Monday, 13 March 2017

RIP the UK of GB & NI (1922-2019)

So it has been a historic day. The 13th March 2017. The day everything changed. Forever.

The day when the House of Lords caved in and allowed Theresa May to trigger Article 50 within days and also the day when Nicola Sturgeon called for a 2nd Scottish independence referendum within 24 months.

Of course, the two are inextricably linked. Had England and Wales not voted for Brexit in as much number as they did to overturn the Remain majority in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Sturgeon wouldn't have been handed the 'game-changer' that gave her the moral right to call a 2nd referendum so soon after the first. I have to say it, she's right to do so.

So Theresa May and those who wanted 'their country back' will get it. That country however won't be 'Great Britain', it will be 'Little England with Wales on the side'.

Good luck to Scotland as it moves inexorably towards independence. As for Northern Ireland? I think it's time that they seriously look to unite with our fellow Celtic cousins south of the border - as difficult as that will understandably be for so many in the communities of the north.

So yes, 13th March 2017 is a historic day.

I don't say this with any pleasure. As a Federalist, I have believed in the strength of the Union of nations that has made up the United Kingdom. But the loss of our place at the heart of the European Union, for those of us who are internationalist to our bones, is a monumental blow. For those who live in Northern Ireland and Scotland who will see their country ripped out of the EU against the collective will of their own nations, it is a critical moment from which there is no turning back.

A Historian's Perspective
As I say, it is with great sorrow that I accept that these coming truths to be self-evident. I do so as a historian, with an eye to the past as a lesson for the future.

Many who voted for Brexit will not have realised the consequences of their actions. They will not have voted Brexit because they wanted to see the break-up of the Union. But their decision will result directly in that final destruction of the Union as we know it today and have known it for the past century. To not accept this fact is to be wholly condescending to the individual cultural and national identities that make up the Union. It is also to be deluded.

The decision made on the 23rd June 2016 changed everything. But dependant on the Government's precise response to that narrow 'Leave' victory, the Union could've been salvaged. But by pursuing a 'Harsh Brexit' that will see us leave the single market, a Tory Government, that bastion of Unionist sentiment, has set in train a domino-effect that has gathered momentum to destroy all that it cherishes. It if wasn't so sad, it would be amusing.

Efforts to put a brake on the process by at least giving the people who voted for the departure to have the final say on the destination once the full picture is known, failed today in Parliament.

So Theresa May will now invoke Article 50 and Scotland will seek to wriggle out of the ensuing mess that will follow.

So yes, 13th March 2017 is a historic day. It's the day that marks the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

May the last one to leave the UK, please turn out the lights.

RIP the UK (1922-2019)

Monday, 6 February 2017

An International Family - 4 Years of Family History Research

Over four years of family history research has re-enforced to me how we are all one global, single community.

It's incredible when you scratch under the surface just a small amount, to find so many long-lost, far-flung connections around the world all with roots back to the same place.

A Pembrokeshire Base
I've been very lucky in my research in that I am based in Pembrokeshire where I can trace both my immediate paternal and maternal lines all the way back to the late 1700s at the very least.

Mine is a very 'Pembrokeshire' family on all sides with all 4 grandparents, all 8 great-grandparents and 14 of 16 great-great-grandparents buried in the county. The only missing pair are Thomas and Jane Davies who are buried in Treorchy Cemetery - I'm fortunate that their daughter Elizabeth decided to move back from the rush to coal in the valleys back to her homeland where she married David Cole. Had she not, I wouldn't be here today telling their story!

Going back another generation and again, all of those 32 ggg-grandparents that I have found are buried in Pembrokeshire apart from 1 ggg-grandfather who is buried in Glyncorrwg high up above Maesteg.

A handful of lines can be taken back centuries earlier on the back of old research carried out over many years by others and which is well documented. The Pictons of Pembrokeshire is a classic example. The current crop of researchers in many ways are standing upon the shoulders of the giants who went before and have given us so much information to work with. Our job is to add to that store of information for future generations.

An International Family
So I am very fortunate in having very firm foundations from which to explore more widely those lines off my direct branch that moved away from the county of their birth to start a new life abroad,

There is a significant family presence in Australia from various lines going back generations and links also to South Africa. There is still the much vaunted but unsubstantiated links to Patagonia in the middle of the 19th century. That is one 'lost-line' of my gg-grandfather's siblings from Brynberian that I would dearly like to discover.

Or did these 'black sheep' of the family not go to Patagonia after all but to North America?

I don't know, but if they did, they were in a long line of family lines that crossed the pond looking for a better life.

Many emigrated to find better employment in the burgeoning American coalmines after the coal industry in Pembrokeshire began to grind to a halt at the same time as the boom in the south Wales valleys.

