Formula 1 World Champion Fishmongers in Sheep’s Clothing
Sheep Drive, Clothing Ceremony and Installation, tradition at its best
Back in January I blogged about Tradition in IT. This is something I feel very strongly about. Tradition invariably involves some degree of discipline and in my opinion this in turn provides a good foundation for maintaining standards.
As a reasonably highly active member of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists – the Information Technologists Livery Company in the City of London, I am committed to the four pillars of our company – charity, education, fellowship and industry. When I first joined the WCIT I would have ranked fellowship below the other three pillars. This was mainly because I joined to give back and was more interested in the ‘field work’ (for want of a better term) than the get togethers. However, having spent some time in the Livery I now rank fellowship at the top as it enables us to do so much more for the charities and other organisations we support.
Over the past two months I have had two ‘fellowship events’ that although very closely tied into tradition, could not be further apart in terms of discipline, and the first event came extremely close to destroying my argument that tradition leads to maintaining standards. The first event was the annual sheep drive over London Bridge on 26 September and the latter, our Clothing Ceremony and Installation Dinner on 11 October.
“Another less attractive option is the right to be hung by a silk rope – I am definitely not intending to try that one out.”
The right to drive our sheep over London Bridge is just one of our ancient rights. Another less attractive option is the right to be hung by a silk rope – I do not intending to try that one out. The Worshipful Company of Woolmen organise an annual sheep drive over London Bridge to allow Freeman of the City to exercise their rights while raising a significant amount of money for charity.
The Woolmen are one of the oldest Livery Companies dating back over 800 years originally established to oversee wool packers and wool merchants to ensure consistent standards throughout the wool industry. The Woolmen still play an active role in what is now an $80Bn global industry as well as raising funds for their Charitable Trust to support research, provide student bursaries and for prizes and medals for sheep shearing at the major agricultural shows.
Over the past year the Information Technologists Livery Company – one of the youngest Livery Companies – provided some pro-bono IT support to the Worshipful Company of Woolmen to automate their bookings system for their annual sheep drive across London Bridge. To celebrate the success of the project (we never really need an excuse to celebrate) we decided to field a team of our seasoned IT professionals to exercise our rights as Freemen of the City to drive our sheep across London Bridge.
“No one in their right mind would entrust any wildlife to a team of information technologists…”
The Woolmen usually arrange for a celebrity to start the annual sheep run and this year was no exception. Formula One and Indy Car Champion Nigel Mansell OBE was probably starting from the most bizarre starting grid position of his career. He may have well been used to facing the exhaust of Ayrton Senna, Riccardo Patrese and even a young Michael Schumacher but this time the exhausts in his sights were the less attractive end of a herd of sheep.
In my head I could hear Murray Walker’s voice “Ni-gel Man-sell is ready on the grid for what could be the first sheep drive world championship title of his career. RED… AMBER… GREEN, GO GO GO”.
The sheep run is very well organised and raises a lot of money for charity, bearing in mind it is the Woolmen’s main event of the year. No one in their right mind would entrust any wildlife to a team of information technologists to get them across London Bridge without incident. The Woolmen have this down to a fine art as the sheep drive is organised in a relay format.
“That was until I realised we had been allocated a bunch of delinquent sheep.”
We initially assembled outside Fishmonger’s Hall before being marshalled to our starting post where we prepared to meet our sheep. Unfortunately, we were able to meet our sheep prior to this so we had no time to build a meaningful relationship. Signs around us informed us quite sternly “The sheep are NOT pets.” Although I had no intention of taking them home I did think we would have had a far better experience had we had time to bond. That was until I realised we had been allocated a bunch of delinquent sheep.
I could just tell by the way they looked at me. “Yeah, whatever!” They stood standing there looking at their new shepherds – some in Livery regalia and others in disguise with sunglasses and silly hats. One of our team even had old fashioned shepherds clothes on. I learned that day that clothes do not maketh the shepherd.
Our experience bore no relation to Nigel Mansell’s Formula 1 days. Rather than GO GO GO our’s was g, g, go STOP, go, STOP, g, go. Our sheep were deciding when they wanted to move and I soon realised it would have been better entitled a sheep stop go rather than run. But, then we are Information Technologists and we should be very content with a binary state of stop or go.
“…to the point where they piled into the fence followed by a herd of Information Technologists.”
We were doing OK but when my daughter appeared alongside on the other side of the barrier racing by in her wheelchair howling with laughter our new found four legged friends suddenly became a little more animated. The genera consensus is they thought my daughter was a professional shepherd on a quad bike and decided to follow her to the point where they piled into the fence followed by a herd of Information Technologists. I have to say I have seen prettier sights.
