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    Reports On Visiting Speakers

    Changing fashions in the antiques market

    You can’t give away beautiful old mahogany furniture. It costs more to transport than it is worth at an auction, says an antiques expert. It might once have been the pride and joy of your grandparents’ parlour, but not any more. “If you are offered a tenner for brown furniture, then grab it,” was the advice of Matthew Denny, of Lawrences Auctioneers, at the monthly T@2 meeting of Crewkerne District U3A. On the other hand old garden tools, like the galvanised watering cans shown in the picture of Matthew with new U3A member Carolyn Shaw, can fetch a good price for their decorative use.
    “The antiques market is as vulnerable as everything else to changes in fashion,” he told the meeting at the George Reynolds Centre on January 6. The hall was full and extra chairs were brought in to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. Homes and rooms are smaller nowadays, so no one wants big, heavy furniture and clutter. No one has the time or inclination to clean copper and dust Doulton figurines.

    So what is selling before you decide to clamber into your attic and have a look around? The super-rich want celebrity associated items with solid provenance. For example, film star Paul Newman’s ‘everyday’ Rolex watch was sold for £17.8 million. The Chinese are still keen to repatriate pordelain, especially from the 18th Century. They treasure it like we do the works of Van Gogh or Rembrandt. Postcards featuring railway stations, junctions and shunting yards and other engineering works, as well as scenes from towns and villages, are sought after, as are the medals of recipients who can be identified. As for the antiques of the future, Martin suggests early Star Wars toys, and a first edition of the first Harry Potter book. “Matthew was a very witty speaker and his talk made an excellent start to the New Year,” commented U3A Chair Sheila Seymour.

    Jan entertains U3A with glitzy cabaret

    Jan McNeill transformed our November T@2 U3A meeting into a cabaret as she dazzled the audience
    with her performance, her glamour and sequinned jackets.
    Her songs were interspersed with anecdotes from her time working on cruise ships and in clubs,
    performing with stars such as Cliff Richard, Lionel Richie and Matt Monro.
    She included a selection of songs associated with her favourite, Shirley Bassey.
    Jan brought along to the meeting at the George Reynolds Centre
    some interesting items of memorabilia linked with her showbiz career and chatted afterwards
    with U3A members about the photographs and souvenirs and what they meant to her.
    “The place was packed and she gave us great entertainment,” says U3A chairperson Sheila Seymour.
    “It was show time and Jan seemed to enjoy herself just as much as we did.”

    Chocolate and shampoo and the devastation to wildlife


    The devastating loss of wildlife and their habitat was highlighted by campaigner
    and author Dawn Lawrence at the October meeting of Crewkerne District U3A.
    The ever growing demand for chocolate and biscuits, soaps and shampoo is a major factor
    because of the extensive use of palm oil in the manufacture of these products.
    Every 25 seconds an area of rainforest the size of a football pitch makes way for
    more plantations of palm trees, with the result that the habitat of animals
    such as the orang utan, birds and insects is constantly shrinking.
    Other factors are the killing of animals for traditional remedies, poaching, the use of pesticides,
    discarded plastics which are choking the oceans, the exotic pet trade and trophy hunting.
    Lions are already extinct in 25 countries and there are only 4,000 tigers left in India.
    What unfolded is a dreadful tale of wildlife being driven to extinction on an industrial scale.
    Zoos should be a haven of protection, but sadly, some are being investigated because their care
    of animals is falling well below standard, she commented.
    In the UK honey bees have become an endangered species. Lawns are cut too short for them,
    while many others have been concreted over for parking spaces.
    It takes 550 bees to visit two million flowers to make one pound of honey, said Dawn,
    who added that the number of hedgehogs has halved in the last 20 years.
    She spoke at the meeting at the George Reynolds Centre about the work of the Born Free Foundation,
    started in 1984 by actors Viriginia McKenna and Bill Travers, that campaigns to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild’.
    She also read poems from her book about animals called ‘2 Steps Behind!’ which is written in verse.
    All the proceeds from the sale of her books – some were bought from her at the U3A meeting
    – go to the Born Free Foundation.

