Category Archives: Mayoress of Surrey Heath

Hanging up the mayoral chains… and back to the blog!

John and Juliette May - former mayor and mayoress of Surrey HeathHi everyone… sorry I haven’t updated the blog but I really have been ferociously busy.

On Wednesday 18th May my husband John and I finally handed over Surrey Heath’s mayoral chains of office. It was an emotional occasion but Tim and Jany Dodds (our successors) will do a fabulous job and we’re determined to give them our support.

In the run up to the handover we organised a concert for our charities, a borough-wide collection day, a grand ball and the piece de la resistance a champagne and canapes event at The Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. It was a wonderful evening and we raised a good sum of money for our charities.

The work didn’t end there as I’ve been involved in the Surrey Heath Literary Festival so I’ve had to read four books, prepare a debate and interview the authors. It was a challenging week but I’m pleased to say that the event went well and we’ll be holding another one in 2012. So that’s why it’s been a little quiet round here for a while, but don’t worry… I’ll be doing some new posts in the next few weeks. Please be patient as I have a load of catching up to do along with some very early shifts at BBC World. Take care everyone and thank you for your patience, support and friendship.

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Watching the crowds…yet again!

Hurrah it’s over for another year and I can finally breathe again, after what felt like a week of oxygen deprivation without the prospect of a last-minute rescue. Yet no matter how much I complain about the crowds, the traffic snarled roads, or the debt I’ll run up in the search for something fashionable to wear, I know that I’ll always be drawn back into the irresistible, crazy madness that is Royal Ascot.

So given my obvious cynicism why do I always get edgy with excitement when spring gives way to summer and May switches to June? And why do I put myself through the delicious agony of looking for a standout hat that might get me photographed by a newspaper, or ridiculed by fellow race goers? Because Royal Ascot is to me what a zero fat meal is to a calorie obsessive dieter. In other words it’s the closest thing one can have to an obsession minus the side effects of an addiction.

“Big Brother without the vulgarity but with all the pretentiousness,” is how a close friend of mine once described it, and I’m inclined to agree with that. Okay so there isn’t a house with hidden cameras that’s crawling with back biting contestants, but Ascot has plenty of people worth watching since not all of them are necessarily there for the racing. Were the bonneted cougars tottering past my table in sky scraper stilettos and gravity defying minis genuine horse lovers, or were they prowling the scene for well-heeled, chinless wonder males? Similarly were the young bucks in their grey morning suits, patterned waist coats and silk banded top hats really throwing admiring glances at the women, or were they hoping that the lecherous drool of an undersexed stud would help them score?

Crowd watching at Royal Ascot is a surreptitious pleasure and I appraise my targets with careful discretion, even though I know that what I’m doing violates the rules of etiquette.  As children we’re taught by our parents that it’s rude to stare yet it’s hard not to in an environment where people will stop at nothing to get themselves noticed. Hence the endearing absurdity of Ladies Day or the lengths to which some people will go to challenge the strict code of dress. During a trawl through the Guardian website I came across a 1971 photograph of a man wearing velvet shorts, a matching waistcoat and white knee-high socks, cleverly getting around a ruling that barred women from wearing hot pants in the Royal Enclosure.

I’m the first to admit that what I know about racing cover’s an area of a postage stamp, unlike my husband and the majority of Ascot regulars who share a genuine love of the turf. My winnings at the Tote are usually small, although that’s nothing compared to the size of my observational skills which have grown considerably in the seven years since I first attended. Ascot will always have the comforting déjà vu of a battered old pair of slippers, and as long as it stays that way and doesn’t lose the social climbers, hangers-on or attention seekers who’ve unwittingly entertained me over the years, then I’ll definitely keep on going.

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The Big Reality

What happens when 750 children are let loose onto a rugby pitch while the adults stand by and watch them get on with it? Unbridled chaos is the inevitable conclusion although in reality nothing could be further from the truth. The 750 special needs youngsters I recently encountered at The Army Rugby ground in Aldershot, were anything but disorderly. They were lively, friendly and full of incessant chatter, often driving the grown ups to near distraction with their unstoppable outpouring of energy. No one could begrudge them their joy since it was a day dedicated to fun, with all the entertainments laid on by the local Rotary Clubs. And among the day’s highlights?  The Mayor of Surrey Heath running a partial lap of honour around the pitch, after scoring two goals against a group of football loving seven-year-olds, in what could only be described as a rather one-sided contest. He insists that both goals were from 20 metres out in the style of Steve Gerrard.

Events like this clearly illustrate how community groups are at their supreme best when everyone works together. But they’re also a pointer to a much bigger phenomenon that has been largely under-discussed in the national media. Recently I’ve come away with the growing conviction that in the current climate of fiscal belt-tightening and dire warnings of economic hardship, voluntary organisations will find themselves assuming a much greater social welfare role. This probably seems all the more extraordinary when applied to well-heeled, commuter territory like Surrey Heath. But even affluent boroughs have zones of poverty and Surrey Heath is no exception. How else does one explain the presence of the Camberley Community Store, which provides household goods and furniture to families or individuals needing emergency accommodation? The shelves and floor space are heaving with stock and will likely stay that way as long as there’s no let up in-house repossessions, family dislocations and rising unemployment.

