Sunday, 31 July 2011

A Great Event

Our Mansion House Banquet with the Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress, the Sheriffs and their partners is always a memorable affair. From the entrance up the stairs through the St Dunstans cadets' carpet guard to the final drinks and farewells it was truly a GREAT event.

I was delighted at a ceremonial court before the dinner to admit Diane Morris as a new court Assistant. I also clothed in the Livery Richard Christou, Jo Edwards and Christopher Lenton, as well as admitting as new Freemen Anne Curtis, Andrew Robinson, Peter Rosenvinge, Michael Smeeth, Brain Smith, Andrew Ward and Jonathan Williams. Finally I was very pleased to to present the Marketors' Award to Captain Giles Phillips for outstanding leadership within the St Dunstans CCF.

At dinner the Lord Mayor was in fine form, humorous and serious by turns keeping everyone fully engaged. The brass band played the post horn gallop magnificently and to rapturous applause. Good company, good speeches, good food and wine in a stunning environment ensured that this year's Banquet fully lived up to past triumphs and current expectations.

As we enter August and the holiday period your Blogger will rest awhile but return refreshed in a few weeks time. Meanwhile I wish you all a very happy holiday period.

Ambushed at Luncheon

Last Thursday I was a guest of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators at their Royal Charter Luncheon. A splendid affair and, I noted, as we mingled pre-lunch, a good representation from the Royal Navy. The lunch was held in Butchers Hall, a light and airy hall with big windows perfect for lunch on a sunny summer day. We ate with some fine oil paintings of the late Queen Mother and HRH The Princess Royal (the Butcher's current Master) gazing down upon us. You can just about see the Queen Mother in the top left in the photo on the left.For the Chartered Secretaries and Administrators this was a special occasion, although as far as I could see nothing to do with their Royal Charter which was never mentioned. It was the occasion of the official signing of the Letters of Association between the Company and their new Navy ship: HMS Ambush, a nuclear submarine. The strength of the naval representation, including the Commander of the Fleet Sir Trevor Soar, suddenly made sense. After the signing the Master gave Sir Trevor a set of pictures of the City of London with, as he commented, the necessary screws. One can only assume it is possible to screw pictures into the walls of a submarine. This is some submarine, the navy's latest, finest, biggest and only the second Astute class submarine. Silent in operation and with sophisticated enough sonar and electronics that it can detect ships three thousand miles away.

All in all it was an excellent and interesting lunch. I noticed on the guest list an 'Apprentice'. An Apprentice system is not at all uncommon in Livery Companies and it is a subject to which I will return later in my year.

Perfect Restoration

Spencer House is aptly described as London's most magnificent 18th Century private Palace. In fact the only private palace left in London and originally the house of the ancestors of Lady Diane Spencer. Last week 39 Marketors were privileged to have a private tour. Welcomed by Baron Charles de Chassiron, Chairman of Spencer House Trust, which runs the house, we were given a brief introduction to the history of the house. Rothschild Investment Trust took the building over ten years ago and over the intervening period an extensive restoration has taken place. And much needed it was too. Since the war it has been home to everything from the Ladies Army and Navy Club, Christies the auctioneers, British Oxygen Company who converted it to offices and lastly the Economist Intelligence Unit. Having been stripped of valuables during the war and following the depredations of commercial usage it is no surprise the restoration took ten years.

The tour took us through a variety of state rooms which reflected the two original designers' passion for the classical Greek and Roman architectural style. Many wonderful paintings and pieces of furniture have been acquired, borrowed or specially commissioned to furnish the house.. It is a treasure trove of good taste--but then it was all put together by a specially assembled ''Good Taste'' committee. This is a connoisseurs' paradise and is open to the public on Sundays--Google it and go--you will not be disappointed.

After the tour we walked round the corner to the Avenue restaurant in St James's Street. Here we had an excellent meal which was voted one of the best value London restaurants that anyone could recall. Private splendour and good food. What's not to like.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Cocktails at Sundown

Our Regiment-151 (London) Transport Regiment hosted a cocktail party on HMS President last night. This is not a ship but a stone frigate, or shore establishment of the Royal Navy Reserves, near Tower Bridge, who use it as a training centre. It's a wonderful location--perhaps because it was originally the P & O London Ferry Terminal.It was a beautiful evening, quite good enough for everyone to stand on the outside deck overlooking the Thames as the sun slowly sunk in the West. We were also treated to the none too common site of Tower Bridge opening as a large ship cruised lazily Eastwards.
There were a good crowd of people there including a number of London Borough Mayors. In all cases the the massiveness of their gold chains and badges eclipsed most of the Master's Badges and chains that I have seen. It's nice to think that local councils have some of their own gold reserves.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Knighthood--The Oldest Dignity

