Christmas

As the Son of a clergyman Christmas was always going to be a very important time of year for my family. It came second only to Easter which my later Father always said was more important as everyone had done what Christ did at Christmas, namely being born, but it took Christ to rise again on Easter Day, before we could do likewise.

The earliest memory I have of Christmas was going to a party at the Chapel in Efailnewydd when I was 2. A member of my Fathers congregation who I knew as Uncle Ty’n Ffordd was dressed as Santa. From what I was told by my parents I was placed on his lap and I kept asking who he was. He replied that he was ‘Sion Corn’ (Welsh for Santa Claus). I then said he wasn’t. My parents had to move me from there as soon as I received my present. I was determined to embarrass my parents as often as I could!

When we moved from Efailnewydd to Blaenau Ffestiniog I went through a worrying phase. I started to get very distressed when people applauded. For a while, my GP thought it was raised hydrocephalus pressure. After some tests it proved not to be the case. To my parents relief it disappeared and I could enjoy parties again.

Christmas was very important during my time at Ysgol Gogarth. In fact, the school plays became well known and friends and families used to look forward to attending.

The junior classes used to do an adaptation of the Nativity each year. Looking back, I find it odd that the only ministers son in the school was never to play Joseph. My first part was playing a tortoise! Don’t ask me why, but I have a photo of a group of us dressed as different animals.

What is amazing about the plays was that all the costumes were made by the staff as were the sets and the props. We were very fortunate to have Emrys Roberts as an arts teacher. He painted some incredible sets and worked hand in hand with Wil Parri Williams, Ifan Glyn Jones and Dafydd Price who over the years wrote and directed the senior school panto’s.

The first time I got to watch the school panto we used a real live donkey which had been donated to us by the Comedian Wyn Calvin. It stole the show when he was led on to the stage by a pupil from Shrewsbury called David Paddock and decided he needed the loo and decorated the stage.

In another panto called “Cinder Alfred” a pupil who travelled from Blaenau Ffestiniog with me called Alun Jones played one of 3 ugly Sisters called “Pearl, Plain and Twist”. The other 2 were played by Dafydd Williams and Chris Hand. They took a lot of stick for being in drag.

On one occasion Wil Parri Williams decided that we were going to do something different. He wrote a play based on the music of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons. In the weeks running up to that I had been in hospital for surgery on my leg. It was touch and go if I would be back in time. Luckily I was and played a young boy going around the countryside with 1 leg up on a board.

When I was a pupil in Ifan Glyn Jones class he decided to write a play based on the story of a group of pirates led by Captain Harry Morgan and his second in command Barti Ddu. When we started rehearsals of the panto he had titled “The Jolly Roger Boys” we thought it was really funny. Someone turned to Mr Jones and said that it was like Carry On Pirates. From that day the title was changed.

As Harry Morgan it was decided that I would have a big moustache like our Headmaster Mr Rhapps. He wasn’t sure about it but took it well. On one performance the glue it was stuck on with dried just before the finale. Someone had to explain to the audience why I was clean shaven. We also carried wooden cutlasses. Mine got trapped in the spokes of my wheelchair and snapped send a piece flying into the audience. The highlight of that show was a pupil from Brynsiencyn called Edward or Ed Lloyd. He was fairly short and he had to mime to the bass solo, “Asleep in the Deep”. It stopped the show every time.

When Dafydd Price took charge of the plays we were very lucky. Before teaching us at Gogarth he had been at Theatre Felin Fach. He was a very talented script writer. He was also a very hard task master.

He wrote a panto based around the story of the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” one year. I played the sorcerer and Barrie Caulcutt from Caernarfon played the apprentice. The apprentice wanted to show what he could do and created a cow. The only problem it couldn’t produce milk. I have been reminded that the two halves of the cow were David Garnet and Janet Pugh (Daniels now). Amazing to think I am still in contact with both of them.

He then created a machine which made milk in different colours. Emrys Roberts built a prop that looked like a wall. There were holes in the top of the wall and someone was behind it pushing different coloured tubes of polystyrene upwards to represent the milk. Each night when Barrie said what colour the milk was going to be it was sent up the wrong colour.

That show could have given Barrie heart failure. I had to go towards him and recite the only verse of poetry I can still remember from school, ‘what is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’. I then had to count to three in my head and shout ‘fetch it’s really loud. What Barrie didn’t know was that Dafydd Price told me to count to a different number each night. Sorry Barrie!!

As a boy named Huw Griffith, named after one of Wales best character actors, I hope he would have approved. Acting was one thing I would have enjoyed to carry on with as an adult but like radio work I didn’t have the self belief to search further for opportunities.

