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.

Monday, 13 June 2016

A Welsh Pilgrimage to Bordeaux - 58 years in the Making!

My blogging continues to be rather slack of late but a comment on an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience can not be missed.

When I started blogging properly back in September 2010, I took this opportunity to lambast the woes of the Welsh footballing team down through the years. I returned to the same theme on a wonderfully happier note only last October when Wales qualified for their first major footballing tournament for 58 years.

Well this weekend, I was one of around 25,000 fans that made the pilgrimage across the water to see that history being re-written as Wales not only made its debut in the European Championships, but went and won against Slovakia with style, passion and plenty of guts and determination to boot.

Road Trip!
A gang of my old University mates had decided when the tournament draw was made that we'd have to make every effort to get tickets for the opening match. Not only was it a favourable opening tie against Slovakia, but it was also in equally fashionable Bordeaux but critically, was on a Saturday which meant we could work around our work commitments to make it so.

We had been fortunate to draw 2 tickets out of the FAW draw allocation and purchased 4 others from those selling tickets online when their team had not been drawn to play in that particular fixture. So a hire car arrangement saw 6 of us drive down on the 900 mile, 17 hour drive through France to reach our literal goal on Friday night/Saturday morning. It included an unplanned, SatNav detour through the heart of Paris at 3.30am - at least the roads weren't too busy at the time!

With our Slovakian Cousins!
Arriving at 9.15am, we had a McDonalds breakfast whilst keeping a close eye on a narrow defeat for Wales in the rugby against the All Blacks and after checking-in early to our hotel, made our way down on the 4 or so mile walk to the town centre. It became quickly apparent that the reds of Wales were clearly going to be outnumbering the blue and whites of the Slovakian supporters and as we made our way towards the centre, enthusiastic local French drivers kept beeping their horns in encouragement and support - it's a good thing they won in the opening match of the tournament the night before otherwise they may not have been so welcoming!!

On arriving in the town centre, we went to the huge 'Fanzone' for some early drinks, to sample the building atmosphere and to watch the first half of Switzerland Vs Albania. It was very quickly apparent that there was a great sense of camaraderie between the Welsh and Slovakian supporters who were mingling freely with each other throughout the Fanzone and indeed the entire town, with no hint of concern for any potential flare-ups. For me, it was simply a privilege to be able to mix with our European cousins as Wales dined at the top table of European football in a way they had not done since that World Cup in Sweden in 1958 when Pele famously broke our hearts in the Quarter-Final.

So we took it all in and I took the opportunity to contact and catch-up with a number of old friends who were also making the trip - so many it was too easy to lose track of who was in Bordeaux this weekend!

The Tram!
We set off after 3.30pm to get to the stadium on time in a crammed tram - despite the French's best efforts to scupper our plans by hosting a series of public transport strikes over the weekend, extra trams were set aside to deal with the volume of transporting over 40,000 fans to the stadium some 5 miles north of the city centre.

Singing was the order of the day and en-route, I managed to easily coax a tram full of Welsh fans into song by starting up both 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' and 'Calon Lan'. Whilst they were fewer in number, we also applauded and welcomed the intervention of our Slovakian friends as they also gave us a song! The locals on the tram meanwhile, seemed to be willing to put up with this heady, joyous outpouring of mild mayhem with an amusing look of bewilderment!

Because these are moments you can't script. You can't make them up. They were just the the reactions of Welsh football fans delirious at the prospect of watching something that had been promised so many times before but that had cruelly been snatched away from our grasp each time. The match against Romania in 1993 and against Russia in 2003 obviously stand out in my mind but for those from an older generation, the match against Yugoslavia in 1976 and against Scotland in both 1977 and 1985 as well as the failed folly against Iceland in the run-up to the 1982 World Cup and again against Yugoslavia in 1983 added to the list of glorious failure that had become frustratingly synonymous with Welsh football. 

The Match
We arrived in good time at the stadium to take in the carnival like atmosphere and to prepare ourselves for what was to come.