Knighthood is the most ancient title of honour in the UK whose origins go back to before the Norman conquest and it is the oldest non-Royal title of honour. Today I attended the Annual Dedication Service of The Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor. The term Knight Bachelor goes back to Henry the third. With historical connotations of medieval chivalry I was somewhat surprised to find that the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor only goes back to 1908. Our own Sir Paul Judge is the Society's Registrar.
The Society has in perpetuity the use of a chapel in the crypt provided by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's, now named the Knights' Chapel. It is a fine space. The service was formal full of ceremony and regalia. The sermon was given by The Rt Honourable Richard Chartres the Bishop of London. He started by musing on powerful rulers in history who claimed divine status and came on to the biblical reference of Christ's: ''render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar's and unto God those that are God's. A message in humility for the Knights perhaps. He then segued into the 400th anniversary of the King James bible and the huge influence this had on the Western world. The beauty of the language and the underpinning morality are acknowledged even by Dawkins he said. He then referred to Clemence Attlee's famous comment that he loved the ethics of the bible but didn't care for the associated mumbo jumbo. But where would the ethics be without the supporting mumbo jumbo asked the Bishop. A question to ponder.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Cart Marking

Today I witnessed one of the 'unique to the City' occasions--the annual marking of carts in Guildhall Yard. It was absolutely packed with spectators. For centuries the Corporation of the City of London exercised its rights over carts and carriers. It was agreed that all vehicles would be licensed and would bear an individually numbered brass plate with the City arms on the shaft. This changed in 1838 when the power to license was vested in the Keeper of the Guildhall. He was empowered to mark the 'carrs and carts' of Freemen of the Fellowship of Carmen to stand and ply for hire in the City's streets. Each vehicle was brought into Guildhall to be marked with each year being distinguished by a letter and each 'carr' by a number.
Times change but this time honoured tradition continues to be maintained by the Worshipful Company of Carmen. Once a year Carmen bring their treasured vehicles to be branded, or marked, with a red hot iron, on a wooden plate which each vehicle carries.. This ancient ceremony acts as a reminder of centuries of service to the City. The vehicles vary enormously and to give you some idea here are a few.

A steam powered 1937 Sentinel Wagon

1902 Purdey Pantechnicon

I have no idea!

Ann original Smithfield Bumaree

So that you can see the wooden plates which are branded, or 'marked', see the picture below. The last mark here is the letter 'S'. This year the mark burnt in was 'T'

If you have never seen this ceremony, attended by the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, make a note to go next year. It is a truly eccentric British one-off.

Dinner with The Engineers

Last night, moving swiftly from the Big Curry thank you reception (see previous blog) I was at the Annual Awards Livery Dinner given by The Engineers at Plaisterers Hall. It is, as we know, a very big hall and it was full. The Engineers must be a fairly progressive lot as they were founded in 1983 --Founder Master a Marketor, Sir Peter Gadsden--and they were awarded their Royal Charter in 2004. No hanging about.
The Awards Dinner is clearly a major event in the Company's year. The Awards are divided into two categories: Civilian and Service which explains something that initially puzzled me: why were there so many armed forces personnel in full kit at the dinner? This incidentally is a Company whose members and Officers keep their service titles even though they are in civilian life, or retired. Always a strange habit I have thought. In civilian life retirees do not continue to use their work titles when they retire.
The Awards took the form of Medals, Financial Prizes and Certificates. There were six Civilian prizes awarded and eleven Service Awards. The Clerk did a masterly job of reading through all seventeen citations. It was a happy and impressive event with a minimum of speeches, excellent food and great efficiency--as you would expect from engineers.

A Thank You

It's always nice to be thanked and last night I was at a Reception given by the Army Benevolent Fund-The Soldiers' Charity, to thank all those who support the charity and in particular the Big Curry Lunch. Thanks to the army curry is the country's favourite dish. Back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries 20,000 British soldiers were stationed across the sub-continent and the cooks of the East India Company developed anglicised versions of of Indian dishes and curry was borne. Now in its fifth year the Charity's flagship fundraising event is the Big Curry Lunch in April. It is a national event and in London it is supported by the Lord Mayor and the event is held in Guildhall (see earlier blog)
Last night the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs attended the thank you reception from which we learned that the London lunch alone raised well over £200,000.The charity gives lifetime support to serving and retired soldiers and their families and has done so for 66 years. Purely from donations the charity raises around £7 million a year and half of this is given direct to individuals to help in areas like debt relief, mobility assistance, education bursaries, care home fees, and respite breaks; the other half is given as grants to other charities.

