Sunday, 30 September 2012


Sarvar is the Hungarian  twin town of Uherske Hradiste which is the Czech twin town of Bridgwater. Which has an annual Fair second only in bigness to the very very big Nottingham Goose Fair. But only geese are allowed to go to that one. So the Hungarians came to Bridgwater. 

September is quite a busy time for schools in the UK -seeing as they're just starting back, and also in Hungary, so the Sebastian Tinodi school gave their intrepid adventurers just 4 days to explore the UK (in it's approximate entirety), civilise Bridgwater and be back in time for supper.

So we had a go at helping them.


Arriving just before midnight on a Sunday night at Gatwick after flying from Vienna, we met them by minibus and whisked them into the centre of London, narrowly missing a limping urban fox on Brixton High street. Staying overnight at the Holland Park hostel, I suspect they went straight to sleep.

Which would have been a good idea. Because in the morning we carefully parked the bus in a residents parking zone in Islington (where we got booked but let off  by pulling sad faces) and handed out tube passes to the eager Magyars. Starting pistol fired and off we went. Emerging at St James park we saw Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Downing street, Lifeguards, Trafalgar square, China town, Piccadilly circus and Leicester square. Most of this in the pouring rain. Several thought this might be the time to go on the London Eye.


Jetting across London we re-emerged at Tower of London and walked the river walk past City hall, London Bridge, Southwark cathedral, the Globe theatre, Tate, Millenium Bridge and St Pauls.

Still time left? Yep, so we did Baker street, Madame Tussauds and Oxford street.

Leaving London for Somerset they wanted to take in Stonehenge. Probably not the best idea as by now it was dark. I don't have a picture, but to recreate the view simply turn off your light, your computer, close your eyes and put your jumper over your head. Oh, and then get out of the minibus.


Reaching Bridgwater a meal was waiting them courtesy  of the lovely Jana and her jacket potato recipe. Largely 'potatoes'. And a quick quiz to see what they'd learnt from their day in London. Quite a lot it seemed. They could recognise Boris Johnson but not Ed Milliband and they thought Ben Nevis was Mount Everest. However, the girls team won and got the chocolates.

The next day their expedition proper started. Visiting Bridgwater College they met the Media students who were planning to come with us to Hungary next year and took part in a series of front of camera interviews. 

Lunch with the Mayor Cllr Graham Granter and his Mayoress Kay saw them experience not just the finest British cuisine-sausage rolls, scotch eggs , iced buns etc, but also the chance to dress up as a Mayor themselves. 

That afternoon we took them on a drive around Somerset and a visit to Weston Super Mare where the rain had finally stopped and they could actually see Wales. So not everything worked out..

For the evening we invited them to a meal at the Green Olive with Bridgwater Internationalists. "The Turks are our traditional enemies" they smiled. 'Get over it' we thought. With no sign of a revival of the Ottoman Incursions on the horizon we assumed another great leap forward in International bonding. The waitresses turned out to be Bulgarian.


Wednesday morning was Bridgwater fair. They saw the animals. The buying and selling of the horses, the happy rain sodden ponies,the cages full of puppies (not sure that was so popular..) and something that looked like a llama, but might just have been the 'country fashions' stall. Then of course they had to have a go on the most dangerous and vomit inducing ride 'the megabastard wheel of certain unpleasantness' and presumably immediately threw up their Welsh cakes.

Having had their fill of the fair and running out of time before the school bell rang and they all turned back into pumpkins they decided to fit in Bristol, Oxford and Stow on the Wold. Where they stayed overnight. In the rain. And floods. And darkness. Still, this is what they expected from Britain and we were only dissapointed not to have brought gale force winds and hail into the equasion.

The next morning we whisked them back to Gatwick through the painful yet typical rush hour traffic and then they were gone.

Friday, 21 September 2012


If the Ceske Budejovice School for Civil Engineers had asked us to organise a programme in Somerset we could have shown them the collapsed wall at West Quay in Bridgwater and explained exactly why it has still not been  rebuilt after almost a year and they could have witnessed 4 different agencies fighting desperately to deny their own responsibility for the collapse in the first place. But they didn't. They wanted to see London. 

But we'll rise to any challenge and several weeks of emailing people who might know people who might know civil engineers eventually bore fruit and a full and absorbing programme was built , Brunel like , piece by piece,  from one end of the capital to the other, suspended over a massive gap, filled by pie and mash shops.

Outside Buck House

Honza Muzik is a well travelled History and English teacher who came to our attention several years back at the Czech English High School in Ceske Budejovice but who has since moved into the world of Civil Engineering. Where he remains an English and History teacher. This time he wanted to inspire the 25 teenagers with the impressive array of civil engineering and wealth of modern new build in London. 

