Tuesday, 15 April 2014


I have been asked to propose a toast at the annual Charter Night celebrations of Brighton Lions Club.  Charter Night is the annual bash, basically the birthday party for the club.  When I joined the club it was a very smart affair.  The dress code was black tie, and the ladies all wore posh frocks.  The venue had at one time been the Royal Pavilion but price - and ongoing renovation work - had forced the club to look elsewhere.  Nowadays we hold the event at one of the hotels in the town or a golf club on the edge.  The dress code has become a little more relaxed and although most men wear dinner jackets and black (or colourful) bow ties, there is a growing tendency towards lounge suits.  The ladies are now more likely to wear cocktail dresses rather than evening gowns.

Dinner is followed by speechifying and then dancing.  The first toast is, naturally, the Loyal Toast, then the President proposes, "Lions Clubs International and District 105SE" - but he doesn't make a speech.  The District Governor responds to the toast and ends by proposing, "Brighton Lions Club".  This is the President's opportunity to make a speech as he responds.  Next comes the toast I am to propose, to "The City of Brighton & Hove, the Ladies, and Our Guests".  We have to include the city if the Mayor is to respond - a matter of protocol.  This is where I am very tempted.

When proposing a toast to someone - or something - it is customary to be tactful and say good things about the person or thing.  But I am strongly tempted to say what I think of the Council's treatment of Brighton Lions Club.  I have a vague memory of it being done once before and I would dearly love to do the same.  The Lions used to enjoy a very good relationship with the local council, but it has, to our regret, deteriorated.  My particular gripes would be:
  • The Lions re-introduced a carnival to Brighton, with the support of the council.  Groups entering floats in the procession covered their own, sometimes considerable, expenses.  Years later, the council started to charge us for road closures for the carnival procession - but when Gay Pride came along, groups entering floats in their procession were given grants by the council and Gay pride was given a grant of £25,000 to cover losses.
  • The Lions asked the council for permission to erect a sign showing the Lions badge at the entrance to the town, similar to those seen in many other towns.  This was declined - yet Rotary have put one up.
  • The elm trees in Elm Square had to be felled.  We offered to pay for replacements if the council would allow a plaque stating that the trees were planted by the Lions to mark our diamond jubilee.  We were told that plaques on trees are against council policy - but there are trees with plaques in other parts of town.
  • One councillor invited us to send him details of our Housing Society's need for a development site so he could tell us of opportunities.  The email has been ignored, yet development sites have subsequently been sold by the council.
  • It took us three years to get council representatives to agree to meet us with regard to buying the freehold of a plot of land leased to our Housing Society.  Three council official were due to attend; only one bothered to turn up.  That meeting was four weeks ago.  We have just managed to arrange a fresh date.
I still have several weeks in which to draft my speech and I suspect I will manage to avoid temptation, but it will be a damn close-run thing - to misquote the 1st Duke of Wellington. 

So here's to tact and diplomacy.

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