East Quantocks Probus Club
Kay Wych provided us with an exceptional entertainment experience for our January Ladies Invitation meeting. Her presentation was called “How I became a 16th Century Kitchen Maid” and from the outset she made it clear that it was indeed about the journey. From her Grandparents cottage near Glastonbury Kay had attended a local Grammar school and then studied at a Secretarial College and worked at Moorlands sheepskin factory nearby. She then began attending drama classes and took part in productions at the Strode Theatre but with no lines. This led to her becoming involved in an outdoor theatre group at Glastonbury Abbey and she realised that her knowledge of history was somewhat lacking and began to study the Tudors, took a course in Somerset archaeology and took part in excavations including the uncovering of a Roman Coffin at one site. She was asked to take on the part of a character in one of the Abbey theatre productions to tell members of the public about the history of the Abbey but could not decide what sort of person to become. While relating her story Kay was all the while interacting with our members and guests via hilarious asides and was also beginning to transform into character using items from a small box of props as she went. Kay told how she had thought about becoming a Victorian Lady but that didn’t seem to be right for the situation, so changed roles to become a weaver,- still not right but the person in front of us was meanwhile evolving into the figure of Alyce, a Kitchen Maid working at the Abbey in the year 1538. Alyce was very poor and she explained to us in the local dialect that her dress was very drab, for instance only important and wealthy people were allowed to wear red, her clothing had to be of wool or linen, her head was covered with a cap and shawl and she wore an apron. All her few possessions were carried in a bag hung from her waist. The year 1538 was a time of turmoil and Alyce was very worried about the changes taking place and the possibility of the Abbott being arrested and taken to the Tower of London, she had been right to be worried as she went on to tell us how the abbey was suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII. The last abbot, Richard Whiting, was indeed arrested and later hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor on Glastonbury Tor in 1539. At this point in the narrative suddenly the costumed figure of Oliver Cromwell’s emissary Richard Parr appeared from the back of the hall to continue the story of how the Abbey had been searched for undeclared valuables and the Abbot taken to Wells for trial and inevitably found guilty of theft from the Abbey and treason. Wells was chosen for the trial as there had been no love lost between the Abbot and the Bishop of Wells. Their joint performance in telling the tale had our audience spellbound for the conclusion of the story of the end of the Abbey and subsequent religious turmoil under different monarchs as England changed from Catholic to Protestant and back to Catholic again until Queen Elisabeth the first came to the throne. Kay explained how this story has been re-enacted in the abbey grounds for the benefit of visitors during the summer season.
On conclusion an enthusiastic round of applause was followed by a number of questions from the audience and a vote of thanks was given by President Philip Jarman.
Ann Norcott was welcomed for our December meeting along with her four legged assistant Dawson.
Dawson is in fact Ann’s assistant dog a lovely poodle cross that has been with Ann for some years now. Ann who is wheelchair bound came to speak about the Charity “Canine Partners” an organisation that trains and places dogs with people in need of help to enable an independent life in spite of possible quite severe disability.
Ann explained that the charity did not approve of the dogs giving “exhibitions” but she wanted to show people what difference having such an assistance animal can make to some people. Dogs are initially placed with one of a number of trainers situated around the country at about 6 weeks old and after a period they go to a special training centre for full assessment and to be taught to carry out certain tasks most of which involve retrieving, pulling or pushing something. Some smaller breeds may become hearing dogs for the deaf. The animals are usually retired at about 10 to 12 years of age.
Ann had led a normal active life until struck by a virus at age 10 after which she fought for a number of years to maintain an independent life, including learning to drive herself to work but later suffered a bad car accident at age 20 leaving her unable to walk and feeling pretty desperate. She was eventually persuaded to apply for an assistance dog and was successful at which point her life changed for the better.
Dawson is not the first dog that Ann has had as a partner in fact she has had several of differing breeds over the years and Ann described her experience with a large and excitable German Shepherd, at first seeming to be completely unsuitable but with patience Ann found that providing everything was approached quietly and calmly the animal performed well and in the process taut Ann to approach things in a better way in her own life.
Ann showed us that Dawson can recognise and fetch different objects such as a purse, a ”control” which could be a TV remote or a telephone, keys etc. and is able to pull a light switch cord or press a door opening button. At the same time it is important that the dog is still able to actually be a dog with walks several times a day and it has to have time to run off a lead and play with a favourite toy.
