Shepherds Hut restored by John ErringtonOnce a relic rotting on the Downs, made redundant as mechanised farming techniques began to invade the traditional lifestyle of the sheep herder on Wiltshire’s rambling grasslands, and shepherds found that Land Rovers, other 4x4s and Quad Bikes meant that they didn’t have to live out with their sheep, a restored shepherd’s hut is rapidly becoming a desirable addition to a garden, as a summerhouse, garden office or even as ‘glamping’ accommodation.
John Errington, a retired farm manager from Wanborough was aware of many of these sad once-proud mobile homes and made a decision to bring them back to a condition which far exceeded that of the original which once graced the Downs as accommodation for the Wiltshire shepherd.
The earliest shepherd’s huts can be traced back to around the fifteenth century. Sheep were very valuable and provided one of the main sources of income in those days. These first shepherds huts would have been very basic covered carts.
Gradually the sophistication developed, incorporating seating, bedding and a stove for warmth, but still pretty rudimentary although a welcome haven for the shepherd looking after the flock grazing on the vast expanses of Wiltshire’s Downs far away from the farm or nearest village.
John’s restored huts date back to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Most huts were made locally to their use and although all huts were basically the same, individual variations did occur. These are mainly where the door is situated. some at the front and some at the back. Window placement also varies depending on who made the hut or the purchasing shepherd’s requirements. The major differences were in appearance with some constructed from corrugated iron whilst others were clad in wooden boards.
All of John’s restored huts will be in pristine condition with all major components replaced or restored to a standard better than they were when new. An example is one hut recovered from just outside Salisbury which was in very poor condition when found. Over the years the wooden part of the axles had rotted away and had been replaced with railway sleepers (not mobile an more). New oak axles were the first step in the restoration, followed by a new floor, whilst the inside sides and ceiling were able to be recovered and restored as was the structural frame and floor supports.
A new stove was fitted to the restored hut which was insulated thoroughly as part of the process of bringing it back to life, and it now features a drop down table, two windows (with curtains) and a day seat which converts to a bed.
John can provide a restored hut to order. Some he can source and restore to the specification of the news owner, some can be purchased in an already-restored state, or some can be supplied in an unrestored state for John to bring back into a desirable and usable condition.
Or, if you already have a Shepherds Hut that is in poor or original condition and in need of restoration, get in touch with John as he will be able to transform it to whatever condition and or design that you may wish.
One of John's restored Huts is now sited at the Three Trees Farm Shop & Cafe, on the A346 at Chiseldon.
Dining areaSeat that converts to a bedWood stove for heating and cookingRestored but original wheels
MoS Preview Show 2017The work of 80 Marlborough area artists will go on show at the Mount House Gallery next month ahead of the famous Open Studios trail in July.
The Preview Show - now an annual event in its own right - gives art-lovers the chance to see works by a range of locally-, nationally- and internationally-renowned artists, in media ranging from oils and watercolours to pottery, ceramics, photography, and calligraphy.
The exhibition will be open to the public between 10am and 5pm from Friday, April 21 to Friday, April 28.
The Open Studios trail returns for four weekend runs on July 1 to 2, 8 to 9, 15 to 16, and 22 to 23.
For full details visit www.marlboroughopenstudios.co.uk
Lissa Gibbins and Helen SheehanA new businesses established by a pair of writers and proofreaders sees the life story of clients turned into a printed and bound biography.
Great Bedwyn-based Lissa Gibbins and Helen Sheehan formed Aide Memoire to record the memories of older people for future generations.
Once written, memoirs can be illustrated with photographs, maps, and family trees.
The aim for each of the memoirs written by Aide Memoire is for the voice of the client to shine through their book.
Already they are picking up commissions locally, and further afield.
“Clients want to record their memoirs for all sorts of reasons but, for the most part, the key driver is a desire to pass something meaningful on to their children,” said Lissa.
