Ten things to celebrate about Swindon No 4: The sculptures.  D: ‘The Great Blondinis’

Ten things to celebrate about Swindon No 4: The sculptures. D: ‘The Great Blondinis’

sculpture of acrobats the great blondinis - public art

The Great Blondinis

Public art in Swindon: The Great Blondinis

I really, really miss The Great Blondinis. A sculpture of them used to reside in Wharf Green and I loved it. It was bright and colourful and didn’t half brighten up a dull day – and goodness only knows we get enough of those! I get that Wharf Green needed rejuvenating and, after initial cynicism, really love the big screen – I’ve enjoyed several fabulous evenings down there watching live streaming of opera and ballet – fantastic! How cool is it to have that facility in Swindon? But did we have to lose the Great Blondinis? ūüôĀ

I know they weren’t everyone’s cup of tea being somewhat ‘loud’ but I really loved them.¬†They are indeed garishly-coloured and imposing at 17ft tall. The sculpture was created in 1987 by John Clinch (also responsible for Diana Dors) using scraps of aluminium from Swindon’s railway works.

Indeed I think¬†it’s the case that these lovely acrobats were the last thing to be cast in the GWR works.

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For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the Great¬†Blondinis were an acrobatic troupe who performed at circuses in Swindon in the 1920s.

I really don’t know if they are relation to Charles Blondin, if it’s the same person or if this pair nicked the name. I’m not sure.

But for info, The Great Blondini:

The ‚ÄúGreat Blondin‚ÄĚ was born Jean Fran√ßois Gravelet¬†in France in 1824. He began performing in European cirucuses as a young boy and was known then as the ‚ÄúLittle Wonder.‚ÄĚ On June both 1859 he walked a tightrope suspended above the Niagara Falls rapids and became the first man to walk across the falls.¬†

He moved to England later in his life where he lived until his death in 1973. There’s even a Blondin memorial trust:¬†http://www.blondinmemorialtrust.com

Anyway…post the sudden disappearance from Wharf Green that left me quite bereft I managed to discover that¬†¬†the sculpture had been saved¬†but I didn’t know where it had gone.¬†Thanks to a certain non-tax paying (allegedly) search engine I do now. A quick¬†furtle on the Internet found Duncan and Mandy’s website¬†which reveals that the restored Blondinis now reside in St Mark’s park in the Ferndale/Gorse Hill area.

So whilst it’s great to see them all cleaned up I’m still sad I don’t get to see them anymore.

Some pictures from Swindon Local here: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=great%20blondinis

Photo above from Jess Robinson.

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Ten things to celebrate about Swindon. No 4: The sculptures. C: ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel’

Ten things to celebrate about Swindon. No 4: The sculptures. C: ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel’

Public art in Swindon: Brunel

No 3 (C) in a series on Swindon’s sculptures.¬†Yeah, I know, strictly speaking a statue rather than a sculpture but it’s close enough eh? And he has to be mentioned somewhere does old Isambard Kingdom Brunel – such an awesome name! – and he did rather put Swindon on the map I feel.

I love that I live somewhere with such a heritage. I love that the Designer Outlet Village has retained much of the character of the old railway sheds and has pieces of engineering equipment dotted about and a train in the food court. It makes it really personal to Swindon. When shopping there I often think of the men and women that laboured so hard in the railway works.

If you want to know more about Swindon’s very rich¬†history and heritage there’s a great web portal¬†¬†which is home to 3 diverse but fascinating blogs covering aspects of Swindon’s history. ¬†Examining Brunel and the people and places who transformed the town is ‘Swindon in the Past Lane’.¬† If wartime history is your area of interest then there’s¬†‘Swindon at War‘,¬†while ‘Good Gentlewoman‘ takes a look at the lives of the St. John women of Lydiard House.

statue Isambard Kingdom Brunel in Swindon. Wilts.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Statue in Swindon.

Anyway, returning to this statue of Brunel, without whom Swindon would arguably have remained a rural market town, is located close to the Brunel shopping precinct looking straight at Iceland; the frozen food store not the country. And thinking about it – is that the best location for him? Wouldn’t outside the station be more appropriate? Just a thought.

As it says on the STEAM museum website: ‘The pioneering vision and engineering genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel led to the Great Western Railway network becoming regarded as the most advanced in the world’.

There’s a wealth of information on that there interweb for anyone wanting to know more about the founder of the new Swindon.¬†Or even better hotfoot it to the STEAM museum in Swindon which is well worth a visit. I’ve been several times myself now and have always enjoyed it. The only blot now is that one can’t get to play with the signals for hordes of children. Pah!

