Tuesday 31 December 2013

The Last Post. Gulp.

FINAL BLUES [apologies ter that Auden mon]

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Everything else seems drowned in fog
Because Fiskyoomon's ending her blog

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky that her blog is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the clock on the market hall
As Darwin and Clive mourn with us all.

Fiskin North, and South, and East and West,
Full working week and no Sunday rest,
Pauline's "my tonight in Shrewsbury" became my song;
I hoped that it 'ould last forever: I was wrong.

Salopians are not wanted, she's spoke ter every'un
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Unplug yer computer,yer know that yer shud;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

This was how my day began, thank you Shroppiemon, legendary Shropshire Tweeter, whom I've only ever met virtually but you've kept me smiling all year long.  Gulp.  My Tonight From Shrewsbury's final day, down to the Shrewsbury Coffeehouse to write its final post.   Instead of writing though, I drank more coffee than was good for me and talked to friends - which is why I'm writing now instead, crouched over my desk whilst everybody else is out around the town, in the pubs  having New Year's Eve  fun.  

It's been quite a day.  After the Coffeehouse, I went off to Castlefields to watch parents and children engaging in the annual launching of paper boats to float downriver to the weir, spluttering with candlelight and in some cases fireworks.  All those shining faces, those little Shrewsbury people growing up  - what will the future bring for them?  And what will they remember  of 2013?

I'll remember a year the likes of which I don't expect to have again.  Twelve months ago, I started out on this blog not knowing what I'd find except that I'd no doubt it would be interesting.  And interesting it's certainly been! Thank you everyone who's been interviewed for this blog, followed it, retweeted it, 'liked' it on Facebook and encouraged me to keep it going through the year [this especially includes you, Dave].  There have been moments when I've been exhausted, but even then there has always been something about our wonderful town that has kept me going.  

Shrewsbury is a place like no other. I feel privileged to live in it. It's given more to me than I could ever give back, no matter how many My Tonight From Shrewsburys I wrote. Next year it'll be back to my 'day job' [writing novels]. I'll be tapestry-weaving as well for a joint exhibition I have lined up at Nuneaton City Art Gallery in June.  If you want to read more blogs by me, the place to go is the 'Blog' section of my Pauline Fisk website where I post occasionally on all sorts of subjects, sometimes even  Shrewsbury.

And then of course there's the book. Yes, you heard right. The My Tonight From Shrewsbury book. It may not, of course, come off [I've been an author long enough not to hold my breath] but talks are underway with a publisher, and something may appear next autumn.  If it does, you'll be the first to know.   

Whatever happens though, My Tonight From Shrewsbury will stay online.  We live in a glorious town, one that deserves being shouted about from the rooftops.  And that's what I hope this blog will continue to do.   

This is the bit where I say goodbye and play the Last Post. Except that I don't want to end the year on a mournful note, so with an eye to the brand new day which is 2014, with all its wonderful new opportunities, I'm playing a Reveille instead:

Monday 30 December 2013

Magic, Music, Mastering & Teeth: Meet Shrewsbury's Own Gareth Jenkins....

 ....aka God. ‘I’ve been plagued by that,’ Gareth says.  We’re in the Lion Hotel having a quiet drink, and Gareth is looking back upon his starring role in the recent production of Noye’s Fludde. ‘You go into a restaurant and ask if there's a table, and the answer comes back Yes, for God. All my priest and minister friends warned me about the danger of becoming God with a hat,' says Gareth, 'but I had to do it, didn’t I? I ignored all their warnings.  I thought I’d be behind a pillar booming forth, but oh no, Maggie Love had me up in the pulpit in a gold wallpaper frock for all the town to see. Now I’ll never live it down.’

I’m quite sure that Gareth will live it down. Shrewsbury expects nothing less from him.  Whether it’s dressed up as God intoning in his rolling Welsh accent or popping up on the telly in Come Dine With Me, Gareth Jenkins is a continual ‘watch this space’.  The one thing you don’t expect from him is a quiet life.

