Monday, 24 December 2018

'The Call' - Edith Ayrton Zangwill

Things that are thrown out of windows during the narrative of The Call include (but are not limited to) prison food, Bovril, inedible rock cakes and copies of The Vote magazine. Given the force with which Edith Ayrton Zangwill’s excellent 1924 novel rattles through its nine-year period, it is no surprising that the undesirable elements are discarded. Though, I should add, the hurled copy of The Vote is swiftly replaced following a fresh purchase of the magazine by the determined would-be reader.

In 2018, it is of course only right that a publisher of forgotten books by women authors should publish a book about the suffrage movement, and in The Call Persephone Books has chosen a mighty volume. It’s long, it’s sprawling and it calls on a catalogue of wondrous elements. It’s fair to say it’s one of my favourite ever Persephone Books (and I’ve read about two thirds of their 130 to date).

Our shero Ursula is deemed the eccentric daughter of a social butterfly in a well-to-do London home. She hides away in her laboratory upstairs in the servants’ quarters, conducting endless experiments into gases. Her charming mother frankly despairs of her daughter ever settling down and living a ‘normal’ life, but her mother’s love and fondness for her daughter also shines through - especially given her crusty old step-father’s pig headedness.

Filling her time with laboratory work and being the lone woman at science meetings, Ursula has few friends apart from the older (and married) Professor Smee, who is besotted with her but whose ardour she does not even notice. But the more her scientific experiments get noticed by the academy, the more Ursula’s star rises and even when she meets the dashing Tony Balestier with whom she falls in love, her devotion to her science cannot be dampened. That is… until she falls in with the militant suffragettes.

Swinging from being a strident opposer to the women’s movement to a committed leader, Ursula is soon prioritising votes for women over everything else. Including Tony…

I will give no more away about the narrative of The Call, except to say that the call of the title can be interpreted in a number of ways: Ursula’s scientific work, her devotion to women’s suffrage, her commitment to Tony, her objection to the violence of war, or her determination to invent a means of extinguishing the ‘liquid fire’ that the Germans are using during the war.

This is a thoroughly compelling book, starting in 1909 and enduring until 1918. Edith writes in an accessible and enjoyable way, and even the potentially tedious ‘science parts’ are not alienating to a non-science type such as me (Edith’s own step-mother was the scientist Hertha Marks Ayrton, which should explain her insight into the subject). The descriptions of suffrage life are hectic and consuming, as that life no doubt was - my only minor grumble is that Ursula moves into this life so quickly and exits it equally fast. But the sections about her prison experiences, especially the vivid and scalding descriptions of being on hunger and thirst strikes, are painfully shocking and well worth reading: all too often, contemporary onlookers do not seem to grasp the physical and mental agony of days and weeks on a hunger and thirst strike and how crippling this is to the person… and that is before even considering the torture of forcible feeding. Along with the description of the same experiences in Sylvia Pankhurst’s own writings, Ursula’s experiences in The Call are truly shocking. As they should be.

Re-publishing The Call is a credit to Persephone and this is exactly the kind of book that I hope they continue putting out. Suffrage novels written at the time are hard to come by (though I’ve recently read both Restored by Emily Spender and Mildred’s Career by Miss Ramsay, both of which were written in the 1870s about the pre-militant campaign, and Mildred’s Career in particular is perfect for a Persephone reprint - hint hint! You can read my review of it on the hyperlink).


On a personal note, completing The Call feels like a triumph. Following a bereavement seven weeks ago that left me devastated, my ability to read anything beyond a few lines here and there in a trashy magazine has been hopeless. Knowing what hot-water-bottle tomes Persephone Books can be, I was determined to push on with The Call. Everything about it seemed like it should be a tonic to me: woman writer, suffrage theme, defiance of social mores, page-turning plot. But with my mind in pieces and my concentration shot, I struggled. But I’m glad I pushed on, because the story has been totally engrossing and completing it has been a huge satisfaction. Onwards women writers.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Vote 100 - A Round-Up of Some of the Events

This has been an exciting year for suffrage themed exhibitions, owing to it being the centenary of when (some) women finally got the vote here in the UK. Of the (approximately) ten million suffrage events all over the country, I barely made it to a handful. Here are a few of my highlights, and do share in the comments about any favourite or memorable events that you attended.

