Third Age Matters February 2023 - Screenreader Edition

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From editor, Joanne Smith

In the last week in January, we had a staff workshop where we met up with u3a trustees and other u3a members who chair committees of the Third Age Trust. u3a members come from all sorts of backgrounds, so it shouldn't really be surprising to learn that among our hardworking trustees we have an Olympic skiing judge, a certified Hungarian circus performer, a former BBC researcher who shadowed a stripper for a day and a hypnotist. I hope to share these stories with you in a later issue … If you have your own interesting story, please get in touch as we’d love to tell it in TAM.

It’s time to look forward to activities planned for the year, and this issue is packed with news from u3as. You can find out how to get involved with the u3a’s Off The Wall event in May at Hadrian’s Wall, which promises to be an exciting day out for curious minds and features a programme of workshops and talks. If you fancy having a go at making a podcast or a robot, our tech pages highlight some of the kits you can buy to help you. And plan your year ahead with our Summer Schools round-up.

I hope you enjoy this issue and I look forward to hearing what you are getting up to this year!

Twitter @Magu3a | Facebook @u3auk

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Cover story: Minding your pet’s business

Animal communications expert Lucy Lofting, who leads Hillingdon u3a’s Pet Psychology Group in west London, unravels the mystery of what our furry friends are thinking

Is my dog happy? He means the world to me since my husband died” and “Does my cat really love me or is she just asking for food?”
are the kind of questions that get asked at our Hillingdon u3a Pet Psychology Group. Half of the group have cats and the other half have dogs, so we try to balance the material around both canine and feline topics.

Pet psychology is a fairly new research discipline which owes a lot to the animal welfare laws and change in attitudes against keeping rats and monkeys in cages for study. Dog breeds come in many shapes and sizes with different temperaments and skills, making them previously considered unsuitable for study.

However, with 25 million pets in UK households and a greater understanding of the well-being issues of having the right animal chum, the field has opened up considerably in the past 10 years.

Child psychology set the scene for exploring cognitive function. The tests were well validated and looked at the emotional development of a two- to three-year-old child.

These equate well with the emotional lives of cats and dogs that have been found to have the full range of human emotions and frequently show compassion, when their ability to smell emotional states in humans tells them that all is not well. That led on quickly to the new range of jobs that dogs have undertaken in the assistance field, way beyond guide dogs.

While humans are sight orientated, we often forget that dogs and cats are mainly driven by their sense of smell or hearing. Dogs have been used for hunting and tracking for generations, but now medical detection dogs sniff out diseases in breath and bodily fluids from cancer to Covid. They are trained to find blaze accelerants for the fire brigade, explosives at airports and IEDs for the Army.

These practical uses of their natural abilities bring research funding, while
the dogs love having a job and doing something appreciated by their human. In addition, cats with their superior hearing can sound the alert long before a dog or human is aware – skills honed for solitary hunting.

So what has our group looked at so far? We have examined Gregory Berns’ research on dogs that were shown images while lying on an MRI scanner bed – the first insight into a living, non-human, brain in action. The reward centres in the brain lighting up more at the sight of the owner than at food overturned traditional thinking. Our cats and dogs really do love us.

Then there are the differences between pack animals such as dogs and solitary hunters like cats in communication patterns and body language. Dogs use facial expressions while cats tend to use whole body postures, which can be read by another cat at a distance.

We now know cats have excellent problem-solving abilities, while dogs will tend to turn to humans for help. Both cats and dogs can suffer separation anxiety if left for more than a few hours. Cats are not ‘low-maintenance dogs’ and like to be near us, but not necessarily handled or picked up too often. Laps are generally for warmth with cats, but dogs enjoy much longer games and petting sessions as their pack bonding instincts require them to spend more time socialising.

We use these differences to give our pets enrichment. Does your dog prefer tuggy toys like bull breeds do, things to retrieve and carry like field dogs, or things to run after and chase like sighthounds? Would your cat prefer to search for some of its dry food or chase leaves or insects outside at dusk?

Many people wonder how this Pet Psychology Group differs from animal behaviour courses. Quite simply, we start from the animal’s perspective and attributes, rather than what the human wants the animal to do. Of course, understanding the basic instincts and psychological rewards helps in modern, reward-based training. We can also ponder on how a dog’s day is driven by a human timetable, while moggies with access to a cat flap may have more freedom to sniff, observe, hunt and connect with others at will.

Our animals fill a huge hole in our family lifestyles and understanding them more fully is a worthwhile study. Our group members certainly enjoy it.

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Dogs and cats love having FAMILY role

Research shows that having a pet in our lives increases a feel-good hormone
called oxytocin.

This neurotransmitter is released in the animal and human when we stroke our pets. Medics even recommend dog ownership for heart patients to speed up recovery –delivering companionship, exercise and acting as a de-stressor in one package. Our pets are an integral part of the family. The loss they experience when sent to a rescue centre to be rehomed can lead to acute depression and distress.

On a more positive note, each pet feels that they have an important part to play in the family and love having a job to do.

Our feisty terrier considered protecting children as his raison d’être and was incredibly tolerant of small hands or over-enthusiastic brushing. If the routine changed and a child was sick, the dog would take up an all-day bedroom vigil.

Cats can be guardians, too. After badly breaking my leg, a host of physios, carers and wellwishers visited our house. My cat sat on the stairs, refusing access to anyone he thought should not go up – much to the consternation of the team sent to adapt my bathroom.

Many older people rely on their pet for companionship and this is often underestimated when the animal dies, or cannot be taken with them to a nursing home. Pets can offer comfort and support, reach through to those with dementia and even to surly teens.

Studies published recently show a dog can smell distress in a human and wants to help and comfort – perhaps the reason so many support dogs are now involved in school and hospital staff visits. But they need a good run around later to shake off the negative human emotions.

So look at your pet and see which role suits them in your home. Be sensitive to the fact that cats and dogs hate discord in the family. Cats will often move home to find a less stressful environment, and dogs hide when there are arguments.

Perhaps you will look at your pet differently and think of new ways to enhance their lives.

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About Lucy

Lucy is a retired HR director with a first-class degree in zoology and a research degree in psychology.

She has 25 years’ experience as a Reiki master and therapist, including NHS studies with cancer patients. In retirement, Lucy cross-trained and volunteered as an animal therapist for eight years at Dogs Trust. Her special interest was the hormonal changes between stressed and relaxed dogs.

She also has a diploma in animal communication (behavioural) and owns a rescue cat called Daisy.

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Don’t pass on your own anxieties to animals

Group member David Hare owns a seven-year-old rescue Belgian Shepherd called Mishka, pictured, who would appear aggressive towards other dogs when on a lead and would not let David treat her ears for an infection.

He said: “Lucy explained why she did that and how to control it. She said I had a fear of hurting her when I treated her ears and that I was anxious when she was on the lead. Lucy helped me understand the behaviours and control my fears, which I was unconsciously transferring to Mishka. She no longer has that behaviour and allows me to treat her ears daily.

“Being in the group has allowed me to gain understanding in how we unconsciously affect the behaviour of our pets, which is invaluable.”

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What's been happening across u3a

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Daredevil bunch go to extremes

An exhilarating trip down the UK’s
Olympic white-water slalom course heralded the start of a new u3a
adventure group.

Members of London’s Mill Hill u3a Extreme Sports Group found themselves submerged in rapids as their swimming skills were put to the test at Lea Valley White Water Centre in north-east London. The two-hour session involved being kitted out in wetsuits and protective gear before receiving instructions and a safety briefing to enter the swirling water.

Each member had to pass the ‘swim test’ by jumping in before floating feet first downstream until instructed to swim to the bank and clamber out.

“Everyone soon concluded that this was less a test of swimming ability than a trial to see who would hold their nerve when told to leap into the cold water,” said group leader Victor Brilliant.

After passing the swim test, the team took to their raft. Victor added: “At the start, most people thought every white water section looked extremely scary but, by the end, the cry was ‘This is an easy one – let’s see how fast we can take it!’”

The age of members of the group ranges from 62 to 82, with many harbouring long ambitions to try wing walking, skydiving, climbing and learning to ride a unicycle.

Victor revealed the aim was to demonstrate that age need not be a barrier to trying something new and exciting.

He said: “There is a mile-long zip wire across a quarry in north Wales that some are anxious to try but the challenge is to find exhilarating things that members can do themselves, rather than have done to them, and that are not going to break the bank.”

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The Third Age Trust board would like to encourage u3a members to consider putting themselves forward to stand as trustees.

Trustees play a key role in helping to support and shape the movement within the regions and nations.

There will be four by-elections in London, East Midlands , West Midlands and Wales. Nominations need to be in by February 15.

If you are a u3a member in any of these areas, please think about putting your name forward. You can arrange a discussion with a member of the board to hear more about what being a trustee entails.

If you have experience of sitting on a committee or board, or have development, communications, finance or governance experience, we would love to hear from you. Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Let your u3a be a key brick in the wall

u3a members are invited to enjoy a programme of talks, workshops and activities at Hadrian’s Wall to raise awareness of the movement and celebrate the 1,900th anniversary of the structure.

The u3a Off the Wall event will be based at the Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre near Hexham, Northumberland, on 10 May.

Online activities are being organised in the build-up.

Ann Keating, u3a trustee for Scotland, said: “It promises to be an exciting day for curious minds.

“Hadrian’s Wall has been an inspiration for creative projects throughout the ages, so it is an ideal place to base an event demonstrating the wealth of learning
and creativity in u3as.

“This will be a great opportunity to raise awareness of the u3a movement to enrich the lives of not only older people, but also anyone who has the time to participate. It is hoped that u3a members from all over the UK will support the event by,for example, hosting a demonstration of their interest group, walking some of the paths around the site or signing up to take part in the activities.”

Hadrian’s Wall, a World Heritage Site, marked its 1,900th anniversary last year.Speakers on the day includeAndrew Birley, chief executive and director of excavations of the Vindolanda Trust, which owns the Vindolanda Roman fort archaeological site, and Rob Collins, senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Newcastle.

Guided tours around the Vindolanda site will also be available.

Wendy Barrie, of the Scottish Food Guide, will run a workshop on the influence of Roman food and rustle up some recipes, while musician Kim Wilson will explain how the Northumbrian pipes work and demonstrate the haunting sound of their music.

Ann Keating, who is a member of Edinburgh u3a, will demonstrate charcoal landscape drawing techniques, while Gill Thompson, from Northumberland National Park, will give a talk on the biodiversity of the area.

Ann added: “We would like more groups, especially those belonging to u3as near the wall, to step forward and take part. The Third Age Trust will be there to help and support but we need you to get out there and make this a really exciting occasion.”

Booking is essential. To find out more or register for an online Q&A, go to /events/off-the-wall

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Learn CPR in 15 minutes with BHF’s new app

u3a is forging links with the British Heart Foundation to help save lives. The organisation is urging members to

download its new app that will teach you life-saving CPR skills in just 15 minutes.

BHF representatives have already spoken to u3a groups in Northern Ireland about the benefits of the app and its ease of use, and are offering to give talks about heart issues to other u3a groups. All you need to use the RevivRapp
from the British Heart Foundation is a smartphone or tablet and a cushion.

More than half of cardiac arrests are among the over-65s. Every minute without CPR or defibrillation reduces the chances of survival by up to 10 per cent.

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, BHF chief executive, said: “Fewer than one in 10 people survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in the UK and this needs to change. We are determined to make a difference and create a nation of lifesavers by giving everyone the opportunity to learn CPR.”

To request a talk, contact 0300 330 3322 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

‘Age is but a number’: Pair celebrate 100th birthdays

A lady who became her u3a’s chair at 98 and a war hero shot down over Belgium reach milestone.

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Audrey lamb

Lyndhurst u3a in Hampshire lost a true stalwart when Audrey Lamb stood down as chair at the age of 100.

Secretary Peter Green said: “When I became the secretary, the retiring chair, then 82, told me Audrey would be following him. I envisaged a youngish woman but when he then told me she was 98, I was a little worried.

“But on meeting Audrey I learned there truly are people in this world to whom age is but a number. She was an excellent chair and kept me and the rest of the committee up to the mark.”

Audrey was a member of nearby Lymington u3a for 20 years, where she led the Theatre Visits Group. In her 90s, she stepped in as treasurer to help a fledgling Lyndhurst u3a get up and running. She became chair and ran the Bridge Group. Audrey, who has been battling arthritis for some years, has moved away to be nearer relatives.

Peter added: “The whole branch will miss this elegant lady. I particuarly will miss our weekly telephone calls sorting out the running of the branch – always amicable, always brisk and to the point while being quite often amusing. We all wish her well in her latest adventure.”

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Richard Whateley-Knight

A u3a member who was shot down over Belgium in World War II and held in German PoW camps celebrated his 100th birthday – and told how the movement has been a ‘lifeline’ for him.

Richard Whateley-Knight, who joined Glenfield u3a in Leicestershire when he was 92 with his late wife Joan, became a member of several groups, including German. He said: “My desire with joining the German interest group was to understand the language and the people, after my experience.”

Richard added: “The u3a is a lifeline for me. I can’t emphasise enough how important it has been for my well-being.”

Newlywed Richard was part of No 613 Squadron, which was tasked with low-level night flying to destroy trains, tanks and buildings around St Vith in the Battle of the Bulge. On 24 December 1944, the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito which he was navigating was intercepted by a Luftwaffe Junker Ju 88. A burst of fire penetrated the cockpit, injuring Richard’s legs and shredding the controls.

Richard and pilot Ken Baird bailed out and landed safely, but Richard was picked up by a German patrol and taken to various prison camps. Finally, he was released by Allied forces at Moosburg.

Richard revealed that living in the camps was mostly boring but sometimes he worked in the kitchen or hospital.

