Young minds

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

Kevin Leivers of The Naked Pharmacy explains how parents can help boost children’s mental health to cope with their learning journey at school

September summons our youngsters back to school, college and university. Increased screen time, pressure to succeed and the inability to switch off can tip the nervous system into permanent “sympathetic nervous system” mode. This is the “fight or flight” mode the body originally evolved as a mechanism to protect us from imminent danger. The anxiety response in the brain causes a cascade of hormones with wide-ranging effects such as shortness of breath, a racing heart, paling or flushing of the face, sweaty hands… The list goes on and, if left unchecked, may lead to more regular and extreme symptoms.

Youngsters who suffer from anxiety may feel abnormal and isolated. Depression is deeply personal and masks itself in varied symptoms. Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that perhaps the most effective treatment is personal empowerment of the sufferer’s own treatment. This means that they can learn to recognise and manage their symptoms, assisted by their parents.

Finding the tools that work for the individual is key to success. A regular exercise routine is both physically and mentally beneficial for health, especially within a group or team which will help reduce isolation. Regular sleep and a bedtime routine is very important, so turn off all blue light-emitting devices, avoid late food or drink (give at least two hours to digest) and avoid caffeine and sugary drinks after 1pm. Encourage children to express themselves by drawing or writing; it’s such a beautiful tool as an outlet to release thoughts.

Correct breathing is also vital. The hormonal cascade during an anxiety response causes us to shallow breathe and suck in more air than we breathe out, making panic worse.

Tony Ulatowski has used “The Big Breath” with more than 400 students in London, from pre-schoolers to secondary students, for the last year and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents, teachers and pupils. He says: “One of the teachers told of a four-year-old girl with anger issues who’s learnt to take herself away, regulate her emotions and just two or three of the big breaths help her feel better.”

A healthy diet including “live” foods, vegetables and fruits is hugely helpful; 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. A study from New Zealand in 2017 found depressed patients significantly improved on a modified Mediterranean diet. There are also some natural supplements which are safe, effective, non-addictive and adaptogenic that provide an evidence-based approach for mood imbalance and anxiety in children and teenagers. One of the most widely tested is the ancient spice saffron. Saffron targets the gut as well as the brain.

Dr Paul Clayton, Fellow at The Institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour, believes saffron should be considered in place of current therapies. He says: “By targeting core aspects of mood and anxiety, saffron works far more rapidly than the pharmaceuticals, which shoot at the wrong target. Saffron restores normal nerve function; if you have chronic inflammation, the “brakes” are put on a few key processes. Moreover, it acts very fast (hours, not weeks or months), has no withdrawal symptoms, no side effects, and is safe to use with children.”

Visit www.thenakedpharmacy.com or email info@thenakedpharmacy.com or call 01483 685630.

Did you know?

1 In the UK 16 million people experience mental illness.
2 Three out of four mental illnesses start before the age of 18.
3 10% of school children have a diagnosable mental illness.
4 Three out of four young people with mental illness are not receiving treatment.
5 The average wait for effective treatment is 10 years.
6 Suicide is still the biggest killer of young people in the UK.
7 People with severe mental illness die 10-20 years earlier than the general population.

Acting up

The Boost! School of Acting team believe taking part in drama-based group activities can help develop social skills and reduce anxiety. They offer Saturday morning lessons in Oxfordshire for 4-6-year-olds and 7-10-year olds in Clifton Hampden and Monday morning sessions for pre-schoolers in Didcot. They also want to start a new group for teenagers – parents and teens themselves who might be interested, please get in touch! Visit www.boost-drama.co.uk

Key Player

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Impressionist Alistair McGowan will show audiences a different side of himself this month. He chats to Peter Anderson ahead of his Maidenhead piano show

Impressionist Alistair McGowan will showcase his love for classical piano music, motivated by his desire to open the genre up to the masses. Audience members can look forward to beautiful music (with the occasional mistake), some interesting stories and a sprinkling of his trademark impressions…

So where does Alistair’s love of classical piano come from? “I grew up with classical music,” he says. “I can remember the Peer Gynt Suite from when I was about five. Then when I was in my teens I heard some piano music on the radio; I asked my mother what it was and she told me Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. When I said I really liked it, she said she had a record of it and we listened to the whole concerto.

