26 March, 2015

Torquay Weekend

by C.W. Parkes

You may be surprised that somebody who had never been to Torquay, let alone the Toorak hotel and had never met any of you beforehand should be asked to write a report of the social activities of members of the Association and their friends and families at this hotel on their annual dinner and presentation weekend.

Let me explain. We were invited by our host to join him and his wife for this special occasion. He has been a close friend of mine for many years even though for much of that time our contact was by correspondence and, more recently, email and Skype. This was because my career took me abroad for over 35 years and only recently did I return to the UK. I was born in a small village near Cromer in Norfolk and spent my childhood and formative years there before studying for four years in London, after which I was posted overseas and only came home periodically to the UK on leave. My knowledge of my own country is therefore woefully limited so when my host invited us, I jumped at the chance as I thought I would be able to talk to people who knew the country well and could give me some useful tips and advice, as it is my intention to do Land’s End to John o’ Groats later this year before I am too old. The invitation was conditional upon my writing an account for publication in the Association’s magazine. My host felt I would be able to view the proceedings in a detached way, uncluttered by memories of previous weekends at the Toorak which, I was informed, has been the hotel of choice for over twenty years.

The Toorak Hotel
Against this background my partner and I travelled by train from Paddington and arrived late on Friday afternoon at Torquay station where our host and his wife were there to meet us.

My first impression of the hotel was one of comfort, efficiency and friendly and helpful staff which was not dispelled throughout our brief stay. Our room was warm, spacious and well appointed. Many of the members and their families and friends had already arrived and were wearing nicely produced badges to identify themselves. Some had even arrived on Thursday including Jack Adams and his wife Theresa, their friends Val Becket and Bob Willis, Brian and Pat Dawson, Cliff and Anne Harrison and their daughter Sue and Tony and Kath Bagley.

Karen Bower and her children Imogen and Harry were badly delayed by an accident on the M4 and did not arrive till 10:30 – what rotten luck – but everybody else due that evening had arrived in time for dinner at 7pm in the main restaurant. Our party was allocated tables in an elevated part of the room, away from the many other diners who filled it but were not involved with us. It was busy but the service and food were very good with quite a wide choice. Conversation amongst old and new members was animated and lively and I was interested to hear of the adventures of others.

After this leisurely dinner, some of us went to the bar or other parts of the lounges to chat while Brian Dawson, the Chairman, called a meeting of the committee, though Jack Adams, (the new Social Secretary following the resignation of Julie Jones, who had organised this function with great efficiency for many years despite the trials and tribulations she had to contend with caused by the recalcitrant behaviour of a few of the less co-operative souls), decided to boycott this meeting, preferring to try his luck at bingo instead (at least, that’s what I was told). Nevertheless, to the surprise of my host, he did a great job and is maintaining the high standards set by Julie, who was much undervalued and is much missed. I was surprised my host was surprised, as I thought Jack Adams had done an excellent job, and he and Cliff Harrison had produced deluxe dual-control name badges which we were asked to hand in at reception on departure. That was quite enough for one day – and so to bed.

Breakfast in the restaurant on Saturday morning was a DIY affair. That’s not to say everybody had to fry their own eggs and bacon etc. but they did have to serve themselves from a wide choice of tempting items, mostly fried and of alarmingly high calorific content and bad cholesterol. For the pessimists there were adequate quantities of prunes and figs. Those who survived had the joys of the AGM ahead of them. At ten o’clock sharp, the chairman declared the meeting open, and after hearing the reports of the officers and discussing a few other points, declared it closed in record time (so my host reliably informed me) which left the rest of the day free for everybody except the hard working and beleaguered committee who had yet another short meeting. I formed the impression that Brian Dawson has a greater fondness for committee meetings than those on it. No doubt this will be covered elsewhere in your magazine.

It was a bitterly cold and windy day so how the others spent their day I know not. We walked with our hosts along the front into the town. Much had been done to the harbour and marina and pavements surrounding them, and lots of works were in progress: one of the main streets in the town centre was dug up, rendering crossing the road almost impossible for the entire stretch. Apart from spending an hour in the Haddon Galleries in Victoria Parade admiring a display of quirky pictures produced in a variety of media by some talented artists, it was difficult to find many redeeming features in this crumbling town, once the queen of the English Riviera. Too many of the shops were closed and those that weren’t looked tatty or sold tat to (mostly) tatty looking people. Not much to lure us back there, I’m afraid, and such a contrast to the Torre Abbey and gardens and the vicinity of the Toorak only half a mile away.

So it was back to the hotel for a little relaxation prior to the high spot of the evening – the Presentation Dinner. We started by assembling in the bar at 7pm before taking our places in the adjacent Arlington Suite, reserved exclusively for us. A table plan outside indicated who sat on which table but we were left to sort out who sat where on each table, which skilfully and thoughtfully blended old and new resulting in good humoured conversation. There was certainly a happy buzz in the room, and after old-timer John Desborough had said grace, we combined gossip with eating and drinking – a recipe for merriment. There was no choice tonight; it was a fixed and perfectly good meal which was leisurely although the Chairman with a microphone and a twinkle in his eye, decided it was time for the climax of the evening: the presentation of cups and trophies to the deserving and worthy winners.

