The Master’s Challenge – The Longest Day

The Master’s Challenge – The Longest Day

The Master at the start of the journey

Having completed last year’s Distillers’ 500 Scotland to London challenge (albeit as a member of the back-up crew) something, somewhere has convinced me to join our Livery’s nascent cycling group for an equally demanding challenge this year.

Following an amazing year under the most challenging of circumstances, having raised over £40,000, the IPM has committed to attempting to ride 130 miles in one day in Scotland close to THE LONGEST DAY and already, the rest of the team who completed the ride to London last year look set to join up.

Why me?

Having experienced the ride to London, albeit from a minibus and, like all of us, needing to be fitter, I have accepted the challenge this year as my attempt to continue to grow the huge charity momentum within our great Livery.

Incidentally, our Charity Chair Grant Gordon has also already signed up!!!

We will be attempting to ride 130 miles in Perthshire Scotland in one day in support of Girlguiding and the re-building of one their halls. After all his endeavours and efforts during last year it is a privilege to be supporting the IPM and his community like this.  As with the Distillers’ 500, we will ensure that the ride takes place in compliance with any Covid related restrictions that are in place at the time.

However the Guides are delighted if we also raise money for Future Youth Zone in Dagenham who were one of the main beneficiaries of last year’s bike ride.

Gavin, who runs Future Youth Zone, gave such a moving speech after the event last year that all the team involved were inspired to try again for such a great charity. He was also meant to be joining us on the last day of the ride but handed over his bike to one of the D500 riders whose wheel had broken, a rather amazing example of the cyclists code.

We intend to raise money for these two thoroughly deserving causes by “I REPEAT” trying to cycle round all the Guiding Centres in Perthshire in 1 day. A total of 130 miles.

This is no easy feat and even for experienced cyclists will represent a huge physical challenge making for a very long time in the saddle hence – THE LONGEST DAY.

I have acquired a bike and am putting the miles in training already to occupy my copious spare time.  The effort I can cope with but the clothing!!

We have tried to keep this as close as possible to “The longest Day” in summer (which in Northern Perthshire is quite long!!) but because of availability we have set on the 3rd of July.

If you feel that you might want to support us then please visit our Just Giving Page:

All money raised will be split 50/50% between Girl Guiding in Scotland and Future Youth Zone via The Lord Mayors Appeal who I hope to be able to present with a large cheque on City Giving Day.

Kenny’s stirring speech at his Installation, which feels so long ago now, was that at this time we should do our best to go the extra mile to help others who need our support and assistance.  We have one hundred and thirty extra miles to go on the 3rd July this year.  Please come and join with us, or follow on Social Media (I will try harder!!) and support the fund-raising if you can.

Take the greatest care and see you as soon as we can. Perhaps now in person.

Jonathan Driver


Masters Blog – Summer Special

Those of you of a certain age will no doubt have had a favourite comic and will doubtless remember the eagerly awaited Summer Special. It was an extra-long edition designed to keep children amused during the long summer holidays, although it normally arrived during our holidays and was waiting on our return home and was always published slightly later than I think the publisher would have wished.

Mine was The Victor, with great stories of huge military achievements and great characters like Alf Tupper “The Tough of the Track”, who could run an Olympic final after a bag of fish and chips! What, you ask, does that have to with the Livery? Well, nothing (much) except that this extra-long blog does have something of the summer special feel about it!!! Apologies to the publication team for my delay in publication.

I could have used the excuse that because of Covid, nothing physically happened and therefore there was no material. Whilst that is true at one level, at another level I have never seen the Livery so active. Looking back through the diary for inspiration, I note there were several meetings every week and even the traditional quiet month of August seemed “full on”. Your Livery has had to adapt and change and I do believe the time we have been kept apart has been used to great advantage by the Court and the various Committees.

I would highlight, in particular: the recently completed organisation structure and revised terms of reference, completed in record time by The Upper Warden and Past Master Raines; the preparatory work for a ground breaking Charity Auction next year; the development of the Distillers’ YouTube TV channel and a whole new communications strategy by Paul Finch, Chris Searle and the Marketing group; the redeveloped Vocational Training Strategy and plan developed by Richard Watling and his team; the preparatory work by the Charity group, led by Grant Gordon,  for a change to a C.I.O which will substantially modernise our Charity; and  the massive organisational effort for the Distillers 500 Charity Bike Ride led by James Higgins. We have been superbly served by a group of people who recognise the need for change in the current and future shape of the Livery, driven by the circumstances of Coronavirus. At a personal level, I have found myself meeting several times every week on Livery business – which is only to be expected of a Master – but I have to say I have been in awe at the levels of commitment displayed by all the above – and, indeed, others – in driving these various initiatives forward. My sincere and grateful thanks to them all.

The Distillers 500 bike run was like nothing I have done before, and its memories will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Having never enjoyed endurance sports, approaching 60 and having not been particularly active (other than dog walking and golf) since retiring form rugby in my 40s, the idea, first hatched in early 2019, was to do something to help keep weight off during my Master’s year and also try to inspire those younger than me with the Livery Charity vision.

