Monday 20 April 2015

Conquering the Citadel

Yesterday I had a most exciting lunch, for it was in the Mecca of Edinburgh Fogeys, Young and Old, the New Club. It was founded in 1787, but Our Chap, i.e. our favourite member of the family who once owned the Historical House, did not bother to join, for he had given up social life by then, says B.A.

It comforts me strangely that Our Chap did not want to join the New Club.  

Anyway, the New Club has moved about Edinburgh a bit, and most recently had a whole new building built for it in the brutalist 1960s, when there was a plot afoot to destroy all Princes Street and turn it into a fashionable concrete wasteland. Fortunately this plot was thwarted before Princes Street was entirely demolished and some pretty buildings have been allowed to remain. 

The effect of the newest New Club is rather odd, for  it looks like it was built for the more important members of the Soviet Communist Party, with lots of mirrors and paintings and china stolen from British aristocratic houses by unsavoury servants/spies. However, after being in it for fifteen minutes, while a Pretend Son sorted out some paperwork, I decided it reminded me of the modernist academic buildings of my extreme youth: lovely fabric panels on the wall, very tall windows, wall-to-wall plum carpeting. The "ladies' powder room" has lovely thick paper towels, but no chaise longue, alas. (The "ladies' powder room"--more of a "ladies' powder warren"-- at the Oxford and Cambridge in London has a most satisfactory and dramatic chaise longue, for fainting on after having been broken up with/propositioned at lunch.)

I first saw the New Club  on Wednesday, and I thought that even if I were never invited for lunch, at least I could use it as the backdrop to some story--like a bit of fluff about Amy Brown of Craigmillar whose head was almost turned by Wicked Cedric who took her to lunch at the New Club and was rude about her plebian origins. ("I'm proud of my dad," flared Amy, etc.) However, on the way to Mass, the visiting Pretend Son invited Benedict and me to lunch, and great was my joy.  Members are always proposing to take me to the New Club and never do.  It's like they are saying "How are you?" and expecting only "Fine, thanks" in response.

Member:  Have you never seen the New Club? I should invite you for a drink/lunch.

Seraphic: I am sure I would enjoy that very much.

Member: We must fix that up one day.

Seraphic: What about now?

Member: Ha, ha, ha! 

However, at last Benedict Ambrose (who had already been) and I were properly invited and I, who had started to worry that there was something terribly wrong with me that nobody wanted to be seen with me in the New Club, realized that I was wearing orange rubber boots and had not brought shoes. 

The difficulty was brought home to me by another Member, to whom I chatted at after-Mass tea, who suggested that orange boots might look unusual in the panelled dining-room. "Of course, it might be different if you were the Countess of  [Such-and-Such]," he reflected. "She might arrive in orange wellies." 

"Oh dear," I said, thinking that that which was permitted to the Countess of [Such-and-Such] would not be permitted to Mrs McAmbrose. So I abandoned B.A. and the Pretend Son to walk to the New Club on their own and prevailed upon this Member to drive me to an adjacent shoe store where I bought a pair of feminine flats, having hurt one of my feet on my long trek to the RBG on Friday. Then I met B.A. outside the Club, Pretend Son already being in, and divested myself of my coat on the Ladies' Coat Rack before following P.S. to the exciting antechamber where one fills in one's lunch request on a little card (or tells one's host what to fill in for one) and then into the panelled dining-room with its Raeburns, club servants and elderly lunchers in tweed. 

The dining-room looks like a miniature version of a dining-room in a London club, only with a very funny white 1969 sky-lit ceiling that looks as though the architect cried when the New Club insisted on keeping the wooden panelling from the old dining-room. The chamber also has a huge portrait of Queen Victoria, who was rather small, and therefore her portrait was literally larger than life. There is a portrait of Earl Haig, too, which was cozy, as I have never been able to shake the impression, formed in childhood, that Earl Haig had been a leading light of my Toronto neighbourhood, "Earl" being his given name. A waiter appeared wordlessly with baskets of bread, and I hesitated, being unsure if I was supposed to take a whole basket or just a slice of bread. Fortunately I guessed correctly, but then disgraced myself by attacking the butter with my fish knife.

The fish knife was eventually taken away and replaced by an asparagus knife, for I ordered asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham, 'coz of having seen Seranno ham on telly the other night. And I also ordered roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy because if there is one thing a British gentlemen's club should know how to do better than anyone, it's roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Yummy, yummy, yummy. I was offered a sauce boat of horseradish, too, which I love, and we all drank down a flask of the club claret. Slurp, slurp, slurp. By the time I finished my claret, I was holding forth on the importance, for a clergyman, of having grown up in a house with a dining-room table. This wounded healer stuff, I announced, was all bosh, and really what helps you help people in all kinds of terrible situations is the dining-room table right smack in the centre of your psyche.

"No, thank you, I don't think I had better have any more."

