Friday, December 3, 2010

The survival of curiosity

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

Madette turned rapidly from a tiny premature scrap to a hollering monster to a sharp intellectual pebble, never content with a "that's how it is" explanation. Clever and determined, she commanded input from all around her. Junior Mad was a placid, easy baby with a cheerful disposition and a wicked smile. Separated by only twenty-three months, they rapdily became playmates. He had keen knack for winding up his big sister. She would patronise him with her superior language and understanding and he would retaliate with a tease. "You're a mushroom, you're a teapot, you're a mushpot", he would sing. They both loved to sit and listen to stories, reading being a passion in the Mad household.

Madette howled at being abandoned at nursery school. Junior Mad howled because he was too young to stay. A sociable, jolly little boy he joined in all the activities with enthusiasm once he was old enough to stay.

When Madette went to school, she could read a little and write her name. Within a few weeks, she was composing grand stories about monsters and dragons in a neat script. By seven, she had read "Swallows and Amazons". Junior Mad was fascinated by how the world worked. His first visit to the Science Museum at three left him breathless and pink-cheeked with excitement. When our two hour slot in the Launch Pad was up, I had to carry him out under my arm because he was desperate to stay. He'd probably still be there now.

So when he started school at four and a half, I had few worries about him. Sociable, sparky and cheery, I expected a period of settling in as he got the hang of the routine and while reading and writing embedded. There was no settling in. It started bad and got worse. "Is it a school day, Mummy?", he would ask. If I said yes, then he turned his face to the wall.

We asked if he could see the Educational Psychologist. No point, said the school. He's just immature and not very motivated. He was, after all, barely five! But he was so deeply interested in everything outside school. In desperation, we saw a private Ed Psych. The school refused to read the report. "A waste of time". A pity really. She had found a very bright little boy with some writing difficulties. School managed to lose the writing aid that she recommended.

Months went by and the situation did not improve. He got into trouble because he lost his temper. Each child had been asked to give a little talk to the class. He chose satellites. When he got to the bit explaining how a satellite was in geostationary orbit, the other children became a bit bored, so the teacher stopped him. He was furious and telling her so earned him the punishment of losing break-time. He was six.

Parents evening was torture. The little heap of books showed almost no achievements, a few tatty sentences painfully scribed at the top of the first page in most books and nothing else. "It's very difficult, Mrs Mad. You shouldn't compare him to Madette. He can be lovely in his own way". "You are telling me that he's thick, aren't you?", I questioned angrily. "This is something very hard for educated middle-class parents to accept". Just who are you calling effing middle-class?

Eventually, another mother came to talk to me in the playground. She had seen Junior Mad reduced to tears in the class by the carelessly cruel remarks of his teacher. She had labelled him lazy and ignorant. That was the last time they had the opportunity to hurt him. He left that day.

But they had done such a lot of damage in the time he was there. His confidence was knocked sideways and he never quite regained the easy manner which allowed him to make friends readily. The next school peeled back the protective outer layer and provided him with the support he needed. Choices around senior school were hard. I couldn't bear the idea of sending him away to board so senior school was a curate's egg. Not all bad, although it was dispiriting to have to explain dyslexia to some teachers. But we were very fortunate to have the resources to provide support that he didn't get in school.

Sixth-form was mainly a good experience since he had a nice group of friends and he focused on the sciences where he excelled. An inspirational teacher encouraged him to take a Nuffield Bursary with a placement at a space science laboratory. His curiosity continued to unfurl. After a gap year, he set off to university. One of those Russell Group institutions, not normally renowned for taking students who are "lovely in their own way". He got a First.

So what's he doing now? Well, today he's probably nursing a bit of a hangover. But yesterday, he was awarded his PhD.

That's right Dr Junior Mad. Ha! I can say, "My son, the doctor". Don't go to him if you're bleeding or the like ... he's not that sort of a doctor.

And just in case you're wondering why my son is wearing a colander in the first picture ... it was so he could look at the lights through the holes. He'd noticed they looked different with / without the holes.

This is not a dish best served cold. Yes , I bit of me would like to string some of his early teachers up by their toes but, hey, it's in the past.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day."

Both quotations are from Albert Einstein. They said he was a bit thick too.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shaken from white wash buckets down the sky ...

A bit chilly, eh? Sunday afternoon it was -10C. And that was when the sun was out. Last January, they said that the weather was "a once in a generation event". Hey-ho.

And, I heard a punter on Radio 4 declaiming that it was "time that this country stopped being so insular". For an island, that may be a challenge. Anyone feel like getting out and giving us a push?

I never quite know whether I like the white stuff. The sensible bit of me sees the chaos and danger and the bone-chilling hard work for the farmers and other outdoor workers. It was much easier being ten.

In 1963, I had just turned ten and loved the stuff. The pleasure was heightened by the fact that school was closed for weeks. The ancient pipes had burst and we had to go in every day for 6 weeks, sign the register and then go home.

We had no running water for two months and drinking water had to be collected from a standpipe a quarter of a mile away. Snow was gathered in big pans and heated on the Rayburn to give us water to wash. Ten year olds don't need much washing anyway.

My mother frantically tried to keep the house clean against melted slush trailing through. Dad delivered milk every day and always checked on the old and frail on his milkround. I would help him carry freezing bottles up grey stone paths. He trudged with icy cold metal milk crates, his hands chilled to the bone in fingerless gloves. The gloves would be put in the slow oven to dry and warm up before he went out again.

My dad's friend was the undertaker and he made me a sledge out of a failed coffin side. Dad polished it up and fixed a box seat and ropes for steering. The final embellishment was the runners. Two stair-rods were screwed in place and we buffed the monster up a bit to give it extra whizz. It certainly had extra whizz and I trudged up the hill valiantly until my legs were like jelly. The descent was a few moments of squealing delight.

Ten was just the age to be, eh?

"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."

Dylan Thomas

Friday, November 26, 2010

Back again

Apologies for the disappearing act. Nothing sinister. Just busy with work, painting, a small holiday, putting the garden to bed for the winter and stuff.

Anyway, I haven't gone away.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Madette

Today I've had my quota of believing six impossible things before breakfast.

First, it was my birthday yesterday and I cannot believe my age. But I downed it before breakfast.

