Social Events – the early years

Another extract from Peter Biggar’s researches into club history, published in the 50th Anniversary Journal. The photo above is from an IMC dinner dance at the Nethybridge Hotel in 2017.

Almost since its inception, one of the chief functions of the committee has been to bewail “poor attendance at meets”.  In ’55 the committee realised, somewhat belatedly, that some “older members” had “dropped out” and that there were insufficient “new members” to take their place.  Numerous possibilities were explored including Inverness Royal Academy, the Air Cadets, the Rover Scouts and Cameron Boys’ Club, and the President had the bright idea of putting a notice of the next meet in “the Tourist Board Offices”.  None of this did much good and one suspects the reasons for the poor attendances were not really very hard to seek.  The weather as always was quite unpredictable, the buses large, bone shaking and malodourous and the roads narrow and twisty.  The trip to Torridon might seem a good idea on Thursday night, but on a wet and wind lashed Sunday morning?  Most meets were still day meets and these are high risk endeavours.   

Scanning the minutes one cannot help noticing that while meets were not always popular, sociabilities of one sort or another nearly always were.  There were Christmas dances and parties, Halloween Parties and Annual dinners as well as the regular weekly meetings held rather temperately in those days in the Ness Cafe each Thursday at eight; and if these opportunities were not enough they were supplemented by a diet of monthly “at homes” in members houses.  The Club’s members, it seems, never tired of each other’s company and in those rather more austere times welcomed any excuse for a party.  Although no self-respecting mountaineering club committee could ever have admitted it (indeed they probably couldn’t see it), the answer to the problem was to arrange more parties and perhaps gradually to steer the club towards weekend meets and the use of private transport.  Ever so gradually the diehards rallying round the buses and badges of post Suez Crisis Britain were losing the war. But the individual battles raged long and furiously before the last club bus disgorged its load in Academy Street.  

“Young” Alec Sutherland in full flow at the Burns’ supper 1975

In April of 1960 the committee discussed the question of “dispensing with a bus in favour of private transport”.  However, this was not immediately successful, and two years later, at the worst attended A.G.M. in the Club’s history (9 members) the forces of reaction staged a notable, but ultimately quite futile, comeback: weekend meets were to be abandoned, all meets were to be by bus and a clarion call to the effect that “we must have a well-attended meet in June” was issued.  In September of that year the committee even considered purchasing a bus, but were mercifully restrained.  Alas for the bus lobby, by the A.G.M. of ’63 membership had reached an all-time low (just 12) and it was discovered that despite all the piping and drumming most meets that year had in fact been by car.  

Wearily the committee agreed to try weekend meets once again and an edict went forth that members new to camping should be helped by the more experienced.  What was happening was quite beyond the control of the committee, the Free Church, the Government or anyone else, for as Harold Wilson defeated Alec Douglas-Home in the General Election of 1964, the times they were a -changing; buses were lumbering into the history books, the age of individualism was upon us and, even in Inverness, the swinging Sixties had arrived.

To be fair to the bus lobby, the fears they voiced were genuine and to some extent justified.  The fear was expressed that with private transport being used, “the club might split into small groups”.  Looking at the more recent history of the club, and of other clubs, who is to say that this has not happened? The mistake however is to imagine that what preserved unity in the past, in this case the buses, can be artificially kept alive in order to preserve it for the future.  The buses had had their day.  Every year the S.M.C. sings at its annual dinner about “My big hobnailers”, but nobody seriously  suggests using the things: they are pleasant sentimental relics of the past.  The challenge is to find new ways of interesting people in co-operative hill activities, especially perhaps young people.