Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Wearing a Wedding Ring

Apologies for the lack of attention to this blog of late but work and personal commitments have well and truly taken over.

Primarily of course was the big day last month when Alyson and I wed at Cardigan's Guildhall.

It was a beautiful day and the fine weather was only bettered by the wonderful company of family and close friends as Alyson and I made the marital leap after nearly 4 years together.

The Guildhall was a magnificent venue and gave us ample room for 120 guests. The order of ceremony was I would like to think, unique! As a civil ceremony, no hymns or prayers were allowed so we opted for poems in Welsh and English and some memorable songs for the congregation to sing - ABBA's 'I Have A Dream' and to close, Morecambe & Wise's 'Bring Me Sunshine'!

We were greeted on our exit after the ceremony in the Guildhall Courtyard by a throng of well-wishers and Santes the Shire Horse from the family's Dyfed Shire Horse Farm. She stood perfectly still for 45 minutes as photos were expertly taken by Helen E. Davies and Tracey Rees (and many others!) before she led us both through Cardigan town centre.

The wedding breakfast and evening party was held at Nantyffin in Llandissilio and it was great fun! The welcome and the homely food was everything locals have come to expect of this popular venue. Carwyn Tywyn welcomed guests with his Harp and in the evening after everyone had ate and the speeches had been delivered (no problem for me but then I had to take the embarrassment from Best Woman Liz!), Alyson and I arrived at the dance floor to a triple-medley first dance - the anthemic 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' by Richard Strauss brought us to the floor ready for Elvis Presley's 'The Wonder of You' before we then upped the tempo with Sham Rock's 'Tell Me Ma'!

Meanwhile, for those not so keen on the 60s/70s/80s/90s wedding party disco, we had in the foyer running all evening, some of Dad's old farm videos that he had filmed and edited, so even in his absence 10 years on, we could still hear his voice on my big day. It was a popular draw with many Eglwyswrw residents who were making to leave at 10.30pm still sitting down on the sofas in the foyer nearing midnight! Also, I gather Emyr our security doorman was also a fan!

With a week's break to relax after what was a perfect wedding day for us both, we went to New York and Washington DC for a 10-day Honeymoon. I had visited New York before but saw so much more this time. My visit to DC meanwhile was a first and I adored it. For Alyson, America in its entirety was a new experience and she had a great time too!

We stayed in Downtown New York within just 2 blocks of Wall St and the World Trade Centre complex whilst in DC, we stayed on 14th St overlooking Franklin Square - just 4 blocks away from the White House. Good planning Coley!

A wonderful holiday finished with cocktails at sunset in the roof-top bar of Washington's 'W' Hotel overlooking President Barack Obama's official residence in the company of my 3rd cousin Lauren and her husband Antony whose local knowledge guided us to that wonderful venue! Brilliant!

We would like to sincerely thank everyone for their best wishes and greetings of great joy for us both.

As for the wedding ring? For one that has never worn or been keen on jewelry of any kind, I've taken to it like a duck to water!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A love of Roy Orbison...and George Harrison...and Neil Diamond

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am fanatical about my music. Indeed, any regular reader of this blog will have struggled to have failed to notice the many blog posts dedicated to my musical loves.

But what I find amazing about my musical life odyssey is that every so often, I'm introduced to an old sound that suddenly grows on me. Often I have found myself listening to music that I had long derided for not being to my musical pallet to find all of a sudden, out of the blue...that actually, it's bloody brilliant!

It has happened before. There was a time when I actively detested the Bee Gees. In particular, their single 'You Win Again' deeply grated with me every time I heard it. What happened and when I can't recall but as time moved on and my musical tastes mellowed I suddenly found myself appreciating the Brothers Gibb and yes...my favourite Bee Gees song is 'You Win Again'. I couldn't make it up.

Arise Neil Diamond
In recent months, I have similarly found the revelatory road to Damascus with the music of Neil Diamond. Don't get me wrong, 'Sweet Caroline' is and always will be a dance-floor and karaoke hit but until recent months, I never gave him the light of day beyond that. But now I must admit to being a bona-fide fan and hear are a mere few samples of his musical genius...

From 1970...

From 1976...

Arise George Harrison
My love of Roy Orbison is already well documented. Indeed, he easily makes my highest list of pop artistes alongside Elvis, Freddie Mercury and Johnny Cash.

What I loved with 'The Big O' was that his talent clearly transcended down the generations and was appreciated by those who came after him. So clearly was this the case that in the late 1980s, the super-group 'The Travelling Wilburys' was formed by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty...oh and of course, Roy Orbison himself.

The great heartbreak to the story is that just weeks after their first album was released to popular acclaim on 18th October 1988, Roy died of a heart attack on December 6th. The band continued and released a second album in October 1990.

Amidst everything, the band put together some wonderful music and at the heart of it was George Harrison. I'll admit now to being one of those that has underestimated the '3rd Beatle' in his post-Beatles 1970+ solo career and yet I've always had a soft spot for a number of his solo efforts. But only in recent weeks and months has that become more than a fleeting appreciation.

What sealed it was when I came full circle and realised to my amazement that a song that I had heard on a handful of previous occasions but which had instantly resonated brought me back to the 'Travelling Wilburys'. I instantly recognised the lead vocal as being that of Harrison and when I investigated further, found that the single was not his but in fact, that of this super-group.