Secondly, I share my birthday (date and year) with Vladimir Putin. What was that strange and bitter taste?

Thirdly, that Spottie the Git decided to wake me up at 02:31 to have a wander outside. Needed a cup of tea for that one.

Fourthly, the Labour party had a choice of two Millipedes and chose the wrong one. I swallowed that one with a banana which may have something to do with the decision.

Fifthly, Madette is 29 years old today. Gulp.

Lastly, and this really is hard to chew. A bit like Shredded Wheat. You can chew it for hours but it will never get past the tonsils. Tomorrow, Madette will be exactly the same age I was when she was born.

Chance made you my daughter;
love made you my friend

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Vlad

Yes... it is my big day too. And no, it's not me posing with him.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My morning as Joseph K

My fridge freezer is dying. One bit of the freezer is hot. This is not the normal state of affairs.
But I have a 5 year warranty - paid for it when I bought the house in 2006.
I have all the paperwork because I am just that sort of person.

Phoned manufacturer - directed to an 0844 number for service department.
Get through to muppet #1 who asked for my warranty number.
No such number on the paperwork. But I have an invoice number. Not interested, says muppet#1.
Muppet #1 says can't help without warranty number and hangs up.

Phoned back. Got muppet #2
Searches database, Can't find me, Says therefore I do not have warranty, argues that my paperwork can't be valid and hangs up.

Phoned back. Got muppet #3
Searches database, Can't find me, Says therefore I do not have warranty. "Stop" I squeak. Muppet #3 agrees to email manufacturer and will call me back IF I have a valid warranty. Says no point in taking my phone number since, if I have warranty, it will be on the system. Hangs up.

Phoned manufacturer again. Hit random set of numbers until I got a human bean. "Don't hang up," I plead.
HB#1 searches database using my name, address and invoice number on the warranty document. The latter finds me. They have me as "Again Mad" not "Mad Again".
HB#1 tells me to call 0844 number for service department and give them the information about the name and the invoice number since they are using the same database. HB#1 tells me to give them her name as well.

Phoned back to service department. Got muppet #4.
Explain it ALL again. Muppet #4 searches system and says can't find me. Says they've never heard of HB#1. Hangs up.

Phoned manufacturer. Hit random set of numbers until I got HB#2. "Don't hang up", I plead. "Please can I speak to HB#1".
I wait on hold while listening to music interspersed with spiel about how reliable their products are ...
HB#1 comes back on phone. Listens patiently and says she will put me through to another HB who will sort it out.
I wait on hold while listening to music interspersed with spiel about how reliable their products are ... and then I'm cut off.

Phoned manufacturer. Hit random set of numbers until I got HB#3. "Don't hang up, I plead". Please can I speak to HB#1.
HB#3 says that HB#1 is on the phone but can she call me back.

Twenty minutes later, HB#1 calls back and says that she will put me through to HB#4 who will sort the problem out.
I wait on hold while listening to music interspersed with spiel about how reliable their products are ...
Just when I think that it's all gone wrong again, HB#4 comes on the line with all the background. An engineer will call me today.

None of this has actually fixed the darned thing.

And I will be spending the weekend making strange and interesting dishes. Vegetarian bolognese sauce with a garnish of gooseberries. Blackberry and gammon crumble. Bread pudding and German sausage. Any takers?

Monday, September 20, 2010

An arrow from a bow

Saturday morning at 5 o'clock as the day begins ...
... she's leaving home, bye bye

Ok, so not like the Beatles Wednesday morning and she didn't exactly creep out. Rather, my more than slightly not-sensible car was stuffed to the gunwhales with books, pots and pans, new bed linen as we set out for the long journey North. We smiled at all the cars filled to the brim with the things that Freshers need: duvets, tea bags and a surreptiously packed teddy bear. We grabbed breakfast at a service station and watched an anxious family. Pa re-checking the map, Ma looking in the M&S food shop for one last item of grocery and Son shrugging in depair while he explained that they could probably buy food in Sheffield.

This was different. Madette has been there and done the undergraduate thing, even the post-grad thing. When she was in "that distant marsh town", meeting up for a weekend or even a day trip was easy. This last year has been full of ups and downs for her and in this strange hiatus she has been back home. Despite the frustrations of unemployment and dashed hopes, there have been some very nice times. Weekends in Wales, dog-walks and sharing books. Now, she is a long way North starting an academic career in one of our great universities. We won't mark the ebb and flow of university terms any longer. Yes, she will see the students come and go and the city will be quieter during the Long Vac but her work and research will fit around it not rush with the same tide. Weekends will need planning, many hours of travel punctuated with the misery of motorway journeys or long train journeys. Just why were there pedestrians on the M1 yesterday?

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

On children - Kahlil Gibran

The fingers, so tightly gripped all those years ago, have been relinquished. And I'm so pleased for her. Now, it's just me, the Collie and the Jam mountain.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Green and golden

I've listened to all my European colleagues yattering on about the long weeks that they've spent down on the Med while I've been waiting. Smugly, you know. Through the long not very nice summer, I've taken long weekends to watch progress on the building work on the house. As the showers came and went, and building was slowed down, my smug smile withered slightly but still hovered a bit Cheshire cat-like.
Last week, as the school holidays trickled away, I watched the fields and gardens turn to mud. Still a bit smug but also fearful that those forecasts of wet until November might be true.

But now here I am smug, SMUG, SMUG. On holiday, in Wales with Fern Hill weather.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Junior Mad

Twenty-seven ... every blessed year for the last twenty-seven years. Wide awake in the middle of the night. 04:04 found me sitting up in bed with a cup of tea and a book.

Happy Birthday, my smashing son.

And the little blue lion in the corner ... she's 27 today too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Paradise Lost

Tap me with your finger,
rub me with your sleeve,
hold me, sniff me, peel me
curling round and round
till I burst out white and cold
from my tight red coat
and tingle in your palm

as if I’d melt and breathe
a living pomander
waiting for the minute
of joy when you lift me
to your mouth and crush me
and in taste and fragrance
I race through your head
in my dizzy dissolve.

I sit in the bowl
in my cool corner
and watch you as you pass
smoothing your apron.
Are you thirsty yet?
My eyes are shining

The Apple Song Edwin Morgan 1920 - 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

William and Rachel's story

If you're looking for a happy ever after story, I'm sorry but this will disappoint you.

