Guildford Road, Chobham, Surrey  GU24 8EH


xMG_2402Do you enjoy a family day out with super attractions?

RSPCA Millbrook’s main fund-raising event takes place each year on the first Sunday of September.  Last Sunday did not disappoint.

PicMonkey Stalls
RSPCA Gala Day stalls

The day starts at 11 a.m. when stalls and tents open, displaying a variety of reasonably-priced plants, home-made cakes, jewellery, cards, bric-a-brac and essential animal paraphernalia, as well as tombola, face painting, Inspectors and Campaign displays. In one corner the Fairground slide and roundabout keep children amused.

PicMonkey RSPCA Dog Show
RSPCA Gala Day Dog Show

Dogs of all shapes, sizes and colours come with their owners to enjoy the day.   The Fun Dog Show this year was sponsored by Personnel Selection, who have offices in Surrey, Sussex and Hants.  A pretty husky/pom cross puppy was awarded a best puppy red rosette at the Dog Show.  Not all dog visitors are rescues, but the wagging tails and smiling doggie faces of some showed their delight at reuniting with dog walkers and carers met during their sojourn at the Millbrook Animal Centre.PicMonkey Collage RSPCA Gala Day 2015

Straw bales positioned around the main arena add atmosphere to events. The Dog Agility Display demonstrated the close understanding required between dog and owner.  The skilful demonstration encouraged other owners afterwards to ‘have a go’ in the Fun Dog Agility area nearby.

Fun Dog Agility Arena
Fun Dog Agility Arena
Keen to try Fun Agility Course
I want to try this Fun Agility course

Richard Curtis demonstrated how to teach Heelwork to Music with his talented harlequin dog, and children were invited into the arena at the conclusion of the Mighty Smith Show, to participate in a tug o war.

Richard Curtis with Heelwork to Music
Richard Curtis with Heelwork to Music

The sound of bells and flicking white scarves of the traditionally dressed group of Morris Dancers was entertaining.  Events repeated through the day.  The Shire Horse unfortunately was lame that morning but hopefully will soon be better.

PicMonkey RSPCA Spectators and Morris Dancers

We lunched at our favourite Burger Tent with a welcome  cup of tea from the refreshment hut.  Veggie burgers, hot dogs with a glass or two from the Beer Tent are excellent alternatives.

Away from the Main Arena, small animals and donkeys were on show in the stable block where equine information and lots of tack plus horse rugs were for sale. The Cattery and Kennels give an insight into the work carried out at Millbrook on a daily basis. Dogs and cats arrive in different degrees of distress, for a variety of reasons, and some backgrounds are heart-rending.

RSPCA Cattery
RSPCA Cattery
RSPCA Millbrook Rescue Cat
RSPCA Millbrook Rescue Cat

The Tillingbourne Accordion Band’s unique sound drew us in, to stand and listen to their repertoire, that sent me day-dreaming down memory lane.  I first heard an accordion played outside a cinema queue in Leicester Square: the busker had a string attached to the heel of his shoe that beat a drum on his back.  Very clever, I thought.  A few years later, a smartly dressed accordionist was part of a group entertaining diners in the restaurant up the Eiffel Tower during my first trip to Paris.  Now I associate the accordion with musicians in black berets, singing in French to celebrate Nouveau Beaujolais day.

TheTillingbourne Accordian Band
The Tillingbourne Accordian Band
The Tillingbourne Accordian Band
The Tillingbourne Accordian Band

Following this enjoyable interlude we continued towards the Vintage Car Display, where colourful models shone in the afternoon sun and proud owners ate picnics close by.

PicMonkey vintage cars and pony area

It costs over £500,000 each year to run Millbrook, where new homes are found for hundreds of dogs and cats, horses and ponies and small animals:  guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats chinchillas, degus, budgerigars, cockatiel and parakeets. Each year the money raised by Gala Day helps fund specific projects.   In previous years this has included reforming the pond, constructing new animal blocks, and providing a new enclosed riding school area. Donations are still being received but so far Millbrook Gala Day this year has raised almost £19,000.  A great achievement.  Well Done Sue and all the workers, sponsors, volunteers and Gala Day participants.

xMG_2522 Sue with Dougal
Sue, Manager of Millbrook Animal Rescue Centre, with Rescue Dog, Dougal

If you are interested to learn more about homing or training an animal, working or volunteering, please contact RSPCA Millbrook direct.

