The Whistler – December 2009

Seven Dials
Seven Dials - Photograph by Pee Gee


The last decade in West Hill has been one of change but also constancy. Pam Bean continues to hold Grand Sales, which not only raise funds for the Association but bring people together and the helpers’ joie de vivre inspires others to lend a hand. David Perrett, after 11 years, still finds new questions with which to baffle the aficionados of the WHCA quiz, held on the last Tuesday of the month. A fun evening rather than a trial of intellect, very often breaking out into community singing, that is, on occasion, tuneful.

The greatest success story since Sylvia rescued the Hall from demolition is the Music Club run by Lianne Hall at the weekends, which has put the Hall on the international venue map. Members continue to express their regret that the escalating price of film hire caused the Film Society to shut down after three seasons of extraordinary and unusual showings of classic films, accompanied by detailed and well-researched notes. The Hall, the 16mm projector, the membership list and £100 donated by Steve Birch all still belong to the Association should anyone have any ideas to revive this enterprising film club.

After last year’s great Christmas party, the ever constant Vinod and Meena are thinking about organising another one, to co-incide with Bright News’ 25th Anniversary. Details have yet to be finalised.

In 2010 take the opportunity to meet and greet your neighbours. Communities are good for the spirit. Happy New Decade.

Letters to the Whistler

Dear Editor
Thanks for letting me know about 10:10 in the last issue. I signed up right away and sent the following email to 10 of my friends via the 10:10 website – it’s easy!

Everyone’s looking for something to do about climate change. What’s needed is something straightforward, immediate and meaningful. I think I’ve found it. Today I joined thousands of individuals and organisations from across the country to unite behind one simple idea: that by working together we can achieve a 10% cut in carbon emissions during 2010. It’s called 10:10, and everyone can be a part of it. Cutting 10% in one year is a bold target, but for most of us it’s an achievable one, and is in line with what scientists say we need right now. By signing up to 10:10 we’re not just promising to reduce our own emissions – we’re becoming part of a national drive to hit this ambitious goal country-wide. In our homes, in our workplaces, our schools and our hospitals, our galleries and football clubs and universities, we’ll be backing each other up as we take the first steps on the road to becoming a low-carbon society. To find out more and sign up go to

If everyone of The Whistler’s 4000 readers sent this email to 10 of their friends, that would be 40,000 more people signed up.

Jane Sinclair, Seven Dials

Dear Residents of West Hill
On 3 November Reg Woodhouse, my Vice Chairman, and I attended a meeting of the newly formed Brighton & Hove Transport Partnership. I had been invited by Councillor Geoffrey Theobald to join the TP to represent the interests of the PPP. Several people attended, representing various interests – a Sussex Police officer, Roger French of the Brighton & Hove Bus Company, a Car Club owner, and various councillors.

The city’s needs relating to transport have to be brought up to the standards required by the Government. The aim of the TP is to achieve these standards by collating and using information from various partnerships and independent organisations. There will be concerns regarding the loss of parking bays that are being removed to make spaces to park the Car Club cars in Brighton. A recent publication suggests that nearly 1000 cars have been removed from the roads since the Car Clubs have been operating. I find this hard to believe as it would have reduced the waiting list for parking permits by the same amount, which I know not to be the case. It is more likely that people who could not afford a car in the first place are responsible for most of the hiring.

If you have queries or concerns with regard to any other matter I will do my best to answer your query. Please contact me on 07768 002328 between 11am and 6pm, or email me:

Steve Percy, (chairman) People’s Parking Protest

Where does Santa Claus Come From?

Santa Claus
Santa Claus
Depending on your age, the answer is likely to be the North Pole, Lapland or Coca Cola. None of them is right: Santa, like St George, is Turkish.

St Nicholas – the real Santa – lived and performed miracles in what is now the sun-baked town of Demre in south-western Turkey. His most famous miracles usually involved children. In one, he restored to life three children who had been chopped up by the local tavern owner and kept in a brine tub. Being kind to children explains his suitability as a Christmas saint, but St Nick is also the patron saint of judges, pawnbrokers, thieves, merchants, bakers, sea travellers, and, oddly, murderers. Italian sailors stole St Nicholas’s miraculously myrrh-exuding bones in 1087. Turkey is still demanding their return.

In the rest of Europe, the benign St Nicholas fused with older, darker mythological types – in eastern Germany he is known as Shaggy Goat, Ashman or Rider. In Holland he is Sinterklass, attended by the sinister ‘Black Peters’.