'End of the Line' is a gorgeous song but what grabbed me was the video when the haunting vocal of Roy Orbison came back from the grave mid-way through the song. As it did, the band filmed the video to show in tribute, a picture frame of the man himself and alongside them, a rocking chair rocking away with 'The Big O's' guitar sitting on it.

That got me and it simply moved George Harrison up into that select group of musicians that I love...which of course includes Roy Orbison himself (and also as it happens...Jeff Lynne!).

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Guest Blog: Happy Birthday Tom Hanks!

I have been approached many times by requests to write guest posts for my blog but this time, I've agreed.

The request came from Chicago to celebrate the birthday today of a screen icon, Tom Hanks. I'm happy to allow Spencer Blohm to contribute in this way below as I have always had a particular soft spot for Tom Hanks. Not only has he played iconic roles in films that spanned my childhood and adolescence, but he also, quite marvelously...an Aston Villa fan!!

So, take it away Spencer...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When Tom Hanks comes to mind so do the many iconic characters he has portrayed over his more than 30 year long career. The man has proven to be talented and versatile with roles as legendary as Forrest Gump to voice work as clever as Woody the Cowboy from Toy Story.

Hanks’ film career started in 1980 with a low-budget movie called He Knows You're Alone. Hanks moved to New York City to be a part of the film. Not long after this Hanks was able to get his first leading role on a television show called Bosom Buddies. Unfortunately his first big show was cancelled after only two seasons in 1982. Tom's first big breakthrough in movies took place two years later in Splash, a box office smash directed by Ron Howard. This success led to more offers for bigger roles and Hanks’ career started into its upward trajectory.

On December 14, 1985 Hanks was honored to host Saturday Night Live for the first time (he would eventually go on to host the show seven more times and make two surprise guest appearances). Continuing on with the comedy gold, Hanks landed the lead role in the smash hit Big in 1988. The film, which established Hanks as a major talent in Hollywood, remains a favorite of many fans to this day. Hanks won a number of awards for his role in Big, including the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

Hanks began to step into more serious roles as time went on, and he was very successful in them, eventually shedding his comedic image and becoming known instead as a “serious” actor. The 90s were some of Hanks's best years, and this is when he began to collect a string of awards for films A League of Their Own, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, and Apollo 13. Possibly his most well-known film, Forrest Gump and its titular character are both major pop culture icons to this day. The film even spawned the restaurant chain “Bubba Gump Shrimp Company”, named after a fictional business. Hanks wasn’t the initial choice for the role. Actors Bill Murray, John Travolta, and Chevy Chase all passed on the role. Travolta even admits passing on the role was a mistake.

After the huge success of Forrest Gump, Hanks was reunited with the director that gave him his big break. Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 was another box office winner. In addition to being a critical success, the film also allowed Hanks to explore his childhood dream of being an astronaut. Hanks claims he gave up the dream because he “didn’t have the math,” but the truth is that Hanks is simply too tall to be an astronaut (he’s 6’1” and the cut off is 6’).  Following his major dramatic successes, Tom made the unlikely move to children’s animated films in 1995. He has provided the voice for Woody in the Toy Story franchise for 18 years, helping to establish a whole new fan base with the younger generations.

More recently Hanks was in Cloud Atlas, which came out in late October of last year. Hanks also portrays Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, which is  scheduled to come out later this year right around Walt Disney’s birthday and the anniversary of his death in December. Continuing with his past successes, Hanks will once again play the lead in a true story that was a front-page news item at the time when he plays Captain Richard Phillips in Captain Phillips. The film is about the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. The film will also come out later this year in October. There have also been rumors of a Toy Story 4 although little has been confirmed.

Hanks has grown from a small-time comedic actor into an Oscar-winning leading man right in front of America’s eyes. His talent has entertained viewers and inspired up and coming actors for the past three decades and it doesn’t look like he is going anywhere anytime soon. Happy Birthday, Tom Hanks!

Author Bio: Spencer Blohm is a television and movie writer for Direct4TV.com who writes about everything from new releases to classics from early days of cinema. He has been a huge fan of Tom Hanks since Forrest Gump. He lives in Chicago with his cat.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The greatest British sporting weekend?!

I have mentioned the long wait for a British Wimbledon champion in this blog many times.

I also mentioned last December how 2012 was surely the greatest year for British sport and that it will surely never be repeated.

Well this weekend, Andy Murray's spell-binding straight sets final win followed barely 24 hours after a famous Lions Test Series win in Australia.

After a 77 year-long wait since Fred Perry's win in 1936, I suppose we couldn't begrudge a few more minutes of delay when Andy failed to convert his first 3 Championship points and then had to fight off break points for his great rival.

But what a delay! The thought that having pulled himself to the brink of history, he may lose his service game was just beyond thought. Would he lose the game and then possibly the set and be sucked into a war of attrition with Djokovic?

I screamed and I shed tears of joy, particularly when he climbed to reach his supporters and gave his mother Judy a hug.

The current US Open Champion and Olympic tennis singles champion will be a shoe-in for the BBCs Sports Personality of the Year award and is now being hotly tipped for a Knighthood.

The Lions also rose to the occasion as they ran riot in the 2nd half of their deciding rubber against Australia to win 41-16 to seal a first series win in 16 years.

Heroes they are one and all and their names will go down in the pantheon of great British sporting moments. The fact that both of these results have occurred over the same weekend is quite incredible.

