Archive for the ‘U3a’ Category

An Unusual Job For A Woman

Three Sheets to The Wind is the latest collection of stories and poems from the renowned u3a writing group Whittlesey Wordsmiths of which I am immensely proud to be a member

Three Sheets to the Wind by Whittlesey Wordsmiths

I promised to put a longer version of my story that featured on Marsha Ingrao’s blog after the book, Three Sheets to the Wind was published An Unusual Job for a Woman is one of the stories in this collection.

Here is the full version of the story that appeared earlier as “Not a Proper Job.”

An Unusual Job for a Woman.

Philip Cumberland

The guided bus was an unusual getaway vehicle, but it had served her well in the past.

“It’s their vanity that makes them vulnerable,” she thought.

She had been glad to get out of her waitress uniform and into something less conspicuous. What politician full of their own importance could refuse an honorary doctorate from one of the world’s leading universities?

“More wine Mr Ambulant? Yes, the glass is a bit dirty. I will fetch you a clean one. It was the Chardonnay, wasn’t it?”

Fortunately, she was in the kitchen when he collapsed, nowhere near him. When they all rushed to see what was happening, she was in the ladies, changing into jeans and a tee shirt. Then nipping out through the Masters’ Garden… a bit naughty really, but not as naughty as poisoning someone.

Thank goodness for the tourists. It was easy to get swallowed up by the crowds. The bus was waiting in its bay when she arrived at Drummer Street. Some of those academics can be a bit handy when a girl is carrying a tray of drinks while wearing a fairly short skirt; the women were the worst. She wondered if she had been missed yet. The Park and Ride is very useful; you can park for free at St Ives, get into the middle of Cambridge then back to pick your car up. The luggage lockers are useful too. The Jiffy bag was waiting for her; Sheila would count its contents later. No doubt the next job was in there too.

The policemen standing waiting by her car were a surprise. She noticed them as she closed the locker door – always sensible to park near the bus shelter. Fortunately, the bus was still waiting to move off. She climbed back on, flashed her day rider ticket at the driver, and then found a seat next to the emergency exit.

As she left the bus at Huntingdon, she thought it was always good to have a plan B. The elderly Renault Clio was inconspicuous and could be left anywhere without arousing suspicion if there weren’t yellow lines or parking restrictions.

She drove to her cottage in Wistow. It wasn’t her main address, but somewhere out of the way when life got complicated. After opening the Chardonnay with a wry smile on her face and pouring herself a glass she reached for the Jiffy bag. Inside were a few hundred in twenties and tens for expenses. The lottery ticket was there too.

The photograph of her next target was a bit of a surprise. He was nasty enough but well connected; he must have really upset someone, Sheila thought. Then she remembered a story – well, a rumour of a story circulating – that would explain it.No matter how big a bully you are, there is always someone bigger and nastier.

Right, London on Monday to claim her lottery prize and perhaps a call to Grandmother.

The Sunday papers headlined Ambulant’s sudden death; a heart attack was the suspected cause. Hopefully, the college had secured his endowment before his demise.

Sunday passed quietly, and it was the eleven-thirty train from Huntingdon that delivered Sheila to Kings Cross. The newsagent’s shop was small, scruffy and inconspicuous, located on an anonymous side street.

The newsagent, certainly the man behind the counter, was elderly, bald and stooped. His nicotine-stained fingers suggested that a few years ago, a cigarette would have been permanently between his lips. He took Sheila’s blank lottery ticket and took it into a back room. Returning after a few minutes he inserted it into the lottery machine. The tune from the machine announced it was a winner.

“Congratulations, young lady; five numbers and the bonus ball, £180,000 and 3p. You will have to contact Camelot; keep your ticket safe.”

Sheila called Camelot’s special number using her mobile phone, identified herself, scanned the QR code and arranged the transfer of the winnings to her bank in Switzerland. She had left the newsagents with a copy of the Times and then found a call box.

The call was answered on the third ring by a quavery elderly male voice.

“Hello, who is it?”

“Mr Wolf?”

“Yes.”The voice immediately changed to something younger, no longer quavery.

“It’s Little Red Riding Hood. Can I speak to Grandmother please?”

“Grandmother’s familiar voice was calm as usual.”

“Hello, my dear. What can I do for you?”

“I am a little concerned about my next job.”

