Category Archives: General

February 2021 Competition

Topic 1   Bad Weather   click for slideshow


Topic 2    A Winter Scene    click for slideshow

Diana’s Funeral

Diana’s Funeral by Margaret Kitchen

Journalists go out on assignments with the intention of observing, questioning and reporting. We don’t go with the idea of expressing our personal opinions.

So when, the day before Princess Diana’s funeral, I was boarding the London bound train, I was ambushed by a local TV company asking for my views, I was taken aback. In the maelstrom of the hysterical days since August 31st I had been busy reporting on the situation and had not had much time to consider what I thought.

I can’t remember what I said before they released me to gain my seat. However, the ride from Liverpool to the capital gave me time to think. I am not a royalist and I was aware that Diana had clearly been duped into a loveless marriage at the tender age of 19. Her experience and the tragic outcome was clearly a lesson for other bedazzled young women who need their own family to open their eyes.

Dusk was falling as the train pulled into Euston and I took a taxi to Kensington Palace, Diana’s home, where crowds had gathered. I walked among dazed, sad people and watched grown men cry and couples comfort each other. Candles flickered and the smell of the mountain of dying bouquets filled the atmosphere like heady incense. This was a very un-English scene. It reminded me of Mexico in the cemeteries on the day of the dead, when ancestors were remembered.

Yet, later that evening I dined with friends in a restaurant about a mile away where there was not a hint of mourning. Chat and laughter filled the packed room as people relaxed after a busy week of work. It was no different from any other Friday evening. Yet it was so different from the anguished scene nearby.

I had planned to rise early in the morning to take my place on Whitehall among the crowds to cover the procession to Westminster Abbey. As it turned out, however, all the hotel guests were awoken at 5am by the fire alarms ringing loudly. We dashed out into the street, wearing our coats over our nightwear, thinking this might be a dramatic omen for the day ahead. Instead we found the alarms had gone off by accident.

It was 7.30am by the time I walked into Whitehall to find a spot to stand to watch the procession and try to interview some of the mourners. It would be another three hours before the cortege appeared; it was going to take some stamina to stand there on that chilly September morning with no bathroom facilities available.

As I walked on I could see the crowds on both sides of the road. People had got up much earlier than me to get a good vantage spot. As I got nearer I was struck by the stillness of the crowd. Then I realised that it was largely silent. It was quite unlike most gatherings. People were already paying tribute to the deceased Princess who had died in a Paris tunnel. It was humbling.

I stood among some families, mostly Londoners, who told me, grimly, that Diana should not have come to this. There were flashes of anger in their eyes along with sadness. The Royal family was not top of their favourite people list.

Eventually the gun carriage carrying Diana’s coffin came into view behind us and some people began to cry and others let out sounds of grief. The white floral tribute at the back of the coffin spelled out the word ‘mummy’ and shoulders shook at the sight of it.

Then came the unforgettable scene of the two young princes walking between Prince Charles, Prince Philip and Earl Spencer, their father, grandfather and uncle. It was not the grown-ups we were all focussed on, but the sight of the boys. Prince William, aged 15, with his head bowed and his body looking frail; Prince Harry, aged 12, doing his best to maintain a mannish ramrod stance while his face told a bereft tale.

Parents glanced at each other as the youngsters passed, silently asking each other why these boys had been coaxed to undertake such an ordeal before the watching world. ‘Cruel’ was the unspoken word between them.

I rushed back to my hotel room to file copy and found the Filipina maid sitting on the bed watching Earl Spencer in the Cathedral condemning the Royal family. “Who is he?” she asked me, her eyes full of tears. “Diana’s brother,” I replied. She nodded sagely while I wondered where he had been throughout his sister’s suffering.

On the train back to Liverpool, a conductor soon turned up and asked me if I had been to the funeral. Absent mindedly I said yes, I was covering it for my paper. His face glowered and he threw my ticket on the table.

“It’s you lot that killed her,” he shouted and walked out of the carriage.

Did we?

Signs of Spring

Since entering social isolation started early last year, we have covered the times and seasons in various website ‘galleries’ filling them with items sent in by our talented members. To refresh your memory, do revisit:

  • West Lancs in Bloom – galleries set up following a request, early on in the first lockdown, to members for photos taken when  pottering in the garden or out on their daily walk.
  • Gardening Group Gallery – a cornucopia of beautiful summer blooms.
  • West Lancs in Autumn  – gallery of great photos (plus a poem) with a seasonal theme.
  • Christmas Card Gallery – a seasonal webpage contains a miscellany of festive contributions sent in by our talented members.  It started off as photos of cards designed by members to convey greetings within our u3a, then expanded to include crafts, a poem and short stories.

The first lockdown started in March 2020, so we missed late Winter and early Spring. This new Gallery, on the theme of  ‘Signs of Spring’ aims to fill that gap. We wish too that it will give members cheer that warmer and brighter weather is on its way, new life is returning to the world and there is renewed hope for a safer and more carefree future.

Many, many thanks to all contributors so far. This Gallery is work-in-progress.  If you snap any other ‘Signs of Spring’ in your garden or on your walks in February or March, please do send them to us at  As well as flowers, bushes and trees, we particularly welcome relevant images pics of birds, bees, butterflies and other insects, new life in farm or field such as lambs, and country and garden wildlife awakening from winter slumbers.

Moving Forward into Spring

(Click on any picture to move through the slideshow.)

* Note – According to Wikipedia, the Green Man is a “legendary being primarily interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, representing the cycle of new growth that occurs every spring.”

Many of the first photos sent in were of snowdrops.  So here is a poem from our resident poet, Judy. Although written a few years ago, it is particularly pertinent to 2021.

The Snowdrop

Leading us into a warmer direction
Taking us forward away from the snow
Away from the wind and the cold that will go.
As we see Spring colours starting to brighten
And the days grow longer in order to lighten
Projecting the warmth that will help us to cope
We will all move forward into seasons of hope.

Judy Ingman, Jan. 2018.

Early Spring Bulbs and Flowers


Early Buds and Greenery

Census Day – 21 March

Lauren Mullen is the Census Engagement Manager for West Lancashire, working very closely with local councillors and West Lancashire Borough Council to raise awareness of the Census.

Lauren is encouraging us to take the Census seriously, and has this message for all of us:

“The census is coming. By taking part, you can help inform decisions on services that shape your community, such as healthcare, education and transport.

The census is a unique survey that happens every 10 years. It gives us a snapshot of all the people and households in England and Wales – the most detailed information we have about our society.

It’s important that you fill in your census questionnaire. Without the information you share, it’d be more difficult to understand your community’s needs and to plan and fund public services.

In one way or another, your information touches the lives of every single person living in England and Wales, whether it’s through using census information to plan new schools, doctors’ surgeries or bike lanes.

Because these things matter to us all, everyone needs to complete the census. Do not worry, government officials dealing with applications you’ve made or payments or services you receive cannot see it.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) runs the census in England and Wales and is independent from government. Your details are protected by law and information published is always anonymous.

Census Day is Sunday 21 March 2021. You can fill yours in online as soon as you get your access code in the post. If your household circumstances change on Census Day, you can let the ONS know.

Everyone should have the support they need to fill in the census. If you, or anyone you know, needs help, there’s a wide range of support services available.

These include a contact centre that can give you help over the phone and guidance in a range of languages and accessible formats, including paper questionnaires and large print.

If you need help or have any questions, visit

Lauren adds, “This year the Census will be taking a digital first approach and as such I want to work with local community organisations to help engage the local community with the Census and provide additional help and support in the lead up to Census day.

I have been asking groups and organisations whether they would be willing to post information on their websites and social media pages and print an article in any publications they send to their members. We also have posters that we can send off to centres in use. I have also been advising that I am able to host virtual meetings with the community to give more information on the Census too.

If this is something you would be able to help get involved with please contact me on

Kind Regards

Lauren Mullen”

Pilates via Zoom

The Pilates tutor, Laura Gornell, has sent this email to u3a Pilates Group Coordinator, Lorna:

Hi everyone,

Hope this email finds you well. It has been a very strange year for us all and I am sure we didn’t expect things to last this long. However we have the vaccine now and spring is around the corner.
I am sure you are missing your pilates as much as I am missing teaching you but we are still not able to get back to the Hall just yet. However I would like to give you the opportunity to try my online classes via “Zoom”.
You can try your first class for FREE and below is my website so you can contact me or you can call or txt me.
I am still able to observe you well, as I have set up a studio at home with a large screen to see you clearly.
Lots of people are using Zoom to keep in touch with family and friends and it is now part of most of our lives. You may even be doing other U3A activities via this platform.
Please give it a go, I am sure you will be glad you did. A few of the U3A members are already attending and feeling the benefit.

TIMETABLE : Some of these times are not on the website yet as they are new.


  • 8.30am
  • 4.30pm
  • 7.00pm


  • 8.30am
  • 7.15pm


  • 8.30am
  • 10.50am


  • 8.30am
  • 7.30pm


  • 8.30am


STAY SAFE! Hope to see you soon
Laura xxx

m: 07801 658210

Note: These classes are not exclusively for u3a members.

Covid arrangements

Choir has not met during the current pandemic but we do communicate by email and have enjoyed a couple of zoom quizzes.  As soon as we can we will be back enjoying our singing.

Zoom Support

Spurred on by social isolation from friends and family, many Aughton & Ormskirk u3a members have entered into the world of videoconferencing.  A favourite platform is Zoom.  A good number of our A&O Groups have already been running successful remote meetings for a while now.  See Our Virtual u3a. And, good news! This year, the monthly Speaker Meetings have restarted using Zoom.

If you too would like to give Zoom a go, then you may be asking one of the following questions.  Skip those that don’t apply to your query and current level of expertise.

FAQs relating to Zoom

  1. As an A&O Group Leader, how can I use Zoom to arrange remote meetings with my Group Members?  A&O u3a has two Zoom licences which enable group and other  meetings to run without a restriction on duration. Refer to the Zoom Sessions Calendar to book a slot.
  2. How do I create and use a Zoom Account so that I can set up and / or join  Zoom sessions for my own use?  Check out on the National u3a Office website for How-to-Guidance Notes to find out how to create a personal Zoom account for use on your Mobile Phone, Tablet or Desktop Computer.  National u3a also runs very professional and informative Tutorials on using Zoom for various circumstances.
  3. I have been invited to a u3a Zoom meeting. Can I join in without downloading the Zoom app? Yes, just use the browser link provided on the invitation eg to a Speaker Meeting or a Group Event.  (You do not need to logon to Zoom using the username and password mentioned on the invitation.) If you do not wish to download and install the Zoom App, you can join a Zoom meeting direct from your browser – for details see either of the following:
  4. I would like to try out Zoom for the first time, but don’t feel confident in following the routes mentioned above.  Can anyone provide me with more individual assistance?  The Monday and Tuesday Computer Helpers are still around offering personal IT support to members remotely.   We can set up a practice  zoom session with you, guiding you through by email and phone and then Zoom itself. See IT  Support Contact details below.

IT Support Contacts



Local members can refer to the A&O u3a February 2021 enews for Computer Helper names and phone numbers

1 February 2021- Black Dog in Folklore continued

The session:

Followed on the theme of Black Dogs and Boggy beasts with other similar beasts by completing the flitting with the boggart and starting with the Good Folk and the Fairy Folk.

1/.  Flitting with the Boggart .  Sometimes the helpful or mischievous boggart would become so troublesome a family would seek to move .  We followed a detailed tale of a boggart attached to a family.  This tale was designed to entertain.