“With this concert, I hope to bring my love of classical piano music to a wider audience by playing about 18 short pieces and in between talking about the pieces and the composers who wrote them. There are many lovely composers for the piano whom not many people have heard of and I’d love to change that.

“One of the pieces I play is by John Field, one of the best Irish composers of classical music. During the show, there may be the occasional laugh, but this is me trying my best to play piano, not emulating Victor Borge or Les Dawson!”

I guess one of the scariest moments for an impressionist must be coming face-to-face with someone you impersonate? I wonder whether Alistair fancies meeting one of the classical composers… “Now there’s a question! I think some of the composers were a little terrifying. I think Tchaikovsky described Rachmaninov as 6 feet 6 inches of Russian gloom. John Field is someone I’ve studied and his music is good for beginners to learn. Then there’s Debussy and Grieg both of whom had a vast knowledge about piano playing.”

Alistair McGowan – Intoduction to Classical Piano is at Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Saturday, 11th August. For more information or to book please visit www.norden.farm/events or call 01628 788 997.

Drink quench marks

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Our beautiful part of the world is full of fantastic food & drink producers. We uncork some of our favourites to enjoy this summer…

If summer joy could be encapsulated in a sound, surely it would be the “pop” of a perfectly chilled bottle? And when you’re uncorking the fruits of your own labours, success is sweet indeed…

“This land is a b***** to cultivate,” says Henry Laithwaite as he stands on the undulating Chiltern slopes alongside his wife Kaye. “It’s so flinty that the harrow kept breaking when we started working the soil, which inspired our name. But it is a very special spot.”

Indeed, this beautiful Thames Valley terroir is one of the many magical ingredients (along with lots of hard work) which have helped conjure up the lush velvety blushing fizz we uncork and sample in Harrow & Hope’s adjoining state-of-the-art winery. This non-vintage brut rosé, made exclusively from pinot noir grapes, won a gold medal in the Sommelier Wine Awards. Produced using traditional methods and the precious fruit from these relatively young vines, Harrow & Hope’s sparkling wines are flying the flag for the Great British food and drink revolution. Visit www.harrowandhope.com

Here at Round & About Magazine we are passionate (not to mention greedy and thirsty) supporters of local pubs, restaurants and producers. After all, anyone working in the food & drink industry will know all too well that it takes a lot of hard graft to create the perfect recipe for punters to enjoy.

Chalgrove Gin

Gin has seen a surge in popularity and there are some interesting local producers in this spirited part of the world. Chalgrove Artisan Distillery use juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, cardamon and black peppercorns, honed in an alembic copper still, to create their OX44 Gin; visit www.chalgroveartisandistillery.com.

Did you know gin started out as a medicine (it was thought to cure gout and indigestion)? In the 18th century, alcohol was safer to drink than water and gin was cheaper than beer; it was untaxed until the government cottoned on, sparking hooch production. Much of the gin was drunk by women (with historians blaming it for child neglect and citing wet nurses giving gin to babies to quieten them), landing many in debtors’ prisons or the gallows, or driving them to madness, suicide and death (hence the term Mother’s Ruin). However, these days it’s a more joyful summer spirit, and can even be considered a beauty tonic…

Young In Spirit is the world’s first company which combines spirits with pure collagen. Oxford “gintrepreneurs” Camilla Brown and Liz Beswick have earned attention from Vogue and The Daily Mail, among others for their Collagin; www.collagin.co.uk.

