Lockdown creativity

Our June 2020 Zoom meeting included story telling by three members who shared their creative writing. We hope you enjoy these pieces as much as we did.

Viral War

Corona meant ‘pop’
when I was growing up!
Orange, lime, tizer, raspberry,
dandelion and burdock, strawberry.
Glass bottles with a penny return,
what a lot of fizzy sugar to burn!
Kids parties now have water,
though they do appear fatter
than us who enjoyed jelly, trifle, jam with pips
instead of cucumber, tomatoes and  dips.

The namesake virus has conquered the world
stopping life as we know it – how absurd
that the round intracellular monster
could blow the world asunder!
Follow recommendations we must,
no close contact or kissing those we trust.
Shaking hands has become so automatic
rather than elbows, feet or staying static
at 2 metres distance between individuals
wearing masks practicing hand washing rituals.

The overflow fizz is before the stillness.
Let’s hope the ‘pop’ is controlled – lots less
than 20,000 before the bubbles settle.
Please put on the kettle!
Toilet rolls, paracetamol out of stock,
soon no walking round the block
as a London lock down predicted.
Pray we’re not afflicted
by the awful viral war in store.
Keep well, stay in, don’t let it get a bore!

– Heulwen Reading

An Easter Story

It was the warmest of springs, it was the coldest of springs – since records began according to the weather forecasters and the seaweed hanging on the back of our toilet door. Whatever the meteorologists of all stripes indicated, at the end of March when temperatures were unseasonably high, I decided to have a barbeque for an April Easter Monday; but – two weeks later temperatures were unseasonably low. When Good Friday arrived the weather was cold and wet. Not to worry – three days to go.

Forty people had accepted the invitation and the house is not large – I’d invited just about everyone I knew thinking at least half would be away or have some other commitment, but no – obviously Easter was just as boring for everyone else as it was for me and not only had all our friends accepted but several had phoned to ask if they could bring their parents or parents-in-law who were staying with them for the holidays. Oh goodie, I was saving my friends from another day of trying not to kill their relatives.

At a pinch and with an efficient shoe-horner we could get 30 people into the downstairs area – as long as they were standing, without moving and didn’t expect to eat anything because where we would cook if it rained I had no idea? The patio was fine but had no covering and barbequed food for 40 would certainly be a challenge in our galley kitchen with its small oven and work tops the size of postage stamps.  Rachael Khoo, I thought, she manages to rustle up gourmet meals in a miniscule kitchen in Paris – but not for 40 people I remembered – more like six – tops.  No role model there then.

On Easter Saturday morning, seeing the leaden skies, I decided to watch the TV chefs to see what suggestions they might have and turned on Saturday Kitchen with the lovely James Martin who was very sensibly preparing a traditional, sit down roast lamb lunch for 6. He was followed by the charmingly beautiful (and I’m certain fragrant) Rachael Khoo. In her tiny kitchen Rachael was dashing off an amazing tray of brilliantly coloured roast vegetables and a savoury cake made with cheese and figs for her three (paying) visitors. These TV chefs provided no tips on how to cook 40 sausages, chicken legs or lamb chops or where to put salads, bread and some kind of pudding. OMG – I was panicking now.

However, later in the day the grey skies turned blue, my spirits rose and I began to draw up the shopping list. Perhaps those patches of blue would expand and the temperature would rise.

Now in my view, optimism is a wonderful thing. Firstly you don’t get stressed, secondly you only live your problems once instead of dying the thousand deaths Shakespeare talks about the coward suffering. However, old Baden Powell also had a very fair point when he thought up the boy scouts motto To fail to prepare, is to prepare to fail. So whilst I was out shopping, now watching the crowds dashing through downpours to their cars and loading up soaking wet parcels I decided I should hedge my bets.

