Enduring the horrors of Hallowen

I’ve tried. I really have. After weeks of entering supermarkets piled high with plastic pumpkins and fake skulls, synthetic spider webs, rubber monster masks, battery-operated ‘torture victims’ in chains howling in pain and other ghastly, horror-themed tat, I’ve tried to join in with the relatively recent British obsession with Halloween.

But I still loathe everything about it.

You may think it’s just a bit of fun – but in reality Halloween is a money-making monolith that exists solely to sell you things you really don’t need and will be discarded on November the 1st.

The shops and their suppliers don’t care because they’ve already taken your money and know they’ll take more from you next year.

The highlight of the Autumn used to be Bonfire Night. So why did the great British tradition of November the 5th become the poor relation to the American celebration of all things spooky?

There was no particular demand from the public for Halloween-themed goods. Commercial enterprises created the demand, possibly because fireworks sales nose-dived when new rules came in preventing  youngsters from buying them and setting them off in the street . . . in August!

When I was a lad . . . cough . . . 20 years ago…Halloween barely made a dent in our autumn calendar.

We might do a bit of apple bobbing – an activity which proved that making your own fun is no fun at all – but there was no question of us kids going out in the dark, knocking on doors, demanding sweets and making threats if none were forthcoming.

That only happened in American films.

If we were lucky, one of the three TV channels we had back then would risk facing the wrath of Mrs. Mary Whitehouse (the infamous TV Watchdog who totally disapproved of anything she didn’t approve of) and treat us to a late-night horror film from the glory days of Hammer Films. Although the goriest bits were usually snipped out!

And that was it.

No lengthy build-up in the shops, constant advertising on the box or groups of children/teenagers/killer clowns banging on your door shouting “Trick Or Treat!” from tea-time to 10 o’clock.

Many children today haven’t heard of the Gunpowder Plot, have no idea who Guy Fawkes was and have never been handed a box of fireworks with the cautionary words, “They’re yours – but your father will light them!”

But they do know about zombies, vampires and werewolves!

Don’t you find that scary?

Going local for a special brew

Slowly dying out:

Now, those of you that read my column regularly will realise that I spend a lot of my time frequenting local coffee shops, where I meet some fantastic people and also do a lot of my creative writing.

But I’ve recently come to realise that I don’t think you go to a single town in Wales now and not see one of the major coffee house franchises somewhere along the high street.

Even in some of the small quaint towns and villages, you won’t have to look far to find one.

But this made me think, there are also some of the most beautiful small, independent local coffee shops in each and every town that are usually family run which seem to be struggling to keep up with the coffee giants.

Years ago, this was where everyone from the community got together to catch up on the local news.

On a weekly basis, I’m seeing local cafes close as they are unable to compete. This makes me sad.

I’ve decided to make a concerted effort from now on to search for the little local coffee shops, and if they happen to be serving homemade cake, too, it would be very rude of me not to indulge!

Giving a taste of the past. Youle be grateful

I’m very mindful of the fact that the season of goodwill will soon be here as many retailers have already set their stalls up in readiness to capture the early impulse buyers amongst us. So where has this year gone?

I’m still finding pine needles in the carpet from last year. Are the weeks and months moving much quicker these days?

My dear grandmother Ruth would often remind me that as a young girl she got extremely excited on Christmas morning to find a tangerine in a sock at the end of the bed.

I honestly thought that she was just teasing me, but apparently this was true. Times were hard back then and people went without – and children were grateful for anything they had.

But, today, this isn’t always the case, as we seem to buy too much and appreciate little.

Right then, my Christmas gift list this year will consist of fruit bought locally and presented to the recipient in a sock.

Bring back the old days for a change. This will all end in tears, mark my words.

Bring mental health issues into the open

This year’s Mental Health Day on October 10 coincided with National Chocolate Week.

There’s a connection, which I’ll explain later.

If you haven’t experienced mental health issues personally or through someone you know, you’re lucky, because statistics reveal that one in four of us in Wales will at some point have a mental health problem.

That means, out of a population of approximately three million, around 750,000 of us have had, will have, or currently have mental health problems.

That’s an astonishingly high proportion for a country our size. Some mental health problems, like becoming stressed during a challenging time in our lives, only last until the matter is resolved.

