The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Wheels in motion for Shrewsbury's summer of fun

Growing up in this wonderful old town back in the 1960s, there was the carnival every year, there was (of course) Shrewsbury Flower Show, and there was the West Mid Show.
And that was pretty much it in terms of big events.
Oh yeah. Circuses would arrive in town from time to time, and fun fairs would occasionally pitch up down on Frankwell, but - hey - look at Shrewsbury today. Just look at all the festivals and other crowd-pleasers we have going on during the year.
I was reflecting on all this as I watched cyclists whizz past me on Sunday during the Shrewsbury Cycle Grand Prix.
This top cycling event attracts thousands of enthusiasts and also professional riders from across the UK.
It’s really quite a spectacle - and brings life and a splash of colour and drama to the town centre on what would otherwise be a very quiet Sunday afternoon.
As the riders flashed by, I recalled how deadly quiet the town used to be during the Sundays of my childhood. In those days, you could have walked from the railway station to the market hall without meeting another human being. If you spotted a cat in those days, it was a big deal.
Yes, yes, I know. I’m going back to an almost forgotten era when the shops didn’t open on a Sunday. 
But the change in mood in Shrewsbury is not just to do with shops being open on Sundays. It’s to do with the fantastic variety of events now populating the ‘Shrewsbury Calendar’.
Just think of what we now have going on in this town, from the Big Busk and the Cartoon Festival in April to the Children’s Bookfest, the Shrewsbury Regatta and the Shropshire County Agricultural & Horse Show in May, plus, as I say, this rather wonderful Cycle Grand Prix.. and we have all this before we even get to June!
And then we have the River Festival scheduled for this coming Sunday, then Shrewsbury Carnival on June 13, the Shrewsbury Half Marathon on June 21, and the amazing Food Festival on June 27 and 28. June also sees the Belle Vue Arts Festival sprinkle its own fairy-dust upon the streets and avenues just to the south of the town centre - and more on this in a moment.
Going into August we have the tremendous trilogy that is: the flower show, the folk festival and the steam rally; three truly superb events.
Into September and we have the Shrewsbury Triathlon and the big music event, Shrewsbury Fields Forever.
Oh, come on, people. There’s really no excuse here for being bored!
There must be plenty of larger towns than Shrewsbury that would be envious of all this.
Just to return to the Belle Vue Arts Festival, by the way, this is now in its 12th year, it gets under way this coming weekend, and there’s just so much going on it’s hard to know where to begin.
This year’s theme is ‘Memories’ and the festival will feature a host of activities including art, photography and poetry exhibitions, workshops, history talks, quizzes, pub walks, and music, as well as the ever popular and successful Open Garden Day and the colourful Scarecrow Trail.
Even if Belle Vue isn’t your neck of the woods, check out the arts festival website and pop along to some of its attractions.

Phil Gillam’s gentle novel of family life, Shrewsbury Station Just After Six, is available from Pengwern Books, Fish Street, Shrewsbury.

From tomfoolery to tragedy

The Yongy-Bonghy-Bo and the Canoodling Gnus in a Canoe. What's the connection?
Allow me to explain.
Well, very few people remember it now, but there was a very silly American cartoon series that they used to show on television in this country on a Saturday morning.
It was called Tomfoolery and it was based on the poetry of Edward Lear, with some additional characters inspired by works of Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash.
My brother and I loved it.
First broadcast in 1970, it featured characters such as the Yongy-Bonghy-Bo and the Umbrageous Umbrella Maker. Other regular characters included the Enthusiastic Elephant, the Fizzgiggious Fish, and the Scroobious Snake.
As I say, it was very silly - very silly indeed.
And all this came flooding back to me the other day as I was given a sneaky look round the latest exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery - a show entitled Beastly Machines.
Just like Tomfoolery, this show is also very silly indeed.
Being staged until July 12, Beastly Machines is the brainchild of kinetic sculptor Johnny White. Johnny’s sculptures are influenced by current affairs, media-stories, plays on words and comic artists such as Gary Larson and Steve Bell. They are lovingly handmade in his workshop in Derbyshire, often using found or salvaged objects and junk. Initially he used scrap components due to financial constraints but now he uses them for visual and ecological reasons too.
Highlights of the show include a six-metre-long whale which springs into life at the push of a button, a flying pig, the aforementioned two canoodling gnus afloat in a bright blue canoe, and Rover the hound who moves in and out of his kennel when you move a lever back and forth.
Johnny’s creations are humorous, imaginative, irreverent and sometimes very noisy and ‘Beastly Machines’ is a not to be missed exhibition that will capture the imagination of visitors of all ages.
In a nutshell, the exhibition is just a bit of - well - tomfoolery!
There is a total change of mood, however, as we come to another exhibition at Shrewsbury's wonderful museum and art gallery.
Because running throughout June is "The First Casualty of War Is Truth".
Andy McKeown and Maggie Love will this evening (June 11) be talking about their new media installation, which is being staged on the balcony of the art gallery. The installation, which commemorates the 5,286 people from Shropshire’s Roll of Honour who lost their lives during World War I, sets this heart-rending loss alongside the mass media, communications and propaganda of the day.
People are being invited to visit the exhibition and participate in the creation of a visual and audio record of the Roll of Honour by transcribing a single name from the list to a single handwritten Telegraph card and making a voice recording of that person’s name. A single unique voice for each name on the Roll of Honour. The completed cards will be placed below a continuous stream of names, to grow and develop throughout the residency.
Andy and Maggie will also examine the mass media of the era and its impact on the population during the conflict, stripping back historically from now to World War I, discarding technologies (and their impact) along a time line.

Phil Gillam’s gentle novel of family life, Shrewsbury Station Just After Six, is available from Pengwern Books, Fish Street, Shrewsbury, and from Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Belle Vue Magazine is Gaining Ground

I'm so thrilled and delighted that the Belle Vue Magazine is really gaining ground now following distribution of the summer edition (issue two).
Had a couple of really lovely letters today that sort of sum things up:
One came from the Belle Vue Methodist Knit and Nat Group who said: "People in Belle Vue have become very excited by your magazine. It is really highly regarded and valued. Please accept my congratulations on a great production."

Another letter came from Briarfields Residential Home and said: "We were very pleased to receive a copy of the Summer edition of your magazine. I wonder if you would be able to let us have a few more copies as it would be lovely to distribute some around the home for our residents to read. Can you please give me some more information about your magazine, how many issues per year etc. Today we used the 'Where are you now' quiz on page 24 as an activity for some of our residents and we are collating the answers and will be sending in our entry very soon."
Both these lovely responses make me feel the whole enterprise is worthwhile, and that the Belle Vue Magazine is establishing itself as a firm favourite in the area.