Final Diary Post Challenge Thoughts

May 24th

Having already written what was intended to be the last page of my challenge reflections, I have now decided that before finally signing off, I want to write a tribute to all my many supporters – some whose names are not even familiar to me - friends and family members.

From the outset, the Fund-Raising team at Orpheus have enthusiastically embraced my efforts and done so much to publicise what I have been doing. They of course are working within the constraints of Lockdown and supporting each other’s efforts with inventive projects to encourage the giving that Orpheus relies upon. At the same time, they all have their own families reliant upon them.

I have been spurred on by the knowledge that dedicated carers at Orpheus are there to look after those students who are still staying at the Centre. In addition I greatly admire the tutors who are schooling students at home, helping them to continue working towards getting their accreditations.

I am so grateful to friends, some of whom have donated more than once and who have sent messages of encouragement. In particular, I want to mention my lovely Danish tennis friend, Bette, who has been like a voluntary agent or PA, passing on information and updates to everyone she knows! Then there is my Tatsfield friend Sheila, whose husband died of the virus, who bravely ventured out for the first time to leave a bottle of bubbly and a beautiful card on my doorstep for me to find on the completion of the 100th mile. Former Orpheus CEO Graham Whitehead has constantly been in touch with warm and uplifting emails.

I am indebted to Sheree at the village shop who has promoted my efforts enthusiastically throughout. She took it upon herself to give my details to a Surrey Mirror journalist, resulting in my being featured in next week’s paper. Tatsfield villagers have waved, sounded their horns and one couple who met me coming up THE HILL, clapped me all the way to the top!

Last of all is my family. My son Kester in Paris has promoted me to friends and on Facebook throughout. My daughter Sarah has done the same and shopped for all our needs. She accompanied me on my 100th mile. My sister in-law Jenny and brother-in-law Des in Yorkshire donated more than once and encouraged me almost daily. The same has been true of Sussex cousins Janet and Geoff. Chris has been the rock he has always been in every possible way. He also came on the 100th mile and when we reached the end, granddaughters Lucy and Amy were there clapping.

This finale was then topped an hour later indoors, when I was called by Chris to his computer where, courtesy of Zoom, son, daughter and ALL the grandchildren from both sides of The Channel were beaming at me. They then recited a hilarious poem about me, each taking lines in turn. (I am now forever going to be known as Nanny Mc Feet!) Chris followed with his guitar and a blues number he had written and I was then given a virtual tour of all the places where they were at present in Lockdown.

Tomorrow (Bank Holiday Monday) I am going to be interviewed on BBC Radio Surrey and Sussex at 8.45am. I will give it my best shot to promote Orpheus. THANK YOU everyone!

Day Twenty Five May 19th

Never Look Back!

This seems a strange title when I have been constantly looking back. But I have a special reason for using it which I will leave to the end. So this is it - my last diary entry. I want to spend the rest of it writing again about RUNNING FREE. As I mentioned yesterday, some while after the play, I wrote the same story in the form of a novel (available for purchase on Feed a Read). I used to take copies of it with me on my Orpheus talks and would sell them to raise a bit more money for Orpheus One day I did a talk to a Friendship Group in Old Coulsdon. At the end of the talk, when packing up, I noticed an elderly gentleman leafing through a copy. There were tears in his eyes. I went over to him and he looked at me and said, “I was stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk for five days and nights.” His wife stepped in and invited me to have tea with them the following week so that Douglas could tell me all about his experience. This I did and listened to his riveting account still so vivid in his memory and how he was finally rescued. I later wrote and thanked him with a poem I had been inspired to write which is too long to write in full here but here is an extract:

Nearly half a million soldiers were stranded on Dunkirk sands

Nothing to eat and fearing they were trapped and in enemy hands.

Stukka planes screeched over them, flames and smoke all around,

Exhausted by thirst and hunger, bombarded by the bombs’ blasting sound.

What would be the outcome? They lay there awaiting their fate,

Hoping for some respite and for the nightmare to abate.

And then it came, the miracle, gradually over several days,

A diverse means of transport appeared through the smoky haze.

Fishing smacks and pleasure craft, boats of every kind,

All braving the dangerous journey with one thing only in mind,

To transport the thousands of soldiers back to the British shore,

Ferrying their passengers to safety before going back for more.

The poem goes on to follow Douglas’s story and how he was rescued by the famous paddle boat of the day, The Medway Queen. Douglas died soon after and at his wife’s request I read the poem to the Friendship group at a poetry presentation soon after.

And now to the end of my diary. Never Look Back is the title of the very first song I heard at Orpheus nearly 20 years ago. It was written by Richard Stilgoe and takes as its theme the classical story of the demi- god Orpheus whose wife disobeyed the command not to look back which led to her being doomed to Hades. It became Orpheus’s anthem and was used to inspire the philosophy that for Orpheus students it was time to look forward to a bright future. And this is what we all want to do now for ourselves and our families. Here’s to the continued future of Orpheus! I haven’t quite reached the £5,000 target but it is well over £4,5000 and it’s not too late. The opportunity is still there. Captain Tom first gave me the idea. If I could guarantee his financial success I would keep on walking! I thank all of you who have encouraged and supported me on my journey.

Day Twenty Four May 18th

Running Free

Wouldn’t we all be wanting to do this! Recently we celebrated the freedom that came with the ending of World War 11. At the end of this month and the beginning of June will be the commemoration of a hugely important event which changed the course of the War. It will be the 80th Anniversary of the time when nearly half a million stranded British soldiers were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. This is a subject very dear to my heart - in fact so much so I could write a book about it. Well, actually I did! But even before I did so, I had already written it as a play and my lyrics were set to music by my teaching colleague of the time, Angela Allson. This was 37 years ago and it was performed by staff and a host of the 11-14 year old pupils of Woodcote High School in Coulsdon, Surrey. It has been subsequently performed in the Croydon Parish Church as part of the church’s centenary celebrations, at St Andrew’s School, Croydon (twice), in Bromley, Paris and Italy! (The latter was produced by a former overseas volunteer who took an interest in it while living at Orpheus.)

