Saturday, 21 May 2022

WI Roundup

WI Roundup


DURING April, our new committee managed to hold a meeting, the first since March 2020, and started to make one or two plans.

We are hopeful that our May meeting will go ahead as an outdoor one and this will be a celebration of the easing of lockdown and our 95th anniversary.

Benson WI currently has 14 members, most of whom have been members of the WI for a long time and remain very loyal.

Back in 1926, the membership numbered 85 by the end of that year but we are aware that nowadays there is quite a choice of clubs and societies with varying interests, so it is really good news that we carry on.

April was a very quiet month as our meeting venue remained closed and outdoor gatherings were not possible for our number.

But we are hopeful for June 23, when and if government restrictions are lifted, we can resume meeting in our usual place, Benson parish hall.

For more information, call the secretary on (01491) 837885 or email

Sue Brown


A WONDERFUL time of the year with so much amazing blossom for us all to enjoy.

We have been able to meet for coffee outside and enjoy each other’s company once again.

We are hoping that we can meet soon and that more of our ladies will feel able to join us.

In a couple of months we might be able to go on an outing, our first since June 2019.

Carol Briscoe


ON Wednesday, April 21, president Judi Rowlands welcomed 22 members to our second Zoom meeting.

The speaker was Antony Wood, who talked about an amazing woman whose life as a “Socialite and courtesan” was both interesting and colourful.

Pamela Beryl Digby was the daughter of the 11th Baron Digby.

She was born in Farnborough to Dorset aristocracy on March 20, 1920 and led a gilded but sheltered early life.

When she was 17, she was sent to a Munich boarding school for six months. During this period, she was introduced to Hitler by Unity Mitford, a keen Nazi.

Moving on to Paris, she met Nancy Mitford, the novelist, biographer and journalist.

Pammy was regarded as one of the “bright young things” on the London social scene in the years between the world wars.

Aged 19, back in UK, she saw an opportunity in Winston Churchill’s only son Randolph who, with war imminent, wanted an heir in case he was killed in battle.

He was a known womaniser, gambler and alcoholic. Eight women quickly turned down his marriage proposal, but not Pammy.

She played a small part in unfurling history while living at Chartwell with the Churchill family during the Second World War.

She had one son, Winston Spencer-Churchill, who was named after his grandfather. When the war was over her husband returned home and Pammy promptly divorced him.

Her son’s childhood was pretty bleak as his mother was often absent on “business”.

Her second marriage was to well-known film producer, American Leland Hayward, who introduced her to the world of Hollywood and Broadway in the Sixties. He divorced his wife to marry Pammy.

He was successful in producing musicals such as The Sound of Music.

She stayed with him until he died in 1971. He had not changed his will, so she was left penniless.

However, she became known as the widow of opportunity.

She met Frank Sinatra but he dropped her for Ava Gardener.

She had many affairs with men, including the Aga Khan, Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos and Élie de Rothschild to name but a few.

Gianni Agnelli, the Italian Fiat tycoon, showered her with gifts over five years.

All were enchanted by her vivacious personality, the way she made them feel important and worthwhile, a refreshing woman of her time in a man’s world.

Her third marriage on September 27, 1971, was to Averell Harriman, an American Democratic politician, businessman and diplomat.

He was one of Pammy’s previous lovers. She introduced this powerful American man to Winston while she was living with her son at Chartwell during the war.

When they married he was 79 and Pammy was 51. He died in 1976, aged 94.

Harriman was her last husband. The old crocodile of diplomacy.

Pammy became an American citizen and a political activist for the Democratic Party, something she truly enjoyed.

She used her Harriman’s fortune and her own extraordinary charm, wit and intelligence to help propel a grateful Bill Clinton into the White House.

President Clinton appointed her US ambassador to France in 1993 and she served four years before suffering a fatal brain haemorrhage while swimming in the pool of the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

She said of herself that she was “British by birth but American by choice”.

What an amazing life.

Members enjoyed listening to Antony’s amusing and passionate history of this remarkable woman.

If you would like to know more details about her, a biography called Life of the Party has been written by Christopher Ogden.

Our next Zoom meeting will take place on Wednesday, May 19 at 2.30pm.

Our speaker will be Graham Horne with a talk all about “Anniversaries during 2021”.

Selina Avent


IN common with all WIs, we can’t wait to meet again — nothing can replace the warmth, friendship, laughter and buzz of an actual meeting.

The lockdown hit us hard because 2020 was our centenary year and we had big plans that were all destroyed by coronavirus.

We have been very impressed by the Zoom meetings provided by larger WIs and the Oxfordshire Federation but we are a small WI and some of our members are not keen.

