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Charities Supper 15 Jan 2020:  Skinners' Hall
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THE SILVER ANNIVERSARY – celebrating the occult arts of the management consultant....

In contrast to the elegance and erudition displayed within the Honourable Artillery Company castle on this occasion, the price of entry was to be first put to the sword...

 

July the 5th dawns and we prepare for a celebration of the dark arts at a rather up market drinking establishment called The Honourable Artillery Company in City Road. The usual dinner is accompanied by an invitation to practice the old Cossack art of hacking off the tops of bottles of booze whilst paralytically drunk. The event is sponsored by a well-known firm of cosmetic surgeons just up the road in Harley Street and they have generously donated an emergency standby private ambulance to observe us having fun.  

We arrive and join a long queue at the gate, some of whom seem to be attending a Brazilian Carnival event. This seems clear from the fact that many of them are wearing sparkly costumes and nipple tassels. They do seem a pretty fun set of guys nevertheless. The security men seeing us all in evening dress come across and  suggest that we use the staff entrance as we are clearly either waiters or barmen. They finally accept we are one of the gang expected at the Livery dinner and usher us past the queue to the accompaniment of catcalls and a shower of old fruit.

So to the venue. We are slightly early so a couple of glasses to warm up. No chance of beating Satjit Singh to the starting line however, he’s been there since the previous lunchtime and is comfortably seated with a weeping wine waiter prostrate at his feet trying to convince him that the cellars are now empty.

More trainee Cossacks arrive and in the sweltering heat we assemble outside with the promise of the consultants version of the Dead Sea Scrolls being read to us. Instead after a lengthy pause and the liberal use of oxygen and a defibrillator for a number of those attending there is an expectant hush and someone points to the sky. A number of those assembled fall to their knees and begin to cry out, begging forgiveness for the size of the last client invoice they sent out and beseeching their personal God not to damn them to hell but they have nothing to fear but the arrival of Saint Markham the founder of the Company. We help the still gently sobbing to their feet and an air of expectation falls on the crowd. High above us there is an ornate balcony and from the doors behind it can be heard the faint sound of harps and some sort of choir. Suddenly a shaft of light illuminates the balustrades and after a mighty crash of thunder a majestic robed figure emerges. There is a gasp from those assembled as we see he has what looks like a banana in his hand. What’s more he appears to be shouting at the banana, which he holds close to his face as if in the throes of a compulsive eating disorder. The acolytes to this high priest standing amongst us begin to shout a strange evocative chant upwards, one that will live with me for years. It seems to go something like ‘Turn the b*****y thing on;  turn the b*****y thing on’. The wizard responds by rotating the banana and placing it near his ear, obviously seeking its counsel. More acolytes appear from behind him but the banana doesn’t respond to their ministrations. He then proceeds to address those far below with only the majestic power of his voice. It is impossible to make out the words of the short address but various incantations carry to us on the faint breeze. He also indicates that he would have preferred only two guests at the event by signalling this with his right hand. Eventually two devoted servants emerge and help him into a very tasteful jacket, all in white, which is obviously state of the art fashion as the arms are connected at the back and he is helped away to rousing cheers of adoration from the crowd.

Then from all sides men and women dressed in colourful military regalia appear. They are all immaculate and Judy Tayler Smith (sure I have seen her on a reality TV show sometime) their Master of Arms deploys the around thirty or so drunken homicidal misfits who have opted for the Sabrage. With their limited grasp of French a number of the volunteers appear to have thought this was French for competitive snail eating but their escape was deftly prevented by the Light Cavalry guards. We were then given a few sketchy instructions.

‘Hold the bottle firmly’;  wasted,  as we are already holding half full bottles; ‘count your fingers before and after’;  ‘no fancy footwork or sword swinging’. This is too late for Satjit as he has already reduced Geoff and Melanie Lewellyn to cowering heaps on the tarmac as they dodge his wild practice swings. Ed and Karen Sankey however were very stylishly avoiding his wild thrusts by swaying gently in the manner of Bruce Lee;  although having reflected on the pictures afterwards it may be something to do with the pile of empty champagne bottles at their feet.

We take up our positions in two shifts. The Light Cavalry break up members of the first shift who thought they were being filmed for an Eroll Flynn remake and after one transfusion and some bandaging they hack the tops off their champagne bottles with notable aplomb. We join the second shift and line up. Gia Campari waits until we are fiddling nervously with our sabres then lets off a military strength detonator. The mildly anarchic group around her amongst whom I spot Patrick McHugh, Ian Daniell and disappointingly Elizabeth Consalvi, laugh uproariously at the resulting panic but to their credit then assist with handing out the replacement trousers to the male participants.

And so to dinner. After prayers David Johnson rallies us. Showing his complete contempt for the conventions of polite society however during his powerful opening speech, he openly refers to his mistress and even gesticulates to a table on which she was sitting!  We all felt deeply for his poor wife.   Andrew Parmley proved an excellent link man full of witty quips and anecdotes and to my surprise most of the audience were visibly awake during most of this. There was however an unfortunate incident which I believe resulted in a number of admissions to A and E.  David introduced Morag Loader, a top table guest, as what I think the audience heard as a Master Tax Inspector. This turned out to be Advisor, but this was too late to prevent widespread panic and a large number of guests being injured in the rush to the exit.

Finally we were addressed by a real master of the tech universe in Matt Candy from IBM. I think most of his speech shed a blindingly new light for most of those assembled, as he talked confidently and persuasively about re-engineering organisations around a digital presence (I think).

And so to bed, I can’t remember the local YMCA hostel being as full….                                                          Jeff Cant, Leader, Weymouth and                                                                                                                                                Portland Borough Council;  Liveryman