Welsh Factor Talent

On Sunday, The new Selwyn Samuel Event Arena in Llanelli hosted the Welsh Factor National Final talent competition to a sell-out audience of more than 1000 people.

Again, we witnessed young talent from the heart of Wales who had worked their way up through the heats, beating strong competition in order to share the final stage with some of the best new talent Wales has to offer.

What an achievement – and an occasion that many who were there will remember for years to come.

We were entertained by dancers, a choir, singer-songwriters, duos, trios and a magician.

It would be fair to say that all 54 acts who made it through to this final heat were clear winners in my eyes.

Over the years, I have witnessed the popularity and growth of this event and am yet to see a rival match its commitment to the showcasing and development of performing arts here in Wales.

This is the platform for new talent to gain confidence and exposure, in a supportive and friendly environment.

Welsh Factor was founded by the extremely hard-working Miss Anna Marie Thomas from Neath, and mentored by her dad Gareth Thomas, who has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 50 years.

This level of experience, together with a strong technical support team, enabled the talent on display to shine and entertain to the highest standard.

Support your local performers! You know it makes sense.

ONE DAY, IT’LL ALL BE WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE

I’ve long suspected that so-called ‘inanimate objects’ are far from inanimate.

Either they’re an evil cabal conspiring against us to mess up our daily lives . . (Just like the Welsh Assembly!)

Or they have a wicked sense of humour . . .

(Unlike the Welsh Assembly!)

Just think about the number of times you’ve tripped over something in the house that wasn’t there the last time you looked.

How did it get there?

Conversely, how many times have you gone to pick something up that you definitely remember leaving on a table, only to find it isn’t there – and, then, you eventually find it in a different place in a different room?

How did it get there?

If you need more convincing, how often have you walked past a door handle while wearing old clothes without incident.

But, the very first time you wear a brand new sweater or jacket you catch it on that same ‘innocent looking’ door handle, causing a tear in the material?

Ah! Now you’re starting to believe me!

But, the tables are turning – and not by themselves.

A number of Welsh people are plotting against one of the biggest, longest and heaviest inanimate objects in the country.

The Second Severn Crossing.

They’re so unhappy that it’s being re-named “The Prince Of Wales Bridge” they’re protesting and signing petitions.

They may march on Westminster, brandishing pitchforks and lighted torches.

It’s a day out. Bring sandwiches and a flask!

Frankly, from where I’m sitting, up here on the fence, it’s unimportant what this bridge is named.

It won’t answer when you speak to it or send you a Christmas card, because, being a metal structure built to convey vehicles from one side of the Severn to the other, it isn’t aware it has a name!

When all the hoo-hah has died down, we’ll still call it the Second Severn Crossing as we always have.

Mind you, “The Phil Evans Bridge” does have a nice ring to it.

How do I start a petition?

My spring awakening is a dawn chorus of hedge-cutters

Don’t you just love nature and waking up on a sunny Sunday morning to lawnmower and petrol strimmers howling in the background?

Yes, I bet you do.

Having done a late night gig, Sunday morning is the only chance I get to have that extra hour of quality rest to recover from the demands of the weekend – but clearly others among us have their own ideas at this time of year.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to a well-kept back yard and a neatly-trimmed bush, but a few of my neighbours have taken this too far and have invested in those high powered, turbo-charged, petrol-driven hedge cutters and their enthusiasm for these new gadgets has meant that the whole street wakes up early to find out where the noise is coming from.

I honestly thought that a Formula One racing team had relocated their practice sessions to Ammanford.

But don’t worry about me, I’ve sorted it and will be ready for next weekend as I’ve invested in a large box of ear plugs.

A home full of memories

When I was a lad, our house always seemed to be full of grown-ups, our small living room bursting at the seams with friends, neighbours, strange relatives and relative strangers, the rent man, the Man From The Pru, the bailiffs . . . all of them larger than life and full of bonhomie.

Or, in the case of Aunty Glad, full of Dubonnet.

I’d sit under the dining table – which wasn’t easy as I was five feet tall at 12 – and ear wig the fascinating conversations buzzing back and forth around the room.

Politics, religion, nuclear war, what should go on a scone (pronounced ‘skown’) first – the jam or the cream? No subject was deemed too controversial to discuss in front of me.

As people tended to talk over each other, sometimes I didn’t hear clearly what was said.

For example, I misheard a neighbour say, “Neither a borrower or a Brenda Lee”, and thought she was criticising the ’60s pop singer who these days we only hear on the radio in December, singing “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’.

