28th of November 2021 after overnight genome sequencing, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that 2 cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 (so-called Omicron) had been identified in the UK which once again caused panic and chaos to our Hospitality sector.  Why do I mention it here in my blog ?  Because it then began to affect all events of the month of December started on Thursday the 2nd with an invitation to attend Southwark Cathedral, first for Evensong in a side chapel and then the official opening of the Cathedral Learning Centre, based in the basement rooms. The volunteers had prepared a magnificent buffet and I was introduced to many interesting people by the Dean, our Chaplain, the Very Reverend Andrew Nunn.  There is a remarkable amount of space in the basements and the Learning Centre has been equipped with some state-of-the-art projection and viewing equipment.  Prior to the visit to the cathedral, I had participated in an international ZOOM conference from my laptop in the comfort of the Clerk’s office, and my contribution was a presentation of the state of the UK Laundry and Dry Cleaning industry, now more than eighteen months suffering from the affects of the Covid Pandemic.  This was organised by CINET a Dutch based association with members throughout the world.

Monday, 6th December was the day of our Annual Carol Service and Supper at the Hall which is always a splendid affair, and this year was no exception.  The Cathedral Choir were exceptional and the Cathedral acoustics do really accentuate the very best.   As usual the Service was excellent with well chosen bible readings, read by representatives of the Liveries present.   Once again the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass shared the Service and it was a privilege to have them join us.  Following this Service, we retired to the Hall for a magnificent Christmas Supper, where we had some pre-Christmas high jinks with balloons, party poppers and Paper hats.  The Christmas style table layout in our Hall was spectacular and a joy to see each table with illuminated floral centre pieces, but a shame no one thought to photograph it so that we could share the experience in this blog. We had a very British tombola, after the meal, with the Cathedral Dean, Andrew Nunn, picking out the tickets for a collection of prizes, including Christmas drinking mugs, 2 bottles of wine, and 4 by £50 shopping vouchers.  The raffle collected £650 all of which went to Master’s charity, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, in particular Admiral Nurses, who are similar to the better-known Macmillan Nurses but specialising dementia care.

The following evening it was Drinks at the Deanery by invitation from the Dean of Southwark together with other guests.  What a splendid home on the South Bank with splendid views across the river.  The pictures and prints which adorn the walls of the Deanery were of particular interest with one dated 1830 showing the Cathedral from London Bridge but also showing the area where the Hall was subsequently built.

Wednesday, 8th December was another Webinar, this time organised by the Worshipful Company of Horners and followed the theme of the City Climate Action Group and they titled a four-presentation pitch “Plastic and the Road to Net Zero”.  A paper that was inspired by my attendance at this seminar has already been published and is available online on our website.

Saturday, 11th December it was off to Chester Cathedral for the Winter Gathering of the Livery Northern Brigantes which included a reception in a side room, plus Christmas supper in the refectory, and then a Christmas concert in the Cathedral proper.  How heartening to see not one empty seat  !  Whilst at the reception I met up with Carrie Marsh, Master Fueller, who had booked weekend accommodation, with her family, on the nearby Wirral peninsular.  During supper we both had allocated seating at the dining table with Councillor Jill Houlbrook the Sheriff of Chester and my allocated seat for the Concert was on the front row, along with the Sheriff, with the best view available in the Cathedral.  Brigantes had just over 80 paying attendees for the supper and concert with another 300 plus seats filled to capacity by paying members of the public.

Wednesday, 15th December it was back to London for two events in one day: our own organised visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery to view the Noël Coward Collection, followed by lunch at the Hawksmoor just across the road from Guildhall.   Sir Noël Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise, and was born on the 16th December 1899, in Teddington, and died in 1973 in Jamaica.  You could say that he virtually invented the concept of Englishness for the 20th Century.  An astounding dramatist, actor, writer, composer, lyricist, painter and wit — he was defined by his Englishness as much as he defined it, and you could also say that he was the first British pop star, and the first ambassador of “cool Britannia”.  He was famous for writing, directing, and acting in “In which we Serve” the 1942 film story of a sunken British destroyer told in flashbacks by members of the crew.  He also wrote the script for the film “Brief Encounter”, with Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, which was a classic film from 1945 about a couple having tea at Carnforth railway station, whilst awaiting their connection train during the Second World War.  The Noël Coward Foundation was set up as a charitable Trust in 2000 with the aim to award grants to educational and development projects across the Arts and to continue the keen interest Coward himself took in charitable work during his lifetime.  It supports a diverse range of organisations working in theatre, music, dance, playwriting, technical training, academic research, and many other areas.

I make mention here of the lunch, following the exhibition, not because it was at the Hawksmoor but that it was packed with diners even though the News by this time was all gloom about the Omicron Virus spreading throughout the UK but that had not deterred the diners or their guests !

Back to the hotel to prepare for the second event of the day a Concert in the Egyptian Hall of the Mansion House in the presence of the Lord Mayor and his illustrious guests although HRH The Duke of Kent had tendered his apologies.  It was a special dinner plus concert by “The Hanover Band” and featured extracts from Handel’s Messiah and a guest appearance from soprano, Danielle de Niese, who sang arias from Handel’s Rinaldo accompanied by the orchestra.  The Launderers, put in a strong contingent of four diners with Deputy Master Major Jack Strachan and I with our respective consorts.

In closing, and my half year term review, may I wish all a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!