The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

I love a whodunnit. Who doesn’t? So last night’s performance of The Girl on the Train at the Wyvern theatre was much enjoyed.

I confess that, somehow or other, this million-seller novel by Paula Hawkins and film adaptation starring Emily Blunt, had pretty much passed me by. Which is sort of appropriate if you stop to think about it.

The Girl on the Train

The train is a perfect vehicle ( sorry!) around which to build a thriller. So it’s not surprising that Agatha Christie (the queen of crime herself) made brilliant use of it it Murder on the Orient Express. Also, Ethel Lina White’s 1936 novel The Wheel Spins – better known as The Lady Vanishes – uses the conceit of a mystery centred around a train. I don’t want to say too much about the plot of The Girl on the Train but there are resonances between the two – in that each features a young woman who has seen something on/from a train but is persuaded by others that she hasn’t. In this play the central character, Rachel Watson, has doubt planted in her mind by her ex-husband.

How is he able to achieve that? Because Rachel is a drunk on a downward emotional spiral. One of several themes running through this play is that of domestic abuse – in this case gaslighting.

In this central role, Samantha Womack ( of Eastender’s fame) is entirely believable as a young woman depressed by her infertility and the loss of her marriage, her husband to another woman who IS fertile and has produced a child. She gives a strong performance in what must be a challenging role.

Here Samantha Womack talks about the role: https://youtu.be/oEAHU2YctHc

The rather nifty passing train effect on the stage before the play began: https://youtu.be/bd1MN5UIPX0

The Stage Adaptation

It’s always interesting to see how a book is adapted for the stage. I thought this was rather nicely done. The passing of the days and the changes of location in this production are smoothly executed. My companion for the evening, who as it happens, had recently finished the novel, thought the adaptation was rather good.

All the elements of a good thriller are there. There’s the requisite number of red herrings for a start. All in all a cracking play.

The play is running at the Wyvern Theatre until Saturday 12th October – so if you’ve got a free evening get your tickets and get on board!

Book your tickets here: https://swindontheatres.co.uk/Online/tickets-the-girl-on-the-train-swindon-2019

The crime scene that greeted us on our return from the interval

The official trailer for the play: https://youtu.be/O2zY-9vJVHk

Ken White Exhibition – Swindon

Ken White Exhibition – Swindon

Railways and Landscapes

At the ripe old age of 76, Swindon-born, mural painting legend, Ken White at last has a a solo exhibition. Called Railways and Landscapes, the exhibition is on at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery until the 30th November 2019.

Ken White swindon exhibition
Ken White - Railways and Landscapes

As it says in this article about the Ken White exhibition in the Swindon Advertiser: ‘The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery exhibition stars more recent works, including landscapes painted by Ken on a trip to the Gower peninsula in south Wales.’ I rather liked some of his landscapes I have to say.

As one of Swindon’s well-known creatives, Ken has featured on this blog several times. Find them all here.

Book cover of Ken White: Muralist and Painter by Angela Atkinson

The exhibition coincides with the release, via Amberley Publishing, of a retrospective of Ken’s work written by yours truly.

Some of the works on show at the exhibition

I’m not the best photographer and I took these in a bit of a rush so these are not the best. Better by far to go and see them for yourself. It is a gorgeous exhibition.

A Mural Man

Ken is of course well-known as a muralist – both here in Swindon, in the UK and abroad. During his years as Richard Branson’s personal artist, Ken travelled the world painting airport lounges, record shops, car parks restaurants and more. Of his Swindon murals only one now remains – The Golden Lion mural. You can read more about that in both the new book and also in my first volume, Secret Swindon.

To return to the Advertiser article:

Sophie Cummings, curator at the Swindon museum, said: “I think the exhibition is a real celebration of Ken’s art and the response we’ve had to it from visitors already just shows in what high regard the people of Swindon hold him.”

Swindon in 50 Buildings goes to school

Swindon in 50 Buildings goes to school

September 2019

Swindon in 50 Buildings goes to school – Well this has been a wonderful development.
A week or two back I received a contact from Sally Clarke, the head teacher at Nythe Primary school. She’d seen my posts on LinkedIn about my most recent book, Swindon in 50 Buildings.

