As time stands trembling at the cusp, and even this prosaic hack writes pseudo-lyrical nonsense like the first seven words of this paragraph, it is irresistible not to glance backwards at a millennium in which we were all alive and gaze fearfully into one in which we shall all be dead.
Since this column spanned, or rather shuffled awkwardly along the kerbside of, the last fiftieth part of the millenary road that is soon to run out, it is interesting, at least to me, to recall the changes that it has witnessed.
When your life-pitted columnist first raised his pen at the tail end of the Seventies there was no breakfast television, though in many homes there was still breakfast; there was no Channel 4 to assume in the overheated mind of Jeremy Isaacs its destiny as a “sacred trust”; there was no Sky TV and no millionaire footballers; there were no PCs, no faxes, no Internet, no mobile phones; there was no counselling, no New Labour, no genetic engineering.
There was, of course, the BBC, but it was yet to be proletarianised and excited by the liberating power of “strong language”. There were spin doctors, but they were known as PRs and were not taken seriously; there were, then as now, power maniacs bent on imposing their views on health and safety and matters previously thought best left to private choice; there was dumbing down, though we did not know it by that name and could not have expected it to have housed such extraordinary powers of acceleration; there was racism, there was a race relations industry, but there was not yet the cross-pollination of the two that was to produce the full flower of pandemic institutionalised racism. There were gays, there were lesbians, but they were quieter about it.
Surprisingly, amid all this turmoil of change and raising of babel, marketing stayed much the same. Naturally, it made use of what new media was available, and endeavoured to keep pace with the times. Yet, since the language of commerce is perforce more restrained than the language of art – advertising, with few exceptions, kept a civil tongue in its head and frightened no one. The one noticeable difference between the commercials of 20 years ago and those of today is that then all the women were morons, today it is the men.
Now since it is an ineluctable law that, as time grows older so do we, what is there for a scribbler stricken with years and beset about with tumult and clamour to look forward to in the third millennium? Just a few days ago, the answer would have been “not much”.
But that was before Baroness Jay, Mo Mowlam and a woman called Hodge declared war on men-only clubs.
This awful triumvirate of valkyrie wishes to decree that it will be unlawful for private clubs to refuse to admit women. Others have pointed out that this is an outrageous assault on a treasured civil liberty, namely freedom of association. I wish to point out that it presents a wonderful opportunity to live the life of the outlaw; to turn up the trenchcoat collar and tread the mean streets of danger; to mount audacious raids on the enemy and to melt away into the hills; to face the bloodshot eye of danger and to spit in it.
Not that I have – or at rate had – any wish to belong to a club of any kind. True, I have been a member of MCC for 20 years but that is because it affords the best view of cricket in the best arena in the world, not because it is full of men.
To join a club is an unsatisfactory way of choosing companions. In fact, it is no way at all, since they are chosen for you. Any man’s club will have among its membership individuals who wear bow ties, hide behind beards, wave dribbling pipes, talk loudly in fruity voices, or won’t get their round in. And what little I know of gentlemen’s clubs justifies their description of having the atmosphere of a duke’s house with the duke lying dead upstairs.
That said, there can be only one thing worse this side of hell than belonging to a club whose membership includes Jay, Mowlam and Hodge, and that is having those three laying down the terms under which private clubs may be lawfully instituted and run.
If we are not to hold our manhood cheap we must form a nationwide network of cells called, for provocation’s sake, Misogynist Clubs. In damp cellars, in garrets, behind closed shutters, by guttering candlelight, we shall mutter passwords, swear oaths, suck on illicit cigarettes, drink warm beer, and sing of Eskimo Nell and of the virgins who came down from Inverness, the thrill of it all enhanced by the ever-present danger of the midnight knock, the circling helicopter overhead, the searchlight’s glare, the megaphoned shouts of Old Bill telling us all to come on out before he comes in. The new millennium shimmers with new excitement.
Incidentally, a favourite club story is of Lord Birkenhead who used regularly to stop off at the Athenaeum to relieve himself on his way to the House of Lords. Challenged at last as to whether he was a member, he exclaimed, “Good God, is this place a club as well?”