A new voice for Surrey Life - reader columnist competition

And the winner is...

Name: Julia Radu Hometown: CroydonSupporting statement: The idea behind the Golden Girls is actually pretty much a true account of what happens most weeks when we meet in Epsom; the principle behind the column being that whilst I have a few years to go before I make it as a true Golden Girl, when I grow up I want to be just like them! 

When I tell my friends about our exploits, they’re always in stitches and I think it will be a refreshing change to show that just because you’re a certain age, doesn’t mean that you should behave in a certain way. 

There are both serious and local issues also that are aired, and the patronising way that I see my mother and her friends are treated sometimes makes me furious; I would simply like to be theirs and thousands of other Golden Girls and Boys’ voice.

The Golden Girls

Every Saturday, a troupe of glamorous average aged 80-somethings meet for lunch, myself included, which to be mathematically correct does bring the average age down to 60-something, but this is not all about me.

I am proud to be a member of this illustrious troupe, other members including my mother (86, whom shall be called Rose for litigant reasons), her best friend (87 – Blanche – ex-Tiller girl), my aunt (70, aka Dorothy), Aunt’s friend (age unknown but more suited to being Sophia than Sophia herself) and various special guests who appear from time to time in the form of visiting mother-in-laws, sisters and general hangers-on.

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The glamorous location for this lunch? None other than Sue’s Diner in Epsom, where every week they put up with much screeching of chairs as tables are arranged into accommodating eight of us, or, when you can hear an audible sigh of relief from the management, we may be just two.

Now there is nothing unusual in these meetings you would think, but if you bear with me I will try and justify why we, myself included, look forward to our Saturday sessions from the Monday of the week before.

Firstly, we’re not all local but compared to Norbury, Croydon, Sutton (no offence intended to any of these towns), Epsom is a dream.

Secondly, the shopping facilities are perfect, i.e. you can find anything from a glamorous Hobbs outfit to a totally indispensable mushroom brush and you will go home safe in the knowledge that you not only bagged a bargain, but can be smug in the knowledge that none of your friends will have one.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it is the occasion of ‘Doing Lunch’ that really matters.

It wasn’t always thus, morphing naturally from a quick bite to eat in Wetherspoons, into what is now ‘an occasion’. It is not totally unheard of for example, for Sophia, a local member, to pop into the shops in the morning, bag a stunning pair of bright red Jimmy Choo look-alikes, pop back home and turn up an hour later wearing said shoes, with such an air of nonchalance that Dame Maggie Smith herself would be proud. 

She will then proceed to order a jacket potato with cheese, willing the rest of us to look down, which of course we all do. And you can hear the cries of ‘my, they’re gorgeous’, ‘where?’, ‘how much?’ etc, so much so that the whole caf� is now looking at Sophia’s feet in awe.

Then, of course, there are the conversations. More than once, I have noticed uninitiated members trying to keep up with the constant crossfire of ‘Broadband costs, town parking, Strictly’s latest victim’ etc.

I would love to invite you to join us for a toastie and a chat every month – I’ll save you a seat, but be warned, some of our antics may shock you – and woe betide anybody who dares to think of  a Golden Girl as stupid or slow just because of her age!

If you love writing about Surrey, we're always happy to take online submissions for our readers' poetry and prose section (who knows, your best efforts may one day find their way into the pages of Surrey Life magazine)


Name: Nick TurrellHometown: Thames DittonSupporting statement: It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Six finalists, a public vote. How nerve-racking. This is the bit where I have to convince you to vote for me.

So, what gave me the idea for the column? Well, it all started three days after I got married. Romantic fools that we were, we rushed into marriage, after being together for only 14 years, then the Lehman Brothers Bank collapsed and my business slowed right down. All of a sudden, I had extra time and two children on my hands, so I started exploring what Surrey had to offer.

What I’ve found so far is both informative and amusing. Surrey is a crowded little county and where there are people, there’s eccentricity. This column will share with you my ‘Bill Bryson-esque’ observations of Surrey and its people. I think it’ll make you smile.

Notes from a Small County

My time management was getting out of hand and I didn’t even realise it; I was too consumed with making the next deal to notice my priorities were off balance. 

When the economic meltdown made everyone panic and the phone stopped ringing I did two things: started losing sleep and started taking stock of my life. Did I want to continue along my chosen route of highs and lows; high disposable income but low amounts of time with my family? Or did I want to get to know my children as they grew up. I decided the income could wait, my children couldn’t. It was time to swap disposable income for disposable nappies.

As my wife was now the only one out working, one of the first things I had to get used to was cooking for her and the children. That meant dealing with the supermarkets. I hate going to the supermarket. It’s right up there with paper cuts and sitting on a crowded commuter train. Whose bright idea was it to put uncontrollable trolleys in the hands of people not looking where they’re going?

