Thursday, 03 December 2020

Your letters...

Put loyalty before profit

Sir, — With regard to the Henley Children’s Theatre Group Christmas booking fiasco (Standard, October 4), I feel it incumbent on me to make my own feelings clear.

My mother, Flavia Pickworth, started the group in 1969, and was solely responsible for making it a Henley tradition.

After her death in 1981, I took up the reins and continued to give generations of Henley children the benefit of performing on stage and generally making people happy, both parents and general public.

My daughter Muffin took over in 1993 and to the present day has maintained the integrity and sheer joy of childrens theatre.

The Kenton Theatre, in their wisdom and desire to make money (understandably), seek to achieve their ends by taking an extra week for their own “traditional” panto and moving the children’s panto to February.

This is absurd on several levels. Firstly, a children’s panto at Christmas time must coincide with school holidays. Secondly, is the Kenton really sure its new panto will actually benefit the box office?

Finally, my family has been a part of Henley for more than half a century. I have performed many times at the Kenton, my eldest son is a well-known estate agent in town and my daughter runs the theatre group.

I have been brought up in show business, knowing the bottom line is “bums on seats” but sometimes tradition and loyalty transcend box office receipts. This is just such a case.

I ask the Kenton to look at this sensibly, and sympathetically. This is children we are talking about, both performers and audience, and Henley would be a poorer place if they were denied the joy of a truly traditional panto at the proper time, Christmas.

I hope the Kenton will think very carefully about their actions, and come to the right decision; that money isn’t always the be all and end all. Loyalty to such long standing clients and also the Henley audience should surely be paramount. — Yours faithfully,

Mike Hurst and family

Nettlebed

Mislaid priorities

Sir — The new manager of the Kenton Theatre seems keen to emphasise that half of the theatre’s programme is presented by local talent and children’s performances, presumably to support the principle of this being a community theatre (Standard, September 27).

This doesn’t sit well with the management’s decision to deny, after next year, the 51-year old Henley Children’s Theatre its traditional booking during the new year week, which it has enjoyed since time immemorial to stage its popular annual pantomime.

It seems that the 120 enthusiastic children who perform the show must step aside so that the theatre can extend the run of its own production.

The offer to Henley Children’s Theatre of an out-of-season slot in February, when all children are at school and the backstage team of parents and helpers are immersed in their professional lives, is quite impractical and unhelpful.

Apparently, the theatre is now managed by hard-nosed business people seeking to maximise profits and their implicit self-back patting commitment to homegrown talent should be taken with a pinch of salt. — Yours faithfully,

Dave Harrison

Birch Close, Sonning Common

No need for more shows

Editor, — After the news of a second consecutive year of record ticket sales for the Kenton Theatre it was sad to read about the wrong kind of drama last week.

Leaving aside the very valid community points many have made over the last week, as someone who looked closely at the historical panto data when scheduling last year, I just can’t see the business sense behind the chairman’s decision.

With the loss of a few key hirers and the recent costly backstage building work this does not seem a good time to alienate such a lucrative and popular hirer — not a great welcome from the trustees for the new general manager, who I know is passionate about the theatre.

After a lot of hard work it was fantastic to get attendance of the Kenton panto above 80 per cent for the first time in 2018, but that will be hard to repeat this year with the lower autumn footfall and there simply isn’t the audience demand for another week of performances, especially as numbers have always dipped for the final few shows, which has so far been replicated again this year.

I know Immersion Theatre, whose Robin Hood and Dick Whittington were received so well, would have liked to move towards a longer run, but given their unfortunate departure, I had thought that the advantage of having a recent trustee take over the production would be a strong understanding of what the Henley audience wants, which is the two different pantomimes — the stats don’t lie! Oh no they don’t... — Yours faithfully,

Tom Ryan

River Terrace, Henley

Frightened by shoot

On Thursday last week, I and a dozen fellow Henley and Goring Ramblers had a disturbing experience when walking from Fingest in the direction of Ibstone along public bridleway.

We heard the sound of gunfire and soon came across a pheasant shooting party.

