A member's blog
I have been a WI member for over 40 years in various English counties. More than half this time I have spent in Buckinghamshire. I am interested in all crafts, reading and writing and in travel.
About a dozen of the WI members this evening had had to expend considerable powers of concentration at the Investigation and Discovery Day but were delighted to sit back to watch a restful demonstration of Ikebana by Ruriko Risai Kojima. Wearing traditional Japanese costume, she produced three flower arrangements in which she converted twigs that we would have confined to the bonfire into works of art.
The ballot for the Winslow WI Denman bursary was conducted and it was an appropriate time for the acting president to read out the letter from NFWI in response to adverse criticism of maintaining the College which had been aired in the Daily Mail.
The celebration of International Women’s Day this year has resulted in lots of media attention to the role of the WI in history and in present society. Many of our past resolutions have tackled inequality in different fields but this was a sort of blanket coverage of the unresolved issues. Another topic of interest to a crafty membership is the discovery that knitting is therapeutic in dealing with stress and anxiety. The clicking of knitting needles has been known to drive some out of the home but now it can be part of a programme of mindfulness.
Today I am wearing purple not just because I am already old and want to learn to spit but in memory of the fight which the Suffragettes waged to obtain the vote 100 years ago. How brave they were, not only physically but mentally as well! It takes a lot of courage to take up a banner and march in demonstrations even in the present time, when women are more visible in the public eye and much more confident in expressing their views. I was interested to hear at a talk given by Simon Heffer that the reason the women were granted the vote after the age of 30 was not because they were considered not to be mature enough to vote until they were 9 years older than males but because the government of the day wanted them at home to replace the loss of about two generations of the population in the Great War: don’t let the women have the opportunity of further education and a place in industry and the professions but keep them at home producing children.
Three generations of women have escaped having to fight for the right to vote so they are beholden to use it whenever the need arises. The WI is always in the forefront of sensible campaigns on behalf of the family and women’s welfare and are no longer bound by strict conventions on what is acceptable to be discussed in order to gain results. This week there is a question in Parliament about the practice of surgical mesh implants (Sling the Mesh) so why do some people think we cannot discuss FGM?
Every year once the short list for resolutions is released, it surprises me how many articles appear either in the national press or on the media on these very topics. This can be a good thing or not---are these ideas going to be old hat before the WI comes to discuss them in June or are they useful preparatory work as a build-up? Last year’s mandates are doing well. Lots of articles about plastic litter and measures to combat loneliness. The latter crosses over into the 2018 homelessness and modern slavery issues. The problems of self-image and the media and the selfie culture which is on the short list is appearing more often and also open talk about mental illness.
The sort of press interest we don’t need is people carping about the cost of the annual subscription and suggesting that the WI is closing branches. Is £41 for 11 meetings and for having the backup of a national organisation to look after our interests expensive? We are attracting younger members nationally although not locally. If we want younger members we really need evening WIs and operate where there are a lot of young women living and working. Reading the WI Life it seems to be the thirty year olds who are coming in perhaps to learn crafts but more likely to combat loneliness beyond work. Can we attract the older lonely too to get a good mix, since the sheltered accommodation these days is being built in the larger towns?
Our WI craft group has met twice since Christmas. We are turning our attention to making soft toy animals for the Annual Council Meeting competition. (This ties in with the resolutions about domestic abuse as the toys are to be given to women’s refuges). The book group has been reading The Girl on the Train which led to a lot of discussion about mental and physical abuse in the home. Because of a break over Christmas we had also read The Essex Serpent which was set in late Victorian times when women were beginning to question whether they had to obey convention and stay in the home rather than be educated and take an informed interest in the emergence of science and medicine.
So I’m back where I came in. We must not let the Suffragettes down by taking for granted all that they have won for us and remember that the early WI members were actively lending their support to their struggles. We can and should use their legacy to keep improving the lot of our families and others who find themselves suffering from injustice wherever they are.
