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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), Year Nine (October 2014 to September 2015), Year Ten (October 2015 to September 2016), and Year 11 (October 2016 to September 2017)

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

View previous year

Tea is taken seriously

6th June 2018 Our speaker was Adrian Prooth, addressing us on a subject close to his heart—tea. Specifically, tea as an organised meal. It was the Duchess of Bedford who, in 1840, decided she wanted to puncture the longeur between lunch and dinner by taking tea at four o'clock with a little something to nibble on, and then decided to invite some friends round to join her. Adrian looked at the cream tea—with associated controversy about whether the jam or the cream goes on to the scone first—and the ornate majesty of high tea, involving courses of both savoury and sweet foods, including high tea classics such as Welsh rarebit. He considered some of the key figures, such as the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who invented the sandwich, and the 2nd Earl Grey, who almost certainly had nothing to do with Earl Grey tea. He looked at how the grand hotels vied to create the most refined and elaborate afternoon tea offerings and how Sir Joseph Lyons created both Lyons tea and a mighty chain of tea houses. We heard about the battery of equipment required to do tea properly, including the multi-tiered cake stand, and a stern list of dos and don'ts to avoid ruinous social shame. Many thanks to Adrian, who even made himself a Mad Hatter top hat sign for the occasion.

Nazis creep into Club meeting once more

2nd May 2018 Our lecture this time was given by the Earl of Essex, our most prolific speaker and, based on previous experience, no one was surprised when Nazis cropped up. The subject was actually the city of Lisbon—officially neutral during the war yet with a longstanding alliance with Britain, Portugal managed to tread a shrewd line and emerge from the war not only unscathed but rather wealthier than when she started. Because of her neutrality, agents for both the British and the Germans operated openly, each with their own favourite hotel (to the extent that the bar in the Palacio became known as the "Spies Bar"). As a port, Lisbon was a way out of Europe for downed airmen on the run, not to mention the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (in the slide above) who fled Paris just in time. The Portuguese president Salazar had Fascist leanings (which would have endeared him to Franco next door in Spain) and efforts were made to persuade the Duke and Duchess to tarry as long as they liked, so agents could work on them to agree to intercede on behalf of Germany in peace talks with Britain. In the end Churchill was having none of it: although the nature of his communication to the Duke was not public, Essex concluded that it probably threatened assassination if the Duke did not accept the offer of the Governorship of the Bahamas, which the Duke promptly did. Lisbon was also the scene of the grim mystery of Leslie Howard, the British actor was at the top of his game in Hollywood when the war started, and who made anti-German propaganda films and went on lecture tours of the world to highlight the issue. He was on a civilian flight out of Lisbon when the plane was shadowed and shot down by German war planes. Portugal, meanwhile, was a big source of tungsten, a vital ingredient in weapons manufacture, which they happily sold to everyone. Unscheduled plane and train services busily carried ore across the border as well as Nazi gold. In short, it was all going on.

Club flotilla scattered by forces of nature

21st April 2018 The annual jaunt to Oxford, on or near St George’s Day, is a tradition that’s actually older than the NSC itself, dating back to the protozoan social instincts inspired by the original Sheridan Club chatroom. The basic idea is to hire a flotilla of punts, punt upriver, drag the boats over the rollers to the higher section of the river and punt on to the Rainbow Bridge, conveniently located by picnic-friendly parkland with handy public loos nearby. After lunch we punt back to the boat yard.

There are many traditions within this tradition: we always hire punts from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse, who know us so well they waive any deposit. We always pause at exactly the same spot by the Magdalen Fellows Garden for a group photo (mooring up by the “no mooring” sign). And someone always falls into the river. In fact Scarheart runs a sweepstake every year: everyone wishing to enter contributes a pound and draws a number out of a hat. The numbers are assigned to the participants secretly by Scarheart so there is no scope for deliberate assassination. The player holding the number assigned to the unlucky dunkee wins the pot.