One of the two enormous suffragette lanterns at the Bristol parade

Marking exactly 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 (and my 40th birthday!), Bristol Women’s Voice organised a beautiful lantern parade in the evening on February 6. Literally thousands of women, girls and menfolk attended, many were dressed up, and almost everyone had a handmade torch-lit lantern as we marched and paraded from Clifton down to College Green. Despite the cold, rain and sleet, it was a truly magnificent event.

Sappho to Suffrage in Oxford
Sappho to Suffrage: Women Who Dared is a free exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and is a carefully curated selection from the extension collection that showcased some of the more notable pieces relating to women. Not exclusively suffrage related, the exhibition includes everything from Mary Wollstonecraft’s original notebook showing her working draft of Frankenstein, to a fabric banner from the Oxford Women’s Suffrage Society that had been used in suffrage parades a century before. This exhibition remains open until 19 February 2019, so you still have time to go.

Index of Suffragettes at the National Archives

On May 18, I went to a special evening event at the National Archives in Kew called Law Makers or Law Breakers? Alongside animated talks from Dr Naomi Paxton and actor Jessica Hynes (writer and star of suffrage sitcom Up The Women), it was a chance to see the brand new exhibition Suffragettes vs The State, drink at the Women’s Gin-stitute and drinks suffrage-themed cocktails. 

Millicent Fawcett at the LSE

Over at the London School of Economics, there was the exhibition At Last! Votes for Women, which took the refreshing approach of giving equal billing to all three of the major suffrage groups: not prioritising the Women’s Social and Political Union as so many exhibitions and events did. So we saw equal information and memorabilia about the Women’s Freedom League and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Socieities as well as the WSPU. My favourite item was the menu from the final dinner held by the vegetarian and teetotal NUWSS to celebrate winning the vote on equal terms as men in 1928: lentil cutlets in tomato sauce with Italian eggs, anyone?

Dr Naomi Paxton with our balloon suffragist Winifred

Elsewhere in London, the Barbican hosted a series of film screenings and events under the banner of Nevertheless, She Persisted. I attended a screening of the 1913 silent movie The Suffragette (about a convert to the women’s movement who develops a delightfully arsonistic streak, while sporting an impressively mammoth hat), starring Asta Nielson and introduced by Dr Naomi Paxton. A wonderful chance to see a feature length movie that was new to me, as well as another chance to watch a selection of the short films from the BFI’s Make More Noise collection (this gets wheeled out fairly regularly all over the place, and is also on DVD, if you haven’t yet seen this).

Votes For Women sweeties
The Museum of London holds one of the biggest collections of suffrage pieces anywhere in the world, and has a sizeable suffragette display as part of its permanent display. So I had high hopes for its Vote 100 exhibition, which were dashed pretty quickly. This tiny exhibition featured a literal handful of objects in a few glass cases, displayed in a dark room that was also showing on loop a short ‘talking heads’ film with suffrage writers. When I asked an usher if this was it or was there more elsewhere, it turned out I wasn’t the only one to think this exhibition  a phenomenal let down. But if you want to see it for yourself, it remains open - and free to attend - until 10 March 2019.

The Cause from Dreadnought South West

The Cause was a brand new touring play from Dreadnought South West, about an imagined conversation between suffrage leaders Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst. I caught the play when it came to the Redgrave Theatre in Bristol in the summer, and was swept up in the tide of revolution stirring through Natalie McGrath’s tight script.

Up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I felt truly lucky to catch a performance of the outstanding and mesmerising one-woman play That Daring Australian Girl, about real-life Australian suffragette Muriel Matters who came to London and caused no end of mayhem in the name of votes for women. Her story was brilliantly told by actor Joanne Hartstone (who also wrote the script), who had come over from Australia to tour the show. It deservedly won five-star reviews all across the board.

