Hello, Chris Nelson here. I have recently joined the SUES Committee and have agreed to become the editor of Forum. I take over from Roger Mitchell, who has been doing the job so well for several months, alongside all his other work for SUES. If you have noticed some changes to the format this month, then you know who to blame!
I am quite new to SUES. My wife, Siobhan, discovered the Society early last year, and we joined in time to attend Roger’s excellent course on the English Country House in the 20th Century. We were hooked!
Forum was created by the late John Sharp to provide a means of keeping in touch with SUES members, and to “keep all our brains ticking over”, during the pandemic. The Committee has decided that Forum should continue to be produced on (hopefully) a monthly basis, not only acting as the SUES newsletter but also providing educational and learning opportunities in written form, alongside our well-established lectures, talks and courses. As Roger wrote last month, we want Forum to be written by SUES members, as well as read by them. If you can contribute an article, story, quiz, or anything we haven’t thought of yet, please do get in touch with me (contact details are at the bottom).
In this issue we have some excellent contributions (all from members of the Committee). Margaret Boneham reports on Dr Karen Groves’ powerful and memorable talk about the hospice movement. Roger Mitchell tells the extraordinary story of ‘The Great Farini’, an American showman with a connection to West Lancashire. We have a history quiz from Mary Ormsby to keep our brains working between now and the start of our next course in May. Finally, Alan Potter invites all SUES members to provide feedback to help the Society to understand what has worked well this year, and what could be improved.
Our Next Course
Uncovering the Mystery of Chemistry
Course fee £30. 6 sessions.
May 8th, 15th, 22nd (Mondays), May 25th (Thursday), June 5th (Monday), June 8th (Thursday).
For course details, please see Forum 41 or the SUES website. There is still time to enrol on this course by contacting Rob Firth, our membership secretary.
- send a cheque for £30 payable to Southport University Extension Society, with a brief covering letter, by post to Rob Firth, 18 Coudray Road, Southport, PR9 9NL; or
- arrange a bank transfer of £30 to Southport University Extension Society, quoting your name as reference, and advise Rob by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) that payment has been made.
Committee Report – January to March 2023
Your Committee members have been even busier than usual over the past 3 months. We have had three full Committee meetings via Zoom and three subcommittee meetings in person. As Peter Firth’s article in last month’s Forum told you, we have an important 150th Anniversary in 2024 and we intend to celebrate it appropriately.
We feel that we have made good progress with the SUES ‘infrastructure’. We have added a sound system for all meetings in the large hall at All Saints and we are now able to store it and much else in a locked cupboard adjacent to the hall.
We have also improved arrangements for joining the Society and for enrolling for courses and, by changing the date of our financial year and appointing an auditor, we have brought our financial arrangements up to date.
We have also recruited Chris Nelson as a new Committee member. You can find more information about Chris on our website. He has agreed to edit and produce our monthly editions of Forum and we hope that you will notice improvements and new ideas over the coming months.
The Committee is still rather smaller than we would like and we would be pleased to welcome any new members. Even if you are not sure that it is for you, you might like to come along to a meeting as an observer. Remember that you can do this from the comfort of your own sitting room because most of our meetings are by Zoom.
Our programme for 2023-4 is close to completion and we hope to announce it before the end of May to encourage all of you to renew your membership. You might also like to show it to friends and neighbours and encourage them to join. Word of mouth recruitment works best and anyone thinking of joining is encouraged to come along for a free ‘taster’.
Hospice: ‘No Thanks or Yes Please’
Dr Karen Groves
A Report of the Meeting Held on Friday 31st March 2023
Dr Karen Groves, our speaker, was a founder of Southport`s Queenscourt Hospice and its Medical and Education Director until her semi-retirement in 2022.
Karen began by exploring our understanding of the word ‘hospice’ (a hostel for strangers) and ‘palliative care’ (help which mitigates pain). She recalled case studies of cancer patients in the past who had experienced inappropriate care in the later stages of life, dying in pain or unconscious due to drugs with their true needs ignored.
