It was game, set and match for Clifton Lodge No 703 when it served up a winning stroke at its popular annual awards ceremony in which the crème de la crème of Masons received due recognition in a hotly contested competition in which none of the players had received prior warning. It is a format that has worked superbly well for many years and in which a different theme is selected on each occasion. Previous themes have included the ‘Grannies Award’, ‘Formula 1’, ‘The Daftas’, ‘Men at Work’, ‘School Dinners’, ‘The Olympics’, ‘Circus’, ‘The World Cup’ and others. This year’s offering served up ‘Wimbledon’.
The evening was however a supreme mixture of the serious and the bizarre. A conventional lodge meeting preceded the jocularity of the festive board and awards ceremony. Opening the lodge and conducting the general business in customary manner, master of the lodge Eddie Jackson then introduced director of ceremonies Roger Fish to present a fascinating talk on some of the history of Clifton Lodge and its relation with the happenings of the year 1857, (and other years). It proved beyond question the thing to give the troops. Integrating local history with a wider scope of events that included a vivid description of the Charge of the Light Brigade led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 in the Crimean War, Roger made an undoubted hit with the inmates.
Having retired to the festive board and worked away with knife and fork on a sumptuous carte du jour consisting of a hearty vegetable soup, chicken fillet stuffed with mushrooms and brie and traditional Wimbledon dessert of strawberries and cream, the festivities of the awards ceremony commenced. A warm-up set of a Wimbledon-themed quiz got the players into fine form for the main event.
Taking centre court and compering the main event was the charismatic Chris Walpole, who from the beginning had the air of an old egg with something up his sleeve; an underhanded way of serving the awards with backhanded compliments. Chris proceeded while the crowd hung on every word as if their lives depended on it. With no faulty footwork and filled with competitive spirit, (g and t primarily), Chris introduced the event with panache and a genial smile, camouflaging the crushing blows that he was about to serve.
The first recipient, gaining the honoured title of the ‘Rubber Balls Award’ by his ability to keep bouncing back was the most respected Trevor Drabble, the highest seeded Royal Arch Provincial officer on the Fylde. It was a fine beginning to the tournament.
The second award, the ‘High Balls’ award, went to an unsuspecting winner. Having ascended a wide range of mountains during his career but not yet having climbed Everest, the accolade could only have been confirmed on David Green, master of Mellor Lodge No 1774 in the Province of East Lancashire – no provincial bias is shown in Clifton Lodge!
At this point in the proceedings Chris took a serious stance in exposing possible foul play by one of the competitors. Whilst having attended all award ceremonies in living memory and having walked away with a prize on nearly every occasion, the umpires deemed Stan Hill to have had an unfair advantage and he was therefore awarded the ‘Black Ball’. In announcing it, Chris imparted a good deal of topspin on the wording for he meant it to sting. No doubt ashamed to have been exposed, Stan disguised himself as Womble Orinoco to receive the award and received shouts of “rubbish! rubbish!” from his fellow competitors – cries that Stan seemed to interpret as additional accolades and that pleased him no end.
The next category of awards was a closely contested prize; that of the ‘Crystal Ball’ for the competitor who was most able to assess how much money he could extract from individuals when selling raffle tickets. After a closely run tie, the recipient, Robert Kearsley, insisted on further payment before agreeing to accept the trophy, receiving accusations of it being a racket (or should that be racquet).
Proudly attired in an Uncle Bulgaria costume, Stuart Williams received the next trophy for having littered the proceedings in a most common manner and sweating his way to the finals in the heat of the evening. For his doggedness, he was awarded the ‘Fur Ball’ prize.
For his tenacity in travelling from the frozen north of Scotland, Frank Howarth of Scoon and Perth Lodge No 3 received the ‘Snowballs’ trophy whilst Mike Thompson of Ashlar Lodge No 5154 won the ‘Small Balls’ prize for his electrifying performance against all odds.
The next prize went to a young rookie player who has shown himself to be a keen competitor. Relative newcomer to Freemasonry, Josh Green of Mellor Lodge was the outright winner of the ‘Dog’s Ball’ prize for the most promising player, described by his colleagues as an absolute natural.
The award that the umpires found most difficult to assign was the ‘Odd Balls’ prize. There were so many competitors who were worthy of the title that it was finally decided that the last entrant should be the recipient. Coincidentally, it was the 47th entrant and one who originates from that land that gave us the seven liberal arts and sciences. Most deserving of the award in the judges’ opinions was Charalampous Kagouris, better known as Harry.
There followed an inspiring award. Amongst the crowd in attendance was Lincolnshire Schoolboy Tennis Champion of 1939 Reg Clay and as clear and outright winner of the ‘Oldest Balls’ trophy, Reg stood out on his own. He received a standing ovation for his victory.
Paying homage to the next generation of Freemasons, the umpires devised a ‘New Balls’ award and these went to Alan Hart, the most recent joining member of Clifton Lodge and young Lucas Wilkinson, the newest member and grandson of past master Michael Wilkinson.
As the ceremony was drawing to a close, the most sought-after awards were reserved for the end of the evening. For his willingness to step onto court under any conditions and for his ability to rally people to a cause and work them to breaking point, the ‘Golden Balls’ prize went to the lodge’s director of ceremonies Roger Fish, an ace amongst Freemasons.
And finally, saving the biggest trophy until the end, for tirelessly serving the lodge while receiving several line calls and committing a number of foot faults, master of the lodge Eddie Jackson was awarded the coveted ‘Big Balls’ trophy – a proud and happy recipient on a most jocular and enjoyable evening.
The evening had been a major success with endless fun and good-hearted banter; certainly without any hint of seriousness. Year upon year Clifton Lodge does itself proud with its award ceremony and the occasion is definitely a highlight of the Masonic season. Roll on next year and one wonders what the theme will be then.