The artisans at Toad in Oxford craft gin, absinthe, vodka and rye whiskey worth a shot – and there’s a new cocktail bar at Bicester village; www.spiritoftoad.com. And Mr Hobbs Gin, part of the Hobbs of Henley Experience, has launched two new fruit flavoured gin liqueurs; Rhubarb & Ginger and Raspberry & Elderflower www.mrhobbsgin.co.uk 

Is beer your tipple? Hoppy bunnies are spoilt for choice. For tours, tastings and hearty ales, check out Witney’s wondrous Wychwood Brewery (www.wychwood.co.uk). Cirencester’s Corinium Ales (www.coriniumales.co.uk), Chipping Norton’s Hook Norton Brewery www.hooky.co.uk. A passion for good beer and social justice fuel Botley’s Tap Social, where the team offer live music and street food every Friday and Saturday in August as well as the monthly comedy night and reggae night, www.tapsocialmovement.com. Ciderniks near Kintbury has been making natural ciders, pure apple juice and cider vinegar since 2003; www.ciderniks.com

Spice up your life…

Variety is the spice of life and there are so many restaurants to enjoy this summer. Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar (the father of Benares in London and Sindhu in Marlow) hosts Indian nights in August at his divine Hawkyns in Amersham; www.hawkynsrestaurant.co.uk. The Bottle & Glass Inn in Binfield has made a splash, gaining a nod from Harden’s Guide and a Michelin Plate; www.bottleandglassinn.com. For summer dining in style, check out The French Horn in Sonning (www.thefrenchhorn.co.uk), The Crooked Billet in Stoke Row (www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk) and The Nelson in Brightwell Baldwin www.thenelsonbrightwell.co.uk. Feast on fresh Lebanese and Middle Eastern delicacies (many vegan or veggie) including colourful salads and wraps at Comptoir Libanais in Oxford’s Westgate; www.comptoirlibanais.com
We also love the rustic summer vibes of The Highwayman (www.thehighwaymaninn-checkendon.co.uk). Cheers!

So, we’d like to know what’s your favourite pub or restaurant and why? Join in the conversation and comment below.

Summer favourites from Paul Clerehugh

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

We chat to Paul Clerehugh, the star chef of The Crooked Billet and London Street Brasserie…

Q. What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“ My Vogue Speed Peeler, for planing Reggiano curls from a parmesan wedge. It produces perfect courgette, daikon and carrot ribbons and peels a waxy charlotte in seconds… I could even shave my legs with it.”

Q. What are your favourite al fresco summer dishes?
“Shaved courgette and parmesan dressed with thick green olive oil. Or else rotisserie spitroast chicken, loads of herbs, garlic and lemon. I’m also partial to a Mr Whippy with local raspberries and monkey blood.”

Q. Which are your favourite local suppliers, producers or farm shop?
“Blue Tin Farm Shop at Keepers Cottage in Ipsden. Great produce, a great smoke house, great providence and I fancy the farmer’s wife…”

Q. What’s your favourite summer veg, fruit and drink?
“Runner beans, tomatoes and Barbara Laithwaites’ Stoke Row English sparkling wine. I also love an ice-cold Dandelion & Burdock.”

Visit www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk  or London Street Brasserie

Hooked on Peter Pan

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Journey to Neverland thanks to an open-air musical production of Peter Pan by the Immersion Theatre team, writes Peter Anderson

Once again, the theatre’s artistic director James Tobias combines with composer Robert Gathercole for this latest adaptation of J. M. Barrie’s iconic story about a boy who never grew up.

“I’m incredibly excited to continue expanding Immersion’s portfolio of work,” James tells me. “Peter Pan is shaping up to be another
larger-than-life summer treat for families of all ages, complete with all the ingredients that make an Immersion show such a uniting, and above all fun family experience.”

So, what you need to do is follow young Peter, as he guides Wendy and the Darling boys on an awfully big adventure as they think happy thoughts and fly high to Neverland. Once there, they will meet a collection of well-known characters, from Peter’s friends – the Lost Boys, his close friend the cheeky Tinkerbell, and then of course there is the hilarious Smee and the most feared villain of them all, the evil Captain Hook. Filled with catchy music, heaps of audience interaction (oh yes there is!), and a laugh-a-minute script makes this a hilarious and exciting musical about the boy who never grew up, one where every member of the family will be hooked!

