u3a - Third Age Matters November 2021 Issue - Screenreader Edition


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With climate change very much on our minds as the COP26 Climate Change Conference takes place in Glasgow this month (November), it’s encouraging to know that U3A members were invited to hold workshops at this huge international event. Congratulations go to the Trust U3A Countdown to COP26 group, which has been very active in this area, and our Letters pages reflect members’ interest in environmental concerns. The pandemic has brought mental health to the fore, and Ruby Wax tells us how she fought loneliness and depression, and what she has been doing during lockdown to help others. December will see a U3A online event about the Kindertransport, hosted by our columnist Dame Esther Rantzen, and you can read U3A members’ sobering stories on page 10. I hope you enjoy this issue of Third Age Matters and please get in touch if you have a story to tell.

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Editor Joanne Smith

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what’s happening across the U3A

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Leaving a lasting legacy

More than 1,000 trees have already been snapped up by members to form the U3A 40th Anniversary Woodland as part of the movement’s celebrations

For more details and to buy trees, visit the u3a Brand Centre at

a sapling growing in a field

The U3A is well on its way to planting its target of 5,000 native trees this winter to form a woodland on the England/Wales border. The U3A 40th Anniversary Woodland is part of a larger project to turn thousands of hectares of bracken-smothered hillside into a wildlife-rich haven.

Ziggy Reisman, of Hampstead U3A, dedicated the trees he bought to thank walking group leader Chris Queen for his work in leading walks for many years. The group disbanded when Covid struck.

“We covered up to 10 miles (sometimes further, if Chris got us lost!), finishing at a pub for a ‘swift half’ and a meal,” said Ziggy. “Through muddy paths, along canals and river banks, through little villages, Chris led his group, patiently, and in all that time, I don’t think we lost anyone!”

Crickhowell & District U3A has bought a copse of 100 trees. The U3A is just 10 miles from the planting site in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The U3A’s copse will have a plaque within the U3A Woodland stating: ‘Crickhowell Copse – a legacy to the future.’

Chair Gwen Axford said members of the U3A were acutely aware of the need for trees to help combat climate change.

Trees also help mitigate flooding, something that Gwen, who lives on the banks of the River Usk, experienced first-hand herself last year when her home was flooded.

“A lot of people are concerned about the effects of climate change. Tree-planting can go some way to mitigate that,” she said. “In Crickhowell, everyone is aware of the risk of flooding.

“I think we will have quite a few members who will volunteer to help plant the trees and look after them.”

Gwen also believes a project like this will help encourage younger generations to join U3A.

“Having a woodland is a lasting legacy for the future,” she said. “This will show that U3A is concerned about what is happening in the world around us.”

Trees capture and store many tonnes of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. They increase biodiversity by providing homes and food for wildlife.

Yet woodland cover in the UK is among the lowest in Europe. According to the Woodland Trust, one-third of all woodland species are in decline and one in ten woodland species are at risk of extinction.

Woodland ecosystems help clean the air and reduce the risk of flooding, while biodiversity enriches all our lives. The Woodland Trust says the value of woodland for flood protection alone is estimated at £6.5 billion.

Trees can be bought from the U3A Brand Centre for £7.50 each and the cost reduces if you buy more than one tree. Members can also buy a copse of 100 trees for £650, which will be named with a plaque. The cost includes looking after the trees for 12 years and providing replacements if they die.

The choice of trees includes alder, birch (downy and silver), wild cherry, crab apple, dog rose, hawthorn, hazel, oak (pedunculate and sessile) and rowan.

Why plant trees?

Brenda Ainsley, co-leader of the Trust U3A Countdown to COP26 group, outlines why it is important to plant trees

Lock up carbon

Trees are our most powerful weapon against global warming and climate change. They are the ultimate carbon capture and storage machines. Forests absorb atmospheric carbon and lock it up for centuries. The entire woodland ecosystem plays a huge role in locking up carbon, including the living wood, roots, leaves, deadwood, surrounding soils and its associated vegetation.

Over a 10-year period as it grows, it is estimated that one tree planted in an urban setting absorbs about 60kg (or 0.06 metric tonnes). The Woodland Trust estimates that one tree in a UK woodland absorbs about 250kg of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.

Prevent flooding

Trees, hedgerows and woods are a vital part of natural flood management.Strategic planting can have a positive impact in areas experiencing flooding from rivers and surface water. They intercept rainfall, hold banks together and slow the rate which rain is absorbed into the soil.

Reduce city heat

Apart from providing much-needed shade, trees block pollutants from reaching people. Planting a row of trees between a school playground and a busy road has a similar effect to putting up a brick wall. In the case of particulate matter, trees either disperse it like other pollutants, or they act as a surface for the particles to deposit on.

Make us feel better

Certain chemicals released by trees known as phytoncides are known to have a positive effect on our health, from reducing blood pressure and anxiety to increasing our pain threshold. Research has also shown that phytoncides can even increase anti-cancer proteins. The tree-huggers were right all along!

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Jazzing it up brings in the crowd for U3A day

South Bucks U3A’s jazz band was one of the many attractions at its U3A Day, held in September. “An outside event would be an opportunity to get back to some sort of normality and that is just what happened,” said U3A member Christine Phillips. “The September date worked well for us.”

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Events take centre stage

Drama and theatre groups are being urged to produce short plays to demonstrate ways in which U3A members contribute to life in their communities, with the aim of one being staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of the U3A 40th Anniversary.

Other big plans include a discussion on U3A looking forward that will be shared with policy-makers, big voluntary agencies and the Press. There are also plans for a national radio broadcast based on the U3A’s popular podcasts.

Liz Thackray, U3A Chair, will lead a round-table discussion in the New Year. Panellists will include Eric Midwinter, a founding member of U3A, the Isle of Arran U3A, which set up just before the pandemic, a member of the public with a background in the third sector and another U3A member.

National U3A Day is to be moved to September instead of June.

“September is a time when many U3As plan events to recruit new members, so a good time to celebrate U3A in general,” says Vice-Chair Michaela Moody. “Please make U3A Day 2022 a really big feature in your calendars, not only to attract new members but to make people aware of the huge benefits that belonging to U3A can bring.”

The High Street Project continues and its website will be launched next year to be used as a research and reference tool.

To celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, U3As are being urged to hold Picnics in the Park to show how learning is also about having fun. Michaela added: “I’d love to hear about your plans for our Anniversary so that I can share these with the wider membership.”

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george mardall

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Fear of change must be overcome for a sustainable world

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U3A holds workshops at climate talks

U3A held workshops at the COP26 conference on climate change, which took place in Glasgow in November.

Members from the Trust U3A Countdown to COP26 group, as well as members from across the UK, held four intergenerational workshops as part of Climate Fringe, a series of climate-related events that took place in and around the conference.

The U3A members told their own climate stories – how they had experienced first-hand changes to the environment during their lifetimes that have affected them. You can read their stories in the February issue of TAM.

Brenda Ainsley, a co-founder of the Trust Countdown to COP group and a Climate Reality Leader, said there needed to be massive funding to avert a climate crisis. Labour promised to invest £28 billion a year on measures to protect Britain from climate change disasters, which is four times the investment of the current government, but still less than the £50 billion a year that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is needed. “People think it’s about saving the planet, but it’s not,” says Brenda. “The planet will be OK. It’s about saving humankind.”

Trust U3A Countdown to COP has around 40 members and meets online.

People must overcome their fear of change to tackle the climate emergency, says Dr Morris Bradley, leader of U3A Climate Emergency and Wider Issues Group. The study group is offered through Online Across Scotland (OAS).

Major lifestyle changes are needed to stop the destruction of the natural world and global overheating caused by fossil fuel emissions, the group says.

Dr Morris says: “We see our task as a struggle of ideas. The climate emergency is really a moral issue, not an economic one. We can’t spend our way out of this. To succeed, we need to help people to overcome their fear of major changes to their lives, and to appreciate how much heathier and happier life could be together.”

For more details, go to

Making hay while the sun shines…

Members of Stour Valley U3A’s five-mile walking group take a break while enjoying a September walk near the Suffolk town of Hadleigh

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Taking a stand against ageism

Older people are often portrayed in the media as lonely. Yet, in reality, young people aged 16 to 24 are three times more likely to experience loneliness than the over-65s, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

And the Covid crisis has perpetuated ageing stereotypes, leading to a rise in worrying attitudes towards older people, according to the Centre for Ageing Better.

Now, the U3A and Centre for Ageing Better have joined forces to produce advice to help members challenge ageism and promote positive ageing.

Older people have been consistently portrayed as ‘vulnerable’ throughout the crisis, with references to Covid only killing older people and viewing older lives as less valuable than young.

“The crisis has lifted the lid on many disturbing attitudes to age,” says Niall Ryan, of the Centre for Ageing Better. “It’s crucial that we tackle these head-on.”

Ageism is seen in the workplace, on the street and in health care, where older people are less likely to be prescribed talking therapies and more likely to be over- or under-prescribed medication.

Sam Mauger, CEO of the Third Age Trust, said: “We want to shift the narrative around ageing to reflect the positive and realistic experiences of older adults.”

The Centre for Ageing Better found that older people in the UK are more likely to be pitied as they are seen as incompetent, while older workers are viewed as slow to learn new things.

It found that in the media, older people are frequently reduced to ageing stereotypes such as ‘rich boomers’ or ‘vulnerable elderly’, and that people over 50 rarely feature in the marketing of everyday products.

When they are seen, they are largely ‘enveloped in beige, passive and sipping tea, reinforcing an outdated notion of what it means to be in your 60s, 70s and beyond’.

These stereotypes affect the way we see ourselves, with older people in the UK among the most negative when it comes to ageing. A global survey by Ipsos Mori found that Britons are “overwhelmingly negative” about ageing, with just 30 per cent saying they are looking forward to getting old.

The toolkit is now available at on the ‘Our Social Impact’ tab under ‘News’.

Tips to help combat ageism

l Use hashtags on social media such as #nomorewrinklyhands, #agepositive and #ageproud

l Challenge ageism in your local media by contacting them direct or writing a letter for publication

l Challenge your local radio station for comments made on air

l Write to your MP about your personal experiences of ageism

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‘Buzz of excitement’ as East Midlands U3As get together

After more than two years of planning and three cancellations, the first East Midlands Conference for five years finally went ahead at the end of September. Almost 90 members travelled to Eastwood Hall in Nottinghamshire, despite Covid concerns and petrol shortages.

Liz Thackray, the new Chair of the Third Age Trust, spoke about plans for the future. Helen Salisbury, from South Leicestershire U3A, talked about ideas for finding committee members while the afternoon was spent in workshops, covering subjects such as tips for presenters, developing social media and plans for the 40th Anniversary.

Jean Hogg, Trustee for the East Midlands, said there was a real buzz of excitement. “There were many comments of appreciation and how much everyone had enjoyed face-to-face conversations.”

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The Kindertransport stories

U3A members will share their Kindertransport stories at an online event in December, hosted by Dame Esther Rantzen. Here, Steve Williams, of Arun East U3A, looks at how the project to rescue 10,000 children came about

Recent tragic images of mothers passing toddlers over a fence at Kabul Airport have moved our hearts. Desperate families trying to give their children a chance of a ‘normal’ life resonate powerfully when we look back over 80 years to the Kindertransport. This rescue project brought 10,000 children, mainly Jewish, from Nazi Germany and Austria but also Poland and Czechoslovakia, to Britain over a nine-month period in 1938/39.

On coming to power in 1933, the Nazis quickly placed strict restrictions on Jewish people through employment laws, discrimination and then persecution. Britain, like other countries, was slow to respond and there was no relaxation of the immigration laws into Britain or into British-controlled Palestine. It was only after the November pogrom of 1938, otherwise known as Kristallnacht, and an impassioned debate in Parliament initiated by MP Philip Noel-Baker, that hasty plans were developed to evacuate up to 10,000 unaccompanied children aged 16 and under; no provision was made for their parents.

Key players in the rescue effort were Nicholas Winton in Prague, the less well-known Bertha Bracey and others. Winton was an active member of Maidenhead U3A until his death aged 106.Handed over by their parents and clutching a few possessions, the children embarked on trains and were sent away to a new, uncertain life in Britain. Their arrival has been hauntingly captured in a statue at Liverpool Street station, which was designed by Frank Meisler, himself a Kindertransportee.

What was life like when they arrived? For all of them, it was challenging. Most passed through a Warner’s Holiday Camp at Dovercourt, near Harwich in Essex, where they were helped to learn the essentials of life in Britain.

After this, many did go to welcoming homes where they were treated as ‘part of the family’. Perhaps they already spoke a little English or picked it up quickly. Perhaps they did well at school and progressed to grammar schools; a few were even sent to prestigious boarding schools. Some had the opportunity to keep in touch with their Jewish and German heritage, attending synagogue or special classes.

Others, however, were sent to hostels, or orphanages. Siblings were often split up. They had little or no contact with other children of the same religion or language. A few were compelled to forget about their families back in Nazi Germany. Older boys in particular found it hard; foster families preferred pretty five-year-old girls to strapping or surly 15-year-old boys. Many of these went to work on the land or were given a trade. About 1,000 of them, when they turned 16, were treated as ‘friendly enemy aliens’ and despatched to internment camps. Some were even transported to camps in Canada or Australia, along with captured German soldiers.

But they survived. After the war, most discovered that they had lost many, many family members in the Holocaust. Some found a parent was still alive but the years of separation meant their relationship could not be rebuilt. More than half of them left Britain for another new life in the United States, Australia or as settlers in the new state of Israel.

And those that stayed in Britain? Often, they went on to make a significant contribution to their adopted country, in science, politics or the media. Only a few are still alive, one of whom, Fred Stern, will join us on 2 December for our online U3A event (details above). But they had children, grandchildren; some became U3A members and in December will be sharing their stories of the remarkable children of the Kindertransport.

After 40 years in further education, including 10 years in Holocaust education, Steve Williams is now an independent civil celebrant. In 2020, he officiated at the funeral of Alex Gray, born in Prague in 1929, who came to Britain aged ten. Find out more of his story at the December event.

Dame Esther Rantzen’s memories of Sir Nicholas Winton: Page 15

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Hear more at the U3A Kindertransport event

A special U3A event to mark Kindertransport Day and hosted by TAM columnist Dame Esther Rantzen will take place online on 2 December.

Fred Stern, 98, who came over to the UK aged 15 in 1939, will be talking to Dame Esther about his life and you can hear more stories from U3A members whose lives were affected by the Kindertransport.

Thanks go to Steve Williams, of Arun East U3A, and Carole Chapman, of Portsdown U3A, for helping to put the event together, and to the speakers on the day for sharing their stories.

Places for this free event are limited. To book, go to

Jewish child refugees In England in December 1938. Left: Refugees arriving in Southampton, 1939

Fred Stern

Fred Stern with the memorial statue to Kindertransport children at Liverpool Street station

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Fred Stern's story

At 98, Fred Stern still clearly remembers the day Hitler and his cavalcade crossed a bridge over the Danube Canal to enter Vienna. It was 15 March, 1938, and Hitler was to announce the Anschluss - the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany – on the Heldenplatz in front of the Hofburg Palace.

Fred was 14 and living in Vienna, where he was born. As a Jew, he was not allowed to watch the arrival of Hitler so he hid behind the curtains of his home and peeked through the window at the sight before him. “I saw Hitler come over the bridge,” Fred says. “Everyone was waving flags.”

After that, conditions for Jewish people in Vienna deteriorated. They were spat at, forced out of school and chased through the streets by The Hitler Youth. Because Fred knew Vienna well, he was able to escape them by running through the Durchhäuser, which were passageways between the houses leading from one road to another.

He also watched as his grandmother was forced by the Nazis to clean the streets. She was later sent to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, where she died of starvation.

Fred’s mother, Olga, had family in the UK and her sister-in-law, Irene, arranged for her to come to Britain in 1938 to work as a domestic servant. Olga then arranged for Fred to come to England on the Kindertransport on 13 January, 1939, when he was 15. Later, his father, Robert, also came to the UK to work as a butler in the same household as his mother.

When Fred arrived in the UK, he was sent to live temporarily with a family off Finchley Road in London. He was given half-a-crown to travel around London. Fred remembers walking to Piccadilly Circus, which he had read about in Vienna, and being disappointed that it was not an actual circus, before catching a Tube back.

In May 1940, Fred’s life was again turned upside down when the Prime Minister Winston Churchill reportedly declared wartime refugees ‘enemy aliens’ with the words “collar the lot!”.

Now 16, Fred was interviewed by the police, where they found a toy Morse code that Fred, an avid Boy Scout, had enjoyed playing with, and confiscated it. Fred was initially sent to an internment camp on the Isle of Man, where his father was also sent. However, while Fred’s father was later considered not to be a threat and released, Fred was shipped to Canada. His mother was never arrested.

Fred travelled to Canada on MS Sobieski, a Polish passenger ship that was also carrying Nazi prisoners-of-war, with the Jews fearing they would be thrown overboard.