Well, I say most recent. In actual fact another book, about Swindon-born artist and mural man Ken White, hit the bookshelves a few days ago.

As you can see from the image below, I’ve very nearly got an entire catalogue now. Find all of them here: https://swindonian.me/my-publications/

Images of three books - Swindon in 50 buildings, Secret Swindon and Ken White.

But back to Nythe and Swindon in 50 Buildings Going to School

The ever-so-lovely head, Sally Clarke, at Nythe contacted me asking me to meet her. The upshot of that meeting was myself, a barrow-load (well eight) of copies of Swindon in 50 Buildings and my ex-teacher friend, Jo Garton heading over to Nythe school to speak to Sally and her lovely staff about this blog and my books and how they might be used as a teaching resource to teach the children about Swindon and having pride in where they live. And there’s SUCH a lot to be proud of.

I’m so delighted that Sally spotted my book and make contact. It’s great to sell some books of course – I won’t lie to you. But it’s also lovely to see their potential recognised. Thank you Nythe!

Swindon in 50 Buildings goes to school

All three of these books, in their own way, constitute good resources for schools as well as excellent general interest – though I say it myself.

Secret Swindon – here’s a short YouTube film of me attempting to describe Secret Swindon. The book gives a good overview of Swindon’s cultural past and present, tells the story of the medical fund society, Swindon’s spitfire involvement and more.

A bit about Born Again Swindonian

It’s quite a tale about how this blog came into being – one which I won’t go into here. Suffice to say if you’re interested enough, the Born again Swindonian backstory is here. The main thing is that this blog is here. It’s free. And it’s a resource for all of you to use. I’ve been writing it for six years now (I think) and I’ve covered a lot of stuff. The image below gives you some indication of the topics covered.

Born again swindonian blog topics

Where to Buy

All three books are available at:

  1. The library shop in Swindon Central library
  2. Waterstone’s Swindon
  3. At the website of the publisher, Amberley books.
  4. On Amberley’s Amazon store.

On the subject of civic pride

In yet another hat I’m chair of Swindon Civic Voice. In 2018, we led the GWR Railway Village conservation area to victory as England’s conservation area – and more on that here: https://www.swindoncivicvoice.org.uk/2019/06/conservation-area-award-official-presentation/

The GWR railway village is one of many, many things that Swindon and its people should cherish and be proud. Winning that award played a big part in the railway village being awarded a Historic England action Zone.

That was/is a fab achievement yet there’s much to be done. So, I’m sneaking in a plea here for members! Either active or simply willing to pay £6 a year to help support us. Can you? https://www.swindoncivicvoice.org.uk/2019/08/swindon-civic-voice-needs-you/

Thank you.



Wyvern’s Summer Youth Project 2019

Wyvern’s Summer Youth Project 2019

August 2019

Wyvern’s Summer Youth Project Serve up a sweet treat with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

If it’s late August that can mean only one thing: Wyvern’s Theatre Summer Youth Project 2019.

Running since 1994, the summer youth project has become a highlight of the Wyvern’s calendar.

Hear theatre director Laura James talking about the SYP: https://youtu.be/TMuT3eTpBMY

I’ve been to several of them now and they do seem to get better each year. They do a damn good job – all them. On stage and off – the standard is VERY high. All kudos to the Wyvern, to the foundation and to the kids themselves.

2017’s Summer Holiday was lovely and in last year’s production of Oliver, the then 16-year-old Archie Fisher made a big impression with a mature-beyond-his-years performance as Fagin.

I said it then – and I’ll say it again. That young man has ‘it’. So when, in a few year’s time, you see his name in lights remember: you saw him here first.

Here again, in the Wyvern’s Summer Youth Project 2019, in the lead role as Caractacus Potts, the still-only-17-year-old Archie gives a credible performance as as father to two young mother-less children.

Archie Fisher as Caractacus Potts with Ben Brindle as Jeremy and Mollie Avenell as Jemima. Wyvern theatre summer youth project 2019.
Archie Fisher as Caractacus Potts with Ben Brindle as Jeremy and Mollie Avenell as Jemima.

