Friday, 25 June 2021

Around the WI



YVONNE, our president, welcomed all members and visitors to our September meeting.

Forthcoming trips and events were discussed before Annie Assheton was introduced. Annie had come along to share her experiences with us about her time spent on the 2011 MasterChef.

From 40,000 applicants, she got through to the last 60 and the next stage saw her being picked for one of the final 20 places.

We heard of many incredible challenges, the initial rivalry between contestants, and the devastation when in sixth place, Annie was asked to leave the competition.

At the time, she felt like the world had ended, but in fact it was just the start of a new beginning.

Since leaving MasterChef, Annie has started her own business. She not only gives cookery demonstrations in her own home but cooks for dinner parties as well as giving talks to groups such as the WI.

We all enjoyed the evening immensely and Annie was thanked for such a fascinating talk.

Benson WI meets at Benson village hall on the third Wednesday of the month at 7.30pm.

Our next meeting will be on October 21 when we will be holding a craft evening and we would love for you to join us. For more information, please call Lin Reader on (01491) 836800.


ON September 16 president Adrienne Rance welcomed the members, guests Kristabel Grimmer and Janet Burnham and speaker Sue Milton, a local resident who gave a fascinating beautifully illustrated talk on swan upping.

The annual count and ringing of Thames swans, which takes place during the third week in July, is a tradition dating back to the 12th century when the Crown claimed ownership of all the mute swans. Apparently these beautiful birds were regarded then as a culinary delicacy at royal banquets.

We were shown a black and white photograph illustrating a barge used to round up the swans in 1865.

Nowadays the royal swan uppers, outstanding in their scarlet uniform of her Majesty the Queen, travel in two of the six traditional rowing skiffs while the swan uppers from the Vintners (wine) and Dyers (cloth) livery merchants man the other skiffs. The livery companies were granted joint ownership with the Crown in the 15th century.

A total of 19 experienced “watermen” are chosen to man the skiffs, all on a voluntary basis. They make a very dashing picture on the river in their colourful jackets and white trousers.

The Queen’s skiff bears a large white flag with “ER” and the crown emblazoned on it.

Sue showed photos of the trip, which starts from Sunbury Lock on a Monday at 9am and proceeds up the river to Abingdon, arriving on the Friday at 5.15pm. It covers a distance of 79 miles in those five days.

On the way many interesting points are visited and there is an extraordinary number of stops at riverside pubs! Stops are also made for coffee and lunch.

Rowing upstream for five days is tough so they get a tow from time to time to keep to the timetable.

We learned that July is the chosen month since adult swans are moulting and their cygnets are too small to fly and they would not abandon them in the round-up.

A zoologist leads the party and when a brood of cygnets is spotted the cry of “all up” is given by him to alert the swan uppers to the right spot to perform their duty.

The cygnets are counted, given a health check, measured then two thirds of them are tagged by the livery company men before being released.

Today, the Crown retains the right of ownership of all unmarked swans but swan upping is only perfomedon the upper section of the Thames.

On passing Romney Lock, close to Windsor Castle, the rowers stand to attention, with oars raised in order to salute “Her Majesty The Queen, Seigneur of the Swans”.

Another aspect of this tradition is to introduce schoolchildren to the conservation and welfare of swans. Children from many schools are invited down to the river’s edge to watch the swan uppers in action and listen to their talk about the conservation and welfare of these elegant birds.

The Queen’s swan marker delivers a report to her on the number of swans and cygnets, which this year was only 83 compared with 120 last year.

We thoroughly enjoyed our fascinating trip up the river and are now eager to see the next swan upping for ourselves at one of the nearby locks, which include Henley and Marsh Lock on the Wednesday.

Members then enjoyed a delicious tea and found bargains at the bring and buy stall.

Our next meeting will be held at Crazies Hill village hall on October 21 at 2.30pm when we will welcome the return of guest speaker, Graham Horn, who will give a talk on anniversaries of 2015. If you’d like to come along, you would be most welcome. Just call Selina Avent on  0118 940 3426.


