August 2004


shapeimage_1-6We have been enabled to watch wildlife on TV recently in various places across the world. Wild it truly is, and often weird both in appearance and habits, but suited to the Australian outback or African jungles. By comparison, Coulsdon and lesser parts of England seem tame, but the wildlife is there, if you look for it.

My house is a bit of a shambles at present as it is undergoing a total rewiring, long after time, too. I noticed in a document signed in 1968 when I bought it, that I managed to have the price reduced by £300 to pay for “essential rewiring long overdue”. Well, it lasted thirty-six years of overdueness but a few months ago several circuits gave up the ghost and the inevitable bills will now have to be paid.

Furniture has been moved, carpets have been lifted and floorboards raised, all in the height of Summer when animal life of various sorts are in the throes of multiplying their kind. Drilling holes in the rafters, hammering holes in walls and other general disturbance has revealed the animal life I share in the house.

Spiders, mainly; I never knew there were so many there nor that they varied so much. Big, fat (females? – they eat their males after copulation); colourful, some of them, others just grey and incredibly spindly; some slow to move, others quick as a flash. Millions, it seems, of webs of all sorts, some old and covered in dust behind heavy wardrobes that haven’t been moved in years; others, new, barely visible, built across ceilings. They must work, but I have yet to see the remains of a meal on any of them.

Wasp nests in the inner eaves in the loft, though thank heavens none of them currently in use. Flies, too, but in reasonable quantities for the time of year.


shapeimage_2-5Nick Thomas came to tell us about the comedy of life as he knew it. His journey to us to our August meeting was considerably unfunny, he having left Bournemouth at 7.40 a.m. to catch the coach to Victoria, just missed a train in our direction and after considerable trouble had had to take a cab from Purley station, arriving nearly an hour late. Funny, or what? Not. Still, he had his lunch with us. He didn’t, he told us, have this problem last time he came to speak to us in August 1997.

We learned of his life as a comedian following his proving to be a grammar school dropout (his wording, not mine). Pubs gave him a living – just – and the occasional glass of beer, but his main line in comedy eventually proved to be a gag writer for radio, BBC News Huddlines mainly, cut short when Roy Hudd quit to join Coronation Street. Producers for radio shows are just as difficult to deal with as producers anywhere, he told us and now he spends his retirement years doing talks to the likes of us. We wish him well.

Ants, in the garden this time. All sorts and in all sorts of places. I dug into a compost heap the other day and disturbed a nest full of the critters in all phases of life, from white eggs being lugged to safety by fully-formed brothers, to others with wings sprouting waiting until next week when they take off for their nuptials. The birds will have a feast day when that happens. The blackbirds are enjoying the disturbance, using the ants to tickle their feathers. A nest of slow-worms took fright in the same heap, making me jump too. It’ll all soon be over and back to normal.


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

September 16th:

note late date

Dennis Evans, who worked for Customs & Excise, will tell us of its history and development over the centuries and how worldwide trade between countries works.

October 7th:

Eugene Lightbody, who visited the Antipodes earlier this year, will tell us about the many Probus Clubs he met there.

November 4th:

Miniature Teapots will be explained and shown by Loretta Barnett. If you can’t wait, visit now


It cannot be said too often: The September meeting is not on the first Thursday of the month, but on Thursday September 16th instead.

Please tell your Probean friends who are absent today.

Visit to Eltham Palace

Thursday, 30th September Phil Munson (Telephone 01737 551817) is organising a visit to this fascinating combination of a luxurious Art Deco home and important medieval royal palace.

Initially a moated manor house bought by Edward II in 1305, additions such as the impressive hammerbeam roofed Great Hall in the 1470s created one of the largest palaces used by a succession of Royals, most famously Henry VIII who grew up here. The 17th century Civil War saw its decline for over 200 years, the Great Hall even being used as a barn. The Courtauld family bought it in 1933, restored it and added their adjoining Art Deco home. Once again the Palace became a hub for society entertaining. The house is the only example of its kind open to the public, beautifully situated in 19 acres of richly planted moated gardens with panoramic views over London. An audio tour of the castle, house and gardens ensures you learn all about it.

As members of the Ancien Regime, the admission charge is £5.30 (free, to English Heritage members), or if enough want to come we can form a ‘group’ and get a further discount of 15%. Also as Ancients, we can use our Freedom Passes to cover the fares for the journey.

