Archive | March 2014

The Olive Tree Cafe

Wednesday 26th March 2014

Yesterday I had a spot of lunch with a friend at the charmingly bijou Olive Tree cafe  located inside Cheney Manor garden centre.  It’s a pity that, for me as a non-driver, the place is a tad inaccessible as I like to support an independent. It would take me two buses to get there so obviously it’s just not practical. A pity.

I said I like to support an independent cafe and I do. But this is more than that. This cafe exists to give help and support to those either at risk of mental illness or recovering from it. And there, but for the grace of God, goes everyone of us. As it says on their website:

A key objective of the cafe is to help and support people recovering from mental illness or at risk of suffering mental illness by providing them with positive, work-related opportunities in a Café open to the public in order to take them a step nearer to the world of work. We like to think that our presence, and pride in who we are and what we do will mean we are doing our part to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

We have been trading since March 2011. As we have become more well-known in the wider Swindon community the business, for that is what we are, has been steadily growing.

We aim to cover our trading costs by cafe sales and offset our therapeutic costs by donations and grants. Whilst we have a small core of paid professional staff who cook and supervise, the vast majority of effort is provided by our quite superb band of volunteers.”

So aside from the undoubted importance of having something nice to eat and drink you are performing an important service in doing so! And isn’t that nice?

And speaking of nice – both my friend and myself had the cauliflower cheese. Mine with chips which were good chips and my friend with salad. One tiny criticism would be that the ratio of sauce to cauliflower was a bit top heavy, but that said it was a very well flavourful sauce so overall it was scrummy!

Below are a few photographs taken on my phone which explains why some of them are not so great. The piece of all-white artwork I absolutely love. I really covet it. It’s only when you look at it closely that you realize the ‘petals’ of the flowers – in fact the whole thing – are made from plastic spoons and stirrers of all kinds. It’s really very good.

So the next time you are in the market for compost pop there. It’s a really nice garden centre actually. I believe back in the day it was council owned. Or even, and here’s a radical notion, just go anyway. The cafe has a really pleasant garden area with some fun and funky art pieces in it so sitting there with a coffee would be agreeable for sure.



#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #olivetreecafe


Swindon in the Past Lane: Ken White

I’m re-blogging this post on the blog  Swindon in the Past Lane: Ken White because I agree entirely with its sentiments. Why on earth doesn’t Swindon have at least one of Ken White’s works in its undoubtedly fabulous art collection? Frances is correct – it beggars belief.

It’s bad enough that all but one of his murals are gone but the lack of anything in the art collection adds insult to injury. It’s truly lamentable!

I’m a fan of Ken’s work. So much so that I have published several posts related to him here. I gave Ken White, entirely deservedly, a place in my list of ten things to celebrate about Swindon. If you think you don’t know his work you most certainly do – he created Virgin’s famous red lady emblem for a start.

So come on SBC. Get a grip!

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #art  #swindoninthepastlane #kenwhiteswindonartist


Swindon Festival of Literature Launch 2014

Originally posted on Festival Chronicle:
The Death Cafe. “Everyone welcome but not recommended for anyone recently bereaved.” I’m wondering if I should go to this on Monday 12 May as my cat died a few weeks ago. She was twenty years old and this was, I’m told, a ‘good innings’. But she was part of…

The Wyvern Theatre and Blood Brothers

Sunday 16th March 2014

The Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

The Wyvern Theatre, Swindon

Last night I was at the Wyvern Theatre for the first time in ages to see Blood  Brothers. Now to be honest, I saw Blood Brothers in London many years ago so wouldn’t have rushed to see it again if were not for the fact that the narrator, played by Kristofer Harding, is a close friend of my daughter’s – so naturally we go and see him whenever we can. We saw him as Rusty in  Starlight Express and as Roger in Grease and last night it was to see him as the narrator in Blood Brothers – and of course he’s amazing in everything! Natural bias aside there is no doubting his talent. He has a great voice and can really act too. I know this because in his performance as the narrator in BB in his ‘Men in Black’ suit he exuded a palpable air of menace. Whereas in real life – well he’s anything but menacing.

Kristofer hails from Hungerford – and started out his dramatic career in the Hungerford Theatre company. As is only fitting they are very proud of this son of Hungerford and have some nice information about him on the ‘success stories’ section of their website.

None of which is to say that this production of Blood Brothers wasn’t excellent because it was. Written by Willy Russell, Blood Brothers is a sad and tragic tale of fraternal twins, one kept and one given away, and the class divide. First performed 30 years ago, it’s a poignant tale of redundancy, depression and life on the dole and the ‘never-never’ which worryingly still resonates today. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that this is a contemporary piece of work not something written over half a century ago. I think it might be even more upsetting and depressing than Les Miserables, which given the name of that one, is going some! But nevertheless it is an excellent, albeit gritty, musical and the cast of this particular production were very good indeed. So very well done to all at the Wyvern for yet another excellent production.

