All posts by blagdonorg

Life, the universe and everything within the village of Blagdon.

Blagdon’s Reading – May 2016

Re-reading a much-loved book from our youth formed much of our discussion this month, Do we still find the same things funny? Is tragedy still as tragic? Do we understand a book better now, or see some aspects more clearly that were formerly obscured by the plot? One reader had been revisiting literature from the 1930s, in particular Rachel Ferguson’s amusing, playful The Brontës Went to Woolworths. Three sisters, one already working as a journalist, another on the threshold of a career as an actress and the youngest still being taught by a governess (eccentrically in 1931), have to negotiate the collision between their rich fantasy lives and their incipient adulthood. ‘How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sisters’, says the eldest, betraying an exactly parallel collision with the premise of the book.

Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend has been enjoyed and admired, and the second volume in this quartet about two Neapolitan friends, The Story of a New Name, is next on the list. These books have been called Tolstoyan in their scope and depth of feeling, and the intensity magnifies from book to book. Our reader had a warning, however, that the early, scene-setting part of My Brilliant Friend, when the two girls, Lila and Lenu, are small, though beautifully written is less engaging than what follows; so if you begin this book, do persevere until they begin to grow up.

Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse is also highly recommended. The first and longest of three sections takes place over the course of one day, during which the reader is invited to observe the Ramsay family, an Oxford professor, his wife (the pivot of the novel, based on Virginia Woolf’s mother, Julia Duckworth, who died when Virginia was thirteen) and their eight children, on holiday in Scotland. There are also several house-guests. It is an absorbing examination of the role and worth of marriage, from the point of view of those within the marriage, those on the threshold of marriage and those on the outside. It is also about the counterpoise between past and present, at times poignantly held. The last section takes place ten years after the first.

Other books discussed included Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, a French writer of Ukrainian-Jewish origin who planned a sequence of five novels at the outbreak of the war. Suite Française comprises the first two, Storm in June and Dolce. Already a celebrated novelist when she was writing Storm in June, Némirovsky died at Auschwitz in 1942 (her husband a few months later, in the process of trying to get her released). Her daughters survived, sheltered by teachers and friends. Denise, (who was twelve when orphaned) inherited her mother’s papers in 1996. She thought the leather-bound notebook contained a journal, too painful to read, but in 2004 a literary friend realized it was a novel and set out to publish it. Although an unrevised draft, its scope and compassion have been said (by Helen Dunmore) to show her Russian origins, and comparison with Tolstoy has again been made. It is a dispassionate portrait of provincial France under occupation, not judgmental but shockingly revealing of self-preservative behaviour. At the same time, she shows compassion for the young Germans who were fodder for Hitler’s megalomania. The entries in her journal about writing are fine examples of self-motivation and critical self-discipline.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild is an art-historical novel with a twist: the title is that of a painting by Watteau, and the painting is the narrator. It tells the story of its journey from the courts of kings and emperors to a London junk shop, and the down-at-heel apartment of the book’s heroine, Annie, a chef convalescing a broken heart. Hannah Rothschild will take up the Chair of Trustees of the National Gallery in August. Her book has been more than two decades in the writing, and its idea comes from visits to galleries as a child with her parents, wishing that the paintings could speak to her and tell her about their lives. Unusually, she has made this fantasy come true through her novel. Rachel Ferguson’s Carne sisters would be proud!

We meet again on Wednesday June 29th at 7.30pm at the Seymour Arms.

Lindsey Shaw-Miller
01761 463 659

Blagdon’s Reading – April 2016

It’s easy to think that the latest biography is the best, incorporating more up-to-date information and approach. This is not always the case. The 1980s and early 90s was a really good time for biography.

At our last meeting at the Seymour Arms, the discussion touched on the artist Gwen John (1876–1939), and whether biography had done anything to enlighten the reader or bring the artist closer. Over Easter, I took up this challenge and read Susan Chitty’s 1981 biography. It’s an excellent piece of writing, well-structured, mobile, and truly enlightening about the artist and her work.