Meet Phil by the entrance to the Underground between platforms 9 – 16 at London Bridge Station by 11.10 a.m., aiming to catch the 11.25 to Eltham (20 minutes).

If you would like to go, though, tell Phil in the meantime; he has plenty of further travelling information to impart.

What else have we been up to?

About two dozen of us met at the Ramblers’ Rest on July 22nd., occupying our own room there so we could make as much noise as we wanted for the Informal Ladies’ Luncheon. The weather was kind, too, so perhaps next year if it’s a nice day and we go there again, sit out in the lovely gardens and have our lunches served there. In past years, we ate only after a lengthy ramble. That was nice, too, but this year’s simple Reg Baker-organised luncheon with wives, POSLIs or other partners as well, proved to be excellent.

Leo Hermes and Barbara are to be heartily congratulated on celebrating sixty- four years of married life on Tuesday this week.

Harry Stockbridge (97) frightened his friends last month by having what turned out to be a minor heart attack in the wee small hours of a Sabbath morn. He was ambulanced to Mayday and spent five days there, mostly waiting impatiently to be allowed home to The Shaw. The welcome that waited him there from all his friends was a joy to behold. He’s better, now, back smoking his pipe and enjoying his glass of sherry. (I bought him his tobacco recently and noticed Nanny’s Warning on the pack, that “Smokers die younger”. There are exceptions…)

Bill Brinkley, our popular Chairman (his description – Ed) spotted his chance to strike on July 8th., when fit and able Probean golfers were reduced to just four players. Choosing his own course, plus friendly interplay with other members, helped him to emerge victorious over Norman Fowler, Eugene Lightbody but most of all breaking Peter Mills’s apparently eternal grasp on the Haigh Trophy after so many years. Popular? Well, they’re still talking to eachother.

Our Artist of the Month is Mark Beckett of the Bramley Hill Art Group. Despite cerebral palsy and mild epilepsy he is ever cheerful and a good walker, though not too stable at times. He is a keen West Ham supporter, sadly unable to watch them play at home, or even on Sky-TV.

Also on show today is Sam Reardon-Murray’s Lilacs from last month. Both pictures are for sale at                                                                     £25 each.

Stories of times within Russia and The Baltics
by Roger Udall

As an oil trader for an American energy company I spent the final seven years of my working life in Tallinn, Estonia, visiting Russia and the Baltic states regularly.

We had spent three days visiting Ufa, capital of Bashkortostan, and the centre for oil refining and petrochemical production in the Urals. On our last night there, before returning to Moscow and thence to Tallinn, we hosted a dinner at our hotel for some of the people we had met during our visit. (I should say here that “we” consisted of myself, a Swede, an EstonianlRussian and a Russian, the latter pair speaking good English (as did the Swede); we all worked for the Company in Tallinn. They handled translation to and from Russian, as my Russian (then) was at about the kindergarten stage and Russia was, well, still Russia.

Everything had gone well and as I checked out of the hotel the next morning, Sergei (the Russian/Estonian) told me there was a present for me, left by the refmery management we had entertained the previous night. I asked what it was and from behind the desk the receptionist produced a wrapped bottle of vodka; not just a bottle, but a massive 5-litre bottle of the local Bashiri vodka!

After protesting that I couldn’t carry that weight all the way to Tallinn, that the bottle was too big and what would Customs say, etc., etc., I was persuaded that it would be considered an insult to leave it behind and so the prospect of doing business in Ufa might be gone. The Russians take their Vodka seriously (and for that matter very often), so, after baggage rearrangement we and the bottle began our journey back to Estonia.

All went well on the internal flight to Domodevo Airport near Moscow, then a long ride on an unfinished ring road to Scheremetyevo 1 Airport for the Tallinn flight. The bottle, protected by clothing in my sports bag, was intact, just seeming to get heavier and heavier every time I had to lift it.

Now my worries began. After check-in and passport control there was the x-ray machine to clear before entering the departure lounge. The stout, grim-faced Russian security lady, fully uniformed, watched my bag on the TV screen. To my horror, what I saw amounted to a bottle thinly surrounded by a bag. She looked at the screen, then looked at me and back to the screen: “What is that?” I feared the worst: would it be confiscation? A fine? Interrogation? I pictured a future life in the Gulag. “A bottle of vodka” translated Sergei, “It belongs to him and is for his own consumption.”

The officer looked from Sergei to me, then again at the picture, back at me and finally, with a grin and a gesture waved us through, saying “What a man!”

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 92.

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