Banking on more time off?

My mind permanently fizzes with questions like “Why do we have Bank Holidays even if we don’t work in a bank?”.

We’ve recently been drowning in Bank Holidays.  If you missed one, another was due any minute.

Monday May the 27th – the Spring Bank Holiday.  Monday May the 6th- the May Day Bank Holiday.  Monday April the 27th- the Easter Bank Holiday.  And just before that, the Good Friday Bank Holiday.

TV bosses didn’t consider any of them special as the schedules were exactly the same as any other weekday, stuffed with cheap lifestyle shows, looking-for-antiques shows and consumer advice shows.

Plus, the lunchtime show featuring a coven of women who spend most of the hour complaining about how terrible men are.  Until they bring on a ‘hunky’ good-looking actor to talk about his new film/series and then drool over him in a cringe-worthy manner that, should the  sexes be reversed and four middle-aged men leered over a young actress, the #metoo brigade would rightfully demand it be taken off the air.

Someone with his tongue firmly in his cheek described Bank Holiday Mondays as ‘A chance for fat, bald men in vests to sit outside pubs drinking all day, occasionally swearing at their unruly children’.  A little cruel perhaps – though some of you will know it’s not entirely untrue.

So! Do we really need Bank Holidays?  Go on. Ask yourself.  I’ve got nothing to do for the next five seconds.

Those of you employed by someone else probably enjoy them.  While the self-employed and retired can take ’em or leave ’em.

England and Wales get eight Bank Holidays a year, Scotland gets nine, including St. Andrew’s Day, while Northern Ireland, including St. Patrick’s Day, gets 10.

Whether it’s unfair Wales and England don’t have a day off work for their patron saints depends on your opinion of Bank Holidays.  I’m not sure we shouldhave a Saint David’s Day Holiday.

For starters, I wouldn’t fancy drinking outside a pub all day in my vest – not in March!

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

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.

Changing sounds for our changing tastes

I don’t want to cast a black cloud of gloom over your sunny lives, but have you chosen what song(s) you’d like played at your funeral?

Don’t go!

You’ll find this interesting – and not a bit morbid.  Apparently, there’s a “Funeral Song Top 10” chart, which shows that hymns are being replaced by popular songs on those sad occasions when we say our final farewell to friends and relatives.

According to Co-Op Funerals, a quarter of people in the U.K have already told their families what song they want played at their funeral . . . and they’re not hymns.

As the older generations (many of whom were regular church-goers) pass on, religious funeral services are making way for non-religious services, reflecting the secular society we’re becoming.

In churches, funeral parlour chapels and crematoriums, the old stalwarts like “Abide With Me” and “All Things Bright And Beautiful” – a perfectly pleasant song but so lightweight it comes across as a “Oh, this’ll do!” choice by people with no real interest in music – are slipping down the charts to make way for Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and “Time To Say Goodbye” by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli.

While I can understand those choices, I was more than a little surprised to learn some funeral songs are by Stormzy and somebody blessed with the name Wiz Khalifa.

I’ve never heard of him/her either.

To those of you who regret this modern trend, I’d say that while many Victorian hymns define gravitas and solemnity, well-crafted popular songs can touch people’s hearts in a personal way the old hymns can’t achieve today.

Songs like “Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton and “In My Life” by the Beatles, resonate with individuals who appreciate beautiful lyrics and haunting melodies.

When Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” was played at Peter Sellers funeral, the mourners, including Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan, started laughing, aware Peter loathed the tune and deliberately chose it to amuse his friends after he’d gone.

I hope I’ve left you with a smile this week, too!

Eurovision serves up showbiz at the highest level

Well, the weekend came and went at an alarming speed once again.  How does that happen?

For many, Saturday night was spent in that good old traditional way, tuned in to The Eurovision Song Contest.  Personally, it’s not the same without the grand master commentator, the late Terry Wogan. Without him, the magic has gone.

Social media went crazy for the performers, with comments good and bad from all parts of the globe, which demonstrates that this long-standing event clearly still commands a huge following.

