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 Spring 2008

News from the Residents' Association

19 November 2007 to 18 February 2008

A very full quarter with lots of contributors. We love receiving your news and views. Alas there is not enough space for everything we'd like to include in this issue - but please keep it coming!

Esher Station Floods

Tannia and Peter (right) with Network rail and SCC officials under the bridge

RA councillor Tannia Shipley succeeded in getting Network Rail to do a great deal of work last year on the two-mile system of pipes, ditches and culverts that drains the flood waters away from under Esher Station Bridge. Surrey Highways Department was less responsive. Rainwater now clears more rapidly than it did, but the flooding after heavy rain remains unacceptable. Tannia has secured from Network Rail the video footage of their CCTV probe showing fish swimming in (Surrey's) culverts under the road! In February our indefatigable councillor insisted on a further thorough three-hour investigation, trudging round the ditches with Network Rail and SCC officials, accompanied by our RA county councillor Peter Hickman for additional leverage on Surrey. An action programme was agreed. Qualified opinion suggested that even when drains are fully cleared they might not have sufficient fall or capacity to cope with a complex problem that has endured for over ninety years. Additional drainage structures are likely to be required. Do not believe anybody who glibly tells you this can be solved easily.

Planning:

Planning issues remain of vital concern to residents. Our RA councillors and planning convenor Graham Cooke put in a great deal of detailed work to monitor them, keep residents informed and ensure proper implementation of planning regulations, referring applications to the Council's planning committees when an unsatisfactory outcome looms. We have had good results in this quarter:

72 Ember Lane: we supported the many residents who objected to the proposal to build 4 detached houses following demolition of an existing bungalow. The Planning Sub-Committee refused the application as it would result in cramped development detrimental to the surrounding area, with an adverse impact on adjacent properties. 

1 Lime Tree Ave: we supported residents, and the Subcommittee overturned the Planning Officer's recommendation to permit this backland development that would cause access and safety problems, and gainsay the earlier reports of two Planning Inspectors who in rejecting another application highlighted the desirability of preserving the leafy open-ness of the site. 

2 Lime Tree Avenue: we supported residents' objections to further expansion of plans already approved to build two semis on the site of a bungalow. The Subcommittee rejected this as an overly large and bulky addition, incongruous with the area. 

27 - 31 High Street: we strongly supported residents' objections to the developer's non-compliance with planning conditions and in December the Council issued a legal 'Stop-Order'. Remedial work has now commenced on the new buildings. Some issues remain to be resolved. Thank you to the many residents who supported RA Councillors Karen Randolph and Ruth Lyon at the Planning Sub-Committee, when plans to halve the size of the Old Bakery were rejected. If they had been approved the shop would not be viable and the High Street would have lost another shop. The committee also rejected plans to build 5 flats over Hawes estate agents, as over-development, out of keeping with the character of the Conservation Area and would produce problems for highway and pedestrian safety. 

Thames Ditton Tennis Club: Elmbridge Council has now approved floodlighting for three tennis courts, which will give this fine 100-year-old club a new lease of life. Following the earlier Planning Inspector's report, the Tennis Club reduced the number of lights, proposed to switch them off at 9pm and attach baffles to minimise light spillage. RA councillors supported this neighbourly and reasonable compromise. 

Royal Thames House, Portsmouth Road: a further application on the old office site was rejected on the grounds of over-development. Developers have gone to appeal.Post OfficeOur vital Post Office passed its inspection with flying colours and we are very pleased that it has not been singled out for the next round of cuts.

Parking

Since our last issue Surrey County Council transport officials have attended three presentations of their parking proposals in the Library. These were amply notified to all in Thames Ditton Today and on our website, by email to several hundred residents who have furnished us with email addresses, and by public noticeboard. One was held on a Saturday (12 January) and two on weekdays extending until 8 pm (11 December and 4 February) so that all who wished to view the proposals directly and make representations to SCC experts have had opportunity to do so. And many did! A Surrey transport official also attended a meeting of the local business community to discuss the matter on 15 January, the upshot of which was summarised on our website. RA county councillor Peter Hickman and RA borough councillor Karen Randolph were on hand at these sessions. Representatives of Thames Ditton Island presented a petition at the Library session of 12 January. 

Officials indeed seem to be taking representations into account in revising their proposals, which has caused a delay in the expected issue of a further questionnaire by SCC to those in the affected roads of the Station area. Meanwhile some of their proposals for the High Street area are being considerably modified to reflect your views. All residents may still submit views directly via the SCC website where there is a form available for the purpose. Officials assure us that they will continue to note substantive representations submitted right up until the final stages. In the light of majority responses the final proposals of SCC officials will be debated by Surrey councillors of the Area Subcommittee. Then by law they must be put in writing to those in the affected roads (the 'affected roads' are also defined by regulation) for a final 'yes' or 'no.' 

Please keep an eye on our website for updates as matters proceed. The key is to remain engaged and to get the best possible set of solutions Surrey can produce. 

School crossing

Nathan Byatt worried about crossing safely We have supported residents, particularly parents of young children, in efforts to improve the safety of the school crossing on Station Road Thames Ditton. Residents raised a petition of more than 400 signatures to Surrey County Council, which gives RA county councillor Peter Hickman more leverage with officials. The narrow road and pavements at that point prevent a technical solution (Pelican) within regulations. We urge people witnessing dangerous incidents at the crossing point to record these, either in our website forum or in writing to the schools' parents associations, building up a body of evidence to convince Surrey officials who are sceptical that the crossing, unassisted, is as unsafe as we know it to be. Meanwhile, is there really nobody who will take on the post of lollipop person?

