My First Meeting at the Probus Club

Dr Jeff Grover
Dr Jeff Grover

I arrived at the meeting venue in good time so as not to make a poor impression had I been late. Fortunately, my host was waiting for me in the bar (where else?) and introduced me to a number of members standing close by.

I was a little nervous at first not really knowing what to expect but everyone was very friendly and welcoming. All were wearing a club tie and lapel pin in their jackets. Oh yes, dress code. As it was mid-morning and not the evening I did not have to wonder if it was a black-tie occasion (because I was unsure if my dinner suit would still fit me since my retirement) or, would a lounge suit or jacket and tie be sufficient? I was reassured that my smart jacket and tie seemed to suit the occasion admirably.

After a while, we were called into the dining room which had several large tables. Oh, where do I sit? Anywhere and everywhere was the answer. Wherever there’s a spare seat; after all, Probus does not encourage cliques but wants a clear mix of members from one month to another to allow everyone to know each other better.

After a short introduction there followed a talk by an outside speaker. On the first occasion, the topic was about the Oregon Trail in the USA. Subsequent talks have been about cycling the length of the USA, life observations by someone who naturally enough always saw the funny side of life (and was indeed very funny) and the life and times of a BBC radio reporter. The talks are varied, informative, humorous and always well received.

Lunch followed. A traditional English meal was served followed by a dessert. I had chosen the biscuits and cheese as an alternative to the dessert. Conversation flowed and the noise increased with laughter and chatter all around me. I discovered that members were retired having followed a wide variety of careers including bomb disposal, banknote forgery, nuclear science, paper manufacture, motorheads and many other occupations. In turn upon retirement members had devoted their spare time to cruising, holidays, bird watching, playing golf, politics and so on. What an eclectic bunch.

After lunch, the President, resplendent in his chain of office, made various announcements of interest to the assembled members including what many considered the most important decision of the meeting – what to eat at the next lunch meeting!!

Other announcements followed including details of various trips being organised that would be of interest to members and their partners as well as less formal meetings at various pubs and restaurants being held throughout the year.

I made my way home in the early afternoon thinking what great value for money I had enjoyed. For a modest outlay of £25 annual subscription plus £13 a month for the cost of the meal, I wondered about the people I had met, the conversations that followed and the interesting and fascinating lives of those around me.

Nature Photography by Stephen Thair

Here is further evidence of the interest by member Stephen Thair in anything from the natural world and his photographic expertise.

The first two are from a local walk in the bluebell woods around Hodds Farm in Old Basing although the third is of Stitchworts in the same wood.7. Bluebell woods - Hodds Farm, Old Basing (10)

7. Bluebell woods - Hodds Farm, Old Basing (11)

6. Stitchworts - Hodd Farm, Old Basing (2)

The next three photographs are from the holiday Stephen and Margaret took at the beginning of the year to Costa Rica

53. Collared Aracari - Evergreen Ecolodge - Tortuguero (1)
A Collared Acacari Bird
6. Two-toed Sloth - El Ciervo (18)
A Two-Toed Sloth
34. Spectacled Caiman - Tortuguero NP (2)
A Spectacled Caiman – not something seen often around Basingstoke




Bird Photography by Jonathan Ratcliff

It’s surprising what we learn about people during this period of self-isolation, none more so than the fact that Jonathan Ratcliff is not only a keen photographer but also has an interest in ornithology.
Here are three examples of starlings taken from his window using the camera on his Apple Iphone. Very impressive.

Just so that you know, I tried to upload a video that Jonathan had made of these Starlings and after spending two hours with my son (over Zoom) it appears that to have videos on our web site means having to pay for an upgrade. So regrettably we shall have to live without them.IMG_7316IMG_7340IMG_7348

One of the best decisions

“I missed not seeing you during the Coronavirus lockdown Granddad/Grandpa/Pa. After you had finished all those jobs that Grandma had been waiting for you to do, what did you do then?”

Please select your normal style of address used by your grandchildren.

“I made one of the best decisions in my life” you replied.

