The month of May saw the continuation of the nationwide lockdown with empty town centres, eerily quiet roads, tube trains and railways and increasing numbers of people with the infection. The news concentrated on people's lack of ability to see each other and consequent impact on the nation's mental health. The Government commenced trials of the NHS contract tracing app on the Isle of Wight and also changed its national message to "Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives". All the elections due to be held on 7 May were postponed for a year.
In the city, once again all events were cancelled. This included the NFRC UK Roofing Awards, The Masons Court Luncheon, The Sons of the Clergy at St Paul's Cathedral, afternoon Tea at Drapers' Hall, the Royal Garden Party, and the biggest blow of all, my own Annual Banquet. Needless to say that the cancellation of all events since March has been a huge disappointment to all concerned, but in these unprecedented times, everyone is just having to make the most of the bad situation that has presented itself during their term of office.
The excellent news for me this month was that our wonderful Company invited me to serve a second year of Office as Master, for which I am very grateful. Serving a second year as Master will give me another chance to host and attend many of the long planned formal and social events, both T&B and those of other Companies, that have been cancelled or postponed, as well as the opportunity to attend the many civic functions that take place over the spring and summer months. I am pleased to report that planning is well advanced for the 2020-21 year in the hope that life will have returned to something close to normal by the end of the Summer.
In the same vein, I am happy to report that the City of London Corporation have announced that William Russell, the current Lord Mayor of the City of London, will serve an additional year in office to ensure continuity of leadership during the current COVID-19 outbreak. The Lord Mayor was initially due to step down in November 2020 after completing a one-year term, following the scheduled election of his successor this September. He will now remain in office until November 2021, subject to being formally re-elected later this year. The Sheriffs of the City of London, Alderman Professor Michael Mainelli and Christopher Hayward, will also serve an extra year term until September 2021. I understand that several other Livery Companies have also taken the same decision as ourselves and the City of London, to extend the terms of their current Masters for an additional year. This is welcome news as it will enable a level of continuity and stability during these extraordinary times.
This month saw the country establish a "new normal", with queues at supermarkets, shortages of some essentials such as toilet paper and pasta, and the inability to do some of the things that we have taken for granted all our lives such as visiting a restaurant and bar or even having a haircut. Some people started wearing masks, but there was a shortage of those as well, and a reluctance by many to wear them. The news was full of information about the Covid-19 virus, its spread around the world and in the UK, and the sad number of deaths which were increasing at an alarming rate. The message from the Government was to "stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives". The capacity of the NHS to cope with the outbreak was the main focus of the Government. New hospitals were miraculously commissioned and developed very successfully and very quickly. This gave the country the resilience it required in the event of a huge increase in numbers contracting the virus. The big news stories this month were the hospitalisation of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, with Covid-19, and of course, the amazing story of 100 year old war veteran Sir Tom Moore who raised over £30 million for the NHS.
In the city, once again all events were cancelled. This included the Lord Mayor's Big Curry Lunch, the Plumbers Masters and Clerks luncheon, the Fan Makers afternoon tea, lunch with the Mistress Mariner on the HQS Wellington and a tour of Hampton Court with the Royal School of Needlework.
However, we persisted with our online meetings and gradually began to become more and more proficient with them. My weekly Zoom meetings with the Acting Clerk and Wardens continued and this made us think long and hard about how we might be able to use virtual meetings in the future to enable more people to participate and contribute to the work of our Worshipful Company. We held our first virtual interview for a new candidate for the Company, which again seemed to go very well. The first major test of the virtual meetings was the holding of the finance and communications committees. To our surprise and delight, all went extremely well with both agendas being covered in their entirety and all participants being able to make contributions fully and clearly. The new normal certainly seems to be working for the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers.
Maureen and I were delighted to attend the Carpenters' Company Livery Spring Dinner tonight as guests of the Master Carpenter, Lord Flight of Worcester. The venue was the magnificent Carpenters' Hall and it was another fabulous formal White Tie occasion.
On arrival we were made aware that the Master had dispensed with the welcome line and Loving Cup in view of the Covid-19 virus, however it was lovely to be greeted with a glass or two of Bollinger Special Cuvée whilst mingling with the other Masters and guests, all looking resplendent in their White Tie outfits.
We were called in to dine at 7:30 pm and the Master and his guests were welcomed in by a fanfare by the Bugles and The Rifles by kind permission of the Colonel Commandant.