Speaking of Hook, Thomas Cove who plays him says: “It’s such a pleasure to be teaming up again with James Tobias and the great people at Immersion Theatre. It’s not often that chances to play such an iconic character like Captain Hook come along, so as soon as the casting came up, I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with. The team who have been assembled truly bring this timeless story to life. The show is packed with Immersion’s trademark high-energy, fantastic entertainment for all ages, and the beautiful open-air venues we’ll be visiting will be in for a treat.”

The performances are outside, so audience members can take their own picnic, chairs or rugs, and drinks will be served during the interval. After the performance you may also have a chance to meet members of the cast.

Peter Pan will be performed on lawns, in our readers’ areas on the following dates:
Wednesday 8th & Thursday 9th August in Hatchlands Park, East Clandon, Surrey.
Friday, 10th August In Langley Park, Iver, Buckinghamshire.
Monday, 13th August in Shaw House, Newbury, Berkshire
Sunday, 26 & Monday, 27th August in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

For details and tickets, visit www.immersion theatre.co.uk

Peter Pan by Immersion Theatre

Peter Pan - Coming soon to a venue near you!

Peter Pan opened this weekend and has already been wowing sold out audiences so be sure to HOOK your tickets now!https://www.immersiontheatre.co.uk/outdoor-peter-pan-2018/

Posted by Immersion Theatre Company on Monday, 2 July 2018

Summer favourites from Atul Kochhar

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

We asked Atul Kochhar the twice Michelin-starred chef, and owner of Benares in London, Sindhu in Marlow and many other restaurants, about his summer favourites

Atul Kolchhar
Atul Kolchhar

Q: What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“I wouldn’t be without a wok or a karahi. A slightly heavier wok is best as you can stew, braise and fry. It’s a good idea to season a new wok before using it for the first time; Put plenty of salt in and heat then take a kitchen cloth and rub the salt all over the sides and base, wash with weak soapy water and dry.”

Q. What’s your fave al fresco dish?
“Anything I can do on the barbecue, meat, vegetables or fruit. You don’t need to add lots of spice; keeping it simple with salt, pepper and lemon juice is ideal. Try to retain the juices as much as you can by grilling on a high heat so the food seals quickly and retains flavour.”

Q. Do you have a favourite pub or restaurant?
“I love The Footman in Mayfair where, once in a while, I go for a pint with my team. A great place.”

Q. What about a fave farm shop or supplier?
Laverstoke Park Farm [in Basingstoke] does the best cheese, especially buffalo mozzarella.”

Q. Which British summer produce do you love?
“Early this year I made a pact with the family to spend less time travelling and more time at home so I’m mostly in the UK. Strawberries are my favourite. Chard and rhubarb I love, too, especially at this time of year. Chard is best blanched quickly, used in the same way as spinach. If I’m cooking a chicken curry I’d add the whole leaf to the pot – which makes it slightly salty but amazing, since it absorbs all the juices. The eating is fantastic! If you’re a vegetarian chard is a great option.”

Visit www.atulkochar.com

Woodland Wonder

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Woods are amazing. They’re where imagination takes root. Where a love of nature grows and thrives. And they’re the lungs of our county. They are also the best place to escape to, and shrug off your cares. The Japanese have a name for it; Shinrin-Yoku, which, poetically coined, means “forest bathing”. Living in this part of the world, we’re spoilt for choice, so we have teamed up with The Woodland Trust, a charity that exists to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future. They focus on improving woodland biodiversity and increasing peoples understanding and enjoyment of woodland.

Harpsden & Peveril Woods

Harpsden & Peveril Woods is an 18-hectare area that has been designated as “ancient semi-natural woodland”, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Area of Conservation and has Tree Preservation Order work. This site, next to Henley Golf Club, approximately a mile south of Henley-on-Thames, and within the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has a 50-year management plan with the minimum of silviculture intervention in place.
Harpsden & Peveril Woods is dominated by mature beech, pedunculate oak, ash trees and sessile oak. Also hazel, holly, field maple, rowan, wild cherry all present.