From our fantastic vantage point in the corner directly opposite the main bulk of Welsh fans, we saw a great opening display before the teams arrived and the opening strains of 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' could be heard around the stadium.

It is difficult to put into writing the enormity of the feelings that came over me when a stadium so full of Welsh fans sang our national anthem in such passionate, full voice. This remember, was the first time that it had EVER been played in a major footballing tournament - in 1958, the team led by John Charles, Ivor Allcurch et al were introduced each time by God Save the Queen. It was spine-tingling and many shed tears at that moment. I confess that none of the tears were mine - I was too focused on singing our anthem out as loudly and as proudly as I could, Which I did!

On kick-off, any nerves that we had amidst the excitement came to the fore when a 3rd minute goal-line clearance saved us from an early disaster. But it didn't take long before anxiety turned to jubilation as a Gareth Bale free-kick in the 10th minute put our Cymru into an incredible early lead. ABSOLUTE PANDEMONIUM!!!! I was hugging all those around me - whether I knew who they were or not mattered not one jot!!

It settled our nerves and dared us to dream of the icing on the cake - an opening match victory?!?! Surely we're not that lucky - we're Welsh!! But confidence grew and an assured first half saw us retain that lead at half-time despite having had a stone-wall penalty appeal turned down during that period.

In the Stadium!
The match turned though on the hour when a shrewd Slovakian substitution and some uncharacteristically poor Welsh defending led to the equalizer. Despair. Here we go again. So close, but not quite good enough. Suddenly, it was the Slovakians in the ascendancy and for a good 15 minutes, holding onto the draw and an opening game point seemed like a more than reasonable result for us now. But then Chris Coleman played his aces and brought on Ledley and Robson-Kanu and the new energy that they brought to the pitch saw another swing in the pendulum. It was now at this time with about 15 minutes left that the fans sought to lift the boys on the pitch with an impromptu rendition of 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau'. Yes, I joined in, but not as vociferously as I had shortly before kick-off - my nerves were in shreds and I had to rely on the lungs of my compatriots to sound out that war cry to give those 11 on the pitch the strength and encouragement to carry on!

It must have worked because within 5 minutes, Ledley's precision ball to Ramsey found its way to Robson-Kanu who beautifully scuffed the ball into the back of the Slovakian net! 2-1!! PURE ECSTASY ONCE MORE!! Cue more hugging of those same nearby strangers!!

Yes, the dream was back on and despite Slovakia's late striking of the post, we weren't to be denied this time. Because this Welsh team have got a belief and confidence in themselves as an unit, having qualified in the first place, that was missing from those squads past. The resolve and sheer bloody determination that got them to France to begin with, now saw them through to 94 minutes with that newly won back lead still intact.

What a result!
It took 58 years for Wales to get back to where they left off in 1958 and having earned that chance, the boys weren't going to just show up for the party. The commitment shown by the whole team, backed up by a fanatical, ecstatic support, saw the Dragons in red ROAR their way across the line for a win that will go down in Welsh sporting folklore.

The 3 points now puts us firmly planted with one foot in the last 16 of the competition. But then, there lies complacency. Another point is needed against England or Russia to make sure but that is for this coming week.

The hear and now saw us march back to town (by foot, the entire way!) with thousands of likewise jubilant Welsh fans, revelling in what we had just witnessed. Did that really happen? Was this for real? Oh yes it was!!

We could only stay in the Fanzone for a few hours to watch Russia equalize in injury time against England before we had to make our way back to the hotel ready for an early start back home. So whilst our compatriots drank into the night, we had a relatively alcoholically relaxed time of it as time was pressing against our 24 hour flying visit. What was clear though as the weekend developed and into the following Sunday was that the Welsh fans had been wonderful representatives of their nation. Full of beer? Without doubt. Full of song and good humour? Without question.

Bordeaux turned red this weekend in what was a Welsh celebration of footballing redemption. No-one was going to spoil the party. The result just made it an even more special atmosphere than it already was!

