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Mela magic

For somebody who has always loved and/or been fascinated by Indian music, food, culture, religion, history, art and design, decor and even costume - not to mention taken an instant liking to just about every Asian person I've ever met - then events don't come much better than the Swindon Mela.

Today was the fifth annual Mela at the Town Gardens - we've been to them all - and it's something we look forward to all year. We get there early, have some curry, walk round the stalls and decide which spicy nibbles to take home, watch some Bollywood dancing, buy some handmade things, watch the dhol drummers, eat some Kulfi ice cream, buy some pickles, see loads of people we know, find we've run out of cash, take loads of pictures... and then drag ourselves home, absolutely knackered.

It's more or less the same every year, except this year there was a 12-foot high motorised elephant there too.

An interesting fact (as I discovered from talking to the former organiser, a couple of years ago) is that other melas are attended by about 80 per cent Asian people and 20 per cent 'whites'. But in Swindon, it's mostly 50-50, which says a lot for its multi-culturalism - and is something the town should be extremely proud of.

An unusually fine day helped to swell the crowds even more than last year, when there were 17,000 there, and if ever there was an event that deserved to be a success, the Mela is it. The pictures never really capture the full, happy, friendly, relaxed atmosphere of the day, but you've got to take them...

There are more Mela pictures on SwindonWeb.

A spot of rain

As boring as it may sound to be going on about the weather, I have to make the observation that today was the day when Swindon suffered the worst rainstorm I've ever seen. It was certainly Swindon's wettest day in modern times - and I'm now quite glad I was out in it for a while rather than just watching it from indoors.

I woke up at probably about 4am and noticed it was raining then, and it was still raining when I got up at 5.45am. This seemed like no big thing because it's rained practically every day for the last two months. There was no let-up at 10am when I popped out of work to go to Ruskin School (where I was asked along with several other school 'helpers' to shake hands and give out various end-of-year awards to the kids). When I arrived there I got the first inkling of what was building up because part of the road was flooded, but because there were some roadworks, I put it down to that.

When I came out of the school two hours later, however, it had reached the point where the drains couldn't cope. Not only was the rain now filling the road and going over the kerbs, but it was rushing around like a flowing river. I had to get in the car on the passenger side because it was so deep in the road. In Beechcroft Road, a manhole cover was lifted out of its hole and the water was gushing up out of it.

I had already changed my route to avoid the bits that get flooded when we get a sudden downpour, but there were queues of traffic at the worst bits as drivers had to slow to a crawl to get through.

Back at the Adver, the photographers had, ironically, originally been scheduled to attend school sports days, and eventually all their jobs were called off as they were redirected to the worst floods - which was just about all over town.

Swindon has flooded before, but only in very isolated places and only temporarily as, having no major rivers to speak of, it's impossible for it to flood properly. Today's problems were simply a case of the drains not being able to cope with the volume of water that fell. It rained for at least 13 hours, and although I've seen heavier rain, that's only been in sudden deluges that lasted for a minute or so. This was heavy rain, pouring down all day - and coming straight down, without a breath of wind.

When I was driving home at 6.15pm I was lucky to be heading north instead of west because Radio Swindon were broadcasting calls from motorists who had been in jams for three hours, trying to get to West Swindon, and reporting a rumour that they were going to be told to turn back. The M4 was closed at one stage and trains suspended between Paddington and Bristol. I arrived in Headlands Grove just as the council were putting cones out to close the road.

By then it had finally stopped - like somebody turning off the tap - and it was actually a bright, pleasant evening.

The pictures, above, which I have borrowed from SwindonWeb, are notable because they are not selected places but typical of what it was like everywhere in town.

Parental pride

I am allowing myself a dose of parental pride, thanks to several things that have happened this week.

On Tuesday we were being told by one of the teachers who took Holly to Germany that she was a credit to us, and on Wednesday Sean took his Grade 6 drumming exam. It's tempting fate to say much before he gets the result - which may be days or weeks - but suffice to say that it's looking good.

Today, both Sean and Holly came home with very good reports* - not just academically but also in something that we've always put, if anything, more store by. They give marks in each subject for effort, behaviour and handing homework in on time, on a scale that goes from P (for praiseworthy) to M (for meeting targets) and C (for concern). The fact that there was a healthy number of Ps and not a C in sight says everything about their approach to things.

Also today, it was the end-of-year award-giving at Thamesdown Junior Chess Club, where Holly won the Under-12 trophy (as pictured). This didn't impress her much because most of the under-12s have left the club, being comparatively old timers at the game, but I pointed out that although there are only four or five of them left, they're all good players and - I'm not sure why this should make me defiant in any way - she showed the boys how it's done.

*This is not quite true because Sean came home with it on Wednesday but forgot to give it to us until Thursday, being a teenager who currently lives on a strange parallel planet to ours.

Back home

Holly's home from her school trip to Germany, having had a really good time.

She coped really well with her injections and things, and managed to impress the teachers with her mature approach. The lady teacher who was looking out for her said she managed everything herself - which we knew she would - and was a credit to us, which obviously makes us very proud.

Mark and Maxine

Today was another epic day - the one when my nephew Mark married Maxine.

Even the weather turned sunny for a great day, with Mark and Maxine making a perfect couple, and Mark having found one of the nicest girls you could ever wish to meet.

Everything went without a hitch unless you were the driver of the coach who took us and a lot of the family from Swindon to St Mary's Church in Witney. He managed to drive into the back of a ditherer at a busy junction, five minutes from our destination. This was especially embarrassing as it was very busy in Witney because it was carnival day - something that added even more to the spectacle and atmosphere of the wedding.

After a lively ceremony with a happy vicar, we boarded the coach again to go to the reception at Witney Lakes Resort, an excellent venue with a great setting, where the food was good, especially the evening buffet, which was probably the tastiest I've ever had.