When the phone goes, Elizabeth hands it to Gareth.  ‘It’ll be for you,’ she says. Along with their four wonderful now fairly grown up children, she is high on Gareth’s list of things in life that define who he is [‘couldn’t have done anything without her toleration and support/everybody knows I married someone quite amazing/to be married to a chap like me, all these irons in the fire, is no easy task’].  But even higher on Gareth’s list is the word ‘Dentist’.

Gareth Jenkins is my dentist.  When we first met some thirty-three years ago, I’d no love of dentists and the newly qualified young Gareth wasn’t that impressed with me.  Or, at least, he wasn’t with my teeth. Things have improved since then. Thanks to him I never lost them, and I’m no longer terrified of dentists. Perhaps he hypnotized me - I can’t quite remember. Or perhaps he cast a spell on me.

Magic doesn’t feature on Gareth’s list, but it should. At five years old in his home town, Llanidloes, Gareth mastered his first trick. During his primary school years he worked at developing his skills. At the age of ten he put on an hour-long show at the church Christmas party.   ‘My parents were wholly supportive,’ Gareth says, sitting back in his chair, glasses stuck on top of his head, beaming at the memory. ‘I had two other brothers who were quiet, reasonable sort of children, then there was this middle brother, me, who liked nothing better than singing and performing.  I was a bit of a star turn over the next few years. In and around Llanidoes.  I’d do church events, and then the Liberal Party got hold of me, and to prove I had no political bias I performed for the Tories. Back and forth, that kept me busy.’

Gareth became a regular feature in the County Times. One day his Headmaster called him into his office to reprimand him. If he carried on this way, he said, Gareth would get nowhere in life. The Head didn’t want to see Gareth’s photo in the County Times again.

‘My next show was coming up at a Young Offenders’ institution.’ Gareth smiles at the memory. ‘But I had to insist on anonymity. I got my back on that Head, though. I won a significant essay competition and the prize was £100 of book tokens. That was a huge sum in those days. Seriously, a lot of money. I spent the whole lot on magic books, and because the competition had been entered via the school the Head had to sign for them. 

‘That was Llanidloes County School. I was Head Boy. The way they worked things there, if you were a girl you studied French and History and if you were a boy you were funneled into Physics and Maths.  I wanted to study Biology too, and then Music on top of that, and for some reason that really threw them. Finally I was allowed to take the subjects I wanted, but then when it came to the exams it turned out that the teacher had got confused and taught the wrong syllabus. We opened our exam paper and didn’t have a clue what it was about.  But the Headmaster swung it somehow. He was brilliant. He wrote an impressive letter to the exam board and that did the trick.’

When Gareth was at school, he was very keen on essay competitions. One was run by the joint Welsh Examination Board. Gareth won it twice. His prize was an all expenses paid trip to the Eisteddfod.  ‘That changed my life,’ Gareth says. ‘I discovered choral music. Primarily it’s been Bulgarian and Eastern European choirs that have interested me.’

I remember bumping into Gareth once at the Eisteddfod.  I was with my husband. He told us who to listen to and who would win. He was right. Over the year’s he’s visited Eastern Europe on a regular basis - Bulgaria, in particular, where he’s made many friends.  He likes the complex rhythms of their music and has risen to the challenge of transposing those rhythms onto English or Welsh words, Welsh preferably because, he says, the natural rhythm of Welsh is more musical.

Gareth has attended choir competitions all over Europe; France, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria.  He’s got to know the Bulgarian conductors and composers, whom he describes as interesting people. ‘Back in the old days of communism they were elevated by the state,’ he says. ‘They were very hospitable. I was invited to a lot of festivals representing Great Britain.  Flights, cars, dinners etc – it would all be paid for.  When communism went, so did all of this.’

For the last few years, Gareth and his wife have been looking after a Bulgarian boy, sponsoring him to study at Shrewsbury School, where he has a scholarship, and looking after him at weekends. He’s a remarkable pianist, Gareth says. One of the best the school has ever had.  Probably he’ll go on to the Royal College of Music. His name’s Galin Ganchev.

In addition, Gareth also composes.  These are works he describes as ‘done for my own interest, largely as an academic pursuit’. Generally his work is quirky, he says. Maybe that sort of thing will become fashionable one day, who knows?  ‘I’ll have a shot at anything,’ he says. 

