A new all-women’s club, AllBright, is doing fantastically well in its branches in Mayfair and Fitzrovia. So well, in fact, that it’s opened a branch in Los Angeles and is opening two more in New York and Washington, DC.
Why do people join clubs? I speak as a member of the Beefsteak Club and the Academy Club in London.
For a long time, clubs were considered old-fashioned. In the 1950s, some people thought gentlemen’s clubs were on their last legs. And yet they’re thriving today, with waiting lists that last for years.
Groucho Marx’s line – “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member” – was brilliant. Lots of people think differently: they long to join any club that won’t have most other people as a member.
It isn’t a very moral impulse but people long for exclusivity. A club that accepted everyone wouldn’t be a club.
Tribes may change – whether it’s upper-class men or professional women – but humans have always been tribal and always will be.
Auberon Waugh would have been 80 on November 17 if he hadn’t died so young – 61 – in 2001.
How I wish he was around now to comment on the extraordinary state of modern affairs. But there’s still consolation in his journalism. Most journalism turns stale after publication; not Bron’s. His Private Eye Diaries, Way of the World column and In the Lion’s Den, his collection of New Statesman journalism, remain astonishingly fresh. Because his thoughts were so original, they rise above the topical and become eternal.
When I was at Oxford in 1991, aged 19, I interviewed him for a student newspaper, The Word. He was extremely kind to me, buying me a drink in the club he founded, the Academy Club (one reason I became a member). He not only signed my copy of his new autobiography, Will This Do? He also sent me a thank-you letter for my interview.
His quotes from that interview remain astonishingly fresh, too – and wise.
“The great art of journalism is to be read and judge what you can get away with, not just in terms of libel or police prosecution, but also in terms of what your editor and your readers will let you get away with,” he told me. “If you just go too far, instead of being amused, they say, ‘Yuck, euch!’ ”
Bron perfected that balance between what the editor, readers and the libel lawyer let you get away with and the yuck zone.
“I really became a journalist out of desperation, but I now think it’s the only life worth living,” he added. “It’s all I’m good at.”
But he was very good at it.
To the Boisdale restaurant in the City for its Oyster Championships, between the oyster-growers of Britain and France.
I was introduced to oysters by my much-missed cousin, Johnny Noble (1936-2001), who set up Loch Fyne Oysters at his home, Ardkinglas, on the banks of Loch Fyne, Argyll.
Johnny was determined to restore oysters to their 19th-century status as everyday food – not the preserve of the rich. Today, Loch Fyne sells its oysters, mail order, for a pound each – Boisdale’s oysters cost only a little more. Johnny’s dream of cheap oysters has come true.
We marked our oysters using rigorous criteria. The deeper the oyster shell and the plumper the oyster, the better. Freshness is all, plus good mineral content. You must chew your oyster – it’s a crime to swallow. Consider, too, the liquor in which the oyster sits.
France won – and quite rightly, according to my champagne-stained scorecard.
My favourite drink this year was a can of Stella Artois on a late-afternoon train from Bishop Auckland to King’s Cross, changing at Darlington.
The sun was setting on the recently harvested, golden fields. I had had a gripping day at the newly renovated Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, with its marvellous collection of Zurbaráns. And I had a window seat.
Food and drink writers understandably concentrate on the quality of food and drink. Circumstances are crucial, too. That lager, in a little plastic cup, was ambrosia.
The internet has made telly and films much better.
I saw The Irishman, commissioned by Netflix, at the weekend in the cinema – before it migrates to on-demand television.
I could watch Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino play mobsters, directed by Martin Scorsese, for ever – which is handy because the film is three and a half hours long.
When I watch Netflix on my TV, I also like to graze on the internet. Something has to be utterly brilliant on the TV screen to lure me away from the computer screen on my lap. How lucky I am that the new telly era – Succession is my favourite – is the best ever.
Harry Mount is editor of the Oldie
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