Thursday 22nd June 2017
Armed Forces Day is Saturday, 24 June, but the City of London kicked it all off with the annual Armed Forces Flag Raising two days early. A large audience had gathered when I arrived in Guildhall Yard. To the right a Guards band struck up with a march; to the left veterans with their colours stood at attention, ahead a company presented arms and, in the centre, The Lord Mayor, his Sheriffs, top brass representing all the services and our Honorary Chaplain gathered around the podium. The Armed Forces flag was raised over Guildhall; Canon David Parrott said a prayer; The Lord Mayor gave a speech pledging the City's support for the Armed Forces and a senior member of the top brass encouraged millennials to apply online to join the forces. The Lord Mayor then inspected the guard, the band struck up again and a Chinook did a fly past. The event was very well attended by Masters from many livery companies who took advantage of tea and coffee served in Guildhall.
Tuesday 20th June 2017
After the Jailed & Bailed escapade, I didn’t think the City could get any hotter but I was wrong. The BBC weather lady foretold rising temperatures to challenge the summer of ‘76. I stood in front of a Dyson fan while I pulled my white tie into shape, desperate to avoid overheating before we left for Stationers’ Hall. Although it is a mere 15 minutes walk to Stationers’ Hall, the Mistress and I hailed an air conditioned black cab and arrived reasonably cool, calm and collected. We gathered for champagne in the garden before being called to dinner in the Livery Hall. It was a splendid menu accompanied by excellent wines. Master Scientific Instrument Maker, John Caunt, presided over a top table that included Alderman Dame Fiona Woolf, Alderman Sir David Wootton and Sir Roger Bannister. As the sun descended, the magnificent stained glass windows became brightly illuminated and the temperature in the hall rose. The combination of delicious food, generously topped glasses of wine and close to two hundred diners meant the heat in the room was becoming an issue; there was much wafting of menu cards. Thankfully, Master Scientific Instrument Maker is an enlightened Master and he give the gentlemen in the room permission to remove their jackets. What relief! On to the toasts. The Senior Warden, Professor Ron Summers proposed the toast to the guests and commented on my northern roots and support for a Manchester football club. The reply came from Dame Fiona Woolf who talked about how her grandchildren enjoyed visits to the Science Museum.
It was a very memorable evening and the Mistress and I are very grateful to the Master Scientific Instrument Maker for having had the invitation to be part of such a magnificent banquet. After we got back to the flat, we sat on the balcony sipping iced water. It was still uncomfortably hot. The BBC weather lady said it would be even warmer tomorrow.
Monday 19th June 2017
After the heat of the Trooping of the Colour, it was difficult to believe it could get any hotter in the City. The BBC weather lady was warning of 33c, possibly warmer. My fruit-based smart phone threatened 34c. I strolled towards Stationers’ Hall, as the temperature rose, to collect my rather heavy Masters’ gown. In fact, the basement storage room at Stationers’ Hall was one of the cooler places in the City. Dressed in gowns, we assembled at the Old Bailey to be arrested and subsequently led into one of the smaller airtight Court rooms. Dressed in our gowns and finery, the charges were read out by a fearsome Sheriff Alderman Peter Estlin (in full judicial robes and wig). While the charges were read out, we wilted in the heat and shame of it all. My charges were based on my Icelandic ancestry and the rather unsavoury antics of my forebears; the Rule of Law had been abandoned. As one of the great jurists of the 20th century (Tony Hancock) implored: “Magna Carta, did she die in vain?” After mugshots were taken, we were marched on to an ancient Routemaster, destined for the Tower of London. At the Tower, we were led through crowds of tourists who snapped their Canons and Nikons in our general direction. As the sun beat down on us and the robes weighed heavy on our shoulders, we arrived in the Regimental Headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. At this point, our plight improved. Pol Roger was served in silver goblets followed by a tasty chicken lunch. Then the judicial process took a distinctly US turn. Our crimes could be plea bargained by a bail bond paid to the British Red Cross. Our gaolers sought a minimum bail of £1,000. Through the generosity of my Livery brethren, I managed £2,000 plus Gift Aid. After finger printing and more mugshots, I was released into the early afternoon sun. Dashing towards the West Gate of the Tower, I photobombed several Japanese selfies and occupied many megabites of SD cards. During a week when the British Red Cross was helping the victims of the London Bridge atrocity and taking control of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it was a privilege to do something for such a worthwhile charity.
