“Santa Claus has got it right – visit people once a year …”

Now those of you that don’t actually know me are probably thinking “miserable old git”, those of you (not very many !!) who do know me are saying “still the same miserable old git!!”.  And it’s probably a very accurate assessment; I mean, hard as you may find this to believe, let alone understand, I HATE all those endless ‘game shows’ that we are bombarded by around tea time, just as I want to catch up on world events … nor do I watch the excruciating Saturday singing competitions, nor the awful Apprentice, nor do I wait expectantly for the next episode of any of the two thousand soaps, as for the six hundred cooking show/competitions, aarrghhh !!!  Worst of all, and I know this will be the final nail in my coffin of downgraded social standing, I absolutely, to a degree unfathomable and probably indicating a serious psychopathic malfunction, DETEST Strictly Come bloody Dancing !!! I HATE IT.  In my view, had the inmates of Guantanamo been forced to watch that every week there would have been no need of water-boarding etc !!!

There, I’ve said it; already ‘followers’ of my blog are disconnecting …

In fact such is the disinterest I harbour for that seemingly ‘Biblical’ Saturday night (and every other night it seems) epic that TV has ceased to occupy any place in my evening entertainment until well past 9 pm.  Now I must admit that of late, and as the season of Goodwill descends upon us, this alienation that I have from the rest of the British population has begun to raise questions in my mind.  “What ? You don’t watch Strictly ?!?!”, seems to be the instant response to my inevitable answer to what has been the inevitable question on everyone’s lips as I make the increasingly rare visits to shops etc.  No, I do not and neither am I concerned as to who might win (or lose) the X factor, the Y factor or any of the other 24 factors.  The only ‘factor’ I have any interest in (and even then my understanding of them is minimal) is the number on my sun-bloc !!  It seems to me therefore, I am indeed anti-social and a “miserable old git”.  This realisation and resultant concern is compounded by the fact that I am extremely, nay, ‘ecstatically’ happy in my own little world and my own increasingly large skin (as the mince-pie season rolls on unabated).  What am I to do ?

Paranoia is creeping inexorably into my every thought.  Do you know, I am even beginning to get troubled by the very few Christmas cards I seem to have received … Worrying indeed.

On the other hand ….

I am making my annual attempt, as indeed does Santa, to connect (notice I say “connect”) with the extended family and indeed the close family.  Hell, I might even see some of them.  The extended family is ‘extended’ in one sense – they are far away – but shrunk in another sense – they are mostly dead.  In fact my relatives from the generation above have been reduced to a half this last week as the last auntie passed peacefully onward.  That leaves a ‘step-aunt’ (if such a thing exists) who, despite suffering a stroke some six years ago, seems likely to out-live those of us in the next level.  It has been that sort of year really; people dead or dying unexpectedly have dumped a certain melancholy upon me almost monthly.

I lost a neighbour in awful and painful circumstances back in May, I lost another in August, that was a huge blow and again painfully un-expected and violent.  I heard the tragic news of the death of the wife of a buddy as I headed for my summer holiday.  She was a huge presence and a joy to visit and will be sorely missed this Christmas.  Then it was the graves of two Great Uncles lost in the Great War nearly a hundred years ago.  Now it is my last auntie, a jolly Welsh lady who lived a full yet burdened life having lost a brother flying a Beaufort Bomber in North Africa in 1942 (and never knowing what had happened to him or where he was buried until 1990) and hearing the news that her ‘man’ – Uncle Billy – had been seriously wounded and “was not expected to survive”.  She was a native of Taffs Well north of Cardiff and married my Uncle Billy (who died back in 2012) in 1943.  They lived a life devoted to each other, in the same street and the same house for over 50 years.  She and he were always on my ‘to visit’ list and I am grateful that for a few years between 2006 and 2009 I called with them often.  I am not quite so good at visiting sisters, in fact I am ashamed to say that a visit to my youngest sister back in March was the first for two years !  I don’t get to see the other sister too much either although I caught up with both at the latter end of the year.

A get together with the youngest happened at a jovial event in Hundred House where the local agricultural show saw us all get together.  She and hubby and grand-daughter (and the cutest little dog you ever saw!) brought the caravan for the weekend.  I attended with some artefacts (mainly to support the show and the area in which I spent most of the working year) and finally Miss Carolina got to meet the one member of my family she had never met – well she’s only been here six times in the last six years !

