Friday, 20 January 2012

A Lesson in Etiquette

Every year the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists hold a dinner for Freemen and Liverymen who have been admitted in the previous twelve months. They are a large Company with 700+ members so every twelve months there are a lot of new Freemen and Liverymen--it was a big dinner.
As a guest I was intrigued to learn that the essence of these evenings is essentially, and in a humorous and light-hearted way, to provide instruction in all the etiquette involved in Livery dinners. This includes everything from how to sing Grace, how to perform the Loving Cup Ceremony, the Rosebowl Ceremony, how correctly to handle toasts, not to leave the table during dinner, and much more besides. All new Freemen and Liverymen have to listen or watch demonstrations and then perform themselves. They are scored out of 10 by the Clerk holding up a 1-10 score card. Less than a score of 6 requires that the exercise is repeated. It is very amusing and very instructive for those who need to know.
Sitting next to their Master he referred many times to the excellent work the Marketors had done in the branding and marketing of the new, digitally focused, Hammersmith Academy which they and the Mercers have co-financed. I don't know whether I felt vicarious pleasure or reflected corporate glory. The glory of course goes to Court Assistant Peter Rees who made such a major contribution to the successful launch of the Academy, including staff and student recruitment
The guest speaker was Alderman Fiona Woolf who, having stepped down from being Aldermanic Sheriff in 2011, is biding her time now before she becomes Lord Mayor in a few years time. She was as always, and as befits a senior lawyer, both incisive and witty. Altogether a very enjoyable evening


Earlier in the week I was a guest at the Launderers' Court Dinner at Launderers' Hall (sometimes also known as Glaziers' Hall) I have made good friends with Colin Hill, their Master, and have been unable to go to other events to which he would have liked to invite me. He was determined to get me to a Launderers' event and so invited me to their Court Dinner. As we sat down it dawned on me that I was the only guest.
It was a delightful meal marred only slightly when, as we came towards the end of the first course, Colin nonchalantly said would I like to say a few words. I was completely unprepared for this but ever mindful of the name and fame of the Marketors I said yes, of course. The dessert course was consumed whilst I rapidly thought what I might say. Clearly thank you was very much in order to start with. Then I was able to recall that in my early career when working for Lever Brothers I had for a time worked in Lever Industrial-the arm of Lever Brothers which sold soap and detergent to Laundries and other non consumer customers. I could reminisce.
My eye then fell upon the Menu which had the Company's crest on it. It is reproduced here. You can see the two women who flank each side of the crest. Laundering is ancient and was historically, and is perhaps today, female orientated. Ignoring the Company's Chaplain and the representative of their affiliated Regiment, who had just been made an Honorary Liveryman at the preceding Court meeting, there were well over twenty Court members sitting round the table. There was only one woman. I am not one to pass up such an opportunity for gentle ribbing. Happily it went down well. Were my term of office as Master longer I might have been invited back

Court Dinner

It is traditional at the end of a Master's year for there to be a Court Dinner with Partners. In effect it's a farewell dinner. Thanks to the good offices of the Clerk we were able to hold this in Girdlers Hall. This hall is not generally available and is only let out three or four times a year. The Girdlers are financially strong enough not to have to worry overmuch about generating hall revenue!
The hall itself is on a site that the Company has owned for centuries but like so many halls it was destroyed in the great fire of 1666 and again during the bombing raids of the second world war. It was rebuilt in 1961 and significantly extended and refurbished in 2006. It is now very grand indeed and a wonderful venue for the Court Dinner
This traditionally a closed event with no guests. An exception was made this year as we invited Commander Tom Sharpe of HMS St Albans. The ship has just returned from 6 months in the Persian Gulf and after a refit will out at sea again so it seemed a perfect opportunity for us to meet Commander Sharpe and for him to meet us in an informal and relaxed setting.
It also allowed me the opportunity to present him with the silver Marketors' Cup to be awarded annually to the member of the ship's company who does the most to raise the profile of HMS St Albans/the Royal Navy externally by, for instance, work in local communities, volunteering in youth groups, raising money for charity and the like. I was also able to present him with a cheque from the Marketors' Trust as a donation to the ship's Benevolent Fund.
For me, as I reached almost the end of my year, this Court Dinner was a very special evening which Marianne and I deeply appreciated