I WAS ON MY DAILY PILGRIMAGE to see the latest on the Provincial website (as you do) when I spotted a photo of the PGM in a semi-recumbent posture, casually holding a cup of tea, with the invitation to join him at 3pm each day to drink the health of the brethren. I couldn’t work out what it was but something just didn’t seem right about all this. Then it hit me. We are being invited to partake in a ritual and we haven’t had a single practice!
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I reckon we seem to have somewhat of an obsession with practices. I used to be a member of a Lodge that met ten times a year and we had to practice every single week. Woe betides if you missed one, because you were branded as never turning up. It didn’t matter that we’d nothing to practice; we hadn’t had a candidate for over two years and still rehearsed the carousel of degrees every week. We were probably the best ritualists in the country; it was just a shame no-one saw the benefit. I can’t, for the life of me, imagine why anyone should practice when there’s nowt to do. I banged this symbolic drum for ages, pleading to cull rehearsals; maximum one a month; or minimum a half-hour session before Lodge, but all I got from the Past Masters was ‘we’ve always done it like that.’
In another Lodge I’d only been Secretary for two meetings when the Senior Past Master pulled me to one side and gave me a stern reprimand for not attending practice. I wasn’t being a good role model for the newer brethren so, at the next practice, I insisted on rehearsing my bit and read the Minutes, cover to cover. The newer brethren loved it; they were rolling about on the floor; but he was absolutely livid and strangely never asked me again. If I kept this up, I reckon the Past Masters would have been able to prompt me on the Minutes as well as the ritual. Maybe that’s where we were heading, towards a Utopian kind of wrap-around prompting? I can just see the slogan on the summons ‘The Lodge where no-one is stuck for a word.’
Probably the best example of over-rehearsing was the Lodge which started to practice for their January installation in October. The only brethren who turned up week in, week out, were the Past Masters who’d done the same piece of ritual since the earth cooled and, every week, they would announce ‘If you don’t mind, I won’t do my piece now, but I’ll do it on the night!’
When you are an acting Provincial officer, you get notified of forthcoming visits you’re expected to attend, together with instructions to turn up half-an-hour early for a practice. All you’ve got to do is walk, in procession, into the Lodge, do a bit of saluting, sit down, and then walk out. Now forgive me if I’ve missed something but, the time anyone reaches the lofty pinnacle of a Provincial officer, you’d have thought they’d have mastered the rudiments of walking in a reasonably straight line putting one foot in front of the other.
But there are those out there who are way past practices. This was amply illustrated at the crowning of a new PGM a few years ago. It was a lavish spectacle, with legions of brethren processing endlessly, happy-clapping that seemed to last for days, with a cast Cecil B de Mille would have been proud of. And, as the Pro Grand Master was officiating, they flew in a shed-load of Grand DCs to make sure we didn’t make a fist of it. I met one of them in the foyer. Well, actually I crashed into him quite spectacularly in the foyer when I sped in (late), juggling my Masonic case, a bacon and mushroom butty (thanks to Andrew Jagger), whilst tucking my shirt in and trying to ram an arm into the sleeve of my jacket.
‘Oh I am sorry,’ I apologized, pulling my right hand out of the inside jacket pocket and showering him in a cascade of coins and old mints.
‘Khwait ohrait,’ he announced, in a deep authoritative boom, and I blundered my way into the prepractice rehearsal being run our Provincial DCs, instructing everyone how to sit, stand and walk in a straight line.
When it came to the real practice, the Grand DCs descended and it was something else. Joking apart, these guys are the biz and I’ve nothing but admiration for them. They are the SAS of ceremonies, blitzing in, doing it and breezing out, leaving everyone stunned. They are, after all, line-managed the Grand Master himself, so they’ve got to be a bit good, haven’t they? They faultlessly announced everyone’s full names, ranks, Lodges, every Order they were (or at some future period might be) in, what they had for breakfast (okay I lied about that one) all without notes. They were the Mr Memory of Masonry.
One of my great Masonic mentors, Stormin’ Norman, once told me when he was appointed Provincial DC he went down to London and attended every Grand Lodge meeting to observe and take notes on what the Grand DCs did. At the time I thought he was off his head but, after seeing these guys in action, I realised what he meant. They’re dynamite.
From past experience, we anticipated rehearsals for this mega-extravaganza to last hours. Now, are you ready for this, it actually lasted just five minutes. They sat us down, told us exactly what would happen, dismissed us and that was that! We all piled out and disappeared round the back of the bike sheds for some serious chain-smoking, whilst they calmly breezed out, chatting amiably, off for some light relief learning everyone’s rank for tomorrow’s installation of the Grand Master of Ulan Bator.
When the ceremony actually started, we all sat through their slick, polished performances stupidly openmouthed. When it was all over, I heard an old boy behind me, in his stage-whisper, say ‘Eeh Arthur that weren’t bad!’
Unfortunately, one of the DCs must have also heard it and left the Temple looking distraught, like his world had collapsed. So, if you happen to be taking your daily pilgrimage to our Provincial website and are reading this, and I’m sure you are, I must give some explanation. A daily advancement in northern knowledge to avert potential mass-resignation of DCs from south of Barnsley. You see, we have a clearly defined structure of praise in the northern counties. For starters we don’t do the ‘Luvvie darling’ gushing congrats ‘You were wonderful’. ‘Oop north, these are the levels of praise:
- Stony silence = it was dire. You should resign immediately and book in for corrective counselling in the Cleckuddersfax Home for the Bewildered. 2. ‘It were crap’ = it was a good performance but a little more attention to detail is needed 3. ‘Not bad’ = brilliant, outstanding. The highest accolade bestowed on non-Tykes. 4. ‘That’ll do’ = the pinnacle of perfection! Reserved for Yorkshire folk, our equivalent of the Grand Master’s Award for Ritualistic Eloquence.
So please stay safe, practice your (Yorkshire) tea drinking, and join me and the PGM at 3pm to toast the health of all our brethren.