Susan Chitty is not an art historian, she is a professional biographer who has tackled subjects as different from Gwen John as Anna Sewell, Charles Kingsley and Edward Lear. Yet her understanding of Gwen John’s work is thorough and sensitive. It’s an unusual life, to say the least. Born in Haverfordwest, the second of four children, her mother died when she was only eight. Her (devastated) father was not a skilfull parent. Gwen John went to France in 1903 and lived most of the rest of her life in Paris, often in severe poverty. In her middle age, her younger brother Augustus, always fulsome in acknowledging that, of the two, she was the greater artist (there’s another discussion there) bought her a cottage on the edge of the New Forest in the grounds of his own new abode, Fryern Court. She only ever spent three nights there, returning to Paris and her family of cats, in the barely upgraded shed that was her last home. What is fascinating about the biography is the interweave of friendships and loves (she had a ten-year relationship with Rodin and they remained close until he died), a passionate but unconventional Catholicism (she converted in 1913), and her work, which became almost a form of prayer – much of her time in church was spent drawing people. She drew quickly but painted slowly.

Susan Chitty refers to her as ‘Gwen John’ throughout, never falling into the trap of just ‘Gwen’, a familiarity adopted with female subjects, rarely with male ones. The biography excels in evoking the background that created the translucency and calm of Gwen John’s work, and it was exactly this quality that informed our discussion. Chitty also manages to keep the larger-than-life Augustus, who was more famous, indeed notorious, and whose work began to decline just as Gwen’s increased in quantity and quality, in perspective. He was by turns neglectful and extravagant towards his sister, but did his best to help her career. He drank so much, and fathered so many children on so many women, it may have been difficult to focus. Gwen John is in focus throughout this fascinating book, and for such a recluse, she met all sorts of interesting people, from Maud Gonne to Marc Chagall.

Blagdon’s Readers will be meeting again at the Seymour Arms on Wednesday May 11th at 7.30pm, to discuss the books mentioned in last month’s column. Do join us if you would like to!

Lindsey Shaw-Miller
01761 463 659

Member’s Night

Blagdon WI – April Meeting

The  April meeting is called ‘Members Night’ because ordinary members of the Institute, not the Officers of the Committee and those who normally keep the evening running,  take the roles of Chairman and Secretary, and run the raffle, make the tea, provide the entertainment and so on.  But more importantly it marks another birthday anniversary in the life of Blagdon Institute – we are now sixty seven year old.  But first we had the business part of the meeting with President Judith Swetman opening proceedings by welcoming Ann,  a new visitor, to join us, and the singing of Jerusalem (we still keep up the old traditional ways!).  The record of the March meeting was approved and matters arising from it were taken forward.  The Garden Party in the grounds of Buckingham Palace will be attended by our President, and well she deserves to enjoy the delights of the event – we all look forward to seeing the ‘Hat’!  On the 14th April is our Group Meeting and various items destined to be part of our entry into the Group Competition were looked at, mulled over and altered to be better suited to the subject,  which this year is to be  ‘A Gift Box from Queen Mary for a WW2 Soldier’.   After the details of our forthcoming trips to the theatre in Bristol and down to Dunster were given out and various events to be held by the Avon Federation were announced, the meeting was handed over to the Members Night Committee Chairman Pat Hicks.

Pat first asked her Secretary to read out the record of the last Members’ Night meeting; these were approved and thanks were given to the Institute Committee for all its hard work on Members’ behalf, together with all those who work in the background to support them – tonight it’s your turn to relax and enjoy.  Pat gave us out a couple of quizzes to get our brain cells going – we do like our quizzes.  But I must say either they are getting harder or my brain cells are  getting smaller – there were more exclamations of ‘oh, of course it is’, when the time came for the answers, than ever before!

We were in need of a reviving coffee or tea by then and eagerly partook of the inviting supper laid out for us – some Members make the most delicious things to bring.  The larger than usual raffle was drawn and everyone enjoyed the time to chat to new and old members, which sometimes we don’t get in a packed normal meeting.  So much so that time ran out and we had to forgo the planned game of Hoy; however we will squeeze it in on another night soon.   Thank you to the Members’ Night Committee for a relaxed enjoyable evening; our meeting next month is on Thursday 14th May.

May is always the month when we debate the Resolution to be put forward at the National Federation AGM in London in June, this year it is ‘failing to care’ .  The WI has a long history of fighting to put right what they think is wrong in our country – the Resolution, which is sure to be a cracker and highly relevant to a great many of WI members everywhere,  reads

“This meeting calls on HM government to remove the distinction between nursing care and personal care in the assessment of the needs of individuals, in order to advance health and wellbeing”.  Afterwards we have Gina Merret-Smith telling us about the work and life of Marianne North (1830-1890).   She was a prolific English Victorian biologist and botanical artist, notable for her plant and landscape paintings, her extensive foreign travels, her writings, her plant discoveries and the creation of her gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  Sounds an interesting person – we welcome new visitors to our meetings, 7.30pm in the village club, please join us.

