An excellent lunch at the Rest and Be Thankful started off our 2019 programme on Wednesday 30th January. We had a good turnout as usual with about 20 of us, including a few new members. We are going to take advantage of their good hospitality again in January 2020, and the price is still reasonable at £16.50 to include the main course and dessert. I would be grateful if you could return the booking form with your cheque in good time, so that I can give the restaurant our numbers.
Our first speaker to set us off on our 2019 programme was Tim Charlton, who is the expert and day-to-day volunteer operator/manager of the Hydro Electric Station on the River Barle between Battleton and Brushford. The first hydro plant and weirs were in situ between 1909 and 1915, and provided electricity for the Dulverton Electric Light Company – which then merged with the Exe Valley Electric Company in 1930, and then to the national grid in 1938.
The current hydro station was seven years in planning, from 2006, involving many organisations and authorities, all with different agendas – from technical difficulties to possible effects on wildlife, especially the salmon. The station consists of the building incorporating the actual mechanical and high tech equipment, with seven weirs allowing the river to keep flowing naturally and allow the fish and eels to continue upstream. Special fast drying concrete had to be used for construction of these weirs, with eels having all to be removed by hand constantly ! Eventually all was completed and electricity, ideally 60 kW with a steady flow, is sent to Western Power. Tim visits and checks the site daily, listing the daily output on a whiteboard. At all times Tim can access any of the operation/site on his mobile – wary of any clogging up in the works due to excess vegetation, plastic, large logs, carpet and even once the contents of someone’s freezer! Intruders once caused some malicious damage too, but thanks to the CCTV these teenagers have been identified and sent to court. There is a good social aspect of this operation when several Rescue Services use the weir for training, and also local children have a lot of fun swimming there too. Tim did not charge for his time for the talk, nor inviting and showing some members around the plant, and we are all very grateful.
On 27th March we held our A.G.M. which attracted a good attendance of 22 members – similar to the previous year. The meeting was very straightforward, with an additional committee member, Andy Jeffries, ‘coming on board’. The speaker, John Batt, was able to commence his talk ‘A Grey Nomad in Australia’ in good time, and it was a pleasure to listen to his easy manner about his extensive travels in Australia since 2010. He and his wife did many trips, the last one extending to six months, travelling in camper vans in the tradition of Australian retirees, known as the Australian Nomads. These ‘Nomads’ purchase camper vans, boats, etc to lessen their cash assets which cannot then be taken into account for tax/pension payments. On the Batt’s first trip, they hired a camper, but on the four remaining trips, of minimum a month or two duration, they purchased campers and then sold them at the end of the trips, never losing money on them. They visited every Australian state and as in typical Nomad practice, they did some work on enormous ranches in return for meals/accommodation, and also some house/dog/cat sitting, sourced through the internet, which gave them a real insight into Australian rural living. John had a wealth of photographs, presented in his personal souvenir books, and also a continuous array on screen which he talked about in a most professional way. He demonstrated wildlife and scenery of the different areas, the background of the Aborigines, buildings, roads, etc. I think many of us were very envious of his trips.
We were lucky to have found Gay Brooks to talk in April on ‘In the Footsteps of the Klondike Gold Rush’, which was instigated by her long trip in 2002 to Dawson City in the Yukon for a family visit . The well-known Gold Rush of the late 1890’s in that area prompted Gay’s talk, being intrigued in the history. Dating back to a Californian, George Carmack, who found gold in a tributary of the Klondike River whilst fishing which sparked off a frenzy of gold hunters, mostly American – over 100,000 attempted to reach this area, with only 30,000 actually making it. To get to the area where gold had been found necessitated a long and uncomfortable journey by sea to Juneau, followed by having to endure miles of climbing up mountainous routes along narrow passes. Basically they were ill equipped, some even in their normal business suits with insufficient warm wear, no proper tools, and they even bought cheap horses or mules with no thought for their feed or welfare and who died in their thousands along the route. It was all madness and thousands died or had to turn back due to the extreme cold, avalanches, hypothermia, frostbite, malnutrition and even high crime rates amongst themselves. Of the 30,000 who made the trek, possibly only 4,000 found gold, and even then it was cities like Dawson, and even Vancouver, whose general stores, saloons, hotels and even ship operators, that made most money in safety ! Gay’s two daughters were born while she and her husband were resident in Canada, and both returned there in adult life, one with her husband who became a ranger in this wild outback of northern Canada/Alaska. Gay showed us some photos of the family where they lived very simply in a totally isolated area, with miles of travelling through deep snow by sled initially, before snow scooters were introduced.
