January 2002

A MILLENNIUM BEGUN

shapeimage_1Prompted by a reference on Radio 4 to the kind of year we have just survived, I jotted down some headlines from the news we have heard in this, the first year of a new century and millennium.

There have been some bright moments of course, mainly personal: we welcomed a new grandson in November; our family kept their health and most of their wealth; we congratulated friends who had reached improbable ages; the outside of the house was (mostly) repainted; a nearly-new car was bought and proved a winner; two holidays were taken in Cornwall and nobody fired me as half-a-sec. Yet.

But the rest of the world! What next, for heaven’s sake?

Start at the beginning of the year with Foot and Mouth, lasting from February to November and seemingly unconquerable. It will be years, if ever, before the country recovers from this mishandling.

Terrorism. Nothing new as a subject – we have had it on our doorsteps for thirty years and more – but did you actually watch the middle of Manhattan collapse live on TV? I did and it was horrifying. Now we are learning the extent of the West’s wrath and seeing a whole people’s misery in Afghanistan. Is this the end of the war? No, not even the beginning of the end. What next? The Holy Land? Iraq? Somalia, for heck’s sake?

Economic depression. For decades we have enjoyed a continuing round of riches, with just minimal dips in the graph. Some of us are old enough to remember the Thirties and wonder if that can happen again. It shouldn’t, what with knowledge of the past to hand, but it might all the same. Pray that it doesn’t.

There are lesser evils abroad too: Professional football has reared a race of louts; the English middle order batsmen should return to school; TV choice; Postman Pat is threatened with political correctness, and must include a multi-ethnic cast (in the Yorkshire Dales? where 0.3% of the population isn’t white?); and then there’s “Harry Potter”, to use a rude expression.

The more I see, the more I realise we are of a generation that was lucky beyond reason. Good for us but are we allowed to pass on our sense of right to the children of today? Good grief, no! We might damage their little mindsets Or bottoms.

A happy New Year to you all. The only way is up, after all.

The Songsters

shapeimage_2Good? They were great! When Brian Blakeney announced something different for our Christmas luncheon meeting, nobody expected such an excellent entertainment as the seventeen singers of Velvet Harmony who gave us forty minutes of pure pleasure with their performance of a round dozen well-chosen songs, plus an one when we demanded an encore.

Anxious not to be called a ‘choir’ – they prefer ‘a singing group’ – they were as good and better than many who perform under the more formal name. Barbershop harmony was able to cope with songs of all sorts, from serious ones like the Ukrainian carol to more light hearted items such as Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer, which last was sung as a quartet. Some were old-time: e.g. when was the last occasion when you heard ‘Jeepers Creepers’? During the war, I think.

Barbershop’ really isn’t the right expression – though they use it – making one think of bewhiskered men in Victorian aprons putting their heads together and waving razors in the air. ‘Four part harmony’ sounds too formal for their cheerful way of approaching a song; ‘Close harmony’ more nearly represents their style. Call it what you will, it was a pleasure to listen to and Brian could do no better than invite them again next Christmas. He has certainly set a standard that will be hard to match, never mind beat in the future.

Today:

Jim Mulvey introduces us to the world of the Internet.

February 7th:

We shall hear from the Orpheus Trust about their work with disabled children, whose latent artistic talents are trained to professional standards in their Care Centre in Godstone.

March 7th:

The AGM. We have had a number of new members this last year

and many others with longer service, all of whom would make new blood for the Committee. Our Club doesn’t run on automatic; it needs infusions of new blood on a regular basis, so if you have ideas and would like to put your name forward for election, start thinking and tell half-a-sec Ian Scales or any current Officer.

Jean Cantey

Our Christmas lunch last month left us sated and comfortable, a combination of no mean feat. Sated by the excellence of the food and its cooking, comfortable in the knowledge that we had started the Christmas season in proper form.

There was, however a sad announcement to be made: the most excellent chef who has satisfied our inner men for all these years, Jean Cantey, had prepared our last meal for us before retiring from Clubhouse Caterers.

Jean was brought in to our meeting by Reg Baker, who told us the news and rightly thanked her roundly for the service she has given us. We thanked her with sincerity and presented her with a small token of our appreciation.

News about Members

We welcome Dieter Merbitz, Denis Evans and Ken Bennett to this meeting as visitors and hopefully as future members.

John Lindsey has been observed walking round the shops in Coulsdon, looking slightly shook by his recent stroke, but otherwise the same as before. He is furious because he has been told not to drive the car for a couple of months.

