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Centuries old tradition marked at fruit tree planting

Jeffrey Galvin-Wright, Richard Shaw, Philippa Davenport, Kate Hosier, and Janet and Neville Hobson, of the Marlborough Community Orchard committeeJeffrey Galvin-Wright, Richard Shaw, Philippa Davenport, Kate Hosier, and Janet and Neville Hobson, of the Marlborough Community Orchard committeeIn an English tradition dating back centuries, town councillor Richard Pitts planted a plum tree on Sunday to commemorate the marriage of his nephew Charlie Taylor to Fran.

The couple, who live in York but are frequent visitors to the town, took place in August. The tree will form part of the community orchard on Marlborough Common.

A number of community volunteers turned out on the blustery Sunday morning – the second day of National Tree Week – to plant pear, plum, damson, quince and medlar trees, although in nothing like the numbers for last month's planting of the Jubilee apple trees. 

“It's symbolic, isn't it?” said Cllr Pitts as he shovelled the last spadeful of soil around the roots of the Victoria Plum.

“It's an English tradition going back centuries. The tree grows as the marriage grows. And it bears fruit, representing all the children Charlie and Fran will have... maybe.”

Cllr Richard PittsCllr Richard PittsThe councillor then put his spade to good use helping Marlborough Communities Market to plant a Nottingham Medlar.

The medlar is one of the orchard's most uncommon fruits – and not one likely to be found on supermarket shelves today, although the Tudors couldn't get enough of them.

Large white blossoms give way to a rock-hard fruit with russeted skin. Eaten raw they are tart, but once bletted – left to rot until soft and brown – they make excellent jelly with a taste resembling toffee apples, according to celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

On the other side of the orchard, the committee of the Community Orchard committee were planting a Merryweather Damson. Native to the UK, the fruit is today less far popular than its close relative, the sweeter dessert plum, but makes tasty jam.

“By the end of the year we will have planted 198 trees in two years,” said Marlborough Community Orchard committee chairman and food writer Philippa Davenport. “We are creating a living larder – local food for local people.”

The trees, and their sponsors, are: Jeffrey and Alison Galvin Wright (Quince 'Vranja'); Charles Taylor (Plum 'Victoria'); U3A in Kennet (Pear 'Conference'); Marlborough Choral Society (Damson 'Merryweather'); Marlborough Community Orchard (Damson 'Merryweather'); Marlborough Communities Market (Medlar 'Nottingham'); Marlborough History Society (Medlar 'Nottingham'); The Trustees of the Merchant's House (Damson 'Merryweather'); North Wessex Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Plum 'Czar'); Visit Wilshire (Pear 'Beth').

Communities Market committee members Ellie Gill, Alexandra Wax, Gerald Payne and Richard PittsCommunities Market committee members Ellie Gill, Alexandra Wax, Gerald Payne and Richard Pitts Happy couple Charlie and Fran Taylor, pictured at their wedding in AugustHappy couple Charlie and Fran Taylor, pictured at their wedding in August

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Nigel's retirement marks end of a local press era

Nigel Kerton, who retired todayNigel Kerton, who retired todayThe end of an era was marked today (Wednesday) when Nigel Kerton, the Gazette & Herald's Marlborough reporter since articles were bashed out on typewriters, filed his final story.

Nigel - who reckons he's filled 2,000 front pages for the Gazette & Herald, along with 500 each for the Swindon Advertiser and the Western Daily Press - stumbled into journalism aged 17, when he popped into the offices of the Mercury in Weston-super-Mare to scour the jobs pages.

He was asked if he fancied a job on the paper, doing some administrative work and assisting the journalists, and told to go off and write a 500 word article on a subject of his choosing.

“It was easy,” recalls Nigel. “I came from Lyneham, where my mum and dad ran a village shop, and I was new to Weston-super-Mare with its bright lights and a theatre. They liked the story and offered me a five year indentureship.”

Nigel's first day on the Mercury – a Monday in 1964 – started at 8.30am. “At 8.45 I was given a notebook and a pencil and told to go and interview a woman whose husband had died. It was a baptism of fire.”

And while many young journalists dread the prospect of talking to relatives about the loss of a loved one, Nigel reckons it has become his favourite part of the job, and at the start of his second stint with the Gazette 15 years ago – following a ten-year sojourn at the Western Daily Press in Trowbridge – he insisted on the reinstatement of the obituaries column.

