In England — NOW! Probing Probus Clubs
Celebrating English achievement, enterprise and creativity in the 21st century
Centenarian, Joe Rawlings, had a narrow escape 75 years ago. Living at Aspatria, in the north of the Lake District, he had just qualified as a schoolmaster when he was called up. Opting for a large ship in the Royal Navy he was summoned to Portsmouth so undertook a 400-mile train journey. Wartime travel was slow, however, and he arrived just in time to see his battle cruiser, HMS Hood, steam out of port. He was distraught, but only a few weeks later just three of her crew of 1,000 survived the sinking by the German battleship Bismarck.
Joe later became an officer on the Arctic Convoys and after hostilities ceased went back to teaching, retiring during the Seventies as a headmaster in Carlisle. In 1980 he became a founder member of the Border City Probus Club there, saying he liked the small number of rules and the opportunity to meet new people in a relaxed atmosphere. “Everybody talks to one another and you’re made to feel welcome.”
The national Probus magazine recently challenged any club to find an active member older than 103 but they struggled.
Initially linked closely to Rotary Clubs, Probus takes its name from Professional and Business with the Latin word “probus” meaning honest or virtuous, from which the English word “probity” is derived. Providing fellowship for retired professional and businessmen, clubs meet monthly to foster friendship. The first use of the name is credited to Harold Blanchard in the mid-sixties at Caterham in Surrey, although a similar offshoot from Rotary called the Campus Club had been formed a little earlier in Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. Within five years there were 150 Probus Clubs spread across the country and the idea was quickly exported to much of the English-speaking world.
In those days Rotary was thriving because men could easily take a long lunch hour, but increased pressure at work has since made recruitment more difficult. As a result Rotarians have been allowed to retain their membership after retirement. In consequence there is no longer a natural progression from Rotary to Probus which now has to actively hunt for new recruits.
Recent research by the University of Queensland shows that being a regular member of a social group after retirement helps people feel better and live longer. The results indicate this is comparable to the beneficial effects of
physical activity, and Anna Dixon, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Social connections are just as important as money and health to a good later life. They help some people to overcome disadvantages.”
The main aim during my year as President of the Border City Probus Club was to lower the age profile and with a combination of newspaper articles, colour leaflets and BBC Local Radio, membership increased by 40 per cent. We now include a submariner, academic economist, archdeacon and someone who claimed to have been the most popular railwayman in the country for a few weeks each year because, as stationmaster at Ascot, he was given a batch of tickets to the Royal Enclosure.
Probus clubs are autonomous but many develop links within the network, sharing ideas for speakers and interesting outings. We also welcome those who have been members of other Probus Clubs, like 85-year-old Bob Bellmont, who has been all round the country and commented “I particularly enjoy the outings to local places of interest and I’m glad one has the freedom to attend as often or as little as one wishes, all with no sense of obligation.”
There is a Cornish village called Probus, famous for having the tallest church tower in the county, dedicated to St. Probus and St. Grace. Naturally it boasts the Probus Club of Probus, and the two local saints would be delighted to know there is also a Probus Club grace:
Happy the man who meets each month With friends from near and far. Happy the man who friendship seals Beside a friendly bar.
Happy the man who shares his food Amongst old Probus mates, Happy the man who to kind ears, Sorrows and joys relates.
There are now in excess of 2,000 Probus clubs in the UK and a further 2,000 abroad, with a total membership exceeding 300,000.
Further Information: Most Probus Clubs admit only men to membership but some also include women. For more information visit www.probusonline.org.
The Man who Lit Up the World
Thelight bulb was, quite literally, a brilliant idea — and the familiar glass bulb with its dazzling filament, conveniently illuminated at the flick of a switch, has become a popular icon for creative thought and innovation.
Geordies — and I’m proud to be one — tend to claim its creator Joseph Swan as a Newcastle man and place him in a Tyneside pantheon of geniuses whose various inventions shaped the modern world. However, while Swan famously exhibited the bulb in our great city of engineers, he was actually born in that rival hub of industry Sunderland in 1828. Fascinated from boyhood by science and technology, at the age of 14 he became an apprentice in a pharmacy. He later became a partner in a chemicals firm owned by his brother-in-law John Mawson; it was here that his interest in chemistry led him to develop a “dry plate” photographic process that would supersede the “wet plate” process for which their company was already producing collodion.
By the 1870s Swan was living in Gateshead. Now more concerned with creating light than capturing its effects photographically, he worked on various experiments to illuminate a filament by electricity.
