Minehead & District

Reports of Coffee Mornings

January 2019 Coffee Morning – Members' Morning
Report by Karen Mahony
January’s coffee morning had something for everyone. Four members of our U3A spoke about their retirement projects, which were varied and fascinating.

David Temple – Members David Temple (restorer supreme!) told us about his involvement with the Somerset & Dorset Railway Museum in Washford. (Is he really retired?) By the end of the talk many of us would have liked to jump on a bus bound for Washford in order to see for ourselves the beautifully restored 1886 ‘Prussian Blue’ coach, the array of beautifully crafted tools, the reconstruction of the Midford signalbox, and much more.

Oli Twist – Members Oli Twist’s project was a wonder. It involved machine-making and hunting in Iceland. The hunting was for suitable stones and the machine was for cutting them (3 inches per hour!). What was the purpose of all this hard work? To make a stone chess board, of course! When the slide of the final product appeared on the screen, oohs and aahs could be heard throughout the room.

Paul Vickery – Members Paul Vickery’s project began years ago in Swindon: beekeeping. He was mentored by a well- known beekeeper, and after qualifying he can now mentor others – which he kindly offered to do. One tip he got from a beekeeper in Italy he shared with us: use blue hives. He also gave us a helpful warning: one of his hives had come from a woman who was fed up with being stung.

Di Martin – Members Di Martin’s retirement didn’t last long. ‘Itchy feet’ led her back to teaching in the form of short- term contracts in Eastern Europe. This was just after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Di had us spellbound with stories of her own experiences and her students’ communist-era experiences, including tales of the gulag, the KGB and the mafia. In Kiev a student was amazed that Di could laugh because she had been taught that this was not possible for the British because of their ‘stiff upper lip’.

Photos by Cherrie Temple


Coffee Morning November 2018
Report by Jill Walmsley
Stephen Moss – November 2018 speaker Our coffee morning in November had a well-known speaker in Stephen Moss: naturalist, writer and broadcaster as well as a keen birdwatcher from his home on the Somerset Levels. He chose to focus on two iconic little birds: the robin and the wren. He has, in fact, written books – described as biographies – of both: one is perhaps the nation's favourite, while the other is actually Britain's most common bird and possesses the loudest voice for its size.

Stephen told us that perhaps there are some misconceptions about the robin, seen by all as so friendly and lovable, the same bird visiting our gardens year after year. In fact, robins rarely live more than a couple of years, and can be extremely fierce – able to fight a rival even to the death. Also, do we train them to come close to our homes for food, or are they training us to feed them?

Our tiny British wren (there are almost 90 species globally), which is often heard rather than seen, behaves more like a rodent than a bird in the way it scurries about searching for food on the ground. A male will build up to ten different nests for a mate to select, but then different females will occupy his other nests.

Stephen recounted some of the myths and legends attached to both birds – explaining why the wren is called king of the birds, and why the robin has its name. The photo above left, by John Batt, shows Stephen Moss signing books after his presentation.

Open Morning October 2018
Report by Jill Walmsley
Group October saw the annual open morning for Minehead and District U3A, when most of the convenors of some forty interest groups had displays to show what they have been up to in the previous year, and talked to potential new members. Over a hundred people attended and the Baptist Church Hall was buzzing with members and guests having a look at all the displays ‒ books, literature and poetry; local history, geology and archaeology; painting, photography and art appreciation; French and German conversation, and new this year, croquet and a discussion group ‒ too many in fact to mention. Chairman John Batt welcomed everyone and encouraged people to try new groups, to think about convening one, or to join the U3A committee.

The monthly newsletter is an essential way for members to keep up to date with what is on offer, but anyone can access our regularly updated website. U3A's message is that ‘Learning should be
lifelong and fun’.

Coffee Morning September 2018
Report by Jill Walmsley
Chris Jones & Jason with Tony Perrett Our September speakers were Chris Jones, Station Commander at Minehead Fire Station, and his colleague, Jason, who between them gave a presentation on how the Fire and Rescue Service operates in this area, together with some helpful tips about safety in the home.

Tony Perrett, our Vice-Chairman, introduced them, (after being very careful to tell the audience where the fire exits were…), and Chris started with a swift run-through of the nature of work that Minehead Fire Station has to deal with. He works full time but other fire fighters are volunteers who are called on to deal with property fires, traffic accidents, animal rescues, gorse fires, and more. They are highly trained to work in dangerous situations, confined areas and at heights. Dunster Castle is a useful training site for the team.

Moving on to fire prevention, Jason told us about the most common causes of fires in the home: cooking and smoking risks, overloaded sockets, and faulty electrics. He gave advice about wise bedtime routines, maintaining smoke detectors and reducing clutter. The Devon and Somerset Fire Service offers a free home fire safety check, and works with schools and Hinkley Point.

During questions afterwards, the impact of cutbacks was raised; fire fighters are concerned that recent directives to reduce the number of staff, close fire stations and use smaller, less well equipped vehicles will put lives at risk.