At the end of their joint session a vote of thanks was given by Allan Mounce for a very informative talk and the pair were given a deserved round of applause.
Kay Townsend was our speaker this month and was expected to speak on “The History of the Dodgem Car”, but when she realised that we were to hold a service of remembrance during the meeting she suggested a more suitable topic would be “Fairgrounds During the War”, this referring to the second world war and a subject that Kay had also written a book about.
Kay explained that as the political situation was becoming increasingly tense early in 1939, fairground workers were already beginning to feel the change. In July an unannounced blackout test on a large fairground was carried out by Ministry Officials; remarkably from normal operation to total darkness was achieved in 20 minutes. When war was declared the Showman’s Guild issued a message to all members to close all fairgrounds immediately but for some reason decisions were taken locally for Salisbury and Bridgwater fairs to go ahead as planned! Kay mentioned Jack Herbert from Dorchester who was on route to a fair with his steam driven showman’s engine and found on arrival an empty field, he “didn’t know about the war”.
Kay pointed out that for fair people; no fair meant no income, unless a family member was in the forces or had a second job. However after 3 weeks into what was later referred to as the “phoney war” things were relaxed somewhat and fairs were once again allowed to open until 10 pm but with severe lighting restrictions. Kay showed us before and after photos of a fair in full lighting and with heavy shrouds fitted around all the stalls and rides. Local councils though now had other priorities so few fairs actually took place. The regulations on lighting for what became “blackout fairs” said that a stall or sideshow could have a maximum of 5 25Watt lamps, bigger rides could have bigger bulbs and these were often covered with improvised shades from milk tins or similar. The whole ride would be covered in canvas and tarpaulins and adjoining stalls would overlap their canvasses.
February 1940 saw the introduction of double summertime when clocks went forward by 2 hours and this allowed rides such as the big wheel, which was impossible to shroud, to stay open later. For breaking lighting regulations A Lilian Studt was twice summonsed and fined the princely sum of £1 at Caerphilly Magistrates Court. It was probably worth paying the fine if you didn’t manage to get away without being caught!
At first music was banned for fear that sirens may not be heard bur later it was allowed, providing it was inaudible at a distance of 30 feet.
Many showmen painted their wagons in a sort of camouflage to reduce visibility from the air, often using paints obtained by mixing all the colours together, but they were not allowed to imitate military colours! One stallholder was arrested by the Military Police for working his stall while in military uniform. Travelling showmen were initially not allowed to have radios but being an essential means of communication it was later decided to allow them provided they were disabled by removing the aerial when on the move.
A favourite sideshow, the shooting gallery, was severely restricted for supply of .22 rifle ammunition and showmen often advertised in newspapers etc for any available supplies until a special allocation was made from an ICI ammunition factory set up to supply them with limited amounts.
In order to keep up public morale the Government began to promote “holiday at home” fairs and sweet-stall operators were granted special dispensation from the Ministry of Food to operate, sugar otherwise being heavily rationed and almost the last thing to come off ration books. Costumes had to be improvised from whatever material could be re-cycled. Unfortunately though much of the land previously used as fairgrounds were now being put to other uses, many storing military vehicles and equipment; the afore-mentioned Jack Herbert had become a pig farmer on one site.
The “phoney war” now having come to an end and serious battle joined, a number of fairs were badly damaged by bombing including that of the Heals family from Bristol whose entire site equipment was destroyed by fire bombs. Kay described one case of an incident on Jimmy Edwards’ site in London where a caravan with 2 boys asleep inside was totally destroyed by a “landmine” but the 2 boys escaped unharmed.
The Showmen’s Guild held a national appeal to raise the immense sum of £5000 to build a spitfire which was named “Fun of the Fair”. After the war the number of fairs able to travel had reduced substantially and very few of the old steam tractors had survived, being replaced by diesel power but the tradition still manages to survive and the annual St. Matthews Fair in Bridgwater is still well attended in spite of all the modern entertainment available.
At the conclusion of her talk Kay showed a number of photographs of the period and took a number of questions before Allan Mounce gave a vote of thanks for a very informative presentation.
Our October Club Speaker couldn’t emphasize this enough:-
“Never ever disclose your security details.
Don’t assume everyone is genuine.
Don’t be rushed.
Listen to your instincts.
Stay in control”.
