October 28-November 13, 2010
Coming up for air
Phew. That's a relief.
This blog has been sadly neglected over the last two or three weeks but can now resume - now that I have got one of the biggest projects of my life out of the way.
The Alfred Williams Heritage Festival turned out to be a huge task, and it was lucky - sort of - that the bottom dropped out of the freelance sub-editing market in the weeks leading up to it, because otherwise I would never have had time to do all I had to do.
The preparation involved writing, editing and arranging to have printed both the programme for The Hammerman musical and one for the Local Heritage Festival - the two main parts of the festival.
The Local History Fair was my baby, and at one time it threatened to self-destruct over an issue involving public liability insurance, but eventually came together very nicely. I persuaded more than 20 local history groups to come along and have a stand, and the event was very well received.
As for The Hammerman: I wasn't supposed to be much involved with that, apart from generating the publcity (which was a big job in itself), but somehow got dragged into operating the captioning (sub-titling) which made the performance as accessible as we had promised the Heritage Lottery Fund it would be. They were paying for the whole festival and sent along a lady to check we had spent our money wisely. From her arrival, just before a special afternoon event we put on for schools, until she left the following day, she seemed to be impressed with everything.
We also provided comprehensive facilities for blind people to enjoy the show too, and we were undoubtedly the most accessible show in Swindon this year. In fact, we even went beyond that because captioning was a benefit for everybody with hearing problems, such as the elderly, not just severely or profoundly deaf people.
To cut a long story short, The Hammerman ran like a dream and was extremely well received, and the captioning went smoothly too, which was no mean feat as even with two full days of training, it required a lot of hard work and a lot of nerve to do it properly.
By midnight on Saturday, when it was all over (save for a day of van deliveries on Monday), I felt as physically and mentally exhausted as at any other time in my life, but quite proud to have highlighted the story of a forgotten hero and pulled off an ambitious festival. Considering none of the three founders of the Alfred Williams Heritage Society - me, John Cullimore (who composed The Hammerman) and Caroline Ockwell - really had much idea how to organise a festival when we first started, we did a pretty good job.
Personally, I felt quite proud to see things that I have designed, such as the beer label and the main logo for The Hammerman, which was up on a big screen, become reality.
In the lead-up to the event I also found time to spend a day at Alfred's old school at South Marston and help them produce a newspaper; appear live on Swindon 105.5; write various promotional features for the Advertiser; plus 1,001 other things that are needed to put on a festival, and which visitors to it have no idea of the extent of.
In the end, things went so smoothly that even unspiritual people like started to wonder about divine intervention, especially as Paul Bradley, the actor who eventually played Alfred in the musical, appeared from nowhere to take up the gauntlet at a late stage, deliver a stunning performance and - most impressive of all - turned out to be the nicest guy you could ever wish to meet, despite his vast talent. It wouldn't really surprise me to discover he was an angel who had been sent on a mission to help out a bunch of geeks and prove their faith in the story of Alfred Williams to inspire was justified.
Not only are we chuffed to think that Alfred is, at last, getting some of the recognition he deserved - and a shame it has to be 80 years after he died - but the whole experience has been most remarkable, for me, for providing opportunities to meet and work with lots of people with special qualities but who also nearly all turned out to be genuinely nice people.
Now that it's all over, I can re-introduce myself to my family, especially Julie, who has become a bit of an Alfred Williams widow in the last month, and yet still turned up for some sheer graft to help make sure the festival went smoothly on Friday and Saturday.
To remember the event I have a first edition of one of Alfred's books, which was a surprise present from my co-conspirators, which I had to go up on stage to receive at the end of Saturday's show. It was one of the things that made all the stress and the hard work worth it in the end.
During my absence from blogging, a few things still went on that are worth recording, including some things that I somehow managed to squeeze into the schedule, which receive a hasty overview now....
Sean failed his second driving test on a very small error, which confirms what I've always felt, which is that the whole business is such a lottery they might as well sell tickets instead of run tests. Any disappointment he might have felt over that, however, pales into insignificance because his fledgling career as a drum/guitar teacher continues to expand with the addition of one or two little jobs and now a second regular drum student. He now even has a class of about 20 kids that he teaches guitar to at a junior school, and comes home having thoroughly enjoyed it. "They actually pay me to do this!" he says, which makes us feel that the encouragement we have given him to go down this career path rather than chase exam results is entirely justified.
Julie and I enjoyed an excellent production of Alan Bennett's two-plays-for-the-price-of-one spy production, Single Spies, at the Watermill, Newbury, our favourite theatre
Sean and I went along to see football history being made when Swindon Supermarine not only excelled themselves by playing their first ever first round proper match in the FA Cup, but actually won it - 2-1, at home to Eastwood Town. It was great to see the club punch so far above their weight and earn an away tie against Colchester United in the second round, but the non-League experience also reminded me of the old days of going to football, with the opportunity to stand anywhere in the ground, and watching players who were more interested in getting on and playing football than diving, play-acting and thinking up new methods of gamesmanship. The only blot on the proceedings was somehow deleting the photos from my camera, before I downloaded them.
I finished reading Michael Palin's second book of diaries, Halfway to Hollywood. This has been my bathroom book for months - which is the only way I've had time to read anything not Alfred Williams related. It covers the 1980s and is as charming and readable as the previous volume, this time giving an insight into the life of an ex-Python who was writing and acting in major films at the time. It also relates the story of his sister who committed suicide. Palin is such an intelligent, interesting and likeable man and has a lovely attitude to life that I can't wait to read the third volume when it comes out.
Our band had not one but two successful gigs - at the Bakers Arms, Upper Stratton and Stratton British Legion. Drumming has been neglected a bit, and I am looking forward to devoting more time to it in a bid to improve.
We enjoyed a memorable Bonfire Night, hosted by our friends Percy (Phil) and Liz. They have recently had a large rectangular extension built, which Percy calls their 'gospel hall', and it certainly provided us with the best fun we've ever had in a gospel hall, especially a hotly-contested game about throwing ping-pong balls into beer glasses (winning team pictured). The heavy rain failed to spoil the fireworks and with good food and good drinks - which is always guaranteed at Percy's - it made it a great night, espeically as I took a night off from my diet.
Talking of my diet, I'm still on it and still losing weight. I guess I must have lost two stones by now, but haven't weighed myself, so the new notch on my belt is providing the only real proof of progress, along with the clothes I have rediscovered in my wardrobe and which I can now fit into.
On the day after the festival I managed to get to a small remembrance ceremony at Radnor Street Cemetery, organised by Swindon World War I historian Mark Sutton. He was very helpful during our festival, and it was nice to support his event in turn. I used to live opposite the gates of the cemetery, and it was good to hear that Mark and a fellow historian/journalist, Frances Bevan, are thinking of forming an organisation to restore the cemetery chapel and some of the graves. Sounds like another historical project to get involved in.