Thursday, 25 August 2011

Our Eccentric Spring and Summer

…What an eccentric season we are having! -

Filled with celebrations and adventures, drama and suspense!

...And the most eccentric weather…

At least half a dozen of the Eccentric Club members decided to tie their wedding knots, including the most illustrious Honorary Life Member since 2009 HRH Duke of Cambridge. We were also cordially congratulating other fellow eccentrics: Dr Diego Miranda-Saavedra, artist Martin Harrison-Priestman and a few others.

The club was unanimous in our joyous celebration of the 90th Birthday of the Club Patron, HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

And we were happy to offer our full support to a new Dad, Stan Mytkowski (who was last time spotted in Sweden - who knows why?!).

The 230th Anniversary of the Society of Eccentrics took a form of a drinks reception rather than the originally anticipated dinner and was attended by a number of our usual as well as some surprise guests, including the Chairman of the UNICEF (UK) and his wife. Members and guests raised a toast to the memory of those who were making the Society of Eccentrics 'a talk of London town' in the 1780s-1840s.

Whilst some of the famous names of that era are now forgotten, many became the legends and historical figures. In 1825 "The English Spy", commemorating some of already then 'the dismembered Eccentrics' (as many members died between 1818-1825, and the club had no regular meetings until the mid-1830s), published a little anonymous poem listing the key figures of the old club:

"In the room, where of old the Eccentrics met;

When mortals were Brilliants, and fond of a whet,

And Hecate environ'd all London in jet.

Where Adolphus, and Sherri', and famed Charley Fox,

With a hundred good whigs led by Alderman Cox,

Put their names in the books, and their cash in the box;

Where perpetual Whittle, facetiously grand,

On the president's throne each night took his stand,

With his three-curly wig, and his hammer in hand:

Then Brownly, with eloquence florid and clear,

Pour'd a torrent of metaphor into the ear,

With well-rounded periods, and satire severe.

Here too Peter Finnerty, Erin's own child,

With many a tale has our reason beguiled:

Then wit was triumphant, and night after night

Was the morn usher'd in with a flood of delight."

It is a pity that whilst Richard Brinsley Sheridan ('Sherri') and Charles James Fox ('Charley Fox') are well remembered, the names of James Whittle (1758-1818) and James Brownley (1775-1822) have rubbed off from the public memory completely - yet at the dawn of the 19th century they were admired by both Sheridan and Fox for their wit and satire. Little is remembered of John Adolphus (1768–1845), though he is lucky to be included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Alderman Cox, Peter Finnerty, Pierce Egan (1772–1849; the original author of the best-sellers about the two gentlemen, 'Tom and Jerry', and their adventures in London and elsewhere), William MacGillivray (1796–1852; the father of modern British ornithology, who walked by feet from Edinburgh to London, observing, sketching and describing the birds) and many others are only known to a narrow circle of specialists today. We feel it is our duty to research, uncover and preserve their life stories and achievements - they belong to the mankind…

On 9th of July in the grounds of Milton Manor in Oxfordshire the magnificent second annual 'Festival of the Nine Muses' took place, organised by Julia Burnett Armstrong, Lavinia Harrington, Ariadne Aivazovsky, Annunciata Walton, Maha and Zoya Rous, and many other splendidly creative young ladies and gentlemen. Whilst playing with a glass of Pimms and the idea of including the event into the club diary as compulsory for the members, your humble servant, the Club Secretary bumped into one other of the founding members of the revived Eccentric Club, Mr Henry Hemming (Member No.007), the much celebrated author of the book "In Search of the English Eccentric". Henry, it appeared, was invited to address the guests of the festival on his favourite subject - the nature of the English eccentricity, - however, his requests for a projector and a screen were answered in an equally eccentric way - he was offered more Pimms and a couch under the apple tree in a quiet quarter of the walled garden… It was after he became rather tranquil and philosophical about the entire purpose of his visit, that a crowd of eager listeners appeared from the bushes and the talk took place as planned, albeit at a most unexpected time…

On 16th of July, as the Chap Olympiad was taking place in Bedford Square, London, and the chaps were competing under the merciless rain, the Eccentrics had no better luck on the banks of the River Thames in the splendid market town of Henley, Oxfordshire, where for the first time the Thames Traditional Boat Rally accepted us as 'fringe-participants' and the qualified judges of 'The Most Eccentric Boat on the Thames' contest. Most of the morning and the early afternoon we were being consistently swept by the blast of wet wind into the river, but that just made us stronger and more confident - the genes of the sea-farers were awaking in some whilst the others were bravely swinging their picnic-knives as the swords around the cake with a chocolate pirate head on top of it. Our only fellow eccentric to actually walk the plank this year (in "The Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides" (2011)), Ray Frensham, was not with us on the memorable day, but his chilling gaze through the monocle was felt by many.

