Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

National Press Club of Canada, a brief personal history

Nearly fifty years ago I used to chat at the club bar with Charlie Bruyère, of Le Droit and the Ottawa Citizen, who had been a founding member of the Ottawa Press Club at a time when it had no club premises and met occasionally in Bowle’s, a Sparks Street sandwich shop. When I first met Charlie, in 1961, the club had for eight years occupied its first permanent and very cozy quarters above Jack Snow’s jewellery emporium at 108 and a half, Sparks Street. Outside, the city’s streetcars still rattled with noisy privilege along their twin sets of tracks set in old, but very practical, cobblestones.

Those initial NPC premises on the second-storey were reached by a steep flight of stairs that took many a rotund and elderly member of the fourth estate, like W.Q. (Bill) Ketchum of the old Ottawa Journal, a certain amount of effort to overcome on their way up to the bar, but often provided a rapid gravity-assisted exit for some overindulging members when leaving for home in the early hours of the morning.

Sometime before Christmas 1961 the club moved to new and larger quarters over the Connaught Restaurant on the edge of Confederation Square between Sparks and Queen streets and facing the War Memorial. There we club members had the use of both the second and the third stories, complete with, not just one, but two flights of steep stairs, thus enabling traditional entry and exit modes to be continued at double the rate. This was partly due to the upper floor, designated as the games room, also being blessed with a bar, supplementing the main bar on the second floor with its good view over the Square and with a rope-operated dumbwaiter in one corner. This could be used to send down written or shouted food orders directly to the restaurant’s kitchen far below, allowing prepared hot and cold dishes to be hoisted up to the peckish members on high.

At this time, the manager of the club was an ex-army officer, Sam Grinham, until he departed to the West Indies and bought the Abbeyville Hotel in Barbados, which became a sort of affiliate of the club for vacationing members. Sam Grinham's serendipitous replacement, Major John (Mick) Spooner, was soon to have a marked and beneficial effect on the club.

During those years the accommodation on Confederation (Confusion) Square worked very well but as Canada’s centennial approached in 1967, the press club, importantly and with burgeoning membership, became the National Press Club of Canada and moved to its prestigious quarters in the National Press Building at 150 Wellington Street, facing the West Block of Parliament. And again importantly, the new manager, Mick Spooner, an ex-army major of extreme competence, sartorial exactitude and traditional decorum was appointed to look after and police, enforce and facilitate all the codes, wants, needs, transgressions, administrations and ups and downs required of and by the 700-800 members and their many guests, most of whom were very regular, even avid, visitors to and users of the club’s facilities.

The club also now had a fine new logo designed by Tony Goodson to decorate club letterheads, newsletters, neckties, matchbooks, lighters, pieces of pottery and other official club artefacts. In the bar the panelled walls sported large morse-code motifs in honour of some old time reporters who were veterans of the telegraph and then among our membership. Also the metal masthead nameplates of many letterpress national newspapers were honourably affixed to the walls.

Adding to the overall appeal was palatial new furniture, a games room, and well-appointed kitchen and dining facilities. With all this ambience the conservatively resplendent new National Press Club of Canada was bursting with convivial custom, business and entertainment functions, professional fellowship and serious discussion. For many happy years the overall club decor displayed an impressive mixture of restrained and civilized opulence, tradition and maturity.

In fact, the long, polished oaken bar became the hub of the then known universe. Every noontime members and their guests, diplomatic and embassy staffers, visiting celebrities, members of parliament, were three-or-more deep along its length, and Louis Quinn, the club’s long-time barman, assisted by John Boschetti, Yves, Denny, and various other stewards, in their time, were kept very busy at their task of succouring the frenzied masses. It was busy, busy, busy. Even mid-afternoon numbers in the club were a match for some of the most lively peak days of later years. Brisk evening attendance, stretching into the small hours of the next morning, was common during the week and invariable at weekends.

