Reports of Coffee Mornings
January Coffee Morning - Working abroad (the first in our new venue).
The coffee morning in January is always members' morning, and this year the theme was 'working abroad'. John Batt stepped in at very short notice to give a talk on WWOOFing in Australia ‒ getting free accommodation and food while working six days a week, for four to six hours a day on an organic farm. John and his wife are 'grey nomads' who leave the UK each year for a number of months and earn their keep while travelling in their campervan. Starting at 6 am on a sheep farm and often working for more than ten hours a day became too onerous for them, so they now do less demanding house-sitting. Next Chris Lawson spoke about his years as a maths and science teacher in a secondary school for girls in the British protectorate of Nyasaland in the 1960s, with slides illustrating his talk. Chris will never forget the day when Malawi achieved independence under Hastings Banda on 6 July 1964; he was in charge as the head teacher was away. The school had an excellent reputation and Chris developed a new science syllabus during his years there. Patience Lacy-Smith spoke about her Hong Kong adventure after she was made redundant in 1990, and eventually got her dream job in the hospitality industry as the first Residential Services Manager at the prestigious Parkview complex of serviced apartments. Patience had put all her energy into networking to meet the right people and get the successful interview that changed her life. David Temple spoke last about being invited to Frankfurt University as an impoverished PhD student and pharmacist to continue his studies and give lectures in drug metabolism. In the five years he and his wife Cherrie lived there he learnt to drive, speak German and to understand that members of his audience there show their approval by banging loudly on the table instead of applauding. Cherrie was able to continue her research in the same field.
The speaker at our November coffee morning was professional wildlife photographer David Boag, known to quite a few in the audience for his presentations on wildlife, illustrated with his stunning photographs. This time he spoke about The Wild Coast, which David pronounced the most exciting part of the UK, because inland is more likely to be spoilt by humans. A London lad, David now lives in Dorset, and started by showing some slides of well-loved views of that bit of the coast – Chesil Beach, Durdle Door and Old Harry Rocks.
The UK coastline provides a great variety of habitats – sand dunes, cliffs, estuaries, shingle beaches and rocks – and David's photographs were an impressive attempt in one hour to cover all the wildlife in these areas, including plants unique to the coast, sea birds, animals, and marine life. Some photographs, although taken on the coast, came as a surprise: bluebells on a cliff on Skomer Island, a stag on a Scottish beach, and a harvest mouse (for once not pictured on an ear of wheat).
The presentation ended appropriately with a view of North Hill above Minehead.
Author Tessa Hadley was the speaker at our October coffee morning. With local connections ‒ she has a cottage in Roadwater, and her parents, uncle and aunt all live in Minehead ‒ Tessa agreed to come and talk about her new book of short stories, Bad Dreams. She also read from her prize winning novel, The Past, which is based on a family gathering at a fictitious house in what is clearly West Somerset. Tessa has written six novels and three collections of short stories, and won the prestigious Windham-Campbell prize for fiction in 2016. She also fits in teaching creative writing at Bath Spa University, and writing book reviews. She spoke about the exciting, liberating process of writing, but how it is hard work too demanding, in her words, an almost insane perseverance, and how one must be a reader first. This has always been a pleasure for Tessa ‒ from the sanctuary of the library as a child to the wonders opening up of adult books, with their intricate plots and complex meanings. For her, Tessa suggested that life was perhaps not quite real until she wrote about it. ‘You might not know if your work was good, but you would know if it was truthful.’ Copies of her books were eagerly snapped up by our members.
At the July coffee morning Brian Wright was the speaker with an intriguing title 'Andrew Crosse and the mite that shocked the world' for his presentation. He talked about the 19th-century pioneering Somerset scientist and poet, who was the eccentric republican squire of Fyne Court in Broomfield. It was a tale of scientific dedication and discoveries, family tragedies, scandal and lost opportunities. Some claim that Andrew Crosse's experiments with electricity inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein, and that he had created life, albeit accidentally, in the form of a tiny mite which emerged when he was trying to form silicate crystals. He certainly came to the attention of both scientists and the public in Britain, Europe and America. Locals called him Wizard Crosse, the 'thunder and lightning man', and there was no poaching on his estate.
A new record attendance for our speaker Lionel Murphy from Exmoor Search and Rescue! Cherrie introduced Lionel, remembering her gratitude that Mountain Rescue had helped her son in a walk that went wrong in Wales last year. First we saw a film covering a variety of call-outs, and then Lionel described his long career as an Exmoor team member. Based at South Molton and Taunton, volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and work together with police, ambulance, fire and rescue and coastguard teams. The area covers remote rural locations and some urban areas, and volunteers come from all walks of life, keeping vital communication with radios, and maintaining medical supplies and rescue equipment which mean the teams are self sufficient. Though not a 'blue light' emergency service, the well trained teams can be on the scene within an hour, offering casualty care, specialist crag and flood rescues. Fundraising talks and shows are essential when the charitable organisation costs £20,000 a year to operate, with no government funding. Our members donated generously.
We were visited by the BBC at our June coffee morning. With West Somerset having the oldest average age in the UK, and the highest percentage of people of 65 and older, I guess a U3A coffee morning was a good place to come to get the views of that age group about adult social care provision. Senior council officials have said that cuts to social care will be necessary, and Social Services Departments are struggling to reconcile rising demand and increasing costs. The aim is to keep people at home as long as possible, but we are living longer and have increasingly complex and costly support needs. Our interviewees did us proud, and the item was featured on the national news later that day.