“This desire goes both ways. We have often found that it is the children’s love of their parents’ stories that inspires them to seek the help of Aide Memoire.”
Through a series of weekly or fortnightly interviews Lissa and Helen record and then write up the stories.
These interviews – lasting a maximum of two hours at a time – generally take place in the client’s own home, and always somewhere that is relaxed and comfortable.
And to record the interviews, the authors have an ingenious tool at their disposal: a recording pen and notebook system that allows the interviewer also uses it to jot down key words, while recording a full transcript of the conversation.
They call it The Magic Pen.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the interviewee to talk about their past, their personal stories and the events that define them,” said Helen.
“Our clients universally enjoy this part of the memoir process, finding it both cathartic and invigorating.”
Rehearsals for the Marlborough Dance Festival finaleThe theme of this year’s Marlborough Dance Festival was songs from film and TV - but to the blessed relief of parents there was no Let It Go from the Disney's ubiquitous hit Frozen.
Instead, 16 dance troupes from 13 schools took the audience at Theatre on the Hill through two 90-minute performances of history of Hollywood, from Calamity Jane and Half a Sixpence to Harry Potter and 2016’s hit animation Sing on Saturday.
After a cockney knees-up from Chilton Foliat’s Consider Yourself, from Oliver!, the audience were treated to a dance by the youngest performers, as Marlborough St Mary’s infants interpreted Tommy Steele’s Flash, Bang, Wallop from Half a Sixpence, featuring a bunch of cheeky jokes they won’t understand until they’re much older.
Easton Royal donned checked shirts and cowboy boots for the theme from Footloose, and there was more of the same from St Katharine’s, who performed The Deadwood Stage from Calamity Jane.
Oare Primary urged the audience to Rock Around the Clock, while Ogbourne Primary went Ghostbusting, with some very scary makeup, and Burbage Primary took us Singin’ in the Rain.
Great Bedwyn brought the theme from Fame back to the St John’s stage, and Shalbourne Primary School channelled Bollywood for Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire.
There was plenty of animal print for Aldbourne Lower School’s Lion King medley, and Preshute Primary turned 21 dancers into a dragon for Something Wild from the 2016 reboot of Pete’s Dragon.
Marlborough St Mary’s juniors gave us one of two interpretations of the Harry Potter theme. Year 9 girls from St John’s also chose the franchise for their ribbon-twirling performance inspired by The Quidditch Match, while St John’s Marlborough boys performed zombie-inspired breakdance to a pounding dance beat.
Full marks to the youngster from Baydon Primary School, who introduced the flamenco Malagueña Salerosa from Kill Bill Vol 2 in Spanish, and to Aldbourne Upper School, who incorporated basketball dribbling into their baller and cheerleader inspired medley from High School Musical.
Finally the entire cast of more than 200 boys and girls joined together to perform Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande’s Faith from last year’s Sing – a routine they’d only had a couple of hours to practise.
Six weeks of rehearsals paid off for all the performers who, when they weren’t on stage, were clapping and toe-tapping along to the routines of the other schools. And there wasn’t an Anna or a Queen Elsa in sight.
Peter Lemon at the windmillFor seven months it’s looked more like a lighthouse than a windmill. But today (Wednesday) Wilton Windmill’s sails - removed in August for repair - were replaced.
When the sails came down, the Wilton Windmill Society had hoped they would be re-erected in two months.
But emergency calls from windmill owners across the UK meant that IJP - one of only a handful of millwrights in the country - were kept busy making dangerous heritage buildings elsewhere safe.
Then there were the ground conditions: the only way to get the sails off and on is with a crane, and with Wilton Windmill sitting in the middle of a field, a solid foundation was needed.
“We were waiting for a nice day,” joked Wilton Windmill Society president Peter Lemon as he watched the sails being re-erected today.