Initially, the plan was to leave my home in Auchterarder on my 60th birthday in April, but Covid and other factors got in the way and we eventually settled on arriving in London on 22nd September – City Giving Day.

As many people have commented on, Lockdown was not all bad in a rural environment and the lovely Spring and summer weather gave the other riders and me the chance to put in many extra training miles, which I have no doubt made a huge difference.

Apart from the training miles, there was the small matter of the logistics and organisation for a week-long event of this nature and, again, I am hugely in James Higgins’ debt for a superb organisational plan. Early broad-brush ideas were replaced by detailed itineraries, accommodation plans, risk assessments, kit lists and Garmin/Strava files with routes, as James set about the task with his customary diligence and enthusiasm. This, in itself, was a big enough ask, but with frequent changes in Covid restrictions (differing on each side of the border) leading up to the event, the plans were frequently being rewritten.

The run itself was a true “once in a lifetime” experience. A real physical challenge, but with an amazing group of people, amazing weather, amazing route scenery, amazing stopovers, an amazing final day in London and an amazing cause.

The people

Four other Liverymen – the Learned Clerk Ed Macey-Dare, David Wilson, Alan Montague-Dennis and James Higgins – together with prospective Liverymen Scott Allen and Simon Swift, joined me – and what a group they were! Different cycling abilities and experience were clearly evident from the start, but the group gelled as a team from the early Zoom meetings and that teamwork continued right up to the last day. We were superbly supported in the back-up team of Jonathan Driver and The Mistress, who excelled at every food stop and ensured we were perfectly fuelled for the task. I have many memories of all of them and cannot thank them enough for their support. Thanks also to my Mother and Mother-in-Law who baked tablet cakes and flapjacks (Rocket fuel!!).

The weather

From a slightly cool start in Scotland and a hint of Scotch mist, the weather steadily improved during the day and got progressively better as we rode south, culminating in a beautiful 28 degrees of sunshine as we rode into the City one week later.

The Route Scenery

First thing on day one, we had the challenge of riding the 4 miles up to the top of beautiful Glendevon in Perthshire, before a long descent to The Forth Road Bridge and into Edinburgh and lunch at 603 Squadron, our RAF Military affiliate, where we were welcomed by Liveryman Jerry Riley, the former CO. Our afternoon cycle saw the Learned Clerk and I cycle the length of Princess Street in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, before turning to climb out of Edinburgh all the way to the top of Soutra Hill and down into the borders.

Day two was crisp and beautifully clear as we made our way to The Tweed Valley and the border at Coldstream. Stunning scenery. After lunch, we were able to cycle in bigger groups and made our way down the A697 and over some steep climbs in Northumbria, before reaching Newcastle for a welcome beer in the late afternoon sunshine.

Day 3 dawned misty and cold and we definitely experienced the legendary fog on the Tyne as we negotiated our way through Newcastle’s early morning traffic. A quick stop for photographs at The Angel of the North and on through North Yorkshire to RAF Leeming in Northallerton, with a quick socially distanced stop at Mason’s Gin just before arrival, where we were escorted by two riders from the RAF cycling team.

Blythe Crawford, the Station Commander, is a keen cyclist and had been introduced by his former boss, Clive Bairsto, our Development Director. Blythe immediately made the offer of accommodation on the base, for which we are hugely grateful. Thanks to both of them for everything they did to make this happen.

Day 4 saw a great turnout of the RAF cyclists, including a Triathlete who has represented Team GB, escort us through the idyllic country lanes of North Yorkshire, before they turned for home and we continued to Doncaster through some wonderful scenery. Unfortunately, I managed to get a little too close to that scenery as I landed in a hedge after a freak accident in the peloton, but now understand the “hierarchy of pain” much better as the nettle stings on my legs overtook my saddle sores at the top! The cyclists negotiated the centre of Doncaster slightly better than the back-up crew and were enjoying their second beer in the sunshine when the back-up bus finally arrived, having extricated itself from the one-way system!!

Day 5 was flatter, but a beautiful run through some lovely villages on back roads that I had never been on previously and will probably never see again. The weather was really beginning to warm up as we headed for Grantham, with fantastic locations for food stops. At this point, I was longing for the flat Lincolnshire countryside but was actually surprised how many small hills there were left to climb (or was I just becoming tired?). My aching Achilles’ tendons had taken over at the top of “the hierarchy of pain” and they stayed there till the end (where they remain to this day!!)

Day 6 After an early morning start in Grantham, we were off on the long penultimate day and we did finally get to experience some lovely long flat runs in glorious sunshine as we skirted the Fens on our way to Cambridge. To say that the experience of arriving at King’s College, where we were welcomed by the Domus Bursar Philip Isaac, was surreal would be an understatement! In beautiful early evening sunshine, we were shown into the stunning college and to our rooms; it all had a slightly unbelievable feel to it – stunning!! More thanks to Clive for arranging this too!!

