No 5: Gin & Tonic

No 5: Gin & Tonic

I have a confession to make. I loathe gin. And I’m not a fan of tonic either. Which is as bit of a bummer given that every bar in the land is awash with every variety of Mothers’ Ruin you can imagine. And, I daresay, some you can’t. So I can’t tell you how pleased I was when my good chum, Jo Garton, volunteered to take one for the team and write a few lines about her gin & tonic experience at Old Town bar, The Eternal Optimist. And more on that in a bit. Their Facebook page is here.

Meanwhile, I remain eternally optimistic that Sherry or Rum – two drinks I do like – will soon have their moment in the sun.

Gin & tonic - bottles of gin

Mother’s Ruin

gin and tonic - drawing of drunk man holding bottle of gin

I referred above gin’s other moniker: mother’s ruin. You’ll many of you be familiar with the famous Hogarth engraving of the baby falling from its inebriated mother’s arms. This article from Historic UK about Mother’s Ruin shows it. As the article explains – if you think modern drug use is bad it had nothing on the gin-drinking habits of mid-eighteenth century English society. The drink even started as a medicine – thought to cure gout and indigestion. But by far its biggest attraction was its cheapness.

What is gin?

Well according to that fount of all knowledge (sort of) Wikipedia – ‘gin is a distilled alcoholic drink that derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries. Gin is one of the broadest categories of spirits, all of various origins, styles, and flavour profiles, that revolve around juniper as a common ingredient.’ They also say:

‘The earliest known written reference to jenever appears in the 13th-century encyclopaedic work Der Naturen Bloeme (Bruges). The earliest printed recipe for jenever dating from 16th-century work Een Constelijck Distileerboec (Antwerp).

The physician Franciscus Sylvius was falsely credited with the invention of gin in the mid-17th century. That said, the existence of jenever is confirmed in Philip Massinger’s play The Duke of Milan (1623), when Sylvius would have been about nine years old. It’s further claimed that English soldiers who provided support in Antwerp against the Spanish in 1585, during the Eighty Years’ War, were already drinking jenever for its calming effects before battle. It’s thought the term Dutch courage stems from that.

According to some unconfirmed accounts, gin originated in Italy.’

Back to Gin & Tonic at the Eternal Optimist

On her experiences at the Old Town bar Jo writes:

Do you like your gin and tonic in a European style glass with an unexpected blueberry in an achingly hip environment? If so, then The Eternal Optimist may be for you. Well, I say ‘achingly hip,’ but I’m a dumpy, 55-year-old in comfortable shoes and an anorak, so you could be correct in thinking I may not be the best judge. 

Perhaps I should offer some evidence for the hip credentials. Firstly the beard count: fourteen bearded to four unbearded men. It seemed churlish to count the women. The Eternal Optimist is up  well-worn wooden stairs, nothing so suburban as stair carpet.

Then there is the decor, which is a blend of vintage 70s- breadfruit plants for example and the, very now, industrial lighting and jumble of empty gin bottles. The walls are grey with arty swirls of black, which might put you in mind of your stomach lining if you drink too much.

They have an impressive range of craft beers on the wall,as they are partnered with the Hop Kettle Brewery. More to my taste they have some interesting gins, many off the beaten track. I went for Boe Violet, but I’m keen to explore more of the range. they also have an extensive range of tonics, no bog-standard here. If I might make one small criticism, a black plastic straw is not in keeping with the ecological zeitgeist. My beloved, very much a creature of habit, went for the house wine, which he found extremely acceptable. 

Gin & Tonic at The Eternal Optimist.

A somewhat, as is fitting, blurred photograph of a G&T with ice and a slice and a glass of house red at The Eternal Optimist.

The seats are, as you might expect, very random. Long tables with wooden chairs for larger parties and a couple of very comfy winged armchairs for a more intimate conversation.

All this and they offer home baked pizza three nights a week from the relocated Pizza Man – Timber’s Pizza. I’m sure they are, as Born-Again Swindonian tells me, delicious, but I fear I must avoid them in order to avoid my beloved’s lengthy conversations with said Pizza man, about the relative benefits of varieties of dough. Not a problem that most of you will have in this quirky hideaway bar in the midst of Old Town.

What a tonic

And finally a word about tonic water. According to Medical News Today, tonic water is a soft drink containing quinine. It’s that which gives it a bitter taste. Quinine is a common malaria treatment – thought also to help with leg cramps and restless legs syndrome.

