Monday 12 December 2011

Christmas Cheer in the Hunterian Museum

It doesn’t sound very Christmassy to be celebrating with drinks and snacks surrounded by skulls, skeletons and odd things in bottles. However, if you attend a Christmas drinks party at the Royal College of Surgeons you will be.

I was very happy to represent the Needlemakers Company at the annual Christmas drinks party at the College on Wednesday December 7. We sponsor young surgeons with travel bursaries through the College every year, something which is greatly valued as they exit their very expensive and lengthy years of training. I was delighted to meet members of the Council, other sponsors and some of the people who work at the College and the Museum. (I have a personal interest too as, when I was with Breast Cancer Campaign, we sponsored the tutor for the advanced breast surgery courses which the College ran at a time when few surgeons were choosing that as a field of study.)

If you have never visited the Hunterian Museum it is an exceptional collection, superbly presented. They also run excellent programmes for children during the holidays – so have a look.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Needlemakers’ Carol Service with the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers

For the first time this year we had a combined service with the G&S Wyre Drawers on Tuesday, December 6. It was a very joyous occasion with the honours and duties shared out amongst the two companies, our respective chaplains and the Priest-in-Charge at our home church, St James Garlickhythe.

The church is a beautiful 17th Century Church occupying a place that has been sacred since 1100. Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt St James in 1683 to be full of light, since when it has become known as ‘Wren’s Lantern’. It is not a very large church and between the two companies we filled it comfortably. The choir was in excellent form – as was the congregation.

It is a tradition of our company that we bring gifts to put under the Christmas tree, which are then distributed to underprivileged children. It was lovely to see a pile of beautifully wrapped presents each with a removable label indicating for what age child it is suitable.

We then walked to a local restaurant for an excellent and very jolly dinner. On a personal note it was lovely to spend some time with Vernon Knapper, the Master G&S Wyre Drawer and Christina (she and I share a passion for crime fiction). It was also good to catch up with the Needlemakers’ Chaplain, the Rt Reverend Christopher Chessun, The Bishop of Southwark, about his recent visit to Zimbabwe with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I spent five years at a Church of England school in South Africa and enjoyed the carol singing there and enjoyed hearing some familiar songs and some new ones on Tuesday. Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi told the Scottish Parliament “Jewish and other faith communities love the fact that Christians celebrate Christmas. When I go to Trafalgar Square and hear carols being sung I feel uplifted.” I agree with him – where religious institutions preach love and caring for others does it matter what denomination they are? We are alone with our thoughts when we pray.

Whether the next few weeks are ‘shop till you drop’, time in church, candles and chocolate money for Chanukah or just a few days off work with family and friends – may they be peaceful and time to recharge your batteries.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Celebrating 600 years of the Guildhall and 1000 years of the City of London

I don’t want you to think that my life as Master at the moment is one long social whirl – it is, but I just don’t want you to think that. I am managing to squeeze some work in as well but perhaps I will write about that at another time.

Monday, December 6, was a lecture at Guildhall by Dr Simon Thurley, CE of English Heritage, to celebrate the 600th anniversary of Guildhall. He also wrote and presented the TV series, The buildings that shaped Britain, and brought the same verve and scholarship to this subject as he did to that. This was followed by a reception where the canapés were derived from recipes marking the different centuries. (I didn’t have the 20th Century canapés, which looked suspiciously like prawn cocktail, but the 19th Century was Beef Wellington, of course.)

There was so much information packed into Dr Thurley’s lecture that I can’t even scratch the surface. The Guildhall is certainly a treasure of the City – a treasure in stone. It is the oldest secular building in the City – how many buildings built 600 years ago are still in use for their original purpose? It was part of a campaign of civic and public improvement started in the first half of the 15th century and was commissioned by the then Mayor, one Richard (aka Dick) Whittington. There have been changes and improvements since then but the Guildhall is still not only the physical heart of the City, sitting over Bank station, but also the civic heart.