As we approached we all waved and shouted loudly hoping that the firing would then stop but this did not happen. While most of us held back, two brave souls cautiously carried on, again shouting and waving arms in an attempt to obtain someone’s attention.

A man came across and was asked if he had a walkie talkie to enable the shoot to be curtailed whilst we safely passed. He stated that we were on a footpath and therefore had no reason to ask, despite the fact that a dying pheasant falling from the sky just missed two of us. Eventually the shooting stopped, I was told because the shoot had finished anyway, presumably for lunch.

The shoot organiser then appeared and told us to “move along” suggesting we could not be locals as we had not heard of his shoot. He had no intention of apologising, despite us all being genuinely frightened by the experience.

Later we investigated the legal position and to my surprise discovered that it is not illegal to shoot across public footpaths or bridleways that cross private land.

However, the website for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation advises that “if a member of the public is using a right of way that crosses or is in the vicinity of a shoot or drive the member of the public has the right to pass and repass over the right of way, therefore any shooting should be refrained from until they are at a distance where your activity should not cause any concern”.

Perhaps the shoot at the Harecramp Estate is not aware of this association? We think their indifference to users of the bridleway was dangerous and certainly alarmed us.

An apology would be welcomed.

Gill Heaven

Committee member, Henley and Goring Ramblers,

Peppard Road, Emmer Green

Criticism is warranted

Mr Hemsley wrote last week in reply to the letter from Ruth Gibson but failed to address the points she made. I suspect this is because he knows that she is right.

Ruth is a trained professional in the conservation of old buildings, has surveyed many of the structures in Henley and made serious contributions to both the Victoria County History of Oxfordshire and to Simon Townley’s book Henley-on-Thames, town, trade and river” See: hahg.org.uk for just some of her work. Far from being “ignorant” she should be listened to.

Stone structures have been fixed with lime mortar since the pyramids 6,000 years ago. It allows the stones to breathe and move rather than crack.

Mr Hemsley has applied perhaps 200 lumps of glue on the mortar and stone of the bridge. When removed, as ordered, some mortar will be lost. The mortar will have to be replaced and the stones cleaned of lumps of glue.

The application for replacement lights on the bridge is deficient. In particular, it does not give any details of the design of the new fixings to be inserted into the “cracks” of the bridge.

As there are no cracks (yet) in the structure, presumably they will be inserted between the stones. Mortar will be removed in at least 100 places, immediately weakening the joints.

Because of the different materials and differing rates of expansion of the fixings, there will be water ingress and subsequent frost damage. Damage to the structure of the bridge will be ongoing.

Mr Hemsley wants Henley to progress… back to the 1920s, or is it to Blackpool in the 1950s? But I will keep to the point.

I suggest that he pays for the damage he has done and takes careful heed of his own agent to “give up and withdraw”. — Yours faithfully,

David Feary

Walton Avenue, Henley

Store looks scruffy

Sir, — In addition to a coat of paint for Monsoon (Standard, October 4), Henley Waitrose could do with a can or two of white paint for its wooden frontage facing the car park.

I recently spoke to the store manager about the shabby appearance of the frontage, which includes rotted wood and missing or broken roof tiles, and was told there were no plans for any work to be done.

It really is an eyesore and I am surprised that Waitrose doesn’t take more pride in its appearance.

Perhaps when the new Gardiner Place development is completed it will inspire Waitrose to give its place a fresh coat of paint to smarten up the area. — Yours faithfully,

Karen Lacey

Middle Assendon

Service will be better...

Sir, — Thank you for drawing readers’ attention to December rail changes as we hoped (Standard, October 4). Unfortunately, some comments by others have set some hares running and it’s worth clarifying.

Most branch passengers are headed to London and Patrick Fleming is right that few of us want to sit on a slow tube-style train to do it. As such, considerable work has gone into ensuring that the bulk of connections to and from London will be on faster GWR trains.

Morning rush hour trains from Henley are unchanged and their connections from Twyford are generally timed slightly quicker into Paddington. Thus peak passengers from Henley to London will not experience a degradation in service nor extended journey times.

