Sir, — The much-loved Terry Wogan called one of his biographical episodes Is It Me? This is a thought which I find echoing more and more in my mind.
Last Friday I realised a show at the Reading Hexagon was one that friends had invited me to, if I had the time. I thought I’d go. I thought I’d take the train rather than drive. And here the escapade begins.
I know the railways no longer acknowledge the need for staff at stations so I was prepared for having to purchase a ticket in the auto “muncher”.
Surprisingly, the train to Twyford waited while I struggled against the odd menus (they’re called “intuitive” but my mind was definitely in the vernacular) and direct glare of the sun off the machine panel.
At Twyford I inspected the epileptic dots informing me that the next train to Reading would arrive on time in 23 minutes. Only it wasn’t, the next train that is, because by the time all the dots passed in front of my eyes and I learned that the Oxford train actually stopped at Reading, it had arrived and disgorged its passengers.
I made haste and got on, by no means the last or only confused traveller wishing to get to Reading. A laugh and brief conversation later, we were disembarking.
I found myself, at quarter to five, in Reading and ambled my way to the Hexagon to check the time and purchase my ticket for the show. Well, that was the plan and, while all good plans work, this one didn’t.
At the Hexagon the lights were on, the lady was in the box office but that’s where my luck ran out. Her back was determinately turned towards the firmly bolted front doors and eyes glued to the free internet webcams she was clearly absorbed in surfing.
No schedule existed on the door to see if the show was still on, fully booked or even if the place was functioning. The one notice of any relevance was that which displayed the box office times, happily announcing that on Saturday it closed at 4pm but as a postscript said, bewilderingly, “at the town hall and one hour before the show at the Hexagon”.
Right oh. Off to the town hall to hand over my £18 for the ticket. Only I couldn’t, the town hall was shut. So what in the name of all that’s holy did that postscript mean? Who knows.
If I had driven, the show would have lost a viewer then and there but instead I went for a bite to eat and ruminate over the next inconvenience to occur. Would the staff have finished surfing the web in time to open the doors and sell tickets, was the show a goer?
Well, at 6.30pm the lights were still on and the doors opened to a patron in front of me so in I waltzed, £18 in cash held tightly in my hand for the purchase. And, yes, there were tickets.
Then I thought I misheard a customer being blatantly overcharged for her tickets at £19.50 a head. I also noticed the staff try to palm off the worst seats to people.
The lady purchasing criticised the Hexagon website for not working, a situation that I have encountered on more than one occasion.
Then it was my turn and I was asking for a seat and what was I offered? Right at the back, either downstairs or upstairs.
I had seen the seating plan moments ago and was well aware of the closer seats, so I asked to see. Sure enough, halfway down. I’ll have that one thanks.
And then I heard the fateful words “that’s £18 plus £1.50 booking fee”. I replied: “I’m buying, not booking, I’m taking them from here, not having them sent or kept behind for collection and I’m paying cash, not by card so no additional charges.”
“Okay, we’ll waive the charges to avoid confrontation.”
Confrontation? I ask you, the way institutions behave nowadays is deplorable. This booking fee idea they use to generate extra money is a disgraceful scam. Can you imagine the outcry if you went to the till at your local supermarket and they said “that’s £5 extra for delivery”?
Well, as I sat and waited for the show to start this letter began forming in my mind.
Am I the only one who resents the lack of adequate information, the reliance on the internet and other technologies to perform normal human tasks and interactions at an additional cost and the way services are usurped into money-making enterprises all of their own?
Where has that age of care and diligence in the service industry gone? Why has it been exchanged for a money-grabbing, get-rich-quick, fleece-you-while-you’re-not looking, I’m-all-right-Jack, society? Where did it all go?
The show was well worth it, a rip-roaring success.
And the adventure home? Ah well, let’s just say that it won’t matter how new and clean the stations are, there won’t be any passengers if there are so few trains and even fewer staff.
Reading to Henley-on- Thames, door to door by train — two hours and 15 minutes. By car it takes 25 minutes. Cost? Very little to choose between the two, the car and parking being just a couple of pounds more expensive than the train but then perhaps I’d save on the wasted three hours, cold, drizzle and added anguish of poor message boards and unhelpful staff.
Is this truly what we want from our service industries or is it what we actually deserve?