Once again I find myself picking up on Orpheus links. This not an artificial contrivance – it just happens! After the success of the first production, we were encouraged to enter it for a National competition for a new musical, which was open both to amateur and professionals. We were actually short-listed and got to the finals. The judges were distinguished playwrights and lyricists. One of these was a gentleman called Richard Stilgoe! Of course this was years before he founded Orpheus. I just knew of him as a brilliant entertainer who appeared nightly on TV.

RUNNING FREE revolved around a group of London evacuees being billeted to a fishing village down at the South coast near Dover. A fisherman with two sons owned a boat called RUNNING FREE, from which the play took its name. “Running Free is a nautical term for sailing with the wind behind you,” were the words spoken by a bookish character in the play. The fisherman had two sons and in telling his older son that he has to take the boat to Dunkirk, he sings a solo called The Darkest Hour – in which he alludes to Churchill’s speech at the time. (It is also the title of the recent film – and shown on TV last week.) The character of the younger son was depicted as disabled boy and the 13 year old lad for whom I wrote the part was called Matthew Bardock. Matt went on in later years to study drama and became a film, TV and stage actor, appearing in National Theatre productions and programmes such as A Touch of Frost. Later he became famous and popular as Jeff the paramedic in Casualty. A few years ago, I invited him to come to Orpheus – here we go again! I took him to a Funky Friday session where the students bombarded him with questions and had selfies taken with him afterwards. He came to a subsequent Strictly Youthful show and two more former members of the 1983 cast have paid to be at the next one!

PS It has been worked out mathematically that by the end of tomorrow, having climbed THE HILL 100 times I have scaled the equivalent of Snowdon twelve and a half times!

Day Twenty Three May 17th

When the Light Returns

A return to the sunlight and warmth today was welcome, as was the chance for light clothing on my walk. Thinking about the word “light”, I heard the phrase I have used for today’s title mentioned on Breakfast TV in a feature about the opening of Danish schools. I came to it late but I gathered it was the English translation from a popular song sung by children. Checking with my Danish tennis friend Bette who kindly sent me details, I had slightly misheard but I am sticking with it because I like it! It’s a nice change from “Light at the end of the Tunnel” used so often at the moment. I also love the traditional saying, “It’s Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness” and used it as the basis for a play I once wrote about refugees. Still on the theme of light, I noticed that Eurovision has been resurrected on TV and given the title, “Shine a Light”. I haven’t watched it since its early days. I have good reason to remember watching it when Bucks Fizz shone their light as I used to teach Jay Aston about 50 years ago. By some strange coincidence we have both ended up living in Tatsfield!

Changing gear, I wonder how many of you have used all this spare time you’ve had to do some de-cluttering? I’m betting you have somewhere tucked away out of sight, boxes of photos, children’s drawings, letters and postcards, mementos of holidays and so on. About 17 years ago I began to find an answer to this which has held me in good stead. As my son was approaching his 40th birthday, I decided to create a book of his life so far. So I bought a large scrap book and began the task of sifting through everything from his birth certificate onwards. The de-cluttering meant that I just chose significant pieces relating to him and began photocopying, cutting out and pasting relevant extracts of letters and interesting items. Each page dealt with a different aspect of his life and was given a film title as he is a film buff. The obvious first page was called, “A Star is Born.” Once it was all done I was able to throw away masses and what was left was a distillation of his life to that point. Naturally when our daughter Sarah was 40 she had one made too. This time the pages took the titles of songs as she is a musician. Fast forward and I have now got over 30 scrap books of important aspects of my own life, of Chris’s (book titles for his pages ) and of my grandchildren, friends and family. The amount of de-cluttering has been phenomenal and I highly recommend it.

In Lockdown I began and completed Orpheus Scrap Book Number Five which brings up to date nearly 20 wonderful years of my volunteering!

Day Twenty Two May 16th

Into Extra Time

Today was the first of four more days of walking and working out. People have asked me if I think it will be an anti-climax when it ends and that I might feel a bit of a dip. Another concern is that I will no longer have the excuse to eat more to keep up my strength which I have been doing, so will my weight start to go up? Throughout this challenge I have had to show a certain amount of will power to keep going but it will be a different kind of will power needed when I finish. Chris says, “Knowing you, you’ll already be thinking of another project to focus upon!” Well if anyone has had reason to know this, it is Chris. When I look back over all the things I have immersed myself in, some have been out of necessity such as sitting up till late night after night marking stacks of essays in my teaching days. Chris has admitted that this was one of the most depressing sights for him in my 33 years of teaching. Then later, there was the time when he had to keep me going day after day when I was writing into the early hours to meet publishers’ deadlines. Probably what he will remember most though are the stage productions over most of my adult life. Not only would he often find I was so busy conducting rehearsals there was no supper on the table. Sometimes there was not even a table to sit at because I had taken it be part of the stage set! He is right though, I am already beginning to think about the next production!

Many of you know that before the virus visited us, we were set for the Strictly Youthful show at Orpheus. Everything was ready -the cast assembled, the programme sorted, the tickets sold and paid for in advance for both the matinee and evening performances. Once we knew it had to be postponed we found another date that everyone involved could make, which was September 19th. At this point we cannot be sure that even this will be safe, so it may have to be put further back still. But when it happens, what a celebration it will be! There will be singing, dance, drumming, poetry – something to suit everyone. I have a suspicion that we may have to consider an extra performance as there will such a desire to come and celebrate the opening up of Orpheus’s doors again.

A final thought –if it has to be postponed until next year, I will be 85! Today I have now exceeded 85 miles.

Day Twenty One May 15th

“Keep right on to the end of the road

Keep right on to the end.

‘Tho the way be long, let your heart be strong

Keep right on round the bend.”