STEAM – ‘The Museum of the Great Western Railway is housed in a beautifully restored Grade II railway building in the heart of the former Swindon railway works.¬†Situated right opposite the Swindon Designer Outlet, the museum tells the story of the men and women who built, operated and travelled on the Great Western Railway, often referred to by historians and railway fans as ‘God‚Äôs Wonderful Railway’. ¬†www.steam-museum.org.uk

Wax statue of Brunel

Wax sculpture of Brunel in Swindon’s Steam Railway museum.

As well as visiting STEAM why not take the Swindon Heritage trail and, as the website says,

‘Walk in the footsteps of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Discover Swindon as it was when ‘Steam’ was the major invention that changed the way people travelled forever. ¬†In 1841 Brunel, one of the Greatest Britons of all time, and the Great Western Railway Company started to build what was to become one of the most outstanding industrial centres recognised around the world ‚Äď the ‘Swindon Works’.¬†Known locally as ‘The Works’ or ‘Inside’, in its heyday the GWR employed over 14,000 people and turned out over 60 new locomotives a year’.

This trail will take you through some of the streets, work places, houses, pubs and social centres the GWR workers and their families worked and lived. Some 270 of the buildings in the railway heritage area are listed, keeping alive what is arguably one of the country‚Äôs finest examples of industrial heritage’. ¬†http://www.swindonheritagetrails.co.uk/plain-text/index.html¬†

To my shame I didn’t know this trail existed, I only discovered it when looking up information about the STEAM museum to include in this blog. So as well as exhorting you lot out there to do it, I need to do the same thing sometime.

Why not make a day of it? When you are ready for a spot of light refreshment¬†you could try out some of the eating places I’ve written about on here. The town centre of course has its McDonald’s and numerous Wetherspoons – all of which are fine and dandy in their place and I visit them too – but if you fancy something authentic and different for a change then eschew them for once and give one or more of the ‘independents’ a try.

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Ten things to celebrate about Swindon No 4: The sculptures. B – ‘Diana Dors’

Ten things to celebrate about Swindon No 4: The sculptures. B – ‘Diana Dors’

A young and glamorous Diana Dors.

A young and glamorous Diana Dors.

Public art in Swindon: Diana Dors

Sculpture of Diana Dors

Diana Dors silhouette - sculpture diana dors

Here’s a map of the entire West Swindon Sculpture trail:¬†https://swindonian.me/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/The-Sculpture-Tour-West-Swindon.pdf

Via this blog I’m intending to do a tour of the many sculptures that Swindon is home to. ¬†Number 2 (B) in the series, this post features¬†Britain’s own blonde bombshell, the larger-than-life Diana Dors, a daughter of Swindon immortalized in statue form outside the cinema at Shaw Ridge, West Swindon.

Being of a certain age I remember watching old black and white films starring Diana. I also have stronger memories of her being the lead in ‘Queenie’s Castle’¬†a British¬†sitcom¬†set in early 1970s¬†Leeds, West Yorkshire that aired on¬†ITV¬†from 1970 to 1972. Little did I know then, that one day I would be living in the town that is her birthplace and, better still, be in striking distance of a cinema (Shaw Ridge, West Swindon) that is home to a statue of the town’s famous daughter.

If you want to know more about the divine Diana, aka Diana Mary Fluck, you could do worse than visit the official website: http://www.dianadors.co.uk

‘I’m the kind of girl that things naturally happen to. When they don’t, I give them a push’.

NB: Diana Dors has an alter ego as Lola Vavoom in the stupendously surreal parallel universe created by the author Jasper Fforde in his Thursday Next novels.  In his 7 Wonders of Swindon she is W0nder No 5.

And here’s me on a slide near ‘How the Mighty Fall’:

Born again Swindonian on a slide

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Ten things to celebrate about Swindon No 4: The sculptures. A – ‘Looking to the future’

Ten things to celebrate about Swindon No 4: The sculptures. A – ‘Looking to the future’

sculpture of three figures in swimwear relaxing by a pond

Looking to the Future 1989

‘Looking to the Future 1985. Artist: Jon Buck. Material: Glass Fibre Resin.¬†Project Details: This sculpture was completed by the first artist in residence during the development of West Swindon and funded by¬†Thamesdown¬†Borough Council, Southern Arts and Property 3.’

Swindon is home to¬†an assortment of statues and sculptures – more than I know of I’m sure. Some of them are not to everyone’s taste and arguments rage about whether the council should spend money on such things when services are always crying out for funding. It was ever thus. Whatever the merits or otherwise of that argument, on a personal level, I rather like the fact that they exist even if I don’t find all of them to my personal taste. ¬†They are¬†often tucked away with nothing drawing attention to them – one just chances upon them when walking the many foot/cycle paths around Swindon.¬†This one being a case in point. It’s so long since I walked this particular route I’d almost forgotten about it. Called ‘Looking to the Future’ it was installed in 1989 when the area of West Swindon was developing. It’s somewhat appropriate that I should ‘chance upon’ it today being as how, now I’m two-thirds of the way through my degree, looking to the future is what I’m beginning to do.