Homeward Bound
We set off after a light breakfast at 9.30am on the Sunday, barely 24 hours after we had arrived. We were back in Folkestone via Rouen at 6.30pm and we were back in Wales before midnight.

It was a whirlwind, rollercoaster 72 hours in my life that will remain indelibly marked in my memory. Whatever happens now, those ghosts of Welsh footballing pasts have been well and truly dispelled with. It shouldn't be another 58 years before we qualify for a major footballing tournament but hell, even if it is, there will be 25,000 Welsh fans who will be able to say, to quote Max Boyce, that 'I was there' when Wales did actually strut their stuff with the best of the best and showed that we were in good company.

The best night in Welsh footballing history? Quite probably so. A night and weekend to remember? Without a shadow of a doubt!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

A Pembrokeshire Mongrel - Mwngrel Sir Benfro (2)

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was pleasantly surprised to receive from the Carmarthen Journal at the beginning of the year, an offer to contribute to their expanding Welsh language content with a column of my own.

Having published my initial column in January, I'm glad to report that the Journal have seen fit to keep this new arrangement going by publishing column number two!

My initial column came in at about 650 words in length but I've managed to bring this second effort in at about 550 words which will be my target for future columns.

A Pembrokeshire Mongrel
Again, whilst the lay-out is slightly altered to the first one of a month ago, it remains eye-catching and I'm pleased with how it has been set out.

So, having again re-published it here in the original Cymraeg, I also do so in English below for those who do not have the good fortune of speaking the language of heaven...

A Pembrokeshire Mongrel (2)

It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to write a regular column for the Journal with my views and opinions from the vantage point of being a Councillor and former Mayor of Cardigan but also from being a ‘Pembrokeshire Mongrel’ – born and raised in my paternal homeland ‘below the Lansker’ around Martletwy but with my maternal heritage ‘above the Landsker’ at Eglwyswrw in the Bro Preseli. All in the language of the ‘wes wes’ (west Walian Welsh dialect) of course!

A Chance Lost for Cardigan Library
The news that Ceredigion Council has decided to downsize Cardigan Library has frustrated many. The frustration lies in the fact that the Council had been offered an opportunity by the owners of Canolfan Teifi where the library has been located for the past 20 years, to remain there rent free for a minimum of 5 years. Efforts to call-in the Cabinet decision for greater scrutiny and to fully consider the offer made, failed however and the authority are now set to move the library from its current location, despite a great amount of anxiety expressed by users about the effect that it will have on the service.

Goodbye to the Rain!
I mentioned in my first column last month about the persistent rain that had well and truly put Eglwyswrw on the map. Since I wrote that column, our little village has gone global – as far as Australia and New Zealand! I even found myself giving a live interview on Dutch Radio about our predicament and in all fairness, their pronunciation of Eglwyswrw was to be commended! But all things come to an end and finally, the weather eased - after 85 days of rain, we had a dry day in the village. We should’ve celebrated really but in fact, there was almost a new sense of frustration abound because we ended up just 4 days short of breaking the near 100 year old British record of 89 days of constant rainfall. They say any publicity is good publicity and it seems that the residents of Eglwyswrw well and truly took to that mantra by the end!

Thank You to Robin Lewis
During my year as Mayor of Cardigan in 2009/10 and particularly when I chaired Ceredigion County Council in 2012/13, I would often find myself in the presence of Dyfed’s Lord Lieutenant Robin Lewis. Not only was he and Mrs Lewis good company, but we also had much in common. His business contacts took him to Whitland, where I was schooled for 13 years and they live in Cresswell Quay near Carew which is only a matter of miles from where I was born and grew up.

So I was really pleased, some years later, to receive an invitation for Alyson and myself, to his recent retirement reception in Carmarthen. It was a good opportunity to catch-up with fellow members of the ‘chain gang’ but more importantly, it gave me the chance to personally thank Robin for his commitment and duty to his role over the past decade and more. But more than that, the fact that he did so with such good humour! Best wishes to Sara Edwards who is known to many of us through her career in journalism, as she steps into Robin’s very sizeable shoes.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

A Pembrokeshire Mongrel - Mwngrel Sir Benfro (1)

At the beginning of the year, I had an unexpected but pleasant communication from the Carmarthen Journal, looking for new contributors to help expand their Welsh language content.

