconds flat. It was rather a messy game, I admit. The poppadom clay pigeon shoot was a big success—frankly you lot just like shooting things, as far as I can tell. I’d fried up the poppadoms in the afternoon and they were frankly a bit soggy by the time we came to open fire with the famed NSC foam-dart gun, so it wasn’t quite as explosive as I’d hoped; but one marksman did manage to punch a hole right through his target. Three contestants scored two hits out of two darts, and in the play-off the winner was Max Holloway, who plays saxophone in Twin and Tonic.

I’d like to thank SW4 gin, whose sponsorship enabled us to offer modestly priced G&Ts, Wilson’s of Sharrow, who supplied the complimentary Snuff Bar, La Maison Fontaine absinthe, who had a mobile absinthe fountain and were offering free samples, and the kind suppliers of our raffle prizes: Pachacuti, suppliers of fine Fair Trade Panama hats, Spencers Trousers, purveyors of quality made-to-measure trousers, Huality Tailoring, who offered a bespoke shirt, Murdock of London, who gave two wet shave vouchers and also Messrs Sean Longden and James Laurie for donating books. In fact by midnight the bar manager announced that we’d drunk all 12 bottles supplied by SW4 plus the five bottles that the venue had in stock. We also drank them out of beer and Pimms. Obviously the NSC encourages responsible drinking, but one can’t help feeling a twinge or pride.

We were also lucky enough to have a mobile photo studio set up to take portraits of guests in their finery. You can see the results (and purchase prints) from Café Photo’s website. Members can find many more photos in the full write up in the September Newsletter.

I think this party will go down in NSC history, not just because many dubbed it the best one yet, but also because it can’t happen again—the venue closed down a fortnight later. I’m told that Selfridges have bought the whole block to develop it. Mind you, there was always a suggestion that the Salon was a “pop-up” club, there just for the summer (there’s a clue in the name). In any case, it was a noble venture and I sincerely hope the owners bring the same idea alive somewhere else.

 

Hirsuit Gentlemen Retain the Tashes Trophy

Earlier in the same day as the Far Pavilions party (see above) was The Tashes, our annual cricket match between those with facial hair and those without. It was pure coincidence that the two ended up on the same day—the redoubtable Watermere is responsible for cricket matters—but it suited many out-of-town Members rather well, being able to make a real weekend of it. On this occasion it initially looked as if rain would stop play, and indeed lunch was eaten with teeth somewhat gritted against precipitation, but the match went ahead. For many years the yearly grudge match was dominated by the Clean-Shaver Players, but last year the trophy went to their rivals, the Hirsuit Gentlemen—and in 2010 they managed to hold on to it. Gone are the days when the winning team received an enormous cheese courtesy of Hallamshire-Smythe (then employed by the cheese industry) but the trophy of course means far more than dairy wealth ever could. Full match report in the September Newsletter.

Despite the lowering clouds (top photo) some cricket did get played

 

10th August 2010

 

The Psychopathology of Fancy Dress Explained

August’s get-together was arguably one for the ladies, focusing as it did on (in the speaker’s own words) “lovely ladies in pretty dresses”. In fact Evadne Raccat is not doing herself justice, as the oration was an interesting analysis of a moment in the social history of fashion. The talk looked at a ball held by the Duchess of Devonshire at her house on London’s Piccadilly in 1897 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The photographer James Lafayette set up a studio in a tent in the garden to photograph guests meaning there are photographic records of the costumes, and it is on these that Evadne based her talk. While men were strictly limited to historically accurate outfits (the dress code was simply pre-1815) the ladies were allowed far more latitude to be either historical or merely contemporary with an historical nod, to show off wealth or be conservative, or to be daring under the banner of historicity. The way the different women responded tells us much about how they were choosing to present themselves within the code of Victorian society. Many thanks to Evadne. NSC Members can read a full essay version of the talk in the September edition of the New Sheridan Club Newsletter.

 

29th July 2010

 

Booze Probed

The New Sheridan Institute for Alcoholic Investigation has been busy this month. On Monday 26th July, our Drinks Correspondent Mr Bridgman-Smith (see his exhaustive Martini monograph in our Essays section) and I stepped boldly into the subterranean grotto that is Purl, a rather Dickensian-style bar in Marylebone, London. They take the Victorian thing far enough to plan to give their establishment the full Dickensian Christmas makeover this winter, and are even planning to make up their own purl—which was a Victorian drink of mulled ale flavoured with bitters and spiked with brandy, whisky or gin, and sometimes with sweetened milk added. However, the drinks list by and large couldn’t be more contemporary, specialising in what has been called molecular mixology (after “molecular gastronomy” the roots-up science-based approach of chefs like Heston Blumenthal and the man behind the movement Harry McGee). The idea is to rethink from first principles how the flavours (or indeed the whole experience) of a drink are delivered to the recipient.

We had time to inspect two examples. Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper is a blend of rum, cola reduction and orange bitters: sounds normal enough, but the blend is served in a flask that has had smoke pumped into it (see picture) and then served to you in a bucket of dry ice. The dry ice is just for Gothic effect but the smokiness has a distinct impact on the flavour, a flavour the intensity of which I imagine you can control by how long you leave the flask infusing before you uncork it.

The other drink we tried was their Champagne and Caviar: not real caviar (fish in cocktails is probably a no-no) but small pellets of mango and pine purée mixed with sodium alginate (extracted from brown algae). A syringe is used to deliver drops of this into a glass of calcium carbonate, which causes a gel skin to form on the beads of purée. On the tongue this does indeed have the consistency of salmon roe and bursts in the same sort of way.

The crazy guys from Purl also top drinks with flavoured foam and use liquid nitrogen to make the coldest martini in the universe. Drinks are around £7–9 and the venue is at 50/54 Blandford Street, London W1U.

 

Sherry Surveyed

Then on Wednesday 28th July the Club sank to new lows of depravity when five Members attended a sherry tasting at Gordon’s Wine Bar by Charing Cross station in London, an event that kicked off at 10am. David Hollander, Anton Krause, the Ultan of Arbracchan, Parson Woodforde and myself all somehow arranged to be there and endured seven sherries, each with an accompanying tapas course before finally staggering away at 4.30pm (well, I did—some of my fellow clubmen decided to cleanse their palates with some more booze…).

Sherry still suffers a bit of an image problem, not just its association with aged aunts gripping a glass of QC at Christmas, but also the assumption that it is an aperitif and nothing else. A part of the mission is to persuade people that sherry is good with food.

For me the greatest revelation was the pairing of Manzanilla and oysters, the very dry, fresh, acidic, sea-salt tang of the sherry balancing perfectly with the maritime ozone rush of the shellfish. White anchovies in vinegar were also served with the Manzanilla, and again the sherry cut right through. Manzanilla, like the pale dry fino that followed, is created by allowing a natural “flor”, a cap of yeast, to form on the surface of the wine in the barrels. This keeps it from the air and, along with the practice of keeping the liquid topped up as it evaporates, creates a pale, light, fresh wine. With the progressively darker and more intense sherries, a process of oxidation takes place (in time the protective flor naturally breaks down, allowing the air in), adding what seemed to me an aromatic and astringent flavour reminiscent of varnished wood (something you would recognise if you are a fan of sherry-cask-aged malt whisky). The earlier sherries we were given were made exclusively from the Palomino grape, but some of the later ones also had some Pedro Ximenez in the mix, right up to the sweet, sticky, almost tar-black Pedro Ximenez La Cilla which was served with manchego cheese and chocolate-dipped loops of deep-fried dough. More pictures here.

The event was highly informative and extremely good value. I gather that the Sherry Insitute is keen to subsidise such events, especially promoting sherry as a food wine, so if you would be keen to attend something similar email me so I can gauge the hunger for it.

