Zoom Meetings speaker Reports 2021
Our talk this month was by Regine Neuhauser, who joined us from Vienna. Regine has long been fascinated by Maria Theresa of Austria, and with good reason. In a talk packed with information, she revealed Maria Theresa to be an extraordinary woman who, in the face of hostility from other states and no money in the coffers, preserved a huge empire and was a significant reformer, all while giving birth to 16 children, including Marie Antoinette.
If anyone would like to learn more, Regine has published a book which is available on Kindle: https://www.amazon.de/Maria-Theresa-Austria-Mother-All-ebook/dp/B079VH2DZ7
Our Speaker, leading astronomer Dr Francisco Diego, held us spellbound with a masterful explanation of how the universe was formed in a way we could understand, and all in about 45 minutes. Entitled ‘Science and the Accidental Story of Humanity in Paradise’, Dr Diego’s talk revealed how our earthly paradise came about after hundreds of millions of years of cosmic and chemical reaction, and complete accidents. Whatever the process, the result is that man shares 98% of his DNA with a chimpanzee and 50% of it with a banana. We are inextricably part of the tree of life and must protect it.
While this is very much an evolutionary rather than Creationist view, Dr Diego nevertheless referenced the way in which almost every culture and religion has a version of how the universe began, and sometimes of how man is seen to be thrown out of paradise. The photographs he showed of how man is instead destroying that paradise from within shattered any complacency we may have felt, contrasting as they did with the beauty and marvel of nature that came before. Only when humanity and the natural environment stop being slaves to the economy and the posLog Outition is reversed, says Dr Diego, can things improve, but time is perilously short.
One way to do this is through education, and Dr Diego’s most recent project is Think Universe! which brings this message to schools and organisations such as ours.
Tim Albert spoke of his recollections of two Greyhound Bus tours he took 50 years apart, in 1969 and 2019. Needless to say, they were two very different experiences, and in his talk Tim compared the ‘then and now’ of the USA, of the impact of being 72 rather than 22, and of bus travel itself. His book on the subject is available for £10, email@example.com.
Despite the gloomy weather we were able to celebrate a May tradition with a very cheerful talk from Steven Archer on Morris dancing. Steven has been a Morris dancer for 50 years, and any live demonstration he was unable to deliver on Zoom was more than compensated for by the wealth of videos, photographs and personal reminiscences.
Steven also delved into the long history of the Morris, a tradition that has been passed down through many generations from many sources. Over centuries it has fallen in and out of favour with society in general, and the church in particular, and has undergone several revivals, most significantly through the work of Cecil Sharp. At Christmas 1899 the pianist was visiting friends when local Morrismen called. Enthralled by their performance he embarked upon a written history and recorded the dances on paper for the first time. His handbook is still the bible for the Morris.
Disrupted in turn by the Industrial Revolution and two world wars, the Morris has 10,000 dancers in the UK today in 700 troupes or ‘sides’, although the traditional Cotswold style with which we are all familiar is diminishing.
Steven’s wry humour, together with the colourful history of the Morris, made for a very enjoyable morning.
First, Dr Geoffrey Mead’s entertaining Resorting to the Coast covered the development of the seaside as a holiday destination – featuring places familiar to many of us - and then Jo Mabbutt talked about The Field of the Cloth of Gold, a spectacular meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France in 1520.
Geoffrey explained how, in the 18th century, the wealthy gradually began to take holidays on the coast rather than their accustomed spas, particularly around London, not least because their tradesmen were visiting the same places, and ‘dens of iniquity’ were springing up in places such as Tunbridge Wells.
He categorised the main reasons for going to the coast broadly as: 18th century, taking the waters and dipping in the sea; 19th century, taking the sea air; 20th century, getting a tan; and so far in the 21st century, access to fresh seafood.
Along the way racecourses, piers, motor racing circuits, holiday camps, bandstands, pavilions, aquariums, and much more developed as ways of keeping the wealthy amused, in town, and spending their money. A trend for purpose-built cottages gave way in the early 1900s to hotels, a new-fangled idea from France, while the advent of the railway made the coast accessible to the masses and for daytrips.
This fascinating glimpse of social history, in which we saw how so much we take for granted developed for particular reasons, was followed by history of a very different kind – the story of The Field of the Cloth of Gold. A magnificent temporary town the size of Norwich, it was built 501 years ago to bring about a peace treaty between two young, ambitious kings on a field outside Calais.
The keynote was equality, with the site being levelled so that neither side would be higher than the other. Nevertheless, in just three months, both strove to make their camp the most splendid, each spending the equivalent of £50 million today. Jo’s impressive research featured many statistics relating to such as quantities of food and drink, numbers of horses transported, and the scale of Henry’s brick and timber palace, which far outshone Francis’ fabric pavilion.
A talented decorative artist herself, Jo was most engaging about the richness of the decorative techniques such as embroidery, applique and stencilling used to exemplify the power and glory of Henry’s court, a real treat for our needlewomen. An exhibition on The Field of the Cloth of Gold is at Hampton Court Palace until September 5.
Zoom Meetings Speaker Reports 2020
ZOOM MEETING SPEAKER REPORTS
At our first ever Zoom meeting in June we heard a very entertaining talk by Paul Read, entitled ‘Reach for the Stars’.
