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July - August 2020: The Next 5 Weeks

The end of my first quarter as Master. Reading the blogs of my predecessors, I cannot fail to notice that they got out and about a bit more than I did, but I am breaking new ground as a Master Working From Home, and have the great benefit of being able to do the job in my smart casual garb, with (at times) bed hair. But, things are still going on (in addition to a startling email load), and my inbuilt sense of cheery optimism tells me that, one day, I will look back on this hiatus with something approaching envy as I stagger from a drunken lunch to a drunken dinner and realise that I have left my speech on the train.


In between the superfluity of adventures below, the clerk and I have had the great fun of sorting out the diary of events until May 2022. He marks my work, I mark his work, and eventually we’ve fixed the Big Stuff (the formal things; all we have to do now is hope they actually happen), and everyone has a Print Your Own version (so please update your diary). The social events (yes, I know they’re all social in their way, because that’s what the Arts Scholars are, but you know what I mean, and pedantry doesn’t help) for 21/22 will be agreed in the next few months, and will major in on the normal stuff – erudition, bonhomie and alcohol (or a nice non-alcoholic alternative, of course).


Things I have learned about Zoom. There’s an awful lot of muttering, sotto voce swearing, and cries of “unmute yourself”; “it’s the icon at the top/bottom”; “turn your camera on”; “whoops, sorry”; “you’ve disappeared”, and so on. And what works when you practise at home doesn’t necessarily work when used in earnest. Damn clever technology, a life saver in the circs, and you do get a disproportionate sense of great achievement after hosting a meeting.


July 11 2020. With the concept of a zoom pocket lunch lurking, Wynyard Wilkinson kindly offered to let me take part in a similar event – the Portobello silver folk’s 11 o’clock Club zoom meeting (held, obviously at 10.30; who could resist such a surreal concept?). A most entertaining time I had of it too, watching mad dealers and collectors enthusing about bits of silver, which convinced me that the idea was well worth pursuing (thanks WW!). And it was, as you will see (see how I am making you want to read on? I told you I was an optimist).


July 15 2020. A zoom Trustees’ meeting. Cheery faces, informed discussion (as you would expect from the Trustees), and a delight to actually do something (including my hair) rather than plan and type. Didn’t go to the Cart Marking at Guildhall, but then neither did anyone else. I’m sure it would have been too hot to enjoy it anyway. Actually, I rather missed it – it’s an entertaining ceremony, and it’s not often that you see Gresham Street clogged up with the type of commercial vehicles last seen in your I Spy book of Lorries.


July 16 2020. Another zoom. This time, I invited the Court to discuss anything they felt like which could improve the Arts Scholars in any way. A screen full of smiling faces, impeccably dressed from the waist up, and we had an interesting and far-ranging discussion. Apart from anguishing about what we could do for members during a time when it’s virtually impossible to do anything, it was good to find that there was (apparently) nothing that we are doing that needs great improvement, and that there is nothing that we are not doing that we probably should be, so it seems that we are, currently, getting it right.


You, dear reader, may think otherwise; should you do so, I would be very pleased to hear from you (and, in the best traditions of the press, the anonymity of my informants will be strictly preserved). What did we agree about engaging with the members, I hear you cry. Well, some events (zoom, inevitably) are pending, and we agreed to contact all members, ideally by telephone, to see how they were – which worked better than we thought it might, generated some lively and interesting chats, and did not, luckily, produce too many tales of woe. Most of you seem to be coping pretty well, and I hope you continue to do so.


July 18 2020. Phase 1, visiting my daughter in Tewkesbury, was a delight. Phase 2, coming home to find a burst pipe, a sitting room ceiling on the floor, and a lot of water, was not quite so delightful. Did you know that an average tap flows at about a gallon a minute (5 litres for the younger ones reading this). That’s 60 gallons an hour. And we’d been out all day; no wonder the carpet and sofas were a tad soggy. Anyway, the To Do list was getting a bit short, so it’s good to have a project again (although I’d rather have a ceiling).


July 20 2020. A visit to the dentist for a check-up. First time on a train since March, so that was exciting. 12 coaches, and eerily empty. The City was strangely deserted too, apart from the ubiquitous tourists taking selfies on London Bridge. Anyway, it was an Outing; and my teeth are fine.


July 27 2020. A visit to the optician. (I’m sorry about all this non Arts Scholar stuff, but it was pretty exciting to get out again, and pretty overdue too, and this is my stream of consciousness). Reigate High Street looks like it’s populated by a crowd of rather obvious bank robbers – rather well dressed ones, obviously. This is Reigate we’re talking about. New specs pending. All I want now is a workable tip as to how to stop your glasses steaming up while wearing a face mask (no specs and blurry vision is the ace solution so far, but there is a rather obvious vision-related downside to this).


August 1 2020. The City community generally likes August, because nothing “City” happens, and we can all get on with the To Do list, and resist any meetings (I was going to say “like the plague” there; Freudian slip). Oh, happy days of yore! Roll on next August when I hope we will all be looking forward to a break from being madly busy again.


August 11 2020. An actual (zoom) Arts Scholars event! A Pocket Lunch! A smiley face emoticon would most inadequately portray my joy at this. It was, like, super brilliant (or should that be super bad? My street slang is not as up to date as it might be). The very last AS event before the world imploded was the Pocket Lunch at Guildhall on March 9, so it was great to feel a vague sense of normality with a similar event 22 weeks later.


A dozen zoomists (providing own drink and canapes), with chats and tales about a delicious Flight and Barr vase, a netsuke (not just any netsuke), a satirical teapot, a paper knife (with crazy anecdote), a silver cup and cover (with intriguing inscription), a pair of pearl earrings (pearls from owner’s lunch), a lithograph of Marcel Marceau by Tina Mackler, inscribed to the zoomist, a pair of treen boxes with lead cones in them, and a painting by an ex-convict turned artist of the judge who gave him his break. And one of the zoom crowd (guess who) was wearing a wooden bow tie. I bet you wish you’d been there now. Perceptive readers will note that the definition of “pocket” is rather different when you don’t actually have to produce it from a pocket. That left me feeling rather like that chap from Xanadu – “For he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise”. Yes, it’s the feeling you get all the time as Master Arts Scholar.


There will be another pocket lunch on 8 September, at noon. If you want to be there, let me know. Production of an object is not essential, but is desirable, so preference will be given to those with something. “Pocket” is, pro tem, redefined as something you can carry about, without a struggle (so that traction engine is a non-starter. Sorry).

I hope that I shall see some of you on screen on 8 September, and a vast crowd of you on screen at Common Hall on 17 September. Don’t miss this one! It’s your AGM, and you can attend in shorts; with a drink; and have a lovely dinner afterwards. And then you will feel as I do (see the paragraph before last).


Cheery best wishes to all Arts Scholars. To our next merry meeting!.


John Spanner

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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.