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Category: Guest Articles


An Interview With Philip Thomas - Beyondstorytime




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AmeriCymru: Hi Philip and many thanks for agreeing to this interview. Care to describe Beyond Storytime for our readers? What inspired you to create the site?

Philip: Beyond Storytime is a streaming service for stories – a sort of ‘Spotify for stories’, if you will. Some of the best storytellers have visited Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival over the years, but not everyone is able to make the trip to Wales to hear them. We have created Beyond Storytime so anyone with a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone can log in from wherever they are in the world and listen to stories the way they should be heard – told by the best storytellers!

Beyond Storytime is an online library of stories suitable for children of all ages that we hope will promote storytelling and the storytellers who have kindly donated these stories. Maybe hearing these stories will encourage some listeners to make the trip to Wales to experience the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival for themselves. We hope so.

AmeriCymru: What can you tell us about the Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival? How long has this event been held? When is the next one?

Philip: Beyond the Border is a wonderful and vibrant three-day festival of stories and music from Wales and across the world. Our mission is to bring the world to Wales and take Wales to the world. Our home is the stunning medieval castle of St Donats, overlooking the beautiful Glamorganshire coast.

The festival is a feast of storytelling, poetry, music, singing, theatre, circus, puppets and films for all ages, and much much more including:

World food stalls

Real ale bar

Bigger craft market

Workshops for all ages

Street theatre

Story walks

Open mic stages

Expect at BTB 2018:

Kidzone - dedicated area for performances and activities for young people and their families

Improved campsite with free camping

Full-time festival shuttle around the site

Plus lots more opportunities to take part

We like to think it is one of the best festivals in the world. If you want to find out more you can head to www.beyondtheborder.com and keep up to date with what is happening. 2018 is the 25th anniversary of the very first Beyond the Border in 1993 and David Ambrose has been its Artistic Director throughout supported for many years by Co Founder and storytelling superstar Ben Haggerty. The next festival is planned for June 2018 (confirmed dates will be on the website).

The festival is run by a charity, set up to create, encourage and promote traditional storytelling for contemporary audiences. We want to bring storytelling to everyone. We rely on the generosity of people who care about storytelling, and the festival, to make our work happen. Beyond Storytime is one of the ways we raise funds to support our work.

AmeriCymru: Care to introduce some of the storytellers on the site?

Philip: It’s difficult to choose. We have over twenty tellers involved in the project as of now.

David Ambrose has been at the forefront of the storytelling revival in Wales for more than 25 years, as a promoter, a performer, and as Artistic Director of Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival.

Tamar Eluned Williams won Young Storyteller of the Year in 2013 and has gone on to tour story clubs and festivals across the UK. In 2016 she was awarded the Esyllt Harker Commission for a new work to be featured at the next festival.

We have the cream of Welsh storytellers including: Guto Dafis, Megan Lloyd, Cath Little, Carl Gough and many more.

Kamini Ramachandran is a storyteller based in Singapore with a wide Asian repertoire of stories.

Judi Tarowsky is a storyteller from St Clairsville, Ohio. Her repertoire includes folk tales, ghost stories, and original historical narratives. She is the first American teller to join us.

Morgan Schatz-Blackrose is a storyteller living in Brisbane, Australia. She grew up in Wiradjuri Country at the foot of the Snowy Mountains, in New South Wales, Australia.

Bevin Magama comes from Zimbabwe and now lives in Cardiff. He brings the sights and sounds of his native Africa to our collection.

See what I mean? It’s a long list of tellers from around the world! Check out the full story at http://www.beyondstorytime.com/about-our-storytellers/

AmeriCymru: What subscription plans are on offer?

Philip: There are a number of ways to find out what Beyond Storytime has to offer:

Listen to a FREE story! – Go to www.beyondstorytime.com and click on the special offer box. You can hear a full story for free with no obligation. We are sure you will want to know more so….

A Full Year’s Subscription costs just £11.95 (currently that’s about US$15 – just 28 cents a week! Payable by PayPal or credit card through PayPal)

A Gift Subscription – We have made it easy to buy a gift subscription for children of all ages (we have story listeners in their seventies and older). The perfect gift with Christmas coming soon.

3 Month Trial Subscription – If you want to ‘dip a toe in the water’ to see if Beyond Storytime is for you, take out a 3 month trial subscription for just £5 (currently about US$6.50). But be careful! Once you have tried Beyond Storytime you will want more!