Oxford is the perfect venue for this sort of mullarkey: for one, it has a river with punts on it. (To be honest this first requirement does rule out most places in the world, apart from the odd few such as Cambridge, Canterbury, Christchurch in New Zealand and Spreewald in Germany.) Secondly Oxford is the sort of place where we really don’t stand out as oddly-dressed. In fact on this occasion we seemed positively subdued, as the city was also the venue for some sort of Morris dance festival: as I got off the train I found I had been sharing it with one group dressed all in red and black stripes (if they’d had an element of silver they could have passed for the NSC Morris). Around every corner were people with bells on their legs, waving handkerchiefs in the air. Moreover, there seemed to be some sort of Steampunk element for some of the tribes (is Jinglepunk a thing?). As if that weren’t enough, in the short walk to the boathouse we also passed several characters from Star Wars and some bloke in a suit of armour—I have subsequently learned that something called Ox Con was taking place.

The weather could not have been better. We have previously punted in hail, but this time it was warm and dry, but not so hot that exerting yourself with a pole in the baking sun might bring on heatstroke. However, this masked the fact that the river was actually showing a strong current. This happens some years, and it makes it very hard to punt upstream. Moreover, when the leading boat reached the rollers (literally metal rollers set in concrete, enabling you to haul the flat-bottomed punts up a slope to a higher level, in a manner reminiscent of Fitzcarraldo) the crew found the area too flooded to get near (apparently kayakers were using it for white-water practice).
This is where things started to unravel, as a message was sent back that we could go no further. The front three boats responded by tying up where we were and picnicking there, on what, according to Google, is called Music Meadow. But by the time the Chinese whisper got further back in the flotilla the command “stop here” had become “turn back”, and the other half of our boats limped back to port (it wouldn’t surprise me if the punters were only too happy to turn round and run with the current for a bit). Some of those returnees did manage to join the picnic detail by taxi, others were never seen again.

After we had all returned the tradition is to meet up again in a pub, but even here chaos reigned as we somehow managed to go to three different pubs. But, as I think the photos attest, a good time was had by all.

One person who seems to have enjoyed herself on her first punt trip was Rowan, the two-year-old daughter of Rachel Downer and Paul Effeny. This was despite the fact that she managed to fall into the river from a moving punt—the urge to trail her hand in the water proved too strong and she leaned out just a bit too far. Fortunately she was wearing a life jacket and was hauled back in immediately. After a bit of bawling from the cold dunking she bounced back cheerfully and spent the picnic carefully arranging slices of charcuterie on a blanket, eating hummus off her toes, hacking the top off a pork pie and gouging out the cream cheese stuffing from some stuffed cherry peppers.

But what of the sweepstake? Scarheart—and the money—were nowhere to be seen. Rumour had it that he had never actually got round to assigning numbers, and certainly no participant had been given a scrap of paper with a number on it. But (from the safety of Facebook) Scarheart insisted that all was above board—for Rowan was not enrolled in the sweepstake and nor was Liam, who took a tumble into the brine from Oliver Lane’s boat on the journey back. Thus, he limply argued, the sweepstake became a rollover to the next year. (By which time he will be living in a Swiss castle and his own son Max will mysteriously have acquired a collection of jewelled crowns.)

The following afternoon, Faiysal AliKhan had arranged for those who wished it to visit The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD) on the outskirts of the city. The big idea here is sustainability, locality and heritage, and they make their base spirit from locally grown heritage rye (over a thousand different strains). Most gin makers in this country, whether small or large, buy in neutral grain spirit usually made from intensively farmed wheat from another part of the world: TOAD want to promote traceability as well as sustainability. (The use of rye instead of wheat also gives a different flavour.) The local identity of their product is further reflected in the botanicals used to flavour the gin: their Physic Gin is inspired by plants grown in the Oxford Botanic Garden (some of them foraged there) and their new Ashmolean Gin takes its inspiration from items in the Ashmolean Museum. Many thanks to founder Tom for showing us around. (Read more about the distillery at instituteforalcoholicexperimentation.com.)

