Thanks to those who contributed views by telephone and our website, and the 80 lively residents who attended the special open meeting on the subject on 16 November as we went to press. Please keep an eye on the website for developments.
Flooding under Esher Station bridge
Councillor Tannia Shipley tackled Network Rail again when recent rains made the bridge impassable for commuters. This recurrent problem is mainly due to periodic blockages in a long culvert on land owned and enclosed by Network Rail. They generally respond swiftly when there is a flood, but we need them to schedule routine annual maintenance to prevent it happening.
Graffiti on Railway Bridges
Councillor Ruth Lyon took up residents' concerns about the graffiti on the railway bridges at Thames Ditton Station, Claygate Lane and Portsmouth Road. The Elmbridge enforcement officer is pressing Network Rail for preventative measures, avoiding the need for costly clean-ups. They plead lack of funds, but have bought a "cherry picker" for £47,000 to deal with graffiti in SW Trains' area. Good news!
New Planning Officer
Welcome to our new planning officer Graham Cooke. Graham and his wife Pat and grown-up children Jenny and Andrew have lived in Ashley Road, Thames Ditton, for the past 20 years. Graham was steeled by the recent successful battle against inappropriate backland development between Ashley and Station Roads. We owe gratitude to his predecessor Simon Hacker, whose four years saw unending applications for intense development and in-filling including those on the White Gates site at Giggs Hill Green and ever larger and denser development on Thames Ditton Island. Simon inspected plans and worked with Peter Hickman, Chairman of the Conservation Area Advisory Committee and with local residents to protect our environment.
- 39 and 41 The Island
The appeals to erect two houses on these sites were both dismissed by the Secretary of State's Inspector on the grounds that they would exacerbate the flood risk elsewhere, would harm the character and appearance of the Island and would harm the living conditions of the occupiers of adjoining houses in relation to overlooking and privacy.
On Remembrance Sunday Councillor Edward Rowe and our Chairman Martin Wilberforce laid wreaths at St. Nicholas Church and at the war memorial on Giggs Hill Green. Councillors Maureen Sheldrick and Tannia Shipley laid wreaths at the Weston Green war memorial.
Winter Flowers, Spring Bulbs
Special thanks to Ted Woolley, the gardener at the Home of Compassion, for planting the winter flowers in the fountain at the Boyle Farm roundabout. This autumn John Lyon planted more spring bulbs, both daffodils and crocuses, along the roads and on the commons in Thames Ditton and Weston Green. For 15 years the Residents' Association has funded these bulbs, now spreading naturally to gladden our spring.
To Ron Cox, the Thames Ditton stationmaster, on being voted South West Trains customer service employee of the year by appreciative customers in October. And to Pat Farmiloe and Alison Derrick, organisers of the Autumn 'Good as New' sale at Esher College which raised almost £3,000. These sales, held every six months, have raised nearly £70,000 for Cancer Research over the years.
New Vera Fletcher Hall Manager
Welcome to Helen Mason, who took over from Irene Mclean on 1st November. Helen, her husband Paul and young sons Alex and Matthew live just around the corner at 52 Thistledene. Her telephone number, for booking birthday parties, classes, social events etc., is 08456 528 529.
Wanted - New Lollipop Person
Sue Hall turned in her distinctive coat and lollipop on 19 October after seven years as our Lollipop Lady. She's crossed thousands of children and their parents safely across Station Road on their way to Thames Ditton Infants and Junior Schools, rain or shine. Mothers and children arranged a handsome collection to send her off. We urgently need a new lollipop person for the crossing at Thames Ditton station. Paid hours are 8.30 - 9.0 am and 3.00 - 3.30 pm during school terms. If you would like to learn more please contact Sally Burns at the Infants School Tel: 8398 5842.
- The Residents' Association will again provide a Christmas tree in Thames Ditton High Street This year's Residents' Association Christmas Party is on Saturday 9th December at the Vera Fletcher Hall. Sheena and Tony Davies are organising the evening complete with three course dinner. For tickets phone Fiona Elliot on 020 8398 1788.
- The Thames Ditton High Street Christmas Fayre is on Wednesday 13th December between 6 and 9.30pm. The High Street between Ashley Road and the George and Dragon will be closed to traffic and there will be festive late-night shopping, complimentary beauty consultations and massages, mulled wine, roast chestnuts, mince pies, carol singers and Father Christmas. The evening is the inspiration of La Clinique and Stitchery under the auspices of the Residents' Association and we hope that everyone will bring their family and friends for some old-fashioned festive fun.