I counted 17 in total up for grabs but only 9 were awarded, and of those 9 only 5 members were in attendance to receive their awards plus a handsome replica for them to keep. I was told that all winners will have their names engraved on the relevant trophies, but they will only receive a replica if they attend to receive it, or give a plausible reason for their absence, in which case it will be posted. This makes sense to me, as our host said that of the winners in the past, some did not renew their membership after the first year, thus costing the Association more than they contributed.

Looking at the criteria for being eligible to win the various trophies, I was interested to see that apart from three based entirely on fact, the rest were awarded after applying a subjective test to each particular achievement. The three I refer to are the Griffin Cup awarded to the person raising the greatest amount for charitable causes, the Alroyd Lees Cup awarded to the oldest motorist, and the Jack Adams/Richard Elloway Trophy awarded to the youngest End-to-Ender under the age of 25.

Brian Dawson at this point handed over the mike to Treasurer Jeff Chambers, who announced each award and the criteria relating to it, and the winner thereof. He then passed the mike to the Route Advisor, Chris Hatton, who gave a bravura performance talking to the winners as they came up to collect their awards. He had never done this before but soon established a fruitful and amusing rapport with them, and by coaxing and probing, produced some interesting anecdotes and remarkable stories. The mike flew to and fro between him and the awardees with great panache so we could all hear the questions he posed and the answers he was given. Well done, Chris. You are destined to become a permanent fixture of these proceedings, I’m sure! My host said nothing like this had ever been done before. Without doubt, he said, this was how a presentation should be done – slickly, searchingly and with good humour. If only Paxman were like this.

The first award was the Alroyd Lees Trophy to Rick Naylor (not for the first time) whose story of his journey with his sister Gill Ward is on pages 41-49 of issue 85 of QV? Rick is hardly old, but he was the oldest motorist last year. I noticed from the trophy that it was not awarded in 2014. I wonder why that was... Maybe there were no motorists that year? Strange, as I understand that was the year when several members participated in the successful 3013 event and drove their cars from John o’ Groats to Land’s End. Somebody must have been the oldest among them! I imagine this must have been carelessly overlooked. Anyway, well done Rick and Gill. At least you weren’t!

Rick Naylor and Gill Ward
The Charlie Hankins Memorial Trophy came next and Chris resumed his banter, this time with winner Stephen Gibbs who told us he raised £3200 for Children in Need by riding on public buses from Land’s End to John o’ Groats in 12 days, 8 hours and 21 minutes, using no fewer than 68 buses in total. He said one of his highlights was riding on the top deck through the Lake District with its wonderful views. His companion throughout was Pudsey bear without whom he would never have been able to blag his way through Scotland where, unlike England, there is no free travel for the more mature traveller. What an achievement!

Stephen Gibbs
The Shank’s Pony Trophy was next on the list and here Chris, no mean walker himself, met his match in Adam Dawson. Last spring, Adam walked 1500 miles in 79 days unsupported and carrying a backpack, from Lizard Point to Dunnet Head via Land’s End, Snowdon, Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis and John o’ Groats! How about that! Talk about a glutton for punishment. In the process he raised £11,000 for the Scouts Association. As I believe your Mr. Tetley might have said, “Terrific Effort.”

Adam Dawson
This award was followed by the most prestigious of all: The Griffin Trophy. It went, without any competition as far as amount raised was concerned, to Alan Sylvester. Alan served in the RAF for 31 years and used the last six weeks of his service to walk in memory of his fellow RAF Mountain Rescue colleague, Dean Singleton, who died of cancer, aged 43. His final three weeks were spent in Prospect House where he died with dignity and hence Alan’s choice of charity. He walked completely unsupported carrying a pack weighing 42 lbs. every day, averaging 22 miles, having camped wild or in a campsite, which explains the huge amount he raised. His low point was the first four days of horrendous weather, climbing out of Cornwall, with a high point being his view of the end of mainland Scotland with only 2 ½ miles to go. It was simply breathtaking. Alan thought LEJOG was the perfect ingredient to conclude a fantastic career in the RAF. He will treasure it forever.

Alan Sylvester
The Mabel McCracken Mug was awarded to Russell George for an interesting article he wrote for QV? (Issue 85, pages 58-63) not only about his End-to-End walk in 2013 (for which he received the Committee Cup last year) but also his decision to write a book about this undertaking and the logistical problems he had in getting a publisher to put it into print for retail sale. It was fascinating to read about the difficulties which beset him, too numerous to mention here, but it was decided that the combination of these two aspects were worthy of this prestigious award. He succeeded, and the book, entitled Footsteps in Summer, is now available for you to buy. He had brought some copies with him and I along with several others took the opportunity to do so. If you are interested – and you jolly well should be – it is available, price £9.99 (call that a tenner) from Matador, phone: 116 279 2299. Alternatively, try www.footstepsinsummer.com. All proceeds go to Cancer Research UK.

