Remarks to: Trades House Of Glasgow, by Alderman Professor Michael Mainelli on Wednesday, 12 October 2022
Deacon Convener, Deputy Lord Provost, Lord Dean of Guild, Collector of the House, most Distinguished Guests – well all guests actually, Ladies and gentlemen… May I make a special mention of my dinner companion, the Senior Deacon Convenor, Sir Robert Smith.
Elisabeth and I are honoured to be your guests at this Trades House dinner recognising the strong personal, business and cultural connections between our two cities of Glasgow and London. Or using President Biden’s recommended pronunciation at COP26, Glass-Gow.
Now the ladies tonight will know that two men can get quite competitive, so finding that the Deacon Convenor is a fellow piper I tried my one-up-manship until he bested me with playing his pipes on at Uhuru’s Peak on Kilimanjaro. Top that.
I first met Glasgow through bagpipes. When I was ten, having gone through forced lessons on the drums, trumpet, and trombone, my mother asked me in frustration what instrument I would promise to learn. Just to challenge her, I said, “bagpipes”. You’d have to know my mother, but within a day she found Duncan McCaskill. Duncan was my first taste of Glasgow. Duncan had been a dockyard welder, but also a gold medal piping champion. Like any sensible ten year old, after my first lesson I didn’t practise. At the next lesson Duncan whacked my knuckles after each false gracenote. At the end of the lesson, as I nursed quite a few bruises, he explained that he would never hit me again. If I failed to practise, there would be no more lessons. I practised.
One of my favourite definitions of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the pipes but doesn’t. So, as a piper, I’m thrilled to hear so many rude Glaswegians piping us everywhere this evening. It’s magic for me, though perhaps not my darling German wife.
At any dinner in Scotland, one has to quote Rabbie Burns – this evening to express how I feel about Glasgow, “I have often thought that if a well-grounded affection be not really a part of virtue, it is something extremely akin to it.” I have a virtuous affection for Glasgow.
When I was piping competitively I had the fortune of travelling and playing pipes that were a few hundred years old. At one point in Orlando, Florida I was practising by Lake Fairview when the owner of a large sailboat emporium, Barrett’s Marine, asked if I’d move. While I was used to people asking me to “move away, far away”, oddly he was asking me to move in front of his yacht business to attract customers. Barrett and I struck a deal that if I practised in front of his shop I could sail for free – thus cementing a lifelong love of boats.
Appropriately, I first sailed to Glasgow from Dublin in 1980 for a wedding in Partick. What a superb introduction. After some indoor five-a-side and a swim, I, the newcomer pointed out we had a wedding to go to. The groom was only 30 minutes late so I still don’t understand why the bride was crying. Happily, I understand they’re still married four decades later.
I keep returning to sail the Clyde, Greenock, Largs, Arran, and through the Crinan to Mull, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Islay, and Jura. Let alone non-Glaswegian trips round the Orkneys and Shetlands. What a beautiful country you have. Today I even went to see the new Govan Graving Dock project being run by a friend of mine. Perhaps the Trades House might just find that an interesting project to support. One day the weather will not frustrate my attempts to leave the Clyde towards Rathlin Island.
In London we have 110 livery, two companies, and four guilds. I am delighted to be a member of eleven of them, with the World Traders as my mother company and the Watermen & Lightermen our craft company since Elisabeth and I spent 21 restoring a Thames sailing barge. Now, since Monday evening my 11th company is the Engineers, Hammermen to you.
Naturally, I needed to understand the Trades House 14 crafts. I asked five Barbers about which of their fellow Glaswegians were the best patients. One surgeon said it was the Interior Designers, everything inside is colour-coded. The second said it was the Librarians, everything inside is alphabetically arranged. The third surgeon said it was the Accountants, everything inside is numbered. The fourth said it’s the lawyers, “they’re heartless, spineless, gutless, and their top and bottoms are interchangeable”. The quiet-till-now fifth surgeon interrupts, “No, it’s the crafts. And of them, I prefer the Fleshers of the Trades House. They’re always happy when you have a few spare parts left over at the end.”
The bonds between Glasgow and London grow stronger every year, and with London and Edinburgh my firm Z/Yen’s Global Financial Centres Index shows how important all three cities are to the UK economy, and the professional, technical, and financial services industries and exports. The many guests here this evening, and at your Glasgow in London dinner, are a testament to those bonds, that go back a long way, even before the Act of Union. We are always reminded that the Bank of England was founded by a Scottish banker, William Paterson. You are always reminded that the Bank of Scotland was founded by an English Banker, John Holland, born in the City of London. We are all reminded of the importance of our shared professional, technical, and financial services alongside Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, and Belfast. We’ve had tough times these past few years, and may well have even tougher times ahead this winter, but the great thing has always been our cities’ ability to combine opportunity and ingenuity in common purpose to build afresh, new, global industries.
As the first City of Scotland by size I support the claims for Glasgow to be the Kingdom’s 2nd City. You did the nation proud last November at COP26. In June the Masters of all London Livery Companies gather for their single social weekend together. For decades this event took place among the engineering museums at Ironbridge in Shropshire. For the first time this year it moved to Sheffield. I was thrilled to learn that 2023’s Livery Weekend will be held from 16 to 18 June here in Scotland, in Glasgow. People sometimes imagine Singapore on Thames, perhaps this is London on Clyde. Time Out may have rated Glasgow the friendliest city in the world, but if you wonder why I’m thrilled, you haven’t met many aldermen. Our southern bard Billie Shakespeare once asked, “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” In the case of aldermen they compare us to shopping trolleys, but you can fit more food and drink in an alderman. We hope to strain Glaswegian hospitality mightily!
In closing, remember, the idea behind a top table is that up here we can act self-important so you don’t have to. If you’ve been swirled by a beautiful woman around the Glasgow in London Dinner by your pinkie, you know you can’t be too pompous. So let us share many drinks together this evening. As Rabbie Burns said, “Let them cant about decorum, Who have characters to lose!”
May I ask you all to rise and be upstanding and drink a toast to “The City Of Glasgow!”