As an addendum, I have just booked tickets for a show at the Wycombe Swan — no problems, a longer, reasonable opening time, no fees for cash purchases and a very friendly staff.
To coin a phrase, go compare for yourselves.
And, really, is it me? —Yours faithfully,
Sir, — You report that the Henley branch line should have electric trains by 2017 and that “the company will now determine cost and scope” (Standard, October 18). Let’s have a go at this ourselves.
The journey from Henley to Twyford takes only a few minutes, so speed cannot be a factor. According to Richard Turner of Network Rail, it would be cheaper — a dubious claim in view of rocketing electricity prices.
Some experts are even forecasting power outages, thereby stranding those lovely new trains.
The Institute for Economic Affairs writes that British railways need “an astronomical £6 billion-a-year subsidy due to wasteful investment in loss-making infrastructure”.
The already high cost of rail travel would be up in the stratosphere were it not for the 7p/passenger-mile subsidy from taxpayers.
The fact is that rail travel makes absolutely no economic sense. In cities and suburbs we’re stuck with rail, whatever the cost.
However, the Henley branch line is rural, so here we have a choice. Why throw away yet more taxpayers’money?
I would go even further. Unlike rail, roads are a goldmine for governments who only spend about one third of our road taxes on what they should be spent on — roads.
The Henley branch line is popular for lots of reasons, including nostalgia, but economically it’s a nonsense. If we really want to upgrade to the 21st century, we’d tear up these lines and use this valuable land — and an even more valuable river crossing, to build a road.
No longer a once-an-hour train but a constant stream of cars and buses to relieve our chronic congestion.Of course it will never happen. — Yours faithfully,
Wootton Road, Henley
Reduce traffic fumes
Sir, — You reported that the Deputy Mayor of Henley said, “I would despair of anybody sitting outside [Costa in Duke Street] with the traffic. The pollution there would fry their brains” (Standard, October 18).
I think that if economic growth really does take off, then traffic and fumes in Duke Street will increase sharply and even those inside the café will be breathing toxic fumes entering through the doorway.
I venture to suggest that the town council’s time would be better used to devise ways of reducing Henley’s traffic fumes. For example, a simple start could be made quickly by installing two-way “congestion charge” cameras on Henley Bridge so that car owners would be discouraged from driving in Henley. — Yours faithfully,
Matson Drive, Remenham
Bleak future for traders
Sir, — Your reporter Dan Robinson raised the issue of failing trade in Hart Street, Henley, in his article about Foam’s problems (Standard, October 11).
Skips on the highway and cement trucks obscuring shop fronts are only part of the story, albeit highly annoying for the shops and cafés affected.
The perennial problem is footfall, whether or not there is an obstruction in the street.
As the owner of two businesses in Henley, one being Boatique in Hart Street, and a member of the Henley Partnership, I am involved in the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan’s economy and business group planning.
Despite my natural optimism, I am rather pessimistic as to the future of our wonderful market town as anything other than a place to buy your bread and drink coffee.
Ultimately, it is up to the residents of Henley and its surrounding villages to support local shops by going there and buying their gifts, clothing, books etc.
Even the high street chains are questioning their future in the town and we lost Noa Noa recently.
Locally owned Henley Villas closed its doors too and it is only a question of time before others follow suit.
No amount of planning laws can alter the bare facts that footfall is what drives profitability.
As we contemplate purchasing spring/summer 2014 for Boatique, we wonder whether we shall still be here.
Support your local independent shops or go to Primark in Reading, the choice is yours. — Yours faithfully,
Green Lane, Henley
Unwelcoming post office
Sir, — I recall a recent letter to the Henley Standard from a customer who was refused service at the Henley Post Office because he/she was talking on their mobile phone.
I felt that this was extreme but have seen impolite use of mobile phones and tended to agree with the sentiment.
How then can it be polite for a member of staff at the Post Office to interrupt their service to me to take a non-urgent mobile phone call?
I have often been irritated by the number of signs in the Post Office giving customers instructions on how to behave and the general “us and them” attitude of the staff.
My advice to your readers is to vote with their feet and use Shiplake sub-post office where the service is always polite and helpful.
To cap it all, on my way out of the building I almost tripped on a trailing lead from an abandoned hoover which had been left lying across the floor.