Day 7 The back-up team excelled themselves again, as we stood eating the best bacon baguettes ever for breakfast, overlooking the Cam in King’s College garden. A fitting start to the last day – and what a day it was!!! The weather was even warmer, and the miles flew by until lunch, and we were ready for the final stretch to Mansion House. Then disaster struck. Simon had some terminal damage to his rear wheel and did not look great for finishing the run, as we were far from somewhere to get a replacement or repair. This could have led to him having to abandon the run at almost 98%, but fortunately Gavin Evans of Future Youth Zone, who had been due to cycle the last 20 miles with us, lent Simon his bike and travelled on with the Back Up team instead. Grant Gordon, our Charity Chairman, did join us, however and we set off for the City.

Further disaster struck In London, where James and Alan were involved in another accident not of their making – but Distillers are made of strong stuff and they remounted and continued to the finish. Riding into the City had a different feel from a bus or a taxi, but that might have been the euphoria of knowing that we were going to complete the task and I am sure some of us shed a wee tear as we rode up to Innholders to be met by friends and family.

Paul Finch, Andrew Cox, David Raines and Donna Bowers had battled numerous changes to the restrictions but pulled off a superb welcome as we arrived at Innholders for a quick stop before the Mansion House. My grateful thanks to all of them for the superb arrangements in London. Thanks also to John Cash our Beadle and also The Innholders – and, in particular, the Master Innholder – for allowing us to use their Hall for our arrival. It never looked so welcoming!!!

A lovely surprise for me was my brother and sister-in-law, who had travelled from Scotland to see us arrive.

After the celebrations, there was one last ride to Mansion House and the personal presentation of our cheque for £20k to The Lord Mayor for his appeal and onward donation to Future Youth Zone in Dagenham. Another wonderful memory and I was honoured to represent Distillers in that way.

If I thought that would end the highlights, I was wrong, for we then moved on to St Lawrence Jewry for a short Service of Thanksgiving, led by our Chaplain Rev Canon David Parrott –hugely appreciated by the group. This was an incredibly moving service giving thanks for our safe arrival and the work of Distillers’ Charity and our beneficiaries. Gavin gave an inspirational insight into Future Youths Work and we were all able to give our own thanks to God for what had been achieved.

A final dinner in socially distanced groups was a lovely finish for the group.

In ordinary circumstances, that would have been the end of the Summer Special – but the next day I was privileged to be interviewed for the first screening of Distillers’ TV. This initiative is designed to help keep Liverymen in touch in the current environment and I know we have ambitious plans for it. Huge thanks and congratulation to all in the Marketing team and the Master’s Task Force for making this happen. Another step forward for our amazing Livery.

Lastly, and definitely not wishing to end on a downbeat note, with reference to the numerous cancellations and change of events that as recently as last week we again had to pull the plug on, spare a thought for the wonderful asset we have in our Assistant Clerk. She has stoically dealt with everything thrown at her and has been a huge help in administering the various charity payments and receipts that we have be involved in this year. We are so fortunate to have her. Thanks Kim!

Blooming Zooming June

Whilst the South of the UK experienced something of a heatwave Scotland remained mercifully much cooler but with its fair share of decent weather interspersed by some very heavy rainfall.

Result – the reservoirs are full again, the place is green as usual and the weeds are growing out of control (as usual). I occasionally ponder what might have been had things been different and we were based in London as planned. I would have been longing for the cool Scottish air no doubt and complaining about the heat. Be careful what you wish/plan for!!!

Nothing recently has been as planned and certainly not the “deluge” of Zoom meetings on-line, but quietly and quickly they have become the new norm. It’s how we communicate and how we do business.

How did we manage without them?

As far as the Distillers Livery are concerned they are now indispensable and one wonders whether we will ever go back to normal (whatever that is/was!)??

Early June saw the first Master & Wardens Committee conducted by Zoom and once everyone got the hang of the politics and protocols was a very effective meeting.

The Covid Task Force of The Wardens, Clerks Office , Dev Director, Comms guru Paul Finch and I meet every Friday on Zoom, plans and executes our on-going Charitable and other activities & responses. It’s become the ultimate cliché. The New Norm. Apart from allowing a platform to coordinate our initial Drinks Trust appeal it also allowed us the opportunity to  support the excellent initiative  of The Auction and its great to witness our Livery raising and donating over £100k for that Charity already this year.

Apart from being an effective means by which to do business we always repair to the virtual pub for a quick drink in what now seems the normal start to the weekend. Very nice it is too, catching up at the end of a week. Distillers have even invested in their own Licence meaning our meetings can now go on for over 40 minutes without Cyber Squatting it the Grant “Gordon Arms” virtual pub!

The 16th June was a big day for Toby Whittaker who become the first ever Distiller to receive his City Freedom via Zoom and I was delighted to be able to log in and witness that occasion

Since then, I have personally attended a Lord Mayors Coffee Morning with other Masters & Clerks from the wider Food & Drink Livery Companies where a lively topic of conversation was when Marmite might be back on the shelves and the Brewers explaining the apparent shortage of Brewer’s Yeast.

