412 Esperanto in my life (3)

In the quite protected surroundings of the Enfield Esperanto Club I had felt completely at ease. Once a year we ventured out into the wider world with a stand at the Enfield Show which was held in the Town Park each autumn; and in the club itself the occasional new member turned up, but all in all it was pretty friendly and quiet.

The London Esperanto Club was a different proposition; the challenge was to get through a three-hour meeting without speaking a word of English. I accepted the challenge, and managed to survive it, though my head was spinning by the end. Not only that, I liked it so much that I went back for more the next week, and the week after, and eventually became a life member.

The Club met weekly on a Friday, and still does (and has been doing so since 1903). Doors opened at 6.30; most people arrived about 7.00. This gave time for a quick cup of tea in the buffet (remember, most people drank tea in those days, and their coffee was horrible), before things got going at 7.15.
The first item was a speaker, often a visitor from overseas; the topics they covered could be anything at all, generally unconnected to Esperanto. It could be anything from traveller’s tales to the philosophy of Spinoza. Sometimes it was a “Members’ Evening” where everyone pitched in; “bring an object and talk about it” was a handy standby when ideas were in short supply. Later on I spoke to them a few times, perhaps averaging once a year; mostly on musical topics, though I have also spoken about my Butler Library work.
This went on for about 40 minutes, followed by questions and discussion, various announcements, etc.; and visitors to the Club were invited to stand up and introduce themselves. It would just about be true to say that we had visitors from all over the world, but probably most of them were from Europe.
Following this we adjourned to the Buffet. This was the testing time for beginners, as instead of just sitting and listening we found ourselves having to make sensible conversation in Esperanto for about 45 minutes. I got used to this pretty quickly.
Then at 9.00 we re-convened for Part 2. This was different each week. We had the use of a small side room which served for committee meetings and choir practice; meanwhile in the main room the rest of us set to discussing either things in general (this we called the Forumo), or, if there was anything left to be said, the earlier speaker’s topic, or finer points of the use of Esperanto (this was called the Advanced Course, but it had no kind of structure that might resemble a course).
We called a halt at 10.00, which in those days was not exceptionally early. Some of us would make a hasty exit to the pub (closing time was still 10.30), and the rest went home; which took me at least an hour.

In those days the Club met in the Fred Tallant Hall, in Drummond Street, near Euston. The hall was demolished in 2005 and really should have come down thirty years earlier. I have seen pictures of it in the 1950s and it looked quite passable; but after that, apart from the occasional coat of paint, it was sadly neglected. In the 1970s they were still using the same chairs that I recognised in the pictures from the 1950s.
Apparently the group that owned the Hall had fallen on hard times. They were originally known as the Cooperative Holidays Association, not because they were anything to do with the Co-op (which they weren’t) but because their holiday camps operated on cooperative principles. Eventually, finding that people misunderstood the name, they changed it to Countrywide Holidays Association, so as to keep the acronym the same.

Nowadays (2007) the club meets in the London Irish Centre. I haven’t been there myself, but they seem to like it.

This take us to 1966 when something really momentous happened.

(to be continued)

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