Because Blogger's "Adult warning" often goes into a perpetual loop (isn't working properly), I will be making all new posts at my WordPress blog. You can follow it even if you do not have a WordPress Account. There're also my Twitter and my Tumblr blog, my Facebook and my Google+ page and my group.
(Update: Blogger hasn't fixed its problem with the "adult warning". Will go back to posting at my WordPress blog)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gentlemen's Clubs

No, I'm not using this as a euphemism for a brothel.  I'm talking about old-fashioned clubs for men.  I'm reading The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, by the talented and insightful Dorothy Sayers.  First published in 1921 (90 years ago!) she describes how the very old General Fentiman leaves his flat in the morning, and then spends the rest of the day dozing in the armchair next to the fire, having a drink or two with old acquaintances, complaining about the state of the world, before going home in the evening.  General Fentiman comes of course to a sticky end.

It occurred to me while I read it that such an institution would be the perfect home for me.  Not just when I am old and decayed (next year, for example) but now.  A place where I can meet other men, not to hook up, but to chat, share a drink, and reach tentatively across that gap which divides us from each other.

You see, that sort of club is not for couples.  There, men can be friends with other men without their wives also having to be friends with each other or with them.  After marriage, for the most part it's couples (whether it's a het or gay marriage):  you go out to drinks together, or to dinner together or even to the cinema or the opera together.  So if your wife/husband/partner doesn't like your friend's ditto, a strain is placed on the friendship.  Also, you cannot be intimate in a group, and intimacy is indispensable to friendship.  Intimacy is personal, individual, private.  One cannot confess to one's weaknesses and failings in public.  Not without bathos.  But with someone you care for, who cares for you, you can admit to disappointment or unhappiness or a sense that life has passed you by.  You can even admit you are less than perfect because you are gay, or have just been diagnosed with a terminal disease, or some other personal catastrophe.

A few people tried to get me to join clubs when I first came to Oz.  A boss took me to lunch at the Australia Club, very grand, dreadful food, with a full length portrait of the Queen, housed in a wonderful stone late-Victorian building.  In those days, I didn't believe I was clubbable, and anyway, it was all rather stuffy and dull, and all those nabobs from industry, commerce, politics and banking rather intimidated me.   So I didn't pursue his offer to put me up for membership.  I know, I know, I'm really quite hopeless about networking.  I'd be much better off financially these days if I'd joined.  Another boss took me to lunch at the Savage Club, which was more my line -- a club for artists, musicians, scientists, actors and writers, and those who appreciated these arts.  Alas, this time, it was he didn't pursue the offer, and I was too shy to push it myself.

"Old Man with Dog" Ivey Hayes
There are humbler clubs: the local cricket or footy clubs, the country club, or the local choir.  Alas, I can't play cricket or footy, and they asked me to leave the choir because I couldn't sing.  (How humiliating is that?)

We are social animals.  We need others of our species.  Because we don't have human friends we get a dog.  But dogs are only a partial cure for loneliness. Better than nothing, I suppose.  I expect I shall be an old man with dog, one day.

For people who are clubbable, people who can join groups with other people who have an interest they share, life must be easier than it is for odd and eccentric loners like me.  Ninety years ago, there were clubs for all kinds of purposes and people from the humblest to the highest belonged to several.   Even if you were without close friends you didn't have to be alone.  These days we have Facebook.  Or Yahoo groups.  It's not the same, somehow.

1 comment:

Muskox said...

I found this old post at the bottom of another, current post and have always like Dorothy Sayers, so I punched on the link. I hope you are notified when somebody posts a comment, because it's certain you won't be checking back on this one.
In our little town there were several mainstream men's clubs, Elks, Moose, Rotary, Shriners. The one I've been curious about is the Oddfellows, and you've got me curious enough to actually do some research. I think the only club still active and really functioning is the Rotary. All the others have gradually atrophied and lost their buildings -- their physical center -- and so are on their way to dying out completely.
The Oddfellows hall was abandoned forty years ago when I got here. It became a yoga studio for awhile, then several other things, and there is now a parking lot on the site. According to Wikipedia, ours was probably a lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the American branch of an originally British fraternal organization. Many years ago I was on the board of the local community theater and somebody donated the robes from the Odd Fellows. They were gorgeous, rich heavy velvets decorated with silk, gold chains, and peacock feathers. Beautiful stuff. In the old days, this was basically a mining town and the miners, many of them single would have been attracted to an organization that offered friendship and camaraderie as well as somebody to bury you decently.
I always wondered if the name indicated something about being gay, but it's very doubtful. Wikipedia says they were the first to include a women's auxiliary (for wives and daughters) and they promoted high moral standards and ethical conduct, which, in those days, certainly did not include same-sex shenanigans. Still, I'll bet there were a fair number of best friendships that would have been lovers if they had been free enough to realize it and actually do something about it.
I just looked up comrade because it was flagged as misspelled. It is from the old French; it meant roommate.