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Saturday, January 27, 2018

"What ho, Vitruvians!"


At our January stated meeting, I donated a gift to Indianapolis' Lodge Vitruvian 767 that in many ways brings us back full circle, to even before our beginnings. Back in 2000 or so, when the world was young and dinosaurs ruled the earth, discussion arose among a group of bored Indiana Masons about a more perfect world and the image of the sort of old London mens' clubs that inhabited fantasies from the 1930s or so. Wood paneled rooms filled with overstuffed armchairs and endlessly idle, impeccably dressed members snoring in the lounge as their cigar ash tumbled to the floor. Highballs at the bar. Afternoon races at the track. Five changes of clothes a day. Supper clubs with leggy singers and a full band making music worth listening to and dancing worth mastering. Everyone sexily framed by tendrils of cigarette smoke that never hurt anyone, because everyone including terriers and infants all smoked. You get the picture. I don't know if the 30s were really better to live in, but I'm perfectly willing to try the version MGM was peddling with all of that Cedric Gibbons art direction. 


Anyway, one recurring theme ran through all of us at that time: we were all enormous fans of P.G. Wodehouse, and especially his stack of Jeeves and Wooster stories. Jeeves was the all-knowing, all-seeing butler who always came through and saved the day in a pinch, while Bertie Wooster was the rich, idle young imbecile who employed him in his daily fight against mad aunts, loopy former college chums, hangovers, and scheming husband-hunters. If you've read them, you know. If you haven't, read one, and you'll be hooked. If you're the sort of non-reading prole who wants it puréed, spoon fed, on your smartphone, and only in color, at least watch the excellent series that starred Stephen Frye as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie. It's almost like reading, but other people's lips move instead.


Bertie belonged to the Drones Club, one of the aforementioned fictional classic London gentlemans' clubs specifically populated by other equally rich, equally foolish young idlers. 

A typical practice at a Drones' Club meal was to pelt any offending interloper by hurling bread rolls at them. But one of the hallmarks of the Drones was to goad a new member into stealing a London policeman's distinctive "bobby" helmet from his head, and running back to the Drones with it in triumph, where drinks and huzzahs were had all around. 

And any angry plod who burst in searching for his stolen helmet was immediately pelted with bread rolls. And rightly so.



Our founding Worshipful Master, Jeff Naylor was especially fond of these tales, and I seem to recall his once briefly entertaining the notion of acquiring a London bobby's helmet for a Master's hat. Or perhaps several of us entertained such a notion for him.


In any case, on Tuesday night, I presented to the lodge this late 19th or early 20th century English military officer's traveling hat case, and accompanying wooden stand. At the time my family bought it in the 1970s, it was pre-Internet, and knowledge was harder to find then. It was manufactured by the venerable Henry Heath Ltd. hat factory on Oxford Street, which has long gone out of business. But the building still stands today, topped by stone sculptures of beavers, once the favored material for creating quality hats. 

The antique dealer informed my mother it was, in fact, a policeman's hat box from London, and that was our family lore for 40 years. Since then, I looked more closely, and it is actually from the 22nd Regiment of Foot, the Cheshire Regiment, and alas not what I had thought. However, as far as I am concerned, close counts. 



I flatter myself to believe that it is at least the appropriate sort of case that a London MET officer might have safely stored his hat while off duty, anyway. And just the sort of unprepossessing box from which such a prize might have been snagged by a sufficiently inebriated and mischievous Drone who wasn't up to the actual danger of knocking it off the cop's bean while on duty.


So, until a Vitruvian member actually acquires a London bobby's helmet for our use, I have donated this case to the lodge for the safekeeping of the hats of our succeeding Masters in the coming years.


Congratulations to our new officers, welcome to our newest members, and many thanks to WBro. John Bizzack, who gave an outstanding speech at our Festive Board.

(Bonus point to those of you who know what Tom Jackson and Augustus Fink-Nottle share in common...)


Artwork at the top of this post is by Derek W. Hayes from his opening titles for the 1990 Jeeves and Wooster series. Check out The Art of the Title interview with him.

2 comments:

  1. Well, if Tom is a student of newts, I'm not aware of it and I rather doubt that he has taken a dip in the fountain at Trafalgar Square. You got me on that one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do not make assumptions of either of those points.

      Delete

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