Sunday, 25 March 2012

Jocky Wilson's Finest Hour

I was very sad to hear the news today of the death of Jocky Wilson aged just 62.

Jocky was truly one of the greatest characters in the world of darts and was a household name when darts became a sporting favourite in homes across the land in the 1980s.

He was twice a World Champion in 1982, the year of my birth, and in 1989. Between him and the 'Crafty Cockney' Eric Bristow, they shared between them 7 world titles in that colourful decade for the sport.

Indeed, such was his fame that he even made an unlikely appearance on Top of the Pops as a backdrop to this Dexy's Midnight Runners hit 'Jackie Wilson Said'!

But it wasn't that long ago that I felt obliged to check on the internet whether Jocky was still alive or not as I hadn't heard or seen of him for years. To my near surprise, I found that he was still alive but living a remarkably sad existence for one who brought so much joy to so many back in his prime.

Jamie Jackson's article on Jocky for the Observor back in 2007 goes into detail of what had been a sad retirement for the legendary Scot. By 1996 it reads, Jocky had withdrawn into a Council house aged 45 and had admitted at the time that he was "...all washed up and finished with darts". 16 years later and through ill health, life has finished with our Jocky.

But let's not remember the sad finale. Instead, let's remember what it was that made him stand-out in the first place. Let's remember that cheeky smile, the attitude and most of all as these highlights from what was arguably his finest hour in that memorable 1989 final against Bristow demonstrates, let's remember him for the darts.

RIP Jocky

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Preserving Dad's Photographic Inheritance - 50 Years On

Back in August, I wrote here about my father's love of photography.

I wrote at the time of the plan to finally convert his VHS videos to DVD, over 8 years after his passing. Well, I'm pleased to say that thanks to Stephen Radford in Maesteg, that process is underway. The best two conditioned VHS videos have been converted and the many more are a work in progress.

A 50th Anniversary Present to Dad
Dad's slide collection: 1961-1976
I also mentioned in passing in that August piece of my father's earlier steps into the world of photography with the many photos that he took and converted into slides. Over the years he amassed a wealth of photos which he diligently stored in a series of 6 boxes. In all, he left us with over 1,000 slides ranging from 1961-1976. Every Christmas in the 1980s, he'd dust them all off and give us a show of these photos and it was always one of my seasonal highlights. As the years went by, the projector and the screen would be seen less often and since Dad died, they have all been stored in those same 6 differently coloured boxes, in a cupboard in my maternal home in the Preseli Hills.

Visual Social History Par-Excellence
As well as the need to convert Dad's old videos to DVD, I have always felt as well the need to ensure that his even older slides were copied to a more modern format. As the years have moved on with no change, the greater has grown my anxiety of the need to preserve Dad's photographic inheritance.

Well, I can again report great progress. With thanks to Scolton Manner near Haverfordwest, that great collection of over 1,000 slides are being coverted to CD. The first two of those boxes have been converted and I now have them here, downloaded on this very computer. The remaining 4 boxes are currently being converted and should, I hope, be completed within a matter of weeks.

Dad aged 25/26 in 1962
What this collection gives us is not just the visual images of my father's family and the farm on which I was born and bred in south Pembrokeshire but more than that, a wider social history of the community in which my father lived and his passions in an era that was epitomised by The Beatles, the mini and well, the mini-skirt! It gives us glimpses into a past of motorbikes, into a bygone agricultural era and to the sights of villages such as Lawrenny, Carew, Jeffreston, Saundersfoot, Tenby, Lydstep, Cresswell Quay and Cannastan Bridge.

Now these southern Pembrokeshire place names will mean very little to very many of the readers of this blog. But for me, it is a sight back to my youth and beyond.

It is completely coincidental that it is now, exactly 50 years on from the start of Dad's collection in the early 1960s, that we are finally transferring them to modern media to be preserved for posterity.

As a tribute to my father, I will use this blog to showcase many of these photos in the weeks, months and years ahead. For too long we allowed them to rest quietly with only the rare foray into the light of day.