Tools at Hundred House

A small display of my artefacts to support Hundred House Show and the area in which I had spent most of the working year. Miss Carolina got to meet a missing member of my family too !

The ‘catch-up’ with my other sister took place at an event to open a new ‘sensory garden’ at the centre where she works aiding and counselling troubled young folk.  Grant-aided by a charity called ‘The Wooden Spoon’ (an international Rugby centred charity) it was to be opened by one of Wales’ most famous rugby playing sons.  A man so HUGE in Wales it is hardly conceivable that he is such an unassuming, quiet and dignified gentleman.  He had been a huge influence on my life in long ago days, a school hero having been a schoolboy international and a really fine member of the community.  He was my captain when I played at Pontypool and his manner of fulfilling that role was the model I strove to emulate.  He played in a number of the Grand Slam teams and was a British Lion to New Zealand where he was credited with ‘salvaging’ the tour when he took on the role of forwards coach.  He was inexplicably badly treated by the club he had served for so long and with such distinction and left Wales to teach at one of the top English public schools.  He eventually returned to Wales as Director of Rugby for the Welsh Rugby Union where again he played a pivotal role in bringing Welsh rugby out of the doldrums.  It was nigh on 25 years since we last met, boy we had some catching up to do !!

'Cob' cuts the ribbon !

The ribbon is cut by a famous Man of Gwent and Welsh Rugby, Terry Cobner. The ‘Wooden Spoon’ charity had grant aided the construction of the sensory garden at the Young People’s centre in Gilwern.

Once the grand ceremony of the opening had been completed and the ribbon cut, a tour of the sensory garden and newly apportioned centre was the precursor to some super refreshments.  I took the opportunity of chatting to Mrs Cobner and Mrs Norling !  The two wives were an absolute hoot and we laughed and joked about life in the valleys and all manner of subjects – Mrs Norling is the wife of the great international rugby referee, Clive, who was also in attendance (he was famous/notorious for wearing  shorts that were rather too tight !).

Eventually ‘ Cob’ and I got to have a long chat about days gone by, memories of Pontypool rugby and the characters we knew, many have since passed on, committee men and players but all were remembered.  We reminisced about the days at West Mon (Grammar School for Boys) and the crazy way the school was ‘ruled’ by a despotic head who caned boys for the smallest indiscretion (we reckoned we had both had our fair share of thrashings but honours went to me as he had never had 6 strokes of the cane – 3 was the norm!).  We laughed at the idiosyncrasy of teachers who attempted to ‘learn’ us whilst beating our brains out.  How we laughed.  We finished on a question all boys who attended that school in that era (and for years before) ask each other when re-united, “Why were we made to swim in the nude !?”.  Yes folks, in West Mon in the 1960s, boys – aged from 11 to 18 – were expected to go into the swimming pool (it was the only school at that time that had a pool) and parade along the side prior to diving in and swimming around for half an hour totally bollock naked ! (in truth some of us were so young and not yet pubescent, we didn’t even have bollocks !!).  What was that about !?  We’re probably better off not going there !!

For an hour and more we chatted and laughed;  I got his views on some of the happenings in his life and he on mine.  We laughed at some of the crazy charity games we had played in (organised by a character I was to meet that afternoon) and the incredible fun it all was;  we both asked the question, “what do today’s players do for fun ?”.  The common bond of a shared experience of a valleys life, a hard schooling (in educational and in rugby terms) and the joy that the game of rugby brought us and even though he had reached the highest peaks of the game, it was those memories of simple schoolboy rugby, of hard fought games on Pontypool Park and silly charity games (and games in the bar afterwards !) that made the hour one of laughter and  fond recollection.  Nice to see you ‘Dick’ !

Welshaller and Cob

One the most influential of men in my life. Son of a ‘Big Pit’ miner, a Blaenavon lad made of steel, a Man of Gwent and a famous Welshman. Humble and dignified so much so he spent an hour talking with li’l ol’ Welshwaller …

Opened by

From there I spent a jolly hour with sister and her ‘man’ having a rather good lunch and then it was off to another visit !  Actually another re-union of sorts, to meet up with more old rugby/school friends whom I had not seen in a good ten years or so ….   Maybe I’m not as good as Santa after all … but I did call on my ‘step-auntie’ whom I had also not seen for some years, -sorry – but she was out to lunch (that’s a place not a state of mind …).

