Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Family in Sydney Christmas 2006

Left to right: Charles, Edward, Prue, Radha, Neil, Kei, Herry and Ayako
A photo of the family at Prue's house in Mosman at Christmas 2006 - but missing Marijke and the latest addition, Charlotte, who were snoozing downstairs

Click here for photos of the bridge and here for the New Year's fireworks

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Herry's Retirement from Thomas Miller - May 2006

Herry's Office Retirement Speech - a more personal affair than the many that had been made at the 13 parties around the world - and his last official appearance in Thomas Millers' offices

One should never follow a Stephen James’s speech, as he is one of the masters of the art. And having had more than my fair share of speech making over the past two months, starting with a farewell party in Hong Kong in March, I have used up my entire miserable stock of jokes. And I can asssure you I’m not going to repeat the speech that I made at Trinity House in April, which was far too serious for this company.

I shall miss so many things about Millers and so I thought I might just take you through a typical day here both to remind you and to fix in my memory what a remarkable place this is and how many remarkable people it contains.

Some of you know I always come into the office fairly early and park my car downstairs. It slots into a space that was bequeathed to me more than 20 years ago by John Henderson, who was Stephen’s predecessor as the UK Club’s underwriter. The only difference was that his car was a Roller – and they didn’t even have the Thomas Miller Share Incentive scheme in those days!....

I invariably find Tim Penn already there, washing down his fine motorbike, which although it’s nearly as old as my car, he keeps like new. I have to pass the room used by the cyclists and motor cyclists to change. I’m pretty sure that it’s the only room in the entire building that I have never ever been into. I don’t know why. I think it is something to do with all that lycra and leather. There is also this wonderful smell of aftershave that comes wafting out of it which makes me feel rather inadequate.

Going upstairs, I try and see if Steve Britt-Hazard is behind his desk - or whether he isn’t! It’s sometimes very difficult to know. I come upstairs to the Blue Lagoon and plonk down my laptop and switch it on and see what’s happened since I last looked at it. I hesitate to tell you when that was but I’m pretty sure to find something from Paul Sessions on it! As you all know, I have been addicted to email for years now, although I think I’m the only person in the Blue and Grey Lagoons who doesn’t use a BlackBerry – so you can conclude that my addiction is “mainline” and I will never be satisfied with “email lite”.

I then go down to see if I’ve beaten Ron into the postroom for the newspaper. I must say he has been jolly good recently. He leaves them unwrapped ready for me to grab as I go out to breakfast at the little cafĂ©, the Village, under our building. I’ve been going there ever since it was a very greasy spoon – for almost 30 years.

As I pass the car park I invariably bump into Kim Vernau who used to come in in the most marvellous racy Beamer but recently has unaccountably swapped it for a very PC Prius. I have forborne to ask her whether she thinks that was a good deal. And on the subject of Kim, how many of you know that when she was the internal auditor she was always in here before 7.00 am – and would feel comfortable about it if you did! At least you now know why I’ve always got in so early.

Another early arrival in the car park is Brooksey, who for some reason swapped his rather smart Golf a couple of years ago for a much more humble machine, I think under the misguided impression that it would get the Miller Remuneration Committee to treat him more sympathetically! Bad luck Brooksey!

Sitting in the Village, where my age shows as the waitresses seem to get prettier by the day, I can see certain of my colleagues who come past displaying various levels of enthusiasm on their way to the office. Andrew Jamieson always looks as though he has just caught another shipbroker up to something particularly nefarious. David Perks breezes along. Mark Hodson looks as though he has got the whole of the Iraqi debt in dinars tucked into his briefcase. And our beloved COO swings past, grinning happily at the thought of some new committee that he has thought up overnight and which will be known by an acronym pronouncable only if you speak Tamil!

Returning to the office after breakfast, I come back to the Blue Lagoon to enjoy that blissful peace that is only known to man when Hugo is not around. In fact, I know if Hugo’s arrived or not if I pass a certain very large black car in the car park. The same one that when it first appeared caused Kirsty Hart to lean out of the window of the Grey Lagoon and exclaim, “Oh – very David Beckham!”

We’re a very strange bunch in Millers - and I think in England generally. In France or Germany when you go into the office in the morning, you go round and shake everyone’s hand and say “Guten morgen, Herr Daines” or something equally appropriate – isn’t that right Katharina? Instead, we drift in like ghosts and you frequently look up from your screen to find everyone has silently arrived and no one has said a word!