 

Membership Passes 300

A hearty huzzah goes out to Miss Faye Duffy who recently became our 300th active Member. (In fact, more people that that have joined, but we do lose a few each year to impecuniosity, fleeing the country or the inexplicably lure of the training shoe. And in case you’re one of the last 25 or so whose Membership numbers are over 300—or indeed Mr Mark Gidman, the holder of card no. 300—note that over the years some of the numbers have been unassigned, most likely because a card was made up with a certain number but spoiled or damaged and not used.)

            Here’s looking forward to the next 300.

 

The Newest Member?

The Committee would like to congratulate Grace and Harry Iggulden on the arrival of Gwendolyn Matilda. We are not sure if this means she automatically inherits NSC Membership, like British Citizenship. I think some time poring over dusty ledgers is called for. (As if it weren’t always…)

 

NSC Boffins Earn Their Stripes

There have been a number of academic gongs received among our number recently. Miss Minna has recently acquired the letters MSC after her name, in the field of librarianship. Meanwhile Compton-Bassett was handed a well-deserved BA in War Studies from the University of Kent and Oliver Lane has been awarded a BA, also in War Studies, by Wolverhampton University—and has been accepted by King’s College, London, to embark on a Master’s. What a bunch of clever clogs, eh?

 

Mrs Downer Wins Tea

You will recall that in July’s Newsletter we ran a competition to win tea for two at the National Liberal Club, kindly offered by food writer Ronald Porter, who believes the NLC offers the best value tea in town. I am pleased to announce that the winner was Mrs Rachel Downer.

 

23rd July 2010

 

Rare Films Delight and Mystify Members and Guests

Thursday 22nd July saw our second film night in three weeks, this time a reprise of Cally Callomon’s earlier bill of documentaries, repeated so that some friends of his own could see it. The theme was the eccentric, the outsider. One was a Yorkshire TV film from 1982 concerning a travelling knife-grinder, probably one of the last in the country, After earlier exploits in his life travelling the world, working in a South American silver mine, as you do, he returned to Blighty but continued to travel, at first doing farm work and then learning the trade of knife-grinding. He travels on a bicycle with a tent, camping for the night in all weathers, cooking on a fire and reading by candlelight. His bike converts into a grinding wheel (the vehicle is “heavy but well balanced” the narrator tells us) and with the money he earns he buys tea, tobacco and meat—it’s true we never see him eat vegetables and he takes about a tablespoon of sugar in his tea, and yet he is hale and hearty at 70. He does like a drink and nips to the pub most lunchtimes, though again the narrator insists he does not drink to excess. He pays no taxes but never troubles the state, never sees a doctor. The police “know him”, so it’s all right. He wouldn’t have it any other way, considering himself a millionaire because he has all he wants. Cally told us that when he showed the film at an outdoor festival once, he realised after a while that one woman in the audience was weeping: she revealed that as a girl she remembered the same man passing through her village every year. Then one day he stopped turning up and, as she grew older, she began to think that she had imagined him altogether. The film was vivid reminder that life really had been like that. (Cally says he thinks that one day the man just dropped dead: undoubtedly how he would have wanted to go.)

The second film, made in the 1970s, was altogether more sinister in tone and looked at an eccentric family living a secluded life on a patch of woodland in greater London somewhere. The father and his two sons are all knowledgeable about machines, seemingly scratching a living repairing engines and the like. One son prefers steam power (believing that it will come back because Britain has reserves of coal but not of oil; he well be proved right). The father claims to be building a boat, and they certainly have a good supply of machining and metal-working equipment in their clearing. (It makes you realise that you assume someone living outside of society must be getting back to nature, so all this machinery and blacksmithing comes as a surprise, though it does lend a hellish flavour to the sinster encampment. The father does hunt for game birds, but he uses a shotgun rather than anything bucolic like snares.) There are two daughters also, who seem to keep house. There are hints of incest and one daughter certainly dreams of escape; in one scene she is at the wheel of a burned-out bus, fantasising about driving away. They have a battered piano and a pipe organ and father and at least one daughter can play. Every family member seems full of opinions and theories, many of them barking mad. We wonder what happened to the mother.

There was a good turn-out for the event of about 24 people: about as may as the room can comfortably hold. Cally introduced the programme with his thoughts on “the English media’s need for our ‘eccentrics’ to be pre-packaged” and explained that these films actually showed why outsiders really were likely to be outside: because more often than not they are disturbing rather than loveable. Many thanks to him for a fascinating show and one we are unlikely to see anywhere else.


21st July 2010

 

Sun Gods Smile on Bronzed Olympians

Those who have been with the Chap Olympics (or the Chap Olympiad as it seems to be these days) will know that it has always changed from year to year. From the beginnings as a ramshackle guerrilla gathering in Regent’s Park, to the Hendrick’s-powered sponsored affairs in Bedford Square (some would say a little too corporate), to the, erm, ramshackle guerrilla gathering on Hampstead Heath (with the highly mystifying directions) to the current return to Bedford Square Gardens under the Bourne and Hollingsworth banner, the syle and emphasis has shifted even as the throng grows ever larger. However, one thing has remained consistent: it always rains.

But the latest celebration of sporting endeavour, on Saturday 17th July, broke fiercely with tradition—the weather was delightful. Spectators lounged, Pimms was quaffed, burgers sizzled on the smoky grill, all in the golden dappled light of a perfect summer’s afternoon.

I sensed a few more tweaks from last year. There seemed to be more tables and chairs laid on and, although I was asked to open my bag Text Box: ORDER OF THE DAY

Opening ceremony—the passing of the Olympic Pipe among the Olympians
The Martini Knock-Out Relay Teams concoct a Martini cocktail by relay, with one person adding the ice, another the vermouth, another the gin, and so on. The winner is judged purely on the quality of the finished beverage.
Cucumber Sandwich Discus Like normal discus, except the projectile is a cucumber sandwich on a plate. Contestants are judged not on how far they lob the victuals but on how close the sandwich is to the plate at the end.
Umbrella Jousting Two opponents bicycle towards each other and attempt to unseat one another with umbrellas for lances. They have only stiffened newspapers as shields.
Tug of Hair Like Tug of War, but using Atter's moustache instead of a rope. (It's not really his moustache—it's a good 30 or 40 feet long.)
Interval for tiffin, dancing and comedian Paul Foot
Hop, Skip and G&T Competitors execute a triple-jump while carrying a gin and tonic. They are judged not by how far they travel but by how little of the drink they have spilled.
The Pipeathlon Contestants first walk ten yards, then cycle ten yards, then cover ten yards without their feet touching the ground (plenty of scope for inventiveness here)—all the while keeping a pipe alight.
Three-Trousered Limbo It doesn't really involve three pairs of trousers, but specially made three-legged pairs. Each couple must approach the bar in their tandem trews, then limbo underneath.
Bounders Gents approach ladies and whisper whatever wish: the object of the exercise is to be the first to get slapped.
Steeplechase A piggy-back race over low obstacles. Those players in the role of steed are expected to wear a rubber animal head.
Award Ceremony followed by more dancing to live band
at the gate, I did not not see the mass confiscation of drink on the threshold that took place last year. (Of course, there were a large number of hipflasks and hollow canes being deployed, but this is only to be expected.)

In case you don’t know, the event consists of a series of silly games, intended to test the players’ style, panache, savoir faire and devious inventiveness. Athleticism is frowned upon while cheating is admired. The most striking development this time was the appearance of a stage, a raised platform upon which the games took place. I assume there had been complaints that it was hard to see what was going on in the past unless you were in the front rank of the mob that formed around the action. Now we had neat rows of seats along the ringside. Of course from a Health and Safety point of view it was an Accident Waiting to Happen: let’s get loads of drunk people, make them totter around on broken bicycles while hitting each other with umbrellas. On a raised platform. (At least they thought better of that pit filled with poisoned spiked around the edges…) The subject of spikes reminds me of the last event of the day, the steeplechase where contestants semi-blindfolded by rubber animal masks carried other contestants on their backs while trying to jump over picket fences that had been mostly arrange upside down so that their grounding spikes pointed upwards. What could possibly go wrong? Miraculously, as far as I know no one was hurt apart from a cut that Farhan sustained to his finger during the (at times quite vicious) umbrella jousting. But it did all make me wonder if Gustav had any kind of insurance in place… A full report with several hundred daguerreoptypes will appear in the August Newsletter. In the meantime, see the photo album.