“He has got a history of heart problems. You are an attractive young lady and very clever.”

“Two policemen were waiting by my car at St Ives after Mr Ambulant died.”

“You should have a list of your next target’s engagements in your pack. You need to be very careful about how you manage things.”

“I am a little concerned about how quickly the police were onto my car.”

“The payment for the next job will be a lot higher, a million from the Euromillions draw. There is less interest in those winners.”

“Who else knows about me and the next target?”

“Just Mr Wolf, the Woodcutter and myself.”

“What about the Witch?”

“She’s dead.”

“Okay then, I will do it, but won’t notify you first. Once I have done the job I will phone you.”

“That’s absolutely fine, my dear. We know you well enough by now.”

Sheila ended her call and went shopping, mainly in charity shops, although she didn’t need new clothes, but the right clothes for the job.

A slightly plump middle-aged woman booked a room at a small hotel near Holborn underground station. She had booked for a week in the name of Mrs June Gordon and produced her driving licence with an address in Stamford as proof of identification. Her clothes were of good quality but not fashionable: sensible suits and skirts.

Sheila’s target was a man of habit. He jogged in Green Park most mornings, usually at seven. His list of engagements included lunch with the prime minister, theatre visits, and talks with dignitaries.

Sir John Grantly-Crouch prided himself on his physical fitness, and his run in Green Park, close to his house, was part of his daily routine. It was the second day in a row that the middle-aged lady wobbled by on a Santander hire bicycle, wishing him good morning. A bit unusual for a woman to cycle in a tweed skirt, he thought, but that was all. He jogged on, turned a corner, and saw that she appeared to have fallen off her bike. He extended his hand and helped her up, holding her gloved hand to do so.

She thanked him profusely, remounted her cycle and rode off.

Sir John Grantly-Crouch never finished his run. A few minutes later, he suffered a heart attack, collapsed and died.

The middle-aged lady parked the hired cycle at the docking station near the toilets and Green Park underground station. She peeled off her gloves and put them on the ground beside her. After taking her capacious leather handbag from the bicycle’s front basket, she opened it and put on a pair of surgical rubber gloves before opening a plastic bin liner. The leather gloves were placed in the bag; a pack of antibacterial wipes was used to clean the handlebars, saddle and frame. She didn’t want innocent victims.

The used wipes and surgical gloves went into the bin bag too. The partially filled bin bag was sealed, placed inside another, and both went back into the capacious handbag.

Sheila found a call box and spoke to Grandmother.

“Sir John Grantly-Crouch collapsed and died in Green Park this morning whilst out for his run. The cause of death will be a heart attack.”

“Thank you, Little Red Riding Hood. Your lottery ticket will be sent to you.”

“I have already bought it. Here is the number; have you got a pen to hand?”Sheila read the number from her ticket.

“That’s not the way it works, Little Red Riding Hood.”

“It is this time. I have plenty of the substance left, Grandmother. Or should I say, Joan? I know where you all live, so no monkey business.”

“There will be none, I assure you.”

The tube was busy with the morning commute. Kings Cross was crowded and they weren’t looking for a middle-aged lady or the older woman who left the train at St Neots.

Three Sheets to the Wind is available to buy on Amazon

A bit of Public Speaking

Me with my book, Killing Time in Cambridge with the Grasshopper Chronophage at Corpus Christi College Cambridge
Me with my book, Killing Time in Cambridge with the Grasshopper Chronophage at Corpus Christi College Cambridge

I was given the opportunity to talk about writing and my novel twice during this last week. On Tuesday I was invited to speak at a local Women’s Institute meeting and on Thursday at The August Book Bank event at Huntingdon’s Commemoration Hall.

I haven’t spoken in public for a very long time and then it was only once. I can’t even remember what the talk was about.

It was very kind of both the Whittlesey Women’s Institute (W I) and Niche Comics and Books in Huntingdon to invite me.

I was able to tell the attentive W I audience about the tremendous help and collaborative effort of the u3a Whittlesey Wordsmiths, to which I belong. The group encourages its members to write, help hone their skills and see their work in print and published. It is the mutual support and collaboration that has helped all of us within the group to succeed, including me.

The W I audience was engaging and their questions were interesting.

