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)
Truth revealed about wartime derring do
7th September 2016 Our speaker was Member Luke Wenban, who told us about his Grandfather's exploits blowing things up in the war. Until recently he knew only that Granfer Wenban had served and nothing more: it was a chance Facebook post by his aunt that revealed the details. From working at a cement factory Luke's granddad was asked to join a new unit (the most rapidly recruited company in history), the Kent Fortress Volunteer Force (later the Kent Fortress Royal Engineers) who were spirited into France and Belgium at the beginning of the war as part of the clandestine XD force tasked with destroying stocks of oil and petrol before the approaching German forces could seize them. While they were at it they took the opportunity to smash up docks and anything else they thought the Germans might find useful. Of course the locals didn't always take kindly to this "scorched earth" behaviour and the sappers sometimes found themselves fighting off the French military too. Moreover there were no specific plans for their extraction after the job was done—it was up to them to find some way home. But the raids were such a success that the XD force was deployed in Norway, Greece and the Middle East too. Many thanks to Luke for his intriguing talk about a subject that has not yet been much covered by historians.
We also took time out to toast Oliver and Ella, two Club Members who recently got married—above is a pictorial record of said toast (although it does look more like we are screaming for blood).
Club struck by curse of the mummy
3rd August In a busy house for an August night, our guest speaker, Adrian Prooth, took us through the growing influence of Egyptian art and the romantic notion of Egyptian culture in late Victorian Britain, growing to a frenzy when Howard Carter discovered and opened the tomb of Tutank-hamen in 1922. But the tomb had a curse written on it, promising death to those who breached the seal—and Adrian went on to look at the untimely deaths of many of those associated with the tomb-raiding, raising the question of whether those who believe in the curse have a case or not…
Club scores well in Olympics medal table
16th July Once again a field of competitors gathered in Bedford Square, louche, languid but immaculately dressed, for The Chap magazine's annual festival of gentlemanly games, where winning is frowned upon and creative cheating positively encouraged. This year recent regular events such as Umbrella Jousting and Not Playing Tennis were joined by new challenges Toupée Trumps (knocking the wig of Donald Trump) and Hen-Pecked Husband (where a phalanx of ladies try and prevent a man from reaching his deckchair to relax with a pipe and newspaper). The interval was enlivened by a real wedding between Mark and Lisa Glass and the day was rounded off by live Harlem swing from Natty Congeroo and the Flames of Rhythm. The NSC was in strong attendance, with our own gazebo as in recent years, alongside Pandora's famed Winners' Circle tables overflowing with picnic treats, and one of our number, Stephen Myhill, took the Silver Cravat (second prize overall).
Club checks into Grand Hotel
6th July 2016 Our speaker this time was Luca Jellinek, exploring the era of the Grand Hotels. He explained how, in the olden days, aristocrats had no need of hotels, as they had big country houses and, if they travelled, they stayed with other aristocrats. The word hôtel was a French one meaning a town house that an aristocrat might own as well. With the French revolution, a number of these places were, ahem, liberated, giving birth to the idea of a grand urban building available to the public. Then came the rise of American money, creating a class of monied traveller without any contacts in the area in which he or she was travelling: moreover, Americans were used to standards of comfort and modern convenience with which Europe had to catch up. Visionaries like Cesar Ritz realised that by combining European style and glamour with American comfort, a hotelier might make a lot of money: the Grand Hotel was born. This was an era of high contrast between haves and have-nots, and despite the eye-watering prices, some of the haves could spend long periods of time actually living in these hotels. But they were more than just places to stay: they were places to see and be seen in, public yet only accessible to the right class of person—therefore more accurately "semi-private". A set or mores developed that allowed the respectable and well-to-do (particularly women) to do things in the confines of the hotel they would not be expected to do in public, such as smoke or use the toilets.Yet such was the public's fascination with the rich and famous who inhabited this world that movies such as Grand Hotel (1937) were made, showing a rarefied community centred around the place, riven by stories of romance, drama and heartache, in which the hotel itself, and its staff, provide the placid and efficient backdrop.
