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 Autumn 2007

News from the Residents' Association

20 May to 26 August 2007

Thames Ditton spared from floods

Drinkers had to raise their feet as waters rose at The Swan

A dismal wet summer, but the storm waters draining out of Oxfordshire rose no higher here than the decking at The Swan. Our efforts to get Surrey to unblock some of the drains in these villages meant that there was less standing water than previously around the village roads - but more work is needed. We are not alone: nationally, insurers have highlighted to Government the costs and risks of shortcomings in surface water drainage.

Parking Survey

Surrey County Council Highways Department have digested the results of their initial survey. A summary is available on our website. A substantial majority of the 505 respondents agreed that action was needed. For the High Street there was majority support for residents' parking permits (with businesses provided with permits for critical operational vehicles) and a 1hr waiting time for temporary visitors. A majority endorsed additional restrictions in Watts Road. Around the Station, the proposed restrictions were supported although opinion was divided on the extent of 'curfew' times. The overall response rate was 43% and it is assumed that those who did not trouble to respond can live with the proposals. 

Surrey Highways will now work up detailed plans, which they aim to expose to public view (possibly in the Library) for some weeks prior to carrying out their final obligatory survey to take your decision. When the plans are to hand, your Residents' Association proposes to hold another Special Open Meeting. Dates depend on Surrey's progress. Please keep an eye on our website and notice-boards, and/or ensure that Membership Secretary Peter Haynes has your email address.

'Dittons in Bloom'

Our website feature on 'Dittons in Bloom' was prompted by the failure of Surrey Highways to keep down weeds, which have grown large and numerous. This is not just a problem of the current rainy season - Council contractors Carillion have been dilatory for two years or more, as the size of some weeds testifies. Peter Hickman, our patient and persistent RA County Councillor, met with a number of excuses from officials: such as the contractors 'forgot' to carry out the first of two annual scheduled weedkills, and then that they had been 'heavily engaged with Cobham in Bloom.' A year after heated debate in this Conservative-run Council on shortcomings in highways maintenance, Highways have had an increase in budget; they have restructured into two departments with the appointment of another senior executive; and they have created and recruited for four posts to liaise with local communities in areas of Surrey. Many glowing PR statements have been issued. But the situation on the ground does not appear to have changed.

'Dittons in Bloom' was replayed by the BBC online regional news and in the local press. Subsequently the contractors began clearing the weeds. Peter will continue to press, until they fully discharge the responsibilities for which we pay Council Tax. 

Planning

Planning issues continue to occasion much hard work by the Association's officers and councillors. We supported residents' objections to enlarged offices at 79 High Street with the removal of two car park spaces, contrary to the original planning approval for the site, accessed through Harvest Lane. The Planning Committee turned down the application but a Conservative councillor from Oxshott referred it to full Council, where Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors conspired to approve it, against the Council's own policies and against the recommendations of the local Residents' councillors and the wishes of the residents themselves. Party politics do not bring good administration. 

Following an appeal against the Council's refusal of the application to build a terrace of 6 houses in Queens Drive, the developer has now submitted a fresh application for 5 houses. In support of residents we have made representations for both the appeal and the revised application, which seek to build an out of character development. A number of applications have been made and withdrawn for more development in the High Street. We supported the Planning Officer's objections to applications to develop both 29 and 31 High Street for a number of reasons, but notably because the proposed development would have reduced the office and retail accommodation. We have latterly seen numerous planning applications that propose reductions in retail space in favour of residential accommodation, making retail units less viable commercially. The vital Bakery at 31 High Street is the latest example and we were pleased to see the application withdrawn. We expect to see fresh applications for development in the High Street. 

It is good to note that Elmbridge's Planning Officers have resisted developers' attempts to 'chip away' at retail and commercial premises. Those who want to see the High Street and its shops survive should take the trouble to make representations when planning applications are submitted that put these facilities in jeopardy. If members wish to be alerted by occasional email to urgent issues such as these, please ensure that the Membership Secretary has your email address. Major planning developments are also headlined on our website, together with the Elmbridge Planning reference number which you may use to view full details of both plans and individual objection on the Council's excellent website at /www.elmbridge.gov.uk - follow the links to Planning Services.

Meanwhile we welcome Financial Advisers Knight, James to 6 Station Road. The new building, when weathered, will be a substantial improvement on Annie's Sandwich Bar. Owner Paul Basson thoughtfully wishes to thank residents for putting up with the building works. His own financial planning needs grew acutely a couple of years ago when he fathered triplets. His wife, Vanessa, is a pilates and fitness instructor at Colets.

Weston Green Tile Heist

Temporary(?) asphalt repair

In the dawn light of 25 July alert residents spotted men in a white van, reg. no. S573 UMY, uprooting attractive antique red tiles from the pavement in the Woodlands area. They drove off when challenged. The police, promptly informed, were unable to attend. The vehicle apparently has no current registered keeper. Residents in the area greatly value the distinctive tiled pavements and our RA Councillors were horrified when Surrey County Council instructed its contractors, Carillion, to lay a 'temporary repair' in black asphalt. Following strong representations by RA Cllr. Maureen Sheldrick, SCC agreed to hold off while our tireless councillors called on residents in the area and managed to source sufficient tiles locally to replace those stolen: with instinctive forethought, residents had retained the tiles when drives were created across the pavements. Surrey Highways promised Maureen that they would use these tiles for the replacement but their contractors laid a short, incomplete stretch of black asphalt on 20 August. A resident who challenged them was told that this was on the instructions of SCC and that Carillion told them to use the end of their load even if they did not have sufficient to finish the job. The telephone lines grew hot again. As we go to press, SCC have assured Maureen that the asphalt laid 'in error' will come up to be replaced by the correct tiles.

