Archive | July 2013

West Swindon sculpture walk – part 5 – Nexus

Sculpture of limestone on railway sleepers

Kim at ‘Nexus’ Freshbrook village centre

Limestone sculpture on railway sleepers

A view of ‘Nexus’, sculpture at Freshbrook village centre

Here’s a link to a map of this sculpture trail.

In part 4 of this series my companion and myself visited ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ which is in The Prinnels, West Swindon. I explained about spending the last twenty years seeing but not really ‘noticing’ that sculpture from the bus and never realising the significance of it – which is a bit shameful when you think of it.  Well I’m sorry to say that my chagrin doesn’t end there. Oh dear me no! The situation with this next one is very similar I’m sorry to say.  Even as my friend and I were reading the ‘bumph’ about this sculpture I still wasn’t making the connection – and ‘connection’ is actually very apposite indeed. It was only as we approached Freshbrook that I realized what we were going to. Doh!

The blurb has this to say about this art work: ‘Nexus 1986. Artist Hideo Furuta. Material: Blue Pennant stone. Project details: Nexus was carved by the artist, using hand-made tools, in public and in situ. The residency was funded by Thamesdown Borough Council and Southern Arts.’

Now, much like glimpsing ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ several times a week from the bus and it never registering, the same applies here. I walk to Freshbrook several times a week: to the Dr, the pharmacy and to Tesco, and every time I have walked past this thing and never really given it any thought. Well that’s no longer the case. I’m still not sure that I like this piece of art but having read about it and pondered on it some, it’s actually very interesting.

The name of it for a start. The word ‘Nexus’ ( I did actually know this) comes from the Latin of ‘‘a binding together’, from nex- ‘bound’, from the verb nectere . It also has the connotation of meaning  a connection or series of connections linking two or more things: the nexus between industry and political power.• a connected group or series: a nexus of ideas.2 a central or focal point: the nexus of any government in this country is No. 10.

So, to my mind, the ‘meaning’ of this sculpture works on a couple of levels – especially when you consider that it rests on railway sleepers. So in the first instance,  in the macro or the big picture if you will, the railway undoubtedly made it possible for  Swindon to become the town that it is today and links Swindon with the rest of the south-west and with the south-east. But on a micro or more local level, I think what is key, is the fact that Freshbrook village centre is:

a) a focal point for Freshbrook itself being the home of a community centre, a Drs surgery, a dentist, a pharmacy, a supermarket, a hairdresser, a takeaway, a school, a pub and a church – all needs catered for there I think. But also:

b) It’s sort of at the centre of Grange Park, Westlea, Freshbrook itself and, to some degree Toothill – although that has its own village centre – well in so much as it forms a link – a Nexus – between them all – it’s central to them.

Ergo I reckon, the idea of this sculpture is that represents the function of Freshbrook as a pivot for the above. I stress though that this is only my interpretation. It could have been meant as something else entirely. But then isn’t art a bit like literature – we can each get a different meaning from it?

So, there you have it. Like I say, I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to say that I ‘like’ this one, in so much as it doesn’t trigger those indefinable pleasure receptors in me, in the way some of the others on this walk do. But now I’ve studied it and thought about it properly – for the first time in 20 years of looking at it but not ‘seeing’ it – I definitely find it interesting. And maybe that’s the thing with art? I dunno – I’m not Charles Saatchi or Brian Sewell – but maybe the thing with art is just to engage with it and work out what your own responses are..

And I think if there’s a message I want to convey in writing about these sculptures it’s this: right here on your doorstep you have this wonderful entity, this West Swindon Sculpture walk, but don’t just take my word for it all. Get out there, look at them, think about them and even if – like me with this particular one – you don’t necessarily like one or more of them (there are 8 altogether) – just appreciate how very lucky we are to have them. Because I really think we are. Here endeth the lesson!

Anyway, at this point my friend Kim and myself concluded the walk as we’d been out for hours and were ready for dinner. So we had a swift pint in the Windmill and went back to mine for spaghetti bolognaise and a bit too much Chianti. As you do.

