10 things to celebrate about Swindon – No 10: Multicultural Swindon – much to be proud of

10 things to celebrate about Swindon – No 10: Multicultural Swindon – much to be proud of

17th September 2013

Well dear readers, here we are with the last in my series of 10 things I think are worth celebrating about Swindon. As I said in No 9 it’s not by any means a definitive list, just 10 things that have made an impression on me. Any one of you out there could make a completely different and equally valid list. The point being, and as Brian so eruditely points out in his post, Swindon and Swindonians – and after 20 years here I’d like to count myself as one because Swindon is definitely home to me now – has so very, very much to be proud of. And I don’t think the ‘powers that be’ always do it the best of favours. Yes, we know it has faults but show me the town that doesn’t. I get very cross about a lot things that go on here. But picking over them wasn’t the intention of this blog – that’s easy to do, there’s other places to do it and anyway, who wants to read a blog full of rants? I just wanted to create something that minimized the negatives and emphasised the multitude of positives about this town and its people.

It’s an odd thing, life. I had fully intended to round off my list with something about Swindon’s multicultural population and the Mela – I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Swindon is an official microcosm of the whole country because any ethnic group you care to mention can be found here. However, whilst I knew that Brian was writing me a guest post I had no idea of the subject matter. I like it that way, I enjoy the surprise. I could get all Forrest Gump here, except that you do know what’s in a box of chocolates cos there’s a ‘menu’ telling you – I always thought that was a rubbish analogy. So, to drag myself back to the point, unbeknownst to me Brian wrote his piece on that very subject, hence it earns a place as No 10 in things to celebrate about Swindon. I feel there should be some sort of trumpet fanfare at this point …. instead, and  without any further ado here’s a brief introduction to Brian Carter, the author of this lovely guest post which I hope you will enjoy as much as I have.

‘Brian Carter was born in Swindon in 1961. He was raised in Upper Stratton and has always lived in Stratton or Swindon.  He’s traced his family tree back at least eight generations and found that a large proportion of his ancestors were born in and around the town. Dozens of them (including his father and both his grandfathers) worked for the Great Western Railway and/or British Railways in Swindon.

Brian was the founder of SwindonWeb and recently set up his own company, Carter Collectables  – his website is a wonderful wallow in nostalgia.  He has an ongoing project to publish photographs and documents relating to Swindon on flickr. He also regularly comments about Swindon on Twitter.

“Swindon is an easy target for lazy comedians and miserable people who would have you believe that it’s a bland concrete jungle inhabited by soulless people – a town devoid of culture, heritage or human values. We hear such views so often that we could be forgiven if we started to believe them. But when a ‘foreigner’ from ‘up north’ creates a blog intent on extolling its virtues, we’re thankfully brought back to our senses. Born Again Swindonian doesn’t wait for the inevitable negativity and counter with a reply. Instead, it shouts its positivity and affection for Swindon from the rooftops.

In 1997 I created SwindonWeb with the same attitude. And although I passed on the baton several years ago, I’m happy and proud to report that SwindonWeb has never broken the golden rule set down at its inception: that it would always be 100% positive about Swindon.

Ironically, if Swindon has a fault, then it is that it doesn’t ‘blow its own trumpet’ often enough. For example, consider the Great Western Railway (GWR). Unless they’re blinded by their own local loyalties, most railway enthusiasts acknowledge the GWR as the jewel in the crown of Britain’s great pioneering railway heritage – the epitome of quality and style. And Swindon was, of course, the beating heart of ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’. But Swindon often seems strangely embarrassed of even that. Few other towns would be so reticent in claiming its part in such excellence. Maybe oily, smoky, noisy steam locomotives (however beautiful) just aren’t cool in these modern times. Or perhaps Swindonians are just reluctant to hark back to the past.

front cover of the autum issue of swindon heritage magazine Aside from its wonderful railway history, there are many other rich and diverse aspects to Swindon’s past – and it’s great to see that they’re now being celebrated through the hugely impressive Swindon Heritage   magazine.
  Swindon is at last beginning to show pride in its past, but is it also concentrating on promoting its present? Well, not really. There’s still a lot of work to be done before Swindon overcomes this flaw in its character. It     still needs some convincing that it really does have much to be proud of. A perfect example of something which Swindon excels at, but doesn’t give itself credit for – is its unswerving embracing of multiculturalism. It is an admirable quality, but taken for granted here. As discussed in recent editions of Swindon Heritage magazine, its positive attitude to diversity is something which Swindon has developed over the years. 