Councils and Council Tax:

You will have seen in the local media much 'spin' from the Council administrations about Council Tax. Here are the facts:

♦  Before 1992, Elmbridge Council was inefficient. The auditors refused to pass the accounts. The Residents formed a minority administration in that year. The next 14 years saw things made shipshape. Elmbridge's Council Tax rose by less than inflation during that period overall. The Residents administration left healthy reserves to the current Conservative administration in Elmbridge when the latter regained office two years ago. Residents support a tight policy on Council Tax.  In February your Residents councillors approved keeping the Borough's Council Tax at the same level as last year. We are pleased that good reserves earning higher interest, income from Walton Heart (developed under the Residents' administration) and earlier efficiency reviews have helped to make this possible. We don't want erosion of the quality of vital services your tax pays for. Nor should you pay more in real terms for them. 

♦  Residents have reservations about the Elmbridge administration's trend over the past two years to raise revenues by increasing charges beyond inflation for some services to the elderly and to the bereaved. Residents' councillors have resisted this. Further proposals to raise parking charges in Ashley Road and other car parks by several times the rate of inflation were successfully opposed in December by Residents councillors and Liberal Democrats. Car parks are community assets and charges should be adjusted to help our local shops and short-stay parking. 

♦  In December,  Conservative councillors joined with some Liberal Democrats to vote themselves increases in pay and allowances many times the rate of inflation, paid out of your tax. Your Residents councillors voted against this. 

♦  In the County Council  the Conservative administration has voted in a Council Tax increase of twice the rate of inflation. They blame the Government (with some justification) but there were options for a lower increase: Residents' councillors voted for a lower option. Residents are critical of the performance of the County and the commercial contractors whom it still retains, for failing properly to maintain our roads, drains and street lighting. We'd like this responsibility returned to Elmbridge who ran it better in years past. Meanwhile Surrey is reportedly borrowing an additional £25 million for Highways - to be paid back from your future tax. 

RA Secretary

We promised to present to readers Lorraine Sharp, who took on the job of Secretary of our Thames Ditton and Weston Green Residents' Association when Libby MacIntyre became Chairman last year. Lorraine is also a Committee Member of the Friends of Thames Ditton Hospital. A university graduate, she's an erstwhile international swimmer, and co-manages a local boys' football team. Lorraine was formerly Company Secretary of a group of technology companies listed on the LSE and NASDAQ. Married, with two children, she has lived in Weston Green for 18 years. Lorraine plays an impressive part in the continual renewal and regeneration of the Association. She introduces herself on the next page.

Annual Subscription

Yes, it's that time again - the year runs from March. If you enjoy this community magazine and value the work of the Residents' Association,  please send in your 2008/9 subscription. A subscription form is thoughtfully enclosed with this issue. Subscription details are also on page 3 of every issue and on our website. In 2007, it was heartening to see our subscribing membership increase to nearly 1100 households and voluntary contributions also increased. Thanks to you all, and to our many distributors and collectors for their effort. 

Local elections on 1 May

Please turn out to vote - it's important to stay engaged. We appreciate residents' support for your Association. Thank you.

Jubilee Quilt

The fine quilt depicting scenes from village life in Thames Ditton and Weston Green, a major work created by many villagers to mark the occasion of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, has been restored and reframed following deterioration of the original frame. It has been enclosed in high quality non-reflective glass and should be better protected against both ultra-violet light and damp penetration. The Quilt Committee is very grateful to Surrey County Council Local Committee (Elmbridge) for funding the restoration, which made the undertaking possible. You may view this unusual work, which can now be seen more clearly and with vibrant colours, in the Dittons Library in Watts Road where you may also purchase a "poster" of the whole work for £2. 

Cover photo

"The suburbs are good for the children, but no place for adults to be," wrote poet Judith Viorst*, tongue in cheek. In this issue, Ruth Lyon extols our corner of suburbia as a great place for children and adults alike. And of course pets. Thames Ditton resident Finley, a wonderful Bernese mountain dog, is frequently to be seen in the High Street taking charming Sophia for a walk. Scott Hortop photographed them in front of Secret Garden Floral Designs. Our prized florists won another accolade in January - accreditation as a Master Florist. Congratulations!

* from: "It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty"

 

From Campaigner to RA Secretary

Lorraine SharpI'm sure like many Weston Green and Thames Ditton residents, my first awareness of the Residents' Association was the Association's magazine, 'Thames Ditton Today'. With the demands of work and family, I must admit that (whilst I obviously paid my subs!) I gave little thought to the association underlying the magazine or its work on behalf of residents.

This all changed when the Weston Green community was faced with a roll-out programme of mobile phone masts on our street pavements, their antennae close to schools and next to children's bedrooms along Ember Lane and its surrounding streets. As this scenario wasn't part of our roll-out programme, I became part of the community action to prevent it. As can you can imagine, taking on the might of a global telecomms operator with "permitted development rights" over our pavements, was an enormous challenge. The Thames Ditton and Weston Green Residents' Association, together with the Molesey Residents' Association, provided our community with the most fantastic support and were as passionate about safeguarding our children as we were. Any misplaced and ill-informed preconceptions I might have had about the nature, make-up and effectiveness of residents' associations were demolished in an instant - here was the direct focus of a group of generous (with their time and skills) individuals, supported by a large cohort of extremely able, dedicated and ethically motivated RA councillors.