They moved from Rachel’s aunt’s home to a rented house as a young married couple. William tolerated the fat, ugly baby who, anyway, spent a deal of time with his great-aunt.

In the late Summer of 1916, Rachel fell pregnant again. This wasn’t in the Great Plan. She had not wanted another baby and was terrified of going through days of labour. As far as possible, she ignored her pregnancy and tried to hide it from everyone especially William. Far from rejecting her, he was delighted to have another baby of his own. This still did not mollify her. Taking no notice of nagging backache, she set off for the Spring Fair with her sister. Throughout the day, the pains increased and eventually, they got home moments before the baby boy was born nearly two months early. A tiny scrap, Rachel hoped he would not survive. She had given all her love to one son and had none left for this red, angry baby who ruined her figure and her plans.

William persuaded his sister-in-law to help him bottle feed the little reject who refused to die. Reluctantly, Rachel came round to the baby,Eric, but made sure that there would be no further mistakes. She put a bolster down the middle of the bed and this stayed in place for the next forty-five years.

But love did not deepen for William and Rachel; they endured each other. The household eventually fractured into two separate parts. Rachel loved the first baby forever and tried to give him every opportunity, saving pennies to buy him small treats. William’s indifference to his stepson turned to stone when the boy showed no aptitude to learn how the world worked. By contrast, his own son showed a keen understanding of everything mechanical. In 1925, they sent off for a kit and instruction book to make a cat’s whisker radio. Everything that William lavished on Eric was denied to his stepson. At three years old, Eric became desperately ill leaving him almost totally deaf. William sent him to private school and when he was nineteen, he bought a car for him to learn to drive. The other son was allowed nowhere near the car. Eric took his lead from William and learned to despise his half brother. The common currency between William and Eric describing the older boy was "that silly bugger".

In 1921, William and Rachel and Rachel’s sister and brother-in-law bought a plot of land and built two houses with large gardens. Rachel and Hannah were close companions and Eric played with his young cousins who could follow his awkward speech.

Every Summer, when William’s holiday came round, Rachel would take his holiday pay and buy wallpaper and paint. He spent the next week decorating while she went away with her sister. One year, William returned the materials and, stripping off the wallpaper on the stairwell, he painted a fresco of a remarkably evil looking horse. Since it was applied directly to the plaster, it remains to this day, hidden under wallpaper.

Rachel was furious and they had one of their infamous rows where she hurled a kettle of boiling water followed by a flat iron. He fended her off with the ironing board. That was the last year of decorating summer holidays. William had achieved what he wanted and he and Eric took off on their own travels every summer.

After Eric had learned to drive in 1936, they went to Devon and Dorset just following their fancy. The ferry from Weymouth to the Channel Islands caught their eye and then it was just a short hop to St Malo where they meandered along the north coast of Brittany for a few days. Lord knows what the Bretons made of this strange pair.

Rachel developed a taste for charabanc trips to Scarborough and Blackpool with her sister and best friend. She became a pillar of the Church and, when war broke out, she joined the Red Cross as a volunteer nurse in a local convalescent home.

Both sons married in the 1950s leaving William and Rachel to rub along on their own.

In 1961, William’s health began to fail and in November, he and Rachel made a momentous decision. They got married. William was eighty-two and Rachel was sixty-eight.

You’ve probably done a double-take at this point. No, go back up and re-read it. William and Rachel set up home “as a young married couple”. Just without the getting married bit.

William and Florence were married in 1905 and by the Summer of 1914, they had parted. I don’t know exactly when or why. But by 1914 he was no longer with Florence. Rachel was said to have given him this watch on their wedding day in June 1914. It’s inscribed.

But there was no wedding. William was still married to Florence.

Moreover, there was no divorce either. When Florence married Abraham in 1921, she was still married to William. William certainly lost touch with Violet and Felix.

Rachel sported a modest wedding ring and a band of diamond chips but had never been married. Her first son had no father named on his birth certificate and carried Rachel’s surname. But William is named on Eric’s birth certificate and he carried his father’s surname.

So just why did they marry? Was it just to be respectable? Certainly, there was a grat risk that the whole sorry tale it would have come out when William died.

Was it because Florence had died and there would have been no hindrance? No. Florence went on until 1979 when she was ninety-five. Abraham had died in the sixties but, of course, their "marriage" remained irregular too.

William knew that, since he and Rachel were not actually married, Rachel had no property rights over his estate. He intended to leave his whole estate to Eric and therby exclude her first son. But Rachel knew William’s secret. Somewhere, there was his wife and legitimate children. She could bring the whole poisonous ediface down around the one person whom William truly loved. Eric would be exposed as illegitimate. It’s hard to understand how terrible that was before the swinging sixties. Anyway, the swinging sixties took a bit longer to reach the South Wales valleys and even in the mid seventies people were still shocked by illegitimacy. In a contradiction of double standards, in the late fifties in some areas more than 50% of brides were pregnant when they married. The dishonour was in the illegitimacy.

So, back to William and Rachel. They owned up to Eric that they had never married and that they planned to have a civil ceremony from his sister’s home. Hurt and shocked, he drove them to Swansea on a cold day in November for the wedding.

His old will was destroyed when they “married” and he left everything to Rachel. He declined over the Spring and Summer of 1962. In his last days, Rachel saw what a miserable life they had created. Holding his hand as he lay dying, she wept for the bitter years. “Don’t go Will. Don’t leave me”. He died a few days before his eighty-third birthday. Make of her pleading what you like.

After his death, Rachel did her best to obliterate his presence from the house. All his artist’s materials, jewellery making tools, violin and harp were thrown out. Eric rescued a few pieces but most of it was lost. All the photographs were destroyed.

William had intended leaving the large garden to Eric so that he could build a house. During the shady dealings of sham marriages and wills, this never took place. Rachel gave Eric the land and he built the home of his modest dreams. Next door to Rachel, he and his family were on hand.

