By kind permission of Mat Merritt, the author of Polyolbion: An evening in Swindon which I am sharing here to prove, if proof were need by now, that I’m not the only Swindon fan around and that Swindon is worthy of fandom. As the writer says, post his attendance at a Bluegate Open Mic evening at Lower Shaw Farm:
“Swindon’s one of those place-names beloved of British comedians. Not because it’s intrinsically funny (like, say, Nether Wallop, or Pratt’s Bottom), but because (oh, and Penistone, of course) it’s somehow seen as a byword for dull, red-brick provincialism. Thinking about it, Birmingham has suffered in the same way over the years, and just as unfairly.
I’ve always had a very large soft spot for both, the former not least because it was the home town of XTC, a neglected national treasure if ever there was one. The proximity of White Horse Hill, one of my very favourite spots in these islands, also helps. After last night, I have another reason.
The Bluegate Poets Open Mic was held at Lower Shaw Farm, which by day is a city farm sort of affair, but which by night provides a thoroughly relaxed and creative atmosphere for reading poetry …”
*See more about Swindon’s poetry scene and its status as world capital of poetry in other posts under arts/culture/heritage.
17th December 2013
Yesterday was the day of the Grand UWE Joint English Hons Mature Students Christmas ‘do’. Which meant my friend Kim, who hails from Bristol, came to Swindon for the day and we trawled round coffee shops and cafes, did a bit of heritage and ended the day in Bistro Les Chat in Old Town. And a jolly good time was had by both!
Km has visited me here in Swindon early in the summer and on that occasion we did the West Swindon Sculpture trail so this time I planned something a little different. Thus it was, aside from taking Kim to some of my favourite watering holes, The 2Wins in Rodbourne, Eggelicious, and U Piri Piri , I decided we’d do a bit of heritage too. We’ve talked about ‘Heritage’ quite a lot in our literature studies so it holds interest for us in that aspect as much as anything else. My first port of call was the website of the Swindon Heritage trail for some information. The website boasts a ‘downloadable and printable ‘ PDF document of the trail. This document is full of great pictures and loads of information but at 21 pages it’s hardly practical! A plain text version might be an idea? And a mobile friendly website? Then people with tablets and smartphones – which is a lot us now – could read it on the devices as they walk it. So – much copying and pasting into Word later I had a 6 page document with all the main blurb on. Much more manageable methinks.
Hence, after an initial visit to The 2WINS for coffee and Portuguese cake we headed to the Outlet Centre to check out some heritage – oh and a bit of shopping too.
Yet again I have been struck, in doing something with a stranger to the town, how much I don’t know and haven’t noticed previously – especially if you lift your eyes up from pavement level. My fellow-student and companion for the day Kim, hadn’t been to our Outlet Centre before. Like me she was favourably impressed by the re-generation of the place and the homage it pays to the GWR workers. As it says on the trail: “This modern and vibrant shopping centre has been carefully regenerated to reflect its previous heritage as part of the Great Western Railway Works”. I’m not sure that ‘previous heritage’ is possible – surely ‘heritage’ is what it is now – not what it once was. That should be ‘previous purpose’ surely? Anyway….
As we were loosely following the heritage trail we made our way round to the food court and The Hooter. I won’t lie. I had NO idea this was there and knew nothing about it – other than that there had been a hooter. Kim thought it would be rather cool if it were sounded still – say twice a day – something that could be an attraction, that people would gather for. I think that’s rather a nice idea but whether it’s feasible or not is another matter. From there we continued with the trail, following it into town via the Worker’s Tunnel, where on reading the blurb I too learnt some new stuff. Like for instance the fact that, before the tunnel, the workers had to risk life and limb crossing the main railway line to get to the works. I haven’t been down that way for a while so was excited by the light portaits down the tunnel – see pictures. Emerging from that I pointed out the Mechanics’ Institute. Apparently, according to the Heritage Trail, a ‘project of restoration and refurbishment is now underway.’ Really? Is that in some parallel universe then?
Next up on Kim’s whistle-stop tour of some of our heritage was the Railway Village.: “Brunel’s sketches show clear plans for the village settlement for the GWR employees and their families. Designed with imposing and elegant frontages, despite the very basic interiors, because at that time they would have been clearly visible to the travellers on the trains…” And it is still very impressive. Certainly Kim thought it looked amazing with its imposing chimneys and the ‘backsies’: “In the early years the privvies were emptied of ‘nightspoil’ daily by a man coming along these back alleys with his horse and cart to take the spoil away to the countryside….”
Sunday 1st February 2015: a pictorial update to this post with some photographs sent to me by Maureen Iles, a reader of the blog:
After a drink in The Cricketers Arms we made our way into town for a look at part of old canal route and the travesty of neglect that is the old canal bridge. Getting hungry now our next priorty was lunch so we headed to Eggelicious for just the best pan-Asian street food. A bit more wandering and shopping, coffee at U Piri Piri and then we headed back to my place for a couple of hours before going out again later to Bistro Les Chats – my first visit there – which proved to be a fitting end to the UWE Joint Eng Hons Mature students Christmas do..
Kim found the railway history really interesting, she liked the Outlet Village, The 2Wins and Eggelcious and I too learnt some stuff and noticed some stuff that I hadn’t before – which is always good is it not? 🙂
NB: Sunday 29th December. The website I refer to above is currently down for re-construction.
Some more pictures taken today – 17th December 2013
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Saturday 14th December
In town today, I popped into the central library to buy the Winter edition of the excellent Swindon Heritage magazine from the Visit Swindon desk. Having enjoyed a coffee and a chat with Steve, the friendly barista, in the most excellent Chapters coffee bar I took a few minutes to check out the Forward Swindon banners in the foyer which are all about regeneration projects for Swindon, ongoing and proposed, and it does all look rather exciting.