“I love listening to people about their lives, and I think I'm particularly good at empathising with people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, because I've been through it: my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, drowned herself in the sea at Torquay in 1980.”

The journalists at the Weston Mercury taught young Nigel the craft: putting people at ease during interviews, and letting them tell their stories in their own words.

“They were gentleman reporters with copper plated shorthand,” recalls Nigel. “Journalists who would record every word at a council meeting, when reporters had the time, and newspapers had the space, to do that.”

But four years later a career move summoned Nigel back to Wiltshire: he was offered a job in the Swindon Advertiser's Marlborough office.

“I loved Marlborough,” says Nigel. “I used to cycle down from Lyneham as a kid. The Adver's editor, Fred Hazel, heard I had a girlfriend back at Lyneham, and offered me the job.

“I was one of two reporters working at this 15th century building in Kingsbury Street [the office closed by Gazette & Herald owners Newsquest in October last year]. I thought the Adver was the paper I was working for, but I also had to write for the Gazette.”

The following spring – March 1969 – Nigel and Joy were married at St Peter's Church in Clyffe Pypard. Their first home was a flat above a shop in The Parade – now occupied by More Than Pine – before moving to Poulton Hill, and then to The Mead, “Kennet's biggest cul de sac” and the Kerton family home for 19 years.

Nigel and Joy have two children – Paul and Claire – and four grandchildren, aged between 12 and 23. And between them they've acted as Nigel's unofficial news-gathering team throughout his career.

When Nigel first came to Marlborough, the journalist Bob Wise advised him to “never join anything.” The reporter promptly threw himself into community activities.

He formed the Gardening Club 35 years ago, and joined the carnival committee 25 years ago. He's been the chairman of the New Road Centre, which works with 30 special needs adults every week, for eight years. And ten years ago, he and Joy revived the Jubilee Centre Christmas lunch, which is now held in the Town Hall and caters for 60 elderly residents from the town.

In the millennium year the Rotary Club awarded Nigel the Centenary Community Award for Vocational Services to the Town – "I don't suppose anyone else will get that honour for another 100 years," laughs Nigel – and in 2007 Pewsey Parish Council gave him an award for Outstanding Services to the Community.

Recently, Nigel – who has attended local government meetings for nearly half a century, and describes himself as apolitical – has considered leaving the press bench for a seat in the council chamber, by standing as an independent candidate for Marlborough East in the next Wiltshire Council elections.

“I've been described as a socialist, but I'm only a socialist so far as every journalist is a socialist, by fighting for people's rights and championing causes,” insists Nigel.

“I had a brief courtship with the Conservative Party,” he says, “and was interested in joining the majority group on the council.

“But in the light of my colleague Chris Humphries' experience, where he was not supported by his colleagues [Cllr Humphries was suspended from the Conservative group following a reprimand for mistreating a member of the council's staff], I decided that I didn't want to be part of that group.”

“I'd like to join the town council too,” he adds, “but not until somebody provides me with a whip and a chair. At the moment I feel the body has no useful future. Good ideas are thrown out and bad ideas kept in because of the views of those on the majority group.

“Personally, I don't think party politics has a place in local councils.”

Nigel leaves the Gazette just a week before his 65th birthday. He intends to spend more time with his family, exploring southern England in his campervan, and continuing his work with community organisations in Marlborough.

“I've enjoyed my career in journalism; there's no better job in the world,” he says. “But I suspect I'll be busier than ever before. So I guess it's 'goodbye for now', rather than 'farewell for ever'.

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Joanna's Jumbo stomps at the Savoy

Joanna MayJoanna MayThe magical relationship between humans and animals, from Disney to David Attenborough, are celebrated in a new exhibition by Wiltshire artist Joanna May.

The Iconic Animals of London Zoo will be opened at The Savoy hotel in London on Saturday (November 24) by TV wildlife presenter Michaela Strachan.

Animals residing at ZSL London Zoo, beloved to the UK public in their lifetimes, became immortalised in some of the nation's – and indeed the world's - favourite stories, such as Jumbo the elephant, who became Disney's Dumbo, and Winnipeg the bear who became A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh.

And Joanna, who had a gallery in Marlborough for eleven years and now lives and works at her gallery home in Keevil, has had exclusive permission from Disney to incorporate the images of Dumbo and Winnie-the-Pooh in this work.