- The Marvellous Magical Coat - a perfect Christmas entertainment for children comes to the Vera Fletcher Hall on Saturday 9th January for two performances at 11.30 am and 2.30pm. For children from 5 - 9 years, the show was described by the Little Angel Theatre as "One of the best children's shows I have ever seen".
- Ember Centre - Christmas Dinner for members of the Ember Centre, prepared by Cordon-Bleu chef Corinne Livesey, will be served on 21 December, followed by entertainment from the 'Showtimers.' Latterly members enjoyed a sunny tour of Surrey's autumn leaf colours and a visit from children of the Infants' School. They welcome new faces - visitors may like to drop in to the Vera Fletcher Hall on Monday and Thursday mornings.
Keep abreast of community news as it happens, by visiting the news page on our website. Email your news to firstname.lastname@example.org. We've had some racy items!
Email addresses please
We want to make better use of email to communicate with residents, without overloading your in-box. Please remember to send your email address to Peter Haynes at email@example.com along with your subscriptions (see page 3).
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Good wishes to all residents and our grateful thanks to the generous souls who help us with material, produce Thames Ditton Today and walk it around to every house in Thames Ditton and Weston Green. Thanks also to subscribers and to advertisers - without you we couldn't publish the content that ensures the magazine is read and retained, keeps residents informed and contributes to a sense of community in these frenetic times. Now, as you ponder Christmas gifts, think local! There are many quality items to be found with our advertisers. We urge you to take a look…
The Jewel in Thames Ditton's Crown
Yet another embodiment of the highest quality in Thames Ditton - nestling by Picton House, with the Home of Compassion and the High Street as a charming backdrop, there's a small jewellers shop called Assimi. In the window, a dazzling display of colourful, exciting, sparkling jewellery. On ringing the bell, one is greeted by Ash, the gentle schnauzer of Assimi owner, Bernard Leon, and together they welcome customers into the elegant French style interior, designed by his wife. Bernard, who's been selling his hand made jewellery in Thames Ditton for four years, began his silversmithing career thirty years ago when he trained at Sir John Cass College. Bernard then perfected his craft at the prestigious Garrard jewellers in London.
In 1987, Bernard set up in business for himself, making high quality silver and gold goods for many West End shops, especially Theo Fennell. During that time many of the rich and famous commissioned beautiful objects from him, often with personal associations. Bernard made the largest silver yacht in the world for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, a huge model of his beloved yacht complete with intricate silver details of the ship furniture right down to deck loungers. A sporting commission came from Boris Becker for a life-sized copy of the Wimbledon Trophy to commemorate his third Wimbledon win. Amongst the myriad exquisite designs Bernard was commissioned to produce were a silver teapot for the Queen in the shape of an elaborate pumpkin, a model of a silver guitar and trademark sunglasses for the singer George Michael, and a guitar for Mark Knoffler of the band Dire Straits. Most exciting of all is the large quantity of elaborate, decorative items which Bernard has made for a very famous pop star, who asked to remain anonymous. But in Bernard's photographic portfolio are amazing depictions of the model silver piano, and fabulous highly decorative silver dining service, complete with cherubs chasing around candlesticks.
On a more serious note, Bernard was asked to recreate silver items that were tragically destroyed by the fire at Hampton Court Palace. Using the remaining pieces, old photographs, and painstaking research at the V&A he hand copied the destroyed pieces as they had originally been made. He has also been commissioned to make a silver salver for Ely Cathedral.
Moving to Thames Ditton, along with changes in jewellery and silverware fashion, has enabled Bernard to spend more time designing and making high quality jewellery pieces while continuing to produce work referred from London's West End. Behind the bijou retail shop sits his busy workshop, brimming full with well-loved and well-used tools and equipment. All of the jewellery sold at Assimi is hand-crafted by Bernard. He can make any item of jewellery requested and finds that in Thames Ditton much of his work comes from customers' word of mouth. Most of his purchasers are local people, looking for original gifts for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. Many customers are also women who just want to buy a piece of jewellery for themselves. Bernard works in all precious metals - gold, silver, platinum, and with any kind of stone a customer wants, although he is finding that current Thames Ditton customers have got a penchant for diamonds and gold! As well as producing to commission, he has in stock necklaces, rings, earrings, bracelets that he has already made. He also does a good deal of work redesigning old inherited jewellery, using the metal and precious stones to create, perhaps, a more modern piece.