Sunday came and the temperature remained down in the low teens; the showers were heavy but definitely more intermittent than on Saturday.  We moved the furniture round as best we could to try and make more space in doors and completely abandoned the barbeque, which I should point out was never my husband’s favoured option (barbeque, he says, is French for burnt on the outside raw on the inside). We filled the fridge with wine, beer and a few soft drinks (you’re getting a picture of my friendship group) and I found my largest cooking pot and started work on the biggest chilli con carne known to mankind – together with a smaller veggie version (chilli con veggie) for those amongst my friendship group who drink like fishes and don’t eat meat.

Easter Monday dawned.  Grey skies. Drizzle. I still had the bread and cheese to buy and the salads to make so the hours between 8am and 1pm absolutely flew by in a whirl of activity so that by the time I opened the door to the first friends I was absolutely astonished to see brilliant sunshine arriving with them.  And yes, of course it stayed with us all day.  We spilled into the garden and enjoyed copious amounts of chilli, alcohol, sunshine and friendship for what was one of the best Easter Mondays ever.

– Sally Littlefair

An Empty Feeling

‘So she was his second wife’,

‘No his third’,

‘Oh, I see’.

The two young men passed me and turned off the path to reach the gate. Grinning I carried on walking. I realised what I had been missing. Ten weeks of working at home, ten weeks of shopping at a distance, ten weeks of drowning in work. Ten weeks of considering the state of the world and the state of my fridge, with both topics leading to a sinking feeling.

I had nearly turned and followed the young men, but I did not need to do so. After all it was obvious…

The multiple groom was a nerd, a wealthy train spotting nerd, abandoned by three gold digging blondes who had married him for his money but not his company. He now sat alone in his Highgate town house, reading books on steam trains and playing with his model railway. His doting and doted on Mother prayed every night for him to meet a woman with her own anorak. His twin sister, who was happily married to a volunteer guard on the train she drove on the Epping to Ongar railway, was at this very moment creating a profile for her brother on Train Matches International. ‘I am looking for a woman, with wit, wisdom, a sandwich box and their own thermos’ she typed ‘Tractor drivers also considered’….

Or perhaps…

The multiple groom had recently abandoned his latest no-longer wealthy widow from Whetstone, leaving her with a bare quarter of her fortune, whilst her on-line Waitrose order was not booked and her prize begonias were not watered. His elderly Mother abandoned in her flat in Hastings no longer expected his call, no longer remembered his smile. Her love which should have been spent on her grandchildren would have withered in her heart if it had not been for her sewing. She was at this very moment carefully phrasing the WhatsApp invite to wife number three to join her weekly Wednesday zoom calls. For every Wednesday whilst she mended the badges and jackets of the Hastings Devils motorcycle gang (average age 68 1/3) she zoomed her son’s ex-wives and abandoned girlfriends and relatives. They chatted about motorbikes, muesli and macramé but not about him. Whilst wife number four was nearly in the bag, he knew not what he left in his wake.

Or maybe…

It was all a series of ghastly mistakes, our helpful groom had not meant to get married to wife number one, he was just the best man but when Toby failed to show he felt he had to step in. With number two he had just been mending the photocopier in the registry office and again the helpful bloke he had agreed to stand where told (and after all he looked more presentable than the real groom who was currently waking up hangover in a hedge near Durham). Whilst for wife number three, well it was a bit of a blur really…he had been looking for the gents in the hotel and then there was door and a load of people dressed up and the young woman in the white frock had been so very very pleased to see him. This marriage had gone surprisingly well, was still going surprisingly well. He was still unsure why the heiress to the circus should want him, why she who spent her working day upside down on the trapeze should want a man so grounded. But it turns out even circuses needed somebody to mend the computers. And now with twins on the way his life was perfect – although he did wonder what way the babies were in the womb.

Or maybe…

Life has been tough under lockdown from listeners in to other people’s conversations, like me… so if you are socially distancing when you see me – could you please raise your voice a bit as you talk about people I will never meet and I whom I never will. I can fill in the gaps of the bits that I missed.

