Thursday 20 May 2021

Clubs For Loose Talk


For a life thus far described as well-crafted along antisocial and team-averse lines, it may surprise you to learn, Dear Reader, that Your Correspondent was once a member of a Club. The University Women's Club, to give it its august title. In London's Mayfair, no less. A quirky, private establishment for, as it says on the box, women-who-went-to-university and where they could socialise, Woosterish fashion, with similar, or just rest their weary brogue-shod feet and have a cup of tea after a hard day's shopping in W1.

Whilst I was working with the standard motley crew of an early-90s merchant bank dealing floor, where retired officer classes rubbed shoulders with Sloaney Ponies, upstart Antipodeans (hullo!) with Hooray Henries, and potty-mouthed Essex Wide Boys with Oxbridge nerds, my opportunity to get first-hand experience of the Clubland that I understood best through the parodic lens of British fiction actually came courtesy of the couple I lodged with for the first six months of London life.

He was a member of the Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall, an older and rather more illustrious, if not notorious, club and where I managed to disgrace myself* the one and only time I was invited for lunch with him and his wife and sister. The crisp snapping of newspapers and audible sniffing was as far as the punishment went for my youthful interpretation of singing for my supper, but I was never invited back for a repeat performance, shall we say!

Not to worry, for the University Women's Club beckoned, as my host's wife and sister, a Committee member, were especially keen to have a 20-something on their club register, overlooking my apparent penchant for loose talk. It seemed membership was withering on the vine and the average age of their Ladies was becoming ancient, so it was rather hoped that I'd lure onto the books more young gals from the banking coalface.** 

It was all rather quaint and nice, but the food was rather uninspired and it ultimately wasn't really terribly handy for me to utilise regularly. So, apart from attending the occasional lecture or event dinner, I didn't use it much and, frankly, it didn't live up to the eccentric expectations I'd had about such a place. Except in one respect.

One of the more elderly members would claim as her own the doorman's chair that sat directly inside the front entrance. From this pole position she could see all comers and preside over the passage of members across the lobby where, of course, all action took place ... and, as she seemed to suffer from Tourette's syndrome, make rather, ahem, unsavoury, loud comments about them as they passed. While everyone studiously Pretended Not To Hear the salty language the poor dear would come out with, gaily covering up the blushes on the unwary targets, each visit to my club was a veritable master class in loose talk.

* I was regaling them with the occasion of some unexpected cattiness between two lady tennis commentators on the telly in Australia when I was a teenager and whose microphones were still on when they cut to a commercial break. The slight dining room hum which had disguised my anecdote unfortunately dipped momentarily into silence, just as ol' Pipistrello sailed into the punchline about what one lady commentator said she would do to the other if she didn't desist in whatever the unseen annoyance was.

** They did rather overestimate my sociabilities there as I recruited not a one!

Image credit: Flying With Hands


  1. Hello Pipistrello, When I graduated from college, I had the option of joining a few clubs, which I failed to take advantage of. Your story does not clear up the point of whether I should have or not. At least you got a couple of good stories and a blog post out of it! I think for a while clubs were not so popular and losing members, and many shut down, but now I understand they are regaining status, and many have waiting lists.

  2. Dear Pip, your story reminds me of Groucho Marx and his refusal to join any club that would have him as a member. My experience of joining a club in Melbourne was enough to put me off forever. I was in my late 20s at the time. After being nominated, seconded, dined by those that put me forward so that I'd be acquainted with the Committee and had my life vetted by ASIO (well it might as well have been), I was blackballed. And that was that! And who ever did the blackballing remains a club secret. As does the reason. Whatever the problem they had with me their action made not a jot of difference to my life except save me from the experience of belonging to a club that wouldn't have me.

  3. Jim: My own short time as a member has left me none the wiser, either. I couldn't rationalise keeping the fees going when I moved away, and anyways, my new-improved tight-as-a-jam-jar-lid self laughs merrily at the thought of paying good pesos to rub shoulders with other people!

    Anon: Hello! And what a delightful story! I should like to say Melbourne's loss, but in reality I'm more likely to steer you to my reply to Jim's comment and have you think of all the pesos you saved!!

  4. Contessa said (via email)...

    Contessa: Thank you, dear! I do rather like dredging up the little tidbits and it was seeing mention somewhere the other day of the Oxford and Cambridge Club that prompted this one. Yes, I think we were in Europe around the same time and who knows, our paths may have even crossed during one of my Italian jaunts! xx

  5. I'm, naturally, a member of my Old Boys Club, but living away from England I don't get to join-in with the high jinx. Ne're mind!