Dejeuner sur l'herbe
25th June 2016 Since our usual summer and Christmas parties are being compressed into one big 10th Birthday Party, we decided to have a picnic to give some official Club presence in the summer calendar, meeting in Hyde Park. The weather forecast was typically British, with showers predicted for 4pm—and in fact they were right on cue. However, we had taken the precaution of setting up near a large and densely-foliated tree, so when the rain came (as it did twice) we simply dragged everything under the protective boughs. Not much else to report: food was consumed, the sun shone. Oh, and the Red Arrows flew over in formation, leaving smoke trails (or "chemtrails" if you believe Scarheart's scaremongering) in what are almost Club colours. When all the booze was drunk we repaired to the picturesque Grenadier pub where the aleing continued…
Tales of the City and ancient freedoms1st June 2016 Our guest speaker was Miss Minna, telling us about the workings of the City of London and its various institutions, including the Freedom of the City of London, something she both has herself and helps to administrate. Like the concept of the City itself, the Freedom dates back to medieval times and represents a freedom from persecution by nobles and royalty, an ancient commune. Minna also explains the role of the livery companies and why we might consider joining one. They do not just represent ancient trades like the cutlers and bowyers—there are entirely modern ones, such as the Worshipful Companies of Marketors and Information Technologists, while older orders take on new interpretations, such as the Fan-Makers who now admit heating and ventilation engineers.
Strange tale of Hitler's XI
4th May 2016 Spring finally seemed to have arrived, and to celebrate we had a talk from the Earl of Essex about cricket. And Nazis, of course, as Essex seldom delivers a talk that does not somehow touch upon Nazis. This time is was an account of a cricket tour of Nazi Germany in 1937 by an English team called the Gentlemen of Worcestershire. Hitler himself had a low opinion of cricket, considering it un-German, but there were crickets fans in the country who pushed the idea though. Tensions were still high and the English were under a lot of pressure not to lose…
Weather God smiles but River God rages
23rd April 2016 Every year by tradition we have a punting picnic in Oxford on the Saturday nearest to St George's Day—which this year fell on a Saturday, making it easy to fix the date. As usual we gathered at the Turf Tavern for a sharpener before trolling down to the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse and embarking on a flotilla of five punts. It's always touch-and-go with the weather—we have had glorious sunshine and torrential downpour—but this year we were fairly lucky. Although it got a bit chilly towards the end of our picnic it didn't rain. However, the rain of recent days was having its effect and the current was strong: as we approached the rollers, where we would haul the punts up to the higher level of the river, a weir emptying into our level was so strong it was almost impossible to punt past without getting pushed to the side. And once we did claw our way past, we found that the rollers themselves looked impassable; the quayside was submerged and water was cascading down the rollers themselves, so it would have been impossible to stand on the side and pull the boats without getting soaked. So we decided to tie up where we were and have the picnic right there.
Another tradition is that every year (with the notable exception of last year) someone falls in, usually on the drunken return journey. This year the River Gods chose Chico St Martin (who in fact was also the victim about three years ago: see http://bit.ly/1qLeS6H, who was swept overboard by an overhanging tree as he was paddling from the front. Nowadays there is always a sweepstake on who will succumb: we are not sure who held the winning ticket but no one claimed their prize, so the money was given to Chico to replace his jumper, which was sadly torn during the carnage. After returning the boats we usually head back to the Turf, but the current landlord had been rather a pain when we were there in the morning so we repaired to the Bear, a tiny, ancient watering hole with a handsome collection of club and regimental ties, contributed by visitors from all over the world—though sadly they are out of space so we were not able to add the NSC tie to their collection.
Comics cut the mustard
6th April 2016 For this month's meeting our speaker was club member Darcy Sullivan (at what was his first ever attendance at a Club Night, I believe), talking to us about "Comics for Chaps". While on the Continent there is a long tradition of comic strips (Bande desinée or "BD") and graphic novels aimed at an adult audience, the UK is still a culture where it is considered a format for children—despite the fact that some of the most famous and respected writers and artists within the form hail from these shores (and frequently have to look to overseas publishing to achieve any success). Darcy took us through some of the most notable examples of the genre, organised by category such as "Adventure Chaps", or graphic adaptations of classic literature, for example.