AmeriCymru: What's next for Beyond Storytime?

Well, if your readers are quick enough they will be able to enjoy our latest project which will be available for subscribers only.

On 1st December 2017 we are creating an Advent Calendar! 24 new stories, one for each day of advent, each with a Christmas or winter theme and much healthier than chocolate! Just the thing to get you and your family in the mood for the Christmas festivities.

And in 2018? Well, we already have stories ready to be added to the collection. We have just celebrated the first birthday of Beyond Storytime and plan for the collection to grow and grow as we head towards birthday number two and beyond!

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Philip: Beyond Storytime has stories and storytellers from all over the world but, like the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival of which we are a part, we are proud of our Welsh roots. Most the tellers featured on the site have been featured at the Beyond the Border Festival and many are based here in Wales. We have begun to feature stories in the Welsh Language and some of the stories have their roots in Welsh history and tradition. If you have Welsh ancestry we think there is no better way to help your family make and keep contact with their Welsh heritage that through a subscription to Beyond Storytime.

If you would like to explore visiting the festival as an individual or maybe with a group then please contact us and we will be pleased to help if we can

If, as a business person or individual you feel you would like to support Beyond Storytime or the Beyond the Border International Storytelling Festival in other ways then we would, of course, be pleased to hear from you. All things are possible. Just email us at support@beyondstorytime.com

We hope you enjoy listening to Beyond Storytime and maybe we will see you at the festival next year.

A Welsh Western?


By AmeriCymru, 2017-10-09

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What? A Welsh Western?

I have called All Through the Night (my new book) a Welsh Western for the simple reason that I think, only half tongue-in-cheek, that cowboys were as much invented in Wales as in Wyoming.

My story is about a group of men who drive a large herd of cattle a great distance, through a wild landscape, across rivers and over mountains, threatened by rustlers and ne’er do wells (sounds familiar?).

The bond between these drovers (cowboys!) is strengthened by the shared experience of overcoming the various threats they face on their journey. Basic human decency can win through in the end (even more familiar?).

It is not that fanciful to think that, amongst the many thousands of Welsh people who emigrated to North America from the time of the Welsh Quakers settling in Pennsylvania in the 1600s onwards, that there would have been men who had worked as drovers, driving cattle to market from Wales to England and London in particular. I like to think of some of them later bringing their skills to bear in a new country, rich in opportunity for those with the courage to forge their way in the tough challenges of cattle driving.

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It is for this reason that All Through the Night, my story of a Welsh cattle drive in the 1790s, should appeal to lovers of Westerns: those fictional exploits of cowboys which examine the fundamentals of human nature. Westerns form a rich cultural body of work comprising countless books, films and TV series. Maybe crossing the Menai Strait in Wales with a herd of cattle is not as romantic sounding as fording the Rio Grande, but maybe, perhaps, a few Welsh cowpokes did both?

We also know, interestingly, that, for example, the James gang, the most famous cowboys of Welsh descent, were led by the brothers Jesse and Frank James. Their family had originated in Pembrokeshire in Wales and, as others from amongst their forbears were Baptist ministers, they clearly were the disreputable side of the family. Maybe some of their ancestors in Wales had been outlaws and, as alluded to in my book, could have inspired their exploits.

We don’t know for sure quite how many, or in what way, the Welsh, from the country that the nineteenth century author George Borrows called Wild Wales, went on to help shape the Wild West, but it is fun to speculate.

My book too is very much a homage to Wales and its music and culture - it even quotes Welsh songs. I see that aspect, in a way, as part of the tradition of Westerns with their familiar harmonica, guitar, honky-tonk piano or banjo music. These and other elements of Welsh cultural traditions in the book will appeal to the many, many thousands of US people with Welsh ancestry.

The Welsh diaspora to America began in the 17th century, peaking during the 19th century, and today there are over ten million people in the USA and Canada with Welsh surnames. Many Welsh North Americans still treasure their Welsh heritage and actively help to preserve the rich traditions through joining Welsh societies and organisations, by celebrating St David’s Day, organising events, festivals and eisteddfodau, and hosting choirs and entertainers that visit from Wales.

Other examples of all this are:


  • americymru.net which is a website devoted to welsh cultural heritage from North America

  • The North American Festival of Wales which is held annually over Labor Day and attended by numerous delegates from the USA and Canada; and

  • Ninnau & Y Drych which is a monthly newspaper servicing the Welsh-American community with news and articles about Wales and North America.


