November 2003

DON’T ARGUE, DEBATE IT!

shapeimage_1-9As I have mentioned in these columns before, along with several other Probeans in our Club I am a member of the Coulsdon &: Purley Debating Society. No recent foundation, it started in 1909 when gentlemen returning from Town on the train didn’t have time to finish the discussion before walking home to Fairdene or Reddown Road.

Our debates cover everything from local developments to national and international matters. We attempt to avoid party politics, though since they are part of life as we live it, they are fair game for our astonishingly intelligent minds.

Our debates cover everything from local developments to national and international matters. We attempt to avoid party politics, though since they are part of life as we live it, they are fair game for our astonishingly intelligent minds.

There is a matter coming up which we really must thrash out: the reduction of England to a collection of mini-states, each with its own government, but all subject to overall control from Europe. What the hell are they doing that for?

At the back end of the Dark Ages, England didn’t exist as a political entity; instead, there were some dozen kings more or less controlling provinces who were continually at war with each other. Northumbria fought Deria (Yorkshire) and Bernicia for control of the north, lesser kingdoms such as Elmet, Rheged and Gododdin attempted survival in parts of Lancashire and Westmoreland and the Solway. Mercia covered the midlands and fought the Welsh Britons, keeping them out with Offa’s Dyke; a little later they had serious problems with Viking invaders who took over the eastern parts of its kingdom. Meanwhile the western Saxons fought the southern Saxons in the kingdom of Sussex and the Jutish kings of Kent nibbled at the borders of Wessex, including Coulsdon.

Alfred the Great, a Wessex king, overcame his enemies by a mixture of politics, sex (he swapped daughters with rival kings) and satisfaction of their greed with heaps of gold and so could claim to be king of Britannia, sensibly ignoring the Welsh and the Scots. It took centuries to achieve and had to await the Norman invasion to actually mean anything.

Now our government wants to split the nation again, pitting Northumbria against Wessex, Goddodin against Deria, adding a whole new layer of government to an already over-governed population. We must debate it, and soon.

Speakers

We welcomed Pauline Payne to our October luncheon, who told us about plans for the Smitham Bottom centre of Coulsdon.

Pauline came as a representative of the Coulsdon New Millennium Projects Group (CNMPG), formed following the success of the Millennium 2000 Group who, amongst other things set up the Cairn on Farthing Down. They attract representatives from Associations, Clubs and Societies in Coulsdon and, under a new constitution designed to work for the betterment of the town in association with four local Residents’ Associatians and others, keep an eye on the many changes coming up following completion (in 2005) of the relief road.

Croydon Council no longer funds such Groups – though they ‘facilitate’ them, whatever that means so they have to generate their own money mainly from local fairs and the like; they are also preparing a book – Snapshots in Time – for sale on publication, which will do better than just pay for itself, they hope.

Pauline’s main reason for speaking to us was to promote a particular project: the completian, after nearly seventy years – of Coulsdon library. Built in 1936 to replace a couple of bookshelves in Smitham School, it had been intended to have much more space than it does. The land is still there. A development causing headache is the proposed redevelopment of the Red Lion, currently looking quite horrible while awaiting demolition. A hotel might be a good idea, but unlike the current proposal it should have facilities for local clubs to dine and for holding meetings; it should also have ugh car parking for their visitors, both transient and local. It has neither. Plans have a long way to before being adopted, but it is only with the likes of the CNMPG prodding for what they want, that won’t end up with a hideous modem monstrosity in our midst. Pauline’s talk was right on the button and enabled us to act for our community. The CNMPG deserves our support.

Speakers

Today:

John Chisholm introduces us to England through the eyes of the writer A R Quinton. Something very much out of the ordinary.

December 4th:

It’s the Christmas Special again! Different, though, with James the Magician, one of England’s finest comedy magicians.

January 15th:

Our very own member Roger Brunton with a talk entitled “With a handcart to the land of the honeybee”

February 5th:

Again our own member, Tony Simpson, in the matter of “Shipbuilding, past and present”

Club News

Before jotting anything else on this page, let me draw your attention to the date of our January luncheon, the 15th. of the month. We couldn’t meet on the first Thursday because it’s a bank holiday (and few would be in a fit state anyway), and the following Thursday has been booked by others, so you’ll just have to wait.

