Crediton & District

Meetings

MONTHLY OPEN MEETINGS

We have monthly meetings of general interest, a great opportunity to listen to entertaining speakers and to find out what else is going on in our U3A.

Meetings are usually on the third Wednesday of the month, at the Boniface Centre in Crediton, but we had been forced to go “virtual” during these challenging times. We are now meeting back at the Boniface Centre. There are also remote quiz challenges.

Upcoming monthly meetings

Next meeting at the Boniface Centre

I am delighted to welcome you all to the Boniface Centre on Wednesday morning (Nov 17th). The meeting starts at 10.15 but doors will be open from 9.30. (Please note that there will be no refreshments at this or December’s meeting).

Our speaker is Lydia Corbett whose subject is "The life of Picasso's Muse". Lydia Corbett lives in South Devon and is a painter and ceramicist. She grew up on an island off the southern coast of France. She met Pablo Picasso and - as Sylvette David - became his muse.

Please respect others’ vulnerabilities and worries by keeping a distance and – where possible – by wearing a face covering throughout the meeting. We want everyone to feel comfortable but we know that some feel more comfortable and safe among crowds than others. Please also come warmly dressed as increased ventilation may well reduce the room temperature.

The day before – Nov 16th - don’t forget the Tuesday coffee morning at the Three Little Pigs – a great chance for informal conversation with other members and prospective members. Coffee and chat will be from 11.00 to 11.45. Please note the shorter time for this month.

Looking forward to seeing you all this coming week.

All the best,

Richard

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Jan 19th
Greg Martin
"Viking Invasion of the Siuth West 875Ad -1001AD"

Feb 16th
Colin Andrews
"History of Morris Dancing"

March 16th
Lynne Carroll
"Characters and Creatures at Lanyon" A look behind the scene of a historic Australian Settlers Homestead.

April 20th
Ian Barclay
"A history of the BBC"

May 18th
Martin Pailthorpe
"Sanctuary,Survival & Sabotage" A story of Nazi escapees

June 15th
Marcus Paul
"From Ireland to the wild west" Story of immigrants to America

July 20th"
Prof Peter Edwards
"Cataclysmic Italy"

August 17th
(to be arranged)

Sept 21st
James Taylor
"the Voyage of the Beagle"

Oct 19th
Tim Harrold
"Siegfried Marian, Mad,Bad or before his time? The enigma behind Fingle's Memorial Plaque"

Nov 16th
Brian Fernley
"Jumping Jo Beyrle" The story of the first American Paratrooper in Occupied Europe.

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Reports on meetings earlier this year

October meeting
Stephen Powles - Wildlife Photography - In Pursuit of the Improbable
In his enthralling presentation, Stephen showed us how easy it is to turn your own home into a wildlife study zone.
Guests might not have been quite so enthralled about sharing Stephen’s spare bedroom with a hornets’ nest, but the tiny window inserted in the wall gave a great and safe view of the hornets at work and play.
Stephen let us in on his extraordinary reserves of patience, persistence and ingenuity as he captured superb pictures of a tawny owl swooping in silently to snatch the bait he had left out for it. Over a
period of weeks Stephen kept adjusting the camera position, the bait post and the light beams that tripped the camera flash until he achieved the perfect shot.
Meanwhile mice were munching through the cereal boxes in his larder or finding fiendish methods of escape from escape-proof traps, all captured by Stephen’s well-positioned cameras and videos.
Other fabulous wildlife moments captured on Stephen’s cameras included a kestrel, an incredibly agile pine-marten raiding a bird table, and a crafty fox who robbed the pears from a tree night after night. Who’d’ve thought?!
Further afield, Stephen related his extraordinary, close-up encounters with bats in Kenyan caves. He says that now – with the knowledge we have of Ebola – he probably would be less enthusiastic about getting so close to the bats.
It really was a superb presentation – magnificently marking our return to the boniface centre.