For years, Louis Quinn and various assistant barmen had to cope not only with the daily noontime rush, and the busy afternoon and evening throngs, but also popular late night business. This meant that around three o’clock in the morning, in the years before the advent of computerized cash tills, it was usually Louis who was to be seen licking a pencil and totting up his considerable cash accounts. Invariably despite this late hour, as soon as there were less than half a dozen customers in the club, Louis would telephone his wife who would drive down to the club to take him home. It was also actually Mrs Quinn who did the accounting. Without her help, it would have taken Louis until dawn to finish the task.

But often when I entered the club around midnight, after being engaged elsewhere, Louis would call his wife and say : ‘It’s ok, dear, Mr Ough has just come in. You can go to bed.’

Because when the club finally did shut down I would help Louis get his cash straightened out, then I would drive him home to the large blue, curved apartment block, adjacent to Carlingwood Shopping Centre, where he lived. And every night as we sailed along the River Parkway, it was always the same request he made of me—to sing to him, several times over, his favourite song: Red Sails in the Sunset.

The dining room, serving meals of acclaimed renown and equally as well patronized as the bar, had several sittings daily and catered to a number of special events and functions with an economy of staff with astonishing facility.

With Major Spooner as manager and Louis as head barman, the area behind the bar was strictly reserved for the bar stewards. No members were allowed there except executives during official inspections. The only administrative staff member ever to be seen behind that sacred holy of holies was the manager. This was for one very simple reason—there were no other administration or office staff. In fact the club’s only office space was a small corner closet with hardly any more room than that required to swing out a filing cabinet drawer and allow Mick and one other person to peruse its contents. Because Mick, without computers or any subsidiary staff, alone amid the very large membership, engendering a busy and active club, ran the whole pulsating caboodle on his own. All records and financial accountings were recorded in Mick’s small, precise and beautiful hand writing in blue ink. I often wonder what Spooner would have thought of the sobering sight in later years of deserted noonday bars with more office staff and sub-managers behind the bar helping themselves to soft drinks, coffee, ice-cubes and sundries, than actual members in front of the bar. In fact, often when entering the club I’d pass a dozen staff members and only six club members. Harping further on the subject I was surprised when one noon hour a club member left the bar to drop off something in the office and was frustrated to find it closed while all the staff were out to lunch at the same time. A most strange state of affairs. Also I can remember a bartender complaining to a member of the executive that he disliked being on night duty as the only people in the club during the later hours were people who drank and talked long and loudly. The executive officer said he’d see if they could make a more stringent rule to get those few annoying customers off the premises at an earlier hour. I tried to explain that club members became club members and paid their annual dues for just that very purpose—in order to have a non-commercial private place to go where they could freely meet their colleagues and yack it up— not to support a semiretirement home for employees.

I asked another member why all this had become so and he replied I had to realize that now there were unions.

However, in fact, the old NPC activity was not all bar centred. There were excellent facilities. Apart from the consistent fine dining and drinking services there was the library, private meeting rooms, celebrity breakfasts, gala evenings, dancing, concerts, light-hearted and serious events, snooker and shuffleboard tournaments, comfy newspaper and magazine reading areas, much cameraderie and bonhomie and last but not least the handy downtown salutary service to be had from easily accessible clean toilet facilities complete with DIY shoe-shining—a convenience not always readily available in our modern society.

Soon after we moved to Wellington Street, Charlie Bruyère, being the oldest surviving member of the club since its beginnings circa 1926, was awarded the club’s first Life Membership. In a fit of bonhomie and light-headedness engendered by Canada’s Centennial, the club stipulated that along with the innate glory of dues-free life membership the recipient would also be blessed with free bar service until death should part the honoured one’s lips from the bottle. So Charlie became the first truly free-drinking journalist in the Ottawa press club. He also became the last. It had to be that way or risk the club going prematurely bankrupt by 35-years. Because, though physically size-challenged, Charlie not only increased his personal intake with remarkable fortitude but also boosted his personal popularity by telling his many new-found drinking partners that this round was on him—with abandoned frequency.

