Coachlines - April 2020

18.04.20 The Clerk

Clerk’s notes 20th April 2020


On Sunday 28th March 1982, during a weekend in Gibraltar harbour midway through a major Royal Navy exercise and prior to departing for deployment to the Caribbean, officers of the Royal Navy’s Type 12 Frigate, HMS PLYMOUTH, stood on the quarterdeck gazing at a US Navy frigate.

Mark The Clerk

Mark The Clerk

The American had recently berthed alongside after 73 days continuously at sea in the Mediterranean monitoring Soviet naval activity. The talk was of how it must have felt to spend that long at sea, much of it at anchor, with no break from the routine of life onboard – and in a “dry” ship because since 1st July 1914 the US Navy had not been allowed to carry alcohol in their warships.

A couple of days later HMS PLYMOUTH sailed from Gibraltar and would go on to spend 115 days continuously at sea before finally returning to Gibraltar for a short visit on her way home to the UK. During that time she had steamed over 25,000 miles, had participated in the fight to reclaim the Falkland Islands from the Argentine invaders and came back with more holes in her sides than had been there previously and with a lot less of her upper deck fittings than with which she had sailed.

Not least, and despite the best efforts of her Commanding Officer to recover some of the programme, she had also lost all of her planned five-month tour of duty in the Caribbean as the West Indies’ Guardship. And that is what is called “dislocation of expectations”.

Today, it is probably true to say that everyone is suffering from a dislocation of expectations as the effects of the UK’s measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic continues and all our prior plans for 2020 have been overturned. Following Thursday’s confirmation that the current restrictions will continue until 7th May, it is looking increasingly likely that most, if not all, of the Coachmaker events planned for this Livery Year will be compromised. However, be assured that I am regularly talking to my fellow Clerks across the Livery community and at the same time I am monitoring the various reports that are appearing in the mainstream media and from the Lord Mayor’s office to try to understand when and how we might resume some aspects of our programme.

Following the postponement of this year’s Automotive Industry Dinner, I am pleased to report that it did not prevent the Company from providing this year’s Motor Centenary Bursary Award Winners with their prize funding. Full details of the various winners can be found here. 

In the meantime, the Charity Committee Chairman has been asked to review the various elements of all our annual charitable giving in order to identify anyone that might need our help through this difficult time beyond the annual award of bursaries and scholarships. Commendably, Capel Manor College, to which the Coachmakers contributes a number of prizes for harness bridle work made by students of the leather faculty, will be holding its annual award ceremony in July via an online experience. The Coachmakers will support this initiative as if it were happening in the physical sense.

Beyond that, the administrative needs of the Company continues and the various Coachmaker committee meetings are being held by telephone conference calls, by e-mail exchange or, in the most recently introduced format, via a software app called Zoom. I suspect that this software tool has suddenly become far more popular, more quickly than its creators could have ever imagined. Indeed, in response to Aretha Franklin’s 1985 question: Who’s Zoomin’ Who? it would appear that the answer is: everyone.

From the spiritual perspective, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral sent out a message late on 9th April but it was received too late for me to forward to you before I closed the system for Easter. I therefore include it here, verbatim with the caveat that understandably much of the references to the Easter period are in the present tense but it is nonetheless of great relevance to our overall situation.

As an alternative way to lighten your mood, you might wish to look at this interesting appraisal of the current state of Livery Companies in April 2020 as imagined by the Clerk to the Actuaries’ Company. And who said that to be an Actuary required no sense of humour?

Also, as many of you will know, all the various Livery Companies of London belong to various sub-groups of similar minded Livery Companies, the Coachmakers being predominantly part of the Leather Group. In the spirit of mutual support, the Clerk to the Farmers’ Company thought you might wish to view the City Food Lecture organised by the seven ‘Food Liveries’ at Guildhall in February 2020; the Lecture was given by Professor Louise Fresco and can be seen here:

My wellington-wearing colleague tells me that Professor Fresco is a highly influential thinker and commentator on global food issues and is President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research, Europe’s leading academic agri-food organisation and research and development centre. In the 45-minute lecture, that she delivered without a single note, she challenges the great and the good of the food and farming industry assembled in the hall, to take responsibility for the image and future of their sector and to start to address some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that, under pressure from a whole variety of special interest groups, have gained weight and credence during recent years.

Please note that this event occurred before lockdown and you may feel discomfort seeing so many people sitting next to each other in such an enclosed space and sharing a microphone during questions – oh how the world has changed. Also some of the subject matter may now seem rather dated given our rapidly changing global perspective. That said look out for the Honorary Coachmaker who introduced the event.

Looking beyond the City at the various ways that people are managing the current situation, coping with their own challenges and finding ways to help others, it is reassuring that there are still Britons able to capture the moment so enthusiastically by means of a cause as simple but as brilliant as that pursued by the indomitable Captain Tom Moore. He set out to raise £1,000 by walking 100 ‘laps’ of his garden before his 100th birthday – and by Friday morning (17th April) he had captured the attention of people across the world and had raised in the region of £20 million. By the time you read this it will probably be even more and who knows, he may go on to fund the NHS all by himself. It’s just a shame that he didn’t make Major, think what fun the media would have had with that!

In another example of how only the British could behave in such a crisis, a very good friend of mine who lives by the sea sent me a note over Easter describing how his local community had come together to help each other during this crisis. With some paraphrasing to protect the innocent he wrote thus:

As you know I have always favoured tactical inactivity but we do however have a highly organised support structure to help self-isolators with all their requirements and I am therefore Area Co-ordinator (or is it Stationmaster?) for Somewhere-by-the-Sea Central; working for a Brigadier who is working for a Major General, who is working in parallel with a headmistress.

Last night they all had an enormous bust-up at the daily Zoom meeting and the General and the Brigadier both resigned under pressure from the headmistress! You really could not make it up. So now we are rudderless and I am keeping my head firmly down lest the headmistress takes that off as well!

It’s good to see the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan lives on.

For now, if like me you’ve just about had enough of the C-word at the breakfast table, I suggest that you tune to Radio 3 – it complements the Coopers marmalade and is most definitely a more civilised way to start the day.

The Assistant Clerk and I hope that you are all fit and well and that you stay that way to come through this challenging experience. However, I’ll leave you with some of the words of Captain Tom:

“For all those people finding it difficult at the moment, the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.”

Surgit Post Nubila Phoebus.