Possibly one of the greatest conundrums in writing any form of narrative is how and where to begin. Too much time spent in setting the atmosphere in a highly descriptive fashion so to speak can fail to grip the reader. Deeming it best to put the reader in touch with the position of affairs right away by getting straight off the mark and into the nitty-gritty can, on the other hand, over-inform the reader to such an extent that there is little need to continue reading and the précised text is all that is glanced at. At risk of bounding into the latter bloomer, this narrative reports on the rather strange goings-on that were afoot at the installation ceremony of Clifton Lodge No 703 at the Masonic Hall, Blackpool.
As would be expected, the general business of the lodge was conducted in traditional style with commendable attention to detail. The first intimation that things were about to hot up was the entry of David Thomas, the Provincial Deputy Grand Director of Ceremonies and his announcement that Howard Jones, Deputy Provincial Grand Master; accompanied by Harry Cox, Assistant Provincial Grand Master; Grand officers Peter Elmore, William Eardley, Ian Robertson, and Peter Bentham, Chairman of the Blackpool Group of Lodges; plus distinguished acting Provincial officers were about to enter the lodge room. Now, although not immediately obvious, the WM Martin Challis was no doubt feeling a bit nonplussed. The spectacle of so many highly regarded officers was enough to nonplus anyone and brows furrowed under the pressure. After warmly welcoming Howard to the lodge and offering him the gavel of authority, reality struck Martin that he was unable to relinquish his responsibilities to the Deputy Provincial Grand Master and that he was now firmly stuck with having to conduct the evening’s main agenda item himself, that of installing Edward Albert George Jackson into the chair of King Solomon. Drawing a few deep breaths to steady frayed nerves, Martin performed his allotted task in a highly dignified and sincere manner. An obvious sigh of relief and beaming grin of satisfaction at the conclusion of the ceremony clearly indicated that he was glad when it was all over. Not that he needed to worry; he had done a splendid job. However, a fascinating phenomenon when nerves are a bit ragged is that inanimate objects appear to adopt their own personalities and, generally speaking, not very cooperative personalities. For some reason, items seem to suddenly move that little bit out of reach; others contract a touch of the heebie-jeebies as if a passing poltergeist has popped in for a brief spell of mischief, whilst others decide to mysteriously disappear for a moment. Jack Monks, assistant director of ceremonies, discovered this to be the case when he bent down to pick up a set of working tools. At that crucial moment when Jack was about to grasp them, the blighters jumped backwards, catching Jack unawares and causing him to lose balance and topple over; thankfully gracefully and without injury. As newly appointed officers collected their collars of office in preparation for investiture, the little critters skipped out of the recipient’s hands and defiantly made retrieval as difficult as they could. Unruffled and cool as a cucumber, director of ceremonies Roger Fish responded to one such collar by casually placing a well-directed boot up its rear end. Gauntlets went on a walkabout and again Roger, remaining composed and unperturbed, scurried off to retrieve them from the preparatory room. And boxes refused to close. The ghost of Clifton lodge was playing his part to the full! But the brethren were troopers and the phantom spirits were well and truly defeated by the gritty spirit of the performers: no ghostly pranks were going to deter them or distract them from the task in hand. Roger showed them that he meant business with an immaculate presentation of the working tools of an installed master and flawless performances in the presentations of the third, second and first degree working tools by junior brethren Nathan Peacock, Stuart Alcock-Williams and Robert Kearsley respectively most certainly gained a decisive victory over any prankish ghouls.
Chris Walpole, secretary of the lodge, stamped his authority on the proceedings with a superb address to the new master and Michael Wilkinson continued in similar vein during his address to the wardens. Not to be out-performed, Howard Jones was impeccable in his address to the brethren and, from then on, the ghost was vanquished.
Seated comfortably in his chair and perfectly at home, the newly installed master Edward Jackson took great pleasure in performing one of his earliest acts and one that brought out the true spirit of the lodge. Charitable donations amounting to a magnificent total of £2,625 were presented to Howard, comprising of £500 to the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity, £500 to the Masonic club building fund, £825 to High Furlong School for an interactive sensory light wall, and £800 to Pancreatic Cancer Research. It was a proud moment for Ed and a high point for a Mason who was occupying the chair of King Solomon for a fourth time. No doubt the ghost of Clifton lodge, the oldest lodge to meet at the Masonic hall in Blackpool, slinked off in a major sulk.
Having performed a delightful and entertaining ceremony, the brethren retired to the festivities of dinner to relish alternative spirits and revel in the fun of the evening, a point that Howard emphasised in his response to the toast to grand officers. “Freemasonry is fun and we should all engage with non-Masons to spread the message that Freemasonry stands for fairness, honesty, integrity, kindness and, above all, friendship”. Judging from the pleasure that all those present gleaned from the evening, there is little doubt that these qualities are the true spirit at the heart of Clifton Lodge No 703. All gremlins are decisively beaten in this lodge.