Just about the most popular weekly event at the club was Century Club Night each Friday evening. The club was packed for the drawing of liquid and other various and hilarious prizes for the tickets sold, followed by lots of separate and communal partying. Especially bon vivre was the wonderfully cheerful group mainly composed of the Franco-Ontarian staff of Ottawa’s Le Droit daily newspaper and nearby Québec radio stations, visiting members of the Montreal Press Club, and many of their wives and friends. Of special note I remember Moe Joanisse, Chick Allard, Paul Dubois—renowned cops-and-robber reporter for the old Montreal Star, and others.

Many years ago a probably frustrated visiting journalist wrote a story in which she reported that the sexual tension in the press club could be cut with a knife. Blimey! Some tension! Some knife! That’s not only making mountains out of molehills but like making the tension engendered by a thin, dried-up, two-inch elastic band into an international nuclear stand-off. Obviously, having both men and women in the same club, certain liaisons might sometimes be forged within the membership but certainly not so all-pervasive as suggested. And certainly any such abundance of sexual tension would be quickly deflated by the thought of someone going around the club cutting it with a knife. Of course some members might bring special friends to the club and perhaps show their affection at times, but apart from a few very illustrious guest persons so momentarily engaged, making it of national gossipy interest, it was no more prevalent than in any other place of relaxation.

Those last three words do remind me of one particular isolated incident. Between the first and second floors there was a toilet in the stairwell. Being in a secluded backwater of the building it was little used during the time I usually skipped the elevator and ran up or down those back stairs during my comings and goings. But I did intrude into a scene of flagrant lust between a club member engaged in intimate correspondence with a comely young lady bent over the wash-hand-basins. Their sexual tension was of such magnitude that after a quick glance at me in the mirror to, I suspect, verify I was not an armed intruder, I was completely, and somewhat insultingly, ignored. So I discreetly turned my back to attend to my own equally urgent but more solemn requirement at the urinals. The other two certainly appeared to have more aplomb between them than I did myself. Not a word passed between us even as I hurriedly gave my hands the briefest of washes. It was all accepted as off the record and I quickly left with quite undried hands.

Another item of some note concerning the men’s upper washroom was that for a period the partly open window of the men’s toilet afforded certain female employees of the then adjacent insurance company a view of the goings on at the last urinal of the row of four. Whoever it was, in a moral fit of non-peek, who complained enough to get a full frosted-glass replacement installed and thus a modest veil drawn over members’ varying-sized idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes, is unknown.

But all in all the club’s decorum was seldom in question. Even when the club held a special meeting in 1971 to affirmatively decide the question of welcoming women into the club as full members. Highlights of the meeting were the wonderful and witty chairmanship of Judge J-P Beaulne, and the entry into the club, in order to cast his vote while in a medical cast, of the CBC’s John Drewery. Having broken his leg or ankle just a few days previously he was gloriously carried into the club on a stretcher. Then there was the tussle dear old Ben Malkin, of the Ottawa Citizen, had with a TV cameraman, to whose coverage he objected. Ben forgot he had a full glass of beer in his hand, the contents of which ended up all over the camera and its operator.

Up until that time women had only been allowed into the club as guests after three o’clock in the afternoon. Soon after the club benefited not only from the influence of a fully participating female presence but from their increased membership dues and custom.

Manager Mick Spooner managed his managing so efficiently that he usually managed to do all other aspects of his comprehensive managing and still make frequent immaculate managerial appearances around the club and long bar. He was noted for his imperious and steely-eyed approaches to strange and unaccompanied faces to ask them quietly to excuse him, sir or madam, but: Are you a member? The Major also made short work of people dressed in scruffy fashion in contravention of the dress-code as laid down in the club rules and at that time largely adhered to. If he were alive today, and the club still functioning, I can imagine him going up to some people at the bar and asking whether they were members or if they were the workmen sent in by Public Works to fix the blocked toilet. With Mick as manager, correct in manner and impeccable in appearance as he was, there was no need for a club bouncer. Mick had won his share of British Army boxing titles. He was also reputed to have earned his nickname of Mick by his time served in Ireland during the troubles of long ago. And of even more renown, it was also said that he had served as a military hangman on several occasions. I remember him relating to me how, when he first joined the army during the Great War, they still learned the drill to: Form squares to receive cavalry. Note that. Not to repel cavalry—but to receive cavalry. Shades of Waterloo!