These stirring and apt words are from the song associated with Scotland’s most famous singer, the late Sir Harry Lauder. They suited me well today as it was a very hot climb and somebody had made THE HILL steeper in the night. And as for the last phrase, “round the bend”, it did cross my mind that I must be round the bend to agree to keep going for 100 miles! I could have been celebrating tonight I thought. But tomorrow’s another day and I know it will be perfectly ok.

Scotland is very special to Chris and me as it is where we met nearly 63 years ago. For our Diamond Wedding last August, Chris took me on a surprise trip to Scotland which included a boat trip across the Clyde and on a little bus ride to the lovely old Whistlefield Inn on Loch Eck in Argyllshire, where we had stayed all those years ago. It hadn’t changed a bit. There is a delightful Orpheus-related follow-up to this. One of our volunteers, Paul Hollis is a talented stained glass expert. Some years back he began to teach students who were interested in learning the skill. He continues to teach some of the former students from his workshop in at the back garden of his family home. One of the most prolific and industrious of these regulars is Charlotte Rowling, the songstress I have already written about in an earlier diary. The pieces she and the others have made are displayed and sold at Orpheus events and I sell them at my talks. So I often go to the workshop to see them working and to top up my supplies. In the early summer of last year, Paul told me that that they would like to make a special piece for a Diamond gift. We were to choose what we would like for the design. Chris and I both agreed it would be nice to have a piece depicting Whistlefield Inn. We gave Paul photos of it to help them create its likeness. The result was truly beautiful. It hangs in the window of our breakfast room and the light and the weather outside give it a different look accordingly. Chris will often say, “It’s cloudy over the inn today,” or “Look at the sun on the water!” It is one of our most treasured possessions.

I actually drove to Orpheus today to meet Beverley, our energetic Community Fund-Raiser who is, like all the team, mostly working from home and doing a fantastic job thinking up and organising all sorts of online events. But today she was at the Centre and did a brief video interview with me about my challenge. Seeing her and chatting in the sunshine was the highlight of my day

Day Twenty May 14th

Howzat!

Today I needed an overcoat but it was still dry thank goodness.

Today I have been reflecting for a variety of reasons, on cricket. Some have links with Orpheus,, some with family and one important one which I shall reveal at the end. Firstly, I have an older brother Den – I want to stress OLDER, 4 years older in fact - as I am still nursing the hurt that a while back I met one of his friends who thought I was older than he was. Den never wastes the opportunity to bring this up in conversation.

In his youth, Den was a good cricketer, a slow arm bowler who was one of Banstead Cricket Club’s youngest stars. He later had offers to play for both Essex and Surrey but decided not to become professional. In the police flat above us, lived Ted Pratt, grounds man for Banstead Cricket Club and his sons, Derek and Ron Pratt, both played for Surrey. Staying with the Surrey link, Brian Downing, another Banstead boy at the same time, whom I have known since childhood also lived in Banstead. As an adult he was awarded the OBE for services to cricket and followed John Major as President of Surrey Cricket Club. Two years later, the presidency went to none other than that other great cricket buff, Sir Richard Stilgoe! Through his close connection with Richard (and with me) Brian has, over the years, been a huge supporter of Orpheus and has been to all my shows.

Our own son Kester didn’t quite show the talent of his Uncle Den but he has had from childhood and still maintains an abiding passion for the game. As soon as he was old enough to travel on his own, he regularly took the bus all the way from our home in Purley to the Oval and would sit watching all day, filling in all the intricate details and statistics on the score sheet. Although he lives in France, for many years he played cricket each weekend for an ex-pats English club set in the beautiful grounds of a rich lady’s grand estate a few miles outside Paris. She wanted to make a corner that was England.

And now, using cricket as my analogy, my target of 84 will be reached tomorrow but I have decided not to declare at 84 but to go on for a century! I am going to walk 100 miles.

I have been BOWLED over by so much support. It will be a TEST but it is not OVER yet! 80 completed today and still NOT OUT! Over £4,000 raised – can we reach a bigger SCORE in my final INNINGS?

Day Nineteen May 13th

Peggy Sue

A nip in the air today and scarf and gloves were definitely needed. It was not comfortable or particularly pleasant but how could I not keep going when my thoughts go to a certain former student, the only other one I haven’t written about as yet in my diary. I’m referring to Gary Wheeler. Gary, who had muscular dystrophy, made a big impact when he first came to Orpheus a good many years back. He was bright and cheeky! His talents showed themselves in a variety of ways – singing, song-writing and narrating in shows. Unfortunately, as time went on, his condition deteriorated to such an extent that eventually he was no longer able to take part in sessions or shows. He needed a lot of support from the care team. He had to wear an oxygen mask night and day. However, his brain was still in full working order and he still wanted very much to use his creative skills in some way. As I was already scribing for Jenny Musselle I was asked if I could do the same for Gary to which I agreed. So on my first visit to his flat, Gary said he wanted to write monologues. When I asked him what he wanted to choose as his first subject, he replied,“ PEGGY SUE.” (I assumed he meant the popular Buddy Holly Song.) He proceeded to dictate the following opening,” Boy does she tickle my taste buds. She’s really been working for me lately. We’ve been together for three months now and she ‘aint going anywhere fast. We’re only ever centimetres apart.” Seeing my puzzled look and wondering what secret he had managed to keep from us all, he said, “If you’re not squeamish, lift my shirt.” I did so and he then pointed to a feeding peg which had been surgically inserted into his stomach. He went on further to extol poetically the virtues of the feeding peg and the last paragraph, which was aimed at other students who might be concerned about finding themselves in his position ended with, “I can tell you now that it will definitely change your life. Believe me, my life’s complete with my darling Peggy Sue.”