Old age was reasonably kind to Rachel. Her first son was married with one son and they visited occasionally. Eric continued to love and care for her despite everything. Occasionally, she would lash out at him with the spiteful reminder that he was the child she had never wanted. She didn’t get on with his wife who found Rachel’s bitterness and duplicity loathsome. Sometimes there were nasty rows and Rachel and her daughter-in-law did not speak for months and in one case for more than a year. But mainly she accepted the kindnesses with or without thanks; the Sunday lunches, the laundry and the jams and preserves went on even when they didn’t speak.

At the start of 1982, Rachel went downhill rapidly. Through the hard snows of January 1982, Eric struggled to carry on working while caring for his mother. By March she needed 24 hour care. Eric drove to the local hospital nearly every day. On April 8th, he spent the afternoon in the garden planning to go for evening visiting. But he didn’t make it that day. Finishing in the garden, he lit a cigarette, leaned on the garden fork and died.

Telling Rachel that he had died was hard. “Not my Eric. Not my boy”. Ah yes, Rachel. The boy you didn’t want, who spent his life trying to please you. Rachel died three weeks later.

And what about her will? She left it all to her two sons. Eric’s half went to his widow. There was a deal of confusion and solicitor’s fees spent resolving the fact that, although Rachel had given Eric the land for building, no legal paperwork had ever been completed. Eric’s half brother disputed the title claiming that, although they owned the bricks and mortar, they did not own the land on which it was built. Eventually, common sense won.

William and Rachel were my paternal grandparents.

Like I said, no happy ever after.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

William's story

William was born on the longest day of 1879, one of the younger children of a large and chaotic family in Merthyr Tydfil. Frank was a woodworker, his sister Jessie became a suffragette, Lizzie was a communist councillor, John set off to fight in the Spanish civil war. All the brothers and sisters were political radicals in the People’s Republic of Merthyr Tydfil. William was an artist and musician. He painted, drew and made jewellery winning first prize for jewellery making in the national Eisteddfod in 1950. He played the violin. Deciding to that he wanted to learn to play the harp and so started from first principles, making his own harp. But for everyday living, he worked in the pit as a coal hewer.

In 1905, he married Florence and in 1906 Violet was born. They moved to Aberfan where their son, Felix was born in 1910. New technology was coming to the mines; they were being electrified. William’s quick understanding of how things worked took him into the heart of this new technology. Florence took the children to live with her parents while William travelled around different coal mines, moving on again once electricity had been installed.

By 1914, he was lodging with a middle-aged woman and her pretty young niece and illegitimate baby. William became captivated by this young girl, fourteen years his junior.

Felix and Violet remained with Florence who married Abraham in 1921.

William's life took a different course. He had met Rachel.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rachel's story

Rachel was born in 1893, the eldest of three children. Her father had a small farm, mixing farming with open-cast mining. By the time she was sixteen, he had sold the farm for good money. Deep mining was eating its way through the valleys. Daniel spent the money on buying a pub. Sadly for Rachel and her brother and sister, their parents enjoyed the pub far too much and the money disappeared rapidly. She left home to work as a kitchen maid in a local manor farm.

Willow pattern blue eyes, strawberry blonde hair and her delicate build caught the attention of a young man in the house. By the spring of 1912, she was pregnant and by the summer, jobless. Returning home to her parents, she found herself unwanted there as well. Utterly rejected and homeless, she was found wandering the lanes by her widowed aunt who took her in. Her aunt was childless with no experience of childbirth. Rachel’s tiny frame struggled with the large baby for days of agonising and frightening labour. Rachel was nineteen and this was January 1913. Defiantly, she named her baby after his father who never acknowledged the kitchen maid and her unwanted baby.

Large, square and ugly, she adored him. But she knew that she had to provide a living and a home for them both. Her aunt ran a boot round, collecting and returning boots and shoes door to door for mending and Rachel joined her, expanding the business walking many miles pushing the perambulator with the boots piled in with the baby. Her brother and sister came to visit and, gradually, her parents allowed their daughter to visit.

Rachel looked for more than lodging in her aunt’s home. She wanted security and, at barely twenty-one was still young and pretty.

Meeting William put Rachel’s life on a completely different course. They met in 1914 and were together for the next forty-seven years. She had found a step-father for her baby and a man who could provide a good living for the little family. She settled into respectability and domesticity.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hugh and Ann's Story

After marrying, they moved into a small flat above a shop. All Ann’s family except her brother were at the wedding. James was in the navy and hadn’t been able to make it back in time.

After saying goodbye to the family, they retired for the night. Trembling with anticipation, they lay in bed, chastely side-by-side. Hugh unwound Ann's hair and she threaded her fingers into his curls. Suddenly, a clatter and shout were heard outside. “A drunk, take no notice”, he whispered. “Ann, Hugh, c’mon. It’s me … James”. It was her brother. His ship had arrived at Cardiff docks and he had gifts for the newlyweds. His sailor’s bag was slung over his shoulder and balanced in his arms were a set of eggshell delicate bone china and a large wall clock. Realising that he had missed the wedding breakfast, he had enjoyed a glass or two before catching the last train up the valley. He spent the night on their sofa, snoring. They held hands all through a long unconsummated night.

The presence of an unexpected guest didn’t damper their ardour for long. Morfydd was born in August 1910, Mair in 1912, Eluned in 1914 and Iorwerth in 1916. In 1918 a still-born baby broke into their happiness. Eluned was so excited that there was going to be a baby and ran upstairs. Hugh stood on the landing glassy-eyed with tears and wouldn’t let the little girl go in. “I want to see the baby”, she bellowed. “There isn’t a baby for us today”, he murmured hugging her. Another baby girl, Irene, arrived safely in 1919. Glennys was born in the summer of 1921 but died at seven months. Eluned had knitted a dolly for her baby sister and hugged it on the day of the funeral.

But mostly, it was a happy home. Ann worked hard to keep a good house, blacking the range and scrubbing the front step. Cleanliness and godliness were level pegging in the home. By 1919 Hugh was the foreman-builder on a new development of council houses. He earned a good wage and they could afford a few luxuries. Shelves began to fill with books and occasional toys for the children. Hugh and Ann loved coffee and they would mill the beans for fresh coffee in the evening when the children went to bed. Little Eluned would beg for a sip of coffee but grimaced at the taste every time.

Hugh would bring home his account book and a bag of money to pay the workmen. Eluned and Iorwerth would be given the money to count while Morfydd and Mair bagged up and labelled each wage. Later, when Eluned proved to be adept with numbers, she would be given the columns of figures to check.

