THIS ISLAND LIFE THE trouble with getting old is that an arthritic handshake can often be mistaken for a furtive greeting from a Freemason.
Indeed, if a slightly contorted clutch is regarded as a sign of lodge allegiance, people who have met my mate Malc Lawrence (a martyr to rheumatoid arthritis) must have believed themselves to be in the presence of The Worshipful Master of the United Grand Lodge of England.
I was reminded of this when, on the CP website last week, I saw a bunch of Freemasons from Ryde, proudly pictured in regalia which was being shown in public for the first time in almost 100 years.
Apparently, they had to get permission for this display as part of their organisation’s drive to 'dispel the myth’ it is a secret society.
I’m not sure whether Freemasons are familiar with the concept of 'irony’ but I suspect its meaning may have been pointed out to one or two after this rather elaborately orchestrated emergence from a carefully constructed closet.
However, having studied the photograph, it is easy to understand why the Guild of Mutual Back Scratchers was in no hurry to let the light in on their hitherto clandestine clobber.
I’m not sure I’d be too keen to be seen in public wearing what appears to be a large, embroidered pinny (though the gentlemen concerned seemed extremely pleased with themselves).
They actually looked like a cross between a group of up-market Morris dancers and a bunch of Ruritanian waiters but let us switch our attention from appearance to motive. It is said Freemasons raise large sums for charitable causes — for which they should be commended.
But so do plenty of other organisations — and they don’t feel the need to keep membership lists secret, indulge in private rituals and pledge to cover each other’s backs.
I might be prepared to concede the Freemasons had a point if WI members wore bejewelled masks, referred to their chairwomen as 'the worshipful mistress’ and were required to roll down their right stocking as part of the admission process.
Notwithstanding all this, I suspect at least three of my friends are lodge members and I decided to ask one of them outright the other day.
There followed a tell-tale pause, which was sufficient to convince me he was, even if he intended to deny it.
"I am, yes," he said eventually, "but I can’t tell you anything else about it. We are sworn to secrecy."
So much for the 'myth’ the lads from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Hampshire and the IW are so eager to dispel.
"Why have you never asked me to join?" I inquired, mildly affronted at not being invited to tie the blindfold and hoist the trouser-leg in the cause of fraternal bonding.
"Because you would have extracted the bodily fluid non-stop for about a month," was the general tenor of the reply.
He was right, of course, but I would still like to issue a challenge to the gentlemen at the Ryde Masonic Centre (or any other Island lodge for that matter).
If you are serious about your quest for greater transparency, and genuinely wish to remove the mystery surrounding your organisation, its motives and its rituals, invite me and a CP photographer to your next initiation ceremony and dinner.
Alternatively, ask all your members who are policemen (serving or retired), councillors, council officials or who hold other positions of influence in public life, to agree to make their names public.
After all, you’ve nothing to hide have you?
A challenge for world’s greatest scientists
THERE must be a posse of scientists squatting beneath central Europe right now wondering what to do next after establishing the existence of Prof Higgs’ boson.After all, when you have discovered the sub-atomic particle responsible for holding the universe together — and you have named it after God — anything else is bound to be a bit of an anti-climax.
But there are reckoned to be around 2,400 boffins employed at CERN and they need something to occupy them if the Large Hadron Collider is not to be turned into Geneva’s version of Thorpe Park.
I shall therefore be getting in touch to ask them to turn their attention to solving a riddle which I suspect has been puzzling Island motorists for years — and never more so than over the past weekend.
Is there a strange chemical reaction between Lycra and human perspiration — mostly of the male variety — which turns normally sensible people into selfish morons?
I don’t really care that cyclists are not required to pay for insurance or cough up for road tax.
I hardly swear at all when I see them charging along pavements, jumping red lights or ignoring the basic courtesies at a zebra crossing.
But I suspect there must be something in the laws of the land which makes it illegal for them to ride three abreast along a public highway.