As for the rest of the sculptures on the walk, I’ll do a round-up in another post – so keep an eye out for that. Bye for now!

Sunday 27th March 2014

Freshbrook village centre is currently being regenerated and, as part of which, Nexus has also had a revamp. It has some nice new red tarmac round it and some signage. Hurrah!!


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Digital archives ‘R’us: Swindon Viewpoint and Swindon Local collection

I’m in danger of getting evangelical on this topic but hey, I think it’s worth the risk.  🙂

Here in Swindon we are fortunate to have two amazing digital archive collections:  the Swindon flckr collection and Swindon Viewpoint

I first came across the Swindon flickr collection a couple of years ago when I did some volunteer tutor support with the library service’s computer courses. I was honestly dumbfounded (and trust me, I’m not easily struck dumb! ) and staggered by what this collection contains. It’s so much more than photographs. There are letters, newspaper articles, programmes, tickets – the list is endless – all scanned and categorized to help you navigate through it. But please don’t take my word for it – take a look.

Swindon Viewpoint on the other hand is relatively new to me. I was recently alerted to its existence and blogged about it here.  So why am I mentioning it again? Well because I’ve now registered with their site so that I can have a good old root around in its archives and I’d urge you to do the same – with both this and the Swindon flckr collection.  Okay – I can hear you asking ‘Why should I bother with all that?’  Well, in Swindon Viewpoint’s own words – here’s why:

‘Swindon Viewpoint is your focal point for the visual life and times of our area. You can come here to find out what’s happening now, but also what our town once looked like and how it has developed, what its people have thought and cared about; and the diversity of lifestyles and entertainments of the past as well as the present. You can use it to teach children our history, improve your own understanding, help older folk reminisce, or you can get up to date with events of the moment, or current debates, – and join in with these.’

So if it’s local history or family history that floats your boat then these guys are really worth their weight in gold. But of course you don’t have to have a specific purpose in mind to make the effort to register with and use both these services. If you are Swindon born and bred or even if, like me, you are an ‘incomer’ but with an interest in the town – you might just want a good old wander down memory lane. And what’s wrong with that? Wander away – that’s what I say.

As well as the websites mentioned above, both services also have related Facebook pages, so at the very least why don’t you give them both a ‘Like’ and then you can easily get a flavour of what they are up to on your timeline.  After all – YOLO!   🙂

Swindon Local Studies & Family History Collection (Swindon Central Library)

Swindon Viewpoint

The mysterious world of the strange – updated

I recently posted about the wheel sculptures that can be seen on the Old Town railway path:

There are five wheels, from the Old Town direction towards the railway and Wootton Bassett Road they are Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Conceive. Each wheel has two parts, a small wheel showing the Element, and a large wheel with a short piece of poetry. In addition, there is a sleeper crossing the path between each of the wheel pairs. Each of these lengths of wood has two words written on them’. 

Well, I’m pleased to inform you that, thanks to the power of social media, I have now learnt a lot more about them. A follower of this blog has kindly sent me some newsletters about the project which I am able to share on here. Thank you so very, very much for that. I’m really thrilled to see all this – and just think –  only 5 days ago I had no idea of their existence….it’s a funny old world is it not?

It was back in 1980 that the disused railway line running along the southern flank of Swindon was saved from development by Swindon bike group who offered to construct a path for walking and cycling. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the bike group got an opportunity to get creative with the path -but the documents can explain it all better than me. They were large documents which I’ve had to break down into segments so you’ll have to ‘piece’ it together I fear. But you get the idea.

The poet, Fiona Sampson, who wrote the words for the wheels said this: ‘The mix of the industrial and the natural and cyclic in Alec’s design made me think hard about the ideas my poems needed to bridge; but it also inspired me to think about words as solid, powerful’.

EARTH: Our wheels relinquish and seize, relinquish and seize – curious tenderness. 

I have only seen two of them as the walk I was doing didn’t take in the whole of this path. But of the ones I did see…yep powerful would do it for me. And haunting too.

Oh – incidentally – the newsletter page with the magic roundabout logo on it speaks of a mural on Signal Way. Is that still in existence?

