Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Clubbable

. Tuesday, November 17, 2009


"There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."

The Greek Interpreter

Mycroft Holmes was the perfect misanthrope. Another generation would probably have called him a geek. That Sherlock's elder, and even more brilliant, but highly sedentary, brother should have founded the Diogenes Club was one of Arthur Conan Doyle's finest jokes. A club for the unclubbable. In late Victorian Britain virtually every gentleman belonged to a club. They were as much a part of the cultural ether as a shopping mall is today. The reactionary, among whom we count many of our readers, will mark this as further evidence of the decline of civilization.


If the behaviour of Bertie Wooster at the Drones was perhaps not much better than that of modern teenagers at the cineplex, at least the former was better dressed and had instinctive respect for authority. Aunt Agatha would probably have gotten a cap popped into her by a modern day Bertie. "You want me to marry who? Take that biach." A club was where gentlemen, raised in the all male world of the boarding school and university college, "hung out." At White's the Tories were Tory together. At Brook's the Whigs complained to each that whatever was, was wrong and needed to be changed. The Athenaeum Club had Darwin and Dickens on their waiting list, until financial necessity forced their admittance. There was a club for every type of gentlemen. The thing was that one had to be a gentleman. A man of some substance, manners and property. More than the merely rich, one had to have the bearing and grace. That some fell short, and earned the mockery of writers from Wodehouse onward, doesn't detract from an ideal they tried to uphold.


By way of a reader - some time back I should add - I have come across this press release from Melbourne's Kelvin Club. By all accounts this is a respectable gentleman's club of the old school. The press release, as such, was just a little jarring:


“In contrast to the now defunct Naval and Military Club, or the privatised hotel approach of the RACV, the Kelvin Club at Melbourne Place is embracing the modern club model. We are already attracting city residents and workers who are looking for a sanctuary in an increasingly crowded and noisy Melbourne city.”

“As well as martinis and cigars the Club holds fashion shows, trivia nights, regular Salons to discuss politics, the arts and business. There are jazz nights, poker games, opera and music recitals, international cuisine dinners and much more.”

Trivia nights. Surely. The toffs at White's and Brook's did decadence properly. Vast sums wagered on which rain drop would fall first, that sort of thing. What sort of trivia? Rather unlikely will one of the questions be Nelson's last words, or Beau Brummell's famous put down of the Prince Regent - "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?" Reviewing the Kelvin Club's website, there is certain respect for tradition. Service staff are referred to by their first names, members by their surnames. The building seems to have a Georgian facade. It also hosts weddings and receptions.


I'm trying to imagine David Niven hosting his wedding reception at a gentlemen's club. The poker is probably Texas Hold 'em. The opera would seem to be a traditional touch. Not quite. Far too serious for a club. Operetta, perhaps. Some G & S on the piano over port. Later in the evening. Words out of order when doing Three Little Maids. Lastly, a club is for gentlemen. No girls. It's useless to say that's discriminatory, the very nature of clubs is discriminatory. It's to keep other people out. Recognizing that there should be a place for gentlemen to be men is simple, it comes from understanding that the genders are different. Turning a club into a co-ed place to hang out, and have a good meal, defeats the point. A club is not simply for the merely rich, it's about a code. It's about preference and taste. It does not try to be all things to all people, or even all those of a certain demographic. A high-end convention center it is not. As for me, I'll be with Mycroft in the library. Unless he starts coughing again, then I'll have him escorted out.


12 comments:

Beaverbrook said...

Good Lord this is a good post. The Diogenes Club, eh. Never heard of it.

When I venture to London, I stay at the traditional clubs. Although I consider myself a Tory, I have to admit that I find the Carlton Club a little stuffy for my tastes. Me? Stuffy?

Well, it seems a difficult place to strike up a conversation with the locals, the Tory MPs in the room or whomever seem incredibly standoffish. They would prefer to read their newspapers in the Disraeli room in solitude, than to engage in conversation at the champagne bar. Also, the blue painted grand rooms gives it a cold feeling.

Less so at the Reform Club, where every room exudes a warm reddish glow. Perhaps it's the huge portrait of Lord Durham, the Great Reformer, that makes me feel more at home.

