Or, Where’s That F***ing Books Post You Promised Us?
WordPress does a great thing. It shows you statistics. How many people have visited your blog each day, and how many page ‘views’ you’ve had. Even their country of origin, and your most popular posts and topics. Through these wondrous statistics, that every new blogger pores over, intrigued and enraptured, I’ve discovered that my second most popular topic is Books. ‘Well duh, Jade’, I hear you say, rolling your eyes and huffing in irritation at the opacity of my tiny mouse-brain. ‘Everyone likes books’. I know they do, I know, but the reason this is of note is because I haven’t actually written about books yet, not a specific ‘BOOKS’ post anyway, so this suggests that everyone who clicks on my blog is going straight to the ‘Books’ page I’ve created. Only to be disappointed, horrified and disgusted at my lack of posts about books, I presume. Sorry! Sorry, everyone. Sorry.
I would quite happily read a book a day if I had the time, frowning (I frown when I concentrate) myopically (I actually have very good vision, but like the idea of going blind from reading too much) at crumbling pages. However, I have a job, two jobs in fact, and a fiancé, and a wedding to plan, and a novel to write, and now a blog! All of which takes up a lot of time. Writing a blog puts your lifestyle choices under greater scrutiny though, so I’m going to use its existence as an excuse to be a better person (read more books. Same thing, right?)
At the moment I’m reading The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, by Anthony Lejeune. Partly out of curiosity, partly as research for the novel I’m writing, but also partly because it has nice short chapters with lots of pictures to dip in and out of. It’s a beautiful book, full of photos and anecdotes from history and literature. The history and background of each club is outlined (though their inception rarely strays from a gang of tweed-clad moustaches deciding to start a club for all the bishops/ writers/ army generals/ gluttons/ spies/ delete-as-appropriate they happen to know), but as much attention is paid to the individual atmosphere and identity of each institution. The most well known are probably The Athenaeum, Boodle’s, Brook’s, The Carlton Club, The East India Club, and White’s, but there’s also The Arts Club, The Beefsteak Club, The Farmer’s Club, The Traveller’s Club, and so on and so forth. A horde of other private clubs like Shoreditch House also exist, though they rarely require sponsors so are both more inclusive and more hazardous. The Establishment is less important here than money and a recognisable face.
The gentlemen’s clubs of Lejeune’s book are intended to be a home from home, where you can visit or stay and be looked after; sort of a cross between a hotel and a (fancy) home. They’re expensive, membership fees typically ranging from £700-£1200 per annum, and exclusive, as two existing members usually have to sponsor your application. Beautiful architecture, beautiful decor, and a guest list from Who’s Who characterise most. Oil paintings, antique wooden furniture, plush carpets and a swish staircase are essential. Most are located in St James’s, or ‘clubland’ as it’s often referred to (really, I’m not making this up), near Green Park tube station.
I’m not a member of any of these clubs but I have friends who are, and have dated ‘gentlemen’ (a loose term, in some cases) who were club members. Everyone revels in being allowed where others are not. It’s exciting, and intriguing. You feel as if you’re being let in on a secret; as if you may just fall down a rabbit hole or into a painting. Stepping through an unmarked (if not entirely secret) door, whether it leads to a bar, party or a private club, always makes what’s on the other side of the door that bit more thrilling. Some clubs are more relaxed, and allow guests to find their hosts, whilst others have polite doormen guarding the entrance, who will escort you to where you are expected. I prefer the former tactic, as it sets you at ease and feels more welcoming, creating a more pleasant atmosphere. Then again, it, er, would be easy to take advantage of such a lack of austerity!
My curious friends suspect private clubs of bearing witness to various shenanigans, but, sadly, I’m unable to substantiate most of the (lurid, I think is accurate) fantasies they propose. The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London does evoke certain… incidents… from the past. Evelyn Waugh’s “unseemly fracas” when a servant failed to hail him a taxi, and Lord Glasgow throwing a waiter through the window of his club (a brusque “put him on the bill” from Lord Glasgow closed the episode). Nothing salacious from the present is rendered by Lejeune though, so you’ll have to rely on your wicked imaginations instead.
It’s an interesting book, beautifully illustrated with photos and anecdotes. As a veteran club member himself, however, Lejeune isn’t giving any secrets away!
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