The jolly ‘Coca Cola’ Santa existed well before Haddon Sundblom’s famous advertising images of the 1930s. His illustrations, and those of Thomas Nast in the 1860s, were based on New Yorker Clement Clark Moore’s 1823 poem ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’, better known as ‘The Night before Christmas’. Moore was an unlikely author – his day-job was as a professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages – but the poem’s importance in fuelling the Santa myth would be hard to exaggerate. It moves the legend to Christmas Eve and, instead of the dour St Nick, describes a rotund, twinkly-eyed, white-bearded elf, with fur-trimmed red clothes, reindeer with cute names, a sledge that landed on roof-tops and a sackful of toys. It became one of the most popular children’s poems of all times.

It is not clear when the North Pole and the factory of elves became attached to the story, but it was established enough by 1927 for the Finns to claim that Santa Claus lived in Finnish Lapland, as no reindeer could live at the North Pole because there was not any lichen. Santa’s official post office is in Rovaniemi, capital of Lapland. He receives 600,000 letters a year.

As if in revenge for his secular success the Vatican demoted St Nicholas’s saint’s day, 6 December, from obligatory to voluntary observance in 1969.

The Strictly Xmas Pizza Girl Edition

One of my all time favourite odours has to be the delicate pungency of a KFC. The allure of this tang has been known to draw me off course down to Western Road purely to inhale its intoxicating delights. Occasionally, far too occasionally for my liking, when the thermals are in the right direction, the seductive charms of my ethereal chicken delight carry like an invisible sea fog and hover gloriously above the Seven Dials roundabout. Today, such an astonishingly auspicious phenomenon occurred and, as I drew the residue of the secret recipe into my expanding lungs, a worthy, wild, wonderful, weak, warm winter sun appeared from behind a dark cloud, causing me to smile a contented, satiated smile. Today hints at being a special day indeed.

As you know, my time with Strictly came to an abrupt and tearful end. However, the up-side of leaving has meant more time to devote to my charity activities here at home. The last few weeks I have largely, lovingly, laboured labouredly organising sponsorship for the Dials Xmas Lighting Switch On event. Credit where credit is due, because without house-guest Biggins I’m not sure I could have done this or been part of Strictly at all. Biggins cleans the duplex far better than I ever could even if I tried, and most importantly, he keeps my feet firmly on the ground and my head held up by my neck. Strictly was a massive experience in every way, hanging out with Anton and the crowd was a joy of joys and isn’t it great that the diminutive little ‘Titch’ Toniolli has asked me to look out for a property for him to buy on the West Hill?

Not many people know that Bruno Toniolli and I were both born in Ferrara, a small Catholic town in north eastern Italy, where we both grew up watching Hollywood musicals. Bruno, just like me, went to Rome for ballet lessons; then he left Italy to work with the Paris-based dance company La Grande Eugene. I was also in Paris, studying astro chemistry at both the Pond’s Institute and the Laboratoire Garnier, (Double Doctorate). Eventually, we both settled in London. He moved into choreography and I moved into a squat in Soho. It’s completely unknown that I secretly advised him when he worked on his first big break, the BBC’s comedy show Not The Nine O’Clock News. With such talent it’s no surprise Bruno didn’t remain a newscaster for long. Together, both of us, independently between us, have contributed to many films and choreographed for West End shows, as well as a huge range of music videos, working with countless names such as Hendricks, Presley, Mercury, Dean, Springfield, Harrison, Monroe, Lennon, Joplin, Jackson and Frank Ifield, to count but eight.

Having Bruno living here at the Dials will be just like old times as bambinoettas together in our little Ferrara village, except with more shops and a different climate. I know Bruno probably like no other person living or alive. Little Tonioli is like the big older Brother I had always wanted and dreamed of in my sleep. Strictly is like family. Head judge Len Goodman, bless him, is absolutely the Dad I never had (it has been well-documented that I was born without a father). Cockney Lenny is a lion amongst jungle chimps, a dance-floor-tsunami of a man, and no stranger at my West Hill door.

Tonight Biggins, Len, Bruno, Darcy Bussell and moi are the special guests at the annual gala dinner hosted by the Seven Dials Traders’ Association to celebrate the Xmas lighting switch-on. This locally-renowned, annual international event was held in our sweet, dowdy, little community hall in Compton Avenue. I must say the food was remarkable, and some of it even tasted quite nice. Gordon Ramsay, on his Dials visit last month, had the inspired idea to have each course prepared by different Dials eateries. The Starter, created by the Seven Dials Restaurant, was a cream of liver soup to die for. There were two main courses. The first by SOBS Kebap Express. Inspiringly, they produced very flattering miniature life-like sculpture busts of each celebrity guest, constructed from formed minced Halal lamb. These were expertly dipped in a saturated fat glaze. Absolutely everyone remarked that they had never seen or eaten anything to match it. The second main was a Red Snapper signature dish, a Brown Thai Curry, a secret recipe thought to be made by combining a Green Thai curry with a Red Thai curry. Dessert was created by the kitchens of the Good Companions. A most original sticky treacle profiterole meringue in a plum and hemp wine brulli, which left everyone speechless.