There’s a wonderful book that I read last year called “Watching the English” which suggests, quite correctly I think, that the English are one of the most socially inept races on earth and we cover it up by turning almost anything into a joke. Mind you, you’d be pretty silly – and completely wrong – to suggest that Stephen was socially inept, so it’s not a universal truth.

Now, you realise that its not even 9.00 in the morning and I haven’t yet got out from behind my desk to see who is nipping along to the staff canteen to grab a quick toasted bacon sandwich - and hoping that no one knows that they have already had breakfast. If I went that way, I would have to pass Terri Lewis, who seems unaccountably concerned that I’m going to reveal secrets that only those who work close together in an open plan environment can possibly know about each other, and Jill McGrath is even more concerned that I’m going to tell you all the whereabouts of the inexhaustible box of HR chocolates!

So, I’m going to stop there and instead leave ‘Not the Miller News’ to carry on poking gentle fun at our many foibles, as it has so brilliantly over the last many years under its various secretive editors.

For myself, I’d love to continue walking the corridors with my mental camera, as well as my real one, recalling the weeks, months and years that I have been happy and proud to work amongst you all.

Herry Lawford
18 May 2006

Hugh Wodehouse, Peter Donnellan, Herry, Tony Payne and Colin Lewin

Friday, May 05, 2006

Herry's 50th Birthday Party

Herry had his 50th birthday party at Stocks in June 1995. The party was catered by Charlie Skipwith and his family and he also supplied the marquees (actually scout tents!). Radha was over from Australia with her then boyfriend George. About sixty people came and Herry made a short speech.

Click the heading for some more photos

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Trinity House Retirement Party April 2006

With Ayako and Kei at the Trinity House Retirement party. Click the heading for some more retirement photos

Retirement is a strange thing. You find yourself voluntarily walking away from friends you've worked with for many years - in my case nearly 40 - and a business and an industry that you love.  It's an industry that's full of interesting and intelligent people – a few of whom are here tonight – and lives on a daily diet of fascinating news and events. Like the proverbial butterfly in the Amazon, much of what happens around the world has its effect in time here in EC3.  People come and go of course, and a number of my friends have already retired, but surprisingly few people ever leave the industry that we're in, and for some reason most of us, despite a peripatetic lifestyle and more entertaining than may be good for us, remain pretty healthy.  That being said, I'm mindful of the example of Dawson Miller who retired as senior partner of Millers in December 1970 and died in January 1971!

It's a truism, but our business is built on friendships and hard work.  I've long admired the story of the fox in Le Petit Prince. He meets the little prince and advises him how to make friends. There is more truth in that short passage than in thousands of so-called philosophical writings. Without the ingredient of friendship, business would be just business and for most people would be ultimately unsatisfying.  The great advantage of our world is that our friendships can extend to every continent and we can travel to cement them far more regularly than most people are ever able to do.  

It was Sir Joshua Reynolds who said, ‘If you have great talents, industry will improve them: if you have but moderate abilities, industry will supply their deficiency.’  I am certainly in the ‘moderate ability’ category, but I have been blessed with enough energy to remain industrious, even if that industriousness is sometimes somewhat misplaced As my long-suffering colleagues know, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time taking photographs – even tonight!.  But persistence and hard work are part of the same coin. You will remember an erudite American president – yes, they have had them – said that that nothing in the world can take the place of persistence: ‘Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men of talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated failures.’ Well, here in this room we have education, talent and occasionally genius, but I believe that the things that have brought us all here are hard work and persistence.

We have quite a crop of retirements this year, both in Millers and in the industry.  Millers are seeing the retirement of Stephen James and Francis Frost shortly after me - which is explicable by the fact that we all started in Millers on the same day, in October 1967 - or at least they did; for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained I turned up a day late.  Needless to say, they've bagged the window-side desks ever since. And we have just said goodbye to Tony Payne, with whom I worked happily alongside for ten years in ITIC - and later this year will see Hugh Wodehouse hanging up his debating socks.

Outside we are seeing the retirement of Chris Horrocks, Mans Jacobssen and Lloyd Watkins all of whom have had 1,000% more influence on our industry than I have, but show, on the ‘exception that proves the rule’ principle, what a vintage year this for decanting people. Incidentally one of my few claims to fame is that I was Lloyd’s immediate predecessor as Secretary of the International Group; a title that cut some ice in on my visits to places like Saudi Arabia with Francis Frost in the early 80s but as with most of our institutions, was many times easier to perform then than it has been in recent years.