I bet you’ll know what she was talking about already. Yes, scamming…and how to avoid it.
Trudy Henderson is a Nat West Banker of some 29 years’ experience. These days she’s known as a Community Banker and her role, as her title suggests is to take modern banking into the community, particularly to warn against the trauma of being scammed.
I’ve been scammed.
Some of our Probus members have been scammed.
It turns out that 53% of the over 65’s have been the subject of attempted scams and the youngest person to lose out financially through a scam was aged 12 years. So it affects everybody and the cost runs to billions of pounds over the years.
There are as Trudy says, “four stages in scamming”,
1. The victim responds unaware it’s a scamming approach.
2. Personal details get added by the scammer to a “victims’ list”.
3. Scammers, let’s now call them criminals for that is what they are, target the victim often later than the initial approach. This helps the scammer instil a false sense of security in the victim. After all, nothing happened last time they called.
4. Then the victim loses money.
Scammers often use befriending and grooming techniques, appear legitimate, professional, helpful, friendly and charming. This is their chosen criminal career and they want to make the most of it at your expense. Once they’ve gained their victim’s confidence, their manner may change to be more persuasive, persistent, threatening, aggressive or intimidating.
A victim in Yorkshire lost money when scammers convinced her she had won £46,000 in a postcode lottery and needed her details so the prize could be paid. She lost her money and the silly thing is she knew she didn’t subscribe to such a lottery. But the scammers were that convincing. Would you have been suckered in to part with your money?
Another example is the inheritance scam… an e-mail ‘usually from a “solicitor” saying you’ve a share in an estate coming your way but need to pay “fees” up front to secure it. Don’t respond no matter how much you may be tempted.
Scammers can turn up at your door offering goods or services and always demanding cash but leaving shoddy goods or a job poorly done and incomplete.
Beware “distraction scams” where a couple of people turn up at your door , maybe asking for a glass of water or to invite you outside to view your “blocked “ guttering or “damp” wall whilst the other person is busy helping themselves to whatever they can lay their hands on.
Don’t let it happen to you. Take Trudy’s advice, “Do not buy, sell or trade from a caller to your door”.
Never ring people back if you’re in doubt about their call. They may have been able to leave their line open so that when you ring they will have a different person confirm their call was “genuine”.
Don’t be hoodwinked. These criminals could charm the birds from the trees.
And here’s something else following my theme…do you know what the most common password is? I’m definitely not a scammer, but I’ll share it with you. It’s 12341234. Easy to remember, difficult to forget…and scammers know this and use it.
So how secure is your password and how long would it take a scammer’s computer to crack it? Here are some examples provided courtesy of Nat West:
“Password”…simply one capital and seven lower case letters…..0.23 milliseconds
“Em1ily”….1 minute 5 seconds’
Surprising isn’t it? But look at these more complex password examples:
“Em1lyM78MEL” …a combination of lower and upper case plus random numbers…
This is how long a scammer would take to crack it….117 millenia, 5 decades, 9 years, 8 months, 2 weeks, 4 days, 8 hours, 38 minutes and 47 seconds.
And this example of a longer password, “Em1lyM78MELI@sagne”…. Yes, you’ve guessed it, infinite.
Be careful, be safe and secure…and maybe keep this little article.
In September our lady guests and members were given a different speaker experience in that it was provided by Barry and Jill Goodman with their musical presentation “Good Morning Lords and Ladies”; the title being the opening line of the folk song with which Barry was shortly to open the proceedings. Jill first gave us a little picture of their background. Barry and Jill have been enthusiastic members of the folk music scene since 1971, Barry being a folk singer and Jill although also joining in with the musical presentation insisting that she was not a singer and her job was to provide a commentary. They had married in 1974 and had been involved in Morris Dancing and similar festival activities, in fact their presentation turned out to be a journey through a year of festivals beginning and ending with the May Day celebrations. Barry’s rendition of the opening song “It is the first of May” with the audience joining in was the beginning of the journey with Jill explaining that May Day had been celebrated since the 15th Century. Ickwell in Bedfordrshire had had a festival going back to 1661. The church had been opposed to this kind of festivals as being Pagan in origin, but King Henry had allowed it. Barry taking up his accordion gave us “Jack of the Green” with a warning to all young ladies to beware of the mythical woodland figure Jack’s fondness for the young maidens!