My own experience has led me to appreciate what a valuable asset we have - our Residents' Association is an unadulterated, clear-cut and effective support system. In purely pragmatic terms, there are times in life when it is vital that one's voice is heard and heeded. Alongside contacting your councillor directly, contacting the Residents' Association will provide access to the combined clout of the Thames Ditton and Weston Green communities. So don't forget to pay your subs! 

And finally, the Association's meetings have a twofold aim: (1) for the Association's councillors to provide information on local matters that affect us all; (2) for local residents to seek assistance and information on their concerns and problems. Unlike the national political parties, only the Residents' Association hold these regular meetings open to everyone. Do come along - see page 5 for dates and venue.

Lorraine Sharp

 

Thames Ditton to Babylon gratis

Clive Lewis heads for the hills "How many miles to Babylon?"
- Three score miles and ten.

"Can I get there by candlelight?"
-Aye, and back again...


Author Clive Lewis heads for the hills vial local Guildford bus 515.
photo: Scott Hortop

Nursery rhymes at bedtime may, on the face of it, be far removed from the magic carpet of local bus travel when you're sixty-plus. But, come April 1 the destination possibilities handed out to bus travelling pensioners (of which I am one of 16,000 across Elmbridge), range from the adventurous to the exotic.

For, in local bus travel concession terms, this is change in the root-and-branch category. In the space of two years, 'concessionary' travel has been translated from being discounted tickets on local journeys across Surrey, to totally free travel through the week on all 'local' bus services across the county - and to places like Kingston located just over the county border.

Still, the most significant step yet will be taken on April 1. From this point on the calendar, concessionary travel will bring the 'Bus Pass' holder rights to free travel by local bus anywhere in England ! And that means being able to hop on and off local bus services on the way to distant destinations as well as around the destinations themselves.

Note: journeys can only be taken with the pass between 09.30am and up to 11.00pm.

If you become a pass holder in April you'll be sharing a travel experience with an 11 million community of pensioner passengers from every other shire in England. "We don't expect it will be long before the free scheme is rolled out across the UK," a Surrey County Council spokesman told Thames Ditton Today. As it is, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already enjoy the sort of travel benefits that will be introduced in England in April. And that is not to mention the largesse handed out to our neighbours across London where pensioners enjoy free bus, train, tube and tram travel with Transport for London's Freedom Pass.

So what will lend a measure of enrichment to the travel experience that the (free) local bus will hand out to its pensioner passengers? For one thing, there are myriad sources of information via the telephone, the web and the more readily accessible local libraries and tourist information centres (see below). You can include Thames Ditton's library for a start, and count in tourist information centres at Kingston and Guildford, the two biggest towns served by the local buses that pass through Thames Ditton and its neighbours. 

New to bus travel even in your sixties? Try the familiar local routes first then move on to the country lanes in deepest Surrey. Letting someone else take charge of the driving presents the passing scene in a totally new perspective to the usual car trip.

In a very real sense the Bus Pass unlocks the full potential of joined-up travel. Opening up the countryside and meeting and sharing the travel experience with kindred spirits. It presses all the right buttons for the green agenda too.What about the splendours of Borrowdale in the Lake District, the still leafy Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, the Rainbow bus that runs between Nottingham and Eastwood, birthplace of writer D H Lawrence. For spots like Leith Hill, our own Painshill Park and Wisley within Surrey the county council's Passenger Transport Group (see below) can supply bus (and train) guides.

Harry Livesey who heads up Elmbridge's handling department for the new pass, reports that 12,000 applications have already been processed. He fully expects a take-up by 15,000-16,000, and urges those who still have to file their forms/pictures to do so with expedition. Harry and his team are wholly confident that the job will be completed well before candlelight. In the meantime talk to:

Passenger Transport Group, Surrey County Council (for maps and timetables) tel 08456 009 009;  

Traveline: (for countrywide service data) tel 0871 200 2233;  

Transport Direct (door to door national travel)  

Elmbridge Bus Pass Team:  email; tel 01372 474 056

Clive Lewis

The author, journalist and Founding Editor of the British Tourist Authority's magazine 'Getting About Britain,' now runs the website: www.gettingaboutbritain.com

 

In Praise of Suburbia

The Islington intellectuals look down on it as an arid zone of mediocrity, the planners deplore it as sprawling and anonymous, Sunday newspaper writers describe the rustic and Aga-filled joys of life in the country - will nobody sing the praises of suburbia? 

Quilt: Weston Green
Peaceful Weston Green - from the Jubilee Quilt made by residents

It is neither town nor country but perhaps the best of both, when, as in our corner of Surrey, we have green spaces, we have the commons and the Thames on our doorstep, we have the glories of Claremont, Bushy Park and Painshill. Ah, but you can walk in the real country also, we hear, but have you ever tried to go for a walk in, say, Essex, where you are confined to the roads because there are hardly any walks across the fields? In having so many green areas we are lucky compared with many other parts of the London sprawl, but we share with them many of the features that make living in the suburbs so attractive to the refugees from London.

Chief among these is the sense of community which comes from the myriad local activities on offer – for the young there are the Cubs and Scouts, the Brownies and Guides, Ajax Sea Scouts, junior tennis at the Tennis Club, junior cricket at Giggs Hill Green and rowing at the Dittons Skiff and Punt Club. At the Vera Fletcher Hall children are introduced to live theatre in the splendid professional children’s shows that are put on there. For the young at heart but older in years and less active in sport we have the Ember Centre with its range of activities - Tai Chi, darts, bridge, outings, lunches etc where volunteers support the Council’s staff and older people can get out and socialise.

