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June - October 2021: Real Life Begins Again

The last entry in this blog ended on a high, lurching homeward after an alcoholic and cheery supper in Highgate with some Arts Scholars; will things stay on this sun kissed plateau or will they descend into dreary despondency? Who knows, but the diary is filling up (scary) so maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel [NB insert less hackneyed metaphor here]. Future Masters may care to note that the gaps in this ramble do not infer a lack of activity - they infer a lot of muttering, sitting at the keyboard.

June 11. Did not go to Ironbridge to meet all the other Masters and have a frantic and hedonistic weekend. Well, it would have been a long drive I suppose.

June 21. Chaired a (non-Arts Scholars) dinner at Wax Chandlers’ Hall; social distancing does not diminish the joy of actually being at a posh dinner, and it’s surprising how it all seemed very normal despite no formal socialising for over a year. The champagne helped I think.

June 22. The City has started back! The LM’s Service of Reflection and Hope at St Paul’s. Nice, but weird. A sea of gowned Masters, Worthies, etc., all with the bottom halves of their faces hidden, sitting at a social distance apart and not singing the hymns. My likelihood of recognising anyone I met there at a subsequent occasion is rather minimal (no-one had amazingly profuse eyebrows, or a tattooed forehead), but it was great to actually meet my peers and to have muffled conversations with them. And the service was actually rather special.

June 24. Common Hall for the Election of the Sheriffs at Guildhall. Attendance limited to one per Livery Company (me!), socially distanced (i.e. spread about a bit), and no major ceremonial processions, but still a great improvement on last year’s Common Hall which was surreal and over in a flash. This time, it was almost back to normal. Almost. Afterwards, there was a lunch (a damn good lunch) in the members’ dining room at Guildhall for a number of Masters, and despite not being allowed to move about, I met some other Masters properly, and saw their faces too, so I will recognise a few in future.

June 28. Cataract Op number two. The other eye. A sense of déjà vu, but this time I knew what was going to happen. Eye drops. Blinding light. People doing surgical things of which I was quite oblivious, and then a nice cup of tea and a superior biscuit. Driven home wearing the strange plastic eye patch again. Brightness looms tomorrow.

June 29. Bright it is. Hawkeye, that’s me. Using my new keen vision to skilfully guide us there, Mary and I go to a louche lunch with the Tanners of Bermondsey; just the tonic you need when you’re recovering from major surgery (actually, it was all absolutely fine, but you have to milk these occasions for all the sympathy you can get).

July 7. Lunch with the Glovers at Plaisterers; the first Big Occasion for what seems a lifetime. Presented some prizes, and told a joke that some of them understood.

July 12. A lunchtime treat with Sam Moorhead’s brilliant zoom talk on war wrecked archaeological sites. Fascinating in content and delivery, depressing in concept.

July 13-15. Arts Scholars’ committee meetings. Five by zoom, and one joyous Real meeting. All six continue to prove that we have some highly committed members, some great chairmen, and that all is sunny in our little world.

July 20. A jolly lunch with Alan Cook (that one, not that one); Alan C (for “Clerk”) Cook, who will take over from Chris in September; seems like a nice boy.

July 22. The first proper AS dinner for ages and ages and ages. The Renaissance Dinner at Cutlers’ Hall. A dinner for no other reason than that we could actually do it and not worry too much about social distancing. And it was a real delight to say hello in person to so many Arts Scholars, and to see so many cheery people having a good time. It. Was. Brilliant!

July 27. A bijou reception at the College of Arms to thank some of those who donated towards conservation of some of their books and documents (the Trustees having paid to conserve the 1619 Visitation of Northamptonshire and Rutland). A delightful lead in to the evening, when I attended the launch of Graham Barker’s book (the erudite and highly readable “Imperial Legitimation”) at the British Museum. Great speeches, wine, canapes and company, and I drifted home in a sea of contentment. If you haven’ read it, it’s available on Amazon (Advt).

July 28. To Chichester to celebrate my Mother’s 103.3rd birthday (planned for March last year, for her 102nd but frustratingly postponed because of some global health scare). No emails, just lounging about in a spiffy hotel, eating, drinking, and shopping; we must do more of this.

August 6. A louche lunch with John Benjamin; beer, Turkish food, and impeccable company. A Good Day!

August 10. Trustees’ lunch at Founders’ Hall, to thank David Needham for his distinguished service to the Trustees. Another Good Day!

August 12. An evening in Graham and Joanna Barker’s opulent eyrie overlooking the Thames with the Wardens and Deputy Master. Great hosting by the Barkers, and superior musical entertainment by the host and the Renter Warden, the successors to (and better than) Flanders and Swann. Yet another Good Day. Can this run of fun continue?

September 1. At the invitation of the Clerk (des) attended the Light Cavalry dinner at the HAC, and it was a cracking evening. Great dinner, a sea of alcohol, and I was seated next to a nice chap who may be Lord Mayor in 2 months’ time. What could be nicer? Nothing could.

September 3. To Grant Macdonald to collect the new Master’s chain. Wow! Spent the journey home worrying about (a) being mugged, and (b) losing it. Got it home safely and wore it all weekend.

September 6. Another brilliant AS zoom, this time by Alan Freeland on Owen Jones (you know, the “Grammar of Ornament” guy), an erudite and entertaining delight.

September 7. Back to Plaisterers’ for the Glasgow in London Dinner. A sea of tartan. Och, it wis rare braw.

September 9. To the delights of Armourers’ Hall for that nice simple combination of a Court Meeting, a robing ceremony, a farewell presentation to the Clerk, a Common Hall, and a dinner. Phew. A great day; a great privilege to be able to wear that fantastic and sophisticatedly blingy chain in public for the first time, and a total joy to feel that we are now, at last, operating normally. Audience beginning to possibly understand my jokes.