I discussed with a number of ABF staff who were there last night the idea of changing the charity's name. Army Benevolent Fund sounds vaguely Victorian to me and not particularly attractive. On the other hand the word 'Soldier' has considerable emotional resonance. Dropping ABF and renaming the charity simply 'The Soldiers Charity' seems eminently desirable to me. A marketing man's point of view I suppose.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Helping Ex-prisoners

Last night was the AGM of the Sheriffs' and Recorder's Fund held in the Central Criminal Court. The Court room was packed to hear not only the AGM but also the guest speaker Baroness Hale. The fund, of which we are consistent supporters,was created 200 years ago by two Sheriffs who were shocked at the horrors of Newgate prison. So they started a fund to help inmates and their destitute families with food, clothing and grants to make a new life when they left prison. The fund has always relied on the generosity of individual and corporate donations.
The AGM was interesting for the light it threw on the Fund's current activities. With a total income of £179,376 the majority, £161,221 was spent on charitable activities. These activities were in the main small grants to individuals to help them get back on their feet. 1,040 grants in total were given for anything from clothing, tools of the trade to educational/skills based courses. Helping ex-prisoners in this way helps reduce re-offending, relieves hardship and gives people an opportunity for a new start. The Sheriffs' and Recorder's Fund is a remarkable City institution doing good in a simple way for over 200 years.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Olympic Park

Last week a considerable number of Marketors met with a very well informed guide at Stratford station and travelled the one stop on the DLR to Pudding Mill to start a guided tour round the edge of the Olympic Park. First stop was the 'View Tube' a raised construction from which a very good view of the site could be had. Not all of it clearly for the site is, as our guide told us, the same size as Regents Park!The rather dodgy photo on the right shows the rather strange View Tube--the yellow construction. A lot of the site could be seen including, obviously, the main stadium, Zaha Hadid's magnificent Aquatic Center and the very strange ArcellorMittal Orbital Tower.

This is designed as as a spectacular piece of modern architecture and a major public attraction in the Park. It is currently only half built but the photo on the right shows what it will look like when finished. Designed by the award winning artist Anish Kapoor it will be the largest sculpture in the UK. Standing at 115metres it will be 22 metres taller than the Statue of Liberty. Not only will there be a viewing platform at the top from which the whole Park can be seen but also a restaurant. Unsurprisingly opinion is divided over the aesthetics of this piece of modern sculpture. The cost? A cool £19 million largely funded by ArcelorMittal. The intention is that, post the Olympics, in the words only a politician would use ''This stunning structure will become a new iconic London Landmark (Tessa Jowell).
Walking along the edge of the Park with the River Lea on one side we could clearly see that the turf had been laid in the main stadium and indeed the Park is now 80% complete. The stadium is structurally complete with the roof and all the spectator seats installed. The cycling Velodrome is completely finished and the Aquatics Centre nearly so. Three quarters of the accommodation for athletes is completed. The media centre, to house 2,000 journalists, is as big as the main tower block in Canary Wharf were it laid down sideways. Much work as we could see is now going into tree planting and hard landscaping. Continuing our walk we came round the edge of the site to Fish Island and the wonderful Forman and Field smokehouse and restaurant. Forman's is a 100 year old family business supplying smoked salmon, caviar and other smoked fish to top class hotels and restaurants. They were sited right in the middle of the Park. To persuade them to move the Park Authority built them a brand new smokery and restaurant in a perfect position 100 metres from the Park with fantastic views. Here looking across the river Lea at the Stadium we had a delightful fish buffet and wine. If you go onto the Forman and Field web site, ( apart from seeing the wonderful selection of gourmet food on offer, you will find they have a webcam on their roof permanently focussed on the Olympic site. It was a perfect end to a fascinating tour.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Ladies Luncheon