September Zoom Presentation- Martin Palethorpe
This month Martin Palethorpe, a TV producer, director, cameraman and editor, gave us an excellent talk on the making of wildlife and nature films.

Several years of planning go into making each film but finally Martin and his colleagues will be on a plane for a distant location. He estimates that over his 35 years of filmmaking, he has travelled more than half a million miles.

Getting to remote locations is challenging. They often have to land on small airstrips and ferry kit by helicopter or on the backs of local porters to a base camp. Here, living conditions are very simple, usually tents. The filming equipment gets better accommodation than the humans as it must be kept dry at all costs. The crew and presenters might then need to walk for several hours from the camp, carrying everything they need to film.

Martin described filming the measurement of the height of a waterfall in Guyana by getting the presenter to abseil down it. The film clip showed the 200m descent, and a very scared presenter. However, Martin reminded us that whatever the presenter does, so does the cameraman but he also has to do it backwards and filming as he goes.

Film crews have to be sensitive to the local culture and the environment. In Guyana, they couldn’t film on Saturdays, because of local religious traditions. In the Himalayas, all human waste must be brought back down the mountain. Just don’t ask!

Finally, Martin paid tribute to the local people who made filming possible. He had considerable praise for the Sherpas in the Himalayas. Without them, no-one would make to the top of Everest. Another great talk, Thanks Martin. (Thanks to Liz Ouldridge for this report.)

August presentation: Paul Barwick on The Nancy Wake Story.
Paul Barwick gave us an excellent talk on Nancy Wake, the White Mouse. Nancy was one of the 39 women agents in the Special Operations Executive,who made a huge difference to the success of covert operations in France during WWII.

Nancy was born in New Zealand and brought up in Australia, before coming to England at the age of 20. In London, she trained as a journalist and then worked as a foreign correspondent for the Hearst newspaper group, based in Paris.

Here she met and married a wealthy French industrialist, Henry Fiocca. In other circumstances, her life might have turned into one of luxurious idleness, however WWII intervened. Based in Marseilles, she was a part of the underground network to get allied soldiers and airmen to safety in Spain. The Gestapo knew of her activities but not who she was, and they gave her the nickname,the White Mouse. Nancy escaped to England shortly before she was discovered. Her husband was not so lucky, and he was killed by the Gestapo.

In England, Nancy trained as an undercover agent and was air-dropped into France to liaise with the Resistance in 1944. Here she took on a leading role in the Maquis’s activities during and after D-day. After the war she received medals from France, the UK, America and Australia, recognising her important
role.

Nancy married for a second time and lived to the age of 98 in first Australia and then England. Sadly, there’s not space to detail all the courageous acts that Nancy performed, but Paul’s talk gave us a real feeling for the special role she and the other women in the SOE played during WWII. Many thanks Paul for agreat talk. (Thanks to Liz Ouldridge for this report.)

July 21st Lynne Carroll Characters and Creatures at Lanyon: a look behind the scenes at a Historic Australian Settlers' Homestead
lanyonhomestead As a Brit living in Australia, Lynne’s recent 5 years’ experience working at a heritage property and sheep station near Canberra opened her eyes to not only the grit and determination shown by early settlers, but also to the current-day challenges of caring for a historic property. Join Lynne to hear about the pioneers who forged their way from the coast to establish this part of Australia, their convict labour team; the eccentric family members who have called Lanyon their home and Lynne’s amusing experiences with local characters and creatures. Lynne is an experienced speaker and presenter, having had a long and successful career as a national trainer within the criminal justice sector.