I once heard the Major answer the telephone and say: ‘No, madam, I’m sorry, that gentleman is not here in the club at present.’ Then after a pause: ‘Madam, I don’t care if you are not his wife. That member is still not present in the club!’ On another occasion Mick motioned me off with his eyebrows when I was a little too forthright in intimating to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, sipping his Campari on the rocks, that his indifference to building a fleet of aircraft-carriers for the Royal Navy was not the best attitude to have. At the time I was just hoping to do my old shipmates a favour. All the same, I took Mick’s unspoken advice and went back to innocuously discussing, comparing and sharing tobacco brands with my illustrious fellow pipe-smoker.

Of particular essence to the club was CBC Television’s top reporter, raspy-voiced Norman DePoe. Travelling with him to the Churchill rocket range in Air Force Two, pre-opening days at Expo 67, sessions in the club bar and meetings in local watering holes —interrupted by Norman’s disappearance for the odd half an hour to appear, miraculously sober as a judge (well some judges) on the national news—are hilarious memories I cherish today.

When we moved to our elegant 150 Wellington Street quarters the traditional marathon poker games were carried over from the former club premises. These games, or schools, usually started on Friday afternoons and went on through the weekend hours without pause. Sometimes they seemed to last for days with players departing and returning, having a snooze on one of the sofas, and playing over staggered hours. Often a barman would be paid from the kitty to stay through the night and next early morning to attend to the players wants. Notable participants included Dillon O’Leary, who had learned his card-skills playing with cops in New York and was the son of the illustrious Senator Gratton O’Leary. and Ottawa Journal publisher; Bill Olson, owner of Dominion Wide Photographs and the Broken Cue billiard halls; Bert Plimer, the wide-roving cameraman who was so often teamed up with Southam News Services and CTV’s star newsman, Bruce Phillips, before that gentleman, and former club president, became Canada’s Privacy Commissioner; Rudi Wolf, a busy cameraman for CBC; Jim Thompson, Olson’s manager and a talented club guest chef during impromptu Sunday morning business-cum-party get togethers of the executive; Scotty (‘Fingers’) Morrison—so called on account of his piano playing efforts, and many others.

Another sometime player at the table and at the piano who was good company was Paul Gormly. And who can forget-panama-hatted Mark McClung, son of the famous Nellie, or Ron Collister, from Beatle Town,

Though not a poker player myself (those bizarre bridge sessions while listening to the creaking timbers aboard the rotting wooden hulk of the old HMS Alert, moored way out to sea at the head of the Persian Gulf in 1948, did me in forever as regards card games—see my Captain Ali Broad yarn elsewhere in this blog) when in the club I often joined in playing darts for rounds of drinks—unless Bill Olson or Bert Plimer were playing as they could usually beat me. Thus for my first couple of weeks in the old club on Sparks Street I hardly bought myself a beer. But often these dart games would escalate to unwise proportions with some players winning enough money to go off on vacation for a while at the expense of others. There is also a story of one poker player who won so much he went off to the Caribbean for a couple of days before returning to resume playing in the same still-continuing game.

David Kirk was tall, spare, and a gentleman. Calm, polite, humorous and well spoken, he delicately rolled his own cigarettes, as required, with dignified aplomb while sipping his inevitable very, very dry, dry martinis. Often in the evenings his wife of many decades, Elsie, would be at his side. Their combined wit and good humour lent a pleasing sophistication to the club bar. One evening when they entered the club bar they announced that they had a very important and momentous personal occasion to celebrate and share with their friends. That very same day they reported reverently, for the first time since their wedding day so many years ago, they had made a special ceremonial visit together to the liquor store. And there they had purchased a fresh bottle of vermouth. Only the second bottle of its kind they could recollect owning during the long years of their marriage.