We looked at the development of a story recorded in two different locations.  The story we started with was from Yorkshire recorded in Literary Gazette April 1825, quoted in Katharine M Briggs British Folktale and Legends: A sampler London Paladin/Granada 1977 p122.  The family were being troubled by an unseen Boggart who tormented the children.  This Boggart lived in a closet which had a knot hole in the door.  The children would poke things through, and they would be violently thrown out.  Eventually the family resolved to move out and leave the Boggart behind.  The Boggart hid himself in a large churn and spoke to them as they were travelling to the new home.  The family decided to return to the house they had just left.

This tale bears a remarkable likeness to that recorded by John Roby in ‘Traditions of Lancashire’.  This had some added details such as a worthy old lady recounting the tale but elements of it were almost verbatim.  This was set in Lancashire and is thought to be a more recent version.

These tales often have little gems of old traditions and ancient beliefs.  Knot holes were thought to be a way of seeing things you could not otherwise see, portals.  Holes in stones were believed to be protection from witches.

2/.  Fairy Folk/Good People

They are very much the superior elite of household beings.  These are not the fairies from children’s story books and are more sinister, tricksy, and dangerous and need to be treated with respect.

They would spend most of their time in their own realm but would visit our world for their own purposes or to encounter humans.

Care had to be taken in interactions with them.  Humans had to play fair with them, not be mean-spirited with them, not be disrespectful, not spy on them, not talk openly about them.  They are addressed as ‘Good People’, ‘Hidden People.  Using their names is disrespectful and there is power in using a name.  It was a widespread and ancient belief that using a name gave you power over them.  This is something which comes up in other tales such as Odysseus, Rumpelstiltskin.  It also features in modern day story-telling in films such as Beetlejuice and Candyman.

If they were offended, they would take swift and nasty retribution.

Stories often like morality tales

The lifestyle of the Good Folk was similar to humans and they had a social hierarchy.

There was an aristocracy with a king and a queen.  They would come to this world to hold their feasts, ride or hunt.

There were also ordinary Fairy folk who were small about the size 3-year-old children who looked human like.  They too enjoyed feasting, but they also had to work as farmers and bakers etc..  As part of their work, they would visit markets in the human world.  They could extract money from human farmers’ pockets without their knowledge.

Good people were masters of magic.  They could give gifts which appeared to be of little or no value and turn them into gold etc.  They could not fly using wings but used some magic device such as a cap, belt or spell.  They could appear and disappear at will.

The best time to see them was at dawn or dusk, bright star or moon lit nights.  Out of the corner of your eye between one blink and the next.  Also if you held a 4 leaf clover or had a holed stone.

There are lots of tales and legends which fall into 4 categories:-

  • Stories where they benefit from human kindness and offer a reward.
  • React to unkindness and disrespect.
  • Changleings, fairy left in place of a human baby
  • Adult humans wander into their Fairy Land or are abducted there.

We looked at a number tales about the first group of The Good People and these included :-

  • Scottish Borders:- a poor shepherd rewarded for helping a Fairy Woman and her child
  • Galloway:- Sir Godfrey Mac Cullough rewarded for diverting his drains
  • Lochmaben, Dumfries & Galloway:- a woman prospered after obliging the Fairy Folk
  • Deunant, Aberdaron:- a farmer prospered after redesigning his house to accommodate the Fairy Folk
  • Airlie, Tayside:- cakes baking at the fire were sometimes taken by the Fairy Folk

A common theme was finding Fairy underground homes under houses, tree roots etc.  This may link back to prehistoric workings which had chambers underground and may have been seen as an explanation of that.  There were also memories of offerings made in the past linking back to ploughing and rites to ensure a good harvest.

We looked in detail at Paddy O’Gadhra’s Fairy Shilling Malin Glen, Donegal:- where a Fairy rewarded his help carrying a heavy basket with a shilling which kept reappearing in his pocket even after he had spent it.  Eventually, he started to fear his wonderful gift so he went to the priest in Glencolumcile and told him what had happened. The priest put his stole around his neck and made the sign of the cross on the shilling, and it vanished.  This tale shows rewards for a good deed and the response to Christianity.

We also looked at the Broken Fairy Peel (ref Westwood & Simpson, “The Lore of the Land”):- A peel is a wooden shovel for the removal of bread from the oven.  This was set at Burlow Castle, Ardlington, in Sussex which was well known for fairies, and nobody liked to go by it after dark for fear of them.  One day, a man called Charles was ploughing a field alongside the earthwork, together with a mate called Harry, when they heard a noise under the ground, which was a Fairy, calling for help because she was baking bread and had broken her peel.  “Put it up and I’ll try and mend it”, said Charles, and up through a crack in the dry ground came a little peel, no bigger than a cheese knife. Charles was careful not to laugh at the tiny thing, but mended it and laid it back in the crack. Harry had his back turned during this and when Charles told him about it, he refused to believe it, saying it was nonsense and there were no fairies nowadays.

Next day they were working in the same field and stopped for their lunch, Charles heard the voice again, and saw standing close by the crack, a little bowl full of “summat that smelled a hell and all better than small beer.” He drank it up eagerly and meant to keep the bowl to show Harry, for he was elsewhere again, but it slipped out of his hands and smashed to pieces, so Harry only laughed at him.  But Harry was paid out.  He fell ill and could no longer work, and pined away ’til he was only skin and bone. The doctor could do nothing for him, and he died a year later, at the very same day and hour that the little voice was first heard and when he spoke against the Fairies.

This tale picks up a number of the recurring themes.  A place where you did not venture after dark, located close to ancient earthworks, with the fairy living under ground. A reward for a good turn and showing respect.  Dire punishment for being disrespectful.

Next time we shall continue with Fairies.

18 January 2021- Black Dog in Folklore continued

The session:

Followed on the theme of Black Dogs and Boggy beasts with other similar beasts.  Completing mischievous creatures and then looking at helpful ones.

1/.  We finished off the Hedley Kow.  Kow being the North Country name for a Boggart/Boggle.  This was known for playing tricks, could shape shift and would cause torment.  It could appear at the birth of a child, mocking and taunting those involved.  This was a special time where when new life is brought about and seen as a time where the boundaries between this world and the other were blurred.  It took many forms not all of them animal.

The origins of this type of being go back into history and have been embellished over time.  Tales of shape shifting goes back into Celtic Myths and legends.

2/.  We then had a look at a large number of examples of helpful creatures, these were found all over the country and included:-

  • Brownie of Strathmiglo Castle, Fife, Scotland:- helped the people of the Tower of Cash with the farm work in return for food.
  • Puck:- helped at Old Daniel Burton’s farm at Levenshulme, Lancashire until the farmer criticised his work; left for good when the farmer called down God’s blessing on him.
  • Hobthrust of Manor Farm, East Halton, Lincolnshire:- left after the farmer substituted his usual reward of a linen shirt with one made of hemp
  • Hob Hurst at Dore, Sheffield:- made shoes for a poor shoemaker until the man became too curious and too greedy.
  • Abbey Lubbers:- haunted abbeys where the monks were too fond of their food and drink.
  • Boggart of Wolf Hall, Chipping, Lancashire:- troublesome boggart was laid by a priest under a yew tree by the farm gate.
  • Boggart of Hothersall Hall, Lancashire:- laid under the roots of a laurel tree at the end of the house.
  • Boggart of Syke Lumb Farm, Blackburn, Lancashire:- helpful if treated well, or mischievous if treated with disrespect.
  • Flitting with the Boggart:- boggart attached himself to the family, rather than to the house. Boggart of Boggart Hall and Boggart Hole (Hall) Clough, Blackley, Lancashire. This will be looked at further in the next session.

3/.  There was a sort of common set of rules/themes when dealing with these creatures:-

  • They needed to be treated with respect.
  • Invoking God’s word would offend and cause them to leave.
  • They should not be exploited in what they do for humans, they were willing workers but there were always conditions attached
  • Sometimes they were easily offended by things like the offer of payments as they were nobody’s servant.  We discussed why they may be offended by the offer of clothes.  If they were poor quality this showed a lack of respect, the rules of hospitality said the best quality should be given, and it could be seen as disrespectful to their natural state, these creatures were often described as small hairy men.

4/. Origins

The origins of this folklore lie far back in time and they may have provided a consequence and a reason for things that happened that could not otherwise be explained.  There could have been a teaching purpose behind them.  They may have provided a moral framework as they were willing to help decent humans and this may have been developed as Christianity grew.

References to trees in the tales links back to Norse mythology, Yggdrasil was the tree which held the various worlds together and offerings of milk would be given to nourish it.  Holly is regarded as protective against things evil.

Next session Flitting with the Boggarts and then moving on to The Faery Folk or The Good Folk.


English Medieval Cathedrals 2021 series

As you know, from looking at the 2020 programme, things did not go as planned last season.  At present (3rd February 2021) it is still impossible to say when meetings in the usual venue will be able to resume.  As soon as there is any clear news of when we can resume, there will be a notification via Beacon.

Of the planned sessions for 2020 only the presentations for Canterbury and Rochester actually took place.  Assuming we can start again some time this Summer it is planned that we continue from where we left off, with the presentations on Chichester Cathedral, St Alban’s, St Paul’s and finally Westminster Abbey.  We don’t expect that the two planned visits, to Lancaster and to Beverley, will take place in 2021, but should be able to proceed in 2022, if there is still continuing interest by that point!

After these four presentations all the major medieval English cathedrals will have been covered.  However, all the Peters have been discussing possible subjects for 2022 and beyond, for example there are other cathedrals, more-recent foundations in England as well as ancient cathedrals in Wales and Scotland.  Another possible route would be the great store of remains of medieval abbeys and other religious houses, or surviving large medieval churches and minsters, no decisions are yet made.

In the meantime we look forward to seeing you all again for the Chichester Cathedral presentation, whenever that may be, and hope that you are staying safe and well.

Peter, Peter and Pete

Speaker Meetings

Speaker Meetings are back!

The following dates have been confirmed – these meetings will all take place via Zoom, for Aughton & Ormskirk u3a members, at 11 am on the date shown. Put the dates in your diary and email to register your interest, including a phone number please. I will send you the meeting codes in due course.

If you don’t feel comfortable using Zoom, help is at hand! Follow this link to see what’s available: Zoom Support Page

Note: Some devices have trouble linking directly to your email using links on our website such as the above.  In this case, just load your email app and copy or type the address into the To field and carry on with your reservation.

1st April             Andrew Thwaite:  Title to be confirmed, but definitely chocolate related!

6th May             John Whittles: No Honey, I’m Solitary! A talk on the fascinating life cycle of Mason Bees.

3rd June            Fool’s Gold: Musical duo Steve and Carol Robson present ‘Dark Light’.

8th July             Carolyn Kirby: Women with Wings – the background to Carolyn’s latest novel.

Stephen Wells

Stephen Wells spoke about The Curious Incident of Agatha Christie

On Thursday 4th March over 50 members enjoyed a most entertaining and informative talk by professional entertainer Stephen Wells. The topic was ‘The Curious Incident of Agatha Christie’, and we heard how the famous author staged her own ‘disappearance’ in 1926, after receiving the devastating news that her husband had been having an affair. After a much publicised investigation involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Wallace and Dorothy L Sayers, she was finally found 10 days later, very much alive and well, at the Hydro Hotel in Harrogate (now the Old Swan), having caused huge embarrassment to her errant husband, whom she divorced shortly afterwards.

Agatha Christie became known as the ‘Queen of Crime’ and is the best-selling novelist of all time, her books being outsold only by The Bible and Shakespeare. Stephen’s enthralling talk not only outlined her incredible career as a writer but also described how the film adaptations of her books have entertained huge audiences over the years, and continue to do so. An excellent presentation, complete with archive photos, film clips and music, added to our enjoyment of this excellent talk.