Steady as she goes - the final sail is replacedAnd boy did they get one: while conditions were foggy when the crane and cherry picker arrived at 7.30am, by 9am the mist had lifted, replaced by bright blue skies and a light wind - perfect conditions not just for the millwrights, but also for the dozens of well-wishers who stopped to watch the spectacle.
It was no easy task, though. The final sail was not lifted into place until 4pm.
Repaired and repainted, the sails – 1970s replicas based on the original 1821 designs – will turn again on the first opening day exactly a month from now - Saturday, April 15.
And the annual celebration weekend takes place from June 24 to 25, with a murder mystery play on the Saturday evening.
- See a video of the final sail being hoisted into place on our Facebook Page.
The sails are lifted into place
On Wednesday (March 29) the Prime Minister will trigger Britain's departure from the European Union. This will undoubtedly leave the estimated 57,000 EU nationals who work in the NHS feeling even more unsettled and anxious than they have been since June.
We know that Brexit is already having an impact on the NHS. During 2016 2,700 EU nurses left the NHS - compared to the 1,600 EU nurses who left in 2014. And only 96 nurses joined the NHS from other EU countries in December 2016 - compared to 1,304 who joined last July.
A morning spent at the Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) board meeting offers ample evidence of the way the NHS is already, in pre-Brexit times, struggling with recruitment - and the shortage of staff is also hitting social care which in turn affects the NHS.
1) It was the impossibility of recruiting two GPs to the Marlborough and Pewsey GP surgeries that has caused their merger. Now, "due to unforeseen GP shortages", the Smallbrook surgery based in the Warminster Community Hospital has collapsed - leaving its 4,300 patients unsettled and anxious.
This surgery - which in December had been rated 'Good' by the regulator - lost one GP to maternity leave and then two partners suddenly left. Recruiting one doctor - let alone three doctors - in a hurry proved, understandably, impossible. The surgery has now been 'integrated' - temporarily? - with the Westbury Group Practice.
Smallbrook is still open for three hours a day with priority for appointments given to those who cannot travel to Westbury. The CCG are working on more permanent plans to make sure those 4,300 people have a full and local GP service.
2) The Avon and Wiltshire Partnership (AWP), which provides the county's adult mental health services, shows a scary example of the endemic recruitment shortfall. Their teams in Wiltshire have 117 vacancies - a vacancy rate of about 22 per cent.
3) There was some wry laughter during discussions on the ongoing 'crisis' in A&E and the missed four-hour-wait target. The CCG Board heard that capital money was available to meet NHS's insistence that GPs should be placed at A&E 'front doors' to act as a first line of triage. The elephant stalking that room was simply: "Where are they going to find all those doctors?"
4) The CCG and Wiltshire Council's Better Care Plan work to keep the elderly out of hospital and, if they do have to go into hospital, to get them back home faster, will be supported from April 1 by an experimental scheme involving 30 Rehab Support Workers - a new role.
The plan is for them to help people during their first ten days at home and, over a year, should effect 1,091 timely discharges from hospital. In the first year they will be costing £1.2million.
Seven of those thirty recruits have come from Wiltshire's Help to Live at Home providers - leaving them, in turn, short of seven staff who should also be helping patients get home from hospital - and at a time when their work is getting harder.
A report to the CCG Board stated: "Help to live at Home providers are experiencing increased acuity and are delivering more hours of care, supporting the same number of clients".
As one CCG director put it, when it comes to recruitment "We are all fishing in the same pond."
5) Virgin Care which last April took over community health services for Wiltshire's 110,000 nought-to-eighteen year-olds, is also having recruitment problems. In January their nursing vacancy rate rose by eleven per cent.
In the last quarter of 2016 they were short of six whole-time-equivalent school and community nurses and currently have clinical vacancies equivalent to 22 whole-time-equivalent posts.
That is probably enough examples to show how great a problem Wiltshire faces. Why is Wiltshire affected so much by these shortages? Recruitment plans and staff retention plans abound. To some extent it is true that "We are at the mercy of the market." But it may be much more of a cultural issue.