But whether it was the coal of other issues that brought movement, move they did and over 4 years I have found a wealth of lines living throughout that great nation. With my global membership of I've been able to track down a lot information on these various lines and having vaguely made an effort at keeping all of this information in order, decided to put together a map to visualise that movement. It was greatly revealing.

Descendants in America
This map shows that from my research to date, I am confident that I have tracked down blood relatives who lived and died in at least 23 of the 50 states.

The biggest concentration focus on Kansas in the heart of America where at least 3 distinctly separate lines in my heritage converged. The same could be said for New York and Pennsylvania states. Though of all of my lines, it is the very well researched Picton line of my gggg-grandmother Elizabeth mentioned earlier in this post which has spread across great swathes of that enormous land mass.

But of course it's easy for it to have done so because we know so much about this particular family. What if as much was known about all the other lines in my family story? If only! No doubt that map would almost be full!

But then that's the frustration and in equal measure, great joy of family research - it never ends! As one door closes, so many more open. It is a never ending story.

So I shall continue to uncover that story. There is so much more to be told.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Thank You, Mr President

I don't believe that I remember the Presidency of George H.W. Bush.

I was 10 and a bit when he lost the 1992 election and handed over the Presidency the following January to Bill Clinton.

Before the World Became Important
It's odd but 1992 was a year when I seemed to become aware of a world outside of my own happy bubble at Hungerford Farm, Loveston in south Pembrokeshire. I became aware of football (and 25 years later am still saddled with being an Aston Villa fan). I became aware of F1 and delighted in roaring home Nigel Mansell to his only World Championship win that year (though I do have vague memories of the dismay as his efforts at the tail end of the previous season petered out).

I'd also become aware of politics. The 1992 General Election for this then 9 year old and the battle between Major and Kinnock loomed large that spring. But the downfall of Margaret Thatcher less than 18 months earlier in 1990? No memory. The first Iraq war of 1991? No recollection. Even by 1992, the world of international politics had yet to infiltrate my mind.

Bill Clinton
But things were to change. I began to realise that I had political instincts and a natural interest in the world at large, as well as local affairs, during my time in secondary school. As it happens, that 7 year period between 1993-2000 ran almost in direct parallel with the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.

Cheeky Bill
This of course was also the era of 'Blair' in his prime. Both got on well as they sought to forge a '3rd way' in politics. My socially liberal conscience was becoming ever clearer to me but it was also evident that I was no New, Old or any kind of Labourite. No, I was firmly a liberal and by my days studying A-Levels between 1998-2000, I was aware that I was specifically, a Liberal Democrat.

 In America though, it was a simple case of Democrat Vs Republican and my increasingly burgeoning interest in national and international politics and the beating liberal heart that was growing within me meant that as far as American politics was concerned, I would comfortably ally myself to those old Donkeys as opposed to those great Elephants.

The Monica Lewinsky scandal of course rocked Clinton's Presidency in the latter years and yet by the end, it didn't harm his personality. He had overseen a benign economic decade in American history and his down to earth persona seemed to chime with that relaxed 90s vibe.

Al Gore, no...George W. Bush!
I was in my opening term in Aberystwyth University and specifically, in the Pantycelyn computer room when the November 2000 Presidential election night results were coming through.

Of course, it was all dependent on Florida. One of the networks called it for Al Gore. Delight! The Presidency was his and Clinton's liberally sympathetic, centrist agenda would continue! But no, of course those hanging chards had other ideas and the Supreme Court would eventually hand Florida to George Bush Jnr despite his having won less of the popular vote than Al Gore.

Oh dear Dubya
Despair wasn't the word but of course worse would follow. Not so much the invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11 but the invasion of Iraq in 2003, without UN international support, rocked me to the core. I was delighted that my own party leader Charles Kennedy was so clear in his opposition at that time.

So when the 2004 election came around, I was desperate that a new JFK would knock Bush Jnr out of the White House after just one term, just like his father. I recall being at home in the Preseli Hills that November evening with my one and to date, only bout of tonsillitis. I was there by the Rayburn all night knowing that whichever of Bush or Kerry won two of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, would win the election.

Kerry took Pennsylvania but Bush took Ohio and once again, that there Florida for 4 more years with Dick Cheney ever ominously there in his shadows as Vice-President.

It was a depressing 8 years for a liberal internationalist like myself  to live through but hindsight being what it is, was it really all that? Probably yes. But time may just tell.

Barack Obama
In those early primaries, I planted my own support in the Obama camp from the off. I wasn't convinced by Hillary at the time though that would change, but in that young Senator for Illinois, there was a vision and a passion and enthusiasm that was infectious.

Happy Days!
The sheer joy I felt at his election in the fall of 2008 wasn't just because of what he could bring to the plate but also as a direct result of the release from those 8 years under Dubya. Allied with Obama's victory was the Democratic sweep of Congress which meant that in those first two years of office, he made the sweeping changes to America's healthcare system with the Affordable Care Act that was so desperately needed.

