Posted Sunday 10th June 2007

Linda and Barry Eastlake have just returned from a two week holiday in Umbria, Italy, where they got talking to an estate agent.

"As he spoke perfect English, we talked about home," recalls Barry. "'Where do you come from?' he asked. ' A small village in Oxfordshire', we said. 'Near where?' 'Near Wallingford,' we said. 'Not Brightwell-cum-Sotwell....?'

"Well, it turns out he used to live in the cottage on the corner of Church Lane and The Street. He said that he left B-c-S over 25 years ago. As always, it is a surprise to see just how small the world really is. Went 2,000 miles to find someone who used to live 100 yards from my door!

"He asked to be remembered to anyone he would have known, and would love to hear from them."

Jim Powrie can be contacted at or Via della Barca, 06010 Montecastelli (PG) Italy.

Posted Saturday 24 March 2007

 News has reached the website from Janet and Mike Clayton, who are happily settled in an old mill in Cumbria, when they are not stomping up Machu Picchu, or singing in Latvia…

Janet is still very much involved in music-making, and now Mike has finally managed to retire – at the second attempt – so is he. The picture shows them taking a break during a week’s tour of Latvia and Lithuania with the Wordsworth Singers.

To celebrate Mike’s retirement last summer, they both embarked on a serious programme of travelling.

“We went via Madrid to Rio de Janeiro which we found quite intimidating, though spectacular too. Next stop were the Iguassu Falls – very spectacular, especially from the Argentine side which we popped across to, as you do. This was one of the great highlights of all time for us. Then it was a bus trek half way across Paraguay to Asuncion for one night. Interesting to see but hardly the scenic highlight of the trip. And it was just as well we left when we did as Paraguay were playing England in the World Cup the next day!

“Bolivia next, to Santa Cruz, then up (literally) into the Andes to Sucre and much further up to La Paz where any physical activity was a major challenge. What a place! Noise, fumes, frantic activity by thousands of people. And all in the most spectacular setting in a hollow below the High Plain and in the shadow of snow capped volcanoes.

“Then it was across the Altiplano to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. The visit to a small island called Suriqui was another highlight, in which local children followed us wherever we went. A supply of sweets was very useful! And on to Peru, first Puno (not recommended!), then on to Cuzco via the highest point of the whole trip at 14,500ft! Cuzco was magnificent, wonderful scenery and full of highly colourful people in endless carnival mood. (Though the seemingly hundreds of street vendors did sometimes get up the nose, especially the ones trying to sell you something through restaurant windows!). Visits to spectacular Inca and pre-Inca sites were made culminating in a crack of dawn train journey to the famous Machu Picchu. What a sight! Everything it is renowned to be.

“Mike was glad to be home for one reason though. Those infernal South American World Cup commentaries interspersed with verbal Coca Cola adverts were unbearable!

“Janet’s singing this year has actually expanded. Apart from the main choirs, The Wordsworth Singers and the Abbey Singers, she is also in The Eden Valley Hospice Choir (being accompanist and sometimes conductor), the Carlisle Cathedral Voluntary Choir (deputises for the Cathedral Choir at times), and there are also the two annual involvements in Renaissance Singers and SAS. If that wasn’t enough, she has now even started her own little ensemble in Ireby. It doesn’t have a name as yet, probably because we are not sure we want anybody to know about it. Yes, we said WE! Cos Mike’s in it. He went as a sense of duty to support the venture and Janet now won’t let him leave. Janet also now has her own clarsach (Celtic Harp) which was one of Mike’s birthday presents to her. The other was a plum-stoner!

 “And so to the next trip. Towards the end of July The Wordsworth Singers embarked on a week’s tour to Latvia and Lithuania, and Mike went too, being appointed Programme Manager for the trip! We always knew he had something to offer a choir. After one night in Riga, we trooped across the border to a real backwater in Lithuania, Zagare, to perform at its Cherry Festival. Well at least Mike and two other hangers on contributed to the success by frequenting the beer tent, whilst Janet and their other halves rehearsed. It was a marvellous experience (the trip, not the beer tent) despite spartan accommodation, matched by even more spartan food (the one restaurant in Zagare ran out of both food and drink whilst we were there!) and the music the Choir made was glorious and much appreciated by the locals. Back then to Riga and two concerts there, one, in particular, in the Maza Gilde (Little Guildhall) was exceptional.