– Gill Whitney

June 2020 – We’re a creative bunch

Short stories, a poem and ‘Meet the Committee’ were the themes for our virtual June meeting. Thanks to the talents of three of our members, we were entertained by them reading An Easter Story by Sally Littlefair, An Empty Feeling by Gill Whitney and a poem, Viral War, by Heulwen Reading. Each one told a different story with a poignant edge, and was very enjoyable to listen to. We’ll share these pieces soon – stay tuned!

As everyone knows writing a short story or poem is not an easy thing to do (recalling our previous creative writing meetings) and in the discussion that followed members wanted to know where the ideas had come from and ‘where do you start?’. Our writers talked about the plot and the characters and which came first, and how they develop over time and how emotions can influence the narrative. In trying to work out ideas the writers said that they sometimes used a character they knew or an experience they themselves have had. At the end of the discussion it became apparent just how much time, effort and thought and of course, skill went into writing a these pieces.

In the ‘Meet the Committee’ part of the meeting, the committee members shared information with the members about their roles and responsibilities. A brief account of their work was given by each committee member and how coming together as a team was a positive experience.  The point of this was to give new members an insight into the working of the committee and how it manages the affairs of the WI, and to explain the opportunities each member has to learn new skills at WI level and get involved at Federation and National levels. The committee hoped that this insight might encourage members to come to one of their meetings as an observer to see what goes on, and if they like it, to join the committee.

May 2020 – Annual Meeting

Our Annual Meeting – of sorts – was held via Zoom on 5 May 2020, the coronavirus lockdown still being in force. All WIs have been temporarily exempted from complying with our requirement to hold a formal Annual Meeting and elect a Committee and President, and current President Maggie Weatherby asked the members present for a show of hands to support the continuation of the current Committee and President until such time as a traditional Annual Meeting can be held with a Middlesex Federation WI Advisor.


Secretary Nina Jewell presented the Annual Report, recounting another busy year, including woodpeckers, antiques, novel writing, middle eastern food and of course lots of crafting. The Annual Financial statement had been circulated previously for information, and was approved by a show of hands. Maggie reminded members of our annual objectives, and the members supported a Committee proposal to once again support the Muswell Hill Food Bank at this challenging time.

Following the formal business, we shared updated on our communal textile design project, with some fabulous and diverse ideas from members for decorating a 30x30cm square to celebrate our tenth birthday in October 2020.

We chatted about highlights of the year and members chimed in with their favourite activities, as well as updating the group on lockdown fun including freezer-tidying, Tube-themed cryptic crosswords (Sally wins for both of these!) and sticky moth traps (good tips thanks to Jacque and Fiona).

As always we appreciated the chance to catch up, see familiar faces and share the warm WI fellowship.

April 2020 – Catching up online

The Alexandra WI went online for its April meeting, due to the coronavirus lockdown. We had over 50% of our members join us for an informal meeting using Zoom. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces again; many of us hadn’t seen our fellow members at all since the last meeting.

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Our next meeting is our Annual Meeting, and it will be a change from past Annual Meetings, but we are trying to ensure that even without the formalities, we have a wrap-up of the past WI year and a chance for our members to share their progress on the  shared craft project we launched in March.

March 2020 – The Galilean Kitchen

Author of the Galilean Kitchen, Ruth Nieman came along to our meeting and shared stories and flavours of the kitchens of Druze, Christian, Muslim and Bedouin women of northern Israel.

Ruth spoke passionately about her time with these women, and about recreating their dishes back in London. We very much enjoyed the wonderful samples she brought along, and many members went home with a copy of her book. Thank you Ruth!


January 2020 – Pub Meeting & WI Resolutions

Our January meeting was once again our annual pub meeting, back again in the beautiful upstairs space at the Victoria Stakes at the foot of Muswell Hill.

We toasted the new year (the year of perfect vision!) with a glass of wine, welcoming a guest and new member and sharing good news stories from the festive season.