I've always had a great enjoyment in writing. Indeed, if I could have my time again I may have done a post-graduate degree in Journalism instead of plumping for the safe choice of history which I eventually choose. But due to my political activity over the past decade, the opportunities for me to write freely have been limited.

One of the few opportunities that I have had in that time was when I wrote an article on the historic coming together of the DUP and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland in May 2007 having made the trip to be in the grounds of Stormont that very day. Having been a pupil of history with a great love of all things Irish, it was a great moment in my life to see this unlikeliest of partnerships come together in person and to subsequently have an article on that experience printed in the Carmarthen Journal.

A Pembrokeshire Mongrel
So when that very same newspaper approached me looking for a regular column on topics of my own choosing, how could I say no? Doing so in the Welsh language would also give me the chance to brush up on my written Welsh.

So last month, my first monthly column was published in the Journal. I must admit that I was very pleased with the format and presentation of that first column as put together by the Journal staff and I hope that same format will be retained for future columns.

As a Pembrokeshire boy, born and bred in my paternal homeland in the English-language dominated south but with firm roots in my maternal Welsh-language dominated north of the county, I offered the column name 'Mwngrel Sir Benfro' which translates as 'A Pembrokeshire Mongrel'. It may sound odd but I've always taken great pride in my split Pembrokeshire heritage and how better to embrace the history of both than my taking on that very title?!

I have re-published it here but for those who do not have the good fortune of speaking the language of heaven, I have translated it into English below...

A Pembrokeshire Mongrel

It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to write a regular column for the Journal. I will be doing so with my views and opinions from the vantage point of being a Councillor and former Mayor of Cardigan but also from being a ‘Pembrokeshire Mongrel’ – born and raised in my paternal homeland ‘below the Lansker’ around Martletwy but with my maternal heritage ‘above the Landsker’ at Eglwyswrw in the Bro Preseli. All in the language of the ‘wes wes’ (west Walian Welsh dialect) of course!

An Eisteddfod for Cardigan…in Pembrokeshire?!
Ceredigion will be hosting the 2010 Eisteddfod and expressions of interest from different communities have been requested. The strict criteria for land that is suitable for the size of such an event limits the possibilities but there’s one location that ticks all the boxes. Cardigan looks set to put forward land at Llantood as an option though some eyebrows have already been raised at the fact that the site sits a mile the other side of the Ceredigion border…in Pembrokeshire! But with the re-opening only last year of Cardigan Castle, the birthplace of the Eisteddfod in 1176, there is a strong sense locally that it would only be right to see its return for the first time since 1976. Cardigan Town Council has already written to local community councils throughout south Ceredigion, north Pembrokeshire and north-western Carmarthenshire seeking support for a bid and hopefully by the end of March deadline, Cardigan and district will be green-to-go. As for the site being a mile the other side of the Ceredigion boundary? Well that makes it a mile closer to Eglwyswrw so I support it wholeheartedly!

Eglwyswrw – or E-gwlyb-wrw?!
It’s been a wet winter. No getting around that. But in Eglwyswrw, where I’m the manager of the family’s Dyfed Shire Horse Farm, it has been particularly so. Now, Uncle Howard who has lived there at Carnhuan for all of his 73 years, is a force of nature…when it comes to talking about the weather! But it was still the shock of my life last weekend when Uncle Howard’s face stared back at me from the Western Mail, being interviewed about the village’s 90 year record of over 80 consecutive days of rain since late October! Before we knew it, he was being quoted online with the Daily Mirror and BBC Wales News were on the ‘phone expressing their interest! It’s not exactly the best reason for the village to make the news. Having said that, it was amusing to see many English people try and pronounce the word Eglwyswrw!

