Men Wanted For Hazardous Journey
"Low wages, bitter cold,
long hours of complete darkness.
Safe return doubtful.
Honour and recognition in event of success."
That advert, according to polar folklore, was placed in The Times newspaper by Shackleton for his 1914 Trans-Antarctic expedition.
Despite the $100 prize still being offered today for anyone able to prove this advert's existence, no one's ever found it.
But I can vouch for the truth of at least the headline, the title of this maddest of entries.
For at the Fountain Centre a few months ago, Maria, who works there, bellowed in my ear those fateful words,
"Ken! Men wanted for hazardous journey!"
She was helping organise the 2013 fund-raising Grand Fashion Show. The hazardous journey was the voyage, on two feet, down the ballroom catwalk of the Mandolay Hotel Guildford in front of over 500 paying guests.
A journey that was indeed more hazardous than anything I've ever done on two wheels.
For instance, this journey the other day, by Aprilia, was far less hazardous.
The Fountain Centre is part of St Lukes Cancer Centre. Always nice to visit, often there're a few other riders there.
This is where the name comes from - there's a fountain in the very pleasant gardens round the back.
And another, a bit small to see, in another corner of the gardens.
A huge number of volunteers put a huge amount of work into this show, as do the men's and ladies' fashion departments of Debenhams, whose gear we all wore on the Hazardous Journey.
It's a major annual fund-raiser for the Fountain Centre, and all the models are patients who enjoy its facilities.
And Maria had pressganged me into the catwalk troop.
What an evening it was!
The rough idea is that a dozen women and four men - or however many Maria has managed to rope in - wander up and down the catwalk showing off the new fashions. The women have three or so changes of outfit, so about 36 ladies' outfits are paraded.
Us men have just the one outfit each. Well, the whole evening is really a big hen party. Not much demand for us....
It starts with a visit to Debenhams for measuring up. Where I find that the outfit will include a waistcoat, because they measure specially for that.
Other than that, we don't know what the garb is going to be. There's a degree of secrecy surrounding this...
"It'll be formal," I thought. "It'd be handy to have a prop of some sort, a fancy cane, say."
That idea sprang to mind the morning of the event, so no chance of finding one of those. But better still, I found a fancy artificial buttonhole flower. "That'll do nicely," I predicted.
Arriving at the hotel, there's surprise No.1.
Not everyone is wearing Debenham's stuff.
Guildford Fire Brigade are in attendance, in full protective gear including helmets.
"WHAT are they expecting to happen?" us men wondered, sharing the changing room with them.
All we can find out is that they've done it before, last year and the year before.
OK, so now we know that the "Hazardous" is REAL!
Four men's outfits arrive, all formal morning suits with white or glittery waistcoats.
Ideal, I thought, for the buttonhole I've got in my pocket. That's one secret the firemen don't know about....
The women are all ready, the audience full of anticipation and warmed up nicely with some pretty bouncy music from the first-rate DJ, and the first lady onto the catwalk steps up.
She's on the arm of one of the firemen. Well, the crowd gives a big cheer, the fireman sends her off down the catwalk and collects her when she returns.
Ditto the second model. The firemen form an orderly line to escort each model in turn onto the catwalk and back off afterwards.
OK, but what happens when it's our turn? Us men?
After about six parades by the ladies, the seventh saunters down the catwalk. The fireman escort waiting at the end sways to the music - and unbuttons his heavy protective jacket. Straightaway it looks like the women weren't expecting this but quickly get into the act.
By the time a few more models have paraded down the catwalk, the firemen don't have to do the unbuttoning any more, the models take care of that and the removal of the jacket at the end of each walk, revealing nothing but braces underneath.
So the audience goes slightly the insane side of crazy....
OK, but what happens when it's our turn? Us men?
There have been about 20 women's outfits modelled now, discarded firemen's jackets are lying all over the place, and someone backstage calls out, "Men in two minutes please!"
OK, but what happens now it's our turn??
The last woman reaches the end of the catwalk, to be scooped up into the air in the arms of a topless Guildford fireman and carried off past us four male models waiting expectantly in line. It's our turn now. So there'll be Guildford nurses - in uniform - as escorts - right?
The audience have gone the insane side of crazy. It's deafening.
The first man is ushered to the end of the catwalk, ready.
There are no nurses.
The first Fountain Centre patient of the male gender mounts the catwalk alone. But no matter, the audience are wild, you can do anything. Just open the morning suit jacket wide as the Debenhams staff demonstrated earlier, to show off the fancy lining and glittery waistcoat. No fireman can match that!
He returns and it's my turn.
Wander jauntily, sort of, along the catwalk, turn around here and there. Every movement brings shrieks and screams from the audience. Open the jacket to display the waistcoat, I'm deafened by the noise.
Arrive at the top of the catwalk, the guests of honour are there, the Mayor and Lady Mayoress and entourage, showing no decorum whatsoever. Clapping and cheering with encouragement!
Open the jacket again, and what's this I spy??
There's a huge great orange buttonhole in my inside pocket!
Pluck it out, wave it around and put it in its proper place in my lapel.
The overpowering volume of the noise worries me now, the ceiling might fall in.
..... The other two members of our merry band of male models parade their outfits, and that's the first half done. Alvin Stardust entertains during the interval.
The second half - similar. The women are in 'Ascot' type day outfits, firemen in best parade uniforms with all polished buttons, becoming topless as before, visibility good.
Then a model appears in bridal gear, plus bridesmaids. Us four make up bridegroom, best man, father of the bride (me), father of the groom.
The DJ ramps the music up, the firemen make up the rest of the male wedding guests, the whole shebang fills the catwalk, the roof gets raised....
I'm glad I stayed in the hotel overnight - the party was still going on at breakfast the next morning!
The evening raised about £13,000 for the Fountain Centre. Well, what can you say?
Just this - with minimal further comment - some photos. (By photographers at the event)
"Safe return doubtful."
Huge thanks to the Guildford Fire Station Blue and White watches for getting us out alive.
Posted by Ken Thomas at June 10, 2013 12:10 PM GMT