“There was plenty of time in Riga to do some sightseeing. We had, of course been before, on the Baltic Cruise in 2001. We had been very impressed then with what we saw on a very short visit. So this time we were able to do it more justice, and that simply reiterated the view that Riga is a stunning place, highly recommended, though a bit overrun at times with English stag parties (go Monday to Friday).

“So home again. Or for Mike at least. We arrived back at Liverpool Airport at near midnight and Mike travelled back with the choir, whilst Janet headed off to her cousin Jane’s in Middlewich as a quick overnight stay en route to join The Renaissance Singers at St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. Some trip! And when that was finished 2 days later she belted across country to join the SAS Choir at St George’s Chapel, Windsor for a week. No half measures with Janet’s singing! But she was able to stopover with Nicholas en route home. Mike, meanwhile had arrived home at 3am post Riga, and spent the next week and a bit as chief cook and bottle washer, or, to put it another way, footloose and fancy free.”

Posted Sunday 11th February 2007

We have been contacted by an ex villager, now living in Belgium, who runs a guest house named after the house where she grew up in Mackney Lane. Hilda Foster writes:

"I was born in a small cottage called "Rosebank" in Mackney Lane on 11th October 1948 with my twin brother Eric. It gives me great pleasure in seeing your website and brings back lots of memories.

My Father William (Bill) Foster kept open his father's blacksmith garage called "The Bell Forge" on Bell Lane next to "The Bell" pub that was run by his sister and brother-in-law Charlie Wells. Our family imigrated to Belgium in 1962, back to my Mother's birth place. My father died 12 years ago but my Mother who is now going 81 still has contact ( by phone) with Sid Moody still living on High Road.

I have named my home "Rosebank" and we have two rooms for B&B. See our website Success with your website and best regards
Hilda Foster"

Anne Kennet writes from Oz
Posted Saturday 30th December 2006

We're all well and thriving. Tibby continues to grow at an alarming rate. She loves her swimming lessons and now enjoys body surfing in the sea with Matt while I continue my love affair with surfing in deeper water. Last week I went out four times, which shows commitment but is not indicative of significant progress. I'm still pretty hopeless but I do really enjoy it and I can even catch the odd small "green face" now. Kim and Andy are coming for a short visit early in the New Year and I'm hoping to take Andy out with the Surf Sisters for a lesson. Sadly I can't persuade Kim to join us; she prefers to watch from the beach. Still, hopefully she'll get a few good snaps of us on (or under!) our boards.

My other current passion is tap dancing with the Joan Rogers Adult Tap Troupe (average age 65), or the Rogettes as we've been billed for the Christmas show. Yesterday saw our first performance of the festive season and my first performance ever. I was so nervous that I went to the loo four times before the show started. I was particularly terrified because the second item on the bill was our little group of five beginners doing a number all on our own. So to the strains of "Chorus line" we stepped out onto the stage in front of about fifty elderly members of the Ladies View Club plus Matt and Tibby and my friend Heidi and Tibby's friend Taylor. We did okay but the stage was really slippery and I did a small skid. Luckily I controlled it avoiding a potentially disastrous five-tapper-pile-up. Matt loyally said he didn't notice. The old ladies were very enthusiastic (I think they liked the sparkly costumes) and Matt and co loyally cheered and whistled.

Our second number was "Caberet" (black bowler hat, fish net stockings etc as made infamous my Liza Minelli). This time we were with lots of other "girls" and despite a few mistakes here and there due to our loud tapping drowning out the music on the stage, I was really thrilled because I didn't make any goofs and so thoroughly enjoyed my three minutes of fame.

