Always check your ticket

220px-ProgrammeApril1986LionsVsTheRestRugby

BRITISH LIONS V THE REST 1986

The British & Irish Lions are, and always have been a touring side. In other words you have to have plenty of time and more importantly money to travel around the world to watch them. As a student it was merely a pipe dream to get the chance to watch them play in the flesh. Then, in 1986, the International Rugby Football Board’s centenary year, a star studded Rest of the World side featuring the likes of Serge Blanco, Michael Lynagh, John Kirwan, Murray Mexted and Simon Poedevin came to Cardiff to play against the best the four home nations could muster. For a rugby fan it was the equivalent of a multiple orgasm. Well, I was young at the time.

In those days my usual port of call before a international rugby game was The Market Tavern in Cardiff. To get in on match days you had to have a ticket – not a match ticket – a pub ticket… and the only way to get one was to obtain one by drinking in the said establishment during the weeks building up to the game. This ensured that only regulars got in on match day – a commendable strategy to avoid any potential trouble. At the time I was a student in Swansea and whenever I travelled by train back to my native Newport, I would jump off at Cardiff (the stop before) for a pint or two in the Market Tavern, and collect valuable tickets. For this particular game, I was joined two of my college mates; Clive and Byron, who had accompanied me on a trip to Dublin a few months earlier. Armed with three match tickets, and most importantly a ticket each for the Market Tavern, we arrived in Cardiff well before opening time (11am in those days). The first thing we noticed was the absence of bouncers on the doors. On entering, the place was relatively quiet for an international. As per usual, we pooled our money together, found a table, ordered numerous pints and laid them out on the table, enough to serve as our pre match build up. This ensured that we avoided fighting our way to the bar for a few hours. Once all the pints had been downed, it was nearing the time to stagger pleasantly in the direction of the National Stadium as it was nearing the 2.30 kick off time. Clive however was puzzled. The pub was far from packed. Usually you were queuing for at least half an hour for the toilet! He’d walked straight in to the cubicles without a problem. Quizzically he approached the bar and spoke to the barman.

“Bit quiet butt,” he exclaimed. “Thought it would be standing room only by now with a game like this on.”

The barman’s response was priceless.

“5 o’clock kick off mate. Won’t be long before it’s heaving!”

To cut a long story short, we all visited the hole in the wall known as a cashpoint, situated a few yards away from the pub. Another table full of pints were purchased. The process was repeated – and apparently we made our way to the game a few hours later.

All I remember of the game is a blurred vision of Scotland’s John Jeffrey nearly scoring a try for the Lions and drunkenly shaking the hand of Australian prop Enrique Rodriguez as he walked down the tunnel. Other than that… nothing!

Now, the one thing I know is that I had spent all my money. So had Clive and Byron. The next morning I woke up in by bedsit with a half eaten spaghetti bolognese and chips on the floor next to the bed. The vague image of getting out of a taxi was running around my head.

How had I got got home?

Where did I get the money to pay for the food?

Did I do a runner from the taxi? Was a visit from the police on the cards?

My landlady had watched the game live on TV and asked me whether I had enjoyed the game.

“No idea,” I shrugged. “Can’t remember any of it. Who won?”

After putting two and two together I surmised that I had probably got the spaghetti bolognese from the chippy up the road. Tentatively I wandered up just before it opened – worried that I had walked off without paying. I was a regular – and didn’t want to be banned form my regular culinary haunt.

The owner, Bill Watkins, opened up and I walked in. Bizarrely he had exactly the same name as my father and had lived just down the road from him in Risca decades earlier. An incredible co-incidence that the owned the nearest chippy to me when I moved to Swansea; but that’s another story…

“Bill.” I said, feeling somewhat embarrassed. “How much do I owe you?”

He laughed, and to called his wife in from the back.

“Mike’s here!” he shouted. His wife giggled uncontrollably and rushed to behind the counter.

“Oh God, what did I do?” I asked.

“Do you remember getting out of the taxi?” Bill enquired.

“Um… no.” I answered.

They both laughed.