In the 1840s, Swindon was transformed from a small agricultural town to a large industrial one – at a rapid (almost brutal) pace. Several waves of influxes of workers from Wales, the Midlands, the north-east and elsewhere brought with them subtle religious and cultural variations. But Swindon quickly accepted those differences – adopting the attitude that they enriched, rather than diluted, the town’s character. The relocation of Londoners to our town after the Second World War met with no difficulties. And many Irish, Italian and Polish people happily settled here in the post-war years. More recently, Asian influences have added yet more colour to Swindon life. It seems entirely appropriate that Swindon has associations with not one but three twin towns. Our connection with Torun has reinforced the link with Poland, and there’s an unlikely but welcome connection with Ocotal in Nicaragua. 

mural on wall of sports centre

Mural in Swindon Link Centre celebrating the town’s twinning with Octotal.

Any animosity towards the German people following the Second World War was washed away by a pioneering connection with the town of Salzgitter. And I have personal reasons for being thankful that the people of our two towns have developed a strong and lasting friendship. Swindon’s multiculturalism knows no bounds. Sabine Coe (herself a French Swindonian) has recently completed a photographic project profiling 50 Swindon women. Each one originates from a different country, but they’re all happy to be considered part of the Swindon family.*

In the past and in the present, the human race has struggled with diversity. Evil-minded politicians concentrate on the differences between people in order to alienate, persecute and exploit them. Swindonians see things very differently, and if you wanted an example of how, you need look no further than the Swindon Mela. They have Melas in other places, of course. It’s part of the Asian character to celebrate its culture and heritage, and so other towns and cities with Asian communities have similar events to the one which took place in Swindon last weekend. But there’s something especially endearing about Swindon’s Mela: it has been so totally and enthusiastically embraced by the non-Asian people of Swindon.

It’s a remarkable thing, which is worth considering for a moment. Thousands of people turn up for this annual event. They have an incredibly wide-ranging mix of cultures and beliefs, and yet there isn’t the slightest hint of racial, cultural or religious tension. Far from it. The people of Swindon (from all backgrounds) attend the Mela because they’re interested and genuinely appreciative of the differences between each other. Swindonians really do celebrate diversity. And this gives Swindon Mela a wonderful, happy, peaceful atmosphere. And yet it almost didn’t happen this year. Swindon Borough Council, mystifyingly felt the need to try to prevent it taking place. There was some ironic talk that this definitive community event had become ‘too successful’. But the people of Swindon were having none of it. Public outcry forced the Council to back-track and, thankfully, the Mela was saved. Maybe that little hiccup will prove to be a good thing in the long run – surely no one will dare mess with the Swindon Mela again!

Modern Swindon has much to be proud of, but its tolerance, understanding and acceptance of other people are some of the things which it should be most proud of. Swindonians might sometimes be a ‘bit backward in coming forward’, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that, deep down, they’re really just nice people.”

*Sabine’s project is currently being featured on the Totally4Women website see:  http://www.totally4women.com/page-50/

Swindon Web has a lovely report with masses of fab photos of the 2013 Mela.

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. Number 9: Theatre and the Arts

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. Number 9: Theatre and the Arts

So, here I am with the penultimate post in my series of 10 things to celebrate about Swindon. It’s not a definitive list of course – it’s merely the first 10 things that popped into my head of the things that Swindon has that I consider to be worthy of a particular mention.  There are many, more of course. I don’t doubt that everyone of  you out there can compile your own list – which is as it should be.  Anyway, being as this post is a snapshot of Swindon’s theatre and arts scene let’s get on with the show…

I’ve written before, in a previous post about the 2012 poetry bus,  to refute the claim one sometimes hears that there’s no culture in Swindon. It’s absolutely not true. There is theatre and arts of all kinds in Swindon.

In no particular order, because all of it is amazing, we have:

1) The Wyvern Theatre – an absolutely lovely theatre, with not a bad seat in the house and great acoustics. I’ve had many very enjoyable evenings here over the years.  The theatre is named after the mythical wyvern which was once the emblem of the Kings of Wessex.  The theatre was opened on 7 September 1971 by Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip. A lovely, lovely theatre.

2) The Arts Centre – in Old Town, this 212 seater theatre has a modern studio for workshops and events, a cafe with a courtyard seating area and a lovely bit of public art in the shape of the ‘Applause’ sculpture. Here again, I’ve enjoyed many a fab evening’s entertainment.