In the old days, before even we were born, mankind took the produce from the fields and the cattle refrom and made unto himself (actually it was his wife who did the making) an huge feast. Thus far the fat of summer the harvest became his stay against the lean winter months ahead. and so it still is. Twice within one week in October my wife and I took salt – and lat more besides h our colleagues and friends at formal meals. Once was the Annual Dinner of the Debating Society Chipstead Golf Club, when, having eaten and taken wine, our brains were tested with a version of University Challenge

The next was our Probus Ladies’ Luncheon at Coulsdon Manor Hotel, when we were *Regimented most excellent style. Over fifty sat down to an great repast served splendidly by the hotel staff. Having had a choice of food, all depended on our being served what we had chosen only if the staff understood Reg Baker’s cunning colour-and-shape coded signals on our place cards. As always, it worked a treat and Reg should copyright his scheme and sell it at vast profit to the catering trade. No cries of “I didn’t order that” were heard above the noise of friends chatting to each other. Each lady had beautiful buttonhole posy awaiting her at table; toasts were proposed with mercifully short speeches were distributed smoothly and reasonably fairly (that’s right, neither Valerie nor I were lucky this and the gorgeous table centre flower arrangements were raffied to everyone’s satisfaction. ‘The ‘Regimented’ joke was suggested by a Probean. It sounded clever and even funny after half a bottle of red. It is used here solely on that score, for it should be emphasised that we are very lucky need to have someone of Reg’s ability in charge of food for the Club. Ladies, he doesn’t only do this ,e a year, he organises our monthly luncheons as well, making them worthy of the full ‘luncheon’ description and we offer our thanks to him for the hard and continuing work he puts into it. At which point in typing, I close down the PC and we set off for Padstow in Cornwall. Out on Saturday in glorious sunshine on the trees in their wonderful autumnal colours – as good as anything New England can display – and a queue-free journey all the way. Sunday morning and we attended the Christening of our younger grandchild in St. Petroc’s ancient church, then lunch in the abcemoon, back into the car and a long drive home. It seemed that the whole of southern England had the same idea, with an hour added to the journey by A303 queues for no apparent reason, unless it was the weather. Strong winds buffeted us and lashing showers struck on the M3, with their attendant swathes of spray and a squeaky pair of windscreen wipers.

Boy, after well over 500 miles in two days, it’s good to be home.

A trip to Oxford
by Roger Brunton

shapeimage_2-9One morning in March my old friend Graham rang me up and, without any preamble, asked “Are you going to vote?” I was somewhat taken aback: we didn’t have elections in March, did we? but then I remembered that Oxford needed a new Chancellor. The job is one for life and as far as we could recall there seemed to have been only three holders in the last twenty years, so it was very much a question of now or never. (For some bizarre reason Oxford graduates are also entitled to elect the Professor of Poetry, but that hardly seemed to justify the train fare.)

So it was on a beautiful Spring morning I found myself heading out of Paddington bound for the city of dreaming spires. I arrived there just a couple of minutes after Graham, who had come from Worcester and we strolled up the road to the city centre in a reflective mood – could it really be fifty years since we went there as undergraduates, and what had happened to all the time in between?

The polling station was to be in the Divinity School, a magnificent building with great traceried windows and a fan-vaulted ceiling which was completed towards the end of the fifteenth century. It had seen many things, the trial of Bishops Latimer and Ridley before they were burnt at the stake, a session of the House of Commons which had fled from London to escape the plague, and more prosaically the matriculation of Graham and myself as members of the university in an incomprehensible ceremony in Latin, but never so far as I know an election. The first things we saw on arrival was a long queue and a group of students, who quite properly have no say in the matter lobbying for Ms Sandra Toksvig. I had already ruled her out on the grounds that, although I admired her performances on TV, she was too young, too small, a woman and worst of all, a Cambridge graduate.

The election was in no sense a secret ballot. Having secured a voting slip we had to struggle through the crowd of those eagerly growing old acquaintances in order to find any small scrap of level surface on which to write. As well as putting the candidates in order and perhaps in deference to our late Chancellor, Roy Jenkins, voting was by proportional representation, by single transferable vote. Then we had to put our names and college on the back before taking it to the table where the Vice-chancellor and two Proctors sat in full academic finery, who checked ones identity. If they decided your vote was valid, you were allowed to put it in the ballot box.

Duty done, we made our way to college which had promised to provide lunch (though not pay for it). Sadly, there was no-one there as old as us, but the company was good and the wine proved to be free. Then, after a little gentle sight-swing we returned home, well satisfied.

Who won the election? oh, it was somebody called Chris Patten, but it doesn’t really matter.

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 83.

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