Friday, 24 August 2012


This has not been the best summer here in the UK. However, for climate change enthusiasts it's been perfect, clearly demonstrating that even world famous weatherman Michael Fish would be absolutely no use at all in knowing which way the wind was likely to blow in the next 5 hours. So , for a group of intrepid teachers , students , concrete inspectors, radiologists and lawyers including at least 2 children, from the Bohemian town of Kladno, what better time to take a trip in a minibus around the South West of England!

Zdena Biggsova has been bringing Czechs to Britain for many years now and was instrumental in our original contacts with Prague 6 district. Retiring from her school in Prague to continue working in the nearby town of Kladno she has in the past continued her trip organising including jaunts to Ireland, Scotland and London in recent years. This year her merry band of chums flew in to Bristol on a lovely sunny August evening and were whisked away by us to the Swiss Chalet style  youth hostel on the Polden ridge near the shoe town of Street and overlooking Glastonbury tor.


The next morning it rained. At least the jolly cyclists who also stayed over that night on their way from John O Bonkers to Lands End would get totally soaked. Or at least blown off their bikes. 

We took the Czechs to Glastonbury tor. 'Walk up there and then walk down quickly before it rains' we advised. That didn't work. Dripping wet they had a little wander round the hippy shops and then rinsed themselves out in the minibus.

cheered up

Would it brighten up at Wells? Well, not that you'd notice. Still, the Cathedral was indoors. And Cheddar? Right, enough of this , let's get some fish and chips. So that cheered everyone up.
That's Torquay that is

So the trick is-eating fish and chips makes the sun come out -and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Getting back into the minibus in now glorious sunshine we went off to Weston Super Mare, teeming with tourists, brandishing ice creams,candy floss, wearing 'kiss me I'm a scrubber' hats and with a not unpleasant view of Cardiff from 20 miles away the day had brightened up.

So we took them to Bridgwater where a little party was waiting for them in the Green Olive restaurant on West Quay and after that we all popped along to the Fountain inn where they mingled with the locals, trying out the Guiness, the Cider,the Whiskey , the accent, not for one minute expecting the weather would go mental again.


The next day we brought them back into town to do some shopping and explain why the West Quay wall had fallen into the river. For a full report see And to dispel any notion that all Brits weren't nutcases we left them in the capable hands of Wildman Napthine, a Bridgwater exile to Moravia currently back home on a succesful curry seeking mission. 

And then off to Minehead- still sunny. Then Dunster - not only sunny but Medieval AND with a shop boasting a  chocolate fountain which you could dip your strawberries and marshmellows in.

What better time to drive through the Exmoor hills and down the Exe Valley, by passing Tiverton and calling in at Exeter then on to Dartmoor. Where it rained. And then got misty. And then flooded.


Still, we weren't detered from treating them to a typical Moorland banquet. After the  Tortillas , Enchilladas and guacamole dips, they were contented enough to contemplate the next days trek across the Baskerville landscapes to Laughter Tor, Gigglesome Brook and Daftarse gully as promised.
Looking out over Lyme Bay

Not only did it rain, flood, got misty then rained some more, but we couldn't even see the Dartmoor prison 2 feet in front of us. So we gave up and drove down into Plymouth and chips...that's the solution.
How does this work?? Nice bag of fish and chips and the sun comes out again...this will wreak havoc upon my diet. Never mind. It's a great British tradition. So it was off to Tintagel. 

The best thing about Tintagel is that the hostel is situated halfway down a sheer drop along a cliff face and to hear the screams from the back of the bus always brings to mind Bob Monkhouse when he said 'I'd like to die peacefully in my sleep like my father, not screaming in fear like his passengers'.


So after a meal of jacket potatoes out came the vodka and on came the singing. Always a feature of Czech groups with or without (but mainly with) alcohol. Shame I'd forgotten my guitar. Still, Jaroslav on saucepan bodhran seemed to do the trick.
Next stop America

The next day the weather was tormenting us...would it ..wouldn't it....yes!! It was a nice one. So we managed to catch the open causeway to the St Michaels Mount before it closed in on everyone and drowned them and stopping in Penzance for some extra re-assuring fish and chips we continued to Lands End itself where the sun shine like it was meant to. And there too were the John O Groatesque cyclists supping from their champagne. So sunny was it , so blue the sea , the sky and the mosquito bites, that Jana decided to walk half the group around the coastal path what she guessed was 6 kilometres. 6 miles later they reached the hostel.

A beautiful sunset at Cape Cornwall helped everyone enjoy their Cornish Pasties and Old DogVomit cider.
The less hot Eden Biome

Next day , naturally, it rained. You could hardly see the impressive coast between St Just and St Ives. But we tried. And then we went to the Eden project. Good plan. The sun came out and people started to suffocate amongst the tropical biomes and collapsing tourisms. Helpful tip - don't go in the tropical biome - stick to the more pleasant Mediterranean one. 