Saturday 17th June 2017
Not strictly a livery event but certainly a highlight of the year, the privilege of attending the Trooping of the Colour was a memorable experience. The Learned Clerk had offered the Mistress and me a pair excellent seats overlooking Horseguards Parade.
Over 1400 officers and men are on parade, together with two hundred horses; over four hundred musicians from ten bands and corps of drums march and play as one. This year was the turn of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards to troop their colour. The BBC weather lady said it would be hot and, as we were processed through very tight security, spectators looked for shade to rest before taking their seats in the stands. We were advised to dress formally but I chose a dark blue suit instead of my morning coat. A wise choice. Many years ago, I had hired a morning coat from Moss Bros for a wedding and the coat produced the aroma of the previous incumbent who had probably expired on the Epsom Downs during Derby Day.
Despite the heat, the choreography of the parade was perfect and the music was outstanding. It would not have been easy for the leading members of the Royal Family who were participating in the relentless sun. A highlight of the event was the gun carriages being pulled across the parade ground at a canter, kicking up dust in the sweltering heat. See the photo. While Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh made their way back to Buckingham Palace along The Mall, a fleet of street cleaning vehicles followed, collecting fresh manure for HM’s rose garden. Behind the cleaning vehicles, a cavalry of mounted police swiftly undid the work of the street cleaners while keeping the ensuing crowds a safe distance behind as they tiptoed through fresh manure in high heels and Church’s. I never thought I would find myself in this situation but I was cheering in front of the Royal balcony while snapping shots of the flypast.
A wonderful day out. Thank you, Sandra.
Thursday 15th June 2017
Drapers' Hall must be one of the most beautiful livery halls in the City. We enjoyed an excellent dinner there earlier in the year. Not only is it the prettiest, it is also one of the biggest halls with many function rooms illuminated by gold leaf and adorned by beautiful works of art. Arriving just a few minutes after 12:30, I donned my badge and joined a group of guests in the garden, adjacent to Throgmorton Avenue. Having met many masters a few days earlier at Ironbridge, I was soon chatting enthusiastically while glasses of Louis Roederer were being topped up. We were called to lunch and I found myself sitting opposite to Past Master Sir Peter Bottomley MP. A starter of pressed Looms Wood duck was accompanied by a white Nuits Saint Georges, Domaine de L'Arlot, La Gerbotte, 2010. The main course of Hay baked beef was enhanced by Leoville Barton, 2004 and the dessert of buttermilk and lavender pie was lubricated by a glass of Domaine de l'Alliance 2011. Toasts were assisted by Dow's '97.
The hospitality was generous and the company was great fun. Master William Charnley invited us to view a gallery of exhibits put on show for a visit to the hall by HM The Queen two weeks earlier. The exhibition included ancient charters granted to the Company, including a photograph of a young Princess Elizabeth being installed a freeman of the Company.
The afternoon was rounded off with a very pleasant chat with the Master Shipwright over a cleansing ale in King's Arms Yard.
Monday 12th June 2017
Back home late Sunday afternoon from Ironbridge and it was back in the car on Monday morning for a drive along the M25 to Tandridge Golf Club. It was our annual Livery Golf Day organised by Past Master Derek Harris. “Remember, don’t have breakfast!” was Derek’s advice. Each year, our Livery’s golfers and guests tackle the Tandridge course to compete for the Charles Rich Trophy and many generous prizes in baskets that clink on the way to the boot of the car. Sponsored by British American Tobacco, the tournament is organised and run by Derek. He counts them out and counts them back in again. Tandridge is a very pretty course and deserves better than the likes of me hacking my way round. Poor technique and accumulated injuries gave me the excuse to sit in the clubhouse chatting to Derek and Sheila. We meet at Court and dinners but we often miss the opportunity to sit together and get to know one another. To spend time with Derek is a privilege I enjoyed immensely. Before long, the first threesome chip onto the 18th hole. Eventually, when everyone had changed, we settled down in the dining room. It was an enormous and truly satisfying lunch and it was quite obvious why Tandridge has such a reputation for its fine food.