    Christmas comes early at U3A


    Christmas came nearly four months early at the September meeting of Crewkerne District U3A
    with a talk given by Richard Kay, of Lawrences Fine Art Auctioneers.
    His talk looked at the popularity of Christmas cards and how their designs have changed
    since their first commercial introduction in early Victorian times.
    He is a great favourite and, with more than 100 members attending for his latest talk,
    extra chairs had to be brought in at the George Reynolds Centre on September 2.
    Richard, who is pictured with speakers secretary Denise Smith,
    said that each household receives about 16 cards – a number that is falling fast – but buys 31,
    a revelation that resulted in much laughter. One of the major reasons for this difference is due
    to businesses who buy but do not receive. “Early cards featured ethereal, androgynous floating angels
    lifted from medieval manuscripts,” said Richard who is Director of Pictures at Lawrences and well known
    for his appearances on TV programmes such as ‘Bargain Hunt’. Angels have remained popular,
    moving from the images of the Great Masters to painters such as Edward Burne-Jones
    who was part of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
    Then came classical images of the Virgin and Child before changing to the Epiphany and the coming of the Magi.
    The decline in religious interest was reflected in the preferences for winter scenes by Breugel
    and images such as rosy-cheeked children, romanticised peasants and ice fairs.
    In modern times while some designers have favoured cityscapes and busy shopping centres with lots of happy,
    affluent shoppers, others have opted for a more minimalist approach featuring a single Christmas tree,
    a robin or a naïve star. It is a long way from the first commercial card produced in 1843
    which had an image of a family raising a toast at a Christmas feast.

    Come again plea by U3A to ex Fire Chief


    Ex fire chief John Craig was an instant hit with his talk at the August
    meeting of Crewkerne District U3A at the George Reynolds Centre.
    A vote was carried unanimously that he should be booked to come back again next year.
    His talk entitled ‘Going to Blazes’ and his response to questions from the audience,
    was an entertaining mixture of sound safety advice, current practices in the fire service
    such as the role of women, and amusing anecdotes.
    He told a story about a man trapped in his car after a motorway crash.
    He misheard the fire officer’s call for the Horst (trade name) specialist cutting equipment
    and thought he was asking for a hearse!
    “The poor old motorist nearly gave up hope but we got him out safely,” he said.
    John, who is pictured sharing a joke with speakers secretary Denise Smith,
    was Chief Fire Officer of the Wiltshire and Swindon Fire Authority for 13 years
    and since 2005 has been the secretary and treasurer of the Wiltshiire Retired Firefighters Association.
    He gives talks to raise money for the Fire Fighters Charity.
    “I suspect our members were expecting a talk about safety in the home,”
    said our chairperson Sheila Seymour. “But it was never dull. He was very impressive and an accomplished raconteur.”
    He was so good that there was a round of applause when he agreed to come back next year.

    Irena’s book tribute to heroic father


    Irena Kossakowski has written a book called ‘A Homeland Denied’
    which is a remarkable homage to the heroism of her father whose life
    changed dramatically on the day that Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939.
    She told a meeting of Crewkerne District U3A at the George Reynolds Centre
    that her father Waclaw went from being a young university student in Warsaw
    to a prison camp in Russia with thousands of other Polish prisoners of war,
    and then to working in a forced labour camp in the Siberian Arctic Circle.
    It was “a living hell” and the atrocities that he witnessed haunted him for the rest of his life.
    Having fought later in the war in the Middle East and in Italy,
    despite finishing on the winning side, there was so much that he and his fellow Poles lost
    – their families, their homes and their country. Her father sank to the lowest depths of despair
    and never lost the intense desire to return to his homeland.
    “Irena is an impassioned speaker,” says U3A Chairperson Sheila Seymour.
    “Her talk moved our members who learned so much about Poland during the war and afterwards.”
    Her book, published by Whittles Publishing, has a top 5-star rating with Amazon Books.


    There’s a way where there’s a will.


    Don’t make a big mistake of thinking that once you have made a will that the job is finished
    and you can forget it, members of Crewkerne District U3A were advised.
    Make sure you review it regularly because one day there might be a nasty surprise and your plans could go awry.
    Changes to the law relating to wills were introduced in 2014, so it is wise to check them every five years,
    advised solicitors Laura Staples and Sue Nicolson of Humphries Kirk,
    the law firm which has an office in the town.
    Keeping up to date also involves seeing what happens in the Budget,
    because more tax efficient ways of leaving your money may be introduced.

    Laura told the T@2 meeting at the George Reynolds Centre on May 13 that the sort of
    questions they should be asking themselves are: Is the will still valid?
    Are your executors still alive and capable of doing the job?
    Do you still possess any items that you have specifically mentioned
    in the will that you want to pass on? Have you left instructions about the care of your pets?

    There could be a problem if you do not leave anything to someone who might have an expected
    an inheritance, such as an estranged child. “Explain why you are doing this,” said Laura.
    “This can head off legal challenges and save a fortune in legal bills.”
    She also drew attention to the complexities of ensuring that inheritances go where
    they are intended in the case of second marriages or cohabitations.

    Sue explained the different types of Power of Attorney, from short term
    (for example, having the authority to sign papers for a house sale while
    you are away on holiday) to the long term in the event that you are unable
    to handle matters yourself. “I want to emphasize the importance of choosing
    the right person, because it could involve matters of life and death,”
    she said. “For example, should a life support machine be turned off,
    or should you be given a religious burial?”
    Her talk also covered the area or probate and the heavy responsibilities
    this entails for executors.

    Laura and Sue were accompanied at the meeting by their colleagues
    from Humphries Kirk, Matthew Isaacs and Natasha Cross.