Monday, 30 August 2010

Satans in Budleigh Salterton's Public Hall

Budleigh Salterton Public Hall. Is the sun really setting on the last of the demoscene parties to be held here?

OK, so my fears at of a Goth invasion of Budleigh were somewhat alarmist, but there's a real event coming up shortly which sounds even weirder.

After all, if you eavesdropped on an all-night gathering where the guests with names like Vampire, Spiny, Darkblade and Evil Paul were muttering about their SatanDisk in a darkened room only a few minutes from the High Street you might well be phoning the vicar to get an exorcist down there before you can say "Hell's teeth!"

Especially if you know that after their mysterious rituals, in the Public Hall of all places, 20 or 30 of them will be heading down to the beach to do what one of them rejoicing in the name of Cihatari describes as "reveling in the flickering light of a bonfire made from driftwood and random burny stuff." What on earth could they be burning, you might ask.

But don't worry, they've been coming here every September for the last five years and Budleigh's reputation for gentility remains as intact as it ever was, just as it has with our naturist beach tucked discreetly away 500 metres to the west of Steamer Steps.

And really, these people, rather than deserving to be described as Budleigh's September Satanists, are just a bunch of harmless nerds like me who get even more of a buzz than I do to be plugged into their computers and creating their own special virtual world.

Sundown party-goers in the Public Hall

These are the Sundowners. I know that makes them sound like creatures of the night who might be best friends of Dracula and his virgins, but the concept is a bit perplexing to an outsider. "Sundown is a relatively small, UK-orientated demoparty, aimed at fostering and expanding creative talents and programming skills in the demoscene," is one definition I've read.

The demoscene itself, in a comment from a useful video on the subject at has been described as "an artistic and staunchly non-commercial computer subculture."

The first party at Budleigh Salterton was organised five years ago by Ruairi Fullam (known in the demoscene as "rc55") to see whether such an event was viable. After consulting members of the UK demoscene community, the hall was hired, and networking, audio systems and projection were arranged. The event was publicised mainly by word of mouth and demoscene websites and managed to attract around 45 visitors. It took place on 9-11 September 2005.

This year's is again a weekend event on Friday 3 September from 5.00 pm until 9.00 pm on the Sunday. And, so the website says at "we’re planning to make this year's event the best ever!" But somewhat sadly I read that it will be the sixth and final party.

The UK's Eidos developed Lara Croft, the most successful video game heroine ever.

Lara Croft image: copyright held by Eidos Interactive.
Part of the creative team behind the more recent wildly successful Sackboy are former demosceners.

For these Sundowners are clearly talented and creative types, many of whom are making a vital contribution to the UK economy, as well as to Budleigh Salterton's High Street during their weekend stay in the town. The video and computer games industry - for that is what this demoscene thing is all about - has been described as a rare example of Britain punching above its weight. In 2006 games generated £2 billion in retail sales in the UK, £370 million was invested in games creation and 21,000 people were employed in games development, publishing and retail.

The UK games market is still the largest in Europe, and although the industry has slipped from third to fourth in terms of revenue as the largest producer of games the British sector is still among the world's leaders, closely behind the US, Japan and Canada. Most multinational games companies choose to locate their European headquarters in the UK and we have by far the largest concentration of games development studios in Europe with clusters around, for example, Brighton, Dundee, Guildford, Leeds, Cambridge, Liverpool, Manchester, Coventry and Leamington Spa.

"I can understand why people might look at us as a load of freaks!" admits Ruairi. "I suppose we are but this is no different from those who indulge in fantasy football, role playing, dressing up or whatnot. Sometimes even I have to step outside when things get too geeky!"

He estimates that between 33% and 50% of the Sundowners are professional games developers, while many see it simply as a hobby. Some have a specialist interest. "One member's work background is in the area of visualisation for cancer tumours," says Ruairi referring me to

"It's all very cutting edge and visually striking," he says of the on-screen activities on display in the Public Hall.

Relatively few Budleigh residents have been aware of the September Sundown parties which have been a highlight of the demoscene over the years, and yet the event has helped to put the town on the map in some unexpected quarters. "Despite it being a subculture, it galvanises friendships and helps create collaborations and teams that are responsible for some incredible games that translate into revenue measured in hundreds of millions of dollars," Ruairi told me.

Entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, above, an early visitor to the Sundown party in Budleigh Salterton
Photo credit: Martin Schmitt

"At Sundown 2006 one of our visitors was Mark Shuttleworth, the first South African in space and a philanthropist worth $60m, who was looking to find people to assist with his development of a free Windows alternative operating system."

Promotional theatrical poster for Toy Story

The demoscene itself has long been of interest to technology companies like Intel, the world's largest semiconductor chip maker which runs its own demo competition Another company whose interest has been piqued by what Ruairi calls " this special but unconventional community" is Pixar the computer animation studio whose cinematic successes include Toy Story. "They are big fans and some employees there are demosceners too."

So why on earth did they choose Budleigh Salterton for their annual covens? Sorry, I meant to say "conventions." After all, the computer gaming industry is hardly creating playgrounds for pensioners, and I did read an online rather rude comment by a Sundowner called Cihatari about the local population here, "many of whom have had to be carbon-dated to establish their age."

