Sunday, 29 May 2022

WI Roundup

WI Roundup


IN January, members were again not able to meet up and in February it will be one year since our last formal meeting.

The good news is that most of our members have received their first dose of the vaccine, so spirits are a little higher.

Sadly, we heard in January that we had lost another of our friends at Benson WI.

Joan Dunn was a regular at our meetings, organised birthday cards for the members and was always a great help when needed.

Her cheerful disposition will be very much missed and our thoughts are with her family.

In January, members voted on their choices for the 2021 campaign resolutions which included a call to increase awareness of ovarian cancer, racism and discrimination and a call to stop the destruction of peat bogs to tackle climate change.

These choices will be passed to the National Federation where the most voted-for resolutions will be discussed and taken forward to the annual meeting at the Royal Albert Hall in June.

It is the time of year when we start to look at our own annual meeting, which should ideally be held in March.

This is where we would normally discuss our year and look forward to a programme for the coming year. However, as for all other organisations, and with things being still quite uncertain, it is difficult to make plans.

We continue to communicate with members via a monthly newsletter, articles in our Benson Bulletin and through the Henley Standard.

For any enquiries, please call (01491) 837885 or email

Sue Brown


ON January 20, president Diane Bush was happy to welcome 19 members to a Zoom meeting.

The last proper meeting was in February 2020, just before lockdown in March.

Retired fishmonger Kevin Little was our guest speaker with a talk called “A fishy tale”.

He spent 54 years selling his fish to restaurants and the public in Union Street, Reading, known affectionately by locals as “Smelly Alley”.

He closed the business in late 2019 as the loss of two grocers and a butcher from Union Street had reduced the number of his customers to the point where it was no longer viable.

He said: “What with the costs of deliveries and rent, staff and everything else, the business needed a big cash injection to keep going and I was not prepared to do that.”

He said the decline of Union Street itself was a big issue. The once thriving street is now a sea of empty units and largely consists of mobile phone repair shops.

His amusing talk included some history of Reading:

Around the year 1500 Smelly Alley was a narrow footpath beside an open sewer between Broad Street and Friar Street.

Today it is a pedestrian walkway but the old name persists.

In the Eighties there were two fishmongers, a butcher’s and a cluster of grocers.

His shop was officially called Frosts Fishmongers but locals knew it as the Smelly Alley Fish Shop.

As a child, Kevin had to help collect the “fish boxes” delivered by rail at Reading station and push them back to the shop on a sack truck.

He remembered some amusing run-ins with public health officials.

Some of the rules often seemed to him to be pointless. From questioning the colour used to dye kippers, (BFK — brown for kippers) to keeping a fly count log.

He was required to not keep meat in the same freezer as fish but once, on unwrapping a parcel, he noticed a trotter and told an inspector it was a hoof shark!

For a bit of fun, he once displayed a dead dolphin with his other fish. Again, this was not liked by the inspector.

Some more exotic live fish passed through his hands, leading to exciting encounters. These included a pike which drew the police to the shop as the fish are officially “dangerous animals”.

Lamprey eels, we learned, can crawl out of their box and some once got into the roof lining of Kevin’s car, falling into his wife’s lap while she was driving.

Kevin’s tips for buying fish:

• Go for what catches your eye on the display, it’s probably the freshest.

• The bigger the fish, the more flavour so buy a large cod or haddock instead of a small one.

Many thanks to the committee for including a virtual welcome tea and cakes.

We look forward to meeting again on February 17

Selina Avent


ALL WIs, wherever we are, are battling with the same problem: how on earth can we keep a meaningful contact with our members during lockdown?

Last March, we at Greys thought that this wouldn’t last long, but here we are, still struggling, nearly a year later. What worries our isolated members most? In the beginning, of course, everyone was afraid of catching coronavirus.

As I write, the older members of our WI have been vaccinated but the initial delight has faded because nothing has really changed.

Our members are stuck at home, often alone, often in despair. Lonely. Confidence is fading.

Val, our president, phones every member regularly as she’s a very warm, empathetic person. This helps a lot. It is an important crack in the wall of loneliness.

There was no enthusiasm for Zoom meetings. After all, there is no substitute for actually meeting, chatting, laughing, sharing.

At Christmas we delivered our own Greys WI Christmas card and a present to all our members. WI Santa, albeit in mask, gloves and 6ft away.