If you missed Stephen’s talk it can be viewed by following this link


Andrew Thwaite

Thursday 1st April will see the welcome return of chocolatier Andrew Thwaite, who entertained us in 2019 with a demonstration of chocolate making, accompanied by amusing anecdotes and samples at the end. Chocolate is a way of life for Andrew Thwaite. He is never happier than when he is working with it, talking about it, learning about it or sharing his sweet skills with other people. He understands how to make a successful business out of it just as well as he knows how to tease your taste buds with it. His passion is enriching other people’s lives with chocolate and has done that successfully for more than 20 years and with some of the biggest names in the chocolate industry, such as Barry Callebaut, de Zaan, Keylink and many others. During his career he has been a manager, a strategist, a consultant and a teacher but above all has remained a natural-born chocolatier.

At the time of writing Andrew has not confirmed the title of his talk, but it is sure to be just as entertaining as the last one.

On Thursday 6th May we will welcome Mason Bee expert John Whittles, who will explain the importance of this tiny, endangered creature, and how we can help safeguard its existence. Mason Bees are gentle, solitary bees who make their nests in hollow spaces, not in hives. They are very important and efficient pollinators, and their numbers are in decline.


On Thursday 3rd June we will be entertained by Fool’s Gold, alias Carol and Steve Robson. Carol and Steve have been performing their unique shows for some while – long enough to rack up over 100

Carol and Steve Robson

0 performances which have been delivered to audiences all over the UK. Since the pandemic began, they have adapted their performances so that they can be delivered very effectively via Zoom.

Steve and Carol write:

Dark Light is the new Fool’s Gold zoom show for 2021. It has been created as a wholly new show specifically for Zoom using some of the clever functions available to build a fascinating and creative show. This time we have connected the songs to one story: a fascinating mystery based on a wholly true history from 1900 … and it’s amazing how many songs of the time that you will know, smile, and sing!

Many of you will remember Carolyn Kirby, who spoke to us last year about the background to her first book, The Conviction of Cora Burns. Carolyn will be speaking to us via Zoom on Thursday 8th July on

Carolyn Kirby

the subject of the background to her new book, When We Fall. A gripping second world war thriller, When We Fall was chosen by The Times and Sunday Times as one of the ten best historical novels of 2020,  and is due to be re-launched in the spring.

Carolyn says: “This illustrated talk tells the story of how I came to write When We Fall through the lives and careers of four female pilots of World War II.

The original inspiration for my novel lay with the amazing airwomen of Air Transport Auxiliary who overcame many barriers to fly warplanes from factories to RAF airfields during the war. My talk will focus on three of these women, including Amy Johnson, highlighting the glamour, excitement and daily dangers they faced in the skies above wartime Britain.

Flying in even more perilous skies was the Polish air force pilot, Janina Lewandowska, the real life character who is at the heart of the fictional story of When We Fall.
Janina was a pioneering aviator and the only female victim of the notorious 1940 massacres of Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet Union at Katyn – the real event that underpins my novel.

Using photographs and visuals, I will explain how, over more than ten years of writing, my novel was shaped by the lives and fates of these remarkable women.”

The talk will be followed by an audience Q & A and a chance to buy a signed copy of the novel.

Full details will be published nearer the time, but in the meantime, if you are interested in watching any of these talks, please email, and I will send you the links in due course.

I will post further updates as and when I am able to confirm them.

Pam Ball

See Pam’s Past Speaker Meetings for info on last year’s events.

Please email any ideas for Future Speaker Meetings to Pam Ball, our Speaker Meeting Organiser,  at:  or phone 07974 749362.



If you are experienced in Photography/Photo Enhancement, please come and share your knowledge with us.

If you are new to Photography, we are a friendly group who will always be pleased to help with advice on Camera equipment and how to take better pictures.

Submitting Competition Entries – a reminder

Please ensure that your competition entries are submitted in the correct format – i.e. as JPEG files – and at a resolution of at least 1024 x 768 pixels.  Please also remember to rename the files to include your name and the competition topic, e.g. Joe Bloggs – September Topic 

Because of Covid  19, all our meetings and trips are cancelled until further notice.

Our aim is to run a virtual group whilst the self isolation rules are in force.

Digital Photography group members have already been informed by email about the monthly competition, the first of which began in April 2020.

We can also provide help and information on any Photography and Photo editing topics as requested by members, and perhaps suggest photography projects that can be undertaken in the home during this period of  social distancing .

If you have any questions, observations, or topics for discussion,  please make contact via the competition e mail address

Stay at home. Keep well, and we hope the time when we can once again resume our meetings will soon arrive. 

A day I will never forget

Marine AFC crestU3A member David Wotherspoon had “a day I will never forget” when Marine, the Crosby team he has followed for over 70 years, took on Tottenham Hotspur in the 3rd round of the FA Cup on January 10th this year. The team lost 0-5 but that was hardly surprising, says David, as Spurs had nine full internationals in their starting line-up.

David was taken to watch Marine as a child by his father who had been a player before the war and then a committee member and later president. “The first game I really remember was also in the FA Cup in 1947 against New Brighton, then in the Football League. We lost 0-4 and I cried all the way home on the ferry”. He lived all of his early life in Crosby; attending Merchant Taylors’ with compulsory rugby on Saturday afternoons meant a rush to get to Marine games.

He joined the Marine committee in the late 1960s and served on it for over 30 years before becoming president himself. “We are the only father and son so far on the presidents’ board. I am very proud of what the club achieved in that period. We had a rundown ground and two wooden sheds. Now we have an excellent stand and terracing all round the ground as well as a large clubroom complex.”

David edited the match programme for over 20 years and wrote the centenary history of Marine “The Mighty Mariners”.

“The Spurs game was undoubtedly the club’s greatest ever. I was fortunate to be able to go as one of the small Marine contingent as Covid forced the game to be played behind closed doors. It was more the tie that caught the imagination and put a smile on faces in this terrible time all around the world. I had messages from people I had not heard from for years and the social media support for the club was amazing.”

Marine lost out through having no crowd but the cup run of eight matches gave them a good income from FA awards and TV rights. “When we learnt it was behind closed doors someone came up with the idea of selling virtual tickets at £10 which would also go in a raffle for a variety of prizes.

“We thought we might get 600 but it quickly passed 6,000 and finished up in five figures. All of that was very welcome as lockdown had virtually ended all our normal sources of income.” The main thrust of that came from Spurs’ supporters and David is full of praise for the Premiership club and their followers. “They treated us with warmth and respect. For example, Covid stopped the normal exchange of shirts after the game but Spurs gave our players a complete new set of kit so each one could have a named shirt as a great souvenir”.

Marine also has a strong community operation which has been involved in delivering meals to pensioners in the lockdown as well as a host of other activities including the players coaching in schools. Various Tottenham groups gave considerable support to these efforts to mark the tie.
David hopes the game and the TV coverage watched by 6.7 million viewers will give people a better idea of what a club like Marine is about. “It is very like u3a with people coming together to enjoy something special. It welcomes families and creates lifelong friendships. It relies on a group effort”

He reckons he has seen around 4,000 Marine games, still travelling away on the team coach until Covid struck. “I suspect the virus has put an end to this season for non-league clubs but the memory of that Sunday will keep me going for a long time to come.”

My Experience as an Oxford Vaccine Trial Volunteer

This letter was sent in by one of our members:

My Experience as an Oxford Vaccine Trial Volunteer

As with most people it has been a switchback ride for me ever since the first national lockdown last March. Even before then I stumbled across the YouTube channel of health expert John Campbell who calmly anticipated the pandemic as early as January and I felt a mounting anxiety turning to disbelief with the slow response in the UK. Looking back on those times I realise how depleted my current energies are since the days of sourcing face masks and making hand sanitiser out of rubbing alcohol and sending out thermometers to those I thought were vulnerable.

Continue reading

26 January 2020

We had a splendid  ‘cabaret’ of sketches, songs🤣🎤, and all-round entertainment provided by our Drama group!   Refreshments 🍪 midway,  of course.

23 February 2020 

We held a  special ‘Quiz on Ormskirk’ ✍  courtesy of Bill & Sue Watkinson, then a presentation by Peter Gateley on ‘Trips by the U3A Bird  🐦🕊🐤Group’

4 January 2021- Black Dog in Folklore continued

The session:

Followed on the theme of Black Dogs and Boggy beasts with other similar beasts.

1/.  These occur all over the country and vary from being extremely scary and dangerous, through mischievous, to being helpful.  Although they have similar features to black dogs they are considered as different creatures and occur in the same areas.  They tend to be more than sightings, with more of them having detailed folktales attached.

2/.  We looked at a wide range of examples.

These included:-

  • Monstrous creatures called the Baobhan Sith:- which were vampire like, in the form of beautiful women; haunted lonely countryside in the Scottish Highlands; trapped unwary men and drank their blood.
  • Boggle:- amorphous glowing shape; haunted a lane at Orton, Kirkby Stephen, after dark
  • Buckies:- haunted lonely roads at night in Lowland Scotland
  • Madame Pigott:- haunted lonely lanes around Chetwynd, Hereford & Worcester, jumping up behind horsemen and strangling them with long boney fingers.
  • “The White Bucca and the Black” folk tale from Cornwall where a feisty old Cornish woman gets the better of someone playing tricks upon her. A good example of an entertaining story.

Common themes occurred in the tales and characteristics of the beings.  Long boney fingers, shape shifting.  Locations were frequently lonely, dark, late at night, near to water, abandoned castles, scary places.  They often preyed on travellers.

3/. Ignis Fatuus (Foolish Fires)

Includes: – Lantern Man, Shiner, the Shiners, Jack O’ Lantern, Will o’ the Wisp, Hobby Lanthorn, Kit with the Canstick.  These used false lights to tempt travellers off the paths and into marshes, bogs & other dangerous countryside.  These were linked to marshy places and had a very direct link to the geography of the area so frequently occur in Dartmoor, The Somerset Levels, East Anglia.  Originating as explanations for the ignition of marsh gases before these were understood.

In Northern Europe bogs were special places, seen as the boundary between this world and the other world.  Beautiful Bronze and Iron Age artefacts have been found in bogs and are thought to be offerings.  There is also a history of bog bodies.

We looked in detail at the folk tale of the dead moon, the story can be found in ‘British Folk Tales and Legends: A Sampler Katharine M Briggs London, Granada/Paladin, 1977 pp 21-23’.  We discussed the rituals they had to perform for protection and in order to free the moon.  This tale took place by boggy water a dark and scary place.  The moon is personified as a beautiful woman.

4/.  We started looking at an example of a mischievous being.  The Hedley Kow:- a hob that appeared in various forms and pestered people in Hedley, Northumberland.  This was a shape shifter frequently playing tricks on servant girls in farmhouses whilst they were away from their tasks tangling their knitting, letting the cat at the milk and similar tricks.

Next time we shall continue with more on the Hedley Kow and mischievous creatures and household creatures which are friendly to humans if treated properly.

Planet Earth: A User’s Guide

The 2020 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures featured three eminent scientists from different fields presenting a unique ‘user’s guide’ to Planet Earth. Their programmes unravelled astonishing global systems and remarkable natural wonders that combine to keep life on Earth alive.

And they explored how human activity has become an overwhelming geological force – disrupting the finely tuned systems that have kept our planet running smoothly for billions of years. We learnt how we can each help repair the damage we’re doing and live more sustainably, as Earth’s population increases.

All three episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer until December 2021!

