“Confessions of a Travel Guide” Given by Martin Catford

“Confessions of a Travel Guide” Given by Martin Catford The first monthly meeting of the Alton U3A for 2006 was held at the Community Centre on 20th January. The guest speaker was Martin Catford, who gave his audience his ‘Confessions of a Travel Guide’. Martin is a horticulturist, trained at Wisley, and is now a freelance consultant and landscaper, lecturer and broadcaster. Another major interest of his is railways – real and model, and he has often combined these interests by acting as Host imgand Tour Manager for gardening and railway holidays. However, anyone thinking that they were about to hear a straightforward lecture on either horticulture or the railway systems was in for a surprise. Martin gave a very entertaining account of episodes in his life as a travel guide. He began by quoting Ken Dodd’s rule that, in compiling his material, an entertainer should always consider that a little old lady from Bournemouth might be sitting in the audience, but Martin clearly did not believe that this little old lady was in the Community Centre main hall on that afternoon. She may, however, be reading this account, so just one incident can be reported – of an American lady, very impressed with the wild flowers growing in the lawn round Salisbury Cathedral, who asked where she could buy some of the small white flowers that were growing there in profusion – daisies, of course. And one gardening tip for those whose gardens serve as a public convenience for a neighbouring cat: dig a hole in the cat’s favourite spot; bury an inflated balloon; and cover lightly with soil.

The vote of thanks was given by Dr Tony Rice, who is Chairman of the Committee for this month,. The Chairmanship will be rotated on a monthly basis among the Committee members until a permanent Chairman is appointed.

The next monthly meeting will be on Friday, 17th February, in the Community Centre. The speaker will be Chris Allen, who, until recently, was Director of Compton Acres, a famous heritage garden on the borders of Bournemouth and Poole. Mr Allen will be sharing his expert knowledge on plants. All members and others interested in the activities of the U3A are invited to attend.


“Events, dear boy, events!”

WHEN I offered this course last year, I had only the most vague idea what we might cover, but knew that it would have to be based mainly img_u3a_tripon bits of British maritime history. We could start with the rather poorly known 17th century voyages of Edmund Halley; much more famous as the comet man, then take a look at the 18th century Pacific voyages of Captain Cook and finally wander through some of the amazing voyages of the 19th century, to end with the heroic expeditions of Scott and Shackleton in the early 20th century. In fact, we managed less than half of this, partly because I talk too much and partly because of “events, dear boy, events” ; the unexpected defined by Macmillan.

I could hardly claim that the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson on October 5th 2005 were unexpected, but I prepared at short notice a talk for Farnham’s “From Trafalgar to the Crimea; the birth of the modern navy” in December. So one session of Voyages was dedicated to a practice for this.

Just before Christmas I was asked to be a guest lecturer on a cruise in an American ship sailing down the Amazon and then up the coast of northeastern South America to end up in Barbados at the end of March.

My knowledge of the Amazon, when I got the phone call from my agent on 17th December could have been comfortably written on the pointed end of a pin! However, I am not a man to let a little thing like incompetence get in the way of a chance to see one of the earth’s most fantastic environments. So although I admitted to the cruise company that I was less than expert on the Amazon, I offered to give a series of talks under the general title “Amazon to Abyss; two of the largest environments on earth” – and they fell for it! January and February were largely devoted to reading everything on the Amazon I could and making up presentations, which would enable me to appear more or less credible:. bang went yet another “Voyages…” session, when I used my folks as guinea pigs to help me improve the Amazon bits – and they did!

Those of you, who are experienced cruisers, will know that taking holidays based on these mobile gin palaces is the fastest growing sector of the vacation industry, particularly for people of U3A age.

Between the meals, stage shows, dancing lessons, meals, origami, flower arranging, bridge and more meals there are lectures on a whole range of topics given by so-called experts who, like the musicians, dancers and so
on, are basically pretty old and/or second rate. So I was to be one of these.

When we reached the MV Insignia at Manaus, an incredible city of 1.5 million souls bang in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, I was a touch nonplussed to find that I was the one and only “enrichment lecturer” charged with satisfying the cultural needs of 600-odd mostly American passengers! I need not have worried. No more than 150 of the passengers ever bothered to come to the talks, but those who did were totally charming and extremely appreciative and not a single intelligent designer among them! So my worries about being almost lynched at any mention of evolution were completely unfounded.

The experience of sailing down the Amazon was unforgettable. In fact, the only downside was that standing on the deck of a cruise ship is no way to see Amazonian wildlife. Despite the Amazon being one of the most bio diverse environments on earth, you would see more birds and certainly more species, in a ten-minute walk in Anstey Park than we saw during a week on the Amazon! Continued on next page VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY “Events, dear boy, events!” “Devil’s Island from Ile Royale, French Guiana”. Continued from previous page In fact, the natural history highlight of the cruise for us was not in the Amazon, it was an enchanting visit to Ile Royale, off the coast of French Guiana, one of three tiny specks, each no more than a mile across, including the notorious Devil’s Island, used as a French penal colony from 1852 to 1946 and made famous by the scandalous imprisonment there of Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1895 and of Henri Charrière, whose book Papillon was made into a hit film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Most visitors spent their time viewing the remains of the prison buildings, including the house of the governor, whose sentence must have seemed almost as harsh as that of his charges. We chose to walk gently round the island surrounded by an exotic flora dominated by emotive palms and agoutis, Jack Russellsized rodents a bit like tail-less squirrels, squabbling over coconuts. We also saw quite a lot of red-faced monkeys, unidentifiable birds, butterflies and other insects and, as we came back to the tiny quay to get the tender back to the ship, marine iguanas basking in the remains of the afternoon sun. All in all, for us it seemed an utterly charming tropical paradise – but knowing that we were there for only a few hours and could retreat to a pampered lifestyle in airconditioned luxury!

