Dinner with the Chief Commoner and the City Remembrancer
Tuesday 22nd March 2016
I was invited to dine with the Chief Commoner and the City Remembrancer. This unfortunately clashed with an invitation to a reception at the Honourable Artillery Company and I was forced to choose between the two. As it happened we were able to be well represented at the HAC by the Renter Warden and the Clerk and so I went to the Guildhall and had dinner in the Chief Commoner's Parlour. This is a splendid and little known room in the Guildhall and was designed in the neo gothic style by Horace Jones the designer of Tower Bridge. It is both grand and cosy at the same time and seats about 20 for dinner at a large oval dining table beneath an ornate barrel vaulted ceiling. There is also a large open fire which on this chilly evening was very welcome. My fellow guests included one other Livery Master and a number of other people from a variety of interests all connected in some way with the City.
The Chief Commoner, Billy Dove, holds a number of these small gatherings together with the City Remembrancer, Paul Double, during his year of office. It is a good opportunity to meet others interested and involved with the City but not necessarily from the Livery Companies. We changed the seating plan at half time which is an excellent idea. Too often we sit at dinner only talking to our immediate neighbours on either side. In the first half I was talking to the Chief Executive of a charity FrogLife which exists to protect wildlife habitats and is very much involved with Epping Forest which is managed by the City of London Corporation. She was able to resolve my domestic problem. All the frogs in my pond have decamped in the last two years and this year we have none spawning at all. Apparently newts, of which we have many, don't coexist in a smallish pond with frogs because they are extremely fond of frog spawn. Having gulped their way through all of the spawning tadpoles in the last two years it seems we have to resign ourselves to being frogless, unless we can do a swap which is rather tricky to arrange. Newts are slippery characters.
In the second half I was sitting next to the UK Representative of the West Indian Island Protectorate of Montserrat, Janice Panton. She is a delightful lady whose job is to defend the interests of the island and to interact with parliament and the foreign office in supporting the community economically. A dreadful earthquake destroyed nearly half the land mass in 1995 including the capital, Plymouth. The population took an immediate hit dropping from 11,000 to 2,000 as most sought refuge, mainly in Britain. After 20 years it is still only back to 5,000 and the island community clearly struggle to provide a decent living. Nowadays tourism is a important earner for them and the late Sir George Martin, record producer, had a lovely house on the island used whilst he wasn't in residence as the island guest house. It still is and is open to those who wish to visit what is apparently a beautiful place. In the early days of the island's history tobacco was a large part of the economy and my badge was of great interest to Janice especially since one of the supporters is a farmer from the Carribbean. she was delighted to see it.
We dined in style, eating and drinking the best that Mark Groves of the Cook and the Butler could offer. At the end of the meal I was really touched that in my honour as the Master Tobacco Pipe Maker we were all offered a chocolate cigar. What more could I ask to round off an exceptional meal.