This was followed by the launch of, London 1000 Years, Treasures from the Collections of the City of London, by David Pearson, Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries at the City of London Corporation. The City Corporation is the custodian of a significant part of the nation’s and particularly London’s heritage. Its records go back to the Norman Conquest in almost unbroken sequence. You can access images of every major London event, for example, from paintings of the Great Fire of London to the Blitz during WWII.

Some of the treasures were on display including a very poignant letter from John Keats to his fiancée, Fanny Brawne, after the onset of the TB which eventually killed him telling her not to visit him today - Keats House in Hampstead is managed by the Corporation. There was also the Lloyds loss and casualty book showing the entry covering the fate of the ship, the Mary (Marie) Celeste.

The book brings us right up to the present time as the archives also include very moving letters and notes pinned up at various sites in London after the bombing of the Underground in 2005 and more cheerfully a very early book by Fanny Cradock and review notes of the book by Elizabeth David.

The Future of Digital – Worshipful Company of Marketors Annual Lecture

There are a number of things to you can do to persuade people to attend your events: two of them are - have a stunning venue and have a world-class speaker who they would never otherwise get to hear. The Worshipful Company of Marketors did both on Friday, December 2nd.

The venue was the magnificent Goldsmiths’ Hall. I have been there several times and anyone can visit their special exhibitions but any excuse to go back – it is a stunning venue.

The speaker was Jeannette Liendo, the Global Director, Corporate Marketing for Microsoft. She is a most impressive individual with a truly global view having lived on several continents and worked in a range of markets. We know that it is free enterprise that will drive the recovery and this is dependent on the vision to innovate. I liked the quote she used from Theodore Levitt, “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” We have a long history of innovative science in the UK – not such a good history of exploiting it commercially to its full potential.

I will share a secret with you: in my days as an analyst during the technology boom of the eighties, the techspeak of the management of companies sometimes outran my knowledge. I would write notes as fast as I could and find the technical information afterwards. Companies would always say that they had leading edge technology – we also said that it was bleeding edge technology – bleeding away the money.

However, back to the lecture: we were shown the future of computing and communication and about two thirds of the way through I was lost – and my writing skills could not keep up. The answer is in the Cloud. If you want to learn more look at Microsoft Innovation.

I did reflect that Bill and Melinda Gates in their charitable work are very similar to the wealthy benefactors of times past who not only gave substantial amounts of money but also had a vision of how that money could transform society. It is beyond giving to charity it is having a vision of how the world could be different, in their case a vision of a world without malaria. I am reminded of Sir Henry Wellcome who left all the shares in his company to found a trust, which today celebrates its 75th anniversary. Similarly the Livery Companies had a huge impact on education in this country with the founding of many schools – and still continue.

Much to think about and congratulations to the Marketors for arranging such a stimulating evening!

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Gloves, clementines and a new hat

The Christmas season is definitely here. Last night, November 28, I attended the preview of the Red Cross Christmas market at the Guildhall. The last time I attended it was when Margaret Thatcher was PM and I was speechless for the first time in my life. I was trying on a pair of gloves and a woman next to me said “I do like a bright pair of gloves to brighten up a dark suit”. I looked up and it was the PM and I was so surprised I was rendered mute and she was whisked away before I recovered.

The event was opened by the Lady Mayoress and Lord Fellowes (much mention of Downtown Abbey). The stalls were run by a combination of the Livery Companies and some commercial ventures. I donated one of my needle cases to the Forum UK stall as well as a pair of designer shoes which I bought on a charity auction but found the heels were too high. They were the first item sold and now have raised money for two charities. Mei Sim Lai, the Chair of Forum UK, is also Master World Trader this year

I visited the Worshipful Company of Glovers’ stall again and bought another pair of gloves – superb leather, warmly lined and will do for a few years. John and I visited the Fruiterers’ stall where we bought the most amazing clementines and then, of course, the Feltmakers where the Master Feltmaker helped me choose a hat – I only have one “proper” hat so this was a big decision. The rest of my shopping will remain a secret till either Chanukah or Christmas!

I am off this afternoon to help on the Forum UK stand – hopefully everything will have been sold!