In any event, I'm a military man, and find myself most at home in the Naval and Military Club.

Crux Australis said...

The Kelvin Club is for C-graders in clubland, particularly in Melbourne which is the heartland of Australia's clubland.

The "event" angle however is necessary - in an age where there are lots of pressure on family income, clubs increasingly have to justify the subs to members. These sorts of things are necessary to try it. Both my Australian clubs (one is A-, one is B) hold these sorts of things.

This is another excellent clubland initiative, also. It works to keep the tradition alive in Gen-Y and iGen: www.inter-club.co.uk (we are trying an interstate version here)

Re: London Clubs. Beaverbrook, don't take the Londoners to heart. Commonwealth accents seem to freak out clubmen, so when in town I stick to the reading, or taking other Australians in for a bottle of booze. The Turf Club's food is ordinary, but the bonhomie is great. Buck's is also fun (the Duke of Kent goes there a bit).

Bolingbroke said...

For a moment there, I thought this was going to be a post on seal clubbing. Imagine my relief!

Crux Australis said...

PS Beaverbrook, the girls have already arrived! Clubs with full women membership now include some of the mainstream Pall Mall ones, like the Carlton, O&C, Reform, and Athenaeum. The Travellers' secretary says he anticipates them also switching. Even many of the holdouts now have female associate membership, like the Oriental, Turf and Boodles. It's the real status-anxiety ones, like the Garrick and the East India, that won't have women. White's doesn't have women either but it doesn't count. It transcends mere clubland.

Young Fogey said...

Crux Australis - you are correct about the admission of women however the reason that clubs such as White's are allowed to continue to bar the fairer sex is that they have never had an "Associate Members" category for women. It is this two-tiered level of membership which clubland feared would fall foul of equality legislation, hence the decision by many club executives to pressure their membership to open the doors to full female membership.

Beaverbrook: sorry you don't find the Carlton welcoming. I am there frequently and always find it extremely friendly -- if you sit at the bar in the Morning Room (the Disraeli room is in fact a small function room upstairs near the Wellington Room) you will be sure to find someone to chat to. The Reform is architecturally impressive but the club is far too big and poorly laid out to lend itself to conviviality -- one is always anonymous at the Reform. The Travellers is better but can be a bit stand-offish. The Athanaeum magnificent but quiet. East India and the In and Out are acceptable but far from the top. Oriental a bit slow. Savile is fun and attractive. O&C is uninspiring. RAC and Lansdowne I don't really regard as proper clubs. Turf, Boodles, Brooks's and White's are the greatest clubs but not places you are likely to enjoy if you are an outsider (White's doesn't recip anyway so you wouldn't get in if you were!). Speaking personally, I think the club which provides the perfect combination of atmosphere, architecture and sociability with a suitably exclusive and impressive membership is The Garrick.

Beaverbrook said...

From the expert himself. If I lived in London as you do, Young Fogey, I have a feeling I would come around. Two visits to the Carlton Club is not yet an experience, especially if I still can't get all the rooms right. The Morning Room, right, the one with the portrait of Neville Chamberlain that dwarfs the one of Churchill. I assume it helps if I come in the evening too, and not in the middle of the afternoon. I haven't given it a fair enough shake.

Many thanks for the tip, YF. To the Garrick next time it will be.

Young Fogey said...

Dear Beaverbrook, I think we have struck at the issue. For those seeking to chat with members, the Carlton is very much a creature of the afternoon. Morning Room is crammed before lunch, and pre-prandials one may sit on the very sociable communal members luncheon table in the Churchill Room. Evenings are very much for private entertaining and there is not much social interaction with strangers.

The bar of the Garrick overflows with chatty types at both lunch and dinner. The Members table at the Garrick is one of London's great treasures as it allows one to sit randomly at a table and find oneself seated next to some of Britain's great national media treasures.

I will be celebrating Churchill's birthday twice this month. Once in late November at the Special Forces Club for a private affair and then, on November 30th (St. Andrews Day, the day of WSC's birthday) I shall do as I always do and late at night when the Morning Room is empty, I will have all the lights turned out save for that above Churchill's portrait. I sit underneath the great man, with a few friends seated around, and ask my friends to suggest a favourite WSC speech, which I will then recite. It has become something of a secret tradition at the club -- and one which I hope long continues. If you are around and about Beaverbrook, consider yourself welcome!

