Damp brings a dry end to a venerable institution

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The most disagreeable news arrives in the form of a missive from The Dickens Pickwick Luncheon Club. It seems that this venerable (some would say legendary) forum is to be dissolved after nearly two decades because its regular venue - the upstairs room at the George and Vulture - has been rendered unfit through damp. Cedric Dickens, the club's founder and the nearest thing to a reincarnation of his ancestor, Charles Dickens, no longer has the appetite to lunch on.

"As you probably guessed, the George and Vulture sadly is no longer available to us and this has caused our Patron, Cedric, to ponder whether the time is right to dissolve the club,'' reads the note. "However, Cedric believes that such a momentous decision should be made at the next and possibly final meeting at another Dickensian pub, The Old Doctor Butlers Head.''

Yesterday those left alive of the bibulous band of luncheoners were deliberating late into the afternoon.

In his younger days, Mr Dickens worked for ICL. Out of the truly stamina- sapping Christmas lunches that he gave in the City every year from 1951 evolved a luncheon club and a dining club (which will survive). Both were devoted to the memory of his ancestor (fine ale, followed by good wine, draft port, and then more ale) and were an important fixture in the City calendar.

The author of many books, Mr Dickens (Cedric, that is) wrote one called Drinking with Dickens in which he included all the elaborate drinks mentioned in his ancestor's books. The upstairs room at the George and Vulture - a hostelry near Lombard Street - was chosen as the lunch club venue because it was where Mr Pickwick met Sam Weller in Pickwick Papers. To quote from the book: "I say old boy where do you hang out ?'' asks Bob Sawyer. Mr Pickwick replied that he was at present suspended at the George & Vulture.

Since then there has been a bitter battle to preserve the ancient inn from developers. It is now owned by Samuel Smith, the Tadcaster brewer, which intends to drag the building out of its Dickensian past. At the expense of a City tradition.

Another in a long line of Nigerian fraud scams aimed at ripping off English companies. This time the targets appear to be in the theatre and entertainment business and the perpetrator is passing himself off as Jide Adeola Ademola, the director of budget and planning at the Nigerian Ministry of Works and Housing in Lagos.

In a letter on John Bull quality headed notepaper, the alleged Mr Ademola claims to have swindled the military government out of $33.572m (people have been executed for less). He wants to stash the money abroad and wonders if anyone wants to give him access to their company bank accounts, together with three invoices and three sheets of headed note paper, duly signed and stamped. In return for laundering large sums, the alleged Mr Ademola promises 30 per cent commission.

And pigs might fly.