You only have to search the internet for a few seconds to find numerous entries for famous Welsh Americans. For example, you will find famous US Presidents with Welsh ancestry listed as including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James A. Garfield, Calvin Coolidge and Richard Nixon (!)

An example of the importance of this (to me, at least!) is that on a plaque mounted on the east facade of the imposing Philadelphia City Hall, the following inscription is found:

Perpetuating the Welsh heritage, and commemorating the vision and virtue of the following Welsh patriots in the founding of the City, Commonwealth, and Nation: William Penn, 1644-1718, proclaimed freedom of religion and planned New Wales later named Pennsylvania.

Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826, third President of the United States, composed the Declaration of Independence.

Robert Morris, 1734-1806, foremost financier of the American Revolution and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Governor Morris, 1752-1816, wrote the final draft of the Constitution of the United States.

John Marshall, 1755-1835, Chief Justice of the United States and father of American constitutional law.

More recently a ‘Friends of Wales Congressional Caucus’ was formed on Capitol Hill in Washington DC to help further develop business, academic and cultural links between Wales and the USA.

My book is another Wales/US link, maybe the missing one, between cowboys and cowboyos!

Neil Thomas, 2017.

www.thorogoodpublishing.co.uk


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A beautiful new online collection of audio stories suitable for children of all ages from Beyond the Border – Wales International Storytelling Festival

In the autumn of 2016 we were really excited to announce Beyond Storytime - a way of providing families everywhere with beautifully told stories in their own homes. It is a small taste of our wonderful festival, available all the time, wherever in the world you live.

Beyond Storytime is part of Beyond The Border – Wales’ International Storytelling Festival which happens biannually in the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales (The next is in July 2018). The festival has a mission to ‘…take Wales to the world and bring the world to Wales’ and we do this by showcasing the finest stories and storytellers we can find. Beyond Storytime means that your whole family can connect to your Welsh heritage from the comfort of your own home.

This online streaming service has a growing collection of stories from Wales and the wider world, told for English and Welsh speakers and carefully chosen for us by some of the best storytellers in the world, to be suitable for children of all ages…grown-ups tell us they enjoy them too. More stories will be added later so Beyond Storytime becomes a collection of treasured tales that grows and grows.

Visit www.beyondstorytime.com for a chance to hear a full story completely FREE. Having decided you like what you hear you can subscribe to the service for a whole year for just £11.95 (currently about $15 - less than £1/$1.25 a month). You can trial Beyond Storytime for three months for just £5/$6 Find out more, listen to some extracts, subscribe to the site for yourself or buy a gift subscription.

If you want to find out more about visiting our festival in summer 2018 you can contact us via our website at www.beyondtheborder.com We can help you make arrangements for families or larger groups to visit.

We welcome approaches from organisations that would like to sponsor or otherwise partner the festival. Contact us through www.beyondtheborder.com to see how we can work together.

'Filming Owain Glyndwr' by David Barry


By AmeriCymru, 2016-03-26

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About David Barry:- David Barry (born 30 April 1943) is a Welsh actor. He is best known for his role as Frankie Abott, (the gum-chewing mother's boy who was convinced he was extremely tough), in the LWT sitcom Please Sir! and the spin-off series The Fenn Street Gang, He has appeared in several films, notably two TV spin-off movies - Please Sir! and George and Mildred. David is now an author with two novels and an autobiography under his belt, Each Man Kills, Flashback and Willie The Actor.

About Flashback:- "David Barry's autobiography spans almost five decades of theatre, film and television experience. As a 14 year old he toured Europe with Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in one of the most prestigious post-war theatre tours. Vivien Leigh took a shine to him and he saw both sides of her close up. One minute she was sweetness and light, and the next she became a screaming harridan as she publicly berated Sir Laurence. In his early twenties, he starred as Frankie Abbott in the hit television sitcoms Please, Sir! and Fenn Street Gang, and those days are recounted with great humour. Hilarious events unfold as he describes working with dodgy producers and touring with argumentative actors. His is a story that covers everything from the pitfalls of working in live television to performing with hard drinking actors. 'Imagine yourself travelling - as a member of the company - with a train-load of top stars to the great cities of Europe.'" Daily Express.

