June 2004

VOTE EARLY, VOTE OFTEN

shapeimage_1-4That was the cynical saying in Northern Ireland when I was a lad at school there before and during WWII, brought about by the enthusiasm of the electorate to ensure that their candidate won the election, be it a local or national hustings. Cynics said it was possible to record more than one vote, either due to the careless checking of who had already voted, or by personation, that is, turning up and claiming to be someone else, somebody probably dead these many years but “who would surely have voted this way had he been alive.” I often wonder, at election time, who is using my father’s vote even though he died forty-three years ago.

Now it is being made officially easier to fiddle the result, currently in just one part of England but eventually the intention is to make postal voting national. They tell us that the object is to encourage the electorate to use their democratic right rather than sit at home and leave it to others; that it will be less expensive than hiring thousands of school halls and staff for polling stations and that it will do away with the need for a collection system at the end of the day. The fact that no other western democracy thinks this has nothing to do it.

How can I justify the statement that postal voting makes it easier to fiddle the result? To my mind, the more people involved in collecting and counting your vote, the easier it is to fudge:

— With polling stations, one person checks your identity and can see if your vote has been used already, that same person seals the box at the end of the day and one other collects the votes and delivers them to the counting house;

— With postal voting, the Post Office has to deliver the right voting papers to the right addresses (!), on time (!) and assume that the right recipient opens the envelope. The voter has no way of avoiding discussion or argument over his vote with visitors or family, before entrusting it to the Post Office to deliver it on time to the right address and not lose it altogether. A clerk will no doubt have to open the thousands of votes cast. Cheaper? Quicker? It can’t be.

Education, Education, Education
by Tony Simpson

shapeimage_2-3When I was approaching forty I realised that my lifestyle of heavy responsibility and extensive traveling was not building a foundation for healthy old age. Indeed, at that rate, old age would become less and less likely. Since my former boss had died suddenly in his fifties I concluded that his way of living had had something to do with it.

I therefore decided to go into teaching and attended a one-year course in further education. It so happened that there was a demand for mature lecturers with a background in Industry and I duly obtained my Certificate in Education (FE) and looked around for a teaching post, eventually accepting an appointment as Lecturer in mathematics and physics at a local College of Further Education.

It was rather like diving off a cliff in the dark, for the difference between the Education world and that from which I came was hardly credible. The College was divided into five main departments, for General Education, Hairdressing, Motor Vehicles, Engineering and Catering. The Principal was a man who ruled by fear; indeed, he was almost sadistic in the evident pleasure he derived from making his staff suffer. One had committed suicide, no doubt accelerated by the harsh regime.

I entered the education world with no pretensions of progress, may main purpose being to adopt a more regular lifestyle, so I cared little about pleasing the hierarchy – a delightful situation. One morning the Principal burst into a class where I was teaching A-level Maths. He was quite miffed, because everybody was working quietly and the board was covered with infinite series. He was a Chemist, and Chemists are notorious in not liking mathematics. I could see that he was searching to find fault, so I said how pleased I was that he took an interest in the group working at the highest level in his College. He gave a snort and asked to see the class register, which I had not completed. A slow smile of satisfaction crept across his face as he demanded to know why. I replied that the students were so keen to get on with their work, they had not given me the opportunity to complete it. With another snort he stormed out of the room. It is a wonderful feeling not being bothered about promotion and not having to crawl. Nevertheless, about a year later he called me to his office and gave me responsibility for both Maths and Science.

The Vice-Principal always walked literally one step behind the Principal, causing us quietly to hum the tune “Me and my shadow. . .” as they passed. One morning Me and my Shadow were walking down a corridor when a very large student was caught reaching up to pull down a neon lighting tube. The Principal remonstrated with him, whereupon the student upended a kitchen waste bin over him, with the comment “Who the xxxx are you?” Pandemonium broke loose, the police were called and the student was eventually cornered.

    At the College entrance stood a notice which included the legend “Principal L P Lawrence, BSc.,

FRIC.” A week’s-long witch hunt followed the modification to “PRIC”, but to no avail.

Today:

Concorde Experiences, by Dave Leney, formerly Flight Manager Technical of the British Airways Concorde Flight. This should be an outstanding talk, so tell your friends to come along – they might become valued Probeans as a result.

July 1st:

The Comedy of Life: Nick Thomas, a freelance comedy writer, defines the oddities of living.

August 5th:

Richard Ratcliffe – after we have eaten – gives us the low-down on food additives, E-numbers and all that. They’re good for you.