June 2021 Talk
Prof Peter Edwards Vivaldi : A Man For Four seasons
Venice Canaletto
This month, Professor Peter Edwards returned to give us an excellent talk on Vivaldi, a Man for Four Seasons. He told us how Antonio Vivaldi, was born in 1678 in Venice to Giovanni Battista Vivaldi and Camilla Calicchio. He was baptised at birth because there was a risk he may not have survived. As he suffered from poor health throughout his life, this may have been because he was a sickly baby or perhaps it was due to an earthquake that happened on that day. By age 15, he had entered training for the priesthood and at 25 he became ordained, although he never really practised as a priest. For most of his active musical life he had an association with the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in Venice, now the Metropole Hotel. The orphanage provided musical training for young women, and they had a well renowned choir and orchestra. Besides sacred music and many, many concertos, Vivaldi wrote operas, and these were his downfall. At first, they were successful, but as his style of music went out of fashion, he spent much of his money moving round the country promoting them. Broke, he moved to Vienna to work under the patronage of Charles VI. However, Charles soon died and left Vivaldi without any source of income. Vivaldi died not long after in 1741 and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Vienna.

For the next 200 years, Vivaldi’s work was almost unknown. It’s not hard to see why. Vivaldi wrote in the Baroque style. Think anything with a harpsichord and you’re probably thinking Baroque. Baroque music is characterised by extravagant trills and turns but follows very specific rules and can be very repetitive. Listen to the summer movement of the ‘Four Seasons’ and you can hear them all, long flowing passages, rhythmic precision, quiet repeats that sound like an echo, a harpsichord continuo and virtuoso solos. In fact, Stravinsky once said that Vivaldi did not write 500 concertos, he wrote one concerto 500 times.

Vivaldi only really became popular again in the mid-20th century. In 1952, there were only two recordings on the ‘Four Seasons’, by 2011, there were more than 1000. Today, he is more popular than ever. Who has not stood in a lift or waited on a telephone line, and been subjected to a poor-quality recording of the ‘Four Seasons’? And yet there’s much more to him than this one piece. Thank you, Peter, for widening our knowledge.

May 2021 Talk
Charles Garland "Dad's Army"

This month saw the return of Charles Garland to talk to us about the TV comedy Dad’s Army. Charles is a writer, composer, TV producer and director who has a long association with the programme. Dad’s Army is perhaps the most iconic of Sitcoms made in the 1960s and 70s. Unlike many of the others, it has stood the test of time well. Who can forget the phrases, ‘Don’t panic’ and ‘Stupid boy’? Charles put the success of the programme down to the team who made it.
Jimmy Perry had the original idea for the programme, based partly on his own experience as a young man in the Local Defence Volunteers which later became the Home Guard. At the time he was an actor and, dissatisfied with the roles he was offered, wrote a sitcom with a part for himself. He never acted in the programme, but became a very successful writer rather than an actor. Jimmy showed the programme to David Croft, an established writer, director and producer and together they polished the script before submitting it to the BBC. The success of Dad’s Army is due in part to the wittiness of their scripts and Charles had many amusing anecdotes to share about David and Jimmy.

However, a witty script is nothing if the casting is wrong. Charles has often been asked why Captain Mainwaring is played by Arthur Lowe as middle class, while the lower ranking Sergeant Wilson is played by the ‘posher’ John Le Mesurier. But this social reversal of roles is one of the central comedic devices, and Dad’s Army would be considerably less funny without it. Dad’s Army is a complex story with many sub-themes, alongside the central plot. The richness of the script is brought out through the quality acting by many of the cast. Amongst others, Charles mentioned Clive Dunn, who played Corporal Jones, a character much older than his actual age, and John Laurie, a Shakespearean actor who bemoaned the fact that Private Frazer was his best-known role.

When the series was first commissioned, some at the BBC were concerned that it was too soon to be mocking events in WWII. Indeed, there was a negative response from the audience in a pre-season trial of the first episode. However, the actual first season was extremely successful, and Dad’s Army lasted longer than WW2!

Thanks Charles for another amusing and informative talk.

April

Prof Peter Edwards Death of Venice?

April’s open meeting, ‘The Death of Venice?’ was given by Professor Peter Edwards. Before retirement, Peter was a Professor in Engineering Mathematics, but he loves and regularly visits Venice. I think we all expected him to lay the blame of Venice’s destruction at the foot of us tourists, and indeed we are partly to blame but there is so much more to consider.