The camp inmates were aware the war was coming to an end and he didn’t encounter any violence.

Richard is part of the Caterpillar Club, an informal association of people whose lives have been saved through the use of a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft.

He was also awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest French order of merit for military and civilians, in 2018. An avid cricket fan and player, he was a member of the Local Umpires Association for 34 years and was awarded life membership of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Association of Cricket Officials.

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Castle gets u3a garden makeover

u3a members are helping to renovate gardens at a National Trust property using the movement’s colours of blues and yellows.

Barnsley & District’s Gardeners’ Group has been given permission to use the colours in an area of Wentworth Castle Gardens, South Yorkshire.

The gardens were laid out in the early 1700s by Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, a diplomat with close links to the major events of his time, including the Act of Union in 1707.

A dramatic feature to the south of the house is an arrangement of enclosed triangular spaces in the form of a Union Jack. Barnsley & District u3a has been allocated a triangle with views of the house and over a valley towards the town. The planting will be in three large triangles formed by the hedging and paths, making the garden welcoming and accessible to all.

The group will be using yellow, blue and white flowers and shrubs from an authentic 18th century plant list, and with the help of a professional gardener.

For more information, go to and search for Wentworth Castle Gardens.

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British History study day

u3a British History buffs are being invited to take part in an online study day. There are at least 2,000 u3a British History interest groups across the UK, covering many aspects such as ancient, medieval, modern, social, economic, political, military and empire.

The study day will enable members to present their research via Zoom to a wider audience.

If you are interested in helping to develop a study day programme, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Smartphone group on call for support

When a u3a member struggled to turn off their new mobile phone as it rang during a talk, the chair hit upon an idea for a group.

Hugh Munro set up the Smartphone
Surfer Group at Penicuik & District u3a in Midlothian to help members get to grips with their phones and tablets. Hugh said: “During the introductory remarks at open meetings with a guest speaker, I always request that members either mute their mobile phones or switch them off.

“At a meeting several months ago, and during a speaker’s talk, a mobile phone rang out. One very embarrassed member eventually found the phone, scurried out and sheepishly returned later.”

Members have learned how to set up WhatsApp groups, find and download bus timetables, and access Wi-Fi, sat nav and digital banking.

Hugh added: “On top of all the progression on the technical front, the social contact is great and appreciated by all.”

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TV’s Jay Blades marks 40th anniversary

Jay Blades dedicated a cherry tree to High Wycombe & District u3a to mark the movement’s 40th anniversary.

The Repair Shop host met Judith Elliott, gardener Jonny Unitt, Karen Abrahams, Penny Gerrard and Barbara Simpson at Wycombe Museum in Buckinghamshire.

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Everywhere that I went, I saw despair and death

Unprecedented floods swamped large swathes of Pakistan and displaced millions last year. Zubaida Metlo, of Mill Hill u3a in London, recalls the horrific sights as she returned home to help.

I was born in Qambar, in the Pakistani province of Sindh, and proudly celebrate my Sindhi identity. Here, 80 per cent of people depend on irrigation to live and many struggle to survive. Sindh’s rice, cotton, wheat, sugarcane, pulses, fruits and vegetables not only fulfil the needs of Pakistan, but also support the country’s economy through exports.

The 2022 disaster affected one-third of Pakistan’s population and shocked the world. Experts called it a man-made disaster caused by climate change and the failure of government to maintain essential drainage channels that take excess water to the sea.

As a result, the monsoons were trapped and cities, towns and villages flooded.

Millions of people moved to whatever safe areas they could find but many drowned. Months later, there was no sign that the government had made any attempt to drain the stagnant water, which was spreading disease and making it impossible to harvest crops.

I could not stop thinking of where my relatives were, so I travelled to Karachi in September to see what help I could offer.

Thousands of displaced victims had been settled temporarily in government buildings without basic facilities such as water and electricity.

I wanted to go to the flood-hit areas, to my village, to where my father is buried. I could not contact family but I wanted to reach the districts of Jamshoro and Dadu, where I spent a major part of my life.

I hired a car and driver and visited half of the 30 districts in Sindh. In Jamshoro, where people were dying of disease and malnutrition, I joined a team providing meals and medical relief.

There were few doctors and they were as exhausted as the victims.

At one relief camp, I took a four-year-old child on my lap. He said he wanted the water to go so that he could go home. He had no idea that his village had been destroyed and that there was no longer anywhere for him to go.

In Qambar, I wanted to visit my father’s grave but there was water everywhere – school, house and cemetery all submerged – and no one to tell me where he was buried. I could not muster the courage to go to the remains of my village.

On the route from Larkana, victims were lying by the road with their livestock while children filled bottles from the filthy flood water for drinking. Some had cheap, poor-quality tents but most were lying on the ground in the full heat of the sun. I saw a semi-conscious woman beside her crying newborn baby.

In the beautiful, fertile Khairpur, I donated to activist Dr Ayesha Dharejo, with whose team I visited victims of a village where its fields were swamped.

Everywhere that I went, I saw despair and death. I saw many terrible sights and very little that the Pakistan government is doing to alleviate the suffering.

And so, saddened almost beyond bearing, I have come back to what is now my home, to continue with my life.

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Working with youth to discuss climate change

A u3a environmental group has been exploring ways of engaging younger people in conversations about climate change, including a successful workshop at the London Business School.

The Countdown to COP (C2C) Group will be sharing advice on how to work with young people in schools and universities when it publishes a guide this spring.

The guide – based on C2C members’ own experiences – will offer u3as suggestions on what seems to work well and what to avoid, as well as emphasising the importance of listening to – and learning from – each other.

The workshop, featuring students from the University of Warwick and London Business School, involved more than 70 participants who discussed issues such as the purpose of inter-generational climate dialogue, how it can be undertaken and what it can achieve.

The group’s guide will be available through the u3a Climate Change website at

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u3a’s 40th hits headlines

The u3a’s 40th anniversary last year resulted in dozens of articles in publications including The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Daily Express. A mention in The Guardian led to nearly 2,000 hits on the u3a website.

The u3a’s 40th Anniversary Woodland featured in several titles, including Retirement Matters magazine, while the 40th Anniversary Quilt, made by members, was featured by That’s TV Manchester and the British Patchwork and Quilting magazine, among other outlets.

Burnham-on-Crouch u3a’s discovery of a medieval palace featured in the UK press, while the u3a communications team arranged TV appearances on This Morning and a travel show with Freddie Flintoff.

Other stories to be covered included Marian Elliott, who told The Guardian how u3a helped her overcome depression and loneliness, while short-story competition winner Lynne Carroll featured in her local media.

u3a chair Liz Thackray said: “The press coverage we have received is a brilliant example of working together to put the u3a on the map.”

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Sign up to give Equality, Diversity and Inclusion presentations

Volunteers are needed to deliver awareness presentations to u3as
and networks across the UK.

The presentations have been developed by the Trust’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee and received positive feedback, with people hailing them as ‘worthwhile’ and ‘enlightening’.

Since the committee’s inception, it has delivered many presentations to encourage u3as to consider their understanding of EDI. Members can also share their experiences at virtual coffee mornings.

The committee is looking for volunteers to present to u3as, networks and peer groups.

The online presentations will continue to be part of the national workshop programme. Meanwhile, the committee will create specific workshops for the likes of group leaders, trustees and EDI leads.

It is looking for members who can bring a depth of understanding to the workshops and presentations they develop.

To get involved, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit advice/diversity-and-inclusion

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Are you missing out on pension credit cash?

u3a is encouraging members to find out about the Pension Credit they may be missing out on.

On average, a successful claim could provide an extra £3,500 a year and act as a ‘gateway benefit’ to unlock additional help. This includes help with heating bills, rent and council tax, free NHS dental care and a free TV licence for the over-75s.

To find out more, log on to

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Petition push to 'can' difficult packaging

u3a has joined forces with the Royal College of Art to urge the government to make packaging easier to open for millions of older and disabled people.

A petition, which is open until the end of April, is calling on ministers to enforce minimum inclusive standards for consumer packaging.

It follows a survey, involving more than 2,000 u3a members, which revealed that nearly 60 per cent of those aged 55 to 104 find getting into items difficult, from food and medication packaging to ring pulls and jam jars (see Letters).

“It’s dehumanising when you can’t open a packet of bacon or unscrew a bottle and have to ask a neighbour to do it,” said Colum Lowe, the Royal College of Art’s Design Age Institute director.

u3a members are being urged to sign the petition so that the issue will be discussed in Parliament.

Sam Mauger, chief executive of the Third Age Trust, said: “We have all struggled at some time with badly designed packaging, but for those with reduced dexterity or strength, this can be incredibly disruptive to everyday life.

“u3a members want to be involved in shaping a future where the design of products and services considers the needs of older adults.”

Liz Corrie, of Newcastle u3a, ended up in A&E after using a knife to remove a milk bottle lid. She said: “The knife slipped and it went straight into my arm. It was foolish but that is what the frustration makes you do.”

Go to /our-impact/pushback-ageism to sign the petition.

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u3a tour offer to learn about nature on London's canals

u3a members can enjoy
a summer special package from London Canal Museum.

The attraction, at Kings Cross, is running an exhibition about nature on and around the city’s canals.

It is offering u3a members museum entry, a specialist talk and refreshments for £10 per person. There is also the option of a nature walk.

It follows a series of successful u3a trips to the museum, pictured above, last year.

Group visits co-ordinator Joanna Charlton said: “The canals provide a delicate green paradise for waterbirds, fish, animals and insects, plus a wealth of flora. People are amazed at how much nature there is below, above and around the waterline.

“The canals harbour a few surprises as well, such as the colony of wild but harmless Aesculapian snakes that live on the banks of the Regents Canal near London Zoo.

“We really enjoyed welcoming groups last year for our u3a Ice Cream Summer Specials and hope this is just as popular.”

u3a Nature Summer Specials will run on 7 July, 14 July, 28 July, 11 August and 18 August.

To find out more or to book a group of 10 or more members on to a morning or afternoon session, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Easy way to sign up to newsletter

The u3a national newsletter connects the online u3a community. It is packed full of u3a stories and information, including from local u3a groups, learning news, upcoming national events and exclusive discounts for members.

Sign up to receive monthly u3a updates into your inbox at /news/newsletter

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Esther Rantzen: Bank on a personal touch

Nothing beats face-to-face service when it comes to our money, says Dame Esther Rantzen.

In my last column I broke my parents’ strictest rule of etiquette and talked about sex, which provoked wonderful reactions from you. So in this column I’ve decided to break their second rule and discuss money …

“For people over 60, it’s a nightmare,” said my accountant. Not talking about the cost of living. Not talking about the price of energy. Talking about the frustration of trying to find a bank staffed with human beings who will look after you and your money.

I am still recovering from ringing my bank – at its
request – because it wanted information. Have you tried this brain-numbing expedition into the ether? I had no idea where in the globe I was calling, or whom I would find at the other end. Over and over again, I had to work my way through a maze of numbers to press, and more numbers of my own to type in, in order to talk to somebody
I could barely hear who asked me questions I could not answer … who said in that case they could not help me. Nightmare.

And it’s not just a nightmare, it’s a shock. Because people of my generation remember when banks did look after us. When I reached my 16th birthday, more than 60 years ago now, I remember vividly going to the local branch of Barclays where my grandmother had opened her first account half a century earlier. To celebrate my new independence, the manager (remember managers?) invited me into his office and showed me how to write out a cheque (remember cheques?).

But that was then. Branches of high-street banks have disappeared like morning dew and managers have dropped like leaves in autumn, all in the name of progress.

I realise that times change, but aren’t things supposed to get better? I know that the internet is wonderful, but banking online doesn’t compare with a friendly chat with a cashier at your local branch who knows you and your family, and greets you with a smile.

I try to follow the rules of the exciting digital world. I use a laptop and a smartphone, although some of my friends can’t and won’t. I don’t blame them. Clicking with a mouse or scrolling through a menu doesn’t compare with a face-to-face meeting with another human, exchanging spoken questions, spoken answers, spoken explanations.

For example, suppose we have reached an age when we have a few bob saved up in the bank and we would like to be advised what to do with it. Do we splash out on long-haul cruises following the mantra ‘SKIN’ – spending the kids’ inheritance now?

Is it wasteful to keep any savings in our bank account, especially given that inflation is rising like Mary Berry’s cheese soufflés? But the interest rates the banks are offering are stuck at the soggy bottom. Should you shift your nest egg across to your kids who need it now, rather than hoard it in case you will need to pay for your own care? Unless you have a crystal ball to predict the length and health of the rest of your life, how can you decide?

What I would like to do is wrench the hands of the clock backwards and reopen all the local branches of every high-street bank so we could all sit down with human beings who thought it was their job to look after us the way managers did long, long ago.

No wonder Martin Lewis is the nation’s most popular candidate to be our next Prime Minister. I would like to clone him a million times and make him available to each one of us, then we would be able to talk face-to-face to someone who is an expert, someone objective, someone who has our interests at heart.

It’s only a dream but at least it would banish the nightmare.

What do you think? Let us know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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what's on

u3a runs a programme of online talks, workshops and events, as well as online initiatives for members to get involved with, such as Speaker Swap, cake decorating and puzzles.

To offer an opportunity or help to access the programme, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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u3a talks and events

To book these and more, visit /events

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Mindfulness and Meditation Series

Every Tuesday from 7 February
to 14 March at 10am

Sheffield u3a’s Mindful Ageing Group is running its successful six-week Mindfulness and Meditation Series again. You can join at any time to find out how mindfulness and meditation can help enhance our lives, and what
its relevance is to ageing.

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Brain, Pain and Anaesthetics

Monday, 6 March at 2pm

Dr Bob Pullen, of Prudhoe & District u3a in Northumberland, talks about our brain, the sensations of touch and pain, and how anaesthetics work.