Now I will endeaour to showcase my father's great talent to ensure that the magic of his love of photography lives on and can be viewed by new generations, and old.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Wales - Grand Slam Country

Life is becoming ever more hectic as the fortnightly void in this blog will testify but there's no better way to put that right than with a comment on Wales' wonderful Grand Slam winning achievement of the past weekend.

What an achievement it was. Reading the Sunday papers yesterday was a joy, reading as I did the comments from respected commentators from the world over on what is widely seen as being not the completion of a journey, but in fact, only the beginning of one.

A Childhood in the Welsh Rugby Sporting Wilderness
This is Wales' 3rd Grand Slam in 8 seasons - a proud record that matches the feat of those legends of the 1970s. Gerald, Gareth, Barry, JPR, JJ, Phil Bennett and of course Mervyn Davies led Wales to the Red Dragons' 6th, 7th and 8th Grand Slams in 1971, 1976 and 1978. That halycon era, that decade of Welsh sporting decadence has acted as both a hallmark for future success but has also acted as a great burden on the shoulders of the next generation of Welsh rugby playing athletes.

I began following Welsh rugby as a child in the 1990s. Such was the constancy of Wales' under-achievement, I must've blocked it all out as a continuation of a miserable theme. It was a bleak period for Welsh rugby but my abiding memories were of those moments, those rare shafts of light, when the Red Dragon roared back into life. When Ieuan Evans scored that memorable try against the then double-Grand Slam champions England in a 10-9 win in Cardiff in 1993. When Nigel Walker ran down the wing on the same Arms Park pitch a year later in 1994 against the French to help seal a rare Championship victory. When Scott Gibbs scored that wonder try and Neil Jenkins scored that nail-biting conversion deep into stoppage-time against England at Wembley in 1999 to deprive them of a Grand Slam and give the final 5 Nations Championship to Scotland.

My University years between 2000-2003 saw no clear sign of improvement apart from a surprisingly ferocious record in Paris. Indeed, I travelled to Dublin with Pantycelyn friends in 2002 and watched in the bars as Wales' 'Great Redeemer'  Graham Henry signed off with a humiliating 10-54 reverse. A year later on the same Pantycelyn trip, I made my only visit to date to Murrayfield where we witnessed more heartache as a 22-30 defeat formed a part of a devastating whitewash with Wales winning the Wooden Spoon.

Grand Slam Glory
When 2005 came along, after the improvements suddenly made in the 2003 World Cup under Steve Hansen's leadership, Wales burst into incredible technicolour and did the incredible, the inconceivable, the astonishing - they won their first Grand Slam in a generation.

Remember, for those of my generation and even a few years older, this was unchartered waters. After the barren years, those of us who had no recollection of those golden years in the 1970s often wondered whether we would ever see a Grand Slam in our lifetimes. Just one, that is all we asked for - just one Grand Slam. Little could we believe that in such a short space of time we would be celebrating a level of Welsh success that has matched that of our famous forefathers.

Grand Slam I - 2005
Personally, nothing will replace those glorious moments of ecstasy of 2005.

The English match was watched in Yr Hen Llew Du in Aberystwyth in the old 'Cwtch' in the back by the entrance to the kitchen. Wales had played well in the World Cup of 2003 and in the 2004 autumn internationals but had failed to claim a major scalp. The ability and the potential was there but it needed to be seen through 80 minutes. Gavin Henson's iconic winning kick gave us that breakthrough 11-9 win and a first against England in Cardiff since that 1993 success and sent us into raptures. But this was merely the 'Hors d'oeuvre'.

Next up was Italy and I watched it in Aberystwyth's Academy. That 38-8 win in Rome gave us the momentum needed into what would be a monumental clash against the French in Paris. I watched that match in the Snooker Club on Aberystwyth's Pier. The first half was a French materclass but the second half Welsh performance won Wales the Grand Slam in a mere 40 minutes. An absolutely stunning performance completed an incredible 24-18 victory and we and the population of Wales erupted into delerious expectation. Suddenly, 'it' was on.

