Frank Ellis, member of the Forum for 20 years, gave another of his popular talks about light entertainment. In “Meet the Ramsbottoms” he told the story of the Albert monologues. Albert and the Lion proved so popular that the young boy had to be brought back to life in 14 further monologues including the ferryman across the Mersey and the search for “a recumbent posture”. Frank has often shown us that humour is very local in its appeal, yet the Albert stories were told by Stanley Holloway, a Cockney. They were written by Marriott Edgar, a Scotsman from Kirkcudbright, who was the half-brother of thriller writer Edgar Wallace. Frank finished his talk by reciting the original lion monologue and sat down to loud applause.
Our speaker was Tony Burkitt who came through the fog from Burley-in-Wharfedale to talk about RBS, the credit crunch and “me “. Tony worked for Royal Bank of Scotland for many years but retired before the era of Fred Goodwin. The bank was set up in 1727 to rival the Bank of Scotland which was thought to harbour Jacobite sympathies. As late as 1992 the Chief Executive before Goodwin sold Charterhouse as he did not believe that retail and risky investment banking went together. The ethos changed with Goodwin’s arrival. A successful merger with the much larger NatWest made Fred Goodwin something of a megalomaniac, opening a vast new HQ in Edinburgh and disastrously purchasing the Dutch bank ABN Anro. In 2008 shares plunged from £17 to 10p. The causes of the global 2008 crisis can be traced back in the UK and USA back to the 70s and 80s when owner occupation and light regulation of the banks were encouraged. Bill Clinton’s role in encouraging sub-prime mortgages in the USA led to the fall of “Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac”. Worst of all was the financial engineering encouraged by investment in derivatives.
Tony explained a complicated subject as clearly as anybody could in 1 hour. Neil Ramshaw, who has experience in the same field, gave an excellent vote of thanks.
This week Brian Currin gave his personal story as a white boy growing up in Africa, during which we learned that he had been the captain of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union team in the 1991 World Cup. Brian’s family association with Africa went back as far as 1841 when his ancestors had been shipwrecked at the Cape of Good Hope on the way to New Zealand and had chosen to remain. Rhodesia had been governed by the British South Africa Company until self-government in 1923 but British governments refused Ian Smith total independence because he would not submit to African majority rule, “not for 1000 years”.
UDI followed and for a time the isolated regime flourished and Brian grew up in an idyllic society for the white settlers. By 1977 terrorist activity and diplomatic pressure increased and Brian’s father spent 6 weeks as an army officer fighting rebel forces and 6 weeks in his day job, a pattern which continued for 3 years. Eventually Robert Mugabe took over in 1980 as leader of an independent Zimbabwe and initially made a good impression – Brian’s father in law was in the government yet 20 years later his farm was taken over by war veterans at 6 hours notice. An uncle was beaten for 4 hours and we were shown the horrifying results. 3million of Zimbabwe’s 12 million population now live in exile – most of them black. After a period in Kenya Brian now lives in the UK but he still has hope for the future after Mugabe. There are only 50000 white people left in the country but the black majority are resilient and optimistic despite Mugabe’s tyranny, general lawlessness and hyper inflation which led in 2005 to the issuing of 100 trillion dollar banknotes.
Our speaker this week was Professor Martin Curzon, retired Professor of Paediatric Dentistry at Leeds University, who spoke with wit and authority about the history of chocolate and its supposed and actual role in health. Chocolate certainly had not harmed Great Uncle Harry who had lived to 105 despite being a chocoholic! Originally chocolate came from a tree in the Amazon 4000 years ago and was known to the Aztecs as a bitter drink. Later it was drunk mainly by women in coffee houses, sugar being added to make it palatable. Various medical benefits from laxative properties to relief of tiredness were claimed for chocolate.
Modern chocolate took off with the development of dark chocolate bars by Van Houten from 1828 onwards.
In England chocolate production was dominated by Quaker families like Rowntree, who saw chocolate as a pleasurable alternative to alcohol. Professor Curzon has investigated the organo-leptic properties of chocolate. It is high in endorphins which give pleasure and stimulate the brain. Dark chocolate in particular does no harm to the teeth and chocolate toothpaste has even been suggested. The large number of questions at the end of the talk showed how well Mr Curzon had captured our interest.
6 new members were welcomed by new Chairman Bill Blades at the first meeting of the 2012-13 season. Veteran life member Reg Jackson received a round of applause as he had recently celebrated his 99th birthday. Our speaker Terry Frazier returned with the second part of his German talk about the Dam Busters and the Great Escape, which followed a holiday in the country recently. Both stories are familiar to most of us because of the war films of the 50s and 60s but Terry’s clear exposition emphasised some things which some of us did not know or had forgotten. Bomber Harris for example described Barnes Wallis’s idea of the bouncing bomb as “tripe of the wildest description” but was over-ruled by Churchill who wanted to cripple German industry. Actually the breaching of the Eder and Mohne dams was repaired much more quickly than expected but 24000 German troops were diverted from building the Atlantic Wall which greatly helped the Allies on D-day. The Great Escape was organised by Allied POWs at Sagan (now Zagan), now a museum and a partial re-creation. The ingenuity of the men under Roger Bushell was amazing; they built a 330 foot tunnel complete with primitive air conditioning. Sadly the tunnel did not quite reach far enough. Only 3 escaped and 50 were executed on Hitler’s orders including Bushell. Similarly 53 young airmen did not return from the Dambusters raid. We enjoyed an excellent presentation but also left reflecting on the sad waste of life which was involved.