For all age groups music and theatre at the Vera Fletcher Hall provide entertainment at a level which matches anything they could see in a large town - and on our doorstep. We have had many of the most famous names in theatre and opera performing at the Hall. It may not be the largest venue but it lacks nothing in the quality of its performances. 

Life in the suburbs is quieter than in towns and those who commute each day to work in London welcome the moment when they get off the train at Thames Ditton or Esher station and hear the birds sing and see the trees on Weston Green Common or in the Dell and walk home past the gardens of Church Walk or Ember Lane. Children can walk to school and if you go past Thames Ditton Infants School in the morning you will see over a hundred scooters and bikes in the racks.

They have gardens to play in, to have a football goal, a badminton net or cricket stumps, or to dig a hole through to Australia-or failing that to their next door neighbour’s garden - as our own children did. Children can have friends in the same road, because they can play with them outside and not be confined to blocks of flats, and mothers spend less time ferrying them around. They can go to Mrs. Patel’s in Summer Road for their pocket money sweets, they can cycle to friends and let off steam on the commons or the recreation ground. 

Sociologists note how often those who are the loudest in singing the praises of living in towns and of their vibrant street and night life suddenly change their view when children come along. The commuting may be longer- but very much less than if you lived in the country and had to go into town each day - but the quality of life can be better if you measure this by the special character, sense of place and community. 

We know there are pressures through over-development, the concreting of front gardens, the inappropriate extensions and building in back gardens, and we are told we may all be flooded in the next ten years, but even with all of these we still live in a pleasant area, we do not have the city’s crowded and noisy streets and Thames Ditton and Weston Green still have their own particular identity which made us want to come to live here and to stay here and an active Residents’ Association which fights to keep it attractive.

Throughout history, from the citizens of Rome, who moved from the crowded metropolis out to the cooler hills of “suburbium,” to the present day we have sought a better quality of life and found it on the edges of the big cities. 

Long live suburbia !

Ruth Lyon

Charities and Good Causes

Congratulations to businesses and all involved in the Christmas Fayre, a splendid occasion that raised over £2500 for the Guide Hut. Kind donors and the Guides' own efforts have already raised several thousand more since this local Appeal was launched in September: they are half way there. Other charities such as Cancer Research, Mind, the British Heart Foundation, Street Child Africa and the Princess Alice Hospice also benefited from activities during the Fayre.

The next Cancer Research Good as New Sale at Esher College will be on 3 May. Meanwhile Thames Ditton resident Shaun Wolfe is running back-to-back marathons in London and Paris this April in aid of Christies Cancer Hospital and Get Kids Going. You can sponsor him online at www.justgiving.com/shaunwolfe. And please sponsor Dr. David Matthews of Giggs Hill Surgery for his eighth cycle race from London to Brighton for the British Heart Foundation on 15 June.

 

The Tortoise and the Fox

Margie the tortoise with bandage, amputation and drip

Now the natives East of the turnpike to Portsmouth are always grumbling that the village pays scant attention to them. We do have correspondents there, but they write that Nothing Ever Happens. All the more exciting, then, to get word of a scoop just before Christmas. Packing supplies and pulling on stout hiking boots, our reporting staff trekked to the hinterland of Thorkhill Road to discover streets of peaceful suburban dwellings much like our own, built in the main of brick. Despite the remoteness of the area it turns out that the inhabitants speak a form of English and are recognisably similar and familiar to other villagers. As are their problems in parking. 

The mission: to document wild animal depredations. For in late November urban foxes brutally and without provocation attacked a garden tortoise. Margie, a testudo marginata, was looking forward to a peaceful hibernation when the foxes struck, savaging one and a half limbs and leaving the poor tortoise on its back in a pool of blood. Margie is now contemplating a long lifespan of disability, possibly with a wooden leg. Earlier these foxes, presumed to be a local gang, had snatched an innocent rabbit from her hutch and vilely slaughtered her. They continue to terrorise the community, sneering through kitchen doors and latterly biting a harmless dog on its nose in a further episode of wanton aggression.

Owner Fiona and her husband rushed Margie to the vets whence the poor tortoise was referred to a consultant herpetologist in Sheen, of great renown. He warmed Margie up from pre-hibernation state and then amputated the remains, applying a dressing, drip and antibiotics. In the process - one of considerable expense - it was discovered that Margie is in fact a male tortoise. He is recovering steadily in his terrarium and when warmer weather arrives will be given field trials in the garden to establish whether he can still walk. If not, he will be fitted with an artificial prosthesis so that he can continue to get about and to play with the family children Antonia and Lottie. Margie, an active and out-going tortoise until the incident, enjoys going down the children's slide and comes back for more, likes a cuddle, and seeks out Poppy the family dog as a playmate (Margie's defensive instincts being thus allayed may have contributed to his misplaced trust in foxes).

The vets treating Margie report that fox attacks are on the increase. We have corroboration for this, including the dastardly vulpine murder last Autumn of the fat koi Goldfinger, a placid and trusting resident of Thames Ditton, worth a bob or two to boot, whose giant golden scales were strewn all over the lawn. When one was a boy, one hardly ever saw a fox. They were shy if not deferential, knew their place in the countryside, and kept to it. These days, urban foxes are everywhere in numbers, strolling around with insouciance even in broad daylight. More than one in seven English foxes are townies, indeed chavs. They dig up your bulbs, defaecate on your doorstep and your lawn and along the pavement, eat garden birds and voles, bury surplus corpses in your flowerbeds to disinter later, and engage in much unpleasant mischief. 