Although it was only 3pm, this was probably in anticipation of closing as one of the signs makes it quite clear that the post office closes at 5.30pm and customers must ensure that their transactions are completed by 5.30pm! — Yours faithfully,
Name and address supplied
Sir, — I would like to congratulate everyone who took part in this year’s Henley half marathon despite the appalling weather.
It was freezing and my husband and I were soaked just watching under an umbrella with coats and macs on for what amounted to probably 30 minutes.
The runners, of all different abilities, were cheerful and most returned the waves and encouragement to go on till the end.
It’s so important for them to know that most of us support these wonderfully dedicated runners raising money for their different charities.
Sadly, though, as is often the case, the motorists driving past them were not so considerate. We parked our car at Aston, away from the runners, and I spent most of my time in my nice, warm car trying hard to encourage these lovely people and they seemed so pleased just to see, on that last mile or so, people supporting them, along with lots of spectators.
I know some of the runners from years back when they were children at school and felt so proud of them all, including our daughter who has been running for only about a year or so.
The race was well organised with the runners only using one side of the road so there was plenty of room for passing vehicles to slow down and not cause a freezing cold spray of water to engulf the athletes. It was not to be.
Some drivers were impatient, cutting across in front without, it seems, any due consideration.
We never heard one complaint from the runners about this but witnessed it first-hand.
The half marathon is only once a year for a couple of hours. Let’s praise these young and old runners alike for not giving in but just being good sportsmen and women, giving their time and energies and training hard all year for these events. What stars they all are. — Yours faithfully,
Vicarage Road, Henley
Juries aren’t infallible
Sir, — On what evidence does your correspondent Robert Warner base his conclusion that Thames Valley Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, prosecuting counsel and the judge hold different views to mine (Standard, October18)?
He does not offer any nor does he do me the courtesy of acknowledging precisely what I wrote, namely “I refer to...It would appear that... one wonders whether...”
Juries are not infallible and the reasonings of jurors are often contentious in spite of any directions they have been given.
Consequently, I return to the Highway Code and, in particular, Rule 144: “You must not drive dangerously, drive without care and attention (or) drive without reasonable consideration for other road users.”
Does Mr Warner really believe that Dr Helen Measures demonstrated reasonable consideration for the cyclists she encountered as enunciated by the rules of the Highway Code set out in my letter (Standard, October 11)?
I suggest he re-reads what she herself said according to Jamie Presland’s report in the Henley Standard on October 4: “If everybody had stayed upright there wouldn’t have been any issue.”
In other words, Heaven help cyclists who wobble. We might as well tear up the Highway Code. — Yours faithfully,
John A Pavey
Berins Hill, Ipsden
I sympathise with parents
Sir, — Rule 166 of the Highway Code states: “Do not overtake if there is any doubt, or where you cannot see far enough ahead to be sure it is safe, for example, when you are approaching a corner or bend, a hump bridge, or the brow of a hill.”
Anyone who drives up and down the road to Stonor on a regular basis will know that it is a very bendy road, frequently used by cyclists.
It is not unreasonable to deduce that if Dr Helen Measures did not see the approaching cyclists, they were in all likelihood hidden by a bend, in which case Rule 166 would apply.
I objected to the way that the press framed this story in terms of woman cancer specialist, mother-of-four and church bell ringer on the one hand and young, foreign waitress on the other.
I fail to see how the accident could be seen as Ben Pontin’s fault and I completely understand why Miss Perinova’s parents do not feel that justice has been served. — Yours faithfully,
Milton Close, Henley
Sir, — I don’t know how many people recently received a letter from their gas supplier about imminent work to be carried out but I bet it was a fair few.
Did anyone wonder why there was a delay between the initial letter in June and this recent one? I did.
I also wondered why they couldn’t have done the work during the summer when traffic was lighter without the twice daily school run.
The days were also longer, enabling quicker completion, and warmer and dryer so the quality would be better (all good builders know not to do jobs if there is a risk of prolonged rain or chance of frost — check the instructions on a bag of cement).
As this is to do with gas supply, the pressure/demand would be lower.