President Maggie introduced the 2020 shortlisted resolutions before she and committee members Rosemary (pictured) and Gill W presented further detail on three of them.

We broke into smaller groups to debate the resolutions: some really solid discussion ensued!

We then followed up with a quiz on the resolutions (with all of the groups failing on one of proposals – something awry there I think NFWI?). We finally cast our votes for our preferred resolutions, for submission to the Middlesex Federation.

Thank you to those who attended, and Happy New Year!


Happy New Year from us!


Members listen to Maggie talking about a resolution.


Rosemary presenting one of the shortlisted resolutions

It’s A Wonderful Muswell stall 2019

The Alexandra Women’s Institute once again held a stall at newly-renamed local festival It’s A Wonderful Muswell on Saturday 7 December 2019.

We were grateful again to have a warm inside stall within the beautiful St James Church in Muswell Hill. We had another successful day selling a variety of cakes, biscuits, Christmas crafts and knitted goods including hedgehogs and rag wreaths. Thank you to our members who made and baked items to sell, helped on the day, or simply called into say hello! It was also lovely to greet a couple of our former members and speakers: please continue to keep in touch… and come back when life allows, even if it’s only for the odd meeting which is of interest!

Thank you to everyone who supported our fundraising by buying something!

Here are some photos of us on the day.

A note on Morsbags…

A few of our lucky customers were given a Morsbag (see image above) lovingly made by our President Maggie. Morsbags are fabric bags made from re-used fabric and given away to promote use of alternatives to plastic bags. You can read more about Morsbags here and join the Middlesex Federation of WIs Morsbag pod here.

December 2019 – Feeling Festive!

We put our feet up a little at our December meeting each year. This year we kicked off with a fun ‘who am I?’ game: thank you to organiser Gill W. Our photos show some of the women and girls featured – say hello Hillary Clinton, Virginia Woolf, Beatrix Potter and Alice in Wonderland, among others!

We then enjoyed mulled wine while sharing stories of Christmasses past – tales of uncooked turkeys, dressing up in Nigeria and childhood dolls kept us entertained. More mulled wine and Christmas treats including fruit cake and mince pies accompanied our raffle. Thank you to everyone who donated prizes!

Warm wishes for the festive season from us here at The Alexandra WI!

October 2019 – Christmas Crafting

October is once again Christmas crafting time at The Alexandra WI, and we made a start on creating items for our annual stall at Muswell Hill in December. This year we had a go at yarn wreaths, mini plat pots with pine cones, and tree decorations. Thank you to member Tamara Watts who ran this session for us: we very much appreciate all the work you put into preparation to make this a fun evening.

Our members – plus guests and two brand new members (welcome!) – always love the chance to busy themselves with crafts while having a good old chat… This should be evident in the photos!


September 2019 – Members’ Meeting

We happily continued our wonderful September meeting tradition of hearing from our very own members about their lives. We’ve continued to have such positive feedback about it. Let’s be honest: everyone’s a little curious about everyone else, and we know it helps build our community. We can wholeheartedly recommend it to other WIs!

This year we heard from two members about their working lives. Jayne Fowler told us of her early studies in Canada, and her work in pathology in London, while Rosemary Pettman shared her experiences of working in prison education.

Thank you so much to Jayne and Rosemary for sharing their stories with us.

July 2019 – Visit to Reculver Beacon WI

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The Alexandra WI member Jacque with Herne Bay local hero aviatrix Amy Johnson.

In early July, six members of The Alexandra WI travelled by train to Herne Bay in Kent to spend the day with our twin WI Reculver Beacon. We were met at the station by Claire, the Secretary, who drove us to her house for a delicious buffet lunch, where we spent some time sitting in the garden and catching up with the lovely ladies of Reculver Beacon WI. We were then transported to the seafront where we had a walking tour of many of the historic attractions of Herne Bay. To accompany the tour, RB WI provided us with an illustrated booklet describing all the attractions on the tour in some detail. These included the Pier, the Bandstand, the Clocktower and the bronze statue of the famous aviator Amy Johnson and many more.

