Etching Hill Women's Institute

PRESS REPORT August 2018

Mechanical music was the theme for the evening with Guest Speaker, Kathleen Turner and some of her wonderful past and present music boxes. Kathleen said that with her father’s love of combustion engines together with music being a constant in her early years, it was not surprising that she developed an interest in mechanical music boxes. An early retirement in her career lead to her starting her collection with the purchase of her first Polyphon metal disc playing box. She also joined the Music Box Society of Great Britain.
Water powered pipe organs, from AD900 Baghdad, were used for centuries until the invention of the mechanical music box in the 18th century. Pins were inserted onto metal discs or cylinders and as they turned, produced music from the pins plucking the teeth of a steel comb. Makers such as Nicole Freres from Switzerland lead the industry. David Roentgen from Germany made an automaton of Marie Antoinette playing a dulcimer.
Huge factories were built in Germany where, in the main, women were employed but in appalling conditions! They affixed the metal pins onto the cylinders but too easily the pins could pop out and lodge into their eyes, causing blindness. Eventually a glass shield was added to the boxes to protect the assemblers.
Kathleen proceeded to play the various musical boxes she had brought along. From her cylinder model to the more modern barrel organ, including a Serinette which was made for teaching tunes to canaries. The Members enjoyed singing along to Que Sera Sera and The Happy Wanderer.
To celebrate sports week in September, a morning swimming session at the Rugeley Leisure Centre had been organised and a friendly darts evening with Wall WI.


It was a sunny day for the Members’ visit to the Guide Dogs National Breeding Centre in Bishop’s Tachbrook, Warwickshire. En route, they had free time for refreshments and shopping in Royal Leamington Spa.
Upon arrival at the Centre, an introductory talk was given by one of the volunteers. The cost of building the new Centre had been funded by sponsors and donations made to the charity and was officially opened in 2011 by its patron, HRH Princess Alexandra. The main objective of the Centre was to increase the breeding numbers of Guide dogs in order to help more visually impaired persons.
The Members were taken, in groups, on a guided tour along glass fronted walkways which gave a birds eye view of the puppies. Together with informative videos, the guide provided an insight into how they select dogs for coupling using genetic technology. The ‘mums to be’ return home for delivery of their puppies, whelping. If this is not possible or a problem arises there is a quiet whelping room at the Centre. The puppies are marked at birth with nail varnish on various parts of their body, denoting the order of birth. Assessments are made of the puppies at a very young age to determine whether they meet the criteria to become a Guide dog. Some though are chosen as future breeding dogs. Never both. After the usual immunisations and micro chipping the puppies go to ‘puppy walkers’ for approximately 13 months during which time they are socialised to the sights, sounds and smells of every day life in readiness for their future as a Guide Dog. They then begin their Guide dog training in earnest at a training centre, costing approximately £50,000 per Guide Dog.
The Members were invited to walk through a sensory tunnel where, with a blind fold, it was possible to experience the feeling of blindness. Various canes were also demonstrated, particularly the new cane with a roller at the end. Dog harnesses were shown and how modernisation with Velcro, as opposed to buckles, has improved the ease of fitting them on the dog.
At the end of the two hour tour, refreshments with cake were made available. There was also the opportunity to purchase various gifts, cards and canine products, the proceeds of which went to the charity. The Members returned home all agreeing how much they had enjoyed the trip having learned so much about the early years of Guide dogs.

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