Back to the business end of the day, Derek had taken the score cards and carefully recorded the numbers onto his spreadsheet before announcing for the second year running, Paul and Sharon Taberer, had both won the Men’s and Ladies’ first prizes. I was delighted to present the Charles Rich Trophy to Paul (a third-time winner) and baskets of wines to several of the other players. The Mistress and I struggled into High Single Figures EPS (the name of my car) but before long, we were back on the M25 heading for home weighed down by the famous Tandridge Pudding.
Wednesday 14th June 2017
Davy's at Woolgate Bar and Brasserie in Basinghall Street is one of the City's many oases. The crowds chatting and drinking enthusiastically in the early evening sunshine made it difficult to locate Court Assistant Tony Scanlan. Tony was busily defending his patch of several square metres where the Smoking Club was to meet. As Liverymen and guests arrived, cigars were lit, together with a couple of pipes. Smoking caps were proudly worn and a jolly evening was enjoyed by all.
Tuesday 13th June 2017
Sunday morning, after too little sleep, we broke away from the Andrew Marr show for another election. A 09:30 meeting to choose a chairman of this year’s Masters’ Association. The sole candidate scraped in unanimously with most in attendance looking at their shoes when there was a plea for volunteers. Another vote to choose a name with the “Prime Masters” beating “Mary Poppins” by a lot to one. 2017 is a prime number so the “Prime Masters” adopted the motto “Cannot be divided”. Back to the room to pack up and to watch Jeremy Corbyn trying to persuade the nation that he won (even though he lacked the seats to call a tea party in the Commons). City of London democracy is so civilised compared to the rest.
Back to Coalbrookdale and an opportunity to join a behind the scenes tour of the Darby houses and see the Costume Project. After lunch, we headed for Broseley to the Pipe Museum. This is a little gem tucked away from the most visited sights. We parked in the yard where Abraham Darby the first lay. We later discovered that our car was actually over his plot and I was reminded of Richard III’s resting place under a municipal carpark in Leicester.
The Pipe Museum is rather dilapidated and is much the same as it was when they downed tools in a hurry in the 1950s. “A time capsule” they call it. A charming curator, Tracey, took a group of five on a 45 minutes tour which was informative and fun. Unfortunately, health and safety does not allow the public unsupervised access to the factory. There are a large number of our Company’s antique prints on view with hundreds of clay pipes. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to see the museum and hope that many more members of the public make the effort. In the meantime, I have added a YouTube link to a video that is shown at the Museum.
Tuesday 13th June 2017
The orderly transition of power from one administration to another is a key feature of a strong and stable government. It is no different for the Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders except that power rightfully sits with our wonderful Learned Clerk, Sandra Stocker. The Master is given the gavel and our equivalent to the codes to the nuclear weapons (the password to the content management system of the Master’s Blog page of www.tobaccolivery.org).
My Master's Year started 24 hours before my Installation at the Association of Independent Tobacco Specialists' lunch held this year in the Long Room at Lords. It was a great occasion. I had the opportunity to participate in a game of Pointless with Alexander Armstrong and present our Livery’s prize to the Tobacconist of the Year. This year it went to James Barber of Otley. Just check out his website to see why he was a worthy winner http://www.smoke.co.uk More importantly, £13,500 was raised for our Welfare Fund. Well done, Roger Merton for organising the event.
Less than 48 hours after my Installation we packed the car with my dinner suit, the Mistress’s posh frocks, our badges and other paraphernalia and headed north west on the M40 towards Shropshire. It was the 34th annual gathering of Masters, Mistresses, Prime Wardens and Consorts at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Livery Weekend. When the car was unpacked at the Telford Holiday Inn, we gathered to be bussed to Coalbrookdale for a black tie dinner (badges to be worn). Over a glass of champagne, I confirmed that I was the most recently installed Master. The Master Security Professional, Air Commodore Stephen Anderton had been installed at midday two days earlier while my installation was a 6pm event. Master Shipwright Archie Smith (and fellow Pipe Maker) took me under his wing and introduced me to many of the Masters before we sat down to dinner. After a very good pork dinner and plentiful supply of wine, we were bussed back to the bar at the Holiday Inn for a cleansing lager.