The Kirks were indeed true aficionados of the dry martini .

For many years the most prestigious event on the Ottawa social calendar was the National Press Club of Canada’s Annual Ball. Held in the early springtime in the Chateau Laurier ballroom it was a elegant affair of tuxedos, special dinner menus, artistic decorations and themes, dancing to the best orchestras and a head table including Governors-General, prime ministers and other notables. Door prizes of new cars, luxury vacation trips and other donated items gave an air of luxury and opulence. It was a great occasion for a club member to invite his friends from other professions and walks of life to — a really notable occasion. A real bash. Tables for eight were vied for months ahead of the event. Grandeur was the game.

Charlie Bruyère, now long gone to the big press club in the sky, remembered that the first press club ball was held in 1928 in the Sparks Street Tea Rooms of the Murphy Gamble department store. It was attended by all club members and 150 leading municipal figures of the day. The next year 200 notables were in attendance. In the next few years the venue was changed to the Chateau Laurier with such amazing success that in 1933 a newspaper reported that :

Great and near-great, diplomat and politician, soldier and civilian, the flower of the Capital’s social circles and pick of her intelligentsia, have foregathered under the auspices of the Ottawa Press Club at these functions sponsored and conducted by this growing association of the journalistic fraternity.

Part and parcel of the ball was the annual production of the club’s magazine—Dateline : Canada. This glossy publication contained stories, mostly light-hearted, written by NPC members, politicians and other newsmakers and reporters, and was adorned with photographs, cartoons and other oddments. Dateline:Canada was produced with a deadline of the evening of the ball where it was handed out to all attendees with a package of other goodies upon leaving the ballroom. The magazine was also distributed in the club that same evening where a shadow evening of hilarity was usually underway.

Another wonderful part and parcel of the ball was the morning-after Wake-Up Party in the club premises, hosted by Shell Canada. This no-holds-barred bash was a fine array of buffet-food-tables, several free free-flowing bars and an overflowing crush of people many of whom, still tuxedoed and ball-gowned, arrived in fine spirit with the first blush of dawn from the Chateau. This festivity which rivalled the actual ball in distinction and gaiety lasted as long as need be, was open to all club members and their guests and was an unashamedly blatant public relations caper that reached the pinnacle of popularity.

Whether such largess actually ever resulted in undeserved favourable media coverage for the donor company providing all this good cheer is a mute point. As also is the fact that the club occupied premises courtesy of a rather desirable leasing agreement with a federal government department. Did the Minister of Public Works Canada and his department get undeserved credits, or excuses for wrong doings, by club members in their reporting? I think not. They and their seniors who direct the news and decide on the final productions are too intelligent and ethical to be overly swayed by a few cheese titbits, beers and knickknacks.

Sadly, around 1976 and despite now having many women members, the club had its balls cut off. This nutty decision was obviously quite idiotic and seemed to be the work of just a few people who would have made excellent militant union leaders of the most gratingly objectionable kind if only they had worked for the post office or some auto-manufacturer. When the abolitionists’ suggestion first raised its stupid head I remember sitting there at the table, cross-legged, telling the executive that if we weren’t already happily possessed of annual press balls we would be sitting around at that very moment painfully trying to create some and how stupid it was to throw out such highly successful and cherished items. But the socialistic emasculators had their way, saying that the balls were too high-class, pricey and ostentatious for poor little scrawny working people like low-life journalists to attend and that they were overly supported by commercial institutions. They said we should instead have some sort of casual blue-jean-and-sneakers attired bean-supper in some nondescript cheap hall or on the club premises. So poof went our balls and also poof went the balls’ accompanying Dateline : Canada, the club’s glossy annual magazine. That book had not only repeatedly paid for itself through advertising, but ended up with a thousand or two dollars of profit left over to put into the club’s coffers and provide a journalistic scholarship for a budding student.

