In early 1998 the West Swindon Long Poem called Westwords was assembled by some 30 children attending Brook Field, Freshbrook, Oliver Tomkins Infants, Salt Way, Shaw Ridge, Toothill and Westlea primary schools in the area, and Year 7 pupils from Greendown School.
At workshops with performance poet Marcus Moore and Greendown teacher Christina Bennett the youngsters explored their lives and their neighbourhoods to write 671 lyrical lines which will be recognisable to anybody who lives in Swindon.
The Long Poem was written in time for the fifth Swindon Festival of Literature and performed by the West Words children at Swindon Arts Centre on 9 May 1998 and was featured in the May Swindon Link magazine. But it has never been published – until now.
Join the youngsters pictured below and enjoy a day in the life of a community by children who lived in it, with images taken by Swindon Link at the time and extra pictures taken over the 13 years to illustrate the ideas expressed in the poem.
Poets pictured below ‘on location’ around West Swindon are Sarah and Ruth Tyas, Natalie Hughes, Jenna Skal, Kim Brewser and Rosa Hirsch-Holland. If you are one of the people in the large group shot below, please mail Roger Ogle at Swindon Link magazine.
From Barbury Castle’s Hill West Swindon sits sparkling
A mix of buildings and trees stands proudly
A thumb-shaped print on the Wiltshire map
Of criss-cross lines old and new
A community of friends
Waiting for the break of dawn
The first light of a new day
The first signs, sights and sounds of morning
Waking, yawning, stretching,
Like a slow-motion movie.
The wise old moon hides
As the ruby red sun rises from its warm bed
And windows glow with a yellow light.
A loud cockerel greets the early risers:
People walking dogs in the early morning fog;
The whistling milkman
Delivering clinking bottles of fresh milk;
The busy, jolly postman
Struggling under parcels
Clutching a handful of letters
Dressed in neat red and blue coat and tilted navy cap;
And the clattering dustbin men
Hurling rubbish into the truck’s crunching teeth;
While eager children and hurrying adults
Crunch breakfast cereals
Brush teeth and hair
Tie laces, pack briefcases
Pack lunches, gather satchels
And spill out of houses
Like a gush of frothy water
Splashing from a tap,
To playgroup and school
To college and work
To factory and office
To surgery and shop they go,
Some keen, some drawn back
Some hurrying, some worrying
Some wondering, some wandering,
All following the path that leads
To the beginning of their own day.
And always there are cars
Roaring like lions along Tewkesbury Way
Horns bleeping like monkeys on Whitehill Way
And trucks with their loads
Pounding like elephants on Mead Way.
Children jump and skip their way to school:
To Freshbrook, with its massive, towering gates,
Westlea, red and black, shaped like a letter H,
And Oliver Tomkins, with its familiar sign next to swaying trees;
To Brook Field and its Teletubbie hills,
Salt Way, Shaw Ridge, an ants nest alive with scurrying youngsters,
And Toothill, its gates draped with foliage
Like the entrance to a secret garden;
And Greendown, like a huge grey bird
The colour of the USS Enterprise
A shadowed bulk at the end of the road.
Children: stamping, wingeing, moaning
Grumpily to school;
Children: walking, running, skipping
Happily to school.
Standing alone through whistling wind and driving snow
Icicles hanging from noses
With toes more like frozen fish fingers
Eyes peeled for every danger
Ready to do battle against the killer cars
With their giant painted lollies
And coats like giant Mr Blobbies
Stand the Toothill Lollipop Ladies.
Always with a cheery smile or comforting word
Padded against the bitter cold of winter
Glowing in their fluorescent bubbles
Peaked caps sticking out from beneath hoods
Like strange, exotic, yellow birds
Defending their young.
Toothill. Where Romans long ago left broken pots
Treasure buried under the ground
On which schoolchildren now run and play
Or walk the pearl-coloured path
Past pink flowers and dark red brambles
To the green oozing pond, round and shallow,
Which once a line of bucket-carrying children had tried to fill
But it took so long they had to get a fire engine
To pump in gallons of clear, fresh water.
Silent frogs now live in the pond.
Born bubbling on top of the waving water
They sleep warmly in their shelter
Or wake to the noise of laughing children
Or walk the grass on slimy feet
Wary of the fluffy ginger and white cat
That visits the pond from time to time
Moving gracefully through the grass
Like a tiger in the jungle.
