Sunday, 30 October 2011

Swindon's Hooter

The Great Western Railway works has brought many things to Swindon. Industry, wealth, people and probably the most important thing, memories. For those who used to work on the railways, the sound of the hooter is something they will never forget. This hooter used to blast across Swindon as a call to work. The sound used to cut across the town and the countryside to ensure employees of the works were ready to get into work.

The hooter blasted at several other points during the day, letting people know it was time to start lunch, finish lunch, stop work and so forth. It was the sound of the town right up until 1986 when the twin brass hooters blew for the last time.

Graham Mack is a presenter on BBC Wiltshire. With the help of local people he is on a mission to get the hooter blowing again. Graham isn't from Swindon but just wants to learn more about what made the town what it is today. When it comes to the hooter it's all about local knowledge. Many of Swindonions have been on the case to help track down the whereabouts of the hooter and the possibility of rekindling the sound of the railways.

My family have lived in Swindon for generations. My Grampy worked on the Railways and my Grandma worked at Wills Cigarettes. They both remember the hooter so I thought I'd pay them a visit to find out more...

Swindon GWR Hooter by bribriwilliam

I think there are many people,not just in Swindon, like my Grandparents Colin (91) and Sybil (86) Humphries, that would like to hear the hooter again. It will bring the memories of the railway back to those who worked in Swindon decades ago. But it will also bring a sense of appreciation and identity to a younger generation that know little about Swindon's industrial past.

I'll keep you updated as to whether Graham ever gets the hooter blowing again.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Royal Bassett

Thousands lined the streets of Wootton Bassett to watch the Princess Royal deliver the letters patent to the town. The police were expecting between 15,000 and 20,000 people but I don't think the crowd even reached 5,000. Even though the numbers were less than predicted the atmosphere was buzzing all the same. Rows of service men and women turned out to honour Wootton Bassett becoming Royal. The Prime Minister David Cameron was present along with all the local usual suspects.

Big screens all along the street enabled most people to get a view Princess Anne in her cream outfit making the town officially Royal. The big screens also played poems written by local school children.

Poem for Wootton Bassett by bribriwilliam

Flags were flying, hands were clapping and smiles were in abundance. Everyone I spoke to seemed to enjoy the ceremony and felt Wootton Bassett deserved the Royal title.

Local businesses did a roaring trade cashing in on the extra footfall in the town. Others have already changed their branding to include the Royal prefix and town signs and bus stops have all been renamed too. With repatriations no longer coming through the town, has the Royal name closed it's military legacy?It will be interesting to see what happens next in Bassett's journey.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Sprinkling of Italy

About two weeks ago I started on an Italian journey with a close friend. I've been to Italy a few times at the end of September, beginning of October and I've always found the weather to be perfect. This trip was no exception.

First stop, Pisa. I had no pre conceived ideas about the Tuscan city and really did not know what to expect. What I found was beautiful. Pisa has an understated charm about it which I love. It's not grand, it's not arty in fact it's very plain except for the lopsided tower that draws in millions of tourists each year. The Leaning Tower is at the heart of the city. At first sight it was a lot smaller than I had imagined but mesmerizing all the same. If I looked at the tower for too long I felt really disorientated which was very bizarre.

Florence was the next city. Just a short train ride away lies the heart of Tuscany. The beat that keeps the wine, music and romance flowing through the region. Florence is undoubtably a glorious city. Amazing architecture and grand art work all oozing Italian flare. Every street you turned down there was something interesting to look at or wonderful food to smell. All my senses were engulfed with the Italian charisma I love so much. Great coffee, smart leather bags, pizza, wine, gelato and tradition.

After leaving Florence by train, six hours later we arrived in Sorrento. I stayed just outside of the centre of Sorrento which I am very glad about. The main square is pretty but overwhelmed by packs of Americans and British. You did have to walk very far without hearing an English accent complaining about the weather. Sorrento is a strange place. You have to pay to use any of the beaches, but in fact they are not really even beaches. More like a bit of sand with a jetty to sunbathe on. It was not quite what I had imagined but it's pretty all the same. Luckily after a disjointed conversation with an Italian man in a coffee shop my friend and I were pointed in the direction of 'La Conca'. A beach about 4 miles from downtown Sorrento. No charge and no Brits (apart from myself and my friend!). It was lovely. Crisp blue water and grey volcanic sand topped off with sunshine. Thank you Italy.

Italy isn't all about sunshine, sea, coffee and pizza. The history of the country is mind boggling. How buildings, streets and ornaments have survived hundreds of years is beyond me. I still can't get over how smart the Romans were and how much we owe to their engineering genius.
I couldn't go to the Sorrento region without visiting Pompeii. What I had in my head was not what confronted me as I stepped through the gates of this massive archeological site. The sheer size of the place was just staggering. I had no idea how much of the city had been preserved when Mount Vesuvius took hold of it. Walking round the site is like walking round a ghost town (all be it with a few hundred tourists in). But you can easily find yourself alone looking at the inside of what once was a bedroom, living room bathroom. It was as if my Year 8 history class had sprung to life. The preserved bodies look unreal. Like they were put there just to make everything seem a bit more real because you find it hard to take everything in. It is eerie but worth it.

Rome was the final stepping stone of my Italian tour. Here there is what seems an archeological site on every corner. From the Colosseum to the Vatican Rome holds wonder and delight which can keep you occupied for hours. I did lots of walking in Rome. Along the river, through the streets, in the parks and in the shops. The city has a lot to offer and I believe in foot is the best way to experience it. You stumble on the unexpected and unique. Even though I have been to Rome before, it still has a sense of excitement and intrigue which I hope it will never lose.