But of course the backlash and the emergence of the Tea Party that came from 'Obamacare' would cast a shadow over the remaining 8 years of his Presidency. Much has been said about the lack of progress that Obama made with his domestic agenda. But following the mid-term elections of 2010, it is possible to make the case that he faced the most aggressive Congress ever set against an incumbent President.

What chance did he have against such an insurmountable system of checks-and-balances that is fundamental to the American constitution?

But he left so much more than a disappointing domestic legacy. He brought America back in from the cold and into the international arena with a measured, sensible tone that had been so lacking under the Presidency of the previous incumbent. The gravitas and sense of intellectualism that Obama brought to the podium when he spoke was a breath of fresh air. You could see when he spoke and when he hesitated momentarily to ponder a reply to a question that he was thinking deeply about what he was about to say. Not a sound-bite, but a carefully analysed and considered response to yet another complex and intricate problem facing his administration, his country and our world.

His Nobel Peace Prize was premature. It was clearly given in the belief that he meant well with what he said. Of that there can be no doubt. But as much as we desire positive change, such are the ways of diplomacy, it never was so easy in reality and on issues like conflict in the Middle East, we are possibly falling further back from the idea of a sustainable two state solution than we were in 2008. But if that is the case, the blame can not be placed at Obama's door - but at that of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Thank You Mr President
His Presidency has not been all that he or we liberals had hoped. Those days of wild optimism in late 2008 were probably akin to those of early May 1997 back here in the UK. Maybe we should've known better. Life is never that straightforward as there are always the conflicting interests of conservative forces seeking to hold back the change that is always needed.

Progressivism Vs Conservatism will always be the big battle in contemporary politics.

But despite these trials and tribulations, Barack Hussein Obama and his worthy Vice President Joe Biden and fabulous First Lady Michelle, showed the way to those like myself that optimism, intellect and a liberal, progressive agenda can be pursued with humour, compassion and kindness.

Whatever the future may bring, I thank Obama and his administration over the past 8 years for proving that good can be done in the world...if only you will it.

God Bless the 44th President of these United States.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Freedom from and a big Fuckety Bye to 2016

It has been a horrible year. Truly horrible.

Much has been said about the political reverberations of the actions from the previous 12 months and much also about the incredible loss of well known celebrity and professional life during this tumultuous period.

I will touch upon it all only very briefly in a rare blog post.

The Postitive?!
Now it hasn't all been relentlessly awful. But whilst the highlights have been overshadowed considerably by a cesspit of despair, I have to mention that wonderful summer in France.

As I wrote in this blog at the time, Wales's odyssey to its first footballing finals in 58 years was something that this sports mad idiot lapped up for all its worth. Those trips to Bordeaux and to Paris will live in the memory for as long as my memory allows them too. But even above those wonderful days lurked the shadow of that vote in June. The Paris match for Wales' last 16 match against Northern Ireland fell on Saturday 25th June just two days after the Brexit vote. To say I was at a low ebb is the understatement of all-time. Even travelling back to the continent that morning I couldn't get out of my head the fact that the passport that allowed me to do so, may not in a few years time.

Truth be told, the match itself was incredibly nervy and not one that I could enjoy. I didn't want to consider the impact of being knocked-out against unfancied Northern Ireland having previously hit the heights of beating Slovakia and Russia. That on top of the events of 48 hours earlier would've been catastrophic for my already rock-bottom morale!!

But thankfully Wales came good and the power of football, of sport and of a command band of humanity coming together for a cause against the odds (because following Welsh football with a degree of hope in the possibility of success has always been against the odds!) was an incredibly cathartic one.

We will always have those halcyon days of France last summer in our hearts and for that at least, I say thank you to 2016.

The Politics
But that's basically it. 2016 in all other ways has been a slurry pit from hell.

It is scarcely believable that since last January 1st, we have as a country voted to leave the European Union. As a fervent internationalist, I will not budge from my belief that the decision taken on June 23rd is going to cause serious harm to some of the most vulnerable in our society for years to come.

On the crest of the wave of this populist outrage, America voted (not in raw numbers but through its Electoral College) for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton to take over the White House from Barack Obama in 3 weeks time. My head is in a spin with it all.

It's as if reason doesn't count for anything anymore. Playing to people's fears seems much more productive than playing to their hopes. Spin 'em a line, reel 'em in, and let 'em drown when you've got what you want. They say politics has a bad name now - so what's happening with that extra £350m a week that will be going to the NHS? When will Trump build and then force Mexico to pay for that wall?!

There's going to be a lot of anger when the politics of grievance and division that has visited us this past year doesn't pay out as promised. What then??

I'd like to think that informed rational debate may come back into vogue again. But I'm not holding my breath.