As the month moved progressed it was on to the Zoom Virtual Ironbridge (replacing The Master and Mistress’s away weekend in Telford)  and the creation of our Past Masters Association – with only a few at The Zoom meeting that I had actually met. The name of this year’s Association?

The Zoomers!!

Last week saw our first ever Court meeting by Zoom and 29 of The Court attended and mercifully the technology seemed to work for all. 

Coupled with the recent introduction of a Twitter and a LinkedIn account set up for the auction, you will no doubt be reading this on our all new website. Congratulations to the Comms team for their efforts. Towards the end of the month, Fri 26th saw me have 6 Zoom meetings in one day, all lasting over an hour. It got all the work done and we had our normal Task Force drinks but it did leave me longing for some real face to face meetings and a huge realisation although efficient, Zoom is actually quite tiring, despite being like hours in front of the telly!!

Reasons to be cheerful?

Thinking of material for “The Masters Blog” is becoming increasingly more difficult as Lock Down continues – as you are all about to witness, if you read further.

Looking on the downside, if that’s all we do, only serves to remind one of what a horrible, almost hellish, situation we are all in at the moment, and tends to focus our thoughts on what we cannot have or cannot do.

Whilst retaining a clear perspective of how difficult times are for many, and without wishing to minimise the impact the illness and deaths have had on our society, I have been trying to look on the bright side.

Monty Python fans and those of a certain age might have expected that I might focus on something else, but I have been strangely drawn to the music of my youth in lockdown. 

Sound familiar to anyone?

For some reason, after listening to an “Ian Dury and The Blockheads” song the other day, I felt that another of his songs “Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3” was bound to have some deep philosophical message that I could harness for my blog and decided to investigate further.

I discovered that the song was written and recorded in Italy during a break in their tour, after a sound engineer had nearly been killed by electrocution, and was merely a list of things that made Ian Dury happy, in the circumstances.

The opening lines 

“Why don’t you get back into bed”

“Why don’t you get back into bed”

Which are repeated many times do seem strangely apposite for lockdown in a funny sort of way. A good start I thought!

However, there was nothing more inspirational than admiration for a wacky genius that could include his like for “The Bolshoi Ballet”, “Hammersmith Palais” and “Cheese and Pickle” sandwiches (amongst many other things that I couldn’t possibly print here) all in the same song and persuade us to buy it!!

I did think about a re-write for Covid but you will no doubt be pleased I didn’t. A Burns/Dury Auld Scots/Cockney Slang fusion mix was considered in-appropriate!

On reflection, my reasons to be cheerful are many and I consider myself fortunate in the circumstances.

Part 1

The Livery continues to function, albeit in a very different way.

Zoom and Skype have taken the place of The Sanctuary and Vintners Boardroom but the same feeling of fellowship and sense of purpose exists in the meetings I have been involved in.

We held a Master & Wardens meeting on Thursday past and it was great to reflect on just what is still going on in lockdown, whilst continuing to think of ways to further our engagement with our members in the future.

Our Charity work has been driven right to the top of the agenda and our work with The Drinks Trust has been a source of motivation to further accelerate our work in that field.

As I write this, the Distillers On Line Charity Auction is getting underway and again I feel that is something that we, as Distillers, can be hugely proud of and I hope will be something to make us all cheerful by the end of it.

Grateful thanks to Chris Porter again and also to Liveryman Sukhinder Singh for hosting for us.

We are continuing to engage with our Educator partners and studying ways to develop these relationships in both the short and long-term.

Recent communications from both London Scottish and HMS Montrose illustrate what a great bunch of people we have in our Military affiliates and their interest in our Livery. New CO,s at RNAS Yeovilton and 603 Squadron are opportunities to further expand our network and I look forward to meeting them both soon. Even if its only for a Zoom Dram!! 

Part 2

At a personal level, the cycling training continues at a level that would have been impossible otherwise and we now have 10 riders signed up for our September assault on London. I am definitely cheered by that response. 3 are non-Livery at this stage and certainly one has already expressed an interest in joining!

Whilst I am missing out on the world class hospitality that London Livery events are famous for, and that is a major disappointment, I am enjoying the time to exercise and the benefits that brings.

Part 3

Being at home has also allowed a much deeper appreciation of Nature, in all its glory, all around us here in Auchterarder.

Whether it be seeing and enjoying the Azalea bush coming into bloom from start to finish or the local hillsides alive with yellow broom and witnessing he almost unbelievable vividness of their colour, one realises that one missed much of that in  most other years.

I’ve also been able to spend more time with my dog and she is thoroughly enjoying having everyone at home too!!

  The Comms team have been desperate to have some dog photos in the blog and last month provided just the perfect opportunity. We were joined by a house guest for almost half the month as Jasmine, who is the sister of our three years old Labrador Rosalita, came to stay. This wasn’t a deliberate breach of lockdown as Jazz normally stays here whilst “in season” given the breeding male at home!!