Filming Owain Glyndwr ( an excerpt from 'Flashback', reproduced by kind permission of the author )

Made for television back in the 1980s, Owain, Prince of Wales, was shot back-to-back, a Welsh language version for showing on S4C, and an English version for Channel 4. The production company was English, as was the director, James Hill, and the brief they had been given by S4C was that they wanted bilingual actors who had never appeared in Pobl Y Cwm the Welsh language television soap opera. I had never appeared in the programme, and I speak a little bit of Welsh, having been brought up by fluent Welsh-speaking parents in North Wales, so my agent suggested me to the casting director who was based in London. Normally, if an actor is not known to a particular director or producer, the actor is required to interview or audition for the part. But they were finding it difficult to cast some of the smaller roles in this costume drama, because most Welsh speaking actors had presumably appeared in the Welsh soap opera at some stage. So I was accepted for the role of Second Soldier merely on the recommendation of my agent.

When the two bulky scripts dropped onto my doormat a few days later, I immediately read the English version with interest. There was no point in trying to read the Welsh version, as I had lived in England since my early teens and my Welsh was now very basic. But I knew I could cope with learning six lines, which was all my part amounted to.

I had often thought this great Welsh hero was a good subject for an exciting historical drama. But as I slowly turned the pages, mouth agape, I became more and more disappointed. Whoever had written this, or conceived of the idea, seemed to be trying to create a family adventure along the lines of the old Fifties and Sixties series Ivanhoe, William Tell and Robin Hood. There was even a corny scene in the script, straight out of a John Ford western, where the hero exits a castle on horseback, along with his sidekick Rhodri, who spots one of Henry IVs snipers up a tree, about to kill Owain with an arrow. Rhodri fires one from the hip and fells the sniping archer, whereupon our hero salutes his friend and thanks him. Diolch, Rhodri. And how do you do a John Wayne drawl in Welsh?

Halfway through the script, desperately disappointed, I gave up reading it, and only bothered reading my own characters lines. I knew this particular film was going to be a sad, bad experience, but little did I know of the farcical events that lay in store for me.

A week later I caught the Holyhead train from Euston Station, and had been instructed to get off at Llandudno Junction, where a film unit car would meet me to transport me to my hotel ready for filming on the following day. It was there I met Martin Gower, the actor who would be playing First Soldier. Our characters seemed to be the comedy relief, a sort of double-act of two inept soldiers who end up being pushed into the river by Owain and his merry men in this travesty of a historical epic.

During the drive along the beautiful Conwy Valley we got to know each other, and I discovered that Martins upbringing was similar to my own, having moved to England when he was quite young, with a Welsh tongue that was terribly rusty. But we thought we could cope with our six lines each, especially if we helped each other out in the hotel that evening.

Most of the cast and crew stayed in hotels in Betwys-y-Coed, but Martin and I were quartered in a beautiful country manor hotel at Dolwyddelan, about four miles from Betwys. As it was unusually perfect weather, we became rain cover. Most of our scenes were interiors, so we were kept on stand-by in case it should rain. It meant that in those pre mobile phone days we couldnt leave the hotel and had to hang around all day, eating and drinking. It was such a hardship, tucking into a salmon freshly caught in the nearby salmon leap by one of the waiters.

When they eventually decided to use us in a scene, we were picked up by Mr Jones the Taxi who was ferrying many of the cast here and there. As we headed for the production office at Llanrwst, where the make-up department and wardrobe were based, Mr Jones told us that he had been involved in many films, most notably The Inn of the Sixth Happiness which had been shot in the Snowdonia region, where they built an entire Chinese village on the hillside near Beddgelert. Mr Jones reminisced about the halcyon days of chauffeuring Ingrid Bergman around the Welsh mountains, when films were films and they were well organised. Not like this lot, he opined. This lot dont seem to know what they are doing.

And to prove him right, when we got to the Llanrwst production office, one of the runners was gabbling into his walkie-talkie about some lost portable toilets, which should have gone to the current location, but which had gone in the opposite direction, and loads of actors and crew were now clutching the cheeks of their backsides tightly.

When I was kitted out in my chain-mail, I went to make-up, and was reminded that perhaps I had only been cast because I fitted the brief no Pobl Y Cwm appearances and a smattering of Welsh but was actually miscast. I was supposed to be a tough soldier, one of Henry IVs mercenaries, about to rape a fair, local maiden until rescued by Owain. The make-up girl stared with concentration at my face and declared, You look like Noddy. You look so cute. How am I going to make you look tough?

I suggested a scar, but in my balaclava-like helmet there wasnt really much room left on my face. I continued to look cute.