 

8th July 2010

 

Good Fortune Smiles on July Club Night

The talk at our latest Club Night was perhaps particularly appropriate in the current economic climate, dealing as it did with How to Increase Luck in Our Lives, delivered by Eugenie Rhodes. (I think there were quite a few coves in the audience who had recently been relieved of gainful employment and may well have been asking themselves this very question.) When examining why it was that some people seem to have all the luck (Kirk Douglas, for instance, seemed forever to be making inexplicable decisions that turned out to save either his career or his life), Ms Rhodes did not seem to rule out genuine luckiness, in a cosmic sort of sense (this is someone who takes stockmarket tips from the faeries, don’t forget). However, the bulk of her discourse focused on how we can, in a way, make our own luck. As Helena Rubinstein once said, “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”

            Ms Rhodes went on to look at the roles played variously by preparation (Warren Buffet spends huge amounts of time absorbing information, even allegedly interviewing car park attendants in companies he’s thinking of investing in), persistence, (“The harder I work, the luckier I get,” Samuel Goldwyn once said), observation, boldness and readiness. There is also the matter of perspective—we may already by may be luckier than we realise, but perhaps tend to focus on the unfortunate rather than the fortunate in our lives: so you could become luckier at a stroke simply by looking at things in a different way. The discourse prompted much lively debate around the Club for the rest of the evening. Many thanks to Eugenie for her efforts.


 

3rd July 2010

 

Summer Party Date Announced

I am delighted to confirm that this year’s NSC summer party will take place on Saturday 21st August at the Salon d’Été, the club recently started by Members Ed Saperia and Willow Tomkins within the venerable L’Equipe Anglaise on Duke Street in central London. See the picture on the left. Oh yes. More details to follow.



Scion of Hallamshire-Smythe Dispatched to Belgium

The Scion of Hallamshire-Smythe, pipe-smoker, stalwart of The Tashes and all-round Good Egg, has had to flee the country, presumably hounded by creditors, furious husbands and/or the friends of someone he killed in a duel. A slave to the dairy industry, he used to be good for a wheel of cheese or two for a Tashes prize, but now peddles some sort of heavily processed yoghurt drink, I believe.

Anyway, he claims that his company, a kingpin in the global Military/Industrial/Dairy Complex, requires him to relocate with his family. We wish him the best of British luck in the daunting land of moules frĒtes, chocolate and insanely strong beer (hmm, doesn’t sound too bad, actually).

The good news is that this was all a delightful excuse for a knees-up, so a troupe headed down to the Dover Castle, the pub in Weymouth Mews that has become a traditional home for the Club, though I can’t remember why, exactly. On this occasion it proved highly inappropriate as it turned out to be shut (for “staff training”, we later discovered), so we decamped to the nearby Stag—nothing much to recommend it apart from its being open and not very far away, and indeed we found ourselves heckled incoherently by children from a first floor window as we sat outside.

Most bizarrely of all, as we relished our drinking-up time a car screeched to a halt where we sat and a dapper gent, unseasonably dressed in a buttoned-up overcoat, jumped out and asked if we wanted to buy any cigars. He had “just got back from Cuba” and “had loads in the trunk”. (“Trunk”? Was he deep in an American gangster fantasy? Did he have a shooter inside that overcoat? Was trying to muscle in on the Fitzrovia cigar racket? Had he mistaken me for Pedro “The Humidor” Diablo?) Personally I suspected that if the stoogies were legit then he wouldn’t be pandering them on the fly to bibulous fops after closing time. No, he’d be selling them on eBay like a respectable person. (Actually, I’m told you aren’t allowed to sell tobacco on eBay, so don’t try it, kids.) I particularly liked the fact that he described them as “starting at” £20 each—and going down from there.

I could see Chris Choy was tempted but in the end we all declined. We drained our glasses and H-S and his young (and in some cases rather long-haired) chums headed off to Ronnie Scotts for some of that modern “jass” music I’ve been hearing about. No good will come of it.


 

Film Night Celebrates Historic Duel: Satisfaction Received

Thursday 1st July saw the latest in our burgeoning new run of film screenings, when Mr Anton Krause presented The Duellists, the 1977 Ridley Scott adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s story about a pair of Napoleonic officers who fought a series of duels over some 30 years. The tale itself was based on a true story, and Scott was clearly at pains to represent the events and their milieu with as much historical accuracy as possible—indeed the realism of the duels themselves is doubtless what appeals most about the film to Mr Krause, an expert in such matters. The film was actually shot on a meagre budget, which meant that there were some minor costume inaccuracies to do with specific uniforms, but overall the standard was high.

Mr Krause took particular delight in explaining to us how the evolving fashions for duelling weapons were faithfully represented. The initial fights used the European shortsword, essentially “a needle on a stick”, as Mr Krause put it; with no cutting edge your strategy was simply to skewer your opponent, something that the insanely pointy weapon could do so surgically that duellists might walk away from a bout and not realise at first that they had been run through. A later duel fought with sabres, by contrast, was long, bloody and clearly exhausting, until the duellists could scarcely lift their heavy blades. Towards the end the duels turned to pistols, including a final fight where the combatants scurry round some woods firing at will like some team-building paintball excursion.

We had a good turn-out and once again I was pleased to see total strangers wandering in for the fun. We chatted afterwards and I sensed they might not actually join the NSC, but it was a good opportunity to spread the word.

 

22nd June 2010

 

Club Member To Pedal for a Good Cause

Cally Callomon (who, you may remember, curated a Club Film Night recently) is one half of a crack duo of velocipedists who will be cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats on a pair of 1885 penny farthings, to raise money to help families who are riven by the curse of addiction in their ranks. The pair will set off on 18th August this year, and expect to complete their journey in 18 days, stopping at B&Bs and vowing to sample at least one local cheese and one local beer every day. Mr Callomon will be taking his 50-inch fixed-wheel Grafton Silent Compound Roadster, while his companion Mr John Malseed (in truth a veteran of the Veteran Cycle Club) will be trusting his behind to a Victor Roadster 52-inch fixed-wheel Ordinary Bicycle—and will in fact be racing it the very day after the epic journey, in the three-hour Knutsford race that happens once a decade and attracts some 80 penny farthings.

For more about the challenge they are calling Toe-to-Head (“cycling the length of the UK on tuppence ha’penny”—which is true when you think about it), to pledge your sponsorship, and to track the pair’s progress, keep a weather eye on their website.


 

Matthew Howard Treads Lightly Through Eastern Civic Turmoil Hotspot

Fingers were crossed and buttocks clenched as Committee Member Matthew “The Chairman” Howard launched into his talk, The Big Siam: Oriental Excess in the East Indies, at our monthly meeting for June. Billed as the Second Lady Malvern Memorial Lecture—after a P. G. Wodehouse character who penned a book entitled India and the Indians after the briefest of stays there. The first Lady Malvern lecture was Mr Howard’s own The Manners And Customs of the Modern Egyptians (Revisited), extensively researched over two weeks in the Sinai Peninsula and two days in Cairo, and his latest pronouncements were just as well grounded, offering an analysis of the life and culture of the Thai people, based on a fortnight’s holiday.

Mr Howard’s experiences were presented as those of a naif innocently wandering into a den of iniquity (although he did have Mrs Howard there to keep him out of trouble)—from his assumption that the crowd of red-shirted demonstrators were Manchester United fans, to the cheerful acceptance that this Louis Vuitton luggage must be genuine, to his gentle curiosity over exactly what the young lady was going to do with that ping-pong ball… The chief lessons seem to be that luxury is available in the Orient but at a price that can be alarmingly high, in both pecuniary and moral terms.