Each of these world-famous Lectures from the Royal Institution bring to life one aspect of Earth’s inner workings:

Episode 1 – Professor Chris Jackson travels back into deep geological time, charting the Earth’s climate as it swings from hothouse to ice house and back again. With the help of spectacular volcanic eruptions and giant snowballs, he shows us how our planet’s oldest rocks and fossils provide evidence of radical climate changes throughout its history.

Chris reveals that what drives these changes is the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. For billions of years, volcanic activity increased CO2 levels, and mountain building reduced them. But in the last 100 years, a new kind of geological force is tipping the balance – human activity. For the first time, it is we who are changing the planet Earth’s climate, and at a rapid rate, with dangerous consequences unless we act quickly.

Episode 2 – Dr Helen Czerski unpicks the ocean’s heating and plumbing systems, showing how whale poo, waterfalls beneath the sea and zooplankton are all vital parts of an engine that distributes heat and nutrients around our planet.

Helen voyages from the cities of the ocean to its deserts, from its deepest depths to its surface, via an alien inner structure that is home to so much of the Earth’s life. This planetary life support system plays a critical role in generating weather, providing food and connecting trade routes. The ocean is an underappreciated resource. Helen tells us what we need to know to be good citizens of an ocean planet.

Episode 3 – Dr Tara Shine takes a deep breath and marvels at something we all take for granted: oxygen. She demonstrates how Earth produces a never-ending supply of this gas – the raw material for all complex life – and investigates what else is in the air that we breathe. One critical component is carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that’s causing a dangerous rise in atmospheric warming.

Tara looks at the carbon footprint of a loaf of bread and how hydrogen might be the answer for heating and transport. From developing exciting new technologies to protecting wetlands and forests, the solutions are everywhere. Our ideas and ingenuity can create a better, cleaner and more sustainable future.

21 December 2020 – The Black Dog in Folklore continued

The session:

Continued the topic of the black dog in Folklore.

1/.  Black Dogs as Guardians

We looked at many examples across the country.  Guiding people across difficult terrain, protecting from thieves, saving them from cars.  They appear and disappear mysteriously.

2/.  In Classical and Celtic Mythology

Dogs acted as hunting companions to the gods and were also protectors and healers.  Celtic healing shrines have been found with images of dogs.  Dog licks have been associated with healing.

3/.  Black Dog and Bogey Beasts

These are always mischievous, malicious, scary or dangerous.  They have little or no regard for humankind.  They are not always black.

They occurred in forms other than dogs, most often an animal but not always.  They are sighted across the country and are often seen in places which are subject to misty, gloomy conditions.  Again the common themes for these were sightings at bridges, crossroads, graveyards etc. which are mystical crossing points to the otherworld.

The other forms include a cross between rough-coated dog and monkey, a donkey and monkey, a small horse, a headless duck, a bag of soot, white rabbit.

They can be shape shifters.  We looked in more detail at the Pelton Brag County Durham and that was reported to have taken more than one form: like a bushy tailed calf, a white sheet, a naked man without a head, a galloway.  (ref Westwood & Simpson, “The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends, Penguin Books, 2006)

Some of the stories start as legends and become folk tales with detailed back stories. One such example is The White Rabbit of Crank from Lancashire.  (ref Terence Whitaker, “Lancashire’s Ghosts and Legends” Robert Hale Ltd ,1980)

It is possible that the references to rabbits may originally been hares, as rabbits were introduced by the Romans.


Next time we shall continue with boggarts.



Christmas Card Gallery

A huge Thank You to all members who have contributed to this festive webpage. It has now expanded from the original idea of a gallery of  ‘Christmas Cards’ to include seasonal short stories (and a poem) and some relevant links to the National u3a website.  Read on!

Continue reading


The group has begun zoom sessions on the 3rd Monday morning of every month. The next meeting will be on 21st December, when we will be talking about Black Dogs, Boggarts and other supernatural creatures in British folklore. For further details, please contact June Jones by email at

7 December 2020 – Black Dogs in Folklore

The session:

Started the topic of the black dog in Folklore, these occur all over Britain and Continental Europe.   Some just have sightings and some have stories added.

1/.  Black Dogs as Portents of Death and Disaster

We looked at many examples including Formby Merseyside, Bunbury Cheshire, Portland Dorset, Norfolk, Ely and more.

The common themes for these were sightings at bridges, crossroads, graveyards etc. which were places associated with being the boundaries between the world and the afterworld, places of transition which feature heavily in Celtic Myths.  In Greek Myths Cerberus is a hound which guards the gates of hell to stop the dead from getting out.    Mythology bleeding into folklore.

The black dogs all have a similar appearance, they are large, shaggy, black and have big eyes.  They are portents of death or disaster.  Many people believed ordinary dogs could predict death.

2/. Black Dogs with Mischievous/ Scary/ Malign Intentions

Examples were from Beetham in the old Westmorland, Manchester Old Church, Peel Castle, IOM and more. Not all the examples were from quiet places, some were in the centre of cities.

These dogs are not portents of misfortune but are scary, may make physical attacks and there is a need to keep a distance from them.  They have more in common with the supernatural bogey which appears in many forms.  They may let the horses out, are mischievous, cause you to go off the path.  They may have no links to the first group of black dogs.

3/.   Black Dogs linked to the Devil

We looked at a case from Bungay, Suffolk of an attack by the Devil in the form of a black dog in 1577.   A this can be found on the internet by looking for ‘A Straunge and Terrible Wunder’ by Abraham Fleming.  It manifested itself inside the church during a terrific thunderstorm, killing two people, injuring others and causing strange damage.  On the same day there was also an incident in Blythburgh and the claw marks remain on the church door there.  Here is a link to online article with photograph of the Blythburgh church door:-

This could be an explanation/interpretation of ball lightning from the severe storm.

Next time we shall look at Black Dogs being examples of supernatural creatures such as bogles and as harmless or guardians.

References:-   Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson ‘The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys’.


Updating Country Dancing news December 2020.

🎄Well here we are in December, no dancing since mid March 2020.

Some of us have managed to stay in touch with a WhatsApp group, cheering us up and covering diverse topics.

However GOOD NEWS. A few weeks ago June started solo Zoom English Country Dancing sessions, in our regular dance slot of Friday mornings at 11.00.

It’s not as scary as it may sound and is getting to be enjoyable. Seeing fellow dancers for a chat and a tea break, we never had one of those before. Hearing the familiar tunes, dancing the dances. No need to worry if you make a wrong turn or forget how to do a Grimstock Hey, you can’t upset anyone, there is only you to dance as freely as you wish.

June has posted details on the recent November u3a enews and she can be contacted if you would like to join us. (June’s email address is in the enews and her phone number is in the main Country Dancing Group Page.) 🎄

🎄Stay safe and hopefully Covid-19 vaccine will enable us to meet up in the Village Hall in 2021.

Good wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

November 2020 – Scandinavian Mythology

Reconvened remotely after a long break due to Covid-19.

The session:

Completed the topic of Scandinavian Mythology

1/.  Recapped the last topic from March covering the origins of Thor and his accessibility to both the gods and ordinary people.

2/.  Freya the Bride – Another battle of wits with the Frost Giants which started with the Mjollnir (Thor’s hammer) which was held for ransom for the hand of Freya.  This involved Thro dressing up as Freya and Loki dressing as Freya’s bridesmaid.  A tall tale where Thor in the guise of Freya eats an ox, eight salmon and drinks barrels of mead.  Thor eventually gets Mjollnir back and slays the giants.

3/.  Thor’s Visit to Utgard.  Another confrontation with the Frost Giants.  A tale you could imagine being spun around a roaring fire.  Whilst on a peacemaking visit to Utgard, Loki and Thialfi and Thor are challenged to contests in eating, running and drinking which are not what they first appear.  At first it seems that they have failed but they have not.  The eating contest was against fire, the running contest against thought and the drinking contest was an attempt to drink the sea.  Far from failing Thor had caused the sea levels to drop and the first ever tide.    The Frost Giant respected them for their efforts and there was a guarded truce.

4/.  The Lay of Hymir – starts with a crisis in Asgard as they have run out of ale and mead.  To brew the ale and mead they need a vast cauldron.  Tyr, part giant, with a father with a cauldron five miles deep travels with Thor to get it.  Cunning is used and great feats of strength.

5/.  In a number of creation myths the forces of chaos are pushed to the edges during creation.  These are represented by the Frost Giants in the Scandinavian myths.  Thor’s role is in keeping this chaos at bay.  There is a need to be alert as chaos could return.  The myths are larger than life but always presented in an understandable way.  The magic and mysticism are low key.

6/.  Discussed what our next topic should be.  We decided for our next topic we should shift away from far away places, “big” mythology and gods & goddess, to folklore that is closer to home.   We shall be looking at Black Dogs and other similar supernatural creatures, including boggarts, bogles, bugganes et al.  Legends and folktales concerning these creatures are common all over Britain, and it will be interesting to speculate as to why they were so widespread. We can also think about possible origins and meanings behind the stories.

The sessions are now taking place remotely and will be the 1st and 3rd Monday of the month at 10:00.  If you would like to be involved, please contact June Jones

Group Visits 2020

Before the Covid19 pandemic caused group activities to be suspended, two visits had taken place in 2020.

Thursday 12th February – Pennington Flash Country Park

The visit had been postponed from the Tuesday because of the atrocious weather conditions on the Tuesday.  The Thursday morning was a bright cold and windy Winter morning with just one short sharp hail shower.  Six members of the group attended and a total of 38 species were recorded.  A particular highlight was the large number of Goosander seen (c.15).

Tuesday 10th March – Martin Mere WWT

One of our regular visits, on this occasion seven members of the group attended and a total of 49 species were recorded.  It was a cloudy morning with some showers and strong winds.

As a result of the Covid19 restrictions the planned visits for the rest of the year were all cancelled.

The visits that had been planned were:

  • 14th April – Lunt Meadows LWT, Sefton
  • 12th May – Sizergh Castle NT / Leighton Moss RSPB
  • 9th June – Yarrow Country Park, Chorley
  • 14th July – Rivington Country Park, Bolton
  • 8th September – Brockholes LWT, Preston
  • 13th October – Speke Hall NT
  • 27th October – Burton Mere RSPB & Dee Estuary
  • 10th November – Marshside RSPB, Southport
  • 8th December – Mere Sands Wood LWT, Rufford

Click ‘Continue reading’ for the full list of species seen on the February and March visits:

Continue reading

Christmas Card Gallery Guidelines

At an Autumn Zoom meeting of the Communications Subcommittee, a suggestion came up of publishing a u3a Christmas Card Gallery on the website. If that idea appeals to you, please do get creative and produce a ‘Christmas Card’ using your talents and skills in painting, drawing, cartooning, textiles and other crafts, hand-made cards etc. Then just send a photo of it to the Web Team for publication.  See those we have already received in our Christmas Card Gallery..
For practical and technical reasons, there have to be a few guidelines:
  • it should be your own work, or you’ll need to check that included photos, clipart etc are free of copyright
  • it should be a single page
  • send in your digital ‘card’ as an attachment in an email to if you already have it stored electronically (or take a photo or scan it and send that file)
  • greetings text can be included in the image on the page and / or on the gallery ‘caption’ area which will appear below the card in the gallery.  Include your caption in the email message when you send in your card file attachment
  • the recipient(s) of the greetings should not be personal or individual, though the sender(s), ie the card maker(s), can name or identify themselves as they wish

To further explain this last point …….  we are looking only for u3a-related greetings to recipients at the Group / Committee / u3a friends level.  Therefore suitable greetings (appearing on card or caption or between both might be along the lines of:

  • “Happy Christmas to members of the Such-and-Such Group from Josephine Bloggs”
  • “Joe Bloggs sends Best Wishes to all his u3a Friends”
  • “Christmas Greetings from the Web Team to our Website Visitors”

For further guidance, please ontact:

Maths Week – 9th to14th November

With increasingly gloomy weather and restrictions on venturing out, why not give your brain some exercise instead of your feet!

