Tables turned as the people are watching me

I’m writing this week’s column at 38000 feet, travelling at 550 miles per hour, heading to Los Angeles in California, America’s second biggest city.
We even have an internet connection on board.

How times have changed.

Sitting besides me is my room-mate, Phil Meeks, from Derby, who has organised the itinerary for my entire stay, in military fashion, I might add.
There is going to be very little time for relaxation on this trip.

Yes, it’s a work related trip, with an element of tension built in.
Far from glamorous, but someone has to do it.

Phil’s East Midlands accent and my South Wales accent appear to be an endless source of amusement to neighbouring passengers on the flight.

As many loyal readers and followers already know, people watching is something that I really enjoy and can be considered one of my favourite past-times; I consider myself to be quite good at it.

I’ve never been good at many things.
When I was a schoolboy, I swam for Ireland three times.
Unfortunately, I never got further than the end of the North Pier in Blackpool.

But, on this plane trip, the tables have turned and more than a few of the international passengers are discretely watching and eaves-dropping our conversations – probably not understanding a word and trying to figure out our accents.

I’m reminded that travel broadens the mind.
But, in my case, also the waistline.

Best wishes from this side of the ‘Pond’.
If I see Donald, I’ll give him everyone’s regards . . .

A sigh of the times?

As I’ve pointed out many times (and you didn’t take a blind bit of notice!), the world is getting crazier every day.

Long-held attitudes, thoughts and opinions that shaped who we are and kept our lives in some semblance of common sense order for decades are now regularly questioned by individuals we’ve never heard of before.

Having scoured their back gardens looking for bees, they stick one in their bonnets and can’t wait to complain about it.

At the same time, they tell the rest of us we’re all wrong for being out of step with their opinions.

Somehow, they’re allowed a spot on the TV news or current affairs programme to announce that they’re ‘offended’ by something that no-one has ever been offended by before in the history of the worldand demand that “Something must be done about it!”

Of course, the rest of us aren’t allowed to demand ‘Something must be done about them’, like, they shouldn’t be allowed within two miles of a TV or radio studio or a newspaper reporter who’s looking for a ‘controversial’ opinion piece, eagerly licking his pencil ready to jot down their idiotic ideas in his beer-stained notebook.

Just the other day, an extremely articulate woman was given 10 minutes of TV airtime to complain that MEN AT WORK road signs are sexistand out of place in a modern society where men and women should be accepted as equals.

I’ve always accepted that women are equal to men.
Indeed. in many aspects they’re superior.

But, on the rare occasion I’ve seen evidence of men actually at workon the motorway behind MEN AT WORK signs, there was even less evidence that women were digging up the tarmac alongside them.

I’m hoping to be on the telly soon . . .

If I can find something that offends me by then . . .

Any Old Irony?

It’s been said many times – but not by me – that Americans don’t appreciate irony in comedy.

Some people’s opinion of American humour is affected by crude Hollywood comedy films which rely on four-letter words and exaggerated and disgusting out-of-control bodily functions to get laughs.

I suppose that’s because very few Fridays go by without the opening of a new crude Hollywood comedy film that relies on four-letter words and exaggerated and disgusting out-of-control bodily functions for laughs.

But in truth, Americans, especially on the East and West Coasts (the people who mostly didn’t vote for the big orange-faced, comb-over clown who sits in the Oval Office tweeting about his busy schedule all day) appreciate irony as much as us we do this side of ‘The Pond’.

The USA has produced many humorists who’ve dipped their pens in the ‘inkwell of irony’ and written wonderfully subtle comedy that makes the reader think as well as chuckle.

For example: James Thurber, David Sedaris, Garrison Keillor and SJ Perelman – who our own Frank Muir, a man who knew a thing or two about humour, described as “the best American comedy writer of all time!”

Then, there was the great wit Dorothy Parker, who when challenged to make a joke containing the word ‘horticulture’ immediately responded . . .
“You can lead a ‘horticulture’, but you can’t make her think”. (Say it out loud if you don’t get it first time)

That’s one wickedly inventive comedy brain in action!

Irony is uppermost in my mind at the moment because the town of Chepstow in Monmouthshire was recently honoured by the environmental group “Surfers Against Sewage” (which sounds like a very unhealthy past-time to me) as a “Plastic Free” town.

This was such a big deal, local councillors hung a huge banner declaring Chepstow “Plastic Free” above the 13thCentury archway entrance to the old town.

Very commendable.
Oh, sorry. I forgot to mention . . .
The giant banner was made of plastic!