On arrival in Canada, the refugees were met by armed soldiers and crowds throwing objects at them. Fred was taken to Camp T, an internment camp where German PoWs sang Nazi songs of hatred to their Jewish fellow prisoners. Here, he was set to work cutting down trees and worked in the kitchen, where he knew he would have access to food. Fred was among 2,300 Jews, aged 16 to 60, who were sent to Canada during the Second World War. Others were sent to Australia.

Fred spent two years in Canada, where he managed to study during his time in camp, being taught by older prisoners. On his return to Britain, he was reunited with his parents. He went to night school to study to be a mechanical engineer and married a Jewish girl, Edith, from Vienna. They had two daughters, Ruth [Evans], a member of Chorleywood U3A, and Linda. Fred has had 11 jobs in England and is very proud of what he has achieved here. He has travelled to most of Europe and further afield, met Prince Charles twice and has three granddaughters.

MP Philip Noel-Baker. Right: Sir Nicholas Winton with one of the children he rescued

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Elga Kitchener's story

Arun West U3A member Shira Sleight’s mother, Elga Kitchener, came to Britain on the Kindertransport.

Elga was just six years old when her grandmother put her on the Kindertransport from Berlin to England on 27 June, 1939.

Her mother, Ruth, was not able to see her off because, on that very day, she gave birth to Elga’s only sibling – a sister called Judis. It was hoped that the family would one day be reunited. But Elga would never meet Judis or see her mother or grandmother, Betty Katz, again.

Judis died, aged just two-and-a-half, in Auschwitz concentration camp along with her mother and grandmother. Elga’s grandfather had died before the war and her uncle, Siefried, died in Litzmannstadt-Lodz ghetto in Poland.

“My mother never met her sister,” says Shira. “It was an unbelievably tragic loss for her.”

In 1938, when the persecution of Jews by the Nazis escalated, Elga’s parents, Ruth and Charles, lived in Berlin, where they ran a tailor’s shop. They wrote to relatives in America in the desperate hope they could help the family escape. Shira has some of those letters.

To leave Germany, Jews had to get a visa and an affidavit from those willing to sponsor them. At one point, Ruth and Charles received an affidavit from a Frank Hoffman in America, but he spelt Elga’s name wrong, causing a delay. In November, 1938, an appeal by Viscount Samuel for foster homes in the UK was broadcast by the BBC Home Service and the family put Elga on the Kindertransport to live with a distant aunt of her mother’s in South Wales.

A letter from Ruth and Charles to Frank Hoffman explains that Elga was now safe in England, that they had a new daughter and how they hoped a Mr Man[n] in Chicago may help the rest of the family escape. “We are hoping and begging that we shall be successful,” wrote Charles.

“It was a sad day for us to send our little daughter abroad, but we think it was the best under the circumstances. We know also she is going to very good relatives.

“We are very, very grateful to you for all your love and for writing to Mr Man[n]. We hope it will be not a long time till our coming to you. Then we shall be happy again.”

Charles was born in London and so came to Britain before 1941 and joined the British Army, where he continued to fight to bring his family to safety.

On arrival at Liverpool Street station, Elga was met by Aunt Dinah, who took her to join her large family of children and stepchildren.

“I think gradually my mother was very, very happy in Wales,” said Shira. “There were lots of children for her to play with and she enjoyed it. But how traumatic that must have been, to leave your parents and come to a country where you don’t speak the language and live with people you had never met before.”

Elga, then 14, was reunited with her father when he came to collect her from her Aunt Dinah.

In 1951, Elga married and had a daughter, Shira, and two sons, Roger and Nigel, followed by seven grandchildren. She was diagnosed with cancer and died in March 2012, after being happily married for 60 years. Unlike her journey from Berlin when she was all alone, her beloved husband, Joe, and three children were by her side.

“I don’t think my mother ever got over the fact there had been so much loss,” said Shira. “She lost her mother, sister and grandmother.

“When I was a child, she would talk to me about it constantly. Some people find it so traumatic that they hold it in and that’s how they deal with it.”

Elga Kitchener with her parents

I don't think my mother ever got over so much loss

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Herbert Haberberg's story

The last time Herbert Haberberg saw his father was the weekend before he got on the Kindertransport in Poland on 23 August, 1939, to come to England. It was the week before Germany invaded Poland. He was 14.

Herbert was born in Dortmund, Germany, on 27 October, 1924, to Polish parents. When he was four, the family moved to Brambauer, where they lived above their shop. In 1932, Herbert’s brother, Manfred, was born.

In October 1938, Herbert arrived at school to be told to go home as all Jewish people were being rounded up. He returned to find his father had been arrested and his mother in a state of panic. Taking control, he helped her pack suitcases and the flat was sealed up with tape. They were taken to Dortmund, where they were reunited with their father, put on a train and expelled, along with 4,000 other Jews, to a village called Zbąszyń in Poland, which had a population of 2,500.

In notes Herbert made for his family, he wrote that Zbąszyń had a railway running through it but no industry and ‘no purpose in life’. “Suddenly this place had 4,000 people imposed on it with no infrastructure as such to cope. Deportees who were starving, tired and destitute had arrived unannounced,” he wrote.

Local Jewish families rallied to provide food and blankets for the refugees, who were put in a disused mill, living among rats.

Herbert’s parents had family living in Poland who managed to get money to them. They tried to get the family out but only Herbert managed to escape. He was smuggled out by his uncle to Katowice by pretending to be his son.

In 1939, his mother and brother were allowed to leave Zbąszyń and join family members in Krakow, including Herbert, while his father went to stay with his family in Warsaw. Applications were made by the family to put Herbert and Manfred on the Kindertransport and, on 10 August, a letter arrived telling them to assemble at a Jewish children’s orphanage at Otwock. Seventy children were waiting for permits to travel to the UK but only 63 permits arrived, so seven children had to stay behind. After the war, Herbert by coincidence met some of these children when he went into the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as part of the Jewish Brigade arm of the British Army in 1945. Herbert and Manfred arrived in the UK on 30 August, 1939, on the Warszawa.

Sponsors of Jewish children had to pay £50 per child. Manfred was fostered until he went to live with relatives in New York, but being 14, Herbert was placed in the Jewish Temporary Shelter in the East End of London until he went to work on a farm in Hertfordshire. Later, Herbert was sent to Ely in Cambridgeshire, where he lived in a hostel and attended The Jewish Free School, joining The Jewish Brigade in 1944.

Herbert’s parents were placed in Debica ghetto work camp in southeast Poland, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1942. It is believed they were killed during its destruction or taken to Belzec extermination camp and gassed. In October 2019, a Stolperstein – a brass plate set into pavements outside the homes of the victims of Nazi extermination or persecution – was placed outside their home in Brambauer.

Herbert met his wife, Millicent, in the Regency Ballroom off Regent Street in London. He worked as a metal merchant, travelling to Germany and Poland and other eastern European countries. Herbert died in March 2021, aged 96, leaving a daughter, Frances [Chesnick], a member of Palmers Green and Southgate U3A, four granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

Members' stories by Joanne Smith

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Dame Esther Rantzen recalls the moving moment she reunited Kinder children with their saviour

It was an unforgettable phone call from my friend Eve Pollard (Claudia Winkleman’s mother and a distinguished newspaper editor), who alerted me in 1988 to one of the most moving stories I have heard, and we ever told, on our programme That’s Life!.

Eve explained to me that the Wintons, a married couple living near Maidenhead in Berkshire, had been decluttering their loft when they came across an album filled with documents and photographs.

Nicholas Winton explained to his wife that they belonged to Czech children, most of them Jewish, who had been rescued just in time from the Nazi invasion and brought to England. He had put together a rescue team, organised the operation and found British families to foster the children. Then for 50 years he had never talked about it.

We examined the album, which contained the lists of children, and our researcher began trying to track them down. I remember my first phone call with Nicky Winton. I congratulated him on the wonderful achievement of saving more than 650 lives, but he said to me, “It was not enough.” He told me of the last train standing in the station in Prague in 1939, filled with more than 200 children, when the Gestapo invaded Czechoslovakia and shut the borders, so all the children were taken off the train and disappeared, doubtless murdered in concentration camps. Clearly that memory broke his heart.

On the Sunday night of our show, we invited him to the studio “to check we got our facts right”, sat him in the front row of the audience and infuriated him by not allowing him to sit next to his wife. It took years for him to forgive me, if ever. But, of course, we wanted to sit him next to the people he had saved as children, although they knew nothing about him, and he didn’t recognise them.

When the programme started, I made sure the camera showed as many names as possible as I turned over the pages of the album. I reminded viewers of the enormous courage of the parents who had put their children on those trains, not knowing what would happen to them.

I told the story of one child, Vera Gissing, and then revealed to Vera and Nicky that they were sitting next to each other. She hugged him and thanked him for her life. Watching them, it was the only time I had to stop recording, silenced by my own tears. I still weep every time I watch that moment.

In the days that followed, we were contacted by dozens more of ‘Winton’s Children’, as they are called now, so we invited Nicky back to our studio, this time sitting next to his wife. When I said to our audience, “Will you please stand up if you owe your life to Nicholas Winton”, almost the whole audience stood. Nicky turned, and when he saw them, he brushed tears from his eyes. The whole audience was deeply moved. You can still find that moment on the internet.

Nicky and I became firm friends, and he kept me up to date with the huge changes in his life. He became Sir Nicholas, received many more honours around the world, had a feature film made about his work and, at an event in Buckingham Palace, I was able to introduce him to the Queen. When he died at the age of 106, former Prime Minister Theresa May spoke in his honour.

But perhaps the tribute that moved Nicky most was when he was invited to a youth conference in Prague, and the host said to the hundreds of young delegates, “Please light up your phones if the story of Sir Nicholas Winton has inspired you, too, to do something that will make a difference.” Around the huge auditorium, every phone lit up.

That is the legacy that Nicky would want – not the fame, not the honours, not the internet immortality, but the knowledge that he has inspired others. If you doubt that in these tough times, I recommend you watch his programme which, after 50 years, tells the story of Nicky’s achievements and proves how much difference one brave, visionary person can make.

Nicholas Winton meeting Vera Gissing on That's Life!

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Inspiring ways to grow your U3A

Many U3As have been working hard on retaining and recruiting members.

Chepstow U3A managed to retain most of its members during the pandemic and has welcomed 74 new members this year.

Online group activities were such a success that it has introduced monthly hybrid meetings.

The U3A uses Facebook to publicise its groups, using the ‘boost’ function which delivers the post to other Facebook users who fit the profile. For example, a Real Ale group post reached 3,900 people. The exposure also led to more hits on the U3A’s website.

Co-chair Shelagh Davies said: “With undiminished enthusiasm and determination, and the support of the incredible community that is Chepstow U3A, we are looking forwards, not backwards. We don’t believe in standing still.” Its open day attracted another 31 new members.

Matlock Area U3A formed a New Ideas sub-committee when Covid struck.

An online survey of members found that contact was the overwhelming reason for people joining the U3A, followed by entertainment and educational needs, which gave the committee areas to focus on when designing activities for new and existing members.

The U3A provided regular newsletters and weekly bulletins promoting online events, including ‘How to use Zoom’, entertainment afternoons and virtual coffee mornings.

Volunteers redesigned the website to encourage new members to find out more.

The U3A Retention and Recruitment Toolkit is available on the U3A website if you search ‘recruitment’

Surge in people joining up

Nearly a third of calls to the U3A advice line are from people wanting to join the organisation or find out more – a marked increase on pre-pandemic levels.

Calls to the advice line were monitored over a 12-day period in October. Of the 410 calls received, more than 31 per cent were from the public wanting to join.

The U3A advice line is managed by a small team of staff and Trust volunteers on weekdays.

The advice team works hard to provide these callers with the information they need, such as advising them about U3As in their vicinity and where they can find relevant information on the U3A website.

However, the advice team cannot track how successful the callers are in joining a U3A and sometimes those processes are not clear, and so are urging U3A website editors across the movement to check that their joining process is clear and easy to follow, as there are a lot of people wanting to join your U3A at this time.

Members look to the future

The U3A should continue its peer-to-peer learning model while increasing its share of the over-60s market by recognising their needs, such as adapting to technology, a consultation with members has found.

The Third Age Trust sought members’ views via an online survey to help develop a strategy about what they see as priorities for the movement. The survey is part of a wider consultation to ensure that a bold strategy is developed by U3A members, for U3A members.

Trustee for West Midlands Allan Walmsley, who is leading the work, said: “Like any large organisation, charities such as the U3A need to have a clear overall direction with targets that every member can understand.”

Initial aims pulled together during discussions in the summer have now been tested in focus groups. Questionnaires have been issued to all U3As.

For more information about the strategy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Water way to celebrate

Benfleet U3A celebrated its 10th anniversary with an afternoon tea overlooking Benfleet Creek. The U3A kept more than half of its 38 groups active during lockdown with online activities and by setting members challenges such as photography and drawing for the website and Facebook.

Short story competition grows in popularity

Nearly 400 budding authors entered the second annual U3A national creative writing competition.

A top 12 will each receive a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. A final judging panel of Alysoun Owen of Bloomsbury Publishing; Chair of the Learning Committee Chris Winner; former Trust Vice Chair Hilary Jones; and creative writing Subject Adviser Marcia Humphries, selected the top three stories, which were read out at an online awards evening.

Alison May, head of U3A member services, said: “We were delighted to receive so many really enjoyable stories and even more than last year. The judges had a tricky but very enjoyable time deciding on the results.”

The winning entry was Lynne Carroll, from Crediton & District U3A, with her story The Road To Lille, which can be read on page 69. Jane Morgan, from Peterborough U3A, was second with A Cup Of Tea And A Kind Word. Third place went to Karen McCreedy, from Bognor Regis U3A, with Trial And Error. The top 12 stories can be read online on the learning pages at

Meet your PR advisers

The U3A has PR advisers in the regions to help U3As raise awareness of their organisations locally.

Increasingly, members are taking on publicity and recruitment roles within their committees.

The PR advisers help communicate accounts of U3A activities and events, and newsworthy stories of individual members, with local and regional press and media.

If you or your U3A have a story to tell, an event to promote or want advice on how to raise your profile, please contact your PR adviser:

East England Ray Hardisty: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

North East Kelvin Rushworth: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Northern Ireland Jill Heron: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Stuart Pollard: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

West Midlands Jeff Berliner: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Yorks & Humber Helen Leech: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  • There are opportunities to join the PR team, especially in Wales, North West, East Midlands and South East areas. Please contact Sue Stokes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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tech news

Stay in touch with loved ones and learn new digital skills with the latest smart tablets

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Displays of affection

technology by james day

As we take tentative steps towards a post-pandemic era, we’re hopeful some things will return to normal, like the freedom to travel, or seeing friends and family in the flesh.

But after a prolonged period that saw many of us forced into a greater reliance of all things online to keep in contact with loved ones, broaden our horizons and stay entertained, now’s not the time to abandon those new skills you’ve worked so hard to learn.

Even if you’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into a world of video calls and quizzes, the latest batch of smart displays and tablets can add another dimension to your digital learning – and it doesn’t have to be difficult or dull.

Family time

Before 2020, webcams were possibly one of the most overlooked computer accessories. By the end of 2021, we’re searching for ever easier ways to communicate by video, while still trying to find our most flattering angle, and picking ever more exotic virtual backgrounds.

Many of you probably use Facebook, but did you know the social media giant also makes a range of Portal smart displays, priced from £149, with a built-in camera that can follow you around a room.

Ranging from the portable Portal Go to the premium Portal+, and the Portal TV which plugs into the back of your television to utilise the bigger screen, they’re great for keeping in contact using Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Zoom, with the Smart Camera constantly readjusting so you can move around freely and always stay in frame.

But it’s when you start to experiment with augmented reality on a Facebook Portal that things get even more exciting. An excellent Story Time feature allows you to narrate books to your grandchildren during a video call, while Portal places animations, music and effects on top to bring everything to life. No need to read from the book either, they’re all on screen for you to see in front of you.

The magic continues with a Harry Potter and the Cursed Child experience, where up to three people can transform into characters and virtually hang out in Hogwarts while on a call together – great fun for Halloween and Christmas.

Dinner time

More time spent in the kitchen instead of eating out tended to be another consequence of the pandemic, as home-cooked food became increasingly important.

Not all of you will have necessarily viewed this as a positive development, but whether you consider yourself a culinary novice or keen cook, a £90 Nest Hub (2nd Gen) smart display from Google can act as a handy digital sous chef.

The 7in device perches neatly on a kitchen worktop, giving you instantaneous access to apps like WW from Weight Watchers, featuring helpful articles on topics like reducing food waste, and even a ‘what’s in your fridge’ recipe finder that recommends dishes based on what you’ve got in at the time.

Whereas Facebook’s Portal devices use Amazon Alexa as its voice butler, the Nest Hub has Google Assistant, which is arguably a better resource for finding recipes and video tutorials on YouTube. It’s also worth noting U3A has its own bank of easily accessible recipes available online too.