All of which leads me to reflect, not for the first time, what a fabulous venue the Wyvern theatre is and how very lucky we are in Swindon to have it. It is so well designed that there really is not a bad seat in the place and the acoustics in it are excellent.  Some time ago I used to do volunteer ushering there which I loved – I got to see some great productions. It was a really cool scheme actually.

This lovely gem of a  theatre is named after the mythical wyvern which was once the emblem of the kings of Wessex. It was opened on 7 September 1971 by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

It features: ‘…  635 seats and every seat is designed to be no further than 70ft from the stage. The venue offers a mixed programme of concerts, comedy, dance, drama, musical theatre and local amateur productions. The Wyvern Theatre has a vibrant team of 30 staff members and an additional 30 front of house members.’ Like I said, there really isn’t a bad seat in the place.

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

The Seven Wonders of Swindon

We are most of us familiar with the 7 wonders of the ancient world:  The great pyramid of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the colossus of Rhodes, and the lighthouse of Alexandria. Only one of which – the pyramid – still remains. In more recent times a list has been compiled of the 7 wonders of the modern world:  Chichén Itza, Mexico; Christ the Redeemer Statue, Brazil; the Colosseum, Italy; the Taj Mahal, India; the Great Wall of China ; Petra, Jordan 
and Machu Picchu, Peru .

But you might not be aware that, straddling these two lists of wonders to be beheld, is another set: the 7 wonders of Swindon. Oh yes indeed. As compiled by : ‘the Swindon Ministry of Information in association with the City Council and the Swindon Special Committee for Wonders.’ I refer of course to the Seven Wonders of Swindon as created by the author Jasper Fforde, well known for creating alternative worlds that ‘blend SF, fantasy and literature amongst other genres.’ One such parallel universe is set here in Swindon where, as this article from Swindon Web explains, “Swindon a place of wit, intrigue and weirdness, where literature’s more popular than football, history is not as we know it, reconstituted dodos roam the parks, mammoths ruin your flower beds, and Thursday Next, literary detective, has to save the world.”

The reason for mentioning all this is that one of Swindon’s 7 wonders, No 3 – the Double Helix of Carfax, is earmarked for demolition as part of Swindon’s regeneration plans.  This article from Swindon Link Magazine has the full story.

The Double Helix of Carfax

The Double Helix of Carfax

On his website, Fforde describes Swindon’s 3rd wonder thus: “Only just pipping the Railway Village to the   number three slot, Swindon’s famous and groundbreaking early design in stressed steel concrete laid the groundwork for Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gaudi and many others.  Designed by Swindon University physicist Alvin Suggs in 1893 as a friction compensated slope to study Galileo’s theories of conservation of momentum, ‘Sugg’s Marble run’ as it became known gained unexpected fame in the new and untried building technique of steel reinforced or ‘stressed’ concrete.’

So Swindonians the question is this: If the town does lose its world famous Double Helix of Carfax is there anything in the town worthy of taking its place as the 3rd wonder of Swindon?  Debate is called for. Visitors descend on Swindon for the annual-ish Fforde Fiesta. The loss of this 3rd wonder will leave a dent in their itinerary.

NB: Wonder No 5, The Statue of Vavoom at the Bus Station is recognisable as the late actress Diana Dors, whose statue can be seen as part of the West Swindon Sculpture trail.

#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #art #jasperfforde #ffordefiesta

Second Mouth – Art group

Now I’m no artist myself. I’ve never been able to draw anything other than the gallows in a game of hangman. And now, with an arthritic right thumb, it’s hard going to write my name and address down. Nor do I profess to know anything about art. I just know there’s some things I like and some things I don’t. Despite my failings in the artistic arena I’m hugely impressed by all the art activity that goes on here in Swindon. Of course there’s the fabulous art collection owned by the town,which can be seen on a rotational basis in the Museum and Art gallery in Old Town. Then of course we have Ken White, well-known for his murals and paintings of the town’s industrial past. All of which would be wonderful in itself. But it isn’t. There’s so much more than that going on.

I recently published a guest post by Caroline Day – Twitter @Carolinerday – all about the Old Town gardens artist group the members of which produce a variety of art work inspired by our lovely Old Town gardens. Then there’s the Swindon Artists Forum, a group of local artists who sell their art in the gallery and shop at 21 The Plaza, in the Brunel Centre. A percentage of the commission from their sales is donated to the Prospect Hospice in Wroughton.  But there’s more.