Then there was Uncle Hugo, who’d explored many previously unexplored regions of the world that were no longer considered unexplored regions because he’d gone and spoiled things by exploring them.

I was convinced I heard him say, “There are flies, damn flies and stick insects”, referring to one of his trips along the perilous upper reaches of the River Tawe.

In fact, he’d said, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics”, and I thought about my late uncle (he’s not dead – just always late) recently when I read that by 2050 the number of people over 60 in the world will top two billion.

Imagine the queue in the Post Office on pension day!

And, with so many old people around me, I’ll have no chance of getting a full house at Bingo.

Dear, oh dear. It’s all very worrying.

I wonder if Aunt Glad drank all the Dubonnet?

Now there’s food for thought

I was in a coffee shop recently, where I had an hour to spare to indulge in my favourite pastime.

No, not that one! How dare you!

While sipping my skinny latte, I discreetly listened-in to conversations and observed people’s behaviour, a habit which has always been grist to a comedian’s mill.

Not that I know any comedians who collect grist or live in a mill. But I remember reading that the late Jim Bowen lived in a converted railway station.

He hired builders to knock down the station tea-room and shorten the platform and in a matter of weeks it had come to a halt.

That’s a joke only regular train travellers and train spotters who can read words of more than one syllable may get.

The coffee shop I was in was a branch of a well-known chain and around me people were tucking into chocolate biscuits, paninis, pannatone’s with real butter etc.

Delicious – but not particularly healthy.

Because the counter, decor, tables etc. were identical to every other branch of this chain, until two nurses walked in, I’d momentarily forgotten that it was inside a hospital.

I was waiting for visiting hours to start so I could pop up to the ward to see an old friend who was in for a minor procedure.

‘Procedure’ sounds so much pleasanter than ‘operation’ doesn’t it?

From my observations, I find it ironic that the NHS tell us to eat healthily so we’ll be less of a burden on them in later years, yet they’ve allowed this coffee shop chain to open branches in hospitals all over the country.

While the food they serve is always delicious and of top quality, wouldn’t it be better for hospitals to open cafes that serve healthy salads, fresh fruit and meals with low salt content rather than cheese and ham toasties, chocolate chip muffins and sugary hot chocolate drinks?

Must dash!

The chip shop closes in five minutes . . .

Plenty of chocolate, but are we missing something?

On Easter Sunday, I was sprawled in front of the telly . . . eating my chocolate egg . . . when suddenly the manager of Curry’s/PC World came over and yelled at me to get out!

This year, when I opened my chocolate egg and noticed that the packaging didn’t actually mention Easter – just ‘Chocolate Egg’, as if the manufacturers were embarrassed to include the word ‘Easter’ in case it upset potential buyers for whom Easter had no meaning.

Confectioners make, advertise and sell chocolate eggs this time of year for a reason and not because it’s Pancake Day or National Pie Week.

But because . . . it’s Easter!

Children talk about ‘The Easter Bunny’; the holiday’s called ‘The Easter Weekend’; the Sunday is ‘Easter Sunday’; all the clues are there!

If this trend continues, what might happen in the months leading up to December 25th?

Will shops, supermarkets and department stores coyly hang up signs that just say “Happy…..!” or “Merry……!” leaving out the rather important word ‘Christmas’ so no-one is offended?

Wait and see . . .

Talking of being offended, I certainly was when I read that at Easter, hospital A & E departments were over-run with people who’d made themselves ill by over-indulging.

“People are coming into A&E with stomach aches caused by too many Easter eggs and a big Sunday dinner. You’ll feel better after a rest at home and drinking plenty of water”.

I’ve heard it all now….

Hey mums, ditch the mobile and talk to baby instead!

DITCH THAT MOBILE PHONE!

I can’t be the only one who’s noticed what can best be described as a modern ‘phenomenon’, for want of a better word*

*If you do want a better word, I have loads. But they’re stored in a lock-up on an industrial estate outside Neath and I can’t remember what I’ve done with the key.

What’s the phenomenon I’m talking about?

The proliferation (now there’s a much better word. It must have escaped through the bullet hole in the lock-up door. Don’t ask!) of young mums around the streets and shopping centres, wheeling their state-of-the-art strollers/buggies/travel systems.

Push chairs have so many different names these days.

I have my own special name whenever one runs over my foot.

