Occasionally it might be a good idea to use this blog to lay before an uninterested world, stories or thoughts or any general waffle what once got writted but never ‘published’ .. or even some things that did and want another airing. What I’m saying is that I can use old material to fill new gaps. So here’s an updated musing from five years back …
I Bid Two Clubs
These opening lines are being written [on the 16th August 2011] in the Morning Room of the Garrick Club, beneath a bust of Charles Kemble and just to the right of a large Bombay Sapphire and tonic. With two dozen actors and musicians of yore staring down from the walls, including David G himself over the ornate fireplace, eternally and silently playing Richard III for all he’s worth, the setting is as opulent and sedate as the Chelsea Arts Club Billiard Room can get bohemian and raucous.
In the Tuesday-lunchtime Dining Room below, smart lounge suits and club ties are the norm, and conventionally, though not legally, the central table of this gentlemen-only club is still kept free of ladies. In SW3, by contrast, dress tends to be more casual, and, though ‘ladies’ are now welcome as members and active in all areas, there are probably a good few who would object to the nomenclature almost as emphatically as they would to being told where they could and couldn’t eat.
Now, there can be little doubt that drink flows as freely, and conversation gets as ribald and stimulating in either establishment when the stars are propitious, or that both sets of guest rooms have seen their share of comings and goings in the night. Indeed, the observant visitor will take note of the Garrick’s glass-encased statuettes, rather cheeky in more ways than one. But it seems more than likely that the contrast between the formal portraits on the walls in Covent Garden and the raunchy cartoons that grace the Chelsea staircase is a fair metaphor for that between the venues in general.
It’s equally plain that my erstwhile Auld Reekie home [the Scottish Arts Club, for the website of which this was intended] sits somewhere between these two stools. But where it sits well below them is in membership, and particularly in attendance. Were there to be any improvement, this writer would prefer its nature to tend to the boho end of the scale, but of course there are plenty of spaces in the Club and hours in the week to accommodate a variety of atmospheres, just as we currently enjoy a variety of events, from formal to burlesque.
Either way, it must first be acknowledged that our Club suffers from two major disadvantages. All the major London clubs have four-figure memberships and well-populated waiting lists; but then they do have, within a twenty-mile radius, a population about twice the heid-count of this whole proud Nation.
Then there is the question of accommodation. Leaving aside niggling questions of reciprocation, and even though we do offer members, their guests and our affiliates excellent deals at two city hotels, it cannot be denied that there is an added appeal to being able to get lightly blootered in a convivial bar and then simply lurch up the wooden hill to Bedrule (with or without the option of shenanigans … this is Edinburgh, after all … in the legendary words of the Morningside brothel madam, You’ll have had your sex).
So what can be done, despite these handicaps, to enlarge and perhaps slightly shift the demographic for the dear auld SAC? We are, after all, situated in a city with more than its share of intellectual and artistic-leaning folk, of all ages, and Scots bow to no other nation in their fondness for a blether and a dram.
Perhaps the first step is to get some of the existing members to use the place more regularly or in slightly different, more ‘casual’ ways. For, while the expanding range of special events never fails to scintillate, it would be good if some of us could sin till half past ten at least. Folks working in the King’s Road area regularly call into Old Church Street for a snifter on the way home and a few of those do actually go home after it. So it’s no use arguing that a private members club is only of interest to retired folks and layabouts like your correspondent, with too many daylight hours on their gnarled old hands. That such venerable (or feckless) members could still use the place for a quiet afternoon read or a natter would remain unchanged and no doubt quite a few would stay on to join the later revels and show the youngsters a thing or two about merrymaking.
And we should attract not just homeward-looking angels, but revellers bound for plays, movies or concerts — or even, if we can drag in a younger crowd, the bars and clubs. Not only are the Hall of the House of Usher, three theatres and two art-house cinemas in easy reach but so are all the sordid dives of Fear and Lothian Road, and what better way to start an evening than by foregathering in the well-stocked and reasonably-priced bar of the Scottish Arts Club?
But it has already been noted that, at lunchtimes and in the early evening, members have appeared, seen no one around, and moved on, only to be followed by another member doing likewise ten minutes later and perhaps one or two others at similar intervals: had they all arrived at once, a jolly coterie would no doubt soon have collected. As it is, few are happy to sit around just on spec, and who can blame them?