As you can see Christmas is a special time of year. Especially for those of us within the church. We can celebrate Christs birth. What has always baffled me is why so many people who have no interest in the church or Christ’s message celebrate Christmas. What are they celebrating? I have a friend from my school days who reminds me in December each year that it will soon be time for the ‘Festival of Sprouts’. At least I know what he finds to celebrate. To quote my Father, when someone said about Christmas, “It’s all about the children isn’t it Mr Griffith?” Dad smiled and said, “I think you’ll find it’s all about one child”.

Cymreigdod (A Welsh language blog post on difficulty of being Welsh in another Country)

Yn 2007, a finna yn 47 oed, wnes i syrthio mewn cariad efo ferch o Bilston arel gyrion Wolverhampton. Ferch, oedd wedi i magu yn Treffynon a Bwcle. Oedd y ddau ohonom wedi bod yn cyd ddisgyblion yn Ysgol Y Gogarth, Llandudno yn ein ieuenctid. Oedd Shan wedi symyd yna yn diwedd yr 80au ar ol cyfarfod a priodi gwr lleol ac wedyn wedi mynd ymlaen i magu merch.

Tan 2007 oedd Cymreigdod yn rhywbeth o ni ddim yn meddwl amdano yn ormodol. O ni yn gwybod bod i wedi fy ngenni i fewn i teulu dwy iaithog ac bod ni yn siarad Cymraeg fel teulu bob dydd. O ni wedi fy magu i wybod bod gan Gymru iaith a diwylliant ei hun ac bod hynny yn rhywbeth i ymfalchio ynddo. Fel rhan o hynny o ni yn mynd i’r Brifwyl bob tro oedd o yn cael ei lleoli yn y Gogledd. O ni yn gwybod pwy oedd Cynan a Gwyndaf pan o ni yn ddim o beth.

O ni, fel llawer i Gymro arall yn cefnogi y tim rygbi a pel droed cenedlaethol ac yn falch o llwyddiant Tim Chris Coelman yn Euro 2016 ac yn llwyddiant tim Ryan Gifts yn cyraedd rowndiau terfynol Euro 2020 er bod y ffordd mae nhw wedi ei sefydlu yn anheg iawn gyda dim gemau yn cael chwarae yng Nghymru ond yn cael ei cynal yn yr Alban. Mewn geiriau eraill oedd bod yn Gymro ddim yn rhywbeth o ni yn gorfod gweithio yn rhy galed i wneud.

Oedd Shan ddim wedi son llawer am ei teimladau ar ol symyd o bro Cymraeg heb law am y ffaith bod cymdeithas ddim yn agos mor glos mewn dinas fel Wolverhampton.

Oedd Shan dim wedi magu trwy’r iaith Cymraeg ac oherwydd hynny oedd dwy-iaithrwydd ddim yn rhan o’i bywyd bob dydd. We bod ei Chwaer a’i phlant yn siarad Cymraeg.

I Cymro Cymraeg fel fi oedd y teimlad yn rhyfedd iawn. Pan symydis i Bilston o ni erioed wedi clywed am y lle. Ac i mi yr unig beth oedd Wolverhampton yn olygu oedd Wolverhampton Wanderers FC.

Mewn ychydig o amser o ni yn gweld bod byw fel Cymro alltud yn newid mawr. O ni ddim yr aelod cynta o’n nheulu i wneud hyn chwaith. Ddaru fy rhienni cyfarfod yn Manceinion yn y 50au. Ac oedd Mam, cyn hynny wedi ei hyforddi i fod yn nyrs yn Briste.

Oedd pobol yn trio gweithio allan acen lle oedd gen i. Oedd nhw yn gwbwl sicr bod i ddim wedi magu yn y (Black Country). Wrth i’r blynyddoedd fynd heibio dwi wedi dod i wybod bod Bilston wedi bod yn ardal glofaol ers 1400 ac bod gwaith dur wedi bod yma hefyd. Ac oherwydd hynny oedd cymuned Cymraeg yn yr ardal. Mae yna Capel Cymraeg yn y ddinas ers 150 o flynyddoedd ac Cymdeithas Cambrian are gael hefyd. Ac erbyn heddiw dwi yn falch o fod yn aelod a blaenor yn Capel Saron.

Ers dyfodiad Brexit mae na llawer o rhaniadau tu fewn i cymdeithas. Mae pobol sydd wedi symyd i fewn i’r wlad i weithio ers blynyddoedd yn teimlo bod ei lle yma ddim mor saf ac bod y croeso ddim yma chwaith.

Mae cadw cymdeithas a traddodiad eich gwlad yn fyw tra byw mewn gwlad arall yn anodd. Fel mae Gwyneth Glyn yn ein atgoffa yn ei clasur o gan ‘Adre’, “Oes un man yn debyg i adre ond mae adre yn debyg iawn i ti’. Mewn rhyw fordd rhyfedd mae o yn bywsicach i chi nac or blaen. Mae hi yn bosib i creu cymdeithas o’r newydd dim ond bod i ni cael y teimlad yna o berthyn.