As soon as we were ready, one of the unit cars drove us to one of the locations, the impressive Gwydir Castle, a 15th century fortified manor house less than two miles from Llanrwst. As the film had at least been blessed by sunny weather, exteriors were being filmed in the courtyard of the castle. At first glance, a film set can be misleadingly impressive in a costume drama, and you almost believe for a moment that you are stepping back in time. Until you notice all the technical paraphernalia, or an actor in doublet and hose smoking a cigarette or tucking in to a bacon butty.

As soon as we arrived on the set, we became acquainted with some of the other actors, and noticed a strange atmosphere, almost as if the cast were method actors and resented the English production company and crew. We soon discovered the reason for this when we were told by one of the actors that he had approached the director just before they were due to shoot the Welsh version of a scene, and asked if he could change a couple of lines, as they were tongue twisters. But the director, apparently pushed for time, had said dismissively that he wasnt too bothered about the Welsh version and could they just get on with it. Of course, word of this spread like wildfire throughout the cast, creating a lot of resentment. Some of the actors had re-christened the production company Mickey Llygoden Films.

When the director heard this, and asked what it meant, he wasnt pleased when he discovered Llygoden translated to mouse.

Also staying at our hotel up in the hills was Dafydd, the location caterer, with whom we drank in the evenings; which probably explains our preferential treatment on the set at lunchtimes, when we were offered a surreptitious livener in our orange juice.

Dafydd, had an assistant, Tom, who helped with the cooking in the chuck wagon. One morning I noticed Dafydd was struggling on his own. I asked him what had happened to Tom. Looking over his shoulder and lowering his voice, Dafydd replied, Tom had to go back to Caernarfon to sign on.

Outside our hotel was a small station. The railway ran from Blaenau Ffestiniog via Betwys-y-Coud to Llandudno Junction, and one night the three of us decided to go to Betwys-y-Coed by train, and drink with some of the other actors and crew at their hotel. We would have to share a taxi back, and I had Mr Joness number on a scrap of paper. Just before midnight it looked as if the bar was shutting, so I went and telephoned Mr Jones to order our taxi. His number rang and rang and rang. I thought he must have been busy working, as it was now pub turning-out time. But when I returned to the bar, and told the barman that there was no reply from Mr Jones the Taxi, he looked at his watch and said, Oh, you wont get Mr Jones now. He takes tablets.

So we walked. The following day, feeling a bit jaded, as soon as lunchtime came around, Dafydd stuck another livener in our orange juice.

I never did see the end result of our film and my tough soldier performance. But a friend saw it, and I was told I looked rather sweet.

Usually, when actors work in a large budget made-for-television film, over the years they receive small cheques for repeats or sales abroad. I dont think I ever received a residual cheque for Owain, Prince of Wales, so presumably, and deservedly, it sank without trace.

Perhaps one day some screenwriter and film company will do justice to the Owain Glyndwr story, a great tale of intrigue, politics, double-dealing, love and war. Of course, as almost everyone knows, Glyndwr vanished, and nobody knows what became of the man. It was almost as if he deliberately created his own legend status. And there is no evidence that he was betrayed or assassinated, so a film ending remains open to interpretation. Now theres an intriguing thought, and its just given me an idea!

Filming Owain Glyndwr was an extract from David Barrys autobiography Flashback, in which he writes about a childhood in North Wales, and touring to theatres in Cardiff, Swansea, Porthcawl and Llandudno. Flashback is available from www.amazon.com price $14.95.


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A message from author Philip Evans - "Here is the start of a four part play which whilst rejected by BBC Wales may amuse the readers of Americymru"


The Italian Lob

The basic premise is a one off special television hour and a half mini- film - as a homage to the legendary BBC programme ' Grand Slam'.It is a story to reflect the changing face of the Welsh Valleys and how cosmopolitan they have become and also how the sport of Rugby Union - the National Sport of Wales - just ahead of beer drinking- has changed since the 1970s some 45 years ago.

It is initially set in Glebeland Street Merthyr Tydfil , with the five main characters being a French Welshman ( Cafe Owner) , English Welshman ( Estate Agent) Irish Welshman (Newspaper Reporter), an Italian Welshman ( Chip Shop owner) and a Scottish Welshman (Publican) encompassing the Six Nations so involved in the tournament.

The location is already there with all five establishments in place- albeit cosmetic changes would be needed to the shop fronts.

There may even be funding available to shoot in a socially deprived area.