As well as making and selling his hand made pieces, Bernard teaches Silversmithing at Sir John Cass College. Looking at his brimming workshop and the well worn tools, it's plain to see that we have a true master in the Village, working with the independence to indulge his love of the craft. By the way, if you are wondering what the name ASSIMI means - it is ancient Greek for 'silver'. A magical name for a spellbinding shop. Take a look - Christmas is coming!
Assimi is at 54, High Street tel: 020 8972 9500 website.
Why? - to give residents a cutting edge on local issues...
When talking to newcomers to Thames Ditton and Weston Green I am often asked "What are Residents' Association councillors and how do they differ from those in the political parties?" People moving here from the outside, and particularly from London with its strongly party political councils, find it strange that Residents' Associations should put up candidates for the local council and, moreover, get them regularly elected! When I tell them that of the 60 Elmbridge councillors 26 are from the Residents' Group, with 26 Conservatives and 8 Liberal Democrats they realise that they are not just a fringe group. In fact, for 14 years from 1992 until May 2006 the Residents' councillors, supported for most of this period by the Liberal Democrats, ran the Council very successfully. It is sad that after the elections this year the Liberal Democrats chose to allow the Conservatives, although a minority in the Council, to take over the Administration, rather than work with the Residents' Group.
The Residents-led Council was awarded "Excellent" status, putting it in the top 10% of all councils in England. In 14 years Elmbridge's share of the Council Tax rose by less than inflation, just 21%, compared with Conservative Surrey County Council's 195% increase. Unlike most neighbouring councils Elmbridge did not make cuts but increased services, such as improved waste recycling, built the splendid new Xcel Leisure Centre - on time and within budget -, developed the new Heart Centre at Walton and the Brooklands country park and improved children's play areas.
What makes us different? Our approach is based on our local community and its needs and not on the wishes of a party political organisation looking over its shoulder to Westminster. Local councillors should represent local interests and not have to vote according to a party "whip". Newcomers will notice that the Vera Fletcher Hall is a thriving community centre and theatre with a flourishing Ember Centre for Retired People but I remember that when Elmbridge Council came to vote a grant towards rebuilding the old Village Hall the local Conservative councillor was told to vote against the grant! The Residents' Association actively supported the Hall Appeal, including making interest free loans. It was RA councillors who ensured the survival of the Dittons Skiff and Punting Club when Conservative councillors proposed to sell the entire Albany Works site to developers, and of Ajax Sea Scouts when RA councillors negotiated the re-siting and rebuilding of its headquarters when their old site was sold for development. RA councillors led the successful campaign to save the Youth and Community Centre and Car Park at Giggs Hill Green from Surrey County Council, who planned to sell the site to developers. There was no help from the local Conservative or Liberal Democrat Associations.
The lesson from this is that, without councillors on the Council committees where the decisions are made, a Residents' Association is toothless. This is why from its formation in 1934 our Residents' Association has put up candidates for the Council.
Another area in which we are distinctive is in our consistent support for the Green Belt and our open spaces. It is unfortunate that for all the protestations of support from the political parties, when it comes to the crunch they have all too often found excuses for voting for developments which would irretrievably change the character of our borough. Defending our environment means constant vigilance. The Residents' Association, through its planning committee, vets every planning application, makes representations to the Council's Planning Department and gives evidence at appeals. Planning is one of the most vital aspects of council work and it was RA councillors who led the successful battle against the proposed Tesco development at Giggs Hill Green, the housing development on the Tennis Club site and backland development between Station Road and Ashley Road.
We do not work in a vacuum. As well as our Thames Ditton Today magazine and our new website, we hold regular open meetings where everyone can air their views on current planning proposals and other matters of concern to residents from major traffic proposals and the local children's playground to dog dirt and litter on the riverbank. Where there are particularly important problems we hold special meetings, such as the ones on parking, flooding and sewerage problems and the threat to our local health services, particularly at the Thames Ditton Hospital at Emberbrook. The political parties hold no open meetings and so their councillors are not so well informed on local needs.