For those of us who are at ease with computers, it’s easy to forget that others are not.

Many of Greys’ members live alone. The supermarkets have been wonderful but even the most efficient grocery delivery is no substitute for a real person.

So we decided on a rather old-fashioned answer, a monthly Greys newsletter.

Originally, we envisaged something fairly short, rather like the A4 information sheet we give out at meetings, but it rapidly became obvious that our newsletter was going to be longer, varied and aimed specifically at our members.

For example, our three officers (president, secretary and treasurer) post a monthly message and we always include a report of the decisions taken at our monthly Zoom committee meetings.

Greys WI elected a new president during lockdown. We used the newsletter to give the candidates space to write about themselves and also to explain the complicated rules for remote voting.

Members submitted articles such as Why I joined Greys WI, My life in five sentences and A story in six words.

There were also recipes for our very successful Cookery Corner, a monthly quiz, a monthly delve into our archives… I could go on.

Initially, our plan was to distribute the newsletter by email and deliver a paper copy only to a few members who had expressed a wish for this.

However, 12 members opted for the “proper” newsletter, turning it into a larger monthly delivery service. Over the winter this became a vital human contact with our members, despite the WI post lady being masked, gloved and at a safe distance.

We chatted, listened to problems and helped when we could.

We hope to meet again in June, so May’s newsletter will be the last one. It has old favourites — Cookery Corner (Welsh cakes), an account of the Diamond Light Source wall hanging of 2007, a report from 1937 on a Thames boat outing and the results of last month’s quiz.

However, this time we look optimistically to the future, with information about our first meeting at Greys village hall on June 23 at 2pm, our annual outing in August (a boat on the Thames), next year’s programme, how to pay subs and the dreaded tea rota.

I suspect that we will all miss it.

Merryl Roberts


THIS month saw our second Zoom general meeting.

While it would have been preferable to meet in person, it afforded us the pleasure of seeing familiar faces and sharing the delights that Pepe Martinez, one of London’s delightful blue badge guides, had in store for us.

Pepe took us on a virtual tour of London’s old East End. He introduced us to numerous familiar, and some less familiar, locations, giving us a detailed history along the way.

Our tour started outside what is now Liverpool Street station with a view of the evocative statue, dating back to 1938, depicting children of the Kindertransport.

Our journey took in Spitalfields on the north-eastern edge of the City of London, the medieval charnel house just off Bishopsgate, Brick Lane, Princelet Street, Petticoat Lane, Frying Pan Alley, 18 Folgate Street, the Jewish soup kitchen and the Truman Brewery before ending our tour in Shoreditch.

We were introduced to many characters along the way, including, of course, Jack the Ripper but also the diarist Jack London, Dr Barnardo and Anna Maria Garthwaite.

What was evident was the continual change happening in the East End, as in other places.

Pepe described how the synagogue in Sandy’s Row (next to Spitalfields) was originally built as a French Protestant church.

Over time, as buildings were demolished, other treasures such as the medieval charnel house were revealed.

This was excavated and incorporated into Bishops Square, laid out at the beginning of this century.

Similarly, waves of immigrants brought about change.

In the 17th century, Huguenot refugees from France established a flourishing silk industry followed by Jewish families in the 19th century who firmly established businesses including tailors, bookstores, bakeries and the like.

More recently, in the 20th century, Spitalfields became home to a large Bengali community.

Pepe concluded by strongly recommending a visit to 18 Folgate Street.

This former silk-weaver’s house is now a museum, a time capsule transporting you back to 18th century London.

I am sure we would all agree that Pepe whetted our appetites for learning even more about the East End as well as other areas of London.

WI events and activities include a bluebell walk, the book group meeting via Zoom on Thursday, May 20 at 3pm (Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior).

The next Zoom general meeting will be on Thursday, May 13 featuring Simon Williams, who will talk to us about The Great Train Robbery.

If his last presentation is anything to go by, this is one not to miss.

In spite of the recent flurries of snow, blossom is apparent and young shoots are appearing everywhere.

Take care and enjoy these optimistic signs of recovery and regeneration. Stay safe and we hope to see you soon.

For more information, visit

Jo Martin


OUR April meeting on Zoom began with a talk from Jennifer Cowling, who gave us all the details of “Staging a musical”.

Jennifer is a firm believer in live theatre and has been collecting mementoes of the theatre world since she was 14 years old.

In 1975 she appeared with the Harrogate Operatic Society in Brigadoon and, as she is of Scottish birth, her accent was a great asset.

She later moved to Abingdon and has been appearing in shows with the Abingdon Operatic Society.