As you might expect, these new mums continually look downwards adoringly, engrossed to the point of complete absorption in the magical, marvellous, new acquisition in front of them.

No. Not their offspring!

Their mobile phones!

No wonder the NHS is strapped for cash.

They must hand out a free phone to every new mother when she leaves hospital.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to walk into the road or duck into a shop doorway to avoid an advancing buggy being haphazardly steered by a young woman resting her arms on the buggy’s handle, as she texts or reads those sent to her, oblivious to other pedestrians.

However, more importantly – and this infuriates me – is that they also seem oblivious to their precious child and more interested in the texts they’re sending to and receiving from friends.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture these friends in another street or shopping centre, also pushing a buggy and ignoring their toddlers.

Some people say they remember being in their pram, looking up to see their mother’s face.

There’s a generation growing up now who’ll only recall looking up from their ‘advanced travel system’ to see the back of a smart phone.

Time to find a better route to tackling congestion and potholes?

Traffic jams and potholes in our towns and cities at the moment are causing so much stress and frustration that even playing Buddhist meditation music in the car while driving won’t help reduce our blood pressure.

Everywhere we go, we currently face these obstacles on a daily basis – and it doesn’t seem to be improving any day soon.

So what is the answer?

Even if we use public transport, the same challenges are faced.

It’s got to the point that I’m now thinking that ‘by pass roads’ are the answer.

But where does that leave our towns and villages if we are driving around the outside of them?

Local trade would surely suffer.

Congestion and poorly maintained highways are now among the biggest complaints that our local authorities are faced with, yet the solution to the problems are a long way off.

Maybe we need to look at other countries public transport systems and why they work so well?

As for me and the town of Ammanford, the congestion issue is almost grinding the roads into the town to a halt at times and is a huge risk to road safety.

I wonder how the Dalai Lama would deal with this?

Tatty Bye, Doddy!

“Tatty Bye, Doddy! Tatty Bye!”

In a strange quirk of fate, within a matter of days the world said “Goodbye” to two people, both famous in entirely different fields.

Sir Ken Dodd and Professor Stephen Hawking.

Stephen Hawking was an expert on the concept of time, while anyone who’s seen Ken Dodd ‘live’ will know he had absolutely no concept of time!

Ken’s career took him from Liverpool workingmen’s clubs to the London Palladium, where he enjoyed several long runs, starting with his legendary 1965 season when he performed two shows a night, six nights a week – and squeezed in a matinee on Saturdays!

Although famous for his ‘Tickling Stick’; surreal comedy; and the invention of words like ‘Tattyfilarious’ and ‘Plumptiousness’, he took his comedy very seriously.

Around the walls of his study at home in Knotty Ash, were 50,000 books on humour, many written by great philosophers.

He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, on a continual quest to crack the secret of what makes us react to hearing a random series of words delivered in a certain order (i.e. a joke) with laughter.

Personally, I think he’d already learned that secret years ago, but he never stopped trying to hone his already impressive comic skills and would keep a record of what jokes worked best in different parts of the country.

Even when he became established as one of our greatest comedians, he never took his success for granted, comparing his occupation with that of a gladiator.

“You buckle on your sword, take on an audience and must win them over in the first 30 seconds. After the “Hello!” gags, come the topicals, followed by the surreal stuff. Eventually, you can say whatever comes into your head”.

He believed that anger, despair and depression are the enemy of jokers and that his job was to dispel those thoughts.

It was a job he did magnificently for 60 years.

And let us not forget Jim Bowen who also died last week.

Jim livened-up Sunday teatime for millions of us.

When he stood outside the pearly gates, did Saint Peter hand him a harp and say, “This is yours, Jim”, then point to a speedboat and say, “But look at what you could have won!”

Love thy neighbour

As a young lad, I was brought up in the days where everybody in the street on which you lived knew everyone else.

I am sure many of you reading this column can remember this time very well, often referred to as “The good old days” by the older generations.

However, times have changed and, unfortunately, there are so many of us today that don’t know who lives on the street, or in some cases, even who lives next door!

Gone are the days when you would pop next door to catch up on the gossip or your neighbour would pop in to share their copy of the South Wales Evening Post when they’d finished it.

My grandmother would always make the effort to check on her neighbours and get to know anyone new who moved into the street.

If she were still around today, they’d nickname her “Google.”

Keeping in touch with those around you was second nature.

This was networking at its best. Human beings are meant to live in tribes and look after each other.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to see this sense of community make a welcome return?

What do you think?