More serious problems can last years or even a lifetime. They all have a debilitating effect on sufferers and the people closest to them.

Our bodies are designed to withstand short periods of stress, but not constant stress, ‘the silent killer’ which can develop into physical symptoms like high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks – or into mental problems like severe depression.

Post-natal depression is something we often hear about, but until the wife of a friend developed it a few weeks after giving birth, I had no idea how devastating its effect could be.

It can last up to a year, even if the new mother takes prescribed medication, and as long as three years if she doesn’t.

During the first important weeks when a mother needs to bond with her child, the young woman I know was deeply depressed and completely disinterested in her baby.

Such was her bleak state of mind that, even after being prescribed strong medication, she attempted suicide. Thankfully, she survived, was given expert, sympathetic counselling, eventually accepted her baby and now lives a normal life.

I mentioned National Chocolate Week because it’s been proven that chocolate (the dark variety, in particular) is beneficial to people’s mental well-being.

So, we should eat some dark chocolate occasionally, but not too much. Otherwise we’ll gain weight. Not good for anyone prone to depression.

If you ever become severely depressed, the first thing to do is to tell someone exactly how you feel. Whether that initial talk is with a counsellor, friend or relative it doesn’t matter.

It’s a major step towards your recovery. A problem shared really is a problem halved – because it’s been brought out into the open.

Time to start shopping closer to home

Well, to coin a phrase, you either love it or you hate it.

The UK is seeing an official Marmite shortage due to Unilever requesting that Tesco increase their prices.

Now, we all have our shopping staples, the brands that we buy every time we shop, but why do we do it?

Is it because that’s what our parents or grandparents bought?

Is it time to make a change?

With so much wonderful local produce to choose from, I think I might just start shopping a lot closer to home.

This begs the question, “how much more expensive will it be?”

But here’s a question for you: how much of your shopping do you throw out each week?

We throw away seven million tonnes of food and drink every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.

Wasting this food costs the average household £470 a year, rising to £700 for a family with children, the equivalent of around £60 a month.

How about we start shopping a bit smarter and more local?

I’m up for it. Are you?

Get yourself something to look forward to

This time of year can leave so many of us feeling tired, depressed and lacking the motivation to do things. It’s a curse that so many face and a growing concern.

Part of the problem is the lack of things to look forward to. Have you ever noticed how much more you manage to get done if you have a deadline?

It’s a well-known fact that the majority of people find the energy and enthusiasm to complete a task or get more done before a special event or a holiday.

We all need things to look forward to and our diaries should have enough interesting things booked in over the short and medium term to keep us focused.

This is so important on so many levels. Life is about experiences, adventure, lasting memories, family and friends.

This lifestyle change needn’t be an expensive process, as with careful planning, some creative thinking and collaboration with friends there can be loads of wonderful adventures awaiting us, thereby lifting our spirits in the weeks and months to come.

Go on, get planning, give it a go. You can thank me later.

Something very fishy about this story!

Traditionally, the ‘silly season’ in the newspaper world occurs during August, when the House of Commons benches breathe a creaking sigh of relief from not having to support the weight of 650 bums.

You can interpret the use of the word ‘bums’ any way you prefer.

During this period, the ‘papers print lightweight stories that would never appear any other time of the year.

Like the one that regularly turns up concerning a tourist who’s definitely, positively seen the Loch Ness Monster.

Despite the availability of state-of-the-art cameras and lenses, the accompanying ‘photo always resembles an oil slick filmed through a mosquito net . . . in the dark!

Last week, as I started reading a newspaper article, it seemed the silly season had been extended to October.

As I continued reading, it became apparent that, bizarrely, the article was 100% genuine.

The University of Exeter has spent a considerable amount of time and resources (i.e. money) studying the fish that live in our coastal waters and have come up with the theory that – please don’t raise a hot drink to your lips as you read this next line or you could have a nasty accident – cod talk to each other in regional accents!

No, it’s not you. The world does go a little crazier every week.

Presumably some highly-paid academic with very little to occupy his time and incredible intellect, one day pondered “Hmm . . . I wonder if the fish swimming around the British Isles can talk to each other? And could they have local accents?”

If you or I had thought that, we’d have sensibly kept it to ourselves and even more sensibly, immediately dismissed it.