Cherrie Temple, our Chairman, lit the Amnesty candle before Susan Mew gave her presentation at the April coffee morning. Jill Walmsley introduced the speaker, saying if ever there was a time for Amnesty International, it was now when we were experiencing a global refugee crisis, Donald Trump as US President and the risk that our Government would take us out of the European Convention of Human Rights. Susan told the audience that she had been a member of Amnesty for nearly 40 years, and with the Minehead group since it started over 15 years ago. She has been on a national activism subcommittee and is a regional Amnesty trainer. Outlining the area of work Amnesty takes on, Susan explained how it started in 1961 with a letter in The Observer from Peter Benenson, who had been shocked to read of Portuguese students arrested in a café for raising a toast to freedom, and how it is now a global movement of 7 million members in over 150 countries. Members write letters, sign petitions, demonstrate, lobby, take part in vigils – any action is better than none, for ‘it is better to light one candle than curse the darkness’. Susan recounted some of Amnesty’s success stories: of brave human rights defenders; of prisoners of conscience released; and of governments that have taken action after influential campaigns.
We had an all-time record attendance of 120 for the February coffee morning, when the speaker was Rev Barry Priory, now retired as Rector of Porlock. His subject and passion was Thomas Hardy, and Barry illustrated his presentation with slides showing portraits of the poet and author, illustrations from his works and significant places in the West Country: Hardy's Wessex. Arguably in the speaker's view our greatest man of letters after Shakespeare, Hardy is perhaps best known for his novels. However, he also wrote 900 poems, short stories and plays, and millions all over the world know his work as it has featured in many TV drama adaptations and films.
Thomas Hardy's Wessex is primarily Dorset, where he was born and died, but the settings range from Salisbury to Cornwall – the castle in A Laodicean, not perhaps one of Hardy's finest books, is ‘our’ Dunster Castle. His novels focus on a declining rural society, with tragic characters often struggling against their passions and social circumstances. Hardy’s ashes lie in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, although his heart is buried with his wife in the churchyard at Stinsford in Dorset, for he was overcome with remorse and guilt over their estrangement in her latter years. Rev Barry Priory recalled that he had met someone who actually knew Hardy, and who described Hardy’s quiet joy, humour, love and kindness – “a good man who did good things”.
The January coffee morning is traditionally 'Members' Day', when a few offer to give a presentation instead of having a booked speaker. This year the theme was hobbies, and the audience heard four very different presentations.
Colin Draper was first, speaking about building your own wireless. One of the most important things seemed to be owning a shed, hut, or shack where useful junk could be collected over the years, but not encroach into the family home ‒ or not too much, anyway.
Oli Twist followed with his hobby of woodcarving and had brought a number of his creations. He had been inspired by a carving he bought in Spain, and was determined to learn the craft himself, using the simplest of tools to begin with.
John Rock is known to members of the photography group, and to the nature amblers: John said he felt a walk without a camera was a wasted opportunity. He told the audience about his time as a judge in photographic competitions, an increasingly challenging task in these days of digital wizardry.
Di Martin concluded the morning speaking about her hobby of patchworking. She had brought lots of examples of her work, and was wearing one. A self‒confessed patchwork addict since 1967, Di told members how she started teaching almost by accident, on TV and cruise ships, and most rewardingly her work for Project Linus, making quilts for critically ill children.
Talk on the SS Great Britain by Ian Caskie
You'll find a report by Di Martin on our visit to the SS Great Britain as a link from the Welcome page.
Brian Freeland, talking about being The Seaside Entertainer, was an original kind of speaker for October's coffee morning. He gave part of his presentation in character, as Clarkson Rose, 'Clarkie', who had a lifetime as a comic actor/singer and producer. His talk fitted in nicely with the exhibition just finishing the season at Minehead Museum on the history of entertainment in the town. Brian and his wife toured for over forty years with their show 'Twinkle', though perhaps not to Minehead. Certainly Minehead had plenty of similar touring concert party performers appearing at the Queen's Hall, and the entertainment at Butlin's from the early sixties was legendary. Brian himself has been an actor, producer and writer all his working life and shows no signs of retiring.
We had a highly successful and busy morning with 92 members and 20 visitors attending; 12 new members signed up and yet more took forms away with them in order to consider joining our U3A. Cherrie opened the formal part of the event with a speech of welcome, and went on to speak about her Mah Jong group and the latest Shared Learning Project with Minehead Museum on maritime history. Catherine Knight spoke (on behalf of the convenor, Duncan Jeffray) about the newly re-formed Geology group, Dave Temple about the Railway Enthusiasts and Marg Grizzell about Nature Ambles and Cooking Together. The latter is a new idea of inviting people to come along to the smart new kitchen at Marg’s home, where they will prepare and eat a meal together. The stalls of over 15 groups had visual displays of their activities – many photographs and paintings, of course, but some convenors had other ideas to interest and attract members (the wine bottle on the French Conversation Group table arrived at the Methodist Church Hall empty, we should point out)!
The Open Day concluded with a rousing performance from the Ukulele Group.
Guest speaker at this coffee morning was Susan Fox, Collections Manager at the Roman Baths in Bath. She brought with her a selection of coins and a replica of the fused block from the Beau Street Hoard - a discovery made in Nov 2007 during archaeological excavations near the Roman Baths before the construction of a city centre hotel. First a few scattered coins, not that remarkable, but then an amazing and unique find of 17,500 Roman coins contained in 8 separate money bags, tightly fused together in a block. The hoard was declared to be Treasure, and property of the Crown, and the British Museum started the long process of cleaning, assessing and valuing the find. The bags contained silver coins mainly from the third century AD, and we may never know why it was buried, nor the significance of the site. Of particular interest to this audience was the fact that local U3A branches were involved in cataloguing the coins which all had to be weighed and photographed. They were bought by the Roman Baths after a public appeal and are on display at the Museum there. Audience members were allowed to handle and examine the coins Susan had brought, and a trip to the Museum is being planned.
Click on a picture below to see it full-size with more details.