Scotland was seen as an annoying obstacle that had to be overcome. But the previous time we had played them at Murrayfield was that same match that I had seen with my own eyes - this would be no walk-over. But, from my vantage point at the Eli Jenkins in Cardiff Bay, I watched a commanding 46-22 victory. Now it was Ireland in Cardiff for the Grand Slam. Typically, Wales' record at home against the Irish was awful and so, in a state of great excitement and anxiety, I watched with friends from the front of that same Yr Hen Llew Du that kicked off the tournament, as Wales wrote a first glorious Grand Slam chapter for my generation. My abiding memory will of course always be the kick-through opening try scored by of all people, Gethin Jenkins! It sent us absolutely barmy! When Kevin Morgan went over for the second Welsh try to calm our nerves, we went barmy once more! When the final whistle went and we in Wales celebrated our first Grand Slam in 26 years, it's fair to say that I, and others could be seen dancing on the tables of the Llew Du! It was a glorious, surreal moment of euphoria, of disbelief, of absolute joy unconfined.

For a Welshman, this meant the world, and the suddeness of it all that year just made it all the more remarkable and difficult to comprehend!

Grand Slam II - 2008
Nothing will ever beat those memories of 2005.

In 2008 it didn't help that for the opener against England, I was in Thailand and didn't know the result until a full 24 hours later! When I did, it was in a phone call to my mother from a bamboo hut on the banks of the River Kwai! Honestly, I couldn't make it up! Wales had just come off the back of an embarassing 2007 World Cup defeat to Fiji and I certainly held no hope of Wales beating England at HQ for the first time since 1988 and in Warren Gatland's first game in charge. That 26-19 win was followed up by a 30-15 win over Scotland. I must be honest and admit that I can't remember where I was watching that match. The same can be said for Wales' 47-8 routing of Italy. 2005 for me was iconic - every match remembered in wonderful detail but 2008 has already lost its mark. I do however recall watching the Irish Triple Crown decider back in the cwtch of Yr Hen Llew Du with that close 16-12 win at Croke Park. The Grand Slam decider against France in Cardiff was a quiet affair as I watched and went out of mind once more whilst babysitting my then 10 and 8 year old nephews - I don't think they'd seen their Uncle Mark so animated before! But that 29-12 victory deserved all the animation that I could muster! I recall telling my 10 year old nephew Trystan at the time that he was fortunate to live in an era where Wales had won 2 Grand Slams in 4 seasons. I told him how I had lived through an era when the only comfort afforded to us more often than not came from Neil Jenkins' boot!

Grand Slam III - 2012
This year, after a successful World Cup, things changed. Things were different.

For the first time, there was an expectation that Wales should do well. But it was only after that nail-biting last minute kick by Leigh Halfpenny won the match against Ireland 23-21 did we truly realise that it could be 'on' once more. I watched it, with some English friends of mine, back in my old stomping ground in Yr Hen Llew Du (notice a trend here?!) as I'd decided that it was a particularly lucky pub for me when it came to Irish games winning as we had against them with me in the pub there in 2005 and 2008.

The Scotland match was viewed in the peace and quiet of my own home here in Cardigan and after a stubborn Scottish first half performance, Wales cantered away to a 27-12 win in the second. I returned to Aberystwyth's Snooker Club on the Pier for the big Triple Crown showdown with England and alongside the same English friends who came with me for the season opener against the Irish, I shouted and screamed as Scott Williams flew over the whitwash for that stunning late try when it looked as if the game might fizzle out into a 12-12 draw. That 19-12 win was and is the only time that I have watched Wales win a game of rugby at Twickenham - quite an incredible concept for one who nears his 30th birthday! I watched Wales' workmanlike 24-3 win against Italy in of all places, Llanboidy's Sports and Social Club with my future father-in-law, Alyson's father John! It's the first time we've been out alone for a few drinks and at a members discount of £2 a pint, we enjoyed what was a hard fought but ultimately comfortable win.