Another celebration related to the spring holiday was that of the chimney sweeps who as summer approached finding demand for their services reduced celebrated by parading through villages cloaked in garlands; this tradition was revived in Rochester in 1981 and also features in Hastings where hundreds attend music festivals. Both of these also have May Queens that feature in processions and which are now springing up nationwide.
Moving on to Whitsun Barry gave us 3 more tunes, and Jill spoke about a tradition at Kirtlington in Oxfordshire where a lamb is chased by girls with their thumbs tied together attempting to catch the lamb with their mouths and the successful girl becomes the “Lady of The Lamb” the lamb is later cooked in a “pye”.
August brings the focus to rushes, prized for roofing and are the basis of a festival near Saddleworth in Lancashire where carts decorated with elaborate rush designs are processed with a “Jockey” atop complete with a jug of ale to a “pots and pans” monument on the hill.
Then as a twist on bonfire night Ottery St. Mary has the tar barrel rolling where men carry and roll 9 flaming barrels of tar through the streets on the 5th of November to a bonfire with an enormous barrel known as the Hogshead carried just before midnight. Not content with this, during the day “rock cannons” made from steel bars with a hole drilled and filled with gunpowder are detonated from time to time. Of course Barry had a song for this.
In December In Derbyshire Mummers hold 3 traditional plays collectively known as the Guising:- the plays are known as “The Wooing”, the “Sword play” and the “Cure” where the hero, St George, fights the enemy and one of them is killed, to be revived by a ‘doctor’ with a form of elixir of life. The play originally would be performed by working men dressed in ribbons and tatters, probably to supplement their income in the winter month.
Moving on to January, at Whittlesey near Peterborough the 19thCentury “Straw Bear” festival where on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the 1st Monday after Twelfth Night) a figure dressed in straw is led through the streets was revived in 1980 having been last performed in 1909. The origin of this is unknown but a similar character was a feature in parts of Germany mainly at Shrovetide but sometimes at Candlemas or Christmas Eve. Here we were treated to a song about the straw bear which was written by Barry.
Then we came to February 14th when “Jack Valentine” roams to this day in Norfolk. This was seen as an important celebration in Victorian time with Father or Mother Valentine mysteriously leaving gifts on doorsteps.
We then were back to May 1st and at Ampthill Park in Bedfordshire with a celebration at Katherines Cross and a pub breakfast on offer at 5:25 am!
Throughout this musical tour Jill and Barry had numerous pictures of many of the strange events that seem to take place whenever country folk can find an excuse for a dance or a song, and many anecdotes to illustrate them. A thoroughly entertaining hour and much appreciated by all present many of whom had joined in the singing on the way.
Our August speaker was John Lowe; his talk entitled simply “The Boys” dealt with what had turned out to be an emotional journey for him over a period of some 9 years. This started with a reading a publicity leaflet about exploring Dartmoor on foot which mentioned a memorial stone not shown on any ordnance survey maps and challenged him to find it. John did eventually find it at Hameldown 1500 feet above sea level near to Widecombe; a simple granite monolith engraved with a cross and 4 sets of initials which aroused his curiosity and he began to research the background.
The stone marked the location of a fatal air crash which had occurred in 1941 involving an RAF Hampden twin engine bomber but little information was then available about this.
John spent some time describing in detail to us the kind of machine the Hampden was, a comparatively small craft in relation to the more familiar heavy bombers such as the Lincoln or Lancaster with an extremely cramped interior into which 4 crew were literally squeezed, the pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator/gunner and not forgetting 2 carrier pigeons!
John remarked that it was so cramped that the wireless set had to be installed on its side. There was an Elsan toilet on board which was not secured and liable to distribute its contents around the aircraft when manoeuvring. There are currently none of these craft in flying condition but 2 are currently being restored, one at Cosford and another at an air base in Lincolnshire.
This particular aircraft-designated S Sugar- had formed part of a small group of aircraft leaving RAF Scampton on the evening of March 21st 1941 to target U-boat docks at Lorient and Bordeaux on the French coast and following a successful raid as they were returning across the channel S Sugar became separated from the rest and deviated from its route toward the west in thick cloud and without any of the modern navigation aids became lost, eventually crashing into the high ground at Hambledown at 10:55 pm shortly after crossing the coast and bursting into flames. The crew were Pilot Officer Robert David Wilson the son of an aristocratic family who had flown 13 operations, the Navigator/Bomb aimer Sgt. R.L.A. Ellis a South African on his first operation, Wireless operator/gunner Sgt. R. Brames and Sgt. C.J.Lyon also a wireless operator/gunner, their ages ranging from 18 to 23.