One of the ‘groups’ of ‘chums’ I have had long association with is another relict community, another link to my school-days.  In all sporting schools, public or state, there is a long tradition of ex-students forming ‘teams’ to carry-on the camaraderie of the school team.  Of course the difference is that a team of ‘old boys’ (or girls for that matter) will contain students from a range of year groups.  For me that meant I would find myself playing alongside those ex-pupils who had been in the 1st XV when I was a mere first year !  Now most ‘young’ school boys admire and look-up to the members of the school’s top team until one day he arrives at the top himself and is looked up to by the youngsters who have followed on.  And so it goes on, so that within the ‘Old Boys’ fraternity there can be a whole mixture of ages and ability.  Now it is true that those boys who were top drawer players, especially the school-boy internationals, would progress to play at senior first class clubs.  West Mon Grammar School has a plethora of ex-pupils who became rugby ‘allumni’ !  The man to score the winning try the last time Wales beat the All Blacks, in 1953, was a Westmonian, the flying winger Ken Jones.  Bryn Meredith, a legendary Wales and British Lion hooker was another great I had the privilege to play with in the ‘Old Boys’.  More recently the great Wales and British Lion forward  ‘Pricey’ of Pontypool Front Row fame was a contemporary of mine.  For those players who did not make it through to first class rugby but who were nevertheless excellent players who, if anything, lacked a certain ambition, teams were plentiful.  Of course the one thing a so called ‘good education’ brings is success in employment, or it used to !  Many of the pupils went on to university and thence to a professional job, more often than not away from the home town.  There are, however, a core for whom neither rugby fame nor employment opportunity has taken them further than the ‘Old Boys’.  That is not to say either that they haven’t done extremely well in their chosen careers or that they can’t play a good game of rugby.  In fact I could pick a team who could have easily played in the top flight had the mood taken them.  Not for them the hard-core training and battles that marked the path of the first class player.  Rugby was but a past-time to be enjoyed, a camaraderie that ran alongside home-life, work and other recreations.  The group that I became a part of, albeit over a prolonged intermittent period, are still together.  Men now in their late 60s and even some in their 70s, all of whom have retired from successful jobs and businesses where they achieved high status, still enjoy getting together once or twice a year – more often in the case of those who are involved in running the rugby club – to watch a game and have a drink with old chums.

Having lived away from the home-land for a long while and having lost contact with some dear friends I was out of the loop as to when these events were planned.  A chance encounter back in the summer of 2013 with an old pal, a now retired police officer, at another family funeral (my father’s last and youngest sibling, who was himself a long serving and senior ranked policeman) resulted in a notification of this year’s get together.  Thus it was that I left lunch with Sis and proceeded onward towards Pontypool.

By some strange quirk of historic fate which I do not understand, the current team of Old Boys still play at the very field we played on when I was in school.  Known as the Skew field (I know not why, funny shape ? Horses grazed on it ? Anybody know ??) it sits between the canal, Monmouthshire and Brecon, near the ‘Basin’ at Pontymoile just at the southern end of Pontypool Park, and the by-pass road that connects Cwmbran to Pontypool.  When I was young the by-pass was the great railway marshalling yard of Pontypool Roads where my father started his working life on the foot-plate of steam engines.  I found my way to the pitch-side, in itself a story worth a post ! and found myself face to face with old friends and playing colleagues.  I was greeted with open arms and back-slapping enough to embarrass the ‘Prodigal Son’.  In the blink of an eye I was transported thirty years back and we were soon all engrossed in watching the game with all the old side-splitting wit and jibes that so personified rugby at that level.