That could well be the motto for Gareth’s life. Everywhere the conversation takes us, a new interest pops up.  Take Gareth’s fascination for garden architecture, which he designs and builds.  His garden, he says, is littered with structures. There is literally no room for any more pergolas, pagodas, potting sheds and other exotic structures, including the one he built for his children. With its pool table and computers this has now become a ‘community games room’, attracting gatherings of his children, their friends and random associates most nights of the week. 

‘Every year I build something,’ says Gareth. ‘I sometimes wonder how I have the energy.  My conservatory took me the whole year. I’m very proud of my conservatory.’

Gareth has a lot to be proud of, not least the dental practice that he’s built up from scratch. What led him into dentistry, I want to know. ‘I wanted a job that would use my hands,’ he says.  ‘I was good with my hands - all the practicing magic had probably done that - and everybody said that Llanidloes needed a good dentist, so my path seemed set.’

‘Except that you didn’t go back to Llanidloes,’ I point out.  ‘No, I came to Shrewsbury,’ Gareth says. ‘The plan after college was to do a couple of years here, then move back home. But I stayed.’

When Gareth first came to Shrewsbury he worked at Bellstone. Then he opened his own practice down by the railway station, then finally he took that practice to its current location, Bowdler’s House. My early memories of him are as a dentist who could fascinate children with coins appearing from behind ears as well as sorting out their teeth. One time I remember him hypnotizing a friend of mine who’d refused for years to let a dentist anywhere near her teeth.  

‘I used to lecture on medical and dental hypnosis,’ Gareth says.  ‘It’s effective at eliminating phobias, including fear of dentists.  And of spiders. It was less successful though with giving up smoking.  Hypnotism is all about talking to the subconscious, trying to influence or alter inner feelings. But the power of nicotine is very strong.’

Gareth is a NHS dentist.  ‘As long as I offer a good service, I’ll always be busy,’ he says.  He’s also a Draper.  In fact, he’s this year’s Master Draper, with the flashy-looking fur-edged cloak to prove it.

Gareth loves the Drapers, he says.  Based in the Drapers’ Hall, next to St Mary’s Church, he describes them as genuine, public spirited, three-dimensional people who want to carry on the Guild tradition that first brought Shrewsbury to eminence and made it what it is.  They were the ones who first provided housing for the poor in Shrewsbury. From the old almshouses at St Mary’s [now long since gone, along with the Victorian almshouses that used to be where Waitrose is today] to their current almshouse project out at Holy Cross, the Drapers have had a long-standing interest in providing housing in Shrewsbury for those with little means.

‘I’m loving my year as Master,’ says Gareth. ‘We have a carol service at Christmas to which we invite all our almshouse residents and treat them to lunch. Then we have guest nights when we invite friends and other Guild members from around the country. There are other church services too, like the choral evensong we have at St Chad’s. What we’re trying to do is maintain the traditions of the Drapers with authentic accuracy.' 

'This year the Drapers have the huge challenge of getting the Holy Cross Almshouses built. The existing Holy Cross almshouses next to the Abbey will remain [designed by Samuel Pountney Smith in 1853, regarded as classics of their architectural type and period], along with those managed by the Drapers at Fairford Place and the Hospital of St Giles. However up to twenty more units are planned at that site, providing accommodation  for a further thirty-two residents, bringing the total number up to just over fifty. 

This is a massive project. As well as housing, the development will also provide facilities designed for the benefit of the neighbouring community. Eight of us Drapers are on the Holy Cross board,’ says Gareth. ‘We’ll have several meetings a week with planners and people from the Charity Commission, contractors and so on.  We also have a team of fund raisers who have brought in some incredible donations. This is a 2.7 million pound project. Juggling builders’ start dates and the getting in of grants is really complicated.  It’s on a knife’s edge at the moment.  Christmas. You know what it’s like. Just when you need to talk to people everything is closed for a month.’

There’s a lot more that could be said about Gareth. Governor of Priory School. Running the annual Gregynog Young Musician Competition with a £3,000 prize, for under eighteens. Member of the Shropshire Magic Circle, performing throughout the year in gigs as far-flung as Norway and the Patagonian Welsh. Organizer of extraordinary concerts.

