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.