|It's the big dark one|
It was certainly an experience, remarkably like the sort of thing you see in a period TV drama. The elaborately suited lackey on the door (after relieving me of my bag, which was rather riskily left in a 'help yourself' pile) took me to the person I was meeting. We sat in low leather armchairs, seemingly designed for snoozing. And at the press of a bell push, a waiter turned up to serve tea and teacakes. ('Not coffee, sir, coffee is outside.')
I can sort of see the appeal, but in some ways it was restricting. It seemed inappropriate to talk at anything more than a low pitched murmur, we weren't allowed to take our jackets off, and I couldn't demonstrate something I was talking about on a phone or iPad because, of course, such things were not allowed in those hallowed halls.
It was an interesting experience, but I'll be honest, it's just not me. Ever since I graduated I get occasional reminders from the Oxford and Cambridge Club that I can join, and how it makes an excellent base when up in town. The thing is, I've got an excellent base on every street corner, called a coffee shop - I don't need to tramp across town to an expensive single location. And in a coffee shop I can take my jacket off and use technology as I want.
If I really did want a more substantial pied-a-terre, as a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), I have access to the RSA House in John Adam Street, where I can get hold of a meeting room, relax in the library or bar or entertain in the restaurant. But I confess I've only been twice. It's just not something I often need. If I have a business meeting it is usually at my client or publisher's office.
The other problem is I don't think I'm very clubbable. Don't get me wrong, I was delighted to be invited by my friend, who clearly revels in the environment, but it's just not me. I don't really want to go regularly to somewhere that won't let you in if you aren't wearing a jacket and tie. As I've mentioned previously, I hate black tie, but frankly wearing any tie is something I don't do these days. Weddings and funerals is about it. Why I would want to do it for something I'm supposed to enjoy, I don't know.
To make matters worse, the dress code specifies no jeans. Now I have plenty of trousers that aren't jeans, in the sense that they aren't denim, but many of them do have rivets or other jeans-like features, which means I thought it best not to wear them (I don't mean I didn't wear trousers, just had a very limited selection to choose from), as the kind of person whose job it is to check if you are wearing the right clothes doesn't get much job satisfaction beyond being picky.
It was an interesting glimpse into the past and into a passing world. Frankly I will be surprised if many of these institutions survive in their current form for more than a couple of decades. They have had their day. It's a different world now, and I, for one, am glad.