Two dogs trotted in and out of the house. There was always a spaniel and a terrier. Each Whit Monday and on the first Monday in August, Hugh would hire a pony and trap and take them to the seaside. A long day with Eluned and Iorwerth on the perch by the side of Hugh and the dogs sandwiched between them. Ann and the other girls would sit in the back with the baskets of provisions and the blankets. Eluned didn’t care whether they ever got to the sea; sitting up in the cart looking at the fields and hedges was the thing. Hugh was a fine horseman having been a teamster before leaving home. He would let the little ones stand between his knees and hold the reins as they trotted along the lanes. On the journey home, the two postillions would be adamant that they weren’t tired enough to need to travel behind but they often found themselves waking up under blankets by the end of the journey.

After Glennys, there were no more babies and Hugh and Ann looked forward to the children growing up. He was making a good living and thinking about throwing his lot in with his brother Robert who had started his own building firm. Robert’s wife still looked down on the shop girl and Alice was busily inculcating her nieces with the “we might be poor, but we’re not common” mantra. In 1924, Morfydd left school to work in the local Corn Stores, a sensible reliable girl. 1926 was a year of great change for the family. Mair left school to work in a dress shop. Eluned passed her scholarship exam to go to the grammar school and Hugh fell ill.

The cancer quickly took hold and one day in the Spring of 1927, the younger children were taken to the hospital to see their father one last time. They arrived too late. He had just just died and they couldn’t recognise the old man in the bed. He was forty-four.

Life changed completely for Ann and the children. The two elder girls became the breadwinners. Irene spent many months with her aunts and Eluned with her uncle and aunt. Iorwerth became the man of the family. He was ten. The light had truly gone out of Ann’s life. Scrimping and saving to keep the family together took away her sense of joy and was replaced by overwhelming sadness occasionally spliced with bitterness and anger.

In 1962, Ann had a small stroke leaving her permanently confused. She wanted to go home – to the house where she had lived with Hugh and their young family. Every day, she would dress her hair, put on her coat and hat and carefully put the two hatpins in place ready to go home. Eventually, she went home in June 1965.

Hugh and Ann were my maternal grandparents.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ann's Story

Benjamin and Charlotte lived on the edge of coal mining with Charlotte bringing a little bit of money and some pretension to the household. They ran a shop passed to them by Charlotte’s parents. Benjamin was an occasional coal haulier, or “Haulier of Coal” as Charlotte would have it.

Sons and daughters filled the home, worked in the shop and contributed to a comfortable but not luxurious existence. Some of the older sons worked in the local brewery. James went to sea. The daughters who were not working in the shop became seamstresses. All except Hannah. Tall, elegant and sharp, Hannah went into service where she became the housekeeper in a grand house. On her visits home she brought magazines relaying the latest styles and comme il faut to her sisters. She taught Alice, Esther and Gwenllian how to trim the edges of skirts and blouses according to the magazines. She taught Ann how to twist her beautiful dark hair on to the top of her head and to wear a hat at a fashionable angle.

Ann is on the far left in the photograph and Hannah on the right. Their mother, Charlotte is next to Ann, followed by Alice and Gwenllian who is holding baby Morfydd. Esther is not in the photograph. Please note Hannah's crisp black dress with the leg-o-mutton sleeves and immaculate over pinny. A woman not to be messed with.

Ann was born in 1881. A late summer baby with dark hair and eyes. At three years old she had an eye injury. Playing around with a pencil, one of her brothers poked it into her eye. It took a while for Ann's eye to recover and it was kept bandaged over for months. She developed the habit of looking down and then fixing you with a fierce glare, mainly through the good eye. You remember when your mother said "you'll take someone's eye out"? Well they nearly did.

Hugh was captivated by Ann’s dark intense looks and she adored his curls and swift smile. After the Peeping Tom incident, he had a gift for her: two hatpins. To keep her hat neatly on her head and "just in case". She wore them for the rest of her life. One was tipped with a crystal finial and the other with jet.

Hugh’s young sister-in-law looked down her rather pointed nose at the shop-girl who was being brought into the family. She showed off the fine embroidery, cut glass, pianola and fish knives that graced their home, compared with the modest trappings of Ann’s family. Robert and his wife invited Ann to tea. Hannah was invited to accompany her sister. A bone china miserable affair, Ann sat through the agony of scrutiny and put downs. Alice politely admired the finery. When the tea of thinly cut bread-and-butter and dry cake was served, Alice smiled, arched one eyebrow, looked carefully at the tea-set and said “Ah, Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has something very like for the second best set”.

The Boer War and the Great War took brothers away to fight and potential suitors to a distant death. Only Ann married. The sisters stayed kept a neat home, never marrying. Hannah kept them in order after their parents’ days, reminding them “We might be poor, but we’re not common”.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hugh’s story

In the mid 1870s, Evan and Jane met. They were both in their twenties living on the coast. North Cardigan bay where the salt marshes make a boundary between the sea and the mountains. He was a younger son of a local farmer and Jane was the youngest daughter of a prosperous adjoining farm. Not quite the Montagues and Capulets, but not much love lost between the two families. They married in the summer of 1878.

Jane’s father carved out a portion of land for them to farm. Evan loved the land and Jane was capable and organised. The first son, Robert came along in 1879 followed by Lewis in early 1881. Hugh was born in 1882 just as Summer tips over into Autumn and warm days give way to cool nights. A combination of cold nights and warm affection saw the next decade filled with babies. John was born in 1884, Evan in 1886 and David in 1888. At last a daughter arrived; Ellen was born in 1893. They were comfortable and settled but the land was not theirs to hold and would never be passed down to their sons. Robert left in the late 1890s to search for work in South Wales, taking two of his younger brothers with him. Hugh stayed home on the farm but by 1901 his parents’ health was failing. His father was now a farm worker for his brother-in-law and Hugh worked the horses on his uncle’s farm. By the mid 1900s, both parents had died and the sons dispersed. Evan loathed the industrial south and became a shepherd for his uncle, living the rest of his life in a tiny cottage on the top of a hill with his lovely wife, Mary, who never quite got English. Lewis went to India and David went to work for his farming uncle. Robert took Hugh under his wing and returned south to look for work in the burgeoning construction industry.

