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March – June 2021: The Virtual World Continues …

… but then gets a bit more Actual rather than Virtual towards the end. Is this the beginning of the end? The end of the beginning? A blip in the space-time continuum? Who knows? In the meantime, herewith the continuing saga of a Livery Master which, as I read through it, is rather less riveting than the Archers on a bad day; but it’s the best I can do.

March 20. My Mother’s 103rd birthday, and another cheery lunch overlooking the Thames at Streatley. I know that this isn’t really “Arts Scholar-y”, but (a) there aren’t a lot of City/Livery things to go to (perhaps I should qualify that; I am not being invited to a lot of City/Livery things, but perhaps that’s more to do with me being me than anything else, such as a Pandemic), and (b) it was a jolly memorable occasion, and worth recording; 103 is certainly worth celebrating. And we did.

March 23. A Zoomy meeting of the selection committee for the new Clerk, to discuss the Way Forward. It’s going well. Later on that evening, The City of London Corporation hosted a lecture on spying (who could resist?), comparing Lord Burleigh’s efforts for Queen Elizabeth I with the modern day secret service. It was an entertaining event, and made me realise that my career in the city wasn’t as exciting as I thought; however, no-one (as far as I know) tried to kill me.

March 25. More Zoom. This time an evening event run by the Apothecaries, on the topic of two paintings in their Hall. With the great bonus of starring roles by Arts Scholars John Hudson and Julia Korner; where would the City be without us, eh? Anyway, another erudite and entertaining session, filling my brain with yet more arcane information.

March 31. An Arts Scholars admissions ceremony! What joy! A shame it was virtual, but we had a packed couple of screens of Arts Scholars egging on over a dozen new members as they all did their turns and introduced themselves to us (a nerve wracking experience at the best of times, not improved by the lack of a live audience). Anyway, you will be pleased (but not at all surprised) to know that they all performed with great verve and aplomb, and made me realise that the skill and knowledge base of our membership must be unrivalled in the City, and that we are extremely lucky to have such a varied and exuberant crowd of new members joining the varied and exuberant crowd of existing members. (Yes, I know, “over a dozen” is not very precise; sorry, but better vague than inaccurate).

April 4. Easter Day. We ate some chocolate. Quite a lot of chocolate.

April 6. Another zoomy Clerk selection meeting. You have to keep on top of the admin otherwise things gang agley (or, indeed, awry). And then the delight of Susan Bracken’s masterly zoom talk on the Meissen menagerie of Augustus the Strong (now he was what you might call a serious collector). An impeccable performance by a master of the subject; shame it was all rather outside my price bracket, but nice to see some high quality stuff (sorry, there must be a more erudite term, but I can’t think of it).

April 9. My second Covid jab. I admit that this is hardly a riveting read, but it was a pretty major milestone in my life, so I’m sharing it with you.

April 13. A Glovers’ Court meeting (I am a glutton for punishment). They aren’t a patch on ours, of course. And later in the day, another Zoomy session, this time with the Clockmakers on the concept of Time in art; it was called “Painting Time”, which really was the perfect title, and it was great stuff. The Persistence of Memory is just the tip of the iceberg. Followed, as always, by a DIY drinks reception.

April 20. To Sworders, but sitting here (again), to bid for a picture. Oh for the buzz of a real auction room! Anyway, it was pretty exciting for a while, and I eventually got it . So that was nice. Since you ask, it’s a (provocative yet decorous) nude lady, painted by Edward Piper (yes, John’s boy), who seems to have had quite an obsession with nude ladies.

April 21. To Ardingly. A real antiques fair, in big sheds and on the grass. The sun shone and we bought 2 x bacon rolls, and 0 x antiques. But it was great to do something so normal again, particularly as the sun shone.

April 22. Another invitation to sit here and be entertained (byo beer); this time by the Carpenters or more specifically by Simon Thurley, who majored in on the carpentry needed for the pavilions at the Field of the Cloth of Gold (so important an event in my mind that I have spontaneously used Capital Letters). I had always thought that these were just some biggish tents. I was wrong. I paid rapt attention throughout.

April 29. The Big Curry Lunch was cancelled (obviously), but the Eva Weininger lecture was not – although it was, of course, a Zoomy lecture. An impressively large crowd of small faces (no, not those Small Faces) eagerly gathered on the screen, and were greatly entertained and educated by the lovely Anne Rogers Haley. The subject was, as you know, Walter Hancock and the Monuments Men (another great name for a 60s group), and it was brilliant. Yet further evidence that the Arts Scholars’ pool of talent is infinite. Beer quality good too.

April 30. Coffee with the Rt Hon The Lord Mayor. There’s posh. OK, it was my coffee, and there were a lot of other people there too, and it was on Z**m again, but it was interesting and useful to discuss things with other Masters, and the Lord Mayor.