The national u3a website has always had some great resources, and now has a new winter learning programme with links to some intriguing activities.

Among the many online events are three Zoom sessions for anyone with an interest in maths

All three of these online events are part of the u3a series of events to tie in with Maths Week 2020 which runs from 9th to 14th November.

If these whet your appetite, you may be interested in the weekly Maths Challenge run by the national u3a – with 30 week’s worth (and counting!) of challenges to have a go at!

Message from the Chairman

U3A ACTIVITIES  – From your Chairman, Alan Starkie

You do not need me to tell you about the restrictions that have been placed upon us during the Covid pandemic. The restrictions have also put a halt to our normal U3A activities, which we have all previously enjoyed.

Your Committee and Trustees have, over the last six months, endeavoured to formulate a plan that would allow certain groups to re start under the prevailing rules at the time. As the rules are changed and the virus increases in severity, any plans for face-to-face meetings in the near future are now very much on hold.

Meanwhile, the way forward is for us to be a “Virtual” U3A.

Some groups have already started Zoom meetings in order to keep in touch with their members.  In order to facilitate this and to broaden its use by more groups, we have now purchased a 24/7 Zoom licence.

This means that instead of meetings lasting for about 40 minutes, as per the personal channel, they can now last for as long as is required.   Group leaders will be informed how this will work and they will no doubt contact you in the near future to encourage you to participate.

Our Treasurer, Derrick Fewings, using experience gained throughout his working life, has formulated an approach to restarting activities and the associated risk assessment.   This will enable the restarting of face-to-face activities as circumstances change in the future. Again, Group leaders will be heavily involved in this process and they in turn will keep you fully informed.

Things will change.

We cannot expect to continue, “as was” before all this upheaval started in March.

We may have to change our meeting venues and times and how we run our meetings under stricter hygiene precautions but…


Footnote – from Chairman of Trustees, Sue Watkinson

Our members who are now ‘Zooming In’ are leading the field.  All over the country u3a members are developing creative ways of keeping in touch and moving their group activities forward.  I’ve been enjoying the Creative Writing Group via a private 40 minute link since early on in lockdown and we’ve now taken up a two-hour slot on the new  u3a system.   At the moment it’s free for members.

Among others,   Italian groups have kept up their language skills, Musical Theatre and Drama are active and some monthly groups are meeting for discussion, poetry, book reading and Shakespeare.  Congratulations to all group leaders and members who have kept contact during these long months whether it is by email, digital meetings or the good old fashioned telephone.

Zooming In can give great social contact.   Our new licence gives 24/7 access so why not have an evening or weekend meeting?  It gives time to catch up, share experiences, plan and get ready to start up again.

I’ve always been proud of our u3a and I still am.    It has meant so much to me in retirement.   If there’s an opportunity to try a new technique for you to enjoy it in a different way, why not say yes.

Keep safe, stay well and see you all soon.

West Lancs in Autumn

Following a request in the September enews, members have sent us a great selection of fine photos taken in their gardens and on local walks. Many, many thanks to all contributors.

Now, to set the scene, here is a timely poem from our resident poet, Judy Ingman.


Summer’s ended. Now it’s Autumn’s call
Leaves unlinking, feathering to fall
Oranges, yellows, reds all down
As Autumn changes greens to brown.

Stormy rains wet paths and flood
Slimy grounds become slushy mud.
Fields stripped bare to the horizon strain
While walkers trudge on the uneven terrain.

Clouds and Sun intermix together
Whilst our Planet accepts the cooler weather.
Landscapes open into Nature’s soul
As all life adapts for Winter’s cold.

Judy 1/10/2020


To run this gallery as a presentation of full-size photos, click or tap on the U3A Logo.

As an extra treat of a seasonal music and photos, check out this YouTube video suggested by CXLVII.

Coronavirus Science

Coronavirus Science

Do you think that all we talk about and hear about is Corona Virus?  Do you want to make sense of all you read in the press or hear in media?  Perhaps become a Corona Virus expert to argue with your friends or win the prize in the online Corona Virus quiz (do we have one yet?).  Then read on, and learn all about it from formal government or reputable scientific sources.

Latest Corona Virus Information (updated 01/03/2021)

Current Status

The national lockdown described below is still in force and will not be revised until 8th March when schools may reopen.  There is a government 60 page document called Covid-19 Response Spring 2021 setting out the roadmap out of the current lockdown for England which gives full details of the new virus variants, vaccines and therapeutics, a four step “roadmap” to future relaxation of restriction, test and trace, economic issues etc.  This explains how the restrictions included in this guidance will be lifted over time.  There are even more details in the document’s data annex  for real enthusiasts.  Much of what you see in the media originates from here but shorn of the “interpretations” added by the media commentator.  The roadmap section is particularly useful if you are trying to guess what you may be able to do and when during early summer.

From 8 March, some of the rules on what you can and cannot do will be changing:

  • you can spend time in outdoor public spaces for recreation on your own, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble.  This means you can sit down for a drink or picnic. You must continue to maintain social distance from those outside your household; this is in addition to outdoor exercise, which is already permitted
  • pupils and students in all schools and Further Education settings will be able to return to face-to-face education
  • childcare can reopen and other children’s activities can restart for all children where it is needed to enable parents to work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group, vulnerable children can attend childcare and other children’s activities in all circumstances
  • students on practical Higher Education courses at universities who have not already returned and would be unable to complete their courses if they did not return to take part in practical teaching, access specialist facilities or complete assessments will be able to return
  • there will continue to be restrictions on international travel, holidays will not be a permitted reason to travel
  • those seeking to leave the UK must complete an outbound declaration of travel form ahead of departure
  • the rules on visiting care homes will change to allow regular indoor visits for a single named visitor

Later changes, including from 29 March, are set out in the roadmap.  The Clinically Extremely Vulnerable are advised not to attend work, school or education until 31 March.

Local Situation

From 05/01/2021 we are under national lockdown restrictions which are common to all of England and so apply to Lancashire and Liverpool Metropolitan Region; in summary these are:

Leaving home

You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home to:

  • shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person
  • go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home
  • exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.
  • meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one
  • seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
  • attend education or childcare – for those eligible

Colleges, primary and secondary schools will remain open only for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. All other children will learn remotely until February half term. Early Years settings remain open.

Higher Education provision will remain online until mid February for all except future critical worker courses.

If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay local in the village, town, or part of the city where you live. You may leave your local area for a legally permitted reason, such as for work.

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. You should not attend work

Meeting others

You cannot leave your home to meet socially with anyone you do not live with or are not in a support bubble with (if you are legally permitted to form one).

You may exercise on your own, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble.

You should not meet other people you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, unless for a permitted reason.

Stay 2 metres apart from anyone not in your household.

Much more detail is available from the government’s coronavirus web site at 

Covid 19 Mass Testing

Information for testing sites for West Lancashire (derived from is given below:

Permanent Testing site at Westgate, Skelmersdale

A testing site has opened in the overflow car park close to Sandy Lane Health Centre in Skelmersdale. The site will be open 8am–8pm seven days a week.  Although it is close to the health centre and behind the shops on Sandy Lane, the full address of the site is: Westgate Overflow Car Park, Westgate, Skelmersdale.

Permanent Testing site at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk

A testing site is open on the tennis courts at Edge Hill University seven days a week between 8am and 8pm. This site is open to local residents as well as students.  This is a walk in facility. If you arrive by car, you will be asked to park your vehicle and walk to the testing site ready for your appointed time. If you arrive on foot, you will be directed by testing facility staff upon arrival and asked to follow clearly marked routes which avoid accessing the main areas of campus itself.  Members of the public attending for a booked test have been asked not to use any facilities on site during their visit and to follow the planned routes to reach the testing site and then leave the campus once they have taken their test.

A permanent testing site is also available in Haydock.

Mobile testing units in West Lancashire January 2021

As well as the two permanent testing sites mentioned above there will be mobile testing units in different parts of the borough on different days open between 10 am and 3 pm.  One of these will be based at West Lancashire College Skelmersdale Campus College Way, Skelmersdale, Lancashire, WN8 6DX on 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, and 28 March

Others will be in the car park at All Saints Church Hall Car Park, Station Road, Hesketh Bank, PR4 6SQ  on 4, 11, 18 and 25 March and Burscough Fitness and Racquets Centre, Bobby Langton Way, Burscough, L40 0SD on  2,3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 and 31 March

Testing at these sites will be available to West Lancashire residents travelling by vehicle and on foot. You must book in advance in order to get a test, and you will only be able to book from the previous evening.  If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and wanting to apply for a test visit the dedicated COVID-19 testing site alternatively you can dial 119.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

Most people with coronavirus have at least 1 of these symptoms.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, then you must self-isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms started and arrange to have a test. This means that you must not go to work, school, university or public places – work from home if you can.

If you live with someone who has tested positive, someone in your support bubble has symptoms or tested positive, or you are told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace then you’ll also need to self-isolate for 10 days.

Further information on COVID-19 symptoms and what to do if you display symptoms are available here.

I think the test you are most likely to have at one of these centres is the PCR test but two types of test have been used in Liverpool, the so called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test which detects the virus RNA genetic material and the Lateral Flow Antigen test (LFA) which detects the presence of the Covid 19 antigen on the virus.  The LFA test is rapid, giving results in perhaps 15 minutes rather than having to process the samples in a laboratory (as for the PCR test).  It has been used as a rapid turn around test at walk in centres for asymptomatic residents who wish to know whether they don’t have Covid 19, or do but are pre-symptomatic so that they don’t know that they do.  All of this has caveats with regard to false positive and false negative rates for each type of test but these are relatively low.  I think that if you are offered a home testing kit this will be of the PCR type and you will take the samples yourself which will then be collected and taken for laboratory analysis, with you getting the results in a day or so.

It is important to understand that both types of test detect the current presence of the virus and therefore tell you that you may infect others and/or develop more severe symptoms yourself shortly.  It does not tell you that you have had the virus in the past and have developed some immunity; for this you need a serology (blood) test which will look for the presence of antibodies you have developed following the earlier infection.

Covid 19 Vaccination

How likely are you to be able to get vaccinated against the Covid 19 virus?

In total the government has now placed provisional orders for 367 million doses of coronavirus vaccines; these are shown below:

Vaccine type Vaccine No of doses Status
Adenovirus Oxford/AstraZeneca 100 million Approved and in deployment
Adenovirus Janssen 30 million Phase 3 trials
mRNA Pfizer/BioNTech 40 million Approved and in deployment
mRNA Moderna 17 million Approved
Protein Adjuvant GlaxoSmithKline/Sanofi Pasteur 60 million Phase 1/2 trials
Protein Adjuvant Novavax 60 million Phase 3 trials
Inactivated whole virus Valneva 60 million Phase 1/2 trials

some of these may not be available until well into 2021.  However 3 vaccines which have demonstrated high efficacy and safety in trials have been approved by the MHRA agency, these are available sooner, they are:

  • AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine (currently in use)
  • Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (currently in use)
  • Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (not yet in use)

We, of course, want high efficacy in preventing us from catching Covid 19 or at least developing serious illness as a result, but we also need to know how well a vaccine inhibits transmission of the virus from one person (who may be asymptomatic) to another.  If inhibition of transmission is high it means that the virus will not be able to spread (the magic R number is driven well below 1) and the pandemic shrinks quickly allowing more normal living to resume.  Recent results from Public Health England on vaccine efficacy shows that both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 infections among older people aged 70 years and over. Since January, protection against symptomatic COVID, 4 weeks after the first dose, ranged between 57 and 61% for one dose of Pfizer and between 60 and 73% for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The data, details of which  can  be accessed here,

  • compares the rate of vaccination in symptomatic people aged over 70 years of age who test positive for COVID-19, compared to those who test negative
  • compares the rate of hospitalisation in confirmed COVID-19 cases aged over 80 who were vaccinated more than 14 days before testing positive, compared to unvaccinated cases
  • compares the rate of deaths in confirmed COVID-19 cases aged over 80 who were vaccinated with Pfizer vaccine more than 14 days before testing positive, compared to unvaccinated cases

In the over 80s, data suggest that a single dose of either vaccine is more than 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation, around 3 to 4 weeks after the jab. There is also evidence for the Pfizer vaccine, which suggests it leads to an 83% reduction in deaths from COVID-19.  The data also shows symptomatic infections in over 70s decreasing from around 3 weeks after one dose of both vaccines.  The new analysis adds to growing evidence that the vaccines are working and are highly effective in protecting people against severe illness, hospitalisation and death.