If you get really stuck and need to phone a friend, the Nest Hub is equally adept as a Facebook Portal for video calling from the kitchen, and its hands-free nature is extra helpful when you’re cooking.

Of course, if you’re already a pro and just want a bit of background entertainment while whipping up something delicious, the Nest Hub is just as great for streaming music or TV shows – reruns of The Great British Bake Off it is, then.

Entertainment time

Ultimately, smart displays and tablets are there for your entertainment, so it was perhaps perfect timing that Disney Plus, a new TV streaming service to sit alongside the likes of Netflix, launched in the UK in March last year.

Over a year on and it’s really got into its stride. As well as a huge back catalogue of Disney and Marvel movies, the Star Wars universe, classic shows like The X Files, and documentaries from ESPN and National Geographic, at £7.99-a-month it’s arguably the streaming service to have going into 2022 as Disney intends to add a host of new original dramas to the roster.

For consuming content like this, Apple’s iPad has never fallen too far from the top of the tech tree, not to mention being a super tool for taking in U3A’s online learning events and online tutorials. Its recently refreshed line-up, priced from £319, doubles as an excellent digital sketch pad for aspiring artists, plus a convenient place to store your digital photos and videos.

Eyes and ears

If all of this sounds wonderful in theory, but presents potential hearing problems, check out the Active range of hearing aids from Signia.

A state-of-the-art way to improve the sound from a smart display or tablet, as well as phone calls, video calls, music, TV and more, the Bluetooth buds, priced from £999, appear more like wireless earphones, with a charging case for up to 26 hours between charges.

As the name suggests, the range is designed for active lifestyles, with a subtle, slimline and secure fit. The smart bit is something called Signia Xperience YourSound technology for enhanced speech understanding in noise.

If sight is an issue, it’s worth noting all of the devices featured here have Accessibility settings found in their menus, that can help with things like increasing button and text size, audio descriptions, spoken content and even braille settings, so don’t be scared to give one a try.

It’s also worth noting U3A has its own bank of easily accessible recipes available online too

Bury U3A Zoom choir

James Day is Editor-in-Chief of tech venue Situ Live. Follow him on Twitter @James_a_day

Facebook Portal Go, £199,

Have you got a tech question you’d like help with? Send in your questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll do our best to find a solution for you

Nest Hub (2nd generation), £89.99,

the tech

Apple iPad 64GB, £319,

Signia, from £995,

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Project sparks nostalgic trip down memory lane

One U3A that took part in the U3A High Street Project landed a two-page spread in their local newspaper.

Members of Holywood District U3A History Group in Northern Ireland who were born or grew up in Holywood recorded how their high street had changed through the years.

Many hours were spent going through files, photographs and publications - some dating back to the 1800s. Enthusiastic meetings via Zoom were held, bringing back memories of shops and their owners.

Additional research was carried out by the U3A’s Reminiscence Group and the findings were published in the County Down Spectator, with photographs showing shops in the past and present.

Group member Betty McLaughlin said: “We were pleased when we opened our weekly paper to find a two-page spread highlighting the U3A High Street Project and our findings. We ended our article by asking the public to continue to support our local shops - and we have many small independent ones - to help keep Holywood the ‘Number One Northern Ireland Place to live’.”

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Summer school 2022

Tickets are on sale for next year’s South East U3A Forum Summer School, which will be held at Chichester University from Monday 20 June to Thursday 23 June 2022, and is open to all U3A members in the UK.

Courses will include maths, French, music, family history, British rule in India, earth matters, art, mah-jong, cycling, ukulele, walking, yoga and poetry.

  • Full details are available at from Monday 15 November. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

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London event sucess

More than 140 U3A members were treated to a day of events including exploring bridges, walking in the footsteps of murderers and talks about the Roaring Twenties, at a one-day Summer School. Many had never attended a Summer School before.

For many years, the London Region of U3As has run a popular three-day Summer School but this was not possible in 2020 because of Covid. It was decided to offer a one-day event this year after government restrictions were lifted in August to encourage members to meet face-to-face.

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Get involved with U3A!

Volunteers are needed to sit on the Third Age Trust’s governance committee.

This important committee is responsible for ensuring that the Trust has the appropriate policies and procedures in place required by the Charity Commission and follows best practice.

The committees that support the Trust rely upon the skills and expertise that U3A members bring them.

The committee ensures that the appropriate guidance is passed on to U3As. It will therefore consider any new legislation relevant to the Trust and assist in drafting advice and policy recommendations to the Board. It oversees the risk register for the Trust and advises the Board of any actions needed to ameliorate potential risks. The committee works closely with the CEO and the Chair of the Trust, who will ask for the opinion of the committee on a range of governance issues.

As well as attending meetings, committee members with appropriate expertise will help with drafting policy papers for the Board.  

If you can bring expertise to the committee, either through specialist knowledge, experience of managing large charities, or knowledge of charity law, risk management or auditing in its widest sense, we would love you to get involved.

  • If you are interested in joining, please email a brief CV to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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what's on

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online events coming up…


Online talks, webinars and workshops with organisations including the British Library, Royal Institution and National Gallery are available for members from the U3A website, as well as talks and presentations by U3A members.

Laughter yoga

Wednesday 8 December, 10am.

Free via Zoom.

Want to laugh more but don’t know where to start? Join Judith Walker of Edinburgh U3A on the second Wednesday of every month and release your inner child at the laughter yoga workshop. Laughter is known to be good for us and we should be getting more of it. Laughter yoga combines hearty laughter exercises with deep, yoga-style breathing.

The Geology of Sedimentary Rocks Part 3: Limestones, Coals, Oil and Evaporites

Thursday 2 December, 2pm.

Free via Zoom.

The last in a series of talks about sedimentary rocks with Martin Eales, of Sutton U3A, who will look at sedimentary rocks formed in Britain by animals and plants to form limestones, chalks, coals and oil in tropical seas and deltas, plus evaporitic rocks such as salt. Martin has been a geologist for 40 years.

Exploring World Faiths

Dr Peter Rookes, U3A Subject Adviser for Exploring World Faiths, has two events in November and December on Zoom. Login details are on the Exploring World Faiths subject page at

National Interfaith Week – Faiths Working Together

Wednesday 17 November, 10am. Free via Zoom.

Zoroastrian Faith presentation

Wednesday 8 December, 10am. Free via Zoom

Hear from Jimmy Suratia, former chair of Birmingham Council of Faiths.

Any queries should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

for more events and to book, go to

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cover story

Some people are naturally resilient - I’m not one of them

Ruby Wax on her recent BBC2 show When RubyWax Met … where she looked back at her memorable celebrity interviews

Comedian Ruby Wax was the original celebrity interviewer. Now a mental-health campaigner, she tells Joanne Smith about tackling loneliness and depression

For many of us, Ruby Wax’s TV interviews with the famous (and infamous) were compulsive viewing in the 1990s and noughties: Ruby admiring Imelda Marcos’s thousands of shoes all lined up on shelves in her attic; laughing at an ambitious, younger Donald Trump as he tells her he wants to be president then subsequently throws her and her crew off his private jet; secretly trying on Madonna’s clothes and getting caught by the megastar.

Most of the time she won over her interviewees and even formed close friendships with some, such as Carrie Fisher, Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler.

In her latest TV show, When Ruby Wax Met … she looks back at some of those interviews through different eyes – those of a mental-health campaigner with a Master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

It’s the first time she has seen the shows in 25 years and Ruby says it is like looking at a different person.

In her interview with Imelda Marcos, Ruby was originally given only ten minutes. But she charms Imelda so that she quickly forms a relationship and is asked back to her home the next day.

With a camera crew in tow, Ruby dashes from room to room, examining toiletries – “what type of toothpaste does she use?”; “fabulous bathroom – and I’m glad it’s clean”; pointing out the baby oil “you always need the baby oil when you are a world leader” before adding, “We may have to cut that”; pointing out the free towelettes from an airline, and lying on Ferdinand Marcos’s bed complaining it’s too hard.

Then comes the big moment. Spotting a door to the attic, she pleads with Imelda: “Please can we go up?” and Imelda protests: “But it’s a mess.” Ruby insists: “I really want to see the mess, it’s been too neat, we need to see the other side of Imelda.” At the top of the winding staircase, Ruby turns to the camera, gives a thumbs-up and whispers: “The shoes.” Her voiceover announces: “I had found the Holy Grail.”

With others, she was not so lucky, especially the men. When she laughed at Donald Trump, he ordered his plane to land in Arkansas, where he promptly asked Ruby and her crew to leave.

When you see this confident, no-holds-barred woman asking questions you would never dream of asking, it’s hard to believe that it was all an act that, at the time, she believed herself.

It’s estimated that mental-health problems cost the UK roughly £105 billion a year (Mental Health Taskforce 2016) and the UK is rated the seventh-highest nation in the world for prescribing antidepressants (six million people a year, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre).

Research has shown that one of the best ways of beating stress is to share your feelings and talk. Indeed, an increasing number of GPs are now prescribing talking therapies, although these are less likely to be prescribed to older people, according to the Centre for Ageing Better (see page 8).

It’s well-documented that Ruby has suffered from clinical depression and spent much of her career battling it in silence. And when the bottom fell out of her TV career, she ended up at The Priory for treatment. But what followed was a transformation; she studied for a Master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford and turned her life around.

“I got my Master’s at around age 60,” she says. “So if anyone says, ‘Oh I can’t change’ or ‘It’s too late for me’, put that out of your head. The neurons stay resilient until you die. When you get rigid and say ‘I can’t do it’, that’s the definition of old age.”

If you are surprised that Ruby is talking about mindfulness, you are not the only one; she’s surprised herself. But while suffering from depression, she says she wanted to find out how the brain worked.

“I like the science of it,” she explains. “I am not a touchy-feely person, so I like to see the physical results in a scan of what happens to the brain when you practise something like that. You will lose your flexibility of thinking if you do not use your brain, it does not happen automatically.

“If you are interested and curious, your brain kicks into gear. I had depression, I know what that feels like. But there will be a moment when a little light will go on and you take advantage of that light. I was fascinated with how our brains work. ”

Ruby explains that you can train your mind through mindfulness exercises, which will help you worry less. For example, if you do mindfulness exercises while you are gardening, you will be in the present and enjoy what you are doing.

“But it won’t happen the first time, you have to train your brain,” she says.

Ruby says that the pandemic has made us realise that we are all lonely, we just didn’t realise it.

“We filled that gap by keeping busy. So when, during the pandemic, we were stuck at home with nothing but our thoughts to occupy our minds, many of us were unprepared how to deal with it.

“The thing about loneliness is excusing yourself for it. We are kidding ourselves if we think it is OK to have all this family, because ultimately we are alone. Your family will not always come to visit you. Being upset and brooding about it will give you a heart attack. Thinking about it – nobody visits me, nobody calls me – that is what will make you ill.”

There’s a difference between being lonely and being isolated, and there are things you can do with that time, she says. It’s when people are at their most inventive. Her new book, A Mindfulness Guide for Survival, is a workbook aimed at helping people through life’s ups and downs and when forced to confront what Ruby terms ‘the big six realities’ – difficult emotions, uncertainty, loneliness, change, dissatisfaction and death.

“I have certain weaknesses, I have certain habits, they don’t go away,” she says. “This isn’t about ringing bells and running through the streets with happiness, it’s about when your heart is breaking. This is a really good tool on how to be able to deal with it. And most of our hearts are breaking – a lot.”

Ruby knows this through her Frazzled Cafe charity. Frazzled Cafe began in 2017 in Marks & Spencer cafes in major towns and cities, including London, Brighton, Newcastle, Canterbury, and Newcastle-under-Lyme, as a place for people to meet and talk about their feelings.

These fortnightly ‘talk-in’ sessions operated after the shops had closed and were led by trained facilitators. They allowed the one-in-four people who were feeling ‘frazzled’ or overwhelmed by life to meet and talk about their problems in a safe and non-judgemental environment. The purpose was to allow them to talk openly with others who understood how they felt.

When Covid struck, Frazzled Cafe moved online, attracting an even wider audience.

“Some people are naturally resilient, I don’t happen to be that person,” says Ruby. “They are lucky. They also might be incredibly shallow. If you are kinda dumb, you might have a nice life.”

Modern living has seen an end to extended families and communities where people helped each other and elders passed on their wisdom to younger generations.

While doing crosswords and sudoku might improve a certain area of your brain, mindfulness helps with your focus and keeping your attention, says Ruby. She calls mindfulness a gym for the brain.

“Mindfulness should appeal because you sit down and do it, it’s a brain gym,” she says. “It’s not a miracle drug but it does help you to have more focus.

“With mindfulness, you become quite a beacon that people want to be around. People don’t want to be around someone who is moaning all the time. In the old days, the older one would be the wise one. If you are bitching, you are not the wise one.”

Ruby says that learning to talk about emotions is one way of dealing with feelings such as depression and loneliness.

“So many people from that generation are now more articulate about their feelings and they don’t feel caged in by their age,” she says. “They get who they are, they learn how to communicate and they did not grow up with that.”

As society changes, Ruby says it’s important to embrace change and learn how to cope with it. While some people are naturally resilient and sunny, others can struggle with change.

“Your taste changes, your friends have to change – if you want to hold on, it’s just going to make you miserable,” she says. “The same old, same old doesn’t work because the very nature of ageing means there will be change whether you like it or not and you had better get used to it.

“There was a time when you could be praised for being a nice person or being kind. But in this world, people like you to be successful, they like you to be beautiful. They know what you are doing, they are giving you merchandise that says you are not good enough, so we are surrounded now with these hidden enemies, what I call ‘weapons of mass distraction’.”

When the Frazzled Cafes went online, meeting an ever-growing need for a space to talk, Ruby noticed a change in what people were talking about.

“They can’t go to the shops because they are too afraid, someone’s mother is dying or they are overwhelmed and they don’t know where to start, everything is too daunting,” she says. “This is not mental illness, this is feeling frazzled. Is there anyone out there that feels this way? It’s when you are stressed about stress; ‘I shouldn’t be this lonely, no one else is this lonely, I am a failure’. OK, you’re alone. Let’s start with the book.”

Mindfulness teaches empathy and Ruby says that once people start mindfulness, they become more settled and comfortable in their own skin and much more attractive to others.

Ruby says there is no excuse for not taking up a new hobby or learning something new, and having a community of like-minded people around you will help.

“You can sign up for anything and learn anything now, the excuses are running out. There is always something that can be done. If you have a community, you will help each other, ” she says.

Goldie Hawn with Ruby on The Ruby Wax Show in 1997. Right: Ruby Wax opening the Frazzled Cafe

So if anyone says, ‘oh I can’t change’ or ’it’s too late for me’, put that out of your head

Ruby at the Hay Festival in 2014. Left: Campaigning for mental-health reforms with Alastair Campbell and politicians Norman Lamb and Andrew Mitchell

  • A Mindfulness Guide for Survival by Ruby Wax is published by Welbeck Publishing, priced £14.99. Out now.

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Messing about in your shed … to help others

From enabling a disabled toddler to ride his toy tractor to designing an electronic system to help a partially sighted man enjoy watching football matches again, the charity Remap has been making the impossible possible for thousands of people every year for free.

Among their volunteers is Martin Whillock, of Easingwold & District U3A in North Yorkshire. Martin has been volunteering for the charity for 20 years and sits on its branch in York. He points out that some of the solutions are quite simple or may involve an idea rather than actually making something.

“The satisfaction of radically changing someone’s life for the better is immense,” says Martin. “Some of our best gadgets are so very simple. For example, a big handle fixed to a car’s ignition key allowed the owner to drive again after two years – before then, she could not turn the key. Or a special knife to help a child eat who has toes grafted on to his fingerless hand.”

Some of the solutions include, as Martin puts it, a bit of lateral thinking, such as when he suggested to an older lady that using a chip pan basket in a pan of boiling water to boil potatoes was safer than attempting to pick up a saucepan of boiling water to strain the vegetables. The saucepan of hot water can then be emptied using a cup once the water is cold.

Recently, charity volunteers adapted three-year-old Theo’s toy tractor so he could ride it. Theo has a condition called TAR syndrome, which means he was born with very small arms and could not reach the steering wheel of his tractor. Remap volunteers took inspiration from modern driverless remote-controlled farm tractors and fitted a small steering wheel which Theo could easily reach. They added an electric motor and angle sensors which are programmed by a micro-computer to help Theo control the direction of the tractor. Within ten minutes of trying out the machine, Theo had mastered the controls and was soon racing around on his tractor.

In Southampton, Remap volunteers have developed activity boards to help the local hospital team assess the abilities of cancer patients during their treatment. And when farmer Alun lost his voice following laryngeal surgery, it was Remap volunteers who developed an electronic whistle so that he could carry on working his sheepdog.

As Martin points out: “The two things that Remap and the U3A have in common is that a lot of people have never heard of either of them! Yet they are both fantastic charities that do a lot of good.”