If you haven’t attended Gareth’s annual November concert in aid of the Huntington’s Disease Association, you’ve missed a trick. One of Gareth’s many talents is that he’s good at persuading often really quite famous musicians to come to Shrewsbury and perform. ‘I get talking to them,’ Gareth says. ‘I bring out my magic and show them a few tricks. I lure people in – and once they’re in they want to come back, and to do it for free.’

The concert, typically, will include pop, opera, all forms of music all with their own merits.  There will be young musicians and established ones too. The Maidment Building up at Shrewsbury School will be packed. The after show party usually ends up with the concert starting up again back at Gareth and Elizabeth's house.  ‘2.00am’s the limit,’ Gareth says. ‘Then everybody goes.’

I’ve one last story I want to tell you about Gareth.  This has been a long interview, I know, with lots to read, but this is a story that can’t possibly be left out.  Until recently, Gareth looked after an elderly relative who lived in Shrewsbury and was once a piano teacher at the High School. When she died, he found a bureau in her house with a locked compartment.  Eventually he found the key, and inside the bureau he found, amongst a pile of diaries and other papers, a hand-written letter [as distinct from a merely hand-signed letter] to Gareth’s relative from the king.

The king in question was George VI.  He had written to say thank-you for what this relative, named Doris, had done for her country.  As yet Gareth hasn’t been able to find out what exactly it was she did, but as the letter came at the end of the Second World War, it doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what it might have been.

In addition, Gareth found Doris’s papers – the ones she never wanted anyone to see.  Whenever he’d asked why she’d never married, she’d always said she hadn’t been interested and that the right person hadn’t come along.  However, according to the papers locked in her bureau, there had, after all, been a great love in Doris’s life. He’d been an eminent author, and in the locked compartment of the bureau Gareth found his life’s work – manuscripts, lecture notes, books and private correspondence.  All on the subject of sex.

We haven’t had much sex yet in My Tonight From Shrewsbury, but it’s never too late. The love of Doris's life was an eminent sexologist who wrote learned books on sex and travelled the world lecturing on the subject. That's how Doris first met him. As an asthmatic, she was interested in the ways in which this condition might have held her back. She attended his clinic in a spirit of exploration. They fell in love. She was in her early twenties, he forty years older than her.  

These were the war years. Doris lived in Shropshire near to an air base.  To keep out of danger’s way, or so she said, she moved to the relative security of mid Wales. According to a Shrewsbury friend, ‘We don’t know what Doris did during those years’.  Maybe she’d simply moved closer to the new man in her life.  Or maybe she spent those years spying for king and country.  

Gareth doesn’t know.  Never in all the years he knew Doris did he pick up an inkling of any of this.  In her latter years he enjoyed keeping an eye on her, reading her letters when her eyes went, bringing in her shopping. She was very kind to his Bulgarian ward, Galin, whose musicianship she thought was superb.  Nobody had a clue about her secret life.

‘You know Doris was a direct descendant of William the Conqueror,’ says Gareth. ‘She'd worked it all out.  Her mother came from Yorkshire. She was a stunning artist. Her family name was Grosvenor, but she painted under the name 'Minnie Duck'.  When Doris died,  I found sixty water-colours in her house in tight roles. The colours were vivid and the technique beautiful. Doris was a first cousin to Henry Holt.  Her grandfather was the first man to produce crown plate glass.  Twenty thousand people went to his funeral. There were only fifteen for Doris.  Doris Grosvenor-Davies was her full name, but to us she was always the daughter of Mother Duck.’

Sunday 29 December 2013

The Shrewsbury Fragment

Do you know that  a manuscript exists  placing  Shrewsbury at a pivotal position in the history of English drama? This is no idle boast.  I’ve been online to check my facts and according to the University of Maine this manuscript is the only  remaining example in this country of drama in the act of transition from liturgical to mystery play. In other words, it stands at the point where liturgy left the church and drama hit the streets. What I'm talking about here is famously known [in some quarters, at least] as the Shrewsbury Fragment.

