Monday, October 31, 2011


Some surprise visitors to the display stands at Billericay Library who came to share memories, photos and interesting information about the town.  Lovely to welcome Phoenix 98Fm radio presenter, Alan Johnson whose Saturday 10-12 Feel Good programme is one of the best.  Here we have a few pics of a happy day.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Lots happening in the county.  I've just joined Twitter - and am  inundated with tweets.  Mistake maybe?  An awful lot of activity.   Anyway, our little team is looking forward to meeting many more folk who want to contribute their memories, photographs, memorabilia to the website to which many local history enthusiasts are contributing.  Come and meet us on Monday, 31 October  at Billericay Library from 10.00am-3pm when we will be delighted to record your memories and copy your precious photographs and anything else you think may be of interest to us as a 'Heritage Group."  Picture above shows some of our team when they met at the Essex Record Office earlier in the year.   See you on Monday.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


A relaxing day, lovely lunch and good company were on the menu yesterday for the SWWJ Essex Regional meeting at Anita Sackett's home in Chelmsford.  This was the perfect spot to meet up with other  members and friends, as this is our famous county town, so central for all.  Pictured are some of the diners.  Missing is Elizabeth Lord, the well known novelist,  but at the end of the blog, you can see a pic of her with Martina Cole, another Essex lass. This was taken a few years ago when Martina came to talk to us.

Following our gathering we all shot off to Chelmsford town to meet with our Britain's Children's current Laureate, Julia Donaldson, who was signing copies of her book The Gruffalo with scores of children queued up outside as we swept in to 'Just Imagine...' Book Centre, to take a few snaps. I love Nikki's window  Picture here of Anita Sackett, Nikki Gamble and Julia Donaldson.  Nikki is doing some wonderful work here in Chelmsford and the Centre is certainly the place to visit for children of all ages.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Steam trains are still a fascination for many of us and just recently, I've enjoyed a couple of 'memory lane' steam railway trips.  So, it's a privilege to be asked to review Amberley Publishing Stour Valley Railway Through Time created by Andy T Wallis.  ISBN 978-1-4456-0472-5 £14.99

Within his fifteen chapters, we are treated to several hundred fabulous photos of locomotives from Suffolk and Essex including those from the former Colchester, Stour Valley, Sudbury & Halstead Railway which was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1846, to build the Colchester to Hythe line and a second, Marks Tey to Sudbury, with a branch to Halstead.

Railway buffs will know much about our Great Eastern Railway passing into the new London & North Eastern Railway on l January 1923 and the advent of the special excursion trains running from the Midlands and Cambridge via both the Stour Valley and Colne Valley lines to Clacton and Walton.

From 1 January 1959, steam traction was replaced by diesel locomotive-hauled trains for both freight and excursion traffic.  The last passenger service to travel over the whole line took place in June 1961 when the Ramblers' Special worked from Liverpool Street to Bury St Edmunds. We learn much about the Beeching Report in 1963 and the rows and opposition to the closure plans.

"Andy Wallis has done a fine job," commented a retired railway engineer. "The book contains some fascinating photographs tracing some of the numerous ways in which the Stour Valley Railways has changed and developed over the last century."  Do take a look for yourselves - a second book on the railways is expected in 2012.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Friends and family know that I love cats - our current pet is Pixie, but should I choose a  dog, he would resemble Rocky, the wonderful greyhound, who accompanies Chris Brewster, our Curator of the Cater Museum in Billericay.

Now Rocky is our current star and also a 'cover boy' whose story has been written by Chris to raise money for Clarks Farm Greyhound Rescue.  Rocky is a care dog registered with CANINE CONCERN.  He was adopted from Clark's Farm.    This charity is rather special as it provides therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, special needs schools and a variety of other places by volunteers with their own friendly dogs and cats.  What a wonderful idea for those who are forced to be apart from their own pets.

Rocky, our special retired greyhound, who has such a gentle nature, has passed his test to be part of this important work and seems to enjoy bringing comfort to many.    Do learn more about this fine charity via    Here is a picture of Rocky on the cover of Chris' book (price £2.50) which is a delightful story for both children and adults. There are other slim books within the series, so do email me for more information.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

RAISING FUNDS FOR JAPAN EARTHQUAKE APPEAL MOTOKI HIRAI'S Piano Recital on 29 October 3pm Wigmore Hall, London

You meet some of the world's nicest and most interesting people at the Chelsea Flower Show, London.  It was here that I  met Motoki Hirai, a wonderful concert pianist.  He has appeared in the music capitals of the world, performing regularly in London’s prestigious venues including the Wigmore Hall, St. John’s, Smith Square and the South Bank Centre. Way back in the spring, Motoki gave a hugely successful sold-out recital in Carnegie Hall in New York. During recent seasons, he has performed in Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Spain, USA and his native Japan. Highlights of the 2010/2011 season and beyond include concerto performances with orchestras such as Czech Virtuosi, solo recitals in venues including Cadogan Hall (London) and Carnegie Hall (NY), as well as concert tours across Europe and Japan.

