Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dressing for dinner

In my role as Chaplain to Cardiff's United Services Mess, last night I attended the annual dinner, given in the Angel Hotel for around 250 mainly ex-service personnel, with a sprinkling of active servicemen among the invited guests. Prince Andrew was chief guest last year and protocol obliged invites and attendance by several women, including the Mayor and the Chief Constable. This year reverted to the default position - men only. Many are open to the change, but there's no real concensus for the need to change as yet. So the Mess is still a gentleman's club.

The annual dinner is a stylish formal black-tie affair, medals are worn. It's always jolly and exuberant, always well mannered. The serving staff are superbly organised and strive make the whole affair the success it deserves to be, as a commemorative banquet for those fallen and continuing to fall in armed conflict. It's been notable how the score of young people waiting on table have changed over the past five years I have attended. Fewer now have black skins, many more each year have Eastern European accents, something that draws comment from diners. My role is to say grace, and to speak a commemorative sentence in deep darkness before the toast in homage to Fallen is offered. I know it off by heart now, and am not nearly as nervous about it as I was the first time I did it, four years ago, when I fluffed my lines terribly. Bless 'em all, I wasn't teased too much about that subsequently.

The evening finishes with many diners returning to the Mess, weaving their way through the hordes of drunken revellers on St Mary Street, to top up their own post prandial alcohol levels before heading home. Last year, I missed out on this because I was still far from getting my blood pressure stable. This year I had to miss out on account of today's big wedding. So I was home and in bed by a quarter after midnight, well fed, and quite tired, having done a full day's work before dressing for dinner.

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