The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Sunday, 30 June 2013

A war poet, a town crier and a river goddess

A war poet, a town crier and a river goddess. No, I'm not talking about this year's finalists in Britain's Got Talent.
These are the three life-size two-dimensional statues (cut from sheet steel) now adorning a funny little area between Smithfield Road and the river.
The pavement widens for a few yards opposite the new Premier Inn and here we find representations of the brilliant World War I poet Wilfred Owen who lived in the Monkmoor area of the town before going off to the hell of the trenches; our current-day flamboyant town crier Martin Wood; and the mythical Sabrina, goddess of the River Severn.
You have to admit, they make a most peculiar trio. 
It's a bit like the BBC choosing three characters to represent the breadth of their broadcasting output and coming up with William Shakespeare, Bruce Forsyth and Robin Hood.
There we have it: a figure from history, a present-day joy-bringer and a character who almost certainly never existed.
So from that point of view, I suppose Wilfred, Martin and Sabrina represent Shrewsbury rather well.
I love Martin, by the way. He's an old pal of mine from childhood days. We used to go back to his house after school and play with his train set. And, no question about it, he is a magnificent ambassador for Shrewsbury.
Just an odd little trio, that's all I'm saying.
The background to all of this is that 15,000 votes were cast in an online poll with the public selecting Wilfred and Sabrina from a list of nine nominees. Then Martin, our town crier since 1986, was chosen by pupils at the town's primary schools.
All very democratic.
The 'Portrait Bench' - as it is being called - cost £5,000 and has been funded by the charity Sustrans. Formed in 1977 and with its HQ in Bristol, Sustrans' job is to promote sustainable transport, encouraging people to walk, cycle and use public transport.
Oh. And if you are still not sure where these new statues are, we're talking about that stretch of walkway between Severn Terrace and the boxing gym.
The area has been improved over the past few years as part of a Connect2 project. Connect2 is a scheme run by Sustrans to develop new walking and cycle routes in 79 communities around the UK.
The area now has wide, shared-use pavements and new crossings to the Raven Meadows bus station.
The idea is that members of the public will be able to sit and be photographed  around the famous figures.
Helen Ball, town clerk, said: “We are delighted to have been able to work with Cycle Shrewsbury on this project which will honour Shrewsbury's favourite local heroes.”

I really need to say something this week about the fabulous Shrewsbury Food Festival which was staged at the weekend.
It was another one of those events which brought new life to Shrewsbury with colourful morris dancers doing their thing at Mardol Head, loads of food-related stuff going on in the Market Hall, and a real buzz across the whole of the town centre.
Of course the main action was in the Quarry with a dizzying array of stalls, a fantastic atmosphere, countless temptations for the tastebuds, and live music.
Wondering around there on Saturday I noticed, by the way, that two fellow Shrewsbury Chronicle columnists were in attendance: cheeky Dave Burrows and our Shrewsbury-loving mayor Jon Tandy.
My wife and I enjoyed a lunch consisting of a falafel wrap from Vegetarian Heaven and a glass of cider from Ralphs Cider & Perry. All very nice.
As Dave Burrows wrote in this newspaper last week, Shrewsbury, these days,  really is ticking all the right boxes.

Shrewsbury Food Festival. Wonder if they do sauce on a plate.

No-one could ever have accused our dear old mum of being a great cook. Pretty much everything she produced in the kitchen came out of a tin or a packet.
We grew up on a diet of beans on toast, supermarket shepherd's pie, faggots in gravy, braised beef, chicken pies, and (still one of my favourites) egg and chips.
The likes of Jamie Oliver would not have been impressed, but, as they say, it never did us any harm.
When I tell folks that our six o'clock tea time would feature nothing more exotic than jam sandwiches, they either stare at me in disbelief or else declare in a Monty Pythonesque Lancashire accent: "Jam sandwiches! You were lucky! We used to dream of jam sandwiches!"
Well. We did occasionally have tinned sardines, but I was never very keen.
What I really did love, however, was sauce on a plate.
"What?" I hear you ask.
You heard. Sauce on a plate. Quite literally HP sauce on a plate which you would then mop up with bread and butter. And, for afters, mashed banana with milk and sugar. Yummy!
It is against this background that this week your humble columnist turns his attention to the forthcoming Shrewsbury Food Festival.
What on earth is a food philistine such as I to make of a glorious celebration of all that's excellent when it comes to tickling the taste buds?
Well. At this point perhaps I should confess to two things. Firstly, my tastes and indeed the food I have been enjoying in adulthood have both moved on in the 30 years or so since our mum's cooking was the only food on offer. Secondly, I have been vegetarian for the last three decades so I'm afraid any tasty morsels involving in their production cows, sheep, pigs and suchlike leave me cold.
Having set out my stall, let's have a look at this food festival, shall we?