B.A. ordered pudding, and P.S. ordered a savoury, and I ordered coffee only to be told I could have that afterwards in the coffee bar, which was almost as crushing as the mistake with the butter, for it proved that I had never been in the New Club before, the shame. But actually, the coffee bar was great fun because it was just a MACHINE sitting on the bar, and to get your coffee, espresso, cappuccino or what have you, you press a button--just like in the hockey arenas of my youth, only the machine being much smaller and one not having to pay. And we took our coffees into the "Ladies' Sitting Room" and admired the Jacobite paintings, the fabric panels and the wonderful view.

Naturally having conquered the citadel of the dining-room, my brain puttered away thinking of how I could become a Member myself. It is not all that terribly hard on paper although it is All Very New for women to become members. So it occurred to me that actually the proper Fogey thing to do would be to make lots of money so to pay for B.A's membership, should he stand for membership, and then come to lunch with him and withdraw to the Ladies' Sitting Room to drink cappuccinos and read the club copy of Vogue all afternoon.

The New Club was very quiet both times I was there. (B.A. says it isn't like that in the evenings.) I think it must be the perfect place to be elderly. It's so peaceful, and the club servants, though slightly scary, are helpful, and there are magazines and nice views of the street, and equally quiet members lurking about in tweed, plus Club notepaper. 

I proposed to make a fortune writing romance novels, so as to secure us a happy old age in the New Club, and B.A. agreed that I should get on that. 


  1. Cool! I wonder if I can get someone to take me to The Melbourne Club...

    (Answer? Probably not.)

  2. Do the parish Young Fogeys belong?

    1. No, I don't think so, but one of them has to go there for work schmoozing purposes.

      Your post has got me thinking about etiquette in general. A close friend of mine is getting married next year, and so we have been thinking about wedding stuff a lot. I have managed to get my hands on some US-published books about wedding etiquette.

      It has turned my world upside-down. Apparently American weddings are far more formal than Australian ones. There are things that are apparently highly offensive that it wouldn't occur to me to take offence at, like:

      - listing the wedding gift list details on the wedding invitation (I've seen that done, and I was like, "Okay, I'll just use that then")

      - bringing wedding gifts to the reception and/or having a gift table at the reception (been there, done that)

      - the bride's mother sitting down at the ceremony before every other guest is seated

      - second-time brides wearing veils and trains

      I could go on. I have now also learnt what a 'rehearsal dinner' is, that the mothers of the bride and groom are to dress in complimentary outfits, that a relative of the bride must never host the kitchen tea/bridal shower, and that there's such a thing as a reception 'response card'.

      We will probably ignore most of these things, but at least now I know exactly what to do if ever I attend a wedding in the USA!

    2. Woot! I don't think most people take all that THAT seriously.

    3. Lol!! I'm an American, Julia and, trust me, just about nobody actually pays any attention to most of that stuff!

      We do have rehearsal dinners, but those are fun! :)

      And the RSVP's, of course, but most catering over here is paid by plate/person, so it's kind of a necessity.

      But pretty much nobody's going to take offense about any of the other stuff. I've never been to a wedding that didn't list the gift registry on the invite, or have a gift table and I think I would laugh myself silly if I ever saw the mothers of the bride and groom wearing complimentary outfits.

      I'm guessing they are either old books or Miss Manners. :)

    4. Neither! These books are recent publications -- like, 2008 or something. I did get the feeling though that they were really for people who want to throw the Biggest and Most Formal Southern Wedding of All Time.

      If I get married I want paella.

  3. Expat Housewife22 April 2015 at 12:47

    How exciting! Is the Pretend Son a member and usually hangs out in gentlemen's clubs?

  4. This particular Pretend Sons is, but I don't think he usually hangs out in gentlemen's clubs. It's a from-time-to-time thing. Meanwhile, there is a reduced rate for the young!

  5. Well, I'm glad you made the correct decision regarding the bread, but aren't you going to let us know what it was, in case any of us get invited to the New Club?

    1. Yes, take one piece of bread and put it on your bread plate. Possibly there are bread tongs, but I was too flustered to notice, so I just picked it out with my fingers. Worst moment of the day, hands down.

  6. LOL - Julia... the mothers needn't wear matching outfits... lots of times it is the Bride that insists on that. The registry and shower rules are because it is impolite to appear to ask for gifts, or ask on behalf of relatives. :-) Lots of people bring gifts to the reception as a matter of convenience when they would otherwise have to ship things long distances. (My sister's American/Aussie wedding is still in my head from October.)

    1. Far out! Did they have a wedding in Australia and a wedding in the US? (Wow, the opposite seasons would be a nightmare in that case.)

  7. Unfortunately, 'gentlemen's club' is also code for 'strp club'.

    1. Not in the UK. At least, not among anyone I know. Quite obviously gentlemen don't actually frequent strip clubs. They have proper mistresses, et alia. (KIDDING! :-D)


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