Sunday, 28 October 2012


Not the three least well known of the seven dwarfs, but a mildly convoluted way of linking together the themes of our final project of 2012. 

For the third year running now, our partners from the Akropolis Family Centre in Uherske Hradiste have sent us a small group of women eager to learn about their counterparts over here in the UK , and this year we split the project with some lovely people in Worcester. 


Why Worcester? As George III said. Oh no, that was 'Bugger Bognor'. But in this case it was because in Worcester they have a major Snoezelen project , and that's something the Czechs wanted to learn about. So 6 of the group went up there. Now Snoezelen (pronounced SNOOZYLAND)(ish) is a Dutch idea which involves creating a controlled multisensory environment as a therapy for people with autism or developmental disabilities . So for 10 of the 14 days , Jane Roberts and her team of Snoezelanders sourced up a Worcester programme for them. Meanwhile, we took 4 of them down to Bridgwater. Then for the 2 weekends we put everyone together and decided to go to...well, Wales seemed about right. 
"Look out there's a marathon coming.."

Arriving late evening to Bristol airport and spending the first night in Cheddar, the whole group came with us to Bath and then to Cardiff where they spent the next night. The next morning it was the Cardiff Marathon. That should be good, I thought. I'll just cross this road. Ah, here come's the marathon now. I'll just let them pass. So there's the first lesson. If you see a marathon coming, cross the road quickly. 18,000 runners later I managed to cross the road. Up the Welsh valleys to Cyfarthfa Castle we had some Welsh cakes waiting for us and then it was off to Worcester to drop half the group at the Snoozy centre. The others came with us to Bridgwater and stayed with Kate, Inglis, Delilah and a variety of cats ,dogs and chickens at a relatively town centre location. 

Cllr Slocombe shows them a thing or two

 During their stay in Sedgemoor we took them around a variety of Family Centres, pre school and nursery buildings and gave them a taste of how, where and whether social services actually works for us. At Sydenham Family centre they participated in a Parent led drop in session and at Victoria they discussed with the Homestart project about what help could be provided for young families. Out in the sticks they visited the Stowey Bears pre school centre and the Little Vikings Nursery in Watchet. Back in Bridgwater they took in the College nursery, nattered with the knit and knatter group at Hamp Holy Trinity Church and again with the elderly ladies at the sheltered housing project at Homecastle House. But it wasn't all fun. They also met Cllr Gill Slocombe the Chair of Sedgemoor District Council and her vice chair Cllr Peter Downing who explained to them why Cllr Smedley was a good for nothing anarchist who ought to be shot. They were of course joking. 


a bit wierd...
Weekend 2 we picked up the Worcester people again and took everyone to North Wales. (Hence Snowdon). Staying at Betws Y Coed for a couple of nights they toured the Isle of Anglesey and Snowdonia scaling the worlds 387th highest mountain (by railway) and then visited the friendly Welsh market town of Caernarvon where a friendly Welsh local demanded we shut our minibus door in an empty car park to let other people park. On our way back to Worcester we stopped in at Shrewsbury, where our chum Jo Cox lives. Jo was on the original wagon train to Czechoslovakia back in 1992 and only 3 years ago took some Salopian youth workers with us to meet the Akropolitanians in UH and so was pleased to show this lot around her town. Especially good was the Boiler Room , on Hills lane-the towns first Steam Punk cafe. Well worth checking out. 


 But it wasn't all high flying jetsetting. One night the group went to Nether Stowey and took part in a Czech evening eating goulash and watching the O'Byrne families Czech holiday videos. Another night it was Czech-English Quiz night - which everyone lost as the questions were so stupid. On a different occaision we took them to the Green Olive-as part of our 'support west quay businesses' agenda. And who could forget the jazz night at the Bridgwater Arts Centre..well, certainly no-one who ever heard the resident trombonist attempt to play the melody from 'Girl From Ipanema' in the style of George Chisholm. 

Lovely beach...