The majority of the land of this wood was acquired by The Woodland Trust in 1991, after the Great Burns Day Storm of 1990. There were a lot of wind-blown trees, and these gaps are being filled with younger trees of a variety of species.

The Woodland Trust says there will be a loss of ash through ash dieback disease, which is very likely to occur in the next 10 years and this will add further gaps to the mature tree canopy. Over time this wood is likely to become more of mixture of beech, oak, birch and sycamore.

The open canopy gaps have allowed other flora and fauna to flourish. There have been 40 recorded species of flowering and uncommon plants strongly associated with old woodland including bird’s nest orchid, narrow-lipped helleborine, green-flowered helleborine, cow-wheat, goldilocks and the yellow bird’s nest. The deadwood habitat is also very rich, and this wood has been noted for its diversity of fungi. In a fungal survey in 1999 recorded 171 species of which nine are rare.

Penn and Common Woods

Walk back in time in Penn and Common Woods, once home to Iron Age smelting, a Roman settlement, a wood-turner’s workshop for High Wycombe’s chairmaking businesses, and even an army base during World War II.

You can find this place, which is at the very heart of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, close to the amenities in the village of Penn Street, near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.

These woods today have taken their shape as a direct result of its rich and changing history. For those interested in archaeology, there are a number of features to look out for which point to the wood’s past, such as banks, ditches, pits and dells.
As well as providing a home and source of income for individuals, Penn and Common Woods has had an interesting history of wildlife. Wild boar, wolves and deer roamed the wood in the Middle Ages, and there are still roe deer to be seen today.

Medieval farmers would bring their cattle, horse, sheeps and pigs to graze on common ground. The Woodlands Trust has reintroduced cows to Penn Wood to maintain open pasture by trampling down thickets and fertilising the ground, encouraging a vast array of flora and fauna back.

Penn Woods is renowned for its rich stock of ancient woodland. Over much of the site the canopy is dominated by broad-leaved tree species including oak, beech and birch – some of which are over 200 years old. However, there are also areas of dense coniferous plantation and open pasture.

The range of habitats here supports a diversity of species adapted to completely different ecological niches. This can be illustrated by the rare butterflies and unusual beetles. A survey in 2000 discovered 10 nationally scarce beetles.

Overhead a wide range of birds can be spotted including brambling, tawny owl, cuckoo, garden warbler, red kite, kestrel and buzzard.

Puttenham Village Walk

The Puttenham Village Walk (3miles) Leg 1. Follow the signs for a footpath, you’ll pass a cottage, keep left round the corner, down steps to a bridleway, then turn right (you’ll see yellow arrows, follow them). Pass through some swing gates, over stiles and a flat bridge towards a large metal gate, which, leads you to Puttenham Lane. Turn left, pass through a kissing gate, into the meadow, keep left and follow the winding path steeply uphill. In the distance, you will see Puttenham Priory on the right. At the final stile, continue ahead to a T-Junction in the village. (On the right is St John the Baptist – well worth a visit.) Reward yourself with a pint and lunch.
The Culmill Circuit (7½miles) Leg 2. From the village head towards the North Downs Way. It’s a five-mile straight walk, with a few twists and turns, but you will have a fine view of the Hog’s Back. This path will take you towards Totford Wood to meet a junction with fields. Look out for the yellow arrows, that will guide you through an area called Payn’s Firs. Look out for the little fairy house in the trees. Go right on the road. (If you need a toilet break head towards St Laurence.)

Next the trail is a zig-zag, starting from the left towards Binton Wood. There are lots of chestnut trees here. Stay on the path, following the green-and-white signs, past beautiful, tall pine trees, to a place known as Culver’s Well. The track runs through open woodland of Crooksbury Common, and onwards to the timber works, keep an eye out for the vehicles. You’ll get to a crossing. On the otherside is Britty Wood.