Also causing a fuss in theatres was the hip hop musical at the Old Vic in London about Sylvia Pankhurst, called simply Sylvia, that enjoyed colour-blind casting and took a few liberties to achieve a rip roaring historical feast. Written by the exciting duo of Kate Prince and Priya Parmar, and with Beverley Knight as Emmeline Pankhurst, Sylvia had audiences dancing in the aisles. Let’s hope this sold out show returns.
Suffraducks at the Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament naturally needed to get in on the act and did so with its Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition in its echoey grand hall. Recreating various key parliamentary places in the votes for women story, visitors were able to experience The Ventilator (the cramped loft space above the House of Common Chamber where women could try to watch proceedings), The Cage (an enclosed space where, hidden behind large brass grilles, women could try to find out what was going on) and The Tomb (the tiny little Ladies’ Members Room where the very first female MPs were expected to conduct their business). The suffragette bath ducks in the gift shop were a particular highlight and you can still buy them online. Unable to make it to the (now closed) exhibition? Fret not. You can watch a video tour of it on this Facebook link.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

'A Christmas Carol' at Bristol Old Vic

Felix Hayes as Scrooge - photo by Geraint Lewis
Bah humbug!

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a spectacular new musical show from the Bristol Old Vic, and this year the team has yanked the classic Charles Dickens tale A Christmas Carol out of the vaults. With the collective minds of Tom Morris, Lee Lyford and Gwyneth Herbert pulling the strings, this is one production that is guaranteed to leave you wishing a merry Christmas to one and all.

Relocated from the grizzly streets of Victorian London to the cobbled paths of Bristol, in this version of A Christmas Carol we find miserly loan shark Ebenezer Scrooge toiling away on Christmas Eve in his grotty office, with his put-upon assistant Bob Cratchit obligingly doing his bidding. Refusing to take part in the cheery Christmas celebrations, Scrooge ushers away carol singers and charity fundraisers and grumpily stomps home to his desolate and barren home for another night on his own. Or so he thinks… until his long dead colleague Jacob Marley summons up the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future to give Scrooge the biggest wake up call of his life.

Felix Hayes is simply outstanding as grumpy Scrooge. With his deep voice, lofty height and well crafted air of irritation, he perfectly conjures up the spirit of curmudgeonly old Scrooge. And he also conveys the change in Scrooge so well - there is something enormously affecting about seeing a big man crumble that will soften the hardest of hearts, and it is hard to imagine anyone else but Hayes who could have filled Scrooge’s boots so well.

Gwyneth Herbert as the Ghost of Christmas Present - photo by Geraint Lewis
But of course, he is far from alone on the stage. All of the classic characters from A Christmas Carol are here: Little Fan, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and co, they are all present and correct. And my word, if Tiny Tim’s scene doesn’t reduce you to tears then you have the soul of a stone.

I think possibly my favourite moment, and the most affecting part, was the simple scene when Scrooge - having seen the error of his ways - is clambering across a row of audience members to get back on the stage. As he climbs across the audience, trying not to knock over their glasses of wine, he asks them what they think he should do next. “Give your money to charity!” “Give all your money away” And as simple as this moment is, this interaction with the audience and Scrooge’s responses to them, really worked and, to my mind, was the most effective way of showing how much he had changed. (Maybe I’m just easily pleased, but it’s always fun when members of the cast come into the audience during a show.)

Bravo, Bristol Old Vic. A Christmas Carol is another triumph in your bursting catalogue of Christmas shows. Long may your reign continue. And long may you keep working with Felix Hayes.

