SPX Flow volunteers at West Berkshire Mencap

Staff from SPX Flow in Newbury have volunteered their time to help West Berkshire Mencap this week.

The team of five engineers and fitters spent a day carrying out an extreme makeover of the charity’s sensory garden and sports field at the Enborne Gate headquarters.

As well as mowing the grass which had grown to waist height, plus cutting back weeds to make the field usable for team events and sports for children with learning disabilities, the volunteers completely transformed the sensory garden just in time for the charity’s open day.

The sensory garden provides a quiet space for people with learning disabilities to immerse themselves in and to explore their senses.

SPX assembly supervisor Mick Whittaker, who is set to retire from the firm later this year after 49 years of service, said: “We wanted to do something practical to help so we took an in-house poll to see which local charity staff wanted to support. West Berkshire Mencap received the most votes, so we got in touch to see if there was anything they wanted done.

“It’s been really good to see the results of our work and the impact it’s had on the people who have benefited.”

Leila Ferguson, chief executive of West Berkshire Mencap, added: “We are so grateful to the volunteers from SPX Flow who have made such a difference to us by offering their help.  We have been absolutely astounded by their willingness to throw themselves into helping in such a practical way. They have already made such a visible difference to the charity’s surroundings.”



Sports day


Like most people, I’ve been transfixed by the World Athletics Championships from the comfort of my sofa. You wouldn’t think so to look at me now, but I used to be a keen sprinter and would happily participate in other events such as the high jump and middle distances to earn points for our athletics team. Then middle age and a love of food/beer took over and now the only time I exercise is when I get exercised by the self-service tills in the supermarket and such like.




So the last athletics event I watched was small son’s school sports day a couple of weeks ago. The school had drawn out lanes going downhill across the field along with gazebos aplenty.  The children were divided into their houses (small son had happily been cheering the successes of all four so I wasn’t sure which one he was in until day) and were summoned up when required to the start line of the running races which also doubled as the venue for the throwing events.

When it came to his turn, I observed him sprint competitively to the start line. Four of them lined up and the race was started faltering by an older child who couldn’t decide  whether to say “1,2,3 GO!” or “one your marks” and was so confused by this that he allowed one of the competitors an absolutely appalling false start, while the rest, including small son, dawdled gamely to the finish line.

Without having the opportunity for me to explain the concept of racing, he was back on the start line – this time for the hurdles, while parents, other children and stray jumpers multiplied across the running track and behind the finish line (which was incidentally being held by two girls who kept chatting and then letting go of the finish line before the runners had reached it, rendering it useless).  Small son then took part in the hurdles where he was so busy waving at me and congratulating himself on successfully negotiating the first one that he swanned in second, completely oblivious to the concept of racing or competition. Compare that to when I jokingly suggest we race to the house and he throws a tantrum if I edge in front of him.


Having said that, the mums race was split into two halves and I only came third in mine. I did have a dislocated knee and 20 years on the winner though.

Having watched the heartbreak of the Botswana athlete who was refused entry to the World Championships tonight, I wonder if the school sports day might be deliberately chaotic to help future sports stars deal with heartbreak?






The Great Brick Safari

Visitors to Marwell Zoo this summer can enjoy seeing an additional 81 animals this summer – only these ones are amazing LEGO sculptures!

Bordon-based LEGO building company Bright Bricks used over two million bricks to make the incredible sculptures which are inspired by Marwell’s own animals. The collection represents 27 species and includes a 1.5-tonne elephant, a Bengal tiger and a lion plus an ostrich and a pair of warthogs.

My five-year-old son was enthralled by all of the Lego animals and particularly loved the 1.5 tonne elephant – which took a team of six builders 1,600 hours to build – and the cheeky animatronic meerkats.

But it wasn’t just the children who were captivated by the trail, the adults were also wowed and seemed to relish the opportunity to get creative after gaining inspiration from the experts. A marquee guarded by two more sculptures gives visitors the chance to help with a record-breaking attempt to build the world’s longest Lego python and you can also build a Lego penguin to add to the March of the Penguins display. There is a Lego pit containing 140,000 bricks which means you can really put your imagination to the test and build your own creation!