Best-selling author Emma Rous with her first novel The Au Pair

At, Huntingdon I was invited to give a short talk to an audience which included the best-selling author Emma Rous, about my book Killing Time in Cambridge. I was invited to read a well-received short extract. After other members of the audience shared experiences of their recent reading the local best-selling author, Emma Rous spoke to us about her writing. She spoke about the decision to give up her profession as a vet to pursue her writing career. By coincidence we both worked at Ramsey, Emma leaving her job as a vet and me retiring in the same year.

It was an interesting talk, Emma gave us insights into the world of professional publishing, explaining the methods and processes of a major publishing house. The changes in titles and cover designs to suit different markets and countries were an eye-opener. The examples on display were remarkable both in variety and concept. The thinking behind the different designs was prompted by serious market research and knowledge of different markets. She also mentioned the willingness of other authors to help and support one another, something even with my limited experience I have found to be the case.

When I spoke to Emma afterwards she told me she enjoyed the piece from my book that I had read aloud to the audience.

We share a love of the Fen country, in particular the skies.

I enjoyed both meetings, particularly the supportive interaction from both audiences.

Thank you Whittlesey Women’s Institute and Niche Books and Comics for the opportunity to share my story.

At the Commemoration Hall with Emma Rous

To read more about Emma Rous visit: http://www.emmarous.com/

For Niche Comics and Books, bookshop visit: http://www.nichecomics.co.uk

A Following Wind

Front book cover for A Following WInd

A following Wind front cover

Our U3A Creative Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths, is working on a new book, a follow up to Where the Wild Winds Blow, our first very successful attempt at writing and publishing. This new volume has the title: A Following Wind.

I am working on a new front cover for the book, something that conveys both a movement by wind and our Fenland landscape. Over the years I have managed to take photographs of what is for many people the defining feature of our landscape, the skies. Often at their most breathtakingly beautiful during sunrise and sunset.

The cover may be slightly different depending on the template restrictions but please take a look at it and let me have your feedback.

U3A Walking Group Houghton Trip


 

We travelled to Houghton Mill by car, thank you to our chauffeurs. On arrival the group gathered together in the car park, the weather was fine remnants of the early mist were diminishing fast under the strengthening sun.

Ready for the off

Ready for the off

The current mill at Houghton on the river Great Ouse was built in the seventeenth century, with improvements made in the nineteenth century, it is now owned by the National Trust and in working order. When I was a lad it was disused as a mill and used as a Youth Hostel. There was mention of a mill on the site as early as the Doomsday Book, one was originally built in 963AD

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Houghton Mill

 

We walked through the mill, (the footpath passes though the building itself), crossed the bridges and set off across Hemingford meadow towards Hemingford Abbotts, it was dry under foot with little wind. the group crossed the bridge into Hemingford Abbots then walked along Common Lane into the centre of the village. There are many attractive old cottages remaining together with a thatched pub, the Axe and Compass.

Axe and Compass

The Axe and Compass

When I was a young lad, I left school at fifteen and started working at a garage in Hemingford as an apprentice mechanic. Although I left the garage close on fifty years ago a lot of the village is familiar, though changed from how I remember it. we followed the footpaths to the river then walked along the bank until reaching Hemingford Grey. I used to know a man who lived in River Cottage at Hemingford Grey. He was a customer of the garage where I worked and a friend of the owner, he had been a prisoner of war by the Japanese. At the age I was then, his experiences didn’t interest me as much as they would now, the one thing I recall him saying was the commander of the prison camp, believed he must be intelligent, believing he came from Cambridge rather than living close to it.

St James Church Hemingford Grey

St. James Church Hemingford Grey

St. James church in Hemingford Grey was approached walking along a path beside the river, it is in a beautiful position. We walked past it and after a while walking through Hemingford Grey village passed some picturesque lakes, formed I would imagine from disused gravel workings carrying on further we found ourselves back on the open meadow.

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A view of the lake

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Back on the Meadow

We continued across the meadow until we reached the outskirts of St Ives at the Dolphin Hotel passing through its grounds onto London Road. Leaving the hotel behind crossing the historic town bridge into the town. The bridge is noted for its’ old chapel in the centre, the chapel is now single storey, I have seen old photographs of it having three storeys, the upper two, which had been added to the original, were removed in the thirties.

