SARAH VINE: Let harmless buffers of the Garrick Club snooze in peace
SARAH VINE: Let the harmless buffers of the Garrick Club snooze in peace. This lady who wants to join is wasting her time – and money
Personally, I think this lady is wasting her time — and money. Of course the Garrick is a fusty, old-fashioned, out-of-date, antediluvian institution. But, quite frankly, so are its members.
Why any woman — especially a fresh, young thing like Emily Bendell — would want to join is beyond me.
Unless, of course, she had her sights set on securing some octogenarian land-owning peer of the realm in the hope that he might bequeath her half of Shropshire in his will. Or, you know, just wants the publicity.
Why any woman — especially a fresh, young thing like Emily Bendell — would want to join is beyond me
I should know: my husband is a member, bless him. And although, sadly, he cannot lay claim to swathes of good arable, it is — I think — the one place where he feels truly at home, surrounded by old things, both dead and living (and many somewhere in between), and nourished by the kind of food and conversation last in vogue circa 1874.
The exclusion of women members at the Garrick is nothing to do with not liking or wanting women to be at the party, and anyone who thinks it is is missing the point.
It is no more sexist than the Women’s Institute or, for that matter, a nunnery. It’s more about having a space where a certain type of man — often of an age, often disproportionately interested in obscure points of history or politics — can meet and eat with like-minded fellows without having to worry about getting gravy on his tie, or ordering a second bottle of wine to go with his savoury or boring the female company to tears.
That said, women are, in my experience, more than welcome. As an occasional walker through those sturdy timber doors, past the doorman’s box and into the dining room, with its communal central table and its walls hung with oils in the old style (many depicting Mr Garrick himself in various acts of outlandish thespianism), I have very fond memories of the place.
Once, on an inclement night some ten years ago when the country was paralysed by a sprinkling of snow, I found myself trudging westwards from London Bridge where the train from Gatwick had deposited me, frozen to the bone and carrying a heavy suitcase. I happened to pass the entrance to the Garrick and, although husband-less, I rang the bell on the off-chance.
The doorman loomed, somewhat in the manner of Lurch in The Addams Family. I told him my predicament, and within minutes I was safely inside, drying my feet by the fire and being administered cheese and biscuits (it was late and the kitchen was closed). I stayed the night and, after a good breakfast, went home.
Of course the Garrick is a fusty, old-fashioned, out-of-date, antediluvian institution. But, quite frankly, so are its members
Rarely have I been made to feel more welcome. My gender was neither here nor there, and whatever rules may or may not have existed about letting unaccompanied women in were certainly not enforced.
The truth is, the Garrick is a gentleman’s club, not a men‑only club; and there is a very big difference. Its existence is no more of a threat or an affront to feminism than an order of Franciscan monks.
It is certainly no way near as demeaning to the female sex as half the stuff we see on our screens these days, or the self-debasement in the name of empowerment that has become common currency in popular culture.
That said, I am sure its members will vote to admit women. I’m afraid to say my husband has already done so in the past. How could they not, in these politically correct times? Ms Bendell will get her way and the click-clack of high heels will soon replace the shuffle of Oxfords on those marble tiles. No doubt they will call it progress.
It’s just one less kink in the rich tapestry of our society.
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