There are far too many urban foxes now, and as their numbers have grown so the numbers of other suburban mammals such as hedgehogs seem to have declined. Their sex life, somewhat raucous, will raise an eyebrow. They breed promiscuously. Lamentable to relate, an average urban vixen's litter will be sired by four different fathers, three of whom are outside her own social group. Foxes spread various diseases to which dogs are also vulnerable, including fatal mange - we had a dreadful mangy fox visiting the garden last year.

Some residents, however, like to see foxes around and will feed them, contributing to a population explosion that could scarcely be supported by natural diet, and encourage them to be tame, thereby emboldening Reynard to take further liberties. The Wildlife Trust and the Mammal Society do not discourage this. Some decades ago the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (as it was then) started to kill foxes in urban boroughs. But control has since been mostly abandoned as impractical and expensive. Even where they are reported as a pest, Elmbridge Borough Council will take no action to control foxes. Alas, if you don't want them around, once they have marked your grounds with their urine and faeces (the foxes, that is - not the Council) it is very hard to outfox them.

our reporting staff

References:

Urban Fox FAQS 

Vulpine Sex Life 

Elmbridge policy of inaction

 

Ten Thousand at a Glance

A host of golden daffodils planted by John Lyon

Come Autumn you may see a distinguished silver-haired fellow on his knees by the roadside. Do not call Social Services. It is John Lyon, who each year for sixteen years has quietly planted several hundred daffodils and crocuses in our green spaces, with fibre and fertiliser to get them off to a good start. The bulbs are funded by the Residents Association - you. The labour is John's. Over the years they have naturalised and multiplied, like these daffodils by Milbourne Pond. In all John's Spring flowers must number over ten thousand now. And so, a little work for the community here, a little there, turns into a major achievement to delight us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Association's actions over the past year

 

eens in the Pub

Bob Fisk returns to his boyhood home
Bob Fisk returns to his boyhood haunts

What's it like to be brought up in a pub? It was 1969 just after the floods when my parents, Ron and Pat Fisk, took over the Lamb and Star on Hampton Court Way after running an off-licence in Alexandra Road, and pubs elsewhere in the South-East. My dad used to be a professional boxer after he left the army, which is useful to make known in a business where customers can get rowdy. As a labourer he'd helped build All Saints Church. At that time, he wouldn't have dreamed he'd one day run the pub just around the corner.

When we first arrived the Lamb seemed tiny. It hadn't had a facelift for many years and was very dark and dismal inside. It didn't have many customers either! But we managed to rebuild the bars without closing them, and they were named the Weston Bar and the Ditton Bar. I was 15, and went to Waynefleet School as it was then known, where I met my wife too - now there's a fairytale romance! To explain what it was like growing up in a pub is difficult: you don't know any different and it just seemed 'normal'. Looking back, though, it was anything but normal: lack of privacy, noise and not seeing much of your parents despite their being only yards away downstairs in the bar. It was very much a family pub and Grandma Muriel, my mother's mother, would cycle over to help out in the kitchen. Life as a publican is extremely hard and I only realised that in later life. Having friends round in ones or twos wasn't a problem but parties weren't really possible, although I did celebrate my 21st with a party in the bar after closing time!

I can remember my mum and dad regularly used to lock up forgetting that one of us kids, then in our late teens, was still out on the town. We'd arrive back in the early hours with no keys. We didn't want to wake up mum and dad - they didn't get much sleep as it was, so we used to get out the ladder, climb up on the flat roof and knock on the girls' bedroom window. Luckily there was always one sister in. Our poor guard dog didn't have clue what was going on. But the local police often kept an eye on the place. I remember when my Dad had a problem with his car radio. I went outside to have a look at it, and I'd only been in the car for about 5 minutes fiddling under the dash when a loud voice shouted out 'what do you think you're up to?' It was Jack Underwood the local bobby on his trusty bicycle, thinking I was up to no good. It's funny; Jack always appeared when there was something going on, he must have had second sight. I remember he caught me riding a moped behind the telephone exchange a few years earlier when I was only 15. Now I wish there were more like him!

Ditton bar
Good times in the Ditton Bar in the 1970s.  
From left: Ron Fisk, Bert the barman, Pat Fisk, Muriel 

We got to know many of the local characters who used to frequent the bars. Bert the barman ran the Ditton Bar from the 70's until he died prematurely in 1980. He made the Bar his own empire and you could have been mistaken that he was the owner. New Year's Eve was always a special event there, and fancy dress was the order of the day. Ron, Pat and Bert always used to join in the fun along with the customers. Frequent local visitors included Ralph the postman who always used to call everyone 'old chappie' in a strange elongated manner, becoming louder and more elongated after every pint; Cyril the butcher, whose premises were opposite the pub which is now a private residence; Ted the grocer, whose little shop was opposite All Saints church - also now a private residence; Eddie Parrot, whose mother ran the greengrocers in Alma Road, another casualty of development. Kate Marney was another habitué, whose wood yard used to be in the beer garden of The Alma, now Marney's Village Inn. The Marneys also used to keep a cow behind the rear of Thames Ditton Telephone exchange!

Some other famous visitors to the pub included Pattie Boyd (Beatle George Harrison's wife at the time), Linda Lewis, who was a top ten singing artist in the 70's, Blakey from 'On the Buses', and Annie from Emmerdale. One visitor came all the way from Texas, USA as a previous client from the pub my parents ran earlier in Ashford. Bill was an oil geologist who worked for Red Adair. There used to be an old concrete WWII air raid shelter in the back garden, which I'd commandeered for myself as a workshop. Bill wanted to see it: 'Hot Dawg!' he exclaimed… I suppose you don't see many air raid shelters in Texas back gardens.