AWP appears to have no problems of recruitment for its services in the Bath and North East Somerset area. Presumably the cultural and night-life of Bath solves their problem.
Facing the closure of Smallbrook Surgery, one Warminster town councillor was quoted as saying: “The town council doesn’t have much on a say on healthcare, but what we can do is do our best to make the town a more attractive place to live - to encourage more GPs to want to come and work here.”
Locally these staff shortages may be partly due to cultural and partly to housing costs. The problem may be partly a matter of rates of pay and, more generally, of government imposed pay restraint.
But as Brexit proceeds and EU nurses, doctors and surgeons (and for that matter those from beyond the EU) feel even less welcome in Britain than they have been made to feel since the EU referendum, then recruitment and staff retention could well become the next great problem that threatens to break the NHS.
The cast of Pond LifeA group of young actors from Pewsey have made a real splash at a drama festival – topping three out of five award categories, and winning every prize for which they were eligible.
At the Woolstore Theatre’s One Act Play Festival in Codford on Friday, Pewsey Vale Amateur Dramatic Society saw off four rivals to come home with the Adjudicator's Award for outstanding teamwork, drama, and technical achievement.
There was also a plaudit for writer and director Nettie Baskcomb Brown, who won Best Original Script, and a trophy for Milo Davison, named Best Young Actor at the festival.
Pond Life - inspired by a real-life pond created by Nettie – tells the story of some water plants, who are joined in their new home by creatures including snails, dragonflies, and bees.
When naughty Newton the newt brings a swarm of water boatmen – including the destructive and carnivorous backswimmers – the occupants call on trigger-happy Frog to save the day.
While on the surface Pond Life is a play about the environment, and the balance of delicate eco systems, but there’s an analogical undercurrent about refugees and immigration – why people leave their homes to live somewhere else, and how host societies adapt to integrate new people and ideas.
The 40-minute play was written specially for a cast of 10 to 13 year olds. Nettie Baskcomb Brown told the audience of a preview show at Pewsey’s Bouverie Hall last week that many plays written for young people are ‘issues-based’ and unsuitable for younger actors and audiences.
The next public airing of Pond Life will be at 70th Harold Jolliffe One Act Play Festival at The Memorial Hall, Royal Wootton Bassett on Saturday.
For those of our readers who could not be at the AGM and have a continued interest in - or concern for - MBG, we a publishing Dr Nick's Maurice's "Overview of 2016" - which he delivered at the AGM (Thursday, March 23). Marlborough.News' report of the AGM can be read here. Dr Maurice's 'Overview' gives a great deal of context to the decisions that have been taken about MBG's future.
Thank you for inviting me to speak at yet another turning point in the history of the Marlborough Brandt Group. There have been many in the past!
I hope everyone has had an opportunity to read from cover to cover the very impressive annual report which, while not shying away from the difficulties that MBG has been facing, records yet again the extraordinary role the organisation has played in changing people’s lives, their attitudes, their self awareness and their self confidence as true global citizens.
This has happened as a result of the link programme of sending young people to live and work in Gunjur and as a result too of the extraordinary efforts of the Wiltshire Global Education Centre under Caroline Harmer with its impact in schools, its teachers study visits, the Arkleton trust funded programme of competitions to find ideas for business development in Gunjur and taking young people to Gunjur to share those ideas with young people there.
As Caroline rightly says in her report, there may never have been a more important time in our history when younger people who have developed a global perspective and international values through our work have mattered so much. And indeed I am sure it was brought home to everyone, following the ghastly events in Westminster on Wednesday (March 22), the contribution that we have made and must continue to make in bringing together people of different faiths and cultures to counter the inevitable Islamophobic backlash that there will now be.
Yet there have clearly been huge challenges for the MBG. We operate now in a totally different political, social and economic environment to that in which we lived when it all started 34 years ago.
