April 2002

AN OCCASIONAL AGONY

Annual General Meeting Agenda

Minutes of the last AGM & matters arising.

Chairman’s report.

Treasurer’s report.

Election of Officers & Committee for the coming year.

Any other business.

The Chaining of the New Chairman.

Speakers

Richard Stilgoe
Richard Stilgoe

We welcomed members of The Orpheus Trust to our February meeting, when staff members Donna Holland and Holly Machin accompanied by apprentices Louise Tennuci and Angus Morton came to tell us about the splendid work they do at their centre near Godstone, which used to be Richard Stilgoe’s home.

The Trust was started by Richard and Annabel Stilgoe in 1985 to support young disabled people in the fields of music and drama, giving them the opportunity to develop their creative talents in these spheres and at the same developing their sense of responsibility and self confidence that their disabilities had withheld. A dozen or so apprentices spend anything from one to three years learning their trade with the Trust, most importantly testing their ability to perform in front of a live audience.

That this is successful can be vouched for by your Editor, whose Christmastides are not complete without seeing the excellent show they put on then. Not just the acting and singing: the whole show is produced by them, from largely writing the script, plus lighting and scenery and front-of-house. Nor just Christmas, of course: last year they performed at Glastonbury, the Dome, Notting Hill carnival, the Royal Opera House and many local venues, schools and colleges.

They will be doubling the number of apprentices later this year when their new development of apartments will be complete, allowing those whose disabilities can cope with a near-normal life to be as independent as possible.

There was so much to tell us, so little time to tell it. We all went away with stacks of brochures illustrating the Trust’s past and present, together with details of their plans for the immediate and long-term future.

The Newsletter will advertise their next Christmas show, well worth enjoying.

Today
The AGM plus, if time allows, a short talk that only Brian Blakeney knows about; if he told me, I’ve forgotten.

April 4th
Members Remember: Anecdotes by the bravest amongst us, prepared to make us laugh at or with them.

May 2nd
Mrs Theo Spring will relate the story of Croydon’s successful Tramlink. It really is a worthwhile addition to life here.

June 6th
It may be D-Day anniversary, but Peter Baldwin will be telling us about travelling in Tibet.

Speaker Secretary is one of those jobs with a high worry-factor built in; not just finding speakers with interesting subjects, but hoping they don’t let you down by forgetting, or dying, or something at the last minute.

We have enjoyed an outstanding twelvemonth and it is down to Brian Blakeney for keeping us entertained all that time. Thanks, Brian.

News about Members

It is invidious of me to select just one Committee Member for praise as I have just done, without listing others equally worthy of our thanks, but even The Bible doesn’t say that life will be fair.

Who is to say that Ray Harris doesn’t have troubled moments about drivers? He copes, though, effortlessly (or at least seamlessly) to keep the system going.

Stan Rogers has had one of the most thankless tasks. Being Outings Secretary appears to be a short-term job since nobody can stand being let down too often by us members. Thanks, Stan, for the hard work you have put into the job.

Harry Cundell will up sticks a sell his ties in Surrey Street if we don’t support him, while Vic Jordan, who has a bad case of Golfing, presides over a section apparently ignored by most old and new Members alike, but he still manages to field a team worthy of the largest box of Bronze medals in the business (idea: Harry, good haberdasher: add these to your stock to meet a certain market!).

Reg Baker deserves this paragraph to himself. While Brian only has to worry about one speaker per month, Reg copes with anything up to fifty dining members every time. Will they attend as they said they would? Will they enjoy his choice of menu? Of course we will and do, reliably and with pleasure.

Our Officers this year, Chairman Ken Carter, Vice-chairman Bryan Chilton, Membership Secretary George Davis and last but by no means least Treasurer Malcolm Ruscoe-Pond have done excellent work controlling the Committee, including Peter Barker and Doug Elliott. No mean feat in itself. George Davis ‘volunteered’ at the last Committee meeting and will take over the whole job of Secretary. They all perform their duties admirably and we owe them our thanks.

Ian Scales did his promised one year as half-a-sec and will quit today, though he will continue to act as unofficial interface when attracting new members. A further ‘thank you’ from the Editor of the Newsletter to those who have added their contributions. I even have a couple in hand, following my plea in January

John Lindsey has written to say he will not be renewing his membership. We wish him and Olive well for the future, now that they have recovered from the frightful bug that was going the rounds and which hit them hard.

Outings
We had a poor turnout for the visit to Redhill last month, with less than a dozen members-and-wives going to see how the other half plays. Impressive, is the only word for their halls and their enthusiasm. Maybe when the weather is better…

Shepherd Neame Brewery on the other hand, can look forward to seeing a full coachload of us at Faversham on April 25th. Well, nearly full now and by then all seats will have been taken up, hopes Stan Rogers. If you haven’t booked yet, Stan will be glad to take your name and your money, but time is running out, what with Easter and all to contend with before then.