FRANCES EMMETT welcomed members and guests to the September meeting and the start of the autumn with a very busy agenda.

Nikky Mainds read the minutes of the July meeting, which seemed a long time ago.

Since then there have been visits to Waddesdon, Lacey’s Farm and the magistrates’ court at High Wycombe. August was holiday month.

We had the centenary party at the sports pavilion on September 16 when we had a celebration tea with a tree planting ceremony to commemorate the 100 years since the WI was inaugurated.

On September 22 we had a bridge drive in the village hall to raise funds.

Stuart Lodge has announced that there is to be a special craft exhibition in High Wycombe in 2016 to raise funds for Associated Country Women of the World and members were asked to plan to make something special which will be exhibited then sent abroad. This is not until next year, so plenty of time to think and prepare!

Lois Howden gave an amusing account of her day at the Buckingham Palace garden party, which she enjoyed enormously and managed to speak to Sophie, Countess of Wessex.

Molly Carter is organising a digital phone workshop so that members can improve their skills. There will be three sessions, starting at the end of October, at £7.50 each time.

Margaret has organised a special Christmas outing to Althorp on Wednesday, December 2. The coach will hold 33 and we have 20 names already. Members who wish to go and were not at the meeting should call her on (01491) 575670. Althorp will be specially decorated and it promises to be a very special afternoon.

Jo Martin then introduced Kamran Iran, of Service by Emergency Rider Volunteers, a charity that delivers blood, samples, tissue and breast milk for premature babies anywhere in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

Kamran retired from his full-time job as an airline pilot and became a volunteer motorcycle rider for the charity. It is a voluntary organisation that saves the NHS millions of pounds a year with a much faster, more efficient service than having ambulances or taxis deliver these emergency supplies.

Kamran gave a very good insight into how the riders work 365 days a year in all weathers.

At the end of talk a collection was taken for SERV and he was thanked effusively by Sarah Williams for his inspiring presentation.

A delicious tea was served by Eileen Collins, Joyce Hynd and Joan Thwaites.


MARY BURTON stood in for president Pat Eades, who was away on holiday and in front of her on the top table were some centenary roses from members’ gardens.

Birthdays in September were being celebrated by Di Coleman, Mary Macken and Judith Young.

Thanks were extended to everyone who had contributed to the bring and share tea in August when Harpsden recognised the centenary of the WI. Events at Denman College were highlighted — “Food and Flowers” on October 21, the archivists’ conference in November and the mother and daughter weekend in November.

Notice was taken of the events organised by the Oxfordshire federation, namely the outing to the Royal Opera House for the ballet Coppélia in December, the Denman College day visit on November 16, “Christmas Songs” at Oxford town hall on November 30 and the St Albans Christmas market on December 2.

It was also brought to members’ attention that the South Chiltern Group was pictured in News & Views when members visited Greys Court to see the roses.

The Sunday lunch group is in full swing and is being organised by each member in turn with different locations being sampled.

The craft group will meet in October and may well be making “twiddle muffs” for use in care homes. The sample of a twiddle muff shown by Suzanna Rose looked most attractive and she said that the muffs, besides giving warmth to cold hands, were also useful for hand exercises, i.e. twiddling.

Husband and wife team Ken and June Brazier spoke about “Mercy Ships”.

Ken is a member of Rotary in Princes Risborough and has helped raise funds for this charity.

The Mercy Ships began around 1978 and the first hospital ship was Anastasis, which now has 30 beds on board where treatment is carried out.

There are now other hospital ships being used which transform the lives of thousands of people around the world but they are mainly moored off the coast of West Africa.

Those patients who come in contact with Mercy Ships never forget the day when everything changed for them. Cleft lips and palate repairs, cataract removal, facial reconstruction and some orthopaedic procedures are all being carried out on these ships.

Free surgery is performed in on-board operating theatres by medical professionals who are all volunteers.

More than 572,000 patients have also been treated in village clinics where more than 5,000 local healthcare teachers have been trained to improve healthcare and offer advice.

