Enjoyable Days Out

The Days Out group which was newly formed in the summer has got off to a very successful start.

Ely, Henry Moore, and Secret Map Makers

On 31 August we travelled to Ely by train from Kings Cross and visited the Cathedral’s interesting Stained Glass Museum. We also visited Oliver Cromwell’s House nearby and sat outside for lunch, an extra bonus as it was a beautiful summer day. There was also time to look around Ely’s Town Centre before heading home.

Our first visit in September was to the Henry Moore studios in Hertfordshire on a very hot day. The tour was very interesting around his studios; and the display in the ‘aisled barn’ of his little-known tapestries was amazing as he was an amazing artist as well as a sculptor. The tapestries are huge and priceless. Henry Moore commissioned them from West Dean College in Sussex.  The weavers worked with his original drawings and photographs to dye the wool accurately, to achieve the precise colours and effects of his different drawing media. The work is amazing and so fine, and if you stand back, they look like paintings.

Our second outing in September was to Hughenden Manor and again we were so lucky with the weather.  The grounds and garden were wonderful, and the guided talks were very interesting, especially of the secret work that took place there. Hughenden Manor was the base for a secret map-making operation during WWII, code-named ‘Hillside’ and is believed to have been at the very top of Hitler’s hit list. We saw the actual room that the map makers were confined to for months on end. They were sworn to secrecy of the work they did there. Some were so loyal and patriotic that they never told anyone of the type of work they did, not even their spouses, and some even took the secret to their graves.

Masons and Rotherhithe

In November, we kept closer to home, with visits to the Grand Masonic Lodge in Holborn and the Freemasons Hall, and a separate visit to Rotherhithe. Our guide in Holborn was wonderfully entertaining and knowledgeable; and after the tour we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a local Italian restaurant.

Group of people listening to guide
HGS U3A members admiring the splendid interior of the Masonic Lodge

Our visit to Rotherhithe was led by Mary Fraser, who is well acquainted with the area. She led us around old Rotherhithe Village pointing out all the places of interest. At the Brunel Museum an actor who had appeared in Four Weddings and a Funeral gave a talk about the Brunels, father and son.

We decided to go to the Mayflower pub for lunch which was very enjoyable. After lunch some of the group headed home, while the rest of us went on to the Scandinavian Christmas Market which is held every year around the Norwegian and Finnish churches.

More to Come

Our last outing of the year, which is fully booked, is to Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, the home of Horace Walpole, to see The Treasures of Strawberry Hill, a rare exhibition of his extensive collection.

The Days Out committee wish you all Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year. We hope we will see you on our outings planned for 2019.

Report by Barbara Bliss on behalf of the Days Out committee

Russia’s power “should not be overestimated”

Sir Roderic BraithwaiteOn 17th October Sir Roderic Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador to Moscow from 1988 to 1992, led a discussion about Russia at a session of one of our popular Current Affairs Groups. Twenty-nine members of Current Affairs Group 1 crammed into group leader Malcolm Brahams’  home to hear Sir Roderic introduce the subject and answer questions.

Among the points he made was a warning not to overestimate Russia’s power. Although their nuclear arsenal was similar to America’s, their economy and their conventional forces were much weaker. He said he was not too concerned about cyber-warfare. His view was that the West was more than capable of defending cyber-attacks and mounting their own. As for targeted assassinations, many  countries had indulged in these over the years.

Packed room listening to former ambassador

He also compared the current regime to Stalin’s and told members that despite Putin and the FSB (the successor to the KGB), Russia was not a totalitarian state. Information flowed more freely  than before and dissent was not entirely crushed. His view was that China was a much more formidable opponent.

Report: Malcolm Brahams; photos: Myke Jacobs

Tour of the Vote100 Exhibition

Report by Carmel Eilon with her photographs of the event

On Monday 17 September 2018 Daphne Berkovi took a group of U3A ”students” to the Houses of Parliament where she had arranged for Dr Mari Takayanagi to take us on a guided tour of the Vote100 Exhibition of Women’s Place in in Parliament.

