Tuesday 31 January 2012

What shall we eat?

One of the privileges of being Master is that one gets to choose the menus for our functions. I have resisted having only my favourites, taking advice from our learned Clerk and discerning Consort about what the men might like to eat, and drink as well.

Monday January 16 saw the Clerk, the Junior Warden and me in the basement of the Mansion House tasting the dishes and wine proposed for the Banquet in March. We had already preselected two choices in each course and munched our way through them all – only half portions of each though. All done very precisely – eat half and pass the plate across. We do get our own glass of wine though – two white, two red and sparkling. Amazing that we could choose anything after that.

We were pretty much in agreement so I hope everyone else agrees with our choices. I took an executive decision and decided that we should eat the savoury before dessert. (There she goes throwing her weight around – let one woman in and all they want to do is change things – only joking!)

The Lady Masters

I struggle with our language sometimes. The feminist in me agrees that the use of the word “chairman” reinforces the idea that people who chair things should be men. On the other hand I never liked referring to myself as a piece of furniture but gradually accepted that this could be a new use for the word.

When it comes to terminology for masters of livery companies – the choices seemed limited. In our company, the male master’s wife is called the mistress so to call oneself mistress would be very confusing (in more ways than one). So it didn’t take much thought to accept that Master I would be and my husband would be my Consort.

This preamble is to lead into a super lunch that I attended on January 13 with a group of women who are either currently master of their livery companies or a past master. This is an informal network of women and it was fun to exchange experiences and learn from others.

We drank a toast to Sylvia Tutt who died recently. I did not know her but several women had interesting anecdotes to tell. Sylvia was the very first female Master of any Livery Company (Chartered Secretaries and Administrators 1983/84), and held numerous other positions in the civic life of the City. There have been a total of 67 female masters in the almost 30 years since Sylvia broke new ground - so roughly 67 out of about 3,000 - we are hardly taking over. I hope that the pace is picking up a bit now.

Amongst the wide range of topics we discussed was the the dress code for women for events in the City. Just as in the workplace the dress code for men for formal events is much easier than women. I remember well the power shoulders of the 1980s (shades of Dallas and Dynasty) and my own wardrobe of the time that seemed to consist entirely of suits in black, grey or navy. A friend described the appropriate dress for a banquet as somewhere between a ball and a wedding – which is quite good but you should see how some people dress at weddings! Our Clerk will be providing guidance.

I am delighted that the Needlemakers has given me this wonderful opportunity and hope that the other companies who have still to appoint their first woman as master take heart. Nothing dreadful happened – I didn’t even frighten the horses.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Court Lunch, Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, Wednesday January 11, 2012

I have been fairly busy since my Installation in October so it felt slightly surprising to realise that this was my first Court Meeting as Master and first formal Needlemakers’ event.

I have chaired many meetings, large and small, but there is something a bit daunting about chairing a meeting where half the people have already done your job – the Past Masters who sit on the Court - and the other half are looking for some inspiration!

The committees appointed by the Court do most of the work; a Court member chairs each committee and reports back to the full Court. The role of the Court is to check, challenge and approve – or not as the case may be. There is a lot to be said for the combination of wiser, older heads who have probably seen most things before - several times in fact - and the newer members of the Court who bring fresh energy and ideas.

I am delighted that we have a number of new Liverymen joining the Company over the next few months, something that is so important if we are to thrive. I look forward to writing about them in due course.

The meeting was followed by an excellent lunch (well, I chose the menu so all my favourites were there) in the Butchers’ Hall. This is our “home” hall and we hold two functions there every year. It is one of the newer Livery Halls and is very light and bright.

We were pleased to welcome the Masters of the Apothecaries (58), the Feltmakers (63), the Tinplate Workers (67) and the Environmental Cleaners (97). The numbers in brackets are the order of precedence. As we process on formal occasions we line up in order so I get to know the Feltmakers and Tinplate Workers rather well as they are close to our order number of 65! As you can see both old and modern companies were represented.

Our speaker was Sandra Smith, Head of Conservation at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I was so carried away by introducing her that I sat down before formally proposing the toast to the guests – gently reminded by the Beadle. The V&A is one of my favourite museums. When I have visitors, especially from abroad, and I don’t know what their interests are, I know that this museum will have something to catch their attention – from ancient artefacts to lively and contemporary exhibitions.

Sandra is very modest about her considerable achievements. However, her enthusiasm and knowledge were evident to all and we have been delighted to support individuals at the museum in a small way through our charitable fund. We are currently funding a travel bursary for a young trainee in the Textiles Conservation department, one of the ten departments that Sandra heads.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Textile lunch with the Dyers

One of the joys of this year is that I am seeing a number of Livery Halls for the first time. I have visited most of the large ones as they lend themselves to corporate and private events. Our daughter was married at the Stationers’ Hall which is one I particularly like. I have not visited many of the smaller halls and there are some jewels.