Ann Gloag, the owner of Stagecoach, has been very instrumental in providing funds and she actually bought a ship and gave it to the charity.

Both Ken and June have helped to build a clinic on dry land, where they were needed to heave breeze blocks around in hot conditions.

It costs £4,500 a day to run a ship and Ken is soon to cycle the Camino via de la Plata from Santiago de Compostela to Seville and hopes to raise a considerable amount in sponsorship.

Shirley Weyman proposed a hearty vote of thanks to Mr and Mrs Brazier.

During teatime the draw was made for two £100 bursaries to Denman College and the lucky winners were new member Ann Lincoln and treasurer Pam Hails.

The competition was for a garden flower and the winners were Audrey Fox, Joan Hewett, Di Painter and Judith Young.

The next meeting will be at Harpsden village hall on October 14 at 2.30pm when Tony Hadland will talk about “What my DNA told me”. Do come along and find out about this fascinating subject.

Members are invited to suggest ideas for celebrating Harpsden WI’s 75th birthday in 2016.


ROBERT SHAW, with the help of original slides, took us on the Oregon Trail, first taken in 1884. Many immigrants were escaping persecution from Europe took the dangerous journey and many died of disease and hundreds were killed by Indians.

This informative talk ended all too soon.

Afterwards we all enjoyed tea provided by Di Ducher and Gwen Foster. Rita Williams brought flowers.

Our tea party took place on September 16 after Peppard Lunch Club.

Everyone present at this special occasion to celebrate our 100th anniversary enjoyed the musical entertainment provided by Tim Valentine followed by a cream tea.

On October 14 we will meet at Peppard Memorial Hall at 2pm when Stewart Linford will give us a talk on “The art of chair making” and will bring along samples of his work. All are welcome.


WE were welcomed to our September meeting by president Margaret Pyle, who went on to introduce our speaker, Graham Horn.

Graham gave a very interesting and sometimes amusing account of how he became a blue badge guide.

He qualified in 2011 and covers most of the south of England.

He took his first course in Winchester and explained how he was taught to convey knowledge but still keep the interest of his group.

One of his amusing stories was how he almost took three unsuspecting people on a trip round Bath, when they thought they were on a National Express coach to London.

After the talk the meeting continued with Margaret thanking all those people who had provided scones for our August tea party, where there was a short quiz and a couple of amusing poems were read out.

The walks group is hoping to start up again with longer walks planned. The scrabble group had two sessions in September.

Margaret announced that a knit and natter group had been formed and would be hosted by Brenda Strong on the second Friday of the month — another chance for putting the world to rights!

The other three suggested groups, book, cinema and lunch, are all still in the melting pot.

Our attention was drawn to an article entitled “WI exhibition at the Berkshire Record Office”.

This exhibition is to celebrate both the centenary of the WI and the fact that all WI archives at the record office are now available online and will be on until the end of the year at the record office, which is located at 9 Coley Avenue, Reading, RG1 6AF.

Secretary Mary Robinson drew our attention to several items in Berkshire WI News about events coming up, including a visit to Kew Gardens in November entitled “Christmas at Kew”, lunch with Ruth Rogers, who will give a talk about being a “War Horse puppeteer” at Grazeley village hall on November 6 and “A taste of Poland” with Jola Wisniewska on October 30, also at Grazeley village hall.

The meeting closed with the usual cup of tea and the raffle being drawn.

We meet on the first Wednesday of each month at St Barnabas’s Church hall, Emmer Green, at 2pm and will make any visitors very welcome.


PRESIDENT Joan Jolley warmly welcomed members to the September meeting.

The day, she said, was the WI’s actual centennial anniversary.

Ladies from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndro- bwllllantysiliogogogoch, on Anglesey, established the very first British institute, which was set up to “improve domestic hygiene and to enhance food production for the war effort”.

Members were all given a glass of champagne and we enthusiastically toasted “the WI”.

The business part of the meeting then followed.

From News & Views magazine, Joan highlighted the fact that the Oxfordshire federation secretary Virginia Lawrence was retiring.