The answer, as Ruairi told me, is that this is just a very pleasant place in which to organise an event like the Sundown party. He himself lives in Exeter and has a sister in Budleigh Salterton so he knows the area well. "We've had great support from the Town Council over our use of the Public Hall," he says, praising the "very patient" Jo Vanstone who as Town Clerk has been his principal point of contact here. The Public Hall itself is an ideal location. "Our capacity is 64 table places, first come, first served, and we can accommodate another 36 seated visitors, maybe more as we tweak the floorplans at time goes by."

But after five years of partying, 28-year-old Ruairi thinks it might be time for a change and the final Sundown party, feeling that he deserves at least a year off. On the other hand, he admits, he might carry on. Perhaps, after all, the annual visits to Budleigh are as addictive as the gaming.
A high-speed picture of the Sundowners partying in the Public Hall is at But it's the demoscene masterpiece by that Sundowner mentioned earlier, the one specialising in visualised cancer tumours, which remains for me the abiding image of the sort of thing that's been going on at this Budleigh event. "Absolutely stellar work" Ruari calls it, and I just had to agree. Click on and see what you think.

These Sundown parties have clearly been as much a part of the East Devon cultural scene for their creativity and imaginative thinking as any of our successful Budleigh festivals. I do hope they continue.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Art Club prizewinners 2010

Judge Maggie Giraud congratulates Sheila Stacey winner of the Alan Cotton Trophy for Oil Painting

I've yet to visit Budleigh Salterton's 2010 Art Club summer show. I always look forward to seeing new views of Budleigh by its members, as well admiring the eclectic range of work which shows how much talent there is in the Club.

With all that talent around the members feel justified in a bit of self-congratulation, and as usual prizes have been awarded for various categories. East Devon has attracted many distinguished artists and some of them who came to live in the Budleigh area have given their names to the Art Club prizes.
Alan Cotton is an internationally celebrated landscape painter who lives at Colaton Raleigh just a few miles from Budleigh Salterton; this year's Alan Cotton Trophy for Oil Painting was won by Art Club member Sheila Stacey.

A delighted Neil Rogers holds up his winning painting, judges' choice for the Cecil Elgee Memorial prize.

Cecil Elgee was a successful watercolourist and book illustrator who became a Budleigh Salterton resident. Along with her paintings of animals, she is known for the paintings of India that she completed between 1922-1927 which depict different castes and creeds in the sub-continent. The Cecil Elgee Memorial prize was won by Club member Neil Rogers, who also won the Dorothy Bradshaw Cup for Watercolour or Gouache.

Another noted artist and former Budleigh resident was Joyce Dennys; Club member Maggie Ware was awarded the Joyce Dennys Bowl for Human Interest Painting.

New member Lauren Hagger won the Priscilla Hull trophy for 3D.

Budleigh Salterton Art Club is keen to encourage fresh talent, and two prizes were won by new members. Lauren Hagger, 26, a qualified marine biologist who won the Priscilla Hull trophy for 3D, joined the Club to learn from other artists. The Talisman Trophy for acrylic painting was won by the Club's newest member Chris Hooper.

Jan Hughes, Chairman and Priscilla Hull, judge

Other prizewinners included Jed Falby, The Les Ransley Memorial Award
(Line, or Line & Wash)
Maggie Norman (Priscilla Hull Trophy Collage or Mixed Media)
Ken Simmonds (Beryl Hammond Award Floral Painting)
Jenny Baker (now Jenny Ware) (Bill Cockerill Memorial Trophy New member, Open Category)

The final prize for The Public’s Favourite, is an Open Category and will be advised in September. In 2009 a total of 757 votes were cast by visitors for their favourite picture.

Budleigh Salterton Art Club's Summer Show - now in its 32nd year - is at the Public Hall, in Station Road, opens daily from 10.00 am until 6.00 pm and runs until Monday 30 August. For more information about the Club click on

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Not a clerical error

Pictured above: Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz and Rev. Jade "JD" Benson, new ministers at the First Parish Church in Budleigh Salterton's sister town of Brewster, Massachusetts

It seems a long time ago now that I wrote about Brewster First Parish Church's search for a new pastor at

Inspired as I was by the Church's rigorous resolve to conduct its search for a suitable candidate in a totally unprejudiced way I imagined that it would be many years before the ideal person was found.

So I'm delighted to report that not just one but two new ministers have been chosen and are taking up their duties this month.

The Rev Mary Ganz and her partner the Rev Jade Benson have been welcomed in a spirit of open-mindedness and tolerance which characterises the Brewster church, the first in its denomination 20 years ago to welcome bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people.

I can't imagine too many churches in the UK which would be bold enough to make such an appointment. I suppose that the reaction of a couple of my churchgoing friends was pretty typical. "Oh, they're weird!" was their comment on learning that it was a Unitarian Universalist church that had caught my eye with this news. But what I'd found weird was my upbringing as a Roman Catholic, and my education at the criminal hands of some Irish Christian Brothers at their boarding school in the 1950s: I tend to be rather liberal in my views as a result.

