May 2005

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE…

shapeimage_1-15… and not a drop to drink (said, I think, The Ancient Mariner). If it doesn’t start raining soon, we shall be in the same position. The weather forecasters don’t help, with their joyful faces telling us that “the weather will be bright, hot and sunny for the foreseeable future”, never thinking of the direct consequences of their being right for a change. Only the gardening programme weathermen express some alarm. Ah, yes. the garden.

Last year I spent the summer months repainting the whole of the outside of the house. It looks good still, but the garden was just about totally neglected as a result. The late start to Spring this year (plus accidents with falling trees – see last month’s Newsletter for details) has meant that there is still everything waiting to be done. Weeds that sprouted twelve months ago and shook out their seeds have started into growth again, white flower stalks grin at me and unpruned apple trees point their tips to the sky as I walk between them, tripping as I go over ivy shoots reaching across the path. The Prunus tree in my front garden that I meant to have reduced the top of last year threatens to blow over in a high wind, taking he retaining wall with it. Just about the only thing I have managed so far is to mow the grass.

Well, at least growth will be limited by the drought. Not noticeably. I am told that the water table that should be soaking the chalk is lower than in the last hundred years, but the weeds seem to find enough damp to help them on their merry way.

Now we are told that washing the car will be a crime. Next it will be no watering of golf courses, bowls greens and possibly even Wimbledon. I wonder if the Mayor’s car will be all grubby, or perhaps he will have it washed in the Thames. He may, of course, as a result reverse his decision to deny Thames Water the desalination plant that is our only hope of avoiding stand pipes in every road. I doubt he will, like the umpty million pounds now having to be spent on the Coulsdon bypass because he didn’t allow the M23 to be continued into Greater London twenty years ago, which would have made the current expenditure unnecessary. Have you voted yet, today? Pity it’s not for him.

Speakers

shapeimage_2-12To our delight John Miley made it to our April meeting, having been prevented from attending his July 2005 date with us by the London bombs.

John is an enthusiast for Rolls Royce cars, having bought his first of many in 1972. His knowledge of the history of its development and that of the Company is recognised by them, so we could take what he had to tell us as gospel. He has even met a great-great-grandson of the Hon. Charles Stewart Royce. John is an electrical power engineer, now retired and teaching engineering and his hobby, music.

Henry Royce was bom in 1863, the son of a water mill manager who lost his job when the mill went out of business and who took his family to London and shortly afterwards died, so Henry found a job selling maps for WH Smith and also becoming a telegraph boy to keep him and his brother housed and fed. His real desire was to study engineering and fortunately an aunt paid for his apprenticeship with a railway company where he learned his trade. He obtained a post with a lighting and power company in the 1880s and attended evening classes for his more technical training.

Henry left them and set up his own manufacturing company, making switches and electric motors which did very well under his always perfectionist guidance. He married and bought a fine house and then, in1901 bought his first car, a French- made model with very poor workmanship, so he redesigned it. The result was the very first Royce car in 1903 and that was perfect.

The Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls was rich, aristocratic, a pupil at Eton and then graduated from Cambridge with an engineering degree. With an interest in cars, he joined the RAC and sold cars – all European, there being no British makes – to his friends. It was there that he met Royce in 1904, being impressed with the latter’s car. He offered to sell them and the Silver Ghost was their first production in 1906. He was killed in a balloon accident in America, where he had met and flown with the Wright Brothers.

World War I saw an armoured car version of the RR. It never broke down in France and was effectively used in the Irish troubles of the early 20s. The Phantom II came in 1930 and attempts were made to make them in the USA, unsuccessfully.

A favourite car with Crowned Heads, Her Majesty amongst them, the Rolls Bentley comprised the engine and chassis only until 1960, the rest being tailor made by coach builders who incorporated whatever their clients required, such as a wash hand basin, a manicure cabinet, cocktail cabinets, television and plush velvet seats. 6″ thick glass over the rear seats for security allows HM to be safe from terrorists.

Speakers

Today:

Judy Blackett will tell us about e-mail and its advantages. Whatever happened to the ‘paperless office’ we were promised when computers were everywhere?

June 1st:

Mrs Judie Abbott has worked as a cruise director, which must be many people’s idea of the best of all jobs. Is it? We shall learn.

July 6th:

Remember the Iranian Embassy siege? Peter Macdonald does and will fill in our knowledge of that dramatic day.