I continued writing Gary’s witty and moving monologues each week for nearly four years. Finally his condition was such that he needed far more specialist care and was moved to a nursing home in Nutley, a centre for those with similar conditions. He asked if I would continue writing for him, which I did. Three whole books of his monologues are now in print. Gary was the bravest and most uncomplaining person I have ever met. Sadly, a few days after my last visit, he died. His funeral, though sad, was also joyous. Staff who had tended him and students who had loved him were there, as was Richard Stilgoe who read one of his monologues and played and sang a song Gary had written. Gary had once said he wanted people to wear bright clothes at his funeral and they did – some dressed as clowns! It was a riot of colour. Gary certainly brought great colour to my life and I loved him dearly. RIP Gary.

Look out for a big announcement from me in tomorrow’s diary

Day Eighteen May 12th

“Thank you for the Music!”

The wind had dropped today and the birds returned to serenade me. My thoughts as they so often do, turned to my late mother who played the piano. In fact the subject of her came up when I was emailing Mark, one of Kester’s friends from university days who very generously donated to my challenge. Mark’s partner Phil Best is a terrific professional pianist and his playing can be found and enjoyed on You Tube. I was telling Mark how much I had enjoyed Phil’s Chopin recital I’d listened to a while back. I related how I adored it when my mother played Chopin’s Tristesse, it always made me cry – it still does whenever I hear it played. Older readers may know that the tune was made into a popular song many years ago called, “So deep the Night.”

My mother used to play and sing to Kester when he was a toddler. One day she asked him what he would like her to play and his answer was, “Body Nose.” She was entirely puzzled and after unsuccessfully trying to guess what he meant, she gave up. Some days later, though, when she was serenading him again, he jumped up with excitement. She was singing a sweet, sentimental song of the time, one that he obviously remembered and liked. It went, “Sweetest little fellow, everyBODY KNOWS, don’t know what to call him but he’s mighty like a rose.” That’s it!” he cried out.

Mark isn’t the only person from his past that Kester keeps in contact with. He is in touch with several of his university friends. One person, another Mark, goes back even further to his school days at the John Fisher School in Purley, is a successful film-maker and Kester who himself is professionally involved with film and theatre, has recently been working with him on some great, innovative projects.

Go to the link below for an example called Music is Hope (The Beatles parody). 

I have a vivid memory of when they were in their early twenties, Mark had written two fine plays and was taking them to the Edinburgh Festival. Kester was the stage manager. They invited me to go up and see the plays and stay over to see other shows. I went up by coach and Kester met me and took me to the humble lodgings where the whole crew were staying and where I was to sleep on the floor along with the rest of them! I loved every minute of my stay in Edinburgh. The atmosphere of the Festival captivated me. Chris and I recently went to the Festival couple of years ago. The magic is still there. We can’t wait to go again!

72 miles done.

Day Seventeen May 11th

Blowing in the Wind

Looking in the mirror this morning which, believe me I don’t do any more than I have to, my hair is such a length now I feel I could audition for the part of Rapunzel! (Google her, those of you who don’t know her story.)

It was a very blustery walk today. What with the wind against me and negotiating fallen branches torn down in the night, and the howling of the wind through the “tunnel” and whistling through the trees, it reminded me of being at sea. Seeing the haze of cow parsley swaying like foam on the waves, my imagination went into overdrive.

Back now to reflections along the way. Not so very long after the end of the War, a very special and unexpected cause for celebration took place in our family. It was the birth of a baby brother, Tim. I was twelve years old and my older brother Den was 16. I was over the moon and proudly pushed him in his pram up and down Banstead High Street to show him off. In fact I did a fair amount of child care over the next few years as my mother had to work.

Jumping on a few years, just before beginning my teacher training at Furzedown Training College in Tooting I was tasked with doing some observations in a local school. By this time, Tim was attending the same school in the Infants’ Department. He was totally thrown by seeing me in teacher role and having to call me Miss Partridge.

At the present time, Tim who lives in Sheringham in Norfolk with his wife Mary, is spending much of his time on Lockdown running. He is over 70 and at the last count, in the last few weeks he has run over 150 miles. He too has inherited the fitness gene from our father. Despite being asthmatic, he has done a great deal of serious climbing throughout his life in the Himalayas and other parts of the world.

Tim has always supported Orpheus, coming to shows and giving generously on different occasions. Once he was indirectly responsible for bringing in some money. Some years back, trawling through a second hand bookshop, somewhere in East Anglia, he spotted and bought a book written by none other than Richard Stilgoe. It had a photo of Richard on the cover as a very young man and the book focused on witty pieces based on anagrams using his name. Tim gave me the book which remained on my bookshelf until a couple of years ago when I put into the auction at my Strictly Youthful Show. It went to a keen bidder for over £100. Thanks Tim!

68 miles completed.

Day Sixteen May 10th

What a difference a day makes! I refer of course to the weather. It was back to warm clothes and a scarf. But it was ok, it least it stayed dry.

Like many grandparents, I am missing my grandchildren, all of whom have played such an important role in our lives – the antidote to ageing as Chris says. We see our Sarah’s daughters Lucy (17 and Amy (14) regularly as they live in Tatsfield, but it has been a different experience with our son Kester’s three sons. They were all born and grew up in Paris. From babyhood all through their youth they always came over to stay for half terms and holidays and we also visited them in Paris. I have already written about the oldest, who is 27 – Jake the Cake as he is often now known – who has been working as a pastry chef in top London hotels for several years. Louis comes next. He is 22. Louis became interested in film editing as a teenager and came to England to study. He graduated last year at Southampton with a degree in film making. Now he is in lockdown with Jake and staying with a relative near Cambridge. Tom, who is seventeen, is still in France in his last year of school and hopes to go to University in Dublin. The future is in the air for all of them in these uncertain times.