Herne Bay has a very interesting history, especially as a coastal town constantly under threat during the wars. We also saw a large circular flower display organised by the Herne Bay WI to commemorate the WI Centenary. It was a wonderful day out and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone… in fact, three of our group stayed on for a meal in the evening.

Thank you so much to our friends at Reculver Beacon WI for such a warm welcome and a lovely day.

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All the fun of the pier, Herne Bay

July 2019 – Summer Gardening

Our July meeting guest speaker was Denis Lynch, horticulturist, of our local Sunshine Garden Centre. Denis gave an interesting talk and slide show. He brought many flowering hardy perennials for us to see and told us about the best situation in the garden for planting and a couple examples of alternative plants to the box which can be devastatingly infected with the box blight (Cylindrocladium buxicola) such as Elaeagnus x submacrophylla ‘Compacta’. His slides showed the many pests and diseases and friendly ones which affect our garden plants and how to recognise which is which. Following this he concentrated on the importance of biosecurity and urged us all not to bring any plants home from abroad. A short Q&A session finished off his talk… We all learned something and looked at plants and pests slightly differently.

June 2019 – Spring Lane Care Home Summer Open Day

In late June, President Maggie Weatherby and member – and twiddlemuff queen (and charity knitting facilitator), Ching Smith, were invited to Spring Lane Care Home, Muswell Hill to their Summer Open Day to thank families of loved ones, past and present, volunteers, and all

those who have contributed to make the home a vibrant and happy place to live. We were privileged to be invited, following our initial contact in 2018 when we donated three Twiddlemuffs to the unit for those with severe dementia.

It was a lovely summer day for BBQ, drinks and entertainment. We set up our table, with a prime position overlooking the food area and stage. Maggie brought items to promote our WI, along with twiddlemuffs and shawls to promote our Charity Knitting Group.

We chatted to many visitors and residents, including a couple of prospective new members for our WI, and we thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon: lovely setting, nice sunny day, the residents contented and staff interested!

Before we left, Caroline Elliott, Activities Co-ordinator, suggested that we to do a Master Class with the residents, which we are looking forward to!


June 2019 – A surprise meeting!

The June meeting turned out to be rather an unexpected event as we had to change it from the advertised one. Tracey Mackness from the Giggly Pig company, who was to be our guest speaker, was unable to come as she was unwell.  So disappointing for us, as she is a very good and inspirational speaker.  We wish her a speedy recovery and we will try to organise another date for her to return.

As we only knew about her inability to come shortly before the meeting was due to start, we had some quick thinking to do!  I am very pleased to say that after consulting our Plan B, Nina produced a discussion document consisting of a series of questions set to encourage discussion both on a humorous and serious level.  The questions included:  When were you happiest?  What is your guilty secret? What was the worst thing anyone said to you? What’s on your bucket list?  What was your best kiss?

Everyone was happy to give this a go,so after the usual business section we decided to split into  groups… and got chatting. There were 10 questions to answer by each person in the group, so everyone was engrossed in discussion for  about 30 minutes.  Everyone shared their own particular experience in answering the questions and this created a light hearted and relaxed atmosphere.

When all the groups had finished we had a feedback session, with responses shared ranging from the outright comical to the very poignant.

Just before we had tea, Jacque led us in a rendition of Happy Birthday for June: thank you Jacque.  June had made the most delicious strawberry and elderflower cake (National Trust recipe!), shortbread biscuits and chocolate brownies to mark her birthday.  Thank you June – they were delicious.  The strawberry and elderflower cake will be the first recipe in our WI recipe folder and I hope to collect many more recipes for the folder over the next year.

