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To be more correct Alan was talking “off the top of his head” about his love of speeding along on his Honda Fireblade motorbike. Because of a mistake he was unaware that he was our guest speaker. But never being held back from talking he ignored any plans and kept us highly amused for longer than he expected! He admitted that he often forgets the distant past so he concentrated on last week’s trip to Scotland with his friend Martin. Fully aware of the speed cameras in the Borders they headed for their first night in Tyndrum. The next day the road twisted into Glen Coe before turning South for another night at Tyndrum. At last they got home after two days of thrill on the open road.


Club member, Ray gave an interesting talk on the coal fields of County Durham, from their early history, through their heyday up until their demise. Drawing on personal experience he talked about the dangers and tragedies of the past. After 3 years working for the NCB as an engineer he moved abroad into the oil industry. Members were fascinated by his tales and photographs.


Tonight’s special guest was Bill Hindmarsh, a local self-taught painter who came from a mining background. He was born in Durham and worked down the pits for many years. From the age of five he knew he had a talent and a fascination with painting. When he retired he was able to devote his time to what became much more than a hobby. With inspiration from incidents in his life in the North East he created a reputation for art “with a feeling”. He has had many exhibitions and two of his paintings hang in the House of Lords.


We know of Geoff’s love of many physical activities but tonight’s story started with his long lasting love of kayaking from his University days. This brought him into contact with Dave Thompson and the Humbledon Outdoor Activities Association. Originated in 1987 by the staff of Humbledon School they provide challenging activities  for people with disabilities. They told us about the recent Spring adventure camp on Coniston. It was clear that although it was tiring, the experience that all participants and volunteer helpers shared, was fun and much appreciated. Afterwards the President of the Rotary Club of Houghton le Spring donated a cheque towards future work of this excellent group.

EVERYONE A WINNER 24th.April 2019

Our President Elect Michael doesn’t win every time but tonight he brought along two of his recent successful amateur movies. He bought his first film camera in the 1960s but now films on digital video. Michael, and his wife Linda are members of the National Council of the IAC Film and Video Institute. He is well known for making Travel documentaries and his video “Stopover” about Prague has just been chosen as the best entry in a video competition covering most of Northern England. Showing a very different side his black and white video “The Sound of Silence” got the audience vote at the IAC AGM.


When John Kerry was asked for a title for his talk to put in the Diary he suggested “Something I Can’t Pronounce”. Actually it was all about acronyms. He described some interesting facts before setting a quiz about acronyms. BOGOF was one of the easiest (Buy one get one free) but no-one got them all.

At the same meeting Syd Harling has been a member of the Rotary Club of Houghton le Spring for 35 years. President Graham was honoured to present him with his certificate and thanked him for his contribution and service to the club.


Our guest speaker tonight was Jon Place of Integrity Technology Services based in Boldon. He was talking about ensuring your safety from the hackers and scammers that target the owners of computers. It was in 1982 that the first self propagating virus was created by a 15 year old student. It was initially a prank exercise and caused no damage. However a recent ransomware attack on the NHS medical records cost them £92 million. The range of questions showed that this is an area of deep concern for the home operator.


At our Guest Night the speaker was Jo Nicoll talking about the charity she established to help rough sleepers. HOPE(NE) does an amazing job, providing hot meals, clothing and other supplies. Because rough sleepers do not have an address, it is very difficult for them to receive any benefits or even apply for work. The Club gave her a small donation and urge their members and friends to visit the Hope shop in Durham Road, Birtley, just opposite the pedestrian entrance to Morrisons. Any donations would be much appreciated.


Colin stepped into the breach to give a last minute talk about one of his favourite subjects. He has always been interested in the history of the railways and tonight he talked about the Tay Bridge in Scotland. It was more than two miles long but it’s design had not taken potential wind forces into account. On December 28th. 1879 gale force winds caused it to collapse as the train from Edinburgh to Dundee passed, killing 79 people.


£20,000 per minute is how much a car manufacturing company like Nissan would loose if the production line had to stop because of even the simplest of fault. Our speaker Craig Smith talked about Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) which is the oversight dedicated to ensuring that such things never happen. In any kind of machinery there are certain recognisable factors which contribute to mechanical failure. They might be poor oil lubrication or the incorrect tightening of nuts and bolts. All machines deteriorate quite naturally with time but TPM tries to make sure the deterioration isn’t worse because of poor maintenance. What was interesting was how effective even the simplest of solutions might be. An added bonus is the increased pride that machine operators develop in their own area of the production line as they contribute their own ideas. The results could be seen in a significant reduction in line stoppages.