Martin wants to raise awareness of Remap in case there are any U3A members who need some help to solve a problem and to encourage members who would like to volunteer for the charity by either helping to make things, assisting with fundraising and publicity, or other admin roles. The charity is particularly keen to attract medical professionals, either retired or currently in work.

To find out more, visit or ring its national office on 01732 760209. Remap services are free.

An astonishing team of talented volunteers are making lives easier for people by designing free bespoke gadgets - often from odds and ends found in their sheds

Martin in his workshop

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Theo on his adapted tractor. Above: Martin’s knife design

martin horn

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Peaky Wallers who keep alive a valuable tradition

There are apparently 120,000 miles of dry-stone walls in the UK and 80 per cent of them need repairing. So Dronfield & District U3A’s dry-stone walling group in Derbyshire will never be short of work.

The group gets out twice a month into the Peak District National Park to repair holes in the walls made by sheep, cattle, the weather and sometimes even walkers clambering over.

Group leader Mike Baker, a volunteer at the National Park, started the group about seven years ago. They meet in all weathers under the guidance of park engagement ranger Tom Lewis.

With no previous knowledge of dry-stone walling, the mixed group provides a valuable contribution to this traditional country skill.

“Early stone walls have been dated at Skara Brae in Orkney some 5,000 years ago and we are proud to continue the tradition,” says Mike. “We can but hope that our walls will last at least another couple of hundred years without falling down.

“Tom is not only prepared to impart his knowledge and wisdom but also enters into the craic that ensues in our get-togethers. Our work continues irrespective of the weather, as we can experience all four seasons in one day. Never despondent, we are lucky to come together in a beautiful part of the world.

“Everyone agrees that exercise, fresh air and good company help us deal with what life throws at us and, in moments of quiet contemplation, what more can you ask for?”

The walls were built following the Enclosure Act to keep stock in. Today they are often replaced with wire unless they are repaired.

Dry-stone walls have different styles depending on where they are in the country. In Derbyshire, the coping stones at the top, which stop the weather getting in, are placed upright, whereas in the Lake District they are at a 45-degree angle. In Devon and Cornwall, stone walls are totally different again.

Often, a wall will collapse because the stones have disintegrated, so the Peaky Wallers, as they call themselves, have to find suitable replacements nearby. They work in pairs, building two walls with smaller stones in between to give stability.

Ranger Tom Lewis says: “The upkeep of the dry-stone walls of our Stanage/North Lees Estate by the Dronfield U3A team is such an asset in terms of not only restoring these valuable landscape features, but also in enhancing relationships with agricultural tenants and helping their livestock management to enhance conservation initiatives.

“The skills the team have learnt, and the practice over time, has meant hundreds of metres of walls have been repaired to a fine standard, and the engagement with the local Peak District landscape has given the team a great sense of ownership of their work.”

Come rain or shine (or hail or snow), volunteers provide a great service in the Peak District

Tom Lewis, Ian Mateer, Trevor Back, MikeBaker, Margaret Haddon, Marion Clyde

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meet the members

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Spotlight on... Tony Burke

Huddersfield U3A Watercolour for All group leader

How did your interest in art begin?

I studied fine art at Bradford School of Art, where David Hockney studied. He had been and gone by the time I arrived though. But I didn’t have a career in art. From there, I went to Leicester University and studied product design. I worked for a company that made industrial washing machines for a while but ended up as a furniture designer, which was quite good.

How difficult is it to paint in watercolour?

You’ve got to get it right first time with watercolour. You can keep altering oils or acrylics but you can’t do that with watercolour. Once you know the rules and pitfalls, it pays off. It’s hard to teach art, as it comes from within, but you can facilitate it by teaching the groundwork.

What are your teaching methods?

We go straight in by painting a picture. There’s no theory, they watch me do it. That’s what they want to do, to paint a picture. At the end of the session, they have something tangible that hopefully is not a big mess.

How did your Zoom classes come about?

Before the pandemic, some members of my group wanted something explained that I didn’t have time to do in the class. So I made a film and put it on YouTube and sent them the link. Word spread and hundreds joined in the weekly sessions. I don’t do them any more but they are still on YouTube. Then, when the pandemic struck, I did the classes on Zoom.

What equipment do you need to get started?

The right paper. That’s the only item that needs to be good quality. Watercolour paper costs about £1 a sheet. The biggest mistake is to buy a big kit of 50 paints, as that will stop you learning how to mix colours. You only need about half-a-dozen paints. I use 12 because I am a bit lazy. There are some colours you can’t mix, such as manganese blue, which is mostly used for flowers. I use cheap brushes; I have used sable ones but the best brush I bought was Chinese goat hair for £8.

What types of subject do you paint?

I do a bit of landscape but I get fed up of all the green so if it has a building in it, I am happy. I do a lot of townscapes and portraits.

What is the key to a great watercolour painting?

You have to get the drawing right first. With the drawing, you can always erase it if it is not right. But once you start putting the watercolour on, you can’t change that.

Tony ran a watercolour course for U3A members on Zoom during the lockdown. He still runs a Zoom class once a week. To join, email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He also has watercolour classes on YouTube if you search for his name.

One of Tony's paintings

peter alvey

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Come join us and help to shape your U3A!

Liz thackray: view from the chair

As a movement, we are also involved in campaigning activities around positive ageing

The past few weeks have been a hectic mixture of induction, meeting colleagues and attending meetings. Highlights included attending the East Midlands annual conference, with the opportunity to meet many U3A members, and a two-day Board meeting when the first day was spent with staff discussing our future strategy. There was lively discussion as we explored our aspirations, culture and priorities, and asked if there are things we do that are no longer relevant. We all welcomed the opportunity for Trustees and staff to share ideas and perspectives and to get to know each other.

Meeting together has highlighted how much the restrictions of the past months have influenced our relationships and expectations of each other – and how moving into the new normal is placing additional pressures on us all, whatever our role in the U3A. Much as we want to move forward, it is all the more important that we are kind to each other in what is still a difficult time. We are fortunate in having dedicated and hard-working staff and many members willing to serve on U3A committees, networks and as Trustees, but all of us have lives beyond the U3A. If it takes a little longer than hoped to get an answer to a query or to reach the right person on the phone, let’s try to be patient – or perhaps volunteer to train as an advice line volunteer and ease the burden on those already volunteering.

One of our discussions at the Board meeting focused on how members are recruited to Board committees. The Board has six main committees focusing on Diversity and Inclusion, Communications, Learning, Finance, Governance and Development. The membership of these committees is a mixture of Trustees and other U3A members with relevant skills and/or expertise. In addition, the Board of TATTL (the U3A trading company) comprises U3A members and Third Age Trust Trustees – sorry if that sounds a bit complicated! Recently both TATTL and the Governance committee have advertised vacancies in Third Age Matters and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee has invited interested U3A members to attend a coffee morning and perhaps join the committee.

These initiatives enable U3A members with appropriate skills and interests to be identified and appointed to these committees. We are now extending this recruitment process to all Board committees. If you are a U3A member and you see an advert that matches your skillset, please consider applying. This recruitment process will be open to all U3A members, whatever their experience of the U3A.

U3A members sometimes ask what forms of campaigning activity are legitimate in the U3A, a non-political organisation. This was also discussed by the Board as we congratulated Scottish U3As on gaining a presence at COP26, the international conference on climate change being held in Glasgow in November.

As a movement, we are also involved in campaigning activities around positive ageing and Push Back on Ageism. The Charity Commission provides clear guidance on legitimate forms of political and campaigning activity for organisations like us. Over the coming months we plan to develop training for U3As and U3A members interested in learning more about legitimate forms of campaigning activity that link to the purpose of the charity.

As you can see, there is a lot going on, but I reckon the highlights in the coming months, as in the past weeks, will be the opportunities to meet U3A members and hear all your stories.

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We can all contribute to our own destiny

eric midwinter: u3a founder

Over the years, I have often been asked where did my colleagues and I find previous models to assist our approach when we were formulating the University of the Third Age.

In a recent column, I referenced the Co-operative movement as one of those inspirations, where lay, or ‘ordinary’, people had eschewed official and professional control and organised their own affairs.

Naturally, we borrowed the French title but not the French concept, where each U3A is associated with a local university. We were keen to dilute the elitism of the university notion – one of our straplines was ‘if you want to start a university in your own front room or your own back garden, get on with it’.

It was also a conscious backlash against the prevailing mode of both public and charitable provision, which was rather patronising at the time. Darby & Joan clubs were much in vogue, for example.

With our community development background, we were much attuned to the concept of people having control of their own local affairs. The belief was – and still is – that the closer the citizens are to their services in terms of influence, the more effective the outcome. Parent governors and parent associations for schools; patient participation groups for surgeries; tenants’ associations on council-house estates, and so on. Michael Young, in particular, had a most resilient faith in the ability of all human beings to contribute to the invention of their own destiny.

A much more direct derivation came from the pre-school playgroup movement. There was a generation of U3A members who, when I mentioned this in talks, saw the connection from their own experiences. There may be members now who recall the heady experience of being thus involved.

It was in 1961 that Belle Tutaev wrote her famous letter to The Guardian with astonishing results – the formation of the Pre-School Playgroups Association (PPA) a year later with 150 group members. The PPA has since morphed into the Early Years Alliance, with 14,000 members bringing help with care and education to 800,000 families a year.

Although playgroups had something of a suburban image, I found, when working under Michael’s aegis in a socially deprived district in down town Liverpool where nursery facilities were negligible, that working-class parents, given support and a boost to confidence, were quite capable of organising playgroups and mother-and-toddler units. We quickly moved to the formation of more than a score of playgroups – and we encouraged the establishment of a playgroup Federation which, in terms of offering both practical and social support, proved highly constructive. I was invited about this time to become a vice-president of PPA.

We also ushered in the birth of the nation’s first playbus, the Paddington Playmobile, a double-decker bus refurbished as a project by the neighbourhood secondary school and launched by a very supportive local councillor with a bottle of suitably diluted orange juice. The playbus visited street corners to help groups that had not yet found suitable premises. The scheme was widely copied, so much so that a national body was formed. I was invited with my then four-year-old daughter to a 10th anniversary celebration, where we were given rosettes reading ‘I Did It First’ and ‘Daddy Did It First’.

Mutual aid. That is the key and it remains so. I have always thought it a cheering curio that the sterling endeavours of those Liverpool parents at one end gave me the assured belief that there would be a similar spirited response by citizens at the other end of the age-range when the University of the Third Age was being planned.

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a yearn to learn. in each issue, we showcase learning projects and subjects to inspire and educate

for more inspiring stories visit

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Life on the buses (and trains) of yesteryear

"Boys of Paddington Comprehensive School, Liverpool, decorate a playbus"/>

Transport for London corporate archives

Horses at Prince of Wales Yard, St John’s Wood c1900. Right: George Shillibeer, 1860

You can only imagine the scene – a two-year-old child, run over and killed by a horse-drawn omnibus in London’s St Martin’s Lane in 1861. The heartbroken mother, living close to the poverty line and with no means of burying her child, appeals to the bus company for help.

The minutes of the meeting at which her letter was read, record the following: “Read letter dated 5th inst. from Sarah Smith of 2 Wilson St, Hanover St, Long Acre asking for assistance from the Company to bury her child who was run over & killed in St. Martin’s Lane on 29th August by Omnibus No. 6734 – Resolved that a donation of £2 be given to the applicant.” Sep 1861.

As the vehicles were horse-drawn, accidents abounded, as evidenced by the following entry: “The Secretary submitted accounts amounting to £5,,9,,0 for Funeral expenses incurred in the burial of William Edwards a horse keeper in Hammersmith Yard who was kicked by one of the Company’s horses and whose death resulted therefrom...” July 1859.

The minute books often give a glimpse into the grants given to staff who have died, been injured or fallen on hard times. One entry reads: “An appeal made on behalf of William Walters, an aged and decayed Omnibus Proprietor of Brixton, for some assistance to maintain him until an asylum in some Charitable Institution can be obtained for him.” August 1861 .

Horse-buses were introduced in London in 1829, designed and operated by George Shillibeer. His service ran to a strict timetable, did not need to be booked, could be hailed anywhere along the route and fares were taken by a conductor. The idea proved so popular that within three years there were more than 400 horse-buses operating in London. In 1856, the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) entered this crowded market, which they were soon to dominate.

Public transport in London began as a mix of independent bus and rail companies. Most of the lines on today’s Transport for London’s iconic Tube map began life as individual companies before gradually being brought together.

The Metropolitan Railway – the world’s first underground railway - opened in 1863, followed by the Metropolitan District Railway in 1868. The City & South London Railway, which opened in 1890, was the first deep-level underground railway, or ‘Tube’, and the first to use electric traction. The Waterloo and City Railway followed in 1898 and the Central London Railway in 1900.

The first private umbrella company, the Underground Electric Railways Company (UERL), was formed in 1902 before the London Passenger Transport Act of 1933 merged the various underground railway, tram and omnibus operators to provide a single public transport authority for the capital.

These companies generated and preserved records, most significantly the minutes of meetings at which they made decisions; explaining what happened, when, on whose authority and why. Within these pages is evidence of prices paid, relationships made, new work started or completed, artists commissioned and experiments abandoned. They also go beyond the immediacy of business activity, recording the effects of national, social and economic events.

For example, on 7 November, 1918, the minutes contain the following reference to the Spanish Flu pandemic record: “A heavy proportion of the Staff had been absent from duty owing to the influenza epidemic but it was considered that the worst week had passed.”

On 14 December, 1914, the minutes considered the effects of World War I on how the company operated: “In consequence of the considerable number of women clerks being employed in the offices and to the fact that the means of obtaining suitable hot luncheons in the neighbourhood of the offices were very limited, arrangements had been made to provide a luncheon club for the women clerical staff.”

The impact of air raids on the network in World War 1 noted: “… in the event of such raids occurring the Police would not be in a position to afford assistance. It was resolved that … Station Premises should not be closed in case of a raid and that the matter be left to the Managing Director to issue suitable instructions to the Staff so as to ensure as far as possible the safety of the travelling public.” 14 January, 1915.

And here is one company’s response to the General Strike: “… the Directors would wish to ….hear at first hand an account of the situation of the Companies throughout the general strike, /and to join in the congratulations to them upon the result…. the Unions …. admitted they had done the Companies a great wrong in calling the strike, and expressed the hope that the future relations with the Companies would be on a much more satisfactory footing than in the past.” 20 May, 1926.

There are also examples of acts of bravery or recognition: “The Managing Director reported that on November 30th, what might have been a fatal accident to a passenger, who owing to faintness fell on the West Bound Track at Leicester Square Station in front of No 4 train (4 car) was averted by the prompt and intelligent action of Porter Corbett and Motorman Savage…” 8 December, 1910.

The minutes paint a picture of life in London, with many examples of those living near the poverty line and of prosecutions for crimes committed on company property, such as this:“Mary Ann Edwards was committed for trial on 23rd inst. on the prosecution of the Company from Clerkenwell Police Court for picking pockets in Omnibus No. 6627” August, 1860.

There are also claims against the London General Omnibus Company for suspected ‘nursing’ - the practice of running an additional service directly in front of or behind a competitor to take away its trade, or as the lawyers for the company explain in November 1859: “An action… against a Company for conspiracy and maliciously intending to injure another party in his Trade.”

The project

The U3A assignment is part two of the TfL Corporate Archives Revealing the Past project and will focus on the minute books of The Underground Electric Railways Company from its formation in 1902 to its merger into the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933.

This period covers the opening of new railways and the electrification of the District Railway. The company begins to think more about its corporate identity, advertising and the customer experience. Artists such as Paul Nash and Enid Marx are commissioned to design posters and seating fabrics, and Leslie Green and Charles Holden are engaged to design Underground stations.

This is also a period of huge social change including the rise of trade unions, the women’s suffrage movement, the First World War, the General Strike, the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression. It is hoped the project will uncover more first-hand evidence of how these national and world events impacted on the company.

The project will run remotely, so there is no need for volunteers to be London-based. Digitised copies of the minute books will be uploaded to a volunteer site together with guidance, and volunteers will be asked to complete transcriptions to create fully accessible versions of this material for the first time. Once completed, these transcriptions and original images will be made publicly available through a digital archive portal.

TfL Corporate Archives, together with the U3A, will be launching phase two of the project in January 2022, with an online introductory workshop. It will be an opportunity to find out more about the project and see if you want to join the team and help us reveal TfL’s past.

How to join up

If you are interested in the history of transport or learning about social and political happenings in the 19th century, we would love to hear from you. You will get lots of support and encouragement to join in.

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

U3A members are being invited to transcribe a collection of early-century minute books belonging to Transport for London Corporate Archives to understand what it was like to manage, travel on and work for London transport between 1855 and 1933

As we build up the details of the companies‘ daily activities, we are also painting a picture of life in London

From left: Horse-buses on the Strand, c1900. Extract from London General Omnibus minute book, July 1859. Metropolitan Railway and connections map, 1924

Transport for London corporate archives

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How to deliver a great speech

Former management trainer Patrick Forsyth, of Maldon & District U3A, is used to giving talks at conferences. Here, he takes a light-hearted look at the perils facing those who speak in public

We can all have a chat and swap gossip but sometimes we may have to do something rather more formal. Ask some people to stand up and address an audience and they go to pieces, or to Reykjavik. Anything at all rather than do it.

