Closer to Heaven

Desperate to write about a thrilling helicopter ride I’d received as a birthday present from my family, I needed a link with St Faith’s and the Community to justify the indulgence. Recalling the climb heavenwards, ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ came to mind as possible link but I finally decided on justifying both church and community by including a photo of St Faith’s with a brief word about two people who work for Phoenix Helicopters. With the links made I returned to the booking office and asked Alex Strassel, the Student Liaison Officer, if I could interview the pilot. I believed the pilot would remember the journey as the woman flying with us was proposed to mid-flight by her partner! Alex kindly agreed and weeks later I was back at the airfield interviewing the pilot and enjoying an unexpected free flight as a bonus.



With another tenuous link to our vicar Paul Chamberlain, the pilot Toby Chamberlain (no relation) left Northampton University in 2002 and took a few temporary jobs before succumbing to his ‘romantic fascination’ with flying. In 2008, following in the footsteps of his father, a commercial aircraft pilot, Toby learned to fly helicopters. After training for 45 hours to get his private pilot’s licence he went on to qualify as a commercial pilot and, subsequently, as a pilot-trainer. He now spends most of his time training helicopter pilots at Blackbush and flies to Lee once a month for the pleasure flights. A quiet, friendly and totally unassuming man, he clearly loves his work.




Since pictures speak louder than words I shall say no more in the hope of  leaving space for as many photos as the editor will allow. Suffice to say I’ve discovered an enterprise in Lee that gives pleasure to many. If you want to get closer to heaven or give someone a special treat, then go to Phoenix Helicopters, meet Alex and you might be lucky enough to fly next to Toby and see St Faith’s church in a new light. As for me, I now want to swap my car for a helicopter. It’s more fun than driving and Toby makes it look easy. All you have to do is play with a joystick!




From the Emerald Isle to Lee 

One can never be sure what will happen in the congregation at a church service. It was during passing the peace at St Peter’s Church, Belsize Park, London, that Mary Kells noticed a handsome young man with ‘piercing blue eyes’. They passed the peace and immediately clicked! The handsome young man, Alastair, clearly equally stricken, invited her back to his house for supper and eventually married her.

The Rev. Dr. Mary Kells is our new curate at St Faith’s. Not wanting to miss an opportunity I collared her over coffee after the 9.30 service on her first day at our church and fixed up a time to meet. On the following Friday I knocked on the door of the house and spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour with her and Alastair learning about their lives together and Mary’s long, winding path to becoming ordained.

Mary grew up with three older sisters in Cookstown, County Tyrone. She attended the primary school where her mother taught which she remembers as a mixed blessing! Her father had served in the RAF maintaining aircraft during WW2. Suffering from ill-health he left the RAF and worked as a postman along with various other jobs. Mary spoke fondly about her memories of listening to his captivating stories. Later, at Cookstown High School she developed a passion for English and Irish literature which has lasted to the present day.

From school Mary went to St. Andrew’s University, gained a degree in Social Anthropology and moved to London. After a year of temping she enrolled at the LSE and began studying for a Ph.D whist working in the voluntary sector with disadvantaged groups. During this time she became Director of the Kensington and Chelsea Advocacy Alliance representing vulnerable people to the authorities. At St. Peter’s Church she met Alastair and married him in 2001.

Alastair had worked as volunteer for people with mental health problems. He later trained for the ministry, a calling Mary had been drawn to earlier but had so far resisted. After his ordination they moved to Enfield and brought up their only son, Aidan. Whilst there Mary developed a new interest in gardening and gained the RHS Certificate and a Diploma in Garden Design. Alastair subsequently joined the navy as a chaplain. On moving to Portsmouth, Mary set up a business in Garden Design and secured various contracts including one designing the gardens at Gunwharf Quays.

After periods in Gibraltar and Cornwall, Mary, ever eager to try new things, wondered what to do next! Alastair, remembering she’d once expressed an interest in becoming a minister, suggested she, too, should be ordained. After a week of prayer it became clear that this was to be her calling. She trained at Ripon College, Cuddeston, was ordained in 2017 and is now studying for a master’s degree in applied theology!

For me it had been a pleasure being in their company and listening to all they had achieved. Before leaving I asked what Mary would take as a castaway on a desert island along with Shakespeare and the Bible. Her choices were the poetry collection, ‘Daddy, Daddy’ by the Irish poet Paul Durkan and a recording of ‘All You Have Is Your Soul’ sung by Tracy Chapman. I made a mental note to find out more about both. Meanwhile I shall look forward to her time at St Faith’s while Alastair sails the seven seas as chaplain to the crew of the new aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth. With such a talented and amazing couple, I’m sure St Faith’s will be in for an interesting time. As for passing the peace, I shall never think of it in quite the same way again!