Dwi yn crio yn rheolaeth rwan pan mae “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” yn cael ganu. Mae hiraeth yn rhywbeth dwi yn ei ddeallt erbyn hyn oherwydd mae na colled pan mae rhywun yn symyd o ardal lle mae’r gwreiddia yn ddwfn. Pan mae rhywun yn gofyn i mi o lle dwi yn dod dwi yn gallu dweud gyda balchder mae Cymro ydw i ac yn un o’r 20% sydd yn siarad “Iaith Y Nefoedd”.

Favourite Things

This post is a list of things I enjoy. Read and see how it compares to you.

Favourite Place

Blaenau Ffestiniog my birth place. Has amazing scenery and the people are amazing. Llandudno holds a special place in my heart as it was where I went to school. It was also where Shan and I met up again. The best promenade in Wales too. Victoriana to it’s core.

Favourite Book

Day of the Triffids as a child. We read it in my last year or so in school alongside War of the Worlds. I read it again as an adult. Favourite book since has to be Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell. Was given a copy by my tutor when studying Social Sciences at the OU. It made me see the society I lived in differently. It illustrated the unfairness of society which is here today. It has echoes of Christ’s gospel in it too, although many socialists would not agree.

I love crime fiction and espionage thrillers. John Let Carre and Robert Goddard at the top of the list with a new writer Cara Hunter close behind.

Favourite Song

‘Have I told you lately’ by Van Morrison which my late Wife Shan and I found as we fell in love.’ Also, ‘Everglow’ by Coldplay which a patient asked me to play on Radio Wulfrun.

As for classical music it has to be Rachmaninov piano concerto no2 made famous by the film Brief Encounter. Plus Puccini operas thanks to my Mum.

Favourite Film

The Deerhunter which I have seen three times and it still shocks me to this day. I loved a film called ‘Raindance’ about a young man who is being treated for a spinal injury.

Favourite Singer or Band

I love listening to Eric Clapton on the guitar. Still can’t believe he was guitarist on my favourite Beatles track, ‘While my guitar gently weeps’. The version at the memorial concert for George Harrison still makes me cry. I have been a huge Coldplay fan and would give anything to see them live. Can’t see it happening though. Thanks to my hospital radio work I have become a fan of big band music.

Favourite Sport

The only sports I have competed at to a good standard is Athletics. I love watching it too. Been a fan since the days of Brendan Foster and David Bedford. It’s weird to think I now watch Liz McColgans daughter and KJT! I must be getting old.

As for watching, I am a huge football fan. Supported Man United since 1968. It was great to see George Best on tv. Shame I am too young to have watched Duncan Edwards. Love seeing the Welsh team under Ryan Giggs succeeding too as they did under Chris Coleman. Like all Welshmen and women I love watching our rugby team play.

I love watching boxing and cricket too. Loved Harry Carpenter commentary and Brian Johnson on TMS. It should be on free to air channels at international level. Surely government can remedy this.

Favourite Food

Nothing nicer than a roast dinner. I have become a fan of roasted veg as an adult.

In the 18 months I have been on a high protein diet. This has meant eating chicken, pork, eggs and oily fish. My flat has been known to be stinking of kippers. It is something I will stick too. As a treat I love Belly Pork but it’s not very healthy.

My vice has always been biscuits. No hot drink should be drunk without one.

Favourite Drink

Nothing nicer than a cup of mocha. I am partial to a glass of Jack Daniels too, in moderation of course!. My tea and coffee has to be black.

Favourite TV

This has changed over time. As a teenager I loved ‘The Virginian’ I was raised on the Wooden Tops and Andy Pandy. Loved cartoons like Mr Magoo and Wacky Races and Deputy Dawg. Now, I have loved crime dramas from Z Cars, through Morse and Lewis to DCI Banks. Thanks to Netflix I have loved ‘The Queen’. The production values in it are staggering. Downton Abbey finished way too early and Call the Midwife is not on often enough.

Election Time.

On the 12th of December the UK goes to the polls. Before you stop reading this post right now, I am not going to tell you how to vote. I just want to try and say why we should all vote. Also, why I vote and what I think would encourage more people to vote.

I was eligible to vote for the first time back in 1979 when the Thatcher government came to power. I am proud to say I have voted at every local and national election since.

Many of you would say, why bother, all politicians are the same and you can’t trust them. Since the Brexit referendum of 2016 you may have a point. Our political system has not worked well and neither has our parliament. But that word ‘our’ is important. The parliament in any democracy is chosen by the people. It’s the way offered to the people to choose our MPs which differs.

In the UK we have ‘The first past the post voting system’. In my humble opinion this part of the problem.

If we go back in the UK’s history we can see that the right to vote has been fought hard for. From groups like The Chartists who wanted the right to vote for all. Then on to the Suffragettes who fought for the right for women to have the vote. To me, it’s mind boggling that all women in the UK didn’t have the vote until the 1920’s. By then both my Parents had been born. I would like to see the voting age for the whole of the UK down to 16.