Venice is one of many islands in the Venetian lagoon. It was founded in the 5th AD, when refugees from the mainland fled there to escape the Visigoths. The original islands were formed from sandbanks and alluvial mud interspersed with salt marshes and deeper channels. But the islands have been vastly reinforced and extended with wooden piles driven into the ground and Venice’s many glorious buildings are built on these piles. The islands have always been prone to flooding, but the last 20 years have seen a significant increase in the frequency and severity of the floods.

If you look at the environment of Venice, you can see why it is prone to flooding. It is located at the top end of the Adriatic Sea, where the sea becomes shallow and narrow. The prevailing winds tend to force water up to this end of the Adriatic, creating large waves and storm surges. There are also many rivers draining into the lagoon, and when it rains on the mainland, the combination of raised river levels and storm surges is catastrophic. Humans have also made the situation worse by decreasing the size of the Venice lagoon as land is reclaimed for industrial and housing purposes and areas are separated off for fish farming; so flood waters have less space to go. Another major problem, identified in the 1970s, was water extraction for industrial use. This emptied the natural aquifers under Venice and the surrounding area and led to Venice sinking an estimated 10cm from the 1930s to the 1970s. Water extraction ceased in 1971 and since then Venice has risen, but only by 2cm.

The likelihood of flooding will only get worse. Surprisingly, Continental Drift is a problem. Venice and the Adriatic are situated on a thin sliver of the African plate that is being subducted under the European plate. This is causing Venice to subside by about 1mm a year. But overwhelmingly, rising sea levels and increasingly unpredictable weather, due to climate change, are threatening the very existence of Venice. It is predicted that only a metre rise in sea levels, a not unlikely consequence of climate change, will see most of Venice permanently flooded. Monitoring in Venice has shown just how much of a risk this is. Some estimates suggest that the water levels in Venice are 60-70cm higher than they were in the 16th Century. In the last 20 years, there have been 12 major flooding incidents, compared to only 8 in the previous 60 years.

The floods cause major damage to buildings, the lower levels of which are becoming uninhabitable. Damage to the buildings is also caused by the dredging needed to maintain the deep-water channel through the middle of Venice and by the wash of large cruise ships as they pass down this channel.

Can we save Venice? Hopefully, yes! To some extent we can try to accommodate the flooding, for example by using elevated walkways, and boarding up lower levels of buildings. We can also use natural features such as salt marshes, vegetation, and dunes to mop up flood water. Three submersible barriers called MOSE have been built to close-up the entrances to the lagoon during storm surges. Last October they were used successfully for the first time to prevent a flood. However, these are expensive and difficult to maintain. Recently, cruise ships have been banned from passing through the centre of Venice, so damage to buildings will be reduced.
There is also a research project to pump water back into the underground aquifers, and this may be able to raise Venice by as much as 30cm. Let us hope that that these projects protect Venice and that it remains a glorious place for years to come. Thank you, Peter, for an interesting and informative talk.

March
Anthony Poulton-Smith This month’s Zoom meeting was entitled “The Saxon Era” and was delivered by Anthony Poulton-Smith from Tamworth in Cheshire. He is a freelance journalist and author.

Anthony explained the Saxon legacy. The Saxons arrived on these shores about 1,500 years ago and were the most influential group until about five hundred years ago when their influence waned. They arrived peacefully and within only two generations a new language that blended theirs, of germanic roots, and ours was developed. This became known to us as Old English.

Of the hundred most commonly used words in the English Language ninety per cent are of Saxon roots.

Anthony then outlined the six levels of Saxon society. The King was at the head and his second in command were the Athelings who were eligible to rule but not necessarily of royal blood. The lower levels were the Eorls, Thanes, Churles and on the lowest rung resided the Villeins. The villeins were not free men and they were tied to the land as tenants. They had to pay a tithe to the Lord of the Manor to allow them to work the land.

There was also a well-developed political structure and legal system that forms the basis of our modern day institutions.