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Genetic Genealogy: Making it Work for You

Wednesday, 8 March at 2pm

An intermediate-advanced level talk by Toni Neobard, a member of Hawkwell Village u3a in Essex, designed to show how to use autosomal DNA match results to
prove your family tree.

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Laughter Yoga

Second Wednesday of every month

Run by Judith Walker of Edinburgh u3a, these sessions combine laughter exercises with deep yoga-style breathing (pranayama).

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u3a national learning initiatives

To get involved, visit

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Found in Nature

Have you seen anything interesting or strange in nature? We are collecting u3a members’ photographs on the theme of ‘Found in Nature’ for our online gallery. View our gallery and submit your photos online.

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Logic Puzzles and Maths ChallengeS

Do you see yourself as a puzzler or mathematician? Try our monthly logic puzzles, or our weekly maths challenges, to train your brain and keep your mind active.

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u3a subject networks and more

To join or start a network, visit

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Speaker Swap

We have collated a huge range of talks from members who are willing to deliver presentations to other u3as in exchange for one in return. These can be online or in person.

Examples include The History of Shoemaking, An Introduction to Latin America, Working with Grief, Why It’s Not Practical to Generate Electricity by Fusion Power and What It’s Like to be Face Blind.

Just fill out our online form and details will be exchanged monthly.

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u3a Film Unit

Our u3a Film Unit was set up to allow filmmakers from across the u3a to share their work. To contribute to the shared YouTube channel, contact Peter at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit for more details.

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Get together to learn, laugh, live at u3a Summer Schools

Here’s a taster of some of the programmes being organised by u3a volunteers this year.

Every year, u3a members volunteer their time to share their knowledge at a range of Summer Schools. Not all the 2023 Summer Schools have finished their planning, but here is an early preview of what to watch out for. Most schools accept applications from members throughout the UK.

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Chichester, West Sussex

4-7 September

Now in its 17th year and run by the South East Forum, this four-day school takes place in the lovely university buildings in the heart of Chichester. A range of three-day courses are still being planned and may include subjects such as intermediate ukulele, yoga/Pilates, French, mah jong, mathematics demystified, cycling, illuminated manuscripts, ‘Fizzics is Phun’, poetry – and possibly archaeology, photography and painting.

Booking will start in early 2023 and booking forms will be
available at

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North West Region

15-18 August

Details are being finalised but this will take place at the University of Cumbria in Carlisle.

Look out for information at or contact Alan Hough on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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London Region

25-26 July

Now in its 10th year, this non-residential event will be held at the central and easily accessed St Bride Foundation in Bride Lane.

Attendees can select from 28 sessions during the two days, including talks, workshops and guided walks. Topics include history, current affairs, art, music, literature/drama, social studies and sciences. There will be about 170 places per day. The cost, including refreshments and buffet lunch, will be around £40 per day.

Booking is expected to start in March, with the programme and forms at

To join the mailing list, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Northern Ireland

13-15 June (tbc)

Planning has only just started for this school but the intention is that it will take place at Greenmount Campus
in Antrim.

The organisers have yet to decide on the courses and will advertise when and where bookings can be made.

For more details, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Craven, North Yorkshire


This two-day non-residential school will be held at Ermysted’s Grammar School in Skipton and costs about £10 per person.

The programme offers a wide choice of options for those who would like to discover more about science, music, literature, film and history. Last year,
22 presentations were given.

For details, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Yorkshire and Humberside Region

31 July–3 August

This popular school offers residential and non-residential places at The Hawkhills conference venue in Easingwold, near York.

For a list of courses available, costs and registration process, visit the YAHR website For further information, contact Samina Aslam (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Pat Collard (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

for your summer school to be listed in the Spring issue, please email Rob White at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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tech news

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Be a pro with all mod cons

From DIY synthesisers and podcasting kits to coding and building robots, technology-based hobbies take you out of your comfort zone, writes James Day

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POD almighty

The popularity of podcasting shows no sign of easing – there is even a national u3a Radio Podcast showcasing cool things happening across the movement.

If you’ve got an itch to scratch about a topic, waxing lyrical on a digital audio broadcast for others to listen to could be the answer. Maybe your book club has heated debates worth recording, or there’s someone interesting in your life you’ve always wanted to interview.

So, how do you create your own personal radio show without a studio? Vocaster packages by Focusrite provide all the tools to record, edit and broadcast to the world in one neat package. Prices start at around £250 from, but if you’re sharing the cost between friends or club members it can be a worthwhile and affordable investment. Focusrite also provides free video guides that break down each feature into a step-by-step format to help you kick-start your recording journey.


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Electric light orchestra

Tech Will Save Us was a wonderful British company making DIY gadget kits. I say ‘was’ because it entered administration in 2021. But a comeback could be on the cards and you can find many of its most ingenious offerings on Amazon. That includes a synth kit allowing you to build your own 1980s-esque electrical music instrument for under £20. For £29.99, littleBits makes a wonderfully intuitive electronic music inventor kit, offering the opportunity to build a synth guitar, air drums or go off script and make something unique of your very own.

Alternatively, cult Scandinavian tech company Teenage Engineering has a treasure trove of weird and wonderful inventions to experiment with. Try pocket drum machines from £49 to a £649 portable wireless speaker with a wave of warped effects such as ambient snippets of radio broadcasts and a musical mantra box serving spiritual sounds. It’s definitely out there, man.

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Get in the Bot Seat

Making robots is popular among members, with Gloucester u3a hosting the Robot Constructors Challenge last October. Unashamed science fiction fans know robots are as much for grown-ups as they are for kids – and, thankfully, intrepid kit makers agree.

Companies such as Elegoo , Keyestudio, Adeept, Sunfounder, Freenove and Petoi produce fabulously agile robots, cars, tanks, arms and even cute animals for you to build from scratch. Starter kits cost from around £50 and you can always rope in the grandkids if you need to qualify the investment.


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Crack the code

Most robotic kits require a basic grasp of computing knowledge to program them to do things. This could be something as simple as navigating your way around an app but really it pays to get into coding, which is slowly becoming a cornerstone of STEM education.

If you fancy a dabble, a BBC micro:bit pocket-sized computer is a great starting point for learning new digital skills. Pick up a kit, head to, and open up a world of discovery, such as making weather stations, smart home controls, moisture sensors for plants, or even programming a replica
Mars Rover.

Otherwise, check out the wide selection of coding kits from littleBits. Although engineered for school students, they offer a fun and ultimately unintimidating entry point into the discipline.

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Let’s talk tech

The u3a is going for tech in a big way. Our Let’s Talk Tech Facebook group and website page has numerous online talks and initiatives to explore. Pop ‘u3a let’s talk tech’ into your search engine for more.

If this has left you all teched out and desperate for something pure, the u3a is home to crafts advisers and experts in all sorts of topics. Check out our list of Subject Advisers on page 38 for inspiration, go to, or put ‘Craft u3a Facebook’ into your search engine to find out more.

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Best apps for… health and wellness

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Free for up to 14 days, then £9.99/£4.17 a month; iOS, Android,

Billed as ‘meditation and sleep made simple’, Headspace can count the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Emma Watson as fans. The idea is to give your brain a workout by taking 10 minutes of your day to listen and clear your mind. Led by a former Buddhist monk, Headspace is said to improve attention span, alertness and provide instant calm. It is free for up to 14 days so, if you’re not getting the desired use out of it, be sure to cancel before your trial is up to avoid being charged.

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Feel Better

Free for first seven days, then up to
£2.99 a month; iOS, Android,

Delve into the culinary mind of the (massively marketable) cult lifestyle blogger Deliciously Ella. A plant-based recipe book for your pocket, Feel Better pulls together nearly 300
of her favourite nutritious dishes, a personalised wellness plan and a
daily tracking tool to monitor your
diet, exercise, sleep, mindfulness and water consumption.

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Mighty Health

Free for first seven days, then around £150 a year; iOS, Android,

Mighty Health is an exercise, nutrition and holistic wellness programme designed specifically for your age. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, prepare for surgery or rehab, become stronger and more mobile, or generally live the mightiest years of your life, the app includes a library of low-impact workouts, lessons from doctors on healthy aging, plus challenges and classes to keep you motivated. A free trial and 30-day money-back guarantee is available and starts with a basic health assessment before paying a penny.

Is there an area of tech you would like to learn more about? Send your suggestions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow James on Twitter @James_a_day

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Planning for the future in challenging times

Liz Thackray: view from the chair.

I am writing this column on a sunny Monday morning in mid-January. The weather forecasts threaten snow and ice, and there has been a lot of rain and wind in various parts of the country during the past few days.

In other parts of the world, there is severe flooding, extremely low temperatures and war. In the UK, we are experiencing industrial unrest and strike action, reminiscent of what many of us remember in past decades.

While many of us have enjoyed the freedom offered by the removal of Covid restrictions, others continue to be cautious as we are warned about the severity of this year’s flu virus and new strains of the coronavirus. All of us are aware of the effects of inflation on our fuel bills.

As a movement, the u3a faces its own challenges. Perhaps the one most of us were aware of was when the hosting company suddenly stopped Sitebuilder. Our thanks go to the volunteers and staff who worked together to find a way forward. They definitely went way beyond the second mile!

An important lesson learned from the past months has been the need to communicate what was happening and to be clear about why things had gone wrong – and what actions were being taken to fix the problem.

Less spectacularly, we have been working on improving communications between those of us elected as trustees and the membership we represent. Hopefully you will have seen the newsletters updating members on strategy, finance and governance. If you haven’t, do ask your committee members about them.

Alongside written communications, there have been a number of ‘Ask the …’ events hosted by Network Link – and more are being planned.

During November and December, there were many meetings in regions and nations discussing the ideas presented at the AGM plenary. It is clear an EGM this year to introduce changes is not appropriate, but we are continuing to explore how to ensure a more effective member voice in future development.

In the coming year, there are three main strands of activity that are the focus of the board. The strategy plan, which was launched following the 2021 AGM, is being fleshed out and you will hear more about this following a strategy day being held in late January.

During the past 18 months, initial work has been undertaken on our digital strategy planning under the leadership of Clive Grace, chair of Third Age Trust Trading Ltd.

The exploratory phases are now complete and the implementation phase will commence in the spring. Look out for more information in videos and the newsletter – and respond to requests for comments as we engage in consultation activities.

Using the title ‘Fit for the Future’, we are continuing to explore the development of a u3a council or assembly.

As part of these activity streams, we have reviewed a number of pursuits from before the pandemic.

Rather than reintroducing a national Summer School, we are focusing on regional ones (see page 23 for more details). Discussions are also under way about whether and when to reintroduce a conference – and what form this may take.

But as well as looking backwards, we are also looking forwards to new ways of meeting each other and enjoying learning together through celebrations, including the Hadrian’s Wall festival, Off The Wall, in May.

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Masterful Ken knew it all about his audience

Eric Midwinter: u3a founder.

The phone rang. It was, remarkably, Ken Dodd. I was director of a project in Liverpool at the time, aimed at improving the relationship between schools and parents, and the community in general.

It was the habit of many schools to invite as the guest at their speech day, or some such an occasion, a prestigious worthy, such as the vice-chancellor of the university or the Earl of Derby.

I was attempting to respond more to the popular culture in this respect. Ken Dodd was an obvious choice of this type – the fact that he understood more about education than the vice-chancellor and the Earl of Derby was a bonus.

For example, we organised a massive party for the teachers, parents and pupils of our target schools and along came Ken, free of charge, with Dicky Mint, his ventriloquial doll, as the hilarious guest of honour.

The features editor of New Society asked me to do an article about him. I approached Ken but he was wary, saying all journalists wanted were kiss ’n’ tell tales.

I stood upon my academic dignity and said this was a serious exercise about the making of comedy. He relented and said he would give me a ring when he had a free evening. The call came about 4.30pm: he had a midnight gig. I made a swift journey to his lifelong home in Knotty Ash – and we talked from 6pm until 10.30pm, when his keyboard accompanist-cum-chauffeur arrived on the scene.

Many years later, I was told by a theatre journalist that it was probably the longest interview he had ever given.

What I was keen to sound out was Ken’s identification of varying humour from region to region. He was the consummate professional. His partner would stand in the wings with a copy of his script and mark with an agreed code of signals how well each joke had worked. Thus his house was piled high with such evidence, so that if booked, say, for Leeds, he could turn to these files and calculate what sort of humour was required and when to punctuate his act with the ballads he used to give audiences a chance to draw breath.

The scripts were also marked according to the weather – and then there was dress. An audience in formal dress has a different demand from the same cohort in holiday garb. I asked him who his own model was. It was, surprisingly, the singer Al Jolson. He explained why. Al Jolson – ‘you ain’t heard nothin’ yet’ – used to hit the stage with that same pyrotechnic, explosive effect that immediately seized and held the onlookers’ rapt attention. Ken loved audiences as much as they loved him: he was like an evangelical preacher reaching out to a huge throng.

My article, ‘The Geography of Ken Dodd’, was published and it led to the first of my several books on the subject of British comedy being commissioned.

It was one of the most salient evenings of my professional life. Somewhat pedantically, I asked him what he thought of the Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock’s definition of comedy as ‘the kindly contemplation of the incongruous’.

Quick as a flash, he said: “Stephen Leacock never had to play the Golden Garter Club in Wythenshawe on a Friday night,” before adding a word or two about the use of ‘release’ jokes in a testosterone-fuelled club full of heavy drinkers.

Ken Dodd told me that if he could have a second life, he would be a social psychologist. He would have topped the bill in that role, too.

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Don’t be daunted by chance to take on a committee role

by Paul Martinez, former chair of the u3a Recruitment Working Group.