By the time we reached the finale of "Sleigh Bells" I could hardly wait for the beginners appearance for the last ten seconds and when it came to the final curtain I was bowing deeply like a pro. Now we only have to survive two more performances, one for the elderly parishioners of the Anglican Church and the other for Coffs Catholic Club, before I can hang up my silver tap shoes.

On the work front I am still working 2 days a week. Matt is still juggling 2 jobs plus some small projects with his dad mostly to do with sewage as far as I can gather. He's enjoying the variety and the chance to get out from behind the computer even if it does mean he's in the poo, so to speak.

Luckily he's been very encouraging about my surfing and tapping and so, on top of a busy workload the gem has also been doing a fair bit of babysitting while I have fun. We've also been camping and canoeing with friends so there's not much spare time between working and enjoying the great outdoors.

Well I'm off surfing, so thank you all for your cards and e-mails. We love to hear news from Blighty. It's great to hear about old favourites like the Brightwell village fete and even the quick 2 line e-mails are very welcome reminders of home.

By Anne Kennett
Posted Monday 28th August 2006

Against all the odds and despite the onset of Australian winter, which means cool days and near freezing nights, I have continued to join the Surf Sisterhood twice a week for an exhilarating battle with the briney. After nearly 6 months you probably imagine me swooping along 10 foot waves, executing daring turns and switch backs, occasionally wrestling with a shark. The truth is that I still fall off more often than I stand up and I have only been out of my depth on a few terrifying occasions.

Last week, however, I had my best ever session on a sunny Sunday when the surf was a bit wild but great for practising basic standing up skills. We were joined on the beach by Auntie Pauline, Uncle Fred and his video camera, after he had kindly helped me with my surfboard (difficult carrying a camera and tripod) he took up a position on the beach to film while I purposefully headed out to sea. I was exited. At last the folks back home would see my lithe, if mature, figure elegantly tackling the white water. I practised a few nonchalant flicks of wet hair and each time I caught a good wave I gave the camera a casual salute. (Even middle aged Surf Sisters are cool) All in all Uncle Fred filmed 15 minutes of 'action'.

Some weeks later when we met up for the film premiere I was aghast to see all he had managed to capture was 15 whole minutes of me falling off in a variety of ungainly ways, including actually turning upside down while still clinging to my board. He even recorded me bumping into a fellow surfer in a very un-cool way. In fact he didn't get a single shot of me standing up for more than a few seconds and even then I fell off backwards, and this was on my best ever surf day! At one point in the film you hear him remark 'Oh, I just missed her coming all the way in - shame'. So the folks back home still won't see me actually surfing, but, on the bright side, it will give everyone 15 minutes of non-stop hilarity.

If I am one of the oldest Surf Sisters I am, in contrast, one of the youngest members of Miss Jean's Adult Tap Troupe. I recently joined Miss Jean's beginner's class in an attempt to get fit and make friends and I have not been disappointed on either count. Although initially rather alarmed to find the average age of the troupe was well over 60, I am amazed at their tapping zeal and friendly warmth. They are thrilled to have a new member, especially one from the 'old country', so Wednesday evenings finds me tapping away to such musical greats as New York New York, Top Hat, and Caberet.

We were recently asked to give a performance to a local old people's home and there was much excitement as we 'girls' got fitted out in little black skirts and regulation Miss Jean tee shirts. One lovely retired lady, who joined when I did,treated herself to a proper pair of tap shoes and told me 'I only hope I live to wear them out, dear.'

Unfortunately due to sickness it was found that the Tappers would outnumber the audience, so the show was cancelled, but now we're all eagerly looking forward to the Christmas show at the Catholic Club.

As we are about to come back to the UK for a holiday I will be missing both surfing and tapping for a while. Instead we will be taking long evening strolls to the Clumps or Mackney, catching up with friends and family, drinking cider and eating decent sausages for five lovely weeks. So if you meet us walking on the highways and byways of Brightwell in August do stop and say G'day.

