Back to Britain - part 4: Swindon

I don't intend to visit Swindon when I return to the UK, but I think most Americans should be forced to drive round Swindon - for the hell of it and to boost the entertainment industry.

That's because Swindon in Wiltshire is home to the so-called "Magic Roundabout," which is actually a series of five mini roundabouts. The first time I encountered it I had only recently learned to drive and almost had a fit.

Americans tend to get freaked out by one roundabout as they are not very common round these parts. Add to the equation the fact you are driving on the left side of the road and going clockwise round the traffic island and this could be a recipe for panic. Whoever designed the Magic Roundabout probably didn't like Americans much.

According to Wikipedia, In February 2009 artist/filmmaker Tom White completed the short experimental film, Swindon Roundabouts. The film "consists of long hypnotic shots of the roundabout and its surrounding area collaged with interviews of local residents and an unsettling soundtrack. The film is intended as a homage to the late Frank Blackmore, inventor of the mini-roundabout," and general American hater.

I'd like to believe Tom White has since got a life but what are the chances really?

I always tried to avoid Swindon even though it was close to my home because it was so ugly and annoying.

But when I landed a summer job in the college recess as a mobile hot dog seller, I had little choice but to go there.

The hot dog company was a winning enterprize run by a man called Sleazy Keith - I have no idea what his real name was - who had made himself a millionaire on the backs of gullible students.

In a rickety Mastro van I would head over the hills and down into Swindon. On one particular night the van got stuck in second gear. As I inched through the bad part of Swindon (that would be all of it) with a high pitched whine coming from the engine, I became conscious this was the red light district and I risked being accused of curb crawling in a hot dog van because I couldn't get the accursed thing to speed up.

My rather classy training manager had told me during the induction it was his habit to give free hot dogs to the hookers, if they did something or other for his hot dog. I didn't ask for details.

But I got to a concrete parking lot without event (unlike the reversing problem I had in Worcester that caused bumper-maggeddon). I'd then light up the greasy old fat and get some burgers and hot dogs ready for the influx from the nightclubs when everyone became intoxicated enough to think my food was edible.

Trouble came in the form of Rude Girl in her pretty yellow party dress.

"Just get me a hot dog you horrible little man."

"Yes maam. I must say your dress is rather radiant tonight."

"Oh fack off and give me more mustard."

"Um this tube is rather a struggle I must say maam."

There was a sudden release as the mustard shot all over her new frock.

"Agggghhhhh.... look what you've done."

"At least it's yellow maam. Nobody will notice unless, well..."

Such was a day in the life of the bustling metropolis that is Swindon. Later that night Furtive Man came along and whispered: "Do you know where the whores are?"

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't catch that."

"The wh, wh  whores,"

"Again, sir."

"The whores."

"Oh," I exclaimed in the earshot of the line that had formed. "You'd like to know where you can find the whores. No idea, sir. Although there's this girl in a mustard yellow dress.."

I'd head home in the early hours, my van rattling and shaking over the hills; at least that wason  the nightswhen  I didn't kill the battery and have to get my dad to fetch me, rather unwillingly.

Then at the end of the week, when I had raccoon rings under my eyes from all the late nights, Dodgy Keith would hand me a check for about $150.

"Is that is. For five nights a week?'

"You appear to have been eating your profits," he'd inform me.

Keith would promise me if I worked hard I could be like Jockie, a wheezing Scotsman who had a lucrative pitch by the cattle market. He made about $500 a week.

Jockie was flushed, overweight and choleric. He looked like he ate his profits, too. I figured he's only be around for another couple of years and his cattle market pitch might be all mine.

But who was I kidding? I saw through Dodgy Keith and the frightening gray flannel pants he wore in all weathers, his over shiny shoes and his top of the line Ford Granada with velvet seats and electric windows.

"Nope, Keith. I've been offered a 9-5 office job that doesn't involve going anywhere near Swindon. Thanks but, no thanks."


