How strong are you?

Life’s struggles become laughs

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a familiar saying, which Friedrich Nietzsche originated over 100 years ago.

I bet his descendants wish he’d copyrighted it. Imagine the T-shirt sales!

When we’ve survived an unpleasant, perhaps life-threatening experience we naturally feel determined to get on and do things we wouldn’t have been able to, had matters not turned out so well.

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the greatest American comedians of the past 30 years but even he, in his early days, struggled.

One night, while performing at a New York disco, the audience ignored him and continued to dance throughout his act!

As soul-destroying as that must have been, he never gave up. He’s now a multi-millionaire and his sitcom “Seinfeld” is considered a classic.

On a more serious note, three years ago, at the age of 46, my friend and fellow comedian Tudur Owen was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer and, as you can imagine, his world (and that of his family) was turned upside down.

The cancer was successfully removed, not by scalpel, but by a state-of-the-art machine using keyhole surgery, operated by a surgeon with the skill-set of a modern computer-gaming whizz.

Tudur’s praise for the NHS and the people who cared for him after his operation and throughout his recovery is overwhelming.

Blessed with a highly creative comedy mind, Tudur turned that terrible experience into material which he’s incorporated into his latest one-man show, running at the Edinburgh comedy festival throughout August.

I think it’s his best work to date and every performance is sold-out.

I witnessed people crying with laughter, while being party to a life-changing message.

It takes real talent to produce a comedy masterpiece from such a dark subject and Tudur Owen has it by the bucketload. In his case, what didn’t kill him made him even funnier than he was!

The Blues at six!

More uplifting stories would be good news for our health

Each and every day, I make time to write, and have to admit that this can be a challenging experience.

If I’m not writing jokes, editing a script or tuning ideas for this newspaper column, I’m adding to my list of corporate and conference talks.

Doing this exercise on a daily basis is good practice, to ensure my writing skills don’t get rusty.

When researching subjects, I often turn to the news pages online, which is a great source of material.

Unfortunately, most of the time, well, nearly all of the time the news is full of negative and shocking stories from home and abroad.

Rarely do we see a happy, uplifting headlines. That wouldn’t sell, would it?

I’m all for freedom of speech and the free exchange of information, but the level of shock news reporting we are exposed to is bound to have a detrimental effect on our moods and outlook on life.

Children are also exposed to this negativity at such a young age, which can’t help to create a healthy and positive lifestyle.

I would welcome more good news or even a ‘Good News Channel’. Is it any wonder that we now live in a society where mental illness and depression is at an uncontrollable level?

The Edinburgh Comedy Festival

Highlight from a festival which keeps getting better

This week’s column comes to you from the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, sat watching the world go by in a small café in the heart of the ancient city.

Here we have an arts festival that just keeps gaining momentum and I’m convinced that this year will show record attendance from tourists from all over the world.

The comedy festival seems as if it’s taken over Scotland and local businesses are greatly benefiting from the attendees.

Who said that the arts don’t add value to the economy? It’s not true.

In addition to this, there are performers from all over the world, desperately trying to make an impact and pull in crowds to see their shows and hopefully secure some good reviews at the same time.

The place is buzzing with energy and we are witnessing some amazing creative talent.

One of my highlights was friend Terry Victor and his one man show, Well Thumbed.

The premise of the show is simple, it’s outrageous stand-up literature , as Terry enthusiastically thumbs through the contents of a respectable library in search of the mucky bits.

As Arts Scene in Wales describes it, “A show, I imagine, that would have Mary Whitehouse spinning in her chastity belt!”

Theatre in Wales has described Terry as “one of life’s larger than life characters, out of the Brian Blessed mould. He has quick wit and a sharp delivery.”

For me, this was a very proud moment and to see people doing well with a talent they were born with is one of life’s great blessings.

The show is at Whitespace 76 – Venue 375 at 9.00 pm.

Watch out, scammers about!

The South Wales Evening Post recently reported two very different scams happening around the Swansea area.

The first involved fake ‘missed delivery’ cards being put through people’s letter boxes informing them that ‘Royal Mail’ had tried to deliver a parcel. Of course, Royal Mail knew nothing about it.

Householders were instructed to telephone an 0208 number and pay a processing and delivery fee of £10 by credit card – at which point you might have smelt a rat, but many didn’t.

Some who fell for the scam were also landed with a telephone bill of £45.

The other scam involved e-mails allegedly sent out from a well-known Swansea hotel asking people who’d made reservations for their credit card details – which, of course, the hotel would never do.

Scams are becoming more sophisticated. Last week, a writer friend received an e-mail from his mobile phone provider informing him his August bill was more than £400. He normally pays £18!

In a panic, he called the phone number on the e-mail and went through the identical procedure he normally did. Even the automatic female voice instructions about what buttons to press were the same.

After he’d waited in a queue for five minutes, the female voice suggested he left his phone number and 4-digit pass code and he would be called back.

So, he did as suggested. It was only when he took a closer look at the phone bill that he realised it had a slightly different heading to previous bills – and the phone number was also different.