You will possibly have noticed that almost all of the people I have written about have or have had a connection with Orpheus. All three boys have been over to Orpheus shows but Louis has had a closer connection. One holiday, as a teenager, when he was staying with us, he came with me on one of my talks and for the first time met Angus. He took on the role of my sound technician, operating the CD player for Angus’s singing. He also came with me on several occasions when I went to Jenny Musselle’s. With both mother and a father from acting backgrounds, Louis spent a lot of his young life on stage. At Jenny’s he and I would read through her plays. It thrilled her to hear them brought to life so vividly. Finally Louis came with me to Orpheus on a Funky Friday – the day when students have an afternoon of having a change from their sessions and doing things that the name suggests. At this time Louis was a very accomplished break dancer and he gave a demonstration to thunderous applause from the students. Louis’s lovely girlfriend Tansy has had her final year of a nursing degree cut short and as I write, is bravely giving her services to the NHS

Day Fifteen May 9th

“ The Hills are alive with the Sound of Music”

What a fantastic, warm sunny day today! It felt such a privilege to be out on my walk. Several people say to me, aren’t you tired of the same walk every day? You must know every bit of it by now. In a way they are right but because of the time of year, each day sees fresh growth on the hedgerows and a growing profusion of wild flowers. As all the trees burst out with new foliage, the track seems to become narrower, more like a tunnel. We have a long-standing bachelor friend, Bob who has lived and travelled in many places in the world (he who until recently lived in Snowdonia and was mentioned in a previous diary entry). He is an expert on birds and I emailed him yesterday asking where was he when I needed him. The birdsong along my route is unbelievably beautiful and to my shame I couldn’t put a name to one of the singers.

The money in the full collecting box in the Sheree’s village shop has been counted and has added well over £100 to my running total which is now creeping ever closer to £4,000. Tatsfield Village is a very special place and has a vibrant community with something for everyone. One of its greatest assets and for which it is well-known is its horticultural society. Every Saturday morning, a host of volunteers of all ages are out and about clearing the pond, de-heading the window boxes and picking up litter etc. Each year we win prizes for Best Village in Bloom. The children at the local school in the centre of the village participate and they grow vegetables. Normally when ready, they would be taking them home to their parents. This year they are being tended by a dedicated volunteer and Sheree is going to sell them in the village shop.

Many of the regular dog walkers know me by now and are keen to know how many miles I have done. If I meet them as I am struggling up THE HILL, some of them want to know why I don’t reverse my route so that I walk down instead of up it. It might sound a bit sanctimonious but the answer is that I want it to be a struggle. I am doing this challenge to help people whose struggle is far, far worse than anything I am dealing with.

Cheques from friends arrive daily with warm messages. A surprising small parcel arrived yesterday from a tennis friend, Michael Gallant. It was a pack of masks! (His daughter works for the NHS.) This is absolutely typically thoughtful of Mike. He has already generously supported my challenge. Ever since the lockdown, on the dot of 8am, he and Chris have a zoom chat and put the world to rights.

The woollies and waterproofs are out ready for the change in the weather we’ve been promised.

60 miles completed – the same as the number of years I have been married to that Diamond geezer I live with!

Day Fourteen May 8th

Celebration VE Day! As I wrote yesterday, my thoughts, like everyone else, are with this commemoration. I imagine there are not too many of you reading this will actually remember the actual day 75 years ago. Well I do! I also have very vivid memories of the years that led up to it. Owing to my ill health as a baby, my parents were advised to move from London to somewhere healthier. So Dad was transferred to the rural village of Banstead in Surrey. We were housed in a police flat (it’s still there!) behind the Police Station in the High Street. When the war came we had an indoor air raid shelter installed which took up the whole of our small living room. I went to the village school, where Waitrose is now housed. We were issued with gas masks which we had to have with us the whole time. Banstead was bombed badly as the German planes heading for London, which was only a dozen or so miles away, was en route. We were also only a short distance from Croydon Airport along the Purley Way. So then came the trauma of being evacuated to Wolverhampton in Staffordshire. I had to attend a little village school on the outskirts and I used to be laughed at for the funny way I spoke. A few years ago, Chris and I were planning a holiday in the area and I researched to discover that the same village school was still there. BY prior arrangement we called in at the school. Nothing had changed – the same building on a green with just a pub and a shop. Coincidentally, the children were studying what it had been like for children in the War in their history lessons. I was the only evacuee the school had ever had. So you can imagine the reception I received – a historical artefact come to life for them!

Coming back to the past, when I returned to Banstead I can remember my Dad coming to fetch me home, meeting me off the train at the London Station and falling into his arms and we both cried. I remained at home for the rest of the War. It is so hard to condense into one page of my diary all the things I can remember – the destroyed buildings all along the High Street, where we children clambered over and used as climbing frames and dens, the collecting of shrapnel and swapping pieces in the playground. The fear of the V1 Flying Bombs (Doodlebugs) when the sound stopped. That was when to take cover as it meant the bomb was going to drop. Finally, the air raid warnings. The siren that sounded these out to the whole village and beyond was situated on the roof of our flat. When it went off the place shook and was ear-splitting. My mother, brother and I all went deaf a t an early age and I am convinced that is why (Dad would be out on the beat). I guess it’s too late to sue the Government and seek compensation!! When VE Day came it was unbelievable excitement, the street parties where parents behaved in ways never before witnessed. Teras and laughter, dancing and drinking. The best day of our lives!

PS I’ve had a donation from a friend from those days those Banstead days, whose dad was a policeman there too!

Day Thirteen May 7th

The Streets of London

Fifty miles done! £3,639 raised!

The hospital where I was born eighty four and a half years ago was on one of the streets of London. At the beginning of my challenge I remember my son saying, “You’ll have the spirit of Grandad with you.” He was right. My father was a policeman and at the time I was born he was daily pounding the streets of London on his beat. During that time he became a great competitive walker too and won medals for walking from London to Southend. Even when he retired from the police many years later, he worked as Highways Inspector for local governments, rejecting their offer of a car, preferring to walk. He remained a keen walker well into old age. So how would this not inspire me, as a daughter of a Mr Plod, become a plodder of the lanes and hills of Tatsfield!