The greatest weekend in the history of British sport? It's right up there!

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Eagle Has Landed! My 13,000ft Sky Dive Experience...

It was a gorgeously sunny and calm day yesterday afternoon on the south west coast of Wales. 13,000ft above sea level, somewhere above Swansea Airport, I was sitting hunched up in a 'plane, ready to free-fall back to Earth!

As I have mentioned already in this blog, I was doing it to raise money to buy defibrillators for our rural communities here in mid-Wales as a part of the British Heart Foundation Cymru's two-year £200,000 appeal.

I was also doing it in memory of my Dad Lance Cole who died 10 years ago next month and who survived open heart surgery when I was a child.

The Jump
As eagle-eyed viewers will have noticed, my jump had been postponed twice the previous weekend due to poor weather but this Sunday, it was thankfully, 3rd time lucky!

I arrived with Alyson at 4pm yesterday afternoon at Swansea Airport where we were joined by one of her best friends Sarah and also my brother Stephen, sister-in-law Anthea and their children Seren, Jacob and Mared who were on their way home to Pembrokeshire from a weekend in Cardiff. We were also latterly joined by good friends Nick Tregonning and Claire Waller. It was great to have them all support me and Alyson during the coming hour!

For on our arrival we were told that there would likely be a 45 minute wait until my turn to take instruction. This didn't worry me and I was quite happy to wait a while. Suddenly, within a matter of minutes, the public announcement system called 'John Cole' back to reception to say that they could squeeze me on the next flight!!

So it was that I was given a crash-course in everything I needed to know (which, because I was doing it tandem with a qualified instructor, wasn't much!) and within half an hour of arriving on site, I was jumping into the 'plane with another 3 'students' and their instructors!

It was a leisurely, relaxed ascent to the spectacular height of 13,000ft where, because of the beautiful weather, we could see right across Swansea Bay. It was a majestic setting.

So how did I feel? Well for one who isn't keen on heights, surprisingly relaxed...up to a point! The whole thought of being thrown out at that height wasn't worrying me all that much. What? How come you ask?! Well because in my own head I had long prepared myself for it by suspending the reality of the situation and exchanging it with the logical reality of what was about to happen. I had at the forefront of my mind of course the memory of my Dad and also the hundreds of people who have so generously donated to my appeal to see me thrown out in the first place! So backing out was not and indeed was never an option. So in that regard, I already knew I was going to do it and it was just a matter of getting my head into a place of ease with what was about to happen.

Yet whilst throwing yourself out of a plane isn't a normal every day occurrence (unless you were my instructor Mick who answered my question in the 'plane of his experience with the throw away response that he had done "over 3,000 jumps"!!), I just logically moved myself to the place which said that for these experts, it actually really was. There are normally it turns out between 20-40 jumps a day each weekend in Swansea when the weather allows and I've never heard of one there having gone wrong! Indeed, a friend who sponsored me who had himself Sky Dive'd before told me that he was told on his day that the safest thing statistically that he would do that day was the jump - he was more likely to have an accident on the road getting to or from the airport or in the plane on the way up, than he was on the descent! For a logically minded chap like myself, these were good statistics!

So it all helped me to prepare myself for what was to happen and to allow myself, as much as possible, to enjoy the ride without becoming over-run by a complete fear and panic on lift-off!

The only issue I did have as I was waiting to leave the 'plane at 12,000ft, were to remember the hastily arrranged instructions that I had been told just minutes earlier on the ground. 'Head back, chest out, legs back and crossed at the knees...like a banana'. Oh, and when tapped on the shoulder by instructor Mick, to let go of the straps and to wave to the camera!! Easy hey!!

Thankfully, the logical side of my brain kept the thought of panic in check and on being hauled out to the edge (and just to compound matters, as well as being the last into the 'plane, I was the first out!!), I just readied myself to remember these few basic, simples instructions.

The Free-Fall
The free-fall was surreal! We were apparently dropping for some 40 seconds without a parachute at the rate of 125mph. It was going so quickly that I almost couldn't take in the enormity of the numbers. It's like flying in a plane at 30,000ft when you know that you're travelling at around 600mph but because everything is so far below you, it feels as if you are serenely gliding across the sky!

The Sky's the Limit!
The rush was incredible but I was indeed able as instructed to enjoy the fall, lift my head up and wave and 'thumbs up' to Ant our similarly free-falling camera-man!!

Then at around 6,000ft, the parachute was deployed and it was quite a 'pull-back'. Then all-of-a-sudden, we were just floating down gently on what light wind there was back down to Earth. Mick did some turns which gave a great panoramic of the wonderful Gower Peninsula and I could just take it all in after the rush of the free-fall, before we made a perfect landing (with my legs hitched up high to allow Mick to take the hit as instructed!).

It was over so quickly. Indeed, when I landed and met up with everyone who had to come to watch, I found to my amazement that it was only 4.50pm! It had all been done and dusted in less than one hour!

Would I do it again?! Oh come on folks...hell yeah I would! But having said that, I'm not one to push my luck and will happily give others an opportunity to go first before I go again!

The Fundraising
But what it all meant was that everyone who has so kindly sponsored me to the tune of over £4,200 (which rises to over £4,700 including Gift Aid), have indeed got what they paid for! Indeed, I'm told by Ant that he has some 70 still photos of the fall as well as the filmed DVD which I paid for. They will all be sent to me in the post hopefully by this weekend but in the meantime he has sent me this one photo that you can see here. Not the most flattering photo in the world maybe - but when you're flying at 13,000ft, some things just have to be taken on the chin!!