September 10. Mudlarking, with Stuart Wyatt from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and a dozen or so intrepid Arts Scholars. Always (always! Get him, he’s only been once before) the perfect day out, with the chance of finding Roman gold and mediaeval jewellery lying on the foreshore. Our finds were rather more prosaic, but Stuart could identify and date everything, and it was both fun and fascinating. We ended up with beer and a burger (some were a bit more sophisticated than what I was) in The Mudlark (where else?)

September 13. The Modern Companies’ Dinner (hosted by the Tax Advisers) in Butchers’ Hall – the smartly refurbished Butchers’ Hall. Reception on the roof (flat roof, obviously, and the weather was fine, obviously), and then on to a fab dinner with some remarkably jolly company. Hooray for the Modern Companies!

September 14. To the Old Bailey for the Pattenmakers’ Masters’ and Clerks’ dinner. A great tour round the Old Bailey, led by Sheriff Chris Hayward, followed by dinner in the judges’ dining room. And jolly good it was too.

September 15. The Fuellers’ lecture at Haberdashers’ Hall – an excellent talk by Alderman Alison Gowman on COP26 (yes, the matter of the moment) – and some cheery socialising with fuel obsessives and some other masters. We may have achieved more that evening than COP26 will.

September 20. To Merchant Taylors’ Hall for the presentation of Nick Lyons’ shrieval chain. Speech, speech, drink, drink, chat, chat, and whatever the term is for eating things on sticks. Great to see the start of yet another shrieval journey and to bump into so many people I know.

September 21. Mansion House today. Reception by the ABF for the Lord Mayor’s Big Curry. Yet more cheery people, alcohol and things on sticks – this time, cunningly curry-themed (see what they did there?). A great evening.

September 22. With my appetite whetted by yesterdays bhajis, had the louchest of louche lunches with a gang of old (in both senses of the word) City colleagues. Beer in the Lamb in Leadenhall market, and curry in the Spice Trader (highly recommended). Who needs fine dining?

September 23. Plaisterers’ (what, again?). Presentation of shrieval chain to Alison Gowman. See entry for September 20.

September 24. Arts Scholars’ Fish & Chips lunch (the brilliant invention of David Needham) at the City Livery Club, the ideal event – fish & chips and brilliant and sparkling company. Followed by (yes, today was a dreaded Double) the Educators’ annual service and dinner at Painters’ Hall; having quietly sobered up, I enjoyed a lovely service and a rather good dinner in excellent company. That was a week, that was.

September 28. Joined the Great and the Good for that hot ticket event, the Sheriffs’ Breakfast (it’s at lunchtime, since you ask), in the Old Library at Guildhall, preceded by the ceremonial of the admission of the Sheriffs in Great Hall. A great honour to be there, and a Grand Day Out.

September 29. Back at Guildhall for the election of the Lord Mayor, with the joy of leading the procession of Masters (it’s because we’re the youngest Company, not because I’m me) into Great Hall. More superior ceremonial (the City do actually do it rather well), and my dinner companion of 1 September was elected (I suspect he was rather relieved)

September 30. Today is the Clockmakers’ lecture and dinner at Clothworkers’. A superior and effervescent reception before a great lecture on the transatlantic cable and a rather spiffy dinner. I must research the joys of teetotalism.

October 4. Another Arts Scholars’ zoomy delight – John Benjamin on Georgian gems and jewels. This guy is good!

October 5. Mansion House again; white tie (with the attendant panic to find shirt studs, collar studs, cufflinks, waistcoat buttons etc., unworn for far too long) with the Glovers. Almost as cheery a crowd as the Arts Scholars. Almost. Lurched back to Guildhall to sleep the sleep of the just.

October 12. Went to to Wizardry in Wood, at the kind invitation of the Turners (the Turners’ Company, that is, not Mr and Mrs Turner) at Carpenters’ Hall. And jolly good it was too. A stunning combination of an excess of alcohol (yes, I know, a contradiction in terms; an oxymoron, even), and some superb craftsmen (and craftsmanship). Great canapes too. Another Good Evening.

October 14. One of the Master’s Big Panics. The Mithras lecture, at Apothecaries’ Hall, given by Past Master and Megastar Loyd Grossman. He was bloody brilliant (sorry, but he was; the term was invented for this one occasion), and the whole thing was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, with a load of wine and canapes. Clerk’s first solo flight, for which he gets 8/10 (there’s always room for improvement, and I don’t want him to peak too early).

October 18. Chaired AGM and lunch of my previous Past Masters’ Association. Mentioned because it ticks off another livery hall – Bakers this time. Great lunch, excess of . . .etc.

October 21. The (very) long-awaited visit to the Museum of Brands (Google it). Events committee (in the person of Wynyard) comes up trumps. See lots of old Omo and Daz packets. And old Nestle’s and Cadbury’s chocolate wrappers. And so much more. Like, there’s just tons of stuff; literally. And met the man who started it – Robert Opie (a godlike being to those of us who like old Omo packets, etc). Then a louche (yes, I do like the word; and the concept) dinner in a Turkish place down the road. Perfect!

October 25. The Livery Dinner. Another one of the Master’s Big Panics. Clerk getting into his stride now. Normal stuff – fizz, food, wine, exuberant company, dreadful jokes (yes, I do need help), and the joy of presenting two – yes two – Liveryman of the Year awards (because we didn’t have the dinner last year, the winner was chosen and waited a year to be told. Discretion and tight-lippedness (?) are my watchword. I shall conclude this blog with the cheery facts that the winners were . . . [dramatic (annoying) pause] . . . Anne Somers in 2020, and Christina Munday in 2021.

That’s all, folks. To our next merry meeting!

John Spanner

Bonfire Night 2021




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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.

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