The treasurer sat, as he always did, on the chairman’s immediate left.  He looked just like a treasurer should: bald, clean shaven, half glasses, a dark blazer with brass buttons, a tie that would not look out of place at a funeral, polished shoes − an hon. treasurer from tip to toe.  Whilst quietly excited at the prospect of the bombshell he was about to drop, his expression gave nothing away.  His papers were arranged neatly in front of him and close at hand was a four-ring binder containing copies of the club’s accounts stretching back 12 years or more.

The treasurer, his name was Trevor Dunn, remained silent as the minutes of the previous meeting were scrutinised. Small amendments were made; a date corrected, an action allocated, some commas inserted here and there.  Finally, the minutes were agreed and signed as an accurate record of the proceedings.  Throughout ‘matters arising’ the treasurer continued to sit passively, arms crossed, astonished that such trifles could take so long and stir such passions.

Eventually the chairman turned to him and called for the treasurer’s report.  ‘Over to you, Trevor.  Finances in good shape?’

The treasurer glanced around the table, checking that he had the undivided attention of his colleagues.  He slowly uncrossed his arms, lent forward and cleared his throat.  His moment had come.

‘Gentlemen, I trust you have studied the accounts I circulated before the meeting.  You will see that I have shown expenditure to date against the current budget and, in the column on the right, a comparison with last year’s expenditure at this time.’

Papers were rustled and everyone nodded.

‘The only major disparity, and certainly a cause for concern, is the cost of engraving the trophies.  You will see that the figure has more than doubled.  I have investigated why this has occurred and it seems that the engraver we have used for many years has unfortunately had to retire through ill health − incurable cancer I believe.’  The treasurer paused to allow the gravity of the situation to sink in. ‘Anyway, his son has now taken over the business.  We had no advanced warning of any increase in the engraving costs.  The first I knew of it was when the invoice arrived.’

He paused again to allow the outrage to register.

‘When I telephoned to query the increase, the new owner explained he had discovered that his father had given us a heavily discounted rate for many years and that this could not continue.’

‘And you say we received no warning, no notification at all?’ asked the chairman.

‘No, sadly none.  As you can imagine, when the invoice arrived it was a considerable shock.’

‘Must have been, must have been. Have you paid the invoice?’

‘You will be pleased to hear that I have succeeded in negotiating a 20 per cent reduction.  However, the new owner has made it clear that this is a one off concession and that the preferential treatment extended to us in the past cannot continue.’

A member of the committee, Brigadier Basil Thornton-Jones, in charge of lawns and equipment, cleared his throat.  ‘Mr Chairman, this is clearly disgraceful.  Hiking prices without due warning is not, in my experience, good business practice.’  The brigadier shook his head sadly. ‘Not good at all.  May I propose that we put the engraving out to tender so that we can compare rates and, if need be, engage new engravers?’

‘Capital idea, Brigadier, capital,’ said the chairman, beaming his approval.  The room grew dark as a white cloud temporarily obscured the sun outside.

‘Mr Chairman,’ said the treasurer. ‘I trust you won’t think me presumptuous, but I have already made enquiries and can confirm that the invoice from the engraver is in fact competitive.  The going rate for engraving silver trophies such as ours is £12.75 for a set-up fee and 12p per letter thereafter.’

‘Good lord,’ said the brigadier. ‘Surely that’s outrageous.  When I win a trophy, which as you know is fairly often, that’s going to cost……hang on while I work it out.’

The treasurer, his fingers, like those of a concert pianist, already dancing over the keys of his calculator, provided the answer. ‘That’s 28 letters at 12 pence each, plus the set-up fee of £12.75, giving a total of £16.11.’

‘I’ve a horrible idea mine will pip yours, Basil,’ said Sir Christopher Gilderdale-Scott, the committee member in charge of arranging fixtures with other clubs.

‘Yes,’ confirmed the treasurer, revelling in the opportunity to demonstrate his prowess on the calculator. ‘Yours would come to £12.75 plus £3.60, a total of £16.35.’