If you’re looking for some info on what’s good in the world of tonic water then check out this article from Olive magazine, as they’ve done a tonic water taste test. Read that and you’re all set for a great gin & tonic.

STEM with Scoosh

STEM with Scoosh

Worried about Swindon’s Future?

As a parent is that how you feel? I certainly did when, fifteen years ago, and a prospective parent, I moved to Swindon. Back then the view of Swindon around the UK wasn’t what you’d call favourable. Indeed – some might argue it still isn’t. And that, at length, is how STEM with Scoosh came into being.

STEM with scoosh - Jan Watson who is Scoosh


Doing my bit to improve Swindon, its future and life for its residents is the motivation behind my business, Scoosh. Helping our children to love STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) opens up opportunities for them. And that in turn benefits Swindon. 

Of course, STEM is not a new thing – though it went by other names. It’s not new to Swindon for sure. Indeed, one might argue, that Swindon, home of the great GWR Works, where Spitfires were built in the war. Then later came Garrard Record decks and the car industry is the home of STEM. Yet there remains a huge STEM skills gap. And within the take-up of STEM-based careers, fewer girls than boys. As this article from the Swindon Advertiser points out: of the science and engineering apprenticeships available to Swindon’s young people, only seven per cent of girls took up STEM-based apprenticeships in 2017/2018. This is a lamentable figure to me – both as a parent and as a one-time software engineer.

The article goes on to state that, across England, the apprenticeship split as a whole, is an even one between men and women. But female representation in STEM subjects remains low. In Swindon, 1,240 STEM apprenticeships were started over the last five years – but a mere ninety were taken up by women. That’s according to data from the Department of Education.

You’re a parent – What does this mean to you?

We can work together to close that gap.

It’s my firm belief that the earlier we get started the better. Sharing books and stories with even the youngest children stimulates their imagination. What’s more it improves speech and literacy – this is scientifically proven. Other things you can do – and Scoosh are here to help:

  • Throughout childhood, expose them to exciting demonstrations and hands-on projects. Both at home and school. 
  • Play engaging maths games such as Monopoly and T T Rockstars.
  • Watch awesome scientists like Professor Brian Cox and Tim Peake.
  • Make YouTube playlists combining music with science. Check out the ASAP Science channel.
  • Celebrate going to the moon with space toys and a telescope.
  • Encourage, mentor, sponsor less well-off children.

Scoosh STEM Clubs

The clubs run by Scoosh involve the kids getting hands-on with STEM. Such as: 

  • Using their imagination to build a bridge purely out of paper and masking tape!
  • Cementing their science knowledge in a practical way by making slime. 
  • Enjoying using maths to solve puzzles.

During the 65+ club sessions run so far, kids have really engaged with the practical and free-form nature of completing projects using their imagination. I give them an end goal and set them to the task. This gives them the opportunity to brainstorm with their friends and I am there to assist if they find it tricky.

This balloon car project which you can see in the YouTube clip below is a sample of Scoosh activities:

Scoosh is here to help you get your kids engaged with STEM. We’re all about sharing fun and STEM projects with children. We do workshops, after-school clubs and 1:1 tutoring. There’s  more information here on our website about all of that. 

We work too with educators to provide stimulating environments for STEM learning. 

STEM with scoosh testimonial

Where to find Scoosh

On Facebook here. You can contact them via their webform here.

Or telephone: 07462 598448

A Kannada Celebration

A Kannada Celebration

12th November 2019

Last week I was both surprised and delighted to receive an invitation from Cllr Ravi Venkatesh, Haydon Wick Parish Council, to attend an event he’d organised in Pinehurst. The event’s purpose was something of a literary celebration – in fact a Kannada celebration. Let me explain.

Cllr Venkatesh hails from an Indian state by the name of Karnataka. The language of Karnataka is Kannada. No – I’d not heard of it either. Nor of the Kannada community either. But more on that in a bit.


For some years now, when relatives were visiting from India, they’d bring with them books in their mother tongue – Kannada. Seeking to make easier access to books in the Kannada language, Cllr Venkatesh and his wife approached Swindon’s library system to get Kannada-language books integrated into the library system. This the library service agreed to. So the event last Friday evening was to celebrate the integration of fifty Kannada-language books into the library system.

