February 2005

OH, I DO LIKE TO BE BESIDE THE SEASIDE

shapeimage_1-12No, not at Brighton at this (or any other) time of the year; maybe Cornwall or somewhere else craggy and far from the madding crowd. This note has been brought on by an article in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, making me remember some things that affect just about all of our upbringings in this Sceptered Isle.

The burden of Adam Nicolson’s tale (he is an excellent reason to buy the paper) is that we, brought up on an island, are never more than a hundred miles from the sea. We have it in our blood and race memories, unlike folks born in the middle of vast continents. It makes us a bit bloody-minded about invaders – though we are all descended from such, but a very long time ago – and it affects our political thinking, such as when plans to involve us deeply with Europe are promulgated, for example. We’re British, not European, though it is all right for us to spread our genes and our civilisation across the world to anywhere we can, welcome or not. See what I mean? Bloody-minded. Adam made me feel proud to be a Briton, even though I was born near the very top left hand comer of the Kingdom, making me ‘just’ British.

What must it be like to have been born a long way from me crashing waves and unknown depths of the ocean? Can you imagine never having seen water in larger quantities man the local river? The sights, the sounds, the smells of a coast are so wonderful compared to those of a city or even old-fashioned countryside, as to belong to a different planet. I can remember seeing a man – a youth, really – having his first vision of mis unworldly sight.

Fifty years ago, when Britain still ruled much of the world, I was living near Lagos and on Victoria beach one afternoon we spotted a group of a dozen or so Hausa tribesmen from Northern Nigeria on the edge of the Sahara. They were all excitedly gesturing at the 10-fbot waves smashing onto the sand and one of mem in particular, the youth mentioned above, was struck dumb by the sight, his mouth open and eyes staring at it all. Asking one of his company, I heard that he was having his first vision of something they had told him about but which he could never have imagined. He was still staring a couple of hours later when we left. We accepted the ocean as a fact of life; we had lived near it all our lives. But he hadn’t. Ever.

Speakers

shapeimage_2-10The subcultures that surround us are legion and largely unknown or uncared for by we of the common crowd, so it is splendid when our eyes are opened to one such, stretching our imagination in directions beyond our ordinary lives.

Liz Copeland did this for many or us at our January meeting. The title other talk, ‘Mistletoe Magic’ barely touched on the broader story she had to tell us, of herbs and their wonderful properties. Perhaps the reference to mistletoe was a nudge at the evil side of our minds (mine, anyway) and it certainly grabbed our interest.

Like a dog, though, mistletoe is not just for Christmas but is a herb in its own right with a history stretching back to dmidical days. They considered it sacred and not just for the apparent effect it had on a woman’s mindset. A tincture of it lowers blood pressure, which might be useful for the man. Mistletoe is hallucinogenic, so maybe the lass is thinking of someone else.

The French, of course, use it and other herbs for seduction and like all drugs it is best taken in small doses, for it can be poisonous.

Herbs of all sorts were included in this fascinating talk. Ginger, for example: not just for gingerbread men (persons, I’m told I should write), but a warming spice which calms, sooths and is anti-inflammatory. It is good for aches and pains, circulation and even reduces the effects of a head cold. Add a little to your next curry for a special taste, but be sure to use it ground from the ginger root.

Today:

Arundel to Amberley – an illustrated riverside walk by Peter Fernee of the Surrey Wildlife Trust. We’ve been to both the start and finish of this walk in the past, so it should be personal to us. A collection will be donated to the Surrey Wildlife Fund.

March 3rd:

Annual General Meeting. New Chairman, new committee (or the old one re-elected). Don’t moan if you don’t attend.

April 7th:

Alan Thomas has lived in, studied and worked in, at and for New York, New York. A lively, experienced speaker on a subject close to his heart.

Club News

Phil Munson has arranged what should be an excellent outing to the museum in Docklands on February 17th. which sets out to explore the story of London’s river, its port and its people over the past two thousand years. Phil very much enjoyed his first visit, rinding the visual displays, artefacts, models and photographs very interesting, so he will coming with us for a second look.

The museum is located over five floors of a splendid Georgian warehouse on West India Quay. It is about fifteen minutes by Underground from London Bridge, followed by a short ride on the Docklands Light Railway and a ten-minute (level) walk. Refreshments and lunch are available in the coffee shop or licensed restaurant.