Now we have a guest post from yet another artists group in Swindon, called Second Mouth which is, as it says on Total Swindon, a: “A pop-up gallery in Swindon’s Brunel Centre, which will host a different exhibition every week during its seven week stint, as well as a series of fascinating live events. The gallery, which is the brainchild of Swindon College students Ella May, Jake Stark and Beatrice Mar, will be home to four resident artists to work and react to the space at Second Mouth.” 

Below is more about the work of the group from one of its members – a fantastic initiative I’m sure you’ll agree.

The idea for Second Mouth all started when we were discussing the number of artists and arty things in Swindon that are all very disparate. We wanted to set something up that would not only showcase our own work but bring together creative people in the wider community.

We are a group of students and graduates of the Fine Art BA and MA at Swindon College. We have also been joined by two Illustrators from Swindon College. We all work and exhibit in the space and welcome every creative person to come in and join us!

We opened on the 6th February and close on the 23rd March. We change the exhibition every week and open our doors Thursday- Sunday. Among others, our events include a series of Friday night events running from 5.30-7pm. These range from experimental drawing nights to discussions on the senses. This week’s Friday event (7th March) will see a games night, with a range of board and card games to join in with, this event is free and welcome to all.

We will also run a clothed life drawing session from 1.30pm-2.30pm Monday 10th March. All welcome. £2 donation.

This week’s exhibition is an open exhibition called Within. Without. We sent out an open call online and to those we spoke to in the gallery, and we were overwhelmed by the response. There is a great range of media and techniques in this show and we were all very excited to open up to the public. The response so far has been fantastic and we look forward to more conversations with the public about the varying artworks. This show is on until Sunday 9th March.

Keep up to date with events and exhibitions at, and on Twitter: @thesecondmouth. Or pop into the Brunel Centre!

Inside Brunel shopping centre, first floor, 40 Brunel Arcade. Opposite Sasco’s cafe.

Open Thursday-Sunday 11-5.30pm, Sunday 11-4.30pm”

#swindon #wiltshire  #swindonblog #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #art #artists #secondmouth #swindonartistsforum #oldtdowngardensartistgroup

The Town Gardens Little Big festival: Sunday 27th April

The Town Gardens Little Big Festival needs you!

I’m putting out this blog post at the request of Caroline Day who recently did that terrific guest post about the Town Gardens art group. This time it’s all about the forthcoming Town Gardens Little Big Festival. 

Call for VISUAL ARTISTS – this year’s fantastic ‘TOWN GARDENS’ LITTLE BIG FESTIVAL‘ launch event is on Sunday 27th April. Artists are welcome to come, exhibit and sell their visual art work during this celebration time. Artists will need to bring a table or stands (and gazebo, depending on weather) to exhibit their own work. Artists will need to begin setting up by 2pm and be ready for the public at 2.30pm. There will be entertainment on the bandstand from 3pm. Please get in touch if you would like to be a part of this magnificent opportunity.

Please spread the word with those not on Facebook. Please message Town Gardens Little Big Festival or email The art work can be based on any subject but must be suitable for viewing by the general public. Thank you, Caroline Day.

We are currently booking bands, workshops, and activities for the 2014 Little Big Festival which runs in the Town Gardens from the beginning of April until the end of September. If you would like to take part please email in the first instance or tel 01793 427860. We are especially looking for activities for young children i.e dance workshops, art and crafts and storytelling. Also marshal arts, yoga, running, dance, gardening tips, flower arranging, chess and in fact anything considered that you feel can be enjoyed by all from small children through to the elderly.

The way it works is that you organise your event, charge a nominal fee if appropriate, target your audience and we will put your listing on the Little Big Festival Facebook page and make you an administrator so that you can let people know if the event has to be cancelled due to bad weather. We will also include your event in our listings which will be printed and delivered to homes in Old Town and promoted through various media outlets such as radio, local newspapers and web based pages.

In return all we ask is that you add the Little Big Festival logo to all your promotional material thus creating an umbrella for the various activities. This means that costs for the festival in terms of actual money and man power are kept to the minimum which in the current climate is the only way that we can deliver an exciting programme. There is no charge from us to take part. Bands are asked to play free of charge and are welcome to put out a hat for a collection.

The Little Big Festival is a partnership between Commonweal School, A Performing Arts Academy, Martin Hambidge from Swindon Borough Council’s Parks Department and Carol Watts who runs the Town Gardens Café. Please contact us asap as promotion material is distributed during March.

#swindon #wiltshire  #swindonblog #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #art #artists

Talk in Code – Talk in Code (from The Ocelot, March ’14)

I’ve posted elsewhere on here about Talk in Code so I just thought I’d share this very nice review of them from a blog called Groovers on Manoeuvres  (cool name) featuring a piece that was in the Ocelot magazine.

