Having greeted me warmly, Valerie took me into her living room containing
hundreds of books. ‘Life would be just awful without books’ she announced. Her favourite is Anthony Trollope but a glance at her bookshelves illustrated an extremely eclectic taste in reading. She also completes the Daily Telegraph Toughie crossword puzzle every day: she was once a finalist and went up to London to meet the compilers. Valerie also plays the piano although nowadays not as much as she would like.
As well as books and music (Elgar is her favourite), she loves the theatre. Once a regular attendee of the Chichester Festival, now with her lack of mobility, she shares a taxi with friends to go to the theatre in London. Her enthusiasm for books and theatre personifies her enthusiasm for life. She claims that she loves enthusiasm in other people but it would be rare to meet anyone quite as enthusiastic about everything as Valerie.
For those people who do not know Valerie Phelps, they are likely to be familiar with the lady in a big hat who rides a tricycle. There was a time when she would ride around the whole village chatting to anyone who crossed her path but unfortunately, she had a nasty fall and now has difficulty walking. She is a great believer in exercise and still tries to ride her tricycle for half an hour a day just along Blount’s Court Road but has had to give up driving altogether. However, friends and family take her out with Ulysses, her trusty wheelchair.
It is, perhaps, her enthusiasm that made her such a good, and popular, teacher. She came to Peppard in 1971 after the breakdown of her marriage left her alone with two small children. Valerie chose Peppard because her parents farmed in nearby Shiplake and she remembered our commons as a place where she rode as a child. With her parents’ help, her children attended Highlands school; a small private primary school situated opposite the cricket pitch. Initially a parent, she became a teacher there: she taught everything except maths and her particular joy was taking the children for nature walks. Sadly, she developed ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis also known as chronic fatigue syndrome) which curtailed her teaching career and from which she still suffers from time to time
Later, she helped run an after-school Latin club at Peppard School; it was such a novelty that it was featured on Radio 4. She also undertook pre-university tutoring in English. It was a red letter day when, as a schoolgirl, she was one of the few to win a place at university. She went on to study English and Latin at St Andrews in Scotland. Upon leaving university in the early 60s she lived in London and had ambitions to go into politics. She worked for the, then, London County Council and then a Tory MP.
Perhaps it was frustrated political ambition that made her throw herself into village life once she was settled in Peppard. Valerie wanted to ‘put something back’ and consequently she was a Parish Councillor for 30 years. Whenever new people moved into Peppard she would visit to welcome them and present them with a cake. Valerie was responsible for maintaining a few footpaths and she would always visit if a householder near her made a planning application.
Not content with being a Parish Councillor, Valerie was also on the Parochial Church Council and was Secretary for many years, she was Chairman of the Governors for Peppard CofE Primary school where she knew every child by name and she is still
involved with Peppard Relief in Need. Her principle has always been to listen and chat to everyone without judging.
A double-sided pendant adorns her neck with photographs of her children. Cecily and Rupert; she says she likes to keep them close. She is an adoring grandmother of one grandson and two grand-daughters and glowed with pride as she recounted her trip to Cambridge for her grandson’s graduation. Although she can’t travel easily, she treasures her visits to her children.
Our thoroughly enjoyable interview ended with a rather lively debate about The Archers: thus demonstrating that listening to the radio is yet another thing that Valerie enjoys.