“What was that Granddad/Grandpa/Pa?”

“ I’d been thinking about it for a while but with all the time in the world to consider what to do with my life, when this lockdown eventually ends, I decided to join the Probus Club of Basingstoke.”

“What do they get up to, Granddad/Grandpa/Pa?”

“Well, I had read in the Rabbiter magazine about this group of like-minded retired men who get together regularly for social interchange and meetings where they have interesting speakers and good lunches.”

“Won’t Grandma mind you going out all the time without her?”

“They also have social occasions most months that I can take your Grandma to and have trips to interesting places that she and I can attend.”

“Was it difficult to apply, Granddad/Grandpa/Pa?

“As those meerkats on the TV advertisements say, Simples. I phoned their Secretary and had an exploratory chat about what their plans are when these social distancing regulations are lifted and it all sounded like something that suited my style and life’s experiences. It was really easy and I felt that I would be made most welcome. I can’t wait to go to their meetings when they start again.”

If this sounds like you, then phone Jonathan Ratcliff on 07501 271547, for an informal chat. It really is that simple.





Probus Hears From Local Author & Raconteur


President Richard Wood with Speaker Mel Rees

The ability to engulf an audience in laughter is a real skill which Mel Rees easily displays. He was the guest speaker at the latest Probus Club meeting and yet just spoke off the cuff. He had nothing but his memory to rely on as he thoroughly entertained everyone. There was no specific topic despite his talk having the title “My Family and Other Setbacks” as he gave anecdote after anecdote about his observations of life.

It is not surprising he has been passed on from one club to another so these days he gives over 200 talks each year across the south-east of England, sometimes two a day, driving over 30,000 miles in the process. And what good value he gives as he passes from one topic to another with always the amusing aspects of life’s experiences coming to the fore.

Living in Ash Vale, or, as he describes it, Upper Ash Vale in Surrey, with a posh GU postcode, he, therefore, asserts he cannot catch the Coronavirus and is most disparaging about the neighbouring conurbation of Aldershot. When he had to use a mobile medical unit he asked the nurses if next time instead of using the Tesco car park that they use the one at Waitrose as they would get better quality patients.

A multi-faceted individual he acts as a tour guide at the Hoggs Back Brewery and finds it amusing when talking to the visitors, if they hesitate before answering, he knows they lie about where they live. Reigate instead of Redhill, near Horsham instead of Crawley, Hove instead of Brighton – it becomes a double-barrelled name of Hove Actually, West Camberley instead of Blackwater.

He has written several books which mirror his view on life and its vagaries especially about politics and his view of Guardianesta readers and PC attitudes. His nomme de plume is Anthony Mann and despite having one book as the Daily Express book of the month he could not get any literary agent or publisher interested in his outpourings. He had no option but to self publish and set up The Trouser Press. Today several of his books are on their third printing. Naturally, all editions were on sale so a steady trade was carried out. But they can also be purchased on Amazon or downloaded as an E-book.


Probus Hears About Birds & Planes


The president of the Basingstoke Ladies’ Probus Club, Mrs Val Hayter was the guest of honour at the meeting on Tuesday 11 February.

The speaker was member Stephen Thair and his subject was “Birds and Planes”


What’s the connection between birds and planes? Quite a lot actually as retired solicitor Stephen Thair, a resident of Old Basing, and a member of the Probus Club of Basingstoke, outlined to Probus Club members how he has made a study of this over many years. He combined his dual interests of bird watching and aviation and easily makes the connection between these two flying objects – one ornithological and the other aeronautical.

Align these with extensive travel for holidays in exotic climes and working for some years in Papua New Guinea with a trusty camera readily to hand means he has a plethora of both bird and plane photographs.

Many types of sea birds have an aircraft named after them. Gannets, for instance, some with 6-foot wingspans, are famed for diving into the sea at great speed. In the 1950s the Fairey Aviation Company built an anti-submarine plane with contra-rotating twin propellers which gave it both high power and economy of use if one engine was switched off. They later built an airborne early warning version. The name of this plane was, of course, the Gannet. Fairey also built a naval fighter with a crew of two fitted with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine that was called the Fulmar.