West…was nearly Best!
Many racing fans from west Wales would’ve been shouting for Bob Ford from Rebecca Curtis’ stables in Dinas in the recent Welsh Grand National at Chepstow. Not only was I one of them, but I was there cheering him on from the stands…in the rain! Why? Because one of his owners John Rees from Llanboidy happens to be my father-in-law! Now, our Bob’s form is consistent in his inconsistency! If he isn’t winning, he’s likely to be pulled up but he likes heavy ground and boy, it was heavy that Saturday! Against high calibre opponents, he gave it his all and was in the leading pack throughout before slipping back and falling, for the first time in his career, a handful out. He was fine thankfully but despite the fall, he can hold his head up high. As for his form? Well, it’s be a pleasant change, for the only time hopefully, to see a ‘F’ instead of another ‘P’ amongst those ‘1’s’!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

A Family History Odyssey - Dedicated to the Memory of 'Cousin' Mick Cole

Time passes by quickly. Too quickly more often than not. But pass by it does all the same.

Exactly 3 years ago to this day on the 24th January 2013, I wrote this blog post about finally making the leap into exploring my family history after years of prevarication.

Since then, those tentative first few steps into my own genealogy have turned into a project so vast and never-ending that it has become a significant and very happy part of my life. Shamefully, I have not committed as much of that research and learning down in writing in this blog as I should have, save for the odd irregular article over the past 36 months. I hope to put that write and blog more about this research as time continues moving on.

But 3 years on, it's important for me to remember and commemorate the man who started it all off in the first place.

'Cousin Mick'
As that initial blog post of 2013 stated, it all begun earlier via a photograph of Martletwy Church that my father had taken in Easter 1962 and which I posted here in my blog on its 50th anniversary in April 2012.

Read the comments to that post from April 2012 and you will see that within 2 days, it had garnered a response from a Mick Cole in Barry. Who was this? It was all new to me but I replied days later.

On the 15th April 2012, I wrote...
"I'm hoping to catch-up with a distant cousin Max Cole in Carew who I gather has a family tree of Benjamin's side of the family and am keen to follow that up with a catch-up with cousins on Maud's side who now live in the Loveston/Begelly area".
Of course, like all good intentions, it never happened but then my reply went unanswered for over 9 months and no doubt I would have forgotten about this fleeting connection and been distracted by something else to excuse finally making the leap into the research.

Then, as our conversation thread in the comments re-commenced on 19th January 2013, it turned out that Mick had met my Dad's sister, my Aunty June, down in Martletwy previously. Suddenly, I was alert and intrigued! He not only spoke a good game about Cole family links back to my homeland, but he'd clearly made an effort to make those connections a reality.

So when Mick asked how my own research had been progressing since our previous communication 9 months earlier, my reply was...
"The research hasn't really got going yet such has been the pressure of work commitments but your contact has spurred me on again to look into it".
This time, there was no prevaricating. I started asking my mother questions on Dad's family and thanks to Mick's contact, I was spurred into signing up with within 48 hours, on the 21st January 2013. My first blog post was to follow 3 days later after initial research had been completed.

Researching with Mick
So it's absolutely bang on the money to state that it was Mick's contact that finally pushed me into researching my family links. The comments in the thread mentioned above give a reminder of that and the timescale says so.

But Mick didn't just start the research off - he became an integral part of it.

He had been doing his own research for some time and was keen on more visits back west to Pembrokeshire where he had spent some of his youth around Manorbier. So he did and over the next two and a half years, we would regularly meet up in west Wales to chew over the latest piece of research - to lock our heads together to see if we could make a breakthrough and to visit the locations of our shared heritage.

We first met within a few months in the spring of 2013 on the occasion of Wales Vs England in the 6 Nations Championship decider. We met at the Carew Inn for lunch with Mick's lovely wife Nikki and we moved on to Tenby where we'd all booked in for the night. We watched in absolute delight in the Crown Inn on Lower Frog St, as Wales thrashed the English 30-3 to not only end their Grand Slam hopes, but to steal the championship from under their noses! The Guinness flowed, the banter did likewise and a life-long friendship was well and truly formed.