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A view from the bridge

Entering the centre of St Ives, I was surprised at how prosperous the town now looked. It seems an influx of people commuting to Cambridge has brought more wealth to the town and provided the money for things to improve. We carried on through St. Ives passing the Nelsons Head pub, which featured in my misspent youth. An acquaintance of mine owned a very elderly Humber Hawk car which had lost reverse gear, a three point turn necessitated the passengers disembarking and providing the reverse push. The chap was showing off to a young lady who worked at the pub one night and in the process managed to crash into a bollard, as a result the passenger side headlight pointed skyward and to the left. As he drove along, the headlight that side, shone into upstairs bedroom windows.

St Ives

The walking group sightseeing in St. Ives

We carried on along the Waits beside the river, then through All Saints churchyard continuing on past the bridge to Holt Island, then onto the Thicket, the footpath to Houghton.

Chinese Bridge St Ives 2

The bridge to Holt Island

The Thicket is a pleasant wood lined walk to Houghton passing through the nature reserve. We re-entered Houghton passing some really picturesque buildings en route, this is one.

Thatched cottage at Houghton

This cottage wouldn’t be out of place on a chocolate box.

Continuing back into the centre of the village past the Three Horseshoes on the right and to the left a statue of Potto Brown.

Three Horseshoes

The Three Horseshoes

Potto Brown

Statue of Potto Brown

I had seen Potto Browns’ statue on visits to the village in the past but paid little attention to it, I didn’t know who he was and couldn’t read the inscription, so with the aid of Google did a bit of research. The tenant of Houghton mill during the nineteenth century and a philanthropist, founding many local schools, a chapel, also allotments amongst other things for the poor. There are more details for him on Wikipedia and the St Ives.org website, under oddities.

We completed our walk by returning to the Mill for a well earned cuppa at the National Trust cafe. All in all an excellent walk, together for me and one or two others, originating from this part of Cambridgeshire, a trip down memory lane. My thanks to the organisers and to the weather.

 

 

 

 

U3A Visit to the Royal Institute

U3A visit to the Royal Institute.

 

Three of us from Whittlesey U3A visited the R. I. in London Jeff Moreland his wife Jackie and myself. We travelled from Whittlesey to Peterborough by bus, (unfortunately too early in the morning to use our bus passes). We then walked from the bus to train station and after a wait onto a train to London, Kings Cross.

Whilst on the train we discussed the complexity of ordering train tickets online and the difficulties of navigating the pricing structures. We all agreed that a Nationalised rail service might well be a return to sanity.

On arrival at Kings Cross we tried the House of Illustration, my idea,  in Granary Square. It was about a ten minute walk, probably not so long when you know the way, we weren’t impressed with the current exhibitions, just two of the three galleries were open.

We then made our way back to Kings Cross to try the underground to Green Park, again the ticketing proved a bit of a head ache until Jeff and Jackie found they could use their contactless debit cards to pay at the barriers. Before they had been made aware of this they were quoted £25 one way. In a rare moment of forward planning I had bought myself an Oyster Card on the same day I bought my train ticket. Jeff had sorted out the line we needed and we were quickly at Green Park. We walked to Albermarle Street, found the RI and had a quick “recce”. The cafe was a bit crowded but after a quick look round we found a pub for a sandwich and a cuppa. The Ritz was close by but we decided against mixing with the riff raff, it can attract.

The Faraday Museum in the basement of the Royal Institute is very interesting and well worth a visit there is a lift down to the cafe which is also in the basement.

The lecture hall in the RI is very cosy and although the Christmas lectures on television give an insight into its’ intimacy, they also give an impression of more space than then really is, particularly in the demonstration area.

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The Lecture Theatre at the RI

Following an introduction by Pam Jones, (Chairman of The Third Age Trust) the lectures started.

The lectures were varied and interesting the programme started with Alison Fairbrass  with her lecture; New technology for monitoring London’s wildlife.

Alison’s area of interest centred on the movement of bats, monitoring them acoustically using specialist sound recording devices and software. She mentioned the problems of collecting large amounts of data, then being able to analyse the information and understand the results. There was a lively question and answer session at the end.

The lecture was very interesting but as the theatre was warm and stuffy I nearly dozed off at one point. During the tea break following the second lecture, we discussed what it would have been like attending lectures at the RI in an earlier time. In years gone by, nearly everyone smoked, probably mainly pipes at that, with the theatre lit only with candles and oil lamps, it would have made the warm and stuffy we experienced seem like a breath of fresh air.

