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May 23, 2012

Flame at last*



It's a day that's been on our calendar ever since it was announced; a unique day in Swindon's history and one that we will remember for a long time. And it's only really the start.

It was the day the Olympic Torch Relay came to town - and I got to see no less than five runners carry it.

The first was at the top of Kingshill in Old Town, Swindon, which is a long walk away and which I did with Holly, meeting Julie near our destination. We picked a good spot at the top of the hill, looking down, and had about an hour and a quarter to wait for the relay to arrive, partly because we wanted to pick our spot and partly because it was running late.

But it didn't matter because there was already a fantastic happy atmosphere in the sunshine as the crowds grew. When the police motorcycle escort paused briefly for the convoy to catch up, one guy asked if he could have a photo of his young son on the bike, and the policeman obliged, which was nice (also pictured by me, below).

An advance party of police and sponsors' advertising vans came through before the Torch itself, carried by a 14-year-old girl who looked suitably proud.

And, of course, that was it. All over in seconds... or should have been.

I had already planned to get a second look at it as it was due in Gypsy Lane this afternoon, which was on my way home and I had plenty of time to get there as the relay was breaking for lunch.

But as we made our way towards the epicentre of Swindon's celebrations, in Wharf Green, our timing was perfect to see the relay pass along Crombey Street, and although the crowds were far too big for us to get in Wharf Green itself, I did catch a glimpse of the torchbearer leaving there, who turned out to be none other than Chelsea footballer Didier Drogba. I also got a picture of the torches themselves, in the van, ready for the torchbearers.

Then, as I made my way towards Gypsy Lane, I spotted police cars and crowds gathering, and realised my timing was perfect to see it coming down Great Western Way. The crowds were much thinner there, and I actually felt a bit sorry for the guy carrying it because only a few hundred got to see him, rather than the thousands in town, but it did mean people like me could get a good photo.

Despite now flagging in the heat and the sun, I made my way towards Gypsy Lane, where I bumped into my brother Maurice and we watched (and I filmed) the torchbearer go over the humpback bridge on its way to the BMW Mini factory. This was a surprisingly less populated spot too, although the crowds looked big on the other side of the bridge.

Then it was back home via the cycle path between there and home, which is usually practically desserted but today was full of families making their way home after seeing the Torch. It seemed to sum up what the day was about - Swindon, of all places, getting in on a truly world event and people smiling as they were captured by the spirit of it all.

Sean got to see it at the Oasis, which I was glad about as I really think it is a once-in-a-lifetime event that is great to witness. So we all got to see it, but me more than most.

We have planned our year around the Olympics, so this was only a taste, but seeing the Torch has certainly got us excited about what is to come. The next time we see the Flame it will be in the Olympic Stadium.































*Credit where it's due: the headline was stolen off the front of today's Swindon Advertiser

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May 21, 2012

Best laid schemes



Even by the high standards of The Watermill, the play we watched there tonight was pretty special.

It was the stage adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, a book I read fairly recently as Sean was studying it for GCSE, so I decided to read his copy.

I couldn't remember much about the book except the strength of the characters, but this production was so good that it brought it all back, and brought it all to life. And in all the years we've been going to the Watermill, this is one of the best things we've seen.

It's a pretty miserable story, in truth, being about the hopelessness of nearly all the characters - and even their dogs - and the ground is laid for an unhappy ending almost from the beginning. So when you warm to the characters because of the actors' brilliant portrayals, especially the wise but frustrated George and the simple-minded Lennie, who are the main heroes, it's even sadder.

We've been used to gripping plays at the Watermill, but this one really was absorbing. Being so small, the place always gives you the impression of being not just close to the action but part of it, especially if you are in Row C, like we were tonight. And the set made it even more intimate, being the inside of a corrugated iron barn, thus matching the Watermill itself, which is obviously an adapted farm building. Everything fell into place.