Television personality, Michaela Strachan, presenter of BBC1's 2012 Autumnwatch and 2013 Winterwatch, will be introducing the paintings and talking about ZSL London Zoo's conservation and Tiger SOS campaign.

Joanna herself appeared on Springwatch 2006, sketching hares for her now renowned Zodiac Hare series.

Celebrating David Attenborough's sixty years in wildlife television is the painting Zoo Quest, named after the wildlife presenter's first major BBC TV series.

In the first episode of the 1956 series, Attenborough brought Charlie the Orangutan from Borneo to live at London Zoo to start a breeding programme.

The painting shows the inextricable link between the fame of both David Attenborough and the animals he filmed.

Winnie and Christopeher RobinWinnie and Christopeher RobinThe Queen features in two paintings: Majesty the Lion and The Queen and the Penguins. Majesty demonstrates the royal iconography of the lion and also the royal endorsement of London Zoo from Queen Victoria to the present Queen. The backdrop of the Union flag taps into national pride after the Jubilee and Olympics.

The Queen and the Penguins shows a carefree Princess Elizabeth enjoying a visit with the king penguins, her destiny and future duty in the shape of her father, George VI, reflected in the enclosure's water as well as in the name of the animals themselves.

Talking about her inspiration for the project, Joanna said: “I have thought about painting the animals of London Zoo for at least 15 years from when I was a children’s wildlife book illustrator in the 1990’s.

“I was inspired by a story of someone who visited the Zoo when he was a boy. He kept an image in his mind close to his heart of the size of his tiny little hand next to a gorilla’s.

“The gorilla reached out towards him and they touched through the meshing and it stayed with him to this day as a truly magical experience. It made me think about the amazing animals that must have been kept there over the years since Victorian times and how they must have touched the hearts of children and adults alike.”

This ape was Guy the gorilla who arrived at London Zoo on Guy Fawkes Night, 1947, hence the name. He became one of the Zoo's most loved animals.

Joanna's collectable style is inspired both by wild animals and by the bold colours of contemporary interior design. The feature colour in Zoo Quest is the orangutan's distinct fur; the king penguins in The Queen and the Penguins pick up the Queen's favourite colour, vibrant yellow, as well as the art deco style in fashion at the time.

Joanna has a long-standing love of zebras, which have been the subjects of her best selling paintings: “I never get bored of the zebra stripes natural pattern and graphic effect,” she says.

Paintings of pandas Ching Ching and Chia Chia, gifted to the UK from China in 1974, are pink bubblegum cartoon bears grown up.

JumboJumboBut the story of zoo animals are not straight forward. There are shadows of ownership and exploitation for animals in captivity.

This can be seen particularly in Jumbo, history's most famous elephant. A super star of London Zoo from 1865 to 1882, he was sold to Barnum & Bailey American Circus because the Zoo secretly could not afford to continually repair his cage after nightly 'musk' rages.

A huge public campaign to keep him ensued, but to no avail. Thousands of people saw Jumbo off on his voyage to America.

Joanna's painting – Jumbo decorated with union flag, stars and stripes, Disney's Dumbo and circus, jumbo jets and jumbo hotdog iconography - demonstrates the elephant's popularity across two continents but also that, ultimately, this naturally wild animal lived a life as both private and public property.

The Iconic Animals of London Zoo exhibits at The Savoy, London on Saturday 24 November, 11am to 11pm. For more information, visit

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Internationally renowned economist Dambisa Moyo to give 2013 Marlborough Brandt Lecture

Dambisa MoyoDambisa MoyoShe’s been described by Time Magazine as one of the hundred most influential women in the world, and is perhaps  best known as the author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa (2009).  

Dambisa Moyo’s book is a very strong critique of Western aid policy and the damage it has done to Africa.

She has also published How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly – And the Stark Choices that Lie Ahead (2011) and Winner Take All: China's Race for Resources and What It Means for the World (June 2012).

Dambisa Moyo was born in 1969 and brought up in Lusaka, Zambia.  She studied at Harvard and the American University in Washington – gaining degrees in public administration, finance and chemistry.  And she has a doctorate in economics from St Antony’s College, Oxford.