Club treated to display of indoor punting
2nd March 2016 At the March meeting our speaker was Robert Beckwith, giving what was actually his first Turn, despite being a founder Member of the NSC and the Old Sheridan Club that preceded it. His subject was punting, one that is close to his heart, and something he is particularly good at, as anyone who has been lucky enough to be in his boat at the Club punting picnics will know. The term "punt" was originally pretty general but it came to mean a square-ended, flat-bottomed boat propelled with a pole that is pushed against the river bed. Originally they were large vessels for cargo or platforms for fishing or shooting birds and the punter would plant the pole then walk the boat past it. With the invention of the "saloon punt" as a leisure craft, which seats in the middle for passengers, the punter was less able to move about the vessel, so the technique of "pricking" was developed: the punter stands still and moves the pole. Robert treated us to a demonstration of how the punter handles the pole, pushing against it, pulling it out of the water, planting it ahead and pushing off it again, steering by pushing slightly outward or inwards with each stroke. He even showed us his famous one-handed punting technique, which enables the punter to propel the boat while nursing a drink in his other hand. Modern punts have a raised deck area at one end. This was originally the stern, but when punting for pleasure became popular, passengers would naturally sit themselves at that end, so they could rest against the deck; so the punter positioned himself at the other end and reversed the direction of the boat. This is still the tradition at Oxford. Punting came later to Cambridge, and by that time saloon punts were fully developed with comfortable seating in the middle, so punters continued to treat the stern as the stern and punted from that end. To this day in Cambridge they still punt from the opposite end from Oxford, a matter of no little pride and rivalry. In fact the most efficient place to stand is midway along the boat, and this is still where competition punters place themselves. Many thanks to Robert, whose talk comes conveniently shortly before our annual St George's Day punt trip, on 23rd April.
Leather jackets flaunted at Club meeting
3rd February 2016 Our speaker was Ed Marlowe, with an address entitled "Leather Chaps", or more accurately "Leather, chaps", making the case for the leather jacket as a wardrobe essential. This may have raised a few eyebrows, perhaps as the leather jacket is often lumped with jeans as the garment of choice for the anti-smart. But Ed took us through the history, how these items were developed as warm, wind-proof protection for dashing aviators and motorcyclists, and how they were partnered with collars and ties like any other kind of suit or sports jacket. He showed us the various styles that were developed by both sides in both wars—although the Germans did not for a long time issue them to their own airmen. WWI German airmen tended to be aristocrats who simply bought civilian jackets that took their fancy; by WWII the RAF had the cheap but effective sheepskin Irvin jacket, and Luftwaffe pilots took to wearing their own Irvins, bartered from capture Allied pilots. A number of members of the audience wore leather jackets in support of the theme, including Mr Eyre who wore an entire outfit of black leather, including a leather shirt and tie. Many thanks to Ed for his stimulating and expertly delivered address.
Club applauds grit and heroism of The White Mouse
6th January 2106 At our January meeting Ensign Polyethyl told us all about Nancy Wake, whom she actually met. New Zealand born, Nancy travelled the world in the 1930s and worked as a journalist before marrying a Frenchman. When the Nazis invaded she became a courier for the resistance, earning herself a 5-million-franc bounty on her head and the Gestapo nickname of The White Mouse for her ability to escape capture. Fleeing to Britain she joined SOE and was later parachuted back into France to help put together a 7,000-strong resistance force that harried the Germans for the rest of the war, inflicting 1,400 casualties with only 100 losses. Described as a "bombshell" often able to flirt her way out of trouble, Nancy was also a crack shot, happy to execute traitors, and once killed a German sentry with her bare hands.
Chairman gets near to the knuckle with Africa travelogue
3rd December 2015The Chairman delivered a broadside entitled There Won't Be Snow in Africa this Christmas, the 4th Lady Malvern Memorial Lecture. (Lady Malvern had habit of writing travel guides to countries in which she had spent but a fortnight, and this gives you an idea of the tone of the lectures.) Our speaker attempted to give a rounded introduction to the continent, taking in such key points as whether they do actually drink Um Bongo in the Congo (in at least one place they do), what to look for in a dictator and whether there will in fact be snow in Africa this Christmas (yes, though possibly only on Mt Kilimanjaro).
