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A Secretive Society17 May 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
It could well be that you have heard of The Bullingdon Club, a secretive dinner club in Oxford University. In the eighties it counted David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson among its membership. Another high profile member was David Dimbleby, of course he joined them half a lifetime earlier, but even so The Bullingdon Club is firmly established into the centre of power.
Suddenly I realised that in the eighties during my time at the Royal Dutch Military Academy, I was a member of the Cadet Drink and Dining Society (CDDS). I was the Boris Johnson of the CDDS, the same ambition but with without the mop of hair.
The Bullingdon Club has the dubious reputation to provoke a refurbishment of the establishments it honours with a visit. However, any incurred expenses are swiftly reimbursed by a cash payment. Compared to this, the activities of the Cadet Drink and Dining Society were just child’s play.
It was quite likely that the ‘Master Taster’ with a few well chosen words would destroy the culinary reputation of the relevant establishment, but apart from esteem we didn’t demolish anything else. In accordance with our motto: ‘During dinner what matters is not so much the food on the table but rather the people who sit around the table.’ This is equally true for a government.
I became a member of this society by default because I was a Senator of the Cadet Corps. In the Cadet Drink and Dining Society I was known as: ‘Fellow Diner without Portfolio’.
The Senate was the most important organisation and somewhat secretive. You became a Senator after being selected by the cadets in your year. This is the only election I have ever won. First year students, generally known as ‘Young Bulls’, were instructed during their initiation period to shout ‘Show Respect’ when they spotted a Senator. Looking back now, I think this was quite ridiculous.
The Senate presided over all other societies. A rigorous pecking order was in place. For example, you were free to join the Cadet Marching Band, but this was not very highly rated because of their problems producing acceptable tunes. We considered their performances to constitute a: ‘Drill with Instruments’. Being a member of the COMC, the Cadet Old Motorcar Club, didn’t bring you any kudos either. Any owner of a rusty old vehicle was eligible to join.
Another society that deserves a mention is the one formed by people who failed their year: The Asymptote. The ultimate goal was to become an Asymptote twice over. However all the popular guys belonged to the Cadet Drink and Dining Society and the most favoured in their midst sat in the Senate.
One day the Senate went on a trip to Brussels. I can’t remember why, it might just have been a weekend away. After partaking of a few spirits, we found ourselves in Wetstraat (Law Street). Who would have expected it but on the wall hung a sign that said: ‘Chair of the Senate’: a golden opportunity. One of the Senators was instructed to keep a well-armed guard occupied with chit-chat whilst the others unscrewed the sign. Subsequently it was carried around in triumph at several cafes in Brussels.
If we had been found out we would have been in deep trouble and none of us would have had the opportunity of capture the public’s attention. In those days we considered ourselves above the law. It was our strong intention that we would go far in the future. I fancied myself as Prime Minister. That’s why hearing about The Bullingdon Club brought back all these memories. Good guys, but a somewhat dubious society.
Nowadays I hardly meet any of my fellow Senators, with the exception of D. We joined the Grenadier Guards at the same time and together we were caught up in a war.
I discovered literature and D, too, eventually found a new career. We both loathe initiation ceremonies; actually we both have a problem with authority in general. So we haven’t made it to Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am now a writer and D. teaches Walking Yoga, also quite an achievement for both of us.
On Monday mornings mostly around eleven o’clock we meet in a cafe for ‘work catch-up’ sessions. When the weather is good this takes place outside. We light a cigar and muse: ‘Do you think the others are quite busy just now?’ Luckily we still have the pictures to remind us of our past.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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