My parents ran the Lamb and Star until they retired in 1982. Since then the premises have seen a number of different guises, almost turning into an Indian takeaway at one point, and having its car park given over to a car wash more recently. Latterly the name has been changed to the Ewe, marking the end of a piece of pub history. One strange fact was the position of the old pub sign, which used to be on the opposite side of the Hampton Court Way. Why? - because before Hampton Court Way was built, the pub used to be positioned near the sign but was demolished to make way for the new road. Now the sign itself has been removed, and another part of our quirky local history has been lost.

And me? Well, I was never called to the Bar and I wouldn't be a publican for the world! I became a network engineer…

Bob Fisk

The Lamb and Star was named from the insignia of the West and East Surrey Regiments in which men of Weston Green served and died. Newly refurbished and somewhat bafflingly renamed The Ewe, it has a pleasant atmosphere, a competitive menu, and hosts good salsa on Monday nights.

 

Identity Theft - Beware of Passing Lamas

The Third Eye
One man's journey to spiritual awareness began when he fell out of a tree in Weston Green Road

It all started in Thames Ditton on 13 June 1949, when misunderstood mystic Cyril Hoskins fell out of a tree in the garden of Rosecroft House in Weston Green Road and, if the words of productive author T. Lobsang Rampa are to be believed, went via the astral plane to Tibet and became a Tibetan lama. 

Hoskins, a Devonian by birth, was a struggling writer and plumber with a compulsion to adopt Oriental ways who had previously changed his name to Carl KuonSuo. He had climbed the tree to photograph an owl when, according to William Scanlon Murphy in a 1995 BBC Radio 4 broadcast:

"Unfortunately his weight proved too much for one of the branches and he came down, head first, sending his terrified cat for cover.

"Meanwhile lama T. Lobsang Rampa was cruising by on the astral plane. Rampa had hit a bad patch in Tibet, his body was coming to bits after a hard life of man-carrying kites, Japanese torturers and assorted metaphysical fender-benders. He was in the market for a new model. Hoskins was sick of his meaningless, materialistic Western existence. The two fell into conversation. They both nipped across to Tibet, via the astral plane, of course, so that Lobsang's Abbot and the ever-present Lama Mingyar Dondup could act as brokers. Before long a deal had been struck. Rampa negotiated a large karmic discount for Hoskins, for which Hoskins would trade in his body shell, Rampa would get Hoskins' body, not to mention his wife, cat and colossal overdraft, while Hoskins would simply drift off into nirvana."

And so began the erstwhile Hoskins' incredible career as author T. Lobsang Rampa, who wrote more than 20 spiritual knowledge books - starting in 1956 with The Third Eye and finishing with I Believe, which was published in April 1977. The Third Eye became a bestseller: the Times Literary Supplement described it as "near to being a work of art. " Rampa maintained that one of his books, Living With The Lama, was dictated to him telepathically by his pet Siamese cat, Mrs. Fifi Greywhiskers.

Fifi

From the very first book Rampa claimed that every word he wrote was true. But it caused a furore in London, when some Tibetan scholars challenged the authenticity of Rampa and averred he was not a Tibetan and had never been to Tibet! Rampa rebutted that with the statement: "All that I write in that book is fact. I, a Tibetan lama, now occupy what was originally the body of a Western man, and I occupy it to the permanent and total exclusion of the former occupant. He gave his willing consent - being glad to escape from life on this earth in view of my urgent need."

One of his devotees, Gray Barker, a Buddist from America, said: "His narrative is full of life, colour and exciting adventure. As Rampa could travel in the astral plane at will, you can glean a great deal of metaphysical insights by reading his books."

Whether or not the story is true, hundreds and thousand thousands of his readers believed it and the more Rampa was criticised as a fraud by the media, the more they believed him. In fact he alleged that he had had to escape to live in Ireland, and later Canada, because of the hounding of the tabloids. He had a cult following in Canada, but most of all in California - the home of the New Age industry - where thousands of his books are still printed every month. Unfortunately he didn't live to see how huge he became. 

Rampa died in Alberta in 1981, a Canadian citizen, after 10 years in a wheelchair. Strangely enough he died on the same day as the Dalai Lama's mother. Her real name, according to her obituary, was Lamu Donup. The Dalai Lama's eldest brother was called Lobsang, so maybe Hoskins was reading one of his Oriental books at the time his amazing metamorphosis took place in Weston Green Road.

According to the current owner of Rosecroft House, Mrs Irene Taylor, colourful parakeets now inhabit the tree. There is no owl and, although she has a lovely black and white cat, she has never seen any Lamas strolling in the garden!

Carolyn Howie

The author is a former journalist for various publications and for the BBC.

Footnote: Our membership secretary has no record that Cyril Hoskins, Carl KuonSuo or T. Lobsang Rampa ever paid their subscriptions to the Residents' Association. Mrs Fifi Greywhiskers may still have a book loan outstanding at the Library.

 

Identity Theft - Beware of Passing Lamas

The Third Eye
One man's journey to spiritual awareness began when he fell out of a tree in Weston Green Road

It all started in Thames Ditton on 13 June 1949, when misunderstood mystic Cyril Hoskins fell out of a tree in the garden of Rosecroft House in Weston Green Road and, if the words of productive author T. Lobsang Rampa are to be believed, went via the astral plane to Tibet and became a Tibetan lama. 

Hoskins, a Devonian by birth, was a struggling writer and plumber with a compulsion to adopt Oriental ways who had previously changed his name to Carl KuonSuo. He had climbed the tree to photograph an owl when, according to William Scanlon Murphy in a 1995 BBC Radio 4 broadcast:

"Unfortunately his weight proved too much for one of the branches and he came down, head first, sending his terrified cat for cover.