She has worked for the World Bank and for Goldman Sachs.  On March 14, 2011, Commonwealth Day, Moyo spoke in Westminster Abbey on “Women as Agents of Change”.  Among the two thousand strong audience were the Queen and the Prime Minister.

That same month the American website The Daily Beast selected Moyo as one of the “150 Extraordinary Women who Shake the World” – along with Hilary Clinton and Madeleine Albright.

She has addressed the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF.

The 31st Marlborough Brandt Lecture will be held in the Memorial Hall, Marlborough College at 8.00 pm on Tuesday 5th March 2013. The lectures have all concerned issues surrounding international aid, development, international politics and huminitarian policies.

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Donation made to animal rescue team

Louise Holden with PC, Jasmine Holden, Watch Manager Tom Brolan, Ryan Holden, Michelle Williamson, Lesley Williamson, Charlotte Curtis and Chloe Moreton with ShrekLouise Holden with PC, Jasmine Holden, Watch Manager Tom Brolan, Ryan Holden, Michelle Williamson, Lesley Williamson, Charlotte Curtis and Chloe Moreton with ShrekStaff and friends of White Horse Liveries in Alton Barnes have made a £100 donation to Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service’s animal rescue team, following a family fun day in September.

The gift follows two horse rescues, one at the stables in December 2010 and one in the summer involving a horse box.

Watch Manager Tom Brolan, rural safety officer with Wiltshire FRS, received the cheque from the fund-raising committee and nine-year-old Ryan Holden, who raised over £20 by selling homemade cookies and brownies. His aunt, Louise, works at White Horse Liveries.

Michelle Williamson, who manages the yard, explained: “We had a horse, PC, who fell in his stable and the fire service did a brilliant job in getting to him and getting him up on his feet.

“Then, in the summer, I was with Chloe Moreton when her horse Shrek got over the partition in his horse box and badly injured himself.

“Again, the fire service’s animal rescue team turned out and they were amazing – we honestly didn’t think Shrek would be OK, but he’s now fully recovered and competing again.”

She added: “We were already planning a fun horse and dog show to raise some money for the Wiltshire Air Ambulance, so we decided we would also make a donation to the animal rescue team as a way of saying ‘thank you’.”

White Horse Liveries is a relatively small yard, with about 25 horses, owned by Michelle Draisey, and it had fantastic support for its fundraising efforts – thanks go to sponsors including Wessex Equine Vets, Wadworths and Equilibrium.

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Singing group seeks volunteers

Volunteers are being sought for a Singing for the Brain group at Lockeridge.

The friendly group meets at Kennet Valley Hall every Thursday morning and is for people in the early to mid stages of dementia and their family carers.

It has been meeting for two years and now needs more volunteers to provide a friendly welcome, serve refreshments and join in with the singing, which is led by a trained teacher. It also has spaces for more members.

Angela Munn, who has been taking her mother Doreen to the group since it started, said: “It is absolutely brilliant. It is the one thing my mother really likes to do. She loves coming along and singing and seeing everyone.

“She doesn’t really recognise the faces but she recognises the atmosphere of the group and loves being a part of it. She used to sing in a choir so singing has always been important to her, although you don’t need to be a good singer to enjoy the group. Everyone joins in as much as they like.”

The group is run by independent Wiltshire charity Alzheimer’s Support and is funded by Wiltshire Council.

To volunteer, or to find out more, contact Caroline on 07546 496457 or Annie on 01380 739055.

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Marlborough Christmas Lights - shoppers offered an unprecedented selection of gift ideas

Forget the internet – Marlborough is the place to go for your Christmas shopping. That's the message as the town prepares for its biggest night of the festive season - the switching on of the Christmas lights.

The Christmas lights will be switched on at 7pm on Thursday, November 29 – and there will be an unprecedented selection of gifts on offer from 3pm to 8pm.

While shopkeepers throw open their doors for a spot of Late Night Shopping, the centre of High Street will be dominated by the 45 stall-strong Marlborough Communities Market, which will be replicating its popular monthly local produce market, but with a distinctly festive theme.

A cornucopia of locally-produced festive fare is promised, and stallholders have donated goodies – including a turkey, speciality stuffing and award-winning chipolatas, venison burgers and organic vegetables, handmade chocolates, cheeses, stollen and sweet treats – which will be offered in a prize draw.