Fun to come in Swansea

Having just read ‘What’s On in Swansea’, I’m extremely impressed with what’s coming up in and around our area over the next six weeks.

There are indoor and outdoor activities that won’t break the bank and events that include the whole family.

I think the ultimate up-and-coming event for me has to be the Swansea Air Show weekend.

The thrill and excitement of seeing the Red Arrows flying over Swansea seafront makes the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. How do they pull off those manoeuvres?

It’s down to practise, commitment and dedication, enabling them to think as a team with each pilot knowing how the other thinks.
It’s discipline at the highest level.

Now then – what do I need to do to get a ride in one of those planes?

There’s too much information!

Follow me down Memory Lane, first right into Nostalgia Street, then left up Reminiscence Avenue . . .

Before the idea of 24-hour rolling news channels gestated in the mind of some media ‘genius’ with too much time on his hands, television broadcasters occasionally interrupted programmes with a “News Flash”.

One minute viewers would be watching “Starsky And Hutch” or “3-2-1!” Then, suddenly, the screen would go blank and a continuity announcer would say in a solemn voice, “We now go over to our news room for a News Flash”.

They were words that would make genteel old ladies in Spa towns reach for the gin bottle with shaking hands, because every time it happened, viewers worried World War Three had started.

Today, we’re so used to ‘Breaking News’ (about anything from a light dusting of snow to the death of a fashion designer most of us have never heard of) that we barely look up from our collector’s edition (only one was published, or indeed necessary) of “Kamikaze Pilot Monthly”.

A News Flash had more effect on the digestive system than a bowl of bran flakes as it signified something really importanthad happened, such as the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy; the death of Winston Churchill; and (I know this because a friend of mine worked for the company) Vehicle and General Insurance suddenly going into liquidation in 1971.

Their one million customersleft without insurance cover were firmly told, “Get your cars off the road . . . immediately!

24-hour rolling news channels, breakfast television and irritating ‘news updates’ that certain channels drop in between orin the middle of programmes, have consigned News Flashes to history, along with the lute, public executions and families happy to sit in restaurants without checking their mobile phones every five minutes.

Now . . . don’t get me started on rolling news weather presenters who make a three-course meal out of their forecasts before leaving us still wondering whether it’s going to rain!

Laughter on prescription? Now that would be a real tonic

Laughter comes in many forms: the giddy giggle, the mild chuckle, the gutsy guffaw, the sarcastic “ha!”

Its meaning is just as varied, signalling everything from amusement to discomfort and distain.

For researchers, understanding how our brain interprets this complex behaviour is serious business. Yes, people are actually paid loads of money to research this stuff.

Every day we are faced with varying degrees of stress and challenging situations. And, as time goes on, as we get older, relaxation and laughter can slow down the ageing process.

We are bombarded with information relating to weight loss, diets, exercise and such like.

But little is said about the huge health benefits of laughter.
This is probably because of the lack of understanding by the masses . . . up to this point!

Over the years, while attending many conferences, I have been party to such a discussion, that left me convinced that the benefits of humour and being around uplifting people can add years to our lives, reduce the need for anti-depressants and keep our brains active for much longer.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get laughter on prescription?

After all, laughter is the best medicine. Unless, of course, you are diabetic. Then, insulin works better.

Offensive? You must be joking

In these ‘PC‘ times, it seems some individuals are so intolerant, so lacking in humour, that hearing a joke or remark they don’t like, instead of ignoring it, they feel ‘victimised’ and must make a fuss about it.

Recently in San Francisco, Richard Ned Lebow, a 75-year old Professor at Kings College London, attended the A.G.M. of The International Studies Association – The I.S.A.

While Richard was standing at the back of a crowded lift, a man at the front, next to the buttons, called out “What floors do you people want?”
The Professor, jokily replied, “Ladies lingerie!”

He knew it was pretty lame, but several people chuckled and he gave it no more thought.

Four hours later, a woman he didn’t know, a Professor of Women’s And Gender Studies, lodged a formal complaint with the I.S.A., stating that she’d been in the lift and “as a survivor of sexual harassment in the academy I’m quite shaken by this incident”.

She claimed she’dasked what floors people wanted and that Professor Lebow’s reply of “Women’sLingerie” had been aimed directly at her.
Professor Lebow said he’d definitely hearda man’s voice and had replied, “LadiesLingerie”.

As his view was obscured by people standing in front of him, he couldn’t possibly have ‘aimed’ the joke at her.