One Big Headache

Residents around Sandown Park were sorely tried by twelve continuous hours of penetrating rock and rap during "One Big Saturday Concert" on 18 August. Many telephoned, and our RA councillors for Weston Green spent much of the day trying to resolve the issue. Reportedly, Sandown Park were technically within the guidelines for maximum sound at any one time. But to have music at such amplifications booming through your windows for many continuous hours on a summer's weekend is clearly unacceptable, and should never be repeated. We are sure that follow-up negotiations with Sandown Park's Events team will meet with understanding on their part that this kind of marathon earbashing is going to detract from the good standing within the community that they cultivate.

Street cleaning

Many of you have pointed to streets where gutters are not cleaned. The root cause is often parked cars and it requires a major effort to ensure they are removed on cleaning days. The street cleaning schedule is posted on our website. Either cars are removed on the day, or cleaning is not carried out. RA Cllr David Lowe has suggested to Elmbridge, who have this particular responsibility, that in streets where parking is a perennial problem it might be better to have, within budget, an effective manual clean less frequently than a notional monthly machine clean that is ineffective in practice. We are pleased to report that Elmbridge is responsive on such issues: less than a week after David drew the issue again to attention, Elmbridge contractors carried out what one High Street resident described as a 'full-on clean.' If your road is not being thoroughly cleaned, please tell your councillors. 

Hedging and ditching

While chasing official bodies on their responsibilities, we should also remind householders that they are responsible for keeping clear any culverts and drains on their properties, and for trimming back their vegetation that overhangs the public way. If the Council has to clear it, the householder will be billed. Please take a look at hedges and edges on your property and let's do our bit to keep these villages trim. 

Crime, vandalism and policing

Overall crime levels in the two wards remain stable since our last issue, indeed slightly reduced. On 7 July a robber at a Thames Ditton betting shop on Hampton Court Way sprayed a substance from a syringe into the face of an assistant, who pressed the panic alarm and the man ran off. A similar attempt netted several hundred pounds from the bookie's on Portsmouth Road. Domino's Pizza on Hampton Court Way was also robbed. Police linked these events and when on 16 July a bookmakers in West Molesey was robbed, police arrested a 27-year-old man of Farm Road Esher and a 17 year old boy: they have been charged with the offences and are on bail. A car adapted for a disabled passenger was stolen from the Woodlands, leaving the disabled lady without transport, and later found written off in Oxted. Two girls were sexually assaulted on Hampton Court Way. Meanwhile a 34-year-old flasher living in Woodfield Road who was caught on two occasions in an alleyway next to Tiffin Girls' School has been sentenced to attend a sexual offenders' programme and to pay £70 costs; his name was also put on the sexual offenders' register. A Lexus convertible was torched in Marney's Inn car park overnight, apart from which vandalism in the area seems to have been minor during the summer although groups of disorderly youths congregating in recreation areas have been an annoyance.

The coroner's report on Charles Courtier-Dutton, of Cobham, whose body was found in his car boot in Ashley Road carpark after December's Christmas Fayre, concluded that there was no third party involvement. The accidental death was by asphyxiation although it is unclear how and why he got into the car boot but, the coroner said, "There is nothing to suggest he intended taking his own life."

Surrey Police hold a neighbourhood "panel meeting" for all residents at the start of our Residents' Association Open Meetings before RA business gets under way, where you can raise concerns. Please take advantage of their presence. 

Congratulations:

  • To RA Councillor Ruth Lyon, who in addition to many other community activities has been appointed Chairman of Thames Landscape Strategy, the body that watches over our lovely stretch of the river and of which she has been a member since its inception.
  • To Justin Lavender, operatic tenor featured in our Summer issue, on being appointed Professor of Vocal Studies at the Royal College of Music
  • To Dr. David Matthews of Giggs Hill Surgery for again raising over £650 for the British Heart Foundation in the London-Brighton cycle race, and to Clive Lewis who collected a further £100 for the BHF from neighbours in Church Walk and Old School Square. Residents might note that Giggs Hill Surgery has bought an automatic defibrillator this year in case of cardiac arrests in or near the Surgery.
  • To over 450 participants in the Harry Hawkes 8 on 1 July who braved inclement weather to raise funds for the Cricket Club and local charities; thanks are due to sponsors including HJC Estates and Colets.
  • To Ted Woolley, gardener at the Home of Compassion, who again planted (but has seldom had to water!) the troughs on the Fountain Roundabout this summer.
  • To local newsagents Dave & Sheila Seargeant on their retirement after serving the Thorkhill Road area for 17 years.

Ember Centre

The Centre continues to be very well attended by the over 50s and recent events have included a display of Chinese song and dance, and a very good piano and song recital. A warm welcome to new Manager Sanjay Gulati, who replaces Harry Livesey for whose excellent past services gratitude is due. 

Dates for your Diary

This year's Residents' Association Christmas Party will take place on Saturday 15th December at the Vera Fletcher Hall. A fine occasion with a three course dinner and your favourite music for £27 a ticket: phone Lorraine Sharp 0208 873 3676.

The Christmas Fayre on Wednesday 12th December 6.00-9.30pm will see another festive evening with many seasonal activities. Contact Stitchery on 8398 5550 for more information. 

Membership and subscriptions

All who live and/or work in Thames Ditton and Weston Green wards are welcome to join the Residents' Association. Subscriptions also enable this magazine to continue. Our thanks to those who have paid subscriptions and contributions for 2007. For others, you can print a subscription form from the Association's website or contact the Membership Secretary: see pages 3 and 5. When you subscribe, please include your e-mail address. If you've already subscribed, email Peter Haynes at membership@residents-association.com. Email is used sparingly and only for matters of direct concern to residents.