Nevertheless, I was determined to succeed, so one evening with my friends Mr Gin and his brother Mr Tonic, I hit the cookery books. Quite by chance that evening, River Cottage was on TV. It’s amazing that show; even if you’re eating your dinner at the time, it can still make you feel hungry. This particular evening, Hugh was urging the viewers to support their local butcher. I didn’t even know if there was a butcher near me. A quick internet search and I discovered there was one in the village of Claygate.

It may not have the Hollywood good looks of Shere or Shamley Green but what a gem of a village. It had everything I needed; butcher, baker, fishmonger, grocer, coffee shop – and I could park right outside the shops for free. I can’t tell you how excited I was that first visit. I learnt more that morning, chatting with the shopkeepers, than I’ve ever learnt in 20 years of going to the supermarket.

I bought everything I needed for the recipes that had inspired me the night before and couldn’t wait to get home to surprise my wife with a lovely home-made dinner. I even bought a set of chef’s whites so I’d look the part when she came home. I started with something simple, the River Cottage bolognese sauce recipe. In the past, we’d always bought ready-made sauces but this time I made it all from scratch. It was by far the best bolognese I’ve ever had – even the children loved it. 

Despite the nerve-tingling terror of making such a radical change when I’m the slightly grumpy side of 39, am I pleased I’ve done it...?  You bet. Oh, and we’ve got a new set of rules in our kitchen now. If I ask my wife a question while I’m cooking, she has to answer ‘yes, chef’...

Name: Louise RussellHometown: EsherSupporting statement: My idea is that each month Surrey Life magazine runs a column called ‘Worthy Websites’, which describes easy-to-use websites that can help to make busy lives a little easier.

I got the idea from an evening class that I attend. We were all asked to introduce our favourite websites and the suggestions just snowballed. As a result, I have got plenty of great examples to keep the column running and perhaps over time readers could recommend their own favourite websites.

It would be great to get ‘Worthy Websites’ up and running, as I would really like to share some amazing websites with you over the next few months.

Worthy Websites

I wonder if like me, you feel that computers have moved the world along just a little too quickly. I sometimes find myself feeling out of my depth in the face of the internet revolution with its boundless information, plethora of social networking sites and online auctions. 

Well, rest assured – you are not alone. Witness the many adult computer classes across Surrey packed with people who simply want to learn something they were never taught at school. If you are one of those people who finds the internet something of a mixed blessing then read on.

Over the next few months, I would like to share with you some of the websites that have made aspects of my life a little easier – simple, clear sites that are very easy to use.

The first one is the Surrey Library catalogue. Rather than going along to the library and seeing if a book you want is on the shelf, try this. Type ‘Surrey Library catalogue’ into google and immediately you have at your fingertips information on every book in every library across Surrey. Pretty impressive. 

Then type the name of your book into the box ‘title search’ and you can find out exactly which libraries have your book on the shelf. If it’s not in your local library then simply click on ‘reserve’ and for 50p it will be sent directly over for you to collect with an automatic e-mail to let you know when it arrives. So convenient.

The second site is for all those people who forget to record something on television – a very common occurrence in our household! Although many programmes are repeated on i-player there is often no substitute for watching on the sofa with the family. So if you forget to record anyone’s favourite programme try this.

Google ‘onthebox.com’ and put in the search box the title of the programme you are looking for. Immediately, you have a list of alternative times and channels when that programme is going to be replayed. No more missed episodes in our house!  Finally, about now is the time for booking a summer holiday and if you are not sure whether to believe what you read in the brochures then try this website. Simply google ‘tripadvisor’ and search for the name of the hotel or property in question.

You will find a comprehensive list of third party reviews that can really help to give you a good overall sense of the place and assist you in making the right decision. Also, use this website to check out any venue or place of interest in Surrey or any part of the UK. Invaluable research.

So that’s it. If there is a book you are keen to read, you have missed a favourite programme or are thinking of booking a holiday then do give these a go. Hopefully lots of useful information: all at the click of a mouse!

Name: Lis SpeightHometown: Ewell Supporting statement: Before my daughter came along, I worked as a journalist for many years, covering everything from murders to movie premieres. I’d never written a column before, but always hankered after one, so this competition jumped out at me. 

Now mostly a full-time mum and keen gardener, I thought I’d share my experiences of ‘growing my own’ to raise a smile: shed scandals, veg’ vandals, digging the dirt on your neighbour’s ‘famous family fertiliser’ etc. 