Whilst being a leading interpreter of the standard repertoire for piano solo, Motoki is equally at home with chamber music and lieder, shading an inspiring and personal light on music from all periods. Since 1991, Motoki has collaborated with artists including Michael Cox, Kalman Berkes, Barry Craft, John Pearce and his father, the celebrated cellist Takeichiro Hirai, whom Pablo Casals designated as his successor.

As a composer, Motoki has been commissioned to write new works for international artists in various fields which were performed and premi√®red in venues such as Wigmore Hall, South Bank Centre, Chelsea Flower Show, Chelsea Festival 2008, Dulwich Festival 2010 (London), St. George’s (Bristol), Smetana Hall (Prague), Maison de la culture du Japon √† Paris (Paris), Auditori Pau Casals (Barcelona), Carnegie Hall (NY), Tokyo Opera City and NHK Hall (Tokyo). His music has also been used in films such as ‘Voice’ (2004) and ‘The Emperor’s Tram Girls’ (2005).

Born in Tokyo into a highly gifted musical family, Motoki studied piano and composition with his grandfather, the eminent composer Kozaburo Y. Hirai, and violin with his grandmother. Since his first professional appearance at the age of 13 playing his own piano works to great critical acclaim, he has been highly active in both performance and composition. After reading philosophy and aesthetics at Keio University in Tokyo, Motoki came to London in 1996 to study at the Royal Academy of Music, and later at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and City University. His teachers have included Frank Wibaut, Dominique Merlet, James Gibb, Patsy Toh and Joseph Seiger.

Over the years, Motoki Hirai has performed for the promotion of world peace and for people in need worldwide in association with organizations such as the Red Cross, Motor Neurone Disease Association, UNICEF and UNESCO. In 2010 Motoki was invited to Lithuania to give a charity concert, commemorating Sempo (Chiune) Sugihara who saved the lives of 6000 Polish Jews during World War II.

He has also been involved in fascinating educational programmes to promote Japanese art and culture across the world, such as the “Picture Books – Storytelling, Images and Music” project (2007- ) as artistic director as well as composer.

Motoki will will be appearing at the South Bank on Saturday 29 October 2011 - 3pm and funds raised are in aid of the Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund.  His website:

Saturday, October 08, 2011


Wendy and Keith Petty in their allotment with their Atlantic Giants
Just received this lovely snap of award winning gardeners,  Keith and Wendy Petty, whose pumpkins are perfect and win lots of prizes at the Guild of Gardeners and Hort Soc Socities.   I'm just collecting background material to write a feature about them.  One thing I always remember, when I visited their allotment, that Keith recommends planting the seed on 7 May. Who knows, I might even receive a little one to make some pumpkin pie and soup (my speciality published in The Weekend Telegraph), so do admire them in this photo -  in all their glory!!! Check out  Great website which I will add to fairly soon via Rachel Bull, the editor.  Here is another pumpkin grower, the super 'Green Queen' Piper Terrett, and a nice slice of pumpkin pie (little brandy in the sauce).

Thursday, October 06, 2011


It's years since I've been involved in the WEA movement (last classes were based at Brentwood). Then we had Victorian novelists and American writers on the reading list, but am delighted I chose this current course TALKING HEADS tutored by Stephen O'Kane asssisted by Denise Fielding. The course started last week and continues over eight weeks. 

Alan Bennett has always intrigued me, certainly since the days from Beyond the Fringe at London's Mayfair Hotel, so we all go back a very long time.  Bennett's monologues are so cleverly created and acted and we are treated to performances from Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Patricia Routledge, Stephanie Cole, Eileen Atkins among others  including the great man himself.  Next week we study BED AMONG THE LENTILS with the fabulous Maggie Smith (born in Essex, incidentally!) and I've already done my homework - what a swot!  There are still a few places available! -(contact

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Rachel Bull in that super hat!
Friends know that as well as making jams, jellies, mead, wine and my special pickles, I also write about them, giving ancient and more modern recipes. Some of my ideas are to be found at the Vancouver based on-line magazine, but  I have recently been 'guesting' on a brand new London website, the brainchild of Rachel Bull who created  LIVE URBAN, LOVE RURAL. Rachel has some wonderful ideas and friendly contributors and  I must say, I have learned a lot about other people's skills in the kitchen, allotment and their homes and gardens.  Pictured above is Sally Anne who is a super gardener.  Check out Rachel's website for yourselves.

Monday, October 03, 2011


Just read a super 'Pearls of Wisdom' feature in the current edition of  The Oldie  - Jilly Cooper being interviewed - really funny piece - what a lovely lady! Jilly is a good friend to our SWWJ in London and we hope she visits us again at one of our gatherings.   Yours truly pictured with Jilly during a great evening a year or two ago.