Philip Meadowcroft then warns that it will be very difficult to get to Paddington before 10.30am on the first off-peak train.

Actually, the first off-peak train will arrive at 10.17am. It’s nine minutes later than now and one of just two daytime off-peak connections into London that are on Crossrail services. All others are GWR to GWR. But even that is not all bad.

When the tunnel does (eventually) open, if timetables stick, that train will continue swiftly into and through central London, which is ideal for early off-peak travellers of all kinds.

Furthermore, accompanied children aged 11 and under go free on Crossrail, as opposed to those aged four and under on GWR, so branch families who stick to Crossrail from Twyford will only need to pay for their 5-11s as far as Twyford.

Evening rush hour services home are broadly as now, and are faster in some cases to Twyford. Connections there will be slightly longer and more robust, which will reassure those who worry nightly as they head west.

Overall journey times will be broadly the same but the service should be more reliable. There will now also be a fast 9.15pm service from Paddington to Twyford, giving an hourly fast service home throughout the evening from 7.20pm.

Beware that the last train home will leave at 11.15pm not 11.20pm and that all branch times after the morning peak are changed slightly.

Henley Trains is a community group which has been engaging with GWR on this change since early 2019. We’re the ones that quickly spotted in the initial plans that the faster, more comfortable GWR trains from London would just see the back of the GWR branch; that the recently added 8.07am from Henley would no longer connect fast to London; and the 4.48pm fast service home had disappeared.

All of these were then fixed by a very helpful GWR in the final timetable and as a result we have retained the bulk of our service on the better-equipped faster GWR trains into and out of London.

Sadly, slower-running westbound Crossrail services mean that daytime off-peak connections to Reading will be longer than before. However, there are some fast connections to and from Reading in both peaks.

Henley Trains talks to GWR, Crossrail, politicians, travellers and staff to get the best outcomes for Henley branch travellers. For more information, email Henleytrains@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter @Henleytrains. — Yours faithfully,

Neil Gunnell

Blandy Road, Henley

Amateurish timetabling

Sir, — I was interested to read the article and associated comments about the arrival of Crossrail trains.

Having updated my detailed research into the morning train services to be introduced in December I am regrettably no more optimistic than I was with my previous analysis, not withstanding a few detail changes.

I think the simplest summary of the situation has to be that apart from offering abysmal trains Crossrail and its Transport for London masters have minimal interest in people travelling outside their own area, ie west of West Drayton.

Already from December with even a relatively limited Crossrail service it is readily apparent that they are at times running too many trains for the infrastructure — to the disadvantage of passengers from further afield such as passengers from the Henley branch and Twyford.

The worst example of this is the 7.36am from Twyford which has to lose no less than 10 minutes simply to follow Crossrail trains stopping at all stations.

Speaking as a timetabling professional with working experience in Britain, various other European countries, and on the Sydney suburban rail network in Australia, this sort of thing is one of the most basic errors in compiling a workable and efficient timetable.

You don’t put all stations stopping trains in front of faster trains. If it is a portent of the future I feel sorry for regular rail users because there clearly has been no joined-up thinking about the structure of the timetable.

And incidentally, just to clarify, in the morning peak period from Twyford to London both GWR and XR will be running four trains per hour. Virtually all of the GWR trains will offer significantly shorter journey times to London.

Alas, this sort of disjointed approach goes even further and Crossrail can’t really claim to be taking over services currently operated by GWR. They very clearly are not as instanced by the loss of connections from our branch line towards Reading and various extended journey times.

A good instance of the latter is the first off-peak fare train of the day from the branch line connecting to London. Currently leaving Henley at 9.09am this clearly popular train (which I travelled on everyday last week so could see just how popular it is) will get you to Paddington at 10.08am with a fairly fast connection from Twyford.

In the new timetable it will leave Henley at 9.11am and the connecting Crossrail train won’t get you to Paddington until 10.17am — a 59-minute journey becomes a 66-minute journey with 49 of those minutes spent in a train with only 450 seats, and no toilets, and which calls at almost every station enroute to London.

