Although my husband belongs to three clubs in London, as well as the World Land Trust, the
Royal Horticultural Society, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the London Library, the CLA, the Conservative Party, the Art Fund, the GWCT, the Garden Society and the Countryside Alliance, and is a Friend of Aldeburgh Music, the Garden Museum and Chelsea Physic Garden, my own memberships barely register on the Richter scale of Belonging.
I’m a member of the Shetland Sheep Society, the Red Poll Cattle Society and the Turkey Club UK. In an effort to widen my world, every year my husband presents me with membership of the Royal Academy (RA) and generously stumps up for joint membership of the National Trust. Except for the RA, which has a Friends Room I have never frequented, none of my member-ships offers a place to go and be collegiate. None requires attendance at meetings, and the dues are so slender that my annual cappuccino bill is greater than all my fees combined.
All this is to say that I do not enter into organisations lightly. I sometimes worry that my reclusiveness is a symptom of something more serious, which is why I considered applying for membership of the Athenaeum after I was a guest at one of their literary dinners. I liked the talk (Hermione Lee on Edith Wharton), the food, the wine and the library, and the fact that, since 2002, the august club accepts women, although the women’s loos are down a daunting number of stairs and feel like a dungeon adapted at minimum expense.
But when I paused to calculate how many times I was likely to use the club and divided that modest figure into the more significant sum for annual membership, the maths encouraged me to heed the advice of Polonius-‘to thine own self be true’-and accept that I have a solitary and sedentary nature that leans towards livestock.I was not always so solitudinous.
In my pre-marital years in London, I was a member of the London Library, PEN, the Delphinium Society (an impetuous commitment) and the Tate. After a friend invited me to dine at the Oxford and Cambridge Club, I enjoyed surreptitious lunches during a year-long stint when I was often working at the London Library. I’d book a table for one at 12.30, and request a half bottle of 1975 Cos d’Estournel (a bargain I’d spotted on my first visit) to be opened at 12. I tried to look like a don from Lady Margaret Hall engaged in research on fiefs and vassals. No one ever requested proof of my academic past.
But recently, after lengthy consideration, I’ve expanded my memberships. I have joined the Slow Food International move-ment. It might seem unwise to put its logo of a snail on your restaurant menu, as diners don’t like the idea of anything-service, food, the bill-being slow, but the philosophy is that everything is seasonal, local, fresh, made to order. In short, the opposite of fast food. It’s hardly a revolutionary idea, but I like the ethos. It’s in my DNA, a gift from a Southern grandmother whose philosophy in life was ‘Take your time and get it right’.
If I believe in anything, it’s the need to slow down. We don’t have to raise the speed limit from 70mph to 80mph, which is a licence to drive at 90mph. We don’t have to tear up the countryside in order to reach Birmingham 20 minutes sooner. We don’t have to drive faster to get to the outskirts of London and sit in traffic. The Eurostar boasts of shaving another 15 minutes off the journey, but you wait at the Gare du Nord for 50 minutes for a taxi. In fact, my dream now is a sister organisation to Slow Food UK. Called the Real Slow movement, it will take in all aspects of life. The logo will be a hammock, and membership will be relaxed and free.
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