April 2004

THIS CORRESPONDENCE MUST NOW CEASE

shapeimage_1-3No, not the Newsletter, or at least not yet. Something much more important, at least for my lifestyle. When just out of my teenages, around 1947, at home during a Friday evening for a change and not out making hay in the hay or the like, I was tuning in my wireless, searching for something interesting on the BBC Home Service, when the announcement was made that there would follow a Letter from America by one Alistair Cooke. Most things American had started to interest me at that stage of my life; it was shortly after the war when I grew up surrounded by the American Army, followed by years of hobby building American-outline model railroad locos and trucks. All steam, of course; I was old-fashioned even then.

From then on, 8.45 p.m. on a Friday evening was sacrosanct listening time Pubs did without my business, friends knew not to telephone me until after nine. His Letters were fascinating, opening up life as it was lived in the US of A.

In 1951 I started a ten-year tour of duty in Nigeria and one of my first purchases was a short-wave radio. To my joy, the BBC General Overseas Service (as it was then, now the World Service) broadcast Alistair reliably and again I made it a sacrosanct quarter-hour every week Home on leave every so often, I immediately picked up the Friday listening habit. Then, back to Lagos, to the crackling, fading signal of the GOS across four thousand miles of ether Finally home in Coulsdon, surrounded by children and television, I listened religiously.

Now, fifty-seven years of my life have had to change and there will no longer be a weekly insight by a master journalist. Yes, the BBC is breaking the news gently. They having announced his retirement before he could do it ‘live’ himself (to his fury), they are red-facedly tapering us off with repeats of his more outstanding letters What do they mean, ‘outstanding” They all were.

That he kept going so long is a miracle in itself He is 95 now, confined to his apartment overlooking Central Park, NYC. We all know of the passage of time, but there should be exceptions made for him and his like, if one such exists. He has given Journalism a good name and you can’t say fairer than that.

The Annual General Meeting

AGMs can be a bit of a bore in certain clubs and societies, so it is a pleasure to report on one that went smoothly, in accordance with the published agenda and with humour as a bonus. Admittedly the minutes of the previous AGM had gone astray, but nobody minded. The next item was a proposed amendment to our constitution: boring? No, over in a flash to everyone’s satisfaction. The Treasurer’s report showed that our finances are in capable hands with Malcolm, though he did recommend (accepted) that our entrance fee be increased minimally, to reflect the cost of supplying tile name badge that is our trademark – and our Achilles heel, if the truth is to be told, for when chatting to each other we (I do, anyway) tend to speak to the badge and never notice the face.

Our Chairman’s report allowed Brian to give us flashes of his sense of humour, while expiring the past year clearly. A satisfactory year in all, telling of the steady membership level without need of a waiting list, the course of excellent speakers throughout and the fine outings organised by Stan Rogers before his resignation from the Club The other Officers spoke of their responsibilities, exposing the occasional problem but generally able to report a satisfyingly successful time. Each was complimented by the Chairman and rightly applauded for their efforts. It is volunteers like them that produce the pleasure of our monthly meetings.

And so to election time, with not a postal ballot in sight Bill Brinkley, having cunningly avoided such promotion for too long, was elected Chairman; young Jim Mulvey – almost a newcomer – had his task for the next two years laid out for him by being elected Vice-Chairman and therefore, if he behaves himself, Chairman next year; Dennis Evans, another newcomer, under took the post of Secretary and Malcolm Ruscoe-Pond agreed to another year of keeping the books as Treasurer. Reg Baker still hasn’t had enough and was re-elected (cum laude) Luncheon Secretary; and Brian Blakeney continues to find speakers, leaving only an Outings Secretary to be filled. Two members of long standing, Peter Barker and Roger Davis, were appointed Committee Men.

And so to the formal Installation of the new Chairman when Brian handed over the collar to Bill. It is a moment of glory in its own way and in my opinion should have a definite ceremony, more than at present Perhaps tile Committee would study the matter in the coming year. Bill thanked us, announced his intention to support the Bramley Hill Art Group as his charity and the meeting was closed.

Today:

Speakers Audrey Butler with her guide dog, to thank us for supporting Guide Dogs for the Blind and to receive our cheque.

May 6th:

Local historian Vivien Lovett with great stories about Croydon’s colourful corners and characters.

Club News

Bill Brinkley has started his year as Chairman with a gesture towards our Newsletter which bodes well for the future of both. He asks me to report on:

Membership Our excellent company, our meals and our speakers make for consistently high monthly attendance, but constant regeneration of membership is essential. [Hope that every member will make the effort to bring one guest to our table in the coming year, to sample our fayre without particular pressure to join.