Leg 3 (2½miles). The route goes up through pines, beeches and a coppice. Then it’s downhill into a beautiful area of silver birches. You come to views of Cutmill Pond, this used to serve an iron mill in the 16th century. Pretty soon you’ll pass Rodsall Manor, with its proud stone eagles. When you see the steps on the left, you’ll be back at the car park.

Stratfield Brake

Stratfield Brake, OX5 1UP, two miles outside Kidlington, is really family-friendly. The Woodland Trust began managing the 18.5-hectare site from 1997 after establishing a lease with the site’s owner, Oxfordshire County Council.

The wood is made up of a mature wood, a young wood and a wetland area. This wood contains tree species such as oak, field maple and elm, as well as many bird species such as tree creepers, rooks and woodpeckers. Old oak trees provide habitats not just for birds but also fungi, mosses, insects and bats.
Sadly, at the moment, access is restricted to the mature woodland area in response to the presence of a disease called acute oak decline, which affects native oak trees, leading in some cases to their death. The disease poses no threat to either humans or animals, but it may be spread through movement of bacteria picked up on visitors’ shoes and clothing or by vehicles. Therefore, on the advice of Forest Research, the Woodland Trust has temporarily closed Stratfield Brake’s mature woodland area to the public.

There’s still plenty to observe at Stratfield Brake this summer including the meadows and the wetland. Just park near the sports club and follow the signs to the wood. There are four entrances to the site from here, creating a network of 1.5miles, buggy-friendly surfaced and unsurfaced paths in Stratfield Brake, which are level and have no width restrictions (but can get muddy in wet weather).

One short loop of surfaced path leads to a bird-watching area overlooking the wetland. All year round it attracts all sorts of birds – you might be lucky to hear the drumming of great spotted woodpeckers high in the trees. There’s a good chance you’ll see mute swan, tufted duck, heron and coot and, if you’re lucky you might spot a rarity such as a little egret. This small heron is hard to miss as it has whiter than white plumage.

Stratfield Brake is also a good place to join the Oxford Canal towpath; a 4.7-mile (7.6km) circular walk using the footbridge to Yarnto, developed by local Ramblers for the Canals & Rivers Trust.

Visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk for more woodland walks. Please remember when setting off for a walk, to take a compass, a good map, a bottle of water and a snack.

Live & Direct

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

Historian, broadcaster and TV presenter Dan Snow tells us more about his upcoming History Guy tour…

Q:What will you be talking about in your show? “A large chunk will be about local history, with direct relevance to the place we’re in…”

Q: Do people want to recount their personal histories, too? “Yes, they often want to tell me all about their family or the part their family played in history, such as a soldier in the First World War. A huge number of people tell me stories about their ancestors. They’ll say something like ‘My father was the first black RAF pilot’. Listening to them, you realise how many firsts there are.”

Q: Is your hope that you can captivate audiences with your infectious enthusiasm? “Yes! History is not all about dead kings, old libraries and dust: it’s everything! It’s your parents’ eyes meeting across a crowded room and why we are who we are and why we are speaking English and why it’s acceptable for women and men to mingle together. I hope people walk out of the theatre saying that they had a really good time. I also hope they leave having thought deeply about the past of their town, their country and their world. I just love this country – there is so much character and history here. Wherever you go in Britain, there are so many stories.”

Q: What do you think are the benefits of studying history? “It’s very good for your mental health to go to these places. When I went to Odiham Castle recently it was a beautiful sunlit morning – not a bad way to spend 20 minutes. Being a historian is a lovely job, but we can all do it at any time.”

Q: Tell us about your channel, History Hit TV. “Life is very exciting at the moment. Our podcasts have a million listeners. I love doing the podcast because of its simplicity and speed.”

Q: What you do in your spare time? “We go on holiday and visit historic sites! The kids are more manageable when you’re doing stuff with them. Having them around the house in winter is brutal. Looking around Winchester or Basingstoke is great fun. Walking around the Roman walls of Chester is a really good day out. You’re a better parent if you take your children to these historic places; it makes better citizens. We’re also on the water all the time. I often row with the kids near our house.”

