Human beings are essentially congregational. It’s why we’ve always had towns & villages, churches, sporting arenas, festivals and, of course, pubs & clubs. For most, the complex web of possibility that life throws up is far too vexing to navigate alone, so we take on a partner to help make sense of it all and surround ourselves with like-minded individuals in establishments inside which we feel comfortable. This instinct is at once tribal and refined. From the hallowed portals of St James to the bingo halls of Bognor we prefer to stick with our own as it confirms in some small way that we’ve made the correct choices, and if we haven’t, screw it; at least we’re in good company.
However, once we’ve settled on our respective coteries, it is astonishing to learn how fiercely we defend them from unsuitable others, considering how subjective this apparent suitability can be. Legend has it that a certain Lord Glasgow once threw a waiter through the window of his club after a disappointing meal. When challenged, he brusquely ordered: ‘Put him on the bill.’ He was later charged £5 and the waiter suffered a broken arm. Indeed, the most heinous crime in the highest echelons of clubland is not that of propriety. Outlandish behaviour, in some circles, is seen as mere high spirits (although clearly it helps to be intimate with the rules before they are broken). No, that particular accolade goes to the admission of ‘manifestly inappropriate guests’, from which we can deduce that if you ain’t one of us, you ain’t coming in. And the higher you climb on society’s ladder, the more rigorously this unwritten rule is policed.
For the benefit of Barnes types who don’t already know this, the Idle Hour has its own equivalent. And fear not: There are no burly minders to get past, no dress code as such and no danger of being blackballed if Nibs doesn’t like the cut of your jib (although he did once eject a vulgar punter from a previous concern for decanting a £6000 bottle of red through the tablecloth. Be warned…) The VIP card makes no background checks, has no nomination procedure or minimum income requirements. In fact it is so widely accepting, one could be forgiven for doubting whether there are any security measures in place at all (who’s on the committee then – G4S?) It does, however, ask one thing, the one thing that is so hardwired into our DNA it would be difficult to refuse even if we wanted to. Which we don’t. See first paragraph for clues.
The beauty of the above lies in the very lack of protocol adhered to so stringently by its esteemed peers. A member of the Garrick once wrote: ‘It would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than that one terrible bore should be admitted.’ I beg to differ: Give the bore a chance, as he is more likely to be unobjectionable than those who reject him…