"Meanwhile lama T. Lobsang Rampa was cruising by on the astral plane. Rampa had hit a bad patch in Tibet, his body was coming to bits after a hard life of man-carrying kites, Japanese torturers and assorted metaphysical fender-benders. He was in the market for a new model. Hoskins was sick of his meaningless, materialistic Western existence. The two fell into conversation. They both nipped across to Tibet, via the astral plane, of course, so that Lobsang's Abbot and the ever-present Lama Mingyar Dondup could act as brokers. Before long a deal had been struck. Rampa negotiated a large karmic discount for Hoskins, for which Hoskins would trade in his body shell, Rampa would get Hoskins' body, not to mention his wife, cat and colossal overdraft, while Hoskins would simply drift off into nirvana."

And so began the erstwhile Hoskins' incredible career as author T. Lobsang Rampa, who wrote more than 20 spiritual knowledge books - starting in 1956 with The Third Eye and finishing with I Believe, which was published in April 1977. The Third Eye became a bestseller: the Times Literary Supplement described it as "near to being a work of art. " Rampa maintained that one of his books, Living With The Lama, was dictated to him telepathically by his pet Siamese cat, Mrs. Fifi Greywhiskers.

Fifi

From the very first book Rampa claimed that every word he wrote was true. But it caused a furore in London, when some Tibetan scholars challenged the authenticity of Rampa and averred he was not a Tibetan and had never been to Tibet! Rampa rebutted that with the statement: "All that I write in that book is fact. I, a Tibetan lama, now occupy what was originally the body of a Western man, and I occupy it to the permanent and total exclusion of the former occupant. He gave his willing consent - being glad to escape from life on this earth in view of my urgent need."

One of his devotees, Gray Barker, a Buddist from America, said: "His narrative is full of life, colour and exciting adventure. As Rampa could travel in the astral plane at will, you can glean a great deal of metaphysical insights by reading his books."

Whether or not the story is true, hundreds and thousand thousands of his readers believed it and the more Rampa was criticised as a fraud by the media, the more they believed him. In fact he alleged that he had had to escape to live in Ireland, and later Canada, because of the hounding of the tabloids. He had a cult following in Canada, but most of all in California - the home of the New Age industry - where thousands of his books are still printed every month. Unfortunately he didn't live to see how huge he became. 

Rampa died in Alberta in 1981, a Canadian citizen, after 10 years in a wheelchair. Strangely enough he died on the same day as the Dalai Lama's mother. Her real name, according to her obituary, was Lamu Donup. The Dalai Lama's eldest brother was called Lobsang, so maybe Hoskins was reading one of his Oriental books at the time his amazing metamorphosis took place in Weston Green Road.

According to the current owner of Rosecroft House, Mrs Irene Taylor, colourful parakeets now inhabit the tree. There is no owl and, although she has a lovely black and white cat, she has never seen any Lamas strolling in the garden!

Carolyn Howie

The author is a former journalist for various publications and for the BBC.

Footnote: Our membership secretary has no record that Cyril Hoskins, Carl KuonSuo or T. Lobsang Rampa ever paid their subscriptions to the Residents' Association. Mrs Fifi Greywhiskers may still have a book loan outstanding at the Library.

 

Music for Spring at the Vera Fletcher Hall

Cosi fan Tutte

Newcomers to Thames Ditton and Weston Green are amazed to discover the "Theatre in Thames Ditton" at the Vera Fletcher Hall in Embercourt Road where the old Victorian Village Hall built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee has been restored into an intimate 126 seater theatre/concert hall/pocket opera house. The Hall has notably introduced many to opera, on a small scale but of high quality at affordable prices and, above all, accessible.

Not many such venues can boast of having international opera star Donald Maxwell as a regular visitor. Tiramisu Opera, who brought you 'Pirates of Penzance' and 'Trial by Jury,' returns on Sunday March 16 with Gilbert and Sullivan's 'H.M.S.Pinafore'. Donald invites us to a life on the ocean wave, to see love triumphant and civil servants wrong- footed, with old favourites 'For He is an Englishman', 'Dear Little Buttercup' and the 'Ruler of the Queen's Navee', reminding us of the time when we had a real navy! Donald Maxwell has sung major roles at opera houses such as La Scala and Welsh National Opera, including the title role of Falstaff at the Royal Opera House. The week after his appearance at the Vera Fletcher Hall he flies to New York to star in 'La Fille du Regiment' at the Metropolitan Opera House. We also welcome back Rebecca Rudge, soprano, who sings at the Buxton Festival and other major festivals.

Intrigue of a different sort is also the theme of Mozart's 'Cosi fan Tutte' (photo above right), on Friday April 18 brought to us by Charles Court Opera, whose 'Mikado' and 'Cinderella' pantomime gave so much pleasure. Lorenzo da Ponte's gloriously immoral tale of subterfuge and infidelity is brought to life with some of Mozart's most sublime music, to the accompaniment of the brilliant Eaton-Young piano duo.We have a treat on Friday 23rd May when Commedia Productions present Puccini's 'La Boheme', the story of the seamstress Mimi and her four friends living in poverty in a bohemian Parisian garret - her lover the poet Rodolpho, Marcello the painter, Schaunard the musician and Colline the philosopher. Singers from the major opera companies will be accompanied by Commedia's pioneering 'virtual orchestra'. Arias such as 'Your tiny hand is frozen' and 'O gentle maiden' make this one of the most performed of all operas around the world. The first performance in 1896 was conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. All three opera productions are supported by R.C Sherriff Trust.