There was a great article by Barrie Gunter (TAM, Winter), reminding us how important it is to ensure that u3a members take an active part in running their u3a.

All too often, appeals for new committee members are made along the lines of ‘It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it’. But there are lots of potential benefits to being a committee member.

These include working with others to achieve a shared goal; developing new skills; making and deepening friendships; a sense of achievement; and, of course, enjoyment and having fun.

Members may have all sorts of misconceptions about what is involved in being on the committee. The best way of dispelling such myths is by letting members see what their u3a is actually doing, such as with ‘ask the committee’ sessions at general meetings, personal accounts from committee members in newsletters, and inviting members to observe committee meetings.

There is a wide consensus that personal approaches are much more effective than generalised appeals in newsletters or at general meetings. Some u3as have created developmental opportunities, partly to be able to offer support to new committee members, partly to make the task less daunting and partly to enable new committee members to grow into the role.

This can take a number of forms, such as shadowing, apprentice or assistant roles; co-options without a specific role (to begin with); and involvement of members in task groups and sub-committees.

Team approaches to committee roles help to overcome possible nervousness about the amount of commitment or knowledge required.

We all need to have a bit of fun – after all, it’s in our u3a strapline!

Before the Covid pandemic struck, I surveyed a number of u3as which had grown their membership over several years. I contacted them to ask what the secret of their success had been.

Quite spontaneously, a significant number of them attributed the success of their u3a to a mixture of nurturing their committee team and having some fun.

Each of the u3as had their own distinct ways of doing so, such as thank-you meals and by recognising and acknowledging individual contributions.

Others focused on efficient, streamlined, well-prepared and well-conducted meetings, fostering a collaborative and collegiate approach, and capitalising on individual strengths and skills.

There is a wealth of information and guidance in the Recruitment Toolkit, which is available on the u3a website under the ‘Support for u3as’ tab, and includes guides on making your committee bigger and better; recruiting more interest group leaders; developing a shared approach to recruitment; and building support for recruitment in your committee.

The Trust runs online workshops covering a range of topics to support those running their u3a and those interested in joining a committee. To find out more, go to /advice/workshops

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Discovering Egypt; subject adviser contact details; leigh-on-sea exhibition; New subject advisers; learning & research; roman study group. For more inspiring stories, visit

Take a journey of discovery from pharaohs to pyramids

Neil Stevenson, u3a Subject Adviser for Egyptology, tells how his fascination for the ancient civilisation has grown over 40 visits to the country.

My first trip to Egypt was in 1986 on a business trip for an IT company. Despite having no knowledge of Ancient Egypt, I visited the Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids of Giza. This encouraged me to go to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, better known as Cairo Museum.

I was fascinated to see the wonderful exhibits but was left totally confused by the kingdoms, dynasties and numerous pharaohs. Five further business trips to Cairo and Alexandria added a little to my understanding.

Then, in 1997, my wife and I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary with a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan. On our return home, we noticed that a local high school was running a night class about Ancient Egypt. This was followed up with several continuing education courses at the University of Liverpool. My journey had begun to learn and understand the wonderful culture of the Ancient Egyptians.

I retired in 2008 and a year later I joined Up Holland & District u3a in Lancashire. Fellow member David Poyntz had recently completed a degree in Egyptian archaeology at the University of Liverpool and so we were encouraged by our chair to organise a u3a trip to Egypt.

In November 2010, some 30 u3a members visited Luxor for a two-week study trip. David and I acted as guides at the sites of antiquity, while David’s wife, Heather, looked after everything else.

It was a hugely successful overseas visit, which is still talked about more than 12 years later.

We started our u3a Egyptology Group the following year and enjoyed our second u3a study trip to the country, this time with 20 members. Since then, there have been six more adventures.

We soon realised that smaller groups were more manageable and limited the numbers to around eight to 10 members. This also enabled us to visit more out-of-the-way ancient sites that are not on the usual tourist routes.

The Egyptology Group at Up Holland & District u3a meets every two months. We have about 50 members, of whom around 35 attend each meeting. Although we occasionally have guest speakers, most of our talks are given by group members. We have a regular core of two or three speakers with other occasional contributors.

Before the pandemic, our meetings were well structured, with an opening update on the latest news from Egypt, a 30-minute talk followed by refreshments and then a 45-minute talk. During Covid, we continued with online talks via Zoom. I was also asked to give online talks to other u3a members. I did an online talk each month between mid-2020 and mid-2021.

It was also at this time that I volunteered to be the national Subject Adviser for Egyptology. My main aim is to encourage more u3as to form Egyptology groups. I set about conducting a publicity campaign, which included being interviewed for a u3a Radio Podcast. I also offered to do a national talk, ‘From Pit Graves to Pyramids’, which turned into a series of 10 talks.

The audience continued to grow , with the final national talk in February 2022, titled ‘The Valley of the Queens’, attended by almost 500 members online.

Post-lockdown, I have been asked to give talks in person by several u3as and other Egyptology societies. This included an invitation from Ealing u3a in London. The members there specifically asked me to give a talk about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922.

I thoroughly enjoy giving these talks and accept as many invitations as I can. However, this schedule, combined with my role as the North West of England trustee, make it difficult for me to find time to prepare many new talks.

While I am sure that interest in Ancient Egypt has grown, I am aware of only one new u3a Egyptology group. I am happy to help any u3a start a new group. With our u3a Speaker Swap scheme, I have around 40 scripted PowerPoint talks available to anyone who would like to use them.

Over the years, I have lost count of how many times I have been to Egypt. But I am sure that it is more than 40.

Every time I go, I learn more about this wonderful civilisation. When will I be going again? Well, if you are reading this in February, I am probably there now.

To discuss setting up an Egyptology group or to request one of the 40 PowerPoint talks, please get in touch with Neil at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Shop exhibit bags 500 visitors

More than 500 people enjoyed an exhibition tracing the history of shopping in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, which was hosted by two u3as to mark the movement’s 40th anniversary.

Leigh-on-Sea and Leigh Estuary u3as trawled through records, photographs and advertisements to show how the area had changed over the years to become a diverse, vibrant and popular shopping centre.

Members of both u3as were interviewed about their memories of shops and shopping in Leigh-on-Sea.Their recollections now form part of the Essex Record Office’s sounds archive for future generations to enjoy.

The exhibition brought back many memories for local people, and some visitors added their own stories and photographs.

The event was funded by Leigh Town Council and the East of England u3a, while Leigh Heritage Centre helped with the research and will store the exhibition pieces for the future.

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Art’s fascinating. I enjoy sharing that with others

Mike Carr is the new Subject Adviser for Art History

I have an Honours degree in humanities with art history and have been the convener of
Bath u3a’s History of Art Group since 2018.

We meet monthly where a member gives a talk on a subject, artist or movement of their choice. Once a year we have a group session called Desert Island Art, where every member gives a 10-minute talk about an item of art they would take with them to a desert island.

As Subject Adviser, I will be able to share ideas, research resources and subject suggestions, as well
as give advice on presentations and finding or downloading images. I enjoy learning about, and sharing details of, art history, but also encouraging others to find out more so they can enjoy this fascinating subject.

You can contact Mike by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Never too late to start exploring Bard’s plays

Moyra Summers is the new Subject Adviser for Shakespeare

I’m delighted to be the u3a Shakespeare Subject Adviser. I am the group leader at Mawdesley Villages u3a in Lancashire – and I love the Bard!

There are no right or wrong ways of leading a Shakespeare Group, and you will know your own group best. What I can do is talk about how we do things at Mawdesley and possibly help with suggestions.

My philosophy is to try to make Shakespeare accessible and enjoyable.

It’s never too late to begin to explore the plays and
this should always include seeing live productions whenever possible – not to mention the great many DVDs available!

If you are thinking of starting a group, or if you are already a group leader, then please feel free to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Expand your pool of knowledge

Research projects are a major part of the u3a and members have engaged with many ventures over the years. Here, we provide a flavour of some as well as information on how to participate

Research comes in many shapes and sizes and it all has a place in the u3a movement.

Research is the systematic investigation of a subject to gain new knowledge and ranges from formal academic to more informal research.

It can be quantitative, based on numerical data such as from surveys, or qualitative, based on experiences and opinions from focus groups and interviews. Many u3as get involved in research projects in partnership with other u3as or external organisations such as universities and museums.

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Examples of u3a Memeber Studies

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Monthly member
Meeting Feedback

Worcester u3a, which has around 800 members, set out to discover what people enjoy most about u3a monthly meetings. History subjects topped the list, but surprisingly a scurrilous tale of spies and cover-ups was one of the u3a’s most popular talks. The research found that attitudes have changed over time. Newer members prefer taking part in interest groups than listening to talks and talk attendance has fallen significantly to less than five per cent. Unsurprisingly, the easier it is to get to an interest group or meeting, the more likely it is that members will go - all but two members who live in one village go to the only group that meets locally. Consequently, the u3a swapped in-person presentations for online speakers. The u3a had feedback such as ‘Can’t we meet up for a coffee!’ and is in the process of revamping its programme to add social events.

A copy of the research can
be downloaded from the u3a
national research database at

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Exploring Happiness Across the Ages

Exeter u3a has a long-standing partnership with Exeter University,
which provides lectures for u3a members. On one occasion, this focused on the Ancient Greek philosophers’ differing concepts of happiness. From this grew an intergenerational shared learning/research project that
compared current thinking around happiness with that of the philosophers. u3a members were taught interviewing skills for qualitative research and then Classics students and u3a members interviewed each other. The data was analysed by u3a members and students, and the u3a members involved have been cited as co-authors in the published research.

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Danish Creolisation
of English

Northampton, Kinver and Stourbridge u3as formed an online group called English: The First 4,000 Years to
research the absorption of the Danes into Anglo-Saxon England. The Danish population of eastern England was dominant in the 11th century, but there seems to have been a sudden change around 1132. The group’s research indicated that a pidgin language based on old English started to be spoken in
the 12th century. Old English suddenly lost its genders and cases, and started to look much more like modern English.

The Song and the Story

Calverton & District u3a in Nottinghamshire takes a theme and then looks for songs, stories and poems which tell them more about it. Themes have included the movement of people, traditional fairs, and seasonal customs and celebrations. The u3a’s original intention was to explore the backstory to the words, but members now share the research through presentations and ideas for appropriate stories and songs. In doing so, members not only learn more about people and social history, but also enjoy good company, laughter and, often, quite emotional experiences.

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Cottonopolis - the fabric of active learning

In 2016, the Greater Manchester u3a Network (GMu3a) was established. GMu3a devised an ambitious, active cross-subject learning drive called Cottonopolis, a nickname for Manchester from its textile past. Workshops and projects included:

an urban sketching group

the Salford Mills Survey (available at

dialect poetry research with
Exeter University

Bury u3a’s study of the local impact of the Cotton Famine (1861-65).

If you have been involved in any form of research, you can share it more widely by submitting the details into the u3a research database. Go to

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Canterbury & District u3a’s Research Advisory panel

The idea for an advisory panel arose when Canterbury & District u3a received a request from a PhD student from the University of Kent. It was not well-written for his target audience of u3a members.

Having approached the university’s School of Psychology, it was agreed that an advisory panel would assist research students – and staff – with designing more effective material for an older age group and the public.

Members do not need research experience, or a degree, to be on the panel. The students and their supervisors find it useful, and u3a members learn about research and enjoy assisting the students, utilising their life experience.

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Dealing with requests

u3as get asked to participate in research all the time, but how do you know whether to get involved? There is a lot to consider. What are members being asked to do? Will they increase their learning as a result of taking part? Who else might benefit and how? Are there any risks? What happens to the data?

The Third Age Trust has developed a flowchart to help u3as decide. This guidance is available at and is based on the significant work done over the past few years. For example, in response to requests from universities, an Ethics Working Party was set up to ensure that university researchers were not seeking to take an unfair advantage of our potentially vulnerable membership. The ethical principles for the conduct of research were identified, along with criteria for ‘testing’ applications from university researchers wanting to access u3a members.

Keep up to date with all you need to know about research and shared learning on the national webpage /learning/u3a-research

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Shedding light on the Dark Ages

Epsom & Ewell u3a study group in Surrey delved into post-Roman Britain with the aid of background papers prepared by leader Phil Pavey, which are now available to other u3a groups.

Britain in the 200 years after the Roman military withdrawal around the year 410 used to be known as the Dark Ages, and knowledge of the period remains obscure compared with what came before and after.

Epsom & Ewell u3a’s study group on the period – in fact, there were two due to numbers – used background papers that aimed to set out the available evidence on the key questions as a basis for discussion. The papers did not, unlike most books on the period, ‘argue a line’ but sought to set out the evidence neutrally on questions such as did ‘King’ Arthur exist (and, if so, who was he, and when and where did he live)? In the north and west was there contention between a ‘Celtic independence’ and a ‘back to Rome’ party? And in the south and east did the Anglo-Saxons ethnically cleanse, absorb or live peacefully alongside the Britons?

A key puzzle is why the written accounts, including the earliest ones, talk of warfare when the archaeology yields little evidence of it.

Each paper is about two to four sides of A4, and the first is a look at late Roman Britain where the facts are clearer, centring on economic challenges and external attacks in the fourth century.

The second summarises the earliest written sources from the fifth century –
St Patrick and the biographer of
St Germanus, who visited St Albans in 429, as well as brief mentions from continental writers.

The third looks at the work of the
sixth-century British monk Gildas.

There are further papers on archaeological evidence in the east and south from Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and a few settlements, and in the north and west from British fortified strongholds such as Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall, Wroxeter in Shropshire, Dinas Powys in Wales, South Cadbury in Somerset and Tintagel in Cornwall.

Other work considers British poet Aneirin and Anglo-Saxon monk Bede, writing in the seventh and eighth centuries, another British monk called Nennius as well as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, from the eighth and ninth centuries respectively.

