But in this post I want to talk about Mrs A’s Indian Gentleman by Dawood Ali McCallum. This book is set in Swindon, written by a chap that lives in Swindon and is even dedicated to Swindon.
And, with a central character that is my namesake – how could I not love it?
I heard about this book via this year’s Swindon Spring Festival – which of course, thanks to Covid-19, had to decamp as much of its output as it could to the virtual world.
Now, that’s clearly sad and terrible. But – on the other hand – it does mean that you can still watch and listen to the delightful Dawood Ali McAllum speaking to Matt Holland and talking about his book – described by him as ‘faction’. A mix of fiction and fact set in WWII.
I love the bit on Dawood’s talk where he describes how the book is dedicated to:
1. Swindon: a place which embraces, adopts, adapts and survives. 2. Swindon Central Library 3. Hachette, India 4. The Swindon Spring Festival
How could I not take him and his book to my heart?
Where the action is
I’m about halfway through the book now and I’m loving it. It’s a lovely read. It’s full of gentle humour and it’s so great reading street names and buildings and so on that we’re all familiar with.
Much of the action takes place Inside – and the Queen’s Tap, the GWR Railway Village and the Mechanics’ Institution loom large in the book. As does the GWR Park or Faringdon Road park – gratingly spelt Farringdon. I’m trying to let it go as I’m so enjoying the book. And I’m sure you will too.
Aside from that, it’s an opportunity to share a few photographs of Ken’s work. In my recently published book, Secret Swindon, I made a big effort to convey that Swindon’s cultural and creative present is as rich as its cultural and creative past. Many people/entities/artists contribute to Swindon’s varied cultural landscape as the recent Swindon Open Studios even will testify. And one of whom is Swindon born Ken.
‘Ken White: Painter not artist
That’s his description of himself not mine. He’s emphatic on the point. Yet, however you describe him his talent is indisputable.
A born Swindonian, Ken had the great good fortune to get what you’d call ‘a big break’. First though, like so many young men in Swindon, at the tender age of fifteen saw him enter the Works (the 3rdgeneration of his family to go ‘inside’) as a rivet-hotter. Escaping that role, he began his artistic career with sign-writing and stenciling numbers on carriages in the Works. During this period Ken went to evening classes at Swindon Art College to study ‘O’ and A ‘Level art with the intention of becoming a full-time artist … ‘For the rest – buy the book! 😉
Ken’s portfolio is a wonder to behold – the just-passed Open Studios is the ideal time to view it.
When researching for Secret Swindon I visited Ken and spent ages poring over his output from over the years. His collection of posters designed for Swindon events back in the day are an exhibition in themselves – never mind the rest. Here’s a small few that didn’t get used in Secret Swindon:
Ken White’s famed Red Lady emblem for Virgin Atlantic
Poster for the unveiling of Carleton Attwood’s ‘The Watchers’ at Toothill village centre
Sam Allen: ‘Swindon Town manager and football pioneer Sam Allen (the sixth-most longest-serving manager in Football League history), and was unveiled on May 19, 2018, by former Swindon Town footballer John Trollope MBE, and Sam’s granddaughter-in-law, Pat Chapman.
‘In 1764 a free school for the working classes was provided in a cottage Newport Street, to educate 20 boys and 5 girls on land owned by the Goddard family. But soon the number of pupils outgrew the accommodation and a two storey stone-built National School was built on the same site in 1835. Among its pupils in the 1860s was future author, Richard Jefferies, mentioned in my Blip about Jefferies Avenue a few weeks ago.’
‘This work was commissioned just before the Swindon rail works was closed and made in association with the British Rail craftsmen. It was commissioned by the then Thamesdown Borough Council with financial assistance from Sun Alliance Insurance Group, Southern Arts, British Alcan and Metalfast Limited.’
The sculptor was Jon Clinch and were formed from Foundry cast aluminium alloy (LM6).
What that doesn’t say is that this sculpture was the absolute last thing made in the once great GWR works. That singular fact surely affords this sculpture a special significance?
It’s derided by many but I love it. And I STILL miss it. It’s soooooo joyful.
I recently chanced upon some photos on Facebook of Swindon-based artist Tim Carroll restoring the sculpture when it was moved from its original home in Wharf Green to its current location in a play park in Gorse Hill. This was some time ago I should add.
Now I had no idea that Tim had restored this fabulous, gorgeous sculpture – or if I did I’ve forgotten. This is quite likely.
Anyway, they’re great photos that deserve sharing. So thank you to Gordon Dickinson for letting me use them.
This wonderful, exuberant sculpture used to have a prominent position in Wharf Green. Now they’re in a play park in Gorse Hill. I do feel that’s a huge shame. I’d love to see them somewhere prominent once more.
Here they are duly titivated and in situ in Gorse Hill.
Hello listeners. Well this is a nice thing. A week or so ago, a new feature writer on the Swindon Advertiser Tweeted out a photo taken on The Lawns. Being a helpful sort of a person – and yes, okay, ‘flog the blog’ is my mantra – I sent her a link to this here blog. The upshot of that being that I offered to show her some of the sights in the town centre area. Yes – I accept that parts of the town are not beautiful. But that doesn’t mean they’re not interesting.
I simply wanted to show someone how great Swindon is. But being a reporter she sniffed a story and it’s below. Ta da! Unbeknownst to me she must have spoken to Gavin Calthrop from Switch on to Swindon. He said some super good things about me. I won’t lie to you – it’s rather a pleasant feeling.
What the article doesn’t mention, is that Martha Jane Parry (chair of Swindon Civic Voice) showed me and the smashing reporter Sarah, around the railway village and the health hydro and shared just some of her amazing knowledge about Swindon.