Dr Mari Takayanagi, co-curator of the Vote100 Exhibition

Dr Takayanagi, who had co-curated this exhibition along with Melanie Unwin, explained it celebrates the 100 year anniversary since some women and all men were first entitled to vote in Britain. The exhibition, accompanied by fascinating photographs and documents and explanatory texts was divided into four sections.

The first area, The Ventilator, covered the period 1818–1834, when women were not only forbidden to vote but also not allowed to enter the public galleries to watch the proceedings. Well born ladies, usually relatives or friends of the sitting MPs, found an attic space above the chandeliers in the chamber where they could stick their necks through ventilation holes to hear and get a bird’s eye view of politics in action. Drawings from this period by Lady Georgiana Chatterton and Frances Rickman show this octagonal structure and a partial mock-up allows visitors to participate in the experience.

From 1850 the Ventilator was replaced by The Cage. The “new” Palace of Westminster included a purpose-built Ladies’ Gallery so until 1918 women were permitted to peer over the balcony in this enclosed cell-like structure and watch debates through the heavy metal grilles covering the windows. The grilles were constructed to ensure the male MPs below were not distracted by the sight of the ladies above. Meanwhile, as illustrated in Harry Furniss’ sketches and the reconstructed Cage, this area was hot, stuffy and had a poor view of the proceedings. Nevertheless women demonstrated increasing interest in politics, using their network of family and friends to gather 1500 signatures from across Britain to the first mass women’s suffrage petition in 1866, a major achievement in pre-internet days. John Stuart Mill MP (step-father to the feminist campaigner Helen Taylor) who presented this petition to the House said “to say the least (this) greatly weakened the chief practical argument which we have been accustomed to hear against any proposal to admit women to the electoral franchises — namely, that few, if any, women desire it”

Displays of Millicent Fawcett and the Suffragists versus Emmeleine Pankhurst and the Suffragettes explained the different campaigns. The exhibition also included the growing number of men to support women’s enfranchisement, such as George Lansbury MP and Israel Zangwill. Personally I had not realised the sacrifices made by some of the “Suffragettes in trousers”, like Frederick Pethick Lawrence who — together with his wife Emmeline — was imprisoned and forcibly fed. Coverage of the anti-suffrage movements, who strongly believed political activism de-feminised women who should not seek equality but instead concentrate on their different responsibility of caring, being maternal and undertaking practical domesticity.

The Act of Parliament that first gave women the vote in 1918

The first woman MP, Constance Markievicz was elected in 1918 but, as an Irish Republican, refused to take her Westminster seat. The first woman MP to sit in House of Commons was Nancy Astor who was allowed access to the new Ladies Members’ Room. Amongst other items on display was her plain black outfit, similar to a man’s suit, which she designed especially because she wanted people to judge on what she said, rather than on what she wore. Viscountess Astor was joined in this room by other pioneering women from all parties, as this was the only place they were allowed to use, whatever their political connections, it soon became cramped and was nicknamed The Tomb. Sitting in the reconstructed room demonstrated to us the insufficient facilities, even chairs!

In showing how far we have reached, the Wall of Names listing all 419 women MPs chronologically shows most were elected since 1997, to the current level of 25% representation. Also noteworthy, despite women like Viscountess Rhondda campaigning in 1918 for women to be allowed to sit in the House of Lords, it was only in 1958 that women were accepted, and then only appointed as Life Peers, and only in 1963 Peerages Act were both men and women allowed equality as hereditary peers.

HGS U3A members gather round Dr Takayanagi as she explains one of the exhibits

Dr Takayanagi was brilliant, explaining the context as well recounting many background stories — such as Emily Wilding Davison who hid in a broom cupboard so she could record the House of Commons and how Tony Benn installed a plaque on the cupboard door; how they found the original bolt clippers used to release the bolt and chain when women secured themselves to the Cage grilles; the petition being hidden in an apple cart and many other fascinating tales. An interesting and informative day — much enjoyed by us all.

Share Watch in the Pink!

HGS U3A’s Share Watch group was set up by our Chair, Jack Berkovi, with the aim of bringing together a group of like-minded members to investigate, select and track FTSE100 shares.  After an initial meeting the group gradually became interested in around 30 shares and these have been added to a tracking spreadsheet.  The group meets fortnightly and has been addressed by Neil Behrmann, a financial journalist, and also by stockbroker Brewin Dolphin who answered questions from the group.