3) Amateur dramatics:  There are numerous dramatic and musical societies in Swindon:  Swindon Light Opera Society (SALOS), the Swindon Gilbert & Sullivan Society, The Phoenix Players, Old Town Theatre Company (OTTC), Highworth Amateur Dramatic Society (HADS) The Western Players – another long standing organization according to their website: “The Western Players originated as “The Great Western Railway(Swindon) Mechanics Institute Amateur Theatrical Society” in the early 1900’s (the first production was of “Checkmate” by A Halliday on April 25th 1904) and celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2004. It has performed over 240 plays at the last count (although research is still ongoing!)”  And these are the just the ones I know about.

4) Swindon is the world capital of poetry – the poetry festival began in 2012. Now, in September 2013, the second one is coming soon.

5) Swindon Festival of Literature – now 20 years old, Swindon’s literature festival goes from strength to strength. As the website says: ‘Even though we are now twenty, a properly grown up festival, our founding passion remains rooted, in love of the word, good reading, exploratory talk, finding out about things, making connections, and the notion that life is for learning, and, where possible, pleasure.’ 

6) Artiste and the Post Modern – as described on Swindon Web: ‘A group of artists have now turned The Old Post Office, Theatre Square, into The Post Modern Gallery and Studios … Drop in and make your mark, learn a new skill, or simply soak up the work from some of Swindon’s best artists. At the very least, you will see The Old Post Office transformed into a hub of creative excitement.’ There was a lovely mosaic lady outside the Post Modern but she is currently in for repair as she was vandalised. Seriously – why?  I hope to see her again soon.

sculpture of mosaic lady

Artsite/Post Modern Mosiac lady

7) Public art all over the place – I’ve written at length, in various places on this blog, about the vast array of public art we have in Swindon. There’s the West Swindon Sculpture tour, then there’s the wheels on the old railway path, The Great Blondinis, the Lion in the town centre, the cow at the hospital  and many, many more that I’ve not yet got round to blogging about. All in good time.

8) The live streamings at Wharf Green – I’ve seen a few of these now – opera from Covent Garden amongst other things – it’s just fantastic. Though it has to be said a bit more notice of these would be good. I got the e-mail about Tosca only a week before it was due to be streamed. So I had to miss that as I’d already got plans. I was fizzing!

9) Swindon Film Society – a group that showcases world cinema. Again, I’ve seen a couple of their offerings over the years and was thoroughly enthralled by them. A long-standing society they were formed in 1947! “The first film shown on Thursday, 6 March 1947 was Robert Wiene’s ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ (1919). This film in its visual representation and acting is a work of German Expressionism. It is also the first horror film which was to be a great influence on future examples of the genre. Hitchcock’s ‘The Lady Vanishes’ (1938) was shown in April that year.”

10) Ken White – our very own mural man!  Ken White’s murals and art works have been an integral part of the Swindon landscape for many years now. As I said in a previous blog post about him, if you think you don’t know his work you very probably do as he is the creator of Virgin airline’s famous red lady emblem.

So that’s 10 areas of arts and theatre in Swindon.  Then there’s also the Swindon Shuffle, Swindon Viewpoint, and of course the Mela – that amazing melting pot of Asian arts that has been a key part of Swindon’s cultural and artistic calendar for 11 years now.  And not forgetting of course the Museum and Art Gallery in Old Town!

This is just the stuff that I know about. There’s more – I’m sure there’s more. Swindon is that sort of town. And if there is please let me know – I’d love to hear about it.

So no culture in Swindon? I don’t bloody think so! Swindon DOES arts – and you can find out more here.

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #art #wyverntheatre #theatreinswindon

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. No 8: The Magic Roundabout

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. No 8: The Magic Roundabout

aerial view of a traffic roundabout system

Postcard of Magic Roundabout

Yes! The Magic Roundabout.  It’s a bit like Marmite. But whether you love it, hate it or are indifferent to it you certainly can’t ignore it.  I’m not a driver myself so have no idea what sort of roundabout it is but according to ’roundabout.net’ it’s a counterflow roundabout:

‘There are five or six of these colossal contraptions in Britain. They are called counterflow roundabouts because traffic in the Inner Circle circulates counter-clockwise while the Outer Circle goes conventionally clockwise. This one at Swindon, way west of London, was the first. It is named for a chidren’s TV programme which used a roundabout as a time machine …The amazing thing is that if you obey the dashed white GIVE WAY lines (Yield Points), it works, beautifully!’

A quick rootle round Google will bring up all manner of information about this traffic system but our very own Swindon Web has a niece piece about it: ‘Until September 1972, there was only one Magic Roundabout and it was a children’s television programme featuring Dougal the dog, a hippy rabbit called Dylan and the spring-loaded Zebedee….’  That was certainly my knowledge and understanding of that term until I moved to Swindon.