To whet your appetite here’s an extract: “Their music is an effortlessly anthemic, stadium orientated sound that naturally evokes the image of fist in the air hordes reacting to every dynamic lift and soaring sing along chorus as the sun sets behind the stage on a warm summer night. One listen of their first single from the album, Make it Happen will confirm this.  But this album isn’t a one trick pony and the combination of poppy accessible melody, slick synth washes and at least one eye on the rock riff, be it guitar or keys led, means that any number of the songs would could have a life of their own as a chart single.”  

The rest you can read by following the link here: Talk in Code – Talk in Code (from The Ocelot, March ’14).

Here’s the link to the You Tube video of their latest single ‘Make it Happen’.

#swindon #wiltshire #indiepop #talkincodeband #talkincode  #swindonblog #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian

Let’s go Retro!

Sunday 2nd March

Well. My word. What a splenducious event that was. This weekend Swindon town centre has been the location of  a Vintage/Retro extravaganza organized by the management of the Brunel shopping centre. And I have to say jolly impressive the whole thing was. Bluddy marvellous in fact.

The town centre was chock fill of vintage cars, there was skiffle on Canal Walk, fashion shows, Lindy Hop, demonstrations of vintage hairstyles and a wonderful pop-up shop/display featuring the Swindon Heritgage magazine people, Carter Collectables, R Ken White  – with whom I got to shake hands and acquire a copy of the Swindon Heritage magazine signed by him – and lots of display material relating to Swindon’s rich history. There was a Diana Dors look-a-like and people in all manner of vintage outfits amongst many other splendid things. So many people had thoroughly embraced the whole thing in every way. So very well done to the Brunel management and Swindon for a really terrific event.

So below – just to give you a flavour of the weekend – are a few photos.

And here’s a link to Your Swindon Town Centre where there’s lots of pictures.

#vintage #retro #swindonvintagefestival  #swindonblog #hiddenswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #swindonian

Charmed by La Carbonara

Sunday 2nd March 2014

Number 1 (okay – only) daughter and her husband visited this weekend from their home in The Smoke and it was decided we’d go out for lunch today. So where to go? A decision that gets ever trickier as the eating options in Swindon have improved greatly in recent times. I wanted to stay in the town centre area because I intended to pay a return visit to the vintage/retro festival being held over this weekend. A stunning and impressive event I have to say. Our favourite Indian restaurant, Rangoli, isn’t open Sunday lunchtimes so I settled on La Carbonara. They hadn’t been there at all and I haven’t been for ages – and it was as good as I remembered.

There’s been a trend in recent years for restaurants to go all contemporary and Brasserie in decor. Well that’s all very well and good I suppose but there’s nothing like a bit of cheesy kitsch in a restaurant decor. Personally – I love it. Bring back flock wallpapers in curry houses! Anyway, La Carbonara offers kitsch in bucket loads with the red checked cloths, the raffia-bound Chianti bottles with candles in and the Italian tri-colour flag all over the place. It’s great!  But, more importantly, the food is good too. The service is friendly, the prices are reasonable and the portions are large. What’s not to like?

It being lunch-time we didn’t bother with starters as we didn’t want to be over-stuffed for the rest of the day. Hmmm. So much for that plan. As soon as we got sat down a bowl of olives was put on the table – a nice touch and it doesn’t always happen. Olivio’s take note – just to say though that I had a very tasty pulled pork Chimichanga in there – I just thought £2.50 for a bowl of olives a bit much. Though it was a good sized bowl full.

My son-in-law is Indian hence is used to having a variety of dishes at a meal rather than just the one plateful so he interestingly opted to have two starter plates of spaghetti – one with Bolognese and one with Carbonara. Starter plates? They were big portions. Unsurprisingly he slept all afternoon!

My daughter and I both opted for the Vitello. Mine with Gorgonzola sauce and hers Milanese. There was a big portion of saute potatoes – really enough for two – and a nice portion of vegetables too.

Living in London my daughter and son-in-law have access to every cuisine you can imagine – and a fair amount of it is to be found on Streatham High Road. But what you don’t necessarily get there is big portions. Well La Carbonara comes up trumps there for sure so make sure you’ve got a good appetite.

I didn’t study the prices in detail as I wasn’t paying. 🙂  But I think it was all reasonable enough. Nor can I comment on the dessert menu as we were too full to think about it and anyway, I’m not hugely a dessert person. I’d rather have more meat!

So all in all a very enjoyable Sunday lunch and I’ll try not to leave it so long before I go again.

#lacarbonara #rangoli #brunelvintagefestival #italianfood #swindonblog #swindon blog #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian

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