There’s no suggestion that the voluntary sector is being consciously groomed for taking over some of the key welfare roles traditionally performed by local authorities. But there’s a growing awareness that times are changing and that old certainties are on their way out. The likely scenario is that many organisations will have to merge if they’re to cope with the increasing demands on their services, and if they’re to stand any chance of successfully accessing whatever money is available in the government kitty.

Maybe it’s another step towards the so-called “Big Society”, of which much has been written but not necessarily in a way that’s understandable. Yet regardless of how it’s interpreted, voluntary and community groups will have a heavier workload to look forward to, along with difficult choices as to how they’ll re-position themselves to meet their ballooning responsibilities in an age of cuts and austerity. “We’re all in this together” is the message from Westminster, although it’s anybody’s guess as to who will come out of it alive. At least the 750 youngsters can look forward to another fun day out in 2011, even if for the rest of us there might not be that much to smile about.

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The return of the house move

It’s almost 11 years, six months and three weeks to the day when I left North London and took up residence on the south side of the Thames. How well I remember it. Preparing to leave North London the street was bathed in a clear autumnal sunlight that amplified the shimmering brilliance of the yellow/red canopy of leaves on the trees, while the morning air was heavy with the lingering stench from the sewage works around the corner. As the removal van started to pull out from the kerb, there were no parting hugs or good luck wishes from the neighbours, just a series of warnings in hushed, fatalistic tones that would have probably scared the grim reaper to death.

“You’d better watch yourself over there”, Edna from number 17 whispered to me with a frightened expression, “They’re a right bloody load of psychos. Didn’t you hear about those muggings in Lewisham on Crimewatch? One of the victims died!”

“No I didn’t” I said trying to sound jaunty, although in the circumstances it wasn’t easy, “But people get mugged over here as well you know.”

“True,” she replied unconvincingly. “But you’re more likely to get a kicking in South London than you are here!”

I wanted to say something about statistics not necessarily bearing out perceptions, but the van was moving before I could even get the words out, so I had to content myself with a quick wave and the promise not to leave the house after 8pm.

When we finally reached our destination there wasn’t a mugger or murderer in sight – just a massive pile of dog droppings on the path to the front door.  As I didn’t have a pooper scooper with me, there was no other option but to unload the van and side step the offensive mound. Several hours later when the last stick of furniture was indoors, I curled up on a couch and gleefully reflected on the certainty that I would never have to move again.

How wrong I was! Eleven years down the line the tea crates are back and the suitcases re-opened as I’m heading for suburban Surrey.

When my husband was elected Mayor of Surrey Heath, one of the first things we had to do was to organise a new house. We thought it would be easy, but we were wrong. Between us we’ve acquired enough possessions to fill a warehouse and shifting them from one property into another has been more than just a little bit time-consuming.

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It was something that neither of us had counted on, just as we hadn’t realised the emotional wrench of leaving behind a much loved home, or the dismay at throwing away objects that we’re still attached to but which are no longer of any practical use. And that’s only the half of it! In spite of repeated telephone calls to what’s laughingly described as a “helpline”, the engineer from the satellite TV company still hasn’t connected our set, meanwhile my car is being more temperamental than usual, and I’ve suddenly found myself juggling the demands of what can only be called a double life. For part of the week I’m Juliette Foster, Business Presenter BBC World, whilst for the rest of the time I’m Juliette May, Lady Mayoress of Surrey Heath. No wonder I’m often confused. But would I change things? Definitely not, because I’m getting to know my adopted community, while its friendship, warmth and integrity more than compensate for all the relocation problems.

Hopefully we’ll never have to move house again, but since that’s a bit like tempting fate, it’s probably better to keep quiet about the subject.

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When good comes from sad

Stephanie Marks was only 17 when she died in June 2002. She was a bright, loving, vivacious girl who wanted to be a doctor. She had everything to live for and a brilliant future to look forward to, but complications from Type 1 diabetes killed her. I never met Stephanie but after attending the opening of the treatment centre set up in her memory, I wish I had.

It was an emotional occasion especially for Stephanie’s family who though burdened by grief, were determined that no-one should ever have to suffer what they’ve been through. With the support of friends and the local community, they launched an appeal dedicated to her memory with the awesome task of raising £1m to build a facility to help diabetes sufferers better manage their condition. The task was anything but easy however seven years and many sleepless nights later, the Stephanie Marks Diabetes Resource Centre was officially opened for business at St Peter’s Hospital Chertsey, by the former cricketer and appeal patron Sir Ian Botham.