The roundabout is now rather famous/notorious – delete as applicable – it even gets a pictorial mention on The Huffington Post in a feature on quirky roads.  It’s certainly celebrated here in Swindon – at the town’s tourist information centre  all manner of Magic Roundabout souvenirs are available from T-Shirts to tea towels. The picture in this post is a lovely aerial shot of it on a postcard purchased there.

It even inspired the song ‘English Roundabout’ by Swindon band XTC.

So who needs Thorpe Park and Alton Towers when here’s our very own white-knuckle ride!  🙂

See also: Swindon’s magic roundabout – Swindon viewpoint.  and my post on an imagined guide book entry for the beast.

#swindon #wiltshire  #swindonblog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #magicroundabout #xtc #swindon #extrememotoring #contraflowroundabout

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. No 7: The leisure facilities

I moved to Swindon about 20 years ago with my then 12 year-old daughter. We left a small village in Derbyshire, a part of the country left ravaged and war-torn (and that’s not too strong a term) by the miners’ strike and the Tory government.  Not only were there no jobs and no prospects there was nothing to do and nowhere to go unless you had a car which I didn’t. Once Meadowhall and Cystal Peaks opened in the Sheffield areas,  our local town of Worksop, simply died.

So imagine then, how it felt to pitch up in a town that offered, within a ten-minute walk of my home: a cinema, and a swimming pool. Even more exotic than that though, a bowling alley, an ice -rink and a Pizza Hut!  All in one place. Wow. You can’t begin to imagine the excitement. Add to that a decent shopping centre – a Debenhams, a C&A and an M&S and many more besides, a mere 15 minute bus ride away instead of the two buses and very lengthy trek to Sheffield for a similar shopping experience. Chesterfield and Mansfield were more accessible but it was Sheffield you needed for C&A and Cole Brothers and the like.  So this was a metropolis indeed!  Moreover there was the almost zero unemployment of that time.  I simply could not believe the ease with which I found work! Not only a metropolis then, but, as far as I was concerned, the land of milk and honey.  And all of this contributes enormously to the affection I feel for this town.

Furthermore of course there’s the Oasis and Dorcan and Croft and Milton Road.  And there’s all the parks and green spaces and a theatre and an arts centre.  Of course since my arrival here there’s been the Greenbridge and Orbital developments and soon we’ll have the new set-up at Regent’s Circus. A veritable cornucopia indeed.

So yeah, I know the town is not without its problems and faults but I’ll never forget how it felt to arrive here and find so many wonders right on my doorstep. I thought it was wonderful then and, even though the town centre is perhaps not what it once was, I still do.

10 things to celebrate about Swindon, No 6: The Museum of Computing

10 things to celebrate about Swindon, No 6: The Museum of Computing

Thursday 19th August 2013

Swindon Museum of Computing

computing museum logo - swindon computing museum

Hmm. Not quite eh?

Hmm. Not quite eh?

Well, yet another ‘at last’ this week.

In this instance I finally managed to get beyond the threshold of Swindon’s Museum of Computing in Theatre Square. I’ve only been meaning to go in for about 5 years. Oh well, better later than never eh?

Small it may be – but it’s perfectly formed.  A real little gem tucked away in Theatre Square is Swindon’s computing museum.

I had a lovely little wander around wallowing in nostalgia as I went. Oh – the Commodore 64 – how I remember thee! My favourite game on that was Trivial Pursuit which was wonderfully animated. There was a character called TP and he stamped his foot with impatience if you took too long to answer the question. There were all manner of other animations on it too. It was well worth the pain that was sometimes involved in getting the cassette to load.  Then there was the BBC Micro – oh how I coveted one of those. And all the different Macs. Or Macintoshes as they were then. Remember the translucent coloured ones? How achingly cool were they? Well they’ve got one of those.  Amongst a whole host of splendid things.

There’s a lovely display and explanation of how the term ‘bug’ came into being which I’ve looked up on the internet – how fitting …

‘The term “bug” was used in an account by computer pioneer Grace Hopper,who publicized the cause of a malfunction in an early electromechanical computer. A typical version of the story is given by this quote:

In 1946, when Hopper was released from active duty, she joined the Harvard Faculty at the Computation Laboratory where she continued her work on the Mark II  and Mark III. Operators traced an error in the Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay, coining the term bug. This bug was carefully removed and taped to the log book. Stemming from the first bug, today we call errors or glitch’s [sic] in a program a bug.’  Which is really rather wonderful is it not?
There is though evidence to suggest that use of the term “bug” to describe inexplicable defects has been a part of engineering jargon for many decades and predates computers and computer software; it may have originally been used in hardware engineering to describe mechanical malfunctions. For instance,Thomas Edison wrote the following words in a letter to an associate in 1878:

‘It has been just so in all of my inventions. The first step is an intuition, and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise — this thing gives out and [it is] then that “Bugs” — as such little faults and difficulties are called — show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labour are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.’