The People
Then there's been the scarcely believable loss of the lives of people who, through their own realm of expertise, have made an impact on the world. From the world of entertainment, science and public service/activism, it has been a year of bewildering loss.

This BBC news website list alone names over 250 such lives that have been lost in the space of 365 days.

The one that shocked me the greatest was that of Victoria Wood. One of my comic idols, she has been a happy companion along my road in life since I was a teenager. To lose someone like Victoria who brought so much joy and happiness to the lives of so many, at age just 62, is heartbreaking.

The loss has been relentless over this apparently festive period but for me, it's almost apt that we end a year that started with the shock loss of that musical genius David Bowie with the loss of another colossus in George Michael.

Now I can't hand on heart say that I was a huge fan of either. Don't get me wrong, I respected them both and their back catalogue will stand the test of time. But despite my vague indifference to their talent, they have in my mind, book-ended in their departure, a year that has lost so much talent and potential, be it in the personal, or in the politics of where we are today and where we may be, or could've been, tomorrow.

It has been striking since George's death to read of the many stories of his quiet philanthropy. It is so sad that, even if it were his will, that we did not know just how kind a man he was until it was too late to thank him for his generosity.

In the same light, it is only in the coming darkness of the tortuous Brexit negotiations and the Presidency of Donald J. Trump that some may come to appreciate after it is too late, just how good things actually were.

Freedom from 2016
George Michael and these 250+ listed above are now free from such concerns. They are now in another place. It's probably not a bad place to be. Indeed it was George in that early incarnation as Wham! that sang what for me was always my favourite effort to come from his impressive songbook.

So here is the full 7m long version of that Wham! classic 'Freedom'.

There is still one more day to survive in 2016 but on the dangerous presumption that I can get through these next 24 hours alive and in one piece, I will be seeing in the New Year in the Gogerddan Arms near Aberporth with a Band and Buffet.

We don't know what 2017 will bring but for one night we can at least rejoice in seeing the back of 2016. When the clock strikes midnight I will raise a glass to the freedom that we will have gained from the shackles of this slurry pit from hell.

Fuckety Bye 2016.

Monday, 28 November 2016

A Farming Photographer

Another sizeable gap in my blogging can at least be brought to a close for good reason.

Earlier this month, my father Lance Cole would've been 80 years old. I had for a good year and more planned to respect his memory, by writing an article about one of his life-long passions - photography.

I wrote about this passion in a blog post over 5 years ago back in 2011. A year later I blogged about my plan to preserve that legacy with modern media. It took me another year before his 900 or so slides were finally 'digitised' but I got there in the end as I reported back at the end of 2014.

Well, as is self-evident, my blog has remained woefully quiet of late and that is most certainly something I intend to rectify sooner rather than later.

Pembrokeshire Life Magazine
But in the meantime, I have greatly enjoyed taking the opportunity when chance has arisen and time allowed, to write articles for Pembrokeshire Life magazine.

They have consisted of snippets from almost 4 years of family history research which I found absorbing and stimulating. In 4 years, I have had 4 articles published in this popular monthly publication - one in each year since 2013 as it happens.

In 2013 I wrote an article about Dad's paternal Cole line from Pisgah and the lives of my gg-grandfather Johnny Cole and his brother Benny Cole who were stalwarts in Pisgah Chapel near Carew. It was published in the October edition of that year.

In 2014, I wrote an article in memory of my extraordinary maternal grandmother on the 50th anniversary of her death. It was published in the April edition which I blogged about at the time.

In 2015 I wrote about the 1844 Garden Pit Disaster at Landshipping which claimed the life of my ggg-grandfather James Davies whilst completely coincidentally, above ground the Clerk that day was another ggg-grandfather James Cole. At Whistun, I hosted a big family reunion of descendants related down from this James Cole including family from America, at the 'Doghouse' down at Lawrenny Quay. The article on the story and the reunion was published in the November edition.

I am extremely grateful to Pembrokeshire Life editor Keith Johnson for publishing these articles to date.

A Farming Photographer
But at the back of my mind for some time was my father's upcoming 80th birthday and my desire to bring to the wider attention of the local community, the story of this farmers love of photography and many of those photos that he took in the 1960s and 1970s.

But I couldn't tell the whole story, only that which I personally recalled in the 1980s and 1990s. To go back to the beginning of his odyssey in film, I needed the recollections of Patrick Jones, a distant family cousin who more importantly, shared that passion with my father and who worked with him on many a wedding and project in those formative years.

It took some years for us to get it together, but I was delighted when it was published in its entirety in this month's edition including one of Dad's photos being used on the back page. It has been great since to have heard from so many from the area who have taken great enjoyment from being reminded of those earlier days from the photos that he took back at that time.

I have re-published the 5 pages of that article in this blog post.

In this, what would've been his 80th year, William Lance Cole's legacy lives on.