Love it or hate it, people are still drawn to it and the whole production looks like there was no expense spared.  It was ‘showbiz’ at the highest level, despite the fact that not all the performers had the magic ingredients worthy of such a platform.

I failed to understand the voting system and so did everyone else I asked.  Could the new system have been designed by Ian Duncan Smith?

You know, the one he created to stop poor people receiving benefits?
Just asking?

OAPs have earned respect

Having once failed to place an ‘envy wedge’ between the old and the young, certain politicians are again criticising the elderly for having a regular pension and owning their home.  Damned cheek!

Pensioners are only in that fortunate position because they worked all their lives to put a roof over their heads, foregoing foreign holidays and many luxuries that today’s youngsters take for granted.

A while back, these ‘stirrers’ in high office maintained that senior citizens were better off than the under-35s.

Fact. One in six pensioners is living in poverty.

The ‘stirrers’ are now calling the State Pension a ‘benefit’ and that senior citizens are becoming a strain on the economy.  Well, pardon us all for growing old!

Let’s get this straight. The State Pension (the lowest in Europe by the way) is not and has never been a ‘benefit’.  Today’s retirees are entitled to their Pension because they’ve paid into the system for 40 years or more.

Here’s another Fact. While it’s not easy to get a mortgage these days, the night time economy – millions spent every week in bars and nightclubs – relies on the under 35s disposable income.

You can’t go out every weekend, knocking back pints, shots and Prosecco Collapso until dawn and save up for a large deposit on a house.  It’s basic maths…innit?

It was once commonplace for couples – now today’s pensioners – to live with their in-laws for the first few years of their marriage, which often led to tensions. but it was the only way the newly weds could save a deposit for their own place.

While saving-up, their idea of a wild night out was going to the pictures, a bag of chips on the way home and falling asleep in front of the telly before midnight – which is now the time when many of today’s youngsters are just going out!

And next time you see a queue waiting outside a mobile phone shop, eager to buy the latest £500 model, there won’t be many pensioners in the line.

Stirrers…I’m on to you!

Trio are riding high to make a difference for others

There are people in our communities passionate about making a difference.
I am fortunate enough to get to meet so many of them in my line of work.

Let me explain.

On June 6, Joe Williams, Leah Ravuoco and Sophie Thomas will be travelling up to Llandudno in readiness for a 309 mile bike ride, which will hug the Welsh Coast all the way back to Llanelli.

With an elevation gain of 20,791ft through the hills, the first leg of their ride will be approximately 130 miles before they can get some sleep, ready for the remaining miles on Sunday.

They did ask me to join them, but my cycle shorts are in the wash.

This intrepid trio are raising money for the Jacob Abraham Foundation in aid of suicide awareness.  Both Joe and the girls want to raise awareness about male suicide, each one of them being personally affected, having lost a loved one, friend or colleague.

The money raised will go towards providing suicide prevention and intervention training, helping to give support quickly to those who in need of it.  It’s giving me saddle sores just thinking about the miles they will cycle. Well done guys – and good luck!

I will keep on ‘rambling’ as long as I’m allowed to!

Until I was asked to write a regular column for three local newspapers, I never imagined I’d be asked to write a regular column for three esteemed newspapers.

I mean, who’d be daft enough to believe a stand-up comedian could fill a page with informative and (hopefully) amusing content week after week, never running out of things to say?

That was a rhetorical question because obviously I know who was daft, err, astute enough to ask me, but he’d rather remain anonymous.  He has a family and a wide circle of influential friends, so you can’t really blame him, can you?

It was a leap of faith on his part and mine when I first started writing for the papers because, although as a comedian I express all sorts of views and opinions in my act, it’s different to the discipline of setting time aside every week – even when I’m on holiday – to write them down in a coherent style.

The only way to find out if I could deliver the goods every week was by learning on the job – one that I soon started to love, once I had a half-dozen columns under my belt.

When there’s a news story I feel the need to comment on, the words can come fairly easily.  But most weeks, I spend so long trying to get a piece right, re-writing and changing things, I feel like the sculptor who when asked how he managed to create a statue of a horse said “I keep chipping away at the stone until all that’s left is a horse” .