The second lecture was given by Chiara Ambrosio with the title; What does art have to do with science?

The lecturer had a strangely strong Italian accent for someone who claimed to be born and raised in Oxford, it did cross my mind that Ms. Ambrosio was actually Italian and this could possibly be a ruse to ensure she is able to remain in the UK after Brexit. The lecture explored the historic relationship between art and science. How art was used to represent scientific thought and how often artistic interpretation had taken precedent over accuracy. In the question and answer session literature was touched on as being part of the arts, science fiction was mentioned, I have heard it described elsewhere as science prediction, rather than science fiction.

After tea and biscuits we had the last lecture, I noticed that there were empty seats after the break that had previously been occupied. It would be interesting to find out why.

This lecture was delivered by Chris Darby, the subject Cryptography. Mr. Darby explained the nature of encryption, how it was used to protect information or data and how it could be circumvented. As with all the lecture subjects that afternoon, they were just the briefest of glimpses into subjects of great interest and depth. This particular subject probably touched more of us directly, more immediately then any of the others, our data and privacy are now at greater risk from theft and misuse than ever before.

There was a closing speech from Pam Jones and we extricated ourselves from the rather snug seating.  Walked back to Green park station and made our way back on the now more crowded and cosy underground to Kings Cross.

We decided to eat at Kings Cross as we had a long wait for the train,  Jeff managed to locate a pie and pasty outlet, a noted area of interest for him. After demolishing the pasties Jeff and I had a walk round outside, leaving Jackie to guard the bags.

We had  a look at St. Pancras station, the view inside is stunning, the sheer size of the arched canopy is awe inspiring.

St Pancras Station

St. Pancras Station

Dominating the platform just through the entrance is a huge bronze statue of a soldier embracing his wife or girlfriend in an act of farewell. It is a beautiful work of art, easily accessible and not requiring any interpretation, it captures perfectly for me at least  the sadness and poignancy of the moment of parting.

St Pancras Statue

 The statue at St Pancras

We returned to Kings Cross and rejoined Jackie. I had a little bit of a look round the station and saw an item of real interest Platform 9¾.

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Platform 9¾

There was quite a queue at Platform 9¾ I didn’t actually see anyone make it through the wall though.

We caught the 7.10 train back to Peterborough, the announcement board left a lot to be desired the platform number was only posted a few minutes before the train was due to depart, leading to a rush for the train which left swiftly how the really disabled would have coped is anyone’s guess. This just reinforced our collective view of the shambolic state of our railways, (steps off soap box). We arrived back at Peterborough and were chauffeured back to Whittlesey by my daughter Naomi. All in all a great day out with excellent company.

 

 

Walking around Orton Mere

My first U3A walking group outing

I had my first outing with the U3A walking group on the sixth of February, the group were friendly and made me feel very welcome. I was given a lift to Orton Mere by Ian and Julie Rudderham, thank you Ian and Julie.

It was a fine, cold, frosty start with a little mistiness on the horizon. We arrived at the car park and I was immediately struck by the view of the lake from the car park.

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The view of a lake from the car park

Once everyone had arrived, we set off, around first I believe the Rowing lake, then onwards to Bluebell Wood, a bit early for bluebells but there were one or two clumps of Snowdrops in flower. Next up I think was Milton Ferry Bridge. We crossed the bridge then carried on walking around another lake, fetching up at the Lakeside Kitchen and Bar for coffee. I have lived in Whittlesey now for just over thirty years but work has occupied the far greater proportion of my waking hours, so I have had little opportunity to explore the facilities on my doorstep. I really enjoyed the walk and the company of my fellow walkers, thirteen, I think of us in total.

We were able to observe many of the water birds, as they were seemingly used to human proximity, close contact didn’t seem to disturb them, I was able to photograph Herons easily, without them flying away, which is usually the case in the fens.

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An undisturbed Heron

As we approached the Lakeside Kitchen and Bar there was some debate as to whether a group of birds perched on a floating raft in the lake and drying their wings were Cormorants, I think they were but I will leave judgement to the experts.

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Cormorants?

Here is a close up.

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Close up of the Cormorants.

Later on we spotted an altogether different bird, no danger of this one taking flight but all the same an impressive piece of sculpture.

owl-carving

Carved Owl

I really enjoyed my walk and hope to make this activity part of my regular routine. Thanks everyone for making it an enjoyable outing.

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