As I move on from the City, I recall the retiree's prayer:  ‘God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway; the good fortune to run into the ones I do - and the eyesight to tell the difference’.  I’m not going to use that as an excuse to tell you about the people I never liked anyway, because I can honestly say that I can't think of a single person in my business life who falls into that category.  In any event, you risk offending those who might be expected to give you a decent lunch from time to time, to catch up on the gossip of which you were once the object.

Instead I am very much hoping that I will continue to run into the ones I do - which is all of you and many more besides.  Quite a number of you here have not just been friends, but have also enhanced my career by what I might call ‘flattering my performance’.  That will go for most of the lawyers, surveyors and other experts here whose experience and erudition has often got both me and the person that I was supposed to be advising out of a tight hole.  

Amongst those who have flattered my career are of course a number of my colleagues, several of them who have already passed into that amazing post-Miller state in which they look 20 years younger than they did before they retired.  I can't avoid mentioning two or three key people, although many more than that qualify.  First Bill Birch Reynardson, whose unwise invitation while shooting with my father to send young Herry up to Millers instead of to the bar was the luckiest break in my life, as well as his wonderful tutelage, both in matters of business and also in how to travel in style in places like Yugoslavia and India – not to mention Bahgdad, I have never forgotten.  The late Frank Ledwith, of course, who taught all of us who joined Miller's in the '60s, indoctrinating us in his year-long programme entitled ‘The Complete Mutual Insurance Man’ - I wish we still used it today. And Terence Coghlin, who I sat with when I first came up to Miller's from university. My attempts  to learn from him what he knew of P&I and Defence and about marvellous places like Japan, left his brain practically untouched.  David Martin-Clark too, was an immense help to me in many ways, particularly in the early days of the running of ITIC.  He was also my predecessor in Asia and left that ground well-tilled.  

Finally, I must mention my former secretary of over 20 years, Jo Johns, who I am glad to say has made it up here tonight from playing Widow Twankey in the panto at Cowes - although I am still well served by my current secretary, Pam Costello, who has organised this evening so excellently.  There is no denying that an exceptional secretary plays a key part in one's career.  Just to give you a flavour of Jo’s work ethic, (while keeping very quiet about her still more remarkable life and loves), she used to reach the office at 6 am every morning, and didn't leave until late in the evening.  The early mornings, she knew, were when I must reply to faxes from Japan, because the Japanese would expect to have an answer to the questions they sent the same day, before they themselves went home.  Nowadays, I suppose it's more efficient to bash out an e-mail oneself, but something is lost in the harmonious flow of work from the time when your secretary knew exactly what work you were doing.

Of course, ‘panta rei’ - everything changes - and we all need to move on.  I am becoming a grandfather in October and will be glad to have more time to give to the family, though whether my long-suffering wife Ayako will enjoy having a ‘wet leaf’ around after posting me missing for about half of every year remains to be seen.  However, being a grandfather reminds me of the lovely story of the little boy who goes up to his grandfather and says, "Grandad, can you make a noise like a frog?"  "Why do you ask?" says his grandfather.  The little boy replies, "Because mummy and daddy say that when you croak, we can get a new car."

And those of you who know me particularly well will know that I can’t make a speech without telling one of my favourite ‘bishop’ jokes. This one involves two bishops having a drink at the Atheneum. One of them was bemoaning the decline in modern morality and he said ‘But I never slept with my wife before I married her, did you?’ At which the other one looked up from his port and replied, ‘I really can’t remember old boy. What was her maiden name?’

And then there's my favourite story, and one that I'll leave you with.  It's a line from Johnny Carson who said, ‘I know a man who was determined to live a long life.  He gave up smoking, drinking, rich food and sex.  He was healthy right up until the time he killed himself!’  I'm determined to live a long life, and remain as happy as I have been amongst you all.  Thank you very much.

Herry Lawford
Trinity House, 13th April 2006

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Way We Were

I was thinking today about how much things have changed since I was young. A lot has changed in personal hygiene! In the 50s there were only two or three kinds of soap; English Leather, Coal Tar / Lifebuoy or Camay. Deodorants didn't exist. You washed under your arms with Lifebuoy and hoped it would keep you sweet-smelling for a few hours. I remember when an exciting new soap appeared - it was called - I think - Dove. It had a different and interesting smell and was suggestively curved (aimed at the female market – we boys still used Lifebuoy). But there was still very little choice.