Arriving by plane mid morning to Gatwick  we were in the centre of London within 30 minutes courtesy  of the non stop Gatwick Express. Which stopped at Victoria. Thankfully contradicting it's own advertising. Then straight into the madness of the London underground , out through the Jubilee line and into open air round about Canada Water we had a little rumble alongside the Rotherhithe landscaped canals and suddenly we were in our rooms at the Thameside youth hostel and it wasn't even 1pm. And it was sunny. The sunlight rippling off the nearby Thames like a rippling shiny thing.


With our amazing travel anywhere (but not on the busses) passes we jetted up to the heart of the city, crocodiling through the throngs of  what we could only assume were millions of other civil engineers on similar exchange projects. Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadily Circus, Soho and Chinatown. Well, that's a taster. As indeed was the wealth of 'all you can eat for £5.50' cafes, prawn crackers, noodles, chicken legs, table legs, serviettes, waitresses, all were scoffed down at rapid speed. Except for those who went to the £6.50 one next door, which clearly had a better class of plastic plumbing pipe and shelving unit.
The I.C.E in Great George Street

Next morning it was down to business and a great introduction to British civil engineering  thanks to the Institute of Civil Engineers who gave us a tour of their Parliament Square headquarters - walls bulging with  portraits of the big names of the trade-Telford, Brunel, Stephenson, Molesworth, and splendidly designed chambers bulging with guest organization hiring out the facilities.  Invited into their library and then into their private canteen and even offered free student membership, the ICE really was as welcoming as it was unwelcome on the decks of the Titanic back in 1912. Another feat of civil engineering.


The afternoon took us on a terrific skyride through East London via the Docklands Light Railway, by passing the Olympic Park and turning up at the University of East London, next to Cyprus station and just across the water from City Airport. It was freshers week and marketing guy Prince 'I'm not actually a Prince' Zoiku took us on a tour of facilities -all  to the raucous backdrop of drum and bass, hip hop and other generally loud and ear tweaking rhythms . The students especially liked the elastic bouncy thing which catapulted them backwards when they tried to run forward. It's exactly the kind of thing  Thomas Telford considered for his early designs of the Menai Bridge.
'I am genuinely NOT a Prince.' say's Prince Zoiku

Down to Canary Wharf and the Jan Kaplicky bridge which spanned the West India dock and then a general staring upwards at the majestic towers of glass and opulence that surrounded the smart suited bankers below. And then it was off to the East End to find some ethnic food. So we did Brick Lane. Just by Aldgate East tube (which they want to rename Brick lane) every shop you pass has a bloke inviting you in with the same line 'i tell you what guys, I give you starter, free drink, any curry you want  £10' - '£5!', ' £9 I can't go lower'. '£6!!' , ''Ok so £8.'. And it was done. Banglatown special.

Day 3 and it was UCL - Gower street was also awash with freshers - so generally a good time to visit. Kim Morgan took the students on a tour of the Civil Engineering department of London University and then a visit to the Norman Foster roof at the British Museum. And then it was time for lunch - so a couple of lost hours in Camden did the trick.

Kings Cross station..@ Harry Potter

Of course, something Civil Engineering students just had to see was the recent makeover of Kings Cross station..but..ah, in fact they all wanted to see the Harry Potter themed  platform 9 and 3/4 where some enterprising bod has half inserted a trolley into a brickwall and people pose  for photos trying to dissappear up JK Rowlings head .

That afternoon we finally went in search of the Shard. we had seen it from everywhere in London, but when we actually got to London Bridge we couldn't see it at all...largely because it was directly above us. So we had a stroll along the back streets of the London Bridge quarter, along by Shakespeare's Globe, Herzog's Tate Modern and across Arup's Millenium Bridge to Wren's St Pauls, then off to Bishopsgate in search of giant Gherkins posing as office blocks.

Muzik and student below toppling building

Final day we visited Greenwich. Home of the Equestrian olympic events, or 'horse torture' as it's more widely known, the Royal Naval College and the famous Observatory, the restored Cutty Sark and the Friday market where the choice of ethnic food  sent heads and Czechs spinning as we tried to choose between Brazilian, Thai, Korean, Mediterranean  or pie and mash. Well, give me a ladyboy anytime I thought. So I had the pie and mash.

So mission accomplished I think. The civil engineers I mean...not Greenwich


Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is one of our  less popular travel locations. Not just because half the holiday is spent driving past the signpost , but because there's so many other things to do in Wales that groups often don't get round to it. But on a rainy day on Anglesey what else is there to do - when the Electric mountain is fully booked, the National Slate museum is oversubscribed and the Holyhead to Dublin ferry has just left. 
Overlooking Rhossili beach (It's behind you..)

