We can all help to keep our performing culture alive

The highlight of last week was performing my show in a very beautiful part of Wales.

My chums, Gary Slaymaker, Aled Richards and the legend that is Meic Stevens took on a very appreciative audience at the Felinfach Theatre near Lampeter.

This wasn’t my first time at the venue and I’ve yet to meet such a well organised, welcoming and supportive team of people.

The bigger and more popular venues scattered around the country could learn so much from the people behind this gem of a theatre.

It’s safe to say that venues and live entertainment are faced with challenges, hefty competition and the creative marketing needed to prise people away from their TV sets and back to support live entertainment within their communities.

Local authorities need to do more; local businesses should embrace the opportunity and get involved.

Supporting the performing arts and keeping venues alive plays an important part in bringing people together, thereby helping communities to thrive.

This is key to maintaining our culture and something that has sadly dwindled in the past decade.

We can all make a difference, if we take action and get involved.

Don’t let apathy win and kill off talent and our culture.

Here’s some food for thought

Soup kitchens!

What image pops into your head when you hear those words?

A raggle-taggle group of whey-faced, shoeless Victorian children, holding out wooden bowls?

Or the Great Depression of the 1930s when long lines of undernourished men and women in threadbare clothes, waited in the freezing cold for a free hot meal?

Soup kitchens are consigned to history, along with rickets, scurvy and Betamax videos. Right? Wrong!

In poor, inner-city areas they’ve never gone away. Due to recent events, including the financial crisis of 2007/8, they’ve spread . . . even to Llanelli.

Every Sunday evening, the Sosban Soup Kitchen in Old Castle Road supplies poor, hungry people with a free hot meal.

Run by Gary Glenister and his team of volunteers, it relies on soup and bread generously donated by local companies and people in the community.

If I wore a hat, I’d take it off to all of them. But here’s what I can’t get my head around.

On the one hand, we have soup kitchens providing free food for people in dire financial need. On the other, it seems every week a new restaurant, ice-cream parlour or burger joint opens in Swansea.

Walk down any street and you’ll soon see we have a massive obesity epidemic.

Yes, I realise some unfortunate people are the size of Lundy due to a medical condition, but most people become obese because they love food, have dozens of eateries to choose from and, crucially, have the disposable income to spend in them.

Whether they’re familiar with the words ‘will power’ is not for me to ask. So, I won’t.

But, in between scoffing pizza and burgers, wouldn’t it be great if every one of them occasionally donated a tin of soup to the Sosban Soup Kitchen?

And, whatever the size of your waistline, maybe you could too . . .

American gun laws are no joke

Keeping the Second Amendment.

If you doubt Las Vegas is the ‘Entertainment Capital Of The World’, just consider who’s performing there this month . . .

Celine Dion; Elton John; Creedence Clearwater’s John Fogerty; Jennifer Lopez; Billy Idol; Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band; Britney Spear . . .  AND Hollywood comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short.

If any of them came to Swansea for a one-off show, tickets would sell out in minutes. Vegas boasts big star names all year round and ticket prices and audience expectations are always high.

So, it must have been a challenge for Vegas entertainers, especially the comedians, to go out on stage the night after the terrible event that unfolded in the shadow of the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

Despite the tragedy, visitors who’d pre-booked their seats months before would have turned-up expecting to be entertained, if only to try and forget what had happened for a couple of hours.

The performers, being true pros, would have risen to the occasion, I’m sure. But there must have been the odd difficult, emotional moment and the comedians would have checked their material for any potentially controversial lines prior to going on.

There’s an equation that suggests “Tragedy + Time = Comedy”.

But does it?

Today, the joke “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?” is acceptable because President Lincoln died 150 years ago and hardly anyone who was around then is alive today.

However, although President Kennedy was shot more than 50 years ago, we’d shudder if a comedian cracked a joke about his assassination.

The deaths of two Presidents and what happened in Las Vegas on October 1st span more than a century but have a common denominator – guns.

If America insists on keeping the Second Amendment – The Right To Bear Arms – perhaps the equation should be re-written as… “Tragedy + Time = More Tragedy”.