The Dyers’ Hall is one of those jewels: Monday, January 9 was a most interesting and excellent lunch hosted by the Worshipful Company of Dyers for those companies involved in textiles or related industries. The Lord Mayor, Alderman David Wootton, is himself a Woolman and attended the lunch. He spoke about his desire that the Livery Companies should more actively promote and publicise the charitable work that they do and the purpose of the lunch was for us to share our experiences with each other.

The Companies varied in size and resources but it was clear that we were all actively engaged in supporting education and training. This mirrors the work of the Livery Companies as a whole: in 2010 of the approximately £42 million given by the Companies to charitable causes, 51 per cent went to education.

The support from those at the lunch ranged through schools to universities and some creative opportunities where new graduates would be subsidised into their first employment. There was a concern that the focus has moved away from technical training and that, for example, there are many designers but not enough people to programme the machines on which the cloth is woven. (This echoes the lecture I went to earlier by the Horners who talked about the lack of polymer engineers in the UK.)

It is early days to see how we can collectively add value to what we are each doing individually but certainly the support we give to, for example, the Royal School of Needlework, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal College of Art and Fine Cell Work all focus on furthering skills.

A footnote about the Dyers’ Company – one of their more unusual activities is taking part in the Queen’s annual Swan-Upping on the river Thames in July each year with the Worshipful Company of Vintners – you can see something about it on their website, link above. Immediate Past Master, Roger Staines, hosted a very pleasant day on the river in July 2011 where we watched the action.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Lord Mayor’s Children’s Fancy Dress Party at the Mansion House

Accompanied by two hippies, Darth Vader and a toy soldier, I set out for the Mansion House on Saturday, January 7. The occasion was the annual Lord Mayor’s Children’s Fancy Dress Party for about 600 children.

The entire focus was on the children who were all presented to the Mayoral party (while the adults were shown around the side). As you would expect it ran with military precision and the children were not only well entertained and fed but also extraordinarily well behaved. Many of the stewards were drawn from the current and former staff with other volunteers who kept everything running very smoothly.

I will never look at the magnificent Egyptian Hall in quite the same way after seeing 600 children leaping up and down, giving three cheers for the Lord Mayor (louder, louder they were exhorted!) and then doing the hokey cokey followed by a conga around the Mansion House led by the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs. I have it all on film.

The Lord Mayor was accompanied by his full entourage and also his formal escort drawn from The Company of Pikemen & Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company. They were dressed in a uniform dating back to Charles I and very splendid they looked too as you can see below.

It was an amazing afternoon and all four grandchildren - two of whom had come from Switzerland for the occasion – said it was the best party they had ever attended! It was certainly the biggest and possibly the noisiest and we had a wonderful afternoon.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Postscript to the Needlemakers’ Carol Service

It is a month since the very successful Needlemakers' Carol Service on December 6. One of the traditions of this service is that we all bring gifts for children that are added to at other services and then distributed by the Salvation Army in Chelsea through agencies such as social services, mental health support teams and children support groups.

Major Sally Spry, Commanding Officer – Chelsea Corps, wrote, “On behalf of The Salvation Army in Chelsea, may I thank you all on behalf of the many children and families who were helped through your generous giving. We have supplied well over 800 gifts this year and we couldn’t do it without you and your support.”

“As the social worker who asked for gifts this year stated: “this year has been so hard for so many of the people we work with. With tears in their eyes your gifts were received on behalf of those in need.”

It is quite humbling to read that something, which cost all of us relatively little in effort and money, could have such an impact.

At the Old Bailey, but not in handcuffs......

Happy New Year and let’s hope that 2012 ends more auspiciously than 2011!

We have just returned from a super two weeks in Switzerland with Number One Daughter and her family and much cheese, chocolate and wurst (not in that order) was eaten by all.

My first formal engagement was on Thursday January 5, which was lunch with Sheriff Wendy Mead at The Old Bailey. (For my American readers – the Sheriff wears a red gown and chain – not a Stetson and silver star.)

The Central Criminal Court, which is in Old Bailey, hence the name, stands on the site of the West Gate of the Roman City of London and the medieval gate on which the notorious Newgate Prison was built. The Court’s jurisdiction includes not only the City of London but also all of England and Wales and British ships abroad.

The description states “the Court attracted to it the most notorious of criminals, the most odious of crimes, the most eloquent of advocates and some of the finest judges” and of course it is the most famous Court in England.

Sheriff Mead hosted the lunch with the Alderman on Duty. As well as the guests there were also a number of Judges and Recorders – twenty of us in all. It was a lovely and relaxed occasion and the discussion ranged over a number of subjects. I was delighted to find that the judge on my right was also from Johannesburg and went to the “brother” school of my own school so we could compare notes. (I doubt that the seating was by chance!)

We also commented on the significant contribution that South Africans have made to the law in the UK with three Law Lords and what a brain drain there was from South Africa in earlier decades.

There was a chance to go and observe one of the cases being heard but I have done this before so declined. Of course yesterday this would have been impossible as judgment was given on the Stephen Lawrence murder – an end to only one chapter of the story.

Click here to read more about Sheriff Wendy Mead and here to read about The Old Bailey.