RIP William G Stewart – 15-1

We were sorry to hear about the death of William G Stewart. My dad and I both appeared on the hit quiz show 15-1 that he created, produced and hosted in the 1990s.

Needless to say, my dad did much better than I did. I got my own name wrong and was out before the advert break (which from memory tended to be for adjustable beds and Otex eardrops), but dad got to the last three and got hilariously difficult questions while the other two had such doozies as having to name this: Screenshot (15).png

Having played a game of 15-1 at the audition in Plymouth, I couldn’t believe that I was invited onto the show, until a friend helpfully suggested that “they must get through quite a lot of contestants, and they probably need some at the lower end of the spectrum”.  Thanks.

We travelled up to Putney and stayed overnight with other quizzers in a nearby hotel before heading to the studio the next day.  This was the 1990s, remember, so things were decidedly lo-tech, and I always wonder what it would be like to appear on the contemporary version with Sandi Toksvig.

Screenshot (13)

The studio is tiny and the audience was a handful of contestants’ guests sitting on some school chairs.  The set seemed to be held together by gaffer tap and was much smaller than it seems on TV. They applied A LOT of make up to my face, before inviting us to select your number from a hat (between 15 and 1, of course.  I was 8, which meant that I appear behind the quizmaster a lot looking terrified) and they check the spelling of your name. I was so scared, I went blank and this took ages.

I then recall that the man at number 7 asked me if I’d like a Polo mint and as I’m unfailingly hilarious, I said; “Just the middle please”. He looked completely confused and then got both of his starter questions wrong. My fault; I’ve been carrying that one for 20 years.

The man himself then came out and made us all feel at home. He was extremely charming and efficient; firm but fair.  During my dad’s programme, one contestant kicked up a fuss about getting his question wrong believing it to be ambiguous. Stewart told him to investigate and write back. “If we’re wrong, we’ll give £50 to the charity of your choice” he said.

He told me to relax my shoulders as “they are around your ears” and asked me my name. This was the first question I got wrong. “PLYMOUTH” I shouted.

The rest of the programme went by very quickly and I remember the horrible sensation of having to nominate people. The question that knocked me out was about “trompe l’oeil”. Twenty-year old me had never heard of it, but it’s a term I hear all the bloody time now. Thank God this was before the age of social media!

So William G has joined the great gameshow in the sky along with Bruce Forsyth and Bob Monkhouse. RIP and thanks for 15-1.






New patron for West Berkshire Mencap

West Berkshire Mencap has announced its newest charity patron – Josh Dugdale.

The filmmaker and owner of the Wasing Estate joins a list of famous patrons including actor Lorraine Chase and celebrity chef Daniel Galmiche who support the charity and raise awareness of the work it does for people with learning disabilities and their families.

Mr Dugdale has supported West Berkshire Mencap for years, but decided to become a patron recently owing to the enthusiasm and leadership of its chief executive Leila Ferguson.

He said: “West Berkshire Mencap is an amazing charity doing incredible work, and it’s a great honour to help. Without the key work that they do – staff, volunteers and families- I can see that there would be an enormous gap to fill, so it’s a privilege to lend support.”

Leila Ferguson added: “We are so grateful to all of our wonderful patrons and are excited that Josh is joining the team. He is a busy man and has such amazing experiences under his belt from founding the Glade Festival to documentary making that we’re thrilled to have him on board. We hope to collaborate with Josh to put on a fantastic Mad Hatter’s tea party in the ground of Wasing in the future to help raise funds for the charity.”

West Berkshire Mencap continues to organise fund-raising events in order to ensure the organisation can continue to provide services. Its next major events are a wine tasting event at Englefield on Friday, 29th September, a murder mystery event on Friday, 20th October, a quiz on Friday, 10th November and its annual race day in early 2018.


Northcroft Lido (and a whirlwind tour of other outdoor pools!)

19 Northcroft outdoor pool.jpg

So another season over too soon. I always have a mad panic in the final few days before Northcroft Lido in Newbury closes its doors, thinking that I must spend every spare minute in the water to avoid ‘swimmer’s remorse’*.

The weather has been hit and miss, but on hot days, there have been big crowds; it’s always heartening for me to see plenty of people on a cooler day. Much as I love having the pool to myself in the rain, we’d all much rather that the pool was well used!

So while Northcroft has closed early, we decided to venture a bit further to see what other lidos are in the area.