There are other things that have inspired me today. When I mentioned in yesterday’s diary that Angus Morton had a problem turning down cakes, he knew that his mother Joan had asked me to keep an eye on him. Understandably, she has had lots of worries over Angus’s fragile health over the years and we are in close touch. Today came a very generous donation from her with a letter in which she wrote, “ Orpheus came into Angus’s life at a very low point, when his health was poor and we did not know what his future would be. We will always be grateful.” I think all of us involved with Orpheus would say that we in turn are grateful to Angus for all the joy he has brought to those who have seen and heard him.

Soon after receiving this, came Charlotte Rowling’s weekly song which this week was “There’ll be Bluebirds over The White Cliffs of Dover”. This song goes back in my memory for as long as I can remember as I lived my early days during the World war 11. It was so beautiful and it made me cry.  You can watch it here. 

Lastly, my thoughts turned to the former student I haven’t as yet written about, Luke Tye. Luke, who is visually impaired, has a wonderful voice and personality to go with it. Like the other alumni I’ve written about, Luke has been in all my shows and on many talks. I know he will be outside tonight encouraging people to clap for the NHS and probably leading the singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Tomorrow I already know I will be looking back on my own memories of the war, being an evacuee and celebrating VE Day. Watch this space!

Day Twelve May 6th

Over halfway now! 48 miles completed, 36 to go. I’m delighted to report that the amount my challenge has raised is now £3,439! I am so grateful to everyone for their generosity. Yesterday I wrote about birthday cakes and cake made me think of former student Angus Morton, who has a very sweet tooth. Over many years now Angus has joined me for my talks to local groups. Everyone who hears Angus sing is bowled over by the beauty and power of his singing. Invariably, the adoring ladies of the WI ply him with their homemade cakes at the end which he has trouble in refusing even though he has a health condition and has to keep to a special diet. In addition to Orpheus talks, Angus and I often do Music and Verse presentations where Angus’s singing is interspersed with my poems. Today I was reminded of one of my poems I wrote on the subject of a gentle poke at weight-watching so I will share it with you.

I’m not going to weigh myself today, I’m giving myself a break.

I had afternoon tea at a friend’s yesterday and succumbed to her carrot cake.

It’s the first time I’ve let myself go like this, well – the first since last weekend.

I don’t know what came over me but I just didn’t want to offend.

She’d obviously made it specially and probably wouldn’t sympathise

With my pathological fear of going up a size.

The only way I can keep abreast when doing my bra up fails

Is by a strict routine of weighing myself upon the bathroom scales.

It’s just a habit I’ve got into, a vital part of my day

Like emptying the dishwasher or putting the ironing away.

I have a special way of doing it to make sure the reading’s correct.

For you see, the slightest extra bulk could have an adverse effect.

So I keep to a rigid ritual as meticulous as can be

So that when I step on, the needle points at the very lightest me.

Until I’ve fully prepared myself I won’t let myself have a peep

So I do it first thing in the morning ‘cos calories get burned off in sleep.

I clean my teeth of food still lurking, rinsing thoroughly with a cup,

I know that might sound silly but you know, it all mounts up!

Just like regularly shaving my legs and keeping my toenails cut.

Until I’ve made sure I’ve done these things, my eyes on the scales stay shut.

I make sure that I have covered every little thing.

Off come my bracelet and watch, wedding and engagement ring.

And then and only then will I face the truth

That abstinence from pudding will provide the proof.

I stand there in my birthday suit, calm, confident and steady.

Fully prepared for that crucial step – the moment’s come - I’m ready!

But, if I’m not happy with what I see, which does happen now and then,

I refuse to let it get me down so I step off and step on again.

This time I keep one foot on the ground, it makes me feel better I find,

For that way I don’t see the extra pound and it takes the weight off my mind!

Day Eleven May 5th

Today has been very much about FIVES. It is the FIFTH day of the FIFTH month. FIFTY FIVE years ago today I gave birth to my daughter Sarah. At FIVE pm this morning I was icing a cake for her FIFTY FIFTH birthday. She lives FIVE minutes’ walk away from us so before my walk, Chris and I delivered to the cake to her and wished her Happy Birthday. We also took the following: a flower arrangement – well actually a blossom and greenery arrangement as I didn’t have any flowers – a homemade card and gift. For the card, I put a picture on the front of three flower arrangements which were done by Orpheus students at my final Flower Club session before the lockdown. The flowers were in lanterns which Sarah would have recognised because they were actually a Christmas present from her! The gift was a scrapbook I had made of the journeys in her life. From college days onwards, including her gap year, I have kept all the postcards and letters she sent from all over the world. So these were put to good use. As to the cake, I could have done with the help of our eldest grandson Jake, quarter finalist in last year’s BAKE OFF : THE PROFESSIONALS on TV. When he was working in Paris he made David Beckham’s birthday cake – not to mention our wonderful Diamond Wedding cake last August!

Naturally I reflected on Sarah on my walk and was able to think of all the links she has had with Orpheus over the years. Her talented students from St Andrew’s School in Croydon where she was Head of Music, performed in my first and subsequent Strictly Youthful shows. At one stage the school had an arranged exchange with Orpheus whereby her students worked with Orpheus students and then put on concerts at St Andrew’s. She also came on the Orpheus Snowdon climb, raising a large proportion of our £4,000. At present, she is doing and delivering all our shopping for us.

Happy Birthday Sarah!

40 miles to go.

Day Ten May 4th

Before I leave yesterday’s reflections on tennis, I just want to mention a beautiful lady I got to know two years ago. Her name is Angela Shaw. I was introduced to her by one of my tennis friends who invited me to meet her at her home in Croydon and join her little informal outdoor tennis club. Angela has a grass court in her garden and twice a week in the summer months she opens the garden for us to play. She also has an outdoor swimming pool for those who would like to use it. Now to what is so special about Angela. She is 85 years old. She and her husband – he a surgeon and she a nurse – were crack tennis players. He then became ill and Angela nursed him until he sadly died. During his illness Angela developed cancer in her leg and had to have it amputated. She can no longer play tennis but loves others to enjoy playing. She sits and watches up and chats when we’re sitting out. She is a brave, inspirational lady and we all love her dearly. She is a great supporter of Orpheus and came to my last show and is booked in for the next one.

