Would you want to be a member of the hong kong club?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 1997, 12:00am

YES Groucho Marx didn't want to belong to any club that would have him, and neither do I. When it comes to the crusty, fusty confines of the Hong Kong Club, I would say the chances of them welcoming a penniless hack from the outer reaches of the antipodes with absolutely no social connections are about the same as Tung Chee-hwa getting a permanent wave. Which is precisely why I'm gagging to get in.

It is a fundamental facet of human nature that the grass is always far more verdant somewhere other than in your own crummy little windowbox. We are strange and greedy creatures, and no matter what trappings of success we accumulate, what someone else has got always looks better. In my case, I've been more of a success at accumulating the trappings of failure, so the chauffeured limousines, starched butlers and ironed newspapers of swanky club life look pretty damned good.

Sure, as a journalist, I could join the Foreign Correspondent's Club. But what would be the fun in that? I can go there anyway and sponge drinks from mates without the monthly shock of the bar bill arriving.

But the Hong Kong Club - now that's a different story. Imagine, in the midst of modern life's mire of political correctness, a club where you can behave like a knuckle-dragging neanderthal with complete impunity. A familiar and welcoming world full of friendly, florid faces, where you can hang your pith helmet, dribble Pimm's down your safari suit and romp around in spit and sawdust. An oasis of peace and quiet, far from the madding jackhammers, disturbed only by the muted clatter of the coolies resetting the pins in the Bowling Alley Bar and a gentle symphony of snores and flatulence.

In its heyday, the club was described as 'the paradise of the select and a temple of colonial gentility'. Well, perhaps a different select has now been selected, and they'll probably be hanging out up the road at the China Club. But no matter. It will still be paradise for the creaking relics of an evanescing empire, and I'm more than happy to join them as they hide from reality in their suet pudding shangri-la.

It is heartening to see that the club is moving with the times and has decided to allow women through its hallowed portals. Nothing wrong with that. A few fine young fillies will brighten up the place no end and spark a bit of interest in the crotchety old duffers who look like they joined the club when it opened 153 years ago and whose only tumescence is in their stiff upper lips. I say, Blatherington-Smythe, nothing wrong with a bit of slap and tickle round the billiard table - fnarr fnarr - eh, what? My only problem is that membership is by invitation only. Still, if the powers that be are kind enough to invite me in, I promise I won't tell them they're no longer the powers that be.

Jason Gagliardi NO Don't you hate begrudgers? You know, the sort of people who, eventually, after a good deal of persuasion, prodding and, in this instance, threats of legal action finally mutter, 'Oh, all right, come in if you must.' They sour the air with their mealy mouthed invitations. So I can't imagine what sort of woman worth her executive salary would want to part with a whack of it in order to cross a threshold from which the UNWELCOME mat has just been kicked out of view.

I'm pleased, of course, that women can now join the Hong Kong Club (although it will be interesting to see how long they toil in the foothills of the waiting list) but, based on the few occasions when I've entered that chilly, ugly building, I have to ask myself why on earth anyone would want to bother. It can't be for the conversational charms of the occupants. In the Stone Age, men had clubs in order to hit women over the head and I can't see much evolutionary progress in the way they use the modern variety. The gracious comment of the honourable member who was quoted this week as saying 'they'll' probably rip the green felt on the billiard tables amply makes my point (and he, naturally, misses the real point which is that most women are far too intelligent to stand around playing such a ridiculous game in the first place).

As for the Bowling Alley with its 'spit and sawdust' - really, it sounds an ideal breeding ground for tuberculosis. Quite why members are still moaning at the thought of women sullying this strange pit is beyond me. And isn't it funny how racism and sexism always seem to co-exist? No doubt there are aged members who pine for the old days, back in 1846, when foreigners, women and those of an 'unsuitable social background' were banned from the newly founded club. The mind boggles: what with all those opium dealers larking about the colony amidst thousands of off-limits Chinese johnnies, who can possibly have been left? But then that's the very nature of a club: it's an exclusion zone, formed so that everyone else is standing out in the cold (or, in this case, the sweaty noonday sizzle) supposedly longing to get in.

And that's why it's so much better, so wonderfully irritating, not to play along. Insist on being asked, then refuse point-blank to contemplate anything so childish, that's the best way to deal with the Hong Kong Club and other places where the human herd instinct becomes painfully apparent. (I wouldn't join the Foreign Correspondents' Club either, far too many journalists.) When people start chanting, in the immortal words of Mr Gary Glitter, 'Do you wanna be in my gang?', it's best to look gravely disgusted and move away at speed.

Fionnuala McHugh