The Pfizer vaccine received regulatory approval on 2nd December 2020 and the AstraZeneca vaccine on 30th December 2020.  Vaccination using to Pfizer vaccine began 7th December; if you were vaccinated early you therefore probably had the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, the Oxford Zeneca vaccine has come into use somewhat later.  The Moderna vaccine was approved on 8th January 2021 but will most likely not be available until April 2021 because of manufacturing issues.  Interestingly there is a fourth vaccine (the Janssen vaccine by Johnson & Johnson) which may be approved in the near future and could be in use in March/April; the vaccine uses a similar technology to the Oxford Astrazeneca one but needs only a single injection.

If you have been vaccinated you may be concerned about when you will get a second dose as the government extended the time for the second dose from 3 weeks to 12 to enable more people to have their first dose and gain some protection.  It is important to realise that the vaccine manufacturers base their advice for vaccination timing based on their phase 3 trials and the subsequent approval by the MHRA, this begs the question of course of why a particular spacing between vaccinations was chosen for the trials.  This may be just because this was an interval used in other vaccines which has been shown to be OK, there just has not been enough time to evaluate the vaccines with different timings between doses.  You should not be concerned about changes to the vaccination timings, the general expert opinion now seems to be that 12 weeks is perfectly OK for dose timings and that there is even some reason to believe that it is better than the 3 weeks originally planned.  Interestingly there is some thought that having a second dose using a different vaccine may be useful as different vaccines target different sites on the virus so using two different ones may give the virus more difficulty in developing resistance.  There simply has not been enough time yet to evaluate these alternatives as the time cycle for vaccine development has been compressed from maybe 10 years to 1.  My guess is that if we need a booster vaccination in the autumn it may be by with a modified existing vaccine or even a mixture of two or more of the existing vaccines.

The priorities for vaccination will be based on earlier advice from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation  ( i.e.

  1. older adults’ resident in a care home and care home workers
  2. all those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers
  3. all those 75 years of age and over
  4. all those 70 years of age and over
  5. all those 65 years of age and over
  6. high-risk adults under 65 years of age
  7. moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age
  8. all those 60 years of age and over
  9. all those 55 years of age and over
  10. all those 50 years of age and over
  11. rest of the population (priority to be determined)

You can see what is going on in the NHS in West Lancashire at , their frequently asked questions section is particularly useful.  Most U3A members are of an age where vaccination in Jan or Feb 2021 are probable, some U3A members in the 80s had their Pfizer vaccinations in December and have subsequently had their follow up 3 weeks later.

How will you get it?  For the Ormskirk area probably the Hants Lane Health Centre.  You might like to see the information your GP will have from the British Medical Association at

If you are put off having a vaccination by things you might learn from social media or the more lurid stories in some of the press you should read the definitive information from the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency  (The MHRA is the approval body for new medicines in the UK).  Information for recipient of the Pfizer vaccine is at and for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at

Coronavirus Genetic Variants

The coronavirus, or more specifically the SARS-CoV-2 virus undergoes variations in its genetic composition as it reproduces inside human cells.  These are called mutations and generate headlines in the media about “mutant viruses”.  The coronavirus is a RNA virus which the human cell’s reproduction mechanism (which the virus takes over to reproduce itself) has particular difficulty in reproducing faithfully the genetic code of the virus: mutant variations are therefore easily produced.  Often the new variant may have more than one change to its gene.  Many thousands of mutations have already arisen, but only a very small minority are likely to be important and to change the virus in an appreciable way.  There is a consortium of laboratories in the UK called COG-UK .  The consortium is a partnership of the UK’s four public health agencies, as well as the Wellcome Sanger Institute and 12 academic institutions which undertakes random genetic sequencing of positive covid-19 samples around the UK.  Since being set up in April 2020 the consortium has sequenced 140 000 virus genomes from people infected with covid-19.  It uses the data to track outbreaks, identify variant viruses, and publish a weekly report (  They have currently identified around 4000 mutations in the spike protein which is the important part of the virus which enables it to enter and infect our cells.

Sharon Peacock, director of COG-UK, says “Mutations are expected and are a natural part of evolution. Many thousands of mutations have already arisen, and the vast majority have no effect on the virus but can be useful as a barcode to monitor outbreaks.”

Combinations of mutations at different sites on the coronavirus lead to different variants which have received names such as South African variant (B1.1.351), Brazilian variant (P1), Kent (or English)  variant B.1.1.7) – and even more recently a Liverpool variant, all with particular names and codes.  This can get very confusing but there are three particular genetic mutations in the virus spike protein called E484K, K417N and N501Y which are of particular concern as they affect the ease with which the virus can bind to the ACE2 receptor on the surface of human cells. Changes in this part of spike protein may, in theory, result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people.  These mutations in the spike protein combined with other mutations have given rise to the variants listed above and no doubt will give rise to other variants in the future.

The important questions to ask of these variants are:

  • will they spread more quickly i.e. are these more contagious or transmissible
  • are they more dangerous i.e. are they more likely to cause serious illness or death
  • will vaccines still work against them


The whole reason for a virus’s existence is to reproduce, it has no reproduction mechanism of its own and needs to infect cells so that it can take over the cell’s reproduction mechanism to produce copies of itself; it therefore is under great evolutionary pressure to develop improved transmission from person to person.  Interestingly it is not under pressure to kill the person infected as you cannot transmit the virus so effectively if you are dead: as a result viruses as they evolve often become less deadly.  It is thought that the mutations to the spike proteins change the shape of the folded protein chain making it more open and better able to penetrate cell walls allowing the virus to enter the cell.  The new variants recently identified have improved transmission and therefore have become widely spread, becoming dominant strains.  The Kent variant for example is thought to be up to 70% more transmissible.  This is the reason for the extension to the “post Christmas lockdown” – the R rate of the virus has increased and needs stricter controls to prevent runaway growth in infections, swamping the health services etc. before the vaccination program has had time to take effect on the spread of the virus.


Are the new coronavirus variants more dangerous than the original strain?  Probably not, if there is an effect at all it is small and has not been picked up strongly in epidemiology studies, for example the Kent variant although being more transmissible appears to be no worse than the original strain at causing hospital admissions.  As you might expect however this topic is currently being watched closely for all variants.

Will the vaccines still work?

The new variants have mutations to the spike protein that the three leading vaccines are targeting. However, vaccines produce antibodies against other regions in the spike protein also, so it’s unlikely that a single change would make the vaccine very much less effective.  There have been reports of reduced efficacy of vaccines against the newer variants; balanced against this the four laboratories in the UK who are working on evaluating the new variants against the current vaccines say that they are not seeing any strong evidence that the vaccines will be less effective.  Additionally the producers of the Pfizer Biontech and Moderna and the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine have recently stated that they believe their vaccines are equally as effective against the new UK strain.  This is a rapidly developing field of course as epidemiological data can only be collected as a larger statistical population people are vaccinated and available for study.  This means that much of the data on the performance of vaccines against the newer virus variants come from laboratory studies only.

Over time, as more mutations occur, the vaccines may need to be altered. This happens with seasonal flu, which mutates every year, and the vaccine is adjusted accordingly. The SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t mutate as quickly as the flu virus, and the vaccines that have so far proved effective in trials are types that can easily be modified if necessary.  The vaccines based on mRNA (e.g. Pfizer Biontech) should be particularly good at doing this quickly.  Work on modifying vaccines against the important spike protein mutations is progressing e.g. Oxford-Astrazeneca have announced that they expect to have a modified vaccine available for the autumn when you might expect a resurgence of coronavirus infections similarly to the more common flu.

Interestingly through genetic engineering and computational biology science is now able to “evolve the virus” in the laboratory faster than nature.  There are two approaches; chemically modifying just free spike proteins in the lab and seeing how antibodies interact with them, and computer modelling to see how minor changes to the spike protein affects the way it folds and its subsequent shape.  Using these techniques one can predict what changes to the spike proteins may be dangerous and potentially develop vaccines to them before they occur naturally through virus evolution.  This is developing science which may be expected to drive vaccine development in the future.

More Coronavirus Background Information

We are being exposed to a huge amount of COVID-19 information on a daily basis and not all of it is reliable. Here are some tips taken from the World Health Organisation for telling the difference and stopping the spread of misinformation –

We want to understand the world around us and stay up to date: one of the ways we do this is by seeking out and sharing “information”, much of it from news articles and opinion pieces, messages from vloggers, bloggers, podcasts and social media perhaps shared by friends and family on social media or messaging apps.

Information is something which is accurate to the best of our current knowledge. For instance, COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019 and is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. One of the difficulties with any new pathogen, like this coronavirus, is that information changes over time as we learn more about the science.

Misinformation, on the other hand, is false information which was not created with the intention of hurting others.  Misinformation is often started by someone who genuinely wants to understand a topic and share information with others who feel the same.  Everyone believes they are sharing good information – but unfortunately, they are not, and depending on what is being shared, the misinformation can turn out to be harmful.  At the other end of the spectrum is disinformation.  Unlike misinformation, this is false information created with the intention of profiting from it or causing harm to a person, a group of people, an organization or even a country.  During this pandemic it can be used to erode our trust in each other and in government and public institutions.  There are seven steps you can take to navigate this wave of information and decide who and what to trust:

1. Assess the source

Who shared the information with you and where did they get it from?  Even if it is friends or family, you still need to vet their source: to check for social media accounts, look at how long profiles have been active, their number of followers and their most recent posts. For websites, check the “About Us” and “Contact Us” pages to look for background information and legitimate contact details.  When it comes to images or videos you can verify their authenticity.  For images, you can use reverse image search tools provided by Google and TinEye, for videos, you can use Amnesty International’s YouTube DatViewer, which extracts thumbnails that you can enter into reverse image search tools.  Other clues that a source may be unreliable or inaccurate include unprofessional visual design, poor spelling and grammar, or excessive use of capitals or exclamation marks.

2. Go beyond headlines

Headlines may be intentionally sensational or provocative to get high numbers of reads or clicks.  Read more than just the headline of an article – go further and look at the entire story.  Search more widely than social media for information – look at print sources such as newspapers and magazines, and digital sources such as podcasts and online news sites; best of all look at formal sites e.g. from the NHS, professional or academic bodies such as those listed in “More Coronavirus Background Information” below.  Diversifying your sources allows you to get a better picture of what is or is not trustworthy.

3. Identify the author

Search the author’s name online to see if they are real or credible.

4. Check the date

When you come across information, ask yourself these questions: Is this a recent story? Is it up to date and relevant to current events? Has a headline, image or statistic been used out of context?