The committee members fell silent as they absorbed these staggering figures.

‘How many trophies do we have?’ asked the newest member of the committee, a gentleman called Dr Algernon Westmacott-Hill.

’16 in total,’ said the chairman.

‘Amounting to £204 in set-up fees alone,’ added the treasurer.

‘The problem,’ said the chairman, whose name was George Beaumont-Brearley, ‘is that so many of our members have double barrelled names.  Why, even mine is 22 letters long.’

‘Forgive me, Mr Chairman, 23 letters long.  You have forgotten the hyphen,’ corrected the treasurer.

The brigadier, his moustache twitching and no longer able to contain himself, exclaimed, ‘Surely the wretched fellow doesn’t count a dash as a letter?  Unacceptable, totally unacceptable!’

Committee members muttered their assent.

‘Gentlemen,’ said the chairman. ‘I know this has been a shock but I must call you to order. I suggest that, now we have been apprised of the facts, we postpone further discussion until we meet again in December. Please reflect on the problem and come to the next meeting with your suggestions.’

And without further ado the chairman closed the meeting and the committee members left the room looking suitably sombre. Outside, the day was warm, a classic Indian summer’s day.  Leaves from the chestnut trees fluttered lazily and settled on the lawns.  The hands of the clock on the gable of the wooden sports pavilion, built in 1909, approached half past twelve.  Some committee members adjourned to the club house bar for G&T’s to revive their spirits before lunch.

Two months later, on a wild December day with the chestnut trees swaying as if they were drunk and sudden gusts of wind sending leaves scurrying across the lawns in agitated flurries, the chairman welcomed everyone to the second meeting.  The anticipation in the room was palpable.  The minutes of the previous meeting were hurriedly agreed and the chairman opened the main agenda item; the thorny issue of the escalating engraving costs.

‘Gentlemen, we need to agree how best to take things forward.’

Ideas came thick and fast.

‘Raise the annual subscription to cover the increase in engraving costs.’

‘Reduce the number of competitions.’

‘Award trophies but do not have them engraved.’

‘Members to pay to have their name engraved on the trophies they win.’

The hon. treasurer chipped in. ‘How about making it a rule that members with long names can’t enter competitions?  Or, if they do, they must agree not to win.’

‘Absolutely not!’ exclaimed Brigadier Basil Thornton-Jones. ‘Absurdly discriminatory.  You’re only suggesting that because you have a short name.  Not on, not on.’

‘Then,’ said Trevor, feeling mischievous, ‘how about insisting that winners with long, double barrelled names shorten them?’

The last idea caught people’s imagination.

‘Oh, what fun!’ said Sir Christopher Gilderdale-Scott. ‘I could just be Sir Chris, 8 letters instead of 30.  A considerable saving.’

‘And I could be Brig Basil, nine letters instead of 28,’ the brigadier offered.

‘Why,’ said the chairman, not to be out done. ‘Instead of George Beaumont-Brearley I could use the nick name I had at my prep school, Porgy.  Just 5 letters.  Can anyone beat that?’

‘Porgy?  Why porgy?’ asked the brigadier.

‘Oh, something to do with Georgy Porgy, pudding and pie.  I had a weakness for puddings, treacle steamed pudding in particular.’

‘And for kissing girls, Mr Chairman?’

‘Apple crumble, spotted dick, I loved them all,’ added the chairman wistfully.

Dr Algernon Westmacott-Hill had been silent until now. ‘I’d be happy to settle for Dr W-H.  Again just five letters − only four if we can negotiate free hyphens.’

‘Enough of this.’ The chairman pulled himself together and turned to the hon. treasurer. ‘Trevor, I hope you have something more sensible to contribute?  After all, you first drew our attention to this matter.’

The treasurer referred to his notes. ‘Gentlemen, the cost of engraving names, however long, pales into insignificance in comparison with the cost of the set-up fees for 16 trophies.  We incur £204 for set-up charges before a single letter, or hyphen come to that, has been engraved.’

