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Master's Weekend in Washington

Towards the end of each biennial Bowyers' Company Mastership, the Master organises a Master's Weekend away to a destination of choice, and so it was that in early May 2018 a convivial group of 23 Bowyers, spouses and partners flew to Washington DC in early May for the Master's Weekend trip organised by our current Master, Tony Kench. Tony had spent five years working in the Washington area during his GE career, so knew it well, but many had never been there before, and everyone was looking forward to having a good time.

In a five-night stay we saw the magnificent monumental sights of Washington, we were privileged to have some behind-the-scenes visits, and we enjoyed four good American dinners and a good American brunch (before baseball obviously).

The most impressive dinner of our stay was on the Friday at the City Tavern Club in Georgetown, one of Washington's iconic locations, dating from 1796. After a pre-dinner drink in Clyde's Bar next door, the evening at the club began with the Master's traditional champagne reception, followed by a wonderful dinner in the club's Long Room, the very room where President John Adams dined on 6 June 1800, when it was recorded that "the utmost harmony and conviviality prevailed".

The Master welcomed as his guests for the evening his old friend and former GE colleague Colin Church and his wife Laurie, residents of DC, with some good reminiscing of happy times working together. After dinner we returned to Clyde's, then headed back to our hotel refreshed and ready for our free day's sightseeing on the Saturday.

Saturday evening saw us enjoying a 'southern cuisine' dinner at Georgia Brown's restaurant in McPherson Square, complete with she-crab soup, gumbo, jambalaya and peach cobbler. We started Sunday morning with a visit to the White House Visitor Centre, followed by stoking up across the street from the White House at Old Ebbitt's Grill, one of the best. We took six tables between us, and enjoyed full size American breakfasts with lashings of coffee, and in several sturdier cases some stronger stuff.

Most of the party, at least those who thought that baseball had more attraction than "watching paint dry" (to quote IPM John Hayton), then set out by Metro to the ballpark to watch the Washington Nationals play the Philadelphia Phillies. It soon became obvious that for the first two hours or so, it was an essential part of the game that nothing much seemed to happen at all: the two top-class pitchers on show gave up only a single run, and the Nats' pitcher got Washington Post headlines next morning for throwing 15 strike-outs in 6 innings. But in the last half an hour suddenly the excitement rose, and the scoreline went in very quick succession from 1-0 to the Phillies to a dramatic 5-4 win for the Nationals. It was all very satisfying for the home crowd, with whom at least for the day the Bowyers felt very much part, as evidenced by our welcome on the stadium scoreboard!

After the game we went back by Metro, straight to an informal early evening meal at PJ Clarke's, at the junction of 16th and K. Another jolly time was had by all before we walked back to our hotel, the Kimpton Donovan at 14th and M, in many cases via a nightcap round the corner at our adopted watering hole for the weekend, Maddy's Tap Room at 13th and L.

The most active day of all had probably been our first full day on Friday when, beautifully choreographed by the Master and Enid, we saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial ("Freedom is not Free"), the Jefferson Memorial and the US Capitol. Inside the Capitol, after the public tour, we were privileged to be treated to a private tour by a friend-of-a-friend congressional tax specialist working on Capitol Hill, Melissa O'Brien, during which we sat inside the House of Representatives and the old Senate Chamber too. So many times did we walk past the 'Ways and Means Committee' office and the office of the Leader of the House, Paul D Ryan, that it began to feel like we already belonged there!

We even stood on the Senate Balcony, the very place in the Capitol where every newly inaugurated president appears, with that famous two-mile view down the Mall to the Washington Monument and beyond to the Lincoln Memorial. We all came away from our visit to The Hill with a much better perspective of the US political system and its origins, before adjourning for a light lunch at the well-known Bullfeathers Pub, by Capital South metro.

Having luxuriated in the relative sedentary comfort of the baseball stadium seats on Sunday, we had another organised day of activity on Monday. Carefully shepherded by the Master, our leather-seated coach took us to Annapolis in Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay, for a tour of the US Naval Academy. The academy, dating from 1845, is the US Navy's equivalent of the Royal Navy's Dartmouth, but built on a huge scale, over 300 acres, and catering for an annual intake of 1,200 Naval Academy officer cadets ('midshipmen'), for a tough 4-year course.

We learned that one of the main ways to apply for a place at the Academy is to get nominated by your Congressman, a process later confirmed when the Master and I were fortunate to meet on Tuesday morning Congressman George Holding (North Carolina 2nd District): he can personally nominate 9 potential midshipman applicants each year from his District, and takes the process very seriously.

After a tour of the Memorial Hall and the other Academy facilities, a private visit had been arranged for us to the on-site planetarium for an expert talk by Lt Cdr Gavin Lowe RN. Gavin is the Royal Navy's current exchange officer based in Annapolis, and most recently served on our very own HMS Northumberland. He was adamant on the continuing need for celestial navigation (old fashioned triangulation from the stars to any point on the earth's or sea's surface), or 'celnav' for short. The US Navy had abandoned celnav in favour of GPS from 2002, but has recently reinstated the teaching of the ancient mariner's art, 'just in case', via the expertise of Royal Navy officers.

After lunch in the officers' mess on base, and an hour's wander through the truly charming old town of Annapolis, founded in the 17th century and one of the earliest on the Eastern seaboard, we returned by coach to Washington in the afternoon.

Our last formal dinner that evening was at the Ocean Prime restaurant on 14th and G, where we had a private room for dinner and an excellent celebratory meal. We thanked the Master and Enid for their wonderful hard work in putting together such a fabulous trip, before retiring round the corner to Maddy's for a final nightcap.

On Tuesday everyone headed out, either back to England or for extended North American holidays, with great memories of a trip well travelled, with exceptional conviviality throughout. As John Manley later put it, we could not have had a better introduction to the city of Washington, its sights, its food and its character, and everyone did indeed have a really good time.

Nigel Heilpern

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