There is also the Annales Cambriae, or Annals of Wales, from the 10th century. These have a lot more detail but are much further removed in time from the events they describe. The papers grapple with how far they might be based on early sources now lost to us, and how much is on myth and invention.

A final paper chronicles the development of Celtic Christianity in western Britain and Ireland, how it came about, how it differed from mainstream Catholic Christianity, why it disappeared and its remaining legacy.

The papers form one document
and are available on request and
free for use by any u3a group
studying the period who think they might find them helpful. For details, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Subject Advisers

Looking for fresh ideas for your interest group? whether you want to share ideas with similar groups or need some support to start a new one, find resources and information at

Could you be our next gardening, geology or natural history subject adviser?
To find out more, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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u3a groups

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Palin’s son hosts saved church trip

Renowned heritage champion Will Palin led members of a Kent u3a group on a guided tour of an £8.5million restoration project and welcomed them into his home.

Will Palin, son of author, globetrotting travel presenter and former Monty Python star Michael Palin, is chair of the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust, which is giving a new lease of life to a fire-damaged former church.

The heritage campaigner and his fellow trustees are nearing the end of a two-year project to restore the iconic building at the former Royal Naval Dockyard on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

The church was built at the entrance
to Sheerness Dockyard in the 1820s to serve the naval base community. The Grade II listed building has been described as an architectural masterpiece.

The trust obtained a £4.2 million Heritage Lottery grant, matched by fundraising, donations and other grants, and restoration work began in November 2020 to turn it into a community hub.

Will said: “This is a building which, just few years ago, appeared on the brink of collapse. The church will now become the focus of major investment to give it a new future at the heart of life in the region.”

After the church tour, Will invited the Isle of Sheppey u3a group to look around his 200-year-old house in neighbouring Naval Terrace, which was constructed by the Admiralty for senior naval officers in the 1820s.

u3a member Ken Pugh said: “We are really grateful to Will for devoting such a large chunk of his time to show us around the church. It was also pleasing for us all to be invited to enjoy a glass or two of wine in the magnificent surroundings of his house, which is truly breathtaking.”

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More than 100 u3a members enjoyed a return to London’s Royal Institute after an absence of three years to learn about electric motors, the future of our energy and supermassive black holes. Another
95 joined online.

The lectures included an opportunity to ask questions and the day ended with a series of chemical experiments and the odd loud bang or two.

Members praised the event and voted to keep the RI sessions as part of the u3a Learning programme.

To read more about the event, go to

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Volunteers from Barnsley u3a’s Walking Cricket Group took part in research with the aim of providing evidence that the sport can be prescribed by GPs to improve patients’ health and wellbeing.

The group worked with Dr Gareth Mossman, from the University of Huddersfield, which secured funding for the research with the help of Barnsley u3a and Yorkshire
Cricket Foundation.

Group co-ordinator Mac McKechnie, who is also the u3a Walking Cricket Subject Adviser, said: “Walking cricket has a great positive impact on older individuals’ mental wellbeing and is a great vehicle for alleviating social isolation.”

The results of the focus group will form part of a technical paper to support the cause for walking cricket to be included on the Social Prescribing Framework.

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Fashion: At home with Zandra tops a great year

u3a fashionistas had a packed 2022, from visiting designers to museum exhibitions.

Fashion group members of Leigh Estuary u3a in Essex were invited to British designer Zandra Rhodes’ penthouse to view jewellery, millinery and fantastic fabrics.

Zandra’s fabulously colourful home is above London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, which she founded in 2003 and is now run by Newham College.

The visit by Maggie Gentry, Ruth Lancashire and Mandy Dewison followed an online talk by Zandra in 2021 that was organised by Ruth.

Ruth, u3a Fashion Subject Adviser and leader of the u3a Fashion Hybrid Interest Groups Online (IGO), said: “At Christmas, Zandra does an event in her home with her friends who are involved in the design of jewellery, millinery, pleating, tie dyeing and so on.

“We had a wonderful time seeing Zandra again – she is a lovely woman.”

Members of the Fashion Hybrid IGO also enjoyed a tour of designer Jenny Packham’s studio.

Jenny, who graduated from Central Saint Martins in London in 1987, has created dresses for stars and royalty, including Dame Helen Mirren, Taylor Swift, Emily Blunt, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and the Princess of Wales.

Sheila Smale, of Enfield u3a in north London, said the visit was fascinating. “We were taken on a guided tour of the design studio where the sketches were made, and where the embroidery and beading were kept.

“We learned about the bead library and how designs could be created on computers, saw the inspiration boards and then some dresses, including a red one she designed for the James Bond film Casino Royale.”

Another visit was a behind-the-scenes insight into the Kaffe Fassett exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum, with an online talk by assistant curator Teresa Collenette.

The group had a preview of the exhibition and learned
how it was set up. US-born Kaffe started knitting in 1968
and is also known for his paintings, colourful tapestries,
quilts and fabric.

And four Leigh Estuary u3a fashionistas visited The Art of Movement exhibition at the Design Museum in London.

They were drawn into a dream-like world of movement and harmony in jewellery on a tour showing almost 100 Van Cleef
& Arpels’ creations from the museum’s patrimonial collection.

Ever since its foundation in 1906 in Paris, Van Cleef & Arpels has drawn inspiration from the world of couture in the desire to accompany elegant women over the decades, in particular to transform the jewels to match different outfits.

To find out more about fashion in u3a, go to /learning/subjects/fashion

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Eye-catching moments

Are you a budding snapper? The u3a Eye is an online photography project with a different theme each month. To find out more, go to /learning/national-programmes/u3a-eye

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Flying fish, by john law, shepton mallet u3a, somerset

I was fortunate to visit the Farne Islands, just off the coast of Northumberland, in June last year during the breeding season for the resident birds. I wanted to capture a photograph of a puffin bringing in the catch for its young. Although it was a challenge, I was happy with the result. The photograph was taken using a Canon EOS R5 mirrorless camera using a 100-500mm lens at 363mm, 1/1,000 sec shutter speed, f6.3 ratio and ISO160.

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RNLI, by Dawn Kandekande, Canterbury u3a, Kent

This was taken with an iPhone while walking along Botany Bay in Broadstairs, Kent. A boat was found washed up on the beach and the RNLI was checking to see if anyone was in danger.

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Kingfisher, by Melissa Hipkins, Bristol u3a

This image was taken on the River Itchen, south of Winchester. I waited patiently for a few hours to capture the female kingfisher with her catch. Focusing was manual and a tad tricky! My camera is a Nikon D850, 100-400mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter, shutter speed of 1/3,200 sec and f8 ratio.

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Favourite walks

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Lochside views on coastal climb from east renfrewshire u3a

Bruce Cutler, Walking Group facilitator for East Renfrewshire u3a, describes one of his favourite circular outings from Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute.

This scenic, five-mile circular walk starts in Helensburgh and climbs the hill before returning via the coastal village of Rhu.

Starting from Helensburgh pier, the walk rises steadily through the town to the iconic Hill House, currently undergoing major restoration. This lavish, early 20th-century family home was designed for a Glasgow publisher by renowned architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and his wife Margaret Macdonald, in their celebrated art nouveau style.

The route continues uphill, soon reaching beautiful woodland of oak and birch before traversing the hillside high above the town, affording fine views across the Firth of Clyde, Gare Loch and the Rosneath Peninsula. The well-made pathway carries on for a mile or two, with wildflowers in abundance during spring and summer. Shortly, we reach the Glennan Burn, where a large boulder bears numerous ancient cup and ring marks. These carvings, which are found in many parts of Scotland, date from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

A little further along, we climb gently through Highlandman’s Wood before descending towards Rhu for the return leg of our walk.

On reaching the village, the walk continues easily along the seafront promenade as we head back, passing Rhu Marina on the way and the bust of television pioneer John Logie Baird, who was born in Helensburgh in 1888.

The seafront cafes and ice cream parlours provide very welcome refreshment at the end of our beautiful walk.

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A ramble in the Lincolnshire Wolds from woodhall spa u3a

Maureen Moscrop, from Woodhall Spa u3a in Lincolnshire, guides us on a stroll from Tealby.

“I thought Lincolnshire was flat” is often heard as we stride (or, more realistically, struggle) up one of the hills that form the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds.

This walk starts from the pretty village of Tealby, a small settlement where many older houses are built of Lincolnshire sandstone.

The village has links with the Tennyson d’Eyncourt family, who lived at Bayons Manor and built both the imposing school and Memorial Hall.

Like many villages, Tealby was once well served with shops. Nowadays, the volunteers at the community store provide a lifeline for a village with little public transport.

Our walk takes us along pretty Front Street, past the school and up Church Lane. We head up into a field, following signs for the
Viking Way. Ahead is the steep climb to the landmark of Castle Farm. On reaching the summit, we pause to admire the view and spot the towers of Lincoln Cathedral 20 miles away.

Following the Viking Way through Bedlam Plantation, we reach the crest of the hill and the small settlement of Risby. A herd of Lincoln Longwool sheep, once on
the verge of extinction, watch us curiously.

On reaching a track, we head downhill, eventually following a footpath across fields. This leads us back towards Tealby. We amble through the village, following a route carefully planned to take us past the King’s Head pub, where several walkers stop for a refreshing drink at the end of our walk.

Send details of your walk in up to 250 words with a photo to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Normandy beaches tour from bognor regis u3a

A two-day visit to northern France proved poignant for
Iain Palot, chair of Bognor Regis u3a in West Sussex, as
he honoured the wartime sacrifice of his late cousin.

A packed itinerary took Bognor Regis u3a members to gun batteries, cemeteries, Mulberry harbour remains and the tiny church of Angoville-au-Plain, where bloodstains on the wooden pews remain from its use as a mini hospital in World War II.

The trip began at Pegasus Bridge – renamed in honour of the winged horse emblem of the airborne division who helped capture it in June 1944, stopping Nazis from crossing the Caen Canal.

The highlight was visiting the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer. The shrine overlooking Gold Beach was unveiled in June 2021 on the 77th anniversary of the landings. It records the names of 22,442 servicemen and women from 30 Allied countries who were killed on D-Day and at the Battle of Normandy.

Iain said: “I found a cousin who had escaped from the occupied Netherlands and joined the RAF. He subsequently took part in the raid on Gestapo HQ in Rotterdam and is commemorated at the old RAF base at Lasham in Hampshire.

“He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Dutch Bronze Cross. He was killed attempting to derail a train.”

The group went on to visit Utah and Omaha beaches. They also learned about legendary US paratrooper John Steele, who was left dangling from the church roof in Sainte-Mere-Eglise when his parachute got caught during Operation Overlord. He managed to survive and a life-sized effigy of him – still strapped to his parachute – hangs from the church in tribute to his bravery.

Iain, who organised the trip, added:
“It was pleasing to see so many French schoolchildren visiting these sites.”

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Memorable ups and downs in western Ireland from u3a foyle

A merry band of 32 hillwalkers from u3a Foyle set off on an expedition to the wilds of western Ireland, writes group leader Avril McAllister.

Our base was an atmospheric hotel on the banks of Killary Fjord, the only true fjord in Ireland featuring ever-changing views of Mweelrea mountain, with great dinners to let us relive the day’s exploits.

We had a walk arranged for each day – a stroll up to a Neolithic royal burial site, a 9km hike along the fjord, a tougher climb up Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park and an opportunity to take the pilgrimage route up Croagh Patrick near Westport. On our only wet day, we drove to the village of Cong ,of The Quiet Man film fame, and enjoyed a woodland walk along the paths paved in red, orange and fading green leaves.

It wasn’t only about the walking. Some of us took the chance to ease our muscles with a brisk swim at Glassilaun Beach.

Kindness and companionship were never far away – from giving helping hands over a fence to cutting a trapped sheep free from brambles and sharing tips during the Bridge games in the evenings. A true reflection of ‘Learn, laugh, live’.

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Member's story

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Tense tales of lurking in shadows

Veronica King tells Joanne Smith of her undercover work, from protecting princesses to serving writs on shifty figures.

She has doorstepped lords, TV celebrities and high-profile footballers with petitions for divorce and other court documents, and was even involved in a custody battle for a dog. She’s also been thumped and called all manner of names, but Veronica King wouldn’t have swapped it for the world.

Now a member of Shepway & District u3a in Kent, Veronica has spent many hours undercover watching and waiting for her ‘target’ to appear before dashing from her hiding place to serve them with papers they most definitely didn’t want. Mostly, though, it was just a matter of knocking on the door. Then it got difficult . . . she had to get past the butler, housekeeper, nanny or even the maid.

But the extraordinary thing about Veronica is that she fell into the work almost by accident after separating from her husband, and found she really loved it.

Veronica was in her late 20s and had tried a variety of jobs including bus driver, driving instructor and office work. One day, she spotted a newspaper advert to train to be a store detective.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve always fancied doing that’, so I applied,” she says.

Before long, she was working undercover in well-known high-street stores. The first time she caught someone, her knees were shaking.

“It was an old, well-dressed fellow in a store in Ilford, Essex,” she says. “But he clocked me and legged it before I could do anything.

“Then he came back the following week and I positioned myself more carefully. He was determined to steal a flat cap and just stuffed it under his coat. I collared him outside, where he called me a b****. He didn’t look like he was short of a few quid. He looked as though he could well afford to buy it.”

Veronica was working for an agency which used to send her to all the big stores such as Wickes, B&Q and Asda.

“I got quite good at it,” she says. “Every time I went to one of the major supermarkets, I kept nicking people – sometimes two lots in a session. So they offered me a job as security manager.”

Veronica kept impressing and was put in touch with someone who ran a close-protection agency, something she hadn’t considered as a woman. But she soon found out that bodyguards and close-protection officers are different.