It’s always touch-and-go as to whether our high-tech audio-visual system will actually work, but on this occasion it did us proud, which was just as well as the guts of the talk lay in the succession of visual punchlines—the snap of the plane that jetted him to Siam was an old BOAC kite; the contrast between the Thais’ heart-felt reverence for their king and the Sex Pistols’ reinterpretation of our own Queen’s image—for which reason, I am not really able to print an essay version of the talk this time, though you can see some of the slides well enough in the relevant set on the Club flickr page.

Many thanks to The Chairman for his hugely amusing oration.

 

22nd May 2010

 

Wild Romance of the Roaring Twenties Revived on the Silver Screen

Our Film Night this month was curated by the Earl of Essex and showcased the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. The film takes place one sweltering summer in 1920s upstate New York, following struggling bond salesman (yes, really) Nick Carraway as he takes a house for the season across the water from his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom. Nick’s neighbour turns out to be super-wealthy Jay Gatsby, who had a fling with Daisy when he was a poor army officer and has never got over her. Daisy scarcely seems happy with her philandering husband, but will she respond to Gatsby’s suggestion that she leave Tom for him? We never exactly find out where Gatsby’s new-found wealth comes from, though the suggestion is that he is a bootlegger; in any case the suggestion is that new money is never as good as old money—and a world better than no money (“rich girls don’t marry poor boys”, Daisy sums it up). And whatever factors are involved money vincit omnia.

            The main feature was preceded by two short documentaries, collections of period footage showing what the 1920s “flapper” scene was like. I have to say that without these, one might have wondered just how realistic the party scenes in The Great Gatsby really were—but there were bang on. On top of this, Essex gave us a spoken introduction, both to the concept and significance of the flapper and to the main film. Some of this knowledge will be reproduced in the June edition of the Club Newsetter.

            After the screening Essex gave a prize (in this case the DVD we had just watched) to the best 1920s outfit in the room. Which was won by my wife. All entirely above board, I assure you. Many thanks to Essex for organising the event.


 

Chocks Away As Club Remembers Messrs Rolls and Royce

The room seemed to fill with the heady scent of aero fuel and the roar of engines as Mr Rob Loveday took to the podium at our May monthly meeting to address us on The History of the Rolls Royce Aero Engine. In the case of the roar, this was real—Mr Loveday didn’t quite stretch to hauling an engine up the stairs and firing it up, but he did have some video footage of planes in action complete with sound. In fact this unabashed Boy’s Own tone characterised the whole address, which focused not on “camshafts and cubic capacities”, as he put it, as on tales of the derring do that was enabled by the engines in question.

We learned about the early successes with racing seaplanes of the 1930s, of the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic, by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown in a Vickers Vimy with Rolls Royce engines (16 hours and 12 minutes in an open cockpit so cramped that their shoulders were rammed together), and about the wartime exploits of the RR engines that powered such heroic craft as the Lancaster bomber—and, embarrassingly, some early German planes too, thanks to a trusting decision to lend the Krauts some of our engines to play with shortly before the war.

Owing to a cock-up by the management, who realised that they couldn’t let us use the room on the Wednesday because builders would be in, we had had to move the event a day forward at the last minute; as a result the turn out was lower than we have enjoyed in recent months. This was a great shame as Mr Loveday did a splendid job and delivered an exemplary lecture. Many thanks to him for his efforts.


 

5th May 2010

 

Compton-Bassett Achieves Majority

Habitués of our physical meetings—or indeed those who look at the pictures, or even those who happened to see the “Chap of the Month” in the inaugural issue of The Chapette, bound within the latest The Chap—will be familiar with Lord Finsbury Windermere Compton-Bassett.

Well he’s all growed up now. Last Saturday, 1st May, his 21st birthday was celebrated with a pub crawl around St James’s. I say “crawl”, but I’m fairly sure they had started at the Red Lion in Crown Passage, where we found them, and where they still were when we left just before closing time. But never mind: the true journey is the inner one. All together now, “For he’s a jolly good fellow..!” More pictures at the Club Flickr page.


Club Honoured by ‘Mad Men’

Followers of the television drama series Mad Men may be aware that at an official website there’s a rather engaging time-wasting application that lets you create your Mad Men avatar, yourself as you would be in the show’s social and historial milieu, rendered in a period graphic style. One of the options is the choice of tie. Bizarrely enough, of the handful of patterns on offer one seems to be the NSC Club tie. To see what we mean, have at look at the interpretations of Club Chairman Torquil Arbuthnot on the left. I think you’ll agree it’s uncannily lifelike.



 

Messing About In Boats

I don’t know who originally hatched the idea of a group trip to Oxford on the weekend closest to St George’s Day—it’s organised through the Chap Room rather than an official NSC thing—but we’ve been doing it for five years now. There isn’t so much flag waving these days (cross of St George in our case, Isle of Man flag in Rushen’s if he’s around), but one thing that has so far never changed is the weather—considering the deluge that’s characterised the May Day weekend, it’s amazing that the previous one was so sun-kissed. I think this proves categorically that God is an Englishman.

Anyway, we assembled, as tradition dictates, at the Turf Tavern, a splendid ancient alehouse tucked away down a maze of alleyways. After a few sharpeners we proceeded to the Magdelen Bridge Boathouse and stripped them of five of their punts. They never seem to bat an eyelid when a bunch of fops in tweed, blazers and boaters descend, but I guess this is Oxford.

The picnic site that we now regard as ancestral is by what’s known as the Rainbow Bridge. We go there, rather unromantically, mainly because it’s near to some public conveniences but it allows for an eventful trip, nosing our way through the winter’s fallen branches (a part that always reminds me of Apocalypse Now—particularly the way the native canoes filled with painted savages part to let us through as we approach the corpse-strewn lair of the now insane Senior Sub), and then there are the dreaded rollers. Fortunately my punt came equipped with Laurence, who took great delight in pulling the punt over pretty much single-handed.

Senior Sub himself is now resident in Oxford, which oddly means we see even less of him on the punt picnics. In the past he has managed to pop by, shadowing us by bicycle as we poled along. This time he was part of a play that had a matinée performance, so he wasn’t present at all, though by chance we did bump into him coming out of a cake shop. However, our escort was there again, in the form of Mr Henry Ball and chums. I’m hoping that, as the years pass, the crowd following us from the bank will grow until all of Oxford appears to watch balefully as we glide by.

The return journey is always more eventful on account of the exotically high Champagne levels in the blood. Laurence tragically slipped while punt-hauling and rolled around in goose poo for a bit. And every year someone falls in—this time Rupert stepped up to the plate (see the front cover).

After that it was back to the Turf for thousand more ales and then Oblivion… St George would been proud. More pictures on Flickr.


 

Chow Offer

Club Member Baron Christopher Patrick Wilhelm Solf II writes to offer Members an enticing deal:

“I am currently in the process of setting up my own restaurant in the Lake District,” he says. “To be precise, in Lazonby, four miles from the town of Penrith, in a public house that serves fantastic local real ale and a correctly fashioned Gin and Tonic. I wish to offer all members of the New Sheridan Club a 10% discount on food purchases upon the production of a membership card. I would appreciate it if you could allow members of the New Sheridan Club to know about this should they decide to holiday in the Lakes as it would also be a pleasure to partake in a pipeful with fellow members.”

So if you are expecting to find yourself in the vicinity of Lazonby, why not contact Baron Solf at cpwsolf [at] hotmail.com?


Handlebars and Herringbone

On 10th April London was graced by a debonair swarm of bicyclists. They assembled at the Rootstein Hopkins Parade Grounds at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, then pedalled decorously on a 12-mile route, stopping off along the way at Geo. F. Trumper for a Best Moustache prize, in Kensington Gardens for a spot of tea (accompanied by a string trio), H. Huntsman & Sons on Savile Row for the Best Outfits prizes, then heading to The Bathhouse in Bishopsgate for a party that included entertainment by our own Mr B. The Gentleman Rhymer, Top Shelf Jazz, DJ Tom Kerwin and a team of swing dancers.