Paying a price for picking the wrong checkout queue

There are two possible queues in the supermarket . . .

Why is it the one you decide to go for is always the slowest to move?

There is always that one customer in it who has picked the only product in the whole store with no price on. Or the checkout operator decides to plonk the ‘checkout closed’ sign right before your shopping pile. Does this only happen to me?

It’s the same at the cashpoint. I always end up standing behind the person who decides now would be a good time to print out and check a monthly statement, check the balance on all four of their accounts and then print out receipts for each transaction!

Then there is that fleeting thought that goes through your mind . . . shall I change queues?

You battle with this little voice inside your head telling you “NO!” as you know that, as soon as you move, your original queue will move at the speed of light!

So you move queues anyway, despite the little voice and Yes, your original queue starts moving quicker than Usain Bolt off the starting blocks . . .

Please tell me this doesn’t only happen to me?

More silly schemes

Not everyone gets to down tools at 4pm.

I was on holiday at the time, so missed ‘National Finish At 4pm Day’ – Friday September 15th.

I had no idea it existed until I read it in one of the 14 newspapers my ‘paper boy delivered every morning I was away, even though I definitely told my newsagent I was going to Turkey for a fortnight.

I remember because he said, “This time of the year it’s lovely in Torquay”. Maybe I should have added “. . . . so while I’m away I won’t need a newspaper delivered because I can buy one in Torquay every day,” but, silly me, I didn’t. So, it was my fault.

Unbelievably, “National Finish At 4pm Day” – a blatant message to the nation to do less work – was thought up by a well-known energy drink company. Obviously, it wasn’t Irony Brew!

I won’t name it, but think Scarlet Cow and then work it out yourself. The company said, “It’s not about slacking off. It’s about being more productive.” Really?

Then why didn’t you call it “National Do An Extra Hour’s Work Day”?

The company mistakenly assumed everyone works in an office so if they left work early it wouldn’t create too many problems. But when those people descended on pubs mid-afternoon looking for refreshment, what would they have done if the bar staff had also finished at 4pm?

Treble scowls and hissy fits all round!

And how would they have got home by bus, taxi or train if all the drivers and conductors and ticket sellers had nipped off early?

As for surgeons, they can’t suddenly down scalpels and leave their patients mid-operation when they feel like it.

I suggest the energy drink company organise their own “National Think Things Through Properly Day” before they come up with any more silly schemes.

Netball and all that

Sport netted itself a new fan after great display of teamwork

On Sunday I found myself doing something a bit different, attending a netball match at Llanelli Leisure centre to support a family friend.

Now, I don’t know much about netball, to be honest. But what I discovered was a fantastic bunch of ladies, of all ages and abilities, taking part in a very competitive and sometimes quite dangerous sport.

The team work and training which must go into preparation of these matches must be quite intense, as they worked together to produce a thrilling afternoon of sport.

Even though the rain and wind outside was miserable, the atmosphere inside was electric. Supporters cheered on their teams and great fun was had by players and supporters alike.  The leisure centre was packed.

It was plain to see that teamwork and training had paid off for all the ladies involved. Thanks for the invitation, Iona Melrose, and well done to everyone who took part, I’m even thinking of looking for a netball evening class and dusting off my gym kit, so watch this space . . .

Welsh Factor big leap

Welsh Factor move a great leap forward for stars of the future.

Last week, I heard some great news about Wales’ biggest and best talent competition, The Welsh Factor.

The name of “Welsh Factor” will be included in the Welsh Joint Education Committee GCSE curriculum for music next year throughout every Welsh School, and also a few in England and other countries throughout the world. This is fantastic news.

Students will be asked to compose a song that could be performed on The Welsh Factor as part of their music exam.

I am sure this will be great exposure for the team at Welsh Factor and also a wonderful opportunity for our youngsters to research the talent competition, therefore enabling our up and coming Welsh stars to showcase their talent.

This has opened up endless possibilities for promoting talent in Wales. We have so much of it right on our doorstep.

Welsh Factor has touched so many lives so far and is destined to continue to do so in the future.