In fact Wales is the nearest foreign country to Bridgwater. So who needs France or Spain when you've got a few days spare and want to have a brief jaunt around another Nation just on your doorstep. 


The Arabska Gymnasium in Prague have been visiting Bridgwater annually for many years and since the pioneering Dr Soucek gave up his job there to spend more time with his long suppressed interest in Polar bear wrestling in the Algarve, his replacement Pavla Pracnova has taken up the mantle. And this year chose Wales as the onward leg of their trip. 

 In Bridgwater they stayed at the picturesque Street youth hostel with it's views of Glastonbury Tor and Glastonbury. And Street. Well, mainly Street. 
Walking the Brecon Beacons

Touring Somerset with the help of glamorous Bridgwater Czech Slovak Friendship Society Vice Chairman, Nigel Carter and his glamorous minibus, they visited Bridgwater College where they were interviewed by media Students, were received by the Mayor and Mayoress of Bridgwater and even went for some Cricket training in the nets at Weston Super Mare. Helping the stricken businesses of wall-collapsed West Quay, we social consciously took them for a meal at the Green Olive restaurant to round off their day. 


 And then off we went over the Severn bridge to discover Wales. Before the Welsh themselves got round to it. A sunny day in Cardiff saw the group having a stroll around Tiger Bay and an amble within and without the Welsh Assembly followed by a wander in the city centre. That evening they ended up on the Gower peninsula at the curious location of the Port Eynon lifeboat house. Now a youth hostel with a slipway. Ideal for spectacular views of Mumbles Bay, but not so good if a klaxon goes off in the middle of the night and everyone rushes down the half removed ramp and into the seaweed swamp beyond. Which didn't happen. The Gower peninsula is a nicely hidden away bit of rural Wales. Well, you have to get past Swansea to notice it. And as Dylan Thomas said "Abertawe yn cachu mewn gwirionedd ychydig yn". Which is Welsh. 

mid Wales
'Waking the dead' on Anglesey

Back to Cardiff for a Friday night on the town, the group topped up on civilisation before heading northwards. The Rhondda valleys give way to the Brecon Beacons which give way to miles of mid Wales which give way to the Snowdonia mountains. So you can break that journey by taking the coastal route after Dolgellau. Stopping at Barmouth with it's seaside facade and genteel air of Brummie accents, you could be forgiven for thinking the final scene of Planet of the Apes had been shot in Droitwich. Or wishing. A lovely sandy beach hiding a frightening scenario of monkeys on the rampage and Charlton Heston declaring 'my God they actually did it, they blew it up, it's the end of the world' (or words to that effect). On the positive side the coastline past Harlech castle is a joy to behold as Cardigan Bay sweeps northwards and the Snowdonia peaks rise ahead of you. 

 the Welsh
Welsh council estate in the rain

Reaching Idwal Cottage in the middle of those peaks we looked forward to a weekend of climbing to the top of Ar Wyddfa or as the Welsh call it 'the big mountainy thing' . But that didn't happen because it started raining. Not only couldn't you see Ar Wyddfa, it was quite difficult to see Bethesda. Which even on a good day isn't a bad thing. But when you want to climb every mountain and ford every prefect it's a bad start to the day. So instead of heading up a rockface we went off to the flat as southern beer isle of Anglesey where Pavla thought it would be a good idea to visit some neolithic remains. With the Tory party all but wiped out in Wales, we decided instead to crawl inside the Bryn Celli Ddu burial mound and then, because it was raining even harder by now, opted next for the roofless circular stone huts at Lligwy. Moelfre beach holds a special resonance for the secretary, not just because he was brought up there, well, on the council estate next to it, but also because the weather conditions were coming pretty close to those of the great storm of 1859 when the ship Royal Charter was sunk in the bay with the loss of 450 lives. So a potted history of the bravery of the villagers was given extra atmosphere as the entire group was swept out to sea . Well, had a nice cup of coffee in a little beachside cafe. But they MIGHT have been! 

North Wales

Nige 'on the job'
 A welcome visit to Bangor university and a guided tour on the next day saw the sun inevitably come out again. So the group headed for the ancient walled town of Conwy- scene of some of the best fish and chips in North Wales. And quite a nice castle. Or as the Welsh say "Quite a nice Castle" (but in a Welsh accent). Shrewsbury is a nice little border town to stop in . So we stopped in Chester. Not to mention Liverpool. 