Apart from being virtually identical, they are virtually inseparable. Jazz and Rosa stick together like Lycra (sorry) and provided lots of lovely photo opportunities. Another “Reason to be Cheerful – Part 3”

Finally, I do hope this finds you and you loved ones safe and well.

God Bless

Lockdown, Labradors and Lycra

For inspiration on what to include in my blog I normally turn first to my past month’s diary and  am always surprised at how quickly time has passed and how many of the things I had already forgotten about. This month’s blog was always going to be a challenge and a glance back at the diary revealed nothing whatsoever about what I had actually done but a perfect record of what I didn’t do. Day after day of meticulously planned City events which didn’t take place and I didn’t attend but nothing whatsoever to record what I did during lockdown. I did consider a virtual blog which would have listed the cancelled events for anyone reading this but decided against it and want to start instead by talking about Lycra.

Lycra? You ask! The Master has definitely lost the plot during lockdown I hear you say.

 I suppose that’s probably true – to a certain extent. 

There’s Lycra everywhere, or am I the only one who has noticed? It’s everywhere – walkers, runners, cyclists, men pushing prams, home gyms. You can’t escape it and I have to admit I wear it too. I never thought I would see the day but… there you are. I’ve admitted it.

As I continue to obsess about this amazing fabric aka Spandex (did you know that’s an anagram for expands?) I got to thinking how like lockdown it is. What I mean is, it just adapts. Just like we have all had to. It adapts to all shapes and sizes (no matter how odd these might be) and it quite quickly feels part of us and perfectly normal. Everyone is doing it and as we change shape during lockdown (one way or another!) it changes with us.

My own Lycra wardrobe has expanded considerably since I began to use my allocated daily exercise period to put some miles in on my bike. Some of you might remember that I had planned to ride to London in April as a fund raiser but like everything else this has been postponed  ,until September.

Our comms team have been obsessing about a photo in Lycra for some time so I do hope they are happy with this intro and with the slightly plump vision in the perfectly fitting Lycra trimmed in (as close as I could get) Distillers blue!

On the subject of The Comms team, I would like to say a huge thanks and  pay tribute to Chris S and Paul who along with Kim and Ed have done such an amazing job in keeping us all updated on Livery activities during the lockdown and for contributing to the work of our Covid-19 response Task group. 

The Task group which I mentioned last month continues to be very active and meet on Zoom once a week. The Livery Emergency Auction fund in favour of the Drinks trust is our key area of focus at the moment so if you read this and haven’t already donated a special bottle ( anything alcoholic spirit is welcome or champagne!) please have a look in the cupboard or the cabinet. Thank you.

The Task group normally meets late Friday afternoon and after our meetings normally head to the virtual pub (The Zoom Gordon Arms) for a quick drink together before the weekend. Very enjoyable it is too.

What else to talk about during April?

Well, I turned 60 years old and in lieu of a party had a family Zoom event which was hilarious.

Had hoped to have celebrated with a few more of you but like everything else it will just have to wait until later, whenever that will be?

All in all, lockdown for us has not been too bad and, in fact, some bits of it are a really pleasant change but I also have to keep trying to remind myself that for some there is little pleasant about it.

Aside from those who have lost loved ones who should never be forgotten, there are huge numbers suffering economically. In a small town like Auchterarder where we live, our local Church is distributing food vouchers to over 40 families. In London young people from our trade are actually sleeping rough as their incomes have dried up and they are unable to pay rent. Many small businesses are on the brink of collapse or are deeply worried about an uncertain future, particularly in the On Trade.

I am hugely grateful for the wonderful response by the  Distillers Livery to our appeal on behalf of The Drinks Trust who are trying to help alleviate some of that hardship and want to say a personal thanks to everyone involved and ask you to continue to support our continuing initiatives in this area.

I’m off for a bike run now. Wearing guess what?

God bless and stay safe

Master’s Blog – March 2020

The beginning of March doesn’t seem a month ago.

It seems more like a different age on another planet.

Although Covid 19 was already beginning to raise it’s ugly head and wreak havoc on our Livery plans (more on that later), it seemed still distant and something that was happening elsewhere in the world.

Life in the City of London was more or less normal, other than a few curious individuals who were touching elbows rather than shaking hands.

In fact, the first week of March was one of my busiest so far in this Livery year!!

On Monday 3rd I attended the Derek Melluish Memorial Lecture in St Lawrence Jewry Church given by Blondel Cluff CBE. Blondel is CEO of the West India Committee and her lecture “London The West Indian City” was incredibly informative and focussed on the role The West Indies played in the development of The City of London.

A quick supper with The Upper Warden and the last train home to my Sister in Law’s before a 6.30 next day departure for The West Country! The early morning drive to Plymouth was in the most beautiful early Spring day and we arrived at HMS Devonport with time to spare.

As guests of Commander Ollie Hucker and the Port crew of HMS Montrose, the Liverymen and guests attending as well as The Mistress and I had the most memorable day. We were treated to some great hospitality at lunch in their shore based headquarters and dinner in The HMS Drake Wardroom, but the highlight was , without doubt, being able to witness the sheer professionalism of the young people in the crew first hand as they went about their training exercises. Ollie gave us a presentation before dinner and as well as outlining the capabilities of HMS Montrose he concluded by confirming that The Royal Navy is in good heart and that the addition of our two new carriers, and their extraordinary capabilities, is sending a statement around the world as to Britain’s re-emergence as a maritime power. Encouraging indeed!