The school day starts with a ringing bell
Or teachers blowing a whistle and shouting,
Kids whizzing to the line
Bags getting heavier as their feet go faster.
Parents, delivering late-comers at the gate,
Wave goodbye and drive away to work or back home
Or to the neighbours for a coffee
Or the village centre shops:
Cram-filled Dillons, Londis and M & W,
Where a small cement-carved statue gazes on passers-by
A man, a woman and their little child
Sad and lonely perhaps:
The Watchers watching.
Others head for the West Swindon Centre
To visit Mr Minit
And the cheerful man who works right in it
Mr Cooper the chemist for toothpaste and tablets
Sports Factory, Baggage Factory, Martinís and Barretts
The cash point, the Post Office, the dentist, the opticians
QS ‘Quality and Style now’
Though people still call it Quality Seconds.
And Asda. Large, tall.
It looks as though itís made of hard, white chocolate.
Inside shoppers swirl
Like squirrels hoarding food for winter
While tannoys blare like screeching parrots.
There are castles and pyramids of tins
Bottles balanced in the shape of one giant bottle
Pears like rugby balls, boomerang bananas
Miles of piles stacked high.
‘In a hurry? Buy a curry!’
Items placed on the conveyor belt
A red laser checking identities
Small children riding on trolleys
Like Grand National winning jockeys
Tills clicking like horses’ hoofs
Then back in the car and off round the roundabouts
(So many you could lose your whereabouts)
Grange Park Way and Freshbrook Way
Gainsborough Way and Peatmoor Way
Highways, by-ways; will it ever end?
Middleleaze Drive and Ramleaze Drive
Bodiam Drive and Cartwright Drive
All those Drives to drive drivers round the bend.
But stop! What ís this?
Flying cars too?
Hanging from the ceiling like lanterns
Large hulks, suspended scarily,
Bodies or skeletons in a hospital for cars
The Renault Building
A massive, Meccano marquee
With huge, straight, stiff sides of golden yellow
Proud like a big ship in a harbour
As big as a football stadium
As quiet as a dressing-room.
Quiet too stands the statue
Of the White Horse Pacified
A stallion, as still as stone,
Rider-less, half-hidden amid trees and bushes
In what was once a meadow
Below Mead Way.
It must know so many secrets.
At times birds land on the horse’s proud neck
A chaffinch stopping for a chat
A robin bobbing along the strong back
Exchanging gossip, bringing news
Having flown perhaps from Peatmoor Lake
The home of herons, ducks and swans
That glide over the calm, grey waters
Droplets dripping from their silky feathers
Ripples stretching out behind them
Like a spreading arrow.
A peaceful, soothing lagoon it is
Topped with sparkling diamonds
And the jewel of an island set in its centre,
Where stands, like a long-legged wading bird
With pointed turquoise wings,
Hiding deep oriental mysteries
The stranded temple of the emperor
Distant and small, the colourful toy of a child
A stray building block knocked or fallen from
The bigger structure, the parent palace of the lakeside,
The Chinese Experience.
Two great loyal marzipan-white lion-dragons
Guard the entrance, mouths opened wide in silent roar
Claws dug deep into their private platforms
Furious eyes watching and listening.
Strange statues patrol the dragon-spine roof
Like a parade of camels on a long trek
From West Swindon to China; a whole new discovery.
Sweet and savoury smells linger in the cool air
Along with spices and the full burst of nature.
It enraptures you, captures you from the outside
Drawing you in to a new world and new dreams
As you step into the colours
Of this mystical, almost mythical
Enormous Chinese lantern.
A sign on the side entrance asks
In both English and Cantonese
‘Please don’t slam the door!’
Doors. More and more doors
Where once were peat and rough moors
New houses going up every day
Bricks and mortar being laid
And in place of hedges
With security lights
The scream of drills
Workmen digging through dust
Tearing aside the earth’s skin
Wearing smartie-like hats.
The future flashes past
Racing ahead of itself
But here and there are signposts
To other times, to other visions:
Hand-crafted green, metallic railings in Webbs Wood,
An oak seat embracing an old oak tree
On a peaceful green in The Prinnels;
And there in a garden in Spencer Close
Hey diddle diddle…
It’s the cat with its fiddle
And a cow half over the moon
And a squashed little dog laughing
And the dish trying to run with the spoon
All carved in stone
So the cow stays half-way over the moon
And the cat plays the fiddle forever
And the little dog is always laughing
And will the dish and spoon get away?
