Monday 26 May 2014

Clarinets, Klezmer, Cider and Cheese as Czechs and Italians Choose Continental Co-operation

Two Mayors at a church

It was a funny time to visit Britain. Everywhere you looked  a party calling itself the ‘UK Independence Party’ had put up posters vilifying foreigners for ‘coming over here’, claiming Rumanians were largely criminals and suggesting the  ferries, flights and foot passages were full of foreign benefit scroungers. You’d be forgiven for thinking foreigners might feel a little unwelcome, that ‘little Englander’ was a badge of honour and that Europe had some ancient Britanosaurus around it’s neck.

Cllr Smedley  with Angelo Delogu, Mayor of Priverno
Still, come they did. That’s the Mayor and Chairman of the pleasant hilltop town of Priverno in Italy, not far from where Brits,Poles, Americans, Canadians  and a host of others had joined forces with Italian Partisans to overthrow Fascism back in the 1940’s. Thirty minutes drive from Priverno is the allied landing ground of Anzio and another thirty the Monastery of Monte Cassino. Both bloody moments of a war that destroyed Europe and from out of which the European Union came to ensure it never happened again.

Italians from Priverno

Mayor Angelo Delogu is from the Green Left and at 34 the youngest Mayor we’ve seen in Bridgwater probably in living memory. Chairman Roberto Antonini is from the Democrat Party and together they formed a coalition in Priverno that brought to an end several years of Berlusconi rule in that town.  Sometime back a link had been formed with Bridgwater’s Czech twin town Uherske Hradiste and it needed a bit of a kick starting after the change of Government –so what better place to do that than Bridgwater…despite the Ukipperation that greeted them.

Czechs from Uherske Hradiste

Mayor Kvetoslav Tichavsky, Deputy Mayor Evzen Uher and  town councillor Jaroslav Tarcala are all Czech Conservatives. But from different parties. Since the collapse of Communism the Czechs have tried many different type of Toryism but still don’t seem convinced they’ve got it right. Still, Twinning isn’t about political parties it’s about people and so along with this mish mash of ideologies came a couple of Educationalists – Ferdinand and Katerina from the Bata University, translator Adela Tobolova  and to top off the delegation, Susie Cioe, confusingly an Italian American from Chicago living in Priverno.

They come over here
Czech-Italian delegation on King Square
The minute they stepped off the plane the miserable English winter ground to a halt, the sun came out and the day they left there was  a storm and the rain chucked down again. UKIP’s argument against the EU demolished in one single benevolent act of God. (note- this may be pushing the boat out…).

The purpose of the visit was to establish a 3 way partnership that could attract EU funding and encourage cultural, business and other community people to people link ups.

So, the task ahead was to show them what we had on offer.

Star attraction number one was Bridgwater College.  Young people are our future etc, and Bridgwater College is the biggest repository of such in the county. Each time you visit a Guide  doubles the number of students there. There’s currently more students at Bridgwater College than Welsh speakers in Patagonia ( that’s a hilarious joke, but the real figure for both is genuinely  about 12,000).

Sending them all back

Boom Town Twinners
This year we sent the  Bridgwater College media department to Priverno and to the Cinecitta film studios in Rome. Uherske Hradiste has an International summer film festival, Bridgwater has an innovative film and media centre in the Engine Room, and you can see link-ups springing up all around you.

Convincing people that Bridgwater is the boom town of the next 10 years has to involve  a visit to Hinkley point nuclear power station, which, if it doesn’t ‘go boom’ , will be a source of major investment in people, jobs and income to the town. Italy had given up it’s nuclear programme after Chernobyl, the Czechs still had a couple of Power plants (designed by Russians and run by Americans) and in fact exported energy to nearby nuclear free Austria. So we took them to Hinkley Point to look at a whole world of possibilities for energy in the future. There were questions, there were answers and nothing exploded.

Lock them up
A visit to Sedgemoor District Council featured a talk by Planning officer Nick Tait who had already taken part in one EU funded project to discuss comparative solutions to Town centre management and urban development. The three councils were keen to co-operate further, share best practice and learn from each other. 

Insp Pritchard at the custody desk
And then it was time to bang everyone up in the cells. This therefore required a visit to the new Police station. Inspector Andy Pritchard , Bridgwater’s new Police Chief, had worked all around the world from Namibia to Afghanistan to Burnham on Sea, and now he was in Bridgwater at a time when Policing was changing to such an extent that the town centre cop shop was shutting up shop and a massive Fort Apache was being built on the edge of town. The Czech and Italian groups were the first to visit it. Looking slightly ‘Palatial’ and maybe a little ‘Hotelic’ in places, it was in pristine pre public use  condition and included a suite of glistening cells, changing rooms that rivalled any public baths  and an impressive three floor open plan hot desking rake of offices. The Italians and Czechs were impressed. Especially by the journey there and back  in an armoured  Police vehicle. 