“Bodyguards are usually those big, burly blokes who keep people away from grabbing celebrities,” she explains. “With close protection, no one should know what I am doing. I have to be with the principal, watching. I should get them out of trouble before trouble comes to them.”

One of Veronica’s advantages was that she had been in the Territorial Army. The unarmed combat training was useful, plus she had a family background in owning and running pubs, which gave insight into people’s behaviour and body language.

“They took me on because I had been in the TA,” she says. “Private investigators are often ex-police officers, whereas close protection are usually armed forces.”

Veronica was often assigned to protect Saudi princesses visiting London. The main threat was someone grabbing their handbags or, worse, abducting them as they often carried large sums of money.

“Many a time I was walking around the West End with 50 grand in my bra,” says Veronica. “They would take 100 grand out and always paid in cash. We shared the money out and filled our bras!”

Then she began engaging in private investigator assignments, thus starting a completely new career. Veronica went freelance and was soon serving court documents for solicitors, meaning the other party was made fully aware of the details of the claim in the case.

She could be eating lunch with someone when her phone would ring and she’d have to dash to a solicitor’s office. Often, once the documents were issued by the court, they would have to be served that day or at least an attempt made.

Sometimes she worked alone or with a team, such as when she had to serve documents on a Greek businessman.

“There was me, dressed as a bag lady with a set of documents, a guy on a motorbike with a set, and two guys in a car with documents,” she recalls. “His car arrived at his door and we all went on alert. One of his close-protection officers came out alone and then the respondent came out, putting his coat on. As he got to the car, I said, ‘Sir, I have an injunction order and, if you break it, you could be arrested and possibly jailed for 14 days’. The documents were then served on him.”

It was while serving a writ on a publican that she got hit for the one and only time.

“This chap opened the door and I said, ‘Are you so and so?’, and he said, ‘No, that’s my brother’. He saw the envelope in my hand, guessed why I wanted the brother and punched me in the chest.

“That was a lesson learned. It was scary. I didn’t really get hurt but, from then on, for 35 years, when I knocked on a door I took three steps back.”

Veronica learned how to serve various legal documents. She would then put all the details in an affidavit for the judge.

“I outline exactly what I did to make
the person aware of what was in the documents,” she says. “You can use different methods but I always get my man or woman – or nearly always. I’m like a Canadian Mountie. They always get their man!”

Veronica also carried out surveillance and undercover work. One case involved tracing a group of girls on Facebook who were claiming they couldn’t work after being injured at an event. Veronica found evidence of them going to nightclubs and on holiday. Other cases would include following people who claimed they couldn’t work because of injury.

In one instance, she went undercover at a hotel in Yorkshire, where the owner thought his staff were stealing from him. She had to apply for the job and, with her background in pubs, the unsuspecting manager recruited her.

“The staff asked me why I had moved from London and I just told them I had to leave because I was frightened,” she says. “They assumed it was domestic violence I was fleeing from and didn’t ask anything else. In fact, it made them more sympathetic towards me.”

After ten days, Veronica found out that no one was stealing.

“The staff were fed up because the manager didn’t treat them well and there was a lot of wastage,” she says. “Pints were not being pulled properly because the barrels had not been fitted correctly in the cellar. The hotel owner sacked the manager and employed me instead!”

Veronica stayed for three months before heading back to London. “They put on a big party for me and got me presents and a massive card,” she says.

Veronica has always enjoyed getting involved with different things and finds it hard to turn down opportunities that come her way. At the age of 70, she volunteered to be a presenter for Radio Deal once a week, which she did for five years and thoroughly enjoyed.

She is now on the committee of her u3a and happy to organise events. “I just can’t help getting involved,” she says.

Veronica is available to give talks on her career. She can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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From the allotment

Patience is vital … but it’s bean a challenge

Roll on springtime after mudbath start to the new year, writes Joanne Smith.

As any allotmenteer will testify, January brings a sense of excitement about the year ahead. What are you going to grow? What new vegetable are you going to try? And what are the tried-and-tested winners?

The dawning of 2023 also brought with it a lot of mud. Acres of it. There’s been no chance of working the allotment for at least two months.

On the plus side, I have had a lot of winter vegetables to munch on. A healthy range of swede (mashed or roasted); celeriac (again, mashed or roasted); beetroot (delicious cut into small cubes, roasted and served on sourdough with goat cheese); and yummy, tiny, sweet sprouts.

The beetroot was dug up in November and is now cooked and in the freezer, along with last year’s runner beans and broad beans.

The leeks will be ready shortly and there is a row of really tall green stuff that could either be Romanesco – that tasty cross between a broccoli and a cauliflower – or purple sprouting broccoli. I think it’s the latter, but that’s the problem when you don’t label something and think you’ll remember. You almost never do remember and if, like me, you are an amateur and not yet used to identifying plants, then it’s just guesswork. And patience.

I have some early broad beans in the greenhouse at home, ready for popping in when the ground is suitable. I’ve learned the hard way against planting straight in the ground in the autumn – the mouse had the lot. Well, his need was greater than mine.

I hated broad beans before I had an allotment but I love them now. And I’d never tasted celeriac until a fellow allotmenteer donated some plants.

You soon learn not to bother growing things you won’t eat. I’m not a great fan of salad, so there is no point in growing that for the slugs. But I love cabbage, so I’ll go the extra mile to keep the slugs and pigeons off those. I don’t use pesticides, though, so I grow enough to let the wildlife have its share.

Roll on spring and drier weather – I have an allotment waiting for me.

Do you have a story or tips from your vegetable garden? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Brain games


From Michael Cleaver, of Lancaster & Morecambe u3a

Finessing into the safe hand.


♠ AK1063

♥ 754

♦ J2

♣ 976


♠ QJ95

♥ Q1096

♦ 653

♣ Q5


♠ 74


♦ AK1098

♣ KJ3


♠ 82

♥ 832

♦ Q74

♣ A10842

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The auction






Note South's rebid. With 17 points and good intermediates, she is better than 1NT.


The Play

West leads ♣4 to East's ♣Q which South takes with ♣K. South enters dummy with ♠A.

She continues with ♦J. West can win this trick, but as the ♣J is protected whilst West is on lead, declarer is safe. She makes at least 9 tricks with 1 club, 4 diamonds, 2 hearts and 2 spades.

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The Principle

Where a crucial decision has to be made in one suit, the correct play is frequently dictated by the distribution of another. In the above hand, declarer must develop the diamond suit, which means finessing through East. Therefore, if she wins with ♣K, the ♣J will be protected should West win with the ♦Q.

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From David Barnes, of Sawston & District u3a, Cambridgeshire


1. Lanky parent takes flight in late summer (5,4,4)

10. It becomes you to take a second job after dark (9)

11. What is the time in Rome? (5)

12. Make your pitch or stick (5)

13. Like 1981’s Prince Charming; mind made up (9)

14. Stayed overnight at a local branch (7)

16. Backing first class beer for sartorial elegance (7)

18. In the frame and very dodgy (7)

20. Blonde, cad escorted, for a number of years (7)

21. Very annoying, demanding change (9)

23. I left French house to find a craftsman (5)

24. New York and Los Angeles a ruminant revealed (5)

25. Broken set found by the roadside (9)

26. Likely consequence of misplacing a vehicle (7,6)


2. Lover with a degree of acidity, completely shapeless (9)

3. Simple, child’s play (5)

4. A horse is covered in fat; slowcoach (7)

5. Dark haired, breaking the rules (3,4)

6. Light race activity means being sluggish (9)

7. Am in pot; all inclusive (5)

8. Stammerers ban; mistake leads to red faces (13)

9. The definitive fitness, fatness guide. In the back of the book? (4,4,5)

15. Gorilla does a back flip in the score at Alton Towers (5,4)

17. Oldest one bends a magnet (9)

19. Fowl rhyme; make soupier (7)

20. Boxer’s pacemaking. Easy does it (3,4)

22. Spanish fleet lost its leader and got mixed up; serious (5)

23. Must be faced when punishment is handed out (5)


Quizzes and maths challenges are available online at

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Crossword solution


1. Daddylonglegs.

10. Moonlight.

11. Tempo.

12. Apply.

13. Adamantly.

14. roosted.

16. regalia.

18. suspect.

20. decades.

21. maddening.

23. mason.

24. nyala.

25. kerbstone.

26. parking ticket.

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2. amorphous.

3. Dolly.

4. Laggard.

5. Not Fair.

6. Lethargic.

7. Gamut.

8. Embarrassment.

9. Body Mass Index.

15. Theme Park.

17. Lodestone.

19. Thicker.

20. Dogtrot.

22. Drama.

23. Music.

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professor rebus

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9. Get a kick out of dangerous tactics (4)

10. Shrub wetland that could be Jimmy or Alan (4)

11. Run out of origanum? Embarrassing, me ol' Spanish pal! (5)

12. Those people, as yet back in hospital (4)

14. Hunger (or conscience) feature of lifespan, generally (4)

1a. An ace chord composed, but just not a bishop (10)

5a. Mrs to stare rudely at chair sides (8)

15a. Crown, all battered and left at the bottom of the land (8)

18a. No room for compromise, as botulism is removed (10)

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3. Legionnaires' song? (3)

4. Rope formation sounds negative (3)

6. The mat that's laid out for Empress Maude (7)

7. Nonsense article about change (3)

13. Early first listening gear (3)

16. Removal of eggs from Rome (3)

17. How about the one that was a doctor several times? (3)

1d. Act out aim of working like a robot (9)

2d. Thermal beam from a hearty sort (4,3)

8d. Tactics needing big biceps? (9)

10d. Put 'Cole' into two-line verse (7)

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professor rebus solution

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1. Archdeacon. 5. Armrests. 9. Oust. 10. Carr. 11. Amigo. 12. They. 14. Pang. 15. Cornwall. 18 Absolutism.

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1. Automatic. 2. Heat ray. 3. Air. 4. Not. 6. Matilda. 7. Sea. 8. Strongarm. 10. Couplet. 13. Ear. 16. Ova. 17. Who.

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Creative thinking needed to satisfy our housing needs

The article on the lack of bungalows by David Bissenden (TAM, Winter) was an interesting point of view.

His tone appears to be one of identifying a need which has been there for many years and should be satisfied in the traditional way by building more of the same. I question this.

He says that ‘some local planning authorities view bungalow estates as a waste of . . . land’. How true this is! In our area there are quite a few bungalows, built in the 1960s when they were popular, with unkempt gardens because the occupiers are unable to care for them.

Wouldn’t it be better to think outside of the box? Why do people want bungalows? Is it because stairs are a problem? But the use of stairs is a benefit to keeping fit and mobile. If it is a physical problem, why not build homes with built-in stairlifts or actual lifts?

A logical solution would be to build terrace-style smaller houses with in-built lifts – probably cheaper than bungalows and easier to maintain.

Mr Bissenden’s opinion perhaps echoes the current out-of-date approach of some housebuilders and architects who build huge estates of little boxes, using
standard materials. Should not more consideration be applied to house design and build? Factory construction? Triple glazing? Solar-panel tiles? Air-source heat pumps? All as standard, and probably affordable if scaled up, especially if savings in long-term running costs are taken into consideration.

We need to be more creative and more forward-thinking in satisfying our housing needs.

I could expand the argument to include having integral ground-floor garages so that the living accommodation is above flood-risk level. But that is perhaps another argument.

Dennis Walker, Glenfield u3a, Leicestershire

I sympathise strongly with David Bissenden’s view that more bungalows should be built, but I fear he is wasting
his time.

I was brought up in an area with several nice roads of bungalows. I revisit the area often. When a bungalow comes on to the market, it rarely seems to go to a person who needs it. They are snapped up by developers who convert them to two-storey residences, presumably to maximise their profits.

Similarly, nice detached houses are converted to semis, or knocked down and two homes built on the land. Not good for sensible reduction in CO2 emissions.

This is the fault of the local planning authorities, which should be making efforts to preserve the range of
housing types.

Roger Urwin, Cheltenham u3a

It has long been known that the exercise of climbing stairs is highly beneficial to health.

In the enlightened 21st century, we are not all disabled from the age of 60. I am 86 and have kept my joints and muscles reasonably well preserved by climbing stairs and hillwalking.

A stairlift or similar can usually be installed in a house for an occupant who does become unable to manage up and down. There is no need for all the trauma of moving in one’s later years.

I am sure many of our members will agree with me.

Brian Goodfellow, West Wilts u3a

Another reason for the shortage of bungalows is, I believe, the large
number that are permitted to carry
out loft conversions, thereby turning
two-bedroom bungalows into four-bedroom houses.

This removes them from their intended purchasers – the elderly, disabled and those who happen to prefer single-storey living. It also elevates them into a more expensive price bracket, no longer the affordable downsize which is so badly needed in this country.

Thank you, David, for highlighting the bungalow problem.

Sandra Davey, Weston-super-Mare u3a, Somerset

In my area, there are currently three large developments – one of them being a brownfield site, which is encouraging. But they only offer two-, three- and four-bed houses and apartments.

The apartments are without lifts. How does this help people like myself in my 70s who would like to downsize and mix with people of my own age?

They have the right idea in America where there are ‘retirement communities’ for older people with all facilities required on site and a secure gate access, enriching their lives as they grow old.

Is it always money and not lives that seem to matter today?

Daphne Reid, Wallasey u3a, Wirral

David Bissenden put into words everything I have been saying for years – namely, that a lot of housing stock would be released to families if more bungalows were available.

As we get older, larger gardens are unnecessary hard work, so smaller one-
or two-bedroomed bungalows would take up less precious building land.

It is not always necessary to give planning permission to huge homes. There are so many developments popping up across the country and I question whether they are necessary. As a result, the occupants cause a strain on medical services, schools and roads.