Last year we decided to write a monthly newsletter. This would go out online, or in paper format for those members who had no internet access or preferred something to hold in their hand, to read and re-read and keep. That, of course, means printing it out and delivering it to the members. No problem.

The newsletter began in a small way but has grown and grown. Our February edition, due to be delivered next week, is six sides long.

In this way we can wish members a “happy birthday” and allow our officers to each write a short message (see examples below).

This month we are introducing a new series called “Why I joined Greys WI” — the first confession is from our treasurer.

There are competitions, a six-word story and a limerick about Greys WI. Quizzes are always popular and we mustn’t forget the answers to last month’s quiz.

Adding something relevant to our WI this month is an article about Lady Brunner, a recipe (for Eccles cakes) and a report from our Zoom committee.

There is lots of space for WI information — subscriptions, news from the Oxfordshire Federation etc.

For deliveries made by hand we are still able to offer a more personal touch (albeit masked and gloved and 6ft away) as it’s a great opportunity for a chat a moan, a worry or a laugh. “See you next month”.

Is it enough? Not at all, but it’s all we can do for the moment. In this, we are not alone.

Merryl Roberts

Jen Smith, secretary

“I WENT for my daily quota of fresh air this morning and nearly froze in the wind but the sun was shining, the sky was blue. kites were soaring and pigeons cooing.

All Saints’ churchyard was a carpet of nodding snowdrops with some little yellow daffodil heads poking through.

The ponies across the track were waiting for their morning greeting, their breath steaming in the cold air.

I’m glad I went out, instead of pretending to be a hibernating bear and staying in bed.

Keep smiling, we’ll win through. Cheers, J.”

Ina Chantry, treasurer

THE first signs of spring are starting to emerge, snowdrops and aconites.

In Middle Assendon we have three daffodils that always flower early and, true to form, they a glowing bright yellow.

In my garden the pulmonaria is starting to show its pink and purple buds and my hellebores are showing signs of new blooms.

In the same way, the roll-out of the vaccine is beginning to show us light at the end of the tunnel.

Many of you will have had your first vaccine. I’m a bit further down the list but I can wait a few more weeks.

As the days grow longer and our gardens come back to life, we can take great pleasure in the small things which make us happy, such as a warm mug of tea, a beautiful sunset or the clean pure whiteness of the recent snowfall.”


A HAPPY New Year to you all. 2020 was a dramatically different year for us all and the early part of 2021 will probably see us similarly restricted.

Nevertheless, staying safe is the key objective and as a WI we need to stay as connected as possible, whether that be by telephone or email or Zoom.

Your committee is here to help in any way we can, so please feel free to call upon us.

Our monthly committee meetings continue to be via Zoom.

We are so sorry that at present we are unable to hold the afternoon tea meetings that we had planned for January but, rest assured, as soon as government guidelines allow us, we will get these going.

Likewise, the monthly walks cannot go ahead and are greatly missed but Inger is ready and waiting to resume these as soon as possible.

So what can we do? Denman College continues to increase its range of online courses and Ruth has introduced us to online Blue Badge Tours of London, details of which Sarah will send out to you all.

You will also be hearing from either Jan or Inger directly by phone. While we cannot meet face-to-face, we can still keep in touch.

We managed a little festive cheer in December with our raffle and quiz. Sally-Ann, Jan and Claire ensured that this all ran very smoothly.

Thank you to those who took part. Prizes will be delivered to your door. Well done, all.

We look forward to all meeting up just as soon as we are able. Stay safe and let’s look to a happy and healthy time ahead. The days are getting longer and spring is around the corner. If any readers want more information, our website is

Jo Martin


SUZANNA ROSE welcomed members to the January meeting via Zoom.

It was noted that there were several husbands in the background of the iPads and computers, so perhaps we are now WIHI, or Women’s Institute, Husbands Invited.

The speaker, Al Sylvester, who had been booked many months ago, was able to use the Zoom facility too.

His talk was about the expedition he led to the Antarctic as a member of the RAF Mountain Rescue Service.

Al grew up in Grimsby, where he had been a member of the Venture Scouts, and was keen on outdoor pursuits.

It was in 2006 that he and his team of nine others flew to Patriot Island in the Antarctic where they unloaded their equipment.

The daily routine started by melting some ice to get some water to make tea and porridge.

The diet was supplemented with biscuits, nutty bars and pemmican (a cake of dried meat mixed with melted fat and flavoured with fruits).

Sweet and sour chicken was made by adding boiling water. Each person’s daily intake was around 5,000 calories.