As has been said many times before, the major challenge to what we stood for, namely mutual learning and understanding through exchange visits, has been completely undermined by the impossibility of getting visas for young Gambians to come to Marlborough, live, work and train with us as they used to do.
Gone are the days when groups of Gambians would regularly be seen walking down Marlborough High Street, chatting amiably with, initially somewhat surprised residents of the town, until Gambian friends became such a common feature of Marlborough life that the surprise turned to warm enquiries “How is Isatou who came last year and trained in early childhood education and ran the London Marathon in her hijab and how is Omar Darbo who trained at the Castle and Ball in Marlborough High Street, now running his own hotel?”
Gone are the days when the sending of groups and individual young people from our schools in Marlborough and more widely in Wiltshire was founded fundamentally on trust. Trust that they would have a great time, would be properly cared for in Gunjur and would come back changed for life.
Unfortunately, we now live in a risk averse society ruled by health and safety requirements, risk assessments etc and as far as my own personal view is concerned, for what it is worth, I believe we run the risk of never allowing our young to grow up understanding where the boundaries of behaviour and activity should lie because they have not been allowed to test those boundaries.
At this point I want to pay some tributes:
I must commend in particular and before anyone else Karen Bulsara, and I am sorry she is not with us this evening. On my standing down as the Director of MBG last February she was left, absolutely rightly by the trustees, with the unenviable task of unpacking MBG and its partners in The Gambia, looking at their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
She did this through a process of consultation with as wide a variety of stakeholders as possible at both ends of the partnership (and this included several long meetings with me) and coming up with recommendations to be discussed with the trustees.
I believe she has done a remarkable and very difficult, but professional job. I use the word professional advisedly, as I believe that one of the fundamental problems that MBG has faced is that it has been always, not exclusively but to a large extent, dependent on huge numbers of volunteers, examples of whom are sitting in this room. They have given their time and energy to the organisation because of their belief in and, dare I say, love for what it has stood for and the impact that it has had on their lives.
Sadly, the world of truly voluntary organisations has changed and Karen, quite rightly brought the eye of the professional to MBG and uncovered several flaws, not least the major flaw of not having the right measures in place to send young people to The Gambia in safety. I hold up my hand and plead guilty! Karen deserves considerable praise for her objective assessment of MBG - inevitably not always getting the agreement of others.
I also want to pay tribute to the Trustees. I can’t think that any one of them, when persuaded to a large extent by me, to take on the role could have had an inkling of what they were letting themselves in for in terms of support for MBG, its staff and volunteers, as it went through this process of self examination. They again, absolutely properly under charitable law, had the unenviable task of taking the ultimate strategic decision of “whither MBG?'
I have had many conversations with individual trustees and I am perhaps as aware as anyone of the time and energy that they have put in, over the past year, giving support to the organisation but at the same time having to reach hugely difficult decisions.
It is perhaps invidious to pick our particular trustees, but I would like to pay tribute to Anna Quarendon who has steered the ship, albeit with help from others, while undergoing surgery. Also to Theresa Ardley who has spent hours and days in the office seeing the organisation through its transition.
If the Trustees had a difficult time, so inevitably did the office staff and the volunteers in particular - working initially during a difficult period of uncertainty and then having to cope with the decision to close the office down and lose their jobs.
It is hardly surprising that tensions have arisen and my sympathies go out to all those whose lives will have been upset by the decision. I hope that they can all move on and reflect back and congratulate themselves on everything that they have achieved, the lives that they have positively changed, and the contribution that they will have made to making the world a better place.
As Nikki Swan of the Arkleton Project said “If you could bottle what MBG has done and sprinkle it around, the world would be a better place”. If you look at what many of our volunteers of yester year have done with their lives, based on the opportunity and experience that MBG and our friends in Gunjur gave them, I would argue that a lot of sprinkling has and is being undertaken.
As many of you will know I am in the process of writing a book about the history of MBG and by going through records and being in touch with people who are generously making contributions to the book, I am perhaps more aware than anyone of the global sprinkling that has happened and is still happening.