My preferred choice of actors/comedians for the parts as listed above are :- Rhod Gilbert, Greg Davies, Boyd Clack, Steve Speirs & Rob Brydon.

There will be minor ( not miner ) parts for Ruth Jones, Max Boyce, Steve Meo , Mike Bubbins ,Rob Sidoli , Neil Jenkins & Dale Mackintosh.

If possible the preferred choice of the Director is Mr Gareth Gwenllan with his BBC Wales 'High Hopes' team involved.

All music to be drawn from the multitude of hits from the Stereophonics and Manic Street Preachers with a few Max Boyce and Boyd Clack numbers thrown into the mix.

I would hope that the money could be raised by way of Welsh sponsors- Brains Brewery , WRU and any other Welsh Company that would want product placement or direct advertising in the film.

The plot and storyline is based on my published short story ' The Italian Lob' from 2007, which is a road movie of five friends and business neighbours leading from the austerity hit Merthyr Tydfil, through to the brothels of Paris and then to the Stadio Olympico for a 'Wooden Spoon ' decider rugby match in the climax of a poor Six Nations for Wales.

It is also a story about divided loyalties....hence the title Italian Lob.

It is a direct contrast to the 'Grand Slam' - it can be shown anytime when the Team is not at its greatest.

Its target audience would be the proud Welsh people who love Rugby, Beer, and Comedy...ie every Welsh person Worldwide.

The tale starts with the five Glebeland Street businesses shutting up shop on a Thursday Night in late February , ready for a St Davids Day match in Italy on a 'killer' trip of beer, vino and women for five 'converts' in a cramped Union Jack clad mini car , bought on the cheap with one of the characters redundancy money from the former Hoovers factory - as a prop from the 'Spice World' the Movie, and ends with a Welshman inadvertently making the ultimate sacrifice for his Country.

The use of the mini is to illustrate that its occupants are British as well as Welshmen and of course is a further homage to the 1960's film the Italian Job.

There will be several different 'Italian Lobs' too throughout the story which will be revealed by the enclosed script.

I sincerely hope you enjoy reading the 'pilot' script- it is my first ever attempt.

It is my wish that this story sees the light of day as a tribute to my late Father Douglas Evans who died in 2011 and of course my Brother-in-Law and his friends who provided the inspiration for the idea.

Yours Faithfully

Philip Evans

 

Character profiles


Titch Hatchey

Age 50 thin, receding hairline, smoker, nervous type, loves fast cars, drink and away trips with freedom away from his nagging wife, recently made redundant former Hoover & Japanese electronic Factory worker, now trying his hand at being a Pub Landlord....Scottish ancestry.

Des Res

Local Estate Agent , refined, debonair, eloquent , but loves himself, sporty, aged 55 , proud for once being being mistaken for Bruce Willis at Paris Airport ...moustache..rich but generous with it.

Pat O'Lee

Local newspaper advertising salesman...52 ...loves a bet...extremely tight with money...has a ginger fetish...married to a ginger lady...very serious and a little quick tempered.

Perrier Jones

The owner of the French cafe de Glebeland , good looking, fit likes to go to the gym...ladies man ....54 ....but not the brightest....an entrepreneur who likes to hide it from the tax man.

Mario Pizza

Age 48, olive skinned, third generation chip shop owner, family came over before Second World War ...tiny thin pencil moustache...happy go lucky ...always joking.

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Julie McGowan is a Welsh writer, living in Usk, south Wales. Her first novel, ''The Mountains Between'' was a regional best-seller on its first release and is now in its third edition, having received much acclaim in Wales (including promotion on BBC Wales radio). ''Don''t Pass Me By'' is also set in S. Wales. It was released in 2014 and has achieved great sales and reviews.'' Buy ''Don''t Pass Me By'' here

In this article Julie talks about nicknames in Wales:- "It’s a ‘gift’ which we here in Wales have had for generations - the adaptation of people’s names, derived either from a notable physical feature, or their personal habits, jobs, or pastimes. All done completely without malice, and with mutual appreciation of wit at its best, or silliness at its worst. In fact for many years receiving a nickname from one’s work colleagues and friends was a mark of social inclusion and a sign of popularity."

Her latest publication is an anthology of short stories - 'Close To You'. Buy 'Close To You' here


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Have you noticed how, in recent years, people in the public eye have been given nicknames simply by shortening their surnames or adding ‘ers’ to the end? So we have Sir Paul ‘Macca’ McCartney, and David ‘The Hoff’ Hasselhoff. Or couples’ names are blended together, as in ‘Brangelina’ or ‘Posh & Becks’.