Please note the first Sunday in September in your calendar. It really is a great day out for children, dogs and animal lovers.

Puppies and dogs adopted from Millbrook have access to their resident dog behaviourist, June Williams M.A. (Hons) Ed.D, C.A.B.T. June supports new owners during their first three months, with free advice.

Puppy and Dog Training Classes:
Sarah Whitehead’s Clever Dog Company
Sarah is a Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers whose code of practice states that members use only reward-based training methods.

If you like this blog, please share with your friends and click the ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ Buttons to receive an email when future blogs are published.  Many thanks, Diane.

Ventnor, the Isle of Wight, and the Round the Island Race (Part 1 of 2)

Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Ventnor, Isle of Wight


Mention the ‘Isle of Wight’ and memories of family holidays in the 1950’s, when we stayed in then fashionable holiday camps, spring to mind.

In Brighstone Bay on the south-west coast, we were awakened each morning by the camp loudspeaker’s ‘Wakey-wakey’ call.  Dad put a dressing gown over his pyjamas to queue outside at a strategically stationed tea trolley, returning to our chalet with two cups of tea, for him and Mum.  We children raced to find a seat at the long tables set for our breakfast, loving the fact that the adults ate elsewhere.

Pocket money purchased a plastic green kite, its ability improved by the extra weight added to its elongated tail, before it was released to fly high above the windy green grass cliff top, together with those of like-minded children.  We were well looked after with organised games, running races and swimming competitions in the outdoor pool.  I relished racing around outdoors, returning home with prizes for athletics and swimming, no doubt helped by my special black running plimsolls and the ability to swim a mile by the age of 9!

Probably I have inherited my love of new places from Mum whose special holiday treats were family visits to the nearby picturesque villages of Brighstone, Niton or Godshill, where small keepsakes were purchased.

I love still the beach and the sea – the old-fashioned sea-side – so am thrilled to be spending a few days in Ventnor taking advantage of its cliff top and esplanade walks.  The Isle of Wight, with its slower pace, is reminiscent of life before our modern urge to rush, race and whizz about, allowing little time to stand and absorb.

Isle of Wight ferry

The holiday starts as soon as the car is parked on the ferry in Portsmouth.  Even the cloud could not dampen our anticipation of a relaxing few days.  Passing other ferries and boats, the busy Solent reflected the various events taking place on the island this weekend.  The Royal Hotel in Ventnor was fully booked.  We were staying at the Wellington Hotel with town and sea views and within comfortable walking distance of various cafes and restaurants across from the beach below.  The one we chose that evening produced a good meal of local shellfish. IMG_1679 Next morning it was past eight o’clock in our comfortable room when the sun shining between heavy floor-to-ceiling curtains called us out.  We sipped tea on the wrap-around balcony of the Wellington Hotel’s best room, appreciating its panoramic seascape.  The bird’s eye view showed a few ‘white horses’ on some of the waves, whipped up by the fresh breeze.

‘That’ll make for exhilarating sailing.’

‘Tricky but not too large so as to cause capsize.’

‘Perfect for today’s Round the Island Race.’

The start was in Cowes where competitors left in stages.  Smaller dinghies were followed by larger vessels over the many hours it took to release the total 1584 entries, all hoping to complete the 50 nautical miles to the finish.  They sailed west past Yarmouth:  to Alum Bay with its coloured sands and the historical Needles Battery – a military base built in the 19th century to guard the west end of the Solent – it is located above the familiar chalk stacks that form the Needles. Rounding the Needles, boats enter rougher water off the south coast of the island as they pass the Bays of Freshwater and Brighstone, sailing on to St Catherine’s Lighthouse warning unwary sailors they are approaching the most southern point of the Isle of Wight.  Continuing eastwards, the boats emerge round the western end of Ventnor Bay, behind the Spyglass Inn.  Sails coming into view increased in number so – as we had finished breakfast – we joined other hotel guests outside.