A hard worker with a serious view on the world, Hugh quickly found that he was respected and trusted by his employer and by twenty-six he was a foreman. Social life revolved around the chapel where he could relax out of formal workaday English and be comfortable in Welsh. His passion was singing and attendance at chapel was for the hwyl and companionship of singing as much as the observance.

Hugh hated hypocrisy and double-standards. Chapel was part of his life but, when the minister asked an elderly member of the congregation not to sing because his lack of a tune was spoiling it for everyone else, Hugh argued that a tuneless voice was raised no less in praise of God than a tuneful one. When the elders of the chapel demurred, he left, proclaiming that his sort of God was rather different to theirs.

Robert married in 1905 and Hugh lodged with them. Good looking with a head of neatly flattened curls and sea blue-green eyes, he was quite a catch. His new sister-in-law was determined to introduce him to a suitable match but he’d spotted his girl. Heavy dark hair was wound into a complicated up-do. Dark brows and eyes made gave her an intense look and she would follow his gaze and then look away under dark lashes. His sister-in-law wasn’t impressed. Ann was only the shopkeeper’s daughter but they were bowled over by each other.

Walking out together took them along a country path and a stile was a favourite place to stop, hold hands and kiss. He would lift her up to sit on the stile and they would spend sweetly tender minutes there before he walked her home. An infamously dirty old man used to wait for courting couples so that he could spy on them. One day, they overheard a noise in the bushes and knew it was the old man. Hugh put his fingers to his lips to signal to Ann to stay quietly perched on the stile while he sidled around the edge of the bushes. She heard a couple of swift blows and saw the Peeping Tom running away. Hugh came back to her grinning to himself while slipping something back into his breast pocket. Ann demanded to know what it was. He pulled his jacket open to reveal a knuckleduster. It was never seen or mentioned again.

They married in the Autumn of 1909. A love affair for the rest of their lives.

Living the dream

I've been a bit otherwise engaged recently and neglectful of the blogworld. I have been keeping up with you all but there's been a lot going on.

First of all, we had Hay Week. Friends, culture and the odd glass of wine.

Then building work There. My smashing builder doubles as the local undertaker and so you have to fit the projects in between building emergencies and the occasional stiff. And he can't estimate for toffee so we're about 50% behind schedule.

And jam, of course.

I became White Van woman for a weekend to help Junior Mad move house.

Poor old Humbug has been diagnosed with diabetes so we've been investing heavily in trips to the vet's practice.

And then we have had an office move. The new office is in a nicer area with some attractive little City gardens to eat a sandwich or to wander round. Here are some of the things you might not expect to see in the City of London:

This has coincided with some changes in management at work. I won't bore you with the details, but my boss flounced out in a huff - it's great seeing a bald 40 something year old man behaving like a teenager. So I grabbed the opportunity to suggest to my new boss that I could work from home some of the time. And some of the time that means There. Like today ... I'm eating my lunch, sitting in my study and catching up.

And the other thing I've been doing, is tracking down some family history and that's what I'll be blogging about next.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Megan, over at Sixty-Five Roses is planning to do a zip slide on the Tyne Bridge.

Here's the BBC webcam of the Tyne bridges . If you watch closely you might see her zip past on the weekend.

It's a charity thing. Apparently some people do this for fun. Hands in wallets, please folks.

Megan at Just Giving

Oh, yes. She has cystic fibrosis. Do I have to Geldof you?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hands and hearts

It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home ... apparently the same is true of quilts.

Juno says "I've been a bit busy for the past 2 days something at the weekend inspired me to get on with it"

Madette too ...

Think it might be a virus?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Such a perfect day ...

The V&A is running an exhibition "Quilts 1700- 2010". A great day out, even if the atmosphere was redolent of HRT with a touch of crimplene. I liked this quilt by Anne West. There is a sad Australian piece made by the women on the convict ship, HMS Rajah in 1841. A poignant piece of Australian history. You can have your sensibilities challenged by Tracy Emin and Grayson Perry. Inevitably, some parts enchant, some parts sadden and others annoy.

Anne West's quilt at the V&A

For my last birthday requiring the use of zeroes, my cousin made me a quilt. A beautiful, inspired piece of stitchery that hangs on my sitting room wall There. She makes stunning art quilts and leads a group helping them find their own creative thread.

Juno has creativity through her like a stick of rock. Everything that she makes from her famous upside down pineapple Christmas cake to the exquisitely decorated photograph albums are little works of art.

Sometime back, Madette revealed a dark secret. Tucked under her arm was a little quilt. Since then,there has been a proliferation of quilts. Madette is not one of those people who spent their childhood with a needle and thread, or even a pot of paint and paper. From the moment she could read, she disappeared into a book. Her chosen look is more black and purple sub-goth than country girl. Now beds, settees and chairs are each covered with a quilted offering. Beautiful, every one.

So here they are, sitting in the sunshine after our day out.

And what could make it more perfect? A surprise visit from Junior Mad. Just for dinner and an overnight stop.

Such a perfect day ... I'm glad I spent it with you. Lou Reed

Just as well really, since the car service albatross has just flown over and crapped on me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mumbling Roast Rhubarb Tart

Back in April Mountainear published a fab recipe for new season's rhubarb. A roasted tart with a crême fraiche custard. It looked so delicious that I borrowed it. Trouble is that you need to make it to share, don't you?

So this last weekend, we had visitors.

And when they went there was a small leftover slice ... and obviously the Collie won't eat it, will he?

My friends are keen walkers so we went out to do one of the local hills.

First of all, we had the debate about the definition of what makes a mountain. I had always been told that it needed to be 3000ft above sea level. That means that none of the peaks in the southern half of Wales count. But there was a view that it was only 1000ft. I think that's a bit of a cheat.

Anyway, this was 663m or 2155ft. Fan Nedd.

The Collie complained all the way up. I was the one carrying the pack not him. Anyway, at the top, I remembered that my camera was on the kitchen table, so these are their photographs. The line running between my ears is Sarn Helen, a Roman road.

Our reward when we got to the top ...