We dined on Mackerel and Seabass Terrine, followed by Spiced Grilled Oysters and Crab Bisque, and for the main course we had Rack of New Season Lamb or a White Fish option. Dessert consisted of an Iced Cointreau Soufflé with Dark Chocolate Florentine. All accompanied by magnificent wines and a wonderful Madeira, Henriques & Henriques Malvasia (15 years old).
Following the Loyal and Civic Toasts, the Master welcomed the Guests and a response was given by the Principal Guest, Sir William Castell LVO.
The evening ended with a programme of music by the wonderful Bass Singer, James Platt, accompanied by Pianist, Michael Pugh.
A glass of Baron de Sigognac Bas Armagnac (10 years old) ended another wonderful evening.
By mid-March it was becoming increasingly clear that big changes were afoot. The media was full of news about a new Coronavirus that was sweeping the world. Things were becoming increasingly ominous with, for example, cancellations of many City functions, coupled with changes to methods of greeting such as touching elbows and, eventually, no contact at all. At my final livery event, the Carpenters Company Spring Livery Dinner on 11 March 2020, the changes were confirmed with the dispensation of both the Welcome Line and the Loving Cup. For the week beginning 16 March, every single livery event in the city was cancelled; and the great lockdown began on 23 March 2020. This meant the cancellation of many events, including the Lord Mayor's White Tie Banquet at Mansion House, The United Guilds Service, the Masons Court Luncheon and the Tile Association Awards Ceremony. At this stage everybody started keenly watching the news and the Prime Minister's nightly briefings in order to gain as much knowledge as possible about how things would develop over the coming weeks and months. There was a huge thirst for knowledge in the country. Simultaneously, people were beginning to think of new ways of communicating with each other, and the Zoom generation was born. Soon everybody was talking about Zoom, Teams, Skype, and many other ways of talking to each other over Cyberspace. I had my first virtual meeting with the Acting Clerk and Wardens on Monday, 23 March 2020 and this made us very quickly realise that virtual meetings were an effective and efficient way of communicating with each other under the present lockdown circumstances. and thus began our journey into the strange and new unknown territory of virtual gatherings. Little did we know how long it would last.
Today was an important event for the Company, our own Annual Craft Awards and Luncheon held at Carpenters' Hall. The Awards Ceremony has traditionally been held at Trinity House in the past, but due to ever expanding numbers of guests, this year it was moved to the larger venue of Carpenters' Hall.
The day commenced with a meeting of the Court at which much Company business was discussed, including reports from the Chairmen of the Finance, Craft, Communications and Treasures Committees plus reports from the Almoner and the Royal Engineers Liaison Group and an update on the Strategic Review. The Master tabled proposals for the Officers for the year 2020/21 and these were supported and approved by the Court. It was also a great pleasure to admit Mr Alan Lander and welcome him as a Freeman of the Company and also to admit Mr James Wheeler and welcome him as Liveryman of the Company. Finally, the Charity of the year for 2020 was announced as St Edmunds, a charity that works with those excluded from mainstream education.
Following the Court Meeting there was a tour of Carpenters' Hall, led by Julie Tancell, the Hall Archivist which was supported by around 25 Liverymen and guests and much enjoyed.
At 1:00 pm the Master and Consort, Upper Warden, Renter Warden welcomed all the guests in the usual line, with one exception; instead of shaking hands, we all bowed to each other to avoid direct contact in accordance with the best health advice. This seemed to be much appreciated by all attending.
It was a pleasure to welcome my principal guest, Lt Col Mark Stephenson RE, Commanding Officer of the Royal School of Military Engineering Regiment, as well as all the wonderful award winners and our friends from the construction industry.
After a champagne reception we were called in to lunch which commenced with Grace by the Company Chaplain. Lunch consisted of a starter of Thai Curried Smoked Haddock Fish Cake with Lemon Grass Drizzle, followed by Cannon of Lancashire Grass Fed Lamb with Dauphinoise Potatoes and Vegetables, with Vanilla and Cinnamon Cake and Classic English Custard for dessert. All accompanied by fine wines and a beautiful Madeira chosen by our Wine Committee Chairman, Past Master Philip Parris.
The Loyal and Civic toasts were followed by the welcome to the guests by the Master, response by the Principal Guest, Lt Col Mark Stephenson RE and toast to the Company by our youngest Liveryman, James Wheeler.
We then moved to the highlight of the day which was the presentation of the much deserved awards to the wonderful winners by the Craft Committee Chairman, Chris Causer, the Principal Guest and the Master.
This was a wonderful event which showcased the very best in our construction industry and our wonderful colleagues in the Royal Engineers.