When we weren't together, we'd send e-mails back-and-forth as we tried to make more progress. Mick was brilliant. He would come up with crackpot theories about what may have happened with various 'lost' family members. I'd learned with the research over time having made my own mistakes along the way, to treat everything with caution. Half the time, Mick's theories turned out to be as crackpot as they sounded. But the other half of the time, he struck Gold. Certificates would be purchased to prove what he believed to be be correct time and time again but his best find was to make a contact with a very distant Cole relation to a family now living in America. His proof was good but I just didn't see it stacking up. I was very cautious and kept batting away his firm opinion on the matter. That was until I found a travel document back to Wales in the 1920s for one of this American family's descendants and it saw her return to the very address in Pembroke Dock where her maternal aunt had lived for decades. Unbelievable - Mick was spot on all along! We since made contact with a living descendant, Ted Wilson in Kentucky who was delighted at our research and connection. We are now firm Facebook friends.

Over the following visits, we'd trudge our way through cemeteries and graveyards, enjoy the odd curry and sup a good pint or three as we spoke about not just old family, but our own families, sport and politics. He'd often rib me about being an Aston Villa fan - couldn't blame him!

Most of our visits centred around Pembroke Dock. Having barely set foot in the place since I was a child, I came to greatly look forward to our get-together's there. At the heart of it were our regular visits to the 'First and Last' and the 'Welshman's Arms'. Beer, live music, banter with the locals and in the latter, Henry the huge Irish wolfhound wondering 'round the bar - what more could you want?! Perfik!

A Lawrenny Family Reunion
Throughout all of our discussions, we'd always had the idea of organising a family reunion of our family back in Pembrokeshire. As the research developed, it was clear that it would take time to organise something of note.

 By Xmas 2014 we had set Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend aside for the venture and booked the marquee at the Lawrenny Arms. Sadly in the interim, Aunty June passed away peacefully aged 79 in the March.

But in her memory and for all of those who had gone before, we continued with the plans and we had a great time as over 30 family members travelled west to meet for the first time in decades if not for the first time ever. New photos came to light and new, unknown corners of the family story became evident as a result. This was particularly so for our Mick.

The two page article republished here is that which I wrote for Pembrokeshire Life on the back of that successful get-together.

Goodbye Cousin Mick
It came as a great shock when I received an e-mail from Mick on Armistice Day last saying that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had only been given 6-12 months to live.

He remained upbeat and was even talking of 'one final trip' back to Pembroke Dock in the New Year. Sadly, it was not to be. Mick passed away peacefully at home in Barry just 7 days later aged 65. I've lost close and dear family members during the past year but losing Mick so suddenly was numbing. The article which I had written for Pembrokeshire Life had just been published in the November edition. I had told Mick of this by e-mail but I never got to send it to him to read in person.

We'd not even known each other 3 years but when it came to the family research, we were as thick as thieves. We were a double act, bouncing ideas off of each other and helping the other with their research. With hardly any warning, he was gone. All of those plans of further joint escapes, were not to be.

His funeral mass in Barry was a lovely service and Nikki and his boys Sam and Jack did him proud. He always spoke so highly of them all when we were together and it has been great to have got to know them all over the past 3 years as well. Sam and Jack spoke movingly and amusingly of their father at the service. I give them immense credit for doing so because when I lost my father suddenly aged 20, there was no thought that I could say something in his service. But not only did Sam and Jack speak of Mick, they also touchingly mentioned his and my friendship over recent years in their eulogy. It was truly humbling to know through them, that their father took as much enjoyment out of our joint ventures as I had done.

To 'Cousin Mick', I miss you greatly. The family history research that began so tentatively after your initial contact has now swollen to make a family tree containing over 11,000 names. didn't just make it happen, you made it fun.

It won't be the same without you Mick boy but I will continue as we would have done and everything I do now, I do so in your memory.

Thank you Mick.