So it was that we faced France in Cardiff for a Grand Slam as we did in 2008. But of course, this was also the case back in the 1970s and it's incredible to note that of Wales' 11 Grand Slams, 7 have been completed against the French. With the sad news of Merv(yn) 'the Swerve' Davies' passing just two days earlier, it set up for a raw and emotional day for all involved. The 1976 Welsh Grand Slam winning captain would've been proud of his proteges as they emulated his team's achievements in that same crucial, final fixture, 36 years on. They dug in deep and battled out a deserved 16-9 win. Where was I? For once, not in Aberystwyth. For once, not in a bar. Instead, I watched it with the same group of old University friends who celebrated with me at the climax of that opening Grand Slam campaign back in 2005 in the comfort of one of their Swansea homes. There was fist-thumping, fist-pumping actions from myself as ever but this time, it wasn't to celebrate an unexpected but joyous deliverance. Instead, it was to celebrate what we knew should be ours and in the final analysis, deserved to be ours.

This was a different Grand Slam level of delight. It wasn't the shock of a first win in our collective lifetimes or of the pleasant surprise of repeating the feat a few years later. No, this was the quiet (ok loud!) satisfaction of knowing that our boys had proven that even when not playing to their full potential, they had learned how to grind out victories and close teams down in the final minutes. This is a confident Wales that can handle the tag of being the favourite. Never in my memory have I been able to say that of a Welsh rugby team, let alone one from the 1990s. Now however, it really does feel as if the rugby world is at our feet.

Wales have come a long, long way from those dark, barren days of my childhood. I'm rather enjoying this light of glorious success and I want to continue to do so for years to come. I remember the years of darkness and I'm thankful that I lived through them because it's made me appreciate these sunny uplands all the more.

Here are some of those Welsh tries mentioned above, and many more.

Mervyn Davies will be very proud of Wales after Saturday's performance and so indeed, is an antire nation.

Cymru am Byth! Wales Forever!

Monday, 5 March 2012

"Your name will also go on the list, what is it?" RIP Philip Madoc

It is one of the most iconic scenes in the history of British situation comedy. In the Dad's Army episode 'The Deadly Attachment', the famous German U-boat Captain who antagonised Captain Mainwaring by collecting a list of names of those who have upset him and who will be brought to account once the war ends was played by Welsh actor Philip Madoc.

He appeared the 1990s detective series A Mind to Kill as DCI Noel Bain and appeared in episodes of the BBC sitcoms The Good Life, Porridge and The Goodies. He also took the lead role in the BBC Wales drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George. He also played many science fiction roles including a number of appearances in Doctor Who. He also appeared in film roles including Operation Crossbow (1965), The Quiller Memorandum (1966) and Operation Daybreak (1975).

A Welshman and a Welsh speaker, born in Merthyr Tydfil, he was married for 20 years to Hi-de-Hi favourite Ruth Madoc with whom he had a son and a daughter. They divorced in 1981.

He passed away today of natural causes aged 77 and despite this varied acting career, he will forever be fondly remembered for his impersonation of that brash and uber-confident German. This is why...

RIP Philip Madoc

Friday, 2 March 2012

A 2012 Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference Preview

I was asked to submit this article by the good people at fortress Liberal Democrat Voice earlier this week and though they had to cut it down ever so slighly due to its length, I thought I would re-publish it here in full.

"This weekend, the Welsh Liberal Democrat family will be gathering in Cardiff for our spring conference.

"For better or for worse, this has become a staple part of my diary and this year sees me celebrate my 10th anniversary of attending Liberal Democrat and Welsh Liberal Democrat conferences. Indeed, by my reckoning, this will be my 37th such conference out of a possible 43 in that time!

So, what’s the message?
"Well, unsurprisingly, we’re concentrating on the forthcoming Council elections: our record as Welsh Liberal Democrats in local government across Wales and our vision for the future.

"It will all begin with the pre-conference rally on the Friday evening where Peter Black AM and Eluned Parrott AM will speak alongside current Councillors from across Wales and new candidates standing for the first time.