The Residents Association has a very effective committee structure. Working on these committees are seasoned volunteers who care about the community but who would not want to work within a party political framework. This means that the varied experience of RA committee members such as surveyors, architects, lawyers, business people, provide a backing for RA councillors not found in the political parties so that RA councillors are the best briefed in the Council.
I often meet the argument that "consultation is fine but don't you need party politics to get things actually done?" My own experience is that the opposite is true. Party politics are largely irrelevant for the issues we face at the local level. Unfortunately, because the national political parties want to control local government, voting by party whip overrides voting on the merits of each individual case. I am reminded of W.S Gilbert's lines:
"I always voted at my party's callAnd never thought of thinking for myself at all"
At a time when trust in the national political parties has reached a new low, we firmly believe that the way forward is through community policies not national politics, and through local solutions to local problems. RA councillors are not a "front" for any other group but have always stood on their own merits and policies, believing that at the local level councillors should be accountable first and foremost to their electorate and not to a party political grouping. RA councillors exist to give expression to this belief.
Councillor Ruth Lyon
Editor's note: after a period as Hon Sec of the Association, Ruth has been a Residents' Association Councillor for Thames Ditton on Elmbridge Borough Council since 1973, and also enjoyed a spell of office as Mayor. During that time she has achieved many significant benefits for Thames Ditton and successfully countered several threats to our amenities.
If you live in Weston Green you're lucky to have Tannia Shipley as one of your Councillors. She's committed, conscientious, and caring. And without falling prey to the partisan backstabbing that she dislikes intensely when the political parties meet in Council, she's effective through hard work, good preparation, and astute advocacy. I've seen her with one of her daughters devote a Saturday night to surveilling a fast-food restaurant to establish that their claims in support of a planning application were disingenuous. She's in this heart and soul.
Raised among South Wales miners, Tannia qualified as a teacher at Seaford College and greatly enjoyed teaching, notably as Head of House at a tough girls' comprehensive. Supporting pupils with problems, she made friends and found satisfaction in being involved and helping others. When her time was absorbed in raising her own children and taking care of her mother, she still volunteered to teach gifted poorer children on Saturdays.
Tannia, a long-time citizen of Weston Green, was attracted by the Residents' Association's independence of party politics and by its grassroots approach, and agreed to stand for the Association in 1999. She won by some 60 votes. In the two elections she's since contested, she increased this margin to several hundred. In Council she attends all full Council meetings and sits on the Environmental Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the Licensing Committee and the East Area Planning Sub-Committee. Tannia is also Chairman of the R.C. Sherriff Trust and attends the Council's Cultural Strategy Focus Groups. She gets great satisfaction from helping members of the community find their way through the bureaucratic maze to the funds, institutions and individuals that can help them. Particularly the elderly: Tannia is active within CHEER (Concern and Help for East Elmbridge Retired), is a Trustee of the Elmbridge Trust for Older People and a member of the Elmbridge Older People Advisory Body. These commitments add up to over 120 meetings a year plus a huge planning load - the stack of current planning dossiers on top of her filing cabinet is three feet high. At times the workload can be oppressive, and certainly not matched by a Councillor's small emoluments. So why does Tannia do it? "I suppose it's because I do care a lot about the place I live, and I get joy from being able to help others get the right things done for them." And you know she means it.
Her husband Nigel, a shipbroker by day, takes time out on his 900cc motorbike. They met on a train. Tannia, determined to find some conversation to pass the time, sat next to him in an empty carriage after asking redundantly whether anyone else was sitting there. Nigel did the right thing. He has learned to accept his fate.
When I left, Tannia was on the phone to get Network Rail to unblock their culvert causing floods under the railway bridge, and wondering who to lean on for money to finance lighting for the spooky alley that leads up to Esher station. I wish we could find someone like that to be Prime Minister.
Join the debate!
Most people have at last acknowledged that recycling and waste minimisation has to be a priority for today's society. We cannot ignore the need to protect our environment and ignorance is no longer an excuse! Elmbridge residents have risen to the challenge and the recycling rates have been steadily increasing. Our family cannot be the only one putting out a residual waste bin that is only a third full whilst the recycling bin is overflowing! This was the aim of the exercise of course. However, we are now being told that it makes little economic sense to collect half empty bins on a weekly basis. This is where AWC comes in - Alternate Weekly Collection - mystery solved! This is a system already being operated in some 180 local authorities around the country. Woking Borough Council and Mole Valley District Council are two of those whilst Waverley is currently finishing implementing AWC. Spelthorne Borough Council is actively looking at how it can be implemented in their borough next Autumn.