Part of ¬†the West Swindon Sculpture walk, this one is located between the West Swindon Centre and Ashington House pharmacy. From the road one can see the pond and the footpath¬†but not the figures as they are tucked away in the corner. It was nice to see it again today – it’s been years. It’s a pity though that the fountain in that pond is no longer working.IMG_0345

There’s a PDF file on the internet that has a map of the walk and some information about each sculpture.

Apropos this particular sculpture, the excellent Swindon Viewpoint  have in their wonderful archive collection a film of the artist, Jon Buck, talking about the sculpture and showing it being created. Art comes to life! just wonderful!

 

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Ten things to celebrate about Swindon. Number 3: The buses

Yes, I know. More prosaic than poetic, but as a non-car-owning-non-driver public transport kinda matters.

Not that the bus system in Swindon is without its drawbacks:

1) Come Sundays and Bank Holidays living in my area of West Swindon is akin to being electronically tagged with the last bus out to town being around 5pm. Now as far as I know every bar/pub/restaurant in town doesn’t shut on a Sunday evening – though they may as well because, unless I get a taxi, I’m going nowhere.

2) The ‘spokes-of-a-wheel’ set-up of the Thamesdown¬†Transport routes: from whatever point around Swindon you are travelling, there are no (as far as I’m aware) circular routes to anywhere. One has to go into the town centre and get another bus back out to wherever you want to be. As a result, for me to get to somewhere like, say, the Orbital centre in North Swindon can take an hour or more depending on time of day etc. I can get to Bristol in that time. ¬†This for an area that is 15 mins by car. So I just don’t go.

3) And I really, really, bitterly resent the ‘Fast Fare’ system. It’s not fast¬†and it’s not ‘fare’. In fact¬†it’s a right, royal pain in the bum having to have the correct amount of change the whole time. I no sooner get money out of the cash-point than it disappears into little piles of money¬†ready for bus-fares. Not good Thamesdown Transport. Not good at all.I’d love to see the back of that system!

So what’s good about it then? Well for a start, generally speaking, the buses turn up. Where it says on the timetable there will be a bus – by and large there is a bus! I know you’d think that is stating the obvious but I happen to frequent a certain university city just down the motorway and the bus services there are shockingly bad. They bear no discernable relation to the timetables and are dreadfully expensive as well. There are a number of bus companies in Bristol.¬†One of, if not THE, most expensive is First buses – unsurprisingly as they are a subsidiary of a well-known train operator that runs in this region, one renowned for its high ticket prices. Though at least here there is no hateful fast fare system!

Secondly – in Swindon we have two bus companies, who, with a measure of ¬†‘joined-up’ thinking, allow a travel pass or day-rider bought on one to be used on the other. Also sadly lacking down the motorway. So well done Swindon on that.

Thirdly – the prices – again, really not too bad. Though I would like to see an interim fare for when you are only going to town and back. The ¬£3.60 day rider is brilliant value when you are going to town and then on to Red House or Orbital or the hospital or wherever. But couldn’t there be something in between for those of us just wanting to nip to town and back rather than this ‘one-size-fits-all’ fare? ¬†Yes, I know there are weekly, monthly and three-monthly travel passes but they are only viable if travelling for four days a week or more. It does actually put me off going into town sometimes. Whilst that’s good news for my credit card, if there are other people like me that are similarly put off then it’s not good news for the town centre.

4th September 2013 – I should add that there is now a multi-day rider thing which lets you buy five day-riders and get the 6th free. This is a great help for sure but I maintain that ¬£3.60 is a lot to go to town and back. I can get to Oxford and back for just under ¬£6…

Ten things to celebrate about Swindon. No 2: Arts and Culture – The poetry bus 2012

Ten things to celebrate about Swindon. No 2: Arts and Culture – The poetry bus 2012

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 has hosted, for many years now, a first-class literature festival:¬†http://www.swindonfestivalofliterature.co.uk

front of a vintage bus.

The vintage bus from Swindon poetry festival 2012

Moreover, it is a little known fact that Swindon is the world capital of poetry – oh yes indeed!¬†https://www.facebook.com/SwindonFestivalofPoetry¬† Last year I went on a journey on the festival’s 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

'Mabel Watson' standing by vintage bus.

Mabel Watson welcomes travellers to the Vintage Poetry bus.

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 Рthe 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.

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