The Art of Tweeting

Often one thing leads to another. Last autumn I started talking to a woman outside the Co-op in Lee who was handing out leaflets advertising The Haven Artists’ annual exhibition at St Faith’s. The person in question was Clare Selerie who runs the group. Keen to know more I went to the exhibition and met up again with Clare and the group’s tutor artist, Rachel Baylis.  During our conversations I was invited to their next monthly session at Catisfield Memorial Hall.

As soon as I arrived, Clare met me at the door and led me into the spacious, sunlit hall where a dozen or so artists were sitting at tables arranged in a circle. The theme for the day was ‘birds’ and everyone was already busy painting and sketching to a relaxing recording of birdsong playing in the background. During the ‘warm-up’ led by Rachel, the artists moved at intervals from one table to the next in order study pictures of different birds before settling down to concentrate on painting a bird of their choice, some in water colours and others in acrylics. While I stood taking it all in I was offered a cup of tea and invited to walk around and chat to the artists.

Not having met any of them before, I felt slightly nervous wondering where to start but everyone was happy to talk and I quickly felt at ease wishing I had more time to chat with everyone there. As it was I only managed to speak to a few of them. The first was Caroline whom I’d chosen purposely having been told that, like me, she was here for the first time. She had been at the St. Faith’s exhibition organising an unconnected event and, after talking to the artists, had decided to join the group.

From Caroline I moved on to Mike aged 84, the only person there not painting birds. He was composing a water colour from two articles he’d brought from home, a plant in a lovely art nouveau vase and a model warthog – ‘beauty and the beast’ as he described them! Growing in confidence I approached others: Hazel who’d heard about the group from a friend and was now in the process of converting her garage into a studio and Wendy, who enjoyed the structured format and had been with the group for five years. Since joining she’d been inspired to enrol on a course at Fareham College and was hoping, one day, to study art at university. I talked to Carole who’d been coming for three years just because she loved art, Olivia (one of the founder members) and Dorothy who’d joined after an earlier St. Faiths’ exhibition. They all enjoyed the social interaction and the chance to learn from each other.

Finally I talked once more with the leader Clare (in white, far left in the photo) who, after 15 years with the BBC producing Woman’s Hour, had established the group in 2009 with her sister Angela and Rachel, the tutor artist, a graduate in Fine Art from Reading University (wearing a black top, standing to the left of the doorway in the photo). Together they made the perfect team along with Davina, the treasurer, who kindly provided everyone with hot mince pies and drinks mid session!

I’m not surprised that the group is so popular. I felt totally at home almost immediately after arriving. If you would like to know more about them you can visit their website, or email The group will be exhibiting from May-July at the Titchfield Haven Visitor Centre and selling their work at very reasonable prices. As for the latest St Faith’s exhibition, not only did they sell over 100 paintings, they also raised £1,200 for their current charity, the Rainbow Centre. That tells you how successful they are.  I, for one, shall look forward to their future exhibitions and, who knows, may one day join them.


Ding Dong Merrily with Dilys!

Dilys and Doug Griffiths are an amazing couple. They met as pupils at school in Ebbw Vale, South Wales, eventually married and have been together for more than 70 years. Over the decades they’ve led Cubs and Brownie groups, learned musical instruments (Doug violin and Dilys guitar – which she also teaches), written science articles for Mature Times and set up the Fareport Talking News which I wrote about in November 2014. More recently Dilys acquired a set of bell plates belonging to HRGB (Handbell Ringers Great Britain) which are on loan for one year provided she arranges a performance within the year. In need of individuals to play the bells, Dilys advertised at St Faith’s for willing participants but without success. She turned to her friends and persuaded three to take part but more people are desperately needed. So I wasn’t surprised when Dilys rang to ask if I’d write an article and plead for help.

I was duly invited to a practise session on the afternoon of my birthday and, in retrospect, I couldn’t have spent a birthday in better company. I arrived as everyone was settling around the table ready to start. In the photograph Dilys is sitting on the right opposite Doug with (clockwise) Virginia, Garnet and Julia sitting between them. None of the three neighbours had any previous knowledge of playing instruments or reading music. If anyone reading this would like to join them, no musical experience is required. Dilys has written the pieces to be learned in an easy-to-follow format and explains what has to be done. Each player takes two of the bell plates and plays their notes on cue.