Jennifer asked us to guess the cost of putting on a show and all our guesses were way off the mark.

She led us through the many aspects with the individual costs involved, which were quite staggering.

She said that the total cost of the Abingdon Operatic Society production of Annie in 2008 was £34,500.

The talk concluded with a quiz of songs from the shows. How frustrating it was to be able to sing along with the excerpts but not be able to name the actual shows they came from.

Suzanna Rose, our president, conducted the business meeting and treasurer Pam Hails announced that we now have 27 paid-up members but, sadly, we have lost four members for various reasons.

The book club will be “Zooming” on June 2 (Family Album by Penelope Lively).

The next monthly meeting is on May 12, via Zoom, when the resolution to be put before the National Federation’s annual meeting will be discussed.

There will also be a short talk on Probus clubs, followed by a quiz.

On August 14 we will meet in the lovely garden of Di Painter for a “bring and share” tea.

On September 8 we plan to be back in Harpsden village hall to celebrate our 80th birthday.

In the meantime, we hope that the Government’s roadmap will run to time and we will be able to gain more freedom to socialise without any constraints.

Judith Young


THE lockdown eased in April, giving us a little more freedom to meet up, but still to remain wary and follow the government guidelines.

We’ve had drinks in the Bird in Hand, where we proved not to be as “HOT” when the sun went in, and Nicola will be hosting select groups of six for mini tea parties in her garden. Presuming the lockdown lifting and opening up of our lives continues as per the government advice, we shall be commencing our regular monthly meetings on Friday, July 16.

Our first meeting will be a social get-together at Sacred Heart hall and it would be lovely to see as many of you as possible. There will be tea and cake and wine.

Many of the wider WI community have really enjoyed all the virtual meetings provided by the “WI wanderers”, especially the talk on the history of gin by Mildred Freeman, where we learnt the history of “Mother’s ruin” and “Gin palaces”.

Great fun and a great resource to those “stuck” at home.

We had the sad news of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh at the great age of 99, the husband of our Queen for 73 years.

It was very interesting watching the history of his life on the various television channels and seeing all the charities and associations he was affiliated with.

He was an amazing support to the Queen and led a very active, full life.

If you heard the radio announcement you may not know but, the announcer who broke the sad news was Tom Sanders, the son of our member Anne Sanders.

We are trying to encourage our members to embrace the No Mow May initiative and let our lawns lie fallow for the month to provide a natural habitat for a variety of creatures. We look forward to seeing some before and after photos.

Our newsletter still seems a popular addition to connect the members, as is our social media with accounts on Facebook and instagram.

New members are always welcome.

Nicola Taylor


ON Wednesday, April 7, members came together via Zoom to welcome John Vigar who had joined them to talk about “Britain with Betjeman”, not John Betjeman the poet but John Betjeman, the man who loved architecture.

Our journey started outside St Pancras station where we were able to gaze at the lifelike statue of Sir John.

It has a remarkable resemblance thanks to Martin Jennings, who has captured to perfection the essence of his subject.

Mr Vigar continued by taking us from monastic ruins to stately homes, country houses to railway stations.

Everything and anything of architectural interest was compelling to the enquiring mind and artistic awareness of Betjeman.

He wanted us to share in and derive the same joy and pleasure that filled his soul.

The setting of a building, its place within the landscape, the materials used to build and the detail both within and without were all elements which together added to his total absorption of the subject.

And, of course, there were the churches. It was interesting to hear that our speaker is a trustee of a charity called Friends of Friendless Churches, thereby continuing the good work of its founder Sir John Betjeman.

A most interesting talk and no doubt, when able, many of us will be making journeys to visit some of the buildings mentioned.

Sue Drew


IN their April meeting, members were given an update on the progress for their entry in the Elizabeth Bell Challenge.

All members are being encouraged to participate in this and already several pieces have been received for inclusion in the first section.

With the end of the lockdown hopefully in sight, members then gave their thoughts as to what the last months have meant to them.

For some, it was learning about and getting to grips with Zoom, which has enabled them to participate in various lectures and online programmes, while for others it has helped with family communications, both in this country and abroad.

It was generally agreed that communicating via Zoom would definitely continue and in some cases it has seen new links made with long lost relations.

Click and collect are words which have now become part of the everyday vocabulary.

This service is offered by shops and has been much appreciated by all, although members agreed they preferred to browse along the shelves before making a selection.

For many, the availability of Zoom meetings meant more contact with grandchildren, perhaps with some home schooling, cookery lessons or just time for a chat.

