17th September 2016
Swindon: it’s not as bad as you think
It’s funny how ‘things’ happen really. How at-first-glance-unrelated incidents become related…
Last night I had a lodger from Air BnB – just for the night – visiting Swindon for the first time. He was a very charming Syrian chap who’s been in England for 10 years or so. He lives and works in London as a university lecturer and was full of nothing but affection and gratitude to our country for the opportunities it’s afforded him. I say this as background but I do think it’s kinda relevant.
Because he then went on to say that, what little bit of Swindon he’d seen, he’d really liked. He commented that everyone he spoke to was lovely – not like in London. He liked where I lived (West Swindon), he went to Lydiard Park and loved that. He even thought the West Swindon Centre was nice. Which leads me to the next connection…
Today I went to the autumn fayre at the gorgeous Christ Church where I happened to pick up a copy of Swindon Heritage’s autumn magazine. On getting home I picked up the magazine and it fell open on an article called ‘Meet the man with the Plan’ – an interview between Graham Carter and Hadrian Ellery-Van Dekker – a name on a par in the awesomeness stakes with Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Which is probably rather fitting if you think about it.
Anyroad up – Mr HVD ( I thought about writing Mr VD and swiftly thought again! #awks) is the director of the new museum and art gallery. In the course of the article Mr HVD is quoted as saying:
‘There is a great cultural scene here in Swindon, but I have noticed a tendency in people who live here to put the boot in when they talk about the town. It seems to be a default setting. People categorise by what it isn’t rather than what it is. They tell me it isn’t Bath, and it isn’t Oxford and it isn’t Reading. But it has a hell of a lot to recommend it, so I think it is time to start thinking about what it has got going for it, not what they think is missing.’
And oh boy is he right!. They do. And I’m so, so tired of it. So I say: Thank. Bloody. God.
Mr HVD can I shake you by the hand? Yes! Yes! Yes! That’s EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to say for the past 3 LONG years of bashing away at this bloody blog. So it’s VERY nice to hear it from someone else. Vindication is mine!
Swindon is NOT a shit pit. Swindon is NOT a crap town. And I should know – I come from one that actually made it into the Crap Towns book. There’s been two versions of that book (see image) and Swindon features in neither. Which is no surprise to me.
So where does all of this connect to last night’s lodger? Well:
- Sometimes things are relative. I love Swindon because I come from a place with nothing. And when I say ‘nothing’ I mean nothing. Swindon has Barbury Castle and Liddington Hill – we had slag heaps. And emhysema. And there’s probably an element of that with my lodger. Relativity – not emphysema. But also…
- … if, as he did, you approach Swindon with an open heart and an open mind she will ‘reveal’ herself to you. A bit like Brigadoon. (;look it up) And it’s clear that Mr HVD is well aware of Swindon’s charms.
A man of intelligence and insight evidently! And I wish him every success despite my misgivings about the location of the new art gallery/museum.
Location, Location, Location
Now there’s much contention about the location of the new art gallery/museum combo. I won’t lie – I’m not convinced about where it’s intended to be – but I AM convinced that this guy has the vision that Swindon needs. And that matters above all.
In the aforementioned article Mr HVD has this to say on the matter: ‘This is another thing I’ve noticed about Swindon. People think it has to be either/or. They think it’s the town centre or the ‘Mechanics’. But Swindon is big enough to have ‘and’ and not either/or.’ And he’s not wrong – it is.
All of which segues nicely into another point I’d like to make while I’ve got your virtual ear.
AT LAST the museum and art gallery has acquired a painting by Swindon artist Ken White. Get the flipping bunting out because it’s not before time. Ken is a son of Swindon – both literally and figuratively and still is. He absolutely, no question about it, deserves his place there.
See also Creative Wiltshire: https://creativewiltshire.com/2016/09/07/ken-white-swindon-artist/
But there’s another who I think deserves to be there too. Well – if it were left to me I’d have every Swindon artist in the place but that wouldn’t be altogether realistic – if not noble.
But seriously, if Swindon is big enough for the Mechanics’ Institute and the new museum/art gallery then isn’t the latter also big enough for Ken White AND David Bent?
It doesn’t have to be either/or!
As someone that chose Swindon, as someone that involves himself in countless community activities and Open Studios. As someone that’s lived here for a good 20 years or so shouldn’t he be there too?
And apart from any of that he can paint quite well! 😉 Oh – and he has a good line in an anecdote it has to be said. And if that were a criterion for entry into museums he’d be in Tate Britain at the very least.
#justsaying Here endeth the lesson.
NB: When news of Swindon’s proposed new gallery/museum hit the media they saw fit to turn what should have been a positive news story into yet more Swindon bashing. I wrote a response to that at the time and this is it: https://swindonian.me/2015/08/19/the-ugliest-town-in-england-really/
To read the full article: ‘Meet the man with the Plan’ buy the autumn edition of Swindon Heritage magazine.
Swindon Heritage magazine: http://www.swindonheritage.com
The Mechanics’ Institute Trust: https://mechanics-trust.org.uk
David Bent Studio: http://davidbentstudio.com
Ken White: http://www.kenwhitemurals.co.uk
Swindon Museum and Art Gallery: http://swindonmuseumandartgallery.org.uk