Reports of Coffee Morning meetings 2021 and previously

2021 February

Lady dressed in 18th century dress in plum silk

Sarah Slater, a Hampton Court guide, was our Speaker in February 2021

In mesmerising, graphic detail Sara Slater, a tour guide at Hampton Court Palace, took us on a jolly romp with her tales of Sex, Secrets, Scandal & Salacious Gossip of the Royal Court from 1660-1830.  After the downfall of Cromwell and the restoration of the monarchy, the upper classes and the aristocracy celebrated in ways which made the 1920s and 1960s appear tame.  Charles II, known as the Merry Monarch because of his hedonism, led the way.  He acknowledged 13 of his lovers (Nell Gwyn being the most famous), but there were many more and many illegitimate children.  We heard the shocking tale (true?) of one of his lovers, Barbara Villiers, having an intimate encounter with a 250 year old mummified corpse discovered after the Fire of London.  William and Mary both had lovers and Lady Churchill was thought to be Queen Anne’s long term lover.  Other monarchs, including George I, and William IV also had lovers.  In the 18th century Harris’ List gave ‘Descriptions of Ladies of Pleasure’ around Covent Garden.  (In 1791 it sold 8,000 copies!)  In 1811 The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was published; Sara gave us some fine examples!  She went on to tell us how in the past people tried to prevent pregnancy (e.g. French letters made from sheep guts or bladders), to terminate a pregnancy (e.g. drinking the urine of a stallion), how ladies wearing long ball gowns went to the toilet (was that antique gravy boat you use really used for gravy?), and what women did before underwear or sanitary pads were invented (I’m not telling!).  There was so much more, including learning what ladies wore, from the skin outward.  It was an unforgettable coffee morning!   Report by Karen Mahony

January: Hearing dogs for the Deaf

January’s Zoom presentation on Hearing Dogs for the Deaf was fascinating, highly enjoyable and inspiring. I am guessing that most of the audience were, like me, ignorant of the role a dog can play in the life of someone hard of hearing. What hearing dogs do is change lives!

Margo told of her own experiences. After having to give up work because of her deteriorating hearing, she sometimes felt like retreating inside and closing all doors to the outside world. As she put it, ‘My hearing dog opened those doors.’ A hearing dog dispels the sense of isolation that deaf people often feel. The dog provides companionship and boosts a deaf person’s confidence, enabling them to take a full part in society, because they feel safer.

We heard how the charity Hearing Dogs for the Deaf trains the dogs from puppyhood. Over a period of 18 months they learn how to appropriately alert a person to important sounds, such as doorbells, the telephone, text alerts, timers and fire alarms. The charity has centres in Yorkshire and Buckinghamshire, but their clients are spread across the entire UK. Their success rate in matching dogs and humans is 97%.

Any of us can receive a dog, even if we live in a flat, in a busy city centre or have little money. Anyone can support the charity by sponsoring a dog ( I feel certain that after this inspiring talk many of our listeners will have done just that. Report by Karen Mahony


December: Fool’s Gold

Fool’s Gold Christmas Show had it all: Christmas songs, seasonal stories and wonderful Christmassy images. Carol sang and played the flute beautifully, while her husband Steve accompanied her on guitar and captivated everyone with his accomplished story-telling.  He told us about the Norwegian Tomte – a grumpy old bearded gnome who lives in the eaves of houses and who must be given a bowl of porridge and a tipple on Christmas Eve – or else!  We also heard surprising stories about the composers of some of our popular Christmas songs.

The audience was encouraged to take part using the Zoom chat and reactions features, to sing along at home and to take part in a ‘guess the year’ quiz.  All through the show on the screen behind Steve and Carol appeared a marvellous array of continuously changing visuals:  snowy fields and forests, snow-covered hills and cottages, lambs rescued from snowdrifts, clips from animated Christmas films and amazing pictures from the winter of 1947.