In a year whose theme is innovation it's always good to experiment. So with this mindset I thought it would be interesting to hold for the first time a Ladies' Lunch. Such lunches are not at all uncommon amongst Livery Companies and I'm not sure why we have never had one in the past. My wife sent the invitations out and a week ago this innovation came to fruition with a lunch held in a private dining room in Guildhall.
Before lunch a tour of the Guildhall art gallery and the amphitheatre had been arranged and this was much enjoyed despite the high volume of noise created in Guildhall yard by the City of London Festival Procession which started from the Yard. 1,000 young people from across London formed a multi coloured display with much loud music in a procession which wended it's way subsequently through many of the streets of the square mile. The City of London Festival is a major annual cultural event which runs from 6 June until 12 August. See
Back in the Guildhall dining room 29 sat down to a fine lunch following a drinks reception. We were fortunate to have a guest speaker--Murray Craig from the Chamberlain's office, who is a witty speaker and who regaled us with stories of the extraordinary things he has experienced at the many Freedom ceremonies at which he has officiated.
The lunch was adjudged a great success so it may well be repeated next year, who knows.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Telling Stories

It's always a great pleasure to hear an expert talk on their own subject. At the Think Tank Seminar at Cass Business School last Thursday we experienced that pleasure when Matt Kingdon the CEO and joint founder of Whatif? spent all morning talking about innovation, the Master's theme for the year. Whatif? after 19 years are now the world's largest independent innovation consultancy so we were indeed listening to an expert.
Matt started by defining innovation as 'profitable creativity' and went on to give the formula :
I+I+I =Innovation which he explained as Insight+ Ideas + Implementation =Innovation.He then went on tell a series of stories, always the best way to make your points, which exemplified the formula. Essentially what he was talking about was how leaders make innovation happen in big organisations. From Kingfisher to Google via Four Seasons to Apple he told story after story. He explained some of the unusual research techniques which Whatif? use and questions and comments flowed from the floor throughout. A lively Q and A session followed before we finished and repaired to another floor to talk on and enjoy a very good buffet lunch

The Garden Party

Every year the Queen opens Buckingham Palace Gardens for 'the Queen's Garden Party'. Marianne and I were invited and went last week. So did a thousand other people--it's not a small affair but for central London the garden is vast. The picture below gives some idea of the event. The crowd form into lines and the royals come out of the Palace and walk down the aisle of visitors chatting to pre-selectd people ending up in a small Royal Pavilion set aside for them to have their own tea

The tea which is provided for everyone is actually very good-fine sandwiches and cakes. The most extra ordinary thing though is that very large numbers of people sit in chairs in long rows, several deep, in front of the Royal Pavilion just staring at the royal party eating their tea. I'm sure the royals are world weary enough not to be disconcerted but strange and poor manners nevertheless. The gardens are a great pleasure to walk around, they're quite immaculate and happily the sun shone all afternoon. Perfect summer party weather. Walking round we bumped into a number of other Masters whom we knew so it was quite sociable as well as being novel.

A Birthday Dinner

Sometimes by great good fortune one can find oneself in the right place at the right time. And so it was last week when, as Master, I with the Wardens, was invited to a very special dinner: HRH the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th Birthday Dinner. As was clear from the Charter ceremony last year and as is clear today, for a nonagenarian he is holding up rather well. Since he is an Honorary member of a number of Livery Companies as well as holding Honorary positions at the Bank of England and the Baltic Exchange he asked that instead of being asked to multiple dinner engagements could everyone not combine for a single Birthday dinner. And so it came to pass, with Fishmongers generously offering to organise and host the dinner. And what a dinner. With only ten Livery Companies and four other organisations represented it was a small and intimate affair.

Her Majesty the Queen accompanied the Duke as did the Princess Royal. We were all personally introduced to each royal before the dinner. The Menu was a joy and a wonderful souvenir but the food and drink were sensational. With such small numbers the tables were in a simple horseshoe shape. With these guests of honour the Fishmongers, if you will excuse the pun, pushed the boat out. A glorious meal was followed by two short speeches, one from the Prime Warden of the Fishmongers Company and one in response by the Duke. The Prime Warden paid tribute to Prince Philip's service to our country and to his tireless support to the Queen for decades. He told the dinner that the Queen had given him a special 90th Birthday present. She had conferred on him the Title and Office of Lord High Admiral which means he is now head of the Navy--a position formerly held by the monarch.

Prince Philip paid tribute to Livery but observed that he was scaling back his commitments. He told the BBC '' I reckon I've done my bit. I want to enjoy myself a bit now, with less responsibility, less frantic rushing around, less trying to think of something to say.'' What he said after dinner was similar and received a great applause. On a separate occasion the Prime Minister said he was ''a remarkable man who has given years of his service to our country, someone who has defended his nation in times of war, a man who has stood alongside Her Majesty the Queen for over six decades, a man who has given his time and effort and passion to so many great causes up and down the country, across the Commonwealth and indeed across the world'' These words reflected the mood of that evening. It was a singular privilege to be there and is one of the greatest highlights of my year so far.