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Writers’ Day 13th October 2018

October 15, 2018

On Saturday 13th October a Writers’ Day was held in St. Andrew’s Hall Witchford when talks, mini-workshops and opportunities to mingle with other writers were provided. Speakers included Dominic O’Sullivan giving us insight into writing, Alan Moser Bardouleau talking about writing groups, Jackie Tyler with advice for short story writers, Julie Newman talking about the beginnings of her new writing career, Roger Rix on literary publications, Rosemary Westwell on ’Doing Dialogue’, Ben Langley on ‘Do I need to do a Writing Course?’ and Mike Rouse talking about is writing experiences. Refreshments were provided by Jackie Tyler and the winners of the Short Story Competition were announced. They were as follows: Joint first prize winners: Roger Rix and Lauren Thomas, third prize Rachel Winter, and highly commended  Ida Johnston, June Linscott, Lorney Hoey, Madeleine Funnell, Allison White and Brian Foster.

The next Writers’ Day will be from 1145 a.m. to 4.45 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Hall Witchford on Saturday 29th June 2019 as part of The Isle of Ely Arts Festival. The results of an associated short story competition will be announced. To enter this competition send your new unpublished 500-word story inspired by ‘Landscapes of Life’ to rjwestwell@hotmail.com by Saturday 22nd June including your name, address, email address and phone number. It is free to enter and there will be a cash prize for first prize winner. For more information or to book your place at the Writers’ Day contact rjwestwell@hotmail.com.

 

Winning stories

First Prize

 

Winter by Roger Rix

 

Winter was angry. He sat slumped in his chair across my desk shaking his head. “This just can’t go on,” he said. “Something has to be done!”

I must admit I wasn’t at all surprised. When he had first demanded an interview I was warned by others in the Universal Complaints Office that I could expect fireworks. I’m afraid that ‘Old Hoary Locks had acquired quite a stormy reputation.

“Come now,” I said. ”Things can’t be that bad, can they?”

“That bad!” he shouted. “They’re all against me. They’re trying to get rid of me.”

“Just who has got it in for you?” I replied,

“That poisonous gang of three; that young upstart Spring, and his fat friend Summer who spends most of his time out of the office. He says he’s on business, but I know he’s gone off on holiday. And Autumn, don’t ask me about Autumn. ‘Season of mellow fruitfulness’ my arse. Supposed to be in charge of the Harvest, but I’ve never known him do a stroke of work in his life. He just sits at his desk taking calls from his broker and canoodling with his secretary, that Greek Nymph, I’ve forgotten her name. But enough said about that.”

“Well,” I said. ”Have you any proof?”

“ Proof! Have I any proof?” His white hair began to wave ominously over his head, and the icicle on his nose began to tremble dangerously over my coffee cup.

Here he fumbled in his pocket and threw a bundle of soiled papers across my desk.

“Read that.” He commanded. “It will make your blood freeze. It did mine I can tell you. They’ve hired a pack of insolent scribblers to praise themselves to high heaven while making me look like a cold hearted killjoy!”

“Here, let me read you some of their grossest libels.”

“Here’s one written in praise of that young rapscallion Spring,

‘Nightingale , Lark in sky – merrily, merrily to welcome in the year.’

Written by that William bloody Blake, what a plonker! And what about this from our very own Will Shakespeare ; ‘When daisies pied and violets blue , do paint the meadows with delight.’ Sentimental rubbish , all of it! And when it comes to praising Summer and Autumn, well they’re all at it. Keats , Shelley and that scotch git Robbie Burns.”

“Well,” I said.” What do you want me to do?”

“I suppose you could find some poets of your own to write some sympathetic words about how Winter can be a lot of fun. Christmas, New Year and all that.”

Winter sat for a moment, before he began to smile.

“You know ,”he said. “I think that’s a capital idea.”

He scooped up his papers and almost skipped through the door.

A few days later I came across a poem in praise of Winter in The Daily Blog.

It began, ”There was a young lady called Pinter,” but I don’t think I’ll bore you with the details.