Before that we had the speeches which were spot on, with Mark, who had looked really nervous before the service, now oozing pride. I even got a round of applause for doing the invitations and orders of service, though doing them had obviously been an honour.

The pictures below are the edited highlights, but there are plenty more extended highlights. These include a picture of eight Mrs Carters, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world - to which Maxine is now officially a member.

Auf Wiedersehen, Holly

It was the earliest of early starts for us today, getting up at 4am so that Holly could catch a coach at about 5am. She's off to Germany for a five-day school trip. We got there in plenty of time, all the kids turned up and after briefly thinking she had the prime seat on the bus, next to the driver, she realised they were reserved for teachers, but still got a good one, near the door.

We were more apprehensive than the other parents who were waving them off because this is not only the first time she's been abroad since being diagnosed as diabetic, but the first time away without us. The school has bent over backwards to have all bases covered - not only producing a care plan but translating a copy into German, and arranging a meeting with Julie, Holly, two teachers, two nurses and the school matron. Holly, of course, isn't at all worried about the situation but we - and especially Julie - can't help it. Holly herself continues to be excellent at managing her diabetes, and if she can do it on this trip too, she will have already proved herself capable of taking full responsibility for her own wellbeing, even though she's still only 12.

Return to Dublin

Another panorama of Dublin has been added to the site.

The full set of panoramic pictures are here.

Happy birthday to me

One of the disappointments with getting to my age - I was 46 today - is that birthdays become a bit low key, although a relaxing, fairly lazy day was just what the doctor ordered.

I got a few presents - both the kids bought me (different) drum sticks, and the bodhran I bought in Dublin was really a present from the whole family. I am going to use some of the money I got to get the first two Bees albums, and put the rest to what I call an electronic picture frame - those new things that you can use to display digital pictures.

Both me and Julie took the day off to go out for a sunny picnic and a brief walk round the shops in Cirencester before returning to pick the kids up from school.

Eight pints of Guinness, please

I'm back home after a thoroughly enjoyable weekend in Dublin for my nephew Glyn's stag weekend.

It was my first ever trip to Ireland so therefore included my first taste of Guinness in its natural habitat. Everybody who had been there before told me that it tastes much better over there - and it certainly does. All eight of us - Glyn, Gary (his brother), Dave (his dad), Martin (his mate) and Chris, Adrian and Reg (his workmates) and me - carefully checked the quality of the Guinness at various pubs, restaurants and even the brewery, but starting in the pub we were staying in.

It soon became clear that we were, in fact, staying in Dublin's most impressive pub, called the Oliver St John Gogarty - which, the taxi driver from the airport took great delight in telling us, was not pronounced Goag-arty as we thought, but Gogre-ty. It stands on a corner in Temple Bar - the main touristy pub/club/cafe/restaurant area - and has a small public bar on the ground floor, a traditional music venue on the first floor and a restaurant on the second floor. It has also expanded to take up most of the block, with a fish restaurant and accommodation made up of a hostel and some apartments on the roof, of which we had two.

The best part of Gogarty's is the first floor, where they play the music. An area is cleared at the other end to the bar, where four musicians gather around a long table to play sentimental traditional Irish songs (Molly Malone, Wild Rover, Fields of Athenry, etc), some contemporary stuff (even Oasis!) and, best of all, lightning fast jigs and reels. In some cases the musicians were playing together for the first time - I saw the banjo player being introduced to the bloke who was going to play the bodhran (a hand-held drum, pronounced bough-ron) and also the Irish pipe player - yet they all seemed to be able to instinctively play anything together. There is music in the pub from 2.30pm until 2.30am, although because you have to stand and it gets packed, how long you stay depends on your stamina rather than the quality of the music.

We also needed stamina for eating because we had a couple of full Irish breakfasts during the trip which are the same as full English breakfasts except they include black pudding (the best you'll taste) and white pudding - a kind of cross between black pudding and sausage.

We needn't have moved from Gogarty's really, but we did have a walk round streets broad and narrow, and took the open-top bus ride round the touristy bits, which was excellent, and it conveniently dropped us off at the impressive Guinness brewery - surely the most famous brewery in the world. There is lots of interactive stuff and a free pint at the Gravity Bar at the top, which has a 360-degree view, including the 60 acres of the brewery.

After visiting that on Saturday, I then did some shopping, which included buying a bodhran for myself (to learn) which meant overlooking the cheap touristy ones and seeking out the real McCoys. On Saturday evening we had a fantastic meal in Temple Bar and I stayed up until 1am, watching the musicians. I was surprised that I had almost as much stamina as anybody else in the gang.

We left for the airport early on Sunday morning and had a good flight back to Bristol, where we all parted (until the wedding), having tired ourselves out from packing so much into two days. My over-riding impression of Dublin was that it was much busier and less relaxing than I had expected (compared to, say, Amsterdam, Brussels and even Paris) but it's a must-see place because of its friendly and safe atmosphere. There is plenty to see and do, the food and the music doesn't get any better, anywhere in the world - and it's worth going to taste proper Guinness.

There is also a panoramic picture of Gogarty's (or you can see all the panoramic pictures on this blog from the beginning).

High over Pill

I always love flying, and on the trip back from Dublin to Bristol I had a bit of a bonus as we flew over a place with family connections.

Julie's mum's family were from Pill, just outside Bristol (some still live there), and one of her ancestors used to own the ferry across the Avon between Pill and Shirehampton. It was finally put out of business when the Avonmouth bridge was built alongside it. Both the bridge (in the west) and the site of the ferry (just to the east, with Shirehampton on the north bank and Pill on the south) can be seen in the picture I took:


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