Harry Stockbridge spent his first Christmas Day in The Shaw and reports very favourably on his treatment by the staff. Half the residents – twelve of them with the rest all off with family for the day – sat down to an excellent and proper Christmas feast, crackers and silly hats and all. Much chat ensued.

Dick Manton was unable to get home from hospital for Christmas. Our thoughts and hopes for recovery are with him.

The Newsletter

It is six years since the Newsletter first sprung to life, back in the last century, even in the last millennium.

It seems to fill the needs of our members and I dare not turn up to a meeting without it. I enjoy preparing it every month, so that part’s all right.

There is a problem, however, which looms larger with each edition and that is the lack of input by members.

In the very first edition it was pointed out that a letter is only one half of a correspondence and you were all encouraged to produce your half. For a while, I was able to rely on a handful of extremely enjoyable and usable contributions, but for the past few months there has been a near-total lack of anything. Interesting as my life has been – especially and probably only to me it represents but one-sixtieth of the potential input available.

Have I offended with heavy-handed editing? I know this happened once though I think forgiveness ruled in the end; we’re still talking, anyway. All copy has to be edited to fit, sometimes by reduction in size, often by having to extend it, and that applies to my words of wisdom too. Surely you have a story to tell that we would enjoy reading.

Ladies, I am told you enjoy reading it, so why not put your side of life into words and let me have them? I may be opening Pandora’s box with this offer but, like the original box it could prove illuminating and even life-changing. Gentlemen, if the thought of a distaff column horrifies, blizzard me with contributions of your own.

There might even be Hope left in the box for the future of the Newsletter.

Brian Blakeney sent me a page of ‘fillers’ for the elderly, bless him, so they will appear from time to time, like now. As a Club we can relate to the advancing years only too personally. Like, you know you’re getting old when everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work; or you sit in a rocking chair and can’t make it go.

Life’s like that…

Christmas Past

Fifty years ago yesterday, as a callow youth of 24 years, I arrived in Nigeria to begin what turned out to be a ten-year stretch in the Colonial Service.

It had all begun well enough, leaving Liverpool on the new Elder Dempster mail liner Aureol a few days before Christmas, handing in my identity card and ration book to the Customs & Excise Officer before being allowed on board. It was a filthy wet, cold evening and the warmth and light of the ship was more than welcome. I met my cabin partner, a man old-looking before his time after four years spent as a PoW in Japanese hands and we settled down to a fortnight’s cruise to the tropics.

There were a number of us on board going out for the first time and we spent the trip learning the basics of living in Africa from those who had been before us, the most surprising fact to me being that only Africans wore a topee – and that as a badge of authority. This put me in a quandary, I having believed that part of the kit list given to me before travelling. All was well, though: in a moving ceremony just south of the Canaries, the topee was solemnly sent to the bottom of the Atlantic where it undoubtedly joined hundreds of others.

We docked at Las Palmas on the morning of Christmas Day. The weather was about as unlike the UK as it was possible to imagine: warm, sunny and smelling of Africa. One of our group, having been there before, had ordered a taxi by radio from the ship. We found it (or another one just like it) and headed for the hills, up a precipitous road clinging to the side of the extinct volcano that formed the island in the first place. We stopped at a point where several small ragged children begged alms from us. Were they the family of the driver? Probably, but I never knew.

The taxi pulled off the road and we got out beside a small house – a hut, almost – where we were welcomed by the owner who turned to a cask mounted at the back of the dimly-lit room, filled two bottles of a rough red wine therefrom and passed four nearly-clean glasses to us at the same time. 1/6d a bottle, I think it was.

Out into the glorious sun, not so hot now that we were several thousand feet above sea level, we sat on wooden stools round a rough table, emptied the bottles, ordered more and drank them, all the while chatting and taking in the view of Las Palmas far below and the tiny toy-like good ship Aureol tied up to the dock.

That evening back on board as we sailed on south, we sat down to a Christmas feast the like of which had not been seen in rationed England for a dozen years. Barely able to rise from our seats, we stepped out on deck for some fresh air.

Looking up at the sky was a sight rarely given to travellers. It was one of those nights when the air was clear and dry with no moon. Spread out before us was the most wonderful panoply of the heavens, every star showing its colour, some seemingly near enough to grasp, all against a background of more galaxies than could be possible. I’ve never seen its like again.

A Christmas Day to remember indeed

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 61.

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