How many of the older readers remember pecks, bushels, rods and poles from school arithmetic? These imperial measurements were all introduced by the Saxons. As was the foot which we accept as twelve inches: a Saxon foot was, apparently, 13.2 inches whereas a Roman foot was 11.56 inches. It didn’t matter that these differed as the Saxons used the foot for horizontal measurements and the Romans used it for the vertical measurement of the “footing” of a building. The Saxons also introduced the acre, which meant open land and, Anthony’s favourite, the pint!

One of the observations at the end of the talk was that Old English was the official language adopted - there were still many local dialects being spoken across the country.

Thanks to Anthony Poulton-Smith for an interesting talk. (Report by Jo Poulton)

February
What’s better than one U3A Zoom Monthly Open Meeting? - two Zoom meetings on totally different subjects: cybersecurity and ice caves! Perhaps there is a tenuous link of finding your way through potentially dangerous situations?

The first well attended talk on Cybercrime and Staying Safe Online was by two specialist employees, Laura Cowie and Grahame Mace, from the Devon and Cornwall Police Cybersecurity Section. They stressed that crime has changed: traditionally there were criminals present at each crime scene but now, with the growth of computer usage, one anonymous offender can remotely undertake multiple offences and we must all be on our guard. We are all vulnerable to attack. There are about six hundred cyber-related crimes reported to the Devon and Cornwall police each month. The threat is so great that the UK government has placed cybersecurity in Tier 1 - the highest rating.

The two experts suggested many ways to keep ourselves safer including changing the admin passwords on routers, using stronger passwords, looking at spelling, grammar and web addresses carefully in Phishing emails, not giving credit/debit card details requested by official looking emails or texts, and avoiding “romance” fraud.

You can also easily check if your personal details have been lost by companies by logging onto “have I been pwned”. The data may remain on the “dark web” for a while before it is used by criminals.

The experts then discussed using platforms like Facebook safely: if an offer appears “too good to be true” it probably is and its function is to collect your information; seemingly innocent online quizzes could also be collecting personal data. Again this data may not be used immediately.

Is that new “friend” on Facebook (or other platform) someone you actually know? (I used to discuss this with students when I was teaching - what makes a friend? How do you know who you are actually speaking with?). The officers gave an example of a message reading “I’m Santa Claus, don’t you want to be my friend?”

We also learnt to be aware of free apps as these may allow access to many things on your device. Apparently “Linked In”, used by many professionals, collects data and allows targeted advertisements.

Many untruths also spread across the web with, seemingly, few checks on validity.

In summary, we all have to be aware of online safety for ourselves and others - it is really worth researching how to keep ourselves as safe as possible and “let the user beware”.

Thanks to the police representatives who gave sound advice and guidance.

Ian Barclay
Later during the month we logged on again to hear Ian Barclay speak about The Casteret family and The Grotte de Casteret Ice Cave which is situated in the Pyrenees, the mountain range between France and Spain.

Ian, who was part of the British Expedition which explored the caves in the 1960s, first explained a little of the geology of the area. It consists of limestone which, being soluble, is dissolved as water passes through it leaving behind a myriad of tunnels and caves.

One of these caves is the Casteret Ice Cave discovered by Norbert Casteret.

Norbert made a living exploring the treacherous cave system and financed his exploits by writing books about his adventures. These may have been a little embellished to make them more readable. He used to, apparently, scrawl “Casteret was here” on the walls of his discoveries to make clear to other cavers that they were not the first to come across places.

When Norbert discovered water in tunnels he used to free-dive (without a rope) through them not knowing where or how far away the next air filled cave would be. It was quite a family affair as Norbert’s wife was also an explorer (she tragically died in childbirth) as were their daughters. Ian showed us a photo of when Maude, one of the daughters, almost coming to a “sticky end” as she disappeared head first down an ice-lined tunnel only to be, thankfully, pulled back by her boots by her father!