It’s one thing for universal suffrage to have been achieved you then have to prove that the voting system is fair. This where our voting system falls down.

When all the votes are counted in your constituency our system wants to know who got the most. They are then elected. The problem is, when you add the votes of all the other candidates together in many constituencies it’s more than the person who won. How is that fair? With our system a party with 35-40% of the vote can gain a majority. Surely, if your party has 40% of the votes cast you should have 40% of the seats in parliament. In Europe, a voting system like this is in place. It’s not perfect, it makes parties work together to create a coalition government which has a real mandate. No doubt some of you will say look what happened with the Tory & Libdem coalition, we ended with austerity. What is vital is a system of checks and balances. That’s why democracies have a 2nd chamber in parliament. This is where our biggest problem lies in my opinion. We don’t have an elected 2nd chamber. If a campaign for fair votes is going to succeed it has to include a replacement for the House of Lord’s.

I have always believed that everyone must vote. In countries such Australia it’s compulsory. If we go down that root though we should have an extra box on the ballot paper. That box should allow you as a voter to say ‘none of the above’. Then, if that constituency has more votes for ‘none of the above’ another group of candidates should fight for the seat.

It’s not just our system that is not fair. In the USA they have an electoral college system which is made up to mirror the size of the States. So, the States with the highest population have the most votes. This led to President Trump being elected but Mrs Clinton having a majority of the votes cast by the public.

Like everything worthwhile in our country’s history, if we want to change our voting system we as voters must campaign for it. Only then can we say that we have the parliament that we voted for. If we want change we must demand it.

A French Connection

When you are brought up by a Presbyterian Minister and his Wife in the 1960’s and 70’s then one thing is certain, there is not money around for luxuries. When you are at home though you see your life as normal and not notice what other people have.

The time when that changed was when that little box entered the corner of the front room called a television. You then saw the adverts on ITV. Like any other child I then learnt that phrase ‘Can I have’. Sadly, for many families in the Blaenau Ffestiniog area there were times when the answer had to be no. Thankfully, it wasn’t always the case.

Today, foreign holidays are taken by many families even when their children are small. Places like Disney world and Euro Disney are very popular destinations.

It wasn’t until the early 70s that my parents could afford holidays in a hotel. They found a small, family run hotel in the village of Dinas Dinlle near Caernarfon called Plas Tan Dinas which had a room adapted for wheelchairs. We loved it as a family and had a few summer breaks there.

When you look at your childhood after decades have passed. It’s strange the things which stick in your memory. When we went on one trip to Plans Tan Dina’s it decided to rain nearly the whole week. I had been given a board game called ‘Mastermind’. Where you place a row of different coloured pegs behind a cover and your opponent and a number of goes to replicate what you had placed behind the cover. By the middle of the weeks we had a competition going between different families.

On another holiday we heard on the radio that the Welsh singer, comedian and actor Ryan Davies had died on a trip to the US. Like many others, my parents were devastated.

On yet another we woke to hear that President Nixon had been forced to resign after the famous Watergate scandal. I have the feeling that this is what created my lifelong interest in politics and current affairs. We could see history repeating itself as the Democrats are trying to force President Trump out of office. Political life all over the world seems very unstable. We shall leave that to another post.

In 1974, the school decided to send a group from the senior dormitories along with children from Erw’r Delyn on a camping trip to Bayeux in Normandy. This had come about after Ysgol Gogarth sent a group to camp at Carnac in Brittany the previous summer.

I have not got a clue why that destination was chosen unless it was down to the fact it was an anniversary for D Day. We traveled in our coach down to Penarth, stayed the night and traveled from there to Southampton.

To my surprise, on my first trip on a ferry I was not seasick at all. We got out of our wheelchair and into these reclining chairs and tried to sleep.

Early next morning we arrived in the port of Le Havre. It was then a not small matter of getting all of us back on the coach and over to the Bayeux district of Normandy. We then found our campsite and rested.

For most of our time in the Bayeux area we seemed to visit places like Aromanche, Caen and Saint Marie Eglise. All connected to the D Day landing beaches. I was amazed by the engineering that went into the Mulberry pontoon harbour, the remains we could see from the promenade.

When you are brought up by a pacifist who had been a conscientious objector, alongside his brother, in World War 2, it was a place which gave me mixed emotions. These were heightened when our group visited the llied and German war cemeteries in the surrounding area. Emrys Roberts, the Deputy Head, went with me to look at some graves. We saw some from both our home towns in slate mining areas.

You will be pleased to know we had some lighter moments on that trip. Like myself and a school friend,John Pritchard, buying and drinking Stella. I was also asked by Emrys Roberts to practice my French and asked a shopkeeper if he could speak English. To my surprise he answered, ‘Yes I come from Ipswich’. John told me he went to get a film developed and the shop owner came from Conwy.