Admission is £3 and since tickets are valid for one year, you can go again for free. Put your name on the noticeboard list, or phone him on 01737 551817. Meet Phil on Thursday, February 17fh., at 11:00 a.m. by the entrance to the Underground at London Bridge station, like when we went to Eitham Palace.

Brian Blakeney has another outing in mind: to the Caithness Crystal & African violet centre. Not in Caithness, he advises, but in King’s Lynn. Here we will be able to witness the transformation of sand into exquisite glassware by superb craftsmen. That’s in the morning, then after lunch in a licensed restaurant – if you wish – we head off to the African Violet Centre which offers a wide variety of plants for sale, together with everything else you might you need for your garden.

Date: Wednesday April 27th. Time: 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Cost: £23.
To book: Call Carol of Consort Tours on 020 8657 8800.

The Editor writes a word about the Newsletter:
As you know, I regularly ask for contributions to include on page four each month and I rarely have to write these myself, so thank you to all who help out; please continue to do so.

However, space is limited and I frequently (practically always) have to edit contributions down in size to fit, which can offend authors to a greater or lesser degree. I do it tenderly, trying to avoid serious changes to style and always, I hope, avoiding alterations that affect either me point of story being told or changing the stress originally laid on the edited bit. Sometimes it is all so good that I have to reduce the font size to a minimal – for ancient eyes – 9-point size instead of the regular 10-point in order to fit it in, but I like to avoid this.

You are not alone in this, for I have to edit my own words drastically to fit.

The ideal word count for the back page is 550 words. A few more would not matter, but I mean a few more, not a paragraph’s-worth. Reduce the ‘introduction’ as best you can: background is only needed in limited quantities. Cut out unnecessary adjectives: one right one will usually do. Stick to the point of the story, keeping extraneous thoughts for the next contribution.

This way, it will be printed as your story, not one I have had to edit deeply, though I reserve the right to correct what I believe to be improper usage of commas, apostrophes, semicolons and colons. Even full stops.

An Afternoon in the Box
By Roger Brunton

My last job with HM Inspectorate of Pollution was as Superintending Inspector in charge of the Policy Branch. ‘Policy’ was perhaps something of a misnomer, since ‘real’ policy was a matter for the administrators in the Department of the Environment of which we were notionally a part. We were expected to liase with these superior people and as the Chief Inspector told me, “find out what they are up to and stop them doing it.” From time to time scraps were thrown to us about things they thought beneath their notice or, more probably, knew absolutely nothing about, such as ministerial correspondence, parliamentary questions, etc., but the day came when we were asked to draft a speech for one of our Ministers, a task sufficiently important to warrant my personal attention.

The speech was required for a Debate on the Adjournment. This is a technical device, for although the motion is “This House do now adjourn”, it simply gives a private member the opportunity to raise a matter of concern to him, usually something in his or her constituency. In this case the issue was the emissions from an incinerator in Derbyshire and what, if anything, HMIP were doing about them. It was at a time when the media had become rather obsessed with dioxins, produced during combustion processes and regularly described as *fhe most dangerous chemicals known to man’, though I know of no case where anyone actually died from them.

After careful thought I drafted what I thought might be a suitable speech and sent it over to the Minister’s office. When the day of the debate arrived, it was decided that not only should I attend but also my boss and three junior members of the team, who were going along for the experience. The Minister was clearly much amused by the size of our force, for reasons that soon became apparent.

As Civil Servants, we were not allowed on the floor of the House but entered our Box – a bit like a criminal court dock – by a separate door behind the Speaker’s Chair. On the Opposition benches sat just one solitary MP, while the Government side revealed our Minister with a single supporter whose job would be to act as a ‘runner’ for our scribbled notes should me Minister need to modify his reply.

The debate began and the Derbyshire member spoke eloquently for a quarter of an hour of the problems caused by the incinerator to his constituents and our Minister replied. Notes, scribbled furiously by us and passed down to him were ignored as he ploughed on with the text I had written, determined to get through it as quickly as possible. He didn’t succeed, for the clock struck the hour and the Sergeant at Arms marched in with drawn sword, seized the Mace and removed it from the table.

The Minister stopped in mid sentence; the debate was over. Did it matter? Not really. I’m afraid Hansard reports things as they should have been, not as they actually happened.

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 98.

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