No need to feel lonely or isolated now

This month I have a positive plethora of experiences for your enjoyment.

The U3A 5th Anniversary Lunch at the Bridge at Walshford celebrated the founding of the Wetherby U3A and it was there I arranged to visit one of the longest established groups within the organisation.

In fact this particular activity has been going longer than the U3A has been in existence in Wetherby and came under the umbrella of the U3A five years ago.

During the 1960s I was a serving Wren in Singapore and saw this game played in bars and open air markets all over the island.

It looked complicated, colourful and completely outside my comprehension even though I had grown up within a games playing family.

So when Philippa Naylor and David Titchmarsh invited me along to the Mah Jong Group, I couldn’t wait to discover the magic behind this game.

Lesley and David Titchmarsh took over the running of the Mah Jong group from Christine and Paul Leaman, the founders of the U3A group, in September 2013.

It is a thriving and welcoming group which meets each Tuesday afternoon at Kirk Deighton Village Hall.

The venue itself is worth a mention as it is so local to Wetherby and wonderfully equipped. Mah-jong, in Chinese, is ‘A Game of Four Winds’, and is fascinating. It’s wonderfully addictive, competitive, a mix of skill and luck, and from the expressions on the faces of the group participants, includes many elements of the East, namely inscrutability.

The game is played in groups of three or four so almost any number of players can be accommodated and the basic rudiments of the game may be learnt quite quickly (if you have a good teacher).

The language within the game is another thing, ‘wan, tao, tun, pung, kong, goulash and fishing,’ for starters, which take a while to pick up, but adds immeasurably to the feel of the game.

It struck me that it has elements of a number of different games, and many members of the group are also members of other games groups within U3A.

It’s unlike other games in that you only play for yourself, unlike bridge.

The game has infinite variety but the hardest hand of all to achieve is Imperial Jade, achieved only once in five years in the group by Clare.

I spent a most delightful afternoon in the company of the Mah Jong Group, learning and playing, chatting, laughing, listening and watching.

Many members of the group have been playing for years, but others have only joined recently, however, there was a great rapport and friendship. All this for £14 per year as a member of U3A.

At the start of the month I had the pleasure of visiting the Spanish for Beginners Group. Val Wilby and I belong to the Ukulele Group so she asked if I would like to go along to her house to meet the group, which started in October 2014. There are currently eight members and they meet every week on a Wednesday morning.

Hola! What a welcome, the feeling of Spain was immediately apparent as I met the other members and at the shake of the maracas the session began, everyone sitting around the kitchen table.

They began with a series of flash cards on the theme of travel, passing them around as well as encouraging and helping each other with accents and words, all with a great sense of fun.

Val makes all the teaching aids and they are brilliant. She acts as a guide and leader through the language, using experience from her working life and applying it to her adult learners.

She keeps them interested and challenged in this lively class, who are all at various stages of learning, and all learning the language for different reasons. Listening, speaking, reading and the use of tapes to follow a written conversation and hear the Spanish accent were used, all related to the theme of travel.

Val used the session to build experience and confidence by encouraging discussion around the table to aid understanding.

Inevitably she provided rewards in the shape of coffee and Easter eggs.

Homework was encouraged, not that any of the members needed any encouragement to learn, I got the feeling that they would have stayed much longer than the hour and a half of the session. As many a good teacher, Val likes to leave her pupils wanting more.

Two diverse groups, each with an enthusiastic membership, valuing everything they are learning, building confidence and expertise while having a great deal of fun.

The diversity of the groups in Wetherby U3A is one of its strengths. What came across from my visits this month was that all the people I met felt strongly that what they get from belonging to the U3A is not only friendship, but ‘learning for its own sake’, and it’s also ‘a reason to get up in the morning’.

Above all, there is no need to feel isolated or lonely if you live in the Wetherby U3A district with so many opportunities on your doorstep.

Next month I’ll tell you about my visit with the Local History Group to Spofforth and another equally diverse group.