It usually took more than two hours to get going in the mornings as so many layers of clothing had to be worn — three layers on their legs and eight on their chests.

The temperature in their sleeping bags was 20 degrees centigrade but outside it was -30C. If it was -12C then that was a very nice day!

After taking down the tents they would walk or ski for about eight miles a day and sometimes up to 18.

There would be a break for a few minutes to take on some juice.

On the very first day one of the team, Pita, suffered frost bites on both thighs because he had not put on enough layers of clothing.

He was in great trouble with his health and had to be helped greatly by the rest of the team but they kept going. The first aid kit was limited and treating frost bite was difficult.

By day 42 they had completed 509 miles and still needed about four days to get to the South Pole.

However, Pita was suddenly missing and was found lying in the snow.

He was put in a tent to recover but on the December 22 it was decided to abort the expedition.

Al called for aircraft assistance and they were flown to the Pole where they spent Christmas Day.

Al also suffered frost bite and when he was back in the UK he had surgery to repair the damage.

We were invited to see the pictures (or close our eyes if we were squeamish).

As a result of these operations, Al was downgraded from the RAF and no longer able to lead expeditions.

Since 2014 he has spent his time doing sponsored walks, running marathons and, most of all, inspiring youngsters in local schools.

He ended his talk, which had been accompanied by very good photographs, with the words “Appreciate what you have”. Al was heartily thanked by Suzanna for such a gripping and thought-provoking talk.

The new-look Oxfordshire Inspires magazine has had some teething troubles but it is hoped that the February edition will be circulated successfully to all members.

An invitation has been received from Stoke Row WI to their birthday meeting via Zoom on February 16 at 7.30pm.

The book club was to on February 3, again on Zoom.

The next meeting for Harpsden is on February 10 when the speaker will be Anne-Marie Gawen with a talk called “The science of happiness”.

Again, this will be on Zoom starting at 2.30m. Who would have thought that when this talk was booked, the subject would be of such significance in the current climate?

Keep safe, keep well and stay at home as much as possible.

Judith Young


The ladies of HOT WI have been set a challenge this month to make something lovely for valentines day in whatever medium they prefer.

Be it a poem, a picture, photo, crochet, cooking or painting. (We are all looking forward to seen how talented we have become especially during lockdown.)

The newsletter was delivered by hand, the day after our first proper snowfall of the season. It was an interesting walk around the various addresses in Henley. Covering 6.6 miles. A decent walk and interesting to see all the different snowmen created in the front gardens. Nicola Taylor won the lucky numbers draw from the Christmas newsletter and has spent her voucher for The Henley Larder on some delicious goodies, which she has scoffed already.

The ladies are hoping to get some zoom meetings up and running. As meetings do not seem to be possible in the near future, even with the rapid covid vaccination programme.

We are looking for inspiration from the other WI groups. If anyone has any suggestions please let us know.

Instagram: @hot_wi Facebook: HoT WI


ON January 6, we welcomed Helen Astrid, a graduate of the Royal College of Music and an opera singer, who gave a talk entitled “A night at the opera”.

She shared with us a list of 10 operas for interesting and diverse listening.

La Boheme and Fidelio were on the list along with Aida, Tosca, Der Rosenkavalier, La Traviata, Il trovatore, Madama Butterfly, The Merry Widow and Carmen.

Astrid explained the main components of an opera. She played various arias interspersed with dialogue explaining the story.

Some operas are quite small and known as chamber operas (without chorus) and ensemble. Mozart was a genius at this type of writing.

Astrid recommended introducing children to opera early as there are so many written for the younger ear, such as Carnival of the Animals, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Cunning Little Vixen and Noye’s Fludde, among others.

There followed a short question session.

Members were asked to send in recommendations for the resolutions for discussion at the National Federation’s annual meeting in June.

Zoom meetings will continue this year. The next meeting on March 3 (at 4pm) will feature a talk entitled “Rembrandt: the artist’s life discovered through his self-portraits”.

Penny Hampton


TWENTY-EIGHT members joined our virtual January meeting, which was chaired by vice-president Sue Lines as our president Joan Jolley had suffered a computer malfunction.

There was no official business, just reminders and possible plans for the next few months.

Quite a few of our members have received their first covid vaccinations and several lucky ladies have already had their second jab.

The result of the voting for the National Federation’s 2021 resolution was in favour of “A call to increase awareness of the subtle signs of ovarian cancer”.