An Occasional Agony Column
Dupuytrens Contracture or Claw Finger
by Bill Brinkley

I am sure that fellow members must have interesting ailments and conditions to share. Here’s mine: Sufferers know how aged fingers progressively bend into the palm as a result of nodular growths on the ligaments. This can require surgery costing £700 or more, depending on the amount of cutting and skin grafting involved; or an interminable wait for NHS action. My clawed little finger bent to a stage where it was no longer an advantage in gripping a golf club or picking whelks. A Times article led me to Dr. Lermusiaux’s Paris clinic (Tel. 00331 4381 5527), which I reached via the Internet, Eurostar and RER.

From The Times write-up and a learned paper on needle fasciectomy e-mailed by the good doctor, I expected something of a chic white marbled clinic with coiffured receptionists and irresistible nurses. What I found was the doctor’s house in a small suburban back street, where he himself ushered me into his homely surgery. He took my details over an antique desk covered by a collection of dozens of owl figurines.

This done, I expected him to scrub up or down and change into surgical gear, but it was all most informal and chatty. He asked me to lie down on a black leatherette couch and following the gyp caused by the first of three injections in my finger, he proceeded to use the bevel of the needle to crack the nodule problem. Twenty minutes and 50 euros later I was on my way!

In answer to my enquiry (in perfect French), he said I should be able to play the piano in two days, which was remarkable because I could not play before. (No.253 in the Walton Joke Book). However the French do not appear to have a good sense of humour as he failed to laugh, but he did say I could drive my car straight away and play golf in a couple of days when the bandage was removed.

Eventually, following recuperation in the Muse d’Orsay and the Latin Quarter, I had only one injection spot and one slightly bent finger — which should straighten up with exercise — to show my disbelieving wife.

It was no worse than going to the dentist, so if a slight problem develops with my other hand, I shall pop in for another go during another trip to Paris.

The Passing of an Age
shapeimage_2-1Twenty-four hours to contemplate the death of HM The Queen Mother and what it means to each of us personally and to the country at large, is not enough. Why, for goodness sake? It is not as though she was a personal friend; indeed only a lucky few of us would ever have had the chance to see her in the flesh, let alone be honoured by a conversation.

But remote she wasn’t, not to any of her millions of subjects. She didn’t need a whole century to make her mark on society and us; to modify – even by an inevitably small amount – my outlook on the world and manners amongst my friends.

“The Queen Mother”. She invented the title for herself, so much more friendly than “The Dowager Queen”, allowing us the thought of inviting her into our family should the occasion arise. She invented the ‘walkabout’ in Australia long before its modern interpretation, allowing her to talk to high or humble. She shared many of our own interests and was prepared to chat about them. She shared the misery of the East End during the war and while one will always get the odd malcontent in such a crowd, her devotion to the people of this land helped us to win without buckling.

George V was a king of the 19th century and made certain that everyone knew it. Like his son, he started life with no idea that he would ascend to the throne, but when the death of his elder brother changed his prospects, it didn’t change him in the least. He even inherited his elder brother’s fiancie and married her. Like his son, he was plunged into a war within a few years of being crowned, but unlike George VI he didn’t have the sense the choose his own wife.

What drove Elizabeth? Two old-fashioned words spring to mind: Duty and a Devotion to it. She and King George VI were the first Monarchs to break the Victorian mould. When they married, neither expected what life threw at them but when it happened, there was a duty to be performed. It can be done two ways: with reluctant acceptance, or with devotion to the job in hand.

And when the job is finished by the death of your husband, what then? Invent another and do that with devotion for the next half of your life.

The March Meeting
Not too unusual for these days, when we welcomed Roger Davis as a guest and hopefully as a new member, and then followed by enrolling Dieter Mervitz, David Drinkwater and Tony Marks as members. If we go on at this sort of rate, we shall for the first time start to have to think about forming an orderly queue of would-be Probeans; a Waiting List forsooth. Odd, really, that we have never had to take this step in our long history as a Club; most others in this district have found it necessary.

Brian Blakeney reported that he had received a ‘thank you’ letter from the Orpheus Trust who visited us in February.

Reg Baker announced that he had booked the Ladies Lunch for October 24th. at Coulsdon Manor Hotel, where we were so well catered for last year, though I hope they will lay on better bar, bar staff and sitting down arrangements than then. The arrangements then didn’t spoil the occasion, but we were all surprised that such a hotel didn’t do better.

Reg also warned us that the August meeting would be on the 15th of the month, since the Sports Club were holding a Sports Day on the 1st. Sounds like a reasonable excuse for a sports club…

The A G M
The AGM was held at the end of our last meeting on March 7th. The Minutes of the previous AGM were read and confirmed and Ken Carter, our retiring Chairman reported on his year in office, thanking individually each and every Officer and Committee member who had helped him.

Malcolm Ruscoe-Pond the (continuing) Treasurer distributed copies of the accounts and was happy to point to the ‘Carried Forward’ sum of £499.61, compared with £304.03 at the last AGM. This was partly due to the profit we made on the Ladies Lunch and that was due to members not reclaiming money paid but who were unable to attend. We shall be looking at continuing the luncheon, though, which is unpopular with members.