 The highlight of the Bridgwater groups sojourn was the visit to 'People Can' in Taunton, where they had a talk from the wonderful Elaine Di Campo and her team about the tremendous work they do in the community and spent time in the offices meeting some of the workers that provide floating support, advice and counselling for people who's lives aren't working out and need that bit of extra backup. Suitably inspired they declared Elaine the loveliest person they'd met - which was up against some tough competition. And that included Nigel, who took them to Beer (the fishing village) and Simon (who guided them to the top of Snowdon) (by sitting in the same train). 

Two weeks later they were gone. Bags filled to bursting point having contributed to the local economy and minds filled with ideas , inspiration and idiocy. And who can decide what's what deserves a European grant. 
Elaine and the gang at People Can

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Bridgwater choristers establish  a beach-head
No-one quite knows why Bridgwater is twinned with the elegant Mediteranean yachting resort of La Ciotat-but thanks to whoever did that 55 years ago. Last year we kick started the link with a joint Anglo-Czech football invasion -successfully losing every game, and this year we took a multitude of choirs from the Bridgwater area to link up with a choir from La Ciotat.

The result was another well earned credit for Yvette Staellens and her globetrotting 'Voice of the People' team based at the Bridgwater Arts Centre. Each year they come with us to a different country, imprint Bridgwater culture with a dainty slipper mark on the hearts of all they meet , make a few friends and leave with a song on their lips. Even at 5am in the morning. And in this case, even when they were circling Bristol airport unable to land due to bad weather and having to be diverted to Cardiff.


The French choir Citharista take the etage
This year 54 people joined the trip. The lovely Yvette runs several lovely choirs dotted around the region but this time she was joined by the talented and mildly gorgeous Claire Anstee  and her own  team of world music beatniks from the sticks,  making an incredible collection of natural voice talent on one stage. Add to this the tremendously professional 'Citharista' choir from La Ciotat -prominently featuring town councillor Jean-Marie Vandamme- especially adept at ad hoc doo-wop scat singing and you couldn't move for music!

Flying from early morning rainy Bristol to early morning Nice - slightly skimming feet above the waterline as we landed-and driving through  sunny Provence past St Tropez, Cannes and the rest of the Cote D'Azur it actually felt like you were somewhere in the region of Highbridge but with slightly more sun, sand, seafood and baguettes. 


Councillors trying to convince the French to come to Bridgwater
La Ciotat is a perfect tourist destination from which it's hard to get the inhabitants to leave. So on this occaision we took along some books about Somerset and, for good measure, the rest of Britain, as gifts to show them what we had to offer. It didn't have too much affect. But what did was when they met up with those Bridgwater ambassadors of the Voice of the People choir who, after a couple of days singing and partying together almost convinced the French to pay a return visit to Bridgwater next well done there!! Reality comes at a price.

In French they take their Jumelage seriously. (That's twinning by the way). And when they heard that a Bridgwater choir was coming to visit them they booked the Spectacular 17th century Notre Dame church which overlooked the harbour for them to perform in. The perfect acoustics were caught on video and the youtube clips included below.


Claire and Yvette square up
The range of the Choirs material spanned the globe with songs from the Baka people of Equatorial Africa  through Australian aborigine lullaby's by way of a song from Bridgwater's Czech twin town Uherske Hradiste , a Hawaiian Earth blessing , a 16th century English madrigal to the topical Moon River .

Top of the hit parade this evening was a spontaneous blues soul duet performed by Yvette and Claire , delivered with such feeling that you almost imagined they were going to punch each others lights out.

The packed audience cried out for an encore. Fortunately Yvette had forgotten to include one song in the set list and so they did that one.


La Ciotat- a bit like Bridgwater
But even more singing continued into the early hours as both Bridgwater and La Ciotat choirs adjourned to a council function room for a Camembeart and Pastis frenzy  while singing each other into the ground. Not to be outdone by Yvette and Claires stunning performance, the French choir leader Carine Verdu suddenly burst into an unprovoked version of some Aria from Carmen with a degree of sensuality and gusto that one senior councillor almost choked on his fromage du chevre.