 

Joint first prize

‘Autumn Leaves’ by Lauren Thomas

Jasper was a collector, but never more so than in autumn. He would come home and lay out his treasures on the table, small hands working quickly. Conkers and their broken shells, waiting to be unsuccessfully pieced together like an impossible jigsaw. Large red leaves that left a rusty confetti on his fingers. Cobnuts that he would later place in piles in the garden for the squirrels he liked to watch from the windows. The only items that never made it home were the blackberries that he would eat as messily as possible, leaving purple kisses on her cheek when he ran through the door. She would inhale deeply as he placed his arms around her neck, his red hair smelling of warm earth and sour apples.

“Why does Autumn happen Mummy?”

“What do you mean sweetheart?” She watched as pulled his latest haul from the pockets of his bright yellow rain jacket, conkers glowing under the kitchen lights. The macaroni cheese cooking in the oven made the room smell comfortingly musty.

“Everything dies. Why?”

She folded her arms and looked at him. He never failed to surprise her with his questions, thinking deeper than his years. Her parents said he had been born wanting answers, his forehead constantly pulled into a thoughtful frown above large blue eyes that seemed to get brighter as he aged.

“Why do you think everything dies?”

He chewed a fingernail, a habit she hated but one she knew he had learned from her. “All of the leaves fall. We stomp on them until they’re dust and then the rain washes them away. The flowers in our garden die. Their petals turn a funny colour and then they shrivel up.”

She sat down next to him and chose a conker, rolling it between her fingers. “Ok. But what about spring when it all comes back again? Nothing has really died. The tree grows new leaves, and the flowers come back. They might not be the exact same flowers as before, but they have come from the same plant. They have transformed, like the way a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. It’s not dying. It’s becoming new.”

The frown. “Does that mean Daddy will transform and come back new?”

She had known the question was coming, thoughts of Andrew never far from their minds. His smell could still be found on their bedroom pillows, a mixture of woodsmoke and leather with a soft undertone of caramel.

“I’m afraid it doesn’t quite work like that with people. We have to keep them alive by keeping our hearts full with thoughts of them. But we do have daddy’s tree, and we’ll help that grow by sitting underneath it and telling each other our favourite stories about daddy. How does that sound?”

He took the conker from her hands and placed it with the others. “Will you help me choose some leaves from under his tree?”

She kissed the top of his head. “Of course I will.”

 

Third prize

‘Letting Go’ by Rachel Edwards

“They’ve accepted me!” Sam calls up to me in a strangled voice. “Starting in September. And I’ve got a place in Halls if I want it…” His voice tails off.

I hurry downstairs and envelope him in a hug. By the time he wriggles free (‘Oy- muuuum!’), I’m beaming, and the suspicious wetness around my eyes could easily be taken for tears of joy.

“That’s marvellous,” I tell him. “I’m so proud of you and-” I pause to swallow a croak, “I know your dad would have been too.”

We share a watery smile and then Sam rubs the top of my head. When did he get so tall? Is this the same boy who clung to me every year on that first day in the playground as Autumn began?

During the next few weeks though, it’s clear that the frightened child still lingers. Over breakfast one morning, Sam speaks solemnly to me about his responsibilities. “I should stay here with you. I’m worried that once I’m gone, you’ll never see a soul. Loneliness is the curse of the modern age, after all.”

I want to agree, but I know I need to let him go. So I hatch a plan. I begin by enthusing about the benefits of learning a new skill to keep the brain active.

“And even though I’ve knitted for years, I’ve never done colour work! Getting you to wear one of my fishermen’s sweaters was hard enough.” Sam rolls his eyes as he remembers, no doubt, the procession of cabled creations with which I unwittingly dented his teenage street-cred.

I ask Sam to teach me how to place an order on Amazon. When the package arrives, I leave my copy of ‘Complete Fairisle Techniques’ ostentatiously on the table, pages marked with post-it notes and cryptic annotations.

“Just think!” I say breezily as we walk into town one blazing August morning, “Once you’re up in Newcastle, I’ll have time to keep up properly with my knitter’s group at last!”

Sam looks unconvinced, as well he might. After all, it doesn’t require a huge amount of time to confirm that yes- Janine still’s a martyr to her leg and no- Gaynor still hasn’t pickled those plums that she discovered at the bottom of her freezer.” Hastily, I embellish the group with some new members.

“Grace has been desperate to come over and tell me all about her charity sky-dive,” I expand, “and Laura needs advice about a couple of chaps that she met on Tinder-”

Sam’s eyes widen and he frowns. “Not really?” he asks dubiously.

