East Kent Freemasons

Provincial Officers Mess



Five months since the last informal gathering of the good and glorious at the Winter Gardens, Margate – and here we were again, some 240 of the Province’s “dark blues”.
“Dark blues” – that’s shorthand for those of Provincial Grand Rank and above, and those who are about to be appointed, all of whom are eligible to join the Provincial Officers’ Mess.  The Mess has two meetings a year, once in October and once in March.  It’s a friendly, informal gathering – dress code is jacket and tie – and you get a meal (which you pay for), a chance to gossip, and an update on important matters affecting the Province.

So, with Spring in the air and a spring in my step, I made my way from the railway station, along the promenade, past the Turner Contemporary art gallery and along the sandy seaside pavement to the Winter Gardens.

It was only 1210, but already the car park was full.  Once inside, I collected my lunch ticket and made my way past the crowd at the bar and into the main hall.  “That’s interesting,” I thought.  “Where’s the Top Table?”  There was none.  I checked all the round tables, each seating eight, and noticed that the Provincial Executive – Assistant Provincial Grand Masters included – had been spread out around the hall.  What a good idea!  It gave us all a chance to have a chat with the top brass while enjoying our meal.

On the stroke of one o’clock, Andy Stevens, the Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies, called us to order and we welcomed the President (the Provincial Grand Master, Neil Johnstone) and the Vice-President (Peter Williams) with the customary applause.  After Grace, led by the Third Provincial Grand Principal, John Baker, we sat down to dine.  Lunch was Fan of Melon, Braised Steak, Profiteroles, Cheese & Biscuits and Coffee.  Did I mention the Jack Rabbit Shiraz?  So glad I wasn’t driving!  My neighbour asked for a decaf coffee, and the waitress promised that she would get one for him.

We had an APGM at our table, and he did a little “merry-go-round”, exchanging places with us between courses so that he had an opportunity to talk to us all in turn.  Everyone thought this was an excellent idea.

The President led the Toasts to the Queen and to the Grand Master.  I refilled my glass just in time.

After the meal and closing Grace, the President addressed us.  He expressed his pleasure at seeing so many of us there.  The main item on the Agenda was the 2025 Festival, which he would be launching formally at the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting on the 12th April.  He reminded us that Les Hutchinson, Chief Operating Officer of the MCF, had spoken at the last Mess, and now we were to be addressed by Mark Bassant, APGM and 2025 Appeal Chairman, and Peter Rhodes, Provincial Grand Charity Steward.

Peter stood on the left of the stage behind a lectern, and Mark stood on the right, also behind a lectern, with a giant projection screen in the centre.  This looked most impressive.  Peter started by asking Mark what the purpose of the Festival was, and to give us some information to “whet our appetite”.  Mark reeled off a host of statistics on how the MCF was helping both masons and non-masons.  One that I picked up on was that the MCF had given an amazing 6700 grants in 2018. 

Peter then asked, “What has the MCF been doing in East Kent?”  More impressive statistics from Mark, among which was £628,000 in grants in the Province in 2018.

Peter: “It’s a one-stop shop.  How are we going to achieve our objective?”

Mark: “By direct debit, gift aiding and so on.”   

He explained that there would be a single Donation Form, which could be filled in and sent by post or mailed online.  On the launch date, everyone would be getting a Festival Brochure.  Also, the Province would be holding Regional Seminars, to which everyone was invited, not just Charity Stewards, and everyone would get a guide on how to donate.

Peter: “How do we donate online?”

Mark: “I’ll show you.  Where’s my phone?”

At this, Mark fumbled in his pockets but realised he hadn’t got his phone with him.  Reaching down to the nearest table, at which the President among others was seated, he asked for his phone to be handed up to him.  Someone grabbed a phone off the table and gave it to Mark.  After some deft finger-work, reflected by the images projected on to the screen, Mark showed us the way.  “I’m going to donate £25 to the Festival”, he said.  No sooner done than up came the confirmation message: “Thank you PGM for your support”.  Oops!  Wrong phone!  Much laughter all around.

The Q and A session continued.

Peter: “Donating, say, £10 a month would be less than the cost of a pint of beer a week.  And, also very importantly, the Festival will be all about having fun”.

Mark: “What do you mean by that?”

Apart from jolly japes like pinching the PGM’s phone, there was to be a Mardi Gras Festival Ball on the 29th June at the Ashford International Hotel:

On the 7th July an aeroplane Wing Walking and Fun Day at Headcorn, with APGM David Graeme, Mark himself and former APGM Roger Waltham’s wife already “volunteered”.  Anyone else was welcome to join in, but we should bear in mind the weight restriction of 13st 4lb.  “Hmm.  That should rule out one or two of us,” I thought.

Also on the aerial theme, there would be a Daredevil Experience Day on the 27th October, with the chance to fly in a fighter jet.  What a great start to the Festival!

Finally, Mark said that he was launching a competition for a slogan to accompany all the news and publicity throughout the Festival period.  The competition would be open to all Brethren and Companions and would be judged by a team comprising members of the Executive and a Master Mason, a Fellow Craft, an Entered Apprentice and a Companion.  Details would follow in a few days.

The President thanked Peter and Mark for the presentation, and reiterated that the Seminars were open to all masons and companions.  He also spoke about the usefulness of the Quarterly Communications meetings held at Grand Lodge, and encouraged us to attend.  He was looking at the possibility of arranging transport to the September meeting if there was sufficient interest.

The President encouraged us also to look at the new Provincial website, which APGM Richard Wingett had been energising with modern instead of archaic vocabulary. 

Among other subjects raised by the President were:

  • 42% of our membership had registered with the YP2 website, which he thoroughly recommended us to view
  • Grand Lodge’s “Solomon” website had a great deal of information about Freemasonry
  • The Dean of Canterbury Cathedral had kindly agreed to hold Evensong at the Cathedral on the 8th September (details to be announced soon)
  • Membership (recruitment and retention) was a strategic priority, and he felt confident that there would be an upward trend in the future

There being no Questions from the floor, the President wished us well and looked forward to seeing us at the Provincial Grand Lodge meeting on the 12th April and at our next Mess meeting on the 17th October.

David King, Provincial Junior Grand Warden, proposed the Vote of Thanks to the President.  He referred to Neil’s enthusiasm and optimism and to his qualities of leadership that would ensure the future success of the Province.  [Applause]

The Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies called us to order and the President and Vice-President retired. 

I checked my watch.  It was 1504 hrs: plenty of time to return to the station for my train home.  It had been another sociable, informative and highly enjoyable day out.

My neighbour never got his decaf coffee.  He didn’t seem too bothered, though.

Keep an eye out for the Launch of the 2025 Festival Website and more exciting news and events.