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Features

Startling images in the art and photography exhibition at St John’s

At the annual art exhibition of work by senior students at St John’s School on Monday evening (June 27), visitors saw again that the school’s magnificent atrium is a great space for such exhibitions. They also saw some really enterprising and exciting work.

On show were the work of students taking fine art and/or photography for their AS level exams (year 12), A2 exams (year 13) and the International Baccalaureate – altogether about seventy students.

There was a display of portfolios, life drawings and work in all manner of media – mixed and unmixed.  One student had combined embroidery and portrait photographs to produce an interesting new reflection on body decoration.

Based on a very unscientific poll – in fact based on many over-heard comments from parents, students and other visitors to the exhibition – Lucy Keen’s painting of a dancer (seen left) proved by far the most popular and eye-catching piece.  She depicted the dancer in the school’s dance studio, but saw her reflected in the very large lenses of a pair of dark glasses

.Below is a random selection of works that caught the eye:
Emily Freeley’s take on the Statue of Liberty seen as a sort of brass rubbing.
Ellie Mills’ 3-D boxed paper cutting image of those birds escaping from that pie.
Hannah Partis’ startling and intriguing take on the royal wedding – the expression on the face of the smallest child is wonderful.
And another chance to see Lucy Keen’s dancer.

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Chance to see giant embroidery

The recently-installed Upper Kennet Valley Embroidery will take pride of place at an Open Day held by the Marlborough and District Branch of the Embroiderers Guild on Monday, June 27 from 11am to 4pm at Kennet Valley Hall, Lockeridge.

The group's regular Stitch Day will be in progress, there will be a display of work from workshops and the Young Embroiderers group, and visitors will have a chance to talk to the creators of the giant embroidery.

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Dyslexia association launches website

Marlborough and District Dyslexia Association has launched a new website, containing help, advice and information about the group.

The MDDA is a small, independent charity which has for the last 22 years supported local schools, hundreds of dyslexics and their families.

The objectives of the association are to encourage the identification of dyslexia and to advance the education of children and adults with the condition, through providing:

  • A confidential helpline for advice and support – 07729 452143
  • A dyslexia surgery on the second Saturday of each month (except August) with a dyslexia specialist in attendance
  • A free loan service for hundreds of books, games and other resources
  • Contacts with other professionals and organisations
  • Two newsletters per year for members
  • Two dyslexia-related lecturers per year

The association is run by a small but dedicated committee of parents, teachers and dyslexics who seek to promote awareness of this specific learning difficulty, to advance the education of dyslexics and help them to reach their full potential in life.

For more information log on to www.marlboroughdistrictdyslexia.org

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How the 80th birthday of Anna Quarendon’s mother was celebrated in Africa.

Anna Quarendon, the new chair of the Marlborough Brandt Group (MBG), visited Gunjur in The Gambia last year – and was captivated by its friendly people.  Gunjur has been linked with Marlborough for twenty-five years.

With a population of about 17,500, Gunjur is still called a village. It’s  where MBG have concentrated their help and to which they’ve sent many volunteers. And next week, after a gap of four years, a group of six Gunjurians will be here  – return hospitality for all those who have gone to stay in Gunjur from Marlborough.

Anna, who works for BBC Wiltshire, travelled in January last year with the group which went to witness the granting of honorary citizenship to Dr Nick Maurice, one of MBG’s founders and now its president, and to Anita Bew, MBG’s secretary the organiser of its Link Committee.

As Anna puts it, the Gambians “were thanking two people who live many thousands of miles away for making a difference to their world. Through the work of MBG.”

Her hosts for the week-long visit were the family of Mbanding Darboe (on Anna’s left in the photo) and her mother. Anna had been a bit undecided about joining the group as their visit coincided with her mother, Pauline’s 80th birthday.

When, in passing, she mentioned this to her hosts, they arranged a birthday party in their compound on the simple grounds that “Your mother is as important as our mother.”  And they cooked all day to provide a suitable spread for the party.

Then, when Anna went to a local radio station to be interviewed about her visit and her work in England, most of the station’s staff came into the studio and sang “Happy birthday, dear Pauline”.  This went out live to listeners in the Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau.  They then presented Anna with a recording of her interview and the birthday greeting to her mother.

The day Anna got back home, she held a family birthday party for her mother – and the recording was a wonderful surprise birthday present from her new family in Africa.

It’s difficult to resist that sort of friendship, almost impossible not to be captivated.

Anna has been at BBC Wiltshire since 1999.  She’s reported, presented and produced radio programmes for them, and now produces and manages the daily, nine till noon Morning Show presented by Mark O’Donnell.

She started with BBC television 1978, spending five years as a researcher on a variety of programmes – from serious documentaries to quiz shows. She then became a full-time mother for her two children.

Anna enjoys mixing hard work and fun.  Once her children were at school, she set up a home-based mail order company designing and making crackers – the Christmas sort of crackers.