Q: Did you inherit your love of history from your family? “Yes. My dad is fantastic on the heritage side. I inherited that from him. He has relentless energy. Also, my Welsh grandma, Nain, was a huge storyteller. She taught me to give history a human element and to bring it alive. I hope my history is real and vivid because of her.”

Enjoy Dan Snow: An Evening with “The History Guy” at The Swan in High Wycombe on Thursday, 7th July. For tickets, visit www.wycombeswan.co.uk or call 01494 512 000.

Military music

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Sarah Readings explains more about one of the lesser-known aspects of the Royal Air Force Music Service; the RAF Voluntary Band Association

Music is, and always has been, an important part of our nation’s military heritage. It has long played an essential role in military affairs, from the war carnyx that roused the ancient Celts to war, via the drums and trumpets of Roman Legions, to the bugle call that signals the lowering of the RAF ensign at sunset. Music lifts the spirits, helps keep a parade in step and encourages a sense of comradeship. Military music is a tradition in which the Voluntary Bands (VBs) of the Royal Air Force have proudly participated for a century.

In April 1918 when the Royal Air Force formed from the union of the Royal Naval Air Services and the Royal Flying Corps, musicians of the two services, augmented by fresh recruits, united to form the first RAFVBs. Funding emerged, including donations from officers. The men who flocked to volunteer came from a variety of musical traditions – brass bands, military bands, pipe bands and corps of drums – and their skills covered all manner of instruments. Some were experienced, others were hobbyists.

Soon after the Voluntary Bands began, the Air Ministry received a report calling for the inauguration of a School of Music to be staffed by a team of 50 band instructors. The Air Ministry agreed, only to reconsider when the dust of the Great War settled to reveal enormous debts. In 1920, amid loud arguments from the Army and the Navy that the RAF itself was no longer necessary, the infant RAF School of Music was disbanded. Happily, the RAF Central Band stepped in and supplied a succession of excellent Voluntary Band Instructors (VBIs).

In the 1920s and 1930s, VBs flourished: many RAF stations, both at home and overseas, had their own band and some of the larger ones worked with the RAF Central Band. Many more bands were established as the Second World War drew thousands more people into uniform and the number of RAF bases and personnel increased. A great number of new recruits of all trades had, in civilian life, been keen musicians, whether professional or amateur, and they rejoiced in the opportunity to continue banding while dressed in RAF blue. Even after the war ended, some of them stayed on in the Service and formed professional ensembles as part of the RAF Music Services.

In 1949, the RAF School of Music reopened and offered a bandmaster’s course which produced some marvellous VBIs, mainly Warrant Officers and Flight Sergeants, who guided the various bands for another three decades. By the mid-1970s, 24 bandmaster posts existed at RAF stations both in the UK and overseas.

Today’s RAF Voluntary Bands are led by fully qualified, experienced bandmasters who are the only paid members of the VBs: all other bandsmen and women are willing volunteers.

One of the welcome results of the formation of the RAFVBA is increasing collaboration among the bands. Over the past few years a number of prestigious massed band events have been staged, highlights being a concert at Symphony Hall in Birmingham in 2008 to celebrate 90 years of the Royal Air Force; a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Spitfire in Leicester in 2011 and a showcase concert in Cardiff in 2016. For amateur musicians these massed band events are an opportunity to participate in high-profile and prestigious concerts and enhance our feelings of pride in the Voluntary Band Association and its place in the modern music service.

Now for a more personal perspective – as a proud member of RAF Halton Area Voluntary Band, I have enhanced my musical life and improved my musical skills. I have strong links to the Armed Forces; both of my grandfathers served in WWI in the Australian and British Armies, my father served in the Australian Army in WWII and two of my brothers served in the British Army for years. I married into an RAF family; my mother-in-law was ex-WRAF and my father-in-law a Squadron Leader in the RAF. After his death my mother-in-law remarried a Wing Commander in the RAF. I have a nephew serving at RAF Benson as Puma ground support and another nephew has recently left the Royal Marines after many years’ service, including Iraq and several tours of Afghanistan.