First up was CIRENCESTER which is a lovely 25m pool in the heart of the beautiful Cotswolds town dating back to 1869. There’s a gorgeous walk through the sandy brown streets to find it (because I couldn’t locate the car park) and it’s set under a stunning castle-like office building and most of the pool has been renovated. There’s a slide (that I was too old/fat) to go on and a reasonably big children’s pool.


Next was Cheltenham’s Sandford Parks Lido where I took small son who has been asking to return – he particularly fell in love with the slide!  This pool dates back to 1935 and is an art deco stunner with green spaces, a fountain, fantastic old school changing facilities and a huge café.



Next up was Portishead!



This is a glamorous affair. It put me in mind of how I used to picture the sea pool in Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books where the girls swam in a pool filled with sea water. Looking at the sea with a gorgeous café behind me, I honestly forgot about the stresses of life. As well as a swim in the 33m immaculately clean pool I was lucky enough to meet one of the trustees, who also happens to be the co-author of a forthcoming guide to every lido in the country. It needs a bit more support, but we NEED this, so check it out here:


*an as yet unrecognised condition!

The one where we go on the set of Friends

“So no one told you life was going to be this way…”


“And if you have a look in the freezer, you’ll find Joey’s Stephen King novel”.  For Friends fans, this sentence makes perfect sense set in the context of Chandler and Joey’s apartment referencing the episode where Rachel encourages Joey to read Little Women.

We were at Blenheim Palace on the set of Friends, celebrating the 236 episodes of a series that had a remarkable impact on hair dos, friendships, and even the way we speak: “Could I BE any more excited?” “That is SO not true!”

Small son of course had never heard of it, so our first stop at FriendsFest at Blenheim was to plonk ourselves  in front of a giant screen showing clips from all nine series. He loved it and ever since has  been quoting Joey in particular.



“The third day. All right? Monday, one day. Tuesday, two day. Wednesday, when? Huh? What day? Thursday! The third day! Okay?”



“Are you wearing two belts?”

After educating him in all things Friends, we looked briefly at the Lincoln High photo shoot and the Las Vegas chapel before launching straight into Central Perk where we sat on the sofa and pretended to sing “Smelly Cat”.



We then recreated the opening titles and then checked out Chandler and Joey’s reclining chairs and boat, the hallway and then Monica and Rachel’s apartment. It was great to see it, but we were among hundreds of other people so it didn’t feel particularly real.  The timed tour also gave fans the opportunity to see some of the costumes, including the ‘holiday armadillo’, plus the famous white dog statue and other props.


Small son was taken with the cop car and Phoebe’s taxi, while I was tickled by the quotes everywhere and the food options including Monica’s Moondance diner.

It was slightly pricey, but now small son is as obsessed as I am and the two of us haven’t stopped singing the theme tune since, so it must have been good.

Now sold out for the rest of the dates, the tour takes in Hylands House in Essex and then Clissold Park, London.




Regent Lettings, Newbury, marks its 10th anniversary

Regent Lettings boat trip - pic by Stuart March.jpg

Pic by Stuart March

Newbury lettings agency Regent Lettings has marked its tenth anniversary with a celebratory cruise along the Kennet and Avon Canal.

The firm was founded by husband-and-wife team Graeme and Gill Leech in 2007 and since then has grown in strength and reputation as a specialist, local residential letting agency.

Along with staff, clients were invited to the special event on the horse-drawn ‘Kennet Valley’ barge that departed from Kintbury.  The evening included a buffet from Inner Circle Catering, and champagne to celebrate.  There was a speech by Mr Leech and a raffle in aid of West Berkshire Mencap.


Regent Lettings is an established, independent agency that is a member of ARLA (Association of Residential Lettings Agents).  It offers managed and non-managed services, including impartial advice on property investment in the local area. Regent carries out accompanied viewings, full referencing, video inventories for accuracy, prepares tenancy agreements, lodges deposits with the DPS (Deposit Protection Service), carries out regular property visits and keeps up-to-date with the ever-changing legislation.

Mr Leech said: “We’re so appreciative to everyone who has supported us on our lettings journey over the last 10 years and delighted that they are able to share the celebration with us.

“Our ethos is to treat every property we work with as if it is our own. We work hard to match the right tenant with the right property and all of the rental properties in our care are supported by our team of local property specialists.

“Our aim is to be the most trusted and respected agency in the area by providing expert advice to clients.”





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.”