Forward Swindon is, as their website explains: ” … is the company established by Swindon Borough Council in 2010 to deliver and facilitate economic growth and property development in the town. Forward Swindon is a limited company, funded by the Council, but operated independently with a private sector dominated Board. The staff includes specialists in economic growth and inward investment, regeneration, senior business management, marketing and communications, and project management, with a mix of backgrounds in the private and public sector.”
Personally, I’m looking forward to the Regent Circus development as I hope it will breathe new life into that part of town. And I’m pleased too that the historic longshop at the railway works is going to be converted to extend the Outlet Village. I love how the Outlet has been so sympathetically restored and given new life. I think it’s really rather cool.
Overall, in my humble opinion, including Old Town and the Outlet Centre, Swindon could be a lot worse! It would be just be good though, as was mentioned on Twitter a few days ago, to find a way to bring it together more. But hey, what do I know about it? Don’t answer that! 🙂
Anyway, if you haven’t yet popped into the library to have a look at the banners then do so. It’s interesting and encouraging reading.
Friday 13th December
Yesterday was my last day at uni for the first semester of this, my final year. Gulp. So, being in the mood to chillax just a little, I arranged to meet a friend for a drink and early supper when I landed back in Swindon from Bristol at tea-time. For once the gods of travel were with me and I managed to make the transition from the Fishponds area of Bristol to Platform 3 of Swindon station in a practically unprecedented 1 hr and 30 mins. I think it’s happened ONCE before since I started uni. Anyway, having got back to Swindon in record time and met up with my friend, the question was where to go. Curry had been on the menu – geddit – but then, almost simultaneously we had the thought: Rustico. Figuring they were likely to be open at that early time (5.30pm) and it only being a short stagger from there (Commercial Road) to the bus stops at Regent Circus off we went.
We were neither looking for nor expecting anything much – just cheap, cheerful and relaxing. And that we found. The place is really quite nice. It’s not fine dining obviously but then it’s not trying to be – but what we had we enjoyed very much. The decor is contemporary but yet still cosy – something not always achieved in contemporary surroundings. Whilst I LOVE ambience I will always sacrifice it for the food. But at Rustico there’s no need for that. Like I say, contemporary but yet still cosy. Most agreeable. And with a big open pizza oven too which is rather lovely.
The menu is largely pizza, pasta and salad but there were some specials on the board, sea-bass and steak for instance. Having a rather delicate digestive system pizza isn’t a meal I indulge in very often but once in a while doesn’t hurt so I opted for the pizza Rustico and my friend took a bowl of pasta. We had a carafe of Italian red, the name of which I didn’t note – too busy chatting – suffice to say it was very quaffable! The pizza was very tasty and my friend enjoyed her pasta.
The young lady serving us was friendly and helpful and gave service with a smile – which goes a long way.
The bill held no surprises, including a £5 tip it was £20 quid each for our food, the wine and a coffee each – pretty good value I reckon. So will I be back? Yup, most definitely. Oh and they do take-away too which is good to know cos just sometimes a change from curry is good eh?
Christmas is synonymous with many things: the Christmas tree, the turkey, brussel sprouts and … the ghost story, of which Dicken’s A Christmas Carol is a classic of the genre. However, it’s not just in a Dickens volume that you can find some seasonal spookiness. Follow the link to Lydiard House blogspot where you will find a ghost story located in our very own Lydiard House: Status, Scandal and Subterfuge: A Lydiard House Ghost Story. “What better subject for a ‘nearly’ Christmas post than tales of ghostly happenings in Lydiard House. Like any self respecting ancient property Lydiard House boasts a spectral presence or two. But like a thing of beauty, could the Lydiard House phantoms be just an imaginative figment in the eye of the beholder …. “ Follow the link to find out more.
For a Christmas tale of a different kind have a look at Swindon in the Past Lane for a delightful post about a Swindon Christmas in 1940: ‘Swindonians celebrated a low key Christmas in 1940 following a year in which the war had bit hard. But the town and district made sure that the most vulnerable citizens were catered for, especially the evacuees, so far from home for the festive period … ‘ It features some fabulous black and white photographs and is worth 10 minutes of your time for sure,
So some great Christmas reading with a local bias on these great blogs – perfect for dipping into with a glass of port and a mince pie. Merry Christmas!
I’ve mentioned on this blog more than once that Swindon IS the world capital of poetry. I’m sure you’ve all been wondering just how that can be so. And if you haven’t – why on earth not? Anyway – follow the link to the blogpsot of Domestic Cherry and find out: Domestic Cherry: Poetry Capital. To whet your appetite here’s an extract:
SWINDON: POETRY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD!
Swindon is twinned with Ocotal but it is also tenuously half-rhymed with Chicago.
Swindon is challenging global poetry inequality.
Swindon Zoo contains the last known thesaurus in captivity.
All our pavements rhyme.
There is irony in our skyscrapers.
Swindon has more imaginary buildings than anywhere else in the world.
Work will soon commence on the Oasis Leisure Centre to create the Swindon Poetry Dome.
Domestic Cherry is: “a pair of Swindon writers, Hilda Sheehan & Michael Scott. They seek to fuse poetry, music and art to transform the Swindon townscape (and anywhere else they might get invited) with all kinds of culture; blurring them into everyday life. They believe the creativity of most people can be accessed via their roving interactive revolution; seizing a power through poetry, conversation and general messing about. Bravo! they declare. To hell with convention and the Kingdom of Dullness! They aim to create and construct an eternal festival of poetic foolery and fun on buses, in town centres and anywhere the unsuspecting public might be caught unawares.”