But hey – I reckon I prefer the explanation that the museum gives don’t you? It’s a much more interesting and poetic explanation!

old poster advertising a pocket PC the size of a suitcase.

Osborne Personal PC

As I wandered round I saw a somewhat hysterical poster advertising a ‘Personal PC’ that was the size of a small suitcase. Hmmm. Well it all had to start somewhere eh?

The museum puts on all sorts of special events, exhibitions and activities that lets the kids get really hands on so it’s a great place to keep them entertained and stimulated for a couple of hours or more at very little expense. Theatre Square is a great location with lots of cafes close by: the centrl library cafe, Cafe Ambience and of course the Wyvern Theatre so you are easily placed for refreshments before or after your visit.

So don’t leave it as long as I did to have a look round. It’s the school holidays now so it’s the perfect opportunity to go in and say hello to Robosapiens, Furbees – my daughter had one of those till my sister murdered it – and the Sinclair C5 amongst tons of other stuff that the kids will just LOVE.

This year is their tenth anniversary would you believe – from their website:

This year we celebrated our tenth anniversary. Volunteers, sponsors and friends got together to look back at a decade of exhibitions, events, and activities. From a small room on the Oakfield Campus we now have a town-centre gallery and have welcomed many people from around the world, as well as from Swindon.

The theme for our birthday celebrations is robotics, and the anniversary event launched our latest exhibition, Robots Revealed. Our oldest robot, a Hero 1, is an educational robot from the 1980’s and has been refurbished for the exhibition. We also have modern robots, both domestic and industrial.’

Find em on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MuseumOfComputing and see what they are upto.

 

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #robotics #museumofcomptuing #swindonmusemofcomputing

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. No 5: Ken White – Swindon’s mural man

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. No 5: Ken White – Swindon’s mural man

Sunday 1st March – update with link to blog post from Creative Wiltshire: https://creativewiltshire.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/swindons-artistic-hammerman/comment-page-1/#comment-1

A nice blog post about Ken from Creative Wiltshire that has a good picture, courtesy of Swindon Libraries, of one of Ken’s sadly now long-gone murals.  Ken, as they say, like Alfred Williams – the Hammerman poet, before him began his working life in the GWR works aged 15. He began work as a sign writer in the carriage and wagon works before being persuaded to enrol at Swindon Art school. And the rest, as they say, is history.

NB: The splendid Swindon Heritage magazine people also beat the drum for Ken White’s work and for Alfred Williams too.

*************************

Okay, so Bristol has Banksy. So what? Pah! Swindon has it’s very own resident artist in Ken White. I’ll grant you ‘Ken White’ doesn’t trip off the tongue in quite the same way that ‘Banksy’ does but he’s no less illustrious for all that!  If you haven’t heard of him and think you don’t know his work then you couldn’t be more wrong. An extract from the artist‘s website will explain:

Ken White is perhaps best known for his murals, sited in a wide variety of locations all over the world. To date, he has painted over one hundred murals.

He was, for many years, the personal artist for Virgin boss Richard Branson and has completed works for him in many Virgin establishments throughout the world, including record shops, hotels and airport lounges.

With the launch of Virgin Atlantic in 1984, Ken produced what is probably his most well known work: the “Scarlet Lady” emblem which features on all the airline’s aircraft’.  

Virgin Red Lady emblem on nose of aeroplane

Virgin Red Lady emblem

So yep. Not only has Ken painted murals all over the world he is the creator of Richard Branson’s ‘Scarlet Lady’. See, I said you’d know his work. So is he not something to celebrate about Swindon? Well, as far as I’m concerned he’s worthy of his own place on my personal selection of ‘Ten things to celebrate about Swindon’ list – which is not being compiled in any particular order – rather than being clumped under the broad umbrella of ‘Arts/culture/heritage’ of which there is so very much here in Swindon. And how fantastic is that for a start?

Ken beside on of his Swindon murals

Ken beside on of his Swindon murals

In Swindon though, he is best known for his murals, though tragically many of them are lost now due to development.  🙁  which is such a shame – I really do love a good ‘muriel’ –  as Hilda Ogden referred to hers.

You can read more about Ken’s Swindon murals on SwindonWeb but better still go to  Swindon Viewpoint where you will find numerous films of Ken.