We moved on to Santa Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela, then to Grenada before finally flying home from Barbados. The cruise was an amazing experience and one, which I shared with my Voyages Group, when we got home, resulting in the loss of at least another half session.

So what “events” might occur to interfere with whatever subject I offer next year? Goodness knows, but, just in case, I have decided to put even less planning into it than I did last year. I will call it simply “Oceans”, which is so vague that I shall be able to cover more or less anything; biology, science in general, history or even politics, as long as it has something to do with salt water! So if you are an adventurous soul with eclectic interests, or just want somewhere warm to sleep for a couple of hours, why not sign up on registration day. Do not ask me what it will be about; the title says it all. Tony Rice

Current Affairs

IN the course of our twelve fortnightly meetings we have discussed over 80 subjects,  current at the times of the meetings. In just a few weeks in 2006a great deal has been going on in Britain, never mind the rest of the world . Some of the subjects have recurred: Iraq, Iran and George Bush have been under close scrutiny at most meetings. Some of the humorous subjects discussed provided plenty of laughter; “What is wrong with men and whom do women dress for?” “70% of women prefer a good book to eating, drinking and cooking and, yes – sex.”img_u3a

The Member, who said we were too old for it, met an immediate response “Speak for yourself’!” The Group Leader, who was attacking private medicine, drew the response, “It’s open to each person to decide what to spend their money on. The point was made by the comment, “You choose to visit Australia every year, don’t you?”

Do you know that British women are not producing enough babies? A shortfall of 90,000 a year. Some leave it too late. At an age over 30 there can be problems.

Do you know that it costs 600 million pounds to win about 60 Olympic medals?

Do you know that Tesco is buying up land just to foil competitors?
That 60% of bottled water is not as pure as tap water; buy a bottle, but refill from the tap. Only one subject met with unanimous agreement – Queen Elizabeth II. We all love her.

The attendances were rather fewer than in the previous year and this was put down to the moving of sessions from morning to afternoon. Next
year we will revert to mornings. At our final meeting on 24th April Members were asked to introduce a relative or friend to U3A.

Finally I want to express appreciation of the kind words and handsome gifts given to me at that meeting. We have had fun and this is down to all
the Group Members.

In particular to Erika, our Group Secretary, who has been ever present and
arranged for a Group lunch to be held at the White Hart in Holybourne on 17th May.



One year’s vacancy now filled

In a well attended Annual General Meeting Members were able to fill the Chair, which had been vacant since the AGM of 2005. Hitherto Committee Members had filled this role in turn. Tony Rice acted as Chairman on this occasion. He said:-giphy

My first duty is to record our collective sadness at the recent demise of our old friend and last Chairman, Tom Arnott, to offer our sympathies to Shirley and to register our collective gratitude for all the efforts Tom put into the Alton U3A during his difficult period of office. Tom would appreciate these sentiments, if I point out that nothing exemplifies his thorough and conscientious approach to his role better than the xhaustive nature of his Chairman’s report in last year’s minutes. He would be the first to acknowledge that he was not a man to use one word where ten would do. Though I suffer from the same affliction, this one, from a temporary, stand-in Chairman, will be much shorter and in the form of a series of brief bullet points.

1. In the absence of a replacement for Tom as Chairman at last year’s AGM we have operated a rotating chairmanship during the last year, with individual committee members taking on the job for roughly one month each. Hopefully, this rather unsatisfactor situation is about to be resolved.

2. Thanks largely to the efforts of our treasurer, Jack Webb, the financial situation has continued to improve from last year’s, partly as a result of careful financial management, but mainly because of the funds returned from the Inland Revenue as a result of our Gift Aid status.

3. Our Membership seems to be reasonably stable. Any organization with our demographics must expect significant annual losses, but these have been more or less offset by new recruits. We should not, however, be complacent and plans to try to attract new members are afoot.

4. Similarly, our programme of activities continues to expand and this year we offer no less than 38 courses, a study day dedicated to local notables and a rich and varied programme of excursions and speakers at our monthly meetings. We are fortunate, indeed, to benefit from the efforts of Carolyn Goodrham, Pat Stamp, John Chaplin, Don Hardy and all the Group Leaders in organizing such a diverse programme.

5. In summary, the Alton U3A seems to be fairly healthy. However, with your help we can do even better. Is it your turn to serve on the committee, find good speakers, organize an excursion or lead a course? Please think about it. Treasurer’s Report Treasurer Jack Webb reported an improving financial situation. Income from Subscriptions had an additional £1,476:00, but he pointed out that this was from fewer total Members paying at the now increased annual rate. The principle source of income apart from Subscriptions has been from Gift Aid. He was pleased to report a generous “Christmas Present” from Gordon Brown totalling £4,233:83.

However, he expressed his disappointment, that there remains a third of all Members, who have not signed a Gift Aid declaration. He urged all taxpayers to give him this facility, which he guarantees will in no way affect their income. The main increase in expenditure comes from Room Hire; a combination of a 10% increase in rental and an increase in the numbers and size of Groups.

The bottom line is that Income was £17,152:25 versus an Expenditure of £11,347:72 showing a surplus of £5,804:53, which is some £520:00 more than the previous year. A review of the Balance Sheet and a forecast for the 2006/2007 Budget led him to recommend no change to the current level of subscriptions.