John related the story of how while on a walk by good fortune he met a lady he called Fiona at the Warren house Inn who eventually put him in contact with a member of the Widecombe History Group who it turned out had been an 8 year old lad at living nearby at the time of the crash and who confessed that in company with some others he had explored the wreck site and removed certain articles (including a Lewis machine gun whereabouts now unknown) He was able to point John towards an area where the plane had initially left gouge marks in the hillside before its final impact. From here there began a long search for information about the mission and the crew members.
As it would not be fair to John who often presents his talk to various groups I make no attempt here to relate the convoluted story of how the detailed information on the background of this mission was gradually and patiently put together by John with the help of numerous people over a period of years and including pages from some very sensitive family diaries and archived military documents, or the unexpected way in which he concludes his presentation. However as a climax to the saga, John informed us that somehow money was found recently to conduct a full archaeological survey of the site and a number of artefacts were recovered.
The story which John has put together is very detailed and very professionally told; if you have not heard it and get the chance it is well worth it.
An emotional moment of silence followed by a spontaneous round of applause followed the musical conclusion of the story and a vote of thanks was given by John Swayne.
For our July meeting Barbara from the Red Cross came to enlighten us on “First aid for our age group” and began by getting us to form into small groups for discussion. She then presented each of us with an illustrated guide and a form on which she asked us to each tick a box from one to ten on how able and how willing we felt we would be to assist a patient in an emergency. Barbara then proceeded to take us through a situation with a person lying on the floor as shown in the guide and to discuss the likely background to the scene before taking suggestions as to what might be done to assist and what might stop you. One of the things that came up in discussion was the actual appearance of the person and unfortunately the way in which an individual is dressed has sadly been shown by experiment to affect whether people are prepared to get involved at all or how long it might take for someone to volunteer to help. If you happen to have a suit and briefcase your chances of prompt assistance are greatly enhanced over jeans and a string vest it seems! Emphasising that the first priority is your own safety- don’t put yourself in danger; (for instance as one member pointed out, that person on the floor may be suffering from electric shock in which case he or she could present a danger if still connected to the electrical supply,) she took us through some basic first responses e.g. speak to the patient, check if they are breathing and if needed open their airway, turn them on their side to avoid choking and get someone to phone 999. Barbara stressed that the safest place to treat a patient is on the floor and not for instance propped up on a chair. Referring to the fears that many people have of being sued if harm is accidentally caused Barbara said that in this country there has never been a case proven where someone has been convicted of harm while trying to assist a patient and in America it is a legal duty for every citizen to assist. The chances of catching something from a patient are also extremely small.
Continuing to use the illustrated guide Barbara took us through a variety of different situations, using a volunteer she showed how it was possible to put someone on their side without major exertion on your part, even using one member’s walking stick to manoeuvre our brave volunteer Allan into a recovery position. For each situation she got us to put forward our ideas for treatment etc. and at the end of the session we were each asked to re-assess our willingness and ability to assist in an emergency. Even just the call to 999 on its own can make a difference.
Having given all of us some food for thought Barbara was thanked by Jeff Collingwood.
This month having been disappointed by the cancellation of our booked speaker the Avon and Somerset Police Commissioner, Mrs Jane Sharp kindly stepped in at short notice with a presentation entitled “ WW1,The area of The Somme” this was not to be a description of the infamous and horrific Battle of the Somme but instead a compilation of photographs and description of a visit she and her husband had made to the area and the numerous cemeteries full of thousands of graves of the fallen of both world wars. Jane said that one reason for producing this presentation was to emphasise how easy it was to do this for themselves without being part of a huge organised party. Another was to visit the grave of her Great Uncle for the first time.