It’s like a cross between EastEnders and Gardeners’ World – with slightly less shouting. And no Alan Titchmarsh. (Yes, I know he’s not on it anymore, but I can never remember that new bloke’s name – can you?!). And who knows what the changing seasons will bring. Death, disease, propagation – not to mention the hoo-ha over the slug slinging.

Where there’s muck, there’s laughs. It really is ‘allotmental’ and it’d be a shame to miss it!

Allotmental (by Busy Lizzie)

I’ve done it again. Planted too late and produced another bumper crop of green tomatoes. I’d hoped the golden glow of an Indian summer would save them. It didn’t. We had a monsoon instead.

A week spent sunning themselves in the shed window still didn’t bring a blush of summer to my salad. Rotters. Rotten actually.

My fellow allotmentalists suggested ‘green tomato chutney’. Chutney! Made out of green tomatoes? My taste buds winced.

Though it did make a great Christmas present for the in-laws (“Yes, it’s home-made. Goes very well with... er... turkey!”).

I’m now into my fourth year of digging, sowing, watering, weeding... and more weeding. The weeds thrive in my soil. Shame my plants don’t do the same.

For the first two years, my veggie patch looked like an advert for ‘Miracle Gro’. I’d never seen such beautiful brassicas.

I put my handsome harvest down to hard work and my natural horticultural flair.

It was only when I changed plots that my crops failed to flourish. Then I realised my green fingers might have more to do with allotment Alf.

He’d dug, fed, raked and pretty much worshipped the soil for 52 years, until he’d finally had enough. I’d simply stepped in to reap the benefits of his years of hard toil.

My new plot is nearer the tap and that nice young chap who takes his shirt off a lot. The bindweed is a bind and the mare’s tail a bit of a mare, but the view is much nicer.

So I didn’t inherit Alf’s fertile soil or his gift for gardening. But I did inherit his tortoise, Stirling (after the racing driver – if you hadn’t guessed.) He came with Alf’s shed and I adopted him.

Now Stirling is actually older than me. He looks it, mind you – though I can’t say I’ve ever seen a tortoise with good skin.

His shell has a chunk missing, after a set-to with a pair of shears. But that hasn’t stopped him living life to the full – which if you’re a tortoise means eating, sunbathing and terrorising slugs (the only living things slower than him).

Allotment holders aren’t supposed to keep animals. The council laid down the law after that unfortunate incident with Mad Pete’s python and the guineafowl.

But everyone turns a blind eye to Stirling. Especially Mad Pete, who is actually blind in one eye. Dangerous things bamboo canes...

As the weather gets colder, tortoises are supposed to turn their attention to hibernating. But not Stirling. Not this year. He had his eye on Mrs Dawson’s nasturtiums. Turn your back for an hour and he was straight over there.

I tried feeding him, starving him, singing to him, putting him in the dark – still no signs of slumber.

Then it came to me. The green tomatoes! Surely he’d rather hibernate than eat those. But Stirling loved my green tomatoes. One problem solved. And I think I did actually just see him yawn...

Name: Russell NorrisHometown: SurbitonSupporting statement: I based this initial column on H.G. Wells because he represents perfectly the theme I’d like to stick with if Surrey Life readers pick me as their winner – the idea that “there’s something about Surrey”.

Our county is a treasure trove of famous people and quirky facts, all of which we should be proud of but many of which we don’t even know about. For example, did you know that the very first game of cricket was played in Guildford? Or that the opening scenes of Gladiator were shot in Farnham? Did you know that old-school legends like Laurence Olivier and new-school jokers like David Walliams were born and raised here?

Surrey is stuffed to the gills with local titbits that will put a smile on your face and, if given the chance, I’d love to start sharing some of them with you.        

There’s Something about Surrey

When my parents first moved to Sutton in 1985, they seriously considered buying a small Edwardian house that once belonged to H.G. Wells. They chose a larger home a few blocks away, in the end, but when I later realised that I’d almost shared a roof with someone my teacher called ‘The Father of Science Fiction’, I started getting curious about the man and his work. 

In my early teens, after years of walking to school past that squat redbrick house that I nearly grew up in, I picked up and raced through a copy of The Island of Doctor Moreau. It was my very first Wells novel and it’s still one of my favourites: I like to think that he wrote that dark tale of savage beast-men marooned in the South Pacific as he sat snugly in South Sutton, sipping tea.

Like many of our popular sci-fi writers (C.S. Lewis, John Wyndham, Terry Pratchett), H.G. Wells had a real knack for making otherworldliness seem oh-so-very English. More often than not, his futuristic visions became oh-so-very Surrey. The hero of The Time Machine, for instance, is described as an intrepid inventor from Richmond – and the very first story of global alien invasion, The War of the Worlds, was written in Woking and is peppered with local references.

