Girton village website

Around the Village: Margaret Parnwell


Active locally throughout many years, Girton W.I's President quietly keeps a watchful eye on both the village and the world beyond.

How did you get into your W.I. involvement?

It started after 1958 when my husband Bill and I came to live in Girton. My next-door neighbour, Janet Harradine, persuaded me to join and I soon became fully involved. Later, in the 1970s I was Treasurer for three years. It wasn't until 2003 that I was press-ganged into serving as President - I blame husband Bill for this! He thought I could keep things going. We have a busy monthly programme of interesting speakers, as well as an August outing and our birthday party in July (the 86th last year). Our membership stands at 72, and we average 40 to 50 members per meeting.

What about your experience of amateur dramatics?

It all started through the W.I. We had our own drama group and entered in local drama festivals, with plays having an all women's cast. Our producer was "Snip" Saunders, who was very good at getting us to perform. Ill health prevented her going on, so the group disbanded. In the autumn of 1995 Girton Players was formed, and I joined that. I was unable to take part in their first performance, because in January 1996 I underwent a triple heart by-pass, which was certainly a dramatic experience, although I didn't quite match Bill as he had experienced a quadruple heart by-pass in 1991! Subsequently I have appeared in several of their productions, although since becoming W.I. President rehearsal times and W.I. commitments clash, but I have joined the W.I. Federation players whose rehearsals fit in.

What have you most enjoyed with your W.I. activities?

The chance to learn new skills and to participate in all manner of activities from walking to gliding. The modern W.I. is not all Jam and Jerusalem. We also have a varied programme of visiting speakers - I recall our speaker on the air ambulance rescue service. One of their helicopters once had to land in a field near to us in Townend Close to take away a badly injured workman, when owing to road works the local ambulance couldn't get through. More recently we had a fascinating talk from an ex-policeman on body language, so we now watch our hand movements and don't rub our ears (this means you're lying)! That same speaker is coming again to tell us more - how, for example, to recognise what you might call 'the saucy bits'. . .

What particularly memorable experiences have you had when travelling abroad?

What strikes me most is the experience of learning to communicate with people when they don't speak your language and you don't speak theirs. I recall visiting a very modest dwelling in a commune in China where the only source of water was an outside tap, but with a few signs and a bit of miming I managed to find out how they met their daily needs - eating, sleeping, washing and so on. Their bed was a raised concrete slab. But I don't forget the awe-inspiring Great Wall, enabling you to step back in time. Similarly in Egypt during a Nile cruise, and seeing the remarkable Aswan dam and the deserts beyond. It was rather a shock having to have an armed escort in that part of Egypt because of the threat of bandits. Or I might mention the amazing infra-structure of Korea, where you can drive up a six or eight lane motorway and then suddenly arrive in totally undeveloped countryside.

How has Girton changed during your time here?

Nearly fifty years ago when Bill and I moved here, there was no direct bus route through the village, only a service from Girton corner. After some time an additional bus through the village twice an hour was provided, but it took twenty to thirty minutes going round Grange Road to get into town. There were few street lights in the village, but eventually more were provided, together with lay-bys. Mrs Leakey, the W.I. President at the time, wrote a sketch on this - "Girton's Improvements"- which we performed with much laughter. Apart from that, we've had the various new housing developments over the years, but with little emphasis on affordable provision for the young buyer, especially the village's own youngsters. Then we've had the A14 development, cutting the old village into two. However, the mix of people living here remains multi-national, with every profession and status, so we're a cosmopolitan village. In the meantime agriculture has declined - and no cows walk up the High Street as they did when we first lived here! Another change, sadly, is that we no longer have a resident policeman in Girton. By the way, there's another, third, book in production on the history of Girton - I'm actively involved with this - and it will cover developments from 1930 to 1980.

How would you sum up your own view of life?

I'm an optimist. My husband, Bill, is a pessimist, so we balance out. It's important to be positive and happy, to enjoy the company and fellowship of those around you, and to keep your mind and body active. Also we need to cultivate self-discipline, and discipline generally. As for the young, they're not really any worse than the previous generations of youngsters. Perhaps there's too much psychology today, and not enough courtesy and respect given to people.

Interviewer: Kenneth Hastings