We learned about an early pioneer who helped to redress this, Dame Cicely Saunders (1918-2005), who founded the hospice movement and established the discipline of palliative care based on innovative research and education. The key is symptom control – how to manage symptoms and use opioids in such a way as to remove pain but not reduce the patient to being oblivious to their surroundings. It became clear that small doses of an appropriate drug on a regular basis is the key to allowing a person to function pain free. Dame Cicely insisted that dying people needed dignity, compassion and respect as well as rigorous scientific methodology in the testing of treatments.
Another pioneer was Elizabeth Kubler Ross (1926-2004), a Swiss American psychiatrist who broke the taboo about speaking on the subject of death and dying. She introduced the idea of the five stages of grief and strove to bring about a more compassionate attitude to mentally ill and dying patients, championing a world-wide hospice movement in the 1970s.
Karen stressed how the hospice setting is based on the concept of ‘total pain’ in which caring, holistic intervention takes account of all four dimensions of pain: physical, psychological, spiritual and social. Thus, the need is for a multi professional team working in an integrated setting. This is not a luxury but a necessity!
It was heartening to hear that we have the best palliative care in the world. The system began in the UK so we have been at the forefront of its introduction. Other countries do not understand it or they deny its importance. The availability of opioids is high in the USA, Canada and Australia. In the UK it is adequate, but it is very poor in South America, Africa and Russia. A moving video case study shown to us illustrated the impact of the lack of pain relief with the plight of a man from Ukraine, suffering from cancer, who had decided to live alone, away from his family, in order not to disturb them with his crying. We are very lucky in the UK that pain relief is available.
In terms of the establishment of palliative care as a discipline, there were attempts in 1967, and then in 1997, to create the specialism. A landmark document was in 2004 with the NHS NICE manual which had chapters on the spiritual/social/bereavement aspects of palliative care. In 2008 the NHS produced an End of Life Care Strategy to promote high quality care for all adults in the last stage of life, though the funding for this has sadly disappeared.
The important point was made that “dying matters and we should be talking about it”. Through fear and superstition, it can become a taboo subject and yet 80% of dying is predictable so we should be speaking about the reality. Karen recommended an excellent book by Kathryn Mannix entitled ‘With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial’ which highlights how to prepare for the facts of dying and saying our goodbyes, also to suggest that an understanding of death can improve our lives.
Karen explained how normal human dying is a gentle process in which the person is extremely deeply relaxed so their breathing becomes shallow and they cannot swallow fully. She feels it is important to use the correct words in describing death, rather than ‘passing on’ or other euphemisms. Queenscourt Hospice runs a proactive patient-centred service in which the wishes of patient and family are listened to by a range of health care professionals. The process involves a number of components: a central access hub, inpatient service, in hospital support, at home care, in the community links, connections with other NHS services, and educational infrastructure. (Two Masters in Palliative Care students have just been awarded their degrees – the first nationally.) Covid changed the situation in 2020, including the establishment of a temporary ward for Covid patients, a virtual ward and a specialist advice line.
Karen concluded by stressing that bereavement is forever, but talking about dying is essential for us to live well. We need to prepare by a variety of actions: drawing up our own bucket lists, making sure we have an advance statement of our wishes, deciding about what treatments we would refuse, and completing a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare. The preferred circumstances of our own funerals should be written down and proper conversations held with our families. Funding for hospices is still an area of concern, with only 30% for Queenscourt coming from the NHS and the rest having to be raised through charity.
Members of the audience have commented that the talk was both challenging and thought-provoking. Indeed, it was a fascinating presentation on dying which offered us inspiration about how to live now. We are very fortunate to have such a pioneer in Dr Karen Groves and to live in Southport with its innovative Queenscourt Hospice.