For those who wish to take part and start their journey, check out www.welshfactor.com

Calling for a cure

Calling all cures for an over-active imagination.

When people have too much spare time on their hands, their minds can create questions they might not otherwise have asked.

If you disagree with this thinly-disguised set-up for a couple of jokes at the end of the article, it’s probably best that you turn the page . . .

I started mulling over strange questions while in my doctor’s waiting room recently – and to calm the one reader who might be concerned about my health, I wasn’t there for medical reasons.

The previous time I was there – three years ago – from a pile of well-thumbed magazines, provided to help patients pass the time, I picked up a copy of “Archaeology Monthly” (for the prehistoric mounds on Page 3!) and I was halfway through a fascinating article on Ancient Roman mosaics, when I was called into the doctor’s consulting room.

So, as I had some time on my hands last week, I popped back to see if I could finish the article.

Three years had passed – and I was disappointed.

The magazine was still there, but the remainder of the article wasn’t as fascinating as the section I’d read.

As I didn’t have anything pressing to do – I’d ironed all my shirts the day before – I sat back and let random thoughts pass through my mind.

Like . . .

Why do people whose mobile telephones have the loudest, most annoying ring-tones always take longer to answer them than the rest of us?

When did shop assistants stop asking customers “Can I help you?” and replace it with the almost-uninterested “Are you alright there?”

They used to be worn by motorway policemen, railway workers and others employed in hazardous occupations. Now anyone can wear them. Why is the Government turning a blind eye to Hi-Visibility Jackets?

If anyone wants me, I’ll be at the doctors having my blood pressure checked.

Feedback makes the weekly challenge worthwhile

Thanks for the feedback.

Those astute readers among you will realise that my South Wales Evening Post column has now been going since June, 2014. This is my 170th column edition.

When I was approached to become a regular contributor to this well-established daily paper it was a total surprise.

Up until that point, it was not something that I had even thought of adding to my repertoire!

Initially, I wasn’t sure that I could deliver content on a regular basis with rigid deadlines.

In addition to this, I was fully aware that the media eats up material at a tremendous rate of knots and new, creative and interesting content was always going to be a challenge.

The technology was also an issue: would my typewriter cope with the extra work?

Are spare parts still available?

I am so glad I took on the challenge. The amazing positive feedback I get (not only off the readers in Wales but as far afield as Ireland, Switzerland, Canada and America) makes it all worthwhile.

I meet so many fascinating characters with interesting stories on my travels.

Without them this space would probably contain Saturday’s lottery numbers and more adverts. Just a thought.

Ease the stress of exam time

Stressful time and exams

Last month we once again saw the annual TV news reports of school pupils reacting to their GCSE and ‘A’ level results and, by now, those who stayed on will be hard at work once again, while those who were fortunate to find a place at university will be preparing for their first term.

I’m sure the experience will be, in equal measures, exciting and daunting.

I remember my school days without any sense of nostalgia. All I recall is learning and retaining facts, dates, names, battles, kings, queens, countries, oceans . . . and the ins and outs of an isosceles triangle.

Since then, I have never once had to use my vast knowledge of isosceles triangles. But next time you see me, by all means ask and I’ll explain. It’s a great cure for insomnia . . .

Today, the pressure on pupils to do well in exams is enormous. The build-up before taking exams can cause all sorts of stress to many school children.

More stress can follow when they get their results, because the fact is, not every pupil will pass all their exams.

I wish they could be reassured that failing exams in your teens doesn’t mean you won’t succeed after you leave school. Great opportunities can await you no matter how old you are.

Samaritans Cymru say lessons in emotional and mental health should be compulsory so pupils can learn to cope with life events and to ask for emotional support. That would reduce emotional distress and the stigma of mental health.

That they consider such a stigma exists in 2017 I find quite shocking – as are these statistics . . .

18,000 youngsters in Wales were referred to mental health services in 2016 and in 2015 almost 1200 young girls in Wales were admitted to A & E because they’d self-harmed.

I think the sooner those sensible recommendations of Samaritans Cymru are implemented, the better.