Too many people, too much unneeded organisation and all to save the voter having to get down to a local polling station. The walk would do him good.

Club News

We welcomed Dudley Coates (If I read my handwriting correctly) as a new member at our May meeting. This is becoming something of a rare event, shamefully. Why should we keep the good news about Probus to ourselves?

I telephoned Harry Witham to ask after his wife Winnie, who was reported to be in hospital at our last meeting. Winnie, having put the frighteners on Harry by fainting at the breakfast table, seems to have made it a one-off and is now well. They told me about the trip to the Eden Project, which all thoroughly enjoyed, a feeling backed up by Ken Carter and his wife Jean, who was delighted with the organisation and subsequently wrote to thank Consort Tours for the splendid service.

There were eighteen all told in the Eden coach party: Probeans, wives and friends. The long journey was very comfortable and the hotel in Newquay overlooking the south bay there looked after everyone well. For some it was a return visit to the Eden Project, for others it was first time, but for everyone it was an amazing construct built in an old clay pit. ‘Built’, maybe, but always more to see, with nature taking more than a passing hand in what there was to marvel at. I personally have watched it from its start and am continually astonished at what they have achieved in such a short space of time. A millennium project that worked, for heaven’s sake. The Lost Gardens of Heligan were visited, too, another splendid effort and different each time, with more and more being ‘found’ each season.

While on the matter of Outings, Ken Carter tells me that there just might be a couple of spaces left on the coach to Arundel next Thursday, so if you are dithering, contact him today to ensure a seat on the coach. Even the weather might be on our side, if the latest prognostications are accurate. (They aren’t always, are they? I write this following the Whit Monday weekend, when we were threatened with rain, wind and doubtful temperatures, all of which were wrong, wrong, wrong.)

There are other Outings of a more or less official nature to remind you about:

On June 16th. at the Fairfield Halls, when the Croydon Symphony Orchestra will be playing.

Dennis Evans has the details and tickets should be available at the door.

Our annual Ladies’ Pub Lunch in July: details from Ken Carter.

The Haig Trophy, 9 a.m., Woodcote Park GC on June 17th. Murder on the golf course, followed by an informal lunch. Contact Bill Brinkley for details.

Chairman’s Charity: The Bramley Hill Art Group will display a painting by John Prasher, a remarkable fifty-year-old wheelchair user with speech difficulties who suffers from cerebral palsy. Though he gets a little help, he lives by himself and is always full of fun. He starred as mid-life ‘Joey’ in the TV film, set in St. Lawrence’s hospital. Somehow he always gets tickets for the big games at Twickenham. It was his own idea to use palette knives for his paintings.

Looking back, however, this particular College was not as bad as some, such as when it was revealed that Local Education funds were being diverted into private bank accounts by senior staff. So much for the heady groves of Academe!

Speakers

Out here in the sticks of Coulsdon we think of Croydon as part of another world, so it comes as a bit of a shock to realise that some thirty years ago we were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the same London Borough, losing for ever our separate future history, local government and so our control over future development of what still looks like Surrey and not south London.

Croydon? What history does that have, other than a partially-built-over field that used to be London International Airport? Well, quite a lot as it turns out and as we heard at our May meeting, when Vivian Lovett came to tell us – not so much the history of the town as the local characters that lived or worked there over the centuries.

Croydon has always been a shopping centre and indeed there are those who think of it as nothing else these days, but the characters who owned the shops in the past were known to everyone in the district. Some were inventive enough to set up shops that were the first of their kind: the Swap Shop at the bottom of Crown Hill started a trend that spread over the country; Wilson’s Tea Shop in North End was one of the very first outside central London, though I recall its coffee, not tea and the wonderful smell of roasting beans that was deliberately fanned out to the pavement and which is now an illegal act in case a passer-by is allergic to the aroma.

We learned some of the history of the first Mayor of Croydon in the 1860s, a swindler in a big way, hugely rich from the ill-gotten gains made through his Liberator Building Society. Having stolen some £8million from his clients, he disappeared into Chile, never to return.

Do you remember the several theatres that used to be a feature of Croydon life, before everything was pulled down in the 1960s? I had forgotten most, like the Empire and the Coliseum, but the Grand in South End was part of my education in life. Now all are shops or high-rise office blocks.

Vivian’s talk was such that your correspondent listened, rather than reported. There was so much to interest me that my pen faltered, so if you want to know more, join the Croydon Historical Society. Better still- he added cunningly – join the Bourne Society and feel proud of the thirteen-hundred year history of Coulsdon.

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 90.

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