The speaker was Jeff Rozelaar with a talk on railway stations. With that title, it was probably not my idea of the most exciting afternoon’s entertainment, but Jeff surprised us with how he presented this talk.

His theme was how the railways had influenced our music, films, poetry and architecture over the years.

Most of us remembered Freight Train by Nancy Martin, 65 Special by Don Lang and Coronation Scot by Vivian Ellis (better known to me as the theme music to Paul Temple).

Some of our greatest poets have written about railways, for example, Night Mail by W H Auden, Adlestrop by Edward Thomas and Whitsun Wedding by Philip Larkin.

John Betjeman was a passionate fan of all things locomotive and there is a statue of him at St Pancras station.

Other well-known statues found at railway stations are The Arrival at Liverpool Street station, Harold Wilson at Huddersfield and, of course, Paddington Bear on the concourse of Paddington station.

Film-makers have used railway stations to great effect. TV’s Endeavour and Harry Potter’s platform 9¾ at King’s Cross station are just two examples.

Probably the most famous, though, is the 1945 film Brief Encounter, which was shot on Carnforth station in Lancashire, where there is now a heritage centre which has the film on a continuous loop.

At the end of Jeff’s talk we had an unfortunate Zoom malfunction of our own and Sue was unable to thank him on our behalf. She rectified this with an email.

Our next meeting will be on February 17 at 2.30pm when we will have a look around David Parr House in Cambridge.


SADLY, the world is still in a pandemic.

Members are trying to stay positive and keep in touch with each other and support one another when needed.

The national WI campaign called Link Together to Alleviate Loneliness day is on February 14.

Members are asked to take part and consider contacting fellow members and friends who they may not have recently spoken to.

To enable our monthly meetings to resume the committee is considering taking out a Zoom licence.

Members have already enjoyed a wide variety of talks offered by Denman and the Oxfordshire Federation.

One member watched a presentation on Claud Monet and the impressionists and was reminded of the beauty of the world around us, which was a welcome break from the daily news.

The presentations cover a wide range of courses — craft, cookery, fitness, history and virtual tours of places of interest to name but a few.

During these sad and difficult times, some members have found small worthwhile projects a positive way to occupy their hands and minds.

Five members, assisted by their husbands, have been working at home helping out with work that would normally be undertaken by the Ways and Means Trust.

Gill and Rod Hayward deliver boxes to the members involved.

So far 36 boxes containing about 36,000 plastic spacers have been banded up and repacked.

It’s monotonous work but so worthwhile to help out this caring charity.

Ten other members are knitting red beanie hats for babies in the maternity ward at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

Thinking of everyone who is ill and wishing them well.

Until we can meet again, keep safe and keep in touch.

Sue Hedges


WE continue to keep in touch as best we can.

On our WhatsApp group a small ripple of excitement went through us over the festive season as we realised a lot of us were watching the same Christmas concert on TV from Vienna.

One person recommended it and then others joined in to say they were also watching and others picked it up on the repeats later on.

Amazing what you can do over social media — we felt as near to being at a face-to- face meeting as we get these days.

And it was a superb concert, full of joy at a bad time for some of us who were away from family.

Zoom has kept some of us going with interesting talks or just meeting up with others on screen for a chat.

We have had our coffee mornings, craft afternoons, book club and tea at three meetings this way.

Our speaker meeting this month was on rock churches, which are churches hewn directly out of rock in Ethiopia.

In February it will be our 65th birthday and we have a speaker on the Ridgeway, possibly appropriate as most of us can only go for walks now and we can access the Ridgeway fairly locally, at Ipsden for instance.

Then in March it will be our annual meeting, where we will confirm the election of a new committee, with some probable changes coming up.

Our scrapbooks would normally have been on display but this cannot be, although they are being kept up with notes on what we are managing to do in these terrible times. This will be a good historical record in years to come.

For most of us. the most eventful thing nowadays is the ring of the doorbell when a food delivery has come from the supermarkets, which are keeping us well stocked and saving us from going out in public.

Many members will have had at least their first vaccine by now and we look forward to a time when we can resume some sort of meetings face-to-face.

Meanwhile, we are, where possible, mostly abiding by the stay-atp-home message to try to stem the spread of the virus.

Fortunately, most of us have no need to go out so we are able to just go for the odd walk and otherwise stay in. At least we are saving money not being spent on car fuel.

Keep safe, everyone.

Penny Noble

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