The principle was simple enough: to pass an electric current through something that would heat up and shed light, but the practicalities were fiendish. The “something” had to be able to survive a current that would produce more than the orange glow of a hot wire, it had to be contained and supported and protected from its surroundings and the atmosphere, and the resulting light had to be bright enough to be useful.
Swan knew the answer was to enclose the filament in a globe and ideally in a vacuum, but it took a decade of persistent work and improvements in air-pump and glass-making technology before he could present a bulb that would produce strong and sustained illumination. This he did on 20th October 1880 at a lecture held in the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne. The “Lit & Phil” library thus became the first public room in the world to be lit by electricity. Swan’s own house in Kell’s Lane, Gateshead, became the first domestic building in the world to be wired for electric light, and fellow inventor Sir
Theschoolroom where William Shakespeare was educated and the Guildhall where he first experienced live theatre officially opened to the public on 23rd April, the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.
Thanks to a £1.8million restoration, the Grade-i listed 15th-century building in Church Street, Stratford-upon-avon, has been transformed into an internationally significant visitor attraction.
Visitors will be able to gain a valuable insight into a hitherto untold chapter of Shakespeare’s life focusing on his formative years as a schoolboy and showing how his schooling, coupled with the opportunity to see the country’s finest actors performing in the Guildhall, inspired him to become a playwright.
Details of opening hours and admission prices are available at: www. shakespearesschoolroom.org .
British Church Collection in America
Anincredible collection of more than 10,000 parish church guides is introducing Americans to Britain’s historic ecclesiastical treasures. Housed in the Pitts Theology Library, Emory University, Atlanta, the guides were collected by Professor Channing Jeschke, a former director of the library and church historian.
novice and experienced dog owners will welcome this user friendly book which is crammed full of easy to follow hints about every form of canine behaviour. Particularly useful are the illustrations and photographs, many of which are helpfully amusing.
There are bound to be aspects of etiquette, conduct and comportment which have never crossed your mind so this is a most welcome book.
in conjunction with the Eden Project, this is a diary of marine discovery around Cornwall and the south coast. Each month is illustrated with diagrams and photos of what turned up on the shoreline and is a suitable template for all families to go out and copy.
awaits but summer memories linger on and in this delightful book you can enjoy splendid colour photographs of all types of wildlife — birds, animals, insects, flowers etc. There is also a useful index plus a list of more detailed books on specific subjects, and a catalogue of what to look for and where to find it.
A Summer of British Wildlife is available by post from This England. For further details see page 93.
What a Thing to Say to the Queen by Thomas Blaikie is an entertaining collection of royal anecdotes. She once drove the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (women are not allowed to drive in his country), so fast around the Balmoral estate that he begged her to slow down! (Aurum, 184pp, hardback, £9.99)
What a Thing to Say to the Queen is available by post from This England. For further details see page 93.
In The London Treasury Lucinda Hawksley brings together a fascinating collection of cultural and historical insights into a great city. Each of the 22 chapters is packed with information which makes great bedtime reading. (Andre Deutsch, 160pp, hardback, £9.99)
LBW stands for leg before wicket but in 1961 the Gloucestershire skipper, Charles Pugh, ducked so low that he was hit on the head and given out LBW — or should that have been HBW? He also suffered a broken jaw!
This and more unbelievable incidents are described in The Random History of Cricket by Justyn Barnes and Aubrey Day. Eminently suitable for all, sportsmen or otherwise. Other titles in this entertaining series include Football, Golf and Rugby. (Prion, 128pp, hardback, £7.99).
Mary Arden (a pseudonym) had a privileged upbringing but after enlisting firstly as Red Cross Nurse, before joining the WRNS, she experienced lifechanging wartime situations, fully described in Brave Faces. Some of the content is quite intimate but extremely well written, inoffensive and ethical. Her husband was badly injured in the RAF and the last chapter of the book brings home the reality of war. (Troubador, 452pp, paperback, £12.99)
Airey Neave was killed by an IRA bomb at the House of Commons in 1979. Many years earlier, based on his wartime experience as an intelligence officer with MI9, he wrote Little Cyclone about a young Belgian woman who saved more than 800 airmen and soldiers by establishing an escape route across the Pyrenees into Spain. The risks were unspeakably high and royalties from this welcome reissue go to the Airey Neave Trust. (Biteback, 190pp, paperback, £8.99)
Most of us are familiar with certain terms used by or about villains, such as ”tealeaf” and “spill the beans” but what about “scrag squeezer” or “Chicago typewriter”? You can find the answers in Crooked Talk, 500 Years of the Language of Crime Jonathon Green. (Arrow, 394pp, hardback, £9.99)