No 6: The Museum of Computing Swindon

No 6: The Museum of Computing Swindon

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

Thursday 19th August 2013

Swindon Museum of Computing

This post, as you can tell, is a very early post on this blog, featuring the Swindon Museum of Computing. I really need to have a word with my chum Simon Webb, get a guided tour, and redo it. But this will give you the idea.

computing museum logo - The Museum of Computing Swindon
Hmm. Not quite eh?
Hmm. Not quite eh?

Small it is – but it’s perfectly formed.  A real little gem tucked away in Theatre Square is The Museum of Computing Swindon.

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 wonderfully animated Trivial Pursuit. The TP character got super cross 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. The pain in loading the cassette was worth it I reckon.

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.

It’s a bug’s life

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 left active duty, she joined the Harvard Faculty at the Computation Laboratory. There 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. Hardware engineers might even have used the term 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.

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

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

A rather large personal computer

As I wandered round I saw a somewhat amusing 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.

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

See more in Ten Things to Celebrate About Swindon here.

No 5: Ken White – Swindon’s Mural Man

No 5: Ken White – Swindon’s Mural Man

Ken White – Swindon’s Mural Man. Known and loved by many Swindonians for the murals that once dotted the Swindonscape. Only one now remains, and that’s his first one, the Golden Lion Bridge mural.

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’.  

ken white and golden lion mural
Image by Roger Ogle for Link Magazine

Ken’s early life

Life his brother and his father before him, Ken began his working life in the GWR works aged 15. He started out as a rivet hotter, later getting a move to sign writing in the carriage and wagon works.

As soon as he could he went to night classes at Swindon college to do his ‘O’ and ‘A’Levels in art. Those attained he left the works and entered Swindon’s art college to undertake a full-time art diploma.

Ken White – Swindon’s Mural Man

Ken’s mural painting activity didn’t restrict itself to Swindon though. As the personal artist for Richard Branson he travelled the world painting Virgin Megastores, airport lounges and more. You’ll find a great selection of Ken’s artistic output in this book: Ken White Muralist and Painter.

The Virgin Scarlet Lady

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 I haven’t compiled in any particular order.

You can read more about Ken’s Swindon murals on SwindonWeb.

No 2: Arts and Culture in Swindon

No 2: Arts and Culture in Swindon

When I first conceived this blog I needed a starting point. So I came up with the idea of 10 things to celebrate about Swindon. This post is No 2: Arts and Culture

I have often heard it said that there is no culture in Swindon. Of the arts sort that is rather than the bacteria type. I daresay there’s a lot of the latter around but I know for certain that there’s plenty of the former.

It might be well hidden, one might have to root it out – but it is there nevertheless. For starters Swindon hosted, for 25 years, a literature festival – thanks to the efforts of Matt Holland. That literature festival has now moved into a spring arts festival.

swindon town hall - No 2: Arts and Culture in Swindon
Town Hall Swindon – the home of Swindon Dance. A fab example of No 2: Arts and Culture in Swindon

Poetry in Swindon

front of a vintage bus.
The vintage bus from Swindon poetry festival 2012


Back in 2012 I went on a journey on a Vintage Poetry bus – an actual embodiment of a magical mystery tour. I’ve never done drugs, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that an acid trip is similar to my experience on that bus. It was, quite simply, the most stupendously, superbly surreal experience of my entire life!

Collecting its passengers at the bus station, the tour had two guides: Barry Dicks (aka Michael Scott) and Mabel Watson (aka Hilda Sheehan) who between them provided hysterical commentary, banter and badinage interspersed with poetry readings.

The journey took us around corners of Swindon that we might rarely see and highlighted some surprises – the view of the Marlborough downs from Penhill for one of many.

We stopped for refreshments and a comfort break at Lower Shaw Farm,  http://www.lowershawfarm.co.uk, in West Swindon before returning to the bus station where, somewhat dazed (well I was anyway!), our journey ended. A truly fabulous and fun experience.

As far as I’m aware Poetry Swindon is alive and well. But possibly in some form other than this website.