Cover photo

Exceptionally coarse fishermen can spoil things for others, but angling is by and large a peaceful pastime that keeps many a lad off the streets and many a husband out of the kitchen. The photo shows Albany Reach, for centuries a noted spot for large Thames barbel. They are occasionally caught! Contemplation of such a beautiful Autumn scene can meanwhile ennoble the soul.

 

Poetry in Motion

Tai Chi on Weston Green
Tai-chi on Weston Green: the RA's Ben Ellis relieves stress in left foreground

Tai chi is no longer a mesmerising, if baffling, activity confined to Eastern metropolises or paddy-fields. No more do we shake our heads at film shots of alien, well-drilled but ancient-looking oriental office workers teetering slowly on some flat roof at dawn in Beijing. Here in Thames Ditton and Weston Green, individuals and small groups of residents may be seen in our green spaces from time to time, moving slowly with concentration through a sequence of graceful movements. This ancient practice has been growing steadily in popularity throughout the world, as a means to maintain and improve health and for the combined calmness and vitality it brings to the practitioner. It is accessible to all, including the more elderly.

That tai chi is a martial art may surprise you when you see its slow motions, requiring considerable focus, which seem the antithesis of violence. They lay the foundation for faster moves. The principle is that an assailant's energy is turned against the assailant. The majority here, however, take up tai chi with little thought of fighting, but value it for the beneficial effects that concentrating on those slow sequences has for developing strong legs, supple joints, and good balance, posture and co-ordination. The balances and co-ordination can be unexpectedly challenging and feel very strange to the beginner, but perseverance through the first couple of months pays off, as the brain and body begin to understand what is going on, contact between the feet and the ground becomes firmer, the movements become more familiar and balance more assured. For those who have done more vigorous exercises, the challenge is to slow down and develop "softness", and to discover that great strength comes from relaxation and allowing one's energy to flow. And many find the less strenuous discipline and the close concentration an invaluable boon for relief and management of stress.

The health benefits of tai chi, and accompanying exercises called "qi gong" (pronounced "chi kung"), are well known and documented in medical research, although why blood pressure is reduced and cardiovascular systems improve is not clear. Doctors and health practitioners are now also recommending tai chi and qi gong to all ages to improve mobility and stress coping abilities. Qi gong is an umbrella term given to a vast number of exercises designed specifically to enhance health - some go back over 2,000 years. A piece of silk depicting 42 figures doing exercises has been discovered in a tomb dating back to the first century BC. There are notes besides the figures denoting the health benefits, which can be felt by people carrying out these same exercises today! New qi gong exercises are being added to the canon in modern times, combining current and ancient knowledge to promote good health and longevity. 

Even those with mobility restrictions, or who can only carry out limited exercise, may benefit from doing qi gong. While the fittest of athletes, those who do sports for fun and the unfit can also develop endurance, power and focus, through using the whole body in a deliberate, controlled and relaxed way, in tai chi and qi gong. It isn't surprising then that the residents of Thames Ditton and Weston Green, who know a good thing when they see one, are taking up tai chi in droves. The Ember Centre offers classes on Monday afternoons. The age range of those attending is 50-80. Clive Lewis, a spry 70-year old of Church Walk, says: "I took up tai chi at the beginning of this year to preserve a degree of mobility. I find the balance and free-flowing exercise engaging. Poetry in motion, no less! Afterwards you bask in an holistic glow." And Clive is no headshaven Vegan dressed in hessian. He's a well-rounded fellow who likes a nice glass of red and a good laugh. He adds that tai chi can accommodate people in almost any physical state and it is a very sociable activity - strange though that might sound for a martial art. 

veronica AshcroftTai chi teacher Veronica Ashcroft (photo left), to whom we are indebted for the background for this article, offers courses at Thames Ditton Hall (Tuesdays) and also at Esher College (Wednesdays). One of her students, Mandy Phillips, told us: "I've been doing tai chi for ten years, on and off, and for the past three with Veronica. I find it useful mainly for stress management, but it is also good for skiing and climbing where balance is required." Another, Ben Ellis (our RA Transport and Highways Convener - a stressful position!): "I took it up last March. At my stage of life I needed stress management and an exercise regime. The hardest thing about tai chi is learning the moves, remembering and coordinating them. But it's terrific." 

Veronica herself, a resident of Ditton Close, is a fully-qualified teacher who came to tai chi when recovering from ME, and has thrived on it: "I was pleased to find some kind of physical activity that I enjoyed and could cope with - it was after 2 years at the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, followed by 2 years making dance videos on a course at Goldsmiths College that I fell ill, and wondered if I would ever be able to do anything energetic again." After some years her instructor Qu Lei Lei, suggested she became a teacher. "Teaching has been a journey of discovery, both in tai chi and for myself. At first, I could only just cope with the one class a week, needing the rest of the week to recover and prepare for the next class. The following year I offered my services to Esher College. Again it took all week to recover from the two classes and prepare lessons - but this was a move in the right direction. Seven years since teaching my first course, I am probably fitter than I was in my younger days."