Now, after some insubstantial research, it can be stated that it is actually against the law of the land to hold people in the building against their will, much less nail their feet to the floor, even as a temporary and well-intentioned measure — so that idea has had to be abandoned.
The present writer has suggested that a few persons might be used to ‘seed’ the bar at crucial times. Indeed he did offer to sit at a table on otherwise quiet lunch times, behind a placard bearing the legend ‘will chat for food’. Some, who know him only too well, have suggested that a more effective strategy might be to reword it ‘will shut up for food’. Either way the basic principle of seeding might apply, even if said correspondent lacks the elusive spondulicks to purchase any food for himself on such occasions. And this can apply even moreso in the bar of an evening, when the starving artist can sit with a glass of sky wine and pretend it is the aforementioned juice of the juniper.
Perhaps, to save any such attempt at increased cordiality being a hit-and-miss affair which rapidly fizzles out, we should take our cue from the technological age. From ‘flashmobs’ and silent discos to the odd spot of rioting (not that we do that here, in the People’s Republic of Salmondia — which is a pity, as a new laptop would have come in very handy), those tools of the interweb ironically known as ‘social media’ might make a good starting point. Increasingly, members are online and at least a little techno-savvy. Some of us are even on that Facebook they have now, and it wouldn’t take long for other interested parties to register. Your humble and geeky correspondent would no doubt not be the only maven willing to assist the more technophobic in taking the necessary plunges.
The reason that such a site as Facebook might be preferred to e-mail is that one can sign on there without necessarily exposing one’s e-address or e-anything else one prefers not to expose to public gaze. And, rather than being bothered by regular ‘who’s-up-for-drinkies?’ mails, one can take a peek at the appropriate ‘page’ only when one feels inclined to see if anything is going on — or indeed to instigate goings-on. If one does want bothering, Facebook (other equally tiresome sites are available) can be set up to send one an email whenever another member posts on the Club page.
Indeed, many options present themselves with this wonderful and confusing tool. Rather than just ‘post’ one’s suggestion one can even ‘create an event’. Click the relevant button and say anything from ‘lunchtime chat’ to ‘late night sybaritic orgy’, specify date and time and Mr Zuckerberg’s little cash cow will send a mail to every member of the group (use this power wisely and sparingly, mes enfants!) and it will even count the positive rsvps for you. Clever cove, Johnny Yankee.
Well, an impulsive executive decision was made, mere weeks after this article was started (not to mention in a much humbler Dalry setting), and the initial steps taken. All an existing member of the Book of Faces had to do was enter Scottish Arts Club in the Search box at the top, and the page would leap into view. Rather cleverly, none of the items already posted by members on the main page would be visible until one was admitted into the ranks of the elect, which required, and still requires, the intervention of Yours Truly (probably one simply clicks the ‘join’ button and the system asks those of us in charge for approval — ah, the power, the power!). It is not even necessary to add such a panjandrum (or indeed any fellow member) as what is over-optimistically termed a ‘Facebook friend’, though all would be more than welcome to do so.
So, I said at the time, if you like the idea, why not give it a whirl? Once we have, say, 20 or 30 members in the group, we might see people extending invites right left and centre. And this is not an exclusively computerised idea of course. For, if it has the desired effect, word should get round even to the technophobic member or the more impromptu socialite that there is a much improved chance of finding jovial company and general good cheer at number 24. And not long after that, when word gets round the rest of Edinburgh’s havering classes, there will be a queue half way down Princes Street of literati and glitterati, begging to join the Scottish Arts.
I bid two clubs. Anyone care to raise?
At least, that was the idea. Ah, those best laid schemes and all that rot. Some of the members used the page and still do for contacts, notices, etc, but the quietness of a Friday night is only of use to the unsociable. Successive brochures still give the impression of an old folks’ home, however jolly, as it is very hard to show how many of those white-haired members have led lives of sybaritic and artistic excess, without, say, claiming that none of them is over 35. And now that the increasingly popular Chelsea has cut its affiliate ties with Scottish and Irish clubs, even that appeal is weaker. Indeed the Chelsea now has a splinter club, founded by Molly Parkin’s daughter, which is itself oversubscribed. Further thoughts may follow, comparing and contrasting other Edinburgh arty spaces, like the busy bar at Summerhall. But for now, some of us have novels to write …