WHEREAS SOME BRETHREN can make a seamless transition from the normal world into Freemasonry, my assimilation into Masonic life was slightly more problematic. Coming in as a young, gullible rookie at the tender (wet-behind-the-ears age of twenty-three) I was fair game for all the japes and wheezes of the junior brethren. Just before I joined the Lodge, I’d started work in the motor trade and now suddenly found myself making the arduous journey from one barbaric initiation to another. The difference being the first was at the grubby hands of a band of unscrupulous chaps, wreaking retribution for their own character-scarring apprenticeship experiences, whilst the second lot wore gloves.
Yes, at the garage, the mechanics had sent me round all the hardware shops in the town to buy glass nails for the work’s rubber hammer; I’d had my brand-new toolbox (which I was paying off at 10/- a week) nailed to the workshop floor; I’d fused the entire workshop and given myself a high-voltage, hair raising, experience when the old lags wired a vice to the spark plug cleaning machine – oh how I laughed at that one. They told me the foreman’s Zephyr needed a tyre change and directed me to a stack ofsecond-hand whitewall tyres in the corner. He went absolutely ballistic at home-time because he’d removed those same whitewalls yesterday and made me swap them back in my own time. And, as their piece de resistance, they showed me how to finish wiring the electrics on the column-change of the boss’ Mercedes. Result – every time he changed gear the horn sounded! That kept everyone amused for weeks and nearly got me the sack. I could go on but it’s too embarrassing.
So, you would have thought, by the time I joined Freemasonry I would be sufficiently battle- scarred, worldly wise and ready for any childish pranks a few Masons might have in store. Not me. I was the one they told to stand outside in the pouring rain to save a car parking space for our Grand Officer. After half an hour I gave up and was admitted, wet and bedraggled, just as they were finishing reading the Minutes to see him sitting in the Temple. I didn’t know he had his own parking spot round the back of the building – very funny. At my first Installation, I was the Steward given the ‘special privilege’ of serving an extra-large prawn cocktail to the visiting Ruler because ‘It’ll do wonders for your promotion prospects.’ I must have been the only one in the Province unaware of his abhorrence for all things crustacean!
That one was courtesy of Nigel, the Lodge practical joker and party animal. Nigel, bless him, thought he was a right wag. He insisted on taking me under his wing and acting as mentor during my early months of membership and made my life hell. Dear Nigel was the Senior Deacon at my passing and fed me a string of mispronounced prompts during the ceremony, so I ended up making an even bigger fool of myself than I normally did. He was also one of those who doused himself in pungent aftershave that lingered for days when he shook hands with you.
But I did get my own back on darling Nigel. In those days my mate Bob and I ran a small clay shoot and we thought it’d be a great idea to host a Lodge Charity Clay Pigeon shoot. In the past all our social activities had been quaint affairs and involved dressing up in frilly shirts and dickie bows, and inviting our ladies to our Lodge room to listen to a harpist or someone warbling ‘Songs from the War.’ Once a year, when they were feeling really adventurous, the social secretary would organise a Lodge trip to some exotic venue, usually Salem Chapel, to take our ladies to listen to a posh harpist or someone singing ‘Songs from the War’ with an accompanist.
Taking our past history into account, you can probably imagine the reaction when I launched my clay pigeon idea. The past masters were horrified and not one turned out. The juniors, their wives, girlfriends and partners all signed up instantly. Nigel was the first and didn’t hesitate to tell us he was a crack shot, didn’t get picked for the Olympic team because he was too busy at work, or some such drivel. He told everyone he’d show us all how it was done.
We spiced it up a bit by using a variety of guns and, first up, was a lesson in muzzle loading. We ran through the Health and Safety then showed everyone how to load the old guns with powder, wad, shot and card, then off they could go to try and bust some clays. Nigel, of course, didn’t need any tuition as he knew it all, standing there in his brand-new waxed jacket, green wellies and deer-stalker. Everyone performed really well, apart from dear Nigel, because I insisted on loading for him and made sure I never poured any shot down his barrels – just put two wads down to give the same kick. When it came time to shoot modern breech-loaders I couldn’t doctor the cartridges so had devised a cunning Plan B. Bob worked at a metal fabricators and had cast half a dozen ‘clay’ pigeons in lightweight alloy to use as trophies. When they were painted matt black, apart from being slightly heavier, they were indistinguishable from the genuine article and, if you wound the trap spring right up, they flew as well as a clay. The only difference was they were indestructible. It took some doing to make sure everyone shot in the right order and Bob played a blinder ensuring only Nigel got the alloy ‘clays.’ He didn’t break a single one all day and never realised why. I disposed of the evidence by mounting the alloy ‘clays’ on plinths and presenting them to the highest scorers at our next Ladies’ evening before the harpist came on.
Keep well and keep smiling!