Club News

Your editor had an excuse for not turning up at the Gatwick Air Museum last week (he had a three-hour interview with a lady who has lived in Coulsdon nearly all her 90-year life – this for the Bourne Society), but now that he has heard what a truly fascinating day it turned out to be, if there is to be another, he’ll go. Dennis Evans organised it and they were met by the museum owner, Peter Vallance, who helped to show them round more than 20 aircraft, of both pre- and post-war vintage, plus 500 model aircraft, radios and other aircraft equipment. All set in what was a chicken farm bought by Vallance who was then refused permission for a museum by the local Council, so he set it up as a charity. The running costs involved are humungous, for example a recent purchase in Shoreham of a Shackleton for £10k, cost another £75k to get it to Charlwood and reassemble it. A great visit by fifteen of us with kind weather to match the outdoor site, added to which was the Greyhound pub with excellent reasonably-priced lunches.

Jim Mulvey has arranaed another trip, next Tuesday when we go walking round the village of Godstone and learn some of its long history. Be there, 12.30 by the pond in the village centre.

Phil Munson moves to Shoreham in a couple of weeks’ time and we wish him a smooth transition on the day. Phil has done so many bits and pieces for our Club over the years, so it is good news that he fully intends to continue his attendance at our monthly luncheons. He will, when he can get a lift from Coulsdon South station (and a drop back there later), so we are asking for volunteers to help him. He will be at our meeting today, so have a word in his ear.

While on the subject of Phil, he has sent me a list of speakers for the whole of the next twelve months, so thank you for that, too, Phil.

At our AGM it was announced that the Committee would appoint a Vice- Chairman for the current year as opposed to the usual arrangement of his being elected by the membership. No names were mentioned at the time, but it can now be revealed that Dennis Evans has been selected and so will become Chairman in 2007. I suppose that means we shall have to find another member to replace him as secretary and that will be no easy task. Anyhow, congratulations, Dennis.

About individual members: we welcomed David Holmes at our last meeting as a member and encouraged two visitors to consider joining us.

Dave Darlington missed lunch last month, his excuse being that he had fallen in his house, managed to attract the attention of a neighbour and was rushed to Mayday. He is better now but can’t attend today; having his feet done, he tells me.

John Morgan, reported on last month, is back home but still feeling a bit fragile, so he won’t be with us today but hopes to resume normal attendance shortly.

Leo Hermes is ensconced in a home with Barbara in Purley following his heart attack as reported last month, and is hoping to restart his lunchtime attendance shortly. He will need a lift here, but it is not far away and there should be no problem finding help for him.

Odd Coincidences
remembered by Laurie Painting

How many people would you need to be selected randomly in order to ensure that at least two of them shared the same birthday? 367 is a safe bet, but if we lowered our aim to a 50/50 chance? Would it be 183?

Probability theory produces a figure as low as twenty-three. I learned that surprising fact many years ago, along with other things that made me sceptical about drawing too many conclusions over random coincidences.

But when wildly improbable things start to happen in one’s own life it’s more difficult to maintain such scepticism. Let me explain. Soon after my first wife died I found myself talking to a lady I hardly knew who had just lost her mother. Her mother, named Gladys, had died of a stroke as had my wife, also named Gladys. The rest is history and that lady and I eventually got married (and we celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary in October.)

Before we met, I knew none of my new wife Pat’s family and she knew none of mine. But extraordinary coincidences began to appear. Pat was still a great friend of her ex mother-in-law living in Somerset. What would that lady make of me? Straight away, on my first visit to her home in Somerton, we chatted away as if we had always known each other, when she even mentioned her very first boyfriend. You’ve guessed. I knew him and had worked with him in the 1950s!

At the time of our conversation I had retired from the Treasury and had gone back to the MoD on a part-time basis as a Record Reviewer, looking at papers which had been selected provisionally for release. Soon, to my amazement, I found myself looking at some papers, concerning the Naval Air Station at Yeovilton, close to Somerton, which this chap had dealt with 25 years earlier.

It gets eerier. My new father-in-law, who lives in London, is an ex-railwayman. My late father-in-law was also a railwayman but a generation apart. You’ve guessed it again? When I dug out some old photographs I found they had known each other and worked together for a time.

Just one more coincidence. A couple of years ago I was intrigued when a fellow volunteer with Age Concern commented “Be Prepared, that’s the Boy Scouts’ marching song.” I said “Hey, that’s Tom Lehrer. I’ve been a fan of his since the 1950s!” I recounted this to Pat that day as we drove home from Sutton where she had been shopping. She said nothing, but when we got home she opened her shopping bag and gave me a surprise present which she had just bought on impulse: a box set of Tom Lehrer CDs! She said “You don’t believe in coincidences, do you.”

I mentioned this to my brother, who admits to being an economist. He quipped: “I’ll tell you a coincidence. No coincidences have occurred to me today.”

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 113.

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