The name of her company must have lightened the tax man's bureaucratic days: "Completely Crackers".

During her time in Gunjur, Anna prepared a number of radio features about the village, the work MBG has been able to do there – like the pre-school and the women’s garden, the importance to villagers of the link with Marlborough and about the lively and lengthy ceremony – attended by thousands of people, mostly women – during which honorary citizenship was conferred on the two MBG stalwarts.

When she’d just arrived  in Gunjur she’d felt disoriented: “Sitting on the side of my bed on that first night, I fought back a huge desire to cry at the strangeness of it all and rather wanted to go home.”  Meeting and getting to know Gunjurians, with their friendliness and enthusiasms, quickly won her over. 

On the plane on the way back home – back to cook for her mother’s other birthday party – Anna wrote a poem which gives a wonderful glimpse of mornings in Gunjur. 

The day begins with cockerel call
And in the morning half light answer comes
The back and forward of the cockerel cry
Loud outside the compound wall
Taken up in answering strain.


The broken throated cry upon the air
The prelude to a different song
The ritual call of faithful men to prayer
Insistent note, repeated, long.


And as the overture goes on
Comes in the bass note of the drum,
Rhythmic pounding of the corn
As well worn wood beats down on grain
Lifts and falls back down again.


Then timpani of brush on sand
As bundled sticks are used to sweep
Join in the orchestrated song
Which is the waking call from sleep
(copyright Anna Quarendon 2010. Photo below courtesy Andrew Williamson.)

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When localism rules, who gets the parking fees and who cuts the grass?

In years to come, will Wiltshire Council still be able to keep the annual half a million pounds it makes from parking charges in Marlborough?  If it does, what will the coalition government’s localism legislation really mean?
 
These points of principle were put by two Marlborough town councillors to Nick Hurd (pictured), Minister for Civil Society in the Cabinet Office, who was in Devizes on Friday evening to answer questions on the coalition government’s Big Society and localism policies.
 
Organised by Devizes constituency MP, Claire Perry, the meeting in the Corn Exchange attracted about a hundred people. They included representatives of many voluntary organisations and charities – both large and small.
 
Nick Hurd was unavoidably delayed by Parliamentary business, so Mrs Perry gave a ‘warm-up’ talk emphasising the element of individual responsibility in the policies – and arguing that many of the coalition’s policies reflect the underlying beliefs of the Big Society concept.
 
With the Chief Executive of Wiltshire Council, Andrew Kerr, sitting a couple of rows behind him, Marlborough town councillor Richard Pitts said they wanted to open a new tourist information centre for the town, but lacked the funds. This would replace the centre in George Lane car park closed by Kennet Council and the tourist information point closed this year as part of Wiltshire’s cuts to library services. 
 
Pitts asked Hurd whether the town council could challenge the unitary council and take the parking fees for Marlborough council to use – for projects like the new tourist information centre.  Mrs Perry intervened to say the parking charges subsidised bus transport in the county.  Councillor Pitts saw no evidence of that.
 
In Nick Hurd’s view the localism legislation would give more “power to challenge” how services are delivered: “And the key to success will be popular support.”

But Marlborough town councillor Guy Loosmore told Hurd that from his reading of the legislation in any dispute between councils, Wiltshire Council would be the arbitrator: “The unitary council will simply protect its services.”  How did that fit with localism?
 
Hurd admitted that the process of moving such powers down the chain of government to more local and community bodies had not been yet been finalised.
 
Both the Big Society and the idea of localism are policies in progress. Hurd explained that with the Big Society the government was not inventing something: “It’s about building on what’s there.”
 
But he warned the audience: “Do not underestimate the change that is coming.” He called the localism Bill “a very radical piece of legislation.” And those who criticise localism as “all words, are making a very big mistake.”
 
After the meeting, Andrew Kerr approached Guy Loosmore and indicated Wiltshire Council was interested in discussing with the town council what services it could take over.  Richard Pitts says an example might be Marlborough council doing more grass cutting over a wider area – making better use of their existing equipment.

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Local author Mavis Cheek wants the Marlborough Mound left as unspoilt as Silbury Hill

Coincidences seem to crop up more often in fiction than in everyday life.  But what a strange coincidence it is that local author Mavis Cheek’s latest novel, published last month, is all about archaeology and a prehistoric symbol. And just a month later archaeological science proves the Marlborough Mound to be a prehistoric rather than Norman structure.

What the future holds for Marlborough’s Mound is a very live question. In an article written especially for Marlborough News Online, Mavis Cheek is clear she wants the Mound stripped of its eighteenth century extravagances and left in as pristine a state as its big sister, Silbury Hill - Lessons from the Past:

"One of the pleasures I get from writing novels is in the research that goes with the job. The danger is that you get so immersed in it that you never get around to writing the book.