By Anne Kennett
Posted Sunday 9th April 2006

Coffs Harbour is famous for two things, bananas and beaches. Visitors to the famous Big Banana can study the history of the banana industry, marvel at the life cycle of the banana, walk through a giant concrete banana, purchase a plastic banana water pistol and, as a surreal contrast, ski down the Big Banana indoor snow slope. But when the tourists have had their fill of bananas they head for one of the 20 stunning local beaches. There are small sheltered beaches, long windy beaches, even a discreet nudist beach, but best of all are the beaches for surfing, and Coffs Harbour boasts not one but two surf schools.

Matt bought me a surfing lesson for Christmas and my friend, Lou was also given a lesson by her husband so we decided to go together. The husbands thought it was hilarious and planned to bring the kids, a picnic and video camera. The staff at the surf school had assured Matt that I would not be the oldest ever student but I was decidedly nervous when the day finally dawned. Yet despite all our fears, Surf School was fantastic!

Only Lou and I were there so we had lots of undivided time with our teacher, Brett. After we had signed a terrifying disclaimer and confessed our ages, we slapped on the sunscreen and “buddied up” to carry the 9 foot surf boards down to the beach. We had specifically chosen a Friday morning after the school holidays hoping it would be nice and quiet, with not to many beach-goers to witness our humiliation. There was only one family on the beach, a group including several mature age members enjoying the sun in their deck chairs. Brett surveyed the 3 mile expanse of deserted beach and pronounced the best conditions to be, yes, you’ve guessed it, right in front of the family who immediately moved deck chairs and adjusted parasols to allow for an uninterrupted view.

First we did a gentle warm up jog along the beach and then lots of stretches. Next we learnt the names of the parts of a surfboard; head, tail, rail, fins and leg rope just about covers it. Then we were ready to get down to business, into the water and away from our audience. Except we had to practice the drill on dry land first. Brett had us flinging ourselves onto our boards, looking over our shoulders to judge when to “catch” a wave and then paddling our arms enthusiastically to the count of four before raising ourselves from the waist up and surfing (stage one), and all in this on the sand.

By now the husbands had arrived with the kids, picnic, buckets & spades, video camera etc. There was much hilarity at the beached whales flailing on their surfboards and the camera was soon rolling. We finally got into the water to put our sand skills into practice and to our surprise we found we were rather good. Our audience signalled approval with thumbs up.

After returning to the beach to do dry runs of stages two and three (more hilarity from our loved ones and discreet sniggers from the deck chair family) we were finally ready to try to stand up on our boards in the water, and guess what? We did it! Admittedly, only in waist deep water and we fell off more often than not, but every now and again it all came together and we were riding the white water and whooping with glee. It was fantastic and only exhaustion forced us out of the water after two hours. Unfortunately, by this stage both our families and the deck chair mob had had enough of the heat and retired to the shady barbeque area behind the beach so only Brett and a couple of newly arrived super-cool surf dudes were there to witness our triumph. However, we are so inspired that we are considering joining the Surf Sisters who meet at the horribly early hour of 7.00am on Tuesday mornings. I did ask whether we could start the alternative Surf Matrons (9am with tea and cakes afterwards) but it seems that the “Sisters” are our only option. I’ll let you know if we make it.

Meanwhile its back to the real world of uppity cows, mite-ridden chickens and worm infested dog. Oh, to be surfing.

Posted Monday 6th March 2006

This message came from a reader in New Zealand, Jane Charlton.

She wrote : "My father Fred Charlton lived in the village from 1962 until his death earlier this year. He and my mother are both buried in St Agatha's graveyard. He was a great stalwart of the church and I was so pleased to see your website. I shall have a little look at it every so often when I feel a little homesick. Having lived in the village myself through childhood I have many memories of fetes, silver jubilee, the village shops and baker, even the horse drawn vegetable seller."

For those who missed it first time round, an obituary of Fred Charlton appeared in June/July 2005 edition of The Villager - click here to view.

Posted Monday 6th March 2006

Meanwhile, a bit nearer home, Mark Watkin sent this e-mail.