Another brave and inspiring friend who has been so much in my thoughts in recent weeks is Sheila Cook whose husband has just died of the virus. She too battled with it herself but is now over it. It was a measure of the love and respect people had for the couple locally as on the day of the funeral – which Sheila could not attend – dozens and dozens of Tatsfield people lined the route of the funeral car’s journey through the village, to pay their respects.

Sheila has a strong association with Orpheus for several reasons. She adores former student Angus Morton and has known him longer than any of us. She used to work on the staff at the Valence special school in Westerham where Angus attended right up until he joined Orpheus. Sheila comes to all the Orpheus shows. She has 4 brilliantly- talented musical granddaughters. I call them the VonTrapps of Tatsfield! They have performed in my Strictly Youthful shows.

44 miles go!

Day Nine May 3rd


“The long and winding road.”
Week two. My legs felt a little weary today but no matter. It was meant to be a challenge. It is definitely THE HILL that is the punishing part and it just doesn’t get any easier! On the long winding road it was time for reflection again. One of the things I miss during lockdown is my three times a week tennis matches. I belong to the Purley David Lloyd Club which has 10 indoor courts which means Chris and I can play all the year round and not have to wait for the fine weather. We are both of good club standard and have a group of friends we play with and socialise with after matches. My doubles partner is brilliant player called Bob Symes. We have been partners for many years and it doesn’t seem to matter to him that I’m old enough to be his mother! He is always so encouraging. We know each other’s game so well and we have a pretty good track record. There were some people a while back who couldn’t believe I still wanted to play with him after an unfortunate incident when Bob got carried away crossing the court at speed to take the ball and collided into me, sending me flying, resulting in me being left with a fractured pelvis. It took three months before I could get back on court. Of course I forgave him – he probably felt worse than I did!
Bob and his wife Linda have for years been great supporters of Orpheus shows and other fund-raising events such as the times when fellow volunteer Maggie Baer and I organise an Indian meal at The Gurkha Kitchen in Reigate.
Bob has sent me encouraging emails since my challenge began. His latest was to suggest I keep my eye/ball co-ordination in trim by taking a racket and ball with me on the route and bounce it up and down as I go along. Thanks Bob!
Fifty two miles to go.

 

Day Eight May 2nd

Well, I have now completed one week! This made me feel really chuffed as I chugged and puffed up the final climb of the day. I was halfway up when I began to hear the sound of tinkling bells which grew louder as I progressed. It was a lovely sound. Wow, I thought, the neighbours have realised and are at the top heralding me in to praise and encourage me. Then as I climbed a bit further, I realised the sound was coming from behind some trees. As I peered through, a herd of goats with bells round their necks were chewing nonchalantly and not a bit interested in my efforts. Oh well, it was a nice thought while it lasted.

Before the climb, my reflections turned to another former Orpheus student, Jenny Musselle. Many people know that I have been working with Jenny as her scribe for over ten years now – firstly when she was a resident at Orpheus and subsequently at her home in Warlingham where she is supported full-time by a dedicated team of PAs. Over the years, she has written five full-length plays, several one-acts and a host of monologues. The pinnacle of her achievement and the greatest thrill for us both was when we managed to get a talented theatrical group to stage one of her plays at Orpheus to full houses at two performances two years ago. It coincided with the 2oth anniversary of the Orpheus Centre. Not only was a four figure amount raised for Orpheus but the same amount as raised to go towards a brand new and much needed replacement for Jenny’s National Health wheelchair. I am so proud of Jenny and how she rises above the limitations of her disability. Until the lockdown, I was helping her write her autobiography. We are both SO looking forward to getting together again. We regularly send each other messages saying how much we each miss each other!

Fifty two miles to go.  

Day Seven May 1st 

“We can work it out.”

I managed to dodge the showers today. More people were out and about getting their daily exercise or walking their dogs. One lady called out, Aren’t you the lady who is doing the 84 mile walk?” Word is getting round, probably from the village store or website. She said, “You don’t look like 84!” Well, this gave me a lift but I thought it’s probably because most of my face is hidden by too much hair which badly needs cutting. Anyway, I wasn’t rude by asking when she last went to Specsavers.

I was reflecting today on my daily work-out which I fit in between walks and chores. For the last two years until lockdown, I have been going to a circuit training class run by a lovely lady called Charlotte. The Orpheus fund-raising team can testify to this if after the session I go on to see them and stagger up the stairs to their office, dishevelled and knackered! Charlotte is not only a brilliant teacher, exercising bits of our bodies we didn’t even know we had, she has each Christmas given half her takings to Orpheus. At our last Christmas session I wrote and read out a poem I’d written.

Should you be walking out with the dog

Or out on your early morning jog

Down Paynesfield Road and past the Hall

You will hear the following call:

“Deep breath in, deep breath out!”

And you may wonder what it’s about.

It’s an instruction loud and sure

To a group of ladies who are all “mature.”

For over 50 they must be

Including myself at 83!

Should you peep in you might be surprised

To see what contortions our leader’s devised.

Stretching and bending to improve the core,

Trying to strengthen the pelvic floor.

Dressed in bright lycra, looking fab,

Hoping to cover that unwelcome flab.

The lovely fit Charlotte never lets us slack

As we stagger under weights and do cardiac.

You may notice there is no sign of a man,

Though there was one once who was a fan.

“Welcome to the torture chamber!” he would cry

Which must have alarmed all the passers by.

Charlotte and the clock don’t always agree,

Her idea of a minute us more like three!

It’s surprising how long one hour can be

When your joints and muscles are in agony.