Even your editor - he went to a taster at Colets and was most impressed by an instructor there who, sensing a sceptic, asked him to use all his force to shove the instructor in the chest. Somewhat incredulously he finished up on the other side of the studio while the instructor stood there grinning. "I work out regularly, do yoga, and dance several nights a week, but if I have time, tai chi is definitely going on the list…"

our reporting staff

Where to go: 
Esher College, Wednesday early evenings; Thames Ditton Hall, Tuesday lunchtimes (new courses in tai chi and qi gong start 25 September): Veronica Ashcroft, tel. 07912 888 955. Website: www.taichiforlife.info 
Ember Centre, Mondays, and for disabled / chairbound Tuesdays, Thursdays: Robin Sheldrake, tel. 020 8241 6848

 

Guide Hut Appeal

Guide Hut

There have been Guides in Thames Ditton since 1919. The Hut in Church Walk serves girls from almost a hundred local families. The cumulative benefits to the girls and to society of the values fostered are considerable. The Guide Hut was built in the 1950s after three local ladies, Mrs. Spencer-Whitehead, Mrs. Marsh and Mrs. Coates, long associatied with Guiding, made donations towards building a new hut. Through energetic fundraising, the Guides managed to put together the £1,500 to have the hut built in the grounds of the old Church School, giving the Guides and Brownies a safe and secure, permanent meeting place.

The hut is a major factor in continuity and appeal. Users can undertake many activities including longer-term craft projects and the hut can accommodate more messy activities without the need to clear up immediately for some smart meeting! Maintenance of the premises and garden has been entirely by parent volunteers. But the hut is now in need of some major renewal and repair. At least £20,000 in all will be needed to ensure its continued serviceability. RA Councillor Peter Hickman has secured £4,500 from Surrey County Council, which enabled the leaking flat sections of roof to be renewed (before the summer rains - well done, Peter). RA Councillor Ruth Lyon is backing a bid to secure a grant of up to £5000 from BIFFA, the waste management firm who put something back into the community. Other potential benefactors have been approached including B & Q and the Harry Hawkes 8. 

The Guides and their Friends have also raised several hundred pounds with stalls at summer fetes. Planned activities later this Autumn include a raffle (please donate suitable prizes if you can, and buy tickets!), a car boot sale, and a tea for former Guides on the afternoon of Saturday 29 September in the Hut.

The Guide Hut could serve the community in broader ways, and other groups have expressed interest in booking time in a refurbished hut, which would help to keep it heated in winter. We urge you to support this Appeal in whatever way you can so that young girls can continue to benefit themselves and the community alike.

To help, please contact:
Bronach Hughes 0208 398 1628
Lesley Evetts 0208 398 7320
email: guidehut@thamesditton.org.uk

 

Edmund Woolley, Pet Portraiteer

Edmund Woolley, Pet Portraiteer

When, on surveying his often disturbing works, I asked local artist Martin Alton whether he was happy, he replied that indeed he was - because he painted out all the angst. "If I were unhappy," he added, "I'd be painting fluffy cats." (TDT Winter 2006). Now, we do have a fluffy cat painter in the Village. Inevitably in the quest for deeper understanding I would make my way to his door. Inside, the house was equally immaculate, the atmosphere calm, with no sign of the tortured pet-painter I half expected to see. Instead, a young-looking, fit fellow, with a fine sense of humour, in slip-ons, but no socks, as befits an artist.

Edmund Woolley trained as a graphic artist at Manchester College of Art. He was not drawn to art through passion, but because he found he was able to do it well. In search of adventure, he emigrated to Canada, got a job with a publishing house, trekked through the States into Latin America; then the pull of England drew him back to live in London. He managed to make a tidy living from freelance work, with a studio in Tottenham Court Road. In 1982 he settled with his wife Dorly (Dorothee) in Embercourt Road where he has a well-lit studio, perfectly conducive to work.

Edmund began painting pets as a sideline in 1980, his own dog being the first subject. He soon discovered that animals showed no respect for the toils of portraiture and were unwilling to hold a pose for hours. This might have caused some fleeting unhappiness, but, eminently pragmatic, he found the best solution was to work from a variety of photographs to reconstruct the ideal version of the subject. This also carried the significant advantages, rarely enjoyed by artists, that the work could be done in comfortable circumstances indoors at times to suit the artist's convenience. To Edmund's gratification, he found a real talent for catching the essence or soul of the animal: "It is a solitary occupation," he comments, "but when it works, it is deeply satisfying and I enjoy seeing their owners so happy, as well as the recognition."

Such is Edmund's proficiency in an overcrowded field - Googling for 'pet portraits UK' gets you 2,270,000 hits on the Internet - that he has sold many paintings of their pets to celebrities. And, I must say, at very reasonable prices. Actresses Jenny Seagrove and lately Shirley Maclaine; Georgio Armani and Michael Barrymore; all have had their pets painted by Edmund. When he was invited to Buckingham Palace for graphic design work he'd done for the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme, of course he discreetly suggested that the Royal Corgis might make good subjects but alas the proposition was graciously declined. 

A member of Molesey Art Society, in semi-retirement Edmund is branching out into landscapes and other natural subjects. I could not forbear from asking whether this was because he had finally come to terms with the inner turmoil that must go with painting fluffy pets. Apparently not. So - back to the drawing board…

our reporting staff

 

Curtain Up at the Vera Fletcher Hall

Rodney Bewes in 'On The Stage - And Off

Now in its 16th year, our Autumn programme includes the best of the country's performers including Rodney Bewes and Donald Maxwell and Linda Ormiston in a splendid mix of drama, music and children's entertainment. One of the highlights is the one-man show on September 29th by Rodney Bewes "On the Stage and Off - the brief career of a Would-be Actor". Those of you who saw his "Diary of a Nobody" last year will know what a treat we will have with this true story of Jerome K Jerome's brief and inglorious career as an actor before he made his name with "Three Men in a Boat". Jerome thought that "all acting was making love in tights to pretty women" but soon found that it wasn't! Premiered at the Edinburgh Festival and also showing at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, this will be another sell-out at the Hall, so book early.