So we headed off through more pleasant sunshine back across the Tamar and down along the South Devon coast to Salcombe. For anyone who doesn't know, the Salcombe youth hostel isn't actually in Salcombe, it's at the head of an outcrop of rock which takes you up ,down, round, over and through numerous hills and narrowly winding country lanes in which you take your life in your hands. Oh how the people screamed.


Totnes is a nice place where the independently minded shopkeepers have fought off  the multinationals and have even introduced a Totnes pound. Sadly, it's a shit place for traffic, so we were stuck for a while and got to Torbay later than we hoped. On the positive side the sun came out and the Czechs could have a pleasant wander around the harbour. Then we headed east and stopped at a very sunny Lyme Regis where going in the sea was even an option. They didn't however.
Nice sunset at Cape Cornwall

Along the Dorset coast to Weymouth is a wonderful coastline  as you drop down to Chesil Beach with the rabbit phobic Portland peninsula on the horizon and ending the day in the thatched cottage haven of Lulworth Cove with a special treat of ginger beer (45p a bottle in Aldis) .

No visit to the south west would be complete without a flight home. But before that we stopped in Bath. Where, luckily, it didn't start the raining until they all got on the bus to the airport.

And off they went.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Czech jazz band PARADIGM SHIFT are over in Bridgwater for a couple of nights and a couple of gigs. Last night (Wed 12 october) they played to an appreciative audience at the Unity Club whilst tonight (Thursday 13th October) they take to the stage at the Bridgwater Arts Centre.

The Centre is Britains first Art Centre, being founded in 1946, and today is 65 years old. PARADIGM SHIFT will be playing alongside Bridgwater Jazzers JAZZICAL.
The event starts at 8pm .

The bands tour has been sponsored by the Bridgwater Czech Slovak Friendship Society.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


In 1957 Bridgwater set up it's first ever twinning. In the style of the day this was with a French town in order to strengthen the 'Entente Cordiale'. Whilst most Somerset towns picked up twin towns in neighbouring Normandy (just across the Channel) Bridgwater ended up with a veritable Medeteranean paradise in Provence, slightly along the coast from St.Tropez ,Cannes and Nice. So what became of the little town of La Ciotat in the years since the Lumiere brothers first shot the motion picture classic 'Train arriving in a station' there in 1895 and what imperative spurred them on to make that even more famous link with Bridgwater in 1957??

Well, we didn't know at all, so we decided to take a couple of football teams down there and see what the place was like anyway.

Each year Bridgwater International and Altech SRO from our Czech twin town Uherske Hradiste take our football teams to visit a 3rd country . Last year it was Priverno in Italy - so this year we targetted La Ciotat. In order to do this we looked up an old friend -Yasmina Boukerhoufa had visited Bridgwater some years previously and was enthusiastic then to develop more International links, whilst Stephane Olry , a tip top table tennis trainer, was a newcomer to Twinning but passionate in his desire to get involved. Both proved invaluable.

Taking 71 people this time round was a bit of a feat. Whilst the Brits had a light drive up to Gatwick , a 1 and a half hour flight to Marseilles then a 45 minute bus ride to La Ciotat, the Czechs drove all the way across Europe on a 24 hour barely stopping coach .

Staying at the Victoria Gardens hotel, overlooking the dive-off-able cliffs and rocks of Aren Cros, both groups filled the place to near capacity. On the down side it was a 45 minute walk to the town centre or an 8 euro taxi ride.

The first football match saw the Brits play the French. The final score maybe reflected the mismatch in ages....well that's one excuse.... The Brits (average age 50) 2 v the French (average age 25) 13. Another excuse could be the mighty Mistral wind that scattered all before it whilst depositing the sands of North Africa on the pitch and in the eyes of the (none sun glasses wearing) Brits.

The second football match was delayed while we watched the French humiliate the English national team at Rugby from an early morning New Zealand. By the time it started the match featured several seriously inebriated 'players' for want of a better word whilst supplemented by 2 young French boys whose Bridgwater international shirts reached their toes, and a baguette wielding Stephane as a guest winger. The result Bridgwater 1 v Czech Rep 9. The lone English goal scored is the subject of a prize 'guess the goalscorer' Competition. Answers on a postcard to the 'Cllr Smedleys great goal' competition c/o Bridgwater International.

A far more even game was the Czech v France game played later that day. Ending 5.2 to the Czechs (making them tournament winners) the match showed that generosity of spirit the Czechs are famous for. Especially lending their opponents a goalkeeper who didn't know the rules. And who had no hands.

Re-establishing links with the La Ciotat 'Jumelagistes' was a rewarding exercise. Madame Jean-Marie Vandamme and Virginie Giaccone proved able hosts with 2 social events for the participants at the St Marceaux Complex where the French pastis mixed with the Czech pivo and the Somerset scrumpy while the players and fellow travellers tried to make each other understood. "You got some paaasties then??" and so on.

