Tucked away behind the Savoy stands a small – some would say elite – club for gentlemen. Mostly English gentlemen, though I am told there’s a Canadian or two on the books. For reasons which have never quite been determined, The Banbury Club does not have a regular patronage. True, there are over a thousand fee-paying members and a number of visitors, but on any given night you can never guarantee that any one of them will be there.
You will not find the same group of people in their usual corner, ordering the same drinks every evening. A member who comes in on a wet Wednesday night may well not be seen there again until a warm Monday afternoon two years later. You can leave a letter for a member – there are pigeon holes behind the reception desk – but the recipient may not collect it for months, if ever.
There are stamps in a scrapbook, kept by the club secretary’s daughter. Stamps from all corners of the world. Stamps from business interests in Hong Kong, stamps from planters in Kenya, stamps from remote regions of Europe, stamps from Central American mining engineers and even stamps from a retired bishop in Monserrat. All these come in from membership dues, paid annually and regularly by men who may never visit the capital above once a decade. The Banbury is a place where you can go, but no one expects you to.
Hardly any of the members will know each other and most will never meet again. They stop in for one night, perhaps two, and have their well worn luggage sent up to rooms which they seldom recognise. It’s not exactly a travellers’ club, nor a place for adventurers to meet, and there are rarely more than ten members staying at any one time.
So it was something of a surprise, on a tense night in September, for the head steward of the Banbury to wander into the smoking room and find a group of about twenty men – travel worn and thirsty – seated all together around the fire. Even as he watched, the door behind him opened again to admit another arrival.
The newcomer advanced into the room with weary but purposeful strides.
“Evening chaps.” He hailed.
“Althorpe.” Someone called. “Come on in. It’s good to see you again. How was Africa?”
“Hot.” He replied. There seemed to be nothing more to say on the matter.
He seated himself gratefully and glanced around the assembly, nodding to those he knew vaguely. There was an oil speculator, just arrived from Venezuela; an engineer, newly off the boat from somewhere cold; and someone who might have been called Brown who had something to do with the Foreign Office.
“I thought you were in Romania, Johnny.” Althorpe spoke to the man next to him.
Johnny removed his pipe and chuckled.
“Yugoslavia.” he declared. “Trying to train their air force.”
“I managed to teach them the difference between the sky and the ground.” He said. “But beyond that they’ll just have to take their chances. So what brings you back to England?”
“The same thing that brought you I should imagine.” Althorpe turned over the evening newspaper on the side table. Prime Minister Chamberlain’s grave face stared out from under the graver headline.
Johnny nodded thoughtfully and glanced up at the huddle of members. They seemed to draw slowly closer to the fire, as if for protection.
“It doesn’t look like we’re the only ones.”
This isn’t part of anything. It was an idea that came to my mind and I thought I would use it as an exercise. I hope you liked it.