How about that? What a town we live in, always turning up new and amazing facts.  This is the one post above all others that I’ve been longing to write all year, but have hung onto in the spirit of keeping the best [or at least the most interesting to me] until almost the last. 

The other day I was talking to ex-Meole Brace councillor, Bill Morris, who was the person who first told me about the Shrewsbury Fragment.  He said it was all that remained of what had once been the Shrewsbury Cycle, a series  of mystery plays whose content is reckoned to have predated those from Chester, Wakefield and York. 

Acccording to Bill, the seed of all these plays grew out of the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete - an annual three-day liturgical  event at Lent, which summed up of all the major Bible events, plus their interpretations. By the 10th century, Bill said,  this summing-up had become fairly complex. Re-living parts of it became a feature, and crowds flocked to church to see it. More  and more parts of the Great Canon became acted out until finally the crowds grew so vast that it became necessary to move proceedings from the main body of the church into its immediate precincts. 

Shrewsbury Abbey is thought to be one of the early places where this happened in our town.  As the crowds grew, so too did an awareness of commercial opportunities.  Trades became involved in sponsoring parts of the enacted Canon. One trade’s guild would take responsibility for the Christmas story of the angelic visitation, another for the Three Wise Men, others the stages of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and yet others for  Old Testament stories of the prophets. 

By the 1500s, these sections of enacted Canon had spilled out even from the immediate environs of the church, onto the adjoining streets.  Shrewsbury’s trade guilds started competing to produce episodes. By the end of the 16th century, some of these had distinct elements of high drama, others were more slapstick [a hint of the Shakespearean, don’t you think?]. According to Bill, time was when ropes were hung across our Square, enabling angels to fly between earth and heaven.  [All I can say to that is wow.]  

All of this represents an extraordinary process, part of the democratisation of religion. Over a period of centuries what had started out as liturgy, by means of drama became commonplace. Once, in a language [Latin] that few could read, the Bible had been a matter of private meditation for the clerical classes. Then, thanks to drama, it became more widely accessible.  And finally it escaped the restraining bounds of the church and become the people’s story, performed by their guilds on their streets.  

This happened all over Britain, as far north as Scotland and across the waters in Ireland. However, the material recorded in the Shrewsbury Fragment suggests that one of the first places where this occurred was right here in our town.

Amazing, hey?  And, even more amazing is that the Shrewsbury Fragment, so highly regarded in academic circles, can still be found in Shrewsbury today. I’ve seen it myself in Shrewsbury School’s Ancient Library, housed in a glass case.   How long it’s been there I’ve no idea, or how Shrewsbury School first acquired it.  However, the story goes that a Dr Calvert came across it up there, all forty-three pages of it, the first thirty-six of which contained Latin anthems set to music. Realising the value of what he'd lighted upon, Dr Calvert  made a transcript of the Fragment and sent it to a Dr Clark who in turn  handed it on to one Professor Skeat. Or, to give him his full title, the Reverend Professor Walter William Skeat, philogist of some brilliance, compiler of the Concise Dictionary of Middle English from AD 1150 to 1580,  expert on Chaucer and editor of Piers Plowman, Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, also Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge.

On January 4th, 1890,  Reverend Professor Skeat called public attention to the Shrewsbury Fragment in a letter to the Royal Academy. Then, a week later, in the Academy’s journal, he published its text. What reception it had I’ve no idea. However, late in the summer of 1905, a Professor Manly, keen to publish his own transcription of the Fragment, visited Shrewsbury School to see the manuscript in the flesh. 

I'm assuming this to be Professor John Matthews Manly, American professor of philology and English literature at Chicago University, specialising in the study of William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer.  Unable to find anybody in a position to give him permission to see the Fragment, Manly was forced to leave. At the beginning of the following term, however, he wrote to the headmaster still seeking permission, but he received  no reply.  Manly's subsequent publication of the Fragment, therefore, was based solely upon the work of Professor Skeat - fortunately, Manly said, ‘a scholar of such eminence that one can rest assured the version of the text and facts respecting the manuscript are to be implicitly acted upon.’