Covered arts and culture in my published writings

As with so many things, Swindon’s arts and culture got as much coverage as I could squeeze into Secret Swindon. In that book I wrote about the museum and art gallery in Old Town, the Richard Jefferies museum at Coate, public art – including the West Swindon sculpture walk, and many of Swindon’s artists. Not to mention the Wyvern Theatre and the Arts Centre and many more.

Not forgetting of course 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 only the ones I know about.

No 1: Parks and Green Spaces – Lydiard

No 1: Parks and Green Spaces – Lydiard

10 things to celebrate about Swindon. No 1: Parks and Green spaces
A: Lydiard Park and house

When I first conceived this blog I needed a starting point. So I came up with the idea of 10 things to celebrate about Swindon. This post is No 1: Parks and Green spaces – Lydiard Park.

November 2014:  Sadly the stormy weather of Christmas 2013 destroyed the ancient walnut tree pictured below.  Go here for more information about it.

Below is a picture I took the day before the storm came in and destroyed it.

No 1: Parks and Green spaces Lydiard  - walnut tree at Lydiard Park
Ancient walnut tree

Swindon is a town blessed with a huge amount of green space. It’s my understanding Swindon is classified as the greenest town in England.

Its green spaces range from the formal Town Gardens with its lovely bandstand, to large green areas, including a stately home and park in West Swindon: Lydiard House and Park.

I live a hop, skip and a jump from Lydiard Park but don’t go nearly as often as I should.  However, even if I don’t utilise it too often many people do. It’s popular with runners, families out on bikes, dog-walkers, strollers and, in the summer months, picnickers and BBQers. If only more people would take their blasted litter away with them. How hard can it be? Grrr!

Lydiard House and Park

As the website says: Lydiard Park is a beautiful historic estate on the western edge of Swindon, with the Palladian House, Church and Walled Garden, set in 260 acres of parkland. The children’s play area, Cafe & Tea Rooms, events and education programmes make Lydiard Park a great destination for a family day out.

And on Lydiard House: ‘At the heart of the park is Lydiard House – a striking Grade I listed Palladian house that for 500 years was home to the St John family.  The ground floor state apartments of Lydiard House have been beautifully restored and are open to visitors to view the ornate plasterwork and original family furnishings displayed alongside portraits and photographs of the St John family.Your visit starts in the grand Main Hall, which was originally the impressive entrance to the St John’s family home as well as being a space for dancing and entertainment.  To the right, you will find the Library, lined with bookshelves decorated with classical plaster busts of famous philosophers.’

NB: See Secret Swindon and Swindon in 50 Buildings for mentions of the house at Lydiard and St Mary’s Church.

A few years ago (okay a LOT of years ago) I was given, to celebrate a special birthday, a hot air balloon flight from the park.  It took place on a perfectly clear, warm, sunny early September evening. The operators inflated the ballon in front of the house and when we ‘took off’ and floated right over the house it was so, so magical. One of the loveliest experiences I’ve ever had. Simply amazing.

St Mary’s Church

Just behind the house is the Parish Church of St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze. This is a gorgeous little church. It has closed in pews – something I’d not come across before. There’s recently been a big conservation project going on there so it’s well worth visiting if you’ve not been.

“St Mary’s is one of England’s finest small churches and dates back to the 12th century. It is  packed with fascinating monuments to the St. John family including St John Polyptych, erected by John St John in 1592 and the Golden Cavalier, a full-size effigy of Edward St John, who died in battle in the English Civil War in 1644.”

I went up there for a walk just before Christmas (2013) and here a few pictures I took. It was a lovely sunny day and was even relatively mild.   The house always looks very lovely in the sunshine.

Sunday 29th December 2013 – more photos:

Other parks are available

In no particular order, just some of the other parks/green spaces Swindon boasts are: Town Gardens, Queen’s Park, The GWR Park, the Polo Ground, Coate Water, Shaw Forest Park and Barbary Castle – a misleading name as it’s not actually a castle at all.