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August – September 2020: Water, Water Everywhere

I ended my last entry in a spirit of cheery optimism, with a wrecked sitting room, but a heart full of hope, striding confidently towards a brighter future. It was not to be . . .


August 13 2020. Two days later there was a thunderstorm; the thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms; doors proved no barrier to the mighty waters rushing down our drive from the A23. So all the carpets had to go, and we did a lot of mopping up (water from the road is very muddy. You would not believe how muddy. It’s very, very muddy). And the kitchen electrics needed a bit of sorting out, as did the burglar alarm. These things, they say, are sent to try us. Che sera sera. Well, I like a giggle as much as the next bloke, but this is going a bit too far if you ask me. Anyway, we dried everything out and contacted the insurance. Again. They were pretty nice considering the fact that they probably felt we had some sort of cunning water-related insurance scam going on here.


I am well aware that, yet again, this blog will be rather short on Arts Scholars related items, and that my handful of avid readers, rather than vicariously living the life of a Livery Master through my alcohol-fuelled progress through the City, are vicariously living the life of a modern day Frank Spencer (for populists), or Job (for traditionalists). I am, however, confident that the days of describing enviable events and dinners, and memorable moments with Top People are just around the corner, and that “normal” Arts Scholars blog service may resume soon. Until then, it’s this stuff.


August 16. The Sky engineer sorted out our Sky box. Another in the never-ending series of cheery artisans putting our lives back together and eating our chocolate biscuits.


August 17. We took my mother out to lunch in Streatley. By the river. It was lovely (sunshine, water rippling past, swans, ducks etc.). We forgot our woes, which was a bit strange as we sat next to a trillion gallons of trauma-inducing water, but we did.


August 18. Loss Adjuster (“Hello again, Mr Spanner”; we’re old mates now), and an evening Arts Scholars related event; it was a zoom discussion about a possible new database, but it was some social interaction – with Anne Somers, and James Drabble and the Clerk, which was jolly nice – and interesting and informative too. So that was nice.


August 20. The decorator started sorting out our sitting room; crash, bang, thud, scrape etc., and a further reduction in our chocolate biscuit cache. Virtually all the sitting room furniture, and all the books and ornaments are now in the dining room (the one with no carpet).


August 26. Filled a skip with acres of carpets and underlay, which had been in soggy piles, exuding a strangely loathsome aroma, on the drive and path. Skip taken away. Suddenly the house looks normal from the outside. Hooray!


August 30. Bloke comes to measure for carpets for Insurance Claim 2.


September 1. Bloke comes to look at sofas and furniture for Insurance Claim 1.


September 7. Socialising with some Arts Scholars! Yes!! At last!!! The three Wardens, Deputy Master and I had a [socially distanced] lunch in the extremely civilised surroundings of the Carlton Club (thanks to the superb organisation of Graham Barker, Clubman extraordinaire), where we started with some Bolly – and if you can think of a better way to start, you’re wrong), had an extremely good and cheery lunch, with excellent wines provided by the Vice Lord Lieutenant for Berkshire (aka the Middle Warden), and put the world and the Arts Scholars to rights. Unsteadily wandered back up St James’s Street feeling every inch the flaneur, and that Browning had it spot on when he said “the lark's on the wing; the snail's on the thorn; God's in His heaven - all's right with the world!”; the absence of larks, snails and thorns notwithstanding.


September 8. The Arts Scholars socialising continues. Gosh, this is getting good. Today was the second of the zoomy Pocket Lunches, and it was brilliant. I, and a rapt audience, had entertaining presentations on a Mexican Calima figure, a nutmeg grater, a Mongol belt cup, a flight & Barr token, a Keith Murray Wedgwood mug, a coin (not just any coin), a painting by Edward Seago, a bit of chalk (not just any bit of chalk), a snuff box, a Pratt ware mug (I want it). A bronze froggy thing, a wooden fish and some tapa cloth, a seriously desirable gold medal, and some stolen American street signs. All in all, it was like the best Generation Game conveyor belt ever, with a series of well honed anecdotes to match. We must do another one – there’s a lot of talent in the Arts Scholars! No, we will do another one. Or two.


September 10. Today, I did not go to Devizes with a gang of archaeologically minded Arts Scholars. 48 hours of ancient monuments interspersed with bacon rolls, intimate dinners and a sea of alcohol, kiboshed by the Plague. It would have been lovely to go to Salisbury Plain and not be told to dig a defensive position somewhere.


September 15. Sitting room carpet fitted. You cannot imagine the joy. Start moving stuff back in to the room. Furniture is easy. Books go on for ever. But it’s done. Watch TV in a normal room, like normal people. Normal is good. Sorry, I am becoming aware that this is more Charles Pooter than Samuel Pepys.


September 16. Sort out Court paperwork. Think, think, type, type, mutter, mutter. Remember the 5 Ps – prior preparation prevents poor performance; and also hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Stop Googling inspirational quotes and just get on with it. My word, there’s a lot of paperwork here, and I’m supposed to be on top of it all. Can I do it? Yes I can (apologies to Bob the Builder).


Sort out Common Hall paperwork. Think, think, etc. . . .


September 17. A Big Day, the first Big Day since the Installation. I chair my first Arts Scholars’ Court Meeting at 3.30. Spend the morning in a panic. Read paperwork again. Make more notes. Re-re-read paperwork. Amend notes. Consider emigrating. Calm down. Don suit, tie, and badge, first night nerves return with a vengeance, big breath, showtime! And it all went surprisingly well, much to my relief (and probably to the Court’s too). I will not weary you with details of what we discussed and agreed; suffice it to say I think we did those things which we ought to have done, and made subtle changes to various things so that the Arts Scholars will continue to progress and flourish. So, all in all, a pretty normal Court meeting, with the only fly in the ointment being the fact that it was zoom rather than live. Actually seeing the Court members was great, and I did feel very much a part of the Arts Scholars team during the meeting. Maybe because they were all so jolly nice and accommodating, and we had no real sticking points, for which I am really grateful. Maybe they were letting me off lightly on my first outing - we shall see at the next Court.


And so to the next Big One of the day – Common Hall. Those damn first night nerves return. Big breath. Showtime again! 6 o’clock, and we’re off. 60 Arts Scholars (and two bears) – a superb turnout for a virtual meeting. AGMs are not usually a great crowd puller, and ours normally has a good audience because it is followed by an effervescent reception and a belt-straining dinner in sumptuous surroundings. So it was great to see so many people there; my presumption is that you were all sitting in sumptuous surroundings anyway, had a bottle of fizz on hand, and were happy to fill in the time before your belt-straining dinner at home with a bit of entertainment from the Arts Scholars. I must say that the Committee Chairmen did not disappoint, providing flawless presentations – so flawless, that no-one needed to ask questions. What a team, eh? And as a finale, we toasted our next merry meeting – which in that continuing spirit of illogical optimism, I hope will be a live meeting. An actual real meeting. When we do – wow!


John Spanner

September 18 2020

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Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed by the author of this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars or its members.