Brewster First Parish Church's website devoted to the search for a Senior Minister can be reached at

Goth invasion in Budleigh?

Surfing the net the other day I was surprised to see one of my photos being used without permission on the above site which was carrying ads for Bondage & Fetish DVDs, especially as the photo was of our own Fairlynch Museum.

I couldn't really see a connection, except that the page at also had ads for a Gothic Beauty Magazine and Free UK Goth Dating, as well as mentioning another site called

And then I wondered whether the Dark Wave Doom people had seen our town's museum as a suitable venue for Goth gatherings.

Fairlynch, with its "Gothic windows and thatch, typical of the 'cottage orné ' tradition" as described in East Devon District Council's excellent Budleigh Salterton Conservation Area Appraisal at
is of course one of our town's famous landmarks.

Publicity poster for Bloodstock 2010: unlikely to be displayed in Budleigh Salterton
And then, on digging further into the Dark Wave Doom site I discovered that there was mention of a Bloodstock festival at It turns out, from looking at that many Goths will be in attendance at what is famous for being the UK's largest heavy metal music festival at Catton Hall near Derby from 13-15 August 2010.

Budleigh Salterton of course is famous for its charming little Budstock Festival about which I wrote at

So a further thought has struck me: someone may have confused Bloodstock and Budstock, and the Goths may well be heading south from Derby thinking that Fairlynch is where it all happens in August. They will be disappointed.

Heath Quartet to play at Budleigh Salterton

The Heath Quartet: playing at Budleigh Salterton

This month's concert in the St Peter's Music series will consist of chamber works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Beethoven, performed by the Heath Quartet.

To add to their earlier prizes and awards, the Heath Quartet has in the last few years had spectacular success in the music world. Selected by Young Concert Artists Trust (YCAT) in 2008, the Quartet won 1st Prize and the Audience Prize at the 2008 Tromp International Competition in Eindhoven and 2nd Prize at the 2009 Haydn International Competition in Vienna along with Special Prizes for the best interpretation of a work by Haydn and of a commissioned composition. The Quartet went on to give recitals throughout the Netherlands, including their Concertgebouw debut, took part in the Haydn Bicentenary in the Esterhazy Palace and gave concerts at the Konzerthaus in Vienna, Sage Gateshead (broadcast by BBC Radio 3) and Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany.

The Heath Quartet was formed in 2002 at the Royal Northern College of Music, under the guidance of the late Dr. Christopher Rowland and Alasdair Tait, with whom they continued their studies at the Reina Sofia in Madrid. Other teachers have included Gabor Takacs-Nagy and members of the Alban Berg, Smetana, Endellion, Lindsay and La Salle Quartets.

Engagements during 2010/11 include return visits to Wigmore Hall and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; debut recitals at the Musikverein in Vienna, the Konzerthaus in Berlin and Schwetzinger Festspiele in Germany and a Radio 3 broadcast from Birmingham Town Hall. The Quartet will collaborate with Brett Dean, Stephen Hough, Colin Currie and the Tokyo String Quartet and undertake a residency at the Brighton Dome.


CERYS JONES - violin

Thursday 26 August at 7.30 p.m. St Peter's Church, Budleigh Salterton

Tickets are £12. For information on how to obtain tickets click on

Peaculiar story from Brewster

Pea plants: better grown in the garden than in your lung

Every so often one's quiet little home town becomes for a few days the focus of the world's media. It happened to Budleigh Salterton in March this year with those tragic images flashed around the globe of the poor starfish, washed up in their thousands on our pebble beach for some mysterious reason as I recorded at

I never did discover the true reason for their demise. Was it really an appetite for Budleigh mussels, as the Environment Agency suggested? Or had the sex-starved little creatures planned a great big orgy on the beach, part of which is set aside as a naturist zone? The headlines got really quite lurid, culminating in a horrid story of how they ended up in a Chinese takeaway.

This time, it's the turn of our American sister-town of Brewster to be in the spotlight with the extraordinary story of 75-year-old Ron Sveden's lung "tumor" which turned out to be a pea sprout. Doctors had originally thought that the dark mass revealed by an X-ray after Mr Sveden's symptons of heavy coughing could only be malignant and discovered the truth only after a bronchoscope was used to investigate the lung. After successful surgery to remove the pea sprout the patient has apparently recovered well, which is a happier conclusion than the story of the starfish.

Well, that story appeared not just in Massachusetts media but as a news item published in a newspaper which I learnt appears in 17 languages in 33 countries across five continents. Brewster could well by now be even more famous than Budleigh Salterton. The best part of the story is that it's got me blogging again after a long silence which I have to blame on the fine weather and the call of the garden.

Now that I've finished planting all the rhododendrons that I'd been dreaming about before I relocated to an acidic soil area I'm dabbling with fruit-growing. But of course things like blueberries are bird-magnets. So building my DIY fruit cage, made out of recycled material, has been yet another time-consuming but enjoyable project which has kept me off the keyboard. Our British summer arrived a few days ago, so you should be hearing from me more regularly.