Thank you most sincerely to everyone who has donated so far and if you haven't yet done so (or indeed, are happy to do so again as many have!) then please donate here at the link below to help me reach a final grand total of £5,000 before I close the appeal on Friday 7th June.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Going, Going, GONE! Goodbye to Cardigan Castle's Stanchions!

Back here on March 8th, I wrote about the removal of the first of the 3 stanchions from Cardigan Castle.

Those horrible buttresses had been apparently propping up the Castle at the gate-way to the town at the end of Cardigan Bridge since 1975. They were only supposed to be temporary supports whilst the walk bridge was built alongside the river but until now, they have remained.

The work on the castle continues in earnest with the planned date of opening set for next Spring. But whilst the internal works will continue throughout this summer and into the winter away from the eyes of local residents, the sight of those horrid external stanchions always weighed heavily on the minds of those living locally who despised their very being.

Goodbye to the Final Stanchion!
As I wrote back in March, it was expected that the final 2 stanchions would be removed within a matter of weeks. As of yesterday morning, the remaining 2 both remained and I was expecting one of those to come down imminently with the final one to leave its 'temporary' home by the end of this month.

So it was with no shortage of shock and incredulity that, as a Trustee of Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust, I received a call from fellow Trustee Sue Lewis at 7pm last night saying that the final piece of the final stanchion was to be removed inside the next 20 minutes!!

Thankfully I happened to be at home in Cardigan at the time and without a moment of hesitation, I made my way down to the quay to see a little bit of Cardigan history in action.

Goodbye to the Stanchions!
Couresty of Louise Noakes Photography
Andrew Scott, the on-site construction team at the castle, very kindly gave those of us Trustees who had managed to make the last minute scramble down to the quay, an opportunity to climb up onto the scaffolding for a final photo with the final stanchion before its removal, minutes later.

So it was that I stood alongside original Cadgwan Trustees Jan Tucker and Richard 'Dick' Thomas, as well as current Trustees Sue Lewis, Sandra Davies and Hedydd Jones as well as Mark and his team from Andrew Scott's for a final photo-call after 38 years (see pictured).

As a historian first-and-foremost with a love of Cardigan Castle that stretched back to my childhood, it was a truly wonderful moment and I was particularly pleased for Jann and Dick who have been fighting for the restoration of the castle for the past 15 years, to finally see the last of those iron girders.

There are many, many others who have campaigned for this same goal as well in our community and beyond and today is a day for them. A day for Cardigan. A day for our castle - standing proud once more without the need for supports that were never required in the first place.

The potential is there for all to see and now we have the clearest manifestation of progress that the community could've wanted.

'Cardigan has a Castle' has been the almost ironic response from local residents in recent weeks after the first stanchion was removed. You bet it has!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Why I'm jumping 12,000ft for the British Heart Foundation

Last month, I mentioned here in my blog about my decision to try and raise over £2,000 for the British Heart Foundation by undertaking a 12,000ft Parachute Jump.

Dad and Mam being given a BHF
Wall Plaque in appreciation for their
fundraising efforts
The response I have received in the 5 weeks since has been brilliant and I have now raised £990 - tantalisingly close to that £1,000 mark! Thank you to everyone who has contributed already to this brilliant figure and whilst I must accept that I have been shameless in my requests of friends so far, I do not apologise for it because it is a cause close to my heart.

But even once I break that £1,000 mark, I still have the same amount and more to raise before I can comfortably say that I've raised enough to pay for 2 new defibrillators as a part of the British Heart Foundation Cymru's latest appeal.

The jump itself will be on Saturday 11th May so there's only 4 weeks to go, so expect the shameless requests to those who have yet to contribute to continue! I will wear you down!

Supporting the BHF - A Family Affair
As it happens, I today found on the family farm at Eglwyswrw, old newspaper clipping from the 1990s that demonstrated my parents commitment to this worthy cause.

The 1999 Narberth Observor article on
the purchase of a new ECG for Narberth
Health Centre - principally sponsored
by my parents Lance & Enid Cole
They gave a whole days worth of gate takings at their Dyfed Shire Horse Farm in Eglwyswrw to the British Heart Foundation on a number of occasions.

As the photos here show, both played a significant part in raising important funds to purchase a new Electrocardiograph (ECG) machine for Narberth Health Centre.

This is why I'm raising money for the BHF - because my parents both did so in recognition of their gratitude after Dad recovered from life-saving open heart surgery.

On the 10th anniversary of his passing in 2003, it is only right that I re-iterate our family support for the BHF and I would greatly welcome all donations, large and small, to my online site which can be found at http://www.justgiving.com/John-Mark-Cole.

Thank you on behalf of myself and my father Lance, for your support. With it, we can make a real difference.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Cardigan makes The Sunday Times 'Top 10 Places in Wales to Live' list

It doesn't surprise me, but it is nevertheless very pleasant to see some national coverage of what is a well known fact in these here parts - that Cardigan is a beautiful, up-and-coming town with so much going for it and is a great place to live.

This Sunday Times 'Top 10 Places in Wales to Live' list didn't only name Cardigan as one of its 10, but the editor actually picked the town as her personal favourite! Quite right too!