This was The Tweed Run, “a metropolitan bicycle ride with a bit of style”, as the organisers call it. Last year was the first outing, but it’s clearly a slick operation (copyright “Tweed Run LLP”) which they already plan to repeat in Toronto and New York. The site even has a shop to peddle pedalling merchandise under the Tweed Run brand. Mind you they also raised £1,400 for Bike4Africa, a charity that takes second-hand bicycles to the continent for redistribution.

Club Member Fleur de Guerre went along as a correspondent for The Chap: at her blog you can read of her battle with irate taxi drivers and skirt-lifting winds and her triumphs of long-haul cycling and gin drinking. Note also that if you like this sort of thing there is also the Tweed Cycling Club who do it all year round.


 

9th April 2010

 

Club Discovers Its Place in History of Clubland

April’s meeting was a hearty and—for at least the third month in a row—encouragingly packed affair. It’s always good to see so many new faces, guests and first-timers. At this rate we may need to find a bigger venue.

Our guest speaker was Mr Seth Thevoz, delivering London Clubs 1870–1910, a version of a talk he previously unleashed at the Institute of Historical Research last summer. He told how the London club scene rose from the coffee houses, enabling often middle class men to have a taste of luxury in the form of the well-located and appointed town house that was their club’s premises. At the tradition’s heyday there were hundreds of clubs in London, the best known ones centred around Pall Mall and St James’s—“Clubland”.

Although the club houses were in some cases surprisingly small, the political importance of some clubs could be huge. In the days before actual membership of political parties, membership of clubs with particular political leanings was the nearest thing. But the connection with political developments goes further. At the outset just one in 15 men had the vote, and each new reform would bring a club for the newly enfranchised (who were often shunned by the established clubs, presumably as suspicious arrivistes).

In time there were clubs for women too and a surprising number of mixed clubs. The latter actually declined, partly because of Oscar Wilde’s downfall: when, after the scandal broke, it became known that both he and his wife were members of a mixed-sex club, it heavily dented the reputation of both that club and co-ed clubs in general. By the 1920s there were very few clubs admitting men and women; it wasn’t until the 1970s that mainstream clubs, heavily in decline and in need of any boost they could get, started to allow women in.

Seth treated us to various cartoons (Wife to club-loving husband: “What do you mean by coming home at his hour?” Husband: “Everywhere else was closed”) and anecdotes, such the one about F. E. Smith who used to stop off at the National Liberal Club every day on his way home from Parliament to use the lavatories. When finally accosted by a porter who asked him if he was actually a member of the club he replied, “Good God, you mean it’s a club as well?” This joke has been told substituting many clubs and sometimes a different central character, but was apparently a reference to the brown tiles in the Liberal Club.

Many thanks to Seth for his engaging and informative oration.

 

31st March 2010

 

Bells Ring Out For First Club Wedding

On Saturday 27th March a momentous event took place on the Isle of Man—Juan Waterson (aka Viscount Rushen) married Helena Perry (aka Lady Windermere). This is arguably the very first Club Wedding, in the sense that the bride and groom began courting through the NSC, both being Members when they met. Huzzah! A full report will be in the April Newsletter; in the meantime you can see a full dageuerreotype album at the Club Flickr page.


 

Time Traveller Saves Tweed Industry

From BBC website

Makers of the Harris Tweed have been overwhelmed by the level of interest in their “timeless” cloth by fans of the cult television show Doctor Who. Matt Smith, the 11th doctor, will wear a traditional Hebridean hand-woven jacket in the new series. Since the outfit was revealed in July, interest in the fabric has risen.

David Reid, a director of Harris Tweed Textile Manufacturing Ltd, said the choice had created a “massive opportunity” for the industry. Smith's jacket is a vintage 1960’s piece made of genuine Harris Tweed. The particular weave is now set to be revived and is likely to be marketed to Doctor Who fans after the new series, which begins in April.

Mr Reid said tweed manufacturing, the biggest private sector employer in the Hebrides, had been struggling in recent years. “We've been deliberately trying to market Harris Tweeds to younger people and in one fell swoop we've seen this. We’re absolutely delighted to be associated with Doctor Who in this way.” Mr Reid added that the “magical” cloth was ideal for the Time Lord because it had “romance and spiritualism” running through it.

Reid said his company, which employs about 20 people on the Isle of Lewis and works with about 50 weavers, was creating new, lighter, softer cloths in response to the recent interest, to appeal to younger people and women. Islanders hoped to see an influx of visitors wanting to see where the tweed was made.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said: “This exposure represents a serious opportunity for Harris Tweed. A marketing campaign to generate equivalent interest would cost millions of pounds; there is a strong chance that we need to be ready for a dramatic rise in orders.”

He added: “The endorsement by Dr Who shows that Harris Tweed is timeless and can be worn anytime, at any age and in any galaxy.”

 

18th March 2010

 

Likenesses on Offer to Members

Two new Members, Mr and Mrs Craig Fraser, have made an interesting offer. “My wife and I are both quite accomplished artistes,” he writes, “and I was thinking that if any members of the New Sheridans wanted a pencil portrait or an acrylic portrait done, my wife and I would be more than happy to oblige. All we would need is a photo in the exact position the member required and we could throw something together in a nice small portrait, probably in the style of those regency thumb paintings they handed around to snatch a suitor.” So if you’re looking to land yourself an eligible spouse this could be just the ticket.

You can see here a couple of samples of Mr Fraser’s work (left) and that of his wife (below). Mr Fraser says that for a small portrait there would be no charge, though if you wanted a larger work in acrylics then something could be arranged. If this interests you, you can contact the Frasers at Craigfraser84 {at} hotmail.com.


 

 

 

The Waters of Life Flow Through Fitzrovia

Last night Mr Neil Ridley, drinks correspondent for The Chap and also a roving whisky ambassador for Diageo, gave a whisky tasting for the Club at the Wheatsheaf, the London shebeen where we have our regular monthly meetings. It was a packed house—Mr Ridley nearly ran out of glasses (he should have known better than to underestimate the Club when it comes to free alcohol). He took us through the basics of what whisky is, its history (the name comes from the Gaelic for “water of life”—there is an Irish saying that what whisky and butter can’t cure, can’t be cured) and the huge variety of flavours on offer, from the light and fruity lowland malts through to the huge smoky island offerings.

The four main drams on offer were Glenkinchie 12-year-old, Dalwhinnie 15-year-old, the Singleton of Dufftown 12-year-old and Talisker 16-year-old. There was also a mystery whisky, which turned out to be Japanese and which I thought was exquisite, incredibly delicate and nuanced. We also learned how expedience led to whisky being matured in oak barrels previously used by other drinks industries, such as sherry and port but especially the American bourbon business, wherein no barrel may be used more than once and the spent casks are now routinely dismantled and shipped to Scotland to be reassembled and used for whisky storage.

Mr Ridley brought with him an array of props and samples, including barley grains and grist, samples of sherry and bourbon and some lumps of peat of the kind that is sometimes burned to dry the grain, imparting a distinct peat smoke aroma. One such piece of peat was, by chance, rather alarmingly shaped. Modesty forbids me to go into details in case ladies may read this, but gentleman of stout constitution can see the unexpurgated daguerreotypes at the Club’s Flickr page.


 

Club Art Collection Expanded

I discretely draw your attention to a new addition to our Club Portraits. The Curé Michael Silver has chosen to appear in Millais’ portrait of the artist John Ruskin. Well, they have the same hat, so it makes sense.

            I would take this opportunity to remind Members that the portrait service is offered free to all those in the Club. All you have to do is identify an existing image, whether famous or not, painting, photograph, cave art (I draw the line at sculpture, which is currently beyond the capabilities of Photoshop) in which you would like to appear. Then you can either send us a photograph of yourself in exactly the same pose as the figure you would like to replace, or we can take such a photograph ourselves if you can make it along to one of our meetings.


