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 have been forced to go “virtual” during these challenging times! Monthly presentations are via zoom, and there are also remote quiz challenges. Alas, Zoom affords no opportunity to browse the information boards, sign up for groups, catch up with old friends or make some new ones.
Upcoming monthly meetings
18 November Trevor Worth The Seven Deadly Sins of the Writing of Wills
December 16th Ian Keable The Century of Deception: Birth of the Hoax in the Eighteenth Century
Comedy magician Ian keable talks on 18th century hoaxes.The 1700s was a period when the people of England seemed to be especially gullible. They believed a woman could give birth to rabbits; a man could climb inside a two pint bottle and sing inside it; and a blond-haired European could write a book claiming that he was born in Taiwan. These hoaxes weren't just written about extensively in newspapers and journals but also brilliantly and amusingly depicted by satirical artists such as William Hogarth and James Gillray. In this entertaining talk Ian demonstrates how 18th century hoaxes are memorable not only for their imaginative nature but also because of the differing motives of the tricksters.
January 20th Charles Garland Television Comedy: How a TV Sitcom is created, Script to Screen
These meetings will take place by Zoom and a link will be sent out shortly beforehand.
Reports on meetings earlier this year
Some good news this month: The National U3A held a Short Story competition and, out of hundreds of entries, our member, Lynne Carroll (who also belongs to our Creative Writing group) was the winner of the South West Region. Many congratulations to Lynne!
If anyone would like to read Lynne’s story, click on the link on the right hand side of this page.
We are still on a quest for a Chair and Vice-Chair for the committee - please come forward if you are interested.
This month’s virtual monthly meeting was a spooktacular affair as Robert Hesketh gave a presentation entitled Devon’s Ghosts. Robert is a local writer and has published books on this topic.
Robert gave us a whistle-stop tour of the most haunted places in the locality. We were treated to stunning photos of churches, pubs, housing estates and abbeys all of which have a resident ghost or ghosts. How lucky are we to live in such a lovely part of the country even though it is haunted!
The first place we visited was Berry Pomeroy Castle (near Newton Abbott) which claims to be the most haunted castle in Devon. There are two resident female spirits: the White lady (Lady Margaret Pomeroy who fell in love with her brother’s husband and was imprisoned by her sister for two decades until she died) and the Blue Lady, who lures men down dangerous steps.
Among the many other haunted sites we learnt about was an inn (what better place to find spirits?),The Three Crowns in Chagford. In this drinking establishment a resident ghost has been seen by many different people - some of whom left their jobs because of the sightings, while others are fond of the lady.
The Oxenham Arms in South Zeal is another spirited pub. The Oxenham family were haunted by an omen of death in the form of a white-breasted bird. It appears if you were aware of this bird then death followed quite quickly. Seven individuals apparently suffered this fate.
However, not all the Devon Ghosts are human: The Royal Castle Hotel in Dartmouth echoes with the sounds of a carriage and horses trotting across the cobble yard and neighing can also be heard….is this the stuff of night-mares?
The hauntings are not always seen - ethereal, spell-binding music can sometimes be heard at Darlington Hall - but it fades away when you try to search its origin.
The ghostly experience does not just occur indoors: there is a bridge on the main road across Dartmoor that has suffered more than its fair share of accidents. One lucky survivor was reported as saying a pair of hairy hands grabbed the steering wheel and made him lose control of his vehicle.
Thank you to Robert for an interesting talk.
To end on an amusing note: “Why do ghosts make bad liars? Because you can see right through them….”
Keep well, safe and look after the vulnerable and hungry adults and children.
Again the meeting was held by Zoom. It is likely this will continue for sometime. The guest speaker was the excellent and respected zoologist Liz Rogers, whose presentation title was Voyage around the Galapagos Islands.
Liz’s voyage had to be booked 2 years in advance as everything is very tightly controlled by the Galapagos Reserve, understandably. A small group of multi skilled individuals, including friends, went on a fascinating journey to see the unique aspects and animals of the Galapagos on a yacht called ‘The Beagle’.
There are 13 main islands that make up the Galapagos, a National Park and Marine Reserve, and one of the only places in the world where the animal inhabitants are unafraid of humans. Liz showed us their route around the islands, and the mammals, birds and reptiles that live there. Some of these are specific to particular islands: for example, the flightless cormorant resides on Isabella and Fernandina. Other birds include the Galapagos dove, crake and Floreana mockingbird. The Vampire ground finch (which apparently drinks the blood of other birds) is considered a very distinct subspecies of the sharp-beaked ground finch native to Wolf and Darwin Islands.