Every community has its nay-sayers, those 'the fields are always greener on the other side' brigade - that's just human nature I'm afraid.

But with great inward investment and the longed-for completion of the restoration of our Castle and of the soon-to-start building of our new hospital both on the near horizon, as well as a vibrant community life, steeped in history, culture and tradition, I really couldn't think of many better places to live.

Could you?!

Friday, 8 March 2013

One small stanchion for man, One large stanchion for Cardigan!

Today was THE day.

After 38 years of waiting, the first of the 3 stanchions/buttresses that have apparently been holding Cardigan Castle together were removed this lunchtime in an event supported by the Welsh media and hundreds of local residents that lined Cardigan Bridge and Prince Charles Quay.

As this BBC Wales article and clip of the moment itself shows, it was a wonderfully epic moment for an event a long time in the making.

Today, I shed the chains of office and my role in local government and was once more that young child that would cross Cardigan Bridge back in the late 1980s/early 1990s and look up in awe at that imposing, secretive, impenetrable Castle with those hideous, ghastly looking stanchions, apparently propping it all up.

This lunchtime, that boy with a love of history saw the first dismantling of those 38 year old monstrosities!

It has been a fabulous day for Cardigan and in a matter of just a few weeks, all 3 will be gone and consigned to the history of our minds.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

A 12,000ft Parachute Jump in Memory of my Father, Lance Cole

I'm not keen on heights and I'm not keen on confined spaces. So combine the two and for me, you get a very uncomfortable environment.

Yet, those who know me may be surprised to read that I have for some time been rather keen on the idea of doing a parachute jump for charity. A bungee jump? Not a chance, no way. But a tandem parachute jump? Whilst I can't really explain why, yeah...it's interested me.

Lance Cole
In memory of my father, Lance Cole
My health scare before Christmas kind of reminded me of the important things in life and it gave me the idea of using my final few months as Ceredigion County Council Chairman to do something different and to raise loads of cash for a worthy cause in doing so.

As it happens, this coming June will see the 10th anniversary of my father Lance Cole's passing and it seemed only right that I remember his memory by doing something completely different and in doing so, raise money for a cause that we as a family, are close too.

For my father was born with a hole in the heart and throughout his life, often suffered with ill health due to heart-related problems. It was said by doctors that it was a medical miracle that he lived for as long as he did. When Dad passed away, he was 66.

British Heart Foundation Cymru's Defibrillator Appeal
My family as a result have long been particularly supportive of the British Heart Foundation and having supported the likes of the Welsh Air Ambulance, the RNLI and Cardigan Cancer Care during my year of office, I felt there was no better way of concluding my fundraising activity for these past 12 months than by supporting the BHF.

Their current appeal here in Wales alongside the Welsh Ambulance Service is to raise £200,000 during this and next year to fund the placement of defibrillators in rural communities that fall outside of the 'Golden 8 Minute' ambulance waiting-time zone.

Many people in Wales are dying unnecessarily from cardiac arrest. The BHF and Welsh Ambulance Service want to change this by training more people in emergency life support skills and to place many more defibrillators (AEDs) in locations across Wales.

Half of cardiac arrests out of hospital are witnessed by others. Yet only about 10% of these people survive. With more people trained in emergency life support skills and more defibrillators on the ground, many more could live.

This is why I'm supporting this cause and I hope you can help me too by giving a donation to watch me, quite literally, jump out of a plane!

You can do so here...https://www.justgiving.com/John-Mark-Cole.

Thank you for reading and with your support, we can make a real difference.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

'You be hanged by the neck until you are dead' - The Tragic Story of My Ancestor Mary Prout

My family research has taken on a life of its own since I finally made the long-delayed leap into researching my own history a few weeks ago.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I made a start on the 'Cole' side of my family - my father's paternal and maternal side (my grandparents were both unrelated Cole's on marriage!) from south Pembrokeshire before making a start in the past week on my maternal family in the north of the county around Nevern and Eglwyswrw. Both of course are on-going but firm foundations have now been set on both sides.

But as a cousin of mine rightfully forewarned me as I began my journey:
"Anyone willing to undertake genealogical research into their own family, must be prepared to uncover some uncomfortable skeletons lying in the cupboard" .
How true he was.

Because whilst I have found the research to date to be incredibly stimulating (my combined trees have now already got over 900 names between them) in painting a vivid portrait of my origins in a way and to a degree I could not have comprehended only weeks ago, so too has the prophecy come true.

I have already unearthed a number of unsavory stories that will remain untouched and left unspoken out of respect for those still living, but I can recall one story from another age and which has received publicity which gives a harrowing account of a young ancestor of mine.

The Prouts of Amroth
A big breakthrough in my research was to solve the conundrum that I mentioned in my last blog post - that being the heritage of my great-grandmother Margaret Cole who married William Cole from Landshipping in 1901.

It turns out that her father Thomas was an Allen from Jeffreyston/Lawrenny whilst her mother Elizabeth was a Prout from Saundersfoot. Her father (my ggg-grandfather) was John Prout from Amroth, the son of Thomas Prout (born 1784) of the Fox and Hounds there.

John's elder brother Thomas fathered at least 10 children with his wife Mary Llewellyn. The 5th of which was Mary Prout born in around 1842/1843.

