I was rather surprised to get into NADFAS this year. I seemed to be one of the only people on the music society committee who was not a member of the not-so-snappily named National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies and a friend was keen I should join. She took me along to a few lectures, and they were good. When I protested that I did not have time to join another society one of the other music society committee members, who was also on the committee of the Colchester NADFAS, recommended that I get my name on the waiting list because it was long and growing, since as he put it, members were not dying as fast as they used to. For the sake of five pounds to be on a waiting list I duly filled in my form, thinking that it would be nice for some hypothetical point in the medium term when the garden might be under control. The following February I got an email informing me I had got in.
The current year's series of lectures really looked very good and I thought it would be worth squeezing one Thursday morning a month into my diary. There was a form about the many volunteering opportunities, which I read and put to one side, and an invitation to coffee at the Chairman's house to meet him and other members of the committee plus other new members. I dithered about that, being knee deep in post-flu outstanding gardening jobs. Anyway, I already knew the Chairman and his wife to chat to because we all belong to the same gardening club and they quite often come to the concerts. Then I thought I was being silly, since I didn't know any of the rest of the committee and almost none of the members apart from the ones I've met via the music society, and if you are going to join a club you might as well make a bit of an effort. And I was curious to see the Chairman's garden in passing.
The other members of the committee turned out to be very pleasant, as did those of the other new members who came, and I discovered that one reason why I'd shot up through the ranks of the waiting so rapidly was because they had had an unusually high rate of non-renewals last year. People move away, or give up driving so that getting themselves to a church a way from the centre of Colchester becomes less attractive. Or they die. I was glad I'd made the effort to go. The committee each told us in turn what they did, and there were appeals to join all sorts of sub-groups, but I held fast to my resolution that monthly lectures were one thing but I really did not have time to start archiving the Munnings collection or helping Colchester museum pack up objects for removal from the castle to a new storage unit at Severalls business park.
It was the Chairman who commented on one thing I couldn't help noticing. Of the fifteen or so new members who had turned up, all but one were women, and he was the sole male representative on the committee. They needed to do something to encourage men to join, he said. I wondered where all the men were. Still working when their female partners had retired? Dead? Given the historic tendency of women to marry men older than themselves who then die at a younger age you will find a fair sprinkling of widows at all the clubs I belong to locally, but these new lady members didn't all look that old. Do men really not like art? But the list of NADFAS approved lecturers has lots of men on it, and art historians like Andrew Graham-Dixon and Dr James Fox regularly turn up on BBC4, while some of our most famous museum directors have been men. It can't be that men don't like art, they just don't like art societies for some reason.
The Chairman said that some men had told him that once they were retired they just wanted to have a rest. That and play golf. And I suppose that some interests are heavily gendered the other way. The Systems Administrator has not yet taken the plunge and joined any of the local model railway groups, but I'd hazard a guess that the membership is predominantly male. And those annoying lycra clad cyclists reenacting the Tour de France at weekends around the rural roads of north Essex are almost always men. Maybe men play more golf, though I wouldn't know, having never belonged to a golf club. My aunt used to play, and I knew a couple of female fund managers who did, but it seems more of a male pursuit, hence it took the withdrawal of rights to stage the Open to persuade Muirfield to vote today to finally admit women as members after 273 years. When I've done woodland charity talks to Rotary Clubs they have all admitted women, but it has been a predominantly male audience. So the men are not all dead yet, but busy elsewhere. It would be very interesting to do some research. Asking people at random why they didn't belong to an art society or the Rotary Club might not be very helpful, but you could ask people who did belong to something whether they had a partner, and if so what their partner was doing instead while they were there.
At least NADFAS has addressed the issue of their obscure name, and as from May will officially be called The Arts Society. My branch will become The Arts Society Colchester, not to be confused with the Colchester Art Society. I expect it will be.