They were able to attend a memorial service at the huge arch of Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, designed by Edwin Lutyens and unveiled in 1932 by Edward Prince of Wales, where anyone can lay a wreath, and then decided to move on to the nearby Ulster Tower, a memorial to the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division and then to the town of Albert; this was the main town behind the lines for the Allies on the 1916 Somme battlefields. It lies on the main D929 road that runs from Amiens eastwards to Bapaume, and this road between Albert and Bapaume runs straight across the Somme battlefields. Albert was devastated during the war, and rebuilt afterwards. Jane related the story of one of the most famous icons for the British in the Great War – the Golden Virgin on top of the Basilica. The golden statue of the Madonna holding aloft her child was visible from far away, and of course was an excellent target for enemy artillery. It was damaged in January 1915, and the statue was knocked from its pedestal but stayed leaning at an almost impossible angle. It was later secured by the French in that position. A superstition grew up among the soldiers that the war would end only when the statue fell. However, it remained in its leaning position all the time that Albert was in French and British hands. The tower has been rebuilt since and although the original statue had been knocked down at some point and never found there is a replica in place. There is now a museum there “Musee Somme 1916”and Jane showed some of the variety of munitions on display, many live examples are still after over 100 years being dug up by farmers.
Continuing her pictorial tour of the area Jane spoke about the Newfoundland Memorial Park, near Beaumont Hamel, and Vimy Ridge near Arras, two of the largest areas on the Western Front where shell-holes and the trenches of both sides can still be clearly seen and even entered and walked along. We were shown pictures of the now grass covered ground absolutely contorted by the countless shell holes and craters including one massive crater caused by huge underground mine explosion detonated under German lines and which has been preserved as a war grave and memorial in its own right.
Photos of the devastated forest areas after the battle with just blackened stumps remaining, contrasted with those of the now regrown and lush trees covering vast areas. There is a small memorial to “the last tree standing” after the war had moved on.
Having related her visit to her Great Uncle’s grave there were many more pictures to follow of the area and of some of the beautifully tended cemeteries looked after by the volunteers of the Commonwealth Graves Commission including the Canadian cemetery with their “grieving mother” statue and the Welsh one with red dragon on a plinth. Jane concluded her talk by encouraging anyone who has not visited the area to do so. There was a distinct contrast between the beautifully tended floral displays here and the stark and bare gravestones of some of the Germans also buried there.
Jane answered questions from the audience and Jeffrey Collingwood then gave a vote of thanks in which he said that he had learned such a lot from the presentation.
May 2019 AGM no talk
In April having been badly let down at 72 hrs notice by our expected speakers from the Army Display Team we were very fortunate to be able to enjoy an extremely entertaining talk and slide show from Lottie Dale who stepped in at short notice to present “Falling with Style,” which followed her progress throughout her beloved hobby of parachuting from her first jump with a round chute and a static line, progressing to a second hand “square”, (actually oblong) parachute “wing” we are used to seeing at air displays and from her first solo and at times a little inelegant jumps as a novice to becoming a world class free-fall sky diver who over a number of years took part in and at times held awards for record attempts for mass jumps at times involving large numbers of jumpers exiting simultaneously from a number of aircraft and joining together in intricate patterns and manoeuvres while descending at terrifyingly high speed towards terra firma.
Lottie became part of an “all-girl” team that performed regularly on the international scene and over the span of her jumping career was also involved in numerous teams sponsored by various organisations for publicity purposes. We were informed that one such all-female team associated with a national newspaper had been given the rather inglorious title of “The Tumbling Tarts”.
Lottie’s presentation was accompanied by some beautiful photographs including one of her being “custard-pied” by her youngest child following her 100th jump. (Apparently a tradition observed within the jumping fraternity when significant jump numbers are reached.) Lottie had completed some 1700 jumps before deciding it was time to hand the baton over to her eldest son to continue in the same vein.
Lottie responded to a number of questions from the floor of the meeting including one about fatalities occurring, to which she replied that she recalled around 6 including some friends over the many years she had taken part in the sport. She commented that she had been far more likely to be killed on the way to the meeting than while sky diving. (No reflection surely on John Bishop’s driving while bringing her from home that morning!) David Barge thanked Lottie both for filling in at short notice and for a fascinating talk which she said she had only given 12 times but which had been much appreciated by all present.
TThis month we welcomed John Halls from the West Country based tea and coffee producers Miles who have production facilities in Minehead and Porlock to speak about the origins of the company and how they operate.
The company was founded by Henry Miles in Sutton Coldfield in 1888 and was later taken on by his 2 sons who ran it until 1974. Henry’s Grandson Derek who had become an “inspector of tea” while working in Avonmouth began buying up odd batches of loose leaf tea and creating blends for sale. In 1974 Derek then trading as D J Miles from a base in Chepstow, along with his friend Norman Halls, bought the company Henry miles and Co.