Apart from the football, the trip was also a perfect holiday. French market stalls lined the quayside stretching from the beaches to the old docks - now restored to cater for the affluent yacht-repairing set, fine French sea side restaurants were interspersed with bars showing the rugby whilst a slight walk past the harbour and you are in the 'callanque' area of rocky gardens and secluded beaches. One brave English traveller received a round of applause from the French beach-huggers for daring to go in the mildly mild october waters while the rest drew a line just above their ankles.

As a result of the trip to la Ciotat we have 4 further projects in mind with the place and it certainly feels like old friends finally got together again.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Bridgwater's VOICE OF THE PEOPLE choir have just returned from a succesful 4 days tour of the Lazio region of Italy which included the town of Priverno - twinned with Uherske Hradiste , and where they sang on the steps of the Town hall, Pontinia where they sung in the Fellini Theatre with the Pontinia Choir, the beach resort of Sabaudia where they sang in the sea and the city of Rome- where they probably sang in the Metro.

The choir, led by natural voice practitioner Yvette Staellens, based at Bridgwater Arts Centre, flew from Bristol to Rome 44 strong and out again with a massive security presence (although this might have been due to Amanda Know flying out of the same airport at the same time..).

Staying at the beach hotel of Oasa di Kufra the group quickly made friends with the other guests who they serenaded to sleep each night and awoke each morning with a gentle refrain. Along with some George Formby style ukelele playing that wasn't part of their usual set....

The Italian summer had stretched to October and the warm evenings lent themselves to a perfect setting when they met up with Paola SanGiorgios Pontinia choir and both choirs sang to each other on the stage of the Fellini Theatre and then in the bar afterwards. Meanwhile the ukelele playing continued into the streets to 'entertain' the local Italians attempting to watch the Juventus v Milan football match on the big screen.

A trek up to the mountain town of Sermoneta saw the group viewing the entire Lazio landscape from ahigh including the entire Pontine marshes drained by Il Duce himself back in the 30's to create a series of Fascist new towns - ideal locations for the choir to sing their songs of 'no more Nations, give us peace on earth'. And of course for us to remember that champion of the working class George Formby with a little bit more ukelele magic.

The final day and the group visited the town of Priverno where an impromptu show on the steps of the town hall in the piazza brought an excited audience of bouncing ,cycling and footballing kids into action who joined in while throngs of people lined the narrow streets as the singers wended their way out of the town singing as they went 'adios amigos' -which surely left the locals wondering 'what are these spanish people doing here??'. ..until they were reassured that in fact they were Brits....assumedly by the faint twang of a ukelele being bashed over a choristers head...

This is the 4th tour the Voice of the People have done with Bridgwater International and long may they continue.


Czech jazz band PARADIGM SHIFT will be in Bridgwater next week to play a couple of gigs including an International Jazz Night at the Unity Club on Wednesday October 12th with local jazz combo 'JAZZICAL' and to perform at the Bridgwater Art's Centre's 65th Anniversary party on Thursday October 13th.

To check them out go to their web site ;-

Friday, 30 September 2011


The Arabska Gymnasium in Prague 6 has been an annual visitor to Bridgwater since the link first started back in 1996 when Dr Jan Soucek met Mr Andrew Pole in the Bridgwater Embassy in Prague (the 'U Capa' bar near IP Pavlova). Last year was the Doctors final visit as he has now retired, however the link goes on and this year Mrs Pavla Pracnova turned up with a group of 16 students eager to see what all the fuss was about.

Picking the right time to come - not only was it Bridgwater fair, but the English Summer finally decided to arrive, the group also included on their itnerary a visit to the College where Media lecturer Mino De Francesca showed them several films made by the students, the YMCA where Jason let them have a go at Archery and even a game of Skittles was thrown into the cultural melting pot.

The students were toured around the county, climbing Glastonbury Tor, playing Cricket on the parklands of Burnham and involving themselves in the ancient history of the region from atop Burrow Mump.

They also had a drive down to Devon and Cornwall where they misjudged the tides at the St Michaels Mount causeway, fell off a cliff at Tintagel and were eaten by Dartmoor ponies just south of Okehampton.


A successful link between communities in our two twin towns has been given a boost for the second year running with money from the European Social fund. Last year Dagmar Mega, from the Akropolis family centre in Uherske Hradiste arranged funding for Family centre workers in UH to come across to seehow things were done in Bridgwater. As a result of that first visit links were made with the Hamp Community Association and a second trip, funded by the European Social fund, was organised to further those links.

In September 2011 Dagmar brought across a further 10 Family centre and Youth club workers to Bridgwater and we organised a series of visits to similar family centres in our district.

The bulk of the programme was organised in conjunction with Les Riddle at the Re-Creation centre in Hamp whose volunteers prepared many of the meals for the group, and who involved them in community activities such as 'Community Computing' ,'Zumba', and even a 'Knit and Natter' session.

The Project generated some £500 for the Hamp Community Association and as a result of the programme and Hamps new link up with the YMCA a 3 -year Euro project has now been signed up to for 2012.