And so, as the sun sets over the engorged weirs, we turn our thoughts to next year—what meteorological phenomena will tear into our formation? What unlucky souls will the River God pull down to his watery bosom? And will all the sweepstake money still be “resting” in Scarheart’s bank account? Only one thing is certain: we will return.

Why tanners only marry other tanners

4th April 2018 Our speaker was Frances Mitchell, whose husband gave the previous month's talk. There was a reason for this, the connection being William Henry Fox Talbot, the early photographer. Frances's subject was vanished jobs from the Victorian era—all of the professions she touched upon had been performed within a short distance from the pub in which we were sitting, and the starting point for her was a photograph she had come across in the Museum of London (pictured) of a relative of hers, Thomas Garred, who had been a cats' meat man. This was not a man who sold the meat of cats, but who sold low-quality meat to feed to pet cats. Much of this meat came from horses—London ran on horse power in those days, and their working lives were harsh and short, so the city was producing a lot of dead horses, which were recycled in innovative ways. Other long-lost jobs were the crossing sweeps who cleared your path of horse manure if you wanted to cross the road, or gong farmers who cleared out cess pits in the night. There were those who collected dog faeces, which was a valued ingredient in the leather tanning business, along with urine. Unsurprisingly all the tanners were clustered together in smelly enclaves and it was said that tanners only ever married other tanners. There were even those whose "job" it was to creep into the sewers and scavenge for stray valuables or things that had a value to someone (such as teeth, for example). Even though whole families would do this it wasn't strictly legal as it was dangerous work. Many thanks to Frances for thought-provoking and shudder-inducing address.

Englishman undoubtedly inventor of modern photography

7th March 2018 Our March speaker was Stuart Mitchell, who gave us an account of how Henry Fox Talbot, an amateur enthusiast, invented modern photography. Talbot's de facto rival, Frenchman Daguerre, was in it for the money and somehow persuaded his government to buy the rights to his own Daguerreotype process in return for a lifetime stipend, after which he rather lost interest. Talbot's investigations were part of a gentlemanly dilettantism and until he realised he had a rival he had never thought to publicise or publish his work. But he did then go on to set up a workshop manufacturing photographic prints, and Stuart's interest was sparked by the fact that his house in Reading overlooks the site: in fact his window appears in a publicity shot taken by Talbot at the time (below).



Club roused by plucky wartime spy

7th February 2018 Our speaker this time was Craig Young, telling us about Wing Commander F.F.E. Yeo Thomas, an unassuming Englishman who had grown up partly in France and thus spoke impeccable French—a fact which ultimately led to his employment by SEO as a spy in WWII. His ordeal really began after he was captured by the Gestapo and tortured to the point of having to be artificially resuscitated. He escaped several times, managed to pretend to be someone else when recaptured and even organised resistance in a prison camp. His codename was The White Rabbit and the Gestapo's respect for him can be gauged by the fact that they went on to nickname female Kiwi agent Nancy Wake The White Mouse in turn.

Why girls like a man in uniform

3rd January 2018 Our speaker for the first meeting of the year (just three days in) was Stewart Lister Vickers, talking about the influence of military uniform on civilian fashion, with a specific emphasis on the hussar jacket—why was it designed that way, and what has made it appeal so much to to pop stars from Jimi Hendrix to Adam Ant and beyond.

Old year seen out in traditional manner

21st December 2017 As is traditional, we met for one last knees-up in a pub before we all went our separate ways and suffered our families for Christmas itself. For most of the Club's existence this gathering has taken place at the Dover Castle public house on Weymouth Mews, usually by annexing the back room. Sadly last year that pub was closed down to make way for a bistro so we had to find pastures new. At Matthew Howard's suggestion we tried the Rising Sun, located on the picturesquely-named Cloth Fair next to Smithfield meat market (handy if anyone needs to dash out a get some mince during the evening, though I'm not aware that anyone did). This all went well so we returned to the Rising Sun this time too, and I think a new tradition has been born. It is also traditional that this is the one time of year when we see Lord Mendrick to check he is still alive; the rest of the year he is abroad, teaching the children of the rich in some plague-ridden part of the world. For the second year he didn't turn, so I now suspect he was actually consumed by cannibals some time ago and someone is keeping his Facebook page alive for sinister purposes. The Club should really mount an expedition to find his grave. Aside from Mendrick's absence, the meeting went convivially. There were no great incidents, announcements or entertainments, just a bunch of people drinking a in a pub. Frances Mitchell was resplendent in a Christmas-themed skirt, Ian White turned up dressed as the Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town, while Mark Christopher turned up without a tie, and therefore technically not dressed at all. Apologies to those who left too early or arrived too late to feature in the pics!



