Rowan Pelling: Park the old buffer at his club, ladies, and then you can have some fun ...

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The Independent Online

Never mind the Tories, it's the Garrick Club we should be worrying about. The average age of membership of the Conservative Party is a sprightly 65 or so, while, judging from the snowy heads juddering their way round the dance floor at the club's lavish in memoriam AA Milne party last week, the Garrick could fill London's rest homes several times over. When I arrived, on my uncle's arm (flesh relation, not sugar-daddy), I spotted an old boy in black tie hauling himself along the street to the party's entrance, using the chrome cladding of a smart City building as an impromptu Zimmer frame. As Kit and the Widow, purveyors of the evening's cabaret, pointed out, it was more than likely some members wouldn't even last the evening.

The party committee had laid on a gruelling assault course of entertainment which seemed designed to weed out cardiac arrest cases early. The pre-dinner combination of champagne and fairground rides was particularly lethal. It was hard to ignore the ambulance parked close to the dodgem cars, engines running. Smaller emergencies were also catered for: bladder control was high on the organisers' list of priorities and the word "LAVATORIES" towered over the main marquee like the Hollywood sign.

You can understand their concern when there were so many recipes for over-excitement. Andreas Whittam Smith on the dodgems; Simon Heffer flashing the infamous pink and green (club colours) lining of his new dinner jacket. Then there was the unaccustomed excitement of women. Lucinda Lambton smooching with Sir Peregrine, and Angela Rippon on Sir Murdo Maclean's arm.

My uncle, a preternaturally youthful 60, waged his own war on fellow members' health by propelling me towards them with the words "have you met my erotic niece?" This is only a mild improvement from the days when he used to take me out for lunch and pass large banknotes across the table, winking at the waiter and mouthing "my niece" as he did so.

The party was courtesy of AA Milne's bequest to the club. He adored the place so much that he left it a quarter share of the Winnie-the-Pooh royalties ­ and members have been laughing all the way to the claret cellar ever since. This year they received another vast windfall when Disney renegotiated its rights to the pot-bellied bear. The Garrick decided not to pay out dividends, but to use the money wisely by having an enormous party and commissioning a few more portraits of gout-ridden thesps. It's this sort of attitude I admire about the Garrick: self-indulgence on an epic scale. In fact, that's what I like about gentlemen's clubs in general; they're places where men can wallow in the joys of masculinity ­ leaving women free to shop and have affairs. And I don't mean any of this Iron John, hut-building nonsense. The British male knows that if he frees himself from the rugby terraces and gym he can become man enough to don a bow tie, eat nothing but nursery food and sit in an armchair misquoting Noël Coward.

In short, membership of a club such as the Garrick allows men the freedom to be bores of the most crashing order, without offending anyone. While women like stories that are fresh off the chambermaid, men can deal only with ancient, recycled gossip, preferably pertaining to Kitchener or Gladstone, which they can then dignify as "history".

What amazes me is that the gentlemen's club hasn't been reclaimed as a survival aid for modern living. Soaring divorce rates prove that couples spend far too much time together. The gentleman's club is the male equivalent of the ladies' changing room at Harvey Nic's ­ never the two worlds should meet. How much better to park your man in the Garrick or Athenaeum than persuade him to feign interest in a bias-cut slip dress. Safely inside the library's padded oak cell he can indulge his battleship obsession or PG Wodehouse fetish.

Trendy clubs such as the Groucho won't do. All that over-stimulation from female members and actresses who serve drinks can only lead to trouble. I've seen many a man ruined by striving to be amusing: before he knows where he is he's married to a 6ft PR girl who'll bore him as much as he bores her. Looking at the 500 couples at the Garrick party, most seemed to have been together for eternity and yet exuded serenity and tolerance ­ the very qualities the Tories lack. Perhaps they should shut up shop as a party and re-open as a club.

Rowan Pelling is editor of 'The Erotic Review'.

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