The equivalent journey in the Sixties took 63 minutes — oh, and the train from Twyford back then had toilets and luggage racks and you didn’t have to travel sideways on any of its seats.

I’m sorry but thus far Crossrail is definitely not a great white hope for the future. Not only are its trains totally unsuited for longer distance journeys, such as those between Twyford and London, but its timetabling efforts smack of amateurism and betray lack of knowledge of the needs of the passengers who might have little choice but to use its trains.

Please come back GWR all is forgiven! — Yours faithfully,

Mike Romans

Cromwell Road, Henley

Thank you for support

Sir, — I would just like to reiterate the kind words of Lady McAlpine concerning the Chiltern Centre in Henley (Standard, September 27).

The centre now cares for young adults from age 16 up to age 30. This service is invaluable for local families with disabled young adults.

Sadly, we are no longer registered to care for those disabled children below age 16. This has caused much upset and distress because many local families relied heavily on this service for their disabled children.

To suddenly find themselves with no provision can and will throw many of those families into crisis.

The board of trustees hopes that in the future we may be able to once again care for children under the age of 16.

However, this will take time and in the meantime families are left without adequate respite services.

Thank you so much, the amazing supporters of the Chiltern Centre, we couldn’t provide a service without you. Thank you also to our loyal patrons for their ongoing and invaluable support. — Yours faithfully,

Lisa Drage

Parent trustee, the Chiltern Centre, Henley

Sad festival had to end

The Henley Literary Festival that ended on Sunday was particularly good this year. We were spoilt for choice and there was something for everyone.

My husband and I had booked 30 events in advance and even managed to go to a few extra ones on the spur of the moment to fill the gaps.

Many thanks to all the very friendly and helpful volunteers and organisers for treating us to this literary feast.

The first day gave us a taste of what to expect. Amelia Gentleman and Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff shared their particularly moving stories of the Windrush scandal.

At the meeting with Robert Harris I just wished I had pen and paper to hand to write down some of his witty comments on the current political reality.

Tony Laithwaite and Mary Berry provided lighter entertainment and a gourmet angle, and there was a cookery book to take home.

The rest of the week was full of literary treats: leading writers Kate Atkinson and Antonia Fraser, sharp as ever.

The Turkish-born author writing in English, Elif Shafak, was a revelation to me and it was a pleasure to have a chat with her while having my book signed.

Andrew Lownie talking about the Mountbattens made even the rather open-minded and liberal Henley audience gasp, and so did Thomas Grant QC when talking about the notorious legal case involving the play The Romans in Britain, the National Theatre vs Mary Whitehouse. The story had us all in stitches.

And the recently ordained Jonathan Aitken proved to be not quite what one might expect.

On his ordination day this summer he held a party at the Old Bailey dining room, an irony in itself, to which half a dozen of his former Belmarsh inmates were amongst the invited guests.

There was no shortage of political writing. To name a few: Jack Straw with his knowledgeable insights into Iran, Caroline Slocock, the first female Private Secretary at No 10, on her relationship with Margaret Thatcher.

Interestingly, she said she didn’t really like her boss but had a huge respect and admiration for her. Tom Watson interviewed brilliantly by Ayesha Hazarika, filled the space vacated by one Jacob Rees-Mogg — oh, the irony of it. And very topical it was.

Apart from Ayesha, a couple of interviewers, we think, did a particularly good job: the amazing Daniel Hahn, and Gerry Foley, who can disarm even the most grumpy Henley folk with his humour, and carry on with his interview with even a pneumatic drill hammering in the background!

In our opinion, there was only one slight disappointment: the session with the just departed prime minister. I suppose after her Desert Island Discs performance it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

That flop was more than balanced with other exciting sessions: Martin Sixsmith talking on his new book about the Russian poet Sergey Yesenin (Doctor Zhivago fans take note), Victoria Hislop on her new very well researched book set in Greece, Kirsty Wark on her second, very well-reviewed novel set in war-time Scotland.

