Category Archives: General postings

Thinking Swindon

This time of year has a number of important dates for me, but one that I often overlook is that it was 37 years ago this month that I moved to Swindon. Since then I have lived at two addresses in the town and, for a year, one in Chiseldon so I have spent more than half my life in and around the town. I seem to have put down roots here, especially if I tell you that I have lived in this house for 32 years.

Swindon was part of my life for any years following my earliest memories. I was born about 25 miles away and, although we gradually moved further and further away, our crockery at home was always referred to as having be bought at Swindon market as were one or to other things around the home. In fact my mother still had some of that stuff when she died and it ended up in the recycling centre over at Cheney Manor.

As a family we moved East through Berkshire and Buckinghamshire to Surrey and then to Essex. I continued that migration through the latter county after I left home and on a rough reckoning had lived at 14 addresses by the time that I decided to take the advice, “Go West, young man”. But Swindon had crossed my path on various ways over the years.

In 1972 I got a job at Brown Brothers in one of their Essex locations at a time when the head office had just moved out of the Great Eastern Street site in London. The admin functions had all gone to Swindon and there was regular contact with people down here, (the central stores operation had moved to Wolverton, another railway town that was to become a big part of my working life a decade and a bit later).

Towards the end of the seventies the railway involved me briefly with the town. The first was when on a day out to the West the locomotive pulling our train failed and we were stuck at Swindon waiting for a replacement for long enough to mean that my day out was effectively wasted and I ended up going straight back to Essex after grabbing a bite to eat at my destination. The following year I was on my way back on the train from Bristol when we were stopped at a signal shortly after passing under the M4. As we waited I could see the new housing development of Toothill, little knowing that I would own one off those houses about 7 years hence.

So what bought me to Swindon? By 1984 I was living in North East Essex, but working in London. I had a three hour round trip commute and so was gone from home before the children were up and home after they went to bed. My marriage was dying as we became strangers and so I wanted a job nearer home and there was nothing much that I could find locally at that time, but the firm that I worked for were expanding their Swindon operation and so I threw my hat into the ring.

A job offer came through and so I moved down here, staying initially at the Swandown Guest House on Victoria Hill, but then moving in with a colleague until the sale of my old house and the purchase of the new one came through in about the November. We lived in Toothill and I had about a 30 minute ‘bus ride to work on the Outer Circle with an annual season ticket that cost me £99 (a weekly rail season ticket from home to work at my previous address had been £127).

It was to be the move that launched my career and gave me much more besides, but initially I felt that I had made a dreadful mistake. As is often the case in business the project that I was due to work on was running late and I had little to do. My first two or three weeks were a round of induction sessions and introductions to people in various departments that I would have to work with, most of whom were really too busy to spare me the time. They had their own language of acronyms and such that baffled me and the organisation’s IT department, the London end of which I had just moved out of, seemed to resent me as a deserter of the cause.

One of the only joys that I had was exploring the industrial heritage of the town after work and one one of those walks I happened to look up at the right moment to see Concorde heading out towards the Atlantic, hearing it seconds later. The evening Concorde became my talisman in those lonely days before the family moved down to join me.

Things got better though. We had a bigger house here and we settled in. The children made new friends and I got my first promotion which eased things financially for us. We exchanged our old banger for a relatively new second hand car and started to have a annual holiday. Life was not too bad; West Swindon was not a bad place to live with the Link Centre within walking distance, the big Carrefour supermarket (now ASDA) as almost our corner shop and plenty of ‘buses to get us into and out of what was then a decent town centre. Swindon was a good place to live in and you could often spend most of a Saturday in town.

As the town spread West and North the council seemed to lose the plot. The genius of the fifties and sixties in reinventing the town faded and somehow it all went wrong. It’s odd, because it is thriving town with plenty of employment and new opportunities coming in regularly, yet the town centre has been allowed to decline to a point where it is hard to see how we can ever get it back. Forward Swindon was a catastrophic failure and odd projects have been allowed to proceed with no apparent cohesive plan while the urban sprawl continues into what was, when I moved here, sacred green belt land.

I do appreciate an element of hypocrisy on my part; all three of my Swindon area homes have been built on what was, fifty or so years ago, open fields. It’s what happens and we have to accept it. The population has been allowed to grow out of control and people have a tendency to breed. All off these people want homes and there are not enough to go around so we either have to cull the population or build more houses; guess which one will happen. High-rise is acknowledged to be unpopular for all sorts of reasons and so more of the fields will have to go. At least here we are using a reasonable amount of brownfield space too, but the spacious developments like to one that I live in, built in the 1970s, are a thing of the past.