It's taking place this coming weekend in our beautiful Quarry park and around the town. The brochure and the website look fabulous (check and you can even follow the festival on Twitter (look for @shrewsfoodfest).
Amongst more than 80 exhibitors will be: Appleby's Cheese, Barnabys Ice Cream, the Battlefield 1403 Farmshop, Miranda's Preserves Ltd, Monkhide Wines, Ludlow Vineyard, Foxgloves Liqueurs, Doodle Bakes with their hand-made iced biscuits and sweets, Coopers Sausage Rolls, Fish In A Box, The Peach Tree Restaurant, Vintage Thyme pop-up tea room, The Fresh Lemonade Company, Native Breeds (hand-made hotdogs served with local relishes in artisan rolls), Polly's Parlour and Severn Valley Roasts.
Also represented will by Shrewsbury Mini Donuts, Shropshire Chocolates by Toots Sweets, Gwatkin Cider, the Green Fields Farm Shop, French Flavour Ltd, the Ludlow Food Centre, and many, many more.
Oh, and have you heard about the Restaurant Safari?
"The idea of our Restaurant Safari is simple," explains the brochure. "We've joined forces with a number of the town's finest, many of which have created special menus - with dishes for as little as £3 so that you can taste their take on local produce without breaking the bank. And if you like what you taste, you can stick around and order the full-sized versions. For full details of what's on offer, visit the festival website."
The festival is also providing a feast of films - movies about food. Having teamed up with Shrewsbury Film Society, those clever festival people invite you to take in a tasty movie at The Hive in Belmont.
There's lots to enjoy! And - like the Shrewsbury Folk Festival and the Shrewsbury Steam Rally - this event will surely grow and develop into one of the town's major annual attractions.
Mmmmmmm. I wonder if they'll do sauce on a plate?

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Belle Vue Arts Festival

When sad and terrible events take place, locally, nationally, or on the world stage, it is easy to lose faith in human nature.
Perhaps every newspaper and news broadcast should carry a government health warning: ‘Be careful. The contents herein could seriously damage your belief that – overwhelmingly – people are essentially good and kind.’
The thing is, we need to keep reminding ourselves that plenty of wonderful things are going on as well.
There is generosity and joy and tremendous affection, and you really don't have to go very far to find all this.
Take the Belle Vue Arts Festival, for example, an annual blossoming of creativity and community spirit that warms the heart.
This one suburb of Shrewsbury is leading the way in this regard, but there's no reason why other parts of our lovely town couldn't organise similar events.
This year, between June 8 and June 23, people will come together – mums and dads, children, pensioners, everyone – to have fun, to reaffirm neighbourliness, to build bridges between groups and individuals and make new friends.
There's music, photography, knitting, painting, artwork of every kind, exhibitions, workshops, a film night, a garden trail, a plant and craft fair, walks, a family cycle ride in the Quarry, a quiz night, and – of course – scarecrows all over the place!
Festival chairman Tony Sharpe said: “This will be the tenth festival and we are always trying to encourage more and more people to take part.
“It's always really wonderful to see parents and children working together, making things. It's lovely.”
Meanwhile, it was a pleasure for me last week to meet up once again with John Francis who is also involved in the arts festival.
A committee member of the Talking Newspaper for the Blind, multi-talented John (singer, writer, historian) and his friend Sheila Middle (also multi-talented – ukelele, banjo, piano) were also singing the praises of the festival.
“It's really great for Belle Vue and the wider community,” said John.
“It really brings everyone together,” said Sheila.
As part of the festival, John leads a pub history walk (which this year takes place on June 19, beginning at the Seven Stars at 7pm).
Unfortunately there are only 25 places so you need to book early.
“We move off from the Seven Stars and I tell people about The Swan which has long since disappeared, and then we take a look at The Globe and The Castle and The Boar's Head. Then we walk down the alley to the Cross Foxes.”
As I listened to John, I thought this could be quite a pub crawl – even though some of these places no longer exist – but he then assured me that the party does not stop at each pub for a drink. Oh. Maybe not such a great pub crawl after all.
Of course this is to do with history and heritage, not consuming beer, although the party does get to refresh itself at a couple of places including the final pub on the trail.
On the walk, John will tell you about The Royal Oak, long since gone but now incorporated into what is now WRR Pugh in Coleham.
“Then there's The Crown, up to The Grove where we do actually stop for refreshment.
“Then back down the Belle Vue Road to the Belle Vue Tavern, the Masonic Arms and the Prince of Wales.”
If pubs aren't your thing, try the film night of award-winning short films from home-grown talent on June 13 at the Wakeman School, or the torn paper collage workshop on June 11 and 12 at the English Bridge Workshop – or pop along to the art exhibition (also at EBW) which opens on the 15th with jazz and cakes.
The crazy, colourful scarecrows of Belle Vue will be all over the suburb to brighten up your day (maps available from the Stop cafe and Get The Picture).
Belle Vue – with its mix of mansions and terraces, its mysterious half-hidden streets, its railway bridges and pubs – is a beautiful part of Shrewsbury.
Personally, I’ve loved the area ever since I was little and we used to catch a big Midland Red double decker bus from town to go and visit our nan in Links Road.
And it seems only fitting that those lucky people who live in Belle Vue should celebrate with a burst of creativity and community events.
So go on – get involved. Pick up a paintbrush. Grab a camera. Pop along to an exhibition. Soak up the atmosphere. Giggle at a scarecrow.
Come rain or shine, the Belle Vue Arts Festival is a winner.
It’ll make you feel better about the world.
Oh look. It’s brilliant. There's just so much going on.
Pick up a leaflet, telephone Tony on 236975, or visit the website for more information –