Visitors have the opportunity to win a tour of the Bright Bricks headquarters in Bordon, by guessing the number of bricks that were used to build the elephant named “Earl Grey” in a public vote.

The Great Brick Safari is included with general admission and runs from 1 August until 1 October.




Woolton Hill Junior School partners with West Berkshire Mencap

Woolton Hill Junior School has unveiled its new sports kit for the forthcoming school year, provided courtesy of West Berkshire Mencap.


The new kit was presented to the school by the charity’s representative Phil King at the last celebration assembly of the academic year.

It will be worn for sports ranging from football, rugby, athletics and netball and parts of the kit will even form the uniform for dodgeball, golf and archery or any sporting event where children will be representing the school.

Mr King added: “It’s quite unusual for a charity to sponsor a kit like this, but we are delighted to invest in a mutually-beneficial relationship that will raise awareness of the work that West Berkshire Mencap does locally for people with learning disabilities, plus to acknowledge the great work that Woolton Hill Junior School does to ensure inclusivity.  We are looking forward to additional opportunities to work with the school and wish all of the sports teams of all ages the very best of luck for the next season.”

Yvonne Standing, headteacher at Woolton Hill Junior School, added: “The school is represented at lots of sporting events and having a bespoke sports kit means that the pupils will look the part and really be able to take pride in their appearance. We are proud at Woolton Hill Junior School that we have children of all abilities so it’s great to work with West Berkshire Mencap and we are delighted to help them heighten awareness of the valuable service they provide in the local community.”


“A Secret Sisterhood” talk at Hungerford Bookshop


Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney talk about their book which explores the friendships between famous female authors.

Writing tends to be a solitary activity. When you think of literary greats such as Jane Austen and George Eliot, it’s often a mental image of them writing industriously in splendid isolation.


However, a new book A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney has uncovered the hidden literary friendships of the world’s most respected female authors. Inspired by their own friendship and encouragement for each other, Sweeney and Midorkikawa embarked on research into previously unpublished letters and diaries, proving that everyone needs support and someone to bounce ideas around with.

The pair talked to a full Hungerford Bookshop on Thursday evening about their new book and why these female friendships are not as well-known as male ones such as Byron and Shelley or Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

The talk revealed Jane Austen’s bond with a family servant, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp and why the Austen family were keen to keep this quiet. Sharp was the governess of Jane Austen’s niece but does not appear in any biographies even though she was one of a select list of first people to receive presentation copies of her novels.

The pair also explored the friendships of Charlotte Bronte, who was a friend of feminist writer Mary Taylor despite their first meeting when Taylor announced that she found Bronte “very ugly” at boarding school. However, they were brought together by the love of a good political argument and their differing views helped each other see the world from opposing standpoints. They encouraged each other to make a living from their writing and Mary’s feedback on Jane Eyre was that it was not radical enough and gave such frank advice that her next novel Shirley was more openly political.

Midorikawa and Sweeney also spoke on the transatlantic relationship between George Eliot and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who never actually met in real life. Their correspondence had never been published to date and Sweeney and Midorikawa found a number of letters that showed a unique insight between the two who were the most famous writers of their time on either side of the Atlantic.

Lastly, they discussed the relationship between Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, a fantastically complex relationship which Sweeney and Midorikawa nearly dismissed believing them to be enemies. Woolf accused Mansfield of ‘stinking like a civet cat that has taken to street walking’ which doesn’t sound like the language of close friends but belied a ‘robust’ friendship that was so strong that Woolf struggled to continue writing when Mansfield died at the age of 33.

With these literary heroines’ achievements and relationships downplayed in the past, it’s reassuring to know that women have always sought strength and support from others throughout history. Sweeney summed up saying: “The truth is that intelligent, creative women have always collaborated and we feel that this is surely the moment to pass that on to our daughters.”





Festival must-haves -the Wash Wizard

We’ve just had this intriguing parcel arrive through the post – a Wash Wizard!

Wash Wizard.jpgAs avid festival goers, the showering situation is always something at the forefront of our minds, particularly with a small son who is permanently sticky. At the festivals we’ve been to, there’s either no showers, or a massive queue to use them. We usually have a kind of blanket bath using a bowl, soap and a microfibre cloth.