The Resolution Selection Meeting was held at Gatehouse, Aylesbury this afternoon. The WI Advisers briefed us on the 5 resolutions on the short list to go to the Annual General Meeting at Cardiff in June next year. Every WI has the chance to send 2 representatives to hear a little more about the resolutions than is printed in the November WI Life magazine. They can then return to their WIs and hope to bring more information to their members before they hand in their preferred personal selection. In the old days, the advisers had to rely on written notes and do lots of homework for themselves but nowadays NFWI provides screened presentations and videos which can be used along side personal experience and research. This certainly makes the afternoon livelier and helps to lift the gloom induced by the topics under discussion. The two, one on Female Genital Mutilation and the other on Modern Slavery were second visits to previous subjects but more specific in their approach. The one on mental health is certainly very topical and may be a battle already half won. At first, I thought the problems of presenting a positive body image in the digital age was too lightweight to deserve a resolution but having listened to the presentation I could see there was more to this one than I had first considered. (Therein lies the importance of these selection meetings). However, the one on oral health strikes me as too minor to “waste” a resolution on. It is always difficult not to show one’s own bias when presenting the resolutions to one’s WI or indeed to an audience like todays---or on this blog!--- but obviously we will try. It is shaming that so many of the members feel that the resolution process shouldn’t take up part of two monthly meetings in the year. I am going to be very naughty and reveal an exchange in the break which absolutely made my day. A lady who had been travelling in Africa was talking about the abuse rampant against salamis! One of those moments which occur increasingly often at certain times of life. Of course, she realised almost immediately her mistake and we switched our sympathy towards the Somalis.
This morning there was the Jigsaw Swap coffee morning held in a member’s house. It was well attended by mostly WI members but a few Ramblers were there as well. Funds raised were split between the Denman College Appeal and Adoption UK so each charity received £50. One doesn’t need to buy or sell a jigsaw to attend: to sit around and talk is quite acceptable.
I have been meaning to visit the WI shop at Stuart Lodge and finally did so today. I didn’t do my homework beforehand so arrived when the craft people were engaged in a group session of decorating candles. Apparently the second Tuesday of the month there is always some kind of a craft going on. It didn’t matter as I could still browse around the shelves and chat to people I hadn’t seen for ages. Now I know about this activity I might bring some of the local craft group down---those who have never been to Stuart Lodge at all. It was a lovely drive south, past Chequers and under the golden leaves of the trees with the sun shining AND a roe deer stepped out into the road ahead of me, surveyed the approaching cars and returned the way he had come. Of course, I hadn’t got a camera so missed recording a really magic moment.
Having been away from base for a couple of weeks, some of my news is second hand. I hear that the Craft Fair at the Gateway, Aylesbury was a great success and wonder of wonders, it was reported in our local paper complete with photos. Recently our WI seems to have dropped off the radar of the Bucks Advertiser. Someone kindly recorded the “Jammin’ with the WI” session on Wycombe Sound Radio for me. Didn’t Pat, Judith and Kath do well? Obviously, naturals at chatting around a mike! If you missed it, tune in to 106.6fm for the next recording as it is going to be a regular feature every third Thursday of the month. The site will be a wonderful way to promote our WI events.
Nearer to home I learn that despite gloomy predictions of possible closure because of lack of nominees for next year’s officers, the local WI found the necessary volunteers so we are set for another year. I didn’t think we would allow ourselves to fall by the wayside as we approach our centenary. But what is it about modern women that they think they are too busy to take on an office in the WI but are quite happy to undertake most of the jobs necessary for the running of the WI?
The local WI had a stall at the Farmers’ Market on the 5th November which was very successful raising over £200 for funds. There was no shortage of volunteers to donate prizes, to man the stall nor people to buy tickets for the wrapped tombola. We were very fortunate to have a bright dry day which encouraged the public to stand around and chat.