La Ciotat council had made a big effort . Deputy Mayor Patzlaff had constantly worn his Bridgwater tie for the entire year past , refusing to remove it in case he met anyone from the twin town. Tonight he was in luck!! Sadly he didn't speak any English. Madame Leonardelli, the president of the Jumelage committee had a bit more, and Virginie Giaccone, the International links officer a bit more still. But still they thought they better roll out their friend Thomas-who did his best. On the other hand the Choirs brought with them numerous members whose schoolgirl French led to an evening of uncompleted sentences , cheerfully resolved by another glug of wine , hand gestures, or in the case of the Dutch chorister, entire re-enactments of classic scenes from history in order to make her understood. But that's the joy of twinning-trying to communicate rather than give up and build walls.

Plumetting the depths

Once the singing was over (if that's ever likely) the travellers sampled the merry joys of La Ciotat. Having 'done' most of the harbourside restaurants, bought up the waterfront market and witnessed the startling site of elderly women dressed in that Medieval way tying each other up with ribbons and then trying to dance, the only direction was seawards. Almost everyone chose to visit the nearby Calanques (interesting Jurassic headlands) by boat. And got incredibly wet. Even the experienced seafaring Cllr Tucker hadn't experienced anything like it , even on the mountainous waves of Cape Horn. Singing while drowning I mean.

On the final night the group had a party at Croix De Malte hotel where 3 of the singers formed an impromptu version of the Beverly Sisters  to sing their thanks to Yvette - who responded in song - which caught on - until half the room were ad-libbing lines thanking each other.

Singing it like it is

The only way such a pleasant weekend could finish was something going wrong. An unexpected visit to yet another country. The perfectly timed flight from Nice reached Bristol, hit English weather and the plane had to land in Wales. The group -amongst 4 other plane loads of travellers - had to be bussed back to Bristol in 12 specially hired coaches. The Bridgwater group chose the driver that reversed into an airport lamp-post.


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. 

Friday, 24 August 2012


This has not been the best summer here in the UK. However, for climate change enthusiasts it's been perfect, clearly demonstrating that even world famous weatherman Michael Fish would be absolutely no use at all in knowing which way the wind was likely to blow in the next Five hours. So , for a group of intrepid teachers , students , concrete inspectors, radiologists and lawyers including at least Two children, from the Bohemian town of Kladno, what better time to take a trip in a minibus around the South West of England!

Zdena Biggsova has been bringing Czechs to Britain for many years now and was instrumental in our original contacts with Prague 6 district. Retiring from her school in Prague to continue working in the nearby town of Kladno she has in the past continued her trip organising including jaunts to Ireland, Scotland and London in recent years. This year her merry band of chums flew in to Bristol on a lovely sunny August evening and were whisked away by us to the Swiss Chalet style  youth hostel on the Polden ridge near the shoe town of Street and overlooking Glastonbury Tor.


The next morning it rained. At least the jolly cyclists who also stayed over that night on their way from John O Bonkers to Lands End would get totally soaked. Or at least blown off their bikes.

We took the Czechs to Glastonbury Tor. 'Walk up there and then walk down quickly before it rains' we advised. That didn't work. Dripping wet they had a little wander round the hippy shops and then rinsed themselves out in the minibus.

cheered up

Would it brighten up at Wells? Well, not that you'd notice. Still, the Cathedral was indoors. And Cheddar? Right, enough of this , let's get some fish and chips. So that cheered everyone up.

So the trick is-eating fish and chips makes the sun come out -and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Getting back into the minibus in now glorious sunshine we went off to Weston Super Mare, teeming with tourists, brandishing ice creams,candy floss, wearing 'kiss me I'm a scrubber' hats and with a not unpleasant view of Cardiff from 20 miles away the day had brightened up.

So we took them to Bridgwater where a little party was waiting for them in the Green Olive restaurant on West Quay and after that we all popped along to the Fountain inn where they mingled with the locals, trying out the Guiness, the Cider,the Whiskey , the accent, not for one minute expecting the weather would go mental again.


The next day we brought them back into town to do some shopping and explain why the West Quay wall had fallen into the river. For a full report see And to dispel any notion that all Brits weren't nutcases we left them in the capable hands of Wildman Napthine, a Bridgwater exile to Moravia currently back home on a succesful curry seeking mission.

