Whoever we are, we all need someone to look up to. Someone that has the strengths and talents which we wished we shared. When my parents moved from Manchester they were to leave one if not two behind.
There they had become friends with an incredible man who fled the Nazi’s because of his Jewish faith and heritage and came to the city with hardly a penny to his name.
He was Rabbi Felix Calerbach. He had the chance to flee to the UK because of the generosity of the actor and radio presenter Sam Costa. Making his home in Manchester and becoming a rabbi in the city. As time went on he asked my Mother if she would looked after his children when her nursing duties allowed.
Whilst doing this she found that the Calerbachs had a great love for music. In fact they were friends with the maestro and conductor Sir John Barbarolli who was conductor of the world renowned Halle Orchestra, in fact they hold an annual concert now in Felix memory. On several occasions Mum told me she was very star struck when she met Sir John. He was very friendly with her and loved the children. For a very short time Mum joined the mezzos in the chorus. Sadly, her nursing duties cut it short. Having said that, she said the musical highlight of her life was singing the Messiah one Easter with them at the Free Trade Hall.
As my Father and Rabbi Calerbach got to know each other they learnt that their different faiths could become a barrier. They did as much as they could not to let that happen. Rabbi Calerbach invited members from Dad’s congregation in Altrincham and Warrington to visit the Synagogue but as he was a Orthodox Jew he couldn’t visit Dad’s Chapels. He once asked what the Jews thought of Christ and was told, ‘We believe he was a very good man misunderstood’. As you can imagine they agreed to differ.
After marrying in Merthyr Vale, my parents set up home in Dad’s new parish of Efailnewydd. One of the congregation was someone who was very well known in musical circles, the retired opera singer Leila Meganne. She didn’t sing often in chapel but Mum said she still had a striking voice.
Towards the end of her life her family asked my Mum if she would come to see her and she looked after her around the time of her death.
When we moved to Blaenau I became friends with a family with several children. We almost shared a surname but they had an ‘s’ on the end of our Griffith. One of the sons was Cenwyn Griffiths. He had what many people these days would describe as ‘the voice of an angel’. Everyone in Manod who knew him thought the world of him and his singing. It was a massive shock when Dad stopped the car one Friday afternoon on the way home from school in Llandudno to tell me he had died.
As I grew into a teenager I found myself becoming obsessed with wheelchair racing and athletics. I was 2or 3 years younger than the fastest racer in school at the time, Dafydd Williams from Penysarwaen near Caernarfon. As I got into the senior school and the same races as him I got to know him quite well. On one occasion he asked me to go on a training run with him and we went around the Orme and back to school. As we were both Welsh speakers we had that in common too. In the last sports day at school he competed in I got very close to him but not close enough. It was another sadness to hear that he too had died some years after leaving school having married.
As you who have read these tweets will know I am a huge Man United fan. On an amazing day I was taken to the then training ground, ‘The Cliff’ by presenter Mici Plwm and an S4C camera crew to see my heroes train. We watched as the squad went through routines and then they made their way to the changing rooms. To my amazement, Alex Ferguson, as he was then, came and spoke to us. He said, ‘I take it you would like to meet some of the players. I will ask the first 3 out of the showers to come and say hello.’ To my astonishment, they were Ryan Giggs, Dion Dublin and Eric Cantona. It was an amazing day.
Meeting people you look up to is fought with risk as they say, ‘heroes can have feet of clay’. Thankfully mine haven’t. Especially the biggest of all my late Father. I would give anything to be thought of in the same breath as him.