Coffee Morning July 2018
Report by Jill Walmsley
Coffee morning July 2018 The speaker at the July coffee morning was John Evans, a trustee with the Severn Bridges Trust, who gave a presentation on the crossings over the River Severn ‒ starting from ancient ferry crossings, the first plans for a bridge, and then the Severn Tunnel, constructed in 1886 and still in use today.

Subsequently there were plans for a totally innovative and beautiful suspension bridge culminating in the first Severn Crossing, opened by the Queen in 1966. John worked on the project as a newly graduated civil engineer, and maintains his enthusiasm more than fifty years later. However, though closures were rare, studies of the stresses caused by the volume of traffic in the next couple of decades recommended a new crossing, and in 1996 the second bridge was opened. Now called the Prince of Wales Bridge, the cable-stayed construction is the longest river crossing of its type in the country.

Coffee Morning June 2018
Report by Jill Walmsley
Sally with Vanessa June 2018 Vanessa Mason, Chair of the Somerset Badger Group, was the speaker at the June Coffee Morning. She started by talking about her passion for wildlife from childhood and watching badgers in her own garden, and went on to explain the aims and work of the Badger Group: to raise awareness about badgers, the threats they face, badger rescue and vaccinating them against TB. Vanessa said her group is privileged to work with farmers and landowners who prefer to vaccinate badgers rather than cull them. The Group also collaborates with the Wildlife Trust, the police, Natural England, the RSPCA and Secret World Rescue Centre. As well as developing special expertise in returning lost cubs to their natal setts, the Group runs a 24-hour helpline.

Vanessa talked about badger ecology and the threats badgers face. They have existed for over 500,000 years, can be found throughout Europe into Asia and are a protected species. Badger baiting and sett interference are illegal yet still occur. Housing developments greatly reduce foraging areas and about 50,000 badgers die on the roads each year.

Anne Clarke with cuddly toy badger As the Government approves widening the cull, Vanessa Mason asked her audience to support the work of the Badger Group by getting involved as volunteers, donating money and writing letters of protest about the Government’s policy to our MP and to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove.

Anne Clarke put in the winning bid in the auction for the badger soft toy that Vanessa had brought along.

Coffee Morning April 2018
Report by Jill Walmsley
2018 April Coffee morning Jim Patterson, owner and manager of the Two Rivers Paper Mill, kindly stepped in at the last minute as speaker at our April coffee morning.
Founded at the ancient mill on the Mineral Line in Roadwater in 1990, Two Rivers uses recycled rag fibres to produce high quality handmade paper, which is highly valued by watercolour artists. Jim didn't just describe the process: he showed us exactly how it’s done – creating a sheet of paper before our eyes.

First the fibres are beaten in water, sieved and individually framed using the traditional mould, which gives the characteristic deckled edges and strength. The sheets are laid onto cloth felts, pressed, hard sized with gelatin and then dried slowly, hanging from the rafters of the old mill.

Artists like to use Two Rivers paper because it doesn’t absorb paint. This means that painters can do any re-working they want to make, and the colour dries to give a sharp, brilliant finish. The paper is durable too: there are paintings on Two Rivers paper hanging in the Tate Gallery.

Jim recounted a little about the long history of papermaking, from before the birth of Christ, to the introduction of books that have encouraged literacy. He concluded by telling us about his Roadwater team of four, which includes an award-winning apprentice. He also described Sarah, who’s the daughter of U3A member Judith Ward, as an invaluable administrative assistant.

Two Rivers paper is likely to be made in the future at a gallery/studio space at the planned East Quay development at Watchet, when, Jim said, he may hand over the reins.

Coffee Morning February 2018
Report by Jill Walmsley
The speaker at our coffee morning on 15 February came all the way from Worcester to give a presentation entitled ‘A Collector’s Tale’. This was Colin Millett talking about his love for Worcester porcelain, and about his own collection. That collection, which started in 1973 with a gift from his neighbour of a little 1758 milk jug, now amounts to around 500 pieces, which have entirely filled the dining room at his home. Colin did his teacher training at Worcester, and it was there that he was able to visit the Royal Worcester factory and museum, and develop his knowledge of the main porcelain factories and the work of the talented painters. Colin had brought along a number of pieces he had bought over the years, each with its own story. The audience learned about some of the most skilled painters, and their favourite subjects – sheep, cattle, flowers, birds, fruit and landscapes. Colin explained what reticulated porcelain is – the piercing of wet clay before firing to produce a delicate lacy effect – and showed examples, too, of Worcester figurines, ‘Poor man’s Worcester’, and framed paintings by Worcester porcelain painters. Colin clearly loves the thrill of the unexpected find, but also the excitement of the saleroom – his wife’s contribution to the presentation was an amusing account of her unsuccessful attempt to put a stop to his bidding for a particularly expensive item that he coveted. In fact I don’t think Frances minds at all about her husband’s collecting habit – it is clearly a shared passion. Report: Jill Walmsley

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