Winkle club president caught without winkle

A winkle - or rather the lack of one - caused a stir at a parliamentary committee meeting last week.

Naval bigwig and Hastings Winkle Club President Admiral Lord Michael Boyce appeared in Parliament last week to give evidence to a Government committee looking at a draft bill.

Together with two other former defence chiefs, Lord Boyce gave evidence to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on war powers and how they considered the Government's intention to offer Parliament a greater say would work in practice.

Nothing out of the ordinary there you might think. However, chairing the committee was Hastings and Rye MP Michael Foster.

At the end of the session, Mr Foster asked Lord Boyce if he would answer one more question. Did he, the MP asked the unsuspecting Lord Boyce, have his winkle available?

Lord Boyce conceded he had been caught unwinkled and, as Winkle Club tradition dictates, he promptly paid up the cash penalty.

The MP said later that he thought that Lord Boyce was very sporting because the strict rule is that the penalty is only payable when the member is 'off duty'.

Mr Foster said: "Strictly speaking, Lord Boyce was very much on-duty but as I was personally caught a few weeks before by a doorkeeper on the House of Lords, I thought it was a fair cop."

The last laugh however was on Mr Foster because he himself was without winkle at the same meeting and had to cough up a contribution of his own.

Hastings Winkle Club was formed in 1900 by a group of fisherman who drank in the Prince Albert pub and wanted to do something to raise money for a Christmas party for local children.

The story goes that the group has decided to do something similar to the Acorn Club - where a member would be fined if he could not produce, when asked, an acorn.

While looking for inspiration and a more sea-based theme a someone appeared with a pail of winkles fresh from the beach and the rest is history.