Despite the fearless trips up and down the river on board of 'Alaska', the famous Thames steamer which once carried Her Majesty The Queen, and numerous attempts to hold down to the ground our portable tent whilst holding the champagne glasses, the wind overpowered us eventually and we had to retreat to Phyllis Court which felt like heaven after a day of such intense fun. Whilst many of us left Henley after their tea, some came back the next day - Lyndon Yorke unveiled an unrehearsed and unexpected drama to those attending the boat rally: his attempt to demonstrate a most eccentric vessel he had assembled (in his own words, "a ‘river machine’ made from a pair of long range underwing fuel tanks from a 1960s vintage Hawker Hunter fighter jet"), known as 'Voltanic MK2', almost re-enacted the tragic end of 'Titanic' on the Thames and, naturally, with more Pimms than ice.

Thanks God, the passing-by boats saved for the mankind one of the greatest British eccentrics alive and his device, which by then was resembling either a submarine-in-disguise from one of the early James Bond movies or a mechanical whale stranded in the Thames.

Lyndon's own account of the memorable event will be published soon on this website and in the next issue of the club magazine. Despite such a nerve-wrecking experience, Lyndon Yorke awarded Mr Martin Lee, the proud owner of a boat called 'Apple Crumble', with the formal Certificate of the Eccentric Club pronouncing his vessel 'The Most Eccentric Boat on the Thames in the year 2011', a bottle of fine champagne and warm words of encouragement.

On 14th of August on Trevor Bailey Sporting Ground in Dulwich the Inaugural Cricket Match between the Eccentric Club and the Carlton Club took place at approximately 1:30pm.

Organised by the one and only Clem Chambers, affectionately known at the Carlton Club as 'CCCC' ('Carlton Club Cricket Captain'), who also, incidentally, happens to be the Eccentric Club Cricket Chairman, it was a true celebration of all things cricket and all things eccentric. It can be rightfully called the most historic and the most eccentric cricket game in London clubland!

The teams were carefully selected from the most dedicated professional and amateur players at both clubs as well as some splendidly playing non-members, who expressed their desire to defend the pride of the Eccentric Club and to be rewarded with its membership upon their victory.

We all played our best (even the Club Secretary, for whom it was the very first game of cricket in his life! and he still did not finish reading 'Cricket for Dummies'!), Max Wiltshire and Martin Hogbin were truly amazing, and, yes, we had more runs - 226 against 179, and, yes, they lacked two batsmen, but do things like that really matter? We all had fun and all have won. Thank you, Carlton Club! We should do it again some time.

The splendid game brought into our ranks new members, the victorious cricketers, some of whom are well known in professional cricket circles: Nick Lee, Matthew Birrell, George Beechey, David Burton, John Steele, Hallam Mosley, Matt Wood, and a wonderful lady - Zoya Skoropadenko!

We were also blessed by other fabulous new members this season, the gentlemen whose support to our club is indeed a great honour: Viscount Woodstock, Christopher Lee (the author of "This Sceptred Isle"), the artist Alexander Talbot-Rice, and many others.

And now, that the Summer is almost over, we are looking forward to our Autumn: we are working on the new exciting events for the club diary - a tea party at the most eccentric home of Lyndon Yorke in a living museum of his mechanical follyological inventions, a clay shooting outing, a visit to 'The Eccentricity' exhibition in Oxford followed by a game of snooker at a local club. Lucy Freud suggests we should have more events for our members in France where our popularity is also growing - apparently, our members are already very welcome at the Hotel Lutetia in Paris and that's just the beginning…

And now, I'm off - to South France to prepare the amicable grounds there.

À bientôt!

Yours truly, the Club Secretary

Nil Nisi Bonum