“We paid for the taxi.” they said in unison.

Looking up at the menu, I checked out the prices. Spaghetti bolognese wasn’t something I’d ever bought there before. “Here’s the money for for the Spaghetti bolognese” I replied, placing the cash on the counter.

Bill pushed it back.

“Forget it,” he replied, “and the taxi fare’s on us.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, astonished at their generosity.

Bill smiled. “ It was worth it for the entertainment value alone.” he sniggered.

Ever since that day I’ve only drunk alcohol AFTER a game.

Footnote:

Clive and Byron use to laugh at me for years afterwards, saying that I couldn’t take my drink. However around 20 years later when I visited Byron and when we started reminiscing about the game his wife recalled it well.

“They were both the same as you,” she told me. “ Neither of them remembered anything either.”

2016: Celebrity deaths put into perspective

1916-deaths

When Freddie Mercury passed away 25 years ago, a sage old friend of mine hit the nail on the head when he said that Freddie epitomised the attitude of society at that point in time. “I want it all… and I want it now!”  My good friend’s observation has now escalated to a stage where we can obtain practically anything we want pretty much immediately.  Any song we want to hear, TV show or film we want to view is easily accessible; news items are relayed simultaneously – and as a result news of those who depart this mortal coil filters through to us in seconds via social media, news alerts and suchlike. It used to be the case that perhaps lesser known or past their sell by date celebrities may receive a few column inches in next day’s newspaper when they died. Most people wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Occasionally, in the case of the really big names there would be a tribute; perhaps one of the TV channels would show an old episode, film or documentary and we’d all forget about it a few days later and get on with our lives.  Nowadays someone posts it on Facebook or Twitter – the whole world reacts – we madly search YouTube for a link to share – photos of the departed are plastered everywhere – and the world mourns someone they’ve never met.  The next day another celebrity leaves us and the whole thing repeats itself ad infinitum. The end result is that society begins to believe the myth that something is wrong. The media is obsessed with the question, “Why are all these celebrities dying?”  The answer my friends is that they always have done – it’s simply the way in which we find out and react to the situation that has changed.  I remember when the late, great Alan Hull of Lindisfarne died back in 1995 I chanced upon a tiny article hidden away at the bottom of a page in a tabloid. Only a few people I knew were aware of it. There was nothing on the national TV news.  Imagine how it would be received in this day and age. A post on Facebook… trubutes left, right and centre… numerous YouTube videos shared… it would be oh so different.

What also needs to be remembered is that many of those who have left us during 2016 are the products of a series of generations in which celebrity status featured excessive lifestyles that surpassed those of what have gone before. The 70s, 80s and 90s created a culture of extreme sexual exploration, drug taking that reached a level never seen before, infinite cases of alcohol abuse and burning the candle at both ends to such an extent that it is inevitable that the bodies of the products of those eras would eventually struggle to fight off the rigours of old age and resist mournfully to carry on.

Another factor in our perception of the deaths of celebrities is that for the last 30 to 35 years we have been exposed to their exploits in much greater depth through video, DVD and immediate digital access. Social media has also brought us closer to them; making us feel that we know them. In many cases we have been brought up with them in our homes and imagine them to be a lot younger than they are. Constant reruns of shows from decades ago distort our concept of their ages. To a certain extent they become ageless. The images I have in my mind of Bowie, Rick Parfitt and Lemmy are as they were when I was a teenager back in the late 70s and early 80s. The reality is that all three died at around the same age as my father. Nothing unusual really – except that my father never smoked and only drank in moderation. The only unusual thing from my point of view is how on earth did the rock stars I mentioned survive as long as they did?

There is also the issue of knowledge of who those who have died actually are.  In the past, particularly when I was younger, many of the celebrities who were reported to have died meant absolutely nothing to me. I’d never heard of the majority of them.  I couldn’t Google them and was certainly not prepared to pop down to the local library to research in detail who they were. Their departure left no lasting memories for me – therefore they were very quickly forgotten.