Few people are natural public speakers but with knowledge and preparation it can be done. Those who make it look easy tend to do so because they work at it. Anyone can give an acceptable, workmanlike talk and many find it is something they can excel at if they go about it in the right way.

Those organising speakers for U3A events need to make sure that those they invite will be effective. However, sometimes we pick unwisely or are surprised to find someone proves rather different from their profile.

The nightmare

If someone stands up totally unprepared then, oh dear, things can go wrong. At best people stumble, they hesitate, and they sweat. They begin every other sentence with the superfluous word “Basically”. They say “Um, err … at this moment in time perhaps I could literally start with a story, err, well an anecdote really, it’s not too long and err… This can sound unprofessional and apologetic, when the first job should be establishing real rapport.

Just when they should impress their audience, exude confidence and use words to ensure clarity, they upset or confuse them. Exactly what is said and how it is put matters. As Bob Hope used to say of his early performances, “If the audience liked you, they didn’t applaud, they let you live”.

At worst, people go on too long, their explanation explains nothing and where they are going is wholly unclear. Some fidget endlessly, others remain stock still, gripping the table or lectern in front of them until their knuckles go white and fear rises from them like a mist. Still others are apt to pick holes in people in the audience, or their noses.

If they use slides, then they can only be read from the back of the room with a telescope, something made worse by them asking brightly “Can you see alright at the back?” despite the fact that there is precious little they can do about it if the answer is “no”, and in any case they should not be asking, they should know their slides are legible.

They barely pause for breath, as they rush from one word to the next, many of them inappropriately chosen and as many more too long. Indeed, the only long word of which some speakers appear ignorant is rehearsal. Perhaps worst of all they spend long moments reading lengthy text from their slides, whilst standing with their back to the audience as they look at the screen.

Of course, a few believe that giving a talk is second nature. They believe they can wing it. They are convinced that they know their stuff and how to put it over. The first rule for the inappropriately overconfident is, of course, to assume that the audience is as thick as they look and will, provided the right level of impenetrable gobbledegook is hit, instantly conclude that they are in the presence of a master.

They take winging it to mean that if they want people to actually understand even the gist of what is said, then certain steps must be taken. So, they talk v-e-r-y … s-l-o-w-l-y; use simple words, and generally proceed on the basis that the audience have the brains of a retarded dormouse. They spell out complicated bits in CAPITAL LETTERS, speaking more loudly as they do so. Though they are always careful not to be condescending, as that will upset people (you do know what condescending means, don’t you?).

For this kind of speaker, being on their feet is something to savour. They need only the briefest of introductions and they are away, moving quickly past the first slide without noticing that it is upside down, rattling the coins in their trouser pocket at 90 decibels (well, the men), with the audience hanging on their every repetitive mannerism as they mutter to themselves “If they scratch their ear whilst stood on one leg again, I’m walking out”. It makes lesser mortals feel all too sadly inadequate – even the famous: it was Mark Twain who reportedly said, “It normally takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech”. Poor man; just as well he was a good writer.

Standing up in front of a U3A audience (or any other) knowing that they would rather chew off their own fingers than sit and listen to someone who cannot make the simplest point clear, is rather like being pushed into a lion’s den. Without an understanding of how to go about it in the right way, anyone will be in deep, deep trouble. No audience will warm to a speaker who is ill prepared and who flounders through a speech that is tedious, confusing and poorly delivered. And nor will they do so either, if the speaker is poor through unthinkingly believing they can wing it. Furthermore, no poor speaker is likely to acquire the requisite skills by magic in the few seconds between being introduced and rising to their feet to speak.

So, for group leaders, maybe sending a copy of this article should be part of the briefing for any speaker you sign up. As a member, if you yourself aim to speak and are not in fact a natural - and few people are - you may wisely give it some thought before you get to your feet. Once you are actually in the lion’s den it is a little late to discover that salvation is not guaranteed by saying “Nice pussycat”.

Patrick’s book 100 Great Presentation Ideas is published by Marshall Cavendish

Some fidget endlessly, others remain stock still, gripping the lectern until their knuckles go white and fear rises from them like a mist

Cartoon by ron mcgeary

As key tips, always consider:

  • Intention: do you aim to inform, enthuse, entertain - or a mix?
  • Structure: always have a beginning, a middle and an end
  • What you will say: you may well have to omit and be succinct
  • How you will say it: emphasis and pace are key, not everything is of the same importance and varying your delivery helps maintain attention
  • Make sure your notes are clear and easy to read – and practice!

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Give us a cryptic clue!

Bob Rotheram, of Arnold U3A in Nottinghamshire, gives his tips on solving cryptic crosswords. More tips on the Letters pages

1 Choose the ‘right’ level – not too hard or easy. Good for beginners are those in tabloid newspapers. Or buy a book of them, so you have a ready supply.

2 Most clues are in two parts, both leading to the answer. One part is the ‘definition’ (the meaning of the answer) and the rest is a cryptic (mysterious) way of getting to the answer. If you can reach the answer in two ways, you’re almost certainly correct.

3 The definition is nearly always at either the beginning or end of the clue. Try to work out which, remembering it may be more than one word.

4 Think laterally. Let your brain freely associate around a clue. What other words or phrases occur to you? What could the setter possibly have in mind?

5 When you get stuck, move on – to another clue or even a different activity. Returning later, you may see instantly an answer that previously eluded you.

6 Use the ‘enumeration’. Clues end with a number, or numbers, in brackets – for example (8) or (3,6,4) – signalling the length of the word(s) in the answer. If more than one word is indicated, put a faint line in the grid between the words of the solution. When you’ve got a few letters, being able to see where words begin and end can make the job easier.

7 Write anagrams out in a ‘clump’. Put the letters in a circle, anticlockwise, with some in the middle. That way, the possibilities may be easier to see.

8 Write partial solutions in a horizontal line, like this: S _ _ V I _ G. Do it for words going down as well as across – you’ll be able to visualise the possibilities better (SERVING, SHOVING, SOLVING…)

9 Study the solution. Try hard to understand why answers are what they are. Doing this routinely will gradually increase your skill.

10 Be patient and stick at it! Becoming good at something requires time and practice, practice, practice. Sadly, with cryptic crosswords it’s likely to take months and years, not days and weeks.

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subject advisers

Are you looking for support to set up or run a group? The u3a has around 80 Subject Advisers who can help you. Each Subject Adviser also has a page packed with useful information AT under the ‘Learning’ tab


BOOK GROUPS Richard Peoples This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01313375914

Classic Rock and Roll Martin Hellawell This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07914 847722

COMEDY & HUMOUR Geoff Futcher This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

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

JAZZ APPRECIATION Michael Rance This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01252 616937

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

POETRY Ray Solly This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01303 250144

SHAKESPEARE Ray Waterhouse This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07808 928826


CRAFTS Kelly Benton This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01824 702624

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

PAINTING AND DRAWING TECHNIQUES Gail Lea This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01304 206892

PHOTOGRAPHY Peter Read This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01722 501218

PLAY READING Ann Anderson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01539 533696

STAGE PRODUCTION Andrew Ings This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01376 322884

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


AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY Maria Chester This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01890 781500

ARCHAEOLOGY Marilyn Palmer This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0116 231 4657

BRITISH HISTORY Ian McCannah This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01707 870142

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

GENEALOGY Stephen Dyer This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07557 134343

GERMAN HISTORY Michael Austin This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07792 892578

LIVING HISTORY Jo Livingston This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01322 440539

MILITARY HISTORY Mike Fox This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01737 350452


CLASSICAL GREEK Steve Addis This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01570 434691

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

FRENCH Sylvia Duffy This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01584 872807

GERMAN Alastair Sharp This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01903 856397

LATIN Trevor Davies This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01925 261030

modern LANGUAGES - focus on italian Heather Westrup This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01923 283577

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

WELSH Gareth Williams This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01443 451517


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

AVIATION Clynt Perrott This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01793 695149

BALLROOM DANCING Gill & Greg Greenhalgh This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01900 267051

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

Bridge Jack Rouse This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07930 983214

Canasta & Bolivia Margaret Thompson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07798 736909

Chess Rob Kruszynski and David Castle This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and

Cryptic crosswords Henry Howarth This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01202 760478

Cycling – social Les Jarman This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01730 261349

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

Mah jong Hilvary Robinson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01590 672825

Metal detecting Sue Fletcher This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07725 404515

PHILATELY Jeff Armstrong This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 018907 81400

Piano Keith Jacobsen

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Quizzes AND MURDER MYSTERIES Chris Wright This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ukulele Kenneth Cockburn 01925 764571 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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


Research Rodney Buckland This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01732 820031

Shared learning projects Maggy Simms This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Astronomy Martin Whillock FRAS This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01347 821849

Climate change Frances Halliday This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 020 8886 3773

Geology – earth science Ros & Ian Mercer This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01245 441201

GeoGRAPHY Jeff Armstrong This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 018907 81400

Maths and stats David Martin This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0115 877 6488

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

psychology Jane Bellworthy This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07974406959

Science Mike Hollingsworth This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0161 439 2865

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

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

Crown green bowling Andy Cowan This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01543 274966

PICKLEBALL David Pechey This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07785958940

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

Tennis Charles Jeans 01765640553

walking & Walking Sports

walking Terry Dykes, Kevin Millard and Bernard Owen This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07816674356

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

Walking Football Edward Hagger This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07730448470

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Current affairs Bill Garvey This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 020 8868 5030

Exploring world faiths Peter Rookes This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0121 477 2282

Philosophy Shri Sharma This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0121 711 4568

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


Health matters Richard Franklin This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07968802173

Learning to be Retired Carol Ellis This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 020 8462 4849

Mindfulness and meditation Nancy Taylor This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07847 547125

Tai chi and qi gong Pat Ryan This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 01142 368749/ 07840 191720

Wellbeing with Nature Susan Collini This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07799 892900

Yoga Peter Burton This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07885 907662

Tim Williams, Subject Adviser for Natural History, gives advice on setting up your own group

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Discovering the natural environment

Start with what you’ve got

Once you have launched the idea within your U3A, find out if any members have some wildlife knowledge. Are they keen bird watchers, have they planted a wildlife area in their garden, can they identify wildflowers or perhaps they are wildlife photographers?

As convener, you may not have these skills or knowledge but someone else might. Check if anyone belongs to a relevant organisation, such as The Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust or Buglife.

Your first activity

A good place to start is a trip to a local wildlife reserve. These have volunteer wardens who manage the site and are usually willing to show groups round. Visits to country parks and estates are also useful. These places will often arrange for a knowledgeable ranger to show you around, usually for a small fee. Once you are familiar with a site, you can visit when you like.

Develop your skills

It’s important you learn to identify what you see. This involves changing your focus when you walk around. Don’t forget to look down or turn logs over and replace them carefully. Listen to the birds or look for animal tracks. My nature walks are seldom more than a mile but can take up to two hours.


To help with recognising what’s what, you will need some identification aids. NHBS, which supplies field equipment, has a comprehensive list of useful books and will send you a catalogue. Another main source is the Field Studies Council, which produces excellent identification guides for particular groups of animals and plants. These are in the form of encapsulated cards and can be carried around easily. I particularly like their packs, which are good value and often include identification booklets. I also find the Collins Guides really useful. With creepy crawlies, I prefer secondhand books because early editions are illustrated with drawings, which makes identification easier. However, with fungi I prefer photographs. You could build up a good selection of materials in your group which can be shared. You will not require much equipment to start with but the NHBS catalogue will give you plenty of ideas for the future.

Make it real

As you get more confident, ask a group member to create a spreadsheet to record your finds. Use headings such as ‘butterflies’, ‘birds’, ‘wildflowers’, ‘invertebrates’ and ‘fungi’. Record where and when you found it and, importantly, who found it. Perhaps include a comments column, such as were there lots of them, what was the weather like, and so on. It’s great when you find something for the first time and see your name against it. Building a list of fauna and flora from your area or even just your garden is real science. It will be a unique record over time and is genuine research.

Indoor activities

I have never had an indoor meeting with my group. The environment is our meeting place but if you have a convenient venue, then use it to share your experiences and report back. Visiting speakers either in person or via Zoom can be costly.

Finally, if you have any questions, then ask me. I may not know the answer but will probably know someone who does. I’d be interested to know how you are getting on. Good luck and happy hunting.

  • Contact Tim by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Organise a visit to a wildlife reserve

Change your focus when out walking

peter alvey

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The importance of health as we age

There are many things we can do… and raising health awareness is one of them

Richard Franklin and Stuart Williams, of Fleet U3A in Hampshire, joint Subject Advisers for Health Matters In Later Life, can help you start up a wellness group in your U3A

Keeping active is key to staying well. Pauline Lenney runs the Nordic walking and e-bike groups at Lancaster & Morecambe U3A

increasing need for health and wellbeing groups today

Against a backdrop of an ageing population and now the Covid pandemic, the pressures on our National Health Service have never been greater. As a consequence, there is a growing need for us all to take some responsibility for our own health.

Raising health awareness is therefore particularly important now. Demands on our local GP surgeries are only likely to increase in the months and possibly even years to come as they cope with the backlog not only of the usual complaints of later life, such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis (brittle bones), but also now the legacy of the pandemic and long Covid.

Individually, we may be able to help if we better understand how to stay healthier for longer.

Advancing age and health

While people are living longer today – life expectancy has risen to 79 years for men and 83 years for women – our healthy life expectancy (the period for which we remain in self-assessed ‘good health’) is only 63 and 64 respectively.

Many factors influence our health as we age – some we can change and some we can’t. But of those that we can, awareness could be invaluable. While osteoarthritis and osteoporosis may ‘go with the territory’, there are nevertheless things we can do. For example, absorption of calcium, essential for our bones, is dependent on our vitamin D3 levels. As we age, this process becomes less efficient and we may need to take a vitamin supplement. Similarly, as we get older, our balance may not be as good as it once was and we could be prone to falls, but there are things we can do to mitigate this.

minimising health problems

There are many steps we can take to lessen the effects of advancing years. Raising health awareness is one of them, and very much a key objective of our Health and Wellbeing Group here in Fleet in Hampshire.

Our group was established in 2015 and, from just a handful of people at the start, we now have a regular attendance at our monthly meetings of some 40-60 folks. We have been fortunate in securing some excellent speakers, many from national charities, covering a wide range of health topics from diet and nutrition to exercise and the part each plays in our general wellbeing.

But the group also seeks to raise awareness of little-appreciated problems such as the now rapidly increasing prevalence of Lyme disease, a nasty bacterial infection which can be caught from ticks in the long grass while out walking.

Then there are the more common problems, such as raised blood pressure, which can now so easily and quickly be measured at home.

  • If you would like to know more about setting up a Health and Wellbeing group, please contact Dr Richard Franklin (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Stuart Williams (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) for advice.

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food by beverley jarvis

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Festive fayre

If you are struggling for ideas this festive season, Beverley Jarvis, of Ashford, Wye & District U3A, has some suggestions . . .

With the shorter days, many of our thoughts are turning towards comfort cooking and delicious recipes with a Christmassy feel. Due to Covid, there is a degree of uncertainty whether we will be able to get together in numbers over the festive period, so I have developed a special dinner party menu that can easily be doubled or quadrupled. I hope you will enjoy preparing, cooking and eating the menu at some point over the festive season.

Don’t feel that you need always serve carbohydrate in the form of potatoes, rice or pasta with the main meal. As the beetroot dip is fairly filling and the cheesecake decadent, I promise your guests will not miss potatoes with the pork chops. You can always serve warm bread rolls in a basket instead.

To make life easy, make the beetroot dip and cheesecakes the day before and chill, covered.

Beetroot and cannellini bean dip

Serves 4

This vibrant bright pink dip is full of flavour and tastes yummy. It looks particularly festive served in a white dish on a large platter surrounded by raw carrot halves and slices of green, red and yellow bell peppers for dipping. Humble beetroot is a great source of dietary iron and folic acid as well as energy-giving carbohydrate. With zero fat content, studies have shown that eating beetroot regularly can help reduce high blood pressure and improve stamina.

The dip is also good served warm as a vegetable dish to accompany roast meats and chicken, or as a filling for jacket potatoes. Any leftovers can be stored, covered, in the fridge for three days.

300g (approx) beetroot, unpeeled but washed

1 x 400g tin cannellini beans, drained

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley (or 1 tsp dried parsley)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 rounded tbsp smooth peanut butter

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 tsp mild curry powder

A little salt and pepper

To Serve

Vegetable crudités such as carrot, colourful bell peppers and celery sticks

1 Put the whole beetroot into a large saucepan and just cover with boiling water. Cover pan with a lid and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, until tender. Test with point of a sharp knife, as for potatoes. Drain and set aside to cool. When cool enough to touch, peel and chop into rough chunks.