Comedian Paul Merton dispelled any doubts that his hilarious lines on radio or Have I Got News For You are all scripted. He really thinks on his feet and the wit just pours out.

The John Crace and Anna Soubry double act was an hour of great political discussion and humour. The formula proved terrific, there was real chemistry between those two, and we all had fun. Sunday, the last day, had a particularly moving session: Jeremy Dronfield, the author, presenting his book A boy who followed his father to Auschwitz was accompanied by the surviving brother of the boy in the title. Hugely inspiring.

Our last event was a light-hearted meeting with JoJo Moyes and David Nicholls, intriguingly a 95 percent female audience a And there was time for a leisurely, now traditional lunch to celebrate the end of the festival at Phyllis Court Club for the festival “groupies”.

We felt a little sad that it was all coming to an end, we had such fun. See you next year, we hope.

Magda Ralphs

Caversham

No more talk of Remain

Sir, — Last week one entire letters page was given over to bleats from the Remain camp. Will you permit a few words from the other side?

Dan Remenyi’s rambles are now a weekly feature, a potpourri of thoughts dished up for our edification. Might as well give him a permanent column.

Judith Phelan sent us her autobiography, to which I’m tempted to reply with that old Michael Winner advert: “Calm down, dear” because her life is clearly dominated by Project Fear.

The future is unknowable, so no guarantees, we can only say that so far the doom so confidently forecast by the establishment simply has not happened.

We sit here leading comfortable lives because man is always seeking change, but at the same time scared of change. The EU is mired in the past, an undemocratic, corrupt and inefficient super-state, a Soviet Union without the gulags. Brexit aims to break free from the Berlin Wall of EU restrictions and again control our own destiny.

In fact, all such discussions should by now be academic. How often do we have to say this? The people voted to leave. End of story. Or should be. The Lib Dem campaign to overturn the wishes of the British people is simply undemocratic — they are now the Lib Undems. — Yours faithfully,

Rolf Richardson

Wootton Road, Henley

Stay out or take euro

Sir, — Judith Phelan wrote a long letter saying why she wants to be in the EU (Standard, October 3). However, she did not answer my question as to what is meant by “remain”.

There is no status quo. The EU is integrating financially and politically. We do not know the speed of the integration but it is accelerating. We have two options. We either stay out of the integrating EU and increasingly have to accept the decisions of this body, which may or may not be beneficial to us financially or otherwise, having had no say in the negotiations, or we become full members and take the euro.

Those, such as Ms Phelan, who want to remain have the responsibility of declaring which of these two options they wish to remain in as the EU integrates. — Yours faithfully,

Yvonne Kedge

Lea Road, Soning Common

Leave the car at home

If you ask motorists in any Henley car parks they will always justify (even on a Car Free Sunday) why they’ve used the car.

Examples will include it’s a long walk from where we live, we need to carry the shopping, we’re going on elsewhere afterwards, my dear old mother cannot walk very far, there’s not a bus from where we live, etc etc.

Many will be proud to tell you they haven't been on a bus for years. It’s anathema to them. They can afford to travel in air conditioned comfort so why hang around waiting for a bus, then pay to mix with the hoi polloi?

Perhaps if everyone didn’t get in inside their “metal box” every time they left home, they might actually meet their neighbours for the first time, enjoy seeing something other than the back of the car in front — and really appreciate that cup of coffee when they get there.

It might even turn out to be quite a memorable experience. Just a thought. — Yours faithfully,

Dave Ramm

Reading

How did they travel?

Sir, — Your report headlined “Campaigners to join capital demonstration” (Standard October 4) was missing one vital piece of information.

One assumes the plans of these paragons of environmental virtue to take part in the Extinction Rebellion demonstration involved walking to London. Or perhaps not? — Yours faithfully,

Maurice O’Brien

Highbury Road, Tilehurst

Toilets are disgusting

I had to use the toilets in the railway station car park and they were the most disgusting toilets I have been in. There was paper, nappies, water and grime all over the place.

If it’s the town council’s responsibility to keep them clean, I would try and spend less money on Henley in Bloom and keep them clean.