Evidence from "AWC councils" has demonstrated that, by restricting the capacity and frequency of residual waste collection, residents increase their recycling by being more astute shoppers (they avoid excess packaging) they home compost, they re-use materials and manage their home waste with more thought and responsibility.AWC is not however, without problems and the public have expressed concerns about having residual waste in their bins for two weeks. This causes particular problems in the Summer when food (and nappies!) will inevitably smell and attract the unwelcome attention of flies - this of course, can lead to maggot infestation. A determined recycler will package the waste more securely, may consider freezing strong smelling waste i.e. seafood waste and only put it into the dustbin on the night prior to collection. If AWC were to be implemented we would have to change the way we deal with our waste. Even if we do not adopt AWC we will have to consider how we can increase our re-cycling rates. It has been too easy to pass on our individual waste problems to someone else - put everything and anything in the bin and forget about it - "out of sight, out of mind". I think everyone would agree that this attitude is totally irresponsible - landfill is not acceptable.
The Environmental Affairs Overview and Scrutiny Committee, on which I sit, is considering AWC at the moment. A Scrutiny Panel has been set up to investigate the issues and they are expressly tasked with the implications of AWC as a way of improving recycling and composting levels in the Borough. They are considering the likely benefits whilst at the same time, identifying the likely concerns and pitfalls. They will be examining the service delivery and performance implications together with the associated financial and contractual issues. The Panel are looking at best practice, attending workshops and visiting other Councils e.g. Mole Valley, Eastleigh Borough Council (10 years experience AWC) and East Hampshire District Council (5 years experience). Bracknell Forest and Reading are currently implementing AWC and the Panel are considering looking at their experience as well. No two councils are alike of course, and comparisons are therefore often complicated - assumptions cannot be made! Mole Valley for instance, moved from a black sack collection to "wheeled bin" and implemented AWC simultaneously. The vast majority of Elmbridge residents already have a wheeled bin. You could argue therefore that Mole Valley residents preferred the AWC because they were influenced by the benefits of having a wheeled bin! Mole Valley felt that a trial of AWC was essential - EBC may conclude a trial to be unnecessary as they have sufficient information on good practice and AWC implementation from other Boroughs. Cleanaway - EBC's contractor, also have experience in AWC. An Environmental Care student at EBC is also researching the performance and service satisfaction in boroughs where recycling rates are high - the results should be interesting and most helpful.
Thorough research and public consultation are both crucial - everyone must be engaged in the debate and this is where you can become involved. Please give these important decisions some thought and let us know your views. You might have friends or relatives who live in boroughs where AWC has already been implemented. What is their experience of the system - how did they fare this summer? You can telephone or write to your RA Councillor (contact details on page 5), or you can keep an eye for news on our web site and post views in the forum at www.residents-association.com.EBC will I am sure, endeavour to achieve a "bespoke" system - tailor-made to our Borough's needs.
The main objective is to increase EBC's recycling/composting rates to 40% (currently 26%). This will go a long way to help reduce the environmental problems associated with disposing of rubbish i.e. greenhouse gases that add to global warming. This will be a challenge as the aim is to achieve this without increasing the present £3million cost of refuse and recycling collection.By working together, the Council and residents can produce a system that will benefit our Borough, our planet and future generations.
Councillor Tannia Shipley
Martin Alton, artist
Hover over the pictures for their titles
A quiet cul-de-sac in a remoter part of Thames Ditton; a perfectly ordinary suburban house. The man inside commutes to work, the interior is immaculate. You think: unremarkable, orderly, dull, quiet. Inside, on the walls, in a studio room, and in the garage, original works of art confound your perceptions. Some are beautiful, some sombre, some stunning, others disturbing. All wholly unexpected. This is the character, these are the works and the many layers of Martin Alton, a reticent and sincere artist born in Kingston, who has lived in Thames Ditton for twenty-five years and almost succeeded in escaping our attention.