Derek now aged 86 still takes an active interest in the operation. Porlock a small coastal town in the West Country was not the most obvious place to run a distribution business from, access roads are far from ideal with the notorious Porlock Hill with its 1 in 4 gradient and sharp bends to the south of the town not negotiable by HGVs, but the decision to move to there was based partly on the desire of Derek’s wife to live in this part of the world and partly due to the business already built up in the area. A second factory was opened in Minehead later for the tea blending operation and the Porlock site nowadays houses a coffee roasting plant.
John then went on to talk about the journey of the tea from the growers to the cup; beginning with small samples of the processed leaf that come from numerous parts of the world today, China, various parts of Africa and India are major suppliers. These samples are then subjected to the art of the taster and John described how a small quantity of the leaf is weighed on a simple balance against the weight of a “sixpence”, placed in a cup and boiling water added before covering and leaving for 6 minutes before being drained for another 6 minutes whereupon the leaves and liquor are inspected for appearance before tasting, then milk is added and the brew then tasted again.
Satisfactory results mean an order can be placed but a container for shipping may be made up of the output of a number of sources and may mean some weeks elapsing before a container load arrives. Loose tea nowadays comes in foil lined paper sacks not the large wooden tea chests of old and can be stored for up to 6 months, or if vacuum packed up to 7 years if necessary. After further taste testing, once a blend is finalised, batches of 500 Kg. are made up which represents a week’s output of either bags or loose tea. Newly installed equipment allows for production of plastic free teabags. Decaffeinated tea arrives at the factory already processed. Miles do not have a “hard water” blend, local mains water is used at the works and this is a “soft” water.
Asked about the popularity of loose leaf tea John said that this is becoming more prevalent now and he agreed with one of our members that he would prefer the leaves to be less finely ground than is now common. Green tea which is also increasingly sold John explained, comes from precisely the same plant as black tea but the latter goes through a fermentation process whereas green tea is merely dried. Following his talk and a number of further questions a vote of thanks was given by Jeff Collingwood.
This months’ speaker Richard Reeves, on arrival proceeded to manoeuvre a very large yellow motor cycle into the hall entry lobby before being introduced to members as the fund raising manager and a volunteer rider for the local area group of the Freewheelers Blood Bikes.
We have probably all seen the occasional yellow motor cycle zooming past on the motorway with flashing headlamps or blue lights and BLOOD written all over the rider’s “hi-viz” jacket, but may not have been aware that it is an entirely charity funded service receiving no funding whatsoever from the NHS (imagine the bureaucracy involved) and one which hospitals rely heavily on particularly at night to carry vital supplies of blood, donated breast milk and medication or sometimes equipment from area to area. The donations of breast milk in particular are an essential lifeline to many prematurely born babies where the mother is not able to produce milk immediately following the birth.
The scheme was started in 1990 by an RAF officer who following his need for blood after an injury was astonished to find that there was no official system for ferrying blood around out of normal working hours and got together with some more colleagues and one second hand motor bike to begin providing this service on an ad-hoc basis. Richard informed us that there are presently 36 groups of unpaid volunteers across the country on call from home when needed and they can operate a shuttle service between groups to transport the secure sealed packages anywhere in the country. They have recently taken on the task of supplying packs of fresh whole blood for roadside transfusion on a daily basis to the Great Western and Wiltshire air ambulances which is an ongoing regular commitment.
Although the bikes are serviced by police technicians they have to be bought at about £17,000 each by the Freewheelers charity and nationally need to be replaced shortly with Yamaha models because the current BMW machines will no longer be available due to an inability to meet the more stringent EU emissions regulations now coming into force. Each group has a small number of machines, in our area 4 are on call at a time with 4 backup machines in reserve or being serviced and riders operate on a voluntary rota system via a locally based co-ordinator who receives the jobs and allocates a rider via a pager system. At present they do not carry donated organs for transplant because of the need for constant refrigeration of the special containers used.
Richard invited us to have a look at and even to sit on his precious road machine if we wished. A thoroughly deserved vote of thanks was given by Martyn Wratten at the end of an excellent, if shorter than the average presentation, which had produced a large number of questions from the floor.