November 2004

LIFE’S A GAMBLE

shapeimage_1-9Of all the odd thoughts this Government has had, the most unlikely so far has been the idea of altering our laws to allow what appears to be wide-open gambling. There is now, thank heavens, a move either to modify it or drop it altogether, but what on earth made them want it in the first place? A cunning method of separating us from even more of our money, through losses at the table and taxes on the turnover? Whichever, it seems to me simply to be encouraging the populace towards the paths of transgression. By and large, we need little or no help doing this.

I am not a gambler. Never have been, since the day in the late 1940s when, as a member of the Territorial Army in Edenbridge – Royal Signals – we were involved with supplying communications for the point-to-point racetrack there and my Sergeant suggested I put half-a-crown on a horse to win the next race. I did and it didn’t. Trauma, or what? From then on, the most I have done over the years is to contribute to charitable events by joining a sweepstake or buying raffle tickets.

Is this a flaw in my makeup? Should I have been more adventurous in my career? Would it have made a significant difference for the better either to the lives of my employers, those whom I employed, or to my own? Possibly, but it’s too late now. As it turned out, my career decisions for the most part – based on logic and sense – produced desired effects and thank heavens I have the pensions to prove it.

My objection to the proposed gambling law is not aimed at the likes of myself but rather to the unthinking younger mass, those of the ‘I want it now’ crowd that form the majority of the population. Can it possibly be right to encourage them to get into debt on an outside chance? Do they not realise that the rich chaps in the business are the bookies and other owners of the game? If it were otherwise, we’d all do it. That’s just one thing: there’s also the all-day and all-night drinking laws they want, as if we don’t have enough trouble in Croydon of an evening, no matter whether Crystal Palace won or lost. And, of course, removal of the right of parents to chastise their own children in the home.

Does Mrs Blair agree with that all these? She has kids. Has she been asked?

Speakers

shapeimage_2-8In my school Atlas a lot more than half a century ago, apart from the wonderfully great red chunks of land spread across the globe, there was one map that caught my imagination. It showed the antipodes, with Great Britain ghosted in over its top, pointing out that New Zealand was exactly geographically opposite to us. It, too, was painted red, telling us that the sun truly never set on the British Empire.

Well, economic and political changes over the intervening time have modified all that, but, as Eugene Lightbody discovered, New Zealand is still astonishingly British. They don’t call the UK ‘Home’ any more – our European Union membership saw that off – but still the majority retain a great affection for their roots. Truth be told, those roots have a distinctly Scottish rather than British flavour and in Dunedin (the old name for Edinburgh), it is difficult, and probably unwise, to avoid a dinner that would not be out of place in North Britain: haggis for the main course and whisky throughout. Even the land looks like Scotland, with its mountains – bigger than here – set in a climate similar to Home, surrounded by mountainous seas just like the Atlantic. Sheep graze the fields when not being chased by sheep dogs, their lambs soon to grace our Sunday lunch tables. Their wool keeps us warm.

Their Probus Clubs flourish and it was they who made Eugene and others from Australia so very welcome on a tour of 4000 miles round both main islands. The fif~:y-seat coach was driven over mountain roads by a splendid chap who knew the history and geography of the country, as well as up-to-date information on the World Cup. He took them to the gold mine museum, the wine growing districts and showed them where bunji jumping was invented; Eugene declined to take part, wisely. The North Island, with its large European-style cities wasn’t so cra&:,oy but made up for that by smelling of Sulphur, reminding all that NZ sits on a major geological fault line

Maori culture is evel)’\vhere, a reminder of the population that owned the land until 200 years ago. By and large, a success story of near-bloodless integration, they even made Eugene a Chief of their Tribe.

If the speech of thanks to his new tribe was half as good as that which he gave us, he probably deserves the title. A fascinating talk by an excellent reporter.

November 4th:

Miniature Teapots will be explained and shown by Lynn Box (Loretta is stuck on business in Germany). A range of goods will be on display. For further info, visit www.pageonedesign.co.uk

December 2nd:

A Christmas Special. Jonathan Fryer, an actor with many funny tales to tell, comes highly recommended by all.

Good Yuletide cheer for a merry festival.

January 6th:

Liz Copeland talks of Mistletoe Magic, covering this and other yuletide plants and how to use them for our seasonal illnesses.

Club News

We have a problem, gentlemen: one of the main justifications that we as a club can claim to being a Good Thing, is the service we offer to elderly members of the PACE Clubs in Purley, taking them to their weekly lunches and getting them home afterwards. Our own advancing age and moves out of the district, has resulted in several drivers dropping off the list and we must replace them. It is not an onerous task, just requiring one to set aside one day a month on a Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday, to give up to three old folk the pleasure of time out from their apartments; a bit like we enjoy our monthly luncheons but far more important to them.