Anyone watching who had not been in the Christmas mood before would surely have been by the end of the show!   Karen Mahony


New! If you were at any of the Coffee Mornings, you can tell the members what you thought! Go to the Coffee Mornings forum

November : The Great Flood of Florence, by Janet Diamond

Janet Diamond’s presentation, the Great Flood of Florence, was riveting – not only because of the hour by hour drama she described in detail, illustrated by dozens of wonderful photographs, but because of her enthusiasm and thorough knowledge of the event.  Florence had always flooded, but not for centuries to the height it reached on Nov 4, 1966.  After engineers opened the flood gates of two dams on the River Arno (in order to save them), ‘a catastrophic cocktail’ of water, mud, trees, cars, carrion, sewage and oil smashed into the city.  This beautiful city, cradle of the Renaissance, lost so much: millions of ancient frescos, paintings, statues, books,  precious archives and more.  150 people lost their lives. We heard of the heroes, some of whom risked their lives or worked themselves to exhaustion: the mayor, the ‘Mud Angels’, thousands of ordinary people who came from around the world to help (including a man from Somerset who ferried works of art to higher ground in his Land Rover).  The rich and famous donated money or set up aid organisations, including Jackie Onassis, Picasso and Franco Zeffirelli. Since 1966 the banks of the Arno have been raised and the Arno River Basin Authority created.  Hopefully, Florence will never experience such flooding again. Fingers crossed!  Karen Mahony


October:  Butterflies and Moths by Dr Ian Bedford

Man with microscope

Dr Ian Bedford

Dr Ian Bedford, a very knowledgeable speaker, gave us a fascinating talk about butterflies and moths and how we can all help to assist in conservation of these vitally important creatures in our gardens.   We were delighted to learn about the lifecycle of the ‘Painted Lady’ for example.  This butterfly migrates from North Africa to the UK – taking several GENERATIONS to accomplish this feat!  It then travels even further, heading up to northern Europe almost to the Arctic, before making a return trip back home to Morocco – astounding!  Another astonishing creature is the Elephant Hawk Moth, whose caterpillar is one of the largest seen in the UK.  It has ‘eyes’ and a spiny ‘tail’ and can be mistaken for a slug.  Not to be squished, however,  Dr Bedford wore his learning lightly and helped us to delight in these and other natural history facts.  There are butterflies living in a symbiotic relationship with ants, for instance.  The ants ‘foster’ the butterfly larvae, and even help them ‘launch’ into the great wide world, in return for a bit of a sugar snack.  The more one hears about the natural world the more one appreciates that there is so much more to learn.   Although there are not as many butterflies about as there were, we can all do our bit by providing flowers and as importantly, overwintering habitats.  Don’t get rid of that nettle patch – there are living things that need that environment to survive!   Hilary Fisk

See Ian’s website at


September:  Suffragettes and Suffragists by Melanie Gibson-Barton

a green white and purple suffragette brooch

A Suffragette brooch


It was good to see more than 40 of our U3A members at the September coffee morning on Zoom enjoying the presentation.  The term ‘Suffragette’ will always be associated with women’s fight for the vote, but Melanie’s interesting talk presented an insight into what was a century-long struggle for electoral equality.  We learned the difference between ‘Suffragette’ and ‘Suffragist’, as well as how the personalities of key players shaped their campaigns and even about the influence of fashion on events.   Many of us who thought we knew quite a lot about ‘Votes for Women’ had to reassess our view.  There was far more to it than we were aware of:  the Suffragists, although more moderate in their actions, actually made a greater contribution to the eventual success of the campaign than did the more headline-grabbing Suffragettes.  Margaret Shaw

See Melanie’s website at


March – July inclusive there was a hiatus in Coffee Mornings, due to the Coronavirus Emergency.



Samantha Fraser with Hilary Fisk


Samantha Fraser: Riverlands Project –  Porlock Vale and Streams

What the National Trust is doing to reduce the impacts of climate change and habitat loss, and to bring back nature.  A presentation on the river voles on the Holnicote Estate, ‘Stage 0’ and more…


NT’s Holnicote Estate webpage



January – Open Day at the Beach Hotel

Coffee mornings 2019