In that novel, when strange explosions start erupting on faraway Mars, it’s a small observatory in Ottershaw that spots and reports them. When Martian meteors begin hurtling down to Earth, they crash-land first and foremost into the soggy sandpits of Horsell Common. Terrified suburbanites turn and flee from Woking in the direction of Leatherhead, but before long, Martian warlords are bounding after them across the Surrey countryside in giant mechanical tripods. Armed with deadly Heat-Rays, the ruthless invaders attack Byfleet, Weybridge and Shepperton before bringing the River Thames to boiling point as thousands try to escape across it into Essex.

Living in the county that inspired such famous literary scenes is a real bonus, in my eyes. We, in Surrey, can walk across the town square in Woking and gaze up at a life-size sculpture of a Martian tripod. We can visit the H. G. Wells pub in Worcester Park, which provided the setting for his short story The Argonauts of the Air. We can even amble down a residential road and have a sudden, unexpected brush with greatness: “H.G. Wells, 1866-1946, Once Lived Here.”

But, to top all of this: when we escape into some of the most cherished science fiction stories ever written, we can also say that we’re taking a short stroll into our own backyard. In a time when alien attackers only ever have eyes for Los Angeles and New York, I ask the unassuming people of Surrey – how cool is that?   

Name: Polly RibetHometown: SurbitonSupporting statement: I moved to Surrey a couple of years ago – a significant move out of town. Life is incomparable now (I’ve ‘settled down’, matched and hatched) and I wanted to capture some of those impressions on the page, with a fresh pair of eyes and ears (or pen!).

Surrey Life has a good balance of interesting and engaging articles but there is space, I think, for a light-hearted, countryside-led column, peppered with references to Surrey, to strike a chord with all readers.

I want to develop this column by introducing new characters and developing others, revealing more about the author husband/friends/baby/likes and dislikes), and taking in different locations and activities in Surrey that are seasonally-led.

Hope this is the sort of thing you are looking for and look forward to seeing my name in the mag!

Country Capers

So this is it. I have finally flown the big smoke and landed, feathers slightly ruffled, in the Surrey countryside. Thought I would miss my shoebox living, but am increasingly wondering how I ever survived with the lack of space and am looking forward to getting to grips with a garden that is somewhat larger than the standard Zone 2 designer handkerchief.

I am loving this semi-rural idyll; for starters, it’s a lot quieter than I had expected, although who would have thought that foxes would have made such a racket? Am fed up with them ‘enjoying themselves’ outside our bedroom window, which doesn’t sound remotely fox-like.

Our new neighbours, Pat and Richard, have suggested that if they start digging up plants we have to get some lion poo. Surprised that is readily available in Surrey – and that foxes would even recognise it; perhaps it’s a lucrative Chessington side-line? P&R are extremely friendly, however, and after welcoming us on our first night with a card and bottle of bubbly, husband and I have already shared a few more ‘information-gathering’ drinks with them, finding out gems of local information on a ‘need-to-know’ basis, such as the murky world of council politics, the new recycling system, which is sending everyone potty (damn foxes again!), and local characters to watch out for.

John, the chatty man who sells the papers at the station, already knows my name, which is further than I ever got in seven years in London (and might have something to do with dropping the entire contents of my handbag as I ran for the train on the first day. I have learnt my lesson, however, and now like an old pro know exactly where to stand each morning to ensure I am positioned where the train doors open. Unfortunately, so do about 50 other pinstriped gentlemen).

I can also say hello to the dry-cleaning shop lady, local publican and bus driver, without them treating me as though I was some sort of crazed woman. That kind of thing never happened in Earl’s Court.

Speaking of trains, a hitherto unexplored love of commuting has emerged. Have been told that this will wear off extremely quickly. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my time to read the newspaper properly, and sitting down, without a sweaty armpit in the face. Sheer luxury. Commuters are generally nicer than Tube travellers too.

Best of all, speeding through the countryside at daybreak, with the mist romantically rising from the fields, I can finally appreciate the beautiful autumn outside.

It’s my favourite time of year. Not least because it is my birthday. Over the last few weekends, we have gone shooshing through the leaves in Winkworth, made sloe and damson gin and taken the parents-in-law to Wisley for the Taste of Autumn. Extra brownie points there.

Can’t wait now for the bonfire night celebrations and fireworks to fill the sky with sparkles of colour over my new home – what a special time of year. And what a good move! 

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2011

And the winner is...

The votes are in, the supporting statements perused and we're delighted to announce that Thames Ditton resident Nick Turrell is your new voice for Surrey Life magazine with his Notes from a Small County column entry.

All six of the finalists' columns follow...

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