And then off to Minehead- still sunny. Then Dunster - not only sunny but Medieval AND with a shop boasting a  chocolate fountain which you could dip your strawberries and marshmellows in.

What better time to drive through the Exmoor hills and down the Exe Valley, by passing Tiverton and calling in at Exeter then on to Dartmoor. Where it rained. And then got misty. And then flooded.


Still, we weren't detered from treating them to a typical Moorland banquet. After the  Tortillas , Enchilladas and Guacamole dips, they were contented enough to contemplate the next days trek across the Baskerville landscapes to Laughter Tor, Gigglesome Brook and Daftarse Gully as promised.

Not only did it rain, flood, got misty then rained some more, but we couldn't even see the Dartmoor prison two feet in front of us. So we gave up and drove down into Plymouth and chips...that's the solution.

How does this work?? Nice bag of fish and chips and the sun comes out again...this will wreak havoc upon my diet. Never mind. It's a great British tradition. So it was off to Tintagel.

The best thing about Tintagel is that the hostel is situated halfway down a sheer drop along a cliff face and to hear the screams from the back of the bus always brings to mind Bob Monkhouse when he said 'I'd like to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, not screaming in fear like his passengers'.


So after a meal of jacket potatoes out came the vodka and on came the singing. Always a feature of Czech groups with or without (but mainly with) alcohol. Shame I'd forgotten my guitar. Still, Jaroslav on saucepan bodhran seemed to do the trick.

The next day the weather was tormenting us...would it ..wouldn't it....yes!! It was a nice one. So we managed to catch the open causeway to the St Michaels Mount before it closed in on everyone and drowned them and stopping in Penzance for some extra re-assuring fish and chips we continued to Lands End itself where the sun shine like it was meant to. And there too were the John O Groatesque cyclists supping from their champagne. So sunny was it , so blue the sea , the sky and the mosquito bites, that Jana decided to walk half the group around the coastal path what she guessed was six kilometres. Six miles later they reached the hostel.

A beautiful sunset at Cape Cornwall helped everyone enjoy their Cornish Pasties and Old Dogvomit cider.

Next day , naturally, it rained. You could hardly see the impressive coast between St Just and St Ives. But we tried. And then we went to the Eden project. Good plan. The sun came out and people started to suffocate amongst the tropical biomes and collapsing tourists. Helpful tip - don't go in the tropical biome - stick to the more pleasant Mediterranean one.

So we headed off through more pleasant sunshine back across the Tamar and down along the South Devon coast to Salcombe. For anyone who doesn't know, the Salcombe youth hostel isn't actually in Salcombe, it's at the head of an outcrop of rock which takes you up ,down, round, over and through numerous hills and narrowly winding country lanes in which you take your life in your hands. Oh how the people screamed.


Totnes is a nice place where the independently minded shopkeepers have fought off  the multinationals and have even introduced a Totnes pound. Sadly, it's a shit place for traffic, so we were stuck for a while and got to Torbay later than we hoped. On the positive side the sun came out and the Czechs could have a pleasant wander around the harbour. Then we headed east and stopped at a very sunny Lyme Regis where going in the sea was even an option. They didn't however.

Along the Dorset coast to Weymouth is a wonderful coastline  as you drop down to Chesil Beach with the rabbit-phobic Portland peninsula on the horizon and ending the day in the thatched cottage haven of Lulworth Cove with a special treat of ginger beer (45p a bottle in Aldis) .

No visit to the south west would be complete without a flight home. But before that we stopped in Bath. Where, luckily, it didn't start the raining until they all got on the bus to the airport.

And off they went.

Saturday, 21 July 2012


It's the 4th time we've taken people on a jolly canal trip . Same canal, mainly different people. For Katka and Zdenek from Prague this was their first time. 

There was a bit of a worry with the English weather. Mainly whether it would stop raining.  And after the first day it did. Only to start again on the last day. Thus making an entire year to date of every trip to Bath being in the bloody rain.

genuinely lovely

Canal boats can be quite expensive but it you fill them to capacity with 8 people it doesn't work out so dear. We had 4.
"Looking a bit floody...."