We are a small island and are fast losing our green spaces. Perhaps a few more eloquent people such as David would make good advisers to local authorities.

Linden Martin, Braintree u3a, Essex

For information and events on how to maintain and improve our quality of life,
log on to the Future Lives section at

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What a shame that the headline quote for the article on Prue Leith (TAM, Winter) played into the familiar and tired old trope of women being ‘bossy’.

Other than that, I enjoyed the interview very much. Prue sounds like an inspiring and thoughtful high achiever.

I had no idea that she was behind the idea of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. When I’m in London, I try to make sure I visit the current installation as they are always fascinating.

Prue, you’re not ‘bossy’ and ‘opinionated’, you’re assertive, self-confident and go-getting!

Janet Hooper, Ivybridge u3a, Devon

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I’ve met people who have moved in their retirement years to be near their children and grandchildren. It makes practical sense but they may now live in an area where they have no social contacts, so they often – wisely – join the u3a.

I started a u3a group in September 2021 for those people who were new to Leeds.

Those who arrived in the city in late 2019 or early 2020 had barely time to orientate themselves before the first lockdown kicked in. Certainly, there was a healthy degree of interest when I started the group in the summer of 2021 and it began with 17 members, which is large for a group in our rather small u3a. The core of the group was the fortnightly meeting where two members gave presentations covering a range of topics from history, famous people, artists, parks and theatres to sport, to name but a few.

The attendance held up and there were 11 at the last meeting, although trips were less well supported. In the summer of 2022, three new members appeared but only two of the original group wanted to continue, so it was not viable. It could be that in another year there will be enough new ‘new to Leeds’ people to make it possible to launch another group.

I don’t regret trying this, and I wonder how many other u3as have formed
‘New to …’ groups?

Lorraine Harding, Leeds u3a

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One of the unexpected outcomes of the pandemic was that our u3a started publishing newsletters in digital form, except for about 10 per cent of our members who are not yet on the internet and still receive a printed copy.

There are obvious benefits to going digital – savings on printing and posting costs, on time preparing the newsletters for posting, and it is a green option so there are environmental savings, too.

In the Treasurer’s Report (TAM, Winter) we are told that the magazine’s production costs are covered entirely by advertising revenue, with members paying only the cost of distribution.

If TAM went digital then much of the advertising revenue would be profit. Non-internet members would still need to receive hard copies but the production costs would be minimal compared with current levels. Also, since the annual TAM charge is now £3.60, this would be a massive saving for u3as if only a small minority wanted to receive a hard copy.

Everyone wins! The Third Age Trust could pay off some of the £250,000 deficit (TAM, Winter) and u3as would have a bit of extra cash for members’ benefit.

Digital is the way to go. Most national newspapers have the option of accessing them in digital form. The Independent newspaper is now entirely digital.

Time for TAM to follow suit.

Andrew Rowden, Sturminster Newton u3a, Dorset

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Esther Rantzen is so right that ‘Sex is such a turn-off’ (TAM, Winter). Well, at least having to watch it – and you don’t need to be 80 to think that either.

Once you have been there and got the T-shirt, graphic visuals are so passé. In fact, they are borderline funny which I doubt is the intention.

Paul Milner, North Norfolk u3a

I wholeheartedly agree with Esther Rantzen’s sentiments in her article. Most people like a bit of romance, but I don’t know anyone who enjoys watching a couple ‘make out’ in graphic detail.

I heard that the TV drama Normal People was excellent but I had to abandon it as the sex scenes made me squirm.

And as for Naked Attraction, I watched one episode in disbelief! The phrase ‘cheap thrills’ came to mind. All I could do was laugh. We all know what happens when couples close their bedroom doors, but we don’t need to witness it.

Jo Potter, Secretary, Hackney u3a, London

I am in total agreement with Esther on the unwarranted amount of graphic sex on television and in films. The scenes add little to the story and mean that we now avoid them. Instead, we tend to watch documentaries and programmes like
The Repair Shop. No violence or sex!

Even worse, I have noticed the
tendency to include totally unnecessary double entendres in theatre productions aimed at children. Prior to lockdown, I went with a couple of friends to a matinee performance of Aladdin at our local theatre. Primary school children were in the audience and I didn’t expect there to be so many references to sex.

The next week I took my three-year-old grandson to a different production by a small local theatre company. Again, there were far too many double entendres – presumably for the ‘benefit’ of accompanying parents. I complained to both theatres but heard nothing back.

What kind of society are we living in these days?

Kathy Pollard, Stour Valley u3a

I agree with Esther. In fact, I find it rather boring! Naked young bodies are lovely but not the sex scenes.

On the other hand, when I was much younger they may have been a ‘turn on’. Oh, life can be so sad!

Sheila Miller, Diss u3a, Norfolk

Esther says the sexiest film she has seen is When Harry Met Sally. I think the two sexiest scenes in film have to be Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in the restaurant car in North By North West and Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen playing chess in The Thomas Crown Affair (great punchline).

If we move to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, it’s not that Rene Russo’s derrière is ugly but the scene is lacking imagination and is merely the bedroom equivalent of the car chase – another pointless feature of films.

I have to disagree that the scene in When Harry Met Sally was sexy, rather it was all about explaining to Harry that he didn’t have clue. It was ‘not sex’. Lovely film, though.

Gerry Gavigan, Bromley u3a, Kent

As an 85-year-old male, I still have an abundant but unrequited libido, so I’m somewhat ambivalent towards Esther’s view that ‘Sex is such a turn-off’. These days, it is so much in your face. Even when hoping to learn a bit of history from TV’s Catherine The Great, the explicit sex scenes did undermine the drama.

Sex is a wonderful way to express your emotions with another person. If it is performed as an act of love, that is how it should be and it should be private.

But if it is simply carnal gratification or arousal, either in reality or as feigned in the media and online, and in such quantity, it is completely undervalued. If that is Esther’s view, then I fully endorse it. Leave something to the imagination.

The same applies to gratuitous expletives. Occasional use for dramatic effect, yes, but not every second word.

Alan Brett, Liphook u3a, Hampshire

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Easy listening? No, it’s all rock ’n’ roll to me

I have attended several events over the years aimed at us senior citizens, when it was assumed we all listen to Vera Lynn or Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra or … No, not all of us do. Easy listening? Yuck. I was born in the early 1950s and my musical development occurred mainly during the 1960s. I grew up with performers such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Janis Joplin, etc. And so, like my friends, I still listen to the records from these people and their many descendants.

As I type this letter, I’m listening to a compilation CD of old and new favourites (I could use Spotify but haven’t yet sussed the app fully). What’s on this CD? The Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac, Captain Beefheart and Fairport Convention from the 1960s. The Comsat Angels, Magazine, Joy Division, The Clash and The Only Ones from the late 1970s and early ’80s.

From the last decade of the 20th century, and the first decade of the 21st, there are tracks by Pulp, Nick Cave, Oasis, Jake Bugg, Wet Leg (yes, this is their name) and others. But, to be honest, I find it harder and harder to discover new sounds I can engage with. If any members can suggest any, bearing in mind the acts I’ve mentioned, please do so.

My wife and I used to attend rock concerts fairly regularly. The smaller venues were always the most enjoyable. But age has meant that we can’t stand around for too long before backache sets in. When did gigs become standing only?

Yes, there have been numerous diabolical songs released throughout my seven decades on this planet (in my opinion, of course), but you can’t beat a decent bit of rock ’n’ roll.

Peter Coleborn, Stoke-on-Trent u3a

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The key to opening jars

Regarding Kay Rackshaw’s problem of opening new jars (TAM Letters, Winter), I found a solution years ago in a small utensil called a JarKey.

It looks a bit like a bottle opener but it doesn’t pierce the lid as it has no sharp point. With slight pressure, it releases the vacuum, making a lovely little ‘pop’ sound. Hey, presto! You unscrew the
lid easily. These can be found online, just search for ‘jar key’ opener.

Judith Webb, Shoebury & Thorpe
Bay u3a, Essex

If you turn the jar on its side on a hard surface and press down very firmly, it releases the suction and opens easily after that. Since I learned this hack, I have never been defeated.

Jennifer Thompson, Hornsea & District u3a, Yorkshire

Try wearing a rubber glove to unscrew jars or bottles as it gives a better grip.

Marion Gamble, Beverley & District u3a, Yorkshire

Having arthritic hands, I sympathise with those who have problems opening jars. However, if you search online, there are a range of handy openers to be found, such as the JarKey and the Zyliss 5-Way bottle opener, which tackles drinks cans, ring pulls and vacuum-tight jars, and even crown tops with ease.

Get your grandchildren to order these for you online next time they come round and feel very cool!

Michael Mountney, Four Border Abbeys u3a, Scottish Borders

My bugbear is the child-proof lids on bottles of bleach and toilet cleaner. My husband has to open them for me. Should he not be around, I’m stuck!

Patricia Díez, Hertford & District u3a

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Set time limits for volunteering roles

I write regarding Barrie Gunter’s article on the difficulty of finding volunteers to help run u3as and activities, and the importance of members stepping up (TAM, Winter).

I agree when he says that ‘When a group convener steps down, after many years of loyal service, more often than not the group will end . . .’ However, I think he may have missed a point. I was asked to start a history group for Cowbridge u3a and ran it for about 10 years. I would have been quite happy to continue but it occurred to me that to do so might cause exactly this problem, as anyone thinking about taking over would feel they were accepting a life sentence.

I announced at our AGM that I intended to stand down and proposed that we agree conveners should, in future, serve for only three years. The aim was to avoid the problem Mr Gunter identified and I am pleased to say that, since then, we have had no major problems in finding people to serve for a set period and the group is still going well.

Other u3as may wish to consider
this point.

Gavin Davies, Cowbridge u3a, Glamorgan

Sadly, pleading for volunteers is a common experience across a number of organisations, and many – if not most – of these are charities.

Most volunteers are honest people who wish to help an organisation whose ethos resonates with them. A few bad eggs who have exploited their position have made life difficult for the rest of us. Legislation has had to be brought in to help deter fraudulent use of charitable status.

We have to cope with understanding copyright law, data protection, electrical safety of any appliances, risk assessments, complaints handling and so on. The idea that someone may be held personally liable for an accidental breach of any of these rules is enough to deter many people from volunteering.

What’s the answer? I don’t know,
but anyone who can come up with one may be able to solve the national volunteer shortage to the benefit of all affected organisations.

Muriel Sprott, Richmond-upon-Thames u3a, London

No consideration seems to be made of members’ personal situations, apart
from ‘apathy’ and ‘unwillingness’ to get involved. I have been on the committee of another local society for more than 20 years. I enjoy the role and have no intention of resigning, but I do not feel I can take on additional pressure at my age.

You should also be aware that many members may be caring for partners
with health issues and may have joined a u3a to gain some social respite from a stressful home life, without more responsibility.

Janet Lane, Benfleet u3a, Essex

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Mixed Messages

What contrasting opinions were given by the u3a chair Liz Thackray and u3a member Barrie Gunter (TAM, Winter). Perhaps I could add my own.

‘View from the Chair’ started with
the claim that the AGM gave ‘no satisfactory outcome for anybody’.
Well, other than members not having to pay increasing amounts to support an ever-growing Trust.

Much of the opinion was given up to ‘improving communication with members’. Is the answer really setting up another level of management with a committee or council?

Finally, the chair mentioned ‘breaking down the divides and becoming a single u3a’. We do not need or want a single u3a. We are independent charitable trusts in our own right and what we need is a slimmed down, supportive centre that enables us to operate as such.

Conversely, u3a committee member Barrie Gunter said ‘Volunteers must step up for us to survive’.

I entirely agree with the thrust of his opinion and the last two paragraphs should be required reading for all members of u3a, including officers and committees. We are a self-help learning organisation for those no longer in full-time employment and that successful concept remains our best chance for future growth.

Keith Lamdin, Tendring District u3a, Essex

Liz Thackray, chair of the Third Age Trust, replies: “We have had a number of letters regarding articles in the last issue of TAM relating to the AGM and resolutions.

“Following the AGM, we have begun additional forms of communications feedback, both physical meetings and online ‘Ask the Trust’ sessions and a ‘Meet the CEO’ programme to answer a range of questions regarding the AGM.

“We have ensured letters on the topic of the AGM are passed on for a personal response to the submitters.”

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Care home classes

What happens to old, infirm members of the u3a? They leave the u3a. Does the u3a care? Should it?

I had a u3a friend who is now in a care home. She was a lively, intelligent woman who served on the local u3a committee, ran the Church History Group for many years and started the Music Makers
Group, which led to the Orchestra and Recorder groups.

The care home looks after her physical needs and would like to stimulate her mentally, but cannot find or fund the means to do this.

Wouldn’t it be good if u3a groups such as orchestra, singing, art, poetry and drama philosophy, for example, were to meet in care home residents’ lounges?

My friend is now neither lively nor intelligent. She is institutionalised.

A lot of emphasis is placed on attracting new members. But does the u3a care about former members? The u4a anyone?

June Thorne, Lichfield u3a, Staffordshire

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Online Focus leaves Third Agers ostracised

Following Dame Esther Rantzen’s account of ageism (TAM, Autumn), I have to say life is closing in on older people and I have got quite depressed at not being able to do things without going online.

Recently, at 4pm one Monday, I decided to go to a Lang Lang concert at the Royal Albert Hall that evening. Online it said it was sold out but I phoned up and got a ticket.

Upon arriving at Woking station with plenty of loose change, I went to pay for car parking. I was confronted by a machine telling me to use an app. That was never going to happen.

Then I noticed a telephone number.
A lady standing nearby said ‘I’ve never got through on that number’. Getting my phone, reading glasses and credit card to hand while balancing my handbag was a nightmare. But I did manage to speak with the automated service and pay for parking.