"Hello. My name is Mark and I am a former resident of the village.In fact I was born in what was then St George¹s Hospital in Wallingford, back in 1964,and lived in Brightwell until I was 18 before moving away to seek employment in Reading.

I dare say there are others who, like me perhaps, have moved from the village for a variety of reasons, only to find that moving back is now pretty near impossible! I have to rely on rented accomodation, as my income has never allowed me the luxury of home ownership. This and other circumstances, too many to mention, prevents me from moving my family back towards Brightwell, for which I am forever saddened.

Well,back to the point in hand. I enjoy looking on the new website of the village. It is very interesting and I must congratulate all those that have had a hand in its conception and its upkeep!

Could you perhaps enquire if anyone has any "old" photographs of the village. When I say "old" I mean to say of the village at a time that I remember it. For example,when Lynch's shop was in The Street, Kews bakery, The Bell Stores,etc! If any of these could be found, I for one would be most grateful to see them.

The recent article within The Villager about Mr Ron Wood was fantastic to see. Mr Wood taught me,my brothers and my sister and the village is indeed lucky to have him amongst your community. He is one of very few teachers that I can hand on heart say made a big difference to my life. I still think the world of him." 

By Anne Kennett
Posted Monday 6th March 2006

You might remember me as the female member of the Tap Dancing Fruit Machine at a couple of village fetes. I lived and worked in the village for 10 years before, in 2003, my husband Matt and I had a baby daughter, Isobel (known as Tibby) and we began to think about moving to Matt’s home in Australia to see how we liked life down under.

In 2004 we finally made the move and arrived in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales just in time for Tibby’s first birthday. It was January and very hot and humid. Roadside stalls were piled high with mangoes and bananas and when the temperature hit 40 degrees C and the jelly we were eating melted on the plate I knew things were going to be very different from life in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell.

We moved straight into Matt’s old family home, “Hazeldene”, which was empty and in need of tenants. Sited in seven acres of “bush” (woodland) and paddock, the house is an old, slightly run down, timber clad bungalow built amongst the trees on a steep hillside.

The house and gardens were originally established in the 1940’s and were considered so beautiful and quintessentially Australian that the Queen was scheduled to call in for tea during a tour of the colonies in the 1960’s. Unfortunately for all concerned a tree fell down and blocked the lane so she never did get to drink bush tea on the veranda, or wrestle with the quintessentially Australian plumbing either, but the fact remains that Hazeldene was a bit of a wow in its time. Sadly, since then a lack of time and enthusiasm coupled with a tropical climate which makes everything grow with unbelievable speed and vigour has resulted in a complete jungle which reaches within feet of the house.

Recently, in an attempt to clear a path to the dustbins we started to cut back a few bushes, and then got carried away. After two weekends of slash and burn we rediscovered the original terraces below the veranda and after another few weekends with chainsaw and pruners, a formally grassy terrace edged with camellias and agapanthus had been exposed. Given the first exposure to sunlight for years the camellias promptly flowered giving further incentive to re-grass the upper terrace and plant the banks. The rainy season has temporarily stopped progress but it is so pleasant to sit on the veranda and see beyond a wall of jungle that we’re itching to get back to work. Perhaps we’ll invite H.M. for that cup of tea when she visits Australia next month.

We also have some livestock: Bosca the escapologist is a cow with attitude. Botla is her calf. We have four bantam chickens including a loud rooster called Brucester and five other hens of assorted colours and temperaments. Jeddah, the lovely old donkey, recently died and we’re on the look out for a replacement. I wonder how much it would cost to ship out a couple of residents from Island Farm? Last but not least we inherited a dog called Monty, a ridiculously small white ball of fluff, prone to fleas and other parasites but popular with Tibby and, even I have to admit, a real character.

So, that’s our home amongst the gum trees. The local beaches are beautiful, the climate tropical and our life is very different to that in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, yet we still miss our walks to Mackney or the Clumps, the fete, Christmas carols on the green, all our friends and the everyday events of village life. So between our annual visits “home” it is great to be able to keep abreast of local news and wheelie bin developments via the Brightwell website.


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