2 Put the beetroot into a food processor, fitted with the metal blade. Process to a puree.

3 Add remaining ingredients and blitz to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

4 Serve in a small bowl with vegetable crudités.

beverley jarvis is a home economist and cookery writer. find more of her recipes at

Pork chops with broccoli, red wine and damson sauce

Serves 2

We have a damson tree in our garden, so I was able to pick the just-ripe fruit in late September. If you can’t find damsons, use Victoria plums and cut in quarters if too big. A medium-size lean pork chop provides approximately 34g protein, 10g fat (4g of which is saturated) and 0g carbohydrate. Pork is a good source of selenium, linked to lowering prostate cancer risks in men.

2 medium-size pork chops (about 3½in thick)

2 tsp sunflower oil

1 small red onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, crushed

8 damsons, just-ripe works best, halved and stoned

75ml red wine

25ml port

A few sprigs fresh thyme

12ml chicken stock

Salt and pepper

To Serve

Steamed broccoli, optional; toasted flaked almonds for sprinkling

1 Season the chops on both sides with a little salt and pepper.

2 Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and cook the chops for about 4-6 minutes on each side, depending on thickness, until cooked to your liking.

3 Transfer chops to a dinner plate. Cover with foil and keep warm.

4 Make the sauce: Add the onion to the frying pan, ensuring first that there is about 1 tablespoon fat left in the pan. If more, drain excess off and use in another recipe. If insufficient remains, add a splash of oil.

5 Cook the onion, stirring over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook stirring for a further minute.

6 Add damsons, red wine, port, thyme and the stock.

7 Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 2-3 minutes. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper.

8 Serve the chops with steamed broccoli (if using), sprinkled with a few toasted flaked almonds and the damson sauce on the side.

Lemon, mango and strawberry cheesecakes

Serves 2

This pretty dessert is delicious and refreshing, with plenty of protein and some fat in the cream cheese and yoghurt. Mangos contain more than 20 vitamins and minerals, helping to make them a superfood. Just 80g of mango counts as one of your five-a-day, and studies have found that the fruit is particulary beneficial for digestion.

25g butter

40g digestive biscuits, crushed in a plastic bag, using a rolling pin

100g cream cheese

100g Greek-style yoghurt (5 per cent fat)

1 rounded tbsp lemon curd, homemade if possible

Grated rind ½ lemon

1-2 tsp lemon juice, to taste

1 ripe mango, peeled and diced

4 strawberries, halved

Flaked almonds for sprinkling (optional)

1 Melt the butter in a medium-size, non-stick saucepan, over a medium heat. Remove pan from heat and stir in the biscuit crumbs.

2 Divide the sand-like mixture between 2 sundae dishes or large wine glasses. Flatten with back of a dessertspoon.

3 In a medium-size mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth, then beat in the yoghurt and lemon curd, with the lemon rind and juice.

4 Divide half of the chopped mango between the serving dishes, then spoon the cream cheese mixture over the mango, dividing it evenly.

5 Chill for an hour or so, or overnight, before serving, decorated with remaining mango and strawberries.

6 Leave the cake to stand in the tin for 3-4 minutes, then turn out onto large platter. Finally, sprinkle with the flaked almonds, if using. l

Have you tried making Beverley's recipes? Send your photos to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. We'd love to hear from you!

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fast rewind

Comedy classics, the joy of Steam trains, and A Canadian evacuee’s story

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What makes me laugh

Colin Read, of Croydon U3A, loves a bit of comedy. Here are a few of his favourite sketches, from Laurel and Hardy to Les Dawson …

Probably one of the funniest vintage sketches I’ve ever seen was the great Robb Wilton playing Mr Muddlecombe, a minor official who is completely out of his depth in whichever job he is trying to perform, from justice of the peace to prison governor. His fire station sketch from the 1920s is one of his best, and still funny 100 years later. Happily, it survives on film and recording, and can be seen on YouTube.

He is the local fire chief and a distressed lady rushes into the station, saying her house is on fire.It goes something like this:

“A fire, you say? Well, what’s the address?”“Grimshaw Street.”“Grimshaw Street? I know it but can’t quite place it. I could probably walk there but can’t think for the life of me where it is! No don’t tell me. Let me work it out for myself.”“It’s next to Whiteley Street! Please hurry!”“Whitely Street? Whitely Street. Oh yes, I know it now. You’ll need to fill in a form, by the way, while I get my colleague on the speaking tube.” He fumbles through his desk looking for the form. “Turning a bit warmer today.”“Can you please hurry?”“Yes, madam, all in good time. What number, by the way?”

Another performer of the time, of similar vintage, was Norman Evans, with his North Country housewife sketch, Over the garden wall. Dressed in drag as the woman, Fanny Lawton, he would be in an imaginary conversation with the neighbour. Half-sentences abounded.

“Can you lend me bit of lard? Give it yer back Tuesday? No, well never mind. Can’t get it on points.”

Wonderful stuff. Many years later, Les Dawson recreated, in part, the role as Cissie with the wonderful Roy Barraclough as Ada in their hilarious sketches. Talking about her honeymoon, Ada asks whether she was “you know, virgo intacto at the time”. After a suitable pause with wonderful facial expressions, Cissie replies: “No, bed & breakfast!”

The Marx Brothers made some wonderfully funny films, Duck Soup (1933) and A Night at the Opera (1935) being two of the best and pure anarchy. One brilliant scene I recall (source forgotten) involved Groucho being the manager of an hotel, trying to cut costs. In conversation with one of his staff, the dialogue went like this:

“We’re spending far too much on food at this hotel. If someone asks for a four-minute egg for his breakfast, give him a three-minute egg; if he asks for a three-minute egg, give him a two-minute egg; if he asks for a two-minute egg, give him the chicken and let him work it out for himself!”

Laurel and Hardy, of course, were a cut above the comedy films of the time. Way out West was wonderfully funny as they dance together to the strains of The Lonesome Pine. The way that Oliver always came to grief, being submerged in the river or falling on his ample backside, to the utter bewilderment of Stan, never fails to amuse. Look out for Hardy’s beautifully delicate hand movements, remarkable for such a big man.

In The Music Box (1932), the pair are required to deliver an upright piano in a box up a seemingly endless set of steps.

Naturally, they manage to drop the box, to the sound of dreadful jangling inside. When they reach the house at the top, they’re told they could have taken the piano round by the road behind. Instead of delivering the box there and then, they embark on carrying it back down the 80-odd steps to reload the piano and drive it round as suggested. Hilarious.

Tony Hancock has to be included, with wonderful scripts from Galton & Simpson. In The Reunion Party, having stocked up with enough alcohol to sink a battleship, he finds that his old army comrades have changed out of all recognition. The first, expected to be the life and soul of the party, has become a meek, henpecked, teetotal, vegetarian bank clerk with a delicate stomach and severe wife. Another gets all the names wrong and a third, who used to dress as Mae West, has donned a clerical collar. The last arrival, raring to go and get at the booze and food, gets the door slammed in his face. “I remember him. He was the most miserable bloke in the platoon!” Classic.

I have to include the talented Joyce Grenfell, with her wonderful revues, such as A Terrible Worrier, and who can forget Nursery School (Flowers)?

I was lucky enough to see the great Max Wall towards the end of his career. Playing the piano and dressed in his absurd black tights, a bit of ballet produced the line “I can do Rudolph ‘Nearenough’s act but he can’t do mine!”

And finally, Kenneth Williams. His sketch I’ve Got A Viper In This Box, which takes place in a railway compartment, is superb with his remarkable ‘stop messin’ about’ voice. “Do you know what I’ve got in this box?”, he asks to a disinterested passenger in the compartment.“Go on. I bet you can’t guess! It’s not an asp. Oooh no, it’s not an asp. Wouldn’t have an asp. It’s a viper! They’re much easier to keep.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed my stroll down comedy lane.

Laurel and Hardy in 1932’s The Music Box

Clockwise from right: Robb Wilton as

Mr Muddlecombe,

1934. The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, 1933. Kenneth Williams. Roy Barraclough and Les Dawson as Cissie and Ada. Joyce Grenfell

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Memories of steam

Julian Holland relives his childhood trainspotting days aboard steam-hauled trains of the 1960s

Carlisle to Glasgow Central

Passengers on the down Royal Scot on 1 August, 1964, were none too pleased when their English Electric Type 4 diesel failed as the train arrived at Carlisle. They probably didn’t notice two excited teenage boys (myself and my friend Peter) boarding the train as the diesel was taken off and replaced by a rather grimy BR Standard Class ‘7’ 4-6-2 No. 70002 Geoffrey Chaucer.

As it was a Saturday, the express should have left Carlisle at 4.07pm but eventually left for its journey north at 4.32pm. Poor old Geoffrey Chaucer really wasn’t up to the task but our two trainspotters faithfully recorded every bit of the journey in their notebooks, spending most of the journey with their heads out of the window!

The first part of the journey up Annandale was excruciatingly slow: Quintinshill, Kirtlebridge and Ecclefechan all being passed at a measly 36mph; Lockerbie was passed at 63mph before we made an unscheduled stop at Beattock at 5.34pm to attach a banking engine. So far we had covered 39-and-a-half miles in 62 minutes – some express! After a three-and-a-half minute stop at Beattock, we were off again, breasting the summit at 6.01pm at a speed of 30mph. From then on it was all downhill and Geoffrey Chaucer did his best to speed things up a bit along the Clyde Valley: Elvanfoot was passed at 69mph; Crawford and Abington at 72mph, Lamington at 70mph before slowing for Carstairs (6.25pm), which we passed at 35mph. Speed slowly picked up again with a maximum of 65mph recorded at Carluke (6.36pm) and 63mph at Shieldmuir Junction. Glasgow Central was reached at 7pm – exactly one hour late. The passengers were pretty fed up but the two trainspotters were ecstatic. Obviously in poor condition, Geoffrey Chaucer and his crew had done their best, covering the 102-and-a-quarter miles in 2hrs 28min at an average speed of 41.39mph. These days, the Pendolinos only take around 1hr 15min at an average speed of nearly 82mph. Progress indeed, but I would rather arrive one hour late behind a steam loco.

Geoffrey Chaucer was finally withdrawn from Carlisle Kingmoor shed in January 1967 and sent to the great steam scrapheap in the sky.

Aberdeen to Glasgow Buchanan Street

Our intrepid trainspotters had caught the 8.25am three-hour express (aka ‘The Grampian’) from Glasgow Buchanan Street to Aberdeen on 31 July, 1964. Sadly the hoped-for ‘A4’ didn’t materialise and we had to be content with Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. Type 2 D5368. After a trawl around Ferryhill (all steam including seven ‘A4s’) and Kittybrewster (all diesels apart from stored No. 60007), we returned on the 1.30pm to Glasgow Buchanan Street, supposedly the up ‘The Grampian’ express but in reality a stopping train taking four hours for the 153-mile journey via Forfar.

At the head of our train was ‘A4’ 4-6-2 No. 60019 Bittern which, despite the numerous stops along the way, managed to achieve some reasonable speeds: 72mph between Aberdeen and Stonehaven; 70mph between Stonehaven and Laurencekirk; 66mph between Laurencekirk and Bridge of Dun; 65mph between Bridge of Dun and Forfar; 73mph between Forfar and Coupar Angus; 73mph between Coupar Angus and Perth; 64mph between Perth and Gleneagles; 66mph between Gleneagles and Dunblane; 78mph between Dunblane and Stirling; 78mph between Stirling and Larbert.

Our trainspotters were also lucky to have a ride behind No. 60024 Kingfisher between Stirling and Buchanan Street on August 23, 1966, just before the end of the ‘A4s’ swan song on this route. Happy days!

Banbury to Oxford

The York to Bournemouth through train was an interesting route, travelling via the Great Central line through Woodford Halse and Banbury. Here, on a sunny 9 September, 1965, our two trainspotters boarded the train for the journey down to Oxford. They were lucky indeed as, although the reign of steam on the Western Region was due to end in just under four months, our train engine which came on at Banbury was ‘Hall’ Class 4-6-0 No. 4920 (formerly Dumbleton Hall but by then minus its valuable nameplates) of Bristol (Barrow Road) shed.

Our train left Banbury at 2.42pm, passing King’s Sutton at 2.50pm, Aynho at 2.53pm and reaching 60mph at Fritwell, which was passed at 2.56pm. Unfortunately, the train was halted by signals at Heyford for nine minutes but put on a good spurt of speed, reaching 64mph between Bletchingdon and Kidlington, which was passed at 3.18pm. Wolvercote Junction was passed at 59mph and we came to a screeching halt at Oxford station at 3.25pm where the Bournemouth to York train was seen heading northbound behind ‘Modified Hall’ 4-6-0 N0. 7912 Little Linford Hall.

This was the author’s last journey behind an ex-GWR loco before the end of steam on BR. Luckily, Dumbleton Hall survived withdrawal at the end of 1965 and was saved for preservation after having spent over 10 years at Woodham’s scrapyard in Barry.

Ex-LNER ‘A4’ Class 4-6-2 No 60019 Bittern near Gleneagles with a Glasgow to Aberdeen express in 1966

Geoffrey Chaucer departing from Carlisle with the down Royal Scot on 1 August 1964. Somewhere on this train, with his head out the window, was the author logging the journey to Glasgow Central

Colour-Rail/Rob Tibbits / Julian Holland

Below: The author logging the journey of a Bittern hauling an Aberdeen to Glasgow Buchanan Street in July 1964

● Presenting a fascinating and diverse collection of British railway tales and trivia, Julian Holland's All Aboard is out now, published by Times Books. Visit @julianhollandrailways on Instagram for more rail stories.

Ex-GWR ‘Hall’ Class 4-6-0 No 4920 Dumbleton Hall at Banbury station with a cross-country train on 21 August 1965

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A new life in Canada

While many World War II children were evacuated to the countryside, Daniel Harris, of East Kilbride U3A, found himself on a boat to Canada when he was eight …

Daniel harris

I was one of the approximately 3,000 schoolchildren who were evacuated to former colonies Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Some never made it, owing to their ships being destroyed by enemy action.

Shortly after the war started, the UK government organised the overseas evacuation of school-age children under the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB). Many thousands of parents applied for their children to be evacuated under the scheme.

My evacuation to Canada was the third time I had been evacuated. The first was very shortly after Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. My dad was a lamplighter before being conscripted into the Army. My mother, younger brother Billy and I were evacuated to a remote farm in Stirlingshire. That didn’t last long. Many of the host families had city people like us, from Glasgow, thrust upon them. They weren’t happy about that. I can still remember the isolation we lived in. We were remote from the farmhouse. My mother eventually broke down in tears and arranged somehow for my dad to come and take us home by public transport.

Shortly after that, the three of us were evacuated to the outskirts of Dunblane to an upper-class family, who treated us very well. I remember they had servants. I think this strange environment was too much for my mother and we were soon on our way back home to Glasgow.

My brother was only four, but I was eight, so my schooling, as with millions of others, was badly disrupted. 

My mother’s sister, Anne, lived in Canada. Her husband, who was serving in the UK with the Canadian Army, gave glowing reports about life in Canada and of the big house they lived in, so my parents applied for me through the CORB to go and live with my aunt and two young cousins.

The first convoy with evacuees aboard sailed on 21 July, 1940. I, aged eight, sailed on 10 August. We were lucky and made it safely across the Atlantic, arriving in Canada on 21 August. The SS Volendam sailed on August 28, 1940. It was torpedoed. The 320 evacuees aboard were saved.

The SS City of Benares sailed on 13 September, 1940. It was also torpedoed. Of the 90 evacuees on board, 77 lost their lives, some because the lifeboats they were in overturned.

The children who survived would all have different stories to tell of how they did so. Two young girls clung to each other until they were rescued by a naval ship which had come back searching for survivors. After that, CORB was ended.

Like most of the houses in this rural area of Canada, my aunt’s property was a wooden, DIY construction with no sanitation. The toilet was a bucket in a coal shed behind the house. It was my job to empty the filled bucket, into a hole dug by me in the back yard. I only cried once in Canada, in my first winter.

Away from the house, I loved Canada and in particular the school I attended.

On arrival at my new primary school, I was put in a classroom with children the same age as me. I had started school aged five, whereas Canadians started school aged six. I did have a head start with arithmetic and spelling but knew nothing of Canadian history or geography. Unsurprisingly, I did well at school in Canada because of my head start.

I didn’t see my family for four years and four months. Letters took about three weeks to cross the Atlantic, one reason being that every letter had to be read by a censor and anything considered to be a security risk was cut out.

There was a BBC radio programme called Hello Children, where parents of evacuees sent messages to their children. It was broadcast every Sunday during the war. I heard my parents twice a year for five minutes.

I was given a sheet of paper which had messages to parents on it. I would select one and it was sent as a cablegram to my parents. One message started with ‘Chins Up’. I was entitled to send two of these messages a year.

My mother asked for me to return and I came home in December 1944 in a convoy much larger than the one in 1940.