We now live in a completely different information age. People die every day, they always have done and always will do. Comparisons with years gone indicate no difference in the number of celebrities who have passed. The only difference is our perception of the scale that has been warped by the technological age in which we now exist.

Uncivil liberties and 40 years of deficit

 

Political Compass

As a socialist the political make up of the European Union goes against everything I believe in. As has been pointed out by many ‘experts’ over the last few months our human rights are stronger in the EU – but are they? The reality is that our civil liberties are being eroded by a strongly authoritarian regime. Admittedly I am concerned that leaving the EU may give the Conservatives ‘carte blanche’ to do what they want, but frankly I believe it will be easier to vote them out of power than the impossible task of escaping the clutches of the very dangerous political animal that the EU will become in future years.

Political Compass – EU Chart

I’ve read so many false statistics about the UK’s net contribution to the EU. The plain fact is that we do not receive more than we contribute as numerous media outlets have claimed. The truth is that we lost out by £8.5 billion last year and have not received more than we gave for 40 years! There are of course many other financial factors to be taken into account, however in my opinion the financial benefits of leaving the EU will be huge. If you’re still undecided – take a look at the link below.

The facts about the UK’s EU membership fee

Food for thought

Lion

I’ve often wondered how our world would function if carnivorous animals had evolved to be the dominant species on this earth, attaining the intelligence level we as humans now possess. Imagine if we, as the less intelligent species were the hunted, rather than the hunter. Using comparative ages, what would be the outcome?

Well, to begin with, chicken flavoured humans would be very popular, and not long after their first birthday slaughtered for their meat. Potentially, if we layed eggs our life expectancy could be 10-20 years, however, as we are not, would be of no use, so don’t expect any of the rest of us to survive for more than 3 weeks… if that.

At Christmas and special occasions, the turkey flavoured humans would be fattened up as the basis of a great family meal. Generally anything from 1 year olds to 4 years olds would be palatable. Very few would last any longer. What’s the point of wasting all that grain?

Of course, bacon flavoured humans will be at their best around 2 years old. The female humans, if fertile, could live to anything between 21 and 35 years old! After that, they’re pretty much left on the shelf.

Female bovine type humans are unlikely to live in the best conditions, but they may on average survive for up to 20 years – perpetually kept pregnant to provide human breast milk. The males at their best may live for anywhere between four and ten years old. Lovely meat they will provide as well. Unless they are male dairy cows – who will be lucky to last a week before being sent to human heaven.

A rarer human delicacy would be the duck flavoured variety, who reach their peak at around 9 months old. Very nice with orange I’m told.

Finally, the sheepish humans are truly at their best between 18 months and 3 years old. Not particularly intelligent, and very submissive… like lambs to the slaughter. Not much use otherwise – not hairy enough!

How to lose 2 stone in 6 months… and stay that way!

weight-loss

The last blog I posted was six months ago. Back then I was overweight, officially obese… and it was severely affecting my health. My breathing was shallow, my waistline expansive… and I felt terrible. Things simply had to change. Since then I have lost 2 stone in weight, feel great, and am showing no signs of falling back into my old habits.

Want to do the same? Here’s how I did it.

Step 1.

Sign up to a free calorie counting website. My personal choice was Calorie Count, but there are plenty of others out there. Google them.

Step 2.

Be honest with yourself when calculating calories. Keep a record of everything you eat. Set yourself a realistic goal and don’t aim to lose too much all at once. Do it gradually. Two pounds per fortnight is just about right.

Step 3.

Walk everywhere within a couple of miles. A 15 minute walk burns off around 100 calories. Measure your calorie burning with one of the many available apps. My favourite is Map My Walk, but once again there are loads out there. While walking, use a stomach vacuum technique to trim your waistline. Also, when alone, try facial exercises to get your chin back. The results will astound you.

Step 4.

Eat breakfast. I found that by having a substantial breakfast, I didn’t want to eat at lunchtime. Typically I consumed 500-600 calories each morning, including at least one portion of fruit. Once I got used to not eating at lunchtime, the pounds fell off.

Step 5.

