Zoom Meetings Speaker Reports 2020-2021



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.