If I came to Henley and used the toilets and faced the appalling state, it would put me off coming again. — Yours faithfully.

L Every

Swiss Farm, Henley

My gym is nearly 30

Sir, — With regard to your article about a new gymnastic club in Henley (Standard, October 4) and the suggestion there is little in the way of facilities or coaching in the town. I would like to point out that there has been a very well attended gymnastic club with fantastic facilities and equipment with fully qualified coaches.

This club will be celebrating its 30th birthday in January. It originally started out at Gillotts School before moving to our current location at The Henley College.

There have been thousands of children go through the club since it started and it’s lovely to see children of previous club members now attending.

We offer classes for pre-school, recreational gymnastics and recreational squad gymnastics where children take part in competitions. — Yours faithfully,

Caroline Sweetman

Head Coach Springbox Gymnastic Club

Proud of my heritage

Sir, — In reply to Mr Tim Richardson’s letter of last week, I would like to point out that there are many of us in the South Oxfordshire area who are able to speak Welsh.

When I go to my weekly Pilates lesson in Shiplake, I always have a conversation in Welsh with another attendee. A retired headteacher at Shiplake primary school was a fluent Welsh speaker and he still lives in the area.

There are thriving Welsh lessons and conversation classes in both Oxford and Reading and quite a few participants live in South Oxfordshire. About 15 years ago, a girl got a GCSE in Welsh at Gillotts School.

Of course, if the Anglo Saxons had not invaded this country many centuries ago, we would all be speaking a version of Welsh in this area and think nothing of seeing Welsh on road signs.

South Oxfordshire is not the only unusual place to see Welsh written. If you are ever in Washington, have a look at the Washington Memorial. On it you will find “Fy iaith, fy ngwlad, fy nghenedl Cymru — Cymru am Byth! (My language, my land, my nation of Wales — Wales for ever).

This is because 50 per cent of the signatories to the American Declaration of Independence were Welsh or of Welsh heritage — including Thomas Jefferson. — Yours faithfully,

Angela Jones

Baskerville Lane, Shiplake

Walkers not responsible

Sir, — Yet another article featuring Mr Hill and his Site of Special Scientific Interest in Lambridge Woods (Standard, October 4).

A few dog walkers gingerly stepping down the footpath are not going to achieve any of the damage he refers to.

Twelve motorbikes are interesting, there are no tyre tracks and they must have made a mess.

The signs are ugly and unpleasant, it is regretful they are being vandalised. Other woodlands in the area do not have this problem — they put up signs saying “Welcome”. — Yours faithfully,

Brenda Armati

Springwood Lane, Peppard

I recognise those birds

Further to Vincent Ruane’s Nature Notes (Standard, October 4). I think I know these birds.

I was setting up the WI stall at the Bix village fete on June 29 (held on Bix Common) and a man was walking past with two parrots (very large) on his arm. The colours of these birds were lovely. Then they flew off. I dashed after him because I thought he had lost them. But seems he takes them out for a “fly”.

I asked him if he could show them later when the fete stared. He agreed but said he had to rest the birds first so he would cut short their “fly”. He tried calling them back but they remained in a tree.

Eventually they returned to him and when the fete started the birds did tricks and several fly passes. It was great and very kind of him and thanks to him and his birds. — Yours faithfully,

Jane Pryce

Caversham

Dancefloor memories

Sir, — Your article referencing Hammersmith Palais (Standard, September 20) reminded me that just after the Second World War, London was full of uniformed personnel waiting to be repatriated.

American, Canadian, Danish, Polish, Australians, American Red Cross, as well as British army, air force and naval personnel and the Hammersmith palais was a popular place to go. Lou Preager was playing there and, I think, Ted Heath. They used to change round on a revolving stage when they were finished and the dancing was non-stop.

Once when I was there they had a competition to write a song and announced that two ladies had won with Cruising Down the River.

I danced to that tune the first time it was played — I have often played it on the piano since then and I always think of that moment when I do. I can’t remember who I was dancing with at the time though. — Yours faithfully,

Jane Gascoine

Sonning Eye

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