Reduce the amount of bread you consume. Two slices per day is sufficient. Any more and you are asking for trouble.

Step 6.

Cut down the alcohol. Not altogether, but try to keep within the recommended daily units.

Step 7.

Weigh your snacks. Believe me, you’ll be amazed at how many calories they contain. Don’t cut them out completely– just reduce the amount you consume.

Step 8.

Weigh yourself once a week, at the same time of day each time.

Finally, once you’ve reached your goal… keep to the routine. Five years ago I did exactly what I did over the last six months and lost 2 stone – so I knew that it would work. The problem is that the last time I stopped tracking my progress once I’d reached my goal… and put it all back on again over time. This time I’ve made certain that I don’t fall into that trap again.

Give it a try. and good luck!

Sweet FA

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I am often asked why I prefer to watch grass roots sport as opposed to the high profile, heavily hyped professional versions with supposedly more skilful, talented and famous players. There are two main reasons. Firstly, it is a lot cheaper – generally the cost of a pint for admission and in many cases completely free. Secondly, the majority players are all local and genuinely want to play for their clubs. They don’t get paid a great deal and in most cases actually pay for the right to play, therefore the true passion is there. In football there is practically no play-acting, diving or surrounding the referee – except maybe from the odd youngster attempting to emulate their premiership heroes in the early stage of their careers – and in most cases the coaches soon put a stop to that. Rugby at this level is simply a throwback to the good old days when the amateur game was all there was – when the only payments made were the occasional crisp notes slipped into a boot. There are no ex-international players nearing retirement or overpaid rejects from other clubs on view – and it doesn’t cost £100 to take the family along.

Last season I volunteered my services to two local radio stations, spending most of my weekends commentating on games at lower league football and rugby grounds in Gloucestershire. The aim was to promote grass roots sport in the area and make people realise just what they were missing that was right on their doorsteps. The reaction of fans and players was fantastic – instead of just a few meagre column inches a week in the local paper they were able to listen to a radio show completely dedicated to their team. Unfortunately, this season I am unable to commit my time to regular commentaries, however that doesn’t mean that I won’t be continuing to attend as many games as possible and offer my support.

Yesterday I paid a visit once again to the closest football club to my home; Tuffley Rovers in Gloucester. After many years of suffering in the doldrums they won promotion back into the Hellenic Premier last season after a 10 year absence. As a result, they were eligible to enter the FA Cup. Two weeks ago they went to Ardley United and came away with an excellent 4-1 victory. The reward? A prime home tie with local rivals Bishop Cleeve – an established side one step above Tuffley in the Football League structure.

The game epitomised all that grass roots sport is about. Two teams intent on throwing everything into the game. Plenty of aggression, loads of controversy, mistimed tackles, well timed tackles, end to end action and the occasional glimpse of awesome quality from both sets of players. The atmosphere was electric. Watching Tuffley’s manager Warren Evans on the touchline was worth the admission fee on its own. His humour, banter and passion for the game summed up what sport at this level is all about. Tuffley eventually won the game with a solitary goal from their captain Ashley Davies and in good old FA Cup tradition adopted the mantle of giant-killers. Officially the crowd was 149 – although as word got around, there were a lot more locals surrounding the pitch during the last 15 minutes screaming at the players or playfully abusing the officials. Given a choice of watching a game like this or a bunch of ‘fly by night’ overpaid prima donnas there is only one option for me every time.

Here’s to you Bill Watkins!

Isaac & Harriet Watkins (Gravestone)

Yesterday, after three years of researching my family tree something magical happened. My father (Bill Watkins) knew next to nothing of his paternal ancestry. Every avenue he followed led to a dead end. Up until 6 months ago I kept hitting the same wall. Then I found a tentative link. One link led to another and led me back to 1699 in the Llansoy/Llangeview/Llanishen area of Monmouthshire. While visiting my mother in Newport we went for a drive to Llansoy. In the church was this gravestone – that of my great-great-grandfather and grandmother. I just wish my late father had been there to see it… and am raising a glass to him right now!