IMG_1730IMG_1726 IMG_1719   IMG_1611 Back on our own balcony, we criss-crossed from side to side – snapping and zooming, zooming and snapping – ‘That one leaning with its red sail will make a good photo, no this is better.’ ‘Look, three racing close together….another catching them up.’ IOW round the island 2015 So many photo opportunities, it was difficult to stop, just a few more, click, click, click, zoom. Eventually, seeking more vantage points, we found a steep lane leading to the foreshore where children played ‘chase the waves,’ or dug their toes in the sand, seeming oblivious to the sailors striving for their personal best in the annual competition. IMG_1761

Coming ashore on Ventnor beach
Coming ashore on Ventnor beach


After coffee at the family-owned Spyglass Inn where we took advantage of its proximity to the competing sailors, we meandered along the beach.  A left turn took us onto the path leading up to the recently renovated Winter Gardens where we paused to admire the waterfall and colourful planting.  The Winter Gardens re-opened in 2014 after undergoing refurbishment, but is not yet finished.  Meanwhile its programme includes tea dances and regular Friday music nights.  The bar and restaurant are open, providing simple refreshments with excellent views across Ventnor bay.  Below the Winter Gardens sits the Haven Harbour, built in 2003 as a safe haven for local fishing and pleasure boats, where mackerel fishing, boat trips, and a sea safari are offered.   A restaurant, shops, fish and chip takeaway, and workshop used mainly for the fitting of Cheetah Catamarans, add interest to the Ocean Blue Quay.


The Winter Gardens Ventnor
The Winter Gardens, Ventnor
The Haven, Ventnor
The Haven, Ventnor

After  walking along the Haven wall snapping the boats sailing on towards Shanklin and Sandown Bay, we returned past the Winter Gardens to walk through town, deciding to head towards Steephill Cove for lunch.IMG_1644

The Haven Fairweather Harbour and Ocean Blue Quay
The Haven Fairweather Harbour and Ocean Blue Quay

The Hampton Court Palace Festival – John Wilson and the John Wilson Orchestra


Question:  What could be better than sitting outside on a summer evening having a picnic and listening to live music?

Answer:  A leisurely walk around the East Front Gardens of Hampton Court Palace with your best friend:  laying a rug on the lawn to picnic with a glass of Champagne, before listening to a world renowned musical performance in a magical setting.


Hampton Court Palace East Front Gardens


Hearing John Wilson and his Orchestra playing during a televised performance of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, encouraged Paul to reserve tickets for their performance at The Hampton Court Palace Festival, this summer.  Our 6 pm arrival allowed plenty of time to wander about the spectacular and historic East Front Gardens, appreciating the dry weather, beautifully planted flower beds and fountains, the iconic building and its exciting ambience.


Enough meandering, inclement weather had led us to forego bringing a picnic:  the scent of Italian pizzas drew our attention as we spread ourselves and the travel rug over the well kept lawn.  We were soon relishing the stone-baked pizzas that tasted as well as they smelt – delicious with glasses of champagne from the nearby tent.


Hampton Court Palace Festival

Moving the large number of people from the outside grounds into the Palace took time and, by 7.45 pm the public was being urged to enter the Palace for the fifteen minute walk through to the Tudor Courtyard.

Hampton Court Palace FestivalHampton Court Palace Festival

 Hampton Court Palace Festival

Hampton Court Palace Festival

Tiers of seats faced the specially made stage while white clouds scudded over an atmosphere of anticipation.  The players arrived, a few at a time;  the familiar sounds of violins and other instruments tuning up encouraged latecomers to quickly find their seats.  An air of expectation settled over the audience.

 The orchestra was ready.  Applause increased as John Wilson walked briskly across the stage.  A celebration of MGM Film Musicals had commenced.

