Tuesday 30 March 2010

The Jolley guide to gatecrashing

Truth is nearly always stranger than fiction. Even so, my credulity was stretched to the limit by recent media coverage of the so-called Jolley Gang of professional gatecrashers.

You might have thought that this was a phenomenon of the Facebook generation, whose teenage parties are so often overrun by hundreds of total strangers, to the severe detriment of their unfortunate parents’ houses and treasured possessions.

But it seems it is not so. The eponymous Terrence Jolley, an implausibly Dickensian former magistrate and convicted fraudster, may be only 35, but his supposed comrades in arms are mainly retired people from well-heeled and respectable professions. And banking.

They allegedly amuse themselves by systematically gatecrashing events at which free drink and food is likely to be served, such as book launches, wine-tastings and funerals. The writer and broadcaster Victoria Coren was so mightily hacked off by their appearance at her father Alan’s memorial service that she arranged another for a completely fictitious character called Sir William Ormerod, and waited for them to fall into her trap.

Sadly she did not go through with her original plan of subjecting them to a long sermon on the evils of gatecrashing, then serving them sandwiches laced with laxatives.

But the story goes that one member of the Gang, a retired banker called Alan MacDonald, nevertheless received his come-uppance earlier this month by choking to death on a canapé at the Dorchester Hotel, after gatecrashing a party held to celebrate the national day of Kuwait. An Islamic state, so perhaps not the natural choice for anyone looking for an evening of free booze. It sounded suspiciously like an early April Fool spoof.

Personally, I have always been inclined to side with Jane Austen’s Mr Woodhouse in feeling that “the sooner every party breaks up, the better”, so I find it hard to enjoy events of this sort even when invited to them. What could motivate anyone to be there when actively unwanted?

Yet I watched in amazement last year as my own wedding reception was invaded by some obese, middle-aged grotesques who hoovered up what was left of the evening buffet and then became a major hazard to shipping by hurling themselves crazily around the dance floor. Even when politely asked to leave by the management, they appealed for a stay of execution on account of their close friendship with the bride and groom. Apparently they did this every Saturday.

In my days in the City, company annual general meetings provided many fertile opportunities to observe the besuited, elderly, middle class freeloader in action. It was not enough to return from the customary buffet with teetering stacks of free food; if they thought no-one was looking, trays full of sandwiches and sausage rolls would be tipped into capacious handbags, while showcases of company products would be stripped as though by locusts. I seem to remember RHM once employing bouncers to stop a riot breaking out over a particularly fine display of Sharwood’s pickles.

One saw the same hungry faces time and again. Those who took the thing seriously scanned the financial press for meetings with a promising lunchtime kick-off, and some even bought a single share in each company to justify their presence. Young & Co, the London brewer, held an annual meeting that became a legendary all-day booze-up; until, inevitably, it was scaled down because the brashest freeloaders had spoiled it for everyone, as they always do.

In these hard times, companies increasingly find excuses to hold their meetings well before lunch – if outside London, ideally before the first train from the capital reaches town. Shareholder democracy suffers as a result.

As for funerals and memorial services, when considering whether to offer refreshments afterwards the question can only be this. Would the deceased have seen the funny, or indeed the Jolley, side of gatecrashing?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

P.S.  If you think the whole story of the Jolley Gang sounds wonderfully unlikely, as do I, follow this  link to today's entry in my Bloke in the North blog, from which I have provided further links to coverage in some supposedly reputable newspapers.

1 comment:

Matthew Steeples said...

Here's an update on their activities. They dared to crash my event this week. Shocking: Here's an update on their latest activities: http://dasteepsspeaks.blogspot.com/2011/10/crashing-assange.html