What is your Canadian Club? And what recips does it offer? University Club in Toronto seems to have one of the best arrangements as I believe it gives around 13 London recips. Given its Tory foundations, the Albany Club is also worth joining, not least for its reciprocal arrangement with the Carlton, it's spiritual counterpart. I was always amused by the Rideau Club in Ottawa (which is uninspiringly located on the top floor of a mediocre Ottawa 'skyscraper'). In my younger days I remember regularly waiting for a lift to take me down to the basement of this building to access the gym whilst former GG Hnatyshyn would wait for the lift taking him to the Rideau Club. I found it all rather mediocre and lack lustre and did despair for escape!

Crux Australis said...

Young Fogey, I am a big fan of the Turf. I have eaten there as a reciprocal and whenever I've been there the members are very welcoming in a cheery, boisterous sort of way. Not sure I'd take too many females there though. The grouse was a bit stringy too but who cares.

What's Canada's clubland like? I know people that have stayed at the Vancouver Club - sounds nice but fairly relaxed in a New World sort of way.

Lord Best said...

My local club, which occupies the oldest purpose built club house in the country, has been forced to open its ground floor rooms to the public as a bar and restaurant. Rather unfortunate, but in its defense it is an excellent restaurant. The bar is tasteful but the clientele less so, however this is modern Australia we are talking about, finding anyone with taste is dashed challenging.
I've been debating whether or not to join. Part of me wants to support the club, the other part struggles to accept the concessions to modernity. No full female members though, credit there.

Beaverbrook said...

Unfortunately, I'm still a hanger-on, Young Fogey, I usually travel with an Ottawa friend who is a member of the Rideau Club. I do frequent the National Club given the many Economic Club of Toronto speeches held there, but am not a member myself. You can usually find me in the King Edward ("King Eddy") at the Consort Bar enjoying a pint of Tankhouse, on days when I wear my pinstripe.

Shame about the Rideau Club, alright, though the penthouse view of Parliament is pretty good. My friend organized the 200th Battle of Trafalgar Dinner there, which went off handsomely. Still no claim to fame for holding up the GG on the lift though, or other such legendary stories. Brilliant!

Any Churchillian should be able to recite Churchill's greatest quotes, but whole speeches, that I'm afraid I cannot do. You and Martin Gilbert are probably the only two people in the world that can do that.

I read somewhere that the reason why Churchill's speeches were so beautifully written, was because the overwhelming preponderance of English words used were of Anglo Saxon origin and virtually none of French origin. Incredible, when you think of the considerable Norman/French influence on the modern English language.

Appreciate the heads up. One of these days we shall meet under the Churchill portrait light.

Anonymous said...

City University Club on Cornhill has the largest reciprocal list of a members owned club in the world(450+) including 19 in London and around 50 in the UK.

White's has reciprocals: the Brook in New York for one and a few others.

Savile is a lot of fun as is the Eccentric Club that shares the premises of the Arts Club-the Eccentric's reciprocal list is growing rapidly.

I agree that the Lansdowne is sort of boring but has a great reciprocal list especially in the USA. Buck's is fun- East India is lively with a great members table.