  6. Oh my! It does sound like a tale from a novel.
    The only club I've belonged to--without quarters, either--was the math club, back in high school.
    Do you think your hosts still recall your moment of shame? I bet they only remember you as a high-spirited, fun person. But it makes for a good story! More, please.

  7. Cro: Oo, sounds delightfully Woosterish! Does your club have a London premises, like the Drones? I think the appeal to me really lies in the real estate more than the inmates' antics.

    ToF: There were no clubs in my high school, save for beating the miscreants, haha, but for a short period of my adolescence I was a Venturer, the co-ed next step for Scouts and Guides who get hormonal :) ... Mine hosts? Well, she was actually a merry Texan expat who rather goaded me on with my loose talk, so maybe. I'll see what else is in the vault ...

  8. Eva said (via email) ...

    Dear Pipistrello,

    I fondly remember joining a German club at university which involved singing German Lieder and attempting to recite Goethe and Schiller. At the time we had the love of learning a language in common but after catching up with a few members years later, it became clear that we no longer had cause to meet.
    Clubs can serve a purpose at times in one’s life where a common interest is present but ultimately strong friendships emerge from complex or sometimes even whimsical reasons.

    Always enjoy your posts. Thank you.

    Eva: Hello! And thank you for commenting. Your German club sounds very high brow! I don't remember my uni offering such things, although I wasn't on the lookout for making more friends than my hugely-populated lectures offered. I must say, it was the opportunity peek inside something that I'd only ever read about that really nudged me toward joining this club, rather than any lofty ideals about making like-minded friends. I'm really more of a wallflower :)

  9. Very cute... Sloaney Ponies, upstart Antipodeans, Hooray Henries, potty-mouthed Essex Wide Boys with Oxbridge nerds. I love the descriptors except for one. Joe and I left Melbourne for London a week after we graduated and married, to live in the motherland for the mandatory 2 or 3 years. We matched every criterion – impoverished, left wing, seeking classy post-grad degrees and loving London’s pubs.

  10. Hels: No aspersions were meant to be passed upon the Intrepid Antipodeans, such as Joe & your good self, as they were unlikely to be found littering the dealing rooms in the banks and stockbrokers that drew the Upstarts to the motherland!

  11. "...with Oxbridge nerds..."

    Ah, I got a mention :)

    The "doorlady" sounds wonderful

  12. Andrew: There always was and is room on my life's sofa for squeezing in Oxbridge nerds:) ... Yes, and the "doorlady" was positively astonishing with the language that would fly out! Where do old dears learn such things? Descendants of gnarly sailors, perhaps? She was quite sneaky, too, hiding back in that winged chair and making the unsuspecting nearly jump out of their skins when they were so, ahem, robustly described.

  13. I've never belonged to a club. It looks like it wasn't your cup of tea either. It's quite a British thing, I think. As an ex- colony, there are still some clubs the Brits started that are still going strong. Or they were, last time I checked. I really enjoyed reading your amusing anecdotes.

  14. Loree: Thank you, dear! As you say, a very British thing. Indeed, when I was refreshing my memory of the club's bona fides on their website, I checked the reciprocal clubs list - rather the drawcard in times past was the opportunity to lounge about or stay in a central location in a club when travelling to distant lands (that last feature no doubt fallen by the wayside with the rise of AirBnB, I imagine) - and lo! they have reciprocal arrangement with the Maltese Casino in Valetta!

  15. Clubs are fascinating to me.
    People have always wanted to be part of a group that others are not.
    However, I heard tell old clubs are dying as younger types feel no need to join them.

  16. Ur-spo: Don't we all love the look of Venn Diagrams? And to think you can exclude others on the basis of mathematics is old-school philosophy! Which possibly explains why younger types don't get clubs - they've abandoned the STEM subjects in droves.

  17. My Dear Pippy,
    I suspect Mycroft Holmes won't be sponsoring you at The Diogenes but anyplace/anyone that wouldn't crave your company is of no interest to GSL.
    Off to research what Hooray Henries & Essex Wide Boys translate as.

  18. GSL: Thank you for your fine compliment, and how very nice to see you around these parts again! And you would be correct in surmising that MH would not be my sponsor, but I'm fine with that.


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