And in Freshbrook, among the new architecture
Of the Business Park, stands the old windmill
Upright, tall and defiant like a tree
Its familiar propellers gliding swiftly through the air
Their worn white coat of paint gleaming in the sun
The swaying green carpet at its feet
Brightening the grey silence
Of the dull surroundings.
Grey too against green playing fields
‘but by no means silent!’
Is nearby Greendown School
Squat and glum like a wasps’ nest
Infested with children that never rest
Humming at work
Buzzing at play.
It’s lunchtime and out they pour
Like aniseed balls or cherries
In their beetroot-coloured clothing
Crashing into one another
Shouting to friends
Pushing and shoving in the dinner queue
Teachers trying to squeeze through
Giants from Year 11 flattening
Pupils from Year 7 against walls
Like pieces of mud.
Mud on shoes, mud on coats
Sloppy mud obscuring white lines
On the football pitch
The grass like seaweed in a green ocean
Where the wind whips
The net against the post
And the players dive and slip
In and out of the waves of sport;
And in and out of character
Now United’s Ryan Giggs
Scoring another goal
Now Year 9’s Kevin Briggs
With mud on his face and a hole
In the elbow of his sweat shirt.
Girls bounce and bump the netball
On the dull black tarmacked court
Or walk around arm-in-arm, deep in thought
Or having a laugh, gossiping about boys,
While Terry traipses round
Picking up litter from the ground
At what gets dropped
And kids in detention
Stare wistfully out of windows
Wishing they too could be released to the field
It’s twenty to two
And lunchtime is over
And the maroon river
Is sucked back inside
Like an ebbing tide
And the voices of teachers
Reclaim the afternoon
In the school that was once a chicken farm.
Is it haunted by a poultry-geist?
Let us leave the students studying
Let us move away from buildings, streets and houses
And let us go to West Swindon’s western edge
Where Thamesdown meets the rest of Wiltshire
In Lydiard Park.
Here you can wander in paradise
Look up at the waving trees
Smell the fresh scented air
Feel the gentle breeze
Listen to the birds at morning choir practice
Breathe in the scenery of a perfect painting
Framed and landscaped.
We might catch sight of a deer
Or a fox creeping gently across the soggy grass
Or hear the rustle of a hedgehog
Coming out from under a bush
Or greet Kopper the dog
Tail wagging willingly
As he barks and scampers
Among the cornflake leaves.
We slide through the squelching mud
Down past trickling puddles to the pond
Where mothers and their toddlers
Throw scraps and morsels of fluffy bread
To an eager scrapping crowd
Of hungry ducks and toddler ducklings
As the ripples of their bickering
Skate across the water
To the distant dimmer, slimmer shore.
The grass is a bedspread
Dotted with flowers of the rainbow.
A large uncertain crow follows our stroll
With shiny black glass-like eye
And a small plump sparrow
Sits on the crooked elbow of a branch
Held briefly by a tree that leans over
Reaching out desperately
Like a crippled old man
Or a sad, bored, retired soldier.
There is an army of trees here
A family of brothers and sisters
A forest of friends
Reaching for the grey clouds.
Bare trees with bony twisting limbs
Wrinkled trees with the hair of witches
Tall trees like look-out posts
Secret bushes, snake-like logs,
They have seen so much history
Allowing the quick, shy squirrels
To scurry scuttle and skid along their arms
Watching over rabbits and children at play.
Teardrops of rain like clear liquid crystals
Slide down their leaves in a slow waterfall
Dripping, dropping on to the soft blanket below.
And near the mansion a giant of a tree
Half-eaten, with three devilish faces
Its claws grasping the ground
At one moment like a brontosaurus
At the next a graceful dancer laced in leaves
Laying a gentle branch to the ground.
The grand old mansion is a souvenir from the past
Partly destroyed by dancing flames of fire
But still a proud monument
The ever-watchful cold stone gargoyles
Guarding the solemn, sleeping graves
In the cemetery of St Mary’s Church
With its cross that seems to greet you
Every time you pass.
We stop to admire Antony Holloway’s Arch
Crafted from the wood of chestnut and lime
Trees felled in the storms of ’89
On one side the busy lives of people
On the other animals, insects and plants.