Nevertheless, he sent her a polite e-mail explaining he hadn’t intended to make her feel uncomfortable – but the lady complained about that, too!
The I.S.A. declared his joke was ’offensive and inappropriate’, his e-mail ‘was an even more serious violation’ and he should make an ‘unequivocal apology’.

Unsurprisingly he’s refused to, stating that “If we allow people to dictate what we can or can’t say and to intimidate us with cries of ‘sexist’ and ‘misogynist’ we will lose our cherished freedom of speech”.

Next time I’m in a lift, my lips will be like the doors – closed!

Fake news is everywhere

We hear a lot these days about ‘Fake News’.

I’ll hold my hands up here – which isn’t easy when you’re typing a newspaper article – and admit that I’m not really sure what ‘Fake News’ is.

I often wonder if the complaints about ‘Fake News’ are themselves fake and just a clever distraction to take the public’s eye off therealstory that might shine a spotlight on the misconduct of whoever’s complaining about ‘Fake News’.

It’s a possibility . . .

While I’m unsure what ‘Fake News’ is, I know that ‘Incorrect News’ is down to inadequate research, as illustrated by the recent story featured on social media stating that Ed Sheeran was spotted in a well know Swansea Uplands pub on the Friday evening prior to his performance at the Big Weekend music festival.

Wrong!

It appears that this was a well-orchestrated stunt and, in all fairness, the desired effect was achieved.

It turns out he was actually doing his shopping in Aldi, Llansamlet.
It fooled me as well as thousands of other people.

I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Well, now is probably the time to reveal that Phil Evans is actually a completely made up name, there is no such person and my name is actually Barbara, 73 from Llanelli.

Or is it?

Health can be all in the head

Our media’s approach to mental illness, from OCD (Obsessive–compulsive disorder) to post-natal depression, is much more sympathetic and informative than it used to be . . .

Today, newspapers, radio and television openly discuss it, just like any other medical condition.

A decent night’s sleep is vital for our mental well-being.

Yet a recent survey revealed one third of Britons are so job-stressed, they check work e-mails several times during the night.

And, for 75% of the population, worries about debt, unemployment and other issues come to the fore at bedtime. The next day they’re so tired and even more stressed that the cycle of anxiety continues.

Today, showbiz celebrities and sporting personalities have no qualms about revealing their struggles with depression, when once they’d have been reluctant to. From the great clown Joseph Grimaldi to Spike Milligan and Paul Merton, comedians are particularly vulnerable to mental fragility as they face rejection every time they stand up in front of the public.

I always try to be supportive and encouraging to my fellow performers, despite the fact that the world of comedy can lack professional respect.

We somehow learn to cope with life’s highs and lows. But, if we suffer a relentless run ofbad luck without respite, it takes a very strong person not to become so depressed they’re unable to see that a brighter future is possible.

Having a partner, family member or friend who is understanding, uplifting and prepared to really listen to your problems is incredibly important at these times.

You may not believe their positive advice at first, but, as things gradually improve, you’ll remember their words and be grateful for them.

Mental illness has no boundaries of class, age or occupation.

If I’m ever affected by it, I hope someone out there will say, “Phil. It’s okay. We understand.  This will pass, we’ll get through it together and all will be well.”
And that will be the moment I begin my recovery . . .

Feelgood factor down on the farm!

There are countless things we can do to make ourselves feel good.

I’m not exaggerating. They really are countless, so don’t try counting them all because by the time you’ve finished, you’ll be feeling less than good.

Here are some examples of things we can do to feel good.

We could go for a stroll through our beautiful countryside.
We could make a donation to charity.
We could have a nice cup of tea.
“But how is this possible?” I hear you ask.

It’s called Open Farm Sunday and it’s the one day a year when hundreds of farmers open their gates to the public, allowing them a rare glimpse into the day-to-day running of a working farm.

One Carmarthenshire farm opening to the public on June 10, from 12 noon to 4 pm, is in Esgair, Llanpumsaint, near Carmarthen.

New for this year is a fantastic self-guided nature trail. The owners, Nicky and Martin, will allow visitors in to see their cattle and pigs, and also shine a light on what they deliver and why supporting British farming matters.

When you’re worn out from all these activities, you can enjoy a cuppa and a chat. Entry is free, but if you’d like to make a donation to Macmillan Cancer Care (and why wouldn’t you?) it would be greatly appreciated.

So on June 10,  treat yourselves to a taste of life down on the farm, just don’t forget to close the gate when you leave!

If you want to find out where the closest one is to you, just visit the website  www.openfarmsunday.org  and put in your postcode.