Instead, some “planner” with a sub-zero intellect, possibly the same numbskull who allowed sewer work to be scheduled in New Street in the first weeks of the new school term, has now allowed our gas supply to be affected over possibly the three coldest, wettest months of the year — a time when people will need to guarantee heating, cooking, washing.
Children will be coming home from sports or clubs needing baths, clothes will need washing and food will need to be warm and filling.
During the summer, in the event of no supply, families could stay out longer, have salads and barbecues, sandwiches or picnics.
Over the three winter months (including Christmas and New Year) people want to be at home, warm and comfortable, not sitting there worried because some pinheaded imbecile has decided to threaten to cut off their heating, hot water and warm food and uncertain if they are cut off if they will be reconnected to have a good festive season.
The evidence is in from the start. Luker Avenue has had barriers erected and the start of some digging, then nothing for days as rain frightens all the workers away.
I have to go to work, children have to go to school, come rain or shine, hot or cold, and so should they!
What mindless cretin makes insane decisions like these? And who then goes and agrees to them? The whole lot of them should be out on their ears because you won’t find a better example of stupidity, ineptitude and unemployability.
For once, can our self- righteous local politicos do something for us in Henley?
We are neglected by any and every institution going, from parking to road gritting, healthcare to the Henley Festival, bins to business rates, any sort of sensible town planning and public consultation is either non-existent or a joke for lip service.
For once, we want to be appreciated. If they are unable or unwilling to help Henley and its needs they should resign their posts and dismantle this mutual appreciation, back-slapping private club.
We really need to appoint a Genghis Khan for Henley, not Wally the Wimp. — Yours faithfully,
Less red tape helps Britain
Sir, — Your Conservative MEPs are working tirelessly to remove the red tape, to grow both the British and European economies. With less red tape, studies suggest that the economy could grow by up to four per cent in some sectors.
I support the findings of the business-led taskforce report presented to the Cabinet which has 30 recommendations to address barriers to competitiveness, starting companies, expanding business, cross-border trading and innovation.
The European Commission needs to take these sensible recommendations on board, reducing the burden for British businesses which currently are forced to comply with unnecessary red tape.
The taskforce suggested a “common sense filter” and that is precisely what is needed both in the legislation and the subsequent coverage.
Less red tape will stimulate the economy and prospective employers in the South-East would have fewer barriers to starting new small and medium enterprises.
Youth unemployment could be tackled with more flexibility in the labour market. The UK could maximise its benefits from the single market. — Yours faithfully,
MEP for the South East of England and leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament
Sir, — I was disappointed to read of the possible closure of the Rainbow Children’s Centre in Henley (Standard, October 18).
Parenting can be an extremely difficult job and the availability of skilled help, support and guidance is essential for many families to thrive. The Rainbow Centre provides this in abundance and I would urge everyone to contact your MP to protest at the proposed cuts and keep this wonderful local community resource open. — Yours faithfully,
Makins Road, Henley
Children before cuts
Sir, — It was with dismay that I learnt that the Rainbow Children’s Centre in Henley could be shut because of the budget cuts proposed by Oxfordshire County Council.
The centre provides a much-needed resource for many families in Henley. It is well used and highly regarded, providing a range of support, advice and activities for families with pre-school children.
We have been taking our two-year-old old daughter there since we moved to Henley last year and were immediately made to feel welcome and given access to useful information.
Cutting children’s services is the wrong place to start look for budget efficiencies — our children are our future. — Yours faithfully
Vicarage Road, Henley
Sir, — I am a mother who is passionate about the Henley children’s centre as I have frequented it throughout the last year-and-a-half and have witnessed not only the joy, freedom and care it brings young children, but also the immense support and friendship it has provided mothers in the community. Wonderful mothers and children comprise a huge part of Henley. Huge amounts of time care and compassion are poured into bringing up the community’s children and the centre provides a wonderful atmosphere for learning, exploring and really encouraging these families to grow.
I urge Oxfordshire County Council not to close such a very important base. It really is at the heart of Henley. — Yours faithfully,
Albert Road, Henley
Please give generously
Sir, -— The “poppy season” is once again upon us.
This year’s Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal will be launched in Henley market place at 10am on Saturday, November 2, to the sounds of Sam Brown and her ukulele band.
Thereafter, collectors will visit as many homes as possible followed by street collections in Henley on November 9 and 10. As usual, this activity will culminate in the Remembrance service outside the town hall on Sunday, November 10.