Military tradition and its ethos of service and dedication has formed a backdrop to my life and in a very small way I am able to continue that. As a mature amateur musician, who came late to playing a brass instrument, I was able to learn a new skill and gain an insight into the world of military music. For me, a particular highlight is our participation in the annual Service of Remembrance held by the War Widows Association of Great Britain in Whitehall on the Saturday preceding Armistice Sunday. There is no greater sense of pride than marching to our national memorial, the Cenotaph, and participating in this moving event and supporting women who have suffered the ultimate loss in the protection of our country.

There are advantages to being a civilian member – I for one never thought I would learn to stand on a drill square and start working out my left foot and right foot and then be expected to march, play, stay in step, follow the right direction and not end up facing the opposite way to my comrades in the band. In conclusion, while membership of an RAF Voluntary Band does require commitment and either an understanding of, or a willingness to learn and embrace service discipline, in return you are part of an organisation that can widen your musical experience much more than is usually possible in a civilian alternative.

For more information, please visit www.haltonvoluntaryband.co.uk

It will be pilots on parade this month, as the RAF100 Roadshow reaches Horse Guards Parade, 6th – 9th July as part of the centenary year. On display will be aircraft from all through their history, including; Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c Biplane, Supermarine Spitfire MkXVI, Gloster Meteor F4 (the actual aircraft that captured the world air speed record of 616 mph in 1946), Harrier GR3, Tornado GR1, DC3 Dakota and a Chinook Helicopter. As well as the past, the RAF will also be looking to the future with an interactive STEM/Techno Zone and learn more about how they’re creating the next generation Air Force. After the Roadshow at Horse Guards there will also be a flypast and parade on 10th July. Visit www.raf.mod.uk

With grateful thanks to Mrs Mary Mackie, for her assistance with this article and her research into and words on the history of the RAF VBA. Mrs Mary Mackie, Author & Speaker, Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

Flying high with Alice Marshall

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Peter Anderson chats to Alice Marshall, winner of the Brighton Fringe Best Comedy Award ahead of her shows this month.

Alice Marshall has won plaudits for her weird and wonderful characters, including bold and brassy Hispanic air stewardess Maria, once dubbed “the angriest woman in the skies”. Now she’s welcoming the Farnham audience on board for their 50-minute, non-stop flight into the Twilight Zone.

So, I want to ask Alice, where do the ideas for your characters come from?

“My characters come from all over the place. Some of them are heightened versions of different aspects of my own personality, some of them are based on people I’ve met in real life, and some of them are coping mechanisms I’ve invented to help me get through difficult situations. I came up with the main character in my new show, Maria the air hostess, to help me deal with my intense fear of flying. By turning myself into her, I can sometimes convince myself I’m not going to die at 30,000 ft.”

What can visitors expect from this show?

“My shows are something a little out of the ordinary. The characters are incredibly varied, and the concept of the show is also a little unusual… it  won’t be like anything you’ve seen before.”

Is there a place or venue you would really love to perform?

“As both a comedian and an actor there’s definitely a part of me that finds traditional West End theatres completely magical. I would love to do a show in one of them one day – The Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue is my favourite; it’s spectacular. That would be a dream come true…”

Comedy can be a tough gig – one you are excelling at with flying colours! What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever had to help counter the nerves?

“Always look towards your next show; never get hung up on what you’ve just done. Whether a performance has gone brilliantly or terribly, it doesn’t matter. Don’t weigh your self worth based on what an audience thinks! If they love you, don’t get carried away. If they hate you, don’t let it affect what you do. It’s not about you, it’s about the work you’re making and that has to be all that matters.”

Alice Marshall will perform at Norden Farm Centre For The Arts on Thursday, 5th July; visit Norden Farm or call 01628 788997 and on Saturday, 14th July; visit  Cutty Sark Theatre or call 020 8312 6608 to book. Also visit www.alicemarshall.co.uk