Liz’s group were extremely delighted to be able to swim with sea lions, sea turtles, sharks and marine iguanas. However, a wet suit is recommended as the water is cold. Charles Darwin landed in the Galapagos in 1835 in the first Beagle, his comment being ‘nothing could be less inviting’, but of course from his observations on these islands he developed his On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, a work of scientific literature which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Unfortunately, Liz’s group could never have had enough time to sail their own Beagle and looking out for whales for as long as they would have liked.
Something that most people probably don't know is that the Galapagos archipelago is one of 24 provinces that constitute the country of Ecuador. It is home to around 30,000 people, spread across the five inhabited islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, Floreana and Baltra. Floreana was the first inhabited island because it had fresh water. With human habitation came the inevitable introduction of mammals - goats, cats, pigs and – of course - rats and mice. It has been necessary to implement eradication programmes to protect the vulnerable indigenous species.
Questions from the appreciative audience surprisingly revealed that some U3A members have also been to the Galapagos.
The speaker was the highly entertaining Stewart Raine who spoke about “The Development of British Seaside Resorts”. This talk was much anticipated as the last time Stewart spoke to us he got all the Boniface Centre audience joining in old Music Hall songs!
Stewart firstly showed old photos of Southend on Sea in Essex where he used to live. This brought back memories as I, as an Essex girl, often visited the resort with my family and modelled the knitted swimsuits that were all the rage in the fifties. These looked great until they became waterlogged and slipped down past your knees - luckily I was only five at the time! To get the zoom crowd in the mood for what was to come Stewart played us a rendition of “You can do a lot of things at the seaside that you can’t do in town” by a WW1 singer called Stanley Kirkby. I recommend that you look up the lyrics, which include “Mother takes her stockings off upon the sandy shore And shows a lot of linen that she’s never shown before”, if you would like a giggle.
Stewart then told us how bathing in the sea developed from the Ancient Greeks, who bathed in sea water in spas for health reasons, via drinking spa water to John Floyer (1649-1734) who introduced the idea of cold bathing in the sea. Cold sea water baths were constructed along the coast of Lincolnshire. Scarborough, which was already a spa, be-came the first seaside resort. This was joined by fishing villages like, locally, Exmouth and Torquay.
The Grand Tours by the wealthy ceased during the French Napoleonic Wars (1795-1815) and, perhaps, the “staycation” was invented. King George 111 was fond of Weymouth. Bathing machines, from which you bathed in the nude and were pushed under the water by employed “dippers”, began to appear. Not everyone enjoyed the delights of the South Coast though: a grand duchess from the Russian Imperial family stayed in Sidmouth and was quoted as saying: “wretched Sidmouth, pretty but small…..very dull, too isolated without much entertainment”.
Seaside resorts are linear as they spread along the coastline. Wealthy landowners saw opportunities and developed towns. William Cavendish, the Duke of Devonshire, saw that money was to be made and built Eastbourne where, to this day, ice-cream is not allowed to be sold along the seafront as this would lower the tone of the place.
Ordinary people could visit the resorts when trains made them widely accessible and we were shown some delightful posters used to encourage people to make these trips. The Bank Holiday Act of 1871 meant that ordinary people had time for such visits. There was, however, a social divide in resorts: the wealthy had areas where the other people were not welcome.
Some existing structures were re-purposed: Piers, which had previously allowed steamers to dock, became for walking and entertainment; promenades, a form of flood defence then used for walking and ‘people watching”. Happily, when this slide was shown, no-one could hear my partner and I singing along to “oh I do like to be beside the seaside” - we were muted!
The wealthy stayed in grand hotels and the working class in lodging houses where the landlady prepared the food you had brought with you. The lodging houses became boarding houses where the food was provided and cooked! We were shown a graph which showed the rapid rise in the number of boarding houses in resorts.
The Holiday Pay Act of 1938 was a prerequisite to a weeks’ paid holiday and holiday camps such as Butlins and Pontins started to spread across Britain. Caravan parks also became popular with the purchase of affordable family cars but the onset of foreign holidays heralded the decline of the British resorts. However this summer the British resort is making a come-back all be it with social distancing and Covid “safe” spaces!
Thank you Stewart for a wonderful talk - hopefully you will be back soon to give us another entertaining and joyful presentation!