  1. lol "Dodgy Keith". I'm glad you immortalized him here. Sounds like the perfect character for a novel.
    We had a roundabout (small) put in my area 2 years ago. It caused no end of consternation. Fortunately, it's not a well-traveled road, and is perfect for introducing young student drivers to one of the quirkier road hazards they might encounter.
    Cool photo. It took me a bit to figure out what was going on.

  2. Having never seen or been near a roundabout before, I'm not sure I understand their purpose... aside from making drivers insane---

    Oh, and "Sleazy Keith" aka "Dodgy Keith" sounds like a real prince...the kind of slimy, douche that sounds like a real prize when he admits to making millions with his hotdog....

  3. I've heard of those roundabouts, but thankfully I've never driven on one. With any luck, I won't ever have to! :-)

  4. I think you should make a special nostalgic trip back, search out Sleazy Keef and take him out for a slap up hot dog lunch to thank him for the memories.

  5. oh my, where to start commenting? The roundabout, the mustard yellow dress (thanks to your addition) or the brilliant sharing of the trip down memory lane? I'm so glad I live where I do, roundabouts and all! Take care David, that place might just suck you back into it's horrendous vortex again. Sue

  6. I would need to practice when there's no other drivers there. I'm guessing that's not possible. It looks very intimidating. I'm scared.

  7. Reminds me of the scene in national lampoons european vacation where Chevy Chase is stuck on a London roundabout all day....quality.

  8. You and your wacky adventures. Haha!

    And that Swindon roundabout times five looks...frightning. I can't even IMAGINE learning how to drive in that thing. It looks like a nightmare.

  9. Ack- I have trouble with the yield, never mind a roundabout. That is plain crazy!
    (I've got to look up that Swindon Roundabouts film, though.) ;)

  10. Liked the first commenter's thought...would make a memorable book character..a villain...Charles Dickens style.
    maybe they should host some motor car races in the "magic roundabouts"...sure to boost local trade.

  11. Oh my hat. A roundabout like that would have killed me when I got to the UK, as I had to drive between London and Gloucester a couple of times (a collective experience that permanently relieved me of the desire to drive ever again).

    I like this: "the bad part of Swindon (that would be all of it)".

  12. I am not surprised that a troubled girl showed up in a yellow party dress :)

  13. Oh, I love roundabouts. If nobody is around, I will go around them more times then necessary. They're the vehicular equivalent to revolving doors. Loads of fun, although driving the opposite way on the opposite side of the car is quite challenging. I almost ran over a few people who thought crossing the road might be safe.
    You're youthful adventures sound a bit dangerous and maybe even shady. Sleazy, Dodgy Keith. Hmmm.....with a name like that, I'm not so sure I'd want a job from him. Creepy! You were brave....or desperate, I remember those days. :l

  14. Okay I'll play the dumb American. How exactly does that thing up there work? Do you just make little loops around the one big loop or can you just skip 3 and circle 2 or if you're so inclined just loop around the one big one? And after further review are you entirely sure that that monstrosity up there is a better solution than a stoplight?

  15. I'm dumb enough to know, I suppose, never to drive in the UK. I take the train or catch a ride. The yellow mustard story made me laugh. Is that fiction?

  16. Marvelous, Li - he could be a Martin Amis character, I'm not sure re the point of that one e.a.s - he made much of the fact he couldn't even write his name at school but he became a millionaire. You should check one out, Daisy. Hmm, not exactly top of the must visit list, Sarah - glad you liked the piece, Sue. The best way is just grit your teeth and go for it, Robyn.

  17. yeah I recall Ryan, thought it was Rome for some reason. It's one of those 'try before you die' things Jennifer. I know Jayne - the roundabout film sounds like a real blockbuster. That's quite an idea, Rek. Ha Emm - that would entail a lot of roundabouts. I know Olga, yellow attracts trouble. For sure Heather - I guess during the summer we did all sorts of nasty jobs for a few bob. Fraid you can't skip Anna, you have to tackle them one at a time. That's actually true Shopgirl, the dialogue's a bit embelished for sure..tho


Post a Comment

Popular Posts