As it was the 34th annual gathering, the process of getting some 200 folk around the various museums was down to a fine art. Our coach only suffered two losses in Blists Hill which seemed perfectly acceptable. One could understand why a Master and Consort found the Victorian village so fascinating that they chose not to board the coach to return to Telford. It was our first visit to the Ironbridge World Heritage Site and, at the first sight of Abraham Darby’s iron bridge, the Mistress and I agreed that we must return soon. For us, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution brought back memories of our O Level history exams.
After an opportunity to watch the F1 qualifying back at the Holiday Inn, catch up on the latest news of the Coalition of Chaos and put on our formal clothes (badges to be worn), we were back on the coach to Coalbrookdale. Champagne awaited us in the Enginuity exhibition, where we played with exhibits and enjoyed each other’s company before being called into a steak dinner. We were entertained by the Lord and Lady Mayoress and both Sheriffs. The Lord Mayor delivered an address so full of energy, humour and wit, it was a welcome respite from the anxious discussions about why we had to have a general election in the first place and the parlour game of naming a DUP member of Parliament. After the Mistress and I assisted the Master Shipwright and his Mistress in building an arch in the Enginuity hall, it was back to the Holiday Inn bar and a couple of night caps.
Tuesday 13th June 2017
As my predecessor wrote, in his final blog, the cycle of the Livery Movement stops for no man. The democratic processes which have evolved over centuries in the City of London have been refined to the point where there are very few surprises. I was elected in March with a unanimous vote; not a complete shock as I was the only candidate. One waits in anticipation until the Installation Court when a carefully choreographed procedure sees the retiring Master relieved of his seat and the new incumbent put in place with the power of the gavel. This was a complete contrast to the events that followed two days later when Mrs May retained her seat at the Cabinet table but with very little else, including her dignity. More oaths were sworn; the new Mistress had her badge pinned (very carefully) on her dress; the new Court was blessed and it was off for photographs and the meet and greet line for the guests to the “2017 Post Installation / Pre-Election Dinner”.
I chose Skinners’ Hall because it is such a delightful building with outdoor areas that provide a perfect space for a cigar during the evening. Party Ingredients produced a splendid meal and the choice of wines appeared to be well received. Service was outstanding but I soon realised that service is always pretty good when one is seated at the centre of the top table. The dinner was attended by Masters from other companies, many of our Liverymen, their guests, my family members and old friends. Grace was said by our wonderful Honorary Chaplain, the Revd. Canon David Parrott who struggled at first but overcame the challenge of incorporating “Edmondson” into his famous rhyming couplets. What fun! Assistant Tony Scanlan introduced and toasted our guests and, in reply, Richard Burrows, Chairman of British American Tobacco, delivered an entertaining speech that covered the history of tobacco. Richard started with the Huron native American myth which recalled in ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she travelled over the world, everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. Everywhere her left hand touched the soil grew corn. And when the world was rich and fertile, she sat down and rested. When she arose, there grew tobacco. Producat terra. We also heard about developments in in the new generation of non-combustible products aimed at reducing risk to the consumer. Richard even gave an insight into the dark arts of investor relations; a life I left behind some 5 years ago.
It was a special pleasure to thank Immediate Past Master Charles Miller, and his Consort Camilla, for their outstanding year and present him with his Past Master's badge that had been previously presented to Alfred Dunhill in 1956 and Richard Dunhill in 1988. After an impressive musical interlude provided by the richly talented Guildhall Scholars: Ben Smith (piano) and Michael Vickers (baritone), we retired to the roof terrace for a stirrup cup of armagnac and a box of San Cristobal de la Habana El Principe. It was a quick tube ride back to the Barbican with my Mistress and memories of a splendid evening.