The bell plate works like a clapper. With a flick of the wrist the striker hits the plate and produces a sound identical to a normal hand bell. The group practise, led by Dilys, began with some simple warm-up exercises such as sounding out the rising and descending scale. After this they clapped the rhythm of the chosen piece and learnt the note values of the crotchets and quavers before attempting a performance. In the first song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, several mistakes were made (missed entries, wrong rhythms, etc.) but nobody minded and Dilys, with infinite patience, helped anyone in trouble. There was lots of laughter whenever things went awry.

The second song, Hot Cross Buns, was quickly learned and played with great aplomb. At one point an extra hand was needed to play a top G. Being a pianist and having been trained as a music teacher, I offered to help thinking that someone with my vast experience would find it a doddle. How true it is that pride comes before a fall! Everything went swimmingly until it was time for the top G which didn’t arrive! My concentration had woefully lapsed and did more than once as we repeated the piece several times. But in end I got the hang of it and managed to keep up with the rest.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience in good company and a great way to spend my birthday afternoon. Everyone helps each other out, there’s plenty of fun to be had and, in the end, there’s the pleasure and satisfaction of learning to perform as a team. The group is desperately in need of others to join them. No musical experience is required, just the willingness to have a go under the ever-patient guidance of Dilys. If you would care to join the group and attempt something new, please contact Dilys Griffiths on 02392 613642 during the daytime or email her at I promise that you’ll have a great time and, before the year is out, will be performing at a concert and showing off a new-learned skill. If and when that happens I hope to be invited to hear you play though I might think twice if I’m asked to help out with a top G. I should hate to ruin the performance.



Kids, who’d have ‘em? KIDS will!

Knowing Peter and Debbie Patterson (All Seasons Fruiterers) had raised more than £26,000 for KIDS and hope to raise £30,000 by the end of this May, I wanted to know more about the charity. So Peter introduced me to Kitty, their enthusiastic fundraiser, and all became clear when she invited me to visit the local centre in Fareham.

KIDS (Kids In Distressed Situations) supports disabled children (from birth to 25 years) and their families, The charity provides a variety of services designed to offer continuing support to parents, siblings and carers and to help children and young people develop the necessary skills to live as independently as possible. Part of a nationwide network, the Fareham and Gosport branch supports around 500 families in the area. On arriving at the Centre I was given a whistle-stop tour which left me reeling with information and filled with amazement at all they do and achieve.

We began the tour in the nursery where carers Kylie and Amy were working on an autumn theme with two toddlers, Jacob and Ola (see photo). Brandon, aged 2, was also present but sleeping peacefully in specially designed pushchair. Initially Jacob and Ola greeted me with suspicious frowns but after admiring their collection of autumn leaves & cones etcetera and enthusing over the apparatus in the room I received smiles, enthusiastic waves and hearty goodbyes as I left (hopefully not because I was leaving!). After the nursery I saw the pre-school area (rated Outstanding by Ofsted) where carers and children were happily engaged eating lunch. Two boys immediately jumped up eager to show me their toy cars.

Next I was shown the garden fitted with astro-turf and play equipment and, after that, a sensory room containing large bubble tubes, a ball pit and other calming fascinations. I then met Carole who runs the Respite Suite comprising a wet room, bathroom, lounge/diner, fully equipped kitchen and common room with a large television and a sensory screen which reacted to sound and touch. There were three colour-coded bedrooms, lilac, blue and green. The green room had an en-suite bathroom and bed-hoist. The suite is designed to accommodate youngsters for short stays, teach them basic skills for independent living and give their families respite. During the day the suite is managed by up to four carers and two on overnight duties.

At the end of the tour I was introduced to the Regional manager, Emma, who described some of the countless services the Centre offers or gives access to including respite for families with children suffering from all kinds of disabilities, residential short breaks for the children, developmental play groups, help for young carers and a host of other services. As well as these, the Centre provides a room where families can share experiences while their children play. There is also a clinic room for families to meet health care professionals and discuss matters in a relaxed and friendly setting that few hospitals are able provide.

Any local parents struggling with disabled children and wanting support can contact the centre by ringing 01329 312312 or visiting Having an autistic grandson myself, I can see how much he and his parents could benefit from the centre’s support. Its wide range of services makes it a charity that really deserves to be widely known and used. If you’ve no need to use KIDS they can still be supported in various ways. Contact Kitty for a list of forthcoming fundraising events (marathons, abseiling, parachute humps, etc.) or, if strolling into Lee is more your style, you can always help Peter and Debbie meet their May target of £30,000.