Russell George
The final award – not a cup or trophy but a certificate which was not actually there to present, so imagination was necessary, went to Dave Loud, enjoying a good dialogue with Chris, who, for once, was not bantering with a fellow walker. Look at QV? Issue 85 (page 50) and you’ll see Dave did the journey in a 1969 ex-police car. He is an authority on doing the End-to-End in vintage vehicles, having previously done so in a fire engine and an ambulance. Some of the tales he told were amusing and his current project is to do it in an old RNLI vehicle – so well done, Dave, and watch this space!

Dave Loud
Four other trophies were awarded but none of the winners was in attendance so Chris was unable to elicit background stories and anecdotes from them. Jeff Chambers read out the bare bones of what they had done as follows:

The Brenroy Trophy was awarded to Philip Brown for cycling south to north and raising £9,500 for the charity, Tommys.

The Tourco Trophy was awarded to Jamie Methuen for motorcycling north to south including the four mainland extremities in four days.

The Joan Cave Memorial Cup was awarded to John Greer for walking south to north in 90 days and raising about £5,000 for MacMillan Cancer Support.

The Jack Adams/Richard Elloway Trophy was awarded to Charlie Yorke who cycled with three members of his family from south to north in nine days and helped to raise £2,800 for SSAFA & Avon Valley Community First Responders. Charlie, at 22 years old, is probably the oldest youngest cyclist there has been for many years, and arrangements were made for the Chairman to present the trophy to him in person in the cycle shop in Stratford–upon-Avon where he works on Saturdays.

I was disappointed not to see more awards being made but there were simply no eligible members who could meet the conditions required for the others, and if there had been, it would have been a very long evening once Chris Hatton got to work! My host informed me that the number presented this year was lower than last and, for the first time since it was presented in 1989, no winner could be found for the Committee Cup. That is regrettable. I noticed that none of the winners was female. I discussed this with my host who seems to know about these things and he reckoned that in the last five years there had been ten ladies who had won trophies compared with 45 men.

This more or less wound up the proceedings, though there was still the raffle to be drawn, Theresa Adams and Val Becket having previously gone from table to table and persuasively induced the diners thereat to part with their lolly, very successfully, as I was informed that well over £200 was collected though I don’t remember what it was earmarked for. There were two final prizes to be awarded – the Most Smiley Face, of which Gladys Mackridge was the happy recipient, and some sort of bag from Cotton Traders which went to Jack Adams.

With that, the attendees called it a night and retired to bed, except for the hard-working committee members who carried the silverware back to the cabinet on the lower stairs where it has been housed for many years, by courtesy of the management of the Toorak; and here the cups, trophies, shields and mug will remain, undisturbed, for another year.

After another DIY breakfast on Sunday morning, followed by the opportunity to purchase some of the Association’s attractive merchandise, we bade farewell to old and new friends and dispersed to our homes at greater or lesser distances and all points of the compass (except south which would have landed us in the sea).

The prize winners were truly inspiring in their different ways and what they achieved was amazing. It has definitely encouraged me, and I am determined to have a go myself later this year. My partner did it four years ago when he cycled north to south. I will probably go south to north on a motorbike. I relish the prospect.

My partner and I are most grateful to our hosts for this wonderful weekend which we will never forget. At their request, and following the usual custom, I set out below, those in attendance at the Presentation Dinner on Saturday night:

Jack & Theresa Adams
Rob Willis & Val Becket
Rick & Kath Naylor
Bill & Gill Ward
Peter Hume-Spry
Brian & Pat Dawson
Don & Margaret Cannon
Stephen Gibbs
Adam Dawson
Karen, Imogen & Harry Bower
Geoff & Anne De’Ath
John & Gill Blanchard
Graham & Kay Brain
David & Jacqueline Loud
Meriel Shotton
Tony & Kath Bagley
Adrian Cole, Henry Cole,
Eldon & Gladys Mackridge
Eddie Sedgemore & Sarah Evans
Kathryn Hough & her husband
Jeff Chambers & Jenny
Russell George
John & Margaret Desborough
Richard Popplewell & Gloria
Neville Tetley
Liz Bowen & Jem
Chris & Anne Hatton
Cliff & Anne Harrison
Don & Jean Dyer
Sue Fernee Colin Jones
Brian & Maureen Robertson
Eugene Michaels
C.W. Parkes
Margaret Cole & her granddaughter Zoe
Alan Sylvester & Clair Sylvester-Wyness
Trevor Payne & Linzi Singleton-Myall

Imogen Bower, Zoe Hayne, and Membership Secretary Adrian Cole, with Harry Bower at the back

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