So I was fascinated by The Wash Wizard. It’s a complete body wash sponge to which you just add a drop of water. This activates the aloe vera foam, and  the natural ingredients mean you can just air dry!

The young founders of the company say: “No more queuing at grim public showers with 500 other people, or, worse, discovering there are no showers.  Liberate yourself from soap, towels and the need for running water, simply pack your Wash Wizard, safe in the knowledge that you can be shower fresh within minutes, wherever you are. So, if you’re working out in the wilderness, off to a festival, camping, or travelling to the middle of nowhere with just a rucksack, wave goodbye to soap, towels and running water and say hello to Wash Wizard, the new way to shower without actually showering.”

Wash Wizard is hypoallergenic and fragrance free, and completely green and recyclable. RRP £7.99 is for five sponges, with a percentage of the profits going to charities for the homeless.  Available from amazon.co.uk

 For more information go to www.wash-wizard.co.uk


We missed the beginning but saw an unusual balletic performance at Greenham Business Park yesterday courtesy of 101 Outdoor Arts.

Fortunately it was a beautiful hot day as the audience moved with the cast who used the outdoor and indoor spaces on the business park to create a remarkable piece about belongings, belonging and the transient nature of everything that surrounds us. Awesome stuff.


National Fudge Day (16th June 2017)

Happy National Fudge Day!

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There are all kind of weird and wonderful awareness days out there – so what’s different about National Fudge Day?  Well, as well as a day created for you to indulge guilt-free in a fantastic treat, there’s a lot to love about fudge – there are flavours of all kinds. You can buy it here or you can make your own. It’s a great gift and it is bound to put a smile on someone’s face just by mentioning it.

On a slightly more serious note, it also tends to be handmade and companies that make it stick to the traditional recipes and methods.  Buttermilk Fudge in Cornwall uses a recipe created way back that uses copper pans and ingredients are sourced locally where possible. When you think about manufacturing in this country, you tend to think of steel and consumer products, but don’t forget that there is a base devoted to this fabulous treat!



The world’s biggest tunnel slide

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“It’s not scary”, said the woman who helped me get into the mat/sleeping bag as the woman in front of me shrieked her way down.

To mark another successful journey around the sun (in other words, my birthday) I thought I’d celebrate by having a go on the world’s biggest slide at the Arcelor Mittal Orbit at London’s Olympic Park. Having worked on a project that meant I saw the slide being built had whetted my appetite and was also strangely reassuring when it came to the safety and solidity aspect!

So the day of the slide came and I turned up at Stratford East station, realising that for some reason I was wearing a skirt. I tried to nip into one of the clothes shops to get some trousers, but either everyone had the same problem as me, or it was a standard Saturday and it was crazily busy.

Time was ticking by and I now needed to run to the tower to get to my turn at 5pm. You have your bags searched, naturally, and then the receptionist explains that you can put your stuff in a locker and go straight up, or you can get the lift to the top floor, have a look round and then come back down before heading back up again. Makes sense?


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I recommend that you do have alook at the top, with phone in hand, as the views extend about 20 miles and you get a good view of Canary Wharf, central London and of the aquatics centre and Olympic stadium.  You can also see people begin their descent – either by slide or abseil!

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You then queue up and there’s an expectant chatter while you wait, punctuated every minute or so by someone screaming their way down the slide.  It’s pretty much how I imagine a labour ward to be.

You get a helmet, or sorts which will make you look like Ron Weasley off to play Quidditch, plus arm protectors if you are so absorbed with remembering to wear trousers that you forget to wear long sleeves. (I forgot this too).

You inch to the top of the slide, and there’s a screen showing happy people emerge at the bottom of the chute (I said it was like a labour ward, didn’t I?). But for now, you have to prepare yourself for the descent. You get into what looks like the tray leading up to the airport luggage scanner where the staff unfurl a mat that has a pocket for your feet. You grab the handles, scooch into position and then get pushed!


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I congratulated myself on not screaming, but the speed is immense and as I whizzed and careered round corners in and out of the dark, I did let out some involuntary squeals. It’s over in just 34 seconds, but it’s such an adrenaline ride. I’ll be back soon, but sadly for a very excited small son, you need to be 8 years old to ride.


Video here: http://arcelormittalorbit.com/whats-on/the-slide/