State Banquets, Sparrows and Planning Applications: A week in the life of a CC

I’ve been meaning to start an online diary of my activities and experiences as a Common Councilman of the City of London (for the Ward of Farringdon Within) for some time, particularly as I don’t fit the stereotype portrayed by the so-called ‘City Reform Group‘ or Bryn Phillips of Occupy – that is, I’m not a Tory, not wealthy (very far from it), and not ‘establishment’.

So, having asserted what I’m not, what has being a Common Councilman meant to me in practical terms in the last seven days?  All right, I have to admit I attended the State Banquet for the Amir of Kuwait at Guildhall last Wednesday.  We get invited to these events because a) we’re acting as the host and are meant to ensure none of the guests are left without anyone to talk to & b) we don’t, like councillors in the rest of the country, get paid anything – instead, we get a certain amount of hospitality and some interesting events to go to.  I took my friend Shir as my guest, an art historian and expert on feminist art theory.  I was quite glad to have her there as moral support while I was being regaled with another guest’s views on social housing and welfare reform.  This lady believed social housing shouldn’t be built in desirable areas where properties could be sold on the private market instead and social housing could go ‘somewhere else’ (I said I don’t believe in segregation) and that people who don’t work shouldn’t receive any benefits (I don’t believe that either, and said you cannot leave people to die in doorways).  Fortunately conversation was interrupted by the state trumpeters.

On Monday I attended a meeting of the Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Queen’s Park Committee, at which we heard updates from the superintendents of those open spaces (all owned and managed by the City of London Corporation), and discussed such things as the annual work programmes, and fees and charges for sporting activities.  A particularly interesting report concerned the ‘Sparrows Project‘.  This project had been led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and its aims were to ‘elucidate both whether changes in grassland management in parks could benefit wildlife as well as help reduce the decline in house sparrow numbers in London’.  As part of the project, a perennial wild flower meadow has been created on the Heath above the Paddling Pool at Parliament Hill.  The superintendent memorably informed us that the project had been very successful – apart from the fact that no sparrows had been sighted!  In short, ‘no definitive conclusion can be reached on whether annual meadows benefit sparrows’.  But human beings seem to like wildflower meadows, so we approved the retention of the ‘Sparrow Site’ as one.

If I look at my e-mail outbox for last week, I see that I accepted meeting dates for the East London Housing Partnership (which I attend as Deputy Chairman of the Corporation’s Housing Management Sub-Committee, which deals with our social housing – we look after 2,700 properties across seven London Boroughs) and for The City Academy Hackney, of which I am a governor.  I responded to the consultation on the West Smithfield Area Enhancement Strategy (stressing the need to maintain the character of the conservation area, while also improving access to the local GP practice), I alerted some residents in the Ward to a planning application which may lead to an increase in late-night noise in the area (so that’s something I’ll need to get in an objection about this week, and galvanise others to do the same), I corresponded with other residents about on-going discussions with developers about the plans for ‘Barts Square‘, and with a Councilman for the neighbouring Ward of Castle Baynard about the minutes of a recent Police Community Partnership meeting.

I finished the week with a reception at Mansion House to launch a new book on the Harold Samuel Collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, the proceeds of which will go towards this year’s Lord Mayor’s Appeal.

As usual, I didn’t get everything done I wanted to get done, but then I do have to fit in being a Common Councilman with being Clerk to the Guild of Public Relations Practitioners and being a writer (I’m just embarking on a new book about the Smithfield Martyrs, to be called The Burning Time – but more of that anon).

Yes to life

It was my birthday last week and, in one way of looking at it, too many years have gone by, without enough achieved, and it’s all downhill from here. A few books written – but not enough, and not successful enough – and too much time spent in ‘the whole corroding business of administration’, as Peter Abelard calls it in Helen Waddell’s still unsurpassed retelling of the story of Heloise and Abelard. Nothing turns out quite as expected; indeed, expectation may be best avoided altogether.

And yet, and yet – I still believe that all that really matters is fully to appreciate the world and the life I have been given to live in it. Worldly success is ultimately neither here nor there. Enough – but not too much – money would be useful, since financial anxiety is possibly even more corrosive than earning one’s living from administration. And to create is a good thing, particularly if what one creates adds something to the sum of human joy or understanding. But appreciating what is already around us may be even better than, or at least as good as, creating something new. To taste, hear, see – really see – absorb, experience, and love. To say ‘yes’ to life, whatever it brings, to stay as fully as possible in the present moment, and to be grateful – immensely grateful – for all the blessings of this life.