He immediately phoned his actual mobile provider, explained what had happened and was horrified to be told that the e-mail he’d received was a scam.

He was assured that no one had tried to use his phone and was given a new 4-digit code. But . . . although he’s no fool, he was a victim of scammers.

So be aware. They’re everywhere!

TV’s giving a false impression

When I was a lad, my gran warned me that watching too much television would harm my eyes.

As young boys tend to, I ignored her and absorbed as much of the three channels our 17” telly offered as I could.

We were content with BBC One & Two and ITV as there always seemed to be something ‘great’ to watch – especially on a Saturday night.

The deterioration of TV programme quality since a mind-boggling selection of channels was thrust upon us – I don’t remember asking for them, do you? – will be the subject of a future article, I’m sure….

I had no idea my gran was a fortune teller able to look into the future as far as 2017.  Because it’s only this year that TV started to harm my eyes – to such an extent, when I hear the theme music to certain shows I take the precaution of putting on my sunglasses before damage can be inflicted on my retinas.

If you’ve watched any breakfast TV show, all-women lunchtime talk show or early evening ‘topical’/consumer-style show, your eyesight will also have been in danger.

I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that dozens of British TV presenters have had their teeth chemically treated – or possibly sand-blasted – to such an incredible degree of gleaming white brightness, if ever their TV careers hit the rocks, they could obtain employment as light houses.

We’re used to everyone on American TV having perfect teeth, but here it’s a fairly recent phenomenon for presenters to open their mouths and dazzle us with perfect, blindingly white gnashers – and I find it a little spooky.

One female presenter’s smile is so supernaturally white she could open her mouth and illuminate the Channel Tunnel. Would I go in for the same treatment?

No. I’m much too long in the tooth.

We can all help improve people’s mental health

I’m shocked at the recent news surrounding mental health issues and increased suicide rates in Wales involving men.

This is a disturbing subject and thankfully many are now starting to speak up and highlight the problem.

But so many men find it hard to speak up and ask for help and to a point I can understand this.

On a regular basis I am reading articles surrounding this subject and am of the opinion that we are all vulnerable to mental health challenges at various points in our lives. If not personally, then someone close to us.

How can we make it easier for people to speak out? Can we help and do more?

Having witnessed family members on high doses of medication to help mental health conditions, I have seen the downside first hand.

Medication that is only to be taken for a short time is taken for years and this again has knock on effects.

Good company, support from friends and family makes such a huge difference to many, unfortunately many are isolated and alone and finding help seems too difficult.

Continued awareness is key and an ability to recognise where and when help is needed. Together we can make a difference.

Is this a shock to the system?

A shock to the system

It’s been announced that rail electrification between London and South Wales will stop at Cardiff Central – although no-one is prepared to predict at the precise time it’ll come to a halt.

Having taken the train to Paddington and back on more occasions I can remember, there’s every chance it’ll be delayed because of a signal failure between Reading and Didcot Parkway, a cow on the line outside Swindon and the possibility of a nervous little train refusing to move out of the safety of the Severn Tunnel and on into Newport in case it has its wheels stolen while waiting in the station for two minutes.

It’s okay. I have friends in Newport. They can take a joke. Well, you’d be exactly the same if you lived there.

As soon it was announced rail electrification would stop at Cardiff, a lot of people around here got themselves into a lather, complaining that yet again Swansea was being overlooked; rejected; ignored – choose any verb you like –  and that, over the decades, various things stopped at Cardiff and didn’t come to Swansea – like the Welsh Assembly Government.

Then again, a lot of people are relieved it didn’t come here.

Another complaint was the Beatles never performed in Swansea!

I honestly don’t think the Fab Four deliberately snubbed the city any more than they did hundreds of other places they didn’t get around to visiting during the short period they toured the UK.

After 50 years, I think it’s time we let that one go, don’t you?

The thing is, even if rail electrification does stop at Cardiff, the brand spanking new hybrid electric-diesel trains will still be travelling on from Cardiff to Swansea (and back!) so what are we really missing out on?

Let’s enjoy the new, smooth rail travel experience. At least until we get to Didcot Parkway.

High Price Family Holidays

High price to pay for enjoying family holidays together!

The cost of holidays have rocketed again, making it far too expensive for many parents to go and enjoy family time together.

It has been well documented that some holidays are between two and six times more expensive during the peak school holiday periods.

The majority of the public see this as exploitation – and who can blame them?

Many get into debt and end up paying huge rates of interest for the privilege of borrowing, which is an added cost to an already over-inflated holiday break.

Gone are the days where many valley folk would venture to Porthcawl and Barry Island during miners’ fortnight to spend two weeks in an old, damp and mouldy caravan, where the whole family had to walk half a mile to the other side of the site to visit the toilet and have a cold shower.

Not to mention the carrying of the water butt back to ensure a supply of tea, coffee and squash.

And all this took place, more often than not, in the rain. The two-week holiday in Wales back then prepared us for outdoor pursuits and the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

I can’t say that I miss those days, but I’m sure many readers would agree that it was all very character building and gave us some amazing memories and stories to pass on to the younger generation.