Upstaged at the Wyvern

Upstaged at the Wyvern

24th May 2015

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts,…’ William Shakespeare, As You Like it

As regular listeners will know, I’ve mentioned on this blog more than once how struck I was by the wealth of facilities I found when I first pitched up here in Swindon. For all the faults of the town we are still very lucky to have many splendid assets at our finger tips – just one of which is the splendid Wyvern Theatre – a building I’ve spent a fair amount of time in since coming to Swindon. The theatre has been mentioned on this blog before but somewhat briefly so it’s nice to have a reason to write about it again.

I’ve recently had cause to ponder on the above having been fortunate enough to be invited, earlier this week, to the opening night of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – and I LOVE that show. I’ve seen it umpteen times over the years. Representing Pharaoh as Elvis – the King. Genius.

“Acting is in everything but the words.” Stella Adler, The Art of Acting

exterior of a theatre

Wyvern exterior – photo from Kate Bentley

 Some interesting facts about the Wyvern:

1) The theatre takes its name from a wyvern, a mythical dragon-like beast once thought to be the emblem of the kings of Wessex.

2) The theatre was opened in September 1971 by Her Majesty the Queen and HRH Prince Philip. According to Aunty Wikiepedia the first performance in the theatre was by a Ukranian dance company.

3) The auditorium has 635 seats with each one designed to be no further than 70 feet from the stage – and I have to say one of the things I’ve always loved about the place is that there is no such thing as a bad seat. Where ever you sit there’s a good view – no pillars in front of you and what-not. And the acoustics in there are amazing. It really is a superb little theatre.

4) The theatre has a function room on the upper level called The Placeperfect for weddings, christenings and Bar Mitzvahs! It’s used a lot for murder mystery dinner events which are very popular.

5) The architects responsible for the building were the Casson-Condor partnership. Sir Hugh Casson has been behind major chunks of the 20th century and was Director of Architecture for the 1951 Festival of Britain – I’d love to have seen that. After which he worked on the Elephant house at London Zoo and the Cambridge University Arts Faculty buildings. So our little theatre is in illustrious company.

6) Both the Wyvern and and Swindon Arts centre offer a Great British cafe menu available ‘from an hour and a half at the Wyvern and from an hour at the Arts Centre, before every show.’ As much as the ethos of this blog is to be positive, and overall I LOVE this theatre and the Arts Centre, I will nevertheless take this opportunity to complain about the cost of a glass of wine in both establishments. £6.05 for a glass of Shiraz is TOO MUCH. If the management are listening you are are surely shooting yourselves in the foot? Were  the wine sensibly priced I would have two: one pre-show and one at the interval. As it is I now buy a beer or a coffee if in the Wyvern and if I’m at the Arts Centre I go to a pub next door. This is Swindon not Dulwich.   Here endeth the lesson.

Anyway, moving on from countering about the price of drinks –  I mentioned above that I’d had the great good fortune to be invited to the opening night of ‘Joesph’. Before the show started myself and the other guests were treated to a mini-tour of the theatre by Nyree Kingsbury, the community and education officer and Benjamin Dunn the marketing and promotions assistant. Ben blogs about the fabulous cultural and artistic landscape we have in Swindon in his Swindon arts blogcheck it  out here.

My thanks go to the two of them for the tour because it was a lovely and fascinating thing to see some of what goes on behind the scenes – though of course we couldn’t go backstage – and to learn some titbits of ‘theatre-lore’. Some of which I knew and some of which was new to me. So while I did know that in theatre-land one never says ‘good luck’ but ‘break a leg’ I didn’t know how the phrase ‘upstaged’ came into being. While the Wyvern theatre stage is level many are not but rather are on a slight incline with the highest point being at the back of the stage. So your more competitive performer would/will try and position themselves at a higher point thereby ‘upstaging’ their fellow actors. The Green Room, the haven of pre and post-show drinks for the performers, is called the green room no matter what hue it actually is. There doesn’t seem to be a definitive reason for why it is so called but you can read some of them here. Wikepedia also has some suggestions about the origin of the term.