Gulls abound throughout the world and in recognition of their flight capabilities, the Percival Aircraft Company constructed their Gull series of high-performance light aircraft in the 1930s, including the Vega Gull aircraft. The Mew Gull was a racing aircraft which flew from the UK to South Africa and back in 4 1/2 days, a record that stood for seventy years.

Some gliders can be seen at Lasham airfield that have gull shaped wings but probably the most famous plane that had this design, although with an inverted gull wing, was the WW2 German Stuka Dive Bomber. There was also a US Navy fighter called the Corsair that had the same wing configuration.

The male Blackbird with its yellow beak is part of the Thrush family and its aeronautical namesake is the American Lockheed Company’s Blackbird SR 71A spy plane which could fly at Mach 3+ and attain an altitude of 85,000 feet. This was necessary for its reconnaissance role before the advent of satellites. This plane was so successful that it is rumoured that it was targeted by 1,000 missiles without being hit. Those readers of a certain age will remember that that was not the case when Francis Gary Powers, in 1960, was shot down in his U2 spy plane over Russia. The name U2 being chosen to create an impression of a utility aircraft rather than the high altitude spy plane it actually was.

Britain only has one type of Kingfisher with striking blue and green plumage although throughout the world there are 86 species. The Museum of the Revolution in Havana Cuba houses a Vought Kingfisher aircraft which made a forced landing on a beach in 1958 while being used against Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries. They captured the aircraft and used it against the government forces that had previously operated it.

52 50 Vought OS2U Kingfisher - Museo de la Revolucion (4)
The Vought Kingfisher aircraft in the Havanna museum

Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, has 39 varieties of Birds of Paradise, the males of which have distinctive coloured plumage. Papua New Guineans traditionally use the Bird of paradise feathers in their headdress, partly as a demonstration of their prowess with a bow and arrow.

My beautiful picture
Bird of Paradise plumage in the headdress of Papua New Guineans

The world-famous RAF Red Arrows display team use a training aircraft, the BAE Hawk, to great effect. Stephen commented, “Their previous mount, the Folland Gnat was named after an insect, as were many other planes, but that could be the subject for another talk on another occasion”.


Probus Hears Tales of a Roving Reporter

Probus Richard Wood & Alan Jones Capture
Speaker Alan Jones with President Richard Wood

How would you react if a “live” radio microphone was thrust in your face needing a response to some world events or homegrown problem currently in the public domain?

Who are these people seeking opinions from the public and who broadcast replies to regional, national and worldwide audiences?  Many inquisitors become well known working for the BBC, especially if on TV, whereas radio reporters, having no visible presence, have a lower profile which might be of benefit in their private lives. One such was Alan Jones who was the latest speaker at the Probus Club of Basingstoke.

Alan chose to join their ranks in his late thirties and after completing a specialised training course in journalism he discovered he had a “face for radio”.  Always working as a freelance journalist for the BBC, his new career endured more than twenty years. During this time he provided over 25,000 reports for many national radio programmes and the regional BBC Radio Solent. He worked as a reporter, producer and presenter but carved out a niche of his own as a roving reporter travelling across the south and central southern England. He had a specially adapted mobile studio which was sometimes thought to be a TV Licence detector as it had several aerials, one of which could be extended over 30 feet high.

We were introduced to a nervous Bishop at the top of the partially built Portsmouth Cathedral, uncovered the naked truth of nudity in Alton, wrestled with snakes on the Isle of Wight.


Probus David Wickens & Snake Capture
David Wickens with a “Snake”

He boarded warships at sea and a lunatic Frenchman who wanted a Guinness Book of Record for using a drum kit at altitude in an old Dakota. He had to use a high wire “tight rope” interviewing an artiste of the Moscow State Circus, questioned exhibitors at a rabbit show when the producer demanded that the rabbits could be heard making a noise.



He walked with Royalty when HM Queen opened the finally built Portsmouth Cathedral. Her Majesty usually enquired of crowds “Have you been here long? or, Have you come far?”

