It all began as a twist on a dinner party game, albeit at a corporate hospitality event hosted by Standard Chartered at the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St Georges, Sandwich.

Guests around the table were posed the questions: “Who are you, why do you work the way you do and what do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

Catrin Rowlands – who had been surprised by the serious nature of others’ responses in spite of a long, well-lubricated day – said that if she had the chance, she would work with street children in Latin America.

Rowlands was (and is) personal assistant to Philip Marsden, then deputy chief executive of Whitehead Mann. The next summer, Marsden parted company with the executive search company and took time off before launching Ridgeway Partners (Mudlark, June 8 2004/January 21 2005). So Rowlands also found herself with a career break.

“Faced with time off, I felt that I had to rise to my own challenge,” Rowlands recalled on Wednesday. After investigating volunteer groups, she chose to work through i-to-i, an 11-year-old organisation based in Leeds.

Volunteers with i-to-i pay to take part – the money goes for training, among other things. She raised £9,000 from contacts and by September of last year she was off to Costa Rica.

At 34, Rowlands was older and more experienced than the gap year students who provide the main source for i-to-i volunteers, although she was not unique. About a third of volunteers are taking a career break.

She was also different because of her fluency in Spanish and Catalan, with a degree in Hispanic Studies, four years of work in Barcelona for Clifford Chance and several backpacking trips to Latin America under her belt.

This enabled her to be placed in an adoption home in a village near the town of Palmares. She helped to care for 16 children, from infants to 12 years old.

She remembers, above all, the children’s unselfishness. One eight-year-old girl, given £1.50 for her first communion, wanted to buy gifts for all of the others.

Rowlands ate beans and rice for every meal and lived with a family who had built a rough timber room at the side of their house to provide accommodation for the i-to-i volunteer. After the July 7 London bombs, Rowlands’ mobile rang. Her “family” in Costa Rica had borrowed a phone card to call her from the village’s only public call box, just to make sure she was all right.

Receding chintz

Simon Robertson, the investment banker who retired this week as president of Goldman Sachs Europe, has a brother called Jamie, who is a hotelier of note in Cornwall.

Robertson’s latest venture with his wife, Felicity, is Jamies, a villa offering bed and breakfast and views over St Ives towards Godrevy lighthouse, the one that completed To The...for Virginia Woolf.

Jamies has eschewed the country chintz that pervaded Nansidwell Hotel, Robertson’s previous venture on the Helford River some miles south of St Ives, for the cool Mediterranean chic that is so Cornwall these days.

This is a pity, because Mudlark has heard from a guest whose abiding memory of Nansidwell, aside from the surprisingly large bill, was Robertson serving dinner in floral bow-tie and cummerbund matching the curtains. Indeed, they were offcuts from said curtains.

Let actions speak

The struggle a few years ago between British Land and Laxey Partners, its activist shareholder, was watched with fascination by the property industry and others in the City.

Yet the two main actors – John Ritblat, British Land’s chairman, and Colin Kingsnorth, his counterpart at Laxey – have never met.

There was not a single encounter during their 18-month epic duel, in which Kingsnorth tried to unseat Ritblat. And they have never even spoken – before, during or since – according to Kingsnorth.

He added, with a touch of understatement: “Let’s just say we were both very strong characters.”

Due consideration

The result of Mudlark’s consultation exercise about possible new names for the FDA, the senior civil servants’ union that wants to put the First Division Association behind it, will be published on Friday. As FDA members no doubt are fond of advising, there’s no need to rush these things.

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