Our guest speaker was Ian Gasper talking about “The History of the Silk Road”. Sixty two devices were successfully logged on by 1030 in anticipation of the presentation. This was quite an achievement (but we did have a practice run before for those less familiar with the delights of zooming). It was lovely to see familiar faces on the screen even though we were all muted in anticipation of Ian’s talk. It was not quite the same experience as meeting monthly in the Boniface Centre but there were pluses as we could attend in our pyjamas, (if we wanted to!), didn’t have to travel and there were no chairs to be set out or put away!
Ian gave a very informative talk about the History of The Silk Road (which was in use from the 2nd Century BCE to the 18th Century CE) and he showed many wonderful images from his travels. The Silk Road was a web of trading routes which spanned from China to Eastern Europe across many countries and allowed economic, educational, agricultural and metallurgical technology and cultural interaction between the regions. Belief systems were also shared. Ian told us about the advanced knowledge of science and astronomy in that area of the world. The architecture of the areas was stunning: so many colours and shapes. We were shown a wonderful image of a square surrounded by universities from the period.
The Chinese silk was extracted from the cocoons of silk worms fed on mulberry leaves. Silk is desirable as it is soft, cool in summer and warm during cold weather. It can be woven into beautifully coloured and patterned bolts of cloth. These bolts were sometimes used instead of money as they were lighter to carry than precious metals. As well as silk other commodities such as gold, ivory, pomegranates, jade, fur, horses, elephants, peacocks and sheep were traded.
Bactrian (two-humped) camels were the preferred mode of transport for the trading routes as they were very strong, could withstand changes in temperature and easily traverse the rough terrain. Along the trading routes were found many Caravanserai - the hotels of the day. The particular example we were shown consisted of a large stone built building with running water running down the central aisle and rooms, for the traders, leading off this central passage through archways. There were armed guards positioned at the two main entrances to ensure the safety of the traders and their wares.
Many thanks to Ian for an excellent talk!
February’s speaker was Steven Pounder and he gave an informative presentation about Driving Safer for Longer. Hazards on the road were discussed, eye sight and speed limits clarified including the use of ‘repeater’ signs. For example on the new road, opposite the large supermarket in Crediton, on which there are no street lights and so one wouldn’t expect a 30mph limit the use of the round 30 signs displayed on either side of the road at regular intervals ‘trump’ the no street lights assumption!
The perils of gauging alcohol consumption were also highlighted: it is dangerous to assume that ‘units’ are the same as they used to be - a standard wine glass is much larger than it was and beer more potent. The limit of alcohol in the blood varies across countries. The safest approach when driving is to have no alcohol and to be aware that you may still be over the limit the next morning after drinking.
Some modifications such as accelerators on the left, steering wheel handles and movable seats were also shown which would enable people to keep mobile for longer.
Thanks to Steven for an interesting talk - there are opportunities to be assessed to see if you are driving safely - see more information at www.devon.gov.uk.driving
November's meeting included a talk by Professor Ian Barclay entitled ‘Art Nouveau: its roots, development and impact’. This proved to be an informative, witty, interactive and entertaining talk as Ian traced the development of the style with many examples, stories and a few jokes! There was audience participation with a song (I’m a little teapot short and stout…) and questions with only one answer: sex.
Ian spoke about the curvilinear form, or the ‘whiplash’, that features in the art and discussed its origins in Japonism, in mysticism and imagery and in Islam and Arabia. He showed a picture of the interior of a North African mosque and pointed out the sand coloured browns, blues and arabic script shapes that feature in art nouveau.
This was followed by examples of Medievalism, about Arthurian legends and the rise of the femme fatal, and work by the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood who first introduced the androgynous face of art nouveau. We were shown an interior by William Morris who coined the phrase when talking about how to present your house ‘First consider your wallpaper’..he also happened to produce wallpaper!
There were examples of art from the Symbolism, Decadence, and Aesthetic movements. In symbolism the viewer had to look for hidden meanings and in aestheticism, whose leader was Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, it was ‘art for arts sake’. At this point some of the audience joined in a rendition of an old song and then we were treated to seeing a slide featuring an Oscar Wilde teapot manufactured by Royal Worcester.
This was an artistic revolution across Europe. Victorian middle classes yearned for ‘taste’ and some used to visit ‘artists at home’ on Sundays after church so that they could experience tasteful houses and purchase pieces of art.
We saw images of some stunning jewellery (see above), lamps and furniture. Art nouveau encompassed everything. Sarah Bernhardt, a huge celebrity of the time, featured in a poster by Alphonse Mucha to advertise her appearances.
Thank you Ian for an entertaining and highly amusing talk - we learnt a lot about the development and popularity of art nouveau.
Click on a picture below to see it full-size with more details.