Monday 28 November 2011

Celebrating music

Last week started with an amazing performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Albert Hall on November 21. This monumental work is rarely performed because of the numbers needed. There were 1,000 performers with a 116 strong orchestra, four choirs (the Barts choir, the New London Singers, Wimbledon Choral Society and a children’s choir) and the full force of the Albert Hall’s organ. Friends of ours sing in the Barts choir and we were delighted to support them and hear this incredible performance.

Wednesday, November 23 was the annual service in aid of the Musicians Benevolent Fund to celebrate the Festival of Saint Cecilia at Westminster Cathedral. The Masters, Wardens and Clerks of the Livery Companies process into the church in gowns and chains and it is a very colourful sight – and gathers a crowd of slightly mystified tourists.

The service is always beautiful and the Worshipful Company of Musicians commissions a new work each year: it is lovely to hear the traditional combined with the new. The Festival gives thanks and celebrates music and musicians. Whatever one’s religious beliefs a few moments in a beautiful place of worship listening to wonderful music are very worthwhile.

The story of Saint Cecilia is somewhat terrifying and I leave you to read about it.

The Needlemakers (in the person of the Clerk!) always arranges a lunch at a local restaurant or hotel for those Liverymen and their guests attending the service and this year we had an excellent lunch and enjoyable time at the Mint Hotel in Westminster.

From Horns to Mrs Robinson!

The Worshipful Company of Horners is both an ancient guild and a modern City institution. The working of horn declined over the centuries (although there is one modern use of horn that is carried through from biblical times – the shofar that is blown on the Jewish New Year. This is traditionally made from a ram’s horn.)

However, as the industry declined, the Company had the vision, in 1943, of adopting the manufacturing and use of the modern equivalent – plastics! Hence my headline – for those of us old enough to remember the classic film “The Graduate” – Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman is told that for his future there is only one word “plastics”.

This advice still holds good as the plastics industry is a major feature of the UK economy with over 7,000 companies and there is a shortage of qualified engineers.

John and I attended the Horners’ annual lecture and dinner on the 17th November. The lecture was in memory of a former Master, Ralph Anderson, who not only made his fortune in plastics but left a substantial bequest to the Company to support their educational interests, particularly science eduation.

A point of interest for the Needlemakers is that Ralph Anderson’s early career was spent with the British Homophone Company which made gramophone records in the 1930s – for which needles are still available from Needle Industries in India on special order!

The Master, David Williams, has had a most distinguished career in the plastics industry and took us on a whistle-stop tour of the current state of the industry, manufacturing trends – not only reducing the weight of cars thus reducing fuel consumption, but doing the same for aeroplanes with similar savings. Also a very interesting insight into the possibilities of recycling – plastic need not go to landfill and the goal is that no plastics go to landfill by 2020. Their mantra is ‘re-use, recycle, recover’. If you want to know a bit more then have a look at Ralph Anderson lecture.

This was followed by a buffet dinner, all held at the Royal Society of Medicine.

Monday 21 November 2011

Worshipful Company of Actuaries

In company with a number of other Masters I went from the Lord Mayor’s Address to the Livery at Mansion House to the Worshipful Company of Actuaries lecture and dinner at Staple Inn Hall on November 16.

This segued quite nicely from the Lord Mayor’s theme of “Fit for the Future” as the speaker was Lord Moynihan, Chairman of the British Olympic Association and was entitled “2012 An Olympic Dream – can the games delivery a sporting legacy for the United Kingdom”

I am an Olympic grump. I didn’t want the Games and object, as a Londoner, to paying for it forever. However, I will admit that I visited the site a few months ago and was hugely impressed with the clean-up work that has been done, which would not have been done otherwise, and the facilities are more complete at this stage than we might have thought possible.

I was further convinced by Lord Moynihan: for the first time I understood the structure of how the planning was done, why the site was chosen and what the legacy is already. Not only the clean-up of the site, the complete redesign of the waterways which were heavily polluted, transport infrastructure – all this in place.

His challenge is to deliver for the athletes – and the athletes to deliver for the public who expect much from them. I have reams of notes with many fascinating insights into what has happened and is happening.