No call for help or request for information was too much for Virginia and emails were always promptly answered. She will be missed very much and a card of thanks had been sent.

Our speaker for the afternoon was Geoff Richardson, from the Medical Detection Dogs charity.

Geoff, accompanied by his lovely dog Pip, told us about the charity, which was only set up in 2008 and trains specialist dogs to detect the odour of human disease.

Working with people who have Type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, narcolepsy and other complex medical conditions, these dogs alert their owners of any possible crisis, solely by detecting the merest change in body odour.

What the dogs are capable of is awe-inspiring. They give people and their families greater confidence and independence and they literally save lives every day.

But, as is usually the case, there are not enough dogs to go round.

It takes two years to train a dog and as this is a non-governmental sponsored charity, it is reliant on public support and donations. A talk to be recommended.

A lovely tea was arranged by hostesses Shirley Abraham and Belinda Fairthorne.

Lynn Turnball won the Associated Country Women of the World flower competition with a very fragrant rose and Carol Willson won the competition for a doggy  ornament.

Meetings are held in Shiplake Memorial Hall every third Wednesday of the month (except August) at 2.30pm. New members and visitors are always welcome. For more information, please call the secretary on (01491) 410256.


OUR centenary celebration party took place at the September meeting. Sue Frayling-Cork, our president, welcomed members and visitors including former members who had been specially invited to join the celebrations.

The committee had worked very hard to plan the evening and members had been looking forward to the event.

Before the party began, the following reports were given.

Sue Hedges informed everyone that proceeds from the night’s raffle would be sent to the Associated Country Women of the World, which is a very worthwhile charity supported by the WI.

Members were thanked for their fantastic contribution of knitted yellow ducks and the fact we had nearly reached our target of 100.

The launch for the Little Yellow Duck Project project was to be at our coffee morning on October 5 in the village hall.

The project was started to raise more awareness of the subject of organ donation. Each little yellow duck, complete with a name tag and details of the website, will be distributed to our members and others to leave in a random place for someone to find and hopefully access the website to learn more about organ donation.

Sue gave us more information about the work and projects with funds raised by the Oxfordshire federation and given to the ACWW.

All projects are to benefit women in rural areas of the world to offer support, friendship and practical help to start businesses.

Pennies from flower of the month competitions and other donations to ACWW have resulted in completion of projects for computer literacy in Romania, rehabilitation of child prisoners, especially girls, in Uganda and teaching three disabled women in India to weave.

Profits from the evening’s raffle were to be sent to ACWW.

Jackie Million reported on her royal London trip and in particular a visit to Buckingham Palace with its beautiful state rooms and art gallery.

They had an excellent and knowledgeable guide who accompanied them on a trip around the historical royal highlights of the city.

They went to St Paul’s Cathedral and had lunch in the crypt. Di Soden spoke about the banner parade at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford as part of the centennial celebrations for the Oxfordshire federation.

She was accompanied by Sue Frayling-Cork and Sue Hedges and Di proudly carried our newly renovated banner.

Every WI in the federation was represented by up to four members.

The service was opened with a wonderful rendition of Jerusalem and then Canon Edmund Newey welcomed everyone to the cathedral.

Rev Lisa Holmes gave a reading, there was an address by Ann Jones, who chairs of the Federation of Wales, and Sir Hugo Brunner spoke of his mother’s lifelong work with the WI.

The Brunner family is of particular interest to us as they used to live at Greys Court, which now belongs to the National Trust.

Di, Sue and Sue were very proud to represent Sonning Common WI and thoroughly enjoyed this memorable  occasion.

Sue Frayling-Cork undertook a study day at Denman College and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. After an introduction at the college, they left for the museum. They enjoyed coffee and a lecture by Colin Harris, the curator of European art.

The day was a fascinating experience, especially being able to view the paintings which had been discussed earlier.

Sue very much enjoyed the day and met with some other like-minded WI members to appreciate their surroundings at Denman College and the museum in Oxford.

