Rarely have I been so touched by an impromptu mark of respect than when news of the passing of King’s School headmaster Matthew Armstrong, at the tragically young age of 48, broke this week. The fact that at the time I was attending a cricket match at the King’s School ground made it all the more poignant. Both teams halted their game without hesitation to observe a respectful minute’s silence, a tribute that I found intensely moving. The fact that Matthew Armstrong and I were due to meet next week to discuss a whole range of topics also brought the news much closer to home. His loss will be felt.
At least there’s been moments of pure joy this week too, by way of compensation.
The Pop-up Café at St Stephens Church which I visited on Wednesday is a commendable initiative. And later that day I felt I’d shed sixty years, joining in with the kids in all sorts of fun goings-on as part of Worcester Play Council’s National Play Day at Cripplegate Park.
Modest it was not – unlike the long-service presentation I made to Garston Phillips, who for 50 years has almost single-handedly maintained the Worcester City Museum in grand style: a modest man who wanted it kept low-key, while fully deserving the city’s most fulsome gratitude.
What can I say about the Worcester Festival which I formally opened at the weekend, that hasn’t already been said? Chris Jaeger continues to display boundless energy by organising 504 events this year. I wish that self-same energy had been displayed by my plastic duck in the annual St Richard’s Hospice race on Saturday. I reckon he’s still floating somewhere downriver!
Another grand tradition took place on Sunday: the Worcester Show, where it was a sheer pleasure to hand out prizes to the worthy winners.
Last but not least, it was smiles all round from the faces of youthful Chinese children visiting Worcester from Shandong Province. They tried out their media interview techniques on me, completing a week of mixed emotions that I’m unlikely to forget in a hurry.
‘Music can change the world’. I didn’t say that, somebody else did – but my version is just as illuminating: music has no boundaries. It’s a powerful message that’s brought home to me as each week passes.
The first occasion was on when I was hosting a charity evening of Asian music in the Guildhall with Sabir Mirza and Aahista Aahista starring. Of limited interest? No way! We had a great audience, Asians and Europeans evenly represented, all as one, race irrelevant and the evening was a joy to be involved with. That it also raised £2,000 for my local charities was a gratifying bonus.
The very next day, it was music of an entirely different kind, as I hosted a reception for the Chorale Choir from Worcester Massachusetts. They awarded me the key to our US twin and I confess to deep disappointment that I had to miss their concert in the Cathedral later in the day, hearing nothing but the highest accolades the following morning.
Another day, another musical event of an entirely different kind – WODYS’s high-energy Back to the 80s show. Was I impressed? Absolutely – although the evening was also tinged with a sense of having missed-out. You see, I really wanted them to invite me on stage to join in the dancing as they did in their sneak preview in Crowngate a few weeks ago! That’s on YouTube for all to see. This was the final show by producer and director Dale Humphries but my, what a spectacularly high note to go out on!
Sandwiched in between these events, each of which left me speechless with admiration for every single performer, was the usual round of events and issues more traditionally associated with the demanding role of Mayor. These included promising some action on concerns about the bus service; hosting a quiz for one of my chosen charities, Worcester Headway; attending the All Sorts Summer School’s afternoon of dance at Medway Community Centre; and finally, an opportunity to say thank you to the Midlands Air Ambulance Service with a tour around their headquarters that strengthened my respect for an organisation that already had my highest admiration. It was a rare eye-opener.
Some you win, some you lose – and if someone hoped they’d be a winner by wearing something knitted by the Mayor of Worcester, sorry folks! I tried knitting for the first time ever and failed, discovering my complete inability to put even two stitches together on a visit to Wotahoot yarn shop and tea room at 56 Lowesmoor. Luckily, there are some very skilled knitters around, and here’s where they meet. Later the same day, I enjoyed fascinating chats with more skilled and inspirational heroes and heroines at ASPIE, the social self-help and motivation group for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome.
When I was invited to the Great National Steeplechase in Worcester, visions of racehorses thundering through the streets were pleasantly dashed when it was revealed that the event was actually a bid by Churches Conservation Trust’s chief Peter Aiers to visit 50 churches in as many hours! That tied in nicely with an opportunity to see the impressive on-going works at St Swithun’s Church, which is being transformed into an arts and cultural space in the heart of our city.
Showing visitors around our Guildhall is something I always enjoy, more so than ever when fuelled by the sheer joy of 30 female students and their translators from Tokyo, all of them enchanting in national costume. I tried to say welcome (‘Yokoso’) in Japanese 30 times and it came out different every time.
Talking of colour and spectacle, the opening of the Three Choirs Festival never ceases to thrill and amaze. This year is Gloucester’s turn; we three mayors and our civic attendants were resplendent and so proud to represent our respective cities.
It was a pleasure to meet again Claire Jackson of Platform Housing to hear about the encouraging future of housing in the city. The organisation has already invested £1million in Worcester and I hear there’s more to come.
And then, with Ramadhan safely behind us, I enjoyed a lively session to celebrate Eid and the end of the fasting season with Ruth Haywood’s ladies at Horizon Community Centre.
With so much going on, is it any wonder I love this city so much?
This week’s diary – not unlike life itself – is a tale of winners and losers. My face was as red as my mayor’s gown on one occasion, I’m embarrassed to say!
But first to business: you will recall I invited the managers of High Street banks to discuss fundraising initiatives for my charities with a £100,000 target in mind. Sarah Thompson of Barclays Bank had some winning ideas. I was also glad of an opportunity to say a personal thank you to Edward Kendrick for his bright ideas with Severn Freewheelers. This resulted in the handover of a high-powered motorbike to the Blood Transfusion Service, so even faster deliveries can be made. Lots of winners there, for sure.
Age Concern UK is an organisation whose work I hugely applaud and two separate meetings brought home the amazing work they do. Later the same day I met with the Worcester Twinning Association, which is marking the 20th anniversary of our close ties with our twin city in Massachusetts with much anticipated performances by the city’s choir, now over here I’m delighted to say.
Children from St Joseph’s School showed me where they spend their days and so this week I reciprocated, showing them where I spend mine… the Parlour. Very impressed they were too.
And now the embarrassing bit…. my wife Naseem and I were invited to Hallow Sports and Social Club for a Malvern Hills District Council’s charity skittles evening and guess what…? First time she’s ever played, and she beat me by a mile!
Saturday was frantic: a visit to the opening of Battenhall Rise Play area; wielding the lightsabre to open the ‘May the Toys Be With You’ exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery; dancing with WODYS in a high-energy preview of their up-coming production, to the surprise of shoppers in Crowngate; and a charming service in the Cathedral to say farewell to Graham Usher, the Bishop of Dudley. And on Sunday we were in Pershore for the town’s Civic Service.
Oh yes, and, in a non-official role, a face-to-face with another winner: personally congratulating Boris Johnson on his success this week. You may have read about it.