1994 A Turning Point Year

The Bridgwater Czech-Slovak Friendship Society had been set up in 1991, achieved a formal twinning in 1992 and expanded its programme massively in 1993. 1994 was to be an even bigger programme, often back to back, country to country. But it was still a strange mix between grass roots making ends meet, DIY home hosting and budget accommodation and at the same time an increasing pressure from more established travellers demanding hotels and air travel. Nobody made a profit from any of this and grants and fundraising were crucial, and we were getting more and more EU money as we were clearly leading the way nationally with regards ‘development’ work in the 10 new ‘expansion’ states. In 1994 it was to come to a head, as with any revolutionary organisation, with a little power struggle…

Thurs Jan 6 Petr Hrdlicka the Czech Ambassador visited Bridgwater as the Embassy caught on to the vast and important programme taking place in this little town. There’s a specially organised ’12th Night’ show at the art centre which includes a Czech hat dance (with Budvar caps), a ‘Mummers play’, wine and food.

The ‘hat dance’

Feb 1-9 European funding allows an annual ‘planning trip’ to Czech rep. Smedley usually goes alone. On this occasion flying from City Airport to Berlin Templehof and then train to Prague where he is met by Bela Lukasova whose spare flat in Troja he is provided with. Contacts are met in Prague and plans made then a train to Uherske Hradiste. IN UH the top clerk was Frantisek Rochovansky and the town council supported the Bridgwater link. The Cesko-Anglicky Klub was run by Liba Koluchova and supported by Antonin Machala and Jana Hubena. But also in Ceske Budejovice the link was developing thanks to the work of Alena Tragrova and Eva Kordova. Meetings at the Masne Kramy beer hall were a regular feature of Smedley’s visits to CB. And in Prague new links were developing, now with the Klub for Old Prague whose secretary Tomas Kleisner was a big supporter.

Thurs 17 Feb Smedley and McCausland speak at the Lewisham Conference on International exchanges and the Bridgwater link is recognised as the countries primary Czech one.

Wed 16 March Petra Kobertova from the European Links section of LGIB visits Bridgwater and confirms grants for Bridgwater

April 6-17 Visit to Uherske Hradiste by the Bridgwater Young Farmers. Smedley drives the minibus. 12 travel. Organisers are Polly Ashford and Mark Peters. They link up with the UH Agricultural college and are home hosted. The group is banned from a wine bar in UH after singing a song about ‘donkeys arse’ to the tune of Scotland the brave while marching around the wine bar with upturned chairs as bagpipes. By Nuremburg Smedley locks himself in the minibus as he discovers he’s the only one still wearing trousers.

During the Spring of 1994 the idea for ‘Czechomania’ a major music and theatre project is devised. LGIB money will be used to bring together Czech and  Bridgwater actors and musicians who create a show and then perform it in both countries. Jo Cox and Gareth Beasley are brought in to direct, Smedley to be musical director.  During various visits during the year, Czechs are met, recommended and auditioned.

Thurs 14 April during a visit to Ceske Budejovice headmaster and city councillor Jan Zahradnik takes Smedley to a ‘strip club’ where they meet Jitka Charyparova (who is a performance artiste sending up the  strippers). She is signed up for Czechomania

May 25-June 4 The Second ‘Kings Ride’ trip is a disaster in the eyes of some travellers. Sub-standard accommodation is claimed but really there’s a clash between grass roots travellers and luxury travellers. Some of the aggrieved luxury travellers go to the press with claims of ‘East European cell block accommodation’. However, a Czech society meeting where the whole society could have come crumbling down in a wave of bad publicity is rescued by a speech from College photography teacher Ian Mason who defended the grassroots nature of the project.

Mon 13 June Antonin Machala has been building up his business Altech since 1992. Now he was in England to buy items and to make links with the Stannah stairlift company. He visits Bridgwater. People try to help him.

June 17-23 Jana Hubena and Stan Vadura bring a UH student group o Bridgwater. After the visit Jana leaves some students to work on the HOPS project on farms, however they find it a bit hard going as many of the other workers are Poles and Russians who are basically just being exploited as cheap labour by farmers and put in poor accommodation.

July 1-12 Czech group organised by Lea Slovackova arrives. The group bus is broken into on Splash car park and things stolen. However, Czech currency remains unconvertible and so a young girl is caught trying to change it in a bank and the robbers are tracked down to literally the house next door to where the bus was parked (in Blacklands).

Tues 12 July Smedley’s new/old Skoda 120 is destroyed when a cow hits it. The NFU pays for a replacement and this is used  to take Jo Cox and Gareth Beasley to the Czech rep for the Czechomania planning trip 13 July to 3 Aug. The group recruit Martin Vorisek & Lenka Mikulova in CB and the Gabriel brothers (Stan and Pavel) in UH. The opportunity to recruit Irena Rejskova from CB is almost missed when the interview is wrongly shceduled. Tanya Wesker (daughter or playwright Arnold) chases Smedley through the streets of CB and points out the mistake. Irena is recruited.

July 24 – Aug 3 Largest ever tour. King Alfreds concert Band is some 80 strong and includes a coach, a minibus and a van.  Departs 24th July with Smedley driving the minibus. Stop at Nurnburg July 25. Stay at Strahov in Prague 26-27. Then Uherske Hradiste 28-29-30 July, staying at Hluk. The band play concerts at Buchlovice and Luhacovice. The summer is especially hot and mosquito-full. 3 children are ill. The KA band is a ‘steel band’..the czechs mistake this for a ‘brass band’ and provide a ‘dechovka’ band instead. The mismatch isnt great.. 31 July 1 Aug the tour moves to Ceske Budejovice where they play a concert. 2+3 Aug the band drive home.

10 Aug John Gwilliam resigns as Chairman. Mac McCausland is elected Chair with Smedley as secretary and Dave Hanna as treaurer.

7 Aug -17 September The Czechomania project takes place, first in Bridgwater and then toured to Czech Republic. It is EU funded and along with the 6 Czechs also includes Ali Cox, Zora Blanche, Sam Jones and Nick Osborne. Gareth also gets his Manchester Uni mate Justin Edwards to take part. Justin goes on to become a professional TV and film actor and comedian. The project is filmed and regarded as a major success. Some artwork by David Newton depicting the changes in Czech since westernisation are well received especially regarding the currency,

October 21-31 The Smedley family drive to the Czech Republic for a holiday..but really it’s another planning trip and everywhere they go plans are made for future projects. It’s been a bad couple of months. They’d been burgled and then evicted and on return Smedley discovers that a faction in the Labour Party has de-selected him whilst away. After a brief power struggle Smedley is saved by cllr Mick Lerry standing down in his Hamp seat (where Smedley lives) and Smedley winning selection there alongside John Turner. The plotters are thwarted.

Sat 3 Dec The Czech society organises a SEDGEMOOR TWINNING FORUM. 38 people attend from all the different twinning groups. It is a success. Cy Bartlett chairs the meeting.

As a result of the Czechomania Project Jo Cox is recruited by the Czech English High school for a year to work over there.

During 1993-94 we had hosted 91 Czechs in Bridgwater and taken 105 Brits to Czech.

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