A host of memorable performances

But I can’t only talk about Archie Fisher. The production boasts a full complement of super performances. There are not one but two lovely comic duos. Michael Kerr gives a good turn as the infantile Bulgarian Baron – one feels apologies are owed to Bulgaria – and so does Rae Alexander as his long-suffering, indulgent wife.

Amy Gordon made a fitting Truly Scrumptious with her sweet singing voice fitting the role well.

Also deserving a particular mention are Maddy Stimpson-Duffy and Marcellus Hill as Cloris and Goran, the Baron’s bumbling spies sent to get hold of Pott’s car. Lots of laughs from all four! Super stuff.

Both the youngsters playing Pott’s children were scene stealers of course. But I have to give a special word about Mollie Avenell – I felt she too had a notable stage presence.

If you’re at a loose end tonight and you can get a ticket – go! https://swindontheatres.co.uk/Online/tickets-chitty-chitty-bang-bang-swindon-2019 It’s such fun! Scrumptious even. Truly!

Credit: All photos – screenshots aside – Anthony Hunt Photography

Things you might not know about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a 1968 British-American musicaladventurefantasy film.  Ken Hughes  directed it. Roald Dahl wrote it, loosely basing it on Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car.

Albert R. Broccoli ( often known as Cubby) famous for being a regular co-producer of the James Bond films produced it.

The film starred Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann HowesAdrian Hall, Heather Ripley, Lionel JeffriesJames Robertson JusticeRobert Helpmann, and Gert Fröbe.


From the 1960s film: https://youtu.be/-P2jiRPlq2U




Ken White Triptych Lydiard House

Ken White Triptych Lydiard House

August 2019

Ken White Triptych Lydird House

Well. here’s a thing. These past few months, alongside writing Swindon in 50 Buildings, I’ve been working concurrently on Ken White’s story: A Ken White Retrospective.

I, like many other people I daresay, had formed the impression that the only piece of Ken’s Swindon work, still in existence, is the Golden Lion mural.

So imagine my surprise when, just t’other day, a tweet appeared on my Twitterfeed from the friends of Lydiard Park with an image of a painting of Lydiard House, that Ken did in 2005. I rather get the impression it’s been in storage or something. Certainly, I’ve been in that house more than a few times and never seen it. Even now it’s leaning against the wall in a tucked away corner of the rooms that are open.

Which rather begs the question Lydiard House management, WHY in God’s name do you not have this artwork on permanent display and shout it from the room tops? With Ken’s story due to be published soon you’re missing one heck of a marketing opportunity. #justsaying

Ken White's tryptych at Lydiard House

Ken created the triptych as a joint project between Ken and Intel. Some Intel staff did some of the painting. The idea of the artwork was, according to Ken, for children to find things in the painting around the house.

Indeed, hidden in the bottom right hand corner is the image of a very famous Swindon figure.

What else is there to see at Lydiard House?

Well. Quite rather a lot actually. The member of staff on duty, Adrian Smith, gave me a bit of a tour explaining some of the paintings etc. He’s really very knowledgeable – as you’d expect – and I must seek him out again and pay more attention. Why? Because, TBH, I was too stunned about the Ken White triptych to concentrate fully. That and thinking, as Adrian spoke, that small in number as the available rooms at Lydiard might be – there’s a heck of a lot of stuff that is simply not shouted about enough. WHY is Swindon so bad at this?

For example on this visit I noticed a couple of watercolours that I rather liked, created to accompany a 1951 newspaper article about the house written by none other than Aldous Huxley of Brave New World fame.

water colour of lydiard

I also rather liked this one:

Artwork in Lydiard House showing the Golden Cavalier monument in St Mary's Church.

Then there’s the Socchi desk, the portrait of Lady Diana Spencer – ancestor of the Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales we all know. And so much more.

So – if you’ve never been – or you’ve never been for a while, give it another look. https://www.lydiardpark.org.uk/info/8/lydiard-house-0

Discovering the River Ray Parkway – Part 2

Discovering the River Ray Parkway – Part 2

You may (or may not) remember that Angela and I walked half of the River Ray Parkway last year, from Moulden Hill to John Lewis. This summer (2019) we finally got around to walking the second half, John Lewis to Coate Water in our tour of the River Ray Parkway part 2.