The Happy Stitchers met on Monday afternoon and on Wednesday evening the WI Discussion Group talked about robots in the workplace. Most present had done a bit of homework on the topic so it was quite an informative session. We went back to the attitudes of the Luddites to automation in the textile industry and on to the modern robots working in huge warehouses at trade distribution centres, drones and even (dare I say?) life-size sex toys. We are all involved and benefitting from programmed machines but fear for the loss of jobs for those unqualified to execute anything but the routine manual activities. However, in some instances increased and feared automation had resulted in more employment rather than the fall predicted eg. automated telephone exchanges. The face to face human interaction social tasks will not disappear---in fact they will become more and more important---so the youngsters need training here. We also thought that there should be more recognition of apprenticeships to educate people to take an active part in the world away from the virtual reality of the screens.
Like many WIs across the county our WI organised a coach to take us to the WI Craft Fair at the Alexandra Palace today. This was the second day of the exhibition and after a marvellous run up to London we arrived just as it opened so it was easy to walk around and find a coffee before getting down to the business of the day---buying craft items and looking for inspiration. Actually, it never became crowded which was a bit worrying. There was a good variety of stalls selling clothes, food and drink and promotional stands for travel firms offering holidays and outings. In the centre was the official WI area where we could talk to the members of the National Board of Trustees. There were also workshops and presentations on craft and cookery. However, I was not the only person who would have liked more stalls selling craft equipment and supplies. Very few were selling wools and fabrics, no skirt lengths nor frames nor patterns to inspire projects ---not even the WI knitting wools were on offer. We enjoyed our day and the weather helped us to appreciate the London skyline. Judging by the bags being loaded onto the bus for the return home we obviously spent money even if not quite how we had intended.
Four members from our WI attended the presentation afternoon to learn more about the resolutions that are going up to the NFWI Annual General Meeting in June at Liverpool. These were introduced to the audience so that they would be able to take the information back to their WIs to help decide on how to instruct their delegates to vote. Thelma Sackman introduced the Loneliness resolution and Graham White, the Bucks County Council Communicating Links Officer told us what was happening in our own area. We are fortunate locally on what is being done to alleviate loneliness but certainly there are many places where the inner cities are hardly covered at all: the smaller the community, the more chance there is of this problem coming to light but the prospect of financial cuts hangs over us all. This is a resolution on which WI members can work.
The resolution on the pollution of the seas by microfibres was presented by Hilary Haworth who will be taking it to Liverpool. It is a global problem and therefore the WI can only educate the public about it and pressurise the politicians and industrialists into doing something to reduce the damage already done and what is being done every day as we wash our synthetic clothes. We watched a very American cartoon presentation explaining the problem and Hilary concluded by singing an alternative version of the Gloria Gaynor hit song “I will survive” which would make a great battle cry for the WI.
Members from both the WIs in Winslow spent the day helping to serve drinks at the NHS blood donors’ session in the town today. In the evening, we were together again at the Chase Group Meeting when the talk was given by an auctioneer who told us tales about his experiences in antique salerooms. He had brought along various items for us to examine and talked about some of the extraordinary things he had had to value and sell in his showrooms. He also answered questions on how to approach the task of deciding how to bequeath our belongings. The reports from the WIs were entertaining as always and the meeting was well attended.
It is always a great relief when something that has been in the planning for months actually happens and is a success. Those were certainly the sentiments of the WI committee at the Murder Mystery Evening tonight. This was the return visit of the Lacey Green Players and the mood in the hall was very good but there proved to be very few gifted detectives among the audience. Maybe the fact that they had brought their own liquid refreshments clouded their thinking powers. We hope that the event made a good profit which is going to two local hospices, the Florence Nightingale and Willen.
One of the local WI members held another jigsaw coffee morning in aid of Adoption UK which the members supported well. Apparently, there is a surge of interest nationally in doing puzzles which is leading to a rise in sales in the shops and at charity shops too. The exercise is being promoted as a way of avoiding dementia and enjoying an evening’s entertainment fairly cheaply---what could be nicer than a warm room, a good light and a glass of wine and to find the one piece you have been searching