We've been to the theatre a lot recently, and the more I go, the more it seems to me that other forms of dramatic entertainment are lagging behind. Stage plays are a constant. They are as good as they've ever been, because no actor survives in live theatre without being truly gifted, so quality is never compromised.

Compare that with TV drama, which is constantly dumbed-down and fleshed out with former soap stars who are cast not because they have any particular acting ability, but because they have a familiar face. Then there is cinema, where money rules and directors are obliged to throw in endless, pointless and frankly now boring action sequences and special effects.

On screen these days, everything seems geared to the lowest common denominator.

Everybody should go to the Watermill at least once in their life, and Of Mice and Men would be the perfect introduction for those who are yet to discover its magic.

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May 19, 2012

Normal service resumed

My brief flirtation with WordPress is over - as you can see.

I started using it because I thought it would be easier to blog on the move, using the iPad. But it's not as easy as that, and not always practical.

WordPress, which seemed to be the best of the blog sites, had a few irritations of its own, like the date on the entry being fixed to today's date, so that if you tried to update it a minute after midnight, it showed the wrong date.

There is also an issue with Safari, Apple's own browser, which really doesn't like blog sites and refuses to work properly with WordPress, while the WordPress app for the iPad had some foibles and limitations too.

I doubt there are many people still blogging by writing HTML code, but I am - and I like its flexibility. I've also found an excellent FTP app - called FTPOnTheGo which allows me to upload directly, giving me mobility and flexibility after all.


Bargain hunted



I had a return trip to the Beaulieu Autojumble today, along with brothers Brian and Maurice, and came home with a unique bargain.

I estiimate that there was maybe 100 million different items for sale at this incredible junk buyer's paradise, but only one of these:



It's one of those aluminium boxes they store the food in on planes, so although it's not the only one of its kind in the world, it is unique in that it's the only one I've ever seen for sale. And £15 has to be a good price for something that unusual. Mine, by the way, started life belonging to KLM, but later became the property of Atlanta Airlines.

As it has built-in shelf supports, the plan is to use it as a kind of mini filing cabinet, but I also like it because it reminds me of happy times. I absolutely love flying and everything that goes with it; even airports. I even love airline food - the clever way it is packed; the little freebies that come with it; the fact that you are likely to get plain food instead of fancy stuff I don't like (I once had sausage and mash so was in heaven); but most of all is the idea that you are having a little mile-high picnic. Every home should have a former airline food box.

Other bargains I came home with were: some tiles to add to the bathroom project; a little advertising stand from a shop that makes a nice display/filing rack; a Michelin man sign; some Jaguar postcards and a tiny model roadsign.

I got my first taste of the amazing Autojumble last September. That's when they have the main event, but this one is a smaller version, although it is actually quite big enough. We walked around for six hours, non-stop, and just managed to see every stall.

While we waited for it to open, we also got in a quick visit to the National Motor Museum (above) as entry is included in admission to the Autojumble. And there are plenty of other sights to see during the day, such as this:




Reality check

The thrill of the Olympic Torch arriving in Britain and heading for Swindon (on Wednesday!) has got us a bit nervous.

We have been telling everybody about our tickets to see the athletics session on August 5 that includes the 100m final, but they haven't actually arrived yet, and just lately we have been starting to wonder if it is too good to be true. You know - like lottery winners keep checking their tickets, before they get the money, to make sure they haven't made a terrible mistake.

It got so bad that I actually re-visited the original emails and went on to the official ticket website to make sure we hadn't dreamt it all. But, sure enough, it is true, and we are going for that session - which also includes the men's 3000m steeplechase and the women's 400m finals.

The tickets are due to arrive "in the summer", so we still don't know how long it will be until they are actually in our hands. Then we have the terrible dilemma of what to do with them until they are needed, and how we securely transport them to the stadium on the day.

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May 14, 2012

Catch-up

This won't do. I have been trying to keep this blog more up to date, and I'm even in the process of converting it back to a self-supporting (non-WordPress) blog, but two things have got in the way.