Times change and the world now is not the same as when I moved here. There is no sense of community, but, from my perspective, there hasn’t been one at any of the places I had lived at down here. We have lost the vibrancy of the town centre though. Out of town superstores, shopping centres and strip malls have taken care of that in the same way as they have in most American towns; why pay to park in town when you can park for free around the edges and the shops there are better?

I still live and work here though, and am happy enough to stay. Seventy is creeping closer and I have no idea how many more years I have on this planet, but I see little likelihood that I will move anywhere else now. The town has been good to me; my career exploded after I moved here, I met the love of my life with whom I have shared 32 happy years now and I am very grateful that things conspired to bring me here.

All in all Swindon is OK. You can get to other parts of the country easily from here, some of the most beautiful countryside is a few minutes drive away and the place keeps growing so there are opportunities for those who live here and for their children. Sure there are negatives, but there are more positives. Forward Swindon may be a thoroughly discredited phrase now, but maybe Go Swindon will do instead.

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Writer’s Block

I appreciate that this blog has been neglected for quite a while. It is not my only blog and they have all lacked content lately.

There was a time when my business travels left me with time to both think and write. Those days are gone, at least for now, and my daily commute is a ten minute drive so these is no scope for my scribbling. At home there are too many distractions.

I have had the block before, even in the days when I had a deadline for a monthly feature of around 1700 words. Somehow something would flow from brain to fingers to keyboard and on to the cloud for my editor to review, even if I did often have to stare at a blank screen for several daily sessions until the eleventh hour. This time, with only self-imposed deadlines, I have been pretty sterile for several weeks.

The problem is not a lack of ideas. I use the Notes app to capture random thoughts and also record audio clips where I can. There is a wealth of stuff to prompt me, but putting it into sentences and paragraphs that I am happy to publish is another question.

I will get past it. This is evidence that I have moved on enough to get something happening, so, as always, watch this space.

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Tidying up

One of my first jobs now that I have integrated this blog with my website is to check all of the links and menu items. I know that some of them need updating, but I am having problems working out how to do it as WordPress seems to have changed the way that these things work.

No doubt I will work it out, but it may take me a day or two so I apologise if you find a dud one before I get them fixed.

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A change has come (and more will follow)

I have merged my old johnjbowen.com website with this blog or, to look at it the other way around, this blog is now my website. It had ceased to make sense to have both a static web site and a blog so I have moved on.

This blog will evolve too as I settle into a new way of using it. It has been the frivolous companion to Monday Musings, but I think that it will take on a more serious tone whilst dealing with things that Monday Musings would not cover. The latter has always tried to stay above politics and I will keep it that way. Here I have usually treated political comment to sarcasm and humour; my letters to the editor and so on, but I may try to bring a more serious comment in from time to time.

I will also try to cover other things that interest me in more depth, but, as always, these things eat time and I will have to find a level that works for me. The important thing is to try and be more regular and consistent with my postings.

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RIP John Bowen

No, not me. If you look at the tabs under the banner on this blog you will see one for the John Bowens who are not me on the Which JohnB? tab. There are several famous ones, even notorious in one case, but they are not this one.

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Changes afoot in the ether

I have a silly number of blogs and websites that exploded fifteen years or so ago when I went freelance. Over time a few have fallen by the wayside and this year I began a serious purge. Why? I am getting older and my life has changed a lot from those early days of being out from under the corporate umbrella. The world around me has changed too and current events will bring another step change; if nothing else they are giving me time to think. Continue reading

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“Bloody foreigners!”

This was after the election before last, the one that saw us saddled with an ineffective coalition, and the remark in the title above was overheard on the ‘bus. It would be easy to disniss it as some casual racism from a couple of middle aged white men, for the pair whose conversation I was listening to fitted the bill in terms of skin colour and appearence, but there was more to it. Continue reading

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Hello, my name is Alex from Talk Talk

Yesterday I got home from a trip to the South coast, pleasantly weary from a lengthy business meeting and a personal catch up with someone that I haven’t seen for 47 years. I had barely settled when the telephone rang; “Not another one” exclaimed the Berkshire Belle as she picked up the handset, listened for a moment and then shouted “Go away!” before hanging up. Continue reading

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An unpalatable thought

The rise of the Trumpster on the politcal scene in the US has brought the inevitable blast of leftist outrage regarding much of what the man appears to stand for; racist, bigot, bully they scream, but maybe there is something that they are missing. Continue reading

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Filed under america, General postings, serious stuff

I am not an immigrant

I was born in England, part of Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Generally I have little time for nationalism in any form, but convention and a variety of regulations require me to describe myself as either British or a citizen of the United Kingdom depending on which bit of bureaucracy I am wrestling with at the time. But I am also English if current geographic accuracy is considered and that, perhaps, brings into question my ethnic background for mine is a very Welsh surname so maybe this is time to come out of the closet. Continue reading

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