The first Dateline with which I myself was associated was the issue of 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year and the year we moved into our Wellington Street quarters. There had been Datelines since 1961, when the first one was edited by Greg Connolly, the Citizen’s man on the Hill. At that time the executive would choose a Dateline committee, consisting of a chairman, editor, treasurer, advertising salesman, layout artist, etc, etc. The 1967 editor, John McLean of Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and the Citizen, asked me to be the photo editor. The next year the executive asked me to be the editor and I accepted on condition that the only other person on the book would be Jo Pearson, who was not only a formidable reaper of advertising revenue but a gifted artist-layout-printing and overall publication person. Jo’s real name was Gordon but everyone called him Jo because that’s what he called everyone else. The reason for this he explained was that he could never remember anyone’s name so he called all and sundry of both sexes, Jo. This practice he bestowed on even the various so-called journalistic representatives of Pravda, Novosti Press and other diplomatic officials from the Soviet Embassy where Jo worked on various publications. So in return he himself was universally called Jo. Having just Jo and myself producing Dateline meant that we didn’t have to call several other members of a formal committee to arrange a meeting every time we decided to change some paltry item. According to the masthead we did have a sleeping chairman, that issue of 1968, but I cannot remember him at all. After that, with Jo’s masterly help, just he and I, practically alone, produced Dateline for the years 1968, 69, 70, 71 and 72. Later I assisted in some small way with a couple of the following issues. Then the book was swallowed up in the black hole of puritanical socialism.

Other victims of that same goody-goody morality revolution was the horse-racing and other riotous and gripping games that shamefully took place on certain convivial evenings in the club. The rolling of oversized dice sent the large brightly-painted, wooden cut-out horses down the length of the club to the finish post where the cheering backers of the winning horses would be rewarded with holiday weekends, expensive household appliances, gift certificates, champagne and liqueurs and other choice items of dastardly and despicable commercial-advertising give-aways. It was a relief to all when we were finally liberated from those restraining fetters and could look at each other with guilt-free, if lacklustre, eyes and concentrate on other equally fascinating aspects of union fellowship.

For years the Governor-General invited the club executive and a picked sampling of the members to a skating party on the outdoor rink at Government House which was followed by a good cheer supper inside.

But there was another club activity which though considered very unmanly by some, managed to evade the reformer’s zeal by taking place in secret during the darkness of the early hours, well ahead of the sluggard rising of any critics of its morality or purpose. In fact, the half-dozen or so participants who met together in hushed furtiveness, well before dawn, kept themselves cunningly hidden while indulging collectively in their covert pleasure. It was an almost silent experience, the only utterances from the partners being low abbreviated exclamations of surprise, pleasure or disappointment and answered by nearby companions by small grunts of assent, dissent or gratification. In fact while still wrapped in the mystery of the remaining minutes of predawn darkness these fellow club members sat brazenly close together in automobiles with the windows uncaringly wide open, blatantly entranced.

Now, with the passing of several decades, I feel I can safely reveal three names of those who met in such secret tryst: Bert Plimer, Cliff Buckman and Jack Lusher. Besides this trio of stalwarts and myself there were two or three other club members intermittently possessed of this minority tendency and desire—the urge to listen to the spectacular chorus of bird song and chatter in the predawn of a fine spring morning. Yes! We were the club’s bird-watching group who, armed with binoculars, sandwiches and whisky bottles would haunt the remote glades and marshes of South March, North Gower and the Gatineau. One noted member was John Bird of the, I believe, Financial Post. As there was also another John Bird with the Canadian Press and both were members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery we usually referred to our fellow ornithological enthusiast as John Bird-Bird.

Other members met together regularly to practise for the annual golf tournament and club groups were organized for lively visits to see Montreal Expos baseball games and to tour the club’s facilities and meet the players.