The Great Farini
One of the joys of teaching adults is that you never quite know where your topic is going to take you. A classic example came at the beginning of my recent course on the American West. I introduced the larger-than-life character of William Cody, Buffalo Bill, and was able to tell people that he brought his Wild West to Southport early in the 20th century. This jogged the memory of Pam Carr, a member of the class, and she introduced me to another American showman and a near contemporary of Buffalo Bill. His real name was William Hunt but he used the name ‘The Great Farini’ and he was a citizen of Canada rather than the United States. He grew up in Port Hope on Lake Ontario, not too far from Niagara Falls. Like Cody, he has a connection with this part of the world and with Pam herself.
The picture above and Pam’s note below explain the connection.
“The photo is of me and Winnie Robinson who lived across the road from me in Westhead. In Winnie’s house there was a small portrait on the wall. When I asked who it was, she said it was her great grandfather and that he painted it himself. She also told me that he went across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope with a washing machine in competition with Blondin.”
This sounds like an implausible story, but it turns out to be entirely true. Winnie’s grandfather was William Leonard Farini (1872-1950), son of William Hunt, the Great Farini, and his wife, Alice Carpenter. He settled in Burscough, worked at the Ordnance Factory, and lived a much more humdrum life than his father, who came to Ormskirk to visit him and spent some time in West Lancashire.
Pam tracked down a biography entitled ‘The Great Farini – The High-Wire Life of William Hunt’. Published in Canada by Penguin books in 1995, it was researched and written by Shane Peacock, another resident of Port Hope. She has lent me the book, which tells of a remarkable life and one that I think is worthy of an appearance in Forum.
Born in 1838, William Hunt was an ambitious and tenacious young man. He was athletic and fearless and when, in 1859, Blondin crossed over the Niagara Falls on a tightrope, the 21 year old Hunt saw no reason why he should not do the same. He successfully crossed his local river, gave himself the more exotic name of Signor Farini and the following year set out to challenge Blondin’s feats. He made several successful crossings including a memorable one in which he carried a washing machine on his back. The press judged that he showed ‘a nerve equal to Blondin’.
After Niagara, he toured both North and Central America. He married, and taught his wife the art of high wire walking, but sadly in 1862 she died of injuries after a fall in Havana, Cuba. In 1866 he went to London and continued to perform for another three years until he decided to end his own performances and to concentrate on training others and presenting a variety of entertainments, which included the first recorded ‘human cannonball’.
In 1871, he married an Englishwoman, Alice Carpenter. They had two children, one of whom ended up in Burscough, but the marriage was unhappy and they divorced in 1880. Six years later, Signor Farini married for a third time. This time his wife was a German concert pianist and they remained together until his death 43 years later at the age of 91. He managed to maintain the restless curiosity of his youth throughout that period, and his activities included an expedition on foot across the Kalahari desert discovering, so he claimed, a lost city en route and the award of a gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society for his book on ‘How to Grow Begonias’. He is credited with the invention of the tip-up theatre seat and, over his lifetime, he registered almost 40 patents including numerous ideas for improving watering cans. Stranded in Germany at the start of World War One, he wrote a thirty-volume history of that war and its effects on Germany. He even found time to promote a successful parachute jump from a balloon in London in 1888 for which he provided technical assistance but found a younger adventurer to do the deed.
Small wonder that he became an almost legendary figure in family lore. In 1919, while travelling from Germany to North America, he spent time with his son, William, who was employed at the Royal Army Ordnance Depot in Burscough. William was approaching 50 and had retained the Farini name for his whole family. His three children probably met their grandfather for the first and only time. During that visit William took his father to an engineering workshop in Ormskirk to see a friend who was a professional engineer. His father developed a friendship with the engineer, spent most of his remaining time at the works and put forward all sorts of ideas about all sorts of engineering problems.