5. Examine the supporting evidence

Credible stories back up their claims with facts – for example, quotes from experts or links to statistics or studies. Verify that experts are reliable and that links actually support the story

6. Check your biases

We all have biases, and these factor into how we view what’s happening around us; you need to evaluate your own biases and why you may have been drawn to a particular headline or story.  What is your interpretation of it?  Why did you react to it that way?  Does it challenge your assumptions or tell you what you want to hear?  What did you learn about yourself from your interpretation or reaction?

7. Turn to fact-checkers

When in doubt, consult trusted fact-checking organizations such as Poynter International Fact Checking Network

Up to date government coronavirus information is available at  There is also a science organisation which provides science briefings for the media, which is good if you want to miss out “the middle-man “.

Government NHS COVID-19 Tracking App

When the official UK Government tracker app was first evaluated significant problems were identified.  The development and use of similar apps has faced problems in other countries.  As a result  a “hybrid” app with some of the characteristics of the existing Google/Apple contact tracing app and the UK Government app was developed and launched in 24th Sept 2020.  It is compatible with most Apple and Android based smart phones, unless the models are too old and is downloadable from the Apple App Store or Google Play: the name of the app is “NHS Covid-19”.  At last count over 14 million people had downloaded it.

The App will:

  • tell you what is the risk level for Covid 19 for the area you live in (you need to put in a part post code to tell the app where you are)
  • scan for nearby phone using Bluetooth so that it can identify if you have been near anyone who also has the app installed and later reports symptoms
  • allows you to scan for QR codes at any restaurant, pub or similar venue which has the NHS QR code on display, this registers you as having been present to aid tracking if you, or anyone else at the venue at the same time, later develop coronavirus symptoms.  I think that having a QR code on display will be compulsory for “hospitality venues” soon.  Being able to scan the code should mean that you do not have to give your details manually to the venue.  I have seen a QR code notice recently in some non hospitality venues (e.g. Hartley’s Nurseries!) so it is worth keeping a look out for them.
  • allow you can check coronavirus symptoms, report if you have them and book a test if you do.
  • allow you to read the latest NHS coronavirus advice
  • enter any test results you have received, this will help the tracing of other contacts you might have had and alert them.

You can find more detailed information from the official NHS web site at

COVID-19 Symptom Tracker (not the official NHS Covid-19 app)

Take 1 minute to report your health daily, even if you’re well.

  • Help slow the outbreak
  • Join millions of people helping to fight COVID-19
  • Help scientists identify high risk areas in the UK

The COVID Symptom Tracker was designed by doctors and scientists at King’s College London, Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals working in partnership with ZOE Global Ltd – a health science company. The Tracker is an app that runs on an iPhone or an Android phone, and by using this app you would be contributing to advancing research on COVID-19 by the Kings College team. The app will be used to study the symptoms of the virus and track how it spreads. For more information go to the COVID-19 Symptom Tracker website.


The WHO – not the rock band!  Confused by all the media reports on Covid-19, want to keep up to date on what is going on worldwide?  The World Health Organisation provides daily high quality scientific information in an easily understood format at

“Advice to the Public” in the sidebar gives reliable information on e.g. masks, coronavirus myths etc.

CEBM – The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine

The CEBM has a useful Oxford COVID-19 Evidence Service giving rapid reviews of primary care questions relating to the coronavirus pandemic. It is updated regularly.

Coronavirus: the science explained

Coronavirus: the science explained is an authoritative website maintained by UKRI (UK Research & Innovation) the government organisation which funds much of the research work in UK universities.  You have paid for it so you might as well see what it is doing with your money!  The site lays out the evidence and the facts about the virus, the disease, the epidemic, and its control and is regularly updated with the latest science information behind the coronavirus pandemic.  If you keep up to date with this you will be better informed than the average television commentator or newspaper journalist.

Schedule for September enews

The August enews has now been emailed out to all current members of Aughton & Ormskirk U3A on Monday 31st August.  Unfortunately, if your membership has lapsed or you do not have an email address on the Beacon Membership System, you will not receive these monthly missives. Contact the Membership Team for advice on updating your record on this system.

The deadline for items for the next enews is 12noon on Monday 28 September (last Monday of the month). Please send your items before Noon on that day to the enews Editor.

If you have missed the enews deadline, and have some U3A content you would like to publicise in the meantime on this website, contact the Web Team. 

You can use the web forms for the Membership Team,  enews Editor and the Web Team on the Contact Us webpage to get in touch, selecting appropriately from the ‘drop-down list’ on the form as you fill it in.

Message from the Management Committee


Prior to hiring rooms, the Premises providers will have certified that the premises are classed as ‘Covid-19 Secure’. The Premises providers will have provided a risk assessment confirming the steps taken to minimise the risk of transfer of Covid-19. However, while some of the actions are on the provider of the premises there are many actions required on the hirer and now figure in the terms and conditions of hiring.


If you have any Covid-19 symptoms or have been advised to isolate, do not participate in U3A activities. If you are from a location known to be subject to special measures, do not participate in U3A activities. Your health and safety and that of other members are paramount.

Assuming the above does not exclude you from attending, please take note that the onus is on you to assess the risks associated with participating in the offered activities. The premises owners and your management team will have taken all reasonable steps to minimize threats to the wellbeing of members and communicate the good practice described here. However, the acceptance of risk is inevitably a personal matter.

By the way, the Third Age Trust advises that members avoid car sharing to and from activities.


The premises will be cleaned by the premises provider at the start of each day but NOT between sessions. As a condition of the booking, any party hiring the premises must commit to themselves cleaning all surfaces with an appropriate household product. Typically, this means wiping chair frames (not fabric), tables, door handles window handles and toilets. The group leader will be responsible for supplying the cleaning products; with the cost covered from attendance fees.

If equipment is used, clean that equipment with an appropriate sanitizing product between sessions.

Keep the room well ventilated.


Attendees are encouraged to clean hands with a sanitizer or soap/water prior to and throughout the session.


Attendees must adhere to the Govt guidelines on social distancing. Ideally, a standard of 2 metres should be adopted. The room provider may assist in this matter by floor markings. Wherever practical, sit side-by-side rather than face-to-face. If 2 metres is not viable (e.g. card and board games), a distancing of 1+ metres must be adhered to and face masks must be worn throughout the session.

If the activity involves synchronized movement that may cause an individual to inadvertently move into the space of another individual, a social distance necessary to avoid inadvertently breaching the 2 metres must be adopted.

The premises management will have advised the maximum capacity of each available room. The Group Leader must ensure that the imposed maximum attendance is not breached. This could entail putting potential attendees on a rota or splitting a session.

Avoid congestion within corridors. The room provider may designate separate entrance and exit routes. These must be adhered to.

If the activity has recognized national guidelines (e.g. table tennis), comply with those guidelines.


Excepting access to a sink, kitchen facilities will NOT be available. You must not touch the hall’s cutlery or crockery. Bring your own refreshments. Do not share refreshments or associated utensils.


Leaders must maintain an accurate register of attendees at each session and ensure that a contact telephone number is recorded on the register against each attendees’ name.

Leaders must retain the register and be prepared to pass the details of any specific session to the Secretary and to an agent of the Govt ‘Test and Trace’ service.

Derrick Fewings,
on behalf of the Management Committee

Message from the Chairman – August 2020

Many of you will be aware that a survey of Group Leaders and approx. three hundred members chosen at random has taken place.

This was undertaken to give the Committee an indication of member’s feelings with when our U3A activities should continue. The dates of 1st September, 1st October and 1st January 2021 were used as a time indicator rather than fixed proposals for reopening.

The results of the survey revealed a fifty-fifty split between October and January, but with the proviso “as soon as it is safe to do so”.

At a Zoom Management Committee meeting, on 10th August, the survey results were considered. It was also accepted that there are Covid-19 spikes in Preston, Greater Manchester and Liverpool at present. There is also speculation about whether or not the re-opening of schools etc. will affect the situation…

Given this scenario, and as the health and wellbeing of our members is our number one priority, the decision to restart our U3A activities was deferred until the New Year 2021.

The committee will continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation and will take heed of Third Age Trust and Government advice, and will keep you informed of any progress that can be made.

This is of course disappointing to many of us, but it is better to be safe than be sorry.

Alan Starkie


Aughton & Ormskirk U3A

Online Talks and Tours

A message from Pamela Ball, the Speaker Meeting Organiser, about Free Online Talks:

UK Tours Online are offering a number of online talks via Zoom which may be of interest to members. Most have to be paid for, but there will be a free one on Monday 7 September entitled Saints, murderers, heroes, crooks: the worst and best of British monarchs. Also on 25 August there will be a talk on Seven treasures of the British Museum – this one is available to us for a donation (you choose the amount) to Prostate Cancer UK. Register for either or both here (you will need to scroll through a bit!).

Shine a Light on Beacon

Still in the dark about the  U3A Beacon Membership System?  Then let the Membership Team enlighten you.

For example, among other things:

  • existing members can renew membership online
  • members can update their own personal details on the Beacon database (useful if you change your email address and still want to receive the enews and Management Committee communications)
  • group leaders can easily communicate with their group members via Beacon email

Chairman’s message about re-opening

Many members are asking questions about re-opening our U3A. The Management Committee has been actively discussing the situation and examining the latest Government rules. You can read the Chairman’s statement (sent to members in a special Beacon email on 3rd July) about the steps we are taking to ensure a safe continuation of our activities.


There have been many announcements from Government detailing when and under what conditions businesses can open from 4th July. As a result, many members have raised the question of when our U3A will be operational.

Government rules on how organisations such as ours can re-open have been examined and as a consequence, there are several steps we need to take in order for us to make it as safe as possible for us to start Group activities again.

There are obligations on the owners of venues that we use such as Scouts & Guides, Aughton Village Hall etc.
Before we can commit to using any facility, we must be sure that they have been deep cleaned and how they will conform to cleaning regulations.

These and a whole raft of other topics will need to be negotiated and agreed before we continue with our activities.

When we can eventually restart meetings, we should not expect things to continue as before the lockdown.

We shall have to plan and allocate where and when meetings can take place, taking into account the size of the group; how many people a facility can accommodate within distancing rules etc., and if the wearing of masks will be mandatory or not.

For example, face to face Groups such as Bridge under present rules will probably have to wear a mask for the duration of the meeting.

It is also more than likely that Horizons will not be reactivated for some time.

There are many more rules for the committee to consider before we can give the go ahead to continue with meetings and meet our friends again.

Uppermost in our thoughts is that, according to the scientists, our generation is identified as being very vulnerable to Covid-19 and we must take very cautious steps when moving forward.

Even when we can continue, every member must be responsible for their own health and safety and should bear this in mind before attending U3A meetings.

I hope that a successful vaccination against Covid-19 will be found and we will all be vaccinated, rules and regulations will no longer be needed and we will be able to freely meet again.

Until then we must cope with how things are.

The Committee will strive to restart our U3A and we will inform you when it is safe to do so.

Keep Safe; Keep Well

Alan Starkie

Gardening Group-Garden Visits & Photos

Lockdown 2020

All meetings are currently postponed until further notice.

Hello Everyone. Helen here from the Gardening Group. I do hope that you are all staying safe and well and enjoying your garden or outdoor spaces. 

Garden visits

For anyone that hasn’t heard, the National Gardens Scheme have started garden openings with an online booking system for visits so that numbers are limited and social distancing can work. 

79 Crabtree Lane – which our group visited last year is opening this weekend – Sunday 5th, Monday 6th and Tuesday 7th.

Hazel wood  – which our group was due to visit this year is also opening this weekend – Saturday 4th, Sunday 5th and Monday 6th.

Just go online to and click on ‘book a visit’.

Photo gallery of our groups gardens .

Following on from the earlier success of the West Lancs in Bloom galleries on our U3A Website, the Web Team are wondering if Gardening Group members would be interested in a special gallery to add to our Group Page with recent pictures of your gardens?  West Lancs in Bloom was nearly exclusively Spring Blossom, so we were thinking of a gallery this time with a theme like Our Summer Gardens during Lockdown.

Contributions can be emailed as attachments to  As the website is public, contributors should avoid the appearance in a photo of recognizable people or obtain permission from those appearing. Please provide suitable short captions for your photos and say whether you would like your name to be included or not.

Looking forward to seeing your lovely gardens. I’m amazed at how resilient many plants have been to the recent extremes of weather, gales, heatwave, drought and torrential rain ! 

Stay safe and healthy,

Pam & Helen

Creative Writing Group During Lockdown

When we heard that we’d no longer be able to meet up for our usual monthly sessions, the Creative Writing Group decided that we’d still like to write something every month and share it via email. We knew it wouldn’t be half as enjoyable as getting together but it was better than nothing. However, with the next ‘meeting’ several weeks away, someone suggested we created a WhatsApp group so we could keep in touch in the meantime. What a great idea! National lockdown was looming but we were prepared.

We’ve got to know each other surprisingly well. Through the WhatsApp chat we’ve heard snippets of lives past and seen present day photos from daily walks. We’ve even had the odd glimpse into each other’s homes via Zoom. Strangely, during this time apart, acquaintances are becoming firm friends.

One day, a bit of banter on WhatsApp sparked a couple of lines of fiction and everyone joined in adding their own couple of lines. Before we knew it we had a page-worth of words that could have been lifted from a spy novel. It was a bit of fun so we decided we’d have a proper go with a new story. We’ve written seven so far, including one round of poetry. The six of us keeping ourselves amused with these exercises are set in a new order every time and then write two or three paragraphs each, usually two rounds per story.

Follow this link to see our most recent creation!

With all of this, plus our short story competition entries, we’ve done more writing in the last three months than most of us ever do under normal circumstances and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of lockdown.

Gardening Group – June

All meetings are currently postponed until further notice.

Hello Everyone. Helen here from the Gardening Group. I do hope that you are all staying safe and well and enjoying your garden or outdoor spaces. Thank you to everyone who has emailed with comments or photos, good to hear from you. I hope you all enjoyed the quiz in the last email, here are the answers to that one and a new quiz for this month.

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Peter LLoyd Fund Raising

Although our group is for the time being having a rest due to Covid 19, Peter LLoyd – Leader of  Beer Appreciation group – has taken the opportunity to raise some much needed funds for our local hospitals. He cycled almost 80 miles in consecutive days calling at Alder Hey, Royal Preston and Southport Hospitals where he is also a volunteer.  A magnificent total of £920 was raised which will be disbursed to Alder Hey and Southport, both of which have issued Urgent Appeals.  Peter would like to say a sincere thanks to all of his U3A Friends who donated following his Bike Ride: ” You have been simply amazing, I cannot thank you enough. Best Love to all”.

2019 Visits

Our day out at the Wigan Beer Festival at the DW Stadium complex and also Wigan’s best in the town centre. Thanks to Barry – we didn’t get lost – unlike the journey home.

St Alban’s Cathedral, Hertfordshire

The Cathedral Church of Saint Alban, Saint Alban’s, Hertfordshire, 26th May

Although we will not be meeting for talks by the three Peters, we can see a taster of what is to come once lock-down is over.

In 731, the Venerable Bede had this to say: ‘A beautiful church worthy of Alban’s martyrdom was built, where sick folk are healed and frequent miracles take place to this day’

Nothing remains of the chapel built where Alban was martyred in 209, but he was executed for sheltering the Christian priest Amphibalus, so Christian worship was taking place in and around the city of Verulamium by that time. The earliest church was destroyed by Saxons in 586. Offa is said to have founded a double Benedictine monastery in 793, replacing the building of Bede’s time. This later building was, in turn, sacked by Danes around 890, after which the monastery hit hard times and there was no abbot between 920 and the 970s. However, Abbot Ealdred began to rebuild in 1005, but this work stalled under the pressure of Viking raids from 1016 onwards.

In 1077 when Paul of Caen was appointed the first Norman abbot, by his uncle Lanfranc Archbishop of Canterbury, he set about building a new church straight away, starting with the crossing tower. There was no good building stone near the site, only flints, so some stone was imported from Caen but the major part of the building was constructed from Roman tiles, found in abundance in the nearby ruins of Verulamium.

Today, the crossing tower, two western bays of the chancel and the transepts survive from the late 11th century. Eastern parts of the nave and much of the north arcade and aisle are also Norman work, of the 12th century, and four Western bays of the nave are Early English from the early 13th century, the presbytery, and retro-choir date from a mid-13th century rebuild and the Lady Chapel from the late 13th and early 14th century. The south arcade and aisle of the nave were rebuilt in the mid-14th century, documented 15th century work has been mainly replaced under later (Victorian) restorations.

After the dissolution of the abbey in 1539, practically all the claustral buildings were demolished for their building materials and the main church abandoned and neglected. In 1553 the citizens of St Albans bought the old abbey to use as their parish church, but repair and maintenance of such a large ancient building was beyond the means of the parishioners and by 1832 the main building was reported to be in a sad state of disrepair. But from 1871 remedial work was done under Sir G.G. Scott: to the nave clerestorey, the South aisle roof, stonework of the Lady Chapel and the structure of the crossing tower, but funds ran out after his death in 1878. This laid the way open for a local lawyer, Lord Grimthorpe, also an amateur theologian and an amateur architect to step in. He was a wealthy man and overall spent £130.000 of his fortune on his own ‘improvements’ and repairs to the structure, mainly in a version of Victorian Gothic. The whole West front was replaced by him and the roof heightened to a steeper pitch and well as other restorations throughout the structure. There is a carved portrait of him, represented as St Matthew, in the West porch.

The see and bishopric of Saint Alban’s was inaugurated in 1877 and the old Abbey church became the cathedral, whilst also remaining the parish church, dedicated to St Alban.

Poems for Lockdown

This Post was the response to a request for poems from the Web Team, in early May 2020 (during the coronavirus lockdown),  for members to read on our U3A Website.  The result below is an eclectic mix penned by known poets and by our own talented U3A members. Many, many thanks to all contributors.
Please note – This particular post is now complete.  But members are always welcome to send in contributions for publication on the website  sharing their many and varied literary and artistic talents eg poems, stories, paintings, cartoons etc to:

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Garden Group – April

U3A Garden Group – April 

Hello Everyone. I do hope that you are all staying safe and well and enjoying your garden or outdoor spaces. As we are no longer able to meet I thought of keeping touch – and hopefully have a bit of fun. We all need this in the current situation.

Fun quiz:

1. Conceal the guide.
2. blue dilly,dilly.
3. Material for sundress.
4. Mrs.Bucket.
5. Overworked girl.
6. Sugary Prince.
7. Remember Me.
8. German wine for Ivy’s partner.
9. The shepherds friend and the bakers ingredient.
10. Line up for the dolly.
12. Colourful accommodation.
13. Instrument has roof support.
14. Crustation combines with Adams downfall.
15. Weight of gold.
16. A taxi for an era.
17. A Foppish feline.
18. Cold fall.
19. Stan.
20. This is more than a saga.

Answers to be revealed next month.

Fun quotes

A farmer purchased an old, run-down, abandoned farm with plans to turn it into a thriving enterprise. The fields were grown over with weeds, the farmhouse was falling apart, and the fences were broken down. During his first day of work, the town preacher stops by to bless the man’s work, saying, “May you and God work together to make this the farm of your dreams!” A few months later, the preacher stops by again to call on the farmer. Lo and behold, it’s a completely different place. The farm house is completely rebuilt and in excellent condition, there is plenty of cattle and other livestock happily munching on feed in well-fenced pens, and the fields are filled with crops planted in neat rows. “Amazing!” the preacher says. “Look what God and you have accomplished together!” “Yes, reverend,” says the farmer, “but remember what the farm was like when God was working it alone!”

God made rainy days, so gardeners could get the housework done.

A toddler who was found chewing on a slug. After the initial surge of disgust the parent said, “Well, what does it taste like?” “Worms,” was the reply.

A Few Jobs to do now

  • Start to direct sow hardy annuals, eg marigolds, poppies, dill, cerinthe, nigella, etc.
  • Harden off seedlings that have been started off indoors on warm still days. Place them outside during the day, but take them in again late afternoon, and do this for about a week or so. This way they will get used to the cooler conditions before being planted outside. Start planting out half-hardies, eg.cosmos, in sheltered spots at end of the month.
  • Pot cuttings of tender perennials, eg. perlagoniums taken late last summer or autumn. They’ll be well rooted now and will benefit from some fresh compost and more space for root formation before planting in their summer position.
  • Plant out sweet peas– two plants to each upright. Dig a good, deep hole and fill the base with farmyard manure. Tie them in to the base of the arch or frame and water them in well.
  • Create new plants from last year’s pelargoniums – take cuttings now and they’ll be ready to be replanted in a couple of months and be in full flower in four.
  • Keep on top of the tiny annual weeds emerging with a hoe. Only hoe on dry days – this way any weeds that you hoe will die off and wilt quickly. Run the blade back and forth over the soil to break it up and cut down any of the newly sprouting weeds. You can save so much back-breaking work later on if you do this every other day for a few minutes.
  • Perennials such as bindweed will start to appear big-time now. Dig them out, tracing the roots as far as you can, or train the tip up a bamboo cane and then treat with a suitable weedkiller.
  • Cut back the last of the perennials and lightly fork over the soil carefully without damaging emerging shoot.
  • Lavender plants need cutting back now to prevent them from looking sparse. Give the plant a short back and sides with secateurs to snip off old flower stems and shoot tips. Don’t prune hard into old wood, as this will prevent new growth. While you are pruning, shape the plants into domes and remove any leggy or unwanted stems. Give the plants a weekly liquid feed during the summer, to encourage growth.
  • Last chance to cut back shrubs, especially those grown for colourful winter stems (eg dogwood or willow). Cut back to buds about knee height, then feed and mulch.

Inspirational table tennis player

Ibrahim Hamato lost both his arms as the result of an accident when he was 10. He plays table tennis better than most people!

West Lancs in Bloom

The daffodils had faded, but there was no shortage of beautiful blooms appearing in our gardens and local countryside. Member, Audrey Patterson, had sent the Web Team a stunning photo of a lovely tree in her garden. This was the inspiration to set up a new Photo Gallery to brighten up both our spirits and the website, and to show off West Lancs in Bloom. A request to members for photos taken when  pottering in the garden or out on a daily walk was so successful that we have now included some late additions and an extra gallery 7 that you may not have seen earlier.

Many Many Thanks for contributing to and viewing these photo galleries. It has proved very popular with loads of hits on this Webpage.  No more photos are required for the time being for this Webpage.  But if the lockdown persists, we may set up another one on  nature seen in the local gardens and countryside later into the summer.

But in the meantime, if you would like to view some further excellent photos taken by members, take a look at the Competition Winners to be found following on from the Digital Photography Group Page.

Click or tap on any of the photos in the Gallery you wish to view, and then scroll through the slideshow for that Gallery to see the images full-size.

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

Even the leaves are ‘blossoming’ (mostly taken by Alan N)

Gallery 4

Gallery 5

From Pete and Val’s Garden

Gallery 6

Gallery 7

Lovely, and mostly pink, Clematis, Cherry Blossom and Camelia