Saturday the 1st of Feb 2014: Fantastic update! Swindon local collection, who are slowly digitising all manner of photos and documents have today added photographs to their Flickr photostream of these sculptures being created and installed. Just wonderful!

Postcards from the edge

Okay, I know the general ethos of this blog is to be positive about Swindon but here’s a teeny, tiny rant…

Looking for postcards to use with my ESOL student I discovered how elusive they are. Why? They appear only to be available in W H Smith’s, and the library – and don’t get me started on Swindon’s tourist information centre being moved up there – really in a central position that is now – NOT.

I was expecting to find them at the very least at Asda and at Martin’s in the West Swindon Centre. It would be good to see some in cafes and pubs in the town centre as well as other retail outlets. Is that too difficult to arrange? I know other people have experienced this frustration.

Luckily Lydiard Park came to the rescue. I live close by so had a walk up there to purchase a small selection.

Just sometimes I can’t help thinking that Swindon is its own worst enemy when it comes to promoting the town and the many great things about it…..

Rant over. I’m stepping down from the soap-box as you read. Have a good day. 🙂

West Swindon sculpture walk – Part 4 – ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’

Front view of Hey Diddle Diddle sculpture showing the cat and the fiddle

Roadside view showing cat and fiddle

Here is a link to a map of this sculpture trail.

In part 3 of this series I wrote about ‘White Horse Pacified’ a 1987 sculpture by Julie Livesey and created during an international artists exchange between Swindon and Lisbon, Portugal, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Southern Arts and Wiltshire County council and the then Thamesdown Borough council.

Leaving that sculpture to move onto the next one took Kim and I walked round some bits of what I term ‘proper’ places. By that I mean houses and areas that have clearly been here much longer than all this ‘new’ (70s, 80s 90s) development of Swindon. The walk takes you down Old Shaw Lane and right past Lower Shaw Farm – home of Swindon’s Literature festival amongst other things and close to the Nine Elms pub. It also took us via Shaw Village centre where, as it was a warm sunny evening, we stopped for ice-cream. Yet another reason why this walk took us hours! Of course, should the fancy take you to do this walk during the day-time, The Village Inn at Shaw would make a good stopping point for lunch and/or a pint being approximately on the mid-way point of this walk.

So anyway, suitably refreshed with ice-cream and a sit-down we ventured on to the next sculpture on the list which is ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ and is described thus: ‘1992 – Artist: Vega Bermejo. Material: Portland Stone. Project details: Commissioned by Thamesdown Borough Council through the Percent for Art Policy and sponsored by Clarke Holmes Ltd. This charming sculpture in a domestic setting depicts the popular nursery rhyme.’

Well, by this time we are getting closer to where I live but I still wasn’t making the connection. Talk about not really ‘seeing’ or knowing what is under your nose. It’s shameful. For twenty years I’ve been passing this thing on the 1A bus home from town and never realized. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had the thought ‘well, fancy having a huge stone cat in your front garden’ and similar – because it is quite literally in a front garden in The Prinnells (between Shaw/Middleaze and Grange Park) Oh dear. Though to be fair, as the bus swings by, the only bit of the sculpture you can see is the cat. But readers, this is so much more then a giant cat. Stop and take the time to examine it and you will see.

As the descriptions says and the name implies, this sculpture is all about the well known nursery rhyme ‘Hey Diddle Diddle the cat and the fiddle…’   The roadside end of it is indeed the cat’s face but it’s only on closer inspection that you can see the fiddle. The other end has the cow’s face on it and the two sides depict the dish and the spoon, the moon and the little dog laughing to see such fun. I rather suspect he was laughing at me for not knowing what was under my nose. And quite right too.

So anyway Kim and I thoroughly examined it and took photographs, of which there are more on the blog’s facebook page.  Like so many of these sculptures it’s in need of a bit of TLC. Just a brush and some warm water would piff it up no end. If it was in my front garden I think I might be doing that. And perhaps encouraging visitors and offering cream teas!  🙂 Though before I get too judgemental I ought to consider that there might be some sort of clause prohibiting that.