When I arrived back by taxi at the Glasgow tenement where we lived, there was a little auburn-haired girl standing at the entrance. She had just come home from being evacuated to Aberfoyle in Scotland. Nine years later, we were married, and we celebrated our 68th wedding anniversary last March.

In 2006, I was invited back to my Canadian primary school final closing ceremony as a guest speaker and met up with six of my former classmates. I loved my time at that school during the war.

I was 90 on 1 September this year. One of the birthday cards I received was from a lady whom I first met in class at my Canadian school in September 1940. l

Daniel and, right, with his cousins in 1940

Daniel Harris, far right, with his aunt and cousins, 1941

Right: 1940 front page of The Daily Telegraph. Below: Mary Cornish rescued children when the SS City of Benares was torpedoed in 1940, with a heavy loss of life. Cornish and the children survived for eight days in a lifeboat

I heard my parents twice a year for five minutes

Daniel Harris returned to his Canadian primary school in 2006

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short story winner

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The Road to Lille

They hadn’t anticipated moonlight. The forecast had predicted low cloud cover. They swooped onto the cornfield like two jellyfish drifting to the seabed. Olivia dashed for the hedge which bordered the field, scooping and wrapping her parachute as fast as at any time during her training. She stuffed the silken bundle into the base of the hedge and squatted down, checking her pocket for the map while attempting to slow her breathing. Sweat was creeping down her back and her mouth felt dry. She watched as Hopkins landed and disappeared, leaving the field still and silent. Their orders had been to separate and have no further contact. So far, so good.

There was too much light. The moon was clearly visible over the strip of poplars which, as she knew from briefings, bordered the road to Lille. They had been assured the night would be overcast. How many times had she been told during her S.O.E. training that moonlight was an agent’s most dangerous enemy? At least there was no outward sign of their having been spotted. She could not remain here. She broke from her bolthole and edged along the hedge-line making for the roadside and the third tree in the row. Was she being watched? No, the only other shadows were the stripes of blackness cast by the towering poplars. She banished the paranoia threatening to engulf her.

Olivia knelt. She felt around the base of the tree, snagging her hand on a dead twig and cursing silently. Nothing. Her orders had said the radio transmitter would be under the third poplar. She crawled around to the other side and saw, illuminated by the moonlight, the hollow in the trunk between the two tree roots. By lying on her stomach and stretching her arm full-length, she could just reach the back of the cavity. Her fingers touched leather. It was here. She managed to grasp the handle and pull the bag out. Curiously, it resembled her old school music case, but far heavier.

Now to make for Monsieur Barreau’s barn. Her contacts would be waiting. She tugged the map from her pocket and oriented the compass secreted in the back of her watch. Two miles south-west to the barn. She would have to stay close to cover; with this moonlight it was too risky to cross open fields. She stuffed the map high up inside the tree trunk. If she was stopped and searched, the map would be as incriminating as the radio.

Dodging from tree to tree, Olivia progressed along the road. About three-quarters the way to the end of the line of trees, headlights appeared in the distance. They were heading straight in her direction. Like a crocodile entering a creek, she slid down into the ditch between the trees and the edge of the field, tucking herself as low as she could, while still being able to watch the road. Mercifully the ditch was dry.

A vehicle approached. From her vantage point, Olivia could see it was a truck. A German army truck. She recognised its bonnet’s distinctive rectangular shape. Unconsciously she tried to make herself even smaller. It drove past her, the lights acting like searchlights as they momentarily illuminated her side of the road. There were at least a dozen soldiers in the back and, shockingly, Hopkins was seated amongst them. He had been captured. But, why was he untethered and seemingly conversing jovially with the soldiers? Olivia huddled even further down into the ditch.

The truck approached the third poplar and abruptly halted. The soldiers leapt out and ran to the tree, their rifles bared. Hopkins was left sitting alone. There was angry shouting Olivia did not understand. Fluent in French and passable in Dutch, German was lost on her. It was evident they were searching the tree. More angry shouts. One of them was kneeling now. Olivia gasped. The soldier had his arm inside the tree hollow. Would they find the map? Had she pushed it far enough for it to be undetected? The soldier stood up again, brushing down his uniform with distaste. He was shaking his head. His comrades poked about in the undergrowth with their bayonets. Olivia shuddered. It seemed she had moved from that location in the nick of time.

The Oberleutnant turned to Hopkins. “You informed us it would be here. Are you positive you have not been mistaken in the tree in question?” Although heavily accented, the words were barked in a clearly audible, accusatory tone.

Olivia’s heart was hammering again; hammering so hard she thought they would be sure to hear it. Once again, she concentrated on slowing her breathing as she had been taught during training. She watched in astonishment as Hopkins stood and replied: “Those were her orders. She must have collected it already” – Hopkins’ cut-glass accent carried across the watchful French countryside – “and be making her way to Barreau’s. We can intercept her there.” He sounded anxious.

“I hope for your sake you are correct,” said the Oberleutnant. “We will return to base and collect the dogs. She will not evade us then. We must find the transmitter.” The Oberleutnant climbed back into his seat in the passenger side of the truck, his shout of ‘Eingeben’ being the order for his men to return to their places alongside Hopkins. The truck grunted into life, executed a multi-point turn, then accelerated fiercely and roared past Olivia’s huddled form.

So Hopkins was one of them. The pieces dropped into the puzzle in her mind. Hopkins seemingly wanting to be so chummy; being so keen to disclose his own orders while pushing for Olivia to do the same. At least she was confident in her own conduct. He had coaxed nothing from her. In truth, she had found his attention irritating, bordering on salacious, so had done her utmost to avoid spending more time than was absolutely necessary with the man. Somehow, though, Hopkins had gained access to her orders. Perhaps a bribe to a secretary? There was no time to dwell on the whys and wherefores, her priority now was to warn Baptiste’s resistance group waiting at the barn.

She clambered up from the ditch, relieved her clothes were only slightly dustier than when she had landed. Her disguise of rough navy dungarees, patched cream calico shirt and navy jacket, so befitting of a female farmworker, would look all the more authentic with the addition of this little extra dust. Keeping low to the ground, Olivia headed for a group of boulders at the far end of the field.

She flipped open the lid of the battered bag and systematically prepared for transmission. Headphones on, battery engaged, various knobs turned in sequence, she flicked the ‘on’ switch. Bingo. The light signalling its readiness, glowing reassuringly. It was a process she had practised countless times during the past months, but unlike during training, she found her hands were shaking almost uncontrollably. Those breathing exercises again. Her hands steadied. She began transmitting. No response. The resistance group was expecting her in person; they may not have their receiver connected.

“Langoustines.” Still no response. She tried again and again. “Langoustines.” Finally, a faint crackle followed by another. She could just make out the word ‘crevettes’. Time was precious. Olivia warned her contact of Hopkins’ betrayal and the imminent arrival of troops at the barn, relieved her command of French stood up to the pressure of the situation. The exchange took no more than two minutes. She quickly and efficiently restowed the equipment, hoisted the bag onto her shoulder and prepared to make her way to the new meeting point.

“Friedrich, over here. Well, what vermin have we found so comfortable in this patch of dirt?” The German voice came from behind Olivia. She froze, not daring to turn. “A little sewer rat, don’t you think, Friedrich?”

A laughing voice replied: “And we know what we do with sewer rats, don’t we?” She heard the unmistakable click of a rifle safety catch. “Your little game is up, my dear.”

Olivia waited for the cold steel against her neck. Nothing. She turned slowly. Blind terror pasted across her face.

“Cut! It’s a wrap. Fantastic stuff, guys.” Jason, the director, was striding towards her and the two uniformed actors. “That was a-may-zing. Tough luck, Olivia, you won’t be making it to round three. Pity really, you’ve certainly made your mark on S.O.E. Agent, Behind Enemy Lines. You’ve been a popular contestant. I’m sure many of our viewers would have liked to see you get to the final. Well done, guys. As far as reality TV goes, it doesn’t get better than this.”

Olivia was baffled. “You’ve got to be joking. Where did I go wrong? I told Hopkins nothing. I found the transmitter. I used the correct codeword. I even warned my contact.”

“One careless mistake. You didn’t check that all the soldiers had got back onto the truck. Two didn’t!” l

Lynne Carroll, of Crediton & District U3A in North Devon, is the winner of the U3A national creative writing competition for 2021. Here is her story …

illustrations by carolyn rea

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Two nights in an elegant London apartment, worth £400

London is open for visitors and Mansley Serviced Apartments offer the perfect base for a short break, whether for shopping, sightseeing or entertainment - or a combination of them all - as a prize worth more than £400.

Serviced apartments can be a far better alternative to hotels. They provide more space, privacy and flexibility, often at the same price or lower, and are ideal for solo travellers, couples, families and business people.

Mansley Serviced Apartments have a charming collection of elegant self-catering apartments in the heart of London as well as Edinburgh, Cheltenham and Inverness. All place an emphasis on comfort and a great night’s sleep and have a fully equipped kitchen and lounge.

The winner of our competition can enjoy a two-night stay for two in a one-bedroom apartment at No.1 The Mansions in Kensington, a short stroll from Earls Court underground station and close to High Street Kensington, Chelsea, Victoria and Kensington Gardens.

For more information, call 0800 304 7160, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

how to enter

To enter our competition, please answer the question below and send it, by email, giving the name of the U3A you belong to and membership number, to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or post to Competitions, Mansley Estate Office, 219 Earls Court Road, London SW5 9BN.

Q. In addition to London, in the hearts of which other cities and towns in England and Scotland does Mansley have luxury serviced apartments?

Terms and Conditions: Entries close on 15 December, 2021. The prize must be redeemed within 12 months of the winner being announced. Accommodation is subject to availability and excludes Christmas, New Year, Bank Holiday weekends, Valentine’s Day and Easter periods. Other blackout dates may apply. No travel, drinks or other meals are included. By entering the competition, entrants consent to receive marketing and promotional emails from Mansley Serviced Apartments. You may choose to unsubscribe later. The winner will be selected at random and must confirm acceptance of the prize within one week of being notified. The prize is non-transferable and there is no cash alternative.


Michael Driscoll, of Knutsford U3A, won our competition in the autumn issue of TAM for a two-night stay at the Murrayshall Country House Hotel in Perth. Wendy Clark, of Maldon & District U3A in Essex, won two tickets to a performance at Shakespeare's Globe, a tour and afternoon tea.

One of the Mansley apartments. Below: Kensington Gardens

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brain games

puzzle page - solutions page 86

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From Ian Gray of Settle District U3A


1 Remain with chief support (8)

5 Hasty person heard in country (6)

10 Mistake in ‘sleap’ (5)

11 Plasma store in family bar (5,4)

12 Upset Chris tore into singer (9)

13 Steel, say, encountered Capone (5)

14 Spasms after brief work in scientific study of sight (6)

15 A1 diner used Roman coins (7)

18 Disturbed elks dug messes (7)

20 Fitzgerald character cheerful around bank (6)

22 Reckless rookie initially leaves muddled book depository in a state (5)

24 Tapa price different for each person (3,6)

25 Briefly in charge twice tries out attack (9)

26 Lay it about nation (5)

27 Two dads pronounced German acceptance to fruit (6)

28 Sheffield ice-hockey team said to be thieves (8)


1 Spite of girl after male (6)

2 Unplanned, two politicians and I join interrupted tour (9)

3 Distinct seriousness in relative density (8,7)

4 Gold burst open in tree (7)

6 World body devils back hooker I have restrained (15)

7 Pitch point in narrow piece of wood (5)

8 O, kill Ada Twist, eg quinine (8)

9 Low commie tied up (6)

16 Strangely, Brian beat body of priests (9)

17 Lost pal’s luck in headgear (8)

19 Bad pies on ship cause blood poisoning (6)

20 NT marge spoilt clothing (7)

21 Strays stray to woodland gods (6)

23 Reactionary male in minor deviation (5)

To submit a Crossword, grids should be no bigger than 15 square. email it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Quizzes and maths challenges are available online at

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From Michael Cleaver, of Lancaster & Morecambe u3a

♠ 62

♥ J92

♦ K10974

♣ 1063

The bidding


1♠ 2♣

2NT 3NT West leads the ♦ 7

The Play

Declarer should duck the first diamond trick, and the second also if the suit is continued. Winning trick three, she takes the losing club finesse but still makes her contract with 4 clubs, 1 diamond, 2 hearts and 2 spades.


Declarer foresaw that if the Club finesse lost, she risked losing 4 diamond tricks also unless they broke 4-4. The “Rule of 7” is useful in this situation where you subtract from 7 the number of cards you hold in the critical suit, viz. 5, indicating that you should duck twice to break up the diamond communication. If the spades had been stronger, and declarer had to finesse into the West hand, now she would win the first diamond so that the knave was still protected.

The Hold Up

♠ J5

♥ A854

♦ 83

♣ AQ975

♠ AK743

♥ K6

♦ AJ2

♣ J82


♠ Q1098

♥ Q1073

♦ Q65

♣ K4

puzzle page - solutions page 86



for more professor rebus puzzles visit

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professor rebus


8 Severely upset with vertical scissors? (3,2)

9 Goof about centre-right, and do without (5)

10 Honour does have its own drawback (5)

12 You can get more from the next race (5)

1a "Be off!" cackle can surprise with wake-up stuff (5,6)

5a Could be a knockout pouch to hold a beaker! (7)

14a Deadwater, as least possible solution (4,3)

15a Agree when looking on the level? (3,3,2,3)


2 Race place is just like a crib? (5)

3 Hindu beggar said to be a pretend listener (5)

11 Therein lies a strange passageway (5)

13 Mantra designed to conceal occupation (5)

1d Backers hang out when you've OD'd on money? (4,7)

4d Ocular retribution, when a yes gets a yes? (3,3,2,3)

6d Crafty dip in the pool for one well fanned (3,4)

7d Compensates and puts out of true centre (7)

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Heat pump gave us more space

Roger Taylor, of Wetherby & District U3A, complains that heap pumps to replace gas boilers are expensive and take up a lot of space (Letters, Autumn).

We recently needed to replace an old oil-fired cooker/boiler, gas not being available. We researched the options and found that the cost, over a seven-year period, of installing an air-source heat pump together with a solar hot-water panel in our bungalow, taking into account the government grants that were available for both systems, was almost identical to the estimated cost of installing a new oil-fired boiler.

Not only do we benefit from the grants but we don’t have to buy oil.

The installation was performed by our local plumber and his son. They decided that the best location for the new 210-litre twin-coil cylinder was in the loft, replacing the existing cold-water storage tank. The hot-water storage tank, in an airing cupboard, was also removed.

The result of all this is that we now have more space in the airing cupboard and in our kitchen/diner than we had before. The solar panel, on sunny days, produces plentiful hot water and on other days serves to heat the system to at least 10 degrees above the outside ambient temperature. Remote-controlled radiator valves and clever thermostats give complete control over the heating in various rooms. Of course, we don’t yet know how the system will perform once the weather gets colder but we are having fun experimenting.

Anthony Knight, Midhurst U3A, West Sussex

I do think it’s time we had a proper discussion on energy. It seems that if anybody points out the shortcomings to some proposals for reducing CO2, we risk being labelled climate-change deniers.

The fact is many proposals put forward have not been fully thought through and could easily have the reverse effect of wasted energy and pollution.

We all remember the push to promote diesel cars and we now have a push for battery cars. Research reveals that this is probably a very bad idea in the long term. If nothing else, they’re a very inefficient way to use power, like heat pumps. As a follower of motor racing, and having contacts in that industry, it is known that Formula 1 is currently approaching 50 per cent energy efficiency with light hybrid power-unit technology but Formula E (promoted as environmentally friendly) is only about 30 per cent. Add the higher purchase and maintenance costs and it makes no sense at all.

Graham Mutlow, Epsom and Ewell U3A, Surrey

While Lloyd Silverthorne (Letters, Autumn) is correct to say that, when burned, hydrogen only produces water, this doesn’t make it carbon neutral. ‘Green’ hydrogen (made from water using renewable energy) amounts to just 1 per cent of global production and most hydrogen produced today is ‘grey’ hydrogen made from natural gas, resulting in CO2 emissions. ‘Green’ hydrogen is also a lot more expensive than ‘grey’ hydrogen. (There is also ‘blue’ hydrogen where some of the CO2 emissions are captured and stored underground, but many dispute that this is actually any greener than using fossil fuels.) With so much ‘grey’ and so little ‘green’ hydrogen, we must be sceptical about claims that hydrogen can be the solution for decarbonising everything from aviation and space research to industrial processes and home heating.

Angela Cotton, Southampton U3A

Martyn Dowell indicates that the basic problem in climate change is over-population (Letters, Autumn). I do not agree, but to concentrate on the matter of world population we need to keep three main facts in mind.

First, the world population is rising but the rate at which it is doing so is slowing. The United Nations expects net growth will be flattened around the turn of the century and then decrease. Why this might be relates to the second fact: population growth in a country is inversely proportional to the wealth of the country. Affluent countries have the least growth as they put most effort into birth control, because families want to delay or shorten their child-bearing to enjoy life afterwards.