There were only one or two kinds of shampoo - Vosene was one of them - and neither worked on dandruff so one had to use a strong coal tar preparation instead. It wasn't until the late 60s that a selenium-based cream was available and you could cure dandruff completely. Toothpaste too was limited to Macleans, Colgate or Pepsodent - and a flavoured one for children. Fluroide was introduced in the 1950s. After-shave was limited to 'cologne' such as 'Old Spice' or '4711'. When Paco Rabanne's 'Tabac' appeared we thought it very smart.

There was little choice in clothes too. For outside wear, we had 'duffle coats' with characteristic wooden toggles for buttons, and they only came in dark blue. We wore grey flannel or corduroy trousers or shorts and cotton or 'airtex' shirts. Socks would be darned when holes developed. Shoes would be Clarks sandals and we would have our feet measured for size with x-ray machines that showed one's feet clearly on a green screen. They were later banned!

It was common to carry a penknife in one's pocket, and we all aspired to the classic red Swiss Army penknife.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Memories of India - and of the the Lawfords and Pughs

My first visit to India - and to the Taj - was in 1972, when I accompanied Bill Birch Reynardson (later Miller's senior partner) on a visit. The Club had already established an interest in India in the '60s when Frank Ledwith made several visits in which he set up Rustom Mehta and his assistant Suresh Mankad from New India Assurance as the Club's correspondents.

I had been with Millers for about five years and my travelling - often with Bill Birch Reynardson - had until then been confined mostly to former Yugoslavia which, although beautiful, had communist-drab hotels and certainly nothing as richly magnificent as the Taj. Its stunning position overlooking the Arabian Sea towards what would later become Bombay High and its powerful Victorian architecture next to the Gateway of India, made an instant impression.

I had always been drawn to India partly because, like many Englishmen, I have family connections going back several generations through bot the Lawfords and the Pughs. General Edward Lawford, an engineer, had commanded the garrison in Madras and Mysore in the 1850s and his younger brother, Lt-Col Henry (1812-1880) also served in Madras. Likewise Lt-Col Edward Melville Lawford (1826-1891) was Colonel of the 4th Madras Cavalry, while his younger brother, Henry Baring Lawford was Chief Judge of the High Court of Kishnagur.

A Pugh great uncle had led the raid by the Calcutta Light Horse on Goa in the Second World War (which disabled German warships providing intelligence about the movement of allied shipping and was later made into a film ‘The Sea Wolves’ in which Lewis Pugh was played by Gregory Peck). My grandmother, Nina Arundel, whose father Sir Arundel Tagg Arundel was on Curzon's staff, married my grandfather Col Archie Pugh, who was then a solicitor in Calcutta, in 1894, while my great-grandfather was Attorney-General for Bengal. My mother was born in Darjeeling, the nearest hill station (though even today several hours journey away), and I remember her talking of the view of the Himalayas as seen from her bedroom window. Further back, "Wicked Uncle Edward" Lawford, another lawyer, became wealthy as Solicitor to the East India Company and Clerk to the Drapers Livery Company, building a house, Eden Park, described appreciatively by Pevsner in 'The Buildings of England'

It was thus with ribbons of family history behind me that we set up in rooms off the open galleries of the ‘old’ Taj, the new Taj tower not having yet been built. Bill Birch Reynardson took a suite with a fine dining room in which we entertained shipowners, government officials (such as the Director General of Shipping), lawyers and others at a long table flanked by white coated waiters. The ‘ordinary’ rooms were not lavish, but they had one marvellous attribute in that the windows could be thrown wide to let in the warm Arabian sea breezes bearing the scent of jasmine and spices. The sounds of hawkers, snake charmers and the daily thong of people who gathered on the seafront under one’s windows in the mornings and particularly in the evenings made the strongest sensory impression, and one that maintained my love for the Taj above all other hotels.

Sadly this magical experience can no longer be repeated, as they have finally replaced the old (and admittedly rickety) windows. The ‘new’ windows can only now be opened by calling on a member of staff - who has to be called back to close them again - and have no restraining bar so they can no longer be left wide open.

Needless to say I bought a Kashmiri carpet on that trip, and laid it out in my room. Bill Birch Reynardson was sure that I had been robbed but I was delighted with it, and it remains a prized family possession more than forty years later.