A double header lunch and dinner the next day meant that drive back to Ascot after dinner was necessary and thanks must go to The Mistress for her offer drive both ways!!!

Lunch with The Master Mariners on HQS Wellington on the Thames was most enjoyable and again one has to pinch oneself at the sheer privilege of the experiences we enjoy as Masters. Standing on deck with a glass of fizz on a Wednesday lunchtime watching the world go by is a wonderful experience and followed by a splendid lunch it would have been easy to think all was well in the world!  

 Dinner with the Brewers was equally enjoyable and convivial as they entertained a number of other Master’s and their Clerks. Another excellent meal with great food, wines and of course beers!

 It may only have been a day later but one could sense that the mood, as regards Coronavirus, was beginning to change as we met for The Master and Wardens meeting but, even then, we decided on a ”wait and see” approach to future functions and in particular our April Dinner.

Despite the impending crisis, of which we were still unaware of it’s severity, we had a most enjoyable dinner at The Innholders as we entertained the Vintners Master and Wardens and General Manager (Their Clerk unavailable at the last due to an impromptu visit to hospital which I am glad to say he has recovered from). Our Beadle, showing remarkable commitment, needed no second asking to join us for the most exquisite dinner with some cracking wines chosen by our Spirits and Wine team. Our relationship with the Vintners goes from strength to strength.

The next day saw us driving North again and a marathon journey home (10 hours plus) to Scotland.

The Mistress and I were both looking forward to a week at home and a rest over the weekend to re charge the batteries after a full-on week.

You will all know by now I am a fan of Robert Burns and for some reason the events of the following weeks remind me of one of the last verses in his epic poem Tam o Shanter.

Tam tint his reason a’ thegither,
And roars out, ‘Weel done, Cutty-sark!’
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied.
When out the hellish legion sallied.

From a period of socialising to one of our greatest challenges as society in the space of 14 days is barely believable but that was that!!

I did say I would cover more on the impact on my year.

The first huge disappointment was the ultimate cancellation of the Japan Court trip in the early part of the month. A huge disappointment to me and the rest of the Court , as well  as our hosts in Japan.

The second was the cancellation of the April Court and Dinner in Vintners which I was really looking forward to.

From the cancellation of The Lord Mayors Banquet to The United Guilds Service, The Mistress and I received a number cancellation notices from within the City and it would have been very easy to become very sorry for ourselves.

A sense of perspective was however definitely required as we saw the number of Covid cases rise and the death toll increase quickly.

What also became clear was the number of people in our trade (particularly the young) whose employment would be seriously affected.

To that end I was  delighted we were  able to set up a Task Force consisting of the Clerks Office, the Dev Director ,the Charity Committee Chairman, the Wardens, Paul Finch and myself with a view to supporting these individuals through our chosen charity partner The  Drinks Trust (Formerly The Benevolent) who are experiencing an unprecedented level of demand for their services.

Over the last three weeks that group has worked tirelessly in pulling together three separate initiatives in support of The Drinks Trust:

  1. A Charity appeal which at the time of writing has raised over £30k from within our Livery to help contribute to a grant of £50k we will be making to them.
  2. An on-line auction which will take place from  June 7th– 16th with all proceeds going to them. 
  3. The creation of a volunteering support network to help the Drinks Trust.

I have been truly humbled by the level of support and commitment shown by the group and our Livery in these difficult times and am hugely grateful to you all.

I had intended Charity to be a main theme of my year but could never have envisaged the way it is playing out.

I hope you and your families are all staying safe.

God Bless.

Master’s Blog – February 2020

First up in February was a road and boat trip to Alkmaar in The Netherlands where I had been asked as Master to open the 10th Anniversary of The Hielander Whisky Festival. This whisky festival has raised substantial funds over the years for a local Cancer Hospice/Charity The Praethuys in Alkmaar. Having opened the event dressed in Masters Gown, it was a quick change to take my place in the band for the opening event.  Seamless!! I am very much hoping that some of the organising team will travel from Holland to be with us for the drinks party planned later this year on HQS Wellington.

Although Hurricane Ciara was to play havoc with many of the next week’s travel arrangements, we managed to fly out of Amsterdam just ahead of her and made it to Edinburgh for the Informal Lunch at 603 Squadron prior to The Calcutta Cup. Excellently organised by Hon Steward Michael Urquhart , the lunch was a relaxed an jovial affair with 18 attending consisting of Liverymen, families and guests. Thanks, as always, to 603 for generously hosting.

The aforementioned travel havoc started with my car, which was being driven home by other band members, being trapped on board a North Sea ferry for 10 hours longer than anticipated. The delay to our travel south and unavailability of any alternative transport meant the Mistress unfortunately was unable to attend the CLINKS visit to HM Brixton Prison.