Both International Mayors have personal control over Police in their towns –whereas here we’re probably lucky that’s not the case. All were keen to learn more about British Policing and Inspector Pritchard was only too willing to share his experience with them. So another project in the offing.

Party like it was 1685
A local 'borrows' the Mayor's tie
Friday night was Mayor making night. Conveniently. After sitting through an interestingly Medeaval ceremony in a church where old and new Mayors changed clothes and dressed each other in ermine decked robes, frills and 18th century felt hats- to show ‘how we do things here in England’  the group was entertained at the Town Hall by an interestingly Medeaval folk band Dragonfly (or possibly Dragonhead) and an interestingly Medeaval set of Mayors from across Somerset. Such an abundance of gold around the necks of this chain gang and you’d have thought you were in the presence of Royalty. Or the Village People. 

New Mayor of Bridgwater, Cllr Steve Austen, with a stiff British upper lip (possibly caused by the starch on the lace necktie he was wearing) bore it all with fortitude , and welcomed his foreign guests, at the same time agreeing to visit UH next month to see how they do things in central Europe.  Pretty much the same but with knee length leather boots, velvet trousers and copious gallons of plum brandy so they don’t remember it the next day.

But how to prove Bridgwater was the exciting place that we’d told them it was….well, luckily top music agents Midnight Mango were doing a midnight music event at the Bar 27 that  same night with dancy Irish  rockers Mad Dog McCrea. So we took them there. That clinched it. Off they went dancing, cider tasting and locals meeting. “Give me yer tie” said one. So Angelo did. Lovely tie too. Who’d have thought Bridgwater Town Council ties would be so popular. ‘Hey, everybody wants a piece of Bridgwater Town Council” concluded Angelo. As the mildly drunk fellow tied it round his head and dragged the Italian Mayor onto the dance floor.

Tasting our cheese and cider.....

Late night Bridgwater
Saturday saw a flying tour around the rest of Sedgemoor with the help of SDC Chairman Cllr Peter Downing. The visitors’ dream had been to see cheddar cheese distilled and how scrumpy cider was drilled out of the clay and so Sedgemoor’s top man made it come true. They ate all the cheese in Cheddar and bought up half the cider shop at Rich’s in Watchfield and then were on their way.

After a relaxing lunch at the Red Brick Building in Glastonbury where the enigmatic Paul Sander-Jackson gave an inspiring talk on how a dedicated team of locals can change a derelict factory site into a thriving community space, , more Euro link projects were on the table, this time investigating the British tradition of ‘volunteering’ – not so common in Italy and Czech. 

A more sobering visit came later that day as the group dropped in on the flood stricken village of Moorland. Both communities had suffered flooding themselves and so meeting Cllr Julian Taylor and learning first hand how the Moorland and Fordgate villagers had pulled together to deal with the recent disastrous flooding of the levels  was an eye opener for them. In the Czech Republic ,UH flooded in 1997 when their river Morava overflowed straight through  the town while in Priverno one of Mayor Angelo’s first jobs was cleaning up after floods there. Julian had seen his home flooded and over 2 months later the devastation was still evident to all as we walked through what was his living room , now looking like a house in the early stages of new build with stone walls, barren floors and bare wires everywhere.

Comrades come rally
That evening the Twinning groups in Bridgwater came together for a party. Chosing the St George’s hall in the Newtown estate as the venue, Czech, French, German, Italian, Maltese and Hungarian twinners got together to celebrate internationalism. No xenophobic ‘Kippers’ allowed. Although, of course that’s hard to tell.

Beardy Bob’s jazz band blasted out the blues with the sensational Liz Brown on vocals then suddenly into their midst stepped Czech vice mayor Mr Uher and his collapsible clarinet, then instantly the whole band was jamming  Klezmer with him to the tune of Hava Nagila. 

An Italian 3 course meal was provided by  Kate Gardener and her mum, flags of all nations peppered the walls  while waiters from all corners of the globe (English, Czech and Polden) collided with each other serving the continental grub.

The Bridgwater International cup losing squad
On the final Sunday there were 2 choices. The Czechs chose the relaxing option of a sedate stroll around Bristol with tropical hatted Irish historian Eugene Byrne whilst the Italians opted for the football pitch along with the multi talented/stomached Cllr Smedley.  

Taking part in Bristol’s famous  Sandino Football tournament has become an annual event for Bridgwater International. Competing against teams such as Red Star Bedminster, Dukla Henleaze and Incommunicado Westbury on Trym we always come off worse. And this year was no exception losing every match but scoring one single sensational goal only made possible by a Rivelino-like overhead pass from Cllr Ronaldo to the well positioned Dickie Weaving  who tapped it effortlessly home. At least we gave the Italians a taste of what they could expect in Brazil next month!!

And then they were gone. One of the more successful trips for many a month with the hope of more positive links to come and between all 3 countries.

Now about that cake…..

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