Rivoli Quartet

The Hall has gained a reputation for high quality chamber music and we welcome the Rivoli String Quartet on Friday 11 April. This group of talented young players were winners of the Prix Ravel at the Academie Internationale de Musique Maurice Ravel and have given concerts across Britain and in Australia and France. They will play works by Haydn, Debussy, Schubert and Bridge. They will be followed on Friday June 27 by a concert by Amy Tress and Friends, prizewinning young musicians from the Royal Academy and the Royal College of Music.

'The Boy Friend' has been a favourite of audiences for over 50 years with Sandy Wilson's evergreen hits 'It's Never Too Late To Fall In Love', 'Won't you Charleston With Me,' 'I Could be Happy With You' and 'Nicer in Nice'. It is set in the carefree world of the French Riviera in the era of the flappers in the 1920s when the girls in Madame Dubonnet's School for Young Ladies find love amid confusion and heartbreaks in this glorious pastiche of romantic musicals. Among its other claims to fame, this was the musical in which Julie Andrews was discovered. Molesey Musical Theatre brings 'The Boy Friend' to us on Wednesday to Saturday June 4th-7th.

For details of prices, times, and bookings, visit www.verafletcherhall.co.uk

 

By Hook or Crook

It's that time of year again

It's that season when the first cuckoos call. And sweet-talking people one hasn't seen for a year appear on the doorstep, smile charmingly, decry their rivals and promise the Earth. These are candidates of the political parties seeking a leg up the Greasy Pole of Politics. Then they disappear for another year, or more. I've become cynical about their adversarial approach, which divides the community rather than uniting it. 

I am not alone.

I moved to this area years ago to find that here was another group, civic and not party-political in nature, that not only vests effort in the interests of the community as a whole, but actually consults us many times throughout the year to see what we want, and acts in our support. It has a long record of very substantial achievement for the locality. Successful conservation against adverse - often major - development interests such as links to Heathrow across the commons of Weston Green or monster supermarkets on Giggs Hill Green. Securing positive evolution of the former industrial sites of AC Cars and the MMB. Campaigning to retain our small shops. The Residents' Association also shows commendable energy in nurturing a spirit of community in these villages. 

Unlike some such associations in more distant parts, this one has teeth. Over decades it has found the politicians to be unreliable in defence of local amenities and pursuit of civic concerns. So it puts to you candidates for the Councils, and gets your adopted candidates elected: seasoned people, chosen on merit not party, with a record of real service to our community, able to devote time to representing us properly. What's more, they have to be persuaded to stand. They don't thrust themselves forward egoistically. I think that's a good sign. The Residents' Association has no national structure, nor wants one, so there's no question of political careerism. It adheres strongly to a non-party-political ethos although recent legal requirements mean it must register with the Electoral Commission to continue to back your candidates. 

The Association is for everyone. It doesn't ask what political party you favour. It doesn't carry ideological baggage. It is inclusive. It doesn't promote one narrow set of interests, and devil take the others. It's staffed voluntarily by people like you and transparently funded by you, and retains the wherewithal for the next time you want to fight off some new unwelcome threat to the amenities of Weston Green or Thames Ditton from an unheeding developer or the Government. Its growing membership of more than a thousand households, its active volunteers numbering well over a hundred, its magazine and website, are the envy of the politicians who therefore try to do it down. 

The local Councils don't always decide things as you or I want, but we have a real voice. The Association keeps you informed, and offers you full, frequent consultation in working hard for love of these villages. It's democratic. Open. Treats you with respect. That's why I set aside cynicism and am happy to help.

Keith Evetts

 

By Margaret Briggs

Spring Crossword competition

Residents of Thames Ditton and Weston Green are eligible for prizes. A £5 Voucher for spending in any Thames Ditton or Weston Green shop will be awarded to each of the first three correct entries opened after the closing date of 7 May 2008.

The completed puzzle (or photocopy) with your name and address, clearly marking the envelope 'Crossword Competition', should be sent to:

Thames Ditton Today
Crossword Competition
6 Church Walk
Thames Ditton
KT7 0NW

Across

1. Foot found on a Railway line is a story oft repeated (9)
8. Roe high and far from usable but advice falling on deaf ears (4,2,4)
11. Require necessity (4)
12. Quiet transport. Of wild animals? (5)
13. Opening list changed (4)
16. Attribute to a religious scholar (7)
17. Attire the editor suitably for formal occasions (7)18. Ship that supplied ale long ago (7)
20. Quietly thrust myself forward and dived into the pool (7)
21. Ridge that contains pure effluence (4)
22. Alarm less car escapes interior examination (5)
23. Rest formerly for once (4)
26. Catch repeat on Broadcast or agree an alternative (6,7)
27. Shoot tape holder; he is a manipulator (9)

Down

2. Finish in seven days (3)
3. Compel change of Ref once more (7)
4. Greatly feared those dead are in the red (7)
5. Hard to find way to cook some meat (4)
6. Expel Clarence? No! He is far better than any others (3,10)
7. National place to put beds (7,6)
9. Live in peace, the alternative's perilous (9)
10. Place to work on facts (5,4)
14. The more mature tripe remains inside (5)
15. Beautiful French lover (4)
19. A formality to keep under your collar (4,3)
20. Dig deep to find an equal bargain (7)
24. Send out for private rooms (4)
25. Leave test as it was (4)

Solution to the Winter 2007 Crossword:

Solution to Winter 2007 crossword

Congratulations to our two winners this season. It wasn't an easy one.