If you have a four-door car and reasonable health (in some cases wheelchairs have to be transported) and can think ahead to the time when we, too, might have to rely on other people’s transport, contact Peter Barker on 01737 554647. Please.

For sixteen years George Davis has kept our membership listings, regularly updating them in a manner that only a computer genius can control. As a result, we know the names, addresses and telephone numbers of our colleagues, as well as their past careers and present interests (or at least those they admit to). No man can get away with pretending to be other than the age he is, perish the thought that we should. George himself admits that his own energy and competence are declining and so he must reluctantly hand over his records to a successor. George, thank you for the service you have given us and long may you continue to enjoy Probus, unencumbered by Club duties, just as a member should.

We have been having news recently, mostly a bit negative, about our membership numbers. At the request of the editor of the ECRA Review, I wrote a few words of encouragement for potential members and to my delight had a telephone call from Jack Florey who, having read it, should be with us today. So advertising works surprisingly well, though a word with a neighbour is always the most reliable way. The Committee appointed Jim Mulvey to be the co-ordinator for a new leaflet for distribution and that will help too. We get a lot of interest in our website, also Jim’s doing, but unfortunately from folk living across the world and not available to come to lunch. Still, it’s nice to be known. Some 5000 ‘visits’ were made in the last year to our web from the Antipodes, through Europe and unto the Americas.

Of members who have been absent over the past few months due to illness, it is good to report Bryan Chilton is slowly getting better; Tony Marks, following a second turn of chemotherapy, answered the telephone himself when I called and just might be well enough to read this with the rest of us; likewise Harry Witham, if the ECG two days ago shows what he hopes. Tom Chapple struggles painfully on.

I think I must belong to the ‘Grumpy Old Men’ generation, but then, aren’t we all?

Wasn’t that a great Ladies Luncheon last week? Numbers could have been better, but the quality of those present was excellent. Chairman Bill Brinkley’s raffle raised £ I 05.01 for the Bramley Hill Art Group. The lunch organisation, too, in the hands of Reg Baker, was right up to the usual standards. Thanks again, Reg

Stories of times within Russia and The Baltics
by Roger Udall 

The Bottle rested in glory in the office in Tallinn and, much to the regret of some, remained unopened for the next two years. It had been decided (by me) that it would be opened only when there were enough drinkers in attendance to fmish it at one sitting. Calculations were made and those with a far superior knowledge than I of vodka drinking, figured out that four shots each for 30ish people would empty it.

The Company was at that time sponsoring the Estonian World Rally Car driver Marko Martin and during the summer, sponsored a car rally centred around Tartu in the south of Estonia. The area was ideal in as much as it was sparsely inhabited and full of those paths and tracks so favoured for tearing around at high speed, creating a lot of dust and a few spectacular crashes.

The office employees were all invited to the rally. Very few refused, as a weekend outing with transportation, hotel and food all funded by the Company was not to be passed over; it was, after all, only a few years since the fall of Communism.

Thus we gathered at a local restaurant in Tartu on the Saturday night, together with a few business guests from Moscow and St. Petersburg, for a buffet dinner. The Bottle had been transported from Tallinn by a Russian from the office with that care which only Russians, with their respect for the clear liquid, are able to give.

The tables were loaded with all sorts of salads, meats (including tongue, which seemed to be a particularly esteemed dish for the Russians), various types offish, cheeses, fruits, beers, water, juices, wines – a normal buffet in the Baltics.

As everyone found a place, my colleague Miicha made an impromptu speech to welcome everybody and to show them the Bottle, as if it was some sacred icon. He then proceeded to break the wax seal around its neck, to enthusiastic cheering from the tables.

To enable better distribution of the bottle to each table, several smallish glass pitchers had been borrowed from the bar (and some relatively little corkage paid) and these were carefully filled by Miicha, who was enjoying his role as father bountiful.

As continued to decant the Bottle I had a worrying thought, so, calling across to one of our secretaries, I said “Natalia, shouldn’t someone taste the vodka before we give it out; it has been in the office for a couple of years and maybe it’s gone bad?”

She looked at me with an air of disbelief, considered my question for all of two seconds, then took a sizeable swig, smiled and said “Roger, there is a saying in Russia that there is no such thing as a bad vodka; it’s either good or very good. “

An enjoyable evening ensued. I don’t know what happened to the (empty) Bottle.

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 95.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *