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by Peter Slater - 21:22 on 15 March 2018

Orkney U3A Chairman’s Report 2017-2018

The first general meeting of the year was in April, and given by Sue Spence on the subject of bee keeping in Orkney. She brought her bee-keeping equipment to show us, spoke clad in her bee suit and gave us a taste of her delicious honey. In May rangers Elaine Clark and Sandra Miller told us about world heritage sites, the small number we have in Scotland and, of course, the very important one in Orkney. Some members donned a virtual reality headset to have a tour of Maeshowe. Jack MacInnes gave us a talk on John Rae in June, detailing his remarkable arctic explorations and his possibly even more troublesome struggles with influential people on his return to this country. In August another of our own members, David Taylor, compared and contrasted life in 18th century landlocked Badenoch with that in Orkney, showing how important the sea was for trading at the time, one factor leading Orkney to be relatively prosperous despite its greater distance from markets. September’s talk was by Martin Gray who outlined the amazing variety of flotsam and jetsom, a lot of it from faraway places, to be found on Orkney’s beaches. In October, we welcomed back our founder member Maureen Moore, whose studies of molluscs in the east of South Africa had led her on to look at the lifestyle of the Xhosa tribe there, whose diet these animals contributed to. She brought some beautiful shells for us to handle and admire. Growing trees in Orkney was the subject of November’s talk, by Jenny Taylor, our local expert on the subject, who gave us an overview of just how much silviculture is now taking place in Orkney and what a wide variety of species are involved. December saw our Christmas lunch at the Kirkwall Hotel: a most enjoyable and convivial occasion, which went so smoothly that you would think little organisation was involved. Much credit to Fiona for making the arrangements and giving that false impression!

In January, David McNeish, who has been a leading light in the setting up of the St Magnus Way, told us about it, both as a route for a good walk and for a spiritual journey. He even succeeded in getting some of the most unlikely of us to sing a gradually evolving song which illustrated his points. It was a remarkable feat to set up such a long and complex route in such a short period of time. Our final talk in February was by Ian Bell, and described his path from a Quaker childhood in Northern Ireland to teaching, and finally to two decades travelling to numerous strife-stricken areas in the world contributing to efforts to resolve conflicts.  It was a fascinating account, full of nuggets of wisdom, and made an excellent end to a thoroughly eclectic series of talks.

Sadly Tim Wright is away so we will miss out today on having one of his excellent photographic quizzes. I shall try to ensure he does not escape next year! Instead we will have a short talk by Dani Hallam on the Orkney Native Wildlife Project, which must be the most concerning subject in the Orkney natural environment at the moment. Next month we have our tenth birthday party to which all members have been invited, and at which there will be displays and presentations to illustrate – and celebrate – the numerous and varied things that our different groups have been up to. The following week we will have an extra talk from staff members at Scottish Ballet on the new ballet “Highland Fling”, which is being performed the previous and following nights at the Pickie. In May Ruth Hagan will come to talk about the charity Gogo Olive, based in Westray but supporting women in Zimbabwe in their work making knitted children’s toys. Then, in June, in a departure from our normal routine we will have a visit to TS Thorfinn and a talk about the history of the building by the Chairman of the Orkney Sea Cadets, William Watters. Jonathan Ford will talk in August about being the Papay ranger and in July we will hear about microplastics in Orkney from Angela Capper. Andy Alsop will speak about Antarctica in October and in November Mike Bell will talk on making fisheries sustainable, which brings us round again to our Christmas lunch, which Judy O’Connor has very kindly agreed to organise for us.

I need not say more about individual groups as their leaders will tell us of their activities, and we will have a chance of seeing these for ourselves at next month’s birthday celebration. I must, however, thank Tim Wright, who is standing down after 10 years as leader of Photo Group 1. He is not, however, hanging up his boots as he has started a walking group, which has proved extremely popular. Prior to this we had nine groups and this number remained the same for several years. I wonder if there is scope for more? Any member who would like to join a group on a new topic, even if they are not prepared to run it, could let me know and I will sound out the rest of the membership to see if sufficient interest exists to set it up. Meanwhile I must thank our current group leaders who do a wonderful job and whose efforts are critical to the whole enterprise.

A number of others deserve particular thanks. Angela Way has organised the rota of groups to ensure that we have our teas and coffees at the end of meetings, and she and Allan have taken a lot of the onus of this on themselves. Liz Lea has set up a rota of people to write up our meetings in the Orcadian. David Appleton is invaluable as our website and IT expert. Special gratitude too this year to Hilary Morrell and Beryl Matthews who have done the lion’s share of the preparations for our birthday party with, as you would expect from the two of them, enormous efficiency. Even Beryl being laid up in the Balfour for several weeks seemed not to cause a hiccup.

Which brings me finally to our two office bearers who are retiring this year, Sally MacKintosh as Treasurer and Fiona Knox as Secretary. Sally has been meticulous in her attention to detail; she has both our money and our membership records under very firm control, and has kept the committee constantly updated on both. We know exactly where we are and are extremely grateful to her for her efforts particularly as health issues have not always made it easy for her. I must also thank her for being prepared to carry on for a few extra months until her successor is free to take over. Fiona too has done an excellent job as Secretary, providing full and clear Agenda and Minutes as required, keeping me on the straight and narrow as a new Chairman who wasn’t awfully clear what he ought to be doing, and also, as I mentioned earlier, organising an excellent and smooth running Christmas lunch. Many thanks indeed to both of them.

Peter Slater

15th March 2018

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