Then back through crispy crunchy leaves
To a quiet round clearing
And the spooky half-hidden ice house
Stone-domed without and cold within
A place for lost thoughts.
Shout down into the bowl
And you can hear the echo
Of voices fading back into the past.
Rest for a while at the Visitors Centre
With a cooling ice-cream or frothing coffee
Sitting perhaps on the bench
Near the recycling bin with its cry of
ìSave all you can!î
We can. We must
Save all we can of Lydiard Park
Where nature and beauty
Whisper a soothing lullaby
Untouched by time.
But how will Time treat
The young parklands
Of Withy Mead and Westlea
The modern mansions
Of Grange Park and The Chesters
The new architecture
Of Westmead and Delta?
What does the future hold
For Nexus, the stone structure
Carved with hand-made tools
In 1986 and every day since
Clambered upon, scrambled upon
By the fresh-faced children of Freshbrook?
Will wind and rain and age
Eventually wear away to rust and dust
The sculpture up on Shaw Ridge?
It is called How The Mighty Fall
And was cast in iron and aluminium
But will it survive the next millennium
Or will later generations neglect it
Reject it and cast it into oblivion?
How, indeed, do the mighty fall.
But we do not need a crystal ball
To see into the future. Itís here already
In the swimming pool, ice-rink and sports hall
Of the space-age Link Centre.
From outside it looks like the Titanic
Covered in the web of a spider gigantic
Inside it sounds like a wildlife park:
Children chattering like chimpanzees
Or shrieking parakeet screams
And the crowds roaring like lions
While booming music beats out a sound
Like the hooves of stampeding herds.
The sapphire-blue pool glistens
Sudden splashes showering diamonds
On swimmers darting through the water
Like tropical fish in their multi-coloured costumes.
Skaters scratch lines on the ice rink
The cold carpet of pearl
As white as polar bears
As hard as the North Pole snow
Turning, swirling, dancing on the ice
Doing a ‘half-pike,’ a ‘back slide’ or ‘unity’
A ‘Mctwist.’ ‘flying fish’ or ‘360’
Like people with wheels for feet
Who, later, will visit the cafe
For sausages, sandwiches
Sweets and snacks
Crisps and chips
Chocolate and chews
High-energy foods to put back
Some of the energy they’ve used.
And hiding in the midst of all this confusion
Is the calm and quiet Link Library
Where no sound can be heard
Except for the odd flick of a page
Or the sound of a door closing.
Shelves and shelves of
Books to look at, books to read
This is heaven on earth indeed!
But the place to be
If you want to be free
Is Lower Shaw Farm:
Full of nature, tyres, animals, thingamybobs
Wheelbarrows with outstretched arms
A rolling pillow hammock
A cheeky monkeyís climbing frame
And rope-swings that sway from the barn roof
Like threads of knotted hair.
Visitors are greeted
With the fresh smell of emerald green grass
And by chickens calling a welcome
As they scratch and rummage in the dirt.
Small wooden houses and green caravans
Invite adults to take off the camouflage
Of straight-laced uniforms
And step into a different world
Of wide-eyed child-like daydreams
And night-time camp-fire stories.
Here you can see a spider
Spinning a web of clear silk thread
Or play all day in the sweet-smelling hay
Or just take a deep breath
And inhale a pint of wildlife;
A place of creativity and creatures
A home for poets and eager imaginations
Bringing together work, pleasure and dreams.
The afternoon slides towards evening.
The trees lose their colour
And wild flowers bow their heads
Saying goodbye to the sun
As it sets like a big juicy orange
Dipping below the horizon
And twilight sweeps over the day
With crooked tree-like hands.
Disco Bob in his baggy clothes
With long nails painted red
And small feet inside large clown-like shoes
Fag in mouth, can in hand,
Approaches M&W with his shopping trolley
Calls out moodily to anyone nearby
And suddenly starts dancing
As he hears the music
Blaring from a passing car.
Teenagers, home from school,
Eat their tea, watch TV.
Some wash up
Some brush up
On French, Geography, Maths
Others wash themselves
Brush their hair
Spend ages in the bath.