A Christmas Carol is performed at Bristol Old Vic until 13 January 2019. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Tiny Tim's heartbreaking bed scene - photo by Geraint Lewis

Friday, 23 November 2018

'Mildred's Career' by Miss Ramsay

The dedication in the front pages of Mildred's Career

Continuing my years-long project of writing about suffrage books…

The Bristolian writer Miss Ramsay wrote one of the earliest known suffrage novels with her 1874 book Mildred’s Career: A Tale of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Miss Ramsay (her first name is unknown, even on her book cover she is simply ‘Miss Ramsay’) lived at 40 Royal York Crescent, Clifton, and was Secretary of the Clifton section of the Bristol and West of England branch of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage during the 1870s.

Mildred’s Career follows our sassy shero, Mildred Randall, as she attempts to find her voice in a world that demands women be quiet and remember their place. Fans of Dorothy Whipple will enjoy the themes that would become familiar in a Whipple a few decades later: injustices at the hands of men, cruelty at the hands of men and strong women forging together to turn their fortunes to the better.

The question of a woman born a lady needing to make a ‘good’ marriage is raised, and countered with the suggestion that a ‘cottage woman’ can choose between settling for a kind but dull husband or forging her own way in the world. Which raises the important issue of how girls born into middle- or upper-class homes are taught no skills with which to fall back on with which to support themselves financially and thus achieve independence; Mildred states she would far rather be run ragged as a doctor or lawyer than lead the stultifying "vegetable life” that her social status expects of her. And this ultimately forms the crux of Mildred's career...

It is for this reason that orphaned Mildred, who lives with her two unmarried older sisters (their educated brothers having died), is desperate to be heard as she joins the movement to campaign for women’s political equality. Mildred demands her sisters explain to her why the property they should have inherited from their parents has instead gone to a male cousin, and is simply told that that because their brothers have died, this is the law. Mildred is rightly furious: “The law? Yes, that is what I quarrel with. What right have men to undertake to make laws for the good of the community and then legislate selfishly for their own interest?”

When the company in which the Randall sisters are shareholders goes bust, the women find themselves penniless and in a terrible situation. This calamity leads Mildred to muse on how frustrating that, as women, they are given no education that helps them understand their personal finances, and again her elder sisters shut her down. Rejecting their suggestion that she work as a governess (claiming her own education was so poor that she had nothing to teach anyone else), Mildred instead decides to find an office job and educates herself about how to do this. When she is rejected for a job as a lawyer’s clerk, and is told “There are men’s occupations and women’s occupations”, Mildred resolves to challenge this sexism and prove everyone wrong by going to London… by herself!

Repeatedly told “We do not employ women”, Mildred struggles to maintain her positive attitude. After securing a position in a printing firm, she is sacked after a week when her male colleagues threaten to strike in response to having to work with, gasp, a woman. She is finally offered a lowly position elsewhere, but on learning that women earn half what the men do despite doing the same amount of work, she rejects it in disgust. As she goes about her travels desperately seeking work of any kind, Mildred crudely learns more about the injustices of women: her widowed landlady is accepting of a law that sentences a man to three days in prison for half-blinding his wife but seven years in prison for stealing a coat.

It is perhaps inevitable that Mildred’s attention is caught by a poster she sees advertising a forthcoming women’s suffrage meeting, to which she takes herself. Remember, this is 1874 and the suffrage movement is in its infancy: there are no militant suffragettes or Pankhursts to steal the limelight, instead we have the original suffragists fighting peacefully and determinedly for their cause. With the impressive Althea Warburton as her suffrage sister, Mildred soon becomes embroiled in the campaign.

Miss Ramsay does not write in a subtle or measured way. Her purpose and intent is clear: she has points to make about the injustices women face, and she makes them scattergun, one after the other. What is fascinating though is that this is not a historical novel but a contemporary one - and it is rare to get a feminist novel such as this set in the early 1870s. And that is where the value of Mildred’s Career lies. As a writer, Miss Ramsay is neither gifted nor lacking, she is decidedly average, although when Mildred enters her first suffrage meeting we are finally given detailed descriptions of characters, appearances, places and feelings, all of which would have added colour to the previous 90 pages. This is not a criticism (I would imagine Miss Ramsay is past caring, given her book was written 147 years ago), simply an observation.