The Great Farini was active and creative to the end of his long life. He became a painter and sculptor and took part in the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, where his work was commended. He embarked on a series of paintings of the native dress of peasant women around the world. He spent his winters in the 1920s in Florida and was thus one of the first ‘snowbirds’. He was an advocate of healthy eating and an enthusiastic missionary for yogurt. He got his own supply from Russian settlers and wrote about how it should be made and with what it could be eaten.
Eventually he succumbed to influenza at the age of 91 but his fame has not entirely disappeared and his name and his exploits may crop up in so many unrelated fields – tightrope walking and circus, African exploration, parachutes, art, history of World War One, gardening and even yoghurt. Farini was a true Victorian, combining energy and invention and exhibiting a degree of eccentricity for good measure.
1. What publication recorded the work of the great survey of England completed in 1086 by William I?
2. Which famous explorer sailed in “The Pelican”?
3. Which Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in 1170, was made a Saint in 1173?
4. Which territory was ceded to Britain under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, although the sovereignty has been long contested by Spain?
5. What was the last battle of the English Civil War in 1651?
6. Which organisation was founded by William Booth in 1865?
7. What famous work of art depicts events at the Battle of Hastings?
8. What started on Pudding Lane in 1666?
9. In which English city did the “Peterloo Massacre” take place in 1819?
10. At which battle of the War of the Roses was Richard III killed?
11. What was the name of the early steam locomotive built by Robert Stephenson?
12. In which Lancashire town was the Cooperative movement founded?
13. With which country did Britain fight “The War of Jenkins’ Ear”?
14. What were the activists who destroyed mechanised looms in the 19th century called?
15. How long did “The Hundred Years War” last?
16. The Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. In which modern country is the site of the battle?
17. Founded in the 12th century, which is England’s oldest university?
18. Which side did Britain support in the US civil war?
19. In which year was the death penalty abolished in the UK?
20. Which war began on 10th October 1899?
(Answers after the contacts section)
SUES Feedback 2023
Helping to Make Us Better
On behalf of the SUES Committee, I hope you have participated in the talks and courses we have provided for you this year. In particular, we hope you have found them interesting, stimulating and enjoyable. We do try to improve each year by providing more talks, a greater range of courses and an improved learning environment. In doing so, we often act on suggestions made by members to change things if they could make our offer better.
In order to make sure everyone has an opportunity to provide feedback on what we are doing well, and also what could be improved, we are introducing a Feedback Form. It is being circulated as a Word document with this edition of Forum. You will see that it asks three simple questions and provides space for responses to be written.
1. What have you enjoyed about SUES events this year?
Do please consider filling in a form even if you are happy with what is being provided for you. It would be helpful to know what not to change in that case.
2. Is there anything we could do to make learning experiences better?
If there are aspects that could be better, do let us know – we want all our members to enjoy learning with SUES by removing any barriers to doing so.
3. Are there talks, courses or visits you would like to see in the future?
We particularly enjoy putting on talks and courses that members say they would like. So do feel free to suggest anything in this space.
If you are happy to provide feedback directly, please type your comments into the form and email it to Rob Firth at email@example.com.
If you wish to complete the form anonymously, then please print off the form and post it to Rob Firth, SUES, Membership Secretary, 18 Coudray Road, Southport. PR9 9NL.
Can I thank you in advance for taking part in this feedback exercise and helping us to provide an even better service for you in the future. I look forward to seeing you, and chatting with you, once again at future events.
Chair, Southport University Extension Society (SUES)
Membership Secretary: Rob Firth
Chair: Alan Potter
See our archive for previous editions of the SUES Forum!
History Quiz Answers
1. The Domesday Book.
2. Sir Francis Drake.
3. Thomas a Becket.
5. The Battle of Worcester.
6. The Salvation Army.
7. The Bayeaux Tapestry.
8. The Great Fire of London.
10. The Battle of Bosworth Field (1485).
11. The Rocket.
15. 116 years (1337 to 1453).
18. The Confederacy.
20. The Boer War.