And another thing… In order to help the committee develop a varied future programme for the future we handed out a questionnaire at the end of the meeting.  This gives everyone an opportunity to have their say about The Alexandra WI (their WI!) and to make suggestions on how and what they would like to see in the future.

May 2019 – Annual Meeting

Our annual Meeting was held on 7 May 2019, with our Middlesex Federation WI Advisor, Yvette Rathbone. We balanced the business end of the meeting with a (somewhat challenging!) quiz and our decorated t-shirt competition.

Secretary Nina Jewell presented the Annual Report, recounting another busy year, from rag wreath making, singing and creative writing to more wine-tasting, scarf juggling and tai chi.

Yvette then officiated for our elections at which Maggie Weatherby was elected President, taking the reins from Emma Watson who stepped aside after four terms, and the new committee was elected. We farewelled from the committee Rachel Craig and Joan Prasad, formally welcomed back Norma Barnes, and re happy to announce the Gill Whitney has also joined the committee.


Incoming President Maggie Weatherby with Emma Watson, who leaves the post after four terms

Finally, Yvette drew the winner of our 2019-20 Denman Bursary; Nina Jewell was the lucky winner. Congratulations Nina! If you would like to know more about the WI’s Denman College, do take a look at its website. We also voted in favour of supporting both the resolutions being put forward at the NFWI Annual Meeting in Bournemouth in June.

In the committee meeting following the Annual Meeting, the following roles were also confirmed:

  • President – Maggie Weatherby
  • Secretary – Nina Jewell
  • Treasurer/Communications Manager – Emma Watson
  • Minute Secretary/Refreshments – Rosemary Pettman
  • Committee Member – Norma Barnes
  • Committee member – Gill Whitney

Although she is not on the Committee, Jayne Fowler will continue to assist by running the MCS.


After the formal business was finished it was time to judge the t-shirt competition.  This unenviable role went to our WI adviser Yvette.  It was not an easy job, as we had ten beautifully decorated t-shirts some dyed different colours and others using embroidery and artwork.  After carefully inspecting each one, Yvette came out with a well deserved winner designed by Ching Smith. Ching had made hand crocheted  flowers, biscuits and even a tiny twiddlemuff, all put on a background showing our logo of Alexandra Palace.  Congratulations to Ching and thank you to everyone for their contributions.

We finished the meeting with a fun quiz on tea and coffee organised by Nina. We finished off the meeting with cakes from Tops Cakes and tea organised by Rosemary.


April 2019 – Creative Writing

We love getting creative, whether it’s writing, singing, crafts… And for our April meeting, we got our pens out, inviting local creative writing workshop facilitator Nichola Charalambou of Creative Writes to guide us through some ‘free-flow’ writing exercises designed to get us writing.


Nichola Charalambou with The Alexandra WI President Emma Watson and Secretary/Treasurer Nina Jewell

Nichola’s approach allows writers to focus on simply getting words on the page: the process is more important than the end product.

Our members let their creativity flow, starting with a simple exercise on the prompt “I am…”. Nichola then handed out a selection of weird and wacky old hats, and we were tasked with writing from the perspective of our allocated hats, followed by an imagined conversation between the hats, when they met. A fun challenge!


March 2019 – Women Rise and the WI online

For our March meeting we mixed it up a bit. We started proceedings with a brief presentation from Priyanka and Heidi of local group Women Rise, based at Jackson’s Lane theatre in Highgate, and recipients of our charity fundraising efforts in 2018. Priyanka let us know all about the courses the group runs for women, including theatre and circus arts, self-defence, yoga and confidence building. Heidi then led us in scarf juggling… harder than it looks but a lot of fun!

We were then joined by Jules and Yve from Digital Team of the Middlesex Federation of Women’s Institutes. Jules reminded us of the myriad ways we can interact with the WI online, including accessing information for members via MyWI on the NFWI’s website, and finding out more about activities run by the Federation on its website and Facebook sites. Thank you Jules and Yve!