On 12 July 2018, seven of the group visited the Financial Times (FT) at One Southwark Bridge where the Communications Team, had arranged a programme following contact with Jack.  Our group met at reception and was taken to a Conference Room where we were to meet John Hughman, Editor, Investors Chronicle and, later, Malcolm Moore, Technology Editor, Financial Times.

How the FT has evolved

Oliver Stannard, Communications Manager, first told us about the FT and how it has been developing in recent years.  The FT was one of the first papers with a subscription model. The FT used to be owned by Pearson and is now owned by Nikkei in Japan, who maintain an arms-length management relationship and share the FT’s goals to develop a more technology focussed vehicle.  The FT is facing major changes. People associate it with the pink printed copy, and indeed it is their intention to continue to print a daily edition of the newspaper, promoting their brand by distributing the paper (and exclusively only the FT) at events.  Sixty percent of their income comes from subscriptions, and hence there is a reduced reliance on advertising revenues. Their philosophy is that readers want good journalism and this has to be paid for. This approach is supported by their Japanese owners, Nikkei (who also run the stockmarket index in Japan and the NIkkei paper in Japan — the world’s largest financial newspaper, with a daily circulation exceeding three million) who purchased the FT around 3 years ago as a long-term, generally hands-off, investment and who encourage new technology, a transparent and communicative approach and, soon, the physical move for staff of their head office building near to St Pauls.

The Financial Times headquarters on the South Bank of the Thames (photo courtesy of the FT)

What’s more, 60% of total digital traffic comes from readers on mobile devices.  The FT is often cited as a fashion icon in that it is seen carried and read by famous people like Sting and Benedict Cumberbatch.  The FT brand is very powerful and is considered a leading journal in its field. The FT has more than 600 journalists working in 40 bureaux around the world.

Investors Chronicle

John Hughman explained the Investors Chronicle began 157 years ago and is the second oldest continuous publication (after The Spectator). It is owned by the FT and concentrates on UK and Irish Equities and recommends to investors how to build these into portfolios. It looks at the trends in specific sectors and companies, and well as examining major trends developing in the markets — such as increasing interest in cannabis for medicinal purposes or market shifts away from hydrocarbons. John explained the term “shuttlebutt” which means to examine first hand what is happening in the world around and builds a picture of major developments. He also explained the increased interest in behavioural economics and how this affects investment decisions and the importance of investors understanding their own motivations. For many it is the concern that the value of cash/money in the bank is nibbled away by inflation whilst the need continues to fund our long term needs through sensible investments.

In addition to the weekly press deadlines each Wednesday, they now also issue podcasts on company and personal finances as well as online updates in extra depth for professionals. He discussed the importance of not over-trading equities, of seeking diversity, with 10–12 shares in a portfolio covering the range of different markets, including not only geographical but also bonds, commodities and emerging markets. He suggested that around 5.5% growth above inflation was a reasonable goal, rather than seeking more spectacular but increasingly risky alternatives. We also discussed the competitors in the field like data servers and broker’s reports and the increasing role of PR/lobbyists necessitating a questioning, and sometimes cynical, approach.

The IC has a staff of around 30 based in London, and is primarily focused on UK markets but has expatriate readers globally. A large part of their overseas subscribers come from Ireland because of the dually-listed companies on the Irish and UK Stock Exchanges, in sectors like building and food. The IC is aimed at investors and its average reader age is around 60.  The IC’s content comes from its journalists covering such features as “Why I’m building up my biotechnology exposure”, “Tips of the Year”, company news with share and fund news.  It features regulated news like the Tesco/Carrefour deal and implications on markets. The IC develops selective broad investment themes and topics relevant to shareholders and has a sector focus, within which there are clusters of related groups; grocery retail and retail are linked, consumer products/services/gambling and travel are linked.  The IC has developed a number of related services such as IC alpha — Alpha Asset Allocation Review looking at key investment issues and a weekly Podcast and tablet version that looks at factors affecting markets.  Template portfolios are provided to assist new investors.  Marketing Manager, Beth Clarke, joined us and we were all given a bag containing an edition of the IC, Alpha, a notebook, drinking cup, pen, and an exclusive subscription offer of a 20% discount for U3A members.  The IC costs £4.90 per week, whereas the offer saves 66% on the cover price.  Interested subscribers should follow this dedicated link  or call 01858 438 808 quoting M87U3A20.  It is interesting to note that the technology sector is not represented very significantly in the UK, with the recent departure of ARM Holdings going to a Japanese buyer, and just a few UK software companies remaining.  The IC provides content to FT Money in the weekend edition of the FT.