That trip was something I have never forgotten. I have been to France since but would love to learn French well as my Niece Erin did to work there.

Out of hours

When you are a pupil at boarding school the evenings can be long. Especially if you have problems. Most children find certain lessons hard and certain teachers difficult to get on with. At a boarding school you have also got the added problem of not being able to escape from school life when the bell goes at 3.30pm. After all, the stresses of falling out with other pupils and even bullying does happen occasionally within a school with disabled children.

In order to make you feel at home activities were put on in several of the evenings. Not to say that the teenage children on the senior dormitories didn’t get up to most activities you would expect from them. There is no need to worry, I am not going to mention any girlfriends I had at school just in case they get to read my blog!

The staff put on activities as varied as school discos, archery, swimming and film nights in the school hall in the darker Autumn and winter nights. Volunteers came in to lead the scout and guide troop.

The one I was attracted to most when I went up to the Senior dormitory was the Scout Troop which took place on a Thursday night. The only draw back with being in the scouts was I missed Top of the Pops as the two things clashed.

When I joined the troop’s Seagull patrol the troop was run by two men. Mr Stan Hansell and Mr Les Michael. Mr Michael was known to my family as he was an elder at Bethania Chapel, Craig Y Don at the bottom of the road where our school was situated. He then became known years later for his son Alun becoming an MP in Penarth, Cardiff before becoming a member of the Welsh Assembly and then First Minister.

Like my Father and I Alun and Les Michael were the spitting image of each other. From the start I enjoyed scouting. Even if the leaders made fools of us occasionally. On one Thursday they got us to build a haggis trap. I was just one of the lads who believed a haggis was an animal! I dread to think would have happened if I ever went to Scotland.

Mr Michael was a very special man. He had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese during World War 2. He must have seen and suffered some horrible things but he said he didn’t hold grudges. The young boys in his care should have learnt that from him. Not sure we always did.

As with every scout troop one highlight of the year was going away on camp for the weekend. One year we went on to Bryn Bach on the Denbigh Moors. As part of the itinerary we went on a treasure hunt. Thanks to some of our terrible directions we got lost. Thankfully Mr Michael would only follow our instructions for a short time. After all, he wouldn’t want to arrive back in school with fewer scouts than he started with. That would take some explaining.

In 1976 I was given the honour of representing the county at the Queen Scouts Award Parade at Windsor Castle. I couldn’t understand how as was not a Queens Scout. It seems that the county sent other representatives too. That year the Queen was represented by the Duke of Kent at the parade.

My Uncle Willie was a very hard line Welsh Nationalist and was not impressed when Dad told him I had joined the scouts. He said he didn’t like the idea of me swearing an oath to the Queen. He was equally unimpressed when he heard I was becoming a leader. I went for the hat trick as far as Uncle Willie was concerned by going to meet the Duke of Kent!

At the time of the parade it was the run up to the FA Cup final. It was between Manchester United and Southampton. On the two armrests of my wheelchair I had a sticker. On one side one for STP oil and on the other one saying United For The Cup. At the time the Duke of Kent was President of the FA. On the day of the parade he walked along the part of the quadrangle all the disabled scouts were and tapped the Cup sticker on the side of my chair. ‘Are you going to the match’ he said, before thinking I replied, ‘I will if you can get me a ticket’. He laughed and carried on his way. My scout master was not best pleased. As they say, ‘Before opening mouth, engage brain.’

Even though it caused a rift between Dad and Uncle Willie for a while I really enjoyed scouting. It encourages boys to work as a team and learn self discipline.

When you are an only child teamwork can be a difficult concept to grab. Scouting also gives you a work ethic through events like ‘Bob a Job Week’. For those who are reading this blog and were born after the 1970s, a Bob is slang for a coin called a Shilling which is worth 5p today. During the week you did odd jobs for people and got a Shilling for each one. I am not sure if the event is still going. My parents wanted me to be as independent and as rounded person as I could be and through an organization like the Scouts it certainly helped me along the way.

Behind the microphone

When I was a teenager someone asked me what I wanted to do after leaving school and my reply was, be a sports journalist. At that time wheelchair or disabled sports got little or no media coverage.

As the time to leave school loomed large I wanted to go to Llandrillo Technical College to take some business studies exams. Sadly, attending Llandrillo at that time was impossible as it didn’t access to many parts of the building. Mr Rhapps, the headteacher had put pressure on me to go to Hereward College, Coventry. To me and my parents this seemed odd as we had a college a few miles down the road. My Dad wrote to all the MPs whose constituencies were covered by Ysgol Gogarth and all bar one joined the fight to get Llandrillo College made fully accessible to disabled and especially wheelchair using students. Ironically, the only one who didn’t was Sir Wyn Roberts, the MP for Conwy where Ysgol Gogarth is situated.

