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.
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.
Today I was very pleased to be able to join my wife as her guest at the Mistress Constructor's Champagne Tea at Middle Temple. Access to this ancient and sought after venue was facilitated by the Master Constructor, Sir Vivian Ramsey, a Bencher at the Middle Temple.
The tour commenced in Middle Temple Hall with a short outline of the history of the Inns of Court from our eminent guide, Ian Mayes QC, formerly Master of the House of the Middle Temple, Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers. Ian gave us an amusing insight into the rivalries between the four Inns of Court, concentrating on the escapades and antics between students of the Middle Temple and the Inner Temple.
We then walked the short distance to the Temple Church, which Ian explained is one of the most historic and beautiful churches in London. Hidden away in the Inns of Court, it has eight hundred years of history.
The Church was built by the Knights Templar, the order of crusading monks founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century.
The Church is in two parts: the Round and the Chancel. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. It was designed to recall the holiest place in the Crusaders’ world: the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It recently came to the attention of the public when it featured in Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent film.
The tour then moved back to the Middle Temple, one of the four Inns of Court, which was established in the 14th century, with its name also deriving from the Knights Templar. We were given a guided and detailed tour of the magnificent Hall, probably the finest example of an Elizabethan Hall in London, spanned by a double hammer-beam roof, begun in 1562 and little altered to the present day.
The tour ended with a visit to the library with its treasures, including the two earliest globes made in England, one a celestial globe which depicts how God would see the world from above, and the second a terrestrial globe which left a lot of room for error!
After the fascinating and educational tour we were treated to a wonderful champagne tea in the Parliament Chamber of the Middle Temple, another ancient and beautiful room adorned with amazing paintings.
This was yet another truly interesting and informative event for which we are very grateful to the Mistress Constructor, Lady Barbara Ramsey.
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.
Tonight Maureen and I were invited to the annual True and Fair Lecture as guests of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Accountants, at Chartered Accountants' Hall. The True and Fair Lecture has long been a noted business-focussed lecture within the City with eminent financial speakers. This year was no different as the speaker was the high profile and well respected Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Paul's talk concentrated on the future prospects for the UK and the world in a global economy that is beset with so many challenges. He touched on, among other topics, the challenge of climate change and potential short term costs of changing from our current carbon dependant economies to much more sustainable economies. The good news is that in Paul's opinion, we are able to make this switch if we do so in a planned and concerted way. His concern was that some economies may take it seriously and do all that is required of them, while others may not be so willing to play ball. This was the main challenge of tackling climate change, to take along everyone together.
Paul also talked about the UK economy and the seemingly widening gap between the haves and the have nots. He articulated that two of the big drivers of this huge gap have been the very low interest rates and wage rates for the past decade which have resulted in a generation of older people who are "property rich" and a younger generation who are waiting for their inheritance to be able to get on with their lives.
Paul covered several other economic areas, making them easily digestible for such a wide audience. Following the very interesting and thought provoking talk, he took several questions from the audience, after which we retired to take some wine and canapés and continue with the good fellowship.