Probus David Tivey as HMQ & Alan JonesCapture
David Tivey as “HM Queen Elizabeth”

During his interesting talk, Alan took his audience on a journey of adventure, mishap and fun, proving that “if something can go wrong it probably will, especially if you are holding a live microphone”.






Probus Looks to the Future



Richard Wood
Richard Wood
President 2019/20

It’s been another successful calendar year for the Probus Club of Basingstoke. You know the one, just for retired male managers; but it’s not all male domination as their social events involve the ladies.  Just like their black-tie Christmas dinner held at the Test Valley golf club where over forty people had an enjoyable night accompanied by 60s and 70s music and dancing.

President Richard Wood is confident that the future looks rosy with several trips in the pipeline which wives and friends can attend. The world-famous Morgan car factory in Malvern will be an attraction not just for car buffs but maybe a spot of shopping and taking in the local medicinal waters will add something to the day.  And what about a visit to Highgrove House where their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall allow garden tours with expert guides. Or a visit to Bletchley Park that played such an important role in WW2 with the cracking of the German Enigma code and was the birthplace of modern information technology.

Richard waxed lyrical about the monthly business-style meetings where guest speakers entertain members with a diverse range of subjects. January has retired radio reporter Alan Jones, who will give examples of weird and wonderful and downright crazy stories, from nudists to royalty, dangerous animals and nervous bishops, giving truth to what can happen and go wrong when there is a live microphone.

February has member Stephen Thair, who had a private pilot’s licence, discussing Birds and Planes with shared names and features and some exotic species from his time working in the tropics.

March has author Mel Rees with amusing observations about his family and the national scene all in a very none politically correct style which guarantees laughter throughout his presentation.

Richard continued “We welcome new members, irrespective of how many years they have been retired.  Contact our secretary Jonathan Ratcliff on 07501 271547 if you would like to come along for a taster meeting.”
See for more information.



Probus Christmas Dinner 11th December 2019

santa clause [250x333]

President Richard Wood with organisers Liliane and Alan May

And so another calendar year has passed in the Probus Club of Basingstoke and was celebrated as usual with a Christmas dinner at Test Valley Golf Club.

Hosted by President Richard Wood the arrangements had been made by Liliane and Alan May with their now legendary expertise which ensured that every one of the forty one attendees received the food selections they had pre-ordered.

Not only that but they created a cryptic puzzle to get the grey cells working throughout dinner all about the shops in Festival Place. Possibly little contribution was made by the men folk to solving this task. And on top of that they purchased and wrapped all the prizes for the raffle.

christmas box [258x195]


The entertainer for the evening, returning from his success at the Christmas dinner in 2017, was Billy Clayton. With a musical repertoire that included many of the pop songs from yesteryear we knew the words and were able to sing along lustily. It was helped by the distribution of a range of “timpani” type instruments which gave the impression that some enthusiastic players with tambourines had joined the Sally Army.

And there was plenty of “dad” style dancing to be seen as many couples took to the floor possibly for the first time since last year.

candle_bow_holly [267x189]

Mayor’s Carol Service

The Mayor’s Carol Service held in St Michael’s Church on Sunday 8 December was a full house, and quite rightly so. It was a wonderful quality occasion, a celebration of Christmas music performed by choirs, soloists and the congregation, held in the Christmas spirit of support to the charities HeartSmart, Real Change not Loose Change, and Besom in Basingstoke, all of which are very dear to the Mayor.

The Service began with a child soloist singing without musical accompaniment. There followed all the seasonal favourite carols, the congregation accompanied by the choir, and interludes of readings and performances by the choir, a soloist, and the Hatch Warren Infant School Choir, all very charming. The Bishop of Basingstoke also gave a rousing blessing, before the finale of The Hallelujah Chorus, splendidly performed by the choir, with the congregation invited to join in if they felt able.

Afterwards, all participants mingled together to enjoy some mulled wine, mince pies and other sweet treats prepared and served by catering students of BCOT.