Make no bones about it

On 2nd February I set out on Provincial duty – needed as a substitute Standard Bearer for the PGM, R.W. Bro Neil Connolly, for his attendance at the installation meeting of Stortford Lodge 409, meeting at Sawbridgeworth masonic centre. The journey should take about an hour, and I was scheduled  to be there half an hour before the meeting started at 5:30pm, for a quick run through with the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies and the rest of the team with Barrie House. So I departed at 3:30pm, on a mild and sunny afternoon leaving plenty of time for delays. 

Luckily.

The anticipated delay soon materialised on the M25, but having left plenty of time, the stress level remained low. Unfortunately, the delay level remained high, thus affecting stress levels, which soon caught up with, and surpassed, the delay leve! The delay there meant that I hit rush hour traffic near Harlow, further slowing me down. 

No problem, I thought (smugly). I’ll just call Barrie to let him know that I’d be a little late. So I pressed the button on the hands-free and said imperiously “Call Barrie House”. Only to find that I didn’t have Barrie’s number in my phone. As I knew Barrie would be getting concerned that I might not be attending, stress levels were now rising in proportion to the delay!

But, still confident of getting there before the meeting started, I soldiered bravely on. I arrived at the car park at about 5:10pm, and just as I got there, the phone rang. It was Barrie, asking if everything was OK. Much relieved, I informed him of my arrival, and that I would be with him shortly. Having only been to the Sawbridgeworth Centre once before, I called up Google Maps to guide me to the centre without any further delay, and set off for the short walk, relieved that all my problems were behind me.

Which is when the phone battery ran out!

The map which Alick Burge had provided, wise and experienced man that he is, turned out to be next to useless to my old peepers in the swiftly fading light. But I kept walking in the direction that young Miss Google had been sending me before her sudden demise, and fortunately recognised my surroundings and was able to make the centre in time for a quick rehearsal of duties.

Was it worth all that stress? I asked myself that question as I was putting on my Regalia. And the answer at the end of the evening was “Oh boy! I’d do it all again tomorrow, if given the chance!”

It turned out to be a memorable evening, and not for the stressful journey, but for all the right reasons. Firstly, it’s always a privilege and a pleasure to be out with the Provincial Team when they visit lodges, and it was a first time with our new PGM.

But the main reason was Stortford 409! When one visits many Lodges and Chapters, and belongs to other orders, the frequency of attending meetings makes one a little blasé about the proceedings and the Festive Board. Well – blasé was well and truly kicked out the window that evening!

In a small, but beautiful, Temple, the Installation was a Proclamation of WB Martin Pearce as WM for a third year, due to the Covid pandemic. There can’t be very many brethren who have been in the chair of King Solomon three times already, while still wearing a light blue apron! He handled the proceedings with aplomb, and his team of officers did him proud. I’m sure I saw smoke rising from the PGM’s pen as he struggled to write fast enough to make note of all of the positive happenings!

Afterwards at the bar, while chatting with the lodge members and the PGM I mentioned the mishap with the phone to him. Splendid fellow that he is, he immediately returned to his car and supplied me with a multi-connector charger, which enabled me to charge my phone for the return journey. Thank you sir, for that simple act of kindness. In itself a little thing, but proof that a truly masonic heart shines out at all levels of interaction.

And then – on to the Festive Board. Literally.

The Germans have a word “Tafel”, which roughly translates as “board”. The german word for table though, is “Tisch”. But at a banquet, the word Tafel is used, to indicate a long laid out seating arrangement. And, uniquely, that was the dining arrangement at this masonic banquet. And I use the word banquet advisedly. This was more than a meal after a meeting. This was a sumptuous experience, worth well in excess of the price actually charged for the meal. With glasses for Champagne, Sherry, Wine and Port on the table, all included in the price, there was no doubt that an Installation in this lodge is a matter of great importance and occasion. And the 6 course meal confirmed that first impression, as we all took our places at the Board. The WM was placed at the head in the East, with the SW at the other end in the West. The JW was placed in the middle of the Board in the South, from where he was well able to keep an ostensible Steward’s eye on the proceedings.

As we first-time visitors sat down, our attention was peculiarly drawn, like our ancient Brethren in the middle chamber of King Solomon’s Temple, to certain culinary objects. The most notable and mysterious of which was a single chopstick. Now probably most of you, like me, are fond of the occasional Chinese meal. And probably, like me, you will have occasionally attempted to master the art of eating with chopsticks. But I can state, quite categorically, that I have never been offered one lonely chopstick in any of the fine (and some less so!) establishments which I have had the pleasure to visit. The question “why a single chopstick?” was met with an enigmatic “wait and see” from one side of the table, and with “members of 409 are not required to justify our traditions and history”. That made things a lot clearer then!

So – what did the reason turn out to be? Well, here’s the thing. I really shouldn’t let out any of the secrets of this fantastic evening. But I can provide you with a little teaser, and encourage you to visit yourself on their next Installation night. The mysterious chopstick was to enable us to poke out the marrow from a marrowbone (thoroughly cooked, of course). Having never experienced this culinary delight before, I was initially somewhat dubious. But, following the example of the brethren around me, I dutifully poked, and spread the somewhat suspicious looking mass onto my toast. Well! What can I say? The taste was wonderful and new, as was the whole unusual experience of receiving a huge hot bone as a starter. 

The rest of the Festive Board continued in the same vein:

The gambling glass

The unique and moving 9 0’clock Toast

The wonderful Secretary’s Toast

The ceremonial passing of the Port

The rolling up of the tablecloth

The exposure of the Tafel

The Firing Glasses

And on top of all of the unusual activities, was the wonderfully demonstrated care for their visitors exhibited by all of the 409 brethren. When you feel like an old friend at the end of just one evening, you know that here is a lodge that is steeped in the best tradition of all – brotherly love. All of which you shall have to experience yourself, if you wish to receive your own induction into the traditions and history of this nearly 200 year old Lodge. I shall not be guilty of spoiling the wonders of the evening for future visitors by reporting further.

But when the response for the Toast to the visitors ended with the traditional “Thank you for inviting us, and please invite us again”, I can guarantee that there was not one visitor there who was not thinking “Oh yes! Please”.

My thanks to my table neighbour, WB Kevin Stapleton for the photos for this piece.