Organisers will also be giving away a free Marlborough Communities Market jute bag to 500 lucky shoppers – perfect for carting away Christmas gifts!

Meanwhile, the Town Hall will be fit to burst with 22 stalls featuring local artists and craftspeople offering handmade gifts, from Christmas tree and table decorations to jewellery, glassware and paintings at We Love Marlborough's Christmas Art and Gift Market.

Upstairs at the Town Hall, Santa will be welcoming children to his grotto while professional artist James Aldridge will be helping youngsters – and their families – to make Christmas crowns.

And for the first time, We Love Marlborough are offering parents the chance to pre-book an appointment with Father Christmas, or a place on one of the workshops.

Organiser Louisa Davison said: “Last year Santa was the busiest he's ever been, and as no-one likes to queue we're making it possible for parents to pre-book a slot for their children to see Father Christmas between 3.30pm and 5.30pm.

“Hopefully this will reduce the waiting time for the youngest children. Bookings from 6pm to 8pm can be made on the day, at the Town Hall.”

For more information, or to book a place on the Christmas crowns workshop, or an appointment with Santa, log on to

  • Other activities include a bouncy castle and letter writing to Santa from 3pm to 8pm at Ducklings Toy Shop in Hilliers Yard. The annual Children's Choir Competition takes place from 6pm at St Mary's Church and Marlborough Community Choir will be performing on the Town Hall steps from 7pm to 7.15pm. The lights will be switched on at 7pm by Marlborough Town Council's Citizen of the Year, whose identity is - for now - a closely-guarded secret. 

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Meet Mai Charissa who’s playing Marlborough’s next Brilliant Young Pianists recital

Sixteen year-old Mai Charissa Tran Ringrose gives the next recital in Marlborough’s new music series – a festival showcasing the next generation of virtuoso concert pianists.  Playing at St Peter’s church on Sunday, December 16, she’s just the talented musician to follow the hugely popular Ashley Fripp – expectations are high.

Mai Charissa was born in Ipswich to British and Vietnamese parents – and she’s had an international upbringing.  She began learning the piano in France when she was five and when the family moved to Bangkok she carried on with several inspiring teachers including  the Lithuanian pianist Artas Balakauskas.

Back in France since 2008, Mai Charissa is, her father says, ‘first and foremost a regular high-schooler at a French lycee’ – the Lycee Saint-Paul in Vannes, Brittany.  Her parents marvel at the way she fits in her piano practise and delivers great performances – as well as getting down to a ‘mass of homework’.

She’s got her Baccalauréat Anticipée exams next June – she explains the difference between the International Baccalaureat (IB) students take in Marlborough and the original, French version:

“The French Baccalauréat is in fact completely different from the IB. Unlike the IB or A levels, we can't just choose several subjects to specialise in.  We follow one of four different streams: either in the sciences, economics/social studies, literature, or management studies. However which ever stream we choose, we have to take the [first part or] Baccalauréat Anticipée in all subjects, ranging from maths to sports to philosophy!”   

Since the Marlborough recital series was announced Mai Charissa has played a concert in Hanoi and four concerts in Brittany. She’s now studying piano at the Vannes Conservatoire under the Armenian-French pianist Jean-Gabriel Ferlan.

One of Mai Charissa’s earliest musical successes was taking first prize in Thailand’s National Jazz Competition for Young Pianists – she was then nine years-old.  Marlborough News Online asked her if she still plays jazz: “My current piano professor is rather conservative and is a French and Russian music specialist, so I focus more on classical music as I want to get the most out of him!”

Mai Charissa visiting SingaporeMai Charissa visiting SingaporeAt her Marlborough recital she will be playing works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Fauré – and among those Fauré is her favourite: “I developed a real interest and liking for French late eighteenth and nineteenth century music since we moved back to France and I got to discover more about French music. Fauré was a perfectionist, polishing his music again and again, and his works are very well written and have beautiful melodic lines. The different harmonies he uses may sound a bit strange or odd or hard to appreciate at first to someone who has never listened to Fauré's music, but it doesn't take long until one's ear gets used to the very complex harmonies.”

So the Fauré Nocturne she’ll be playing at St Peter’s will be of special interest to her audience and it’s sure to be a fine and intelligent interpretation.  Asked about more modern composers, Mai Charissa comes no nearer to present day composers than Ravel: “My favourite modern composer whose music I have played is Ravel. He is from more or less from the same period as Debussy and Fauré, but Ravel's piano music is more interesting. He uses a wider range of textures and composes more contrasting pieces.”