It was unanimously agreed that the days had continued to pass quickly with everyday “tasks”, trips out for the paper and, of course, the important telephone calls which kept everybody constantly in touch.

A break for tea and cake with the usual chatter was followed by a spring quiz with a reminder to the book club of the next read, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

The next meeting will be on May 10, again via Zoom.

For more information about Remenham WI, please call Daphne Austen on 07919 358979.

Daphne Austen


NOW that we are getting used to seeing each other on the screen but still sitting in our own kitchens and studies — and remembering to mute and unmute at the right time — the online WI meetings have become very successful.

Helen Robinson had again organised the Zoom meeting on Wednesday, April 21 and Joan Jolley welcomed 32 ladies who had signed in.

She told us that a “goodly number” of members had already paid their subs.

Joan and Rosemary had attended the Oxfordshire Federation’s annual meeting via Zoom and reported back with details of the new trustees, the 400 Club and the bursary winners.

The next Beechwood Group meeting will be in May, hosted by Stoke Row WI and the speaker will be David Allen, whose talk is about the making of the film The Wizard of Oz.

The Friday walks will restart at 11am from the Shiplake Corner Shop, followed by coffee in the garden of the Baskerville. Pam Hudgell has the bulb catalogues and ladies were asked to contact her if they would like to order some bulbs for delivery in September.

Pam also mentioned the walking netball team started by Stoke Row WI and asked if any ladies would be interested in joining them.

She told the meeting about the Shiplake Stars walking netball group, which meets at the Memorial Hall on a Tuesday afternoon and said how much fun it was.

Sue Lines confirmed that the outing to Polesden Lacey had been postponed but she has booked a trip to see Top Hat at the Mill at Sonning for January.

The speaker was Peter Hague who gave a lively talk called “A taste of Yorkshire food and traditions”.

He told us about his Yorkshire upbringing and some of the history of Yorkshire — how the three Ridings came about and that “dale” is a Norse word for valley.

He showed some excellent photographs of the different geological and geographical parts of the area.

Peter went on to talk about some of the famous people who came from Yorkshire, including Percy Shaw, who invented cat’s eyes, and, of course, the Bronte sisters.

Mr Marks and Mr Spencer started their business with a penny bazaar in Leeds.

Peter then told us about some of the towns which had unusual customs — Ripon and the round horn, which is blown each evening in the Market Square, Whitby and the Penny Hedge Festival and Barwick-in-Elmet where an 85ft tall maypole is erected every third Easter.

The final part of the talk was about Yorkshire food, from Yorkshire puddings to Pontefract cakes.

Peter explained the rhubarb triangle and the chocolate heritage of the Quaker families around York and Sheffield.

He couldn’t end the talk without mentioning Wensleydale cheese.

The meeting ended with some of the ladies with Yorkshire roots exchanging memories and those who had enjoyed holidays in Yorkshire recounted interesting anecdotes.

Joan thanked Peter for his fascinating and fact-filled talk.

The May meeting will again be online and members will be sent sign-in details a few days before.

Pam Hudgell


MONTHLY meetings have resumed and on April 15 members met on Zoom to hear our speaker Mandy Bradshaw. Her talk was entitled “Beyond the garden gate — my guide to Cotswolds

She showed us wonderful photographs of planting combinations such as solomon seal and allium and Cotswold stone with edges softened by blue geranium, astrantia and roses.

Mandy opened our eyes to the many varied and outstanding gardens in the Cotswolds.

The Sonning Common jumble trail was held on April 25.

Villagers were invited to sell items outside their houses and the public were invited to walk from one house to another.

Jenny Ward hosted a sale in her drive and sold members’ donations of goods and plants.

The proceeds from the sale will be passed to the Sonning Common community first responders.

As we are now permitted to meet outside in groups of up to six people, the Sonning Common WI walks have recommenced.

We use various routes in and around Sonning Common, Gallowstree Common and Kidmore End.

The exercise in the fresh air while admiring the spring -time trees and flowers is a joy.

It’s also a chance to see each other and have a chat.

We are all looking forward to the next few weeks as restrictions ease.

On May 27, weather and prevailing rules permitting, there will be a gathering for members to have a picnic at the Millennium Field.

Our next members’ meeting, via Zoom, will be on May 20 when the National Federation’s proposed resolution, “A call to increase the awareness of the subtle signs of ovarian cancer”, will be discussed.

Last year and this have been tough and sad for so many people. We wish everyone recovering from covid-19 a return to full health.

We are grateful to have received our vaccines and look forward to better times.

The following poem by L R Knost seems to sum it all up. It’s called Life.