Ian assured us that when the British expedition explored that cave they all had the proper safety gear. He showed us some amazing photos of the Ice Cave and the main hall where the walls were covered in solid ice. We wondered at the “Niagara” Icefall which was a sheer drop of ice to a frozen lake below. We also saw a stunning image of the Crystal Tower which was formed as snow came through a hole from the outside and, having collected no minerals, was crystal clear. This tower grows until its mass reaches a point where it collapses then starts to reform.

Unfortunately most of these ice formations are receding as climate change takes its toll.

Thanks to Ian for an interesting talk.

January

Charles Garland speaking
“TV Comedy: Script to Screen” was the title of this month’s U3A Zoom meeting. Our speaker was Charles Garland who was a BBC Producer and had worked for “Auntie” for over twenty years and had been employed on many well-known comedies.
His opening scene was situated on the set of the Dad’s Army Church Hall in Walmington-on-Sea which would have been extremely difficult to reproduce in the Boniface Centre - so yet again Zoom shows its advantages. From his position he could point out behind him various pieces of equipment used during filming.
The writer is the pivotal person of any comedy and they must bring something which is funny, different and exciting to a producer and then “sell” it to them. If the writer is successful the pair then has to present a sample script to the BBC upper management for approval. Charles said that he thought the pilot episode was always the worst (as so many introductions and backgrounds had to be established) and he asked that up to episode four should be written to give characters time to develop.

Charles told the story of John Sullivan, who was a scene shifter at the time, presenting a script to a producer who was impressed but asked for another episode to be written to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. John Sullivan went on to write Citizen Smith, Only Fools and Horses and Just Good Friends to name but a few. John Sullivan was such a perfectionist he even wrote and sang the theme tune to Only Fools and Horses “ No income tax, no VAT” (is that tune now stuck in your head?)

As an aside Charles stressed that we should be grateful to Desi Arnaz, who those of a certain age will remember was Lucille Ball’s husband and produced the “I love Lucy” comedy. Desi introduced the use of multi moving cameras on set for continuity and extremely flat studio floors that could be scooped up at the end of the day and replaced for subsequent filming.

After the go ahead from the upper echelons of the BBC several episodes of the series were written and agreed before the appointment of a director, location decisions (private houses being much cheaper than National Trust properties), booking of crew and backroom staff and then auditioning. On many successful comedies the same team of actors appear as they were professional and could be relied upon. About a year passes between the beginning of the process to the first read-through of all the scripts, after which filming commences.
We then virtually visited the set of Cafe Rene from ‘Allo, ‘Allo!. and heard that the actress who played Helga had to have a call at 0530 in the morning so her hairstyle and make-up could be completed by start of filming at 0930. ‘Allo, ‘Allo! was the most widely sold BBC comedy and was aired in fourteen countries including, recently, Germany. The only characters portrayed as laughable in the show were the two British Airmen: all other characters had their strengths and weaknesses, for example the policeman, who was a brave undercover agent but never mastered French, opening his appearances with “Good Moaning”.

We then returned to Dad’s Army where we heard that John Le Mesurier (Sergeant Wilson) was a brilliant technical actor who was always word perfect whereas Arthur Lowe, who played Captain Mainwaring, never learnt his lines and carried the script around with him. The producer, David Croft, got a bit fed up with this and one day presented Arthur with three scripts: the first to leave on the train, the second to leave on set and the third to take home and learn. Arthur quipped back “I wouldn’t have that rubbish in my house”. An example of a top producer being out done by a top comedy actor! Many of the second row in Dad’s Army were “down on their luck” theatre actors who David Croft had worked with earlier in his career and he showed his loyalty and respect by employing them for the show.

Charles stressed that the first rule of comedy was truth and that successful shows always stick to their own convention - each character has a part to play in a piece written to create a desired effect. In Steptoe and Son the theme was a working class father and a son who was aspiring to be middle class and escape his roots. Each episode explored this convention.

Click on a picture below to see it full-size with more details.