We went out the back of the Mannington Retail Park, looking for the old green signs that show the way. We found the first one on the edge of a field used by dog walkers, pointing us towards the Old Town Rail Path, following Sustrans Route 45.

NB: This stretch of this walk is approx 5 miles

River Ray signpost near Mannington Retail Park
  • Blagrove Fitness Trail
  • Lydiard Country Park
  • Old Town Rail Path
  • Coate Water Country Park
  • Blue Route 45 signs – Old Town 2 miles, Wroughton 2 miles

Discovered a new thing already, anyone have a clue what “Blagrove Fitness Trail” is (or was!) ?

The Parkway continues along the Old Town Rail Path, which is the former route of the Midland and South Western Junction Railway, closed in 1970. Along this path we rediscovered the 5 Wheel Sculptures, previously visited by Angela in 2013, looking a little worse for wear.

One of five stone wheels on the Railway Path

The first wheel, “conceive”, grafftied but still readable, says:

“Stepping out of character, you interrogate a chaos of bearings. Where is the unknown journeyman, with his bag of fives, his measuring rod and chisel”

A bit more on the wheel sculptures

There are five wheels, from the Old Town direction towards the railway and Wootton Bassett Road. They are Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Conceive.

Each wheel has two parts, a small wheel showing the Element, and a large wheel with a short piece of poetry.

In addition, there is a length of wood crossing the path between each of the wheel pairs. Each of these lengths of wood has two words written on them.

AIR: On hot places behind your knees On high downs a ghost is growing. Depth & disquiet.

EARTH: Our wheels relinquish and seize, relinquish and seize….Curious tenderness..second word obscured

Fire: Pistons swell and shine, days are like face, Steam pumps the sky, this one this…Extinguished – the second word is hidden

WATER:  The stream fills a cut, Swills and wave, A new start, gravel and laughter, tick tock on the rim – the two words on the sleeper are not visible

CONCEIVE:  Stepping out, out of character, You interrogate, A chaos of bearings, Where is the unknown journeyman with his bag of fives, his measuring rod and chisel?  Hand & Eye

See also: https://swindonian.me/2013/07/22/the-mysterious-world-of-the-strange-more-unknown-public-art/

The route took us past all the wheels, and some fantastic views out over the south edge of Swindon.

View over the south of Swindon
View over the south of Swindon

Near the end of the Rail Path, the cutting gets deeper, and passes under Westlecot Road. This end is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England, as it shows all the layers of rock that Swindon is sitting on. Shortly afterwards we passed under another bridge, with Devizes Road and The Plough Inn on top of it, out of the cutting into the sunshine again.

The route now follows the road through the Signal Way industrial estate, sneaks out at the end of Berenger Close (which we almost didn’t find), and over the top of Evelyn Street, still following the old Rail Line.

Piper's Way River Ray sign

Next to the Piper’s Way roundabout we discovered another sign.

  • Great Copse
  • Lydiard Country Park
  • Coate Water Country Park
  • Old Town Rail Path
  • Moulden Hill

From the sign we headed south along Piper’s Way, crossing over to take the off-road path around the allotments on the east side. Just after the allotments a further sign pointed us off road, onto a track that leads all around the edge of the Broome Manor Golf Complex.

Here we were excited to discover a stone marker, planted in memory of Cassandra Clunies-Ross, carved by Sarah Chanin in 1992. The work is carved in Sarsen stone and was commissioned by Thamesdown Borough Council’s, Great Western Community Forest Team. The stone marks an area of what was then new woodland.

The inscription reads:

Casso’s Wood – planted January 1992 by friends, in fond memory of Cassandra Clunes Rosss, ecologist-forester. 1965-1991. That her work to conserve woodland here and abroad is not forgotten.

The last part of the trail had us squeezing past nettles and wondering if we were going the right way, before suddenly finding Broome Manor Lane, and the familiar sight of the Coate Water Park.

River ray parkway part 2

The final Parkway sign stands to the west of the lake, near the miniature golf course.

  • Lydiard County Park
  • River Ray Parkway
  • Cycle Route
  • Broome Manor Lane
  • Visitor Centre
  • Chiseldon

A further selection of photographs

The End

This is a guest post from Jess Robinson

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