“Oh yes,” I continue. “I’ll come up and see you, of course, but most of the time I’ll be very busy here.”

Sam says nothing, but it’s always been easy to read him. The cogs are beginning to turn.

So it is that when Autumn comes and I wave him off, he knows I’ll be fine. And I will. Although I probably won’t be knitting him a Fairisle jumper any time soon…

 

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Report: 11th October 2018 The Dinner, Music and Quirky Quiz Evening

October 15, 2018

At the fund raising dinner in St Andrew’s Hall Witchford guests enjoyed a two-course dinner with music by Phil and Laurine and the Isle Singers. A ‘quirky quiz’ completed the evening and the best slogan for the Friends of St. Andrew’s Church Witchford 200 club was ‘Give a pound to spend a penny’.

The winner of this month’s £20 for the 200 club or the Friends of St. Andrew’s Church Witchford was Mrs. A.Tyler.

The event raised £218.50 towards St Andrew’s Church Extension Fund. A similar event is planned for next year.

The next event to enjoy will be a photographic competition. To take part, send one to three unmounted photos sized A4 or less on the subject of ‘Life’ with your name, address, phone number, email and age or ‘adult’ on the back to ‘Antipodes’, 17 Common Rd., Witchford by Thursday 22nd November 2018. The age groups will be adult, 13-17 years and up to 12 years. It is free to enter. By entering you agree that the photos may be kept and used again for other fundraising activities for the church.

The photos will be displayed in the church on the Saturday and you are welcome to come and see the photos and to help judge the photo competition – in St Andrew’s Church, Witchford 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the 24th November 2018.

Coffee and cake (£2.50) available 10.00 a.m.-12.00 p.m.

More information from R.Westwell rjwestwell@hotmail.com tel: (01353) 663918

 

Comment 15.10.18: Loneliness

October 15, 2018

A doctor recently stated that many of her patients are not actually medically ill, but that they are lonely. The 10-minute consultation they have with their GP is the only time they have to sit down and talk to someone.

The solution suggested is that GP’s ‘signpost’ these patients to social activities which seems a worthy solution.

However, for this to work, there needs to be social activities in place. Visit any community and it is more than likely that one age group has none or very few social groups or activities to join. If a community has a thriving social life for the over 60’s it may well have very little for teenagers. Mothers with small children need an opportunity to get out of the house and for them and their toddlers to socialise but mother and toddler groups are not always available.

Even if there are social groups to try, some can be intimidating. We all know what it is like to visit a new group of people and at the first instance, to feel out of place and unwelcome.

There is one idea that seems to be rarely mentioned and that is, that loneliness stems from the lonely person. Such a person is the only real solution to the problem. They need to make an effort to go to places where they can meet like-minded people. They should talk to people they meet, even if it’s only saying a few words to the person taking their money at the supermarket till.

One suggestion I learned of many years ago that seemed to make sense was to make a point of speaking to someone new every day, even though you feel shy and reluctant. This is a good way of broadening one’s horizons. Of course, you need to make sure that the environment is safe and that there are other trustworthy people around when you start up conversations with new people.

So often you hear individuals complain that they are lonely. They would like to take up a hobby but there are no classes for the subject nearby. The simple solution is for that person to start their own group of people interested in the subject. A simple advert in the local post office, providing phone number only so that prospective people can be vetted and meetings arranged in a public place at first – a café or pub, would be the way forward. Many groups have begun this way and have lasted for years. It only takes one person to make a start.

Perhaps GP’s should simply ask their lonely patients these two questions: Do you feel lonely? What are you doing to overcome this loneliness?

Review of the Medlock Ensemble’s Autumn Concert in All Saints’ Church, Cottenham on Sunday 7th October 2018

October 7, 2018

The Medlock Ensemble gave a splendid concert in All Saint’s Church on Sunday. The programme contained many popular items and the calibre of this ensemble drew a very large audience.

The pieces were introduced by Tim Lihoreaureview Cotteham Medlock 07.10.18Helen Medlock Y of Classic FM fame and the first item consisted of three people who benefit from Camtrust  saying how much they appreciate their time with Camtrust, a local independent charity working with adults who have learning difficulties . (The concert was in aid of this trust).  The look of joy and sense of pride on the faces of these three speakers after they had spoken was delightful.