With all the practise for recitals, her school work and her piano studies, Mai Charissa has still found time for her two other passions: ballet and competitive swimming.  

But her days are now much fuller: “Unfortunately, due to the very long school days in France and an increasing amount of homework, I have had to put ballet on hold for the moment. I have been swimming for a long time now and I still swim, and will definitely swim in the future. Even though I have a heavy schedule, swimming has always been very important, for relaxing and for competitions.”

Mai Charissa’s father, Nigel Ringrose, stresses how fortunate she has been in her piano teachers from Brigitte Merer who started her off, through her teachers in Bangkok and “Finally, here in the Morbihan [a department of Britanny], we are so fortunate to have one of France's best pianists, previously attached to the Conservatoire Superieure Nationale in Paris but now resident in Vannes.   The contribution each of these teachers has made to Mai Charissa's progress cannot be overestimated.”

Next year will see more hard practising, more concerts, more homework – and her Baccalauréat Anticipée exams: “I don't worry much about exams - as long as I manage my time well, I can prepare well for concerts and the Baccalauréat. However I am a bit worried about the French exam - the standard is quite high as it’s meant for students whose mother tongue is French.”Mai Charissa Tran RingroseMai Charissa Tran Ringrose
The Brilliant Young Pianists series has been organised by Nick Maurice and David Du Croz with Charles Owen – the international concert pianist who has often given recitals in Marlborough and has taught most of these young players.  Funds raised will go to the Marlborough Brandt Group’s work in The Gambia and to St Peter’s Trust.

Mai Charissa’s programme and information about tickets can be found at our What’s On calendar – for 16 December 2012.  

The series concerts in 2013 will be:  January 27 – John Paul Ekins; February 17 – Mishka Rushdie Momen; April 14 – James Kreiling; June 30 – young Suzuki piano students from London.  Details of known programmes for these recitals can be found in our What’s On calendar for the appropriate dates. [NOTE: since the series leaflet was published James Kreiling and John Paul Ekins have had to exchange recital dates – they will now appear as above.]

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Triple marathon running cops to do final leg backwards

Adam Leakey and Jon HewlettAdam Leakey and Jon HewlettA pair of policemen running an incredible three marathons in three days in aid of Children in Need will be doing the final leg backwards, they announced this week.

But they don't intend to make their challenge even more gruelling by running 26 miles back-to-front.

Rather, their planned final leg around London has been replaced by a mirror of their first leg, and they'll wind up were they started – on the steps of Marlborough Town Hall.

As reported by Marlborough News Online in October, at 10am tomorrow (Wednesday) Jon Hewlett (35) from Marlborough and Adam Leakey (29) from Swindon will be setting off from Marlborough, following the M4 to Woolhampton, between Thatcham and Reading.

And on Thursday, the runners – who are supported by Swindon-based physio Danny Clayton, former sports masseur to Swindon rugby club and the Cardiff Blues, and Run Swindon, in Old Town, who have donated a pair of running shoes to each constable – will be running from Reading to Slough.

Friday's leg – on Children in Need day – was originally going to be a final marathon from the Hammersmith Apollo to BBC Television Centre.

But the promise of guaranteed airtime on BBC Points West has persuaded the runners to drastically change their route. So on Friday they'll set off from Woolhampton, arriving to cheers and cameras in Marlborough at about 4pm.

Adam told Marlborough News Online this week: “Due to the level of local media interest, the final marathon has now changed to maximise the event's promotion and hopefully generate more donations in turn.

“It will start at Woolhampton and will end in Marlborough, ie the first marathon in reverse.”

The policemen, colleagues from the burglary and robbery unit based at Gablecross police station in Swindon, have already raised more than £5,000. To sponsor the runners, log on to their Just Giving page.  

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Secret Garden recalls childhood longings

James Laurence Hunter as Dickon with Captain the fox in a scene from The Secret GardenJames Laurence Hunter as Dickon with Captain the fox in a scene from The Secret GardenReview

Watching Proteus Theatre's production of The Secret Garden (Thursday 8 November) reminded me of my own childhood longings to have a little hidden place, with a swing, roses and a wall that caught the summer's sun.