But, academics need to keep themselves busy to justify their annual funding, so they proceeded – I have no idea how they went about it – to study ‘fish speak’ and discovered that cod swimming off the coast of Cornwall communicate with each other in an accent that differs from the cod swimming off the coast of Liverpool. Yes, really.

Academics are worried that if the Southern cod meet the Northern cod they won’t be able to understand each other- which could threaten their chances of mating.

That’s the difference between humans and cod. We aren’t put off from enjoying a little ‘romantic encounter’ by the sound of a regional accent.

Frankly, I can’t decide whether this study was eel-advised or just a load of old codswallop.

Enjoy a great adventure

This week, I came across something on social media and thought ,“Damn, I wish I’d have thought of that.”

I read that an enterprising young couple from Lampeter, James Kendall and Lea Wakeman have created a new outdoor game for children that combines bushcraft and survival skills, inspired by one of their favourite computer games.

Wildcraft Adventure aims to get children off their computer screens and into the great outdoors. Absolute genius!

Wildcraft borrows themes from popular video games like Minecraft and is giving youngsters an outdoor experience they won’t forget.

Though barely a year old, it’s been a huge hit with parents and children alike.

This new game is getting children out to woods, parks and green spaces with not an iPad or tablet in sight.

I wonder if there is an age limit as I really fancy a go of this?

Anything that gets our children off their computers and out into the fresh air is a hit with me, reading the feedback from children that have taken part I can only see this venture going from strength to strength!

Da iawn!

Book in for a good read

Will Llawerch – Celtic Fury:

It’s not often I get to sit down and read a good book, but sometimes I’ll glance at the first few pages of a book that I think I might like . . . and I’m hooked.

If you are a lover of Celtic History, then Welsh actor and author Will Llawerch is the one for you.

The way he writes in his latest book, Celtic Fury, takes you back to the time of the Roman invasion and if, like me, you have a vivid imagination, his writing can actually make you feel like you are there.

Amidst an epic backdrop, two young Celts find themselves torn between tribal duty, love, war, passion and revenge as they fight not only for their lives but for their cultures very existence.

Sounds a bit like Wind Street on a Saturday night doesn’t it?

If escapism is what’s missing in your life, then you need to read this. Come to think of it, I don’t read enough books.

I’m going to make an effort to pop to my local library and see what they have on offer.

I’d love to hear about your favourite books. Get in touch and let me know!

Battling to be top of the bill

The dream of every performer starting out in show business is to see their name up in lights. The reality is, apart from the West End, not many theatres use this expensive method of advertising today.

Having your name in red neon outside a theatre meant that no one (apart from a disgruntled electrician) could interfere with it, unlike posters which can be defaced – and also cause rifts between performers.

Older readers will remember Jimmy Jewell and Hylda “She Knows You Know” Baker who starred in 45 episodes of the TV sitcom “Nearest and Dearest”.

Despite the fact they loathed each other, their series was very successful and a stage version was produced in Blackpool, where one morning, Jimmy Jewell arrived at the theatre to find Hylda up a ladder, using a tape-measure to check that her name was bigger than his on the main poster!

The fragile nature of performers’ egos is further illustrated in the following story which I’m assured is absolutely true.

One week in 1964, the popular Irish singing trio The Bachelors were in cabaret in Birmingham from Monday to Saturday, following which they were booked to appear on the prestigious TV show Sunday Night At The London Palladium.

When they finished performing on the Saturday night, their roadie packed their guitars and equipment into a van and headed down to the Palladium.

The Irish lads were due to take the midnight train to London but when they got to the station they discovered there’d been a landslide down the line.

No trains were going south.

Disaster!

After explaining their predicament to the Station Master, he mentioned that his brother owned a canal barge that was leaving for London any minute, arriving around 10 in the morning.

He phoned his brother who agreed to take the trio with him – if they hurried!

The boys jumped into a cab, headed for the canal and when they boarded the barge they realised…phew…it was carrying 10 tonnes of horse manure!

As the bargee approached each lock, he was required to call out to the lock-keeper what cargo he was carrying.

“Ten tonnes of horse manure….and The Bachelors!”.

After listening to “Ten tonnes of horse manure…and The Bachelors” a dozen times, lead singer of the Bachelors, Con Cluskey, tapped the bargee on the shoulder and said…

“Excuse me, captain! Can we have a word about our billing?”