Simon Chandler who came on the very first visit to Gunjur in 1985, is now working in Mexico and wrote recently: “Today I live on the US/Mexico border and have been involved in refugee/immigrant issues, lived without running water/electricity for four years in a squatter settlement in Mexico etc. I am currently a community organizer with the El Paso schools as well as running a non profit that does football with low income youths. The experience with MBG also set the tone for me to become more radicalized politically and become an activist as an adult”.
Miranda Armstrong is heading up UNICEF’s programme in Ivory Coast. Sara Clancey who undertook her gap year in Gunjur in 1989, went on to work for the UN Development Programme in Vietnam, ran Oxfam’s programme in Mozambique and was then Director of Concern Universal in The Gambia.
Becky Polack who is now a community clinical psychologist and is training to work with a charity to try to improve the immigrant assessment experience and of course the remarkable work that Lilli Loveday and Alex Davies have done and are doing to make the world a safer place. I could give many other examples as I am sure Anita could.
Lest anyone should run away with the idea that the closure of the office means the closure of MBG I am thrilled that three extremely busy people, who will need lots of helping hands, have agreed in principle - if approved by you this evening - to take on the role of deciding the future direction of the organisation. I want to pay tribute to Janneke, Lilli and Alex for offering to take on this role.
As you will know, Lilli is currently in Gunjur having conversations with a wide variety of people and assessing the future role for the partnership both in terms of its development programme and also sending young people to Gunjur.
There are already some very positive signs. Meetings have been held and a collaboration has already begun between MBG and Venture Force an organisation that oversees the training, logistical and administrative inputs required to send groups of young people on trips abroad.
Another much broader positive sign is of course the changed political atmosphere in The Gambia, the return to democracy, to a respect for human rights and above all the return of freedom of speech and trust between individuals. We will never know to what extent our efforts and those of TARUD [the Gambian NGO through which MBG does most of its development work] and the Gunjur Community Link were hampered in The Gambia by the Jammeh regime. I have absolutely no doubt that the new regime will provide a much more positive environment in which we could and will be working.
I would also say that a lot of what we have done over the past 22 years of dictatorship has been a fine example of holding out the hand of friendship and solidarity to people in Gunjur as they have gone through such an awful period of history. I have heard people say, “At least our brothers and sisters in Marlborough continue to care about us”.
Three other positive signs are firstly, the excellent evaluation carried out by Sara Clancy of MBG's Gunjur Youth Development Programme. This has shown that young people who have received loans are a) creating wealth, b) creating employment and c) repaying their loans at the appropriate time.
Likewise, the programme of sending students to the Gambian Technical Training Institute for training in everything from secretarial work, computer studies, plumbing, construction etc - as recorded by Darren Bew’s report in the annual report and in Sara’s evaluation - has been successful. Although the proof of that pudding will be when we see how that training is converted into constructive and wealth creating employment.
Both the loans and the training aspects of the Gunjur Youth Development Programme we hope are making a contribution to dissuading young men in particular from taking the back way to Europe. This is draining The Gambia of talent and adding to the huge problem of migration to Europe with as many as 15 per cent of arrivals in Lampedusa, Italy coming from The Gambia - the smallest African country.
Another very positive sign, has been the appointment, still to be ratified of, Baai Jabang as the new Director of TARUD, following the desperately sad death of Sandang who has been such a central figure in the partnership between our two communities. In 1984 he was the very first Gambian to come to Marlborough and subsequently led TARUD as its Director for 12 years.
Baai Jabang comes from a background of working for a major NGO in The Gambia: Concern Universal (now renamed United Purpose.) He will bring to TARUD a professionalism, much experience and many contacts in the NGO world - all of which is much needed.