But we have to admit when all’s said and done

That despite the effort, it’s a whole lot of fun.

Although Charlotte goes at a heck of a pace,

She knows her stuff and we think she’s just ace!

 

Only 56 miles to go!

 

Day Six April 30th

“These boots are made for walking”

Having now equipped myself in mountain boots and fully waterproof gear, I’m ready for whatever the weather throws at me. Wearing this kit takes me back to a day in May six years ago when I climbed Snowdon. The last part of THE HILL in Tatsfield is remarkably reminiscent of the slog up the mountain. That was all in one go though – this is with daily breaks in between. However, I will have done it 84 times so you could say it’s on a par with it.

I trained very hard for Snowdon, not because I was conscientious, but because I was terrified I would, at the age of 78 make a fool of myself and slow up the rest of the group who were all so much younger. The group was made up of volunteers, staff and friends of Orpheus – including my daughter and ten-year old granddaughter Lucy. By coincidence a lovely friend of ours of 50 years’ standing happened to live at the foot of Snowdon, so by arrangement he met us there and climbed with us (a doddle for him!) Our mountain guide kept close to me the whole time – he was probably worried he’d have to resuscitate me halfway up!

Because of the menacing weather, the mountain railway wasn’t running so when we reached the top the cafe was closed, so no toilet or coffee break. We had to head back down immediately. I couldn’t understand why, on the last flat straight, my guide kept trying to slow me up. It wasn’t until we got to the last few yards I saw why. There was my son all the way from Paris there to welcome me! My guide who was in the know about this surprise, didn’t want me to arrive before him!

60 miles to go!

 

Day Five April 29th

Today it rained cats and dogs and I had good reason to reflect upon my footwear. To date I have been wearing a sturdy pair of trainers given to me by a friend called Tony. I will come to the Orpheus link later. Tony and his wife Pat have been friends for 50 plus years and once when we were skiing together it was discovered Tony and I had the same size show when one morning one of us went off with the other’s boots by mistake. Tony has had to give up sport in recent years and has over time passed over shoes to me. Unfortunately, I was to discover today that the afore-mentioned trainers were not waterproof and I returned home with sodden socks and squelching feet. I have of course sent him a written complaint!

Now for the Orpheus links: Tony and Pat have supported all the Orpheus shows and Pat used to be a volunteer. They have run successful exclusive menswear shops in Wallington and Sutton. A few years back, Tony offered to donate as a gift a brand new very expensive suit to former student Angus Morton. I arranged to take him to the shop and he was fitted out with a suit of his choice. The staff in the shop hadn’t met him and so we asked Angus to sing for them, which he did. Like everyone who hears him, they were bowled over by the rich and powerful sound, and passers by outside stopped to look in and listen!

 

Day Four April 28th

I have been bowled over by the number of donations already from friends and strangers. It really spurs me on. I have been reflecting today on another former student Rory Dyer. Rory was the very first student to be enrolled at Orpheus and when I became a volunteer soon after, he was the first person to greet me and introduce himself. We have been in close touch ever since. Rory has been in every of one of my productions and is of course going to be performing in the postponed Strictly Youthful show. He has a big personality and a great talent for performance poetry among other things. He has already learned by heart the comic cat poem from the illustrated book I have written for and which will on sale at the show. Rory is in Devon staying with his parents at present. He has a flat in London where i visit him regularly, armed with a bottle of wine and a dessert for lunch. The delicious main course is cooked by his PA Raoul. And here’s another Orpheus link. Raoul who is Mexican was once a residential volunteer at Orpheus. He has remained in England ever since.

 

Day Three April 27th

As it was on the two previous days, the sun was shining for my walk. The only sounds were the crunch of gravel beneath my feet and the song of the birds above. It was so peaceful. I am intending to play music along the route at some point but I haven’t felt the need yet. Reflecting is enough. Another person who constantly inspires me is former student Charlotte Rowling. She too comes with me on my talks and is a great Orpheus ambassador. She has an exquisite singing voice. Over the years I have seen her blossom and grow in confidence. At the moment, she is sending out a song online each week. The pinnacle of her musical achievement has to be her rendering of the aria Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute where she reaches top notes that few sopranos can reach, even in the professional world. It always brings a standing ovation from amazed audiences. Keep singing to us Charlotte! 

You can watch Charlotte singing here. 

 

Day Two April 26th

Although a lot of the terrain is challenging, there is one flat stretch during which I find myself reflecting on things, many of which relate to Orpheus and which then prepare me for the big challenge of THE HILL which has to be tackled at the end. Today my thoughts turned to former student Jo Langston, whose family, incidentally were one of the first to sponsor me. Jo, who is visually impaired, was, at the beginning of the Lockdown, very upset and thought she would never be able to sing to people or play her drums with her band again. And no more visiting her favourite haunt, the garden centre, Polhill. However, she is now in her garage on her exercise machine walking miles each day and raising money herself. Jo often accompanies me on my talks to WI groups and always endears herself to everyone. She is a wonderful ambassador for Orpheus. So thanks Jo, you helped me scale THE HILL!

 

Day One April 25th

“The Hills are alive with the Sound of... puffing and panting.”

Today was the official start of my challenge, the day when we should have been having the planned Strictly Youthful show at Orpheus. I had been doing the chosen circuit each day for some while with my husband Chris, but not four times in succession. But at least I knew what I was in for. I had done all I could to let every possible contact know beforehand. The village shop had a poster, Orpheus collecting box and leaflets on the counter and it was on every member of the family’s Facebook. The Orpheus team set up the link and did the publicity their end. There was no going back now!

The first donation, a generous £50, came from an unexpected source. My son Kester who lives in Paris was holding a Pop Quiz that evening and he made people donate to me in order to enter!

The pattern of the 4 mile daily walk was to be that Chris would accompany me for the 3rd mile and then have the kettle on ready for my return from the final stagger up the steep hill home from the last lap. All went to plan on Day One.

60 miles to go!