As well as myself and Tony Hillier (Swindon’s community poet!) the visiting Karnataka Govt Secretary for Kannada Development also graced this lovely occasion full of delightful people.

Kannada Celebration - Asian lady singing

The Kannada Language

Swindon is, as we know, a multi-cultural town. It’s a city of sanctuary and home of the Harbour Project.

I’ve heard it said that there’s around 120 first languages in Swindon. At a push I could name half a dozen or so – and Kannada would not have been included. So before I went to this event I thought it provident to do a smidge of research.

Also known as Kanarese, Kannada is an ancient language. According to Brittanica.Com, early 21st-century data indicates some 38 million individuals speak Kannada as their first language. Further, it’s likely another 9 to 10 million speak it as a secondary language. In 2008, the Indian government granted Kannada classical-language status.

Kannada Literature

To give you an idea of this language’s literary credentials, Kannada literature began in the 9th century CE with the Kavirajamarga of Nripatunga. goes on to tell us that the earliest extant grammar dates from the 12th century and is by Nagavarma. In short – the Kannada language is around 1,000 years old. English is around 1.400 years old. So it’s not so far behind in the scheme of things.

The Kannadan Community

So there’s little else to say now, aside from what a pleasure and an honour it was to meet Ravi (Cllr Venkatesh) properly – having bumped into him at community events – and his Kannada community. All of whom could not have been more charming and delightful.

Sharing Swindon’s Story

Sharing Swindon’s Story

Over the past year, in a project coordinated by the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, thirty-five young Swindonians learnt lots of amazing things about our town. What they learned is on this Sharing Swindon’s Story website.

sharing swindon's story
The project participants outside Central Community Centre – once the Medical Fund Society Hospital

NB: Both Secret Secret Swindon and Swindon in 50 Buildings between them tell of the Medical Fund Society, the Mechanics’ Institution, the GWR Railway Village and central community centre.

Funding partners

The organisations that enabled this project to take place are:

The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon.

Some of what the youngsters did

On the Sharing Swindon’s Story website here, you can find out more about what they got up to.

‘Starting in Summer 2018, 35 young people based at Central Community Centre in Swindon’s historic and award-winning Railway Village began a project to create artworks inspired by the heritage around them and share these with the local community.

‘Sharing Swindon’s Story’ focused on the community and cultural heritage of our town, linked to the first generations of ‘New Swindonians’ and the Mechanics’ Institution.’

A group of 11-16 year olds from the local youth club designed and led the project.

sharing swindons story

See this YouTube film to hear the youngsters talking about their activities:

Read the rest of the story and see loads of photographs on the website here:

Their social media




Artwork on the hoardings around the Mechanics’ Institute

I think I’ve got them in the right order!

Swindon celebrates Beat the Street success once again!

Swindon celebrates Beat the Street success once again!

Swindon celebrates Beat the Street success as the town’s Beat the Street challenge 2019 ends with a massive total of 252,157 miles.

Swindon celebrates Beat the Street success - leaderboard

More than 25,979 people signed up and walked, cycled and ran during the six-week challenge which took place from 25 September to 6 November.

This year, the game expanded, with more Beat Boxes around the town, new locations and more leader boards. 

There are winners from across the 16 leaderboards, with Haydonleigh Primary School travelling the furthest distance throughout the game. Their 964 members walked, ran and cycled a total of 14,467 miles.

Celebration Event as Swindon Celebrates Beat the Street Success

Everyone who took part in this year’s Beat the Street game will attend a celebration event at Lydiard Park on Saturday, 16 November from 12pm to 3pm. The event will feature presentations and a ‘Have a Go’ activities.

Intelligent Health and the National Lottery, on behalf of Sport England and Swindon Borough Council, delivered Beat the Street to our town. The intention of the game is increasing levels of walking and cycling in Swindon.

Speaking about the success of the initiative Stuart Arthur, local co-ordinator for Beat the Street said: “It has been another fantastic game and we’ve loved hearing stories from people while we were out and about. 

Participants tell us that:

  • They love playing Beat the Street and getting fitter
  • Families are spending more time together
  • They’ve discovered new parts of Swindon
  • It brings communities together

“Although the game has finished, we will continue to work with local groups, schools and residents to encourage people to maintain those lifestyle changes that they have made during the game.”

See also: and

For ideas to get outside in Swindon check out these posts on parks, gardens and open spaces: and also

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