Wasn't going to happen living in a council flat (boo-hoo me). But remembering the allure of such a garden illustrated how this show captured the magic of Frances Hodgson Burnett's much loved novel.

For those (like me) who haven't read the book since a long-gone childhood, the basic story is of an angry ten-year-old Mary who arrives in a cold, wet Yorkshire from hot, dusty, exotic India, living a previously pampered but lonely life in an early twentieth century colonial household.

After her parents and servants die from cholera, Mary is taken on by her uncle who has never recovered from his own bereavement, that of his wife.

Mary is looked after by housekeeper, Martha, and makes friends with her brothers, William and Dickon, the gardener Ben and the garden's tame robin. Mary discovers the secret garden, locked up and forbidden to be used for the last ten years by Mary's uncle as it was his wife's beloved place. Mary also discovers her cousin Colin, hidden away and bedridden from a mystery illness. The sharing and caring of the secret garden brings the household together and heals the sadness that has festered for so long.

This is a wonderful production for its size. Usually in a small to mid-scale performance some part of the show suffers. But here the acting is spot on, the cast big enough, the set magical, the music performed live, and the puppetry top notch.

My six year old, who's just old enough to cope with a 7pm start, was riveted from start to finish with a look of delight and wonder, despite red tired eyes at the end. I asked him what his favourite bit was, and he said 'cawing like crows' (there was a bit of audience participation) and 'all of it'.

The highlights for me was the adaptable set - which really brought the magic alive - Captain the talking puppet fox, and the warm relationship within the cast which had me believing in a family that could be both healed by the garden and each other. The spacewok - real name 'hang drum' - that formed part of an exotic ensemble of instruments, also deserves a mention.

Kudos to director Mary Swan and her team for bringing this adaptation to the stage, and for Marlborough's Theatre on the Hill for presenting a show that truly appeals to all ages.

  • The Secret Garden will be calling at The Pound arts centre, Corsham on Thursday, Decmber 6 from 6.30pm.

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Elinor Goodman finds a fantastic gig in Pewsey: The Moscow Drug Club

A concert in a village hall on a wet Friday night doesn’t sound much of a ticket.

But my ticket for Pewsey’s Bouverie Hall last Friday (October 19) turned out to be the best six pounds I’d spent for years. The quality of the band was as good as anything you would find at Ronnie Scott’s in London’s Soho – thanks to a grant from Rural Arts Wiltshire which helps top musicians to play in rural locations.

The evening gig was arranged by Music Live Pewsey.

The concert opened with a performance by the Pewsey Belles, a group of about 20 women from around Pewsey who sang a melody of popular songs with some lovely harmonies, There were some really strong voices and their joy in what they were doing was infectious.

The Moscow Drug ClubThe Moscow Drug ClubThey were the curtain raiser for the main act which was a five piece band with the unlikely name of the Moscow Drug Club It’s not, of course, because they are junkies, it’s the title of a song they have made their own.  They sang a fusion of jazz and folk and other songs which defied categorisation.

The lead singer, Katya Gorrie, has a wonderfully smokey sultry voice, straight out of a German cabaret in the l930s. Alongside her was a superb trumpeter whose drooping eyes made him look as if he was completely out of it, but when he played a riff, he came to life.

The guitarist, Denny Ilett, had magic fingers too. Each musician took their turn to elaborate on the melody and disappear into their own musical world, before Katya took up the tune again.Katya Gorrie Katya Gorrie

I imagine they usually play in clubs where people dance rather than sit in rows, but they seemed to genuinely enjoy coming to Pewsey. They may well come back to the area because in the audience were talent spotters for both the Devizes festival and the Marlborough jazz festival. But it was good that Pewsey got there first.

In fact Pewsey has a very lively music scene of its own. As well as the Pewsey Belles: there is the male voice choir; Mothers’ Jam a sextet of women who sing a cappella; and a thirty strong University of the Third Age group for those who don’t read music but want some fun.

And of course there are the live bands that come to the Coopers and Pewsey’s summer Music Festival. Marlborough has its community choir as well as the choral society, but for a village its size, Pewsey has a lot to sing about.

Elinor Goodman was Channel 4 News’ Political Editor and has more recently been working in radio.  She lives in Wilton.

Music Live Pewsey’s next gig in the Bouverie Hall is on November 3 – see our What’s On calendar.

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