International meetings

Through the Masonic connections of Dorset members, the BSAL Brethren were introduced to Loge Robert Le Bruce, meeting near Cherbourg. BSAL groups made several annual trips across the Channel to attend their meetings. The Loge worked a ritual called the Rectified Scottish Rite – a very different ritual, and mostly incomprehensible, even to those who spoke a little French.

An interesting feature of the trips was the break-neck car chases through the deepest Normandy countryside, in true Keystone-Cop style. This was to ensure that the visitors did not lose the lead of their hosts to various unfamiliar locations - including their Lodge premises - which comprised of an unheated converted Cow Barn, at the back of a huge field, in the middle of nowhere.

Visiting Brethren were put up in a hotel belonging to one of their members, where a joint Festive Board/White Table would be held after the meeting. As the evening progressed, and the wine flowed, the entente cordiale took on a life of its own, and the toasting moved from formal to flamboyant, with both sides making valiant and hilarious attempts to express themselves in the other’s language.

Members of Robert Le Bruce were very friendly, with a sprinkling of English speakers on their side, whereas BSAL French ranged from non-existent to very flaky “franglais”. The one notable exception in the language department was W. Bro. Maurice Watts who, it transpired, spoke fluent French and was thus able to maintain some credit and dignity on behalf of the visitors.

On at least one occasion, the Loge returned the honour, when some of their members made the reciprocal trip, and were given a warm welcome when attending a BSAL meeting in Dorset.

At the Festive Board, it once befell W. Bro. Les Mills to propose a toast. Never to miss a chance once he had an attentive audience, he proceeded to give all those present the benefit of one of his jokes. To the great admiration of all, Bro. Watts skilfully translated both the toast and the story, line by line, to the French Brethren. This of course meant that Bro. Mills’s tale lasted even longer than usual, as the story became more and more bizarre and untranslatable. By then, everyone was hanging on every word, and waiting for the punch line.

Now, there would always be a risk that a joke did not travel well between nations - none more so than when it relied on a very-English pun. So the translator’s exasperation, and the  bewilderment of the Frenchmen, only served to leave the English Brethren aching with laughter at the concluding and hilarious finale. After all that effort, how do you translate a punch line which involves lions being fed on “finch, chimps, and mushy bees”?!
After some years, the Loge Robert le Bruce changed from Saturday to midweek meetings, and further visits from most BSAL members became impractical.


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