January to March 2020
The year 2020 got off to a fairly ordinary start, with the usual drinks, celebrations and visits to family. There was certainly no premonition of the events that would later unfold, just some sketchy news reports of another virus outbreak in a part of China. January is a quiet month in the Mayoral year, with few engagements, this was not the case with meetings, however, I attended 28 of them.
On Friday 10th January we witnessed the funeral cortege of George Johnson, passing slowly along the High Street on a vintage fire engine, which paused outside the Polly Tea Rooms where, as a town fireman, George had rescued two children from a catastrophic fire in 1966.
On Monday 27th January, I attend a birthday party at the Marlborough Lodge care home, Nellie Andrews is 100.
I receive news this week that my 94-year-old father has been admitted to hospital following a minor fall, he seems to be doing OK and I plan a trip up to Leicester to see him.
Sunday 9th February, we get ready to go to the Calne Civic Service but this is also the middle of storm Ciara, with its high winds. Reports keep coming in of trees blowing down and blocking roads, so we decide not to go. We later hear reports of masonry crashing down from the church roof at the beginning of the service, fortunately no one was hurt. Speaking to Mayor Robert Merrick, some days later, I learn that it had made quite a crash.
Monday 10th February, I am interviewed, along with other Councillors, by pupils from Marlborough College, who ask some very probing questions and then write a magazine article. Some budding journalists!
On Thursday 20th February we get a visit from families from Marlborough Massachusetts, courtesy of the scouts. I give our visitors a tour of the Town Hall and find many mementoes of previous visits. My grandson, Ted, accompanies me, greets the younger visitors and acts as a stand in Macebearer for the occasion.
On 27/28/29 I visit my family in Leicester and start to organise probate for my father, a very sad journey.
On my return to Marlborough on Saturday 29th February it is change straight in to my dinner suit and go to the Scouts Leap Ball at the Town Hall. The Scouts are one of my two charities for the year and I very much wanted to support this important fund raiser, it is a great success and raises £6,400.
In February I attended 15 meetings.
We start the month with a growing awareness of the spread of the coronavirus but still no clarity about how we will deal with it, there are no restrictions on events or movement at this stage.
On Wednesday 4th March we attended the annual Showmen’s Guild luncheon, attended by Showmen and fellow Mayors from all over the western region. Marlborough Mop stalwart Billy Whitelegg, who is 90 this year, gets an award.
Friday 6th March and we make the journey up to Leicester for my Dad’s funeral, a large family gathering, we didn’t yet realise how lucky we were to be able to hold it without restriction.
On Saturday 7th March it is the turn of my other charity, Marlborough Jubilee Centre, to hold its fund-raising dinner in the Town Hall. Another great success with the event raising £9,500 for the centre. I am so thankful that my two Mayor’s charities were able to hold their fund raisers before the restrictions came in, it will make a huge difference to them.
On Monday 9th March we carry out a very muted Commonwealth Flag ceremony, people are now getting very wary about going out and we have minimal attendance.
On Sunday 15th March we attend the Rule of Law service at St John’s Church in Devizes. There is still no restriction on events and this one is attended by a Cabinet member (Robert Buckland) and all of the County’s senior judges and law officers, without any social distancing. It proves to be my last engagement as Mayor.
On Monday 16th March we hold our last Council meetings before the lockdown is announced and decide to take the initiative by closing our buildings, cancelling our future meetings and cancelling our events, including the Annual Town Meeting and the Civic Dinner.
This is the point at which my ceremonial role as Mayor came to an end, with all engagements cancelled. These included the 800th anniversary of Salisbury Cathedral, the VE Day commemoration and a garden party at Buckingham Palace. These are truly challenging times and it is not at all clear when or even whether things will return to how they were.
My best wishes to everyone, please stay safe.