This glitzy evening was rounded off with a speech by guest speaker, Cheeky Dylan Moran, who quipped furiously, leaving everybody heaving with laughter and merriment at his verbal antics. Just before Dylan’s comic timing brought him to the end of his set, he praised the Dials shopkeepers and held them up as a new paradigm of inter-community, irredentist materialism. This pleased people no end and Dylan received a double standing invasion, the last from Darcy Bussell and Biggins who joined him on stage in a rendering of the Dials Anthem, sung to the theme music of the Magic Roundabout. Talk about bringing the house down, there wasn’t any dry ice in the place. It had been the most perfect precursor imaginable to the main switching-on ceremony.

At last, our assembled group of shop-keeping glitterati gaily minced triumphantly from the hall down Dyke Road, past the Dental Clinic to take up our grandstand positions. The huge frenzied crowd was huge this year. Naturally, I had been asked to do the switching-on honours, but passed the glory, in my characteristically typical self-effacing way, to Bruno and Dylan, I could see Dylan, in particular, was emotionally touched by my altruistic gesture. Bruno was all a-quiver too, his bottom lip had gone. The tears welled up in the ten thousand eyes of the five thousand assembled onlookers as Dylan and Bruno’s fingers furtively reached for the primal button. A jet flew overhead and the vast expectant crowd were expectant no longer as the fireworks displayed their display, and the lights blazed in a blazing choreographed unison. At last, the huge iridescent letters spelt out our glorious sponsor’s message across the seven corners of our historic interchange for all to see:


Wartime Memories

Following the last issue’s article about the Land Girls exhibition at Brighton & Hove Museum, Agnes Wilson was moved to send The Whistler some first-hand memories of life in the Land Army and other jobs she did during WWII.

Land Girls
Agnes (centre) with girls and farm hands

I first joined the Land Army in May 1941, after I received a letter telling me to report for duty at Kinoulton in Nottinghamshire. I travelled by bus and arrived to find a rather large country house which was to be my billet for the next few months – or so I thought. My first period with the Land Army in fact lasted for over a year. I was greeted by a bunch of excited girls, about twenty in all. We were all allocated our bedrooms which turned out to be dormitories on two floors, with about ten neatly made-up beds in each. How different it was from my own bedroom at home which I shared with my beloved twin sister, Joan. No one slept that night – we were at war and we knew nothing about farming! We all met up again the following morning at breakfast, with porridge and toast on the menu. Afterwards, we went into a very large room to try on our uniforms, which varied in size from the large to the small. The uniform consisted of a pair of beige dungarees, a green jumper, knee length socks and a pair of stout shoes. We were also given a pair of beige corduroy breeches for dressier occasions. We didn’t think any part of the uniform was very flattering!

The following day we were all taken to different farms. I was impressed with my first farm – it was homely with a lovely and welcoming farm house. The owner was charming and I met two male farm hands who were very kind and great fun to be with. We were able to go home for weekends. My parents were anxious to hear what it was like to work on a farm.

I was posted to another farm and had to say goodbye to all my girl friends. This one was very different and I found it all very exciting. I joined two other Land Girls to become what was affectionately known as ‘Ditch Diggers’. We were given a small car and had to go around the neighbouring farms, keeping the ditches clear of muck. It was great fun but a very dirty job! My next move was to a very large farm in Melton Mowbray, run by a super family. I was lucky enough to have a room to myself which I thought was wonderful. Later I went on to a milking farm in Retford. I have never forgotten my first experience trying to milk the cows. I didn’t secure them properly with the chains, so several escaped back to the fields. When the farmer arrived soon after he found me in a state of laugher! He soon got the cows back into the shed.

In June 1942 I left the Land Army to get married in August. Two years after my wedding, my husband, Joe, was posted to West Africa and I returned once more to the Land Army in December 1944. I worked in Lincolnshire on several farms along with many Polish prisoners. Joe returned from West Africa and was posted to Cornwall to work at Predannack airfield. I worked in a government office that distributed ration books. It was a wonderful period in many ways: we met a lot of brave people and became friends with the pilots at the airfield and they would often visit us after flying and I would make them all hot cocoa. Sadly though, many of these same pilots flew on their missions, never to return.

Joe’s next posting was to the Air Ministry in London. I worked in the photography department of the same Ministry. War-time in London was exciting but at the same time very dangerous. I remember well the time of the Doodle Bugs – the airplanes without pilots. Many times we would go up to the roof tops of buildings to keep a look out. It was a terrible time, with so many people getting killed and buildings destroyed. Joe was often on night duty and I was so scared to be on my own that, unknown to the Ministry, I would accompany him to work. It was hazardous and we would have to leave the building very early in the morning so as not to be seen by other workers. Often we would go to Westminster Cathedral to attend early morning mass.