“What is that unforgettable line?”  – Samuel Beckett

When we go to the theatre we probably don’t give anything more than a passing thought to what goes on beyond the stage, to the myriad of rooms and staircases and the hive of activity that goes into getting all of those shows on the stage laid out before us. It really is a whole world of its own and one which we really are very blessed to have on our doorstep. The cost of a glass of wine notwithstanding. So, to the top of the bill players, the theatre director and Ben and Nyree, and to their incredibly talented and hard-working supporting acts: Break a leg! Oh and don’t mention the Scottish play…Now –  I’m off to the green room!

Contact: Nyree Kingsbury:

Benjamin Dunn:

Discovering a place in the natural world

Discovering a place in the natural world

Or: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

May 2015

“I dressed and went for a walk – determined not to return until I took in what Nature had to offer.”
 – Raymond Carver, This Morning.

Suffering for my art – yet stoic in the execution of my Festival Chronicle duties I arrived at Swindon Arts Centre in a sodden and sorry state after the third drenching of the day and it was still only midday.

I’d been dispatched there by Festival Chronicle HQ to cover the Swindon Literature Festival appearance of Bruce Fogle – and if the name sounds familiar you’re not wrong – but more of that later.

Bruce Fogle book cover

Bruce Fogle book cover

Bruce Fogle is a former zoo worker, practicing vet and best-selling writer. Not on the face of it the kind of ‘thing’ that would be high on my list of things with which to engage – I’m not exactly at one with the natural world at the best of times. And especially not after mice in the conservatory, rats infesting the loft and more than the occasional frog startling me in the garden. Or maybe that’s more a case of me startling the frogs. Anyway. This all goes to prove the old adage about not judging a book by its cover – literally in this case because, despite my trepidation, Mr Fogle’s talk turned out to be an enchanting prequel – his words – to his book Barefoot at the Lake: A boyhood summer in Cottage Country.

Speaking in an accent he immediately clarified as being Canadian, Mr Fogle kicked off by apologising for not being his famous son Ben Fogle. He then went on to deliver a slide show that, together with his talk, was a charming transportation back to 1954 and the 10 yr old Bruce holidaying, as he did every year, at the family’s lakeside cottage in Canada: a period that defined his latent interest in, and affinity with, the natural world.

As we looked at the slides of lovely family snaps taken in a time and a place that were, by his own admission, idyllic, I was transported back for a short time to my own childhood. Not that I was lucky enough to spend it fishing and generally having jolly japes by a Canadian lake. Very Famous Five! No, far from it. But I grew up in a similar era – that of the late 1950s and early 1960s in a corner of rural Derbyshire which, if you ignored the slag heap and the pit winding wheel on the edge of the village was really very lovely. As Mr Fogle’s childhood was spent in the woods and lakes of his corner of Canada mine was spent wandering across the fields and the country lanes. I used to know the names of many flowers and trees – all long forgotten now that I’m a well-established softy southern urbanite. So it was lovely to be reminded of a softer, gentler, somewhat more innocent time, a time when I wasn’t quite so at odds with nature as I am now – especially on a cold and blustery day in May.

Perhaps unsurprisingly on such a wet, windy weekday lunchtime the audience was small and mostly senior. Maybe it’s only the unemployed, the self-employed and the retired that have the time and opportunity to attend lunchtime talks. Which is a pity because this was a delightful, thoughtful and engaging hour with a charming gentleman who, in festival director Matt Holland’s words, delivered a well-told story. A tale of the beauty and bounty of nature and also its awfulness – in the older meaning of that word as being something that inspires awe. Which he did. And were it not for Festival Chronicle I wouldn’t have given it a second look.