Mildred's Career is long out of print and not that easy to come across, but if you do manage to find a copy I urge you to pick it up and have a read. It is an easy read and an absorbing tale, and you will come to care for Mildred enormously. 

Thursday, 25 October 2018

'Around The World in 80 Words'

What staggers me most of all about linguist Paul Anthony Jones is how on earth he finds the time to research and write so many books about so many obscure facets of the English language, while also running the popular Haggard Hawks social media feeds (from where I pinched the above photo of his new book). The guy is prolific!

Jones' most recent book is Around the World in 80 Words, which was published on 25 October by Elliott & Thompson. And as the title of the book suggests, and the back cover blurb confirms, this is "a whimsical voyage through the far-flung reaches of the English language".

Having previously written books including 2015's Word Drops and last year's The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities, we can take it as read that when it comes to words, Jones knows what he's on about. And Around the World in 80 Words is tightly packed with facts, details and intense geographical etymological research. (There's a phrase I never expected to type!)

We start in London, as Jones tells us the origins of the phrase 'Kent Street ejectment' and whizzes the reader around the British capital to bring us from 18th century Southwark to the Shard in modern day London to tell us the answer. Elsewhere, we travel to Monaco to learn about the 'Monte Carlo fallacy', which is a story beginning in the 1850s and ending in a casino in 1913, as only a true life tale set in Monaco could. Other stops on this exhaustive tour of the world include China (where 'Xanadu' is our goal), Italy (where the root of 'magenta' is found in a tale of warfare), and Iran (where we spin back to the ancient world to begin unpicking the origins of the word 'parthian').

It's an utterly fascinating, fun and absorbing collection of all those words in the dictionary we owe to our maps and atlases. Jones knows what he's talking about and he knows how to tell a story without bogging readers down in the unnecessary extras. 

For fans of obscure facts, tongue twisting words and literary oddities, anything written by Paul Anthony Jones is a treat. And Around the World in 80 Words will not disappoint. 

You can read a sample chapter from the book on the Haggard Hawks website.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Hollering Woman Creek

For her third solo show, writer Amy Mason draws on her experiences as a newly pregnant woman travelling in Texas to research her second novel, which is about life on death row.

With her boyfriend in tow for the trip, and a recent instruction from her GP to come off her psych meds just like that (despite the months spent gently building up the dose), in Hollering Woman Creek Amy is confronted by an American state that puts the well-being of the foetus far above the well-being of the woman carrying that foetus. Posters in bars threaten any pregnant woman even considering a sip of an alcoholic drink; hotel hot tubs are bedecked in labels that they are not suitable for expectant mothers; the list goes on.

What ensues is a touching and thoughtful hour about how frightening it is to face an unplanned pregnancy, and the unique spin created when the women in question is also researching the topic of death row. Amy describes a visit to a death row museum gift shop, where other tourists are posing for selfies with the electric chair while she is left feeling sick and faint at the sight of it.

The title of the show, Hollering Woman Creek, comes from an area in Texas so-named because it is reportedly haunted by the screaming spirit of a grieving mother who has drowned her newborn baby in the water because the father has deserted her. It is claimed that her soul haunts the creek to this day, and if you get too close to the water she might pull you in and drown you, too, believing that you yourself are her baby.

In the show’s culmination, Amy (riddled with prenatal depression and haywire from coming off her medication too quickly) finds herself at Hollering Woman Creek where she must make a definite decision about her future.

On stage with Amy throughout the show are musicians Megan Henwood and Elizabeth Westcott, with a score composed by the multi-award winning Megan. This absolutely completes the show and Megan’s music and voice are very special indeed. (I rushed home and looked her up online.)