The elections then took place, when Bryan Chilton moved up from Vice-Chairman to Chairman, Brian Blakeney was elected Vice Chairman, while continuing as Speaker Secretary, Malcolm Ruscoe-Pond was re-elected Treasurer, George Davis was elected Secretary Reg Baker agreed to do yet another year as Luncheon Secretary, Peter Barker and Doug Elliott continued as Committee Members.

Stan Rogers announced his retirement as Outings Secretary and was thanked for the hard work he had put into this most difficult job. We hope to find a replacement in the near future.

Vic Jordan (Golf), Harry Cundell (Haberdasher) and Ray Harris (Transport) all reported on their work and were thanked by the Chairman, especially since they had all agreed to continue in their Offices.

Ian Scales, the retiring Minute Secretary was thanked too, but only on the understanding that he would continue to look after Publicity and, by popular request, continue to produce The Newsletter, which he will do. (I thoroughly enjoy writing this for you all. It helps to keep my brain active. Looking through past editions over the last seven years, I notice there has been very little development in format or content. If you think there is room for change, or if you have any ideas you would like incorporated, please let me know.)

New Members
Following on from the three new members last month, today we are inducting two more: David Porter and Roger Davis. May their membership flourish and be long. Our Internet site continues to attract interest, despite (or because) I forgot to give Jim Mulvey last month’s Newsletter for inclusion. It’s not just idle curiosity, either, since Martin Wilkins saw it, telephoned me and is here as a visitor today, with every intention, we hope, of joining us. Alan Rose, on the other hand read our poster in the library and is also visiting us for the first time. Welcome to you both.

Bringing you up to date:
Today’s meeting is another without a formal speaker. Instead, Brian Blakeney will be calling on members to tell us of amusing — or even embarrassing — experiences from their past lives. Detailed notes will not feature in next month’s Newsletter, unless, of course they’re too good to ignore.

May 2nd
Mrs Theo Spring will tell us the story of the Croydon Tramlink. A remarkable success which will lead to more systems in the UK.

June 6th
Peter Baldwin regales us with his Travels in Tibet.

Golf
Vic Jordan reports an unusual result from the match at Reigate Heath, in that while we (assisted by Purley) retained our usual bronze medal position, it was Reigate that came out on top, having introduced a rather excellent new member of their Club. It was a lovely day on March 20th., Reigate Heath — always an attractive course with wonderful views — was at its best, so our lowly result was enjoyed, mostly by the opposition, no doubt.

The next match is on June 11th at Coulsdon.

Old is when …

… the gleam in your eye is the sun shining on your bifocals

… you look forward to a dull evening

… a dripping tap causes an uncontrollable urge.

Size Matters
by Victor Jordan

When at his desk at Tangmere, R J Mitchell would have reflected on the dimensions required for the Spitfire cockpit. The science of ergonomics was in its infancy then, but no doubt he pondered on the stature and build of the pilots who would fly his masterpiece. Was there a specification for a standard Briton, with a standard length of leg and arm, standard height and chest measurement?

When I first sat in the cockpit of a Spitfire 2, I was sure that R J Mitchell had someone just like me in mind: 5′ 7″ tall and weighing 10 st. 4lbs. The remarkable thing is that my colleagues, whether shorter or taller, felt much the same, apart from the few so elongated that their heads impacted on the cockpit cover. Fighter pilots came in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, in whatever flying position I put my Spitfire, intentionally or unintentionally, I felt that someone of my physique could cope. Having trained at 3 BFTS in Oklahoma I was aware that, whatever the specifications for the average Briton, those for the average American were somewhat larger. T-bone steaks and all that, so I was not entirely surprised when I climbed into the cockpit of the P51 Mustang to find myself at full stretch even with the aid of as many cushions as the RAF could muster.

Sitting in the cockpit of the 91 Squadron Spitfire Mark 21 at Duxford, with the Griffon engine stretching away it seemed to infinity, I was comforted as I looked around the cockpit to find everything comfortably to hand as they had been in the dear old Mark 2. All a piece of cake, I thought, but as I opened up the throttle the aircraft seemed to develop a life of its own. It veered off to starboard at an angle of about 45 degrees, responding to the torque produced by the 5-bladed propeller, gaining speed at a monstrous rate. I had been warned about the need for plenty of left rudder, but what was meant by ‘plenty’? Already my left foot felt as if it was about to go through the front of the cockpit. Too late to abort takeoff, I continued my way, silently praying that the undercarriage would not collapse, perhaps marking the end of my flying career. Subsequently I learned to keep a straighter course but I never felt entirely happy until I felt the undercarriage retract. Nor, I suspect, did my fellow pilots during a formation take off! Reverting later to the Merlin-engined Mark 9 may have meant a loss of power, but it took a lot of strain off my left leg.

A postscript on size came during a 3 BFTS reunion in the USA. Visiting an airfield in Missouri to view some crop-spraying biplanes, we were introduced to the president of the company. As was their wont, my two colleagues — both 6 ft. plus — described me as the only RAF pilot who required three cushions. Thereupon the president extended his hand and said: “Put it there, I flew Lightnings in the Pacific and I needed three cushions too”. Immediately he and I formed the exclusive Three Cushion Club.

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 64.

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