This week sees the publication of In Passing: A Welshman’s bizarre adventures from Merthyr to Mecca by distinguished Welsh academic, Professor Randall Baker.
The unusual collection of offbeat anecdotes are a collection of just some of the strange incidents which have happened to him over a period of 65 years, and over several continents:
“ I am lucky to have done an awful lot of travelling, including with the Spanish Foreign Legion in the colony of Spanish Sahara, being surprised by several nasty earthquakes, and being in East Germany as they built the wall, but my stories are in the shadow of the world affairs rather than dealing with them directly,” says Randall Baker.
The incidents recorded in In Passing are all true stories from his own life, starting from when he was a pupil at Abermorlais Junior School in Merthyr. Over the years, he started to realize that the number of odd events that happened to him was unusual. Speaking of the realization, Randall said:
“Throughout my life, when I discussed something that had just happened to me, inevitably I was greeted by cries of “Oh, come on ” and the like. Eventually, my wife started to preface them with “Here comes another of Randall’s stories” . The hard thing for me was that I was just recounting something that had really just happened . Eventually I realised that life is not like this for everyone and so for posterity, I decided to put all the most interesting or amusing events together, starting with post-war Wales and moving on to New Zealand, Fiji, Mecca, and other places far from Merthyr. As a scientist I do require rugged standards of proof, but what do you do when the incident happened to you and you have absolutely no way of explaining it!”
He credits his childhood in Merthyr as ‘a good training ground’, enabling him to go out and face some of the wilder corners of the world.
“Merthyr’s history in the iron and steel industry and the buying of ore and selling metal brought Merthyr into the world – in a way that’s hard to imagine today. Merthyr manufactured cannons for Nelson, and built almost every railroad in South America. It’s hard to imagine this world leadership as you stroll around Merthyr these days, but it’s not like any other place in Wales,” says the author of his hometown.
Crimebusting soothsayers, a homicidal optometrist, men who fall off trains or into open graves, a ridiculously over-attentive waitress, an abandoned stripper and a fellow traveller whose huge suitcase is packed solely with alcohol are just a few of the colourful characters populating this engaging book, The stories get more and more inexplicable, though all are true! He comes across coffee with strange properties, gets caught in the crossfire in the OK Corral of English tearooms, locates lost property through the power of suggestion, meets royalty and rebels, and POSSIBLY steps back in time into 1944 New Zealand. Holding all of this together is an infectious sense of Welsh humour, especially in handling the unexpected!
Randall Baker is a distinguished Welsh academic who has studied and taught in universities all around the world. He co-founded the School of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia, and has acted as an advisor to UNESCO, the Fijian Government, the Prince of Mecca, the Sultan of Brunei, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, The British Foreign Ministry and Crown Agents, UNEP, and the US State Department. He has published extensively on both academic and non-academic subjects. He now spends half the year in Bulgaria and the other half in Newbridge-on-Wye in Wales.
In Passing: A Welshman’s bizarre adventures from Merthyr to Mecca w ill be launched at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth at 1pm on Thursday 19 th of September. Seats can be reserved at www.library.wales or turn up on the day. Dr Brinley Jones will host the session.
In Passing: A Welshman’s bizarre adventure from Merthyr to Mecca by Randall Baker (£9.99, Y Lolfa) is available now.