Club glimpses the dark side of Santa

6th December 2017 Our December meeting was masterfully themed evening with Prof. Philip Hancock giving us a talk on the dark side of Santa Claus. He looked at the various folklore traditions from around the world that merged together to form Father Christmas as we know him, traditions that mostly revolved around Christmas devils who hunted down children who had been bad and beat them, or perhaps kidnapped them in a sack and tossed them into a hell mouth. St Nicolas himself, although being in reality fairly wealthy and prone to acts of generosity to those in need, also seems to have had a habit of punching out anyone who disagreed with him; even after death he reappeared to thrash a priest who questioned whether revering the saint was really appropriate. The sanitised Santa as we know him, who focuses more on rewarding good children rather than torturing the bad, seems to have been born in the US in the late 19th century—although contrary to popular opinion he predated the famous Coca Cola advertising. From here, however, he was happily co-opted to advertise not only Coke, but cigarettes, whisky, firearms and the US involvement in WWII ("Santa goes to war"). There are even saucy subversive adverts where Santa is peering up skirts or pinging suspender belts. Seems he just can't escape his dark side. Many thanks to Philip and all who came to engage in some pre-Christmas hijinks (including Bob, the Club lobster, pictured above).

Club calls for Revolution

2nd December 2017 In honour of the Russian revolution, which marked its 100th anniversary in October, we made the events of 1917 the theme for our Christmas party. The place was awash with fur-draped White Russians, scheming radicals, granite-faced military enforcers and simple peasant folk.
The venue was the Tea House Theatre, run by Club Members Harry and Grace, who laid on a buffet spread featuring a classic Russian Salad, and a layered Shuba Salad the recipe for which the chef got from his Russian aunt, plus some inventive “rebranding” of more familiar objects—Stalin Samosas, anyone?

We had live entertainment from Chairman Now! (aka Fred Snow), singing bawdy songs and engaging in jokes about dialectical materialism, and a rich programme of games: we had a reprise of our Shoot the Romanovs in a Basement wheeze, first seen at our 2012 royalty-themed party, in which players fired a nerf gun a matryushka dolls on which the faces of the Russian royal family had been sellotaped. We had Rabble Rousing, where contestants were presented with flash cards featuring revolutionary words and given 15 seconds to assemble them to produce a fiery slogan, which they then declaimed to the masses. The winner was the one who achieved the loudest applause, measured with the Club’s decibel meter. And we had Odessa Steps, a game that lovingly recreated the scene from Battleship Potemkin where the Cossacks are massacring civilians in Odessa and a pram with a baby in it bounces down the the famous flight of steps (a scene later referenced in The Untouchables).

In addition, throughout the evening there were further challenges: guests were invited to submit a Five-Year Plan for the glorious republic. They were presented with a basket of hard-boiled eggs and some felt-tips and invited to produce a beautiful work of art in our Fabergé Challenge. In The Hunt for Red October guests were encouraged to search the venue for a small red submarine hidden somewhere on the premises. Not to mention our traditional Christmas Lucky Dip, where guests thrust their hands into an old dustbin and pull out some crudely-wrapped piece of tat.

And, of course, there was our famous Grand Raffle, free for all Members to enter, with silly prizes themed around the revolution…



It turns out not to be grim up north after all

11th November 2017 Ian White, Member of both the NSC and the Campaign for Real Ale, organises a pub crawl for us every year. Here he describes the latest:

This year was a trip to an area that has not been explored before on a NSC crawl. It was much to the delight of a number of our members who were pleased that such an event was occurring in the proximity of their residences.
The mission was to enjoy four Grade II Listed public houses that were a fair distance apart—adding the tricky requirement of shepherding Members on and off a variety of public transport methods, without losing anyone.