Festival Chronicle on Facebook

Festival Chronicle on Twitter: @festchronicler

Swindon Festival of Literature on Twitter: @swinlitfest

Swindon Arts blog

Swindon Arts blog

This post is just by way of highlighting a lovely blog called ‘Swindon Arts Blog‘:

I love the strapline on it:

SWINDONARTSBLOG: Living in an unexpected creative hotspot…  

Image of text and buildings

Swindon Arts Blog

because we do – and the author of this blog, Benjamin, Twitter: @swindonartsblog – is not alone in having noticed that Swindon is a steaming cauldron of creativity of all kinds: dance, art, music – you name it really – it’s all here. I’ve written about lots of it here on this blog as does Benjamin on his. And he has some great photographs on it too.

Indeed the unexpected hotspot aspect is something that was highlighted in one of the guest posts on this blog, Out of the Centre, in which the author expresses this:

“Before I left Sydney I was having a conversation with a lecturer of the painting department. Shane and I were talking about the ‘art world’ and what artists do to get ‘out there’. Shane turned the conversation around by saying to me ‘Don’t go to the centre’. What he meant was don’t go to New York or Berlin. I sort of laughed and didn’t think much of it. 

But it makes sense now.”  I rather think that echoes Benjamin’s tagline.  And really rather gives the lie to the all too common perception that the only kind of culture to be found in Swindon is that in a yoghurt pot. 

Richard Jefferies Refreshed

Friday 1st May 2015

I’ve written about Richard Jefferies and the museum dedicated to his life and works on this blog before. Last summer the museum starting putting on cream teas in the garden and the Mulberry tea room so I put out a post about that. More recently, together with a friend, I went out on an EXPOTITION following a Richard Jefferies trail around Old Town. I’ve so far only got round to publishing Part 1 of that adventure  as life and my AA Editorial Services business have rather got in the way. But I will get to it soon.

So I was really pleased, earlier this week, to attend a lunch event to celebrate the re-launch of the museum. Lunch and launch in one event. Fabulous! Over the winter the Richard Jefferies society and the museum trust comprising such wonderful people as Mike Pringle and Hilda Sheehan have worked hard on new display boards in the museum, the Mulberry Tea Room and the gardens. Below are a few photographs from the event – yet again I’m stalking Madame Mayor! 🙂

If you haven’t been to the museum you really should go. It’s another of Swindon’s hidden gems being tucked away at the back of Coate. On a sunny day the garden is an absolute delightful place to be and is much bigger than you might at first think. Earlier I mentioned cream teas – well the jam for the teas is often made with the fruit from the mulberry tree in the garden about which Jefferies wrote a poem. How wonderful is that? If you are interested in reading any of Jefferies’ works you can find them all in Swindon Central library. I even have one of his childrens’ books ‘Bevis’ on my E-reader.

In his day Jefferies was a celebrated author. He was something of a big-shot in his day. Indeed his childrens’ books were illustrated by none other then E H Sheperd, the man responsible for the delightful illustrations that we know and love from the Winnie the Pooh stories.

The man and his work: “(John) Richard Jefferies (6 November 1848 – 14 August 1887) is best known for his writings about nature and the countryside. His birthplace and home at Coate, now on the out-skirts of Swindon, provide the background to all his major works of fiction and for many of his essays.”

Wikipedia: “His childhood on a small Wiltshire farm had a great influence on him and provides the background to all his major works of fiction. For all that, these show a remarkable diversity, including Bevis (1882), a classic children’s book, and After London (1885), an early work of science fiction. “

Tune up for Swindon Community Choir

Tune up for Swindon Community Choir

As my regular listeners know, the guest blog posts on Born again Swindonian often occur as a result of interactions on social media. This post though is the exception that proves the rule as I met Mandy, it’s author, via Outset Swindon both of us having been through their programme. Me of course for the setting up of my business, AA Editorial Services. 

In the course of conversation with Mandy and her husband I discovered their involvement with a community choir and felt it was something that should be shared on here. And I absolutely can’t sing – I only wish I could. My daughter once offered to buy me singing lessons suggesting I look at it as a service to the community. Harrumph!

