I don’t think people often think of Swindon as being a hub of the arts – yet it most certainly is – and in one small way I can prove it.
Yesterday, on BBC West‘s Inside Out programme, a film I’d made with colleague and friend Graham Carter about an almost forgotten poet and author, Alfred Williams, was aired. It was the result of work dating back to autumn last year when we decided to attempt to get a commission about this man’s work. He was a working-class writer who achieved a degree of national recognition in his life-time but who is barely remembered by the majority of people in Wiltshire and beyond. Yet, his most famous book Life in a Railway Factory, is a gem for glimpsing life in a Victorian factory.
Brave cast members of The Hammerman wait for us to get on with it on Uffington White Horse
When I saw it aired, if only in our region, it was thrilling and yet sad in some ways. Sad because that project is now over and secondly because there’s so much more we could do on him and his travel writing! What an interesting man he was. Born just outside the town in South Marston he went into the railway factory – the Great Western Railway works – to earn a better wage as Swindon boomed. But it was a drudge of a life, six days a week, 12-hour shifts in a hot, noisy, unforgiving environment. Even today, we are reaping the consequences of not caring enough for our men who worked in the railways – with asbestos-related deaths. But would we have made the same choices as Alfred?
Once he’d walked the four miles to work, done a 12-hour shift, walked home, said hello to his wife, he would sit down and write, delighting in the world around him. He was a master observer of his community, its characters, its quirkiness and its beauty. He recorded his travels around local villages – probably done on his one day off each week (I’m sure his wife didn’t get much of a look-in).
We re-created a very small part of his journey in 1912, which was recorded in one of his books, Villages of the White Horse, and yes, it can still be bought on Amazon.
What surprised me is the local media interest in the film – so if an lesson can be learned in terms of PR, it’s that you can never tell when something will generate interest.
It could have been a slow news day, considered light relief from heavier news, or it could have been a combination of those facts plus the one really important point – LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING! Apathy is such a major factor when it comes to getting your good news out there. Never think that what you are doing isn’t of interest – make the effort. Sometimes it will fall on deaf ears, but at other times it will lead to surprising results.
When BBC Wiltshire asked me to go up for a short interview to talk about the film, I jumped at the chance and re-arranged my plans to do so. It only took ten minutes but those were minutes well spent. Graham had been up earlier in the day so there were at least two radio interviews in the county yesterday about this poet. That was on top of a strong page lead in the local Swindon Advertiser as well as social media snippets all day.
Fitting the bike cam - ignore my rather lovely pink wellies.....
The publicity, by association, also advertised a musical, The Hammerman, about Alfred and his life which is being staged in the town later this month and yes I’ll be going. We interviewed the composer John Cullimore in the film along with other contributors.
Making this film has been an absolute pleasure and I’m now ordering other Alfred Williams’ books for my birthday so I can learn a bit more about this town, and its industrial and rural heritage.
For more details about Alfred Williams, try www.alfredwilliams.org. uk and if you want to see how interested my children were in my BBC Wiltshire radio interview, here’s the link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXozWZq4sZU
Today seems the right day to review my year in all aspects of my life – it’s a cathartic experience and helps get things in perspective.
Reflecting on life during 2011.....
Professionally it’s been a good year. For Fiona the journalist – I’ve made several films covering subjects as diverse as dementia care, OCD, rising energy prices and the Welsh Assembly elections (now known as the Welsh Government). Many thanks to ITV Wales, the BBC and Available Light for all of those projects. Alongside this, I’ve written articles on numerous occasions, so I thank the Swindon Link, Wiltshire Life and the Swindon Advertiser.
From a Mellow Media point of view it’s been a year of promise with several one-off projects, others requiring discretion and others which can be shouted about. Many thanks to Footdown, Business Scene, Sarah Arrow of Birds on the Blog, the Symondsbury Estate, Tailored For You and some new names which will also emerge in 2012. All of these companies and their people have provided work, new friends, new experiences and personal development, so many, many thanks. For all the colleagues out there in the world of business, let’s hope 2012 is full of hope as well as hard work. Let’s hope that gloomy predictions are not as bad as we’re hearing from various voices.
On a personal front, I’ve seen a child go to secondary school, another child start school and another child become one of the bigger fish in her small primary school pond. I’ve discovered both of my daughters are very good singers and my son sings along too. Both my girls took part in a community radio programme and they achieved many, many things throughout the year. My step-daughter passed her driving test and turned 18. She also presented an eight-minute film for regional BBC programme about tuition fees. There have been many occasions when I’ve been a very proud mum. And I should mention here a husband who has been supportive and loving for another year – we celebrated 11 years married. He’s put up with me for 15 though!
As a family we had a fantastic holiday in Orlando spending two weeks doing the whole Disney and Universal Studio thing. To say the least, it was fantastic. It was all we expected and more. But my biggest tip for anyone considering such a holiday – hire a large villa for a fraction of the cost of onsite accommodation, you get more comfort, better food (you can buy it yourself and actually have a salad) and often get your own pool. Hire a car and pay the $15 parking fee per day to park at any of the attractions. Also if a ride says you’ll get wet – it means you’ll get absolutely soaked so take a change of clothes. And pay the extra for Fast Passes or Express routes (it’s well worth it).
On another personal note, 2011 has been a year of terrible sadness for our family. In December we lost our neighbour and friend Roger to cancer at the age of 53, very suddenly. To look at his widow and see her pain every day is awful. But it was something sadly familiar to us. A big shadow this year was the death of our brother-in-law Peter in April at the age of 49 from heart failure. Pete died very suddenly after collapsing at the gym. He left my sister and three children, the youngest just five months old. To see my lovely baby sister trying to put her best foot forward every day, week, month since his death – has been a humbling lesson in life. And his parents and sister in Australia grieving at a distance is something we feel but can do nothing about…
So it’s with a mix of emotions that I face 2012 – I’m excited and challenged but as my daughter said to me a few days ago ‘Mum I just hope we don’t lose anyone else we love’ and that’s the main thing for me. Whatever bad things happen, put that event into perspective – there is always always someone worse off than you!
On that note – HAPPY NEW YEAR!