May 4, 5 & 6. More Zoom. This time it’s the Arts Scholars’ committees, so not only am I meeting and chatting to people I want to meet and chat to, but we are (I sincerely hope) ensuring that the Company ticks along nicely, and planning for the future (difficult at the best of times, challenging at present). The Court having wisely agreed to its formation, we now have a sixth committee – Communications – which has hit the ground running, and has the nice easy remit of (inter alia) the website and the newsletter. So, three days of entertaining business, all impeccably chaired, and all with the most attentive of committee members; just what committees should be. I also took part in a visit to Treloar’s with the Lord Mayor (and some others; on zoom, of course), and had a zoomy Glovers’ meeting as well. I am becoming welded to this chair, and will eventually have to be winched out by the fire brigade, whilst being filmed for You’ve Been Framed (this blog does go down rather a lot of rather populist detours, I’m afraid. I apologise if I am offending more sensitive Arts Scholars. Actually, I don’t, because they aren’t reading this, are they?)

May 7. A meeting (Z**m again) to go through the applicants for the Clerk’s post, prior to shortlisting some. There are some Good Ones (hooray); we shall be all right. My angst factor is reducing (slightly).

May 10. The long-dreaded first cataract op. A lot of waiting around swathed from head to toe in big J-cloths (not a good look), and then it was over. A doddle. I don’t know what all the worry was about. I can take the plastic eye patch off tomorrow, and re-enact that bit at the beginning of The Day of The Triffids.

May 11. I didn’t realise that our white paintwork was so white. Right eye only – cream; left eye only – pure, brilliant, laser-bright white. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to cope with the impact when I have the other eye done. I lay around a lot pretending to be ill, and being given nice cups of tea.

May 13. The Arts Scholars’ Virtual Treasure Hunt. How can one have so much fun whilst keeping one’s clothes on? A brilliant concept, perfectly executed by Sonya Zuckerman and Graham Barker, and enormously enjoyable. If you were there, you know what I mean. If you were not there – you should have been, and you missed some intriguing insights into the lives of your fellow Arts Scholars; they’re a weird mob (remember that ? Great novel, dreadful film).

May 14. A (virtual) Trustees’ meeting. The serious business of giving away some of the money that Arts Scholars generously contribute, and intensely satisfying too.

May 17. The greatly anticipated talk (via you know what) on Diamonds by Nigel Israel. My goodness, he certainly knows his stuff, and is a fund of cheery anecdotes to boot. Yet another jolly AS event. Yet another byo beer (the quality of which, I am pleased to say, remains high; as does the quality of the drinking glass – can’t let the side down there)

May 20. A Court meeting (vibrant and decisive, of course), followed by my appointment as Master for another year. Déjà vu with a vengeance. Followed by my appointing the Wardens and Deputy Master for another year. Déjà vu again (or possibly encore déjà vu; can you have déjà vu again?) A somewhat truncated ceremonial, but we hope to do something exuberant with gowns and badges in September (Common Hall; 9 September; be there – there’s a dinner at the end). So, here I am again, Master of a great Livery Company, looking forward to a great year. One day, I shall have to put on some trousers and venture out into the wider world on the Arts Scholars’ behalf. Which will be nice.

May 21. A meeting of the Clerk Selection Committee, virtually – as you would expect – to discuss the logistics of the real, live interviews next week. Yes! Real, live interviews. You’re all agog now, aren’t you? Read on . . .

May 25. Put on a suit, shirt and tie (and shoes, socks etc – don’t be pedantic), go to the station and get on a train to London. An incident of small moment a couple of years ago, but now one fraught with a sense of danger, although, to be honest, it was just a normal trip to London. With an added frisson – no bad thing really. We met in the impressive Boardroom of the Westminster Almshouses, by courtesy of the Renter Warden (and deliciously catered for by Mrs Renter Warden), interviewed 5 rather good candidates, made an extremely good decision, and then went to the pub (first full day back at work; we needed it). And who, I hear you cry, was the winning candidate? If you really have to ask, we chose the extremely well-suited Alan Cook; no, not that Alan Cook, the other one. It’s already causing confusion; you wait until next year.

May 28. Another Live event. Went to lunch with the Wardens and the Deputy Master at the Boot and Flogger in Southwark. Louche private room. An excess of food and alcohol, and a chance – at last – to discuss AS business informally. In business, you chat from time to time at the coffee machine, and that’s the loose chat that often leads to some good ideas. This was our first meeting by the coffee machine, and very welcome it was too. We made a lot of good and well-informed decisions; whether the Court will agree is another matter.

June 10. More Live stuff! The visit to Highgate Cemetery, postponed from last year (and also earlier this year), actually happened. I’d waited a lifetime to go there (why hadn’t I gone before? Sloth, that’s why), and it was well worth the wait. Very gothic; very Chas Addams; very Edward Gorey; very atmospheric. It was just great, and our excellent guide pointed out, inter alia, a couple of graves that had special resonance with Staffordshire figure collectors – Stephen Polito, of Polito’s Menagerie (blimey, that’s an expensive bit of pottery), and Tom Sayers, of the much reproduced Heenan v Sayers group. The former with a rather smart lion (in a somnolent posture - like Wallace) on top of the tomb, and the latter with his huge dog taking pride of place. And then to Côte for supper; a bit of social distancing, but 20 or so of us actually sat down together and had a convivial time. And the trains were on time too. All in all, a beezer day out, thanks to The Events Committee in general, and Ian Kelly in particular. And so to bed.

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

John Spanner

June 13 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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