 

 

24th February 2010

 

And On the Subject of Film Nights…

I can now report that, after the success of our first one at the new venue, The Compass,, we now have two more scheduled.

            Oh Thursday 15th April Count Martindt Cally Von Callomon will present two documentaries about eccentrics, The Moon and the Sledgehammer (1971) and The Knife Grinder (early 1980s). Of them he says: “In The Great Celebrity Revolution (1995–the present day) our eccentrics have become packaged, classifiable, quantifiable, commodifiable and available for hire at the drop of a TV contract. This was not always so. Though today’s demands are for cuddly outrageous anti-social losers that live out our own misery by proxy, there was a time when our ‘eccentrics’ were shunned or forgotten by their very nature at not being willing to fit the mould.”

            Then, on Thursday 20th May, the Earl of Essex will treat us to the 1974 Oscar-winning adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal American novel The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Bruce Dern and Nick Carraway, preceded by some shorts about 1920s flappers.


 

13th February 2010

 

Film Nights Rise Joyously From the Ashes

A hearty hurrah for Ms Evadne Raccat, who curated the first Film Night in our latest series. The main feature was Mr Skeffington, starring Bette Davis as a spoilt society beauty, teasing suitors while doting on her ne’er-do-well brother—until he embezzles money and she is forced to marry for the cash. Her ageing and the loss of her beauty are a central theme, one that, as Ms Raccat pointed out, crops up in a number of Davis’s films. Not only did she allow herself to be filmed without make-up during the diphtheria scenes but after that, irreversibly ravaged by the disease, she was made up with fake latex wrinkles to look even older. Her long-suffering husband is played by Claude Rains.

            Two shorts were presented before this, both vintage cartoons. One was a strange snapshot of the nightspot Ciro’s, the place for movie stars to be seen at the time, in which animated caricatures of celebs goofed around with no plot to speak of. The game is to see how many you recognise. The other animation was What’s Opera, Doc? a glorious Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Elmer Fudd is Siegfried from Wagner’s Ring opera cycle—and yet still hunting rabbits, this time summoning thunderbolts as a weapon. Things take a strange turn when Bugs disguises himself as Brunhilde and Elmer is smitten. The film has been voted the best animated short of all time.

            The new venue turned out very well so, assuming they’ll have us back, I expect that we be returning there soon. Thanks to Evadne for organising it: I think that she’ll be penning some observations on the films for the next Newsletter.


 

8th February 2010

 

One-Armed Bandit Steals Single Cufflink

A one-armed thief is being hunted by police for stealing a single cufflink from a jewellery shop. The thief was pretending to look for a gift when he knocked boxes of cufflinks to the floor and took one in the shape of a boxing glove. The gold cufflink from CJ Vinten in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, is worth £120. PC Steve Wells said, “We hope the public will help us identify this man.” Mind you, in one report he is described at wearing a “dirty bomber jacket”, so it’s unlikely he’s a gentleman who lost an arm in the war (or a duel) and is desperate to impress a lady. He could even be about to detonate a “dirty bomb” and needed the gold from the cufflink to manufacture some devious relay for the device. (Mind you he may simply have crawled straight from the dirty bomber in which he crashed, and felt the need to spruce himself up a bit before presenting himself at the RAF Club. So many possibilities.)


 

7th February 2010

 

Gentleman Dissected At Club Night

The Club’s February meeting was an upliftingly well-attended affair; included in the throng were a number of guests, including a French photographer who had covered the Chap Olympics for Le Figaro, and also a couple of groups who just happened to be in the pub and were curious as to what was going on upstairs.

            Our guest speaker was Mr Robert Brook, delivering a talk On Being A Gentleman, one which he had previously given last September at Interesting ’09, a symposium of, well, interesting discourses that sounds like a whole year of NSC Turns rolled into one. (Mr Brook has no prior connection with the Club; a friend of mine knew him and had heard about his speech.) His talk was really an exploration of the manifold meanings that the term can have: is a gentleman defined by birth, by behaviour, by dress? Then there is the obituary term—“yet he remained, above all, a gentleman”. The term can mean that despite having none of the appearance, manner, lifestyle, background or circumstances of a gentleman there can be an aspect of one’s personality that makes one one. Meanwhile someone else can mire themselves in all manner of shady dealings and frankly blackguardly behaviour, yet remain a gentleman precisely because of his appearance, manner, lifestyle, background or circumstances.

            There was no real conclusion to all of this: it was really a celebration of this peculiarly English concept (Mr Brook gave examples of foreign observers who, in attempting to define the gentleman, seemed to accept that England was the spiritual home of the idea). Our speaker clearly felt that gentlemanliness was an ideal that very much still had a place-indeed that the 21st century had a strong need for it. He suggested that the people in the room were doing good work in keeping it alive, though he also commented that he was glad he could see the exit, so who knows what he really made of us? All in all a splendid and thoughtful talk and our gratitude goes to Mr Brook for taking the time to deliver it to us.


 

13th January 2010

 

Film Night Returns Yet Again

Following the loss of our previous venue (it closed down—we didn’t raze it), our regular films nights are, I hope, set to rise again, phoenix-like, as we have found a new venue. It is The Compass, 58 Penton Street (on the corner of Chapel Market), in London’s Islington, near to Angle tube station. We have secured the upstairs room, where there is a projector and screen for playing DVDs. The venue is a busy, tastefully decorated gastro-pub so we’ll be able to chow down in style. We have the place till 11pm.

            Our first event is on Thursday 11th February, and the programme is one that Ms Evadne Raccat was scheduled to present before the old venue shut unexpected. First up is What’s Opera, Doc? a 1957 Bugs Bunny ten-minute Looney Tune cartoon revolving around Wagner. Considered by many to be Chuck Jones’s masterpiece—and by some as one of the finest animated shorts of all time—it features Elmer Fudd as Siegfried, yet still fixated on hunting rabbits. The usual chase takes an odd turn as Bugs disguises himself as Brunhilde and Elmer is smitten…

The evening’s feature presentation is the 1944 Bette Davis/Claude Rains movie Mr Skeffington, in which Davis portrays a society beauty who, when her feckless brother is exposed as an embezzler, is obliged to marry for money. Ms Raccat describes the film as “a little-known picture that is rather modern in its approach to story-telling. Bette Davis allows herself to become a monster in a way that would merit an Oscar and the description ‘brave performance’ these days. It’s also quite funny and has a dark side too. Pre-figures Davis’ performance as Baby Jane and in later horror movies.”


 

9th January 2010

 

Rapier-Like Performance From Mr Krause

At our January meeting Mr Anton Krause treated us to a lecture on Duelling For Dummies: The European Sword in Personal Conflict. Mr Krause, as you may remember, was one half of the pair who demonstrated Bartitsu, the Victorian walking-stick martial art, at our last summer party, Tempting Fźte—where I seem to remember that he was always on the receiving end of the gentlemanly violence. By day he teaches stage fighting, both armed and unarmed, and arranges fights (for stage, I mean, not just in pub car parks). To illustrate his talk he brought a number of stage swords (cunningly transported in a guitar case), although he lamented that his favourite rapier was not with him, having been half-inched by someone at the theatre. One pities the soul when Mr Krause catches up with him.

Duels, we learned, are almost always illegal, and that this law is almost always ignored. While they are seldom fought specifically to the death, they are seldom fought specifically just to “first blood”—except in France, where duelling seems to have been more of a fashion accessory than a defence of honour. Mostly they are fought till one party cannot continue. And they were still going on in the early 1900s. Mr Krause took us through the development of the weaponry: and it seems that the message is that speed is of the essence. Duels started with lumbering medieval fights with broadswords or hand-and-a-half “bastard” swords, moving to the use of the rapier—actually heavier and slower than you probably think, leading to the partnering of it with a dagger in the other hand for parrying. We heard how, in unplanned street fights one’s cloak could be put to use as a parrying device (hence “cloak and dagger”). The rapier developed into the small sword, the ultimate duelling blade. It had been realised that slashing strokes were slower and more telegraphed than thrusting moves, and the small sword was all about thrusting. It was light enough to be used for attack and defence and would develop into the foil of modern-day fencing.