Finally, the work was completed and Lord Roberts as he was to become was asked to open the newly adapted college. Thankfully I passed all my exams apart from touch typing. I am convinced that people like me, with Spina Bifida, have slight dexterity problems. I have no evidence apart from life experience to back this claim. All I will say is that I am typing this blog post with one finger.

In the last year or two before leaving school I met a man who had a big influence on part of my life. It could have been even bigger, but more of that later.

His name was the late Rev Elwyn Jones. He was at the time the head of religious broadcast at Radio Cymru. He also created a radio programme on disability issues called Canllaw. Through his support I got to do a piece on the programme. Over a number of years it led to my contributing to his and other programmes on disability issues mainly.

After he retired he was replaced by the Rev John Roberts. Thanks to him I took part in his religious affairs show Bwrw Golwg, live on a Sunday morning on a number of occasions. On one morning his producer, Cerian Arianrhod, phoned and asked whether I would like to host Bwrw Golwg as a one off as John wasn’t available. We had some discussions on the matter and came up with the idea of an edition based around religion and disability. Cerian felt that there was no point in my doing a copy of John’s programe and my lifetime of experience of disability and faith would be interesting to his audience. I got the chance to interview several people with differing views on the subject and after the show went out the head of radio in Bangor, Marian Wyn Jones, called and was very complimentary. I know that a number of people would have gone back to the station and pushed to do more work. As I have mentioned previously, my lack of confidence and self belief got in the way.

After settling down in Wolverhampton and doing the occasional item on a lunchtime show for Radio Cymru called Taro Post hosted by Garry Owen, I was advised by Shan that if I was interested in radio broadcasting the hospital at New Cross had a radio station. I got in touch with Jo Lloyd who was in charge of recruitment. She said they would arrange for me to have an interview. I received an information pack through the post, returned the relevant forms, and on a Saturday lunch time I headed for New Cross Hospital.

I was met by Richard Stanton, the Chairman of the station as well as Jo and a man called Mick Byrne, the training officer. We discussed things. They pointed out that no wheelchair user had worked with them before and did I envisage any problems. We checked access in the studio and found no problem. They told me that they were surprised when one of my references came from the BBC Radio Cymru office. For a while they thought I was a professional.

After a pleasant discussion it was decided that I would join the team for training as soon as my CRB and my hospital pass and parking permit had been processed.

What had amazed me was that the volunteers who interviewed me that afternoon had years of experience at the station behind them. If they kept volunteers that long they were doing things right.

When Mick and I met to start my training on a Thursday night he asked, ‘Will you please tell me if you need help’. This was a very enlightened attitude. On many occasions people will give those of us with a disability assistance whether we ask for it or not. Something that can be very annoying.

From day one we have got on. Training began with visiting a selected ward. Like many hospitals New Cross is full of long corridors. It takes time to realize where you need to go. We would let the staff know we were on the ward and go and chat to each of the patients in turn. We asked them if they knew that they had access to a hospital radio station and if so did they want a request played on that evenings show. As a volunteer you also had to know how to access and demonstrate the equipment. Thankfully it’s easy to do. This part of the work would teach me the technical side of the job as well as the personal. As someone who has been a patient in a number of Hospitals I could empathize with them. What you battle with on most days as a patient on any ward is not illness or treatment but boredom. Not being with loved ones and restrictions placed on what you can do is hard.

Then it was a matter of returning to the studio and attempt to find the music requested on our computer system which had thousands of tracks or in our library of CD’s and vinyl.

Half way through the 3 month training it was time to get behind the microphone. I have to admit, this was the part of the job I was looking forward to most. Thanks to my experience at Radio Cymru I quickly started to get into the swing of things. I had been given great advice by a friend who was a radio and tv journalist called Sian Parri Huws. Sadly she died of cancer a few years ago and is still missed at Radio Cymru and Radio Wales. Sian told me that as a trainee she was told, think you are talking to one person. Forget everyone else. It seems to work.

When training comes to an end what normally happens is that Mick Byrne and Richard Stanton find a slot in the schedule and you join the person in that slot.

Mick asked if I wanted to stay with him on a Thursday night. We have now been a double act for nearly a decade on the Thursday Night Club. My late Wife Shan and Mick’s partner Annie referred to us as the two teenagers. We have the same dry sense of humour which helps.

After working with Mick for some time a new recruit joined for training called Dave Waldron. After his three months we got on well together. Before long we were asked if we would like to do a show together on a Saturday lunchtime. We agreed, and it became two visits a week to Radio Wulfrun. Thankfully, Shan was very supportive. She realized that it was something I enjoyed. My only regret was that for most of our time together she had not had the social outlets I had in my life.

Those of us who work on Radio Wulfrun will only meet the people you share a show with. Or, if you are on the management committee you will meet them too.