Sue highly recommended this interesting and informative day.

Alison Bishop reported on our summer outing to Mapledurham House and Mill in August. We enjoyed a warm sunny afternoon.

Cory Starling, the miller and estate manager, was our excellent guide. He gave a short introductory talk prior to our tour of the house. He told us many facts relating to the history of the house.

We then enjoyed a short walk across the gardens to the mill. Cory was in his element, talking about the history of the mill, how it works and also how hard he and his wife Jane had worked to restore the mill to its present condition. It really is a passion and a labour of love for them. It is one of the first mills in the country to be fitted with an Archimedes screw turbine and is powered by the River Thames.

Cory produces the various flours, weather and season permitting, from the mill and his wife runs a very popular shop selling their produce.

We then went to the tea room where we enjoyed the most delicious and huge scones ever seen! An excellent end to a lovely summer outing.

Cory had previously visited us as a speaker at one of our evening meetings and, being a very knowledgeable and charismatic character, we had looked forward to seeing the buildings he had so well described.

Alison Bishop gave a short fund-raising report.

Our monthly coffee mornings will continue. Our tombola stall at the Binfield Heath Flower and Dog show in August was very successful and thanks were given to members for their donations.

Back at our party, the hall looked splendid with bunting and table flowers.

Members had been invited to dress up in an era of their choice or a fancy or special hat and, true to WI spirit, we were not let down.

We had Land Girls, flappers, girls from the Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies and some wonderful outfits and hats.

Margaret Warwick won the competition for the most stylish outfit, especially her elegant red hat with veil, and was presented with a beautiful engraved glass bowl.

The music for the evening was provided by Hannah Woolford and her father. Hannah had a beautiful singing voice and her father provided her accompaniment on an electric organ. They sang songs from all eras and asked for requests.

We started the party with the singing of Jerusalem. Each table was laid with tasty nibbles, wine and fruit juice. It was lovely to have an evening of lots of chatter, laughter and celebration and many photos were taken.

We then cut our celebration cake and enjoyed a toast of bubbly.

The final song was Let’s Twist and members took to the dance floor and gave their all, the moves remembered from many years ago. There were a few aching joints the following morning. An evening to remember.

The flower of the month competition was won by Kathie Anderson with Ann Holt in second place and Angela Thorn third.


WE celebrated the 100 years of the WI in September in style. Four of our members went on a fabulous holiday with the Oxfordshire federation by coach to Harrogate at the start of the month. This included a packed all-day visit to the WI Centennial Fair in Harrogate, which had exhibitions and stands galore to enjoy.

The four-day holiday also included visits to National Trust houses en route and Harlow Carr Garden.

On the actual centenary day seven more members went to Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford for a service of celebration for the whole county.

A total of 140 banners were paraded in and out of the cathedral and somehow managed to dodge the showers.

There were music and brief addresses which were very much enjoyed in the wonderful surroundings.

Our own members’ meeting consisted of an old-fashioned cheese and wine tasting evening, which went down very well (excuse the pun).

We now look forward to Christmas time, lunches and meetings when we hope to see partners and friends joining us.

We will also be shown how to make cards and tree decorations to get us in the mood.

The swimming, craft and book groups continue to be popular. Perhaps you should join us in the New Year?


SEPTEMBER was a busy month for our WI, with four members attending the centennial celebration of the WI at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford.

It was particularly moving to see the banners belonging to Oxfordshire’s 140 WIs parade into the cathedral.

Sir Hugo Brunner, son of Lady Brunner of Greys Court, gave the address, and there was a stirring rendition of Jerusalem. The service finished with the National Anthem.

About 40 members from the Thameside WI group turned up at Little Milton village hall on September 16 for our celebration of the first official meeting of the WI in England and Wales.

The band were ready to play and the ladies were all ready to dance.

A good time was had by all, even though the weather was diabolical — it was raining so hard that it was a wonder anybody turned out at all.