Martin painted from primary school onwards. He trained at Richmond and Twickenham Art College 1975-1979, and to earn his bread took up professional graphic design and illustration of brochures, books, posters and advertisements. This layer of Martin's persona is entirely separated in his mind from the deeper stratum of intensely individual art that has evolved the hard way, in his own time. "I paint because I need to do it," says Martin. "I want to give myself time to paint personally. It helps me to make order out of confusion. The pace of life is too fast, especially within the M25 beltway. The process of painting forces me to take time to reflect on my surroundings and my life, and to filter the impressions I'm bombarded with daily." There is also a reaction to his day job, a need for counterbalance: "Advertising is subliminally manipulative and can be negative in some respects. My pictures are not 'fashionable' - not all is youth and beauty. I try to be honest in my works, and they confront things we may not choose to address in daily life."
To Martin's surprise, galleries seemed to like his pictures and his work sold. 'Pictures' is the word he uses. A picture, Martin explains, "is something I've nailed down. A 'painting' I feel is something more traditional and old fashioned." The first major success, and a picture he then liked, was "Travelling West " - a line of bleak windswept pines against a magnificent sky. But his art has evolved far from this, to personal abstractions of what he sees, mingled with his mindscape. Altons now sell for between £500 and £8000, and his five-piece "Our Own Wilderness" is for sale at £19000. Martin's output is steady rather than prolific. He averages many drawings but scarcely ten pictures a year, and at any one time he may have several works on the go. "It's an organic process. I don't plan on images to paint, or set out to achieve any particular artistic aim, but to create some order out of many things that come to me. I'm simply impelled to paint a picture, and summon up every aspect of my experience: then I feel a fountain of impressions and my picture attempts to make sense of this inner landscape."
Perhaps it's essential therapy. Certainly many of Martin's pictures are complex, darkly portending, disquieting, reflecting enigmas. A solitary oarsman rows his tiny boat out to sea, a note of foreboding in an otherwise restful composite picture of St Just. Is that reclining woman crying out to the sky in pain, or is it ecstasy? Are those dreams we see about the head of a girl, or are they ghosts? Are they the same thing? Martin's work has echoes of the alienation and angst of Sartre. Words gave Sartre the power to rationalise a world from which he felt detached. Painting does the same for Martin. "In life I feel a bit of an Outsider," Martin reflects, "but I think this detachment has advantages for an artist." I ask his wife whether Martin is more at peace while painting; but Sally judges not: "Then he's more driven than relaxed." Clearly this is a subject that's come up before. I see a self-portrait of Martin, entitled 'Happy or sad?' So I put the question. "Well," he replies, "I think everyone has these contradictions, and I think I'm probably happy, because I work out the sadness in my pictures." With unassailable logic, he adds ironically: "If I were unhappy, I'd be painting fluffy cats."
Martin is also detached from the '-isms' of Art History and doesn't see himself as part of any tendency, although you might put him within a constructivist philosophy. There are notable influences on his work. Martin's lines are strong and planes are simplified. He admires Picasso, and several of his works, particularly the drawings, are reminiscent of that artist. Although Martin describes his paintings as 'dark', and thematically some are indeed dark, colour is masterfully used as counterpoint and ranges from harmonious tweedy browns and greens to exultant orange and wonderful blues you'd expect from an artist in the tropics; albeit global warming has not yet transformed Thames Ditton to that extent. Martin, half German on his mother's side, likes the German Expressionist school from which he draws both colour and irony. Among contemporary artists he praises Hockney (I had been half-expecting Francis Bacon) for his clarity and honesty. Bonnard is another favourite, and would surely have been proud of Martin's 'Way too blue.'
The bulk of Martin's paintings have been oil on canvas. Increasingly he's drawn to work in three dimensions. He has been surprised to find almost a religious aspect coming through this medium. One of his most recent works, 'Human Cry,' is tautly bound with ropes, spikes piercing a brain prompting thoughts of crucifixion, even Voodoo. Another 3D work, in progress, brings home the mud, agony and confusion of First World War trenches and is inspired by Wilfred Owen's famous ironic poem 'Dulce et decorum est (pro patria mori)'.
After two rich hours, I hoik my coat off the banisters - the only note of disorder in the house has been introduced by me - and pass through the half-glazed front door into a quiet suburban street. And now, a half-glazed, half-solid door becomes a matter for contemplation. It's a privilege to have been allowed in to the sensitive and private world of Martin and Sally Alton. What lies behind these other front doors, I wonder?
The works of Martin Alton are regularly shown and sold by the View Gallery, High Street, Thames Ditton and his next exhibition there is in February 2007. You may see more examples of his work here.