Hollering Woman Creek is performed in the Weston Studio at Bristol Old Vic every day until Saturday October 20. Click here for more information and to book tickets.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

'Windrush: Movement of the People'


What a mesmerising, captivating and completely absorbing performance Windrush: Movement of the People is. I was lucky enough to catch it at Bristol Old Vic, where it is only on for two nights at the start of a tour to various venues around the UK (check the link at the end of this post for more information).

Created by the impressive Phoenix Dance Theatre, Windrush celebrates and illuminates the promises, reality and hope during this 70th anniversary year of the arrival of the SS Empire Windrush, which brought the first Caribbean migrants to the UK. The boat brought 492 people (known as the Windrush generation) from the Caribbean to the UK in 1948 in a moment that marked the start of the post war immigration boom that led to a radical shift in British society.

The soundtrack by Christella Litras is evocative and effective, spinning between calypso, jazz, gospel, reggae and more, and completely brings to life the changes occuring in those crucial decades of Britain’s formative multicultural era. The refrain of “You called and we came” from a poem read aloud is particularly haunting, as the newly arrived immigrants are shunned and excluded from a hostile British society.

Choreographer (and Phoenix Dance Company artistic director) Sharon Watson creates an extraordinary story that introduces us to our protagonists who are full of hope at what a move to the UK might mean (the sunny orange lighting supporting this), and then the awful reality of racism and bigotry that they encounter once here (portrayed by eerie faceless dancers in masks who wonderfully conjure up a sense of fear and ignorance, and backed up by dark and sombre lighting), followed by the sense of community and camaraderie that is fostered as a result (matched by the warmth of interior lighting). The duet between a reunited couple (Vanessa Vince-Pang, pictured above, and Prentice Whitlow), who had been parted for months, is especially beautiful to watch.

Windrush: Movement of the People is utterly mesmerising and I was gasping when the performance ended. I wanted to watch more and I want to watch it again. Don’t miss this!

Windrush is at Bristol Old Vic for two nights only, as part of its UK tour. It is performed at Bristol Old Vic as part of the Seeds of Change week, which is itself a part of Black History Month.  For more information on the national tour of Windrush, please click here.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Down in Demerara

There’s a suspicion that Felix Radstock has gone on holiday by mistake…

The protagonist in Mike Manson’s third novel Down in Demerara is a freelance labour market research analyst who is plucked from his sleepy Bristol office by the mysterious DoDO organisation to head to Guyana on a fact finding mission. What follows is the hilarious but touching story of an innocent abroad in a very unusual place.

Guyana is a real place on the northern mainland of South America, yet few people have heard of it (myself included, prior to reading Down in Demerara). So Mike handily provides us with a hand-drawn map at the front of the book, locating Guyana and its capital Georgetown with the other areas of the country that Felix visits. And Mike creates a wonderful mental film for the reader of the sights and sounds of the South American wildlife and habitats, drawn from his own visits there.

Set in 1999, with the shadow of the millennium bug looming over the world, Felix is feeling the growing pressure to finish his report about this little known South American country (and return to the safety of Bristol and his fiance) before Christmas and before the world implodes when the Y2K bug destroys all the infrastructure. But before that can happen, our innocent abroad has to put his trust in a lot of unlikely characters as he navigates his way around an increasingly bizarre state of affairs. The sense of paranoia and panic is escalating.

With his driver and assistant Xavier leading him a merry dance, Felix finds his preconceptions - and misconceptions - challenged. He is wrong to think Xavier is simply a driver; he is wrong to think the mysterious Roxy actually wants to measure his head for a hat; and he is wrong to think he really knows why DoDo has sent him to Guyana... as Felix’s heart-rending visit to the gold mines in the heart of the bush and rainforest reveal.

As well as being a ramshackle travelogue, Down in Demerara is also a ecological warning, gently advising the reader of the importance of making a difference, however small it seems. Always be suspicious of the big, evil corporations. But always be gentle to blue butterflies.