Chairman’s Charity: It has been my pleasure to give and yours to hear, two excellent and modest presentations of ‘my’ groups’ work.

The Old Coulsdon Art Society holds weekly sessions at the Garwood Foundation’s Bramley Hill Work Centre for severely disabled adults, to help group members develop their artistic skills. We are achieving our aim to be self-supporting through picture sales which pay for materials and equipment and for occasional visits to art galleries. Your generosity will enable us to be more adventurous and to encourage this, each month I will display a picture for sale at £30.

The first Artist of the Month is Vera Dean, an amazingly lively 77 year old spastic with typical speech and co-ordination problems. These have not prevented her from writing an autobiography on her experiences, including surviving being dumped in a Victorian-style sanatorium for the elderly and disabled. Just as for the others in the Group, we need to dispense and mix colours for her, but woe betide anyone who provides too much help without her permission! We are allowed to do some ‘straightening up’. Today, the picture on display is a loose copy of a postcard from the Algarve.

Since writing the front page of the Newsletter, Alistair Cooke’s death has been announced I have looked through the article and decided to leave it as it is, since I note with embarrassment that it is more about my memories than it is about him. No doubt we shall all read a surfeit of obituaries and will learn as much as we need about his life and work, but something I didn’t have space for on page is the proud fact that his life and mine had touched, at second hand. I learned this some ten years ago when in correspondence with George Andrews, my old French schoolmaster – he told me that he bad known Alistair at Cambridge and that George had been given the job of succeeding Alistair as editor of the University magazine.

Drivers wanted

Peter Barker (telephone 01737 554647) still requires two drivers for his rota One Friday every two weeks is all the work needed, to pick up (currently) a lady from The Mount and another from Monahan Avenue at 11 a.m. in time for lunch at Lansdowne Road and deliver them home at 2 p.m Please offer your services. It gives great pleasure to the ladies and gives you the opportunity of meeting delightful and interesting people

The Longest Day

(by a Member who didn’t sign it, and I’ve forgotten who it is.)

shapeimage_2-2No, not the story of D-Day. I wonder if you remember your longest day’ I certainly do and it happened like this: In the course of my business career I travelled abroad quite extensively, often whistle stop tours, especially in the Far East and on this occasion I found myself in Bangkok, my fourth capital city in less than two weeks. My business there completed by 9th March, I was scheduled to be in Colombo, Sf! Lanka on the morning of the 11th, but first I had to keep an appointment in Rangoon, Burma. I knew that this meeting would take no more than a few hours, but with the travelling time involved, I had to allow a full day for it and then fly straight on to Colombo. I was very friendly with the BA manager in Bangkok and with his assistance worked out a schedule which would get me back to Bangkok in time for the evening flight to Kuala Lumpur, whence I could get a connection for the late flight to Colombo. It sounded all right and he said “Leave your baggage in my office at the airport and you can pick it up when you return from Rangoon.”

The tight schedule meant that I was up at about 4.30 a.m. on the 10th March and duly arrived in Rangoon on time. I kept my appointment and after an enjoyable Burmese lunch returned to the airport. To my horror, I found that my return flight had been seriously delayed and that instead of a comfortable two hours, I would have less than 30 minutes to link up with my onward flight MORE TROUBLE: once I got to Bangkok I found that at 6.30 p.m. the BA manager’s office was closed. Fortunately I found someone who was able to retrieve my baggage, but it was too late to check it in, so I arrived at the steps of the aircraft with two unregistered suitcases.

After a sharp exchange with the Thai Airways purser and the use of some basic Anglo-Saxon, I was permitted on board with considerable excess of cabin baggage for the first leg of my journey. A brief stop at Penang and then on to Kuala Lumpur, delighted to find that my bags had not been thrown out at the intermediate stop. After a further period of waiting, on to Colombo where I arrived at about I .a.m. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country which I have had to good fortune to visit many times, but regrettably the Tamil separatists were causing a lot of trouble and we had to stop at several road blocks before reaching the hotel. It was now 3 am Oh, I forgot to mention that my wife was flying out to join me in Sri Lanka for two weeks’ holiday and was due in at about 5 a.m. So, back to the airport where I was able wearily to greet her on arrival. Then, return to the hotel by about 6 a.m., some 28 hours (allowing for the time difference) after my early start back in Thailand. Was it worth it? Certainly, we had a wonderful holiday in beautiful Sri Lanka.

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 88.

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