Guiding is thriving in these villages
|Useful life skills - can you stand up in a kayak? (Guide Camp 2006)|
People often seem surprised when they see Brownies out with their leaders around the area. “I didn’t think they still did that,” they say, or “Gosh, there’s rather a lot of them!”. Well we do, and there are. Across this area we have one Ranger unit, 2 Guide units, 3 Brownie units and a unit of Rainbows.
Rangers are our 14-18 year olds, and they meet in the Thames Ditton Guide hut on a Tuesday night. They appear to spend all their time cooking, eating and talking. Oh, and going on international trips. You would hardly notice the Guides. If they wear uniform at all, it’s a very discreet blue top, probably with jeans or combats on the bottom half. However, if you pass by their meetings (Wednesday at All Saints’ Church Hall for Weston Green, the Guide hut in Church Walk on a Friday for Thames Ditton) you’ll certainly hear them! They have a very varied programme covering lots of eating and outdoor activities, developing friendships and teamwork, thinking about the lives of people outside the UK, contributing to their local and national communities, and having adventures. In fact, not so different from what they’ve done for almost 100 years now. Brownies are very easily identifiable, with their bright yellow uniforms. Everything about Brownies is designed to appeal to the fashion-conscious 7-10 year-old, from their glittery new handbooks to the bang-up-to-minute badges they can work for.
However, alongside the Computer and Science Investigator badges there are lots of basic, traditional ones like First Aid, Finding Your Way, and Home Skills. Brownies love to work for badges, especially if they involve food, animals or getting outside, so we plan our meetings to allow them lots of opportunities to do what appeals to them. You will see them on a Tuesday and Wednesday at Weston Green and a Friday in Thames Ditton. They can get a bit excitable, but they do try to behave!
Rainbows are our littlest Guides, from 5 to 7 years old. Unfortunately, we only have the one unit at the moment, in Weston Green. We would love to resurrect the Thames Ditton unit which ran successfully for 9 years – it’s just a matter of finding one person who would be prepared to take the lead, as we have lots of offers of supportive help. The Weston Green unit started up 3 years ago and is incredibly popular. The girls wear a smart red uniform these days, and enjoy a whole range of fun activities including arts and crafts, singing and games.
Each unit operates fairly independently, although we come together for events. This summer, the Guides from this area camped for 5 days in East Sussex. We took 53 Guides and 9 leaders and had a fantastic time climbing, abseiling, kayaking, flying down a zip wire, grass sledging and swimming. We also had a day out and went to the seaside at Brighton, where Harry Ramsden’s was rather disconcerted when we placed an order for fish and chips for 62! The highlight of the camp was the final evening when we enrolled 15 girls around the campfire, having eaten a barbeque and sung songs. The lowlight was probably cooking bacon in the rain, but it was definitely character-building.
Residential events are a wonderful bonding opportunity for Brownies, Guides and Rangers. They get to take part in activities that they have chosen, push themselves a bit to try new things, and learn to look after themselves and other people. We have a number of girls with special needs in our units who are given the chance to join in all the activities: our teenage helpers are amazingly patient and inventive in coming up with ways to ensure that no-one gets left out.
So what does this all amount to? Some 21 leaders and a succession of parent helpers supporting 15 Rainbows, 80 Brownies, 60 Guides and 10 Rangers. How you could miss them, I’ll never know!
Bronach Hughes, Thames Ditton Brownies and Guides
To learn more, contact the Dittons District Commissioner, Kathy Williams, on 020 8398 1300. All our units are thriving and we would love to be able to take more girls in if we only had more leaders to open another Rainbow or Brownie unit. Training and support will be given and we guarantee you a warm welcome.
...Iceland and Thailand
Kathy, Eleanor and Anaïs, three Rangers at Thames Ditton, all formerly Guides, worked for a wonderful opportunity to visit Thailand and Iceland this year, to attend international Guiding events.
Eleanor writes: "During the year we raised our fares of about a thousand pounds each, by carol singing, making and selling craft items at fairs (and cakes to Brownies!) and running competitions, tombolas, raffles and online auctions. We wrote to many individuals and organisations, including the Ambassador of Iceland, for sponsorship or items to raffle. Locally, Colets and Sandown Park helped us; the County gave us £133 each, and the Trefoil Guild £40. Thank you!