Anyway, here now is Mandy’s post about the community choir and teaching Swindon, if not the world, to sing:

” ‘I can’t sing’ – the most common reaction received when I suggest singing to people who want fun, more social life and to raise their happiness quotient!

My name’s Mandy.  I have always loved singing with other people – I am a willing and enthusiastic enjoyer of the shared results.   In an interesting twist of fate, my first awareness that a community choir existed in Swindon occurred in 2002.  Lots of wonderful, new things started that year….  At the time, my husband Pete and I were keeping an African Drumming Group ticking along in Wroughton.  On the particular week in discussion, I happened to be away.

 After the session, Pete (who had always laughed at me because I can hardly hear a song without adding a harmony) said that I would have loved the events of that Wednesday evening.  A young Polish man, doing some “WWOOFing” (Working Weekends on Organic Farms) at Lower Shaw Farm, had joined in for the evening, asking at the end of it if the group would like to learn a harmony song.  Being the agreeable types, they did exactly that.  I was very glad that the following week, Pawol turned up again, drummed a smile onto his face and went on to share a song with us.  ‘You like harmony sing?’ he asked. Oh boy, did I.  “You know there is a choir at Lower Shaw Farm?”   How on earth did I not know that?  It’s on my doorstep.  I love the farm.  Yet, this young man came all the way from Poland to an African drumming group to tell us that a local lady called Linda and her husband, Martin, not finding the desired choir, started one up themselves.  Funny how it works, sometimes, isn’t it?  The group has grown and grown, moving from place to larger place and branching out to a Tuesday afternoon group at Lower Shaw Farm as well, singing eclectic songs old and new and from the world over.

Well, we are still there with the group – and extending the reach of the joy of A’cappella (voices-only) singing.  Linda and Martin have shown us the ropes of leading groups and we love it.  Repeatedly, we see people come in, looking for an outlet for their voice – and often wondering if they will be ‘good enough’ (everyone is; this is for fun, fun, fun!) and going away smiling. They are invigorated and usually more energetic than when they arrived.  There is a crazy idea around that a ‘singer’ is already publicly renowned or has to be good enough to be so.  One idea suitably scuppered, then!

Swindon Community Choir has over forty smiley singers turning up on a term-time Monday night.  (  We meet at the Central Community hall, in Emlyn Square, in the famous Railway Village.  The free car park is very well-used and the art of triple-parking has become the group’s knack!  The bus stops just at the corner. We have had singers as young as 9 and well into their 90s.  Let’s have some centenarians!

Singtastic website

Singtastic website

I love meeting people and discovering their loves, their ambitions and drives – and the amazing richness of past experiences.  The Monday morning drop-in, facilitated by our Community Engagement Worker, Kati Wood, is a great place to indulge that love.  In discussing my own, people asked us about what we do (‘we’ being Pete and I).  “Can you run a choir here, for us?”   Well, all things are possible if you really want them to be….

Singtastic on YouTube:

Kati stepped in quickly and told us about the ‘New Shoots” grant that’s available for local group activities.  Our local Swindon Councillors waved the magic wand.  Today, I am glad to announce that in April, on Thursdays 23rd and 30th, there are opportunities to experience this for oneself, free of charge, between 10am and 12pm.

As we are holding this in the Haydon Wick Parish Council offices, adjacent to the Haydon Centre, there will also be disabled facilities and outside, free parking.  (Just in case you might consider that I meant inside…)   If a song stirs you to join in at times, why not come along and experience the fun of group singing, too?  If you need more information about it, you can contact me on 07736 314912 or by email;” 

Mandy (Parsons)


Richard Jefferies Old Town walk: Part 1

Richard Jefferies Old Town walk: Part 1

23rd March 2015


Richard Jefferies Old Town walk Part 1

Richard Jefferies Old Town Trail

Oh listeners, I do love a bit of urban discovery as evidenced with my travelogue on the West Swindon sculpture trail and the subject of this post turned out to offer some nuggets of urban discovery.