100th and 40th anniversaries

Blagdon WI – March Meeting

President Judith Swetman welcomed everyone, including visitor Cynthia to our March meeting;  quite a bit of business to get through with so many exciting events coming up, not only for the National Federation’s 100th anniversary but also Avon Federation’s 40th birthday too.  Plans are being laid months ahead to make sure ‘all goes well on the night’ as it were.  There is to be a mammoth craft exhibition in M Shed, on the docks in Bristol in September  showing off all the skills that WI ladies do so well; it was our Group’s  judging last month , to find out which entries were to go forward to show – of our 9 entries, 3 received ‘Gold’, that is, high enough marks to go through.  Well done to all.

There is to be a formal WI Garden Party in Buckingham Palace in June, one member from each Institute in the country may attend – we have yet to chose our lucky representative, whilst as many  members as would like, plus spouses, partners or friends accompanying, can join our day’s outing to Dunster  in August; the more the merrier.

On this day before Red Nose Day (the meeting was on Thursday 12th March) we did our own spot of fundraising for women in India, everyone collecting  ‘a pee (P)for a wee(k)’ , and sending £40.50p to the WI charity “ Associated Country Women of the World”  quite a lot of pennies if you add them all up.   And talking of fundraising,  we were exhorted to start on the seed sewing, plant dividing, and potting on business for our  annual plant sale  which this year is entitled ‘Coffee, Cake and Cuttings’ to be held on the 6th June in the Village Club as usual.  More details in next month’s report.

Before our evening’s speaker was introduced the President gave her report on the Avon Spring Meeting held the day before (Wednesday 11th March) in the Winter Gardens in Weston-s-Mare; it is threatened that it is to be the last one of our Federation Meetings held in that venue, however there is a glimmer of hope it will never happen, they just don’t want to see us go.  The Meeting was opened by a parade of Institute Banners and I’m happy to report that our Banner, created for our 60th Birthday in 2008, was thought very highly of, receiving praise from all sides.

In this, the historical 100th year of our existence it is more important than ever to work as a TEAM to achieve the maximum we are capable of –we were told that ‘Together Everyone Achieves Most’.

Finally, it was cookery time , with our speaker Bini Ludlow, who founded and runs a cookery school called Sweet  Cumin;  a bright bubbly lady who came across as a teacher who is indeed very passionate about the way food is cooked, with the right combination of spices added so that the result is the authentic taste of India.  And not just ‘India as a whole’ but specifically unique to the many different areas of the sub- continent.  Glorious smells wafted right  to the back of the hall, making those who had not had their evening meal at home before the meeting very hungry!  We did of course get to sample the very tasty curry Bini prepared as she talked.

Our meeting next month is one for members – with an American supper, quizzes, games of Hoy and of course lots of chat.  A good chance for us all to really get to know our new members – if you would like to try out being a ‘new member’ please come along on Thursday 9th April , 7.30pm in the Village Club and join in.

Superfast Broadband

Faster Broadband in Blagdon – register your interest                                This item has been provided by
6 May 2015                                                                                                                             

If you live to the east of the cricket pitch, Faster Broadband is scheduled to be installed by October and you need do nothing apart from order it.  You probably have a ‘green cabinet’ phone line, where the line from your house goes to the green cabinet at the junction of Church Street and Bath Road.  All that is needed to install Faster Broadband is for the cable between the cabinet and the exchange to be replaced by a fibre cable.

But if you live to the west of the cricket pitch, you are not scheduled to get Faster Broadband.  Instead, BT Openreach plans to survey this area between July and December, to see whether Faster Broadband is viable there.  Register your interest now to convince them we need it!

Why the difference?  Houses to the west of the cricket pitch probably have an ‘Exchange Only’ line, where the copper wire goes straight from the house to the exchange.  These lines are usually much too long to carry Faster Broadband signals and, either a new green cabinet must be installed, or the entire copper line between the exchange and your house must be replaced by fibre.  Running a separate fibre line to each house is probably more expensive, but if it is done, you should receive much faster speeds of up to 300 Mb/sec.

You might say “I don’t need Faster Broadband, it does not affect me”.  But it will affect you even if you decide not to install it.  Once Faster Broadband is common elsewhere, web designers are likely to create web pages with vast quantities of data, and the web will be all but unusable for those with slower lines.

You can find more information at

You can ask your ISP to confirm whether you have an ‘Exchange Only’ line and if you do (and if you don’t!), you are
strongly recommended to register your possible interest at

as by doing so you are not making any commitment, but the more who register an interest, the more likely it is that Faster Broadband will be installed.