During the time I have been a volunteer we have done several outside broadcasts. These are used to raise money for the station. Very early in my time at Radio Wulfrun a group of us were hosting an outside broadcasts at Tesco in Wolverhampton. Shan had come with me to the event and we were collecting funds outside the store. Along came Mick and after being introduced to Shan and with a totally straight face said, ‘I can’t stand your husband!!’ His humour will get him in trouble one day.

When Dave Waldron left the station I was joined on a Saturday by Jo Lloyd. She has been with the station for many years. The two of us worked out a strategy in order to put together the Saturday Show. She would present the first hour whilst I went around two wards collecting requests and sorting out the music. I would then present the second hour which included the music chosen by the patients. Thanks to Jo, I have got a new found love of the songs from the ‘American Song book’. I just wish I could sing them. When we had the station annual meal one year Jo introduced herself to Shan as my ‘Other Woman’, something Shan found highly amusing. She even told family and friends that I had another woman. This led to some very puzzled looks.

In 2012, my friend Sian Parri Huws contacted me after I asked if Radio Cymru would like to do something about the 50th birthday of Ysgol Gogarth. To my surprise she said that they would and she would like to put the programme together with me. We had become friends through a mutual friend from my school days, Hywel Wyn Williams from Barmouth. Hywel and Sian had been in the same crew on a tall ship run by a charity called the Jubilee Sailing Trust. Sian suggested that we interview a list of people connected to Ysgol Gogarth I had put together. We spent an enjoyable day going around North Wales putting the interviews together. Then we did a chat on the prom in Llandudno. I then told Sian about Radio Wulfrun and she said it would be fun to add it to the programme. She travelled down to our home in Bilston and the two Sian/Shan got to meet. I then took her across to the studio. When Sian learnt what we do she said that even with all her experience she couldn’t do a programme like ours unscripted.

As my health improves I am looking forward to getting back around the wards at New Cross and back behind the microphone. The place I really do feel at home. Shame it took me so long to realize it. I could have been famous like another former hospital radio broadcaster, Sir Terry Wogan.

Nature v Nurture

When you are born with a disability it’s pretty devastating for your parents. They have to learn to accept what has happened to their child and try and move on. This is the situation that my parents found themselves facing on August 12 1960.

Like all parents, they wanted to see a son or daughter arrive healthy. They then had to cope with the knowledge that I had been born with a condition described as a congenital malformation. Namely Spina Bifida.

As I have described in an earlier post, it’s where the spinal cord doesn’t come together as it should in the womb and in the gap created a cyst grows. In order to seal the damaged spinal cord surgery is carried out and the cyst removed. By removing the cyst damage is done to nerves which can then affect both or a single lower limb or in rarer cases no lower limb damage allowing the person to walk .

There can also be nerve damage affecting the bladder and bowel or even both. Alongside this many of those with this condition have the added complication of fluid in the cavity between skull and brain called hydrocephalus. Surgery was used in my case to insert a valve to drain the fluid and reduce swelling and risk of brain damage.

Today, through the research carried out in Belgium and other centres including Cincinnati, which was involved in the 60s too, ground breaking surgery can be carried out within the womb. It is now possible to correct this spinal cord defect leading to a child who was diagnosed with Spina Bida following scans being born with reduced symptoms.

It’s bizarre to think that my wife Shan and I met because we were both with this condition. We may not have done so if we were born today with medical advances and changes in education provision for children with disabilities. I find it hard to believe with my Christian faith that the God I believe created me in his image would want me not to have met my soulmate.

A combination of nature and genetics have caused this to happen and when a child like me was born it was a matter of it being nurtured in the correct way in order for him or her to thrive despite what genetics had created as an obstacle.

I was so lucky to have a Mum who was a trained orthopedic nurse. She did so around the time leading up to the second World War. She therefore had the skill set that allowed her to be taught more by the nursing staff at Alder Hey hospital about the way to keep my recovery going once I returned home to Efailnewydd than if she didn’t have a nursing background.

They taught her signs to look for after my valve was inserted into my skull in case of blockages. A problem that led to illness in fellow pupils at Ysgol Gogarth and on rare occasions death. Thankfully, my pressure dropped in the early months and it became dormant.

Mum has definitely given me a number of her passions. We share a love of music. Although she allowed me a way into the world of Opera and classical music which has seen me love piano and orchestral pieces by Rachmaninov among others.

I have been a viewer of the Proms since a small boy and watch still in my Mum’s memory. She would have loved the extended radio and TV coverage the BBC gives the festival these days. She also loved Cardiff Singer of the World. She was so excited when Bryn Terfel came so close to winning it. Although I was unable to get her to accept my love of pop, rock and blues music.

Alongside a nursing Mum I had a Dad who had a Christian faith to lean on as I was making my way through my recovery after my time in Alder Hey. He too, as the years went by, was able to nurture in me a similar faith. As the child of the Manse experts say you either do have a strong faith or none at all. Thankfully I fall into the first category.