The musical items played by the ensemble began with a lively performance of ‘Allegro and Romance from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ by Mozart.  There was nothing hackneyed about this performance and these excellent musicians brought life to a piece that we often hear in not so splendid circumstances. There was no doubt that this ensemble was formed by the most talented of instrumentalists and the gorgeous rich and well-blended tone the members produced was phenomenal.

‘Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana’ by Mascagni followed and in this familiar, slow piece, the passion was rung out of every note. The harpist, Elizabeth Bass, was heard for the first time in this piece and she produced the very attractive, romantic accompaniment expected.

‘Adagio for Strings and Organ’ by Albinoni was the next item and it certainly did not disappoint. From the start, the organist Ralph Woodward  playing softly with the cellos and double bass plucking their strings with the opening of the familiar bass line  heralded the forthcoming work beautifully. Helen’s solo late in the piece was spellbinding.

Before interval came a more modern item: ‘March from Serenade for Strings’ by Wiren.  This was no ordinary march. The ensemble made it especially jolly and easily moved into the more unusual swaying section not very common in marches. It certainly worked here.

After interval, the concert resumed with a delightful performance of Grieg’s  familiar ‘Prelude and Air’ from the Holberg Suite and then a harp solo by Elizabeth Bass who demonstrated tremendous skill and understanding when she played the demanding ‘Impromptu’ by Faure.

Nostalgia and gentility returned with the ensemble playing the very popular romantic music from ‘Ladies in Lavender’ . The concert ended with a splendid tear-away feel  in Brahms ‘’Hungarian Dance no 5’. The ensemble had no trouble in playing with the abundance of exuberance the piece required.

A jazzy encore:  ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing if it ain’t got that Swing’ rounded the programme off nicely.

This was indeed an excellent concert, more so because it was in a very good cause.

Comment: Charles Aznavour had a lot to teach us

October 6, 2018

The loss of the French singer Charles Aznavour recently was felt world-wide. Even though critics had dismissed any possibility of him succeeding because he was too short, too ugly and had a terrible voice, he proved them wrong. He became one of the most famous, most popular and most memorable performers in all the years that he sang.

The way he ignored the critics, did what he wanted to do with little concern about what other people thought, was a testament that it is not our outward appearance that helps us make our mark on the world; it is a tenacity and belief in ourselves and our own ability that create the capacity to bond so effectively with other people and make a success of our lives.

He was not afraid to sing about taboo subjects. He drew every ounce of passion from internal feelings that we all share and moulded his songs and his singing so that we could recognize the heart-felt sentiments immediately and make them our own.

If only we could have the same courage and determination.  There are so many reports of people feeling suicidal, wanting to go through a series of body reconstructions simply so that they can look more like the celebrities they see and admire in magazines and on the television and people who are easily put off by the critics. While there are some artists who could do with some help, there are undoubtedly many more that we rarely see who are highly talented and could develop into effective, moving artists if only they had the will to rise above their concerns for self, seek what help they needed, if any, and have the determination to make their mark, no matter what.

So many people feel insecure about singing. They often say that they have never sung since childhood after they were criticised. Why, singing should be a natural part of our lives! When on holiday in Spain recently, it was quite common to see a father pushing his baby’s pram along the street and singing quietly, oblivious to the surrounding audience. What did it matter? Even when swimming, fellow swimmers felt no inhibition about singing to themselves, using this expression as a way of saying that they were happy and enjoying life. I do not remember a single occasion when I have witnessed the same in the UK.

It is time this nation relaxed, let our voices out and stopped having to have a few drinks to get up the courage to take part in a karaoke. It is time we, like Charles Aznavour, developed the courage to be content with ourselves and had the determination to move our lives forward, come what may.

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Comment: If only we could all be more open and admit our mistakes.

September 29, 2018

One of the social media platforms (Faceboook) is in trouble again for being imperfect – people have been able to access accounts they shouldn’t. Whether you use this media platform or not, there is one thing that is certain and that is, mistakes will be made. While human beings run everything, errors will happen, for that is our nature. Even if we lived in a world run by robots, mistakes would still occur, for the robots are made by humans.