On that note, there’s an almost endless list of people with much more in depth knowledge than I’ve got. Born again Swindonian is a vehicle for giving a shout out and then a ‘but if you want to know more go here’ arrow.
‘Swindon is a land of milk and honey, according to born-again Swindonian Angela Atkinson.
It is hard to imagine a more passionate advocate for the town than the newest ambassador for Switch on to Swindon – she is positively evangelical. Not only does Angela love the town as a place to live, she has dedicated her time to researching and celebrating its complex and vibrant history in her blog www.swindonian.me.
Now with her new role as ambassador going live, she is more determined than ever to shout out about the town and its people — which she says is her favourite place in the world.
“It’s the people of Swindon I want to talk about now,” she says. “We have lots of brilliant art and architecture, but the bottom line is that Swindon has some terrific people.
“Everyone I know that’s an incomer has said that the best thing about the town is the people who live here.”
She is enthusiastic about the contribution of individuals and community groups, because it is the people who create the art, organise the events and generate the ideas and enterprises that have made the town what it is.
And what better person to introduce the Adver’s new feature writer (me) to the glories of the town?
Even better, Angela sees beyond these well-known icons of the town to the hidden places, lost treasures and surprising gems that even people who have lived in the town for years might not yet know.
It is this inside knowledge that makes her such an asset as an ambassador.
“Angela was chosen because she knows a lot of Swindon’s hidden gems and she offers a unique perspective on all the things Swindon has to offer,” says Gavin Calthrop, director of place marketing for Switch on to Swindon.
“And what we really like about her is that she has a lot of integrity, in what she writes about and how she advocates for the place.
“This makes her a great ambassador. Angela has an extensive network. She has huge influence and she is trusted.”
Switch on to Swindon is a campaign launched to highlight the ways in which the town is a great place to live, work and invest.
It aims to show just what Swindon has to offer and to communicate the story of the town to a wider audience.
The Swindon ambassadors are selected because of their knowledge and enthusiasm, so they can be proactive and positive about their town and make a difference by being advocates for Swindon.
Angela is the perfect fit for the job – she has been a proud and hard-working spokeswoman for the town since she started up her blog in May 2013 with a series on Ten Things to Celebrate about Swindon.
Since then she has not looked back, exploring, building up a fanbase and learning more and more about the town she loves so much.
She moved to Swindon early in the 1990s, have grown up in Derbyshire.
“When I left my part of the world to move to this part of the world I left behind an area that was still ravaged from the legacy of the miners’ strike,” she says.
“Coming here truly felt like arriving in the land of milk and honey. Hence, to a large extent, my fondness for and advocacy of Swindon and the decision to create the Swindon blog.”
Angela worked at Swindon Research Councils for about 16 years before taking early retirement in 2009.
She returned to education and studied English at the University of the West of England, and now works in editorial services.
“I want to be involved in the discussions about the direction Switch on to Swindon takes and contribute to the ideas about the future of the town,” she said.
And even if you think you know Swindon well, Angela has discovered many hidden gems to tempt you to reappraise what you think you know about the town.
Her top three recommendations?
“The West Swindon Sculpture Trail!” she says at once. “It was set up in the 80s by the then Thamesdown Council, when the West Swindon developments were built. There was an art fund and each area in West Swindon had some art.
“There is a five-mile circular walk that takes you round the art works. There’s a statue of Diana Dors, and another sculpture that’s based on the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle. And tucked away by a pond and across from the Asda in West Swindon is a statue called Looking to the Future by Jon Buck.”
You can find the map to this intriguing walk via her website.
“It’s a beautiful place, but really tucked away. It is not somewhere you could chance upon, if you didn’t know it was there,” she said.
And her third ‘hidden Swindon’ recommendation is the Richard Jefferies Walk around Old Town. Jefferies was a Victorian nature writer who lived and worked in the Swindon area and the walk takes you to places that were part of his life.
Pew here for a hand-turned pen with a Christ Church connection
Swindon pen-maker Simon Webb, has a reputation for fashioning exquisite hand-made pens from wood connected to aspects of Swindon’s history. This time it’s pens from Christ Church Pews.
The latest piece of piece of wood to enter his workshop is a section of an oak pew from Swindon’s Christ Church. Commented Simon, ‘when I heard that, as part of a renewal project, the church planned to dispose of some pews I thought at once how fabulous it would be to give part of a pew another life as a pen.’
What lies beneath
‘Underneath the dark exterior the wood is a lovely pale brown colour with a gorgeous grain structure’ said Simon. Adding that he’s already been contacted by coupleswho were married at Christ Churchand want to own a piece of it in pen form.
Christ Church have commented on Facebook: ‘We are delighted such beautiful pens are being made from the wood of one of Christ Church’s pews.’
There are three styles of pen to choose from, all made to exacting standards. The range includes a gunmetal and platinum ballpoint, a standard-sized fountain or rollerball and a large desk pen. The fountain pens come in a presentation box, complete with leather carrying case and ink cartridges. Non-pen users can enjoy a piece of Ecumenical history too because Simon is also making cufflinks from the oak.
Prices for the pens range from £60 to £160 for the large desk pen. The cufflinks are £30 a set.
Other than at September’s autumn fayre you can buy a pen, from Christ Church wood or otherwise, directly from Simon.
For every Christ Church pen sold, Simon will make a donation to Christ Church.
Simon’s first foray into re-writing Swindon history came with pens made from the beloved, storm-felled, 300-year-old walnut tree in Lydiard Park.
Then came the STEAM museum pens, turned from a piece of Jarrah – a foundation timber in the GWR Works. For literature and nature lovers Simon has made pens from the famous mulberry tree in the garden at the Richard Jefferies’ Museum at Coate.