Mary was my 1st cousin 4 times removed and her harrowing story has been re-told by Bethan Phillips in her 2007 Gomer Press released paperback book 'The Lovers Graves: 6 True Stories that Shocked Wales' which I purchased online on being told of the sad story that is to follow by one of the many distant family links that I have made over recent weeks. I thank Bethan for her research and quote below sections from her chapter on what was an awful story borne from an unrelentingly harsh era for those who fell off the beaten track.

The Sin of Mary Prout
The story as told by the book itself throws up some potential inaccuracies when compared to the census returns but what is known is that in 1863, Mary fell pregnant out of wedlock when working as a maid in a large house in Saundersfoot. Her mother Mary had died a few years earlier in 1861 aged only around 48 and her religiously strict father Thomas disowned her for bringing shame on the family and for being unwilling to divulge the name of the father. Her maternal grandmother looked after her briefly but she soon had to take up residence in the harsh environs of Narberth Workhouse.

She gave birth to a baby girl she named Rhoda, in the middle of April the following year, 1864 but because she had a relative who was able to take care of her, the Guardians passed on the responsibility and requested that Mary leave by the middle of May.

Reports from those who knew her inside and outside of the workplace spoke of a gentle, quiet character who had a fondness for her child but a melancholy for her state of affairs. For all the grim realities of living in the work house, it did at least give Mary a sense of place, a routine and a sanctuary from an unforgiving outside world for a young mother with a fatherless child. Leaving this 'haven', must've come as quite a shock for her.

On 20th May, she left the workhouse and made her way on the 8 mile trip back home with her a crying infant in her shawl and the few meager belongings which she could call her own. We can only imagine what was going through her mind at this difficult time as she went back to an uncertain world.

Later that evening after 8pm she was seen by a mother and daughter who knew Mary. They spoke to Mary as she held her baby. Not long later at 8.30pm, Mary returned home but without her month old child. She told her grandmother that baby Rhoda had died in Narberth Worhouse a few days earlier but the protestations to the contrary by the Guardians led to a search for the missing infant.

Two days later on 22nd May, the gruesome truth was found. William Davies, the husband of the same woman who had spoken to Mary on her way home a few days earlier, descended into the nearby 'Little Pit' with his son where they found the body of the infant.

As he said at the time:
"I found the body of the child - it was lying on its right side at the bottom of the pit: I brought the baby up, it had a cap on, but the skull was smashed. The baby was placed in a bucket and hauled up".
A day later, Mary was arrested for the murder of her child. She confessed to the crime but claimed that she had been driven to her action by anxiety and despair.

At Rhoda's inquest, she was confirmed to have died from a fractured skull and the verdict against Mary was of 'willful murder'.

Her case came up in front of the Assizes in Haverfordwest the following month and whilst she pleaded guilty to the charge, her defence stated that as no-one was there as a witness at the time, it could not be proved beyond doubt that the sickly child had not died of convulsions and was therefore already dead when Mary threw her down the shaft.

The jury returned and found Mary guilty but asked for leniency from the judge in the circumstances on the punishment. However, the Judge, Justice Crompton delivered this verdict:
"The sentence of the court is that you Mary Prout, be taken back to the Prison from whence you came, and thence on a date to be determined, to a place of execution, and that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be buried within the precincts of the gaol".
In the intervening period between her sentence and her public execution in Haverfordwest however and probably unbeknowns to Mary, a campaign was launched to petition the Home Secretary in London, Sir George Grey, to give her a pardon by commuting her death sentence. It was signed by many pillars of society and one of the greatest proponents for the petition was the editor of the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Chronicle who argued strongly against the death penalty in his own newspaper. At a time when public hangings were still accepted though in increasingly lesser numbers (Mary's was to be the first in Haverfordwest in 40 years), this was quite a courageous quest on which to campaign.

But he was not alone as within a week, 1,120 names had been collected and given to the High Sheriff to pass on to the Home Secretary.

On 18th July 1864, the Under Sheriff J. Rogers Powell received this response from the Home Secretary:
I am to signify to you the Queen's commands that the execution of the sentence of death passed upon Mary Prout now in Pembroke County Gaol, be respited until further signification of Her Majesty's pleasure.
Your obedient servant, 
The campaign was won and Mary Prout was saved her day with the hangman. Instead, she was sent to serve 20 years in prison in London for her crime but was in fact released after only 10 years.

Mary returned to Pembrokeshire where she married a local man and had two children. My research into her whereabouts on her return show that her husband was indeed over 20 years older than Mary and lived in Saundersfoot at the time of her incarceration. By the time of her release, his older first wife had passed away and a year before they married in 1883, Mary's father Thomas died.

The question must be asked - why would Mary return to her homeland after her 10 years in jail where she would likely face very difficult questions on her actions when she could've lived with sisters who had moved away or made a fresh start on her own?

Is it possible that her older, future husband and father to her two later children, was indeed the same father to Rhoda? It is unlikely of course, but not at all inconceivable. Would that not be the most incredulous of twists as I write this, on the eve of St Valentine's Day? That love can truly conquer all?

Either way, after his death, Mary and her children moved and in the recently released 1911 census could be found living in London. This is where Mary died in 1921, aged 78. She returned home and her gravestone back in Pembrokeshire, as pictured in Amroth Churchyard, shows that her elder children clearly thought much of their controversial mother.