While I am the first to say I am liable to make mistakes, it is how these are handled that matters. At least Facebook has owned up immediately and has done something about it (although there have been complaints about some delay over other problems they have had in the past).  In so many cases it would be a simple matter for the person who made the error to own up and the mistake corrected. However, there is often a cloak of secrecy that prevents the general public from knowing what is really going on. People are afraid they may be prosecuted in court and have to pay millions in fines. If only we could have a more open culture where people feel confident they can own up to their mistakes and the consequences are reasonable. Where possible, the punishment should fit the crime. A nurse who accidentally injures a patient by administering the wrong medicine should be sacked as should the bank teller who accidentally puts in the wrong figures. The caterer that accidentally ruins the food, should simply have to pay for replacing the food.

American politics at the moment smacks of hypocrisy.  The president himself has been known to be derogatory about women and does not have an unblemished past and yet an individual is being denied office because of one indiscretion. While his indiscretion was serious enough for him not to be given a post of responsibility, why is the president remaining unpunished? Whether he likes to admit it or not, he, too, is surely a human being also likely to make mistakes that should be rectified.

It can be quite disconcerting for people when someone owns up to their mistakes immediately. So why doesn’t it happen? Being open about a mistake quite often takes the wind out of a manager’s sails and restitution is quickly and easily made. However, most organizations try to hide their mistakes and that is when the difficulties start. The two Russians who came ‘sightseeing’ to Salisbury at the time when a lethal nerve gas was released, have created a story that has obviously grown and grown like Pinocchio’s nose. If only we could all be more open.

Comment: Flags should be signs of support, nothing more.

September 22, 2018

There has been a lot of fuss about a piece of cloth: a flag flown over Ely Cathedral recently. It was a rainbow coloured flag to represent support for the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex) community for Ely and Cambridge Pride. This happened because a Pride celebration was held in the city. What is wrong with that?  The flag was not put up to say that Ely Cathedral was announcing that it was one of the community in question, it was merely a gesture of goodwill.

While flags can be important for what they represent, it is the purpose intended in flying them that matters. There is surely nothing wrong with a flag showing goodwill to an organization that does no harm. It is only flags that represent aggression or injustice that should be condemned. Even then, on more than one occasion I have seen ‘The Jolly Roger’ a pirate flag flown in the district. These pirate flags were obviously harmless – they were not put up as a cry for us to support piracy, a criminal act if ever there was one, but as part of children’s play. When children play they fantasize and through their play they need to be able to have ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ to explore the problems of good and evil in our lives, just as so many TV dramas do.

Unfortunately for some, flags represent unreasonable and extreme beliefs about a subject.  It seems to be particularly noticeable in the UK that flags are seen as antagonistic signs. There are many people who feel that even the Union Jack has been adopted by some extremists and so the feelings the flag engenders in the population can be mixed. We do not see households simply flying the Union Jack as a symbol of their appreciation and support for their country, certainly not in the way that they do in Spain where it is quite common to see the Spanish flag flown from balconies or from shop windows.

It is time for the ordinary people of our country, to re-adopt our flag and fly it with pride. The Scouts and Guides were once taught the significance of the flag and how it is constructed and how it could be used as a sign of distress by flying the flag upside down. Few people seem to be aware of this these days so if they were to do so it is very doubtful that any help would come. Our own government has been known to slip up on one occasion and when the flag was accidentally flown upside down on a government building, fortunately there were a few informed people who contacted the BBC immediately!

 

 

 

Comment: Boris chooses the wrong image

September 15, 2018

Why do politicians call each other names when they are trying to discuss much more important problems such as governing our country effectively? It is the ideas that should be attacked, not the person.

Recently regarding Brexit, Boris Johnson upset the political world by saying that our Prime Minister, Theresa May, is putting our country in a ‘suicide vest’. How dare he!

He dares, because fortunately we still have freedom of speech in our country and a belief is not necessarily a fact. We do not have to subscribe to this belief and if we do not, we can argue against it.

Unfortunately for Boris, I believe he chose the wrong image – a straightjacket might have been better for what he intended to say. A ‘suicide vest’ is associated with so many other negative thoughts, no wonder people made such a fuss. We think the holder of such a vest is a terrorist – our country, I hope, is no such thing. We also believe that the vest stands for someone who is under another’s control, and that person has evil intent – the physical destruction of others. Whatever Theresa May intends I do not recall her indicating that this is her intention.