The boringness of these names is due possibly to our much more politically correct society, or else it could simply be that none of these people have Welsh families, because, if so, they would have been given much more inventive names.

It’s a ‘gift’ which we here in Wales have had for generations - the adaptation of people’s names, derived either from a notable physical feature, or their personal habits, jobs, or pastimes. All done completely without malice, and with mutual appreciation of wit at its best, or silliness at its worst. In fact for many years receiving a nickname from one’s work colleagues and friends was a mark of social inclusion and a sign of popularity.

My parents’ generation were past masters of the genre, with friends who included ‘Basketass’ – no explanation needed, really; ‘Morgan Bucket’, the origin of which I think had something to do with the shape of his head, and ‘Organ Morgan’ (no relation to Bucket), whose nickname derived not from a reference to any anatomical attribute, but from his musical performances at Sunday chapel.

Best of all, though, was ‘Titty’ Lewis. This chap went through his whole life with this moniker because it was claimed that he was breastfed until he started school. I’ve no idea what his real name was, but there is no evidence to suggest he ever minded this nickname, and, eventually, he was so universally known by it that no-one actually took any notice of its origin or its connotations.

Then there was ‘Gobby’ Davies – not, as one might think, a slangy reference to him talking a lot, but because he started so many sentences with ‘I go’be honest’, while his mate was known as ‘taters n’ gravy’ as he always said that potatoes and gravy was his favourite meal. Yet another friend was called ‘Bonar’ Thomas because apparently, like Bonar Law, the political contemporary of Lloyd George, he talked a lot. For many years my parents referred to a neighbour only as ‘The Widow’, as she moved to the area on the death of her first husband. They continued to call her this even after she re-married, so that her new spouse became confusingly known as ‘The Widow’s husband’.

The local greengrocer was known as ‘Up-and-down Mike’ because his prices varied so much from week to week, and, in my present town, an undertaker was called ‘Ted the Box’, while one of our best known publicans is referred to as ‘Fatty Keys’.

Many of these people are long gone, and with them, possibly, the ability to laugh at each other and themselves and the knowledge that to be given a nickname within the community was a badge of affection and inclusivity rather than the reverse.

My children, however, seem to have inherited the habit from their grandparents. One daughter always calls her younger brother ‘Fatman’, even though he is now very slim, because, as a toddler in a nappy, he resembled a sumo wrestler. He, on the other hand, calls her ‘Gimli’ as her small stature and wild curly hair reminds him, he claims, of the dwarf character in ‘Lord of the Rings’, and our youngest is known to everyone as ‘Titch’ just because she was the last in the line.

A life-long friend of my son is known as ‘The Ginge’ because of his auburn locks, and another is called ‘Dodgy Dave’ because he wheels and deals, even though his real name is Joe. Meanwhile, one of my daughter’s circle is known as ‘Chainsaw Rhys’ to differentiate him from the other Rhys whose skull didn’t have an unfortunate collision with a piece of machinery.

They are already passing the habit on, too. Younger daughter, convinced her sister was expecting a large boy, nicknamed him ‘Tank’. When scans confirmed a girl was on the way, she became ‘Tankini’, although we are all hoping a more regular feminine name will stick once she’s here.

It would be a shame if affectionate nicknames, bestowed with no malice and received as such, were to be sacrificed on the altar of correctness. After all, they haven’t hurt the likes of Twiggy or Whoopi Goldberg, have they?

Julie McGowan

The Journey of the Taf


By AmeriCymru, 2009-04-27

Back to Welsh Literature page >


This afternoon we received the following communication from Mike Jenkins ( excerpted ) ".....dear friends, Here is a poem which I recently wrote , which you can use on your site if you wish......"

We are extremely pleased and proud to present "The Journey of the Taf". We resisted the temptation to add complementary graphics of Castell Coch, Pen y Fan etc because we wanted nothing to distract from, or dilute in any way the power of these words.

..


Journey of the Taf - Mike Jenkins


...

It begins in the centre of a mountain, waters breaking.

Nobody can say

exactly where

I come from :

parents Earth and Water

and the midwife Air.

Soon Fire, the sun

and everything

I feed upon.

This place of summits

called a watershed :

tears as light

stings my eyes.

I am just a stream

a nant, a toddler

finding my way

downslope, over the edge

of my mother

and with my father's constant

push of rain.