John was asked what should U3A members do about investing and he explained the various options available which are covered by the IC.  His guidance included investing for the longer term say 10–20 years, to “buy and hold” shares rather than dipping in and out with short term buying and selling.  A shrewd investor can expect around 5.5% long-term return vs the current interest rate of around 0.5%.  He suggest starting slowly, following no more than 10-12 companies, to “get rich slowly”.  He suggested looking at trends, emerging markets around the world that could impact our economy.

John was asked to name some of the top tipsters to follow and he cited IC’s Algy Hall and Simon Thompson, Associate Editors, as two of the leaders in their field.

How the FT is adapting to future demands

Malcolm Moore explained the structure of the FT was changing from the current four main desks — UK, World, Markets, Companies — to now incorporate a 5th desk reflecting the increased impact of new technologies. He discussed his current role (Editor UK Desk) and future role (Editor New Technologies) and the need to understand the developments primarily in Asia and Silicone Valley and the interface between government and finance. He explained the impact of readers increasingly reading online, in understanding the limitations of scrolling on mobile phone platforms and the need for short articles incorporating chapters, bullet points and presentations very different from the ”inky fingered” printed version of the newspaper. Online news and the introduction of fastFT with its breaking news wire also provides fast and constantly updating information, whilst still promoting thoughtful and best quality articles. This brings its own challenges. The impact of this virtual “hamster’s wheel” with investors’ needing to feed immediately on the latest news must not be at the expense of carefully investigated journalism. In addition, despite an increased emphasis on brevity, articles still need to explain the complexities of the situations. Journalism in the future will undoubtedly face these issues. .  One key move Malcolm is making is to have a regular global conference call link with key markets – he has found that midnight UK-time is the best time to get all countries together.

Malcolm showed us that the FT’s website is accessed by 75% of its readers and the digital revolution has meant a complete behavioural and attitudinal change for seasoned journalists.  The immediacy and speed of access of mobile technology is having a massive impact of the journalist — whereas in the past “inky paper” allowed journalists plenty of time to get their story to press, the position has now changed dramatically.  The digital or mobile first strategy adopted by the FT requires stories in and added to the website and mobile platforms rapidly, with further details added throughout the day. This results in greater in-depth coverage which is a key feature of the FT brand.

The FT operates a “call out” service where subscribers can contact journalists to add new insights to their stories.  A microsite “Future of Europe” was launched last year as a new service especially aligned with Brexit and key questions for the Europe project.  The FT also runs many events throughout the year and has a high level of audience engagement to keep the vibrancy it needs in a very competitive market.

Finally, Malcolm assured us that the FT doesn’t feature “fake” news and always follows a golden rule of having more than one source of material to validate stories.

A trip through the office

Oliver then took us through the area where we saw journalists and supporting teams covering graphics, marketing and reader contact. Then on to the FT’s sixth floor canteen where we had a very enjoyable lunch with Oliver.  A few hours well spent.

Report by Carmel Eilon and Jack Berkovi

Post visit comments from members of HGS U3A  ShareWatch:

  • Hi Jack – it was a brilliant tour on Thursday 12 July 2018. Thank you very much for arranging it. And thanks too to Oliver Stannard, John Hughman, Beth Clarke and Malcolm Moore for hosting us so well and for their interesting and thought provoking talks — and not forgetting the FT Editor who made the whole visit possible!
  • The walking tour around the newsroom and lunch in the canteen were a wonderful end to a really interesting day. Thank you very much indeed.

