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March - May 2022: The last one. Ever.

My diary is now frighteningly empty, the emails have reduced to a trickle, and the mantlepiece no longer groans with elegantly engraved pasteboard – sure signs that my time of being The Man, El Honcho, the Big Enchilada etc is over, and that I can now hand over the reins of this wonderful Company to a worthy successor, and drift into a gentle obscurity; it is a truth universally acknowledged that there’s nowt so past as a past master.

March 29 A dinner with the Glovers in the Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. An even more OTT venue than Goldsmiths’ Hall. Not a bad start to the week.

March 30 An evening of what it’s all about – an admissions ceremony at Guildhall; lovely to see 5 new members, to welcome them to the Arts Scholars, and to hear their potted CVs which, as always, make me feel rather a fraud (these guys are so unbelievably well qualified; good scope for future AS lecturers, methinks). And 5 Freemen became Liverymen (lovely). And we had some booze and things on sticks. All in all, a great evening.

March 31 Another night out. The annual dinner to the Masters, Prime Wardens and Upper Bailiff at Mansion House. White tie (me); long dress (her). It was all jolly nice – as you would expect from a Mansion House dinner – apart from the broccoli and the spinach; why is it nearly always broccoli and spinach? Or carrots. Or 2 out of 3. Caterers are rather less inventive than all those cookery programmes lead us to believe. Anyway, it was a grand night out, and we felt extremely privileged to be with the great and the good. And the trains were on time too.

April 1 The United Guilds Service at St Paul’s. Put on the bling at Apothecaries’ Hall, and sashay through the streets to St Paul’s in a casual (yet smug) manner. This is the sort of sight that tourists expect when they come to London (pearly kings, bobbies on bicycles, bowler hats, and weird ceremonial dress). Catch up with loads of people, sing hymns, say prayers, and then re-do the casual stroll back to Apothecaries’ for an excellent lunch followed by a train home and a kip on the sofa. (Lunch included “spring vegetables”; go on, guess)

April 6 To Carpenters’ Hall for their annual lecture. About a chap called Bernini, given by Loyd Grossman. A tiny bit of déjà vu, but it was really enjoyable (being in the audience is so much more relaxing than being the host), and definitely worth hearing a second time. And then some booze, and things on sticks, and cheery chat with other seekers after knowledge.

April 7 Mary went off to play golf with the Arts Scholars, and I went to Guildhall for the Big Curry. Which does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s Big (my dear, everyone who was anyone was there), and it’s a Curry. And there’s beer, too. What’s not to like?

April 11 The latest instalment in the brilliant AS series of Zoomy lectures, this time Jack Ogden on the Black Prince’s Ruby. An intriguing mystery, a great presenter, and further proof that we have members who can talk with animation and erudition on anything related to the arts.

April 12 Dinner with the Scriveners. At Armourers’ Hall. Anything at Armourers’ has got to be great, and this was no exception. Lovely company (with both a small and a large C), and the ideal night out. I’m going to miss all this when I hand over.

April 13 A guided tour of Freemasons’ Hall, and the museum, led by Mark Dennis, the Curator of the Museum (AS are ubiquitous). A fascinating visit, but I can tell you no more unless you give me the password. We ended up in the museum with some wine and chat, in the traditional way, and staggered home in a most contented frame of mind.

April 14 Met John Benjamin to arrange some adjustment to the Masters’ chain. And then we had a curry (a posh curry, just off Regent Street, and rather less crammed than the Big Curry)

April 19 Took the Wardens and Deputy Master to lunch. I thought that Café Rouge in St Katherine’s Dock would be rather nice (I am strangely drawn to riparian restaurants). I was wrong. They used to be rather good, but something has gone awry. The company was good, however, and we had a cheery time and sorted out some AS issues (luckily, all minor).

April 22 Guildhall, as the guests of The Upper Warden, for the Royal Society of St George St George’s Day Banquet. Brilliant! Just what one would expect, except that it was better than that.

April 26 Lunch as the guest of the Watermen and Lightermen, at Watermen’s Hall; you know the form – champagne (and chat), lunch (and chat), stirrup cup (and the resolution of all the world’s problems). Then home and fall asleep (lunches are a killer).

April 27 I was going to the Museum of London in Docklands, but had to cry off because I felt a bit wibbly. So wibbly that I decided A+E was the answer. Well, we got there and I was whisked straight in, past a vast crowd of A+E patients, to see a team of doctors; this queue-busting is either (a) nice, or (b) worrying. I was given the fullest medical I’ve had for a very long time, and told that I had pneumonia. I was given more antibiotics than you would believe, and put to bed. This was not looking good for . . .

April 28 The Eva Weininger Lecture at the British Museum. On the Bayeux Tapestry. A subject which has fascinated me since my early years, in an iconic setting. I had been looking forward to it for a very long time. I missed it. I was in a hospital bed eating my indifferent supper instead. I was jolly upset (this is the synonym for what I was). Apparently, it was a brilliant evening (of course it was). Damn!

April 30 I convinced the hospital to release me (with a big bag of pills). I have to take it easy apparently. I wish.

May 3 – 5 It’s the AS Committees; the engine rooms of the AS. All impeccably chaired, with keen and vibrant committee members; they really are a joy to attend, because those at them are committed to the cause, and actually want to be there. We’re in safe hands!

May 11 To Portsmouth (there’s that watery connection again), with my Past Masters’ Association, to the Mary Rose and the D Day Experience thingy. A great day of history, perfect apart from the relentless drizzle. I put this in so that you may know that I do have a life outside the AS.

May 12 Delighted to be invited to a bijou reception at the Oxford and Cambridge Club to celebrate the marriage of Oliver and Lucy Charles (as they now are). The AS first love match (I think). Champagne, chat, and admiring the loveliness of the bride; aaaaah!

May 13 The World Traders’ Masters’ and Clerks’ (nice apostrophe work, there) Luncheon at the IT Hall. A select crowd of representatives of the 12 youngest and thrustingest Livery Companies, a lot of champagne, and a super lunch. A great start to the weekend.

May 16 The Plumbers’ lecture, and dinner, at the Royal College of Physicians (brutalist outside; traditional interior; damn clever). A thought-provoking lecture on our increasing demand for water. Are we all doomed? Probably. Turn that tap off; now. The dinner cheered me up a bit.

May 17 A reception for Pewter Live, at Pewterers’ Hall. Champagne, canapes, and some stunning pewter (and some jolly interesting Pewterers, too). I’m definitely going to miss all this when I hand over (which is, frighteningly, the day after tomorrow)

May 18 Sort out the paperwork for tomorrow’s Court. The Big One.

May 19 The Installation Court. I’m just getting the hang of this, and it’s my last one (muffled cheers from Court members). Then a rehearsal of the ceremonial (rehearsal = vague approximation of what will shortly happen), followed by my appointing Alan (S) Cook as my successor. It’s been huge, a fantastic privilege, and an amazing two years (I’m ignoring the plague problem) and I’m sure that Alan will have the time of his life in what is, let’s be frank, a dream job. Then we had a great dinner, and lurched home to sleep a contented sleep. The brilliant plan for tomorrow is to do all that gardening that I’ve been putting off for ages.

May 20 It rained . . .

John Spanner

31 May 2022



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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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