Club gets curiouser and curiouser about Wonderland anniversary
28th November 2015 Occurring slightly earlier than usual this year, on 28th November, the New Sheridan Club's Christmas party this year took its theme from the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll's classic of Victorian nonsense literature Alice in Wonderland. In addition to the expected consignment of Mad Hatters, White Rabbits and Alices, we also had a Walrus and a Carpenter, some louche, loose takes on the hookah-smoking caterpillar, and some amazing hats and headpieces with trippy Alice-inspired decoration. Our games included the traditional shooting game, this time attempting to shoot the hat off the Mad Hatter (gamely played by Action Man as usual) without actually hitting the hatter himself—something that at first seemed almost impossible, but in the tie-breaker between players who had managed it, Stuart Mitchell succeeded in doing it three times in a row! Umbrella Croquet involved using an umbrella to knock a hedgehog-ball through hoops made from giant playing cards. And the Drink Me game required participants to taste the contents of a mystery miniature bottle and guess the ingredients of the cocktail contained therein. In addition we had our traditional Christmas bran tub, filled with glorious tat and the odd genuinely desirable item. And finally, of course, our Grand Raffle, with a groaning table full of prizes. Like the party itself, the Raffle is free to enter for Members of the Club, including anyone wise enough to sign up on the night. Many thanks to all who came to the party and to Hal and Grace for letting us use the appropriately named Tea House Theatre as a venue. A full set of pictures may be found here.
Members discover boozers around Smithfield
19th November 2015 Club Member and CAMRA stalwart Ian White took us on the annual NSC Pub Crawl, this time focusing on pubs around Smithfield meat market. Began at the Old Mitre, an extremely hard-to-find old watering hole, then to the Viaduct Tavern, on Holborn Viaduct, with an extraordinarily ornate interior complete with cut glass panels, Pre-Raphaelite paintings and eerily lit cherubs. Nowadays it also has an elaborate gin menu, including G&T variations featuring their own strange infusions. Then into Smithfield itself, to the Bishop's Finger, named after the nickname for a finger-shaped style of Kentish road sign. After pausing to take some photos by the vintage telephone boxes in the market, we moved on to the Hand and Shears, a more intimate, authentic old boozer, before finishing at the Art Nouveau grandeur of the Fox and Anchor (where Craigoh was delighted to discover some New Zealand beer). Many thanks to Ian for organising this jaunt.
Life of Chap-of-all-trades revealed
4th November 2015 Our guest speaker was Derek Collett, who addressed us on the life of Nigel Balchin, about whom he has just written a biography. Balchin was a mercurial figure who studied natural sciences then worked as an early industrial psychologist, an experience he then used to write satirical books about how businesses are run. He worked in marketing and invented Black Magic chocolate (and possibly Aero and Kit Kat too). During the war he worked first for the Ministry of Food then as a military scientific advisor. He reached the rank of Brigadier (unusual for someone so young) but felt constantly frustrated that scientists were not paid more attention to. On the side he was also writing novels, and it is this for which he is probably best known. He also worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and was a county level cricketer. Yet problems in his love life and eventual divorce led to alcoholism, as with so many writers. Many thanks to Derek, whose book you can buy on Amazon.
Members directed to cash in their attics
7th October 2015 It was gratifying to have a bustlingly good turn-out for the meeting that marked the ninth anniversary of the New Sheridan Club, including seldom-seen coves like David Saxby. Our speaker was Harrison Goldman, who introduced us to his passion for collecting art and antiques. He took us through the typical house, room by room, advising on items one might look out for, what types of antiques are hot at the moment and which might be not selling so buoyantly in the current market. He told us how he grew up in a household where only the newest was desired and how, through his grandmother, he developed a contrary taste for the old, starting his collection when still a boy. He's only 21 now, but talks impressively confidently about his subject, and offered to evaluate items brought in my members of the audience. Many thanks to Harrison for his time.