We were not disappointed.  The repertoire included music by my favourites, Cole Porter and Gershwin, among other talented composers:  Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Andre Previn.  Special guest vocalists Anna-Jane Casey and Matt Ford added glamour to the occasion.  The disappearing sun emphasised lights shining on the red walls:  special musical touches and unusual fun sounds from percussion players brought gaiety, while blankets to cushion the hard seats and maintain warm legs, provided outdoor comfort.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

Hampton Court Palace FestivalAs an internationally renowned conductor and arranger, John Wilson and his personally chosen ensemble were well able to turn what could have been a tricky situation into an amusing incident.  Thirty minutes into the programme, a chilly wind whistled across the stage, lifting sheets of music without favour before depositing them willy nilly, around musicians’ feet.   John Wilson made fun as the wind repeated its performance on several occasions:  pausing the orchestra between arrangements, to allow one of the drummers to retrieve and replace the important musical scores.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

By 10.15 pm the programme had reached its finale, drawing another special evening in the iconic Hampton Court Palace environment to a close.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

Paul introduced me to The Hampton Court Palace Festival soon after we met.  His favourite blues guitarist, Eric Clapton, was appearing with his band.  Complimentary champagne in the Waitrose hospitality marquee, and the ‘Star Clipper’ bag purchased during a solo holiday to the Caribbean before I met Paul, encouraged lively conversation with other guests.  Afterwards we set up our picnic on the lawn to consume smoked salmon, prawns, and our own special bottle of champagne, in the warmth of the June heat-wave.  My first Festival – an introduction to Eric’s music in this spectacular setting – remains a special memory.


Dubai, Desert, Sunset and Dinner – Part One

Sandy tracks and headscarves


Our much-anticipated holiday started on Christmas Day.  We flew Business Class via Emirates to Dubai, the first stop on our six week break.  Paul and I were looking forward to our first local tour – a trip into the desert to watch the sun set over the sand and dine Arabic style in a deserted fort.


A driver, whom we later learned was called Mohammed, collected us from the Hilton Hotel in Dubai Creek, expertly steering the People Carrier along busy dual carriageways, modern roundabouts and road junctions.  ‘I wonder whether we’re the only ones going,’ I whispered to Paul.  ‘It’s overkill using this size vehicle if that’s the case!’  Paul joked.  The upper part of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, was visible in the distance.  It reminded us of our disappointment at being unable to secure a reservation to visit this iconic building.

We were making good speed along a smart dual carriageway edged with grass.  A road sign showed we were driving along the Sheikh Zayed Road, that forms part of the E11 highway running parallel to the Dubai coast, from Oman in the East to Abu Dhabi in the West.  I felt glad that Sheikh Zayed, who had recently come to power when I lived in Abu Dhabi in 1968, had been honoured in this way.

Photo of Sheikh Zayed Road
By Imre Solt [GFDL (
Continuing along the busy highway, I noticed that dry yellow sand was replacing the green shrubs and orange marigolds and other brightly coloured flowering plants and grass running along the right-hand verge.  But gardeners tipping out potted plants and areas of freshly laid grass indicated a work in progress.   Our curiosity as to whether any companions would join our evening out increased as the driver pulled off the dual carriageway into a parking area in front of a shopping mall where a group of foreign-speaking men and women piled into the car.  As we continued our journey out of Dubai into the desert, we discovered they were a family group from Brazil.

Entrance to Dubai Desert Conservation ReserveEntrance to Dubai Desert Safari

After about thirty minutes we arrived at the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.   This large fenced area in the desert is owned by one of the Ruler’s cousins.  Scarce breeds of Oryx and other antelope, and indigenous plants and trees, are being re-introduced into the Dubai desert.  Leaving our People Carrier parked outside, we entered the Reserve where open Land Rovers waited.   Scarves were tied Arabic fashion around our heads.  Each lady had black and each man a red and white chequered scarf.  After a brief chat with his driver colleagues Mohammed indicated that we should climb into one of the yellow Land Rovers, joining the Brazilians we had arrived with:  six cousins in their thirties and forties holidaying together.

‘We look like a bunch of bandidos,’ the tall male leader said in heavily accented English, twirling his arms above his head.  The others spoke only Portuguese but we laughed with them, their cheerfulness creating a fun atmosphere in the back of the vehicle. Open Land Rovers at the readySandy tracks and headscarves As we were driven along tracks in the sand we soon appreciated the protection afforded by our scarves as the wind whipped loose ends around our faces and sand clouds rose from the vehicles in front causing gritty pieces to work their way into the eyes, ears and nose of anyone trying to remove their scarf to speak.