My first impression when I stepped inside the glass fronted two storey building for the guided tour, was that it didn’tlook or feel like a clinic. Maybe that’s deliberate as there’s nothing more likely to make a sick person feel worse than entering a place that’s cold, grey and unwelcoming. An atmosphere of freshness pervades every corridor and landing, heightened by the lilac upholstered furniture (lilac was Stephanie’s favourite colour), painted white walls, and the contemporary sleekness of the consulting rooms. There’s a careful, considered thoroughness to every detail, culminating in a structured balance between medical functionalism and simple, human warmth. The staff will have plenty to keep them occupied since diabetes is a condition that’s worryingly on the up and just as alarmingly, is being diagnosed in an increasingly large number of young people. Never has the need for such a facility been more urgent.

As we drove away and headed for home, I couldn’t help reflecting on the unfairness of it all. How is it possible that someone so young could be taken away before they’ve even had the chance to scratch life’s surface? It’s a question that my husband often asks about his youngest daughter Lisa, who died at the age of 25 in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The pain from that tragedy will never go away although with every year that passes, it does get slightly easier to handle. Setting up the foundation that bears her name has been an important step in the healing process.

Lisa had an insatiable curiosity about the world along with a strong desire to travel, and it’s fitting that her charity should reflect this. Its provided invaluable assistance to many victims of natural disasters including those left homeless in the recent Haitian earthquake and Burma’s cyclone Nargis. Lisa may no longer be with us but there’s comfort in knowing that the wishes of her charity to change lives, is being slowly fulfilled.

The death of a child can have a ruinous effect on the family left behind, yet it doesn’t always have to be that way. Nothing will ever erase the sense of loss or stop the living from wondering why fate or some remote, un-named force could take away what is most precious and valued: but good things can and do grow out of sadness. Stephanie and Lisa may have been strangers but these two young women achieved so much more than many of their contemporaries will ever rack up in a lifetime. That is their legacy to each and every one of us which is why it must always be recognised, always nurtured, and above all never forgotten.

For more information about the charity established in Lisa’s name visit: www.lisamayfoundation.co.uk

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Every mayor should beware the demon finger food

Six days after the general election a delightfully moving ceremony took place in a quiet part of North West Surrey. There was no pomp and circumstance, just the reading of a declaration of office and a discernible buzz of excitement from an audience of friends, family and a few members of the public in the local council chamber. It culminated in the draping of an ermine trimmed robe and thick gold chain around a new pair of shoulders as my husband John was officially sworn in as the 38th Mayor of Surrey Heath, making me the Lady Mayoress.

Considering I wasn’t born with a title or have never knowingly looked for one, this sudden elevation feels a little peculiar. Thankfully I have a year in which to get used to it! My family are delighted with the turn of events whereas the response from my friends has been mixed. Some have congratulated me whereas others think it’s all a bit of a joke. “I couldn’t imagine you being a politician’s wife”, one of them said in a tone that was almost derisory: “When are you going to Westminster then?” “Never,” I replied. “As I’m the wife of the mayor whose apolitical. Not the local MP!”

So what does my new role entail? In a nutshell, pretty much everything. From now until May 2011, I’ll be doing my bit to raise money and public awareness not just for my husband’s chosen charities – Heart to Heart and the Prostate Project, both at Frimley Park Hospital – but for some of the smaller local charities whose work is often eclipsed by much larger counterparts. There’ll also be visits to schools, hospitals, community projects and even the odd bit of tree planting. It’s territory that John and I are already familiar with having gleaned our knowledge from last year when we served as deputies. I’m looking forward to my responsibilities and to giving something back to a community that’s both warm and incredibly welcoming. However there’s one thing I’m dreading: the near certainty of over dosing on finger food.

Every woman knows that finger food and hips are like oil and water: they don’t mix! Whereas oil floats, finger food stays on the hips and if for some reason it can’t loiter there it usually menaces some other part of the anatomy. I should know I’ve got the tight clothes and expanding waistline to prove it.

The problem is that whenever I go to receptions where waiters are carrying trays heaving with cheesy nibbles, prawns buried in pastry, and tiny parcels of skewered meat it’s the equivalent to giving a chocoholic the keys to Willy Wonka’s factory. I really do try to say no, but after a handful of seconds polite restraint gives way to unbridled gluttony, and before I know it I’ve cleared the trays before anyone’s even had the hint of a look in.

Now that I’m the Mayoress there’s an even greater risk of overindulgence as my engagement diary is packed with events that either start or end with canapés. Short of wearing a tee-shirt carrying the message, “Do Not Feed This Woman Finger Food”, I feel there’s very little I can do except surrender to my instincts. But all isn’t necessarily lost. An ex-mayoress from a neighbouring borough described how she got around the problem by nudging her husband into eating canapés for both of them. Not only did it bring her addiction under control but it also steadied her weight: unfortunately he piled on the pounds. “Hey ho”, she smiled philosophically, “That’s what happens when you eat for two!” I couldn’t agree with her more but then I wouldn’t dream of inflicting my surplus kilos on my husband.

So the moral of the story is this: whether you aspire to reach “high office” or you get there by accident or design, beware of the finger food. Try it by all means but don’t get addicted.

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