Crossrail — Countdown to Operation

We were delighted to host at our monthly Topical Talk on 28 June, our guest speaker Richard Storer, Community Relations Manager, Crossrail. We were literally taken on a whirlwind journey of the construction of Crossrail. Richard’s talk described the chronicling of Europe’s largest infrastructure: 43km of new train tunnels and 8 new underground stations, now at 92% completion.

Richard also explained that the cost of Crossrail was £14.8 billion and the major benefit to the economy was £42 billion. Twenty four trains will be operating each hour in each direction at peak periods through the centre section, with 200 million passenger journeys per annum. He also described one of the tunnel boring machines (TBM) being named Sophia on St. Barbara’s day 2012, which is a continental tradition of giving the TBMs female names.

Following the timeline, Richard gave us details of where the funding had come from for this extraordinary project. He stressed the importance of being sensitive to the surroundings where the construction work took place. An example was Wallasea Island where the excavated material (6 million tonnes) was shipped to an area of low grade agricultural land. The RSPB bought this land and Richard related that this development is now home to thousands of migrating birds. There was also special care taken around the area of Smithfield (meat market), during the building of the new Farringdon Station, as care was taken not to allow dust to fall on the meat. An art work of tumbling diamond shapes was installed within the design of the station to reflect the close proximity of Hatton Garden (the jewellery area close by).

There is still further development with Liverpool Station, Finsbury Circus, and Moorgate. A mass plague burial site was excavated at Bedlam, Liverpool Street. Richard told us that an archaeology team documented and removed the remains, where they were taken to Canvey Island to be buried.

Equally at Whitchapel where unusually the underground station is sited above the Overground; the construction team built a new car park for Sainsbury’s and temporarily rehoused 60 family units. The new station will be fully accessible with no steps at the entrance, but with ramps and a small lift.

Continuing with commitment to aesthetics a roof garden was established at the new Canary Wharf station in May 2015.

Development above Crossrail station at Canary Wharf

Alongside the construction work Richard paid tribute to the 15,000 skilled workers, including 1000 apprentices, (the original target had been 400) and that the project benefitted the whole of the UK and was not just ‘London centric’. Over-site developments will take place above most of the stations, providing new commercial, and residential properties. An exhibition of the project can be seen at the London Transport Museum.

It was a delight for our audience to hear Richard explain the journey of this monumental project and there was a great sense of pride of British engineering, coupled with the sympathy to the surroundings.  Some of our members were so enthused they have now asked to take the journey down to Reading, as we can all use our Freedom Passes!

Report by Daphne Berkovi

Rachel Kolsky on Women’s London

Our U3A were delighted to host award winning author and Blue Badge Guide Rachel Kolsky talking about her new publication Women’s London — A Tour Guide to Great Lives.

Rachel Kolsky and the cover of her book on Women's London

The audience were fully engrossed and captivated by such an excellent speaker, who took us on a journey through the concept, production, publication and content of her new book. Many members related that “it was so delightful to hear a speaker so enthusiastic and enraptured about her subject.”

Rachel firstly paid tribute to all the people who were responsible in enabling her to bring her book to publication. She then talked us through some of the highlights in her book ranging from Octavia Hill to Amy Winehouse.  What made the evening particularly intriguing is Rachel’s delivery of the personal lives of those she had so eloquently written about in her book. The book parallels with the celebration of the centenary of Women’s Suffrage.

The publication is a compendium of walks, interspersed with historical facts at each focal point, and the only guidebook that focuses on the women who have shaped London through the centuries and the legacy they have left behind. The book provides an opportunity to explore sights, statues, plaques and buildings associated with famous and some not so famous women who have left their mark on London’s heritage, culture and society. One can only describe the book as a gem and the author likewise.

Report by Daphne Berkovi; photo by Myke Jacobs

Virtuoso flute performance

On a bright Sunday morning in April our U3A members and guests were given a very special treat of attending a Coffee Concert given by the London Flute Quintet in Fellowship House.

Three men and two women playing the flute in front of an audience
The London Flute Quintet performing at the Coffee Concert in Fellowship House

The London Flute Quintet is the brainchild of Dan Dixon, their bass flute player, and Liz Cutts their alto flute player. The group’s formation in 2015 was inspired by recent exciting adaptations of symphonic repertoire for members of the flute family by members of the German group, Quintessenz. The LFQ has performed extensively throughout south west France and in England. All the members of the group are conservatory trained ex professionals, and dedicated highly experienced professional level amateurs.