The rules seem to have been quite complex. You can only challenge someone to a duel if they were your social equal. Contrary to popular belief you do not challenge someone by slapping them round the chops with your gloves. Instead you throw you gloves at his feet (“throwing down the gauntlet”) and if he wanted to accept the duel he picked them up and slapped you round the chops. For all that, once the fighting started more or less anything goes: punching, kicking, gouging… Because duels typically took place at dawn (when other people were less likely to be about) the duellers sometimes held lanterns—which could be deployed as weapons too.

I would like to thank Mr Krause for a fascinating and well-received lecture.


 

11th December 2009

 

File written by Adobe Photoshop® 5.2Monocles making a come-back?

The high street optician Vision Express is to start stocking monocles, at least in its central London stores, following a surge of requests from young men. Management sound perplexed about the trend but are prepared to roll them out across the country (not literally) if the interest is there. Monocles have never been entirely unavailable; you can buy an optical eyeglass from Dead Men’s Spex, Daniel Cullen or Peter Christian. They were highly popular before the war (despite, or perhaps because of, a 50% tax hike on them by the Irish Free State) and armed forces regulations restricted them to officers until 1943, but their popularity with German infantry officers apparently dented their appeal after that.

Writing in the Telegraph, eyeglass-wearer Gerald Warner opines: “An Englishman traditionally favours a gold-rimmed eyeglass with a gallery to hold it in place, attached to a black cord (my own practice). The degenerate French seducer will most likely sport his on a broad ribbon. Rimless eyeglasses are Prussian or Ruritanian. The Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, who wore the much more civilian-style pince-nez all his life, disliked monocles so intensely as symbols of strutting Prussian arrogance that he once refused to promote an Austrian general who sported one. P G Wodehouse himself set out the rules for eyeglasses in fiction: “Monocle: This may be worn by (1) good dukes (2) all Englishmen. No bad man may wear a monocle.” Warner also points out that Nancy Mitford declared the term “monocle” to be Non-U while “eyeglass” was U.


 

10th December 2009

 

Chaps, stuck for a Christmas gift for a lady?

Ladies apparently like to be showered with gewgaws, so if you’re trying to impress a filly that might be a good strategy. Of course, being a gentleman you haven’t a clue about jewellery—hence the appeal of the moustache ring. It is technically jewellery but, featuring as it does a splendid tash, you can feel you’re on familiar territory. And while she’s wearing it it’ll remind her of you (assuming you have a similar moustache—and if not, how come you haven’t skulked off to join the Foreign Legion yet?). Don’t attempt to style, wax or trim it, however. It is made of acrylic. It is available from Tatty Devine (who also sell a moustache necklace) or In All Her Finery for a recession-busting £9.


 

6th December 2009

 

Anarcho-Dandyism Celebrates Ten Years

Saturday 5th December saw a rare thing—a party hosted by The Chap magazine (the last one was five years ago). The occasion was the magazine’s tenth anniversary and the setting was Conway Hall in London’s Red Lion Square. It was an apt venue, its 1940s style perfectly complementing the Chappist tone, and a good size to accommodate the hordes of revellers. In the main hall we saw dancing duo The Bees Knees, swingsters Twin and Tonic and the Zen Hussies, plus the inimitable Mr B. the Gentleman Rhymer who had the crowd roaring for more. In Louise Quatorze’s oriental Mao Tse Tung Lounge we were treated to Atters’ splendid paranormal lecture and the crooning of Antony Elvin. And of course Gustav Temple himself addressed the masses at ten o’clock; his message seemed to be that Phase One of the glorious revolution—the spreading of the sartorial word—was going well and the time had come for Phase Two. Which seemed to involved the removal from society of Chris Moyles, Katie Price and Elton John. Oddly specific. One wonders if there was something in the gin which, combined with cunning hypnotic tricks, might mean that all over the country revellers are waking up today with an inexplicable urge to go out and do murder. I must switch on the noctovision and see if a mysterious well-dressed crowd has gathered outside Moyles’ house waving candlesticks and cut-throat razors menacingly.


 

 

Club Bathed in Hellfire

Lord Rupert addressed a packed room at our last monthly meeting of the year on 2nd December. His subject was Sir Francis Dashwood and Rupert’s thesis is that an incident on his Grand Tour, when he was scared witless by a “demon” which turned out to be a cat, and the subsequent publicising of this embarrassing affair by a clergyman, was what turned Dashwood against all things to do with the Church. There followed a period of partying designed to outrage good folk with its decadence, often in the cave complex Dashwood had constructed, wherein revellers were allowed to penetrate deeper in accordance with their acceptance into the inner diabolical core. In the end, after one scandal too many, his Hellfire Club fell foul of internal politics. Its secrecy compromised by public accusations, the whole thing fizzled out. To what extent Dashwood was really into deviltry, rather than just partying, is difficult to tell for sure, but Rupert clearly revels in the demonic possibilities. Many thanks to him for his talk.


 

‘Yes We Can-Can’ Really Can

The famous English sense of fair play got a good airing on Saturday 21st November when the New Sheridan Club chose the French—our natural enemies—as the theme for the latest of our biannual parties. (It was what in the past would have been billed as a “Christmas Party”, but no date in December seemed suitable and I don’t think it’s on to use the C-word for any event outside of that month.) Many guests commented afterwards that they though it the best party yet.

We were back at the Punch Tavern on Fleet Street, scene of the Kredit Krunch Kabaret last year. But all Teutonic hints had been banished and the place decked out in red, white and blue, the tables strewn with garlic cloves and snail shells. Guests rolled up as auteurs and onion sellers, aristocrats and revolting peasants. The 1952 film Moulin Rouge played silently in the background while a programme of Gallic music, specially prepared by International DJ MCFruity (Hatfield-Peverel), crooned from the tannoy.

            Spicing up the evening were live performances from chanteuse Mademoiselle Maria (bearing a suspicous resemblance to Fraulein Maria from last Christmas…), and stand-up comedian Marcel Lucont, the embodiment of French charm, hauteur and misanthrophy who was bemused to see so many people dressed as the French without one genuine Frenchman in the building. (Afterwards, as he dashed off to another gig, he told me how nice the party was and how he regretted having to leave—you can imagine how preferable the refined and affable NSC crowd must be to the average late-night comedy audience…)

Our first game was Pin The Legs Back On The Frog. One might have guessed that our players were expressing their Frenchness by finding this concept alien—yet the best attempt actually came fromMarcel himself. Of course being a performer, and French, he was not allowed to win.

Then came Onion Battle, derived from the game Orange Battle believed to have been invented, or at least recorded, by Sid G. Hedges (1897–1974), author of many books and articles on swimming, games and wholesome home entertainments for young people. Each player must balance an onion in a spoon held in one hand, while using another spoon in the other hand to unseat his opponent’s onion.

And of course there was the Grand Raffle at the end of the evening, plus the usual Snuff Bar and selection of soaps, colognes and hair dressings in the bathrooms—untroubled by looters this time, I’m pleased to say.

A big thank-you to all who came and helped make it such a splendid evening.


 

Maigret Considered

At the monthly Club meeting on 4th December historian Mr Sean Longden made his second trip to the podium, this time to deliver a fond appreciation of Inspector Maigret, the pipe-smoking crime-solving creation of Georges Simenon.

Sadly our projection facilities were once again dogged by gremlins and the babbage device was unable to read Mr Longden’s compact disc (probably just needed more coal). But Mr Longden nevertheless painted an admirable word-portrait of a man who spends as much time deciding which coat to wear or what hat to buy as he does solving crimes. Which is just as well as he doesn’t seem to deduce the solutions—he just seems to know who the villain is. He is also fond of a drink and resists such insidious innovations as central heating.