The final positive signal I wanted to draw attention to is a statement made by our Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel reported in the Guardian two weeks ago in which she said:
“Britain boasts an extraordinary number of small, grassroots charities who do amazing, often highly innovative work in the world’s poorest places. This government will continue to give all of you our strongest possible support. I want to harness your grassroots knowledge, local contacts and specialist expertise as we join forces in the battle against global poverty.”
"To empower these smaller charities, I will announce in the summer the launch of a new Small Charities Challenge Fund, aimed specifically at UK-registered organisations with an annual income of less than £250,000 - the first time that Dfid has dedicated funding purely to charities of this size."
“I believe smaller organisations are a crucial part of the Great British offer on international development. Your organisations are found in every corner of the UK, often run by volunteers and highly valued and trusted by your local communities. And it is often your organisations that make some of the most direct connections with the people we’re trying to help and those wanting to help them. You are highly effective at building trust with local communities and tailoring your specialist services around people’s actual day-to-day needs.”
I think we can all agree that she clearly had MBG in mind as she uttered these words!
Lilli returns from The Gambia in a few days time and we look forward to hearing her assessment of the situation there and I hope that everyone here subject to your approval will give her and Janneke and Alex every possible support, as I intend to do, as the new MBG moves forward.
Matt HollandAs Swindon Festival of Literature inches towards its quarter century, different methods of written communication – from the oldest to the very recent – will be celebrated this year.
Unveiling the 2017 programme at Swindon Library today (Thursday, March 16) festival director Matt Holland mused on how the way we use writing to communicate our thoughts is changing.
“In a digital world where the currency of topical commentary can be successfully and powerfully compressed into 140 characters – definitely a great method of instant communication – the book is still doing remarkably well,” he said.
“People still love books: the artefact, with its cover and pages and special feel, not just because of the durable technology by which the book is produced, but because of the slow, careful, and undemonstrative attention to clarity, detail, and depth of thought that you really only find in a book.”
Looking back to the earliest form of writing, developed more than 5,200 years ago, Matt announced that Irving Finkel, cuneiform tablet director at the British Museum, would be coming to Swindon to talk about the first written words, etched into pieces of clay by the ancient Mesopotamians.
And a contemporary form of written communication - graffiti art - will be explored as part of a Hip Hop themed evening at The Tuppenny: a new host venue for the festival. Graffiti writer and cultural historian (and who’d have thought yesterday’s ‘vandals’ would be today’s ‘cultural historians’) will be discussing the Four Elements of Hip Hop: graffiti, DJing, MCing, and breakdancing.
Those Four Elements could almost be the (First) Four Elements of Swindon Festival of Literature: writing, talking, music and dance. The festival might be primarily about books, but it’s always a platform for other art forms, as demonstrated by some wonderful storytelling by dancer and musician Bafana Matea who - like hip hop - came to to Swindon via New York, with African roots.
Dancers from The Wilkes AcademyPerforming for the festival launch audience, Bafana, with Michael Fergie and dancers from The Wilkes Academy, brought to life the story of three Aboriginal girls and their experiences as members of the ‘stolen generation’, where children were forcibly removed from their families in early 20th century Australia, a story immortalised by Doris Pilkington in her 1996 novel Rabbit Proof Fence.
The festival, of course, has a Fifth Element: thinking. Matt asserts that one of the festival’s ‘hidden agendas’ is the exchange of ideas. And there’s plenty in the programme to provoke deep thinking: Marcus du Sautoy, author of What We Cannot Know, wonders whether it is possible that one day we will know everything, while Brian Clegg, author of The Reality Frame, asks whether science is taking us closer to the essence of being human.
Thirty years after he was captured and held hostage in Lebanon, Terry Waite will seek to shed light on the human condition in a discussion about his latest work, Out of the Silence, while comedian Francesca Martinez, who has cerebral palsy, asks simply: What the *** is Normal?
Politics always plays an important part in the festival, and with Labour currently lurching to the left, the Conservatives veering to the right, and all of us living in Brexit Britain, Mr Centre Ground, David Owen, will discuss Cabinet’s Finest Hour, and explore how close Britain came to seeking a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany.