Life is amazing
And then it is awful,
And in between the amazing and the awful
It’s ordinary and mundane and routine
Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful,
And relax and exhale during the ordinary.
That’s just living, heartbreaking, soul-healing,
Amazing, awful, ordinary life.
And it’s breathtakingly

Sue Hedges


APRIL is an uplifting month for many people with visible reminders that summer is on its way. At Stoke Row WI we have shared those cheerful sights with each other, often via WhatsApp, following the progress of spring with members’ photos of their colourful gardens and capturing the first frogspawn and bluebells.

This year, the coming of spring has more significance as some of us feel we are emerging from hibernation as the restrictions are gradually eased.

With the easing of outdoor restrictions, the walkers among us were able finally to walk as a group, albeit limited to six people.

They enjoyed each others’ company walking through the woods from Checkendon to Hook End and admiring the many different flowers visible along the way.

Stella Kendall, our new president, hosted a games afternoon in her garden and in May we will be organising more outdoor events.

We have continued to meet regularly for coffee via Zoom at which we often have a quiz but our first meeting in April fell on Maundy Thursday so, in the spirit of New York’s Easter parade, we all wore an Easter bonnet and had fun trying to show them off to each other without the decorations falling off.

This was followed by a presentation of the more extravagant hats to be found on the internet, including one made of carrots.

At April’s craft meeting we crafted along on Zoom with one of our members as she showed us how to create birds out of plastic milk bottles.

In May we’ll meet outdoors for a craft session, weather permitting (surely it won’t be snowing by then).

At our April monthly meeting our speaker Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson told us “All about chocolate”.

We were surprised to learn that where cocoa was originally grown in Central America the cocoa beans were so valuable that they were used as currency.

We had all bought chocolate with a high cocoa content and one of milk chocolate to compare and learned to distinguish a high quality chocolate by its shine, sharp crack on breaking and the lingering of its taste.

However, there was a feeling among some of our members that although dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate, it was very much an acquired taste.

The Beechwood Group, of which Stoke Row WI is a member, will be meeting on May 6, when the speaker will be David Allen talking about the making of The Wizard of Oz film.

If you are interested in joining us, call our secretary Pam on (01491) 681723 or email her at

You will be most welcome.

Denise Stanworth


HELLO, everyone, I hope you all enjoyed the lovely Easter eggs made for you by your WI and friends and would like to thank everyone for the lovely comments received.

In the week before Easter, our committee made and packed up Easter in bags for our members to enjoy.

They contained flowers, cake, easter eggs and quizzes.

There was also a raffle ticket with a prize — a lovely simnel cake made by Stephanie Craddock.

The cake was won by Amy Drummond, who said later that it was delicious and the bag a wonderful surprise.

After the long time when we could not meet, we are looking forward to a new year for the WI.

Firstly, we are changing the time and place where we meet. This will now be at the Methodist chapel on a Thursday at 2.30pm.

We have decided on this move as stairs and going out in the evenings, especially on the dark nights, were proving to be a drawback to our members.

The chapel gives us easy access and a lovely garden at the back for our use.

To get our programme going, we are planning to have “picnics in the park” like last year. These will be in May and June and the dates will depend on the weather being good to us.

We will have our garden party at the bowls club in the evening of Wednesday, July 7.

We hope to have a first meeting in the Methodist chapel on August 12 at 2.30pm and look forward to seeing you all.

These proposed meetings will all be in line with the Government’s coronavirus restrictions at the time. Take care and look after yourselves.

Dawn Matthews


ANOTHER month and another winner in our flower of the month competition (well done to Tricia Clapp).

The smiling faces on her pansies reflected the smiling faces of our members as we enjoyed our first face-to-face get-together in many months.

Abiding by the latest coronavirus rules, we set up three outdoor meeting venues, allowing six members to meet at each location.

Some of our members were relatively new to the WI.

Where they had not participated in Zoom meetings, they were delighted to be able to put names to faces after such a lapse of time.

We shared local news, updates about the next few WI meetings and canvassed members as to whether we should meet indoors or out as the summer progresses.

Raffle tickets were on sale and were soon sold. The winning prize of a week-long Blue Danube cruise was a particular incentive.

The sunflower growing competition now involves half the membership and the responses to the word link competition still roll in. There is another month to go before the winner is announced.

A number of our members have moved away to be nearer family, a handful found other priorities during lockdown and, sadly, a further two decided not to renew their membership due to poor health.

On a positive note, there is already the prospect of welcoming new members.

Anyone from Goring Heath or Whitchurch is very welcome to come along to any or our gatherings to see what we do and who we are.

For more information, please call Frances on 0118 982 2162.

Sally Bergmann

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