Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Albuhera Dinner, Friday 18 May 2012

I was very privileged to represent the Needlemakers at the Annual Albuhera Dinner in Canterbury on May 18.  The Needlemakers supports The 3rd Battalion The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment (3PWRR) and the annual sword presentation to an outstanding soldier will take place at our July dinner. 3PWRR is the Territorial Army infantry Battalion for the south east of England. Soldiers in the Battalion take time out from their normal civilian jobs, which are protected by legislation, to experience life at the sharp end of the British Army's work.

The Albuhera Dinner is held each year to remember the eponymous battle that took place on May 16, 1811 in the Peninsula Campaign and involved the predecessor regiments of the PWRR – including The Buffs who suffered a staggering 85% casualties and the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment which suffered 66% casualties.  The latter have a famous nickname – the Die-Hards – taken from the exhortation of their Commanding Officer who called on the men to “Die Hard 57th! Die Hard!”

After the battle the surviving officers and sergeants of the 57th met at an inn by the battlefield and swore to meet annually to commemorate the “Immortal Memory” of their comrades who died on that day.

This dinner was the 201st commemoration. We all stood in a circle to hear an account of the battle read by the CO and the silent toast was then drunk one in turn to remember those who fell in the battle, and since. There was time for reflection on the consequences of war – fought by soldiers but waged by politicians. 

If you are unfamiliar with the Territorial Army (TA) it is the largest of all the Reserve Forces and throughout its history almost every major operation has seen TA soldiers operating alongside their regular army counterparts..

I remember a few years ago attending a reception in the City to highlight problems being faced by TA volunteers in the workplace. If you thought that joining the TA involved yomping around the countryside now and then, that is far from the truth.  TA soldiers serve alongside their regular army counterparts and in recent years have seen tours of duty in Iraq and now Afghanistan. In these difficult times it puts pressure on the employer and colleagues and challenges the individual in fitting back into the workplace after a tour of duty.  Posts have to be held open for the duration of service away.  There are even concerns about membership of the TA acting as a barrier to recruitment in the corporate environment which is sad as these men and women learn much in the way of communication skills, team building, flexibility and adaptability which enhance their own development and benefit the workplace.

The Regiment has a long, distinguished history, having been involved in virtually every theatre of war since the Battle of Tangier in 1662. It is the most decorated of all British Army regiments, with 57 Victoria Crosses. There are three PWRR battalions, two regular and one territorial. Members of the 1st and 3rd battalions are currently supporting operations in Afghanistan.

Monday 21 May 2012

358th Festival of the Sons of the Clergy St Paul’s, 15 May 2012

I have been to St Paul’s many times but each time there is something new to notice and much to marvel at.  Filled to capacity with three choirs and the organ playing it is something very special – whatever your religion. You cannot go through your year as Master without realising how much St Paul’s is the City’s church and how much it is part of the Civic City.

The Sons of the Clergy was founded a year or two before the Needlemakers received its first charter, known as our Commonwealth Charter, in 1656 from Oliver Cromwell.  The founding of this charity was also a consequence of that period of history.  A group of sons of clergymen recognised that there was a need for charitable help for the families of many members of the clergy who, having been loyal to the monarchy, were deprived of their livings and left destitute. The first Festival was held in 1655 and there has been a Festival every year since then.  It is believed that this is the oldest service of its kind in the Anglican Communion. 

The Lord Mayor and the Archbishop of Canterbury process together with the rest of the Civic Party, many Bishops and the Masters of about 80 Livery Companies.  (It also gives me a chance to wear the Master’s hat – this is by no means as glamorous as the hat worn by the Master Feltmaker but then that is their craft!)

The music as always was wonderful with the great organ and the choirs of St Paul’s, Bristol Cathedral and Southwell Minster as well as the State Trumpeters of the Band of the Blues and Royals.

The Needlemakers usually join the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers for dinner in a  local restaurant afterwards and indeed they did – but without John and me, as we were invited to dinner by the Festival at the Merchant Taylors Hall with the Lord Mayor. Masters are invited in rotation and this year was our turn. This was a rather grander affair (although probably not quite as relaxed as the home team dinner!). However, it was a privilege to be there and to yet one of the grander Livery Halls.  It is on Threadneedle Street - a very busy road and yet when you go inside there is a very tranquil courtyard - another secret place in the City.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners, Masters’ Luncheon, May 14

This was a lunch with a different format where the invited Masters are requested to say a few words about their companies after lunch, which makes a change from just one speaker. 

As these things go in the City we spoke in reverse order of seniority with the first slot taken by the Tax Advisers’ Company  (Number 107 in the order of precedence) followed by me (Number 65 – no that’s not my age!), then the Clockmakers (No 61), the Basketmakers  (52), the Upholders (49) and the final talk and toast to our hosts from the Master of the Woolmen (43).

I was somewhat disconcerted by my lunch neighbour who advised me not to speak about our charitable work as everyone would nod off.  I did speak about our charitable work, of course, and I saw lots of enthusiasm rather than somnolence – perhaps helped by being only the second on the list!  Each Master was limited to four minutes after which time the Clerk would shuffle his chair, cough loudly and possibly do both together to much barracking from the audience. I managed to compress everything into the time required.

Seriously though, it was interesting to hear about the charitable activities of the various companies and I was able to speak about some of our charities and also our history with the City and Guilds (see earlier blog) and the good work they do.

It was an excellence lunch at the Armourers' Hall where we ate surrounded by 16th and 17th Century arms and armour.  It is a fascinating Hall - very spectacular and unusual – but I wouldn’t like a sleepover there – might be a bit spooky.