Firstly there is the great bathroom tiling saga, which has turned into the slowest, biggest DIY project of my life. I'm not sure who actually reads this blog, but I wouldn't subject them to a description of the job, unless they spend their spare time fantasizing about tiling - in which case I would do it for a fee. Let's face it: other people's tiling is not that exciting.

The second reason for not posting much is: not much has happened, apart from tiling. Did I say I had spent the whole weekend tiling?

In-between tiling sessions, I did go to a very interesting talk, given by Bob Townsend of The Swindon Society last week. It was about the history of the modern Olympics and a few local connections. Bob's father was part of the team that carried the Olympic torch before the 1948 London Games, although sadly it didn't come through Swindon that time. Most of all, the evening whetted our appetite for London 2012, which we have planned our year around. Not that it needed whetting. The fun starts when the Olympic Torch comes to town next week!

The following day I had to do a talk of my own, about Alfred Williams, which I was pretty chuffed about for two reasons. Firstly, although it was only a small lunchtime talk, it was part of the fairly prestigious Swindon Festival of Literature. Secondly, it was quite successful.

They were charging £5 to get in, for a start, which is technically the first time anybody has ever had the nerve to charge an audience to see me. For their money they got a half-hour slideshow from me and half an hour of poetry/prose readings by three members of the Friends of Alfred Williams, who may have been the real attraction.

It was in the small studio at Swindon Arts Centre, and half an hour before the start, the organiser arrived with an offer to swap up with the event upstairs in the theatre as we had sold more tickets, and he was a bit worried he would have to turn people away. To be fair, the room only holds 55, so it's not exactly Wembley Stadium, but a sell-out is a sell-out!

They didn't, as it turned out, quite sell out, but it was nice to be a potential sell-out. The talk itself went pretty well, too. People seemed pretty interested and a couple of people said they really enjoyed it. Nobody fell asleep and as far as I'm aware, nobody asked for their money back.

I've done a few such talks now and I'm pretty surprised how little terror - none, in fact - they invoke in me. I would even go so far as to say I enjoy them, which is mostly dependent on knowing your stuff, so it's far less of a challenge than drumming in a band, for instance.

Having said that, I am enjoying playing in the band for other reasons than satisfaction in overcoming adversity. Practising is more like jamming, and I'm enjoying playing new songs, such as Jumping Jack Flash. God knows how I'd feel in the unlikely event of the band selling out.

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May 1, 2012

Desert Island Dick

I don't seem to be able to keep off the radio this year, and had another hour-long live appearance today, this time on Swindon 105.5FM.

It's funny how unnervous and unworried I can be about potentially scary things when I am sure I know my subject. Although Swindon probably doesn't have a huge audience, it's still live, which could/would give me the willies in some circumstances.

I was there because my drum teacher, Paul Ashman, who does a monthly programme on behalf of the Swindon Music Service, had been let down by his planned guests, so I stepped in at the last minute, with instructions to talk about music, drumming and suchlike, and take along a few favourite CD tracks to play.

So it was a bit of a Desert Island Discs affair. Or maybe Desert Island Dick. Actually, I'd done something similar, a while back, so knew the form. The Beatles were featured, naturally (All My Loving) and Al Stewart (Feel Like), plus Stevie Wonder (Sir Duke), Elvis Presley (Guitar Man) and The Undertones (Teenage Kicks), but I was most pleased to include Couldn't Be Better by The Familiar Sound, which was written and sung by my late nephew, Trevor Carter.

The programme is essentially about getting people - especially young people - to create music, so I was able to put across the point that music is a fantastic legacy, and although Trev is no longer with us - nor, indeed, are Elvis Presley and half of The Beatles - their music always is.

The programme will be repeated on Saturday (4-5pm) and can also be heard online. You can listen to Couldn't Be Better any time here.