Ex MP David Nicholson was our speaker for May, entitled ‘Reflections of an MP, and Subsequent Activities’. David gave a very eloquent and amusing talk of how he got into politics, becoming an MP for Taunton for ten years, from 1987 to 1997 when Jackie Ballard ousted him for the Liberals. His early work at Westminster was during Edward Heath’s time, when he was responsible for questions to be put to the Back Benchers. His work brought him into much contact with Margaret Thatcher when in opposition, and later Edward Ducan and many other well-known names in our English politics. In those days there was a recognised system that was followed which worked, unlike the internal politics that we see today. In 1997 when Tony Blair and the Labour Party ousted the Conservatives, David, along with many other MPs, was without a job. He, with Frances his wife, decided to stay in Devon, where he has since spent much time in his hitherto neglected garden, and planted over 1,000 trees !, although for the first twelve years he was very active lobbying for the Conservatives. A considerable amount of time has also been spent in researching material for his first book ‘Crisis of the British Empire’, during which he came to the conclusion that we shouldn’t have entered into the First World War, nor in fact the Second ! He is currently enjoying researching and writing a second book on South Africa.
Ex BA Captain Des Belam was our June speaker with the title ‘A Life in the Air’. During the 1950’s, British European Airways (BEA) and British Overseas Airways (BOAC) were in need of pilots, and the College of Air Training was set up at Hamble, Southampton, to train young pilots. Accordingly in 1962-1964, at the age of twenty-one Des undertook his initial pilot training after which he joined BEA for a 2/3 months conversion course on the Vanguard aircraft which carried around 130 passengers. During his first four years, apart from flying the main trunk routes in Europe, he got a lot of night flying experience since the Vanguard was used extensively for cheap flights to holiday destinations like Malta, Majorca, Spain, etc. Des then flew the Trident for four years, before returning to the Vanguard to train as Captain in the left hand seat. The Vanguard was then refigured for the new BEA Cargo division, renamed the Merchantman, which Des joined before converting for five years to the BAC 1-11, commuting to and from Manchester ! This stint also included 2 – 3 week periods flying out of Berlin in the designated corridor, alongside Air France and Pan Am, following the restrictions on Germany after World War II. A stint on the Boeing 747 for several years, which included some enjoyable postings in Australia, was followed by training in Seattle for the Boeing 500 Series, which was flown by just two pilots. This was Des’s last aircraft before retiring in 1998 and enjoying a quiet life around Dulverton, not keen to get on an aircraft ever again ! This was a most interesting talk on a subject we all love and admire, and we learnt that Des enjoyed every minute of his ‘life in the air’, with a fair few amusing times.
Rev. Barry Priory, retired Rector of Porlock, talked to us in July on his ‘Thoughts on the Work of Thomas Hardy’ – his knowledge, love and understanding of Thomas Hardy was immense and thoroughly infectious. Thomas Hardy was born at High Bockhampton, Dorset (now a National Trust property), one of four children whose mother was a very large influence, and father had a family building business. He left his non-conformist school in Dorchester at 16, and was articled to an architect but he was always keen to write and indeed during his life wrote around 1,000 poems and 14 novels. He eventually married Emma Gifford, who was higher up the social scale, at the age of 30 in 1874 with no members of his family present. This seemingly ideal marriage of like-minded people sadly declined quite soon, although with Emma he produced his first novel ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’. His hitherto difficult finances from then on blossomed, and he designed his own house ‘Max Gate’ (also National Trust) with his brother as the builder. Gradually Emma ‘hid’ away here while Thomas carried on with his very active literary life in times of great change in England in the late 1870’s and into the 1900’s. Although a great sadness to him with the state of his own marriage, he was always attracted to younger attractive women, and from 1907 Florence, 40 years his junior, became a large influence in his life. When Emma died they married, although Thomas felt great pangs of guilt being a very kind and thoughtful man. His poems of 1912 reflected his feelings of Emma’s life and passing. Thomas Hardy died in 1928 and his ashes are in Westminster Abbey, with his heart buried at his much loved ‘Max Gate’. Barry read several exerts from poems and novels applicable to the content of his talk.