I returned to India in 1978 and spent three weeks travelling around the country visiting Calcutta, Delhi and Madras, and learning details of Indian maritime law and customs – and indeed Customs (with a large C) were one of the Clubs' major problems in those days as shortages and pilferage were rife in the docks and Customs enthusiastically raised Show Cause Notices for the infringements, sometimes years after the event. Indeed so egregious was the Customs Authority's behaviour that eventually the leading Indian lawyer, S. Venkiteswaran (known to all as Venky) took a case to the Supreme Court and got the ancient customs penalties struck down on the grounds of natural justice.

On another occasion in the early '80s I dealt with a case involving Japanese owners who had suffered at the hands of an Indian bill of lading forger. The owner (now the president of the company) and I spent a two weeks meeting in the Taj trying to recover monies lost as the result of cargoes being wrongly delivered.

Needless to say I continued to stay at the Taj, learning to escape the heat and crowds in its great halls. In the gardens one watched the crows swoop down to grab sandwiches off guests’ plates. The food at the Taj was mostly indifferent, although the toasted chicken tikka sandwiches were excellent, but they made their own crisps and the most delicious home made ginger ale, so strong that it had to be drunk with brandy or it would take the back of your throat off! Sadly neither of these delicacies are available any more. Visiting regularly in the 1980s in furtherance of ITIC's business in India - the agents there being understandably concerned about the long tail customs penalties - I got to know some of the Taj staff, two of whom have remained friends to this day.

One of my Miller colleagues, Robin Travis, took over the P&I role in India when I became involved with ITIC, and I joined him on occasion entertaining the Indian maritime community at cocktail parties next to the pool at the Taj; splendid events on warm evenings under dark blue velvet skies. In those days - and until quite recently - Bombay was a "dry" city, alcohol being allowed only if you could show that you were a registered alcoholic, so one had to bring in spirits. But this never seemed to result in any shortage at parties.

Later, in the early 90’s, serious rioting broke out in the city, with mobs overturning buses and burning cars. As it wasn’t safe to travel to the airport, I was stuck at the Taj for three days until the brave correspondent, Capt Sundareshan, drove me safely past the throngs and I was able to get on a plane

Another vagary of the hotel, although probably not entirely of its own making, used to be its fantastically poor telephone system. As laptops began to be carried in the '90s and we attempted to gather our e-mail from our servers back in London, hours would sometimes pass on lines so poor that one sometimes had to leave the system connected all night in order to get important documents. In fact it was far cheaper, even after acrimonious correspondence with the hotel management, to get the hotel telephone bills reduced by 70 or 80%, to go back to fax.

The service at the Taj declined during the '90s until, prompted by the rise of the Oberoi on the other side of Nariman Point, the hotel pulled itself together and it is again smart and well run. The service has improved back to the level of the 1970s with of course the addition of modern communications and equipment in the rooms. Unfortunately, though, the food is still not the best and is far better at the Oberoi. On a recent visit, too, a companion who I was entertaining in one of the lounges was scratched on the ankle by a rat, which produced a low-key furore amongst the staff.

As is obvious, the Taj is built back to front, supposedly as a snub to the British. The hotel was should stretch its two long wings magnificently towards the sea, but in fact it embraces the city behind. Consequently there are far fewer rooms facing the ocean than there should be - and I now find it almost impossible to get a sea view room. However, with the windows now sealed there is much less pleasure in watching the sun rise over Bombay High.

Shirt and suit makers still ply their trade in the shops on the ground floor. The shirts are fine, and all my business shirts come from there. Doubtless I pay more for them than I would do if I hunted down bargains in the city, but the convenience of walking in on the way back from a day's work and ordering three more "as per last" to be delivered to one's room in a day or two, makes them irresistible. Suits are however another thing. I once had a safari suit made, being told by the correspondent that this was what well dressed Englishmen should wear to conduct business in Bombay. The suit was duly produced but I hadn't reckoned with the fact that styles were many years behind Europe, and it sported huge bell bottoms. Needless to say it was never worn and I continued to stick boringly to a City suit. Attempts at a silk suit also failed. The cloth itself seemed fine, but what I failed to understand was that the quality of the ‘innards’ (the canvas and padding that are essential to a comfortable suit) were of an inferior quality compared to those used on good suits in London. Again an unworn suit and a lesson (rather more expensively) learned.

One of my fondest memories of the Taj was of an occasion when I was not there at all. My nephew's then girlfriend took a backpacking trip around India with two other friends and before she left I gave her a sealed envelope, only to be opened when she reached Bombay - which would be after several months dusty travel. When she got there she opened the envelope and found an invitation for two nights at the Taj for her and her friends. I can still hear the squeals of delight from the phone call they made to me that night.

Herry Lawford
24th February 2006