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Norn Iron Unites: What issue is uniting all parties of Northern Ireland?
Extreme Loyalist: Michael Stone attempted to slit the throats of Adams and McGuinness because he just "can't handle" republicans being in government.
Canada's Vice-Regal dubbed an elegant mix between Lady Di and Nelson Mandela
Queen of Australia: Support for Australian republic hits new low
A Heroes Welcome: The Windsor Castle Royal Tattoo, 8-10 May 2008
Fat, Vile and Impudent: Alan Fotheringham is back on the bottle
The Devine Right of Bling: Our Royals have become hereditary celebrities
Battle of the Atlantic: Canadians remember the longest battle of WW2
Old Etonian Toff: Boris Johnson installed as Tory Mayor of London
Britain needs a Patron Saint: Cry God for Harry, Britain and St. Aiden?
Anglos in Mont-Royal: Rooting for the Montreal Canadiens
Daniel Hannan: Borders of the Anglosphere and the British Empire was a mistake
Australia 2020: One Big Fat Republican Con Job
Bye bye Tommy: O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy go away"
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Carpetbaggers Down Under: Kevin 'Mugabe' Rudd wins 98.5% support for republic
Kipling: The Jeremiah of Empire and the Poet Laureate of Civilisation
Duke of Edinburgh: Behind the gaffes is a man of real sincerity
Lord Rutherford: The Father of the Atom lives on in great great grandson
Queen of Australia: Royalty Protects us from Tyranny, David Barnett
Long Live the Broadsheet! Norumbega, more traditionalist than the Pope.
A Tale of Two Countries: Soldiers of Britain and Canada serve the same Queen but...
Loyal Subject: Polishing the Royal Crown, Matt Bondy & Brendon Bedford
Devoted to the End: Obituary of Sir Phillip Bridges
The Monarchist does not recognize the Republic of Kosova
Loyal Subject: MPs Ruse Defeated; God Save the Queen!
St. Paddy's Day: Edmund Burke, the greatest Irishman who ever lived
Not Amused: The Bunkum of Timothy Garton Ash
Hero Harry: Rave Reviews across the Commonwealth
Patriot Prince: Prince Harry fought for us all, Charles Moore
William F. Buckley, RIP: He had a Tory gratitude for the pleasures of life
Their Lordships' Duty: The House of Lords can influence the Lisbon Treaty debate
Knights of Oz: Revive Sirs or I'll have your guts for garters
Peter Hitchens: People love the Queen...and the BBC hates us for it
Our Greatest Monarch: Paul Johnson says Henry V was our greatest monarch
Princess Diana Inquest: A Dirty Raincoat Show for the World
Malcom Turnbull: 'Queen's death will spark republican vote'
Duke of York: The Royals are not "stuffed dummies". They should have their say
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Peter Hitchens: Get rid of the monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty
THE FALL OF CHURCHILL
Honouring Sir Edmund Hillary
The Queen versus an E.U. President
Going Solo: Prince William earns his Wings
James C. Bennett: The Third Anglosphere Century
Knights of Oz: Revive Sirs or I'll have your guts for garters
Princess Diana Inquest: A Dirty Raincoat Show for the World
Malcom Turnbull: 'Queen's death will spark republican vote'
Future Peer: The life and times of Lady Victoria Beckham
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Peter Hitchens: Get rid of the monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty


2007 ARTICLES


New York Times: Ever Backwards into the Royal Future
Peter Hitchens: People love the Queen...and the BBC hates us for it
Christopher Hitchens: An Anglosphere Future
Andrew Cusack: Republicanism is a traitor's game
DIAMOND WEDDING ANNIVERSARY
Courageous Patrician: Rt Hon Ian Douglas Smith (1919-2007)
The Last Rhodesian: What began with Rhodes and ended with Ian?
Gentleman Journalist: The Lord Baron W.F. Deedes, 1913-2007
Not Amused: Blair's sinister campaign to undermine the Queen
Loyal Subject: Queen Elizabeth: A stranger in her own country
Reverence Deference: Bowing and Scraping Back in Tradition
Rex Murphy: Kennedy, Churchill, Lincoln - The rousing bon mot is no more
Gerald Warner: Don't shed a tear for Diana cult in its death throes
The End of Grandeur: Rich, chincy Canada puts Strathmore on the blocks
Confessions of a Republican Leftie: "The Queen charmed the pants off me"
The King's Own Calgary Regiment: Cpl. Nathan Hornburg is laid to rest
The Royal Gurkha Rifles: Prince William grieves the death of Major Roberts
Queensland Mounted Rifles: Trooper David Pearce, 41, killed in Afghanistan
The Order of Canada: 100 investitures later, Canada's highest honour turns 40
Prince Edward on Prince Edward Island: Troop's link to monarchy important
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN: Unveils the UK Armed Forces Memorial
Great Britain: "A rotten borough with a banana monarchy" - by Europhile
FADE BRITANNIA: THE UNION OF ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND IS OVER - Simon Heffer
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Remembering 'Smithy': An obituary tour de force by Andrew Cusack here, here and here.
NOT AMUSED: Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Quebec not invited to Quebec's tercentenary