Our September speaker was Amyas Crump on ‘Revelry, Courage and Crashes’ in connection with the railways during World War II. Amyas commenced by telling us that his interest in the railways was triggered by finding out that he shared his, very unusual, name with an engine ! His talk of the Great Western Railway network during WWII was interspersed at intervals by his knowledge and interest in a French woman, Odette, who, having married an Englishman and settling here in the West country, offered her services as a spy. Although we are all aware of London evacuees being transported throughout the West Country by train, how many of us were aware that trains were so important in the transportation of rabbits in great numbers for food in London, meat being so scarce, and also heavy raw materials for thousands of air-raid shelters were shipped over a considerable period by rolling stock. We were reminded of the continued bombing of the railways network by Germany, especially along Britain’s coastline – as well as the Exeter railyard suffering a terrible pasting, although fortuitously only two engines were lost. Railway yards as well as the coastline were easy to spot on moonlight nights by German bombers. At this time, the railway networks came together to try and keep rail traffic operating, and at times trains were re-routed using Dulverton and Barnstaple to Exeter. We learnt of the determination of Odette, who had to make five or so attempts to get to Southern France to carry out a specific task. Like many others, she was captured after her successful mission, but luckily not executed, and was awarded the George Cross at the end of the war, returning to the West Country where she enjoyed a long life into her eighties.
Hugh Maund of Exe Valley Fishery kindly stepped in to be our speaker for October, as Richard Sloggett was unable to come. As the Exe Valley Fishery is on our doorstep in Exebridge, we were all most interested to hear how it all started. Hugh told us that fish farming dates back to medieval times, when monks provided carp for the traditional Roman Catholic ‘fish on Fridays’ and which since the 1960’s has become big commercial practice throughout Europe, notably salmon which is worldwide. Brown trout were superceded by sea trout, originally from South America, and now rainbow trout has become the most popular, being less prone to disease which is one of fish farmers’ big worries. Hugh’s own fishery was probably the second fish farm to start in the UK dating back to 1885, and Hugh’s parents were the fourth owners from 1954 and soon their fish were sent all over the UK. Sadly a virulent disease shut down the movement of fish for a period, at which time they had to diversify, until in 1977 Hugh and his wife decided to take over the farm and bring it back to its former success following the death of his father. Since then there have been major advances and changes in fish farming – from the feed used, to the size of the fish which is now just about double (science having been able to create all female fish which are both more attractive and larger), to be able to control disease partly by injecting each young fish individually by hand, etc, etc. Table fish are not found to be user friendly, and Hugh (and now his son who has taken over the enterprise) solely produces fish for stocking lakes and rivers for recreational fishing.
Apart from disease, other hazards are drought causing low or no water flow, which can ‘take out’ the whole stock within one hour, skin parasites, loss by predators, etc. Exe Valley buy young stock in, weighing about 2 oz, and with good supplies of oxygen from the good flowing Barle river, good food and not too tightly packed, their fish grow well and are much in demand all over the UK. Fishing is also available in their own lakes in Exebridge. As with all types of farming, fish farms are closely monitored continuously and highly regulated, not only with regard to the fish, but also for river abstraction and discharge. We are grateful to Hugh for this talk, for which he made no charge.
We are now looking forward to our November talk by Jim Patterson, owner/manager of the Two Rivers Paper Mill, which is located on the old Mineral Line near Roadwater.
We did try an informal hour’s walk in the summer from Tarr Steps, followed by a light lunch, but only a very small group of five joined this ‘one-off’ venture so sadly it is unlikely we will do this again.
E & OE
Chairman's Report April 2019
Let me start by thanking all the people whose contributions makes the Exmoor U3A possible.
Robin Foster-Brown keeps track of our membership and finances, an essential job which goes on in the background for the most part.
Yvonne Moorfoot, who probably deserves a little round of applause at this point. Yvonne has provided us with such an excellent range of speakers for several years now and organised other events which I will mention later.
Maddy who this year has stepped in this to do an outstanding job of providing the refreshments at our meetings. I feel I should also mention Rosemarie as well in recognition of her years of service in the tea, coffee and biscuits business.
Apart from the interesting and amusing speakers each month we have had our annual January lunch once again and in addition this year Yvonne organised, in June, a great day out on the canal. Reports of that event have all been extremely positive, everyone enjoyed the trip immensely.
So our monthly meetings are in good shape and that is something which we all appreciate but that doesn’t truly represent the spirit of the U3A. Our record on group meetings is not so great, at present we have the wine tasting group, still in fine spirits! The classical music group is another long term meeting, which has survived the departure of David Fratter and is very successful. The few members of the discussion group still in Dulverton continue to meet although the lively arguments are somewhat diminished and we spend as much time on lunch as debate.
I recently found some of the posters and a copy of the leaflet which were produced for our marketing coffee morning a few years back which included a list of suggested topics. All we need are the group organisers and the commitment from members to attend regularly.
Join up and join in is the line on our advert at the cinema, having joined up we need a few people to step up and start some more groups.
Membership needs a boost, perhaps we could think about another stab at publicity this year, once every four years doesn’t seem to be too much of a burden.