We voted her in because we believed she would do what we want. After the Referendum was held and our nation chose to leave the European Market, she has made it clear that that is what she intends to do. Whatever your beliefs about whether we should stay in the European Market or leave, she is only doing her job. As far as I know there is nothing intentionally evil or ‘destructive’ in her mind about what she is doing. When we leave the European Market we will need to trade with someone – and it seems more than likely we will need to continue to trade with Europe. It is just that the terms will change, and these need negotiating. What is wrong with that? If it appears we have given in to every demand from the EU, can he be certain that if we do not, terms will be even worse?

While most of us have little information about what is being achieved in these negotiations, sometimes we should have faith that the people we voted in will do the best they can to improve our cause. This includes Boris, whose language is sometimes very effective and although sometimes outrageous, more often than not he hits the nail on the head and we cannot help but agree with him. However, there are times when he should think carefully before he blurts out his next catchphrase for the media to latch onto. He should think first what he wishes to achieve – fame or notoriety? – They are not one and the same.

What should an end of year report contain?

September 10, 2018

A local council has produced its end of year report; a glossy-coloured document of ‘successes’.

I believe that an end of year report is intended to give interested parties information about the ‘activities and financial performance of an institution’.  When writing end of term reports as a teacher I understood that we wrote about the abilities and performance of the children, be they good or bad. In other words, the report should be unbiased, presenting a comprehensive picture of both sides of the situation and performance.

Many of the statements made in this report are self congratulatory. The first page is about the council’s ‘vision’ and ‘successes’ with the descriptions littered with adjectives that register in my mind exaggeration and bias. The council we are told is aiming to be  ‘well-managed’. Who is to say whether it has achieved this? This would only be a valid if judged by an outside examining body. The council wishes to make our county a ‘fantastic place to live, work and visit’. It assumes that what it is doing will achieve what it says.

So we are to assume that building leisure centres outside the town will make our place a ‘fantastic place’. Yet I watch with despair as the centre of the city becomes, not an attractive tourist attraction filled with shops of character, but a place of neglect and despair. If it is a fantastic place, why have so many shops closed?

The council has decided that one of the centres they have built will be managed by a ‘Leisure’ company which we are to assume will be fully supportive of the community. Did the councillors not see in the press the row that erupted when this same company suddenly cancelled an agreed membership fee at one of its leisure centres and demanded nearly double the amount? This does not rank of thinking of the people in the community.

I looked for a statement of accounts – you know, money in, money out and loans outstanding – that kind of information. While a lot of figures were bandied around, there was no ‘statement of accounts’.

What of the separate companies the council has set up? I may be mistaken, but from the website, it looks as though the one of the companies was established with money borrowed from tax payers but is now independent of the council. It is ‘no longer a body governed by public law’ and will ’suffer its own losses’. Where was this information in the report?

I believe an end of year report should be a simple, unqualified and comprehensive statement of what a council has been able to achieve and what it has not been able to achieve or am I hoping for too much?

 

 

 

 

Arts and Crafts Fair

September 9, 2018

The Friends of St Andrew’s Church Witchford and the PCC held an Arts and Crafts Fair in St. Andrew’s Hall Witchford on Saturday 8th September 2018. A variety of goods were on sale at stalls provided by Virginia Divall, Sara Gilbert, Bumbles Crafts and Sukie Hoyle and the church’s Bring and Buy stall. Coffee or tea and biscuits were available and a soup lunch was served.

£144.30 was made for the church’s extension fund to put in an accessible toiled and refreshment facilities..

Besides fortnightly coffee mornings on Wednesdays 10 – 12 from the 19th September, the next event in St. Andrew’s Hall Witchford will be on Thursday 11th October 2018 at 7.15 p.m. which will feature a two-course dinner, music and a ‘quirky’ quiz. The music will be provided by Phil and Laurine and the Isle Singers 7.15 p.m.

Tickets (£15 concessions £10) will be available from rjwestwell@hotmail.com; Enid Bedford or Witchford Post Office.

If you would like to help us out in anyway – do contact me on rjwestwell@hotmail.com