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:
- 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.
- An on-line auction which will take place from June 7th– 16th with all proceeds going to them.
- 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.