 

11th November 2009

 

Yes We Can-Can!

The Club’s winter party is with us in just ten days! Come and relive the giddy splendour of the Moulin Rouge ofToulouse-Lautrec, an absinthe- and Champagne-fuelled orgy of high kicks and low moral standards.

The party is a celebration of all things French. It’s earlier than usual, on Saturday 21st November (so could not really be called a Christmas party as such) though we are back at the ornate Punch Tavern, site of last year’s Kredit Krunch Kabaret.

We’ll have musical delights from chanteuse Maria Trevis and some Gallic accordian noodling, French-themed food, plus the usual tomfool games with highly desirable prizes. Try your hand at Pin the Legs Back On the Frog or the sinister Onion Battle. (We’re also working on a game that involves blockading a port and preventing free trade at all costs.) There will be prizes for the best costumes and perhaps a sudden blitzkrieg prize for the first person to surrender to something or someone.

Our famous Grand Raffle will be in evidence, of course, with prizes including some absinthe, some oil paints and an easel, a beret, some garlic, cheese and snails, a model of the Eiffel Tower, a set of boules, Asterix comics, French-flavoured books, CDs and DVDs, plus a white flag and a packet of Gaulloises.

As usual entry is free to NSCMembers, including anyone who joins on the night, and entry to the raffle is free but open to Members only.


 

Old Soldiers Spotted in Club Tie?

On Monday 26th October members of the Normandy Veterans Association gathered for a service at Westminster Abbey, to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day Landings. Gordon Brown and Defence Secretary BobAinsworth were apparently lurking in the background. Many think it will be the last significant anniversary gathering of this kind, as the veterans’ numbers are gradually depleted.

But we say there is clearly life in the old dogs yet: in the picture below two of them appear to be sporting Club Ties, a sure sign that they have the energy to get up no good. I also see that they’ve awarded themselves almost as many medals as the NSCCommittee have done.

 

(As an addendum I have subsequently been informed that the regimental tie in question is that of Her Majesty’s 17th Regiment of Foot, The Royal Leicestershire Regiment. Thanks to E. W. Hutchings for the gen.


 

Along Came a Cider…

Mr Ian White is a Member not only of the New Sheridan Club but also of the Campaign for Real Ale, in which capacity he has organised a number of educational pub crawls around hostelries of note for the Club. On Saturday 3rd October he once again led a band of Sheridanites on an ale trail—except this time, in keeping with the season, there was an emphasis on real cider as well as real ale.

I missed the beginning of the migration, so Idid not glimpse the Harp in Covent Garden. By the time Ijoined the group they were preparing to leave the second pub, Doggett’s Coat and Badge by Blackfriars Bridge—a fairly unprepossessing modern building which Icould not bring myself to photograph. The next stop was altogether more interesting: the New Forest Cider Bar is a stall in Borough Market, a mecca for anyone after artisanal foodie fayre. Their cider on tap came in dry, medium and sweet varieties—the medium was pretty tart and the dry was guaranteed to rid you of that tiresome tooth enamel. We stood around supping from plastic pint glasses and ogling the lobsters on the seafood stall opposite.

Next stop was the Market Porter, a proper indoor pub scarcely 50 feet away. Clearly it’s an establishment that is proud of its guest ales, as the ceiling is studded with beer mats from past guests.

The Spanish tapas bar Brindisa was to have been next on the itinerary but it was declared too crowded so we sloped on to the Wheatsheaf on Southwark Street. This subterranean drinking den was once, Ibelieve, a Davy’s Winebar, and the layout certainly seems reminiscent of one. We supped ale and lobbed darts at a dart board. After that it was time for me to melt away to another engagement, but the posse carried on to the last stop on the route, the stalwart Royal Oak on Tabard Street, clearly a favourite of Mr White’s as his trails usually seem to end up there.

Many thanks to Mr White for organising yet another enjoyable and enlightening tour.


 

Conkerer Conquered

At the October meeting the original scheduled talk by Matthew Howard, on The Big Siam: Oriental Excess in the East Indies, was hastily shoved aside (and I’m not saying it was on the advice of the Commision for Racial Equality) to make way for an impromptu conker tournament. In the pursuit of complete fairness, Mr Scarheart sourced, drilled and strung all the conkers himself. I myself missed most of this as I didn’t arrive till about 9.45, but Mr Howard tells me that the official winner was Lord Finsbury Windermere Compton-Bassett. (Mind you, I am pretty sure that Jessie challenged Compton-Bassett to a bout at the very end and beat him, arguably making her the champion.)

The longest bout was conducted between Torquil and Curé Michael Silver, possibly because of equally matched doggedness, determination and self-belief, but equally possibly because of mutual languor and endless breaks to mix fresh cocktails. William Smith was instantly dubbed William the Conkerer but in battle sadly failed to live up to this name.

Despite the brutal reputation that the game of conkers holds—it makes cage fighting look like a pillow fight—the only injury of the evening was sustained by Robert Beckwith who bellowed for ice for his hand (not his cider, as some supposed).

The dageuerreotype shows Fruity (sensibly wearing goggles) attacking Luke, while in the background the epic battle between Torqui and the Curé rumbles on.


 

Hackett Steals NSC Logo

Imagine the Committee’s horror when we passed the windows of the Hackett emporium on Jermyn street to see, winking at us from a polished vitrine, the tie and scarf displayed below. It was a cue for synchronised monocle-popping, as you can imagine. The items are part of Hackett’s Mayfair range for Autumn 2009 that “takes the modern gentleman from day to evening with seamless ease”. At the expense of the NSC’s intellectual property, it does.

It is just about conceivable that the Hackett designers came up with the concept all by themselves but I think it far more likely that they spotted our noble Brolly Roger design and decided to purloin it. Needless to say, a stiff letter is on its way to Mr Hackett’s in tray.


 

Mr Graves Steals the Show

Harold Hereward Graves, known in his professional capacity as Paul Gazzoli, scored a point recently with a letter to The Times.

I shall reproduce the full text:

Sir, If you examine the pictures of the Anglo-Saxon hoard from Staffordshire (report, Sept 25), you will note that the Latin inscription on one of the objects [see daguerreotype above] reads “surge domine disepentur inimici tui et fugent qui oderunt te a facie tua”, which should read “surge domine et dissipentur inimici tui et fugiant qui oderunt te a facie tua”.

This is taken from Numbers 10:35, “may they who hate Thee flee from Thy face”, fugiant being the third person plural present active subjunctive of fugio, “flee”. Fugent, however, is third person plural present active subjunctive of fugo, “put to flight, rout, cause to flee”, thus altering the meaning of the phrase considerably, to “let they who hate Thee rout” — the object is lacking, so we might fill in “Thee” or “us” or “Thine army” in place of “from Thy face”. Thus the Christians from whom this was putatively plundered by pagans were, through their incorrect grammar, asking for it. This only goes to show the danger posed by poor Latinity, as King Alfred recognised only too well.

As our Government threatens further cuts in education and the elimination of so-called pointless studies, this small piece of bent metal should stand in our minds as a grim warning.

Paul Gazzoli

Department of Anglo-Saxon,

Norse and Celtic,

University of Cambridge


 

William IV In Trouble

Not the monarch, who is doubtless past caring but the public house where we have been having our highly successful new run of Film Nights. I had a phone call from Henry the landlord to say that he’d basically gone bust, so he’d have to cancel our booked nights. However, he confidently predicted the place would be up and running in no time and we might well be able to resume our use of the Geography Room upstairs. Sadly at time of writing there has been no response whenever I have telephoned the place.

Eventually we may have to find a new home for our screenings, but I am inclined to persist with the William IV if we can as I have encountered no place that is its equal, especially not for no hire charge.