One like many others

till I start to cut teeth,

to haul stones

to erode the bed

and banks into a gorge.

I'm moving quicker

with steeper gradient,

my veins pulse

with the thrust of water

like a salmon at the point

of a journey across the world.

Soldiers with back-packs

and booted outward-bounders.

fight against my movement,

believing it's a challenge.

The children who paddle

squeal, splash and fling

their stones, sound like

an echo in my bones.

The Sun, my teacher,

comes and goes

promising destinations

and then, dips down low;

so any season

I could be bellyfull

or parched to a trickle.

Sheep sip clear water

heads bowed as in prayer

to a lost mother ;

or they're dead weight,

blood mingling with light,

soon a veil of flies.

Winding and wending around

scarp and spur

I reach a sudden drop,

a ledge of resistant rock:

the descents of childhood

then youth when greys

and blues and browns

become a frothing white ;

into the devil's punchbowl

and a whirling might.

Here secret swimmers come

to shed their many skins

and exuberant leapers

plunge into a scream

and come out laughing.

I am joined by others.

by brothers and I'm 'Fawr'

to their 'Fechan',

they emerge on the scene

demanding confluences,

driving deep into chasms

before we're all lost

in a man-made lake :

they term it 'llyn'

but it is reservoir,

a store of water

we are schooled into

( even in most vivid reflections

we wear our grey uniforms ).

I straighten, I widen,

my girth held by bridges

and above are viaducts

which span into another age.

Rocky islets - trees and bushes

growing from them - bring doubts

as I begin to be fixed,

my route determined by walls

and a weir which parodies

the earlier waterfalls.

Now salmon struggle upstream,

as I welcome the many heron

whose measured wing-beats

are like the peace I strive for

and the returning colours

of the kingfishers diving

like winged rainbows.

All this, as I am dumping-place

for trolleys, cans and bottles

like some cess-pit of the past,

some cholera-infested slum.

My parents seem so far away :

mountains aloof, quarried or conifered

and clouds that drop their load

then move on. They call me Taff

but I much prefer my Welsh name

(its what I call myself

and sounds like a stones edge).

Sometimes I seem to slumber along

all controlled by sluice and gate ;

sometimes Im far too busy

to notice those who gaze

like seagulls on the bars,

or those who cavort in heat ;

too busy with the flow, the downward trek.

I have too many shadows :

rail and trail, the once canal,

higher up the road obeys the curve.

Each shadow more purposeful

to traffic and trade;

I begin to wonder

why I move in such haste

and whether I will be

beyond it all, lost.

There are so many white weeds

hanging in the trees,

fluttering like flags of surrender

sometimes falling and filling

into tumours on my surface.

Just as cormorants are fishing

so I begin to sense the sea.

Silt accumulates in my bed,

slows me down after years

of scraping and scouring;

I begin to meander,

to waver across the floor,

the buildings start to ignore

my presence and there are outpourings

secretive and poisonous

which seep into my limbs.

Becoming sluggish, my murky waters

of blurred vision in the suburbs.

I try to remember stretching terraces

where the only vines were children

spreading tendrils of imagination.

The mud is gathering,

the flood-plains a resting-place

for birds on their journey south.

Anglers wade out to tempt

the fish with threaded flies.

I yawn into the city

past a parkland of lovers

and solitary office-workers,

I am broad and straight now

without the energy of gradient.

The grand stadium looms

as if it were a ship of state,

but finds no reflection.

I have almost forgotten

the distant mountains I came from,

the fact I am water at all.

Afon is a slow way of saying ,

it seems to suit me better

than the rip of river.

Already I can feel the saltiness

creep into my body

and seagulls mocking calls

hover then swoop all day.

At the Bay, Im trained and tamed.

On calmer days feel stagnant;

when theres a restless breeze

I begin to wave and voices

of my ancestors come back :

Once you were black, all thick

with dust like a colliers throat.

Once this was flats of mud

where waders and dippers

would pick for worms.

Now I am becalmed,

waiting for the gates to open,

where I will lose my name.

It is a different sun,

one that threatens to burn up,

to leave me dispersed

into the Channel and after.

A roof of slate, faade of glass,

the twirling pipes of a carousel

all bring back reminiscences

of pebbles carried, reflections borrowed,

stirrings under a waterfall.

It is night-time and the moon

is whole and crying out

like a barn-owl over moorland.

I must go and never know

what will become of me.



Mike Jenkins