Love and Madness Productions, who gave us their memorable "Othello", "Henry V" and "Playboy of the Western World", return to the Hall on Friday and Saturday November 23 and 24 with their new productions of "The Tempest" and "Frankenstein" on successive nights These exciting modern full-scale production are touring nationally including the Sheffield Crucible Theatre. Their previous productions have received national acclaim: "One of the most moving, invigorating and entertaining productions you'll ever experience".

As always we have treats for music lovers. After last year's highly successful performances, cellist Sagi Hartov and pianist Benjamin Frith return to the Hall on Saturday November 17th for a concert including Beethoven's Sonata No. 4, Shostakovich's Sonata for cello and piano and piano solos by Liszt and Chopin. Sagi is well-known as a prize-winning cellist and Benjamin is an international pianist who won first prize at the Rubenstein Masters Competition.

Following our tradition of concerts by young musicians from the Royal Academy of Music - and we will all remember the Tanya Ursova concerts- we are delighted to welcome Amy Tress (violin), Charles Andrew (piano) and Ben Stephens (cello), all young prize-winning musicians for a concert on Friday November 9th including works by Beethoven, Debussy and Rebecca Clarke. Also following the tradition of the Tanya concerts, children under 16 are free.

Not many venues can boast of having Donald Maxwell as a regular visitor - the same team that brought you the sing-a-long "Pirates of Penzance" returns on Friday September 28 with an evening of musical and legal intrigue, courtesy of Gilbert and Sullivan. The centrepiece of the evening is a costumed performance of "Trial by Jury" and, yes, the audience are again encouraged, - even implored- to join in a few numbers! The story of how the beautiful Angelina wins the heart of judge and jury in her breach of promise case is complemented with other G&S numbers on a legal theme. International opera star Donald Maxwell again leads this production by Tiramisu Opera, together with mezzo-soprano Linda Ormiston and soprano Rebecca Rudge, both well-known on the opera stage and concert hall. Donald hardly needs any introduction as he has appeared at the Hall several times in between his performances as Falstaff at the Royal Opera House and in "The Gondoliers" at the English National Opera and at Coverwood. 

The Mikado

There is further joy for G&S fans when Charles Court Opera presents The Mikado", the perfect Christmas show, on Friday 30 November set in the town of Titipu with "A Wandering Minstrel", "Three Little Maids from School" and the Lord High Executioner. The performance will include a cast of eight singers and be accompanied by the Eaton-Young piano duo, one of the country's leading piano partnerships.

Rumpelstiltskin

For lovers of musicals we have on Friday 12 October the first visit by the Showcase Company with "London Pride". Join the pearly Kings and Queens in favourites such as "Down at the Old Bull and Bush" and classic musicals including "Oliver", "My Fair Lady" and "Me and my Girl".Molesey Musical Theatre return with "Old Time Music Hall" on Thursday-Saturday November 1st- 3rd after their sell-out success in "Anything Goes" in March. In a momentous musical extravaganza, the Master of Ceremonies will offer you entertainment and edification with numbers such as "Burlington Bertie" and "Joshua" and many more.Dickens is synonymous with Christmas and who better to talk about Christmas in the novelist's home than his direct descendant Lucinda Dickens Hawkesley, drawing upon the recollections of his children and friends and looking at how he depicted Christmas in his writings. The talk, on Tuesday December 11, is part of the Royston Pike lecture series.

Children of a criminal bent, if there be such, will enjoy Pandora's Box Company's presentation on Saturday 20th October of Burglar Bill", a musical version of Janet and Allan Ahlberg's modern classic, with Tom the cat, WPC Goody and of course Burglar Bill himself. On Saturday 1 December Support Act Productions present "Rumpelstiltskin", a delightful musical adaptation with life size puppets, songs and magic of the Grimm's fairy tale of the miller's daughter who was forced to weave gold out of straw.Tickets for these shows can be obtained from the Box Office numbers shown on the Noticeboard, page 39. You can keep in touch with all events at The Vera Fletcher Hall through the Hall's website at:www.verafletcherhall.co.uk.

 

 

Back, Ye Waters!

Flooding under Esher Station bridge

When it rains heavily you can see water flowing down from the Portsmouth Road towards Esher Station where it settles in the "dip" under the railway bridge. The resulting flood is over two feet deep on the west side of the road, and the pavement on the east side is submerged under a foot of water. Without a mile-long detour, the only route home for Weston Green commuters is under the bridge. This is the message I have been trying to convey to Network Rail for the past eight years! The situation really is dire. Short of rolling up your pin-stripes or removing your Manola Blaniks and wading through the water, commuters are dependent on their nearest and dearest providing a taxi service. This does not augur well for safety - frayed tempers, tired City workers and low blood sugar levels do not make for sensible and measured responses from stressed drivers. It should not have to be like this.

I had always been led to believe that it was lack of maintenance to the underground culvert and open ditch, which runs along the embankment from Esher Station to the Hampton Court Way, that caused the flooding. Oh that it were that simple! I have met, on site, with several Network Rail surveyors during the last eight years (they were never available when the area was actually flooded!) This resulted in two major clearances of the embankment and culvert. Alas, these clearances proved to be short-term solutions mainly because there was no maintenance programme. 