Mike Manson writes with a gentle, friendly and humorous tone that makes you feel from page one that you are in the company of a friend. As with his other novels, Down in Demerara is a comfortable read that draws you in quickly, but it is also pleasing to note the leaps and bounds that Mike’s writing has matured by in his third novel (no doubt thanks to the guidance of his writing tutor Fay Weldon: if you’re going to take advice from anyone, Fay is pretty much as good as it gets!). Mike’s own passion for spreading the word about the magic of Guyana and for challenging our assumptions about people and places comes through loud and clear, and makes for a refreshing and funny read in his sparkling new book.

Down In Demerara is published by Tangent Books. Pre-order your copy from this link.

Monday, 27 August 2018

123 Miles Later - A Tail of Gromit Hunting

Bristol In Bloom, outside St Mary Redcliffe
When Aardman Animations conceived the Gromit Unleashed 2 trail, they were probably largely focussed on finding a fun way for families to explore Bristol while generating some cash for The Grand Appeal. And that’s certainly happened. But they forgot to take into account another group of Gromit hunters: obsessive runners who are determined to find all 67 statues on foot. (NB: I’m using ‘Gromit’ to also include the Wallaces and Feathers. Accept it!)
With a two-month window, this seemed perfectly achievable. However, first I needed to exclude every single working day because I have a full-time job. I also needed to exclude four days in August when I was away. And several weekends when I had long races (and then periods before and after those races to rest). I also lost a week due to illness, which required some re-jigging. So: challenge accepted!

Champion, in Downend
Zone One
The Bristol city centre Gromits (the zone one Gromits, if you will) were largely no trouble to tick off swiftly, aside from a pesky handful hidden away behind locked doors and restricted opening hours that don’t work well for those with jobs. The staff at the two Marriott hotels, which both had Gromits in their bars, managed not to look in any way disgusted at the sight of a sweaty, red-faced runner trudging in and out to pose for photos and click an app, which was very professional of them.

Space Oddi-Tea, on Wapping Wharf

I live only a mile from Arnos Vale Cemetery but, due to their 5pm closing time, it was a massive logistical challenge to get their Gromit… unless I climbed into the cemetery over a wall that I’d heard mention of (but I’d rather not have to break in anywhere). In desperation to find time, the day before a 16-mile, stupidly hilly, off-road race, I tagged a few extra miles onto my Ashton Court parkrun pilgrimage to run in the opposite direction and get the Arnos Vale Cemetery Gromit. A 10-mile run in blazing heat the day before a tough race was perhaps ill advised but to get the Gromit it had to be done. Zone Two
A few after-work runs picked up the zone two-esque Gromits up on the Downs and by the Observatory, or out in Easton, Gloucester Road, Winterbourne and Hartcliffe etc.
Gromit took me to see some parts of Bristol that I might not otherwise have seen. While I found Hartcliffe Community Farm a very dejected place, to reach it I excitingly had to run across the former Whitchurch airfield (now a community park but soon to be trampled and turned into a housing estate), which was pretty special. Later research dug up a fascinating woman who will now be going in Volume Two of my book The Women Who Built Bristol and I would not have found her without Gromit.

Amazing Grace, on Chipping Sodbury High Street

And although the roads of Bradley Stoke are hardly known for their charm, I chose to get those two Gromits on the same humid night that everyone else watched the semi-finals of the men’s football. This meant that I enjoyed a somewhat 28 Days Later experience as the roads were virtually deserted with everyone tucked away indoors watching on a big screen as some men ran around a Russian field. However, the Aerospace Gromit necessitated TWO (two!) soul-sapping trips from Bedminster to Filton due to the fact it was locked away at 5pm every day (last entry at 4pm!)… which is, quite simply, unreasonable when most jobs require staff to be at their desks until 5.30pm.