So our U3A felt very honoured to be host them for our first Coffee Concert. The audience were entertained with an outstanding first-class performance of music; with a repertoire ranging from Bach to Bernstein. Some members of the audience could be seen moving to the rhythm of the music, as the performances could only be described as scintillating. A rapturous round of applause after each performed piece was testament to the appreciation of the musicians and their musicianship. We do hope that they will consider visiting us again.

Report by Daphne Berkovi; photo by Malcolm Brahams

Shakespeare – a controversy at Senate Library

Our April Topical Talk featured a very interesting discussion led by Dr Richard Epsley, Head of Modern Collections at the Senate House Library, where he co-curated The Shakespeare: Metamorphosis season in 2016 commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

Dr Richard Epsley holds up an example of the rare books held at the Senate House Library

The exhibition caused a great deal of controversy as the Senate House holds the First Folio, a rare publication. In fact, it had all four Shakespeare folios, and tried to auction them for £3–5 million to pay for its historical research collection.

We were introduced to the history of the Senate House Library, then the seven stages of the exhibition.  Dr Epsley also passed around a number of examples of rare books.

Members of our Shakespeare interest group attended.   The audience were very appreciative of Dr Epsley’s knowledge of Shakespeare and the formation of the Senate House Library.

Report by Daphne Berkovi; photo by Diana Iwi

The Messages and Attraction of Early Disney Animations

For our February Topical Talk, we enjoyed an afternoon of nostalgia, evoking memories of Disney’s earliest animated films with a difference. Professor Jacobs, who in his professional life was a Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology, then completed in his retirement a PhD in Film Studies focusing on the widespread and enduring popularity of Disney’s early feature-length animated films, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942).

Professor Jacobs presenting his talk

Professor Jacobs discussed what he saw as the social, pedagogical, and psychological messages embodied in the films, messages that are heavily camouflaged by attractive animation, humour, and music, arguing that part of the fascination of these films lies in the resonances set up in the unconscious minds of their viewers.

Audience applauds Professor Jacobs
An appreciative audience applauds Professor Jacobs at the end of his talk

Professor Jacobs’ talk was interspersed with film clips from these Disney films. He explained when we saw these films as children, many children were affected emotionally by them and had left the cinema in tears. Viewing these film clips as adults provoked a very different response.  Some of the scenes were very amusing and others quite sad; and Professor Jacobs explained that within these films Disney concealed a deep melancholy.

Report by Daphne Berkovi; photos by Myke Jacobs

Wine is for Appreciating

The Wine Appreciation Group enjoyed its first meeting on 23rd October, when those attending were treated to an introduction to various grape varieties by the Group Leader, Valerie Cowan. There were five wines available to try, all distinctive in aroma and taste : the final offering was a chocolate flavoured fortified wine, which was very well received by everyone! Valerie is an erudite speaker on wines, having a Wine Diploma and being a member of the Association of Wine Educators. She has taught at The Institute and Morley College, and currently runs the City Lit Wine Club in Covent Garden. The group met again for its second meeting on 27th November, when a great time was had by all (but the less said about the Indian wine, the better).

Members of the Wine Group raise their glasses
Members of the Wine Appreciation Group take their wine seriously – and with great pleasure – under the guidance of Valerie Cowan (standing centre)

The Group meets from 2.30pm to 4.00pm in a room made available by Alyth Synagogue. Members at present contribute £7.50 per session to cover the cost of wines and nibbles. There is no formal December meeting, but our first tasting of the New Year is on Monday 22 January 2018 (not 18 January as previously posted), when we will explore some of the lesser known grape varieties, and it promises some surprises!

At the moment there is still room for the group to expand, so if you are interested in joining, please contact Roger Cookson using the following form. Don’t worry about the formalities of wine tasting. You are free to spit (genteelly) or swallow as you choose (most of us swallow).

Report by Roger Cookson; photo by Myke Jacobs