Mary Prout's gravestone at Amroth
Churchyard (Source: Ruth Roberts)
The inscription reads (with grateful thanks to Ruth Roberts):
"Mary Rees, late of Saundersfoot, who passed away in London. 
Dear mother, thy work is o'er. Thy loving hands shall toil no more. No more thy gentle eyes shall weep. Rest, dear Mother, gently sleep. Erected by her sorrowing children".
We can only speculate as to what went through the young Mary's mind when she made that shocking decision back in 1864. We are now, here in the 21st century, well versed in terms such as post-natal depression, but they were not de-rigueur back in Victorian Britain.

This was a human tragedy. A tragedy for young Rhoda, but also for her mother who rightly was allowed to live but who then had to live with her actions for the remainder of her life.

Little Rhoda it is said is buried in St Issels Churchyard near Saundersfoot, the same location as her mother's late husband - but in an unmarked grave.

Next year, 2014, marks the 150th anniversary of her untimely death in tragic circumstances. May she, and her mother, rest in peace.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Who am I?

As a historian, I've always enjoyed delving into the past to find explanations for current situations.

For years through school and University at undergraduate and postgraduate level, I studied historic eras, events and individuals. But despite saying to myself that I would do so year after year after year, I never actually got around to studying the history of something a little closer to home - myself.

Who am I?
The relentless cycle of life and work has meant that I have continually put off the reality of undertaking family research to uncover where it was I came from and from whom.

I've had a good sense of self on my maternal side of the family as my mother researched parts of her family back to the early 18th century many years ago. There is still some more work to be done there but it was always on my paternal side where I felt a yawning void in my knowledge. On my father's paternal side, I knew that my grandfather Benjamin was one of 6 children and I know some of my cousins from his siblings but not all. But beyond that, very little else. On my father's maternal side, my knowledge wasn't any better. I knew that my grandmother Maude was one of 5 children but wasn't entirely sure how many cousins I had from her siblings let alone known anything beyond that.

It has always been a source of great irritation and frustration to me, a historian, that I have had such a poor grasp on some of the essentials of my own being.

Cousin Cole
Suddenly a week ago, a brief communication that I received last year from a blog post that I wrote showcasing some of my father's photographs from 50 years ago, was re-kindled when a distant relative of mine from south Wales got in touch and sparked me into life.

It would turn out that this contact is actually a 3rd cousin to my father and his siblings. When I called him on his home land line a few days ago, it was answered by one of his sons - a 4th cousin of mine which until this week I never knew existed!

Martletwy Cole
So, spurred on by this revived communication from a year ago, I decided to bite the bullet over a cold, white and unforgiving weekend to register with www.ancestry.co.uk. With the sole definite piece of information that I had at hand, my grandfather Benjamin Cole's birth certificate, passed down to me through my father, I was away.

Benjamin's immediate family were from Martletwy between Narberth and the Cleddau Estuary in south Pembrokeshire. I attended the Sunday School there, living with my parents a few miles away in Loveston.

Within minutes, the family tree was growing through the archives of information held on-line. I quickly confirmed my grandfather's immediate family and have left it there for now as I am due to meet with a distant cousin of mine who lives in Carew who has a detailed family tree on this side of the family dating back I am told to 1750! I hope to be able to fill in great swathes of my mind through this visit.

Landshipping Cole
Instead, I turned my mind to the 'Landshipping' side of the operation - the small huddle of houses perched on the edge of the Cleddau Estuary a mile or two away from Martletwy. It was here that my grandmother's family came from and just to make my life that bit more complicated, Maud was a Cole too! Unrelated to Benjamin, two lines of Cole married into each other and of the few family facts of which I was aware as a child, this one had always amused me greatly.

Within just a couple of days, I have expanded my knowledge beyond comprehension of a side of my family for whom I knew so little. The 1911 census return for Bridge House, Landshipping was absolutely pivotal. There as clear as day were my grandmother Maud along with her 4 siblings, all children, living with their parents William and Margaret, as well as their grandfather James. Here, for the very first time in my life, was knowledge of my grandmother Maud's family. There is of course a great irony here in that had I have started this research earlier as I had always intended, this particular piece of information would not have been available to me as the 1911 census results have only in the past 12 months, been released.

My great-great-grandfather James Cole
(seated left) with my great-great-Uncles
John and Richard Cole and my
great-grandfather William (seated right)
Now, I have a great and ever expanding family tree on my great-grandfather William Cole's side of the family taking in lines from great-great Uncles and Aunts that lead me to cousins who live today who I'd always been told I was related too as a child but for whom I couldn't in my own mind, decipher out how this was the case. This has been helped by bumping into similar family trees on the website whose authors it turns out are distant cousins who are researching the same as myself. Beyond south Wales, I have already found contact with another 3rd cousin of mine who lives in Southampton. It was she who sent me this photo depicting my great-grandfather, his brothers and his father - the first time I have ever seen what they looked like, just days after I first knew of their existence!

Suddenly, a great cloud of a lifetime of unknowing is being lifted. The family fog which has followed me for 30 years is diminishing.

I now know for example quite incredibly, that the manager at the Landshipping Quay Garden Pit mine back at the time of the 1844 disaster when 40 miners were drowned in what was Pembrokeshire's greatest mining tragedy (as mentioned here in my blog last year), was actually my great-great-great-grandfather James Cole. It was his son, also James (pictured seated left), who was a father to my great-grandfather William.