‘I’m a teen
I can be mean
I wannabe 16
I talk in slang
It has a twang
It goes with a bang
Like animals waking
From day-long slumber
They stretch and comb and preen
Cat-walk the landing
In baseball caps, streamlined trainers
And tee-shirts with designer labels
Swing from banisters
And prowl out
Into the night
To the light
There to hunt and play
And scream and shout
By hanging out
With the other funky dudes
At the Shaw Ridge Complex.
Here, under a rainbow of fluorescent logos,
The urban jungle comes to life.
Like thirsty beasts at a watering-hole
Crowds rush into the Super Bowl
A thunderstorm of flashing lights
The deafening noise of meteorites.
Nervously the skittles wait
The bowling alley starts to shake
As the battering balls hurtle down
With a crashing, smashing, bashing sound.;
Like alarming boulders torn loose
Or lightning bolts from the hand of Zeus
They rush to crush at frightening speed
And the ten pins fall like small trees
The onlookers shout ìItís a strike!î
Confirmed with a cross, large and white
Flashed by computer up on a screen.
The Gods smile, delighted with the scene.
Meanwhile, inside the Virgin cinema,
More screens and ice-creams
And popcorn, sweet or salty, being crammed
Into munching mouths
Wide open with wonder
At the sad funny scary rude
Classical tragical comical films,
The soundtrack wrapped around
An occasional rustle of crisp packets
The slurping of fizzy drinks
Chuckles of laughter and tears of sorrow
Rising from the black and red seats:
A comfortable darkened show room
Where fantasies and families meet.
Outside the cinema
On a polished platform
Stands a bronze statue
Of Swindon’s very own
Star of the silver screen
The glamorous and glorious
In a long silk ball gown
Clinging in places like a second skin
A stole draped gently round her arms
Slender hands on hips
The famous pursed lips
Every wave of her hair in place
On a head held high;
Elegant and calm
She guards the cinema
A soft, silent figure
Whose body language deafens us
The centre of attention
Just as she always wanted to be.
Floating over the noisy queues
And teasing the taste buds
Comes the spicy aroma
Of mouth-watering cooking
From the red-brick Pizza Hut
As busy as a bee-hive
With hungry people of all ages
Drawn to the sizzling smells
To chomp the crunchy salads
And savour the flavour of crispy pizzas
With melt-in-your-mouth cheese.
Across West Swindon the lights go out
In a thousand square windows
But luminous pink letters
And a fancy old car
Beckon some to Pinkertons
While others enter the towering gates
Of the De Vere Hotel
A fantasy palace
With its own pool, exercise gym
And comfy beds to spend a night in.
Only Cairo’s remains open,
The teenagers’ magnet
Loud thumping music
Beating out the rhythm of the night
Like a mountain rumbling
Or a giant singing.
Dressed as if for a fashion show
People flock on to the dance floor
Jump to the beat of the human heart
Like babies kicking and screaming
And dance dance dance
Sweating like rain
Rocking around the clock
Fingers tapping without rest
Smoking drinking kissing too
Partying till they drop.
With closing eyes and heavy heads
The tired ravers leave
In a huddled group
With burning sticks in their mouths:
Zombies of the tar
Grey shadows like ghosts
Lost on their way
Home to worried parents.
A drunk stumbles across the road
Singing an unidentifiable song.
The wind whistles down silent alleys
Where urban Picassos still linger
Spraying white concrete with jazzy art
Inscribing essential messages
And expressions of emotion
On canvasses of subway wallpaper.
A lone fox out hunting
Scavenging through litter
Without a natural habitat now
Calls out in answer
To the bleary saxophone hoot
Of a late car or the wailing siren
Of an ambulance or the police
Speeding towards the distant hum of the M4.
And in Westlea Park
Where youngsters get up to all sorts
Of mischief, after dark
Three tall, strange figures sit
Like time-travellers from the future
Casually relaxing on a stone wall
Overlooking the pond
Looking into the pond
Looking into the future
Night after night
Guarding a time capsule
Watching everything that passes
Half-smiles on their timeless faces
As if they know all that has happened
All that is happening
And all that will happen.
But they will not tell.
The night is calm and still now
A soft velvet blanket of darkness.
Diamond stars circle the bright moon
Spelling out their secret song.
Silence takes a deep breath
And draws a final sheet over us all,
Children hugging teddy bears
Wrapped up in their own parcels
With stamps on
Posting them away to a land of dreams.
West Swindon sleeps
A community of friends
Waiting for tomorrow.