... this wonderful view all the way to the sea. The Bristol Channel and the Mumbles.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful

"The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful." - e.e. cummings on Spring

Grab a dog and wellies and go for a walk.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Company of Strangers

I spent yesterday in my least-favourite European city. There seems to be more unwashed people on the streets and in the stations every time I go. Groups of young men huddle in corners and glance over their shoulders. The hostility is tangible. My colleagues are solicitous to make sure that I know where is safe to walk and where my bag is likely to be snatched. An incautious foreigner is likely to find their purse lifted in the bustle on a street corner.

I've always enjoyed hopping on and off public transport wherever I travel and even this miserable city has a reasonably efficient metro. Providing I keep my bags tucked in, I'm happy to miss the taxis.

Opposite me on the metro was a young Muslim mother with her hair neatly tucked into her headscarf. Her baby daughter sat on her lap, wide-eyed with interest in everything about the journey. Next to me was a beautiful leggy black girl with clattering bling that jingled with every movement of her wrist.

The mother battled constantly to stop her daughter putting her hands on the germ covered seat, walls and windows and then stuffing them joyfully into her mouth to rub against her gums. As we pulled into a station, she spotted a dog on the other platform. Desperate to distract the tot, she pointed out the “Ouff, ouff “ to the baby. “Ouff, ouff “echoed the baby. As we pulled out of the station the baby glimpsed an advertisement for a Lion chocolate bar. I followed the direction of her gaze and smiled at her. Immediately, she responded with “Ouaarrrrr”. “Ouaaarrrr”, I agreed back. The black girl chuckled and her bangles laughed too.

The baby was fascinated and the girl unhooked one of the bangles and twirled it round her finger. And then peepo-ed with the baby with her mega-sunglasses that had been perched on her hair. The baby climbed over to sit between us, eyeing my watch as she did so. I flicked my wrist and held it to her ear. It’s a traditional sort of watch and ticks. She sat leaning against the watch and spinning the girl’s bangles.

Pretty soon, we were at my station. We all smiled and baby-waved “bye, bye”, "au revoir", "tot ziens".

Mothers, daughters, sisters.

Friday, April 23, 2010


The BNP have elaborated on their policies. I can't even write "BNP" without feeling ashamed. Let's get it right. The Fascists.

They are planning to offer grants for people to voluntarily resettle in the lands of their ethnic origin. Right: hand over the money and I'll be back over the Severn Bridge as quick as a flash. Ah no. On closer reading, it's about foreigners.

I am deeply ashamed that my country (yes, MY COUNTRY) can countenance the claptrap spouted by these people. I am proud of the fact that we can give homes to people who are oppressed in their own country. My son and daughter would never have been born if their father's family hadn't fled to Britain from the pogroms of Eastern Europe.

And the economic migrants. They come to our country and work in our hospital and offices and CLEAN them. I confess that I nicked that line from Jeremy Hardy on last week's News Quiz.

If we believe in our freedoms, then I suppose that the BNP are entitled to hold and promote their opinions. But we really do need to look critically at their data. Looking at information from the Office of National Statistics, rather than the Daily Mail, it is likely that approximately 10% of people living in Britain were not born here. That's about 6 million people, give or take. And how many British people choose to live or work abroad. About 5.5 million. So the net is about half a million. This number is subject to some churn as people return to their country and others travel abroad but, overall, there is a net inflow of about half a million. It's reckoned that this may have reversed in the current economic climate.

The problem is about ghettoisation and disaffection. That applies to young men being redicalised by strange and undesirable religious leaders but much more so to the underclass of uneducated young white males. Yes, it's not easy but I am proud that I belong to a tolerant country that has been enriched not diminished by migration.

Now then, about sorting out these foreigners. Who would they be? Damn, it'll only be a handful of us Beaker Folk left. All you Celts and Angles and Vikings can bugger off back to where you came from. And apparently, it'll be us Beaker Folk stuck up a few hills that will be sending you on your way.

And as for you Romans....

Romanes eunt domus no... Romani ite domum.*

*Monty Python : "Life of Brian" Latin lesson by centurion for Brian daubing graffiti

Friday, April 9, 2010


Look away now if you’re easily offended.

I’ve just been reading Alright Tit and it made me think about the cussing I’ve known.

A little while ago,
Some mothers do ave em
made me laugh with tales of her potty mouth experience. Have a read … howl with laughter and squirm with embarrassment for her.

We've all been there.

I used to call them "driving words" in front of the children because my bad language was mainly heard when we were in the car. I carefully explained that sometimes Mummy needed to use bad words but you can only use them when you are driving. When you are grown up and you can drive blah, blah... you get it.

Some friends had the driving word rule too. They were driving to the West Country for a family holiday. Somewhere around Honiton, there was a humungous traffic jam and someone decided to create new traffic rules. My hot and bothered friend expressed the opinion that the perpetrator’s parents were unlikely to have been married. They looked guiltily at the back seat but the children were engrossed in the Thomas the Tank Engine tape. Phew. Eventually they got to their destination in the heat of the day with the windows wound down. Someone cut in front as they drove into the car park. Their four year old son was quick off the mark and hollered “BASTARD” at the holidaymakers.

I thought I had it nailed on the driving word front. Felt really proud of myself. It all unravelled horribly when I took Madette and Junior Mad to visit my mother. We had a truly awful journey culminating in a puncture on the M4. It required the full quota of driving words. They were so impressed when we got there that they spilled out of the car full of excitement, dead keen to tell their grandmother about the vicissitudes of the journey. Junior Mad explained that Mummy had used all sorts of driving words in many and varied combinations. She asked them WHAT were driving words. Madette, alert to the fact that this might need editing said "Oh things like bloody and bugger, Nain" but Junior Mad added "And fuck". We had a great day. My mother tore my ear off.

In 1991, an interesting combination of circumstances brought a boy from Czechoslovakia to stay. He was a monster; more of that another time. At the time, the wonderful Juno was our nanny. It was a hot summer’s afternoon and we were going to Sport’s Day at school. Czech-monster-boy had already had a run in with Juno when he refused to get into appropriate summer clothes and had sulked because we weren’t going to let him sit in front of the television all afternoon. Everyone was loading stuff into the car. CMB stomped out of the front door and slammed it behind him. Locking my house keys and car keys indoors. I quickly discovered that my children would have made good apprentices for Fagin and we broke in after about half an hour. CMB was vile all afternoon, spitting out the picnic on the lawn. By the time we got home, I was frazzled beyond. Madette and Junior Mad went to play and Juno took CMB off for a little pep talk. As I unpacked the remains of the picnic, CMB appeared by my side. “I’m sorry Mrs Mad”. “That’s alright, CMB”. “No, Mrs Mad, I’m a total fucking prat”.