To start off and to enable members to get to a starting point with the minimum of fuss, what could be easier than a pub directly opposite Alexandra Palace railway station? The Starting Gate is smallish Victorian corner street pub with a central island and plenty of features. A warm-up pint was consumed in a leisurely manner by the few who made it on time, while sundry late arrivals had to enjoy their beverages rather more quickly.

From here it was an easy stroll straight across the road, back into the railway station, just in time to board a train heading south to Hornsey. The Great Northern Railway is a purpose-built late Victorian pub serving a number of real ales and a large selection of craft beers. The bar staff were very happy to dispense taster shots to anyone interested—and of course a number of us took up the offer and sampled an intriguing array of flavours. A good number of Members arrived at this point, swelling our numbers. We also got talking to a delightful gentleman who was there to raise a glass or three to a recently departed friend of his.

The 144 bus to Turnpike Lane was hailed: there was not much room downstairs, so we took the top deck seats at the back, for some reason various youths decided it was perhaps best for them to vacate the area. This was followed by a scramble across the busy junction of Turnpike Lane and on to another bus down to the Salisbury. Even at five o’clock in the evening it was rammed with drinkers of various ages and stages of celebration, all in a pub that is a fine testament to the high Victorian design of a purpose-built boozer.

Not far from the Salisbury is the excellent bakery Yasar Halim, offering wonderful Greek pastries—just the kind of good comfort food to enjoy on an afternoon of a few beverages. From here a small bus whisked us to Crouch End and into the Queens, the sister pub of the Salisbury. Again, fine Victorian Architecture and a lively atmosphere. However, it was all too soon time to depart and head southwards to Central London, by bus to Finsbury Park and then by overground train to King’s Cross. In the Parcel Yard pub even more Members arrived to bear witness to the travellers returned, and I don’t think we lost anyone en route.

If you didn’t make it and are curious about the pubs, the details and addresses are in issue 133 of the newsletter, so take an afternoon and enjoy these splendid places of refreshment.

Bauhaus comes to Belsize Park

1st November 2017 Our speaker was Harrison Goldman, a man we already know has an interest in antiques, but normally we might be thinking Georgian furniture—today, however, he was talking about the Isokon Building, a stark modernist block of flats built in 1934 that was not just challenging in its utilitarian simplicity but also represented an experiment in efficient, centralised living. The flats were a mix of one-bedroom and studio layouts but all had space-saving sliding doors and very small kitchenettes: the idea was that food was prepared by a central kitchen and sent up in dumb waiters. Later the catering facilities were converted into a restaurant and bar which became a favourite haunt of avant garde intellectuals. Other services such as shoe-cleaning and bed-making were also offered. From the 1970s to the 1990s it was owned by the council and deteriorated until being abandoned altogether. In 2004, however, it was restored and is once again occupied (and Grade I listed).

Club pays homage to American theatre

4th October 2017 Our guest speaker was Roy Engoron, a Club Member who resides in Sacramento but makes occasional trips to Blighty and often arranges these to coincide with Club events. Roy himself trained as a theatre director and his subject this time was The Golden Age of Broadway, looking at the specific character of American theatre, from what is regarded as the first true American play, Thomas Godfrey's 1765 The Prince of Parthia—by all accounts execrable—then the early days of minstrel shows and showboats, taking in playwrights with a distinctively American voice (Eugene O'Neill being his personal favourite) and lingering on that great American form, the musical. He took us on a guided tour through some of the notable figures, whether actors, directors, writers or designers, and hoped, in conclusion, that the contribution of these luminaries atoned for the Prince of Parthia.

By way of a comic interlude, a local hairdresser popped in to see if anyone wanted to buy a Victorian moustache cup celebrated William Shakespear. I think in the end Jack Defer auctioned it to Luca Jellinek (pictured).

View previous year

For more news see the News Archive links above…