I was pleased to make it to London, however in time for Michael Druitt’s memorial service, with a good number of other Liverymen, which was an excellent send off for someone I had known for most of my business life. He will be missed by many.

Later that week I had the slightly nerve wracking pleasure of chairing my first Court meeting as Master before moving on to the February lunch at Girdlers Hall, which proved to be an excellent venue.

The “Burns Night” theme seemed to be well accepted (If not universally understood by those from South of the border!) and I have to say I was delighted with the phenomenal turnout of over 120. It was also an amazing experience to witness the World Premier of the new Distillers song written and composed by The Learned Clerk and expertly sung by Hon Assistant Harris. At a personal level I was delighted to be able to catch up with The Master Brewer, Simon Theakston, on a number of mutual acquaintances and colleagues from our time in S&N

The Mistress and Consorts  enjoyed a splendid parallel lunch in The Vintners Courtroom where they were entertained to  an excellent tour by Steve Marcham who, on completion, high tailed it to The Girdlers to attend the Livery lunch. Commitment indeed!

The Mistress continued to enjoy the City life the following week as guest of The Mistress brewer an I was the happy recipient of a bottle of Theakstons Old Peculiar following the lunch!!

On the 20th of February we entertained Commander Ollie Hucker and three of the crew of HMS Montrose to lunch in Vintners Boardroom where IPM Martin Reilly presented The Sailor of the Year trophies for 2019 and 2020. Ollie also gave a fantastic insight of what it was like in The Gulf, as the ship became the first RN ship to be at full “battle stations” since the Falklands conflict. To say we were “In awe” would be a huge understatement!!

On the 21st February The Mistress and I attended The Mansion House Banquet of The Worshipful Company of Gardeners. A very nice evening with very friendly hosts.

An early morning start on Saturday meant that we were able to drive home in time for (at least) the second half of the rugby!

3 days at home for changes of clothes washing and the Long Distance Master and Mistress (with dog Rosa) were on their way back to London again for a Whisky tasting for our Corporate Freemen Mappin and Webb and members of The Royal Household including The Governor of The Tower of London. The two Master’s casks showed up superbly and were thoroughly enjoyed by all. Thanks to Karl and Mark for inviting us!!

The last event of the month left a deep impression on The Mistress and me. We visited Treloar’s School with The Lord Mayor ,Lady Mayoress and a group of other Livery Masters and Mistresses. Treloar’s is run by The Treolar Trust a Charity set up in 1907 by the then Lord Mayor. It cares for young people with physical disabilities and helps prepare them for adult life, providing education, care therapy and independence training. The young people and their teachers and care assistants were an absolute inspiration and its no surprise that the establishment is rated as ”Outstanding” by both Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. A very uplifting end to the month, made even more memorable by finding that the current Chair of Trustees is a friend of Kathy’s family!

Master’s Blog – January 2020

As I mentioned in the newsletter, it is scarcely believable that I write this with over a quarter of my Master’s year gone already. Time does fly when one is enjoying oneself.

As regards the newsletter, I feel I must mention the quality of the content and production of that publication and thank and congratulate the production team led by Paul Finch for a fantastic job.

After a frenetic December and a lovely Christmas and New Year back home, January started slowly by comparison but still involved two weeks in London.

The first week in town started with internal meetings with the Dev. Director, Assistant Clerk and the Industry Committee and highlighted just how much is going on in our very vibrant Livery..

As the week progressed with a food tasting in Canary Wharf for the February lunch accompanied by Kim and the hugely supportive & knowledgeable Jonathan Orr Ewing I did reflect on the slightly surreal nature of the role. (Thanks also to Jonathan for his excellent jar of marmalade. I may become quite Paddington -like!! What with the marmalade and living out of a suitcase! Ironically Paddington one of the few stations I haven’t visited this month.)

Next up was lunch in the Cavalry and Guards Club hosted by Alan Montague-Dennis with Clive Bairsto, Richard Watling and a prospective Corporate Freeman.

This was followed, after a record-breaking taxi journey to The Sanctuary, by a Interview/Presentation and Freedom Ceremony for a group of new Freemen, again highlighting the Vibrancy and appeal of our Livery.

The next week in London included our Charity meeting, where , amongst other major developments, we discussed the excellent response to our appeal for Charity Volunteering.

Thank you to everyone who responded. This initiative will build on all of the excellent Charity initiatives that are being discussed and continue to boost our Charitable profile.

Last meeting of the week was with Fortnum and Masons and The Dev Director where we discussed the possibility of a Livery visit which we hope will take place over the summer months.

We both left with the legendary F&M Scotch egg (they are delicious!) as a gift and I managed to avoid the very real temptation of eating it on the way to City Airport and the flight home.

The end of January saw The Mistress and I head for the West Coast of Scotland and some of the windiest weather I have encountered. Relaxing nonetheless.

Master’s Blog – December 2019

May I wish all our readers a Happy New Year and trust that everyone had a wonderful Christmas.

