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 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!