Berlin and Dresden, Needlemakers’ Visit

I have been off the radar for a while as we were with the Needlemakers in Berlin and Dresden.  I had thought that I would write a daily diary and regale you with all we did.  In the end there is too much to tell and, like the endless holiday photos (we have those too.....), not all that interesting if you weren’t there.

If you were there you would have had a wonderful time.  I am not sure quite how we packed so much in and still left free time for everyone to indulge their own interests but we did.

Of course I leaned very heavily on Bryan Knight’s knowledge and expertise and the whole trip went like clockwork – thanks to much stress and work for him behind the scenes. 

We had the most superb guides who were not only experts in their field but were able to talk around their subjects with fluency and ease and humour. My abiding memory will be of the Egyptologist who took us around the Neues Museum and explained and read the hieroglyphics to us.

We saw how Meissen porcelain is made and why it is so expensive (as it is all still hand decorated) and heard the Meissen bells chime in Dresden.  John and I visited the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden and came across the wonderful Vermeer, Girl reading a letter by an open window just around the corner from a Raphael Sistine Madonna.  You may not recognize the Madonna but look at the bottom at the cherubs – they will be very familiar!

And then there was food, wine (including much Sekt) and a great deal of chocolate – oh yes, much chocolate! The asparagus were in season and they were sensational.

The most important part of the trip was the company. Everyone was so nice, friendly, entertaining and supportive. If you wanted to be alone you could be and if you wanted company it was always there. 

The last night would not have been complete without a poem by Carolyn which summarized our visit in her usual clever and funny way. John and I have wonderful memories and were given a beautiful piece of Meissen, which we shall treasure. 

Thursday 3 May 2012

Golden Music at the Barbican

The final part of my day on May 2 was a wonderful concert at the Barbican.  This was the Gold Medal competition of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at the Barbican.  It was a sensational concert

The Gold Medal, the Guildhall School’s most prestigious prize for musicians, was founded and endowed in 1915 by Sir Dixon Kember. Since 1950 it has been open to singers and instrumentalists in alternate years and this year was for instrumentalists. The finalists performed a concerto with the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Judd. The judges on the jury panel included ENO's Music Director Edward Gardner, chief culture critic for The Times Richard Morrison, and Martin Campbell-White, Joint Chief Executive of Askonas Holt artist management. 

All the music was of an exceptional standard – as Edward Gardner said in his adjudication, there was no discussion about technique in the judging only about interpretation, which is a great credit to the artists and the school. The winner was pianist Ashley Fripp for his performance of the Liszt Totentanz.  I had a soft spot for the runner up, pianist Ben Schoeman, (not just because he is a fellow South African) but also because he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 – the first classical record I ever bought as a child (that should be records as it was recorded on 78s!).

We saw a short video about the progress of Milton Court, the expansion of the School’s facilities. It is based across the road from the current Silk Street building and will open in 2013, providing the School with state-of-the-art performance and teaching spaces including, a 608-seat Concert Hall
, a 227-seat Theatre, a Studio Theatre
, three major rehearsal rooms
 and a TV studio suite.  This will not only benefit the students but also add to London’s reputation as one of the world’s leading centres for music education as well as performance. We are very proud to be one of the school's Livery supporters.

City and Guilds, Corporate Responsibility Report

Part two of Wednesday, May 2, was with my Needlemakers hat (or should that be badge?) on when I attended the launch of the City and Guilds Corporate Responsibility report. You can view the full report here.

The City and Guilds (C&GLI) is an interesting and valuable organization.  Well I would say that wouldn’t I - the Needlemakers Company was one of the 16 Livery Companies that, with the City of London Corporation, founded the City and Guilds Institute for the Advancement of Technical Education in 1878 – so we go back a long way together and continue our support. (I believe that initially we promised (and paid) £250 in five installments.)

It was an interesting presentation and also good to hear from a representative from Business in the Community which was founded in 1982, in similar circumstances to now, in the wake of riots in Toxteth and Brixton and high unemployment.

The range of courses that C&GLI offers is large and diverse, from construction and building through beauty therapy and nail technology (don’t knock it, my local nail bar is always busy!), hospitality, IT, social care etc. There is a huge gap between those who can and wish to pursue an academic route and those who leave school with no qualifications and an education of variable quality.  I believe that C&GLI can go some way to filling that gap. We also need to change the current poor perception of vocational education and training!

I was particularly taken with the “Roots to Work” programme that is using food-growing in a community to prepare people for employment in developing not only the technical skills but also the ‘soft’ communication skills needed to move into employment.

We wish them every success – please read the report – it is cogent, effective and clearly presented.

Trip down memory lane and exciting news.

Wednesday, May 2 was a day in three parts.  Part one was when I had a very enjoyable lunch with a former colleague and then went back to Breast Cancer Campaign to say hello and generally get in the way of everyone trying to work.  The visit was fortuitous as I was there when the whole charity came together to have a quick debrief on some momentous news which hit the headlines on Tuesday.

Breast Cancer Campaign scientific fellow, Dr James Flanagan has uncovered the first strong evidence that molecular or ‘epigenetic’ changes in a gene can be associated with breast cancer risk and can be detected many years before breast cancer develops. (These findings could also have important implications for predicting risk in other cancers, as the gene highlighted in his study has been linked with a number of other cancers, including lymphoma and leukaemia.)

The implications of this are far-reaching as we may be able to develop a simple blood test, which could be done years in advance of the disease developing to identify risk and actions taken to address this: early days but very promising.

I was especially delighted to be there as I was on the interview panel when James was awarded his fellowship and he came over then as the great communicator and brilliant scientist he has subsequently proved to be. His research was funded by Asda’s Tickled Pink campaign so keep buying the pink stuff in October – my Tickled Pink wellies are proving rather useful at the moment!