That final night we camped down at Leominster and the secretary headed off to London leaving Nigel in charge of the whole group. After a night in the pubs of Leominster the Czechs were filled to the brim with Anglo-Welsh culture and all set for their final trek home through the border marches, down the river Wye, up the river Who and over the river Not Now Colin to the usually rainy city of Bath - within striking distance of Bristol airport. Within flying distance of Prague.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

20th Anniversary Celebrated in Prague & U.H

Twenty years ago this year we started the Bridgwater Czech Slovak link with an official twinning between Bridgwater and Uherske Hradiste. Ten years ago we  celebrated a decade of links and now it's twenty. Oh how time flies.

So in September 2012 we took a small group over to the Czech Republic. Only the  secretary ('for life' it seems)  was on the original trip. Which is  a good thing - as it means time hasn't quite stood still. Well, of course in Uherske Hradiste it has because that's where the other original member of our 1992 pioneering jaunt has cemented himself for these past twenty years. Andrew 'call me Trolleyman' Napthine has been a fixture on the UH scene ever since. As the man who taught the Czechs to call their own town 'UH' and the man who invented 'walking into traffic without your glasses on in order to improve your eyesight', he has been sadly missed, not only in Bridgwater but by numerous oncoming juggernauts.
Ondrej put's in some pre match training with the team

Anyway, he's still there. So get your motors running and head out on the highway.

This time we had a daft mix of footballers, and Labour party members plus a few general tourists. So the programme was complicated enough as the events didn't always quite match up.

In Prague the footballers played against Partisan Prague- a team of multinational emigres - and lost 13-3 while the socialists went to visit the offices of the CSSD (Czech Labour party). Playing in floodlights ,on astroturf and with a black ball, we not only were outclassed but outgunned as our star sweeper Jon Moore was carried off injured after only a small portion of a kickabout. 

Ondrej appreciates a 'slim fit' suit when he sees one

Everyone met up however later that night for a rollicking good evening with our lovely Prague friends  at a bar in Holesovice where the famous 'Ctirad and his musical assassins' pounded away through a mix of Czech and Brit ditties . The Czechs sang along, the Brits locked themselves in an anti social cupboard.

Taking a train to Uherske Hradiste through hitherto unheard of sunny weather, we arrived in Moravia in time for the wine festival. Only the Moravians could come up with the idea of a 'wine and open monuments' festival....what better time to open up all the museums with their precious artefacts than in the middle of a wine festival when everyones off their heads.
20 years of twinning commemorated in UH town hall

Our twenty years also  coincided with UH company Altechs 20th anniversary and so superboss Antonin Machala threw a party for his workers. And us. cimbal music clashed with the heavy rock of Argema and wine, beer and slivovice collided with the thinly lined stomachs of the Brits. Some of whom consequently collided with each other .


As for the football it was a bit more evenly balanced with a hard fought game against Altech ending only 6-4 to the Czechs. This time we had some Spanish people to help us. Sergio and Consuela were excellent -despite Sergios ominous email name 'i am the fat man' and Consuela wearing a dress. The game was close and it was only because the Czechs were better that they won. Another year, another goal for the fat councillor. This time with a flying banana kick from 30 yards. Well, whose  writing this thing anyway....
Granter and Tichavsky-20th Anniversary Mayors

Mayor of Bridgwater Graham Granter had flown in specially to Bratislava for the 20th anniversary and joined the parade on the saturday along with the other twin towns-many of whom we now also have good links with - Priverno in Italy and Sarvar in Hungary. 

4 good value Bridgwater town councillors all making the journey to UH (at their own expense we add) to support the 20th anniversary - Cllr Mick Lerry, Cllr Ian Tucker (who carried the flag throughout, a bit like he did during his naval days, just before he gave that famously innapropriate signal at the battle of Jutland 'all back to my place for the box set of Eastenders'), Cllr Granter -the Mayor with his Mayoress Kay and Cllr Smedley , to add a bit of glamour to the occaision, were accompanied by a near complete set of pseudo dignatories , or maybe dignified pseuds, from the central committee of the Czech Slovak Friendship Society -Chairman 'Nice but Tim 'Mander, treasurer & third and least known chuckle brother Simon 'not mental in the slightest' Hann. 

Bridgwater leads the way (well, we were in front)

Sitting in the main square within axe murdering distance of Czech PM Necas, the Bridgwater delegation sat back and enjoyed the display of early morning folk costumes and dancing and singing instead. The wine and cheese festival is a bit similar to the Bridgwater carnival, except they hold it a sensible time of the year when there's good weather  and they don't black up as Mexicans. 

Essentially  every village in the region turns up in their traditional folk costumes (pretty much all the same, knee length leather boots and sequinned blouses- so a bit like carnivoo) and start drinking at 7 in the morning. Swings and roundabouts really.

20 years of twinning between the 2 towns . It only seems like yesterday. But that's insomnia for you.