The Carmarthenshire Link?
There are however still may gaps. Most significantly, I know nothing more of my great-grandmother Margaret Cole (Maud's mother and William's wife) other than where she lived in 1911, the fact that she had married 9 years previously (presumably therefore in 1902) and that I believe she died in 1953.

Whilst I have my grandfather Benjamin's birth certificate, I don't have the same for Maud. I therefore do not know her mother Margaret's maiden name and from where it was that she came. Without this information, I have drawn a blank on tracing back her family any further. But from what my father said to my mother when he was alive and from what a cousin of my father has said today to my mother on the 'phone, there is a strong belief that she came from Carmarthenshire, possibly Meidrim. What is also interesting is that Maud and her elder brother were both apparently born in Carmarthen whilst their younger 3 siblings were born back in Pembrokeshire.

More research with the local records office via birth and marriage certificates should finally bring an answer to this long-time family unknown.

In the meantime, whilst some information is unsurprisingly proving itself more difficult to come across, I can safely state that within a matter of just days, I have with relatively minimal effort, managed to explain away my heritage in greater detail than I could ever have hoped in such a short time-frame.

Bringing the past back to life 
I hope this personal roller-coaster ride continues to the point where, at the very least, I can trace my family all the way back to my 16 great-great-grandparents and everybody else in-between. In some lines as mentioned above, I have already gone beyond that but in setting this as a target in the first-instance, it gives me a sense of fulfillment that I am finally honouring my family history by bringning it all back to life, once more.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

My Footballing Dream Come True - Commentating for Match of the Day!

Having been football mad since I can remember, I've always wanted to be a football commentator. Come to think about it, any kind of sporting commentary would do!

Those who have had the great misfortune of being with me whilst watching live sport (either in the stadium or at home on TV) will testify to my fondness for lending my own unique style of commentary for each occasion. Never is this more so than when Wales are playing in the 6 Nations!

I hold sporting commentators such as Murray Walker, Peter O'Sullevan, Sid Waddell, Bill McLaren, David Coleman, Peter Allis, Richie Benaud, Brendan Foster, Ted Lowe, Eddie Waring, Harry Carpenter, Brian Moore, Barry Davies, Clare Balding, Kenneth Wolstenholme, Barry Davies and John Motson in the highest regard.

They have all, in their own inimitable way, given the moment of sporting drama, the gravitas required to make a truly wonderful moment of sport, a wholly unforgettable one.

Indeed, back in early 2011, I paid my own personal homage to what in my eyes, are the Top 20 Greatest Moments in Sporting Commentary as can be viewed here.

National Football Museum in Manchester
But when I visited the superb National Football Museum in Manchester before Christmas, little did I realise that I would have my own unique opportunity to put my personal stamp on a historic moment in sporting history, for posterity!

The National Football Museum is not just a passive record of the people's beautiful game but also has a wealth of wonderful interactive opportunities for all.

I personally loved the BBC Radio snippets that could be heard for significant matches from over the years. Aston Villa Vs Bayern Munich in the 1982 European Cup Final was obviously a hit but so too was BBC Radio Cumbria's take on when Carlisle United avoided relegation on the last day of the season thanks to Goalkeeper Jimmy Glass' injury-time winner for a famous 2-1 win over Plymouth Argyle back in 1999!

Match of the Day 'Commentator Challenge'
Suddenly, it was my turn!

Amongst the many interactive elements, the best for me was the brilliant 'Match of the Day Commentator Challenge' on one of a random choice of classic commentary moments. I watched as others went before me to get a feeling for how it worked and saw members of the public commentate on Leeds United Vs Sunderland in the 1973 FA Cup Final, Justin Fashanu's Goal of the Season for Norwich Vs Liverpool in 1980 and Liverpool vs West Ham in the 2006 FA Cup Final. 

Then it was my turn, my moment to live a boyhood dream and of all of the scenarios available, I almost jumped out of my seat with joy when it gave me, by random chance, the one I wanted - Hereford United Vs Newcastle United in THAT famous FA Cup 3rd Round Replay from 1972 at Edgar Street...

I'd noticed how I needed to keep an eye on the screen but also 'refer back to Gary Lineker in the studio' as they do on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday with Jeff Stelling and the boys, to make it look as life-like and as real as possible. I'm proud of the result!

I must admit however as an addendum before I allow you to watch it yourself, that after I finished and was watching the excellent 'play-back' facility, an excitable Liverpool supporting member of staff who I'd been speaking too off and on during my visit, bounded over and asked whether it was my commotion that could be heard from the far side of the museum?! I'm afraid it was!

"Now over to Mark Cole, in the commentary box..."
So, here it is but before the big moment, here is a sample of my live action commentary, as mentioned at the top of this post, that was gleaned from a visit to Bury FC's Gigg Lane to watch non-league FC United of Manchester Vs Grantham Town just days before our visit to the National Football Museum!

I was visiting my old University friend Huw Owen who decided on the great idea of a Saturday afternoon game at the footie and with the score at 0-0 entering the final minute, I told Huw to use his camera to film the great atmosphere. Little was I to expect an injury-time winner! Please note my amazement at the 4th official...

Clearly, my own unique brand of commentary caught someone's eye at the Beeb because literally within 48 hours, here I was, commentating for Gary Lineker!

Unique? I'd like to think so! But here, for the record, is John Motson's take on proceedings, at the time!

Perhaps I'm made more for radio than TV but either way, that was my moment and I bloody well loved it! A boyhood dream, realised!