In December of last year it became apparent that the problem was not as "localised" as I had previously thought. After a deluge of persistent rainfall we experienced yet another bout of deep flooding. I contacted Network Rail once more. They agreed to carry out a CCTV survey. This revealed much broken pipe-work and ingress of tree roots - even under the road where there are no trees! No doubt this was exacerbated by last year's very dry summer when trees were sourcing water from wherever they could. Highway matters fall under the remit of Surrey County Council. The culvert is the responsibility of Network Rail. Some of the pipe work also runs on private land. The involvement of several landowners makes everything more difficult and responsibility becomes complicated to assign. Nevertheless a meeting was arranged between a Network Rail Drainage Engineer, a Surrey County Council Senior Highways Officer and myself. We all met at Esher Station and it soon became clear to me that they were "speaking the same language" and were agreeing how to solve the problem - music to my ears! It was apparent that major work was necessary far beyond the culvert in question - two miles or so up the line - at Lynwood. The work commenced in January and has been on going until quite recently. The clearance work done by Network Rail is impressive and, should you feel inclined, you can see the work done at Long Arch, and beyond. Cllr Janet Turner (Residents' Association, Hinchley Wood) has been very active in monitoring the work done at that end and I am indebted to her for her help and support.

I still have two concerns that are causing me some angst. The first is the recent excessive growth of trees and scrub along the embankment on Ditton Common - the result no doubt, of the wet weather we have been experiencing. The second is the opinion that the pipe under the road needs to be replaced by Surrey County Council. A SCC officer told me that the clearance work was sufficient to alleviate the problem but I am yet to be convinced. I was encouraged that the recent deluge of rain did not result in the severe flooding experienced in the past and that the water receded much more rapidly. This winter will be the real test: I have a very strong feeling that there are more battles to be fought. Others may blithely suppose, and indeed others have glibly proposed, that the problem can be cleared up in a trice. But I learnt recently that this particular battle was joined much longer ago than I imagined… When Network Rail took a serious look at the records they inherited from predecessor organisations, they discovered that the problem was first reported by a Mr May on 16 March 1914! I am now researching the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles to see whether King Canute may earlier have tried to intervene within these Marshes.

RA Cllr. Tannia Shipley

footnote: The wider area was known as 'Ditton Marshes' before the Thames was tamed. Much of it was marshland. 'Marshes' may also have been a version of 'Marches'. 'March' derives from the Anglo-Saxon 'mearc' meaning boundary.

 

Paws for Thought

Phoebus of Weston Green

A Welsh cat with 26 toes made the BBC national news in June, with the comment that this might be a UK record. Naturally, amid the rich biodiversity of our locality, we can match that. Phoebus, a resident of Weston Green, also has 26 toes - seven on each front paw, and six on each hind paw. 

As you know, polydactylism is genetically inherited as an autosomal dominant trait with incomplete penetrance. Usually it is present in just two paws; a cat with all four paws polydactyl is rarer. Polydactyl cats perhaps originated from a mutation in Boston, Massachusetts, and were spread worldwide by sailors, who judged them to possess a dexterity well adapted to the nautical life and thus to be 'lucky'. The author Ernest Hemingway was fond of a polydactyl cat about half of whose sixty descendants, still housed at Hemingway's home on Key West, have inherited polydactyly. 'Mitten cats' were less well viewed in Europe, where they were often killed as witches' familiars. As you can see from the photo, Phoebus regards these theories with contempt. 

Phoebus's name is the Latin form of Phoibos, a Greek word for the Sun God, although we are reliably informed that he began life as Phoebe until his gender was firmly established. We gather that he is terribly superior, quite vain, and attention-seeking. His gracious owner Angela describes him as 'a strange cat' who is good at winding her up. Phoebus' low-life brother Dennis, who did not inherit the trait, agrees. Even though Phoebus inadvertently fell in a pond when a kitten, and he prefers to have the door opened for him rather than using his cat-flap, he is remarkably dextrous. It is hard to tell whether, as sailors believed, multiple claws make him a better hunter or not, in view of his over-riding laziness. Angela notes that he is 'not like other cats' and indeed does not like them. He appears very intelligent and has made substantial research contributions to the quantum theory of negative energy. 

our reporting staff

 

Windows

A sort of ghost story that really happened…

The farmhouse we were staying in had belonged to the Trevellyan family for generations. It was reputed to have dated back to King Arthur's time. One of his knights was supposed to have been buried in the grounds together with his lady: Nellie she was called. Nellie was the family's private ghost and she was supposed to walk whenever there was a full moon.

Ghost window

One night old Ross Trevellyan suggested that we all sit up and wait for her to appear; the moon was full and beautiful, shining out of a cloudless sky, so armed with a flagon of the local somewhat lethal cider eight of us, including Ross and his wife assembled round the kitchen table waiting for Nellie to appear from her customary panel. Needless to say we waited in vain and by two in the morning most of us had staggered off to bed. Only Ross remained along with a second flagon of cider and perhaps predictably at breakfast the next morning he told us that we had given up too early. Nellie had indeed appeared but only Ross had seen her!

It was, I suppose, about a month later that I awoke sometime in the night and found myself gazing at a strong shaft of moonlight slanting through the window. It was full moon and I smiled to myself remembering the night we had sat up waiting for Nellie. Then suddenly I became aware of something else. Rain. Heavy, pounding rain. We don't get bright sunlight with pouring rain, do we? Perhaps it was different with moonlight. I sat up. The rain was certainly slashing against the window - but it was a different window. I turned and looked again. Slashing rain and bright moonlight. Each coming from a different direction. And did we have two windows? Surely not. Focusing, I tried to place the one I recognised. It was the one that was taking the pounding of heavy rain. The moonlight was still there but it was beginning to fade so I went to sleep.

