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Reuben in the News
Cotswold Life, 1997

The text of this article reads:

"I was 14 years old when I first came to England from Montserrat, which is still a British colony in the Caribbean. My father had sought work on the other islands during the depressed state of the economy in the early 1960s, but then had to look elsewhere, so he borrowed money to come to England. He couldn't read or write, but he worked hard and eventually sent for the family to join him. I am one of nine children, and it was a big achievement for us all to be educated here. I remember we arrived in the middle of winter, but had not been prepared for the cold. I was in shorts and short-sleeved cotton shirt and terribly excited when we landed but was shocked to see steam coming out of our mouths. We thought we must surely be going to die with all our breath escaping like that.

As was common practice on the sugar plantations, our family took its name from the owner, but it was a happy island, there was no animosity between the black and white people. The last time I went back I took some 30 British soldiers with me - it was a way of seeing my homeland so I put forward the idea that it would be an ideal way to foster better relations between different peoples and to get the soldiers accustomed to tropical heat. The pass was granted, but I suspect my reasons for the request were accepted with a lenient view and it was a wonderful experience for the whole group, especially when we visited the school and I discovered that I was related to about a third of the students there.

Perhaps there is a degree of novelty about my being the only black professional toastmaster in Britain, certainly people appear to like the distinctive figure that a coloured surrogate host, Master of Ceremonies, management specialist or event co-ordinator - which, in effect I am as required - adds to the occasion.

My colour would certainly not in itself be a qualification, of course. My military background was the initial training ground for discipline and attention to detail, protocol and social etiquette which I learned in the last ten years as manager of the Officers' Mess of the 22 years I served in the Army. That has in effect qualified me to work in the British Embassy anywhere in the world, and special clearance to work on a royal flight or ship.

There are many variations on etiquette, which I believe to be a kind of tribal observance of rules and customs and manners; there is a set of different codes of these for different occasions such as military, royal or social - sometimes all of these can be involved. I am a member of the Northern Guild of Toastmasters, for which the criteria is already to be a member of a professional service and a proof of certain disciplines.

My introduction to the English Sunday teas was when I joined the Army in 1969 and met Pat, my wife, when I was posted to the North Cotswolds. Nicely served afternoon tea, with linen table napery and fine china, made an early impression on me. After my Army service I worked as a banqueting manager at a large hotel and perfected my toastmastering skills, learnt a great deal about catering and organisation of functions, and gained the confidence to set up professionally. I spent a lot of time researching where necessary on forms of address and information as Orders of Chivalry. I keep an enormous file of contacts as I am contracted more and more on a variety of events for which I am prepared to oversee everything from start to finish. For weddings, for instance, I am often called upon to advise on drawing up the menu, the budget and even write the speeches where necessary. I really enjoy my work, and knowing that I can smooth the path for the host or hostess by attending to the dozens of details involved gives me immense pleasure."

Reuben Lynch was talking to June Lewis,
Picture: Mike Charity

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