If you are ever worried about the next generation meet Emily MacDonald. Young, active, intelligent, enthusiastic …… We are sure these were some of the qualities recognised when she was assessed and chosen as one of the representatives of UK Scouts to attend the 24th.World Scout Jamboree in America next July. All together there will be 30,000 Scouts from 130 countries visiting New York and Washington DC. Emily is particularly looking forward to learning more about the different cultures and lifestyles that they represent. She had to raise £3695 to pay for her own expenses and has nearly reached that target. She was chosen to attend communication training in anticipation of media interviews. The training obviously worked because she faced a barrage of questions from the Rotary members with charming confidence. President Graham was delighted to present her with a cheque and our very best wishes for a very successful venture.



In 2017 The President Elect, Michael discovered that even the simplest of day trips could open up some unexpected tales and discoveries. He was part of a group that had been given special access to Allington Castle in Kent. It is not an open access commercial establishment. For the last 20 years it has been the private home of Sir Robert Worcester, an American with a life-long fascination with British politics. Historically the castle was where Henry Vlll met discreetly with Ann Boleyn and where the Wyatt Rebellion against Queen Mary l was hatched. Sir Robert was the founder of MORI opinion polls and has written a number of books, with the title “Explaining …..” analysing what had influenced public opinion prior to recent momentous Parliamentary events. Michael was lucky to meet privately with him and they had a fascinating conversation about how the inhabitants of Allington Castle right up to the present day had involvement and insight into the dramatic changes of British politics.


At this time of year we always have a guest speaker who gives the New Year Message. He, or she, is usually speaking from some kind of religious perspective but this time Roger McAddams described his own Humanist approach. We currently live in a time of challenge and confusion about what is truth and what is fake news. The humanist belief was that it was important to seek the best out of our limited lifespan by looking for, and believing in provable truth. Truth is about the reality of the world which can best be found through provable scientific evidence rather than through unprovable ancient doctrines and legends. This is like the legal assessment of evidence to establish as honestly as possible who did what, when, how and why. In the end it is truth that matters.



One of the pleasures of Rotary evenings is when a member introduces us to a friend who can share their experience of a different life. Geoff Pratt has lots of friends and his guest was Ian Diggery. After receiving Geoff’s help in organising the Powerpoint projection Ian told us all about a very varied career as an technical consultant. It ranged from accoustic research to the development of “smart pigs” for the in-line inspection of oil pipelines. You can always judge the interest level of a talk by the number of questions it stimulates and there were plenty tonight. 


ALAN'S TRIUMPH 14th Dec 2018


Alan had invited tonight's speaker so when his guest had to cancel at the last minute Alan felt he had to step in. Alan has always been keen on motorbikes, his first was when he was 16 years old. What better way could Alan fill in an empty evening than bring a motorbike. We all found ourselves eating while a beautiful shiny black piece of metal machinery stood in pride of place in front of us. The Triumph retro masterpiece was Alan's latest aquisition. He talked firstly about the historical development of the Triumph Company but became even more enthusiastic when he talked about his own bike.


We were delighted to welcome the District Governor, Stewart Atkin during his annual tour of all the Rotary Clubs in the North East. His talk concentrated on the “relevance” of Rotary around the world. We all seek to serve our community, however wide we define that. We all have a role to play. In fact Rotary’s project to eradicate the terrible disease of polio world wide was started by a single Rotarian in the Philippines. In the case of our club that service might be part funded by selling 1,000 Oxroast Sandwiches and then materialise in supporting schemes like The Wheelchair Trust or Shelterbox.

Rotary inspires the next generation through youth training. We support the Disabled Games. We encourage and reward talent. In the UK we provide 16 million hours of volunteer service every year.

At the same time we have fun and remain relevant in a world which contains thousands of people who have yet to discover that they are Rotarians.

While the District Governor was here we took the opportunity to present the Service Certificates that many of our members were due. A Rotarian gets his first certificate after 25 years and it can be up-graded every 5 years. First time receivers were Alan Dickinson, Graham McGrath and Tony Rundle,

Iain Anderson had been a member for 30 years, Mel Cardy for 40 years and Bob Hodgson and Ron Young for 45 years. Finally the highest award went to Geoff Oliver for a magnificent 50 year membership.

Photo L-R Tony, Iain, Bob, District Governor Stewart Atkin, Geoff, Ron, Mel, Graham and Alan.


Carol Harrison of the Regional NE Technology Centre gave an inspiring talk to the Rotary Club tonight. She was concerned that more than a thousand school leavers each year in our region has such limited knowledge of opportunities in local industry. Words like “engineering” are only whispered. The system seemed to value only the academic options. Lessons about the essential “soft skills” of team work, initiative, problem solving, and even risk taking are often ignored. 