Most authors will tell you that they would far rather be researching a book than writing it – and I can vouch for the fact that displacement activity – such as hoovering the curtains or suddenly taking an immense interest in weeding – is par for the course for the writer. When I am hard at work on a book is about the only time you will find my house has clean windows – inside and out.

And so it was with my latest novel, The Lovers of Pound Hill – which is set in a wholly invented village – possibly in Wiltshire – certainly in the South West – which has an immense fertility figure (known locally as the Gnome) carved into the Hill that looks down upon the villagers. Like the Marlborough Mound in the College, no-one knows its true meaning.

The delight I felt in my research, reading all about the region, its ancient treasures, its ancient peoples, its artefacts, was my reward for having to actually sit down, concentrate, and – in the end - write my wretched novel.

The thrust of my story is that no-one knows the origins of the fertility figure for sure until a young female archaeologist arrives with a determination to discover the Gnome’s ancient secrets. And, eventually, after many twists and turns, she does.
It seemed to me when I set out to write the book that in times of uncertainty and duress, we look to the past to help us through the future. And I doubt that there has ever been a time like ours when the ancient past has been so alive.

My research pot was huge. The joy of watching those programmes on archaeology and prehistory – Neil Oliver, Bettany Hughes, Time Team – which were all called Work:
The reading of book after book about digs here and abroad:  The derring-do of contacting real archaeologists and palaeontologists and asking if I could visit them, visit their sites with them, pick their brains over a good lunch, was one of the nicest ways to write a book I know.

Salisbury Museum has re-jigged its entire archaeology collection and Wiltshire’s impressive lumps and bumps of ancient origin featured often in the research.

And what I learned was very humbling. The notion of ancient man and woman that I had – and perhaps some of you have, too – was largely made up of ideas taken from the Flintstone family, or old jokes about men hitting women over the head with clubs and dragging them off to the cave – and of my ancient forefathers and foremothers living very basic, rather brutal and very randomly organised lives.

Gradually this myth was exploded and I came to see that their ways of living were very well organised, full if spiritual connection with Nature and generally made up of harmonious groups. Something we could learn from today – and perhaps we already are.

Only later, with the fencing off of land for farming – which seems to have begun in Britain at around 4000 BC – did the hunter-gatherers settle down and begin to be a bit more possessive and aggressive about the land they farmed. This was the very beginnings of property ownership meaning power. And, as we well know nowadays, there is evidence that they overused the land to their inevitable detriment. Sound familiar?

But even as the agricultural peoples became less harmonious neighbours with their fencing and protection of their land, they became – it would seem – even more organised and sophisticated spiritually. And these were the years in which the great henges were formed, then the immense barrows, which were places of some kind of worship – certainly ancient sites for extreme respect and continuing ritual.

Notions of the life hereafter and proper burial rites are found all over the South West region – and Wiltshire is justifiably known as the land of the living dead. I grew to love learning about the way of life of that period.

I’m thrilled that the Marlborough Mound has now been given back the dignity it deserves and dated properly to about 2400 BC – right in the middle of the agricultural cohesion and the building of grander edifices to show respect to the – we assume – forces of Nature.

Gone, I hope, will be the shell grotto, the water feature, the silly trumperies of Lady Hertford’s eighteenth century excess – and returned to us will be the awesome site that we can stand and admire and know was one of the long-ago forerunners of our own innate spirituality.

My characters in the novel are made happy and become calmed and more caring of each other in the wake of my young female archaeologist’s discovery of the truth about the Gnome. I hope the same can be said of the magnificent Marlborough Mound and its effect on us - the people who live surrounding it."


The Lovers of Pound Hill by Mavis Cheek is published by Hutchinson. Price: £12.99.
For more on the book and more about Mavis Cheek see Gerald Isaaman’s Marlborough News Online story of 14 May 2011: “Mavis Cheek brings Marlborough’s land of the living dead into loving life.”


If you have ideas about the future – or the past – of the Marlborough Mound, please send Marlborough News Online a letter by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Sights, sounds and smells from a bygone era at steam rally

Sights, sounds and smells from a bygone era were relived at Rainscombe Park, in Oare, on Saturday and Sunday at the Wiltshire Steam and Vintage Rally.

Set in the natural amphitheater of the country house, hundreds of vintage cars, motorbikes, tractors and steam engines attracted thousands of spectators, ranging from casual sightseers with their families to knowledgeable enthusiasts, keen to get their hands oily.

Now in its 28th year, the show was a fundraiser for the Wiltshire Bobby Van Trust, which provides a home security service for elderly, vulnerable and disadvantaged people throughout Wiltshire, and one of the more unusual attractions was a Thames Valley Police tractor, although visitors were assured the vehicle was used to promote farm security, rather than hot pursuits.

Visitors were never far from a lung full of smoke or a whiff of engine oil, and piped music from fairground organs could occasionally be heard over the chug of engines – and they would not have it any other way.

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