Finally, a two-minute silence will be observed on Monday, November 11 at 11am with a bugler playing the Last Post and Revielle.
The Royal British Legion is proud of its role of custodian of remembrance to the fallen.
But for every serviceman or woman who made the ultimate sacrifice, many more come home injured and traumatised. It is they and their families whose suffering continues.
Continuing with the Poppy Appeal helps us to ensure they are not forgotten.
We are keen to hear from your readers who may know of any ex-servicemen or women or their dependents who they think may need help or support.
Please call any of the following from the Henley branch of the Legion: chairman John Green (01491) 638720; welfare caseworker Nick Launders (01491) 628243; branch secretary Stan Ainsley 07935 755905. The Royal British Legion helpline is 01844 216 961. Thank you. — Yours faithfully,
Chairman, Henley branch, Royal British Legion, Maidensgrove
Youth club pilot money
Sir, — We held an event on September 7 and raised £100 for Macmillan Cancer Support and £70 towards the YMCA youth club pilot.
I would like to thank all those involved for their support, especially Café le Raj, the Chocolate Theatre Café and Spirit of Wine for their generous donations. — Yours faithfully,
Financial and general administrator, YMCA Henley
Sir, — As co-host of Café Scientifique Henley, I would like to record my gratitude to Quintessa, a scientifique company in Station Road, for offering sponsorship to the running of our programme.
Monthly talks and discussions have built up a good following with speakers from Henley and also from the Universities of Oxford, Reading and London really enthralling the audiences.
Now nearly two years old, we have been previously helped in the launch by the town council and are grateful to Henley Hockey Club for the continued use of its clubhouse.
Last week we were offered an insight into what people thought of meteorites 200 years ago on the very day the latest meteorite was salvaged from a Russian lake.
On November 13 the talk is about animal flight and behaviour and the application to manmade devices. Look out for details elsewhere in the Henley Standard. — Yours faithfully,
St Katherine’s Road, Henley
Sir, — I have to say I was quite disappointed with your front page headline about the Britain in Bloom awards: “Not the best... but still proud” (Standard, October 18).
It looked so negative, I wondered what had happened. Even my young children thought it gave out the wrong message.
To be awarded silver gilt — just two points short of gold — is an amazing achievement, fantastic.
A massive shout out to Councillor Kellie Hinton and her team for making our lovely town look even more beautiful and thanks to all those who bought hanging baskets. — Yours faithfully,
King’s Road, Henley
Sir, — This photograph was taken on National Fungus Day last Sunday and shows a giant puffball growing in the natural burial ground fields behind St Nicholas’ Church in Rotherfield Greys.
I am the president of the Fungus Survey of Oxfordshire (in the centre of the picture) and was leading the fungus foray.
We found more than 30 different species of fungus in the neighbouring woods and fields but the puffball was certainly the most spectacular. Eventually they turn brown as the spores ripen and then hang around for a year like footballs.
The woods around Henley are particularly prolific at this time of year. — Yours faithfully,
St Andrew’s Road, Henley
Sir, — I would like to use your columns to express the thanks of everyone at the Chiltern Centre for disabled children for the support of the local community at two brilliant — but very different — fund-raising concerts held on successive weekends.
The first, Mike Read’s Anything Can Happen Night at the Kenton Theatre on October 13, was the brainchild of Emma Lerche-Thomsen, the centre’s community fund-raiser, and we are extremely grateful to Mike and to Ed Simons, chairman of the Kenton’s trustees, for turning that germ of an idea into such an unforgettable evening which was hugely enjoyed by all.
The second, a concert at St Mary’s Church last Saturday, featured the Aliquando Choir, the West Forest Sinfonia and the concert pianist Anita D’Attellis in a programme of generally little known works by Elgar, Lauridsen and Pavlica as well as more familiar music by Chopin and Liszt.
This feast of music, performed to such a high standard, made this another unforgettable evening for the capacity crowd.
We are immensely grateful to Anne Evans, Aliquando’s musical director, Anita D’Attellis and the other performers who gave so generously of their time and talent to raise money for our charity while providing their audience with a sublime musical experience. — Yours faithfully,
Chairman of trustees, Chiltern Centre for disabled children, Henley