He also gave me a love of cricket. When I was a young lad I became obsessed with the England and Yorkshire batsman Geoff Boycott. Dad had become a cricket fan during his years as a minister in Manchester. He and my Mum would spend a day in a Test Match at Old Trafford every time they took place until they left the city. Whenever they went my Dad’s land lady, Mrs Dubrovsky, would ask in her strong Polish accent,’You going to crackers’. (Cricket).

Through her nursing friends in Manchester she got the occasional ticket to Old Trafford. She wasn’t a fan so passed them on to Dad. He also had a friend in the police force who would go with him, he too was a member of a Welsh chapel and the cities Welsh community. They got tickets to United v Cardiff in the late 50s. They were standing in the United end and when Cardiff scored their Welsh patriotism got the better of them and someone shouted, ‘You support them Taff!’ It wouldn’t happen today.

You will not be surprised that I have supported United since 1967 and won’t stop now. Even though I watch out for the Wolves scores too. The games between the two teams are hard to watch. For mine and my Stepdaughter’s sake I hope for a draw.

Dad taught me to have pride in my country, it’s language and it’s culture. I have been to the National Eisteddfod many times over the years. In 2021 it will be in Boduan outside Pwllheli where Dad’s family roots are and where my life journey had it’s first three years. Going there then will be a very emotional experience.

I am not a singer since my voice broke over night before the school Eisteddfod. And so have not completed in the National Eisteddfod. Mum did once as a Mezzo in Llanrwst.

Dad wrote Welsh poems and had a hymn added to an edition of the hymn book of the Presbyterian Church of Wales. Uncle Willie wrote poems in a way individual to the Welsh language called ‘Cynghanedd’. It’s this that the Chair is competed for at the Eisteddfod annually. When Dad died back in 1995 we as a family sent money to the Eisteddfod so that one of the literary prizes that year was in his memory. It was an emotional day when it was given out.

As you can hopefully see, nature does have an affect on whoever we are whether we are disabled or able bodied. As time moves on the way we are nurtured by our families and the groups and organizations we are members of have a far bigger role in our lives though.

Those who knew both me and my Father and Uncle would tell you we look very alike. Bizarrely Dad couldn’t grow a beard to save his life and both my Uncle Willie and I could grow one in a fortnight. So, when bearded I am the spit of Uncle Willie and clean shaven, my Dad.

One thing that is harder to understand is how ancestors we have little or no knowledge of can be seen in us. My Taid (Grandad) Williams had a slate miners dry wit. His sarcasm is something my Mum and her Sister Edna said I had been given in spades. The debate will go on. My upbringing following my genetic makeup given to me by God made me the person I am today.

The nuturing by teachers, nurses, doctors, friends and family plus my nation’s language and culture has made me the man I am but when the person you looked up to most of all led the church he worked for on behalf of the whole of Wales for three years you feel unworthy. Dad was a special man but he was supported through everything by my Mum. A quiet and unassuming woman. I am proud to be their only child but sad that I didn’t carry on our branch of the Griffith family line. Although, I treat my Stepdaughter Kate as if she was my flesh and blood and feel strongly that families are built on more than DNA.

Sport for all!

In my previous blog post I discussed the fact that life skills were given a lot of prominence in the time table of my school Ysgol Gogarth.

We we’re fortunate for the majority of my time there that we had an indoor swimming pool in the school grounds. Thinking back to those days I can still smell the chlorine in the water and this disgusting brown liquid which we had to wash our feet with in case we got a varuca.

We had weekly swimming sessions and thanks to these I learnt to swim. As with most other new skills I was very timid but once learnt I began to enjoy them. When you are a paraplegic swimming is great exercise as the water supports your body. All my life I have felt that all children should be taught to swim. We live on a group of islands after all and many families here in the UK go on holidays to the seaside or to destinations abroad where outdoor pools are available.

Most towns and cities now have leisure centres or indoor pools so there is little excuse for any child to be unable to swim at a very early age. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you should not leave primary school unable to swim. Lessons for the senior boys back in the 1970s were organized by volunteers from the local rugby club and golf club. They were a lot of fun.

Riding for the disabled also came to the school weekly. The Patron, Princess Ann visited the school on one occasion. I have to admit that me and horses don’t get on. On the only time I took a lesson with Riding For The Disabled I spent the whole time thinking I was going to fall off. Whilst most of the other pupils taking part went trotting happily past. I was told that the balance problem was due to the fact I could feel the horse with my left leg and not with my right.I think I was born with a fear of the unknown. Something I have carried with me into adulthood.

By far the most popular sport in the school was athletics. We had an annual sports day with the schools two houses Tudno (The Greens) and Seiriol (The Reds). We also had an annual Eisteddfod. There was always a real rivalry between the houses. I think it is very healthy to give a child a