So back to my mother. Dad swore like punctuation. Mainly “bloody hell”. If it was bad, “Duw, bloody hell”. Mam didn’t really do the swearing thing and I got a sharp slap if I indulged. Bad language on television had her shooting across the room to hit the off button. When I was about twelve, someone had graffitied “Fuck” on a bridge near home. I’m not sure if it was a statement or a command, but she insisted that I cross the road and not look at it. Sometime in the mid 1990s, we were visited by the Jehovah’s Witnesses when she was staying with us. The JW had waylaid one of the household at the front door and would not leave, despite pleas of belonging to another faith, lack of interest etc. By this time, my mother was everyone’s idea of a grandmother : eightyish, white curls, apple cheeked and rather round. She trotted to the door, took in the “Watch Tower” clutched in the JW’s paw and bellowed “BUGGER OFF”. The JW fled, leaving an umbrella abandoned in the porch. We left it there for a few days in case they felt brave enough to sneak back up the drive to collect it. Fifteen years on, it’s still in my umbrella stand. Clearly, hell’s grandma was sufficient deterrent.

And if you’re wondering about the title … the fabulous Flanders and Swann wrote a song that starts “Ma’s out, Pa’s out, Lets talk rude: Pee Po, Belly, Bum, Drawers”.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recession bites

Almost exactly one year ago, I gave up the fight and succumbed to having another dog in my life. Beautiful Bella had been a princess in every sense of the word and was loved every day of her long and wonderful life. A very short time later, Mossie arrived. Old, battered and scared, he only lived for another 15 months and I swore that I wouldn't have another old dog. After three months of absolute misery without a dog to come home to, I gave in and, would you believe it ... this one was older, blind and had been been brought from an Irish rescue where he had been attacked by the other dogs.

This was Spot, almost a year ago. His back was a mess and look at those troubled ears. It may be the scary bint hugging him that was making his ears lie back, of course.

He still sometimes gets troubled by odd things but his back is completely healed and he is a happy family boy who gives such a lot of love.

And to my point. He came from a rescue that works in collaboration with Rescue Remedies. They take on the un-cute dogs. The difficult to home dogs. Have another look at Spot and you'll see what I mean. Even in the good times it's hard to raise funds and now ...

So, if you've got a quid or so to spare, they would be very grateful. I know that there are so many good causes, human as well as animal, but even one pound would help support them.

Rescue Remedies Donation Page

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Fab Four and Me

It all started in 1962. "Love me do" came out round about my tenth birthday. It was occasionally played on the Light Programme. That was what we called Radio 2 in the olden days. If you twiddled the knobs on the valve radio in the kitchen you could get Radio Luxembourg on 208m medium wave but only in the evenings. Wall to wall popular music even if it did fade in and out a bit.

I was listening to Radio Luxembourg on November 22nd 1963 when the news broke that JFK had been killed.

They must have got fed up of me sitting with my head flat against the speaker case because for Christmas 1963, they bought me one of those new fangled transistor radios. My mother didn't really approve and thought that I wouldn't look after it. It's just had its 47th birthday and it's still going strong. No FM tuner obviously. They no longer make batteries to fit so the new sized batteries are wedged in place with a bit of Lego.

I screamed my way through 1963 and 64, expanding my knowledge of the whereabouts of the Beatles through Radio Caroline and my purchase of the Beatles Monthly Magazine. I knew all the lyrics to every song. I had all the lingo. "Fab", "Groovy", "Gear". I can tell you this for certain because I wrote them down in my diary and used every opportunity to use them to the complete bafflement of my parents.

The Royal Variety Performance of 1963
was the best thing ever broadcast on the BBC. And I was prepared to put anyone straight who dared contradict me. Lennon's remark on how the royals could rattle their jewellry in time to the music was devastatingly witty. And so daring. Go on, I was only eleven.

The radio was great but the thing to have was a Dansette record player. That way you could spend all your pocket money on records and play them till they wore thin.

I was desperate for one. My birthday had come and gone without one appearing. But my Christmas stocking in 1964 was a bit thin: a nice soap, a tube of smarties, some tangerines and nuts. Because, there was my record player. Pale blue, with a stacking spindle so you could play up to six records and a latch on the turntable so you could secure it to transport the whole thing like a small suitcase. And records. They had agonised over music. Dad wanted me to have a selection of good music and "none of that rubbish". So there were some classical albums, a selection of the number 1s from the autumn, the current number 1 "I feel fine" and my very first Beatles album. Mono, thick plastic with a heavy rim that the pickup arm hopped onto with a hiss and a scratch.

In November 1964, they played in Cardiff. I sent my postal order in for tickets. Bitterly disappointed, my money was returned. They were overwhelmed by hopefuls.

Each month I bought my copy of Beatles Monthly and in 1965, I entered a competition run by the magazine to win a ticket to one of the venues in their 1965 tour. The December 12th 1965 performance was in Cardiff at the Capitol Theatre, which mainly showed films. Dad didn't want me to go but after many tears they were persuaded that I would be chaperoned by someone from the magazine.

There were several support acts but really I couldn't have cared less. I watched spellbound as their short set flashed by. "Nowhere Man" has been my favourite song ever since. At the end we were ushered out to wave at the Fab Four as they were escorted to their limousine and then they left. That was their last proper UK gig.

I can remember exactly where I was when I heard that John had been shot. Thirty years, this December. I know he became bit strange and developed some bonkers ideas and offended a lot of people. Poor George. A sad end but with a wife who loved him and even defended him against a dangerous intruder with a fireplace poker. Go, Olivia. Ringo. Yes. Well I forgive him for Thomas the Tank engine because it kept my children quiet for many hours. Paul. Marrying Heather was perhaps not his brightest decision and he should give up on the hair colour. But, what fabulous music they've left us with. I'm hoping to see Macca this summer, back in Cardiff again.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.