The first time Gordon Lomar, who used to write the Below the Hill column in the Ottawa Journal (a very popular and animated column later ably inherited by Dave Brown in the Citizen), introduced me to his brother, Don, I also met Don’s wife, Tux. After a few minutes of surreptitiously eyeing each other, both Tux and I simultaneously shouted: ‘Southampton Harbour Board’. We had just suddenly remembered where we had met almost twenty years before. Tux had been a Wren in Commander MacMillan’s office after participating in hydrographic work in connection with the D-Day invasion fleets of 1944. Her husband, ex-naval officer, Don, had spent a hazardous and venturesome war split between being a bomb-disposal expert and making frequent daring night-time hit-and-run raids to annoy and disrupt German coastal defence targets across the English Channel using high-speed motor-torpedo-boats.

As a matter of fact the press club abounded in members with very active war records. Apart from those who had been war correspondents, such as Charles Lynch and Peter Stursberg, there were many others who had been active on the sharp and sticky side of the conflict. John Drewery of the CBC, in Bomber Command; Colonel Stirton, a renowned army action-photographer; infantrymen and others like Larry Macdonald, Jack Lusher; and J-P Beaulne, Doug Mason, Mark Rattan and many others who had sailed the seas, stormed the battlements or flown the air spaces of the Second World War. Thus gaining valuable experience of the true basics of life which was later to stand them in good journalistic stead.

Some of which was extremely practical as exemplified by Noel Taylor of the Ottawa Citizen. Upon entry to the signals section of the navy, he was taught touch-typing by daily sessions of sitting with his hands and keyboard hidden under a mask whilst copying out exercise texts.

Today one muted remnant of the old club consists of a score of ex-members forming the St. George and the Flagon luncheon club which meets one day each month in a shopping mall restaurant.

This club within a club was long a feature of the old NPC but I was never attracted to join it. Colonel Pat Ryan (who, like myself, had flown Seafires back in WWII) once persuaded me to attend one of their meetings which were accommodated in the library, adjacent to the large dining room that was a feature of the enlarged club that extended the NPC premises and added a large dining room-cum-dance floor (and another bar) stretching from Sparks Street to Wellington Street, sometime around 1975. I think, At the meeting I briefly attended, Pat arose from his seat at the big lunch table and started to introduce me to the other fellows as a potential new member of their club within a club. I interrupted him to say that these introductions were quite unnecessary as I’d known all those present for years.

So, with the St. George and the Flagoneers all fixated on their wine drinking and me having trouble ordering beer from the distant bar, plus having no incentive to listen to jokes and speeches, and completely unexcited by the sight of an array of my brainwashed fellow club members eating diced carrots and such, I never returned to St. George and his gang. I reverted to my usual northwest corner of the upstairs bar again.

For anybody interested, among the Flagoneers who still meet in mall restaurants for hamburgers, and I expect, diced carrots or something, are, again I believe, Dave Brown, Don and Gordon Lomer, Peter Fleming—the NPC’s noted musical virtuoso on piano and vibes, Noel Taylor, Charles Morrow, David Molliette,

My own personal NPC activity has morphed into summertime daily noonday sessions with a two-litre bottle of Wells India Pale Ale from England accompanied by a few puffs on my pipe while sitting out on my extended sundeck in the shade of a very large maple tree. At times I have been joined by a couple of other ex-members. In winter my midday happy hour or two (quite unattended by anyone else) is spent in the garden shed or on a tarpaulin-shielded small section of the deck wearing enough clothing to make me resemble Michelin Man. This because it is several decades since I last smoked a pipe inside the house.

For the first few years after the club was forced into a no-smoking phase of sobriety the games room was given a new door together with the role of an illicit smoking room. Though this was very divisive of the dwindling club membership it resulted in one pleasing aspect: many interesting new faces and characters appeared as refugees from places like the CBC building across Sparks Street, prominent staffers and other inmates of Parliament Hill, visiting newsmen from distant cities and lands and many others loath to readily give up their errant, wicked, ways.

Note: I expect I will have future additions and corrections to this screed so I will welcome comments, etc, by readers. Just stick your say in the comment box. Thank you and Cheers—John Ough

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