He had been in the news during the day regarding the UK’s stand on doping. The UK is under pressure from the World Anti-Doping Agency to relax its stand on disqualification for life for athletes who knowingly take drugs. This is not the athlete who unknowingly takes something that proves to contain a banned substance but one who knows what they are doing. We will see how this plays out in the courts.

Staple Inn Hall is a beautiful gem of a Hall a moment’s walk from the din and traffic of High Holborn close to Chancery Lane underground station. It has some beautiful stained glass windows and was substantially restored after WWII.

I had a delicious buffet dinner and the opportunity to meet some of my fellow Masters and some of the Liverymen of the Actuaries. The Master Actuary said that we all had to do some mental arithmetic (they are actuaries after all) and you might want to try this one. Add the last two digits of the year of your birth and your age – the answer should come to 111.

PS Tried this with the grandchildren, – where the answer is 11 not 111. This includes the newest one who is a few months old i.e. 0 + 11 = 11.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Lord Mayor’s Address to the Livery

Alderman David Wootton, our new Lord Mayor addressed a gathering of most of the Masters and Clerks of the Livery Companies at Mansion House on November 16. This is a challenging time to be coming into the Mayoralty with the volatile and challenging economic situation, the difficult situation at St Paul’s, but offset by the positive excitement of the Queen’s Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics.

He said “I look forward to participating in the wider public debate, of which the City is part: about the structure of our economy, and about the role of the City within it. I look forward to shining a light on these issues.”

The civic City does good work quietly – perhaps too quietly. He urged all of us present to shout a bit louder about the good work we do, particularly where work is done outside the City and mentioned the Mercers’ support for the new Academy in Hammersmith and the Carpenters’ support for a building crafts centre in Newham.

The Needlemakers awards a number of prizes to a diverse range of organisations connected with the City or the users of needles. These range from both the City of London schools, the Guildhall School of Music, the Royal College of Surgeons, Fine Cell Work, Royal School of Needlework, to mention but a few.

The Lord Mayor's Appeal for his year fits well with an Olympic year - “Fit for the Future”. The Lord Mayor’s Appeal 2012 will help five charities – the primary being Barts and The London Charity on behalf of the Trauma Unit at The Royal London Hospital. The Rowing Foundation, London Youth Rowing, Fields in Trust and Futures for Kids will also benefit, creating a healthier future for all.

Ladies Banquet

John and I were delighted to be guests at the Ladies Banquet of the Needlemakers Lodge on Saturday November 12. About twenty of the Livery Companies have their own Lodges and the current President, Stuart Selwyn, has visited them all during his year.

It was a very enjoyable and friendly evening – after all we knew most of the people there, as they were Liverymen and their guests. We were not only treated to dinner but also excellent musical entertainment.

Both John’s and my families have Masonic connections – my maternal grandfather and his father were both Masons, and indeed Masters of their respective Lodges although this is something that we never discussed – the work of the Freemasons is much more open these days which is a good thing.

Stuart spoke about the similarities between the aims of the Livery Company and of the Lodge – in our ethos and our actions, particularly in charitable support.

On a less serious note, I commented that it has always surprised me that Freemasonry is restricted to men. Women and freemasons have so much in common. We are a mystery to anyone that isn’t one of us; we are frequently misunderstood and much of our good work is done behind the scenes.

As it was a Ladies Night I ended with one of my favourite quotes – from Eleanor Roosevelt

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

The Silent Ceremony

The Silent Ceremony takes place the day before the Lord Mayor’s Show when the Lord Mayor is formally admitted to office and this was Friday November 11. The ceremony is known as the Silent Ceremony because, apart from a short declaration of office by the incoming Lord Mayor, no words are spoken. The outgoing Lord Mayor ceremonially hands the City insignia to his successor.

What I had not realized is that this takes place “on the flat” not on the stage in Guildhall so unless you are seated close to the action or are tall, once the procession has passed you have no idea what is going on (it's silent!). Note for next time – bring large cushion!

I did not go to the Lord Mayor’s Show this year as we had grandchildren responsibilities in the morning and an engagement in the evening (yes it does take me that long to get ready). I regretted it as it was a beautiful day and the parade, watched on television, looked amazing. I wish Alderman David Wootton a very successful year.