At our own meeting in September, we had Bill Heine talking about the story of his book Hunting of the Shark and how a shark sculpted in fibreglass ended up on the roof of his house in Headington in Oxford almost 30 years ago.

Our next meeting will be at Watlington town hall on October 14 at 7.30pm. We will be having a demonstration of candle decorating by Freddy Shannon.

If you are interested in joining our WI, please call Kath Gomm on (01491) 612939.


SHIRLEY BRYANT welcomed the members to the September meeting.

Kathy Brewer played Jerusalem. The WI is celebrating 100 years and is still going strong.

There was a lovely tea thanks to Jean Taplin, Isobel Lomax and Pat Ferris.

We were told details of trips to The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House, Christmas songs at Oxford Town Hall and a Christmas Market at St Albans.

Our speaker this month was Jim McWhirter, who spoke of the vital work carried out in Mission Hospitals in Uganda.

We meet in the village hall on the third Wednesday of the month. New members are welcome.


OUR September meeting coincided with the centenary of the inauguration of the first WI in Great Britain.

We shared the afternoon with Chris Leach, a volunteer speaker for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance Turst.

He pointed out that the service had only been in operation for 15 years but then there were no helicopters 100 years ago!

Our air ambulance has gone from strength to strength thanks entirely to public donations, fund-raising, legacies and sponsorship to meet their current annual running costs of £2 million.

Chris told us that each mission cost, on average, £2,500 and to date they’d accomplished more than 16,000 missions.

This month, the new helicopter capable of night operations comes into service so the air ambulance will no longer be restricted to daylight hours.

On board there is everything required to bring the expertise of accident and emergency to the patient and even to undertake operations on the hardshoulder. The Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance is used in life-threatening situations, remote locations, on congested roads or in adverse weather as well as for inter-hospital transfers where speed and smoothness are vital — there are no potholes in the sky!

His talk was followed by an informal antiques roadshow discussing members’ memorabilia, which had been in their families for at least 100 years, from a scrapbook to family photos, a bible, a tea caddy, coronation mugs and porcelain and even a rolling pin.

Members were also invited to purchase books, co-authored by Jennifer Smith, which had so far raised £5,000 for the trust.

We were treated to a delicious tea, prepared by members and the committee, including a beautiful birthday cake, baked by our president, to celebrate our 100 years.

On October 21 we shall be celebrating Harvest with a special tea. Come and enjoy it with us at Greys village hall at 2.30pm.


SEPTEMBER was a fairly busy month for members as we resumed our regular business and speaker meetings after the summer break.

A number of members took a walk along the Thames Path from Wallingford to Benson and rewarded themselves with lunch at the Riverside Café.

We ran a produce stall at the Pang Valley group meeting (this was the second annual meeting for the reformed group).

Produce provided by members of the WI and friends included a fine selection of cakes, buns, bread, jams, chutneys and other items, all of which sold well and were much appreciated.

The meeting enjoyed a talk and demonstration by artist Howard Birchmore and was followed by a delicious cream tea organised by other members of the group.

Our regular speaker meeting introduced us to the training and work of the Reading Mobility Team and guide-dog-in-training Richard, who is 19 months old and soon to qualify. Needless to say, Richard was the star of the afternoon.

We were told about the 16-week training course he has almost completed. There are 20 mobility teams in the country and there are 1,400 puppies bred each year by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in Leamington Spa.

They all have to go through “puppy profiling” to see whether they are temperamentally suited to become guide dogs.

They live with puppy walkers as members of a family for their first 16 weeks and then begin training before going on to advanced training as companions and lifesavers.

Guide dogs are not only for blind and partially-sighted people and the charity has now started “buddy dogs” for young partially-sighted people who may go on to have a fully trained guide dog in the future.

Our plans for October include “How to take better photographs” — whether by camera, smartphone, iPad or whatever other means — from an expert in the field.

At our regular meeting on October 20 there will be a demonstration of “Georgian cookery” by Catherine Sampson. Meetings take place at Goring Heath parish hall on the third Tuesday of the month. Visitors are welcome. For more information, please call 0118 984 1696.

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