Paul described his 25 years as a theatre dresser which, it turns out, involves a great deal more than just having costumes ready. The techniques involved in a quick change were astonishing, but more unexpectedly, we learnt that a dresser frequently becomes a performer’s confidant and right-hand man for the several months of a show’s run. Paul did an excellent job on what was also his first Zoom talk.
In July we heard Monica Weller describe her remarkable investigation into the death of Dr Helen Davidson. Beginning from nothing, and encountering destroyed evidence, apparent police incompetence and a dark secret, Monica identified who she believed to be killer. Unfortunately she didn’t tell us who it was! However, if you are interested in her methods and would like to know the perpetrator, you may enjoy Motnica’s book Injured Parties – Solving the Murder of Dr Helen Davidson.
In August at our Pearl Anniversary celebration we were entertained by Kim and Clive Bennett, the Pearly King and Queen of Woolwich. We learned a lot about the Pearlies’ traditions, their charity work, and their costumes, known as buttons, which they sew themselves to illustrate their personal histories. Clive and Kim also led us in some songs, and an utterly astonishing version of Jerusalem played on the spoons.
In September we began with gentle but effective Pilates exercises under the guidance of Jo Everill-Taylor of Better Body Training in Hersham. Jo explained how our daily activities (particularly sitting in front of a computer) can make our vertebrae compact, and we need to stretch in order to mobilise the spine and prevent injury. Remarkably, she was keeping an good eye on us all on her Zoom gallery view, commenting if she thought someone looked concerned.
This was followed by June Davey on the long and fascinating history of West Horsley Place and its inhabitants. One of these was Carew Raleigh, son of Sir Walter, and the question we would very much like answered is, did the red velvet bag found in the house once contain Sir Walter’s head? The V&A is on the case. West Horsley Place really is a gem on our doorsteps, with big plans for the future.
In the first part of the October meeting we heard from three members of Esher and District Citizens Advice Bureau. Elaine (CEO), Valerie (Financial Capability Team) and Helen (Disability Benefits Team) gave us an excellent picture of the integrated and well-rounded service that the CAB provides, addressing problems that have so many facets. We were very impressed by the case stories – CAB staff, most of them volunteers, stay with their clients until resolution is found, often up to court hearings which are usually successful.
Most disturbing were the facts that there are currently 6,050 people in Elmbridge claiming Universal Credit – 12 months ago there were fewer than 1000. Covid is to thank, but more worryingly, there are not commensurate levels of enquiries regarding debt – suppressed for now, but a bomb waiting to explode. The CAB is something we all think we know about, but clearly we didn’t know very much. We all learned a great deal.
In the second part we were treated to some magnificent wildlife photographs courtesy of Tom Way. While we saw an occasional lion and tiger, his focus was on UK animals, especially birds. Tempted by treats on some occasions but mostly deftly tracked, the subjects were captured displaying almost human characteristics. And sorry Tom, it may be an old picture, but we liked the puffin coming in to land best.
After the AGM our November speaker was local historian David Taylor, who took us on a journey back to the days when Cobham High Street was a narrow village street, complete with petrol station, department store, pubs, private houses, butchers, and greengrocers. How different it would look today if the proposal to bypass the village had been adopted in the Sixties, and many of the buildings saved. The ‘then and now’ photographs were fascinating, and David’s own reminiscences of growing up in Cobham brought them to life.
At our Christmas meeting everyone was decked out in a sparkling array of festive hats, jumpers, tinsel garlands, Christmas earrings, brooches and necklaces, and we were treated to some splendid cooking by chef Alex Mackay.
Alex delivered a very entertaining class on what to do with turkey leftovers, which took us into the realms of Japanese, Moroccan, and Chinese flavours. Plus there was a lovely light salad with black rice and a spicy cranberry salsa. All his inspiring tips and suggestions as he talked had us scribbling away.
We began our January meeting with some gentle stretching with guidance from Melanie Smith, some simple but effective moves to get us going in the mornings at a time when regular classes and exercise in general are more difficult to come by.
Then we heard Regine Neuhauser, who joined us from Vienna. Regine has long been fascinated by Maria Theresa of Austria, and with good reason. In a talk packed with information, she revealed Maria Theresa to be an extraordinary woman who, in the face of hostility from other states and no money in the coffers, preserved a huge empire and was a significant reformer, all while giving birth to 16 children, including Marie Antoinette.
Dr Geoffrey Mead’s entertaining Resorting to the Coast covered the development of the seaside as a holiday destination – featuring places familiar to many of us - and then Jo Mabbutt talked about The Field of the Cloth of Gold, a spectacular meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France in 1520. Geoffrey explained how, in the 18th century, the wealthy gradually began to take holidays on the coast rather than their accustomed spas, particularly around London, not least because their tradesmen were visiting the same places, and ‘dens of iniquity’ were springing up in places such as Tunbridge Wells. He categorised the main reasons for going to the coast broadly as: 18th century, taking the waters and dipping in the sea; 19th century, taking the sea air; 20th century, getting a tan; and so far in the 21st century, access to fresh seafood. Along the way racecourses, piers, motor racing circuits, holiday camps, bandstands, pavilions, aquariums, and much more developed as ways of keeping the wealthy amused, in town, and spending their money. A trend for