For my part I was thrilled to see that there is still rugby being played at the ‘fun’ level although I’m sure the players would take offence at that comment, to them it was deadly serious.  That was displayed on more than one occasion with a good old bout of punches and swearing !!  Just like in my day !!  Rugby evolved as a game in which every boy, every body shape, every ability, found a place.  The fat and thin, the lanky and stumpy, the physically illiterate and those who couldn’t catch cold let alone catch a rugby ball, could all take part, be a part, enjoy the camaraderie and self esteem of being in a team.  For the most part club rugby is now  far too serious, far too fitness obsessed, far too over-coached.  Here was a game where the ball was thrown with abandon, where players ran like the wind for the line and got hit and tackled with kamikaze abandon.  Here was a game where the referee struggled to keep up and the lines-men added tens of yards each time ‘their’ side kicked the ball to touch and subtracted hundreds when the opposition kicked it !  Rugby like it was meant to be played.  Do you know, they even drank beer afterwards (and played a few games which cannot be mentioned here !!)  Cobner and I had talked about the ending of that ‘grass roots’ type of game, of team and voluntary effort by committee men and wives and girlfriends.  But here it was, alive, well and kicking !!  How I enjoyed it.  How I enjoyed too catching up with dear old friends and hearing the old laughter and revelry.

I mentioned the ‘arranger’ of my last charity game with Cob, he is, or rather was, Aunt Bettie’s son-in-law, that is he was married to my cousin.  He and I were great pals for years and we played many games of rugby.  He was a great runner and had attended the prestigious Loughborough College where athletics were the primary sport.  If I say he is the funniest clown I have ever known it is not a criticism or an insult.  He is the funniest man and he doesn’t have to try ….  I’d forgotten just how chaotic and hilarious anything in which he is involved would inevitably become.  His laugh is so infectious and everyone but everyone loves him.  Shun Price, you are the best !!  Though watching him auctioning the raffle prizes as well as the auction items (despite me telling him several times !) was the real gem of the day, it more than anything zoomed me back to those halcyon days of yesteryear.  I hadn’t laughed so much in such a short time for longer than I can remember.  The friend who let me know it was happening took a picture and managed to overcome the disability of age and booze to send it me !  I will look at it long and often this Christmas.

Do I look happy ?  Can you see how 'sociable' I am being ?  What a great Saturday I had, thank you young Mostyn Sadler - I owe you !!

Do I look happy ? Can you see how ‘sociable’ I am being ? What a great Saturday I had, thank you young Mostyn Sadler – I owe you !!

So, you see, I am following in Santa’s footsteps, sometimes an annual visit, sometimes a little longer but visit I do.  If it’s your turn, and there are certainly many who still need to be visited, I’ll be there sooner or later but please … No mention of competitions, cooking or singing and definitely DON’T MENTION DANCING !!

Those who know me can tell you what I think of dancing … bring it on !!

Happy Christmas to all my readers, my friends, even my enemies.  Thank you all for sticking with this ‘miserable old git’ !!

Now get lost ’til 2015  !!

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda from

Welshwaller

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6 Responses to ““Santa Claus has got it right – visit people once a year …””

  1. nikhil Says:

    nice post

  2. Val Says:

    Although I do not live in the U.K, I am familiar with most, if not all the so called entertainment fare that is on t.v. there and especially at this time of year. I lived in the U.K many years ago, but return once a year , so am more or less in touch with things there. I must say, if anything , you have won my confirmed allegiance to your blog with this post alone, as am in complete agreement with you . I rarely. if ever watch any television anyway and believe me, US t.v. is equally as awful, mindless, vacuous , unintelligent and vile. It probably is more so, as think many of your programmes are influenced by American style programmes to begin with.. I hope you are able to spend your holidays exactly as you wish and without having to be subjected to any of the rubbish that passes for today’s so called entertainment. Your opening paragraph made me laugh , both in sympathy and recognition. So,even if you have lost a few followers there will still be one tuning in . Cheers.

  3. simplythebestjt Says:

    Always welcome at Caerlan, never seen an episode of strictly, apprentice, xy factor or stenders , our tele has them blocked . Only old films and BBC news for us !

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Will brittain Says:

    It must be the three years we spent together in college that made us grumpy!
    I like the archers tho!

    Nadolig Llawen

    Will

  5. Val Says:

    Hello. I did not realize I was your only American reader! Yes, thank you , my Christmas and New Year were blessedly t.v. free~ just my choice of music and a couple of old films recorded years ago. A very Happy and Healthy New year to you as well.

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