When I say ‘discovery’ I do of course mean new to or previously unnoticed by me – not that they’ve been seen by no-one before ever. I’m referring to the Richard Jefferies Old Town walk which is a trip round the eponymous area of Swindon taking in buildings and spots that were known to him. I did this walk last week with @swindondriver AKA Jess Robinson who took the photographs.

I’m going to break the walk up into two separate posts as there’s a lot of it and it would be a VERY long post otherwise.

Go here for Richard Jefferies Old Town Walk Part Two.

Click here to download a plain text PDF description of the entire richard jefferies walk

Richard Jefferies – Born at Coate, Swindon, Wiltshire in 1848 – Died in Sussex in 1887

I’ve written a couple of times on this blog about RJ but before I talk about the walk here’s a bit of information about who RJ was. From the website of the Richard Jefferies society:

“(John) Richard Jefferies (6 November 1848 – 14 August 1887) is best known for his writings about nature and the countryside. His birthplace and home at Coate, now on the out-skirts of Swindon, provide the background to all his major works of fiction and for many of his essays.”

Wikipedia: “His childhood on a small Wiltshire farm had a great influence on him and provides the background to all his major works of fiction. For all that, these show a remarkable diversity, including Bevis (1882), a classic children’s book, and After London (1885), an early work of science fiction. “

Now – onto the walk. This is a circular walk that begins and more or less ends at The Square in Old Town.  Despite the fact that the leaflet I found about it was a few years old the walk remains pretty much as described. Here’s a link to a plain text web page of the walk and a numbered map which corresponds now to each paragraph in the post:

1) The bakehouse and shop belonging to Richard Jefferies’ grandfather, John Jefferies (1784-1868), stood to the right of the Corn Exchange building, fronting the road. The shop has long since been demolished. Richard went there frequently, as a child, and would have found there, also, his aunts Eliza (Sewell), Mary and Sarah. Now Jess and I weren’t entirely sure where the bakehouse and shop mentioned would have been as the description isn’t particularly clear from which angle of the Corn Exchange (the Locarno) it referred to.

2) Take the lane leading out of The Square along The Weavers and continue left into Old Mill Lane. On your right is an old ‘squeeze-belly’ stile. The path beyond it leads to Coate and would have been used by Richard to come and go, on foot. Continue along Old Mill Lane and note the buttresses in the churchyard wall. Close to this spot stood the mill, once in the charge of Richard’s great uncle James. The Goddard family mansion, ‘The Lawn’, now demolished, stood a few yards farther on. NB: the squeeze belly stile is still there – that was a new ‘discovery’ for me.

3) On the right stands what is left of Holy Rood Church. The gates are locked but if the key is obtained you may see the box tomb of Richard’s great grandfather Richard (1738-1825). Richard was baptised here. Not that I have any idea from whom or where the key is obtained – one assumes it still can be.

4) Return via The Planks (an ancient and raised walkway) to The Square and go into High Street. Notice the Bell Inn, (no longer an inn but the building and bell are still there) occasionally visited by Richard where, as a young reporter, he would talk with Sir Daniel Gooch* and other leading citizens. Cross High Street and walk to Newport Street. The National School, now pulled down, stood in Newport Street; it was run by a Mr Jenkins, and Richard attended in the evenings in his teens.

Sir Daniel Gooch now has a Wetherspoons in his name – there’s lots of interesting information and pictures on the stairwell in there.

*Swindon Web on Sir Daniel Gooch 

Slideshow of some photographs from part 1 of the walk:

So that concludes the first half of the Richard Jefferies Old Town trail. See part 2 below:

Richard Jefferies Old Town Walk Part 2


For more information on Swindon’s Old Town visit: Swindon Web history of Old Town.