Leaving late Saturday afternoon from Bath (in the pouring rain) we dredged our way as far as the Dundas Aquaduct - a genuinely lovely spot where the canal crosses a river and a railway line. Battening down the hatches we settled in for a night on the ocean waves, storms and tornadoes (one had just hit Somerset by chance causing £2.50 worth of damages when a photographer dropped his tub of raspberry ripple ice cream in order to find his camera to fail to film it).
abandon ship!!!!


But day 2 was lovely. Against all odds the Kennet & Avon canal decided to buck the trend of the rest of rainswept England and sparkled like a Bank Executives buttocks on the way to the dry cleaners.

Traveling at the speed of an asthmatic monkey in a balaclava we bobbed along  crashing into absolutely no-one, stopping at the Cross Guns canal side pub on yet another aquaduct -this time Avoncliffe- where we had lunch and watched the rising waters of the River Avon wash away the lower levels of the beer garden.

locks and swing bridges
the captain's table-yo ho ho and a bottle of pop

Not far around the bend was Bradford on Avon. Now there's a nice place. A lovely Marina  with real toilets and another canal-side pub with live music and quiz evenings where hardy Matelots could mix with locals telling tales of far off lands. Largely Trowbridge and Devizes.

Venturing into the unknown on day 3 - a bit like Shackleton or that bloke who got lost in the Caribbean as a tax dodge- we managed a lock and a few swing bridges. And headed east. Towards the Hilperton marshes. Where dwelt the fearsome legendary creatures of terrifying scariness. Mainly ducks. And the odd heron.
swing bridges and roundabouts really


And then we met up with a nice family from Surrey who had got the balance about right sitting on the drivey bit (I would say 'bridge' but I think i basically mean the bit at the back where the tiller is) while their kids leapt about straining and stressing with the lock gates, whirling windlasses and generally popeing and toting. Now you can get along quite quickly on a canal if you twin up with another boat. Go through the locks together, overlap at swing bridges while the other crew opens and closes them. So we fair hammered it through North Wiltshire . But all well made plans come to a fork in the road...and ours was where our sailing partners nicked the last remaining mooring space for the night. Just beside a charming pub too.....with some bouncy music going down.

Never mind, we said (not meaning it) and ploughed onwards towards the dread engine shutting down time of 8pm...and could we find anywhere?? Well, no we couldn' we reached the foot of the mightily unpleasant Caen hill locks..24 of them..all upwards...and thought, well that's it for the night..hammering our metal stakes into the muddy, reedy bank and collapsing in an overworked heap. it a nice bottle of Korycany slivovice.
The Barge Inn

rufty tufty

The next day we contemplated doing the locks.....and decided against it. So we walked up them instead and helped the other boats that were rufty tuftier than us. We convinced ourselves that the prize would only be Devizes anyway.

So we turned around and headed back west - this time finding a space at the Barge Inn....that nice music pub from the previous night...a place where the wifi trickles across the lock to the moorings and the beer garden sits amidst trees lining the canal.

Next day it was back to Bradford , taking on water and fuelling up with goods neccessary  for the last part of our arduous trek  to where man had seldom ventured..... Limpley Stoke.

rugged seafarers

But that was rubbish and it had started raining again so we continued to Bath. Mooring up just outside the Sydney gardens we found we could walk into the city from there and with no more lock gates or swing bridges to worry about we figured this would do us for the last 2 nights.
Katka on the ropes

And Bath's a lovely city. The sun came out a bit and the Georgian finery welcomed the rugged seafarers into it's hostelries .


Then of course it bloody rained again. this time catching the entire population unawares...and you often wonder how Brits can be so thick.....shirt sleeved, tee shirted, sun tan lotioned, bewildered, all running for shelter and pretending to be interested in stationery , the people awaited the calm after the storm.

Which came. As it does.

72 foot monster

And then it was home. Carrying out a waterways three point turn...that involves driving head first into a windy hole and accelerating forward so your arse overtakes your nose-we got the 72 foot monster back in it's cage. Well, I mean we parked it.

So canal boats.....a lovely way to spend a can't legislate for the weather but you;re very unlikely to hit an iceberg. And that's true.