In the morning I was just getting my clothes out of the cubby-hole covered by a curtain which was what the farmhouse provided as a makeshift wardrobe. It was a brick cubby-hole - a brick cavity. I looked again… It was not just a cavity. It was a bricked-up window. The window through which I had seen moonlight streaming the night before had been bricked up some 150 years ago.

by Margaret Briggs

 

Old Weston Green

Old Weston Green around 1910 - 1920

Weston Green runs from Cranbrook Drive in the West to the branch line railway bridge over Portsmouth Road in the East; from Imber Court and the Western section of Embercourt Lane in the north, to the railway bridges over Hampton Court Way and by Esher station in the South. Heading eastwards along Weston Green Road and its offshoots, you are in Weston Green up to the point it meets Longmead. Weston Green is sliced up by Hampton Court Way, and by postcodes that leave half its residents thinking they are in Esher and the rest thinking they're in Thames Ditton. But Weston Green has a village identity all of its own that centres on the greens and common, the ponds and of course, the Churches. The following appeared 23 years ago in the Weston Green Over 60s magazine, by an unnamed author, believed to have been Harry Mills, a past keeper of the parks in the area; who is no longer alive. But the spirit of Weston Green lives on.

It takes a good imagination to see Weston Green as it was back in the 19th century. No railway embankment cutting our view in half. No Weston Park or Newlands Avenue or Jubilee Villas, nor any of the roads beyond Alma Road except the Ember Lane. What a view we had in those days from 'the front.' No doubt we would have been called a farming community. Weston Green was unique in that 'Dickie' (Richard) Porter held a Royal Warrant to keep deer and to supply them to the Royal family. As far as it is known, he was the only farmer to hold this distinction. The entrance to his farmyard was in Weston Green Road opposite where the tennis club is now. The deer paddocks stretched from the back of St Helens right up to and including The Dell. Hay and cereals he grew on what is now the Old Cranleighan Sports Grounds, together with all of the Longmead Estate and the ground now covered by Basing Way and Basingfield Road. The very old house which stood where Elm House is now, adjacent to the Cranleighans, was the original farm house. In the late 1890s Elm Cottages were built on the Farm House garden to house the farm workers.

There were three separate Manor Farms. Bantoff's Dairy Farm was one, owned by the Blandons, opposite the Old Alms Houses. The bungalow that was the cowman's cottage is still there, and there used to be a side door where one could buy milk and cream. The rest of Weston Park was allotments until the late 1800s when some houses were built. There were also the two Couchmore farms. In all, I can remember seven farms at least. Each farmer turned his cattle on to our commons to graze, with each herd having its own keeper. No doubt a sought-after job for the elderly, as there were no pensions in those days. All transport was by horse and cart and at the end of the day's work the horses were turned out on to the common. We had goats grazing there too. They all did a fine job of keeping the undergrowth down.

From all this sprang what has always been a very active village life. A village fair was held every year on the Fair Green, opposite the Newlands and more generally known as the Harrow Green. George Dobson and his wife used to walk from Acre Road, Kingston, to sell gingerbread at the fair. This led to them starting a round to sell muffins and crumpets to the local cottagers. Success led to having a bakehouse built at Weston Green, quite modern for its time with a furnace at the side of the oven, instead of burning faggots right inside the oven that had to be 'scuffled' out with a wet sack on a long pole when the oven was hot, to wash the floor before baking could begin.

Even at the end of the 19th century we were ambitious, and wanted our own Church. A barn-like structure was erected in the middle of what is now called Hampton Court Way, next door to the old coach house belonging to The Elms. They used to have services in the afternoon taken by the Vicar from Thames Ditton or his curate. It was called 'Great Gates.' The next thing, a cottage opposite Milbourne's Pond was converted into our first hospital. Early in 1900 Weston Green was not content. It began to build a proper church, All Saints, now the church Hall. Soon after it was opened a little 'One Manual Positive' organ was installed and an organist appointed. He was paid £5 per year to play at all services and to act as Choir Master. Out of this he had to pay his own organ blower £1 per year. The gentleman appointed was a Mr. George 'Pop' Over. He was the local Council's 'Public Health Dept.' - a one-man show in those days. I believe he was called the Sanitary Inspector.

 

crossroads
the crossroads ... what is now Hampton Court Way (then, Arch Road) intersects with the Portsmouth Road before the 'Silly Isles' were constructed

A little later a cottage hospital was built, a real one this time with two wards, one for male patients and one for female. It was also in Weston Green Road. The need for a church room was met by a small room near the Alma Arms. A Sunday School was formed and held there under the guidance of Sister Metson of the Church Army. In 1909 Mr Buckingham who lived at a house called 'Kingswood', the site of the present St Helens, opened a Lads Social Club in his own house for two evenings a week, Mondays and Thursdays. From his own pocket he provided a billiard table and other necessary equipment. About a year later, the club was transferred to the room by the Alma and met Thursdays and Saturdays. Mr. Tom Martin, who lived in Weston Road, and was a member of the Church Choir, was in charge. During the 1914/18 war, the Lads Club made its amenities available to the soldiers stationed at Sandown Park. The Lads had to meet at the other end of the Parish, in a gymnasium (later St Nicholas Parish Room). However, in the early 1920s Miss Habersham, who had by now bought Mr Buckingham's house, generously gave Weston Green a new 'hut,' much better than the one by the Alma, and the Lads were back on the map. Miss Habersham ran the Girl Guides and also a successful Ranger company from this new Church room. Mrs Harry Turner, who was a court dressmaker affectionately known as 'Old Polly' behind her back, ran a branch of the Girls' Friendly Society, and the Lads' Social Club returned to the hut with Miss Habersham donating a new quarter-size billiard table to welcome them back. Shortly afterwards a new club was formed from the Girls' Friendly Society and the Lads' Social Club, called the Social Club. Meetings were held every Sunday evening after Church. Boys and girls mixing together - how daring we were in the 1920s! That room really proved a boon to Weston Green.