For some light relief, there’s cookery with Milly’s Real Food writer Nicola ‘Milly’ Millbank, poetry at the Swindon Slam, a 5k Freedom Run around Lydiard Park, and the Children and Families Day on Sunday, May 7 with spoon puppet making, Hilda’s Happy Hut, and child-friendly talks by authors Jack Cooke (The Tree Climber’s Guide) and Rina Mae Acosta (The Happiest Kids in the World).
The festival starts at 5.30am on Monday, May 1 with the Dawn Chorus - singing, storytelling, juggling and music set against a backdrop of the rising sun over Lawn Woods – and ends as it began today, with music from poet-musicians Tongue Fu, and female barbershop singers Barberelle, poetry from Vanessa Kisuule, and stories told by Rachel Rose Reid, at the Festival Finale on Saturday, May 13.
In all, there are 50 events designed to entertain, inspire, and engage the brain over 13 days. For a full programme, log on to www.swindonfestivalofliterature.co.uk
50 Finds from Wiltshire - Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme by Richard Henry (Amberley - 2017)
This book will give pleasure - and a good deal of hope - to all those who imagine turning up some notable or even priceless archaeological find. They may be metal detectorists, gardeners, tractor drivers or walkers crossing ploughed fields - and their find may turn out to be 'important' rather than worth that dreamt of fortune.
The author of 50 Finds from Wiltshire, Richard Henry is Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer, so he has first hand knowledge of the extraordinary variety of finds as they pass across his desk to be recorded onto the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database.
"The scheme is a Department of Culture, Media and Sport-funded project to encourage the documenting of archaeological objects found by members of the public."
Some of these objects will be judged to be 'treasure' and may bring considerable financial reward to finder and landowner. Most will not be treated as 'treasure'.
Either way they will bring satisfaction to the finders - and possibly some financial reward.
Each of the 50 finds detailed in Richard Henry's account - just 50 objects from the 45,000 Wiltshire finds on the PAS database - has been chosen for the insight it gives into our past. And each is clearly described and explained - and well illustrated.
The chosen finds run from a beautiful Stone Age adze (3,500-2,200 BC), through rare Roman coins, to the minute and delicate Saxon gold coin found near East Grafton (and on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes), right up to a nineteenth century ceramic flagon found - in wonderful condition - near Burbage.
Along the way is the Pewsey Vessel Hoard (deposited AD 380-550, but with vessels left behind by the Romans.) Marlborough.News has reported on this extraordinary find with its remains of Medieval plant life.
[Photo: Richard Henry]Here Richard Henry has included a very useful drawing to show how the vessels were packed together and put into the ground - in Russian doll fashion. This created a sealed compartment that protected the organic material and so allowed it, when it emerged into the twenty-first century, to be scientifically analysed - throwing new light on Mediaeval England's natural history.
In amongst this rich selection of finds, Richard Henry has written fascinating mini-essays on aspects of 'experimental archaeology' - present day experts using ancient techniques to discover and explain how some of these finds were made. They are experimenting just as our forbears experimented to find new ways to make essential tools and decorative items.
We learn about ancient iron and copper smelting, even older techniques for creating flint tools, down to the medieval introduction of mass production with stone moulds used to make pilgrims' badges - by the hundred.
Richard Henry's map of Wiltshire's PAS finds shows how widespread and common these finds are. I bet that there is a red dot within a hundred yards or so of every school in the county. Perhaps every school in the county should have a copy of this book - it would inspire interest in a subject that is currently doomed to slip off curriculums as politicians and exam authorities turn their back on it.
At the very least, this is a map and a book that may set a spark of investigation and discovery in many more of those amateur archaeologists in Wiltshire who are merely 'members of the public'.
Copies of '50 Finds from Wiltshire' are on sale in the Wiltshire Museum's shop - price £14.99.