Thirdly, and most obvious, is that it is women who hold the key. Countries with gender inequality have higher birth rates.

So if you are concerned about rising population, work to spread global wealth to level up poor countries, quietly ensure that birth control is available, give all girls full education, insist on gender equality and be consoled that the planet is on track to reduce its population.

Dick Symonds, Thanet U3A, Kent

Martyn Dowell hits the nail on the head: there are more than enough people in our world. Any measure to combat the existential threat of climate change must embrace slowing, then halting, population growth, otherwise these measures will fail. Technology is not the answer. Contraception is not available to millions. Throughout the world, 40 per cent of conceptions are unplanned and 30 per cent unwanted. This is sad and avoidable.

Still, policymakers will not make the connection with how the rapidly escalating human population needs to be acknowledged as the key driver for climate change.

Penny McKee, Edinburgh U3A

I do not believe that the climate crisis is caused by overpopulation. It is due to our over-consumption of global resources.

Industrialised nations have benefited from economic development. This was mostly based on exploitation of peoples and resources historically.

Poorer nations are handicapped by the international economic system, which results in them having to put pressure on their environment with practices such as deforestation to clear areas for meat and palm-oil production for export, and so on.

These environmental pressures on the land cause local and international conflict, resulting in displaced peoples and emigration. When people are left with no way to support their families, they move on elsewhere.

Jill Wheatley, Norwich U3A

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Inspirational Rosalinda

Having just finished reading your cover story about Rosalinda Hardiman, who lost the use of her legs through polio yet swam the Channel and other long-distance swimming achievements (TAM, Autumn), I realise that she is a very resilient person who conquered all the obstacles life put in the way and achieved many challenges she set herself.

What a breath of fresh air to hear such positivity and what an inspiration.

I would love to try open-water swimming; it was something I wanted to do during lockdown but never plucked up the courage to have a go. I intend to give it a go very soon and will use Rosalinda’s quote ‘Always believe in yourself. The more you do, the more you will achieve’ to spur me on. I think that this holds up in everything we do in our lives and I will from now on use this when I hear myself saying, ‘I could never do that’.

Thank you for printing such motivational life stories. Keep up the good work.

Sue Southwell, Hamble Valley U3A, Hampshire

I was so inspired to read of Rosalinda Hardiman’s escapades in open-water swimming (Letters, Autumn).

Being a very amateur open-water swimmer, I have followed Rosalinda’s footsteps in her journey to the Lake District and Loch Ness to take part in several organised short-distance swims, but nothing like the distances she has swum.And I toyed with the idea of joining a Channel relay team but confess the sea scares me.

I overcame these fears to complete the Hellespont crossing back in 2010, but my stamina and strength is nothing like the requirements for such a feat as the Channel – and both my legs are working fine.

What particularly struck me was the courage and determination Rosalinda must have had to get back in and tackle the Channel again the year after getting so close and not finishing. That is truly incredible. It also sent a shiver down my spine to read that Rosalinda has feeling in her legs even though she can’t use them, so she must have felt the cold extremely without movement to keep her warm.

I heard somewhere recently that fewer people have successfully swum the Channel than have climbed Mount Everest, which puts this achievement into perspective.

So huge congratulations to you, Rosalinda. What an inspiration you are to the U3A movement. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Jane Bailey, U3A Advice and Volunteering manager

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Still a need for cheques

Christine Maskill is baffled as to why so many U3A activities still require payment by cheque and do not offer online banking, saying it will alienate new members (Letters, Autumn).

As a person in my mid-70s, I and many of my friends often use cheques to pay tradespeople who come to our home to do work such as gardening and cleaning. This does not make us less able to use online payments, nor does having to use cheques make us feel alienated. The only other way to pay for such work would be by cash, which would necessitate us having to go to an ATM or the Post Office rather than keep large amounts of cash in the house. If my memory serves me right, the banks did try to do away with cheques a few years ago but such was the outcry they relented and accepted that cheques still had their place in today’s society.

I cannot feel that using only online payment is the way to attract new members, although I agree it would be beneficial to be given the option of both. There are still many people who are not computer-savvy or don’t own a computer. These people need to be considered as well when asking for payment.

Patricia Newman, Beccles U3A, Suffolk

Like many in the third age, I have poor eyesight but still manage my computer fairly well with settings which enhance the font.

However, although banking online is useful, it is slow and difficult on a laptop, and impossible on a smartphone app.

To pay a bill, I have to turn it on, go online using a password, go to the bank website, log in with personal details and use a card-reader (difficult to read even on the special card reader for those with poor sight) to gain access to the account, then find the payments page, use the card-reader again if it is a new payee and hope I have typed in the correct details. Or I can scrawl a cheque and envelope in a minute and hand it over or post when convenient.

Happily, I can still read Third Age Matters with the aid of a magnifying glass.

David Duncombe, Matlock Area U3A, Derbyshire

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Proud of Girls’ Brigade

Eric Midwinter, one of U3A’s founding members, talks in his column (TAM, Autumn) of the Boys’ Brigade and says that by 1910 there were similar bodies including the Boys’ Life Brigade, adding: “There were equivalent organisations for girls.”

There certainly were! What about the Girls’ Brigade? It was massive in post-war London. We climbed over bomb sites to attend the flourishing Girls’ Brigade.

My mother had attended it in the 1930s (although she refers to it as just ‘Brigade’ in her old diaries). I was a member of the Girls’ Brigade in the 1950s and we were forever participating in long displays of marching and gymnastics in local non-conformist church halls.

Thanks to the Girls’ Brigade, I could vault a gym horse – a skill that stood me in good stead at grammar school where, although useless at gym otherwise, I was the only girl in my class able to do that. As Eric rightly says, the legacy is in the confidence.

The only downside of the Girls’ Brigade was the very itchy navy and red uniform with long sleeves and an attached tie. The only reason I switched to Girl Guides was because their uniform didn’t itch.

My grandchildren attend the BBGA (Boys’ Brigade & Girls’ Association), where they sport a modern (non-itchy) Aertex shirt. Our local branch is expertly organised, puts on well-rehearsed musicals and, pre-Covid, the best jumble sales for miles.

I shouldn’t imagine vaulting a gym horse at school passes elf ’n’safety now, but in that old, cold hall back then, it was pure joy to us baby-boomers.

Norma King, Barnet U3A, London

In 1895, a new youth organisation based on the Church Lad’s Brigade was founded by Colonel Albert E. W. Goldsmid in London’s East End. The Jewish Lads’ Brigade provided activities to the impoverished youth of the area.

In addition to physical activities, it offered food, clothes, the chance to learn new skills and even help in finding work. Organised into companies on a pseudo military format, it soon spread into the suburbs and provinces. It was one of the pioneer organisations for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and three of its members were among the first recipients of the Gold Award.

In 1963, the Jewish Girls’ Brigade was established with the two organisations amalgamating in 1974 to form the JLGB.

I joined the then Clapton and Dalston Company in 1956, learning a wide range of skills to include map reading, compass work, becoming the teacher in charge of the school camps at the Hertfordshire Cuffley site. I continued taking school parties there from 1968 until 1985.

I never forgot my time with the JLB; my cap badge, lapel pin and medals remain in my possession.

Michael Shaw, St Albans U3A

‘Yoof’ culture did not appear in the 1880s, as Eric Midwinter says, but goes back at least to Shakespeare’s time – and it was not confined to the inner cities.

In The Winter’s Tale, the Shepherd (in the Bohemian countryside) complains: “I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.”

Joyce and George Schlesinger, Durham U3A

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crosswords HELP

Zoe Collins asks if anyone has any tips to help her solve cryptic crosswords (Letters, Autumn).

Cryptic clues are baffling to beginners and that’s because they are written in a form of code – they contain hidden instructions that tell the solver how to arrive at the answer. This coding system is not complex but you need to learn how it works to be able to solve the clues.

Here are some suggestions that could be the first step to an enjoyable pastime that exercises the grey matter.

See if there is a crossword group you can join at a U3A near you; keep an eye on the events page of the U3A national website for the next online course for beginners; download ‘Learn How to Solve Cryptic Crosswords module 1’ from the Subject Advice page for crosswords. (Find it on the U3A home page under Learn/SubjectAdvice/Cryptic Crosswords and it’s the last PDF document at the bottom of the page).

If you have a mobile phone or iPad, download the equivalent module in ‘Learn Cryptic Crosswords’ from the App Store or Google Play.

Henry Howarth, U3A Crosswords Subject Adviser

I am a newcomer to cryptic crossword puzzles and enrolled for the U3A Cryptic Crosswords six-week course with Henry Howarth. We are working through his book Learn How To Solve Cryptic Crosswords. It has been most informative and enjoyable and I would fully recommend it and, if possible, attending a course should he repeat it in the future.

Judy Rose, Hale & District U3A, Greater Manchester

When I found it difficult to complete a cryptic crossword, I found other friends similarly afflicted. So for the past ten years or so, four or five of us have met in each other’s houses once a month for a glass of wine, and then tea and cake, and attempted about three crosswords.

To my shame, I still cannot complete a cryptic by myself but have a really good time trying with my friends!

Belinda Price, Bromley U3A, Kent

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Recognition for Wrens

I write regarding the feature on Colossus, the computer that was used by Bletchley Park (TAM, Autumn).

In 2020, I published my book Backing Bletchley – The Codebreaking Stations from Eastcote to GCHQ, which explains how the last two Colossus machines ended up at GCHQ Eastcote after the war, operated by Wrens who also operated the earlier ‘Bombe’ codebreaking machines.

Without the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and others, Bletchley Park would have come to a grinding halt in codebreaking the Nazi messages. Two ex-Wrens contacted me after reading my book to say they had felt ‘forgotten’ until I had written about their essential input in codebreaking activities.

There are now several Wrens on the Bletchley Park Roll of Honour, with one particular lady being 96, who I assisted in obtaining that recognition, together with a commemorative medal from GCHQ.

The media give the impression that everything happened at Bletchley Park during WWII. It didn’t. Numerous organisations and people were involved.

I am fortunate to live within a walk of the previous site of the largest codebreaking satellite station in the UK, Outstation Eastcote in Middlesex. Now a housing development, it has a commemorative plaque and acknowledges that it became GCHQ after the war before it was transferred to Cheltenham in the 1950s.

Ronald Koorm, Northwood & District U3A, London

Patrick Kimber (Letters, Autumn) seeks to persuade young people to take up apprenticeships rather than full-time degree study.

There’s nothing new about dissuading other people’s kids from going to university; and graduate government ministers who expect their own scions to follow in their footsteps have jumped on the bandwagon. Yet the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto stated: “We will ensure that if you want to go to university, you can.” We now have the ridiculous spectacle of Tony Blair being excoriated for his 50 per cent aspiration – yet progressing to undergraduate education is the norm for school-leavers in the US, a much more successful country.

Going to university at 18 is likely to involve having new experiences, meeting different people, taking responsibility and having fun. While such people are likely to leapfrog non-graduates when they join the workplace, there is also the lifelong value attached to studying what one enjoys.

There is a place for apprenticeships but I taught on non-graduate courses, populated overwhelmingly by working-class white males, many of whom should have been degree students. These current siren calls are about levelling down, not up.

Ah, I almost forgot. ‘Dumbing down’. If standards had been declining at the rate annually advertised since I was a schoolboy 60 years ago, we would all be invertebrate by now. And my advice to recent graduates so demeaned is to pass a closed book to their accusers and say: ‘What do you think of this?’

(Prof) Chris Barton, Stone & District U3A, Staffordshire

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Bush house memories

I was interested to read Jill Heller’s article about working for the BBC World Service at Bush House in London (TAM, Autumn).

My husband worked there as a house foreman, responsible for running the building and services for the staff. He talked about the calls they had asking for typewriters that were specific to different language letters and forms.

Apparently, there was a room that housed different typewriters for Arabic, Chinese and other scripts – all manual. Those with responsibility for maintenance and repairs needed to have a working knowledge of all the letters and forms used.

The other part of that island, where Bush House was, housed the Australian Embassy. I well remember, when I worked nearby in the 1970s, the number of old Volkswagen camper vans parked outside (no yellow lines!) with ‘for sale’ notices, as the Aussie owners were selling up before moving on elsewhere in their world travels.

Heather Ballard, March U3A, Cambridgeshire

email your letters, Including your name AND YOUR u3a, and with ‘letters’ in the subject line, to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or post to u3a office

How efficient are electric cars?

rosalinda hardiman

Rosalinda Hardiman arrives in France

The Colossus machine


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

contact jenni murphy 020 8466 6139 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Copy to Jenni MurphyThird Age Trust156 Blackfriars RoadLondon, SE1 8EN

Email: advertise@U3A org uk

Deadline for next issue:1 January 2022Rate £1.87 a word + VAT @ 20%Box number charge: £10

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.

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.

Holidays Canary Islands

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

Karen 07801 472954

Holidays Cyprus

CYPRUS near Paphos. Member’s delightful one-bedroom apartment, aircon/heating, large sunny terrace, fabulous panoramic sea views, fantastic sunsets, large pool, undercover garaging, wifi/tv.

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

Northern Cyprus. Ozankoy, near Kyrenia. Delightful 3-bedroom villa with private swimming pool, pretty garden and beautiful views. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

01873 811455 - 07977 019635

Holidays Greece

Private villa in Wester Crete. Swimming pool, large garden, sleeps 4-5.

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

Holidays Mallorca

Mallorca Puerto Pollensa. Comfortable beach front 2-bedroom apartment. Heating/aircon. Access to all summer & winter activities. Available all year, weekly or longer lets.

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

Holidays Spain/Portugal

Javea, 2-bedroom ground floor garden apartment. Full UKTV, wifi and pool, sea nearby, bridge, golf and bowls.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 01843 862278

Holidays UK

POOLE HARBOUR shoreline cottage sleeps 4. Stunning views. Close Poole Quay. Prices from £350pw - £930pw.

Simon 01202 805466

Cornwall. Just for 2. Comfortable and well-equipped. Free wifi. Village near Truro/Falmouth. EV charging. No dogs/smokers. Tel: (01209) 860402

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

01695 633376

CANTERBURY KENT (7 miles) Just for 2. Unique barn conversion, self-catering, rural area.

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

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

01284 702848

YORKSHIRE DALES NATIONAL PARK. The Granary, sleeps 2/3, comfortable, well-equipped S.C. "Hidden Gem". Picturesque surroundings, good walking, cycling, dark-sky gazing. Skipton 9 miles.

01729 830291

HOLIDAYS 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.

Ideal for Dales and Lakes. Comfortable, relaxing and stylish retreat, self-contained, spacious and peaceful with exceptional views. 07927 295262

NORFOLK - SNETTISHAM Deserted beach, blustery walks, overwintering seabirds, secluded quirky house, wifi, woodburner, four bedrooms. Your sort of place? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07542 2282247


Top professional introduction agency specialising in bringing together attractive, intelligent people for companionship, romance and maybe more. Relaxed, confidential personal interviews in your home, London/S England. Call Sandra at Affinity.

020 8832 9030,

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

Reply to Box No 285

POSTAL CORRESPONDENCE CLUB. Friends, penpals, romance.

Call Rebecca 01633 526523

Co.Antrim. Widow 66, slim female with a positive outlook. Loves walks, music, dining out, holidays etc. Seeks male friend for companionship.

Reply to Box No 369

Active widower, mid 60s. Interests – walking, gardening, theatre and holidays. WLTM lady for friendship and outings. North Antrim.

Reply to Box No 370

Retired teacher WLTM gentleman with interests - walking, reading, gardening and travel.

Reply to Box No 295

Lady, late 60s, slim, active, cheerful, enjoys travel, theatre, dining out, WLTM gentleman for friendship/enjoying life together. Isle of Wight/South Coast.

Reply to Box No 167

Lady, late 70s, seeks male or female friends in Kent.

Reply to Box No 260


French/Spanish Interpreter. Contact Barry This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

07760 178022 /01895 824570


BOOK COLLECTIONS, interesting ones, the older the better, BOUGHT & SOLD.

Martin Johnson 01253 850075

Record Collections Wanted - Nationwide. Complete collections, no cherry picking - best cash prices. Professional service, COVID precautions taken at all times.

Call Chris McGranaghan on 07795 548242

Fountain Pens, Ball Pens and Pencils. Parker, Mont Blanc, Waterman, Cross etc

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07860 589959

Pet Lover? Looking for mature, responsible house-sitters for paid holidays. 01763 262102

Ercol Windsor (BLOND) Furniture bought and sold, refurbishment service available

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 07860 589959

OLD BADGES BOUGHT, Guides, Scouts , nursing, military, Butlins, all others. Masonic , RAOB medals. Telephone Malcolm 01788-810616.

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

National house sitting company looking for applicants to join their team. You must have your own car, be honest, reliable and flexible and have a love of animals. You must be a non-smoker and have a permanent home in the UK. If you would like to apply, please log on to and complete the application form.

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