However, this has made me think twice about going out to concerts and theatres. Life is getting very difficult and it’s the oldies who have the time and money to keep these venues going.

Anne Stanford, Milford & District u3a, Surrey

Friends and I have been discussing the way older people are treated and being pushed into self-service, credit-card-only and online, etc, when we want to have a choice.

So I was pleased to see the very good article by Esther Rantzen (TAM, Autumn). I hope charities such as Age UK, The Silver Line and even u3a will take up this cause.

Margaret Smith, u3a Solihull,
West Midlands

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Laptops for Ukrainians

On the Isle of Wight, several u3a members have been receiving donated laptops and recycling them to Ukrainian refugee families. These are mostly mothers who arrive with one or two children, a backpack and a mobile phone, but want to stay in touch with home and enable the kids to carry on with their Ukrainian online education. A mobile phone on its own is rarely enough.

So far, we have provided more than 75 laptops, suitably refurbished and enabled for Ukrainian language.

Many of our families have been incredibly grateful for this help. For details, please visit

I am hoping that some of the u3a tech groups may be inspired by our activity and could possibly get in touch.

Roger Skidmore and Fred Dawson,
Isle of Wight u3a

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I’m glad to be able to tell Cherry Eddy (TAM Letters, Winter) that Zoom now has subtitles always available. That’s quite recent, though, so you need to make sure you have the latest version of the app. All the videos from u3a National Office are subtitled. Watch out for the ‘Closed Captions’ [cc] menu on the control panel.

If an online video isn’t subtitled, you can set up a speech-to-text app on your smartphone and set it alongside your computer. It usually picks up the voices quite well although, like most AI systems, it’s not always absolutely accurate.

Live Transcribe works well on Android phones and is free to use. I use on my iPhone – it’s free for sessions lasting about 30 minutes, but you can set it going again after a pause.

I understand both Zoom and Teams are working towards video presenters being able to key in a list of specialised vocabulary before the programme starts, so that will help with names, etc.

Things are improving all the time!

Hilary McColl, Bury u3a, Lancashire

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Airlift recollections

I read with great interest the article by former RAF flight mechanic Roy Hardiman of Causeway u3a in Northern Ireland (TAM, Winter) and his experience of the Berlin Airlift.

My father, Teo Supernat, was in the Polish RAF as a flight mechanic from 1941, based at Northolt, and at some point was at RAF Cosford.

In 1947, he was commissioned by the Polish Resettlement Corps, which he relinquished the following year.

He volunteered with the RAF for the Berlin Airlift as a mechanic, making many sorties, but was tragically killed with two others in an accident on the perimeter at RAF Schleswigland on
15 January, 1949, when his service truck was hit by a taxiing Hastings aircraft.

I was only seven at the time and have very few memories of him. There is a memorial page at the RAF church, St Clement Danes, in Kingsway, London.

Dr Sonia Sassoon, Kenton & District u3a, London

I was extremely interested in Roy Hardiman’s article recalling stories about his time in the Berlin Airlift.

My husband, Kenneth Walter Smith (1929-1997), seems to have followed a very similar path to Roy.

Ken thought he had missed out because he was too young to have served in the war. Instead, he joined the Air Training Corps in Peterborough and had several flights over Europe. I still have photos he took of places such as Dresden, flattened by the bombing.

He joined the RAF in 1947 to do his national service and, after training at Cosford as a radar mechanic, was posted to Germany to join the Berlin Airlift on
1 January, 1948.

He, too, was based at Wunstorf in Germany and became a member of the Methodist Church in the town on
11 September, 1949. It was there that he befriended the cricketer David Sheppard, and they remained friends for years afterwards.

Ken used to recall memories of the many times he would be mending the radar equipment and hadn’t finished so found himself still on the aircraft going into Berlin.

I was delighted when the National Memorial Arboretum erected a
memorial to those who served in the Berlin Airlift. These men were never remembered at the time.

I wonder if Roy and Kenneth ever met.

Toni Smith MBE, Great Glen u3a, Leicestershire

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Eric Midwinter states that milk was not rationed in World War II (TAM, Winter). This is incorrect. Fresh milk
was rationed – to three pints per
person per week from November 1941 (subject to supply/shortages and with additional allowances for expectant mothers, children, the sick and others with special needs).

From December that year, the Ministry of Food distributed dried Household Milk, imported from the US, which was rationed to one canister (equivalent to four pints of skimmed milk) per person every four weeks – costing about nine (old) pence.

Household Milk was distinct from National Dried Milk, which was dried full-cream milk intended for babies.

I volunteer at the Milton Keynes Museum. We recently had a class of
11- to 12-year-olds learning about wartime rationing. I was in the farm kitchen, so I heard the whole lesson five times over! A particular point of interest was how hard it was – within the various rations – to make cake.

Possible substitutes for more luscious peacetime offerings included vinegar cake, made with self-raising flour (not rationed), bicarbonate of soda and vinegar as additional raising agents, milk, margarine, sugar, a little dried fruit but no eggs. The fresh egg ration was just one egg per person per week. From July 1942, powdered egg became available – also imported from the US. The allowance was one tin, or packet, of dried eggs per two months. One tin was equivalent to
12 fresh eggs.

The children were all given a piece of freshly baked vinegar cake to try and all said how nice it was – until they were
told it had been made with vinegar and then they weren’t so sure! I pinched a bit when no-one was looking. Palatable but a bit claggy!

A description of the meat rationing – including the various types of offal – was generally greeted with dismay, especially sheep’s head. ‘Ask the butcher to leave the eyes in,’ as the old joke went. ‘Then it’ll see us through the week!’

Dr Eric Webb, Milton Keynes u3a

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Comedy Timing

I thoroughly enjoyed Brad Ashton’s memories of writing for some of the great comedians of our time and just before (TAM, Winter).

In the early 1970s, I was with the Watford Observer and was fortunate enough to attend the opening of a Baileys Night Club in the town, with the ceremony conducted by Bob Monkhouse. After enjoying the great man’s company with others, he was given two minutes’ notice by his manager, switching immediately and effortlessly into his slick stage persona.

To this day, I remember his opening gag. He glanced at his watch and said: ‘Great watch, this. It has a lifelong guarantee. When the main spring goes it slashes your wrist.’

One of yours, Brad?

Robert Houghton, Ross on Wye & District u3a, Herefordshire

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War memories

Like George Cogswell, who helped save a wartime air raid siren (TAM, Winter),
I was evacuated from London to escape the V1 and V2 rockets.

I went from Putney, in South West London, to Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire in March 1945. However, it was not children being evacuated but near-term mothers, and I was still in my mother’s womb.

My understanding is the evacuation was for two reasons – one to keep the local hospital clear for expected casualties; the other to avoid the possible trauma to the babies, mothers and rescuers in the event of mother being a victim.

Although I know that several hundred mothers went through Bradford-on-Avon Maternity Hospital between 1939 and 1945 (the building still stands, but now as flats), I have been unable to find any definitive information on the topic.

Also, although there must have been several thousand mothers evacuated across the country, I have never met anyone who went through the same process. Perhaps this letter might
prompt those who know more to provide some history.

John Haywood, Hemel Hempstead u3a, Hertfordshire

When I read about Mill Hill u3a’s trip to Coventry (TAM, Autumn), it reminded me of home.

I was five when World War II broke out and, as a result of bombing, we lost our city centre, cathedral, houses and factories. One of the houses was at the end of our street and I recall my mother sending me to a piano lesson which involved me climbing over the rubble of a house which had taken a direct hit.

My future father-in-law was a builder by day and an auxiliary fireman by night. He was on duty at the cathedral when it was destroyed.

One happy memory was in the 1950s when I wrote to architect Basil Spence, asking him for a sketch of what the new cathedral would look like when completed. He kindly obliged and a watercolour based on it hangs in my bungalow. It’s a good reminder of the past.

G E Schoon, Aylesbury u3a, Buckinghamshire

I have started a formal petition to change the name of the Order of the British Empire to the Order of the British Commonwealth after I had encouragement from Buckingham Palace shortly before Her Majesty died.

The Palace advised me to approach the Honours and Appointments Secretariat, who told me they had no plans to change the name. To sign, visit

Dr Mike Gibson, Hythe & Dibden u3a, Hampshire

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TAM receives more letters than it has space for, so they may be edited, cut, omitted or held over.

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A box number is essential for any advertisement seeking contact with others, as we do not publish private postal or email addresses, nor phone numbers, in such advertisements.

Send box number replies to: Jenni Murphy, Third Age Trust, The Foundry, 156 Blackfriars Road, London, SE1 8EN. Write the Box No above the address on the envelope and remember to enclose your contact details.

As soon as your order is accepted, you will be sent a formal invoice with the details of your order, and you will be asked to pay this before the deadline. Please include a full postal address (not for publication unless requested) with your advertisement and state if you are a member of a u3a and, if so, which one. Remittances should be sent to Jenni Murphy at the national office (address left) and cheques made payable to the Third Age Trust.

Holiday advertisements

Readers should ensure any offer complies with UK and EU regulations governing package holidays etc, if appropriate, before parting with any money. The Third Age Trust cannot be held responsible for this.

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Family Research

Grandfather fought in The Great War?
Didn’t talk about it? Let an experienced military family historian discover his experiences for you.

07796 633516, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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For Sale

Timeshare on Trelowarren Estate, Lizard, Cornwall Fogou Cottage. Delightful, fully modernised, sleeps six. 11yrs left from 14-21 May 2023. £4,950 plus service charge.

timeshare/fogou/ or ring 07872 176655

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Holidays Canary Islands

Los Cristianos, TENERIFE Luxurious one-bed apartment, quiet area close to sea.

Karen 07801 472954

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Holidays Cyprus

NEAR PAPHOS Members’ one-bedroom apartment, aircon/heating, large sunny terrace, panoramic sea views, fantastic sunsets, large pool, undercover garaging, Wi-Fi/tv.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
01159 312571

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Holidays Italy

Venice, Castello Charming courtyard apartment, sleeps 2/4.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Text: 44(0)7900 433151
Tel: 44(0)012422 43693

HOMESTAY, PALERMO, SICILY Private accommodation for individual or couple. Airport pick-up, drop-off. All meals with Italian host. Programme of accompanied visits. Practise your Italian or just relax.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Holidays Spain

Altea, Costa Blanca Modern 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom, heated apartment. Pool, tennis, garden, garage. Shops, restaurants, beach close. Warm winter area. Transfers available.

029 20759314, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Asturias (Green Spain) Spacious holiday
cottage to rent, for nature lovers. Between the mountains and the sea. Walking year round.

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: 01629 258203

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Holidays UK

CANTERBURY, KENT (7 MILES) Just for Two. Unique barn conversion, self catering, rural area

01227 700428, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

JURASSIC COAST 4-berth caravan on quiet site in Thomas Hardy country, modern well appointed.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

YORKSHIRE DALES Cosy, converted granary
on working farm, sleeps 2/3. Equidistant

01729 830291

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk 4-star self-catering, semi-detached bungalow. Two bedrooms. Large secluded gardens.
01284 702848

Topsham, Devon 2-bedroom cottage overlooking Exe estuary and hills. Local shops, inns, teashops, walks. Coast, moors, Exeter nearby.

Tel 029 20759314, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

North Norfolk, near Holt Period cottage, sleeps four, dogs welcome.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 01206 298302

SHERBORNE SHORT BREAKS Elegant, spacious, 2-bed apartment in town centre with under cover parking. Abbey, two castles, railway link to London and Exeter.

Please text 07948 710033 for brochure

Coach House, modern apartment, sleeps 4.
No pets/smokers.

POOLE HARBOUR Shoreline cottage, sleeps 4. Stunning views. Close Poole Quay. Prices from £350pw - £1,010pw.
Simon 01202 805466

Cornwall Just for two. Comfortable and well equipped. Free Wi-Fi. Village near Truro/Falmouth. EV charging. No dogs/smokers.

Tel: 01209 860402

LAKE DISTRICT 4-star well equipped cottage, one mile from Windermere. 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms. Sleeps 4. Great walking from cottage. Wi-Fi. Short breaks available. No pets/no smokers.

01695 633376

JURASSIC COAST Top quality cottage. 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, sunny quiet garden.
Chris 07736 804887

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WIDOW WLTM man as companion for travel UK, abroad. Herts, Beds, Bucks.

Reply to Box No 292

Lady, 65 living in the Bath area, fit and active, WLTM gentleman for companionship.

Reply to Box No 391

Single Lady, 74 enjoys music, cinema, theatre.
Has a GSOH and a caring attitude. WLTM gentleman with similar interests (West Dunbartonshire area).

Reply to Box No 392

73, Harrogate, former business owner
WLTM a lady for outings to country pubs and
the theatre.

Reply to Box No 313

Widower, active retired engineer WLTM lady in her 70s. Bradford on Avon area.

Reply to Box No 376

Single lady, late 60s Fit, active, GSOH, varied interests include travel UK/abroad, walking, theatre, WLTM educated gentleman who enjoys similar. Avon/Somerset.

Reply to Box No 394

Wish to travel, enjoy theatre/opera and the outdoor life? Youthful lady would love to meet you. Bath/W London area.

Reply to Box No 393

SLIM, CARING GRADUATE WIDOW, 71 seeks intelligent man to share wide cultural interests
and Cotswolds log fires.

Reply to Box No 395

Sociable, slim, fit widower seeks lady friend. Yorkshire area.

Reply to Box 294

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Minders Keepers Long established, highly respected Home and Pet sitting company is looking to recruit mature, responsible house-sitters for paid sits.

Please call 01763 262102 or
email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Quality Stamp Collections/Albums especially Great Britain and Empire. Devon/Dorset/Somerset. Major collections other areas.

Call Mike 07527 538863

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