‘So,’ said the chairman, looking puzzled, ‘what can we do about that?’

‘Yes,’ said the brigadier, ‘come on man, spit it out!’

‘I’d have thought that the answer,’ said the hon. treasurer, looking rather smug, ‘is to discontinue the practice of engraving trophies.  The older ones dating back to the 1920′s are chock-a-block with names anyway.  I suggest we continue to present trophies but instead of having them engraved, display the winner’s names on a wooden honours board and mount it in the pavilion.  The walls in the pavilion will provide sufficient space for honours boards for years to come.’

The treasurer sat back in his seat, confident that the merits of his lateral thinking would meet with unanimous approval.  Outside, the wind whistled round the building causing the windows of the committee room to rattle ominously.

‘Hang on!’ said the brigadier, ‘How much do these honours boards cost?  Not much of a saving to be made I’ll be bound.’

‘Hmm,’ said the chairman looking doubtful, ‘I don’t think people will take kindly to having trophies without inscribed names.’

‘And,’ said Sir Christopher, who had enjoyed a distinguished career as an ambassador in many countries, ‘after a few years I fear our modest pavilion will be overwhelmed with honours boards.’

‘Well,’ said the treasurer, irritated that his novel idea had not met with immediate acclaim, ‘I have of course made some enquiries and it seems we can acquire an honours board in oak, large enough to accommodate 16 names using computer cut vinyl text, for £230.  Comparing that with the cost of continuing to engrave our trophies is not entirely straightforward but, if we assume an average of 20 letters for each name, at 12 pence per letter, that gives an average cost of £2.40 per person.  Multiply that by 16 and we have a total of £38.40 for the engraving, plus the set-up fee of £204 giving an estimated grand total of £242.40.  So, switching to honours boards will give a saving of approximately £12.07 per annum.’

‘My dear fellow,’ said the brigadier, ‘just as I suspected, a ludicrously small saving.  Absolutely not worth the aggro!’

Dr Algernon Westmacott-Hill, a retired brain surgeon of high repute, spoke. ‘If members like me with names exceeding the average of 20 letters continue to win competitions then Trevor’s suggestion would reap greater savings.  My years in the NHS taught me that every penny counts.’

‘Thank you,’ said the chairman. I suggest we put it to the vote.  Those in favour of adopting honours boards?’

The hon. treasurer and Dr Algernon raised their hands.

‘And those against?’

The brigadier and Sir Christopher raised their hands.

‘It seems,’ said the chairman rather wearily, ‘that we do not have a consensus.  I shall have to exercise my casting vote.’

The wind outside rose to a crescendo. Suddenly there was a loud explosion followed by the unmistakable sound of splintering wood.

The members of the committee rose as one and dashed to the window. There, beyond the hallowed lawns that gave so much pleasure on balmy summer days, they beheld a shocking sight. A large tree had been uprooted by the storm and fallen on the pavilion. The impact had turned the pitched roof into a grotesque V and two walls of the timber pavilion, that had stood proudly for over 100 years, lay flat on the ground.  As they watched, the wind lifted a large section of the pavilion and carried it over a yew hedge and sent it skimming into the River Thames beyond.

‘Well,’ said the chairman, recovering his decorum remarkably quickly, ‘it seems that an Act of God has taken the decision out of our hands. Even if we wanted honours boards we no longer have walls upon which to display them.’

No sooner had the chairman spoken than the lights in the committee room flickered and failed. The hon. treasurer, groping around in the gloom trying to gather up his precious papers, knocked a jug of orange juice over the binder containing 12 years of the club’s accounts.   Outside, a second chestnut tree surrendered to the storm and toppled over onto the wreckage of the sports pavilion.

One comment

  1. Tut tut. Six/six committee members were male. A very old-fashioned club?
    A topical solution for the climate emergency era!

Add your voice

Current day month ye@r *

Enjoyed this article? Want to hear more? Book me as a speaker at your next event.

Blog Archives

By date By category

So far as other people are concerned, you are your behaviour