Nowadays it's reckoned that the Shrewsbury Fragment is an actor's copy, containing only certain parts and cues.  Even so, the scholar's view is that  enough text remains for the Fragment to be regarded as that vital missing link between liturgy and vernacular religious drama as developed and represented by the great mystery cycles of York, Chester and Wakefield. This makes it a very big deal indeed.

Of the three plays represented in the Fragment, the first relates to Christmas, and the actor in question is the third shepherd. The second fragment harks back to Easter, and its fairly free adaptation of the Vulgate places it at a very early date.  The third fragment takes the story of Christ’s appearance to two of Jesus’s followers [legend has it Luke and Cleopas] on the Emmaus road.  This is a version of what was known more widely across Europe as the ‘Peregrini’. It is the only existing extract from that play remaining in the UK today.

I’m no historian, as I’ve said before, but I’ve done the best I can, digging around in the archives of the University of Maine and the Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, to find out not only about the Fragment but about the professors, too, who did so much work on it.   If any of you in Shrewsbury want a project for the coming year or so  [indeed if Shrewsbury School happens anytime to be looking for a project] perhaps translating the Fragment into modern English, and building around it enough to create a performable play might be worth considering.   

Here's the link to it, in case you have Latin and Middle English and want to read the original. It's taken from The Shrewsbury Fragments section of ‘From Stage to Page – Medieval and Renaissance Drama. NeCastro, Gerard, ed'.  I had a go at translating a bit of it myself.  Just a snippet. Given that I have no Latin, that was hard enough. Here's what I worked from, and underneath in red is what I made of it. Anybody who can make a better job of it, do feel free. It would be interesting to see. And interesting to see the rest of it translated too: 

III. MARIA. Surrexit Christus, spes nostra;

Precedet vos in Galileam.

Crist is rysen, wittenes we

By tokenes þat we haue sen þis morn!

Oure hope, oure help, oure hele, is he,

And hase bene best, sithe we were born!

If we wil seke him for to se,

Lettes noght þis lesson be forlorn;

But gose euen vnto Galilee-

þere schal 3e fynd him 3ow beforn! 

Christ is risen. We have witnessed it this morning. He is our hope, our help,
our best health since ever we were born. If we will seek him for to see, our lessons from him will
not be forlorn. We will follow him unto Galilee.
Here we shall find him now before [evermore?]

[Thanks to the University of Maine for much of the above information. To find out more go to:

If you want to see the Shrewsbury Fragment, it's to be found in Shrewsbury School's Ancient Library, which is open and its librarian, Michael Morragh, on hand, on Sunday mornings between 11.00am and 1.00pm. 



Saturday 28 December 2013

A Bit Of A Shrewsbury Whistle-Stop Tour

What haven’t I written about this year that I intended to?  Hmmm Squad’s top of my list, hosted by the indefatigable Pip Bayley, providing Shrewsbury’s answer to the TED talks, tackling every subject from Death to Halloween and back again.  Next year’s talks include February’s on Love & Doing the Right Thing and March’s on Human Rights. Here’s what the group says about itself: 

‘Science, Philosophy and Discussion! Hopefully touching on a variety of subjects, topics and all aspects of 'the Sciences'. Meeting on or around the last Wednesday of every month at Shrewsbury Library. We have been meeting for over two years and have members of all ages and are incredibly welcoming. Possibility of biscuits.’

Network Rail is also up there on my list. Ever since they started wrapping Shrewsbury’s railway bridge  as if they were Christo and it a work of art, I’ve been meaning to get up there amongst those girders spanning the River Severn and see what’s going on. But it hasn’t happened. Work has been going on there for the last six months and still, at the end of the year, I haven’t managed to explore those girders which I populated with homeless children for my novel, Sabrina Fludde, or talk to the people who are restoring this wonderful, iconic old bridge about how work is progressing and when the wraps will be coming off. 

What else? Whilst on the subject of the railway bridge, how about mentioning Shrewsbury station?  I’m told it's one of only three in the world to have platforms built over a river. Don’t know if this is true, but I do know that it’s listed [Grade II], that it was built in 1848, and that its imitation Tudor style, complete with carvings of Tudor style heads around the window frames, came courtesy of architect Thomas Mainwaring Penson who was attempting to match the Tudor style of nearby Shrewsbury School, which is now the Castle Gates Library. 