Anaïs and I were selected to go to the NordJamb Scout and Guide Jamboree in Iceland for ten days. On the first day there the driver of our tour minibus, who had been drinking and had a hangover, hit the crash barrier at the side of a mountain road. Nobody was injured, and he was arrested. We spent the first three days camping in the Skaftafell National Park, where we picked up litter. Each contingent planted a tree at various spots. We watched geysers erupt, walked on a huge glacier (really cool) and straddled the mid-Atlantic ridge - Iceland is the only place you can do that without getting very wet! We could wear shorts occasionally, but it drizzled a lot of the time. There were loads of flies - you could scoop them out of the air. We saw lots of puffins and Icelandic ponies, and moss and lichen that had been growing for a thousand years, though you can get tired of that. We visited a museum with traditional Icelandic houses covered with turf for insulation. But we were all disappointed not to visit Iceland's famous museum of phallology, which has moved up-country to Husavik.
The Icelanders use hydroelectric power and geothermal energy, from which they get 98% of their hot water, and they recycle a lot. You are supposed to strip off completely and have a shower before you go for a swim, and this applies also to open-air spas. Fortunately they weren't so strict with visitors when we went to swim in the geothermal Blue Lagoon. The nights are long in the winter, and Iceland has the highest rate of illegitimate births in Europe, with over 60% of children born out of wedlock. Cultural differences are many. They eat ram's head sawn in half, sheep's eyes, puffin - which must be why the birds always look worried, whale, reindeer and horse meat, seal, dolphin, rotten shark - buried for months in the icy ground, and haggis. We lived on pasta, cup-o'-soups and Doritos, and drank lemonade in a bar made completely of ice, where the seats are fur-lined so you don't stick to them, though the bottoms of my trousers were wet and froze to the floor! The local newspaper, the Reykjavik Grapevine, is a bit like Thames Ditton Today. I brought one back. It was a fantastic experience and my parents were jealous!"
Kathy writes: "I went to Thailand for three weeks this summer as part of a group of 16 girls selected from all over London and the South East of England. We explored lots of the country while we were there, staying in Guiding Centres, and even spending some time on an "eco barge" in collaboration with the Magic Eyes charity, which promotes education in pollution and its effects on Thailand's waterways. My group also did some work in several schools, teaching English songs and games, as well as time at a school for children with special needs, which was very rewarding. We also contributed to the building of a toilet and wash block at a Girl Guide Association Thailand campsite, to help improve the facilities. I had an absolutely fantastic time and I've come home with some amazing memories and new friends."
It certainly kept them off the streets!
When I used to commute from Thames Ditton station, leaving things until the last minute of course, Ron Cox's unflappable and methodical approach to issuing tickets to the three people ahead of me as the next train rumbled towards the platform would drive me mad. But I admired it nevertheless! It is no surprise that this Station Master extraordinaire has won prizes for employee excellence in the past, nor that this year he has won South-West Trains' Award for Customer Service Employee of the Year. He deserves it. Customers have always appreciated the efforts Ron makes to ensure that the station runs well, and the extra touches that make it an individual station worthy of the village. They sent in the customer recommendation form in droves, and passenger Alison Filday attended the award ceremony at the Richmond Hill Hotel with Ron on 4 October.
Beyond Ron's jigsaw in the waiting room, and flowers in the wheelbarrows along the platform, he is full of other good ideas to improve the station. South West Trains have just renewed their franchise for ten years. Much-needed investment in facilities will now be implemented. The recent railings on the access ramps were most welcome, especially on slippery mornings. A contract has already been signed to replace all the wooden fences at the station. A new ticket machine takes credit cards and offers tickets to many more destinations, while being proof against fraud and tampering that beset the old one. Further improvements will include an extension of the waiting room with toilet facilities, and negotiations are taking place to provide morning newspaper and coffee sales. Ron has permission to invite Esher College Art students to decorate the walls on the ramps with murals, for a more cohesive artistic experience. He's also secured prize tickets for a painting competition at Thames Ditton Junior School next Spring.
Since Ron took up his post, revenue from Thames Ditton Station has increased. A recent study by a local schoolboy revealed that some 700 passengers depart on the up line between 0700 and 1000 each weekday. On the down line, many passengers arrive in Thames Ditton each day to work in the village, plus some two or three hundred teenagers heading for Esher College - many of whom do pay for their tickets!
That the station has retained charm, recovered viability and has prospects of further improvement is a tribute to Ron. You'll be delighted to hear that he intends to carry on as long as he's able.