Zone Three

Cubby, at Avon Valley Wildlife Park - with my Two Tunnels Half Marathon medal that I earned on my way to finding him
Now… those pesky zone three outliers. The Gromits in places like Chew, Weston and Thornbury caused the biggest headaches if they were to be reached on foot… Thankfully, a few were near parkrun locations (I parkrun every Saturday, that’s the law), and while Eastville and Ashton Court are easy enough to run to from home, I decided that it was OK to drive to Chipping Sodbury and Thornbury, run the parkruns and then run straight on to get the local Gromits. Plus I was fifth woman at Thornbury parkrun that day, so that was a double triumph!
Our family of Gromits en route to Weston in the rain, to start the journey to get the last two statues
Merry-Go Gromit, at Puxton Park: my final Gromit
The second most challenging Gromits were the Weston-super-Mare and Puxton Park ones, with their unhelpfully early closing times (both of those Gromits are locked behind gates). However, we found out Weston Pier was staying open until 10pm on Friday nights throughout August and there was one just Friday that both my friend and I could do (in reality, Weston Pier decided to cancel the late night opening at the last minute... which they forgot to advertise, causing some frantic last minute changes of plans). But that still didn’t help us with Puxton Park and their 5.30pm closing time.
The plan had been to get the train to Weston and run the 20 miles home via Puxton Park… but the combined perils of the Gromits’ early closings, working hours and train timetables meant this was just not possible without taking an afternoon off work. So we had to admit defeat and take the train to Weston to get that Gromit moments before the grille was pulled in front of the Gromit, then run on to a closed Puxton Park, where we could climb over the five-bar gate despite and run down the driveway despite it being after closing time. The torrential driving rain that evening only added to the fun! (Note to Aardman: please don’t hide Gromits behind early closing gates!) However, the prize for the most challenging Gromit was the one at Chew Valley Lake, which is locked behind a gate after sunset (which is a vague time). Which is why one drizzly Sunday morning I got up early and spent three hours running a 16 mile round trip to Chew and back (including 1,728 feet of hills, which is the same as climbing the outside of the Shard in London… twice!) to get one solitary Gromit. And trust me, most of those roads were not made for running on - at least half the route had no pavements meaning you have to run on the road, which isn’t really safe… but there didn’t seem much alternative unless I drove, which defeated the object. (Note to Aardman: please put Gromits where we can safely access them without needing a car!)

Marshall, at Chew Valley Lake - I developed an irrational sense of hatred for this statue
I sound like I’m moaning but I’m not. I loved the Gromit trail and the challenge of getting them all on foot, even though at times it really was a logistical headache that required countless revisions. I enjoyed seeing the different designs the artists had come up with, and I’ve now bought my very own mini Gromit soft toy from the shop (he came with me on the run to collect the final two statues) - though the app wilfully refuses to let me scan him. I’ve enjoyed being taken on a tour of some parts of Bristol that I didn’t previously know, and I’ve also been pleased to be given some purpose to my long marathon training runs to save me from running up and down the Bristol to Bath cycle path every weekend! Plus, I’ve found at least one new Woman Who Built Bristol thanks to Gromit. I've also discovered a lovely new dog walking location for my real life dog at Manor Valley Woods (on my way back from Chew), and finally got to run on the Frome Valley Walkway (on my way to Winterbourne), which I fully intend to explore properly before autumn kicks in. When’s the next Aardman trail? Please make it soon!

A close-up of Peek A Boo!, at Blaise Castle - my favourite Gromit
Gromit stats: My favourite Gromit was the one at Blaise Castle featuring children’s book illustrations by Belle & Boo. I liked the nostalgic style of the illustrations that reminded me of books I’d enjoyed as a child (and still enjoy as an adult). My least favourite was the absolute dickhead in a fireman’s hat at Chew Valley Lake, largely because it was such a bloody pain - and not very safe - to get to (and I had to see a physio to get my calves unknotted after those punishing Dundry hills). Total mileage run: I ran 123 miles collecting Gromits (though I didn’t always take the most efficient route as sometimes I was deliberately trying to up my mileage, and for the much more remote ones sometimes I drove - and once took a train - to begin my run if it just wasn't realistic to run there from Bedminster). Number of other people run with: 24, including two group Gromit runs that I led with my running club.

Spock, outside The Mall at Cribbs Causeway