"You’ll be hearing a lot about how Welsh Liberal Democrat-led Councils have the lowest council tax increases of all Welsh Councils. This proves that we believe in value for money and understand the pressures on family finances. In these challenging times, Welsh Liberal Democrats are helping those that need help the most.

"There will also be much talk about our support in investing in our children’s futures. Even from the opposition benches in the Welsh Assembly, Welsh Liberal Democrats secured the implementation of one of our headline manifesto policies of investing £450 to each pupil on free school meals. Over the next 12 months, that will equate to £32m benefiting children from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will have a positive impact on schools in every community of Wales – brilliant news for Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillors, candidates and campaigners to take onto the doorstep.

"Finally, there will be the reminder that Welsh Liberal Democrats deliver better services for local people - whether it’s the new leisure centre in Swansea, investing in new school buildings in Ceredigion or keeping the rates low in Cardiff. Most of all, Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillors remain the voice of the community at County Hall and are fighting to protect front-line services by rooting out waste and unnecessary spending instead.

So, what’s on the Agenda this year?
"These messages will thread through the many debates that will be held on the conference floor this coming Saturday and Sunday. Motions that will be discussed will seek to democratise the National Parks, boost local economies, review business rates, call for a new law for park homes and debate the compulsory micro-chipping of dogs to name but a few. There will of course also be a reminder that we are at the core, a devolutionary party that has faith in the people and wishes to transfer down more responsibility to local authorities which are closer to our communities.

"There will also be consultation sessions on the planning process and a Q&A session with the Federation of Small Businesses to stimulate wider debate. In addition, Fringe events held by the likes of Community Housing Cymru, RNIB Cymru, the WLGA, the Electoral Commission, RCN Wales, Stonewall Cymru, Age Cymru and Oxfam Cymru as well as exhibition stands from MS Society Cymru, NASUWT Cymru, Crossroads Care and Action on Hearing Loss will give the 3rd sector the opportunity to meet and positively influence party members. Training events will also give new and the not so new members like me an opportunity to hone and refresh our campaigning skills.

"We shall also of course be hearing from our popular leader Kirsty Williams AM as well as our Deputy Leader Roger Williams MP and Cardiff City Council Leader Rodney Berman. There will also be a speech by a certain Nick Clegg MP! We’re delighted that Nick as our party leader and of course the Deputy Prime Minister has given his time to be with us on the Saturday afternoon to inspire our current and new members for the campaigns ahead.

Don’t forget the socialising!
"But all work and no play of course made Jack a dull boy and as ever, much of the important business will be at the bar when the networking after all the official business is completed will begin in earnest!

"Our conference dinner on the Saturday evening is THE set-piece event of the weekend and this year our guest speaker will be Bath’s Don Foster MP. That will be preceded this year by the annual local party event on the Friday night when the Cardiff Lib Dems shall entertain us all at the Lord Mayor’s official residence – The Mansion House!

"Prior to that rather unusual setting for an evening, I will be speaking from the platform in the pre-conference rally which I mentioned at the beginning of this piece alongside Peter, Eluned and colleagues from across Wales. On what happens to be my 10th anniversary of my attending that first conference in Llandudno in 2002, it is the first time I have been asked to speak in the rally and I will do so by speaking of my experience as a local Councillor these past 8 years. I will be immensely proud to do so. There will be little rest as I shall then be chairing conference on the Saturday morning in front of the live S4C television cameras in my native Welsh tongue!

"So it is set to be a busy and exciting weekend, as ever! For me personally, the highlight is simply being in the company of now long-standing friends with the expectation of making new ones during the course of the weekend. It is my extended family – my liberal family. I know that a lot of my Welsh colleagues feel the same way. It is an opportunity to renew that enthusiasm to campaign for our local communities as only liberals truly understand and can do. We believe in localism, we trust in the people. This coming weekend will further fire us up to go and take these messages onto the doorstep in the weeks ahead".