She described how next March will see the first Technology Tournament in the Region supported by RTC and Rotary North East. Teams from twenty four schools will face the creative challenge of technological and engineering problems. Our region has historically been at the forefront of great engineering advances. It is hoped that the future may be equally beneficial. 

Carol’s talk was serious but it was nice to see she also saw the funny side of life.

ONE NIGHT ONLY 29th.August 2018


You can always tell when an after dinner speaker has gone down well. The audience is silent and engrossed until the end when a stream of questions flows. Tonight there were two speakers, Dimas Lopez and Jasmine Burns, from Nightstop North East a charity that takes the very practical step of supporting homeless people to lift themselves from the despair of the gutter and gain the confidence to face a better future. On a single night basis they find volunteers with an empty room willing to provide a room and a meal. The fact of living for a short time in a comfortable and communicative household is sometimes just the boost the young person needs. During the day the charity offers help and advice to find work, and manage the various complexities of living on the breadline. 

There are currently 55 hosts in the North East and 85% of interventions have led to positive outcomes. The Nightstop option is certainly a pathway to success for many unfortunate youngsters.

Further information:

WHITE MARBLE OR SNOW 8th. August 2018

Ashley took us on a colourful tour of India and shared his photographs. It ranged from the bustling traffic of Delhi to the clear air and peace of the foothills of the Himalayas. Some of his most memorable “glimpses” were of the iconic architecture.  We all recognised the white marble of the Taj Mahal commissioned by The Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was very poignant to be told the sad tale of the Emperor who was eventually imprisoned by his son in the Agra Fort. We shared the view through the window were he could only get a distant glimpse of the tomb of his beloved wife on the horizon.



Every time Cliff takes on his role as interviewer in our own version of Desert Island Discs he reveals fascinating stories from his interviewee. This time it was Harry who, having moved to Sunderland, has just started to come to our club. He started his life in Carlisle 95 years ago but soon moved to Keswick. The morning assemblies in his school inspired his first choice of music …”Morning Has Broken”.

One happy memory was when at the age of 17 he helped a young girl who had fallen off her bike. She had just been evacuated from Newcastle and eventually became his wife and soulmate for more than 60 years before she sadly died. Memories cover all sorts of emotions and Harry included Bette Midler’s song “Wind Beneath My Wings” as Vera’s favourite song.

His wartime in the RAF was illustrated by Glenn Miller. He was a radio operator and spare gunner in a Wellington Bomber operating from an island in the Indian Ocean against Japanese submarines. He then became a parachute instructor jumping from everything from a hangar roof to a balloon or a Dakota plane.

After the war he joined the Fire Brigade even though he only just scraped above the minimum height. He soon upgraded his photographic hobby and worked in the Fire Brigade Audio Visual Department. The music continued via Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. He soon found himself starting a photographic business in Consett getting commissions to photograph musicians such as the Beatles, Rod Stewart and Tom Jones which led to a different range of songs. Kodak even sent him to Las Vegas.

Harry’s was a varied and exciting story and Cliff help him to express it in music. 


Whenever we get a new member of our Club it is nice to find out a little about them. Rotarian Tony moved into the North East and joined us recently. After his talk he was described as “A Jack of All Trades” because the range of his interests, talents and successes was vast. He described his early years in a bomb shattered area of London and his first “job” as a photographic model for Mobo Toys. The more creative side of photography interested him from an early age. He was developing his own photos under the stairs at the age of 10 and he became Chairman of his school’s photographic society. His other main interest had been guitars He bought his first one at the age of 13 and he founded a school skiffle group, played local gigs in a rock band and enjoyed folk music (including Morris dancing). Tony sometimes dreams that music might have been his life but his “jobs” took over. He became involved with computer graphic design and management working for companies such as GEC, Logica, British Rail and British Gas. For ten years he wrote a monthly column for “Computer Systems”. While with Nascom he was involved with the production of the first British computer for under £200. When he retired he returned to his love of photography and set up a successful photographic business. He is still enjoying playing bass in a blues band. What a busy life!



We have learnt much from the stories of Ray’s career in the oil industry but tonight he took us back to his early origins as an engineer. He was working as a lathe turner ensuring that the massive wheels of industry, particularly the ones on steam railway, kept turning. We were a little confused when he talked of regrinding the tyres until we realised that the tyres were actually various grades of metal which covered the hub of the wheel. After years of wear they could lose the essential shape to stay safely on the rails.

It was a sobering thought to be reminded that the massive wheels on the Mallard or the Flying Scotsman needed the ongoing skills of craftsmen.