Having picked up the pen , so to speak, from IPM Martin Riley immediately after the Installation Dinner in November, this December blog is a bit of a bumper edition with content from the end of November too!

The new Master’s year always starts the day before the Installation Dinner and this year was no exception with 4 functions/events attended in the day!

The morning saw us attending The Festival of St Cecilia at Westminster Abbey followed by a wonderful lunch with the other Wardens hosted by Martin and Nicola, who looked much more relaxed than the Master and Mistress Elect. The revelry was cut short as we left for The Lord Mayors briefing and the Lady Mayors afternoon tea respectively!

That would normally be that but the evening saw an invite to a reception hosted by The Lord Mayor for the launch of The Big Curry Lunch at the HAC headquarters on City Road. A journey made by bus in the absence of any taxis!!

Installation day starts with a rehearsal then a Court meeting followed by the Installation Ceremony before the Dinner and then the Dinner itself.

One is swept along during the day and although nervous one is struck by the sheer feeling of goodwill amongst our Livery.

Without the need for an inaugural speech I would have enjoyed the excellent food, wine and spirits so much more but I was fortunate to have the great company of the Master Vintner Chris Davey and chat about some very old times!!

A Post Prandial as guests of The Master Vintner and the inimitable Steve Marcham topped off and amazing day!

A truly memorable day for which I will be always grateful to The Clerks Office, The Vintners Hall and our Spirit and Wine Committee (who jumped through hoops to ensure my choice of wine arrived!).

Kathy my family and my guests had a wonderful time and were all made most welcome!

On the 26th November I attended the Distillers Icicle Golf Day at Beaconsfield. I use the term attended because I would never claim to have “played golf” that day as my long suffering team-mates/partners will attest!

A birdie at the last hole was definitely “ the one that brings you back” and was witnessed by the IPM who had made his way out to present the prizes!

Bryan Burrough was the runaway winner and I sure he will be looking forward to his new handicap!!!

The day was another triumph for the remarkable Golf organising cohort of Keith and Graham who again delivered another excellent year in 2019. We are indeed fortunate to have them both!

The IWSC banquet on 28th November had been  postponed from earlier this year because of a diary clash at The Guild Hall and as such fell into the early part of my year rather than Martin’s. 

The Banquet is a magnificent affair with prize and trophy winners receiving their awards. It never fails to amaze me just how diverse and truly global our industry is, yet, founded on people with remarkably similar values and outlook! Kathy and I were Royaly entertained!!

The IWSC Directors Dinner at Mossimans , the night before, fell into the same category where I was privileged to sit beside the President Sir George Fistonich, founder of Villa Maria!!!!

On the 2nd of December I attended the Admiralty Carol Service in St Martins in The Fields and, after a wonderful service where I sat beside the Australian Military attache, and met a number of other Master’s there for the first time. The familiar looking Master Glover (Wearing white gloves!!) turned  out to be none other than Roger de Courcey, the creator of Nookie Bear!!

The following evening James Higgins and I attended the London Regiment Boxing Tournament ,witnessed the London Scottish contingent acquit themselves very well especially as some were complete novices! I’m delighted to report that the relationship with London Scottish is in excellent health due in no small part to James’s commitment! Afterwards an Uber to the Piccadilly Line, 45 minutes on the tube , sleeper to Glasgow then train to Auchterarder highlights the life of the Long Distance Master!

The next week saw me back at The Mansion House and attending a reception and presentation by CLINKS who are a body looking after Charities operating within the prison system. The harrowing, but also uplifting, stories on display were a very good reminder that the all-out party approach to Christmas, that we sometimes enjoy, is not universal!!

On the 10th December I was invited, along with our Learned Clerk , to the Installation Dinner of  the new Master of The Glass Sellers of London, Richard Katz. The Glass Sellers are fellow members of our “Cask group”. Sitting at the top table I was again was struck by the huge privilege of being Master and with the close links and potential within the “Cask Group”. The dinner was most enjoyable with Christmas carols sung during the dinner.

11th December and I was on my way back North again  (More from the Long Distance Master) and due to attend the Annual Dinner of The Perth High Constables. Sadly, my third cancellation in a row on way North by train meant abandonment in Newcastle, a very indirect journey home via Carlisle and Glasgow, and missing the dinner!

No chances were taken for the Carol Service and we drove south on 14th!!!!!

Two days early, who says I leave things to last minute?!!!!

The Carol Service is one of my favourite events of the year and again this year didn’t disappoint. Rev David Parrott opened a few eyes with his unexpected “body show” but as always conveyed a thought provoking Christmas message. Our Minister from Auchterarder Rev Dr Lynn MacChlery came down as my guest,helped with the service, and was really overwhelmed by the “warm welcome” she received.

We drove home again on the 18th of December to get ready for Christmas and catch up with friends and family at home, amazed at how quickly everything had gone in December!

Christmas and New Year at home seemed like one big party with fair sprinkling of training runs on my bike. Blew the cobwebs away but challenging with some of the weather over the Festive period!!!

I’m back in London now and looking forward to a vey busy January as I write!