The importance of local newspapers in this digital age is brought home to me every time I’m approached by a member of the public who says they enjoy reading my ramblings every Wednesday.  They really make me feel part of the community and I hope to continue ‘chipping away at the stone’ for them every week in this paper for as long as I’m allowed.

Mum’s dress sense makes a lovely story

A lovely story was brought to my attention last week, which made me think of the challenges many families are faced with at this time of year. Let me explain.

Year 11 “proms” have exploded in popularity in recent years, it’s a lucrative industry and the talk of many young people for months beforehand.  It’s scary how much money is exchanged for the “night of young people’s lives”.

But let’s not forget that food banks are ever more present in our community and on a daily basis families face tough choices to decide where limited money is spent and for some, prom remains just a dream, for fear of putting more pressure on their families.

I’ve recently been made aware of heart-warming action being taken by a mum in Llanelli who wants to enable other young people to have their dream come true, just as her daughters did. Local mum, Shareen Geers and like minded mums all over social media have gathered a collection of prom dresses, to be gifted to Year 11 young ladies to make their dreams come true.

If you know of someone who faces a financial challenge and is unable to afford a prom dress, then please contact me via this paper and I will connect you with Shareen, so that every young lady is given the opportunity to shine at their special prom.  Don’t you just love a feel good story?

Together, we can make a difference.

Are we really living in the past?

Many comedians, after they’ve established a rapport with their audience, like to inter-act with individuals.  Using charm and persistence, they can get them to reveal what they do for a living, where they live and even details of their love life – which, of course, amuses the whole audience.

However, if the comedian insults the audience to the point where they get embarrassed and offended, then such performers are guilty of ‘biting off the hand that feeds them’.

Lord Julian Fellowes could be accused of biting off the hands of British audiences…right up to the shoulder!  An actor before he wrote “Gosford Park” and won an Oscar for best screenplay, Lord Fellowes, never one to shy away from self-promotion, has been touring America to plug his new film.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or laugh even louder when I read he’d complained to the American press that while the USA is a forward-looking society, the UK is ‘living in the past’.

The nerve of the man!

As far as I recall, everything he’s written has been set in previous eras and he’s made a lucrative living from it.  He’s probably best known for creating “Downton Abbey”, which, you may or may not forgive him for, depending on how forgiving a nature you have . . .

The long-running series has come to an end, but he’s written the screenplay of a film version which will be released later this year.  Although not a huge fan of his work, I do admire his work ethic – he’s a one-man script factory!  He never stops.

Apart from writing countless episodes of “Downton Abbey”, he wrote “The Young Victoria”; “Vanity Fair”; and a TV version of the Titanic tragedy; and has written a new series called “Belgravia” set in the 1930s.

I should also mention the film he’s been promoting in America, “The Chaperone”, is set in the 1920s.

Note than none of them are futuristic science-fiction epics.  I don’t for one minute believe us Brits are ‘living in the past’.  But I know a portly, titled gentleman who definitely is!

Tech may be moving quickly, but some of our roads aren’t!

Isn’t this time of year uplifting?  It’s much easier to wake up in the morning when the sun is streaming through the window and the birds are singing.

Having said that, it’s not easy getting a good night’s sleep in a strange bed.  This week’s column comes to you from a hotel room a long way from home.  Life on the road is far from glamorous.

Last night, the maid in my hotel room just turned my bed down. She’s not the first woman to do that either!

Traveling and being away from home has become a way of life, but modern technology has helped in such a way that staying in touch with family and friends is easier than ever.  I regularly Skype call my Cocker Spaniel when I’m away.

How times have changed over the past 20 years . . . Think about it, we didn’t have all this technology back then.  It was so much harder to stay in touch. Or was this a good thing? Did we talk more face to face?

Technology may be moving on, but things are far from perfect.  The traffic in our towns and cities remain a battleground and seem to be getting worse.  Swansea, Llanelli and even Ammanford have turned into a war zone recently and there are many frustrated drivers, including myself, close to breaking point.

I remember my grandad always used to say, “You’ve got to pick your battles.”
Which is why he was dishonourably discharged from the Army.