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Masons on Board

Oriana Eddie smCruising round the UK this August, it was warm enough for shorts and short sleeved shirts. During one sea day, I wandered around the ship in a Daggards tee-shirt, which bears the logo of a treble clef framed by the square and compasses. (A treble clef is, of course, a stylised letter G – in music it points out where the G line is on the stave.)
Sometimes Freemasons get together on cruises, organising a formal gathering with their wives for a pre-prandial cocktail and canapés before the black tie dinner – often the captain and senior officers are invited, and an appropriate charitable donation made.
This cruise, however, enjoyed no such arrangement – perhaps there were too many ports of call to justify it, or maybe no-one was sufficiently motivated to arrange it. This didn’t stop a couple of Masons complaining that it hadn’t been done, of course, but I’ll get to that later.
Wearing the Daggards tee-shirt gave rise to a number of comments. It was round about eleven when a substantial lady with an enormous plate of cakes stood between me and the sun and said “You shouldn’t be wearing that, you know.”
“Why ever not?” I asked.
“It’s supposed to be secret.”
“Really? Why?”
“The Freemasons don’t advertise.”
“I’m not advertising.”
“Yes you are. You have a square and compasses on your tee-shirt.”
“But madam,” I observed, “You are wearing an Adidas tee-shirt. With a logo. It suits you very nicely, if I may say so. Are you advertising Adidas?”
The lady snorted inelegantly and left without comment, which meant I could enjoy the sunlight again. A few minutes later another lady approached and perched on the seat next to mine. “What is your opinion,” she said, “about female Freemasons?”
“I’m all in favour,” I told her. “Earlier this month the Daggards were performing to some lady masons in Scarborough. It was a very pleasant evening.” I told her about the Daggards and our donations to local charities, giving her one of my cards. It transpired she had been a lady mason for some years and was looking at fresh ways to promote the movement when she went into the Chair.

At lunch I came under attack even before the soup was served. “You’re a self-help society,” asserted the overweight man opposite. “Jobs for the boys.”
“What do you mean?” said a bespectacled, white haired old chap on my left. “Don’t the Freemasons do charity work?”
“That’s all on the surface. Their real aim is world domination.”
“Ah.” The elderly fellow carefully broke his bread roll in two. “They’re not making a very good job of it, are they?”
The plump party looked puzzled. “I’m sorry?”
“No need to apologise.” The man in spectacles smiled. “What I mean is, if the Freemasons are in charge of the world, then why are we in such a mess? Terrorist attacks, war, religious strife, the economy up and down like a yo-yo – are you suggesting this is all deliberate?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, if it isn’t deliberate, then why is it going on?” There was a professorial air to the man, as though he was encouraging a dull student to come to a conclusion.
The plump man was silent, but his wife answered for him. “There’s always conflict,” she said, as though explaining to a child.
The elderly fellow nodded benignly. “So nobody’s in charge?”
I smiled. I could see where he was heading.
“Of course nobody’s in charge,” she said. “That’s why it’s a mess.”
Slowly the old man reached for the butter. “So in fact, there’s no world domination?”
I wanted to applaud but the waiter brought the soup – asparagus, one of my favourites – and the conversation was diverted.
On my right sat a quiet lady and her husband. They were in their thirties, considerably younger than most of the passengers. “My father’s a Mason,” said the lady. “He’s out most evenings.”
“Does your mother mind?” I said, declining to ask if he was attending classes in world domination.
“Oh no. She says she has enough of him underfoot during the day.”
“He does a lot for charity,” offered her husband.
“Apart from the National Lottery,” I remarked, keeping my tone casual, “Freemasonry contributes more to charity than any other organisation in England.”
“So what’s it all about?” demanded the plump man’s wife.
I shrugged. “Making good men better,” I said. “Enjoying the company of friends. Trying to be moral people and helping others.”
Her husband shook his head. “Haven’t you read the Dan Brown books?” he asked. “Did you see The Da Vinci Code?”
“I thought that was a bit far-fetched,” objected the younger man.

I discovered later that the white haired old chap was not, in fact, a Freemason, though he had considered joining. “I’m a historian,” he confessed, “and that conspiracy theory about world domination irked me, I’m afraid. I could have told him about those who tried to rule the world and have attempted to eradicate Freemasonry – such as Hitler; but he was a man who liked to talk and refused to listen.”

It was in the evening, when I’d changed for dinner, that a man stopped me in a bar and invited me to join him and his friend. “We saw you were on the square,” he explained. “We’ve been on cruises where Masons meet, but nobody has organised anything here.”
“The staff should do something about it,” averred the other. He identified himself and his Lodge, of which he was a Past Master.
“I’m sure if you wanted to place a notice in the ship’s daily handout, something could be arranged,” I said. But it was clear the gentlemen regarded this as a job for somebody else. They diverted the conversation to other cruises and places they’d visited round the world.

In the following few days, other people identified themselves as Masons, and it was generally a pleasure to exchange greetings with Brethren from around the country, but I should mention one crashing old bore who attached himself to me in the Conservatory and insisted on regaling me at length about the Masonic honours he’d received and the advice he’d tendered at Provincial level to people of significant rank and station. Another talker, not a listener, his name dropping and self aggrandisement were, to me, the unpleasant side of the Craft. With commendable restraint, I didn’t push him overboard, but retired politely, wishing him goodnight. It’s nice to be important, I reflected, but it’s more important to be nice.

The most unexpected encounter however, was when disembarking in the Orkneys. It was no longer tee-shirt weather; I wore a cardigan and carried a brolly. The officer at the quayside addressed me as I left the gangplank. “Enjoy your excursion, Brother,” he said, giving me a firm third degree handshake. “It’s good to see someone who’s proud to be a member.”
I never found out his name, but his friendly salutation kept me warm for the rest of the day.

Eddie Wildman
September 2016