All year I’ve wanted to get behind those windows and find out more about the building and the life of the station which it houses. However, emailing, phoning, even turning up in person and being passed around from pillar to post has got me nowhere.

Another Grade II Listed building that’s been high on my list all year is the old Granada Cinema, currently housing Gala Bingo. Built for Granada in 1934, its lavish and still largely intact interiors were designed by Russian émigré, Theodore Komisarjevsky. In its day, the stage of the Granada saw many live shows, amongst them a series of pantomimes whose stars included Eddie Calvert, Rosemary Squires, Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, Dick Emery and Sid James.  Some of these pantomimes were presented on ice.  Not on ice, and most definitely not in pantomime, were the Beatles in February 1963 and,  in January 1964, the Rolling Stones.
What are the chances of getting them back for a Golden Jubilee year show? Only joking, of course.

At the end of this post is a recent photograph of the River Severn in flood.  I haven’t written as much about the river as I would have liked, given that it’s an ever present part of town life.  

Here's another picture of the river, this time featuring The Stew [behind trow, on right of picture], whose plight I have written about - but it hasn’t been saved yet. An argument of sorts has been put forward that it played no part in Shrewsbury’s river trade, so it doesn’t matter if it’s knocked down to put up a boutique hotel instead. Outrageous. Un-be-liev-able. The battle to save this fine old building, the last reminder of a history going back to the Wars of the Roses, carries on into the New Year.   
Shrewsbury is almost as rich in charities as it is in old buildings.  One I’ve been intending to feature for months now, based in College Hill, is Village Water, whom I first came across at the Shrewsbury Marathon.  ‘Changing Lives in Africa through safe water and sanitation’ is their byline.  From 2003, when they first set up in rural Zambia, they’ve supported activities in more than 540 villages and twenty schools, reaching approximately 150,000 people. This year has been their tenth anniversary. I’d hate to let it slip by without recognizing their hard work.  
This litany of people, places and activities could go on and on.  Some time over the year I would have written about Hall’s Auction House by the Welsh Bridge if it hadn’t moved out of town, meaning that my days of mooching round its general sales looking for the occasional piano accordion or Polish icon are over for good.

The Wakeman School has gone too – the last state secondary school in Shrewsbury town centre, now replaced by the Art & English departments of Shrewsbury Sixth Form College.  And Jane Dyas has gone. As I write, her shop stands empty in the Square, having graced it for over a hundred years, supplying generations of Shrewsbury ladies with clothes, shoes and underwear [or lingerie, as Jane Dyas would call it].

There are regattas that My Tonight From Shrewsbury hasn’t written about, coracle and dragon boat races, theatre events, concerts, festivals and fairs. There are churches it hasn’t been into, including arguably the most beautiful church in Shrewsbury, the decommissioned St Mary’s, its windows full of jewel-like stained glass.  There's a Museum and Art Gallery that hasn't opened yet, but when it does it'll be another year's good news.  

There are pubs that haven’t been written about, and restaurants like the Drapers Hall and The Golden Cross.  Shrewsbury is full of wine merchants, publicans, market stallholders, shop owners, business people and residents who all have fascinating stories to tell. But the year isn’t over yet.  Some of those stories I still intend to tell.  So stay tuned and see what comes up next.

Thursday 26 December 2013

A Boxing Day Walk

 I did it in high summer* - left Shrewsbury behind and headed for the hills one glorious day when the sun was shining and Shropshire's hedgerows were heavy with wild roses beneath a cloudless sky.  Now on a similarly bright day, albeit cold and wintery, I've done it again, and to the same hills too. 

Here - leaving behind queues on Pride Hill for the Boxing Day sales [already in place by 6.00am, would you believe], the Severn bursting its banks, and flood defences up on Frankwell Quay - is my Boxing Day walk.  Shropshire is a county rich with beauty. Shrewsbury is only one jewel in its crown, and the Long Mynd is another. See what I mean:

*PS. Here's that high summer post