 

A Variety Concert was held once a year, admission one shilling, children's night twopence. A jazz band was formed and dances were held every other week. Whist drives were held fortnightly. There was also a Lending Library. Weston Green had a flourishing football team. They played on the Slade, that is the piece of common between Marney's and Ember Lane. Cricket too was played on the Common and we were very proud of our Bowling Green on the Back Common (by the Old Cranleighans). Not only did we have a very full social life in those days, but Weston Green was a hive of industry and trade. We had our own farrier, two builders, shoe repair shop, several laundries, a baker, Post Office, dairy, butcher, sweet shop, fishmonger, greengrocer, two general provision stores, draper, dressmaker, timber yard, coal merchant, and 'Bikle Smith' to mend our bikes. We even had our own undertaker. And seven public houses.

By now, Weston Green looked much as it does today, except we miss our little narrow road by Arch Cottage and find in its place that great race track called Hampton Court Way. The last big change came when the new Church was built. Some of us were not too sure that a new Church was required, but of course it made it possible for our Over 60s Club to have a meeting place.

our thanks to Gerry Mitchell for this material

 

By Margaret Briggs

Autumn 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 15 November 2007.

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. A ship lost calls for places of aid (9)8.
Living material (7,6)
11. Melody emerges when not uneven (4)
12. Do (5)
13. Able (2,2)
16. Of synthetic fibre (7)
17. Take part tar back to catchment area (3,4)
18. A mixed gin after a small rush of wind may result in a continuous rush of same (7)
20. Constant condition can always con rich (7)
21. Love rose out of statue (4)
22. Fires company footwear (5)
23. Land that lies out at sea (4)
26. Wolf Whistle or something more primitive (4,2,3,4)
27. The sort of pretending that needs storing up (9)

Down

2. Old eggs (3)
3. Pirate hides five Romans in secret (7)
4. The Devil is in contempt erratically (7)
5. Not 'dead on time' - could just be dead (4)6. Member of the reigning family (8,5)
7. Streaky grey in season (6,3,4)
9. St. L in danger or even dead (9)
10. Proper hick is beer-making sort (3,6)
14. PC in a state of fear (5)
15. Rats back famous actor (4)
19. Well suited (4,3)
20. A receiver who will chat away about the old Rec. (7)
24. Too (4)
25. One of a pair (4)

Solution to the Summer 2007 Crossword:

Solution to Summer 2007 crossword

 

By Hook or Crook

Taxation, representation and justice...

Keele University's report: "Law-abiding majority? The everyday crimes of the middle classes" saw national media making hay during a slow summer. Inter alia, about a third of us avoid tax, using the black economy.

When this phenomenon is observed in a sector that generally prides itself on good citizenship and adherence to the law there is a deal of tut-tutting. Shouldn't we examine possible causes? Has general morality declined? For sure, we have seen myriad immoral and reprehensible examples from those who lead us in Government, the Churches, and other professions including judges. But where taxation is concerned, many good citizens feel aggrieved and unjustly treated. They're sympathetic to its avoidance, even evasion. 

We pay quite enough in tax. You earn £100. Forty percent goes in income tax, another tithe in national Insurance, another in council taxes. Of the £40 or so pounds left, if you save it for your heirs another forty percent is whipped off, and when they finally get to spend it, over a fifth of the remainder goes on VAT. After the many hidden taxes and costs imposed by government national and local, the value of your hundred pounds is reduced to less than £25. When good citizens are paying that sort of money to government, they expect to see it well and wisely spent. Yet they see vast amounts spent on foreign commitments that do not always enjoy their support. They see bloated management staffs in a National Health Service that fails to provide for beds, doctors, nurses, patients, drugs and equipment. They see their money used for the political pork-barrel by politicians who attempt by legislation to suppress information about their publicly funded expense accounts, while for all that money paid in tax, somehow there aren't enough police, enough prison cells, adequate rail safety….. 

Local taxpayers see their money being 'redistributed' up the M1. They see their State schools forced to raise money by dunning parents directly, or by cutting back on staff and reducing teaching hours. They see ever more attempts to extract additional money from them by charges of one sort or another. Plans to make us pay twice for our rubbish collections by levying further fees. Surcharges on road use and parking charges on top of road tax. They also see smart offices with large staffs, while roads are ill-maintained, drains left blocked, streets not properly cleaned. 

When taxpayers complain about the state of facilities and services, whether national or local, the response is to reshuffle or restructure, to appoint more staff to the bureaucracy - whose bosses then get promotion and more pay under their Job Evaluation Schemes. To spend more public money on Public Relations spin to try to convince the public that really, all is going wonderfully well. Look - a kitemark! 

Do you wonder that the hard-working, thrifty middle classes resent the level of tax and the use to which it is put? That they try to avoid it? That they won't inform on their friends and neighbours as officialdom wants them to do? There is a difference between the Law, and Justice. When that difference becomes too great, Justice may encourage the thought that the Law be disobeyed, and Government loses consent. 

'Dittonian' (particulars supplied)

Views expressed on this page are those of the individual author. Readers are invited to send in pieces for 'By Hook or Crook' - tastefully and legally drafted, light-hearted or serious.

Congratulations to our two winners this season. Several others were right except for incorrectly spelling the first name of the gentle author of 'The Compleat Angler' - Izaak Walton