50 Years of Fleet Language Circle
Author: Nick Keeley (13th August 2015)

The Carol Ballard years at Union Buildings, Aldershot 1975 - 2009

Carol Ballard, who had been a member since 1987 and had served as Treasurer up to 1992, was Vice-chairman at the time of Mrs Holden's death and took over as Chairman at the 1995 AGM until she stepped down at the 2010 AGM.

I joined at the start of 1996 and became Treasurer Iater that year.

In 1996 the circle celebrated its 30th anniversary with a very enjoyable dinner at the Squire's Holt Restaurant on the Hog's Back near Farnham. The event was only slightly marred by a visiting speaker making jingoistic and anti-European jokes to an audience including many European members.

With no bar at the union Buildings, coffee and tea became the drink for the mid-evening break, except for the Spanish table, where we took turns bringing in a bottle of wine, which helped the conversation to flow.

A promotional letter published in the Star Newspaper in the late 1990s had a remarkable effect on numbers, which increased by a third. As mentioned earlier, despite the inflation over the previous two decades, our annual subscriptions stayed at £18 and our reserves were building up. As a result, in 1999 we were able to reduce the annual subscription to £15 a year.

However in 2006 we were down to 16 paid members and we had to put subscriptions back up to £18 per year and a year later to £24.

On some tables members were growing old together and we were not keeping new members. Advertising produced a trickle of new members but sometimes these turned up to find no existing member on the French or Italian table, so they didn't come back.

I do not have room to mention all members but, during our final years at the Union Building, two very popular members died. Elsie Allen, a former Bluebell girl, who had been a member of our French table since the early days, died at the age of 90. She was a Liverpool supporter and there was a friendly rivalry with Danny, also from Liverpool but an Everton supporter. Danny was a lively member of the German table and brought some wonderful dishes to our Christmas parties. At the time we held these parties in the meeting room and members brought a dish related to their particular country of interest. Sadly Danny also died during this period.

Committee numbers also dwindled in the 1990s till there were just the three officials, chairman, treasurer and secretary. After the secretary, Mrs Jeanine Wertheimer, retired in 2004/5, I found myself acting as Treasurer, Secretary, Membership Secretary, website administrator, doing all publicity and email communication with members and, after the 2009 premises move, being the sole keyholder. Despite pleas at the 2005 AGM from Carol Ballard, the Chairman, nobody was willing to come forward to take on any of these duties, so I announced that from September that year I would not collect any more subscriptions and let the Circle fold once funds ran out. However, after a successful summer party, I didn't have the heart to be responsible for the closure. Once the members knew I was bluffing, they were happy to let this situation continue for another five years.