Our sheep stop go was actually quite tame if what I heard after the event was anything to go by. One of my Livery friends was Marshalling. While on duty one of the lead sheep in his charge leapt over the safety barrier and was heading for the bridge parapet. He could see his career flashing before him while frozen to the spot. Fortunately, one of the young farmers dived over the safety barrier in pursuit in true Wonder Woman style, and wrapped her arms around the errant sheep’s neck to save the day. Incident closed!
It could have been much worse. First sheep over the parapet followed by another and another (I’ve seen Far From the Madding Crowd so I am kind of an expert on this). Can you imagine the enquiry? I am sure it would have been on the same scale as the sinking of the Titanic and the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. My young Livery friend’s career would have been in tatters at the hoofs of one AWOL sheep and the hands of the resident RSPCA inspector.
“The Priory Church is an amazing building dating back to 1123 with the scars to prove it…”
On a more sedate note and with less potential harm to wild life I had the great good fortune to be selected for elevation to Liveryman earlier this year. This is a real honour and requires newly elevated ‘unclothed’ Liverymen to attend a ‘Clothing Ceremony’ where we officially become Liverymen or ‘clothed’ Liverymen.
The Information Technologists Clothing Ceremony takes place in the Priory Church of St Bartholomew’s the Great in the City of London. The Priory Church is an amazing building dating back to 1123 with the scars to prove it having survived the Blitz in World War Two. Whatever your beliefs you cannot miss the amazing atmosphere in the building. You can almost feel the history. Only a week before the church was being used as part of the set for the new Transformers film starring Anthony Hopkins.
On Tuesday 11 October, the Freemen selected for elevation assembled in the church waiting for our cue, “Would all Freeman elected for Livery please stand and leave their pews”. On our cue we lined up and waited for our names to be called. Fortunately we were in alphabet order so there were several people in front of me so I could watch proceedings and be prepared when my name was called.
“The Fishmonger’s Hall is a grand and very fitting venue for the Installation Dinner…”
As the Freeman (‘Freeman’ and ‘Liveryman’ applies to both men and women) in front of me walked forward our Beadle placed the gown over my shoulders and tugged it down for safe measure and then my name was called. I was clothed in the Livery of the Company, signed the roll and was handed my Livery certificate, sash and pin by our Master, Alderman Sir David Wootton.
Each individual clothing ceremony lasts a few minutes but if you are a Freeman of a Livery Company this progression from junior to senior member of the Livery Company is a significant moment in your life. Not only because of the tradition, but because it is awarded by people for whom you have the utmost respect. The Clothing Ceremony was followed by the Installation Ceremony where our new Master and Wardens are installed.
The Clothing Ceremony and Installation are followed by the Installation Dinner, one of the best events in our annual calendar. After leaving the church I was heading for the Fishmonger’s Hall for the second time in just over two weeks. The Fishmonger’s Hall is a grand and very fitting venue for the Installation Dinner where our new Master, Wardens and Liveryman get a chance to celebrate their elevation with family and friends in a formal but fun environment.
“…it would be easy to forget the considerable amount of impact we have on the charities and causes we support.”
I have attended quite a few official dinners and lunches since becoming a Freeman but the food at the Fishmonger’s Hall was exceptional and ranked with some of the best meals I have had ever, including some Michelin dining experiences. Which is nothing short of amazing considering they were catering for around 200 diners.
As you can imagine the wine flowed freely and as we left Fishmonger’s Hall I couldn’t help thinking that I must have looked like one of the sheep we drove across London Bridge only 16 days before. Only this time, I was trying to cross the road to get to my car home rather than get across the river.
When reading this it may seem as if the life of a Worshipful Company of Information Technologists Liveryman consists of going from one dinner or lunch to another and just having fun. In doing so it would be easy to forget the considerable amount of impact we have on the charities and causes we support. The WCIT now has over 800 members and although not all of them are active all the time, there are always many Freeman and Liveryman engaged in numerous activities for the benefit of others – relevant to our four pillars – and that in my opinion deserves the occasional celebration. After all, this also gives us an opportunity to recruit new ‘volunteers’.
And on this note, if you are interested in finding out more about the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists please do get in contact or go direct to their web site via the link below.
The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists
The Worshipful Company of Woolmen
Locals stunned as Woolmen casually stage a sheep drive across London Bridge
Tradition in Information Technology
Gerald Sharpe Photography