As with all the others so far, this is a really interesting and intriguing sculpture. I love the idea of it – representing a nursery rhyme in this sort of setting – as of course nursery rhymes and domesticity go together. But hey – don’t take my word for it – go and see it for yourself.

Next on the list is ‘Nexus’ and this was another surprise. Until then folks…

The mysterious world of the strange – more unknown public art…

….to me at any rate.

Yesterday (Sunday 21st June 2013)myself and couple of friends went out on an EXPOTITION: we set out on a walk – this walk to be exact – a circular route beginning and ending at Croft Leisure centre and taking in Croft Wood, Wichelstowe Canal and Town Gardens.

It’s a lovely walk and I hope to write more about it in a separate post but for now I’m hoping you people out there can tell me something about the art works we came across on the old railway path and I’m guessing there’s a clue there.  Suffice it to say that the blurb on the walk makes no mention of the art to be seen on the route, which seems a pity. Anyway…we only saw two of them – there’s a picture of part of one of them on the blog’s Facebook page  I have  managed to find this much – but yep – essentially: who? – what? – why? and when?  I find them strangely haunting I must say.

There are five wheels, from the Old Town direction towards the railway and Wootton Bassett Road they are Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Conceive. Each wheel has two parts, a small wheel showing the Element, and a large wheel with a short piece of poetry. In addition, there is a length of wood crossing the path between each of the wheel pairs. Each of these lengths of wood has two words written on them.

AIR: On hot places behind your knees On high downs a ghost is growing. Depth & disquiet.

EARTH: Our wheels relinquish and seize, relinquish and seize….Curious tenderness..second word obscured

Fire: Pistons swell and shine, days are like face, Steam pumps the sky, this one this…Extinguished – the second word is hidden

WATER:  The stream fills a cut, Swills and wave, A new start, gravel and laughter, tick tock on the rim – the two words on the sleeper are not visible

CONCEIVE:  Stepping out, out of character, You interrogate, A chaos of bearings, Where is the unknown journeyman with his bag of fives, his measuring rod and chisel?  Hand & Eye

Public art of the bovine variety: the GWH cow

Cow sculpture at Great Western  Hospital

Cow sculpture at Great Western Hospital

Whenever I see this cow sculpture it makes me smile and think of one of my favourite Ogden Nash poems:

Two cows, mildly mooing:

No bull; nothing doing’

Which, if you think about it, is a masterclass in understatement.

As is:

‘The cow is of the bovine ilk;

One end is moo, the other milk’

Anyway, I just like that it’s there. Though why a cow exactly? Any particular reason for that, do we know?

19/07/2013: UPDATE: well, while we might not  know why exactly it’s a cow rather than any other animal we do now know, thanks to a comment on the blog,  this: It used to be at PMH, in an internal courtyard/garden as I remember, and was moved from there when GWH opened. Don’t remember exactly how long it had been there, only that it appeared some time between 1983 and 1990 (dates I worked at PMH).

And the commentor has kindly provided a link to the Swindon flicker collection showing the cow in its original home:

and also:

Thank you so much for that. Brilliant!

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog  #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #swiondonia #publicart #sculpture

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:

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.

West Swindon sculpture walk – Part 3 – ‘White Horse Pacified’

Hello again dear reader,

Welcome to part 3 in a series (I’m not sure how many the series will consist of cos I’m making it up as I go along) about the West Swindon sculpture walk – which you could be forgiven for having no knowledge of. This morning I chatted to someone on the bus about this, and she, a long-time resident of Swindon had no idea that many of these sculptures existed.  Anyway, at the end of part 2 my companion Kim and myself had ‘done’ ‘Diana Dors’ (see part 1) and ‘How the mighty fall’ (see part 2), so now we were off in search of  number 3 on the circuit: ‘White Horse Pacified’.  The route to this one takes you through a part of West Swindon I’d never even heard of, let alone walked through: The Bramptons. Blimey! It was like entering another universe. They have a club. With a swimming pool! It was all a bit Stepford actually. Anyway – as ever I digress.  The bumph describes the sculpture thus:

‘White Horse Pacified 1987. Artist: Julie Livsey. Materials: Steel and concrete. Project details: The sculpture was completed during an international artist exchange between Swindon and Lisbon, Portugal. Funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Southern Arts, Wiltshire County Council and Thamesdown Borough Council. The work is an interpretation of the famous chalk cut white horses surrounding Swindon’. 

Steel and concrete sculpture of large blue and white horse with figure on it

White Horse Pacified 1989 – West Swindon – View from rear

I think this might be my least favourite out of the set. But that might in part be because, like the old canal bridge, it is so in need of some TLC.  It’s graffitied and there’s branches overhanging it and it’s just such a shame. I mean, how can you not be moved by the idea that, back in the 1980s when this side of town was being developed, a person or persons unknown in (the then) Thamesdown council, had the foresight to put this thing together? I think it’s just marvellous but now – they are unnoticed, unsung and unloved. It’s criminal.

Steel and concrete sculpture of horse with figure. view obscured by overhanging branch

White Horse Pacified – almost obscured by foliage

A further point – the friend doing the walk with me lives in Bristol so this was all new to her. So by this point in the proceedings, and not surprisingly, she was voicing the questions I already had in my mind: ‘Why is this not better known?’, Wouldn’t some signage be a good idea?’ and ‘Some labelling on the sculptures themselves could be quite good too’.  As I said earlier – people who’ve been here a long time – or even were born here – have no awareness of this thing as an entity. So what flippin’ chance does anyone else stand? SBC, Swindon and Wiltshire tourism – you are missing a trick!

This thing can be walked, even cycled. It can be pic-nic(ed) There’s pub stops and play parks and out-door gyms along the way. It’s a great with a dog. Yeah – if you just want to romp through it all it can be done in a couple of hours. But hey – you could actually make a whole day of this thing. But nobody knows about it! Well not enough people anyroad!!!

Anyway dear readers, next up is ‘Hey Diddle Diddle”. I’ll leave you to think on that one. Until next time….  Here is a link to a map of this sculpture trail.

May 2 2014

Hurrah! This poor neglected equine sculpture has had a clean up. At last. It’s not perfect cos the top of it hasn’t been done – clearly someone was lacking a ladder. But let’s not gripe too much because it does loook soooo much better. Compare and contrast with how it looked last summer – see photos above. This photo was sent to me by a friend and Twitter follower @swindondriver – Thanks for that.

White Horse Pacified after a clean up.

White Horse Pacified after a clean up.

At the Outset – calling budding entrepreneurs – Outset Swindon

Just a quick post to shout about Outset Swindon. I’m currently doing an introduction to enterprise course they are running at Holbrook House. It’s all completely free (and who doesn’t love a freebie???) and, so far, really interesting and useful. So if you have any designs on starting your own business in the short or long-term I’d urge you to check it out. It’s a really great initiative.

As it says on their website: 

Have you ever dreamed of starting a business but were unsure who to ask for advice? Outset Swindon offers hands on, vocational support and guidance tailored for you.

We are a totally FREE programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Swindon Borough Council that helps people living in Swindon to start their own business. We offer a range of options including information sessions, one-to-one support, business start-up workshops and help with accessing finance. Why not book now to attend an information session to find out more, our trained advisors will assess your current need and help you to kick-start your new business’.

Like just about everything else in life, even the Royal Family (??) they are also on Facebook.    So, as the inimitable Sir Fred Pontin used to say: ‘Book early!’  🙂

19th August 2013 – update:  Not being the brightest star in the sky, I hadn’t realized until now that the Outset package includes support outside of the workshops for, I believe, 12 months after the launch of your business. Today my business partner and myself had a meeting with one of the advisors and found it massively helpful. We had ideas but were struggling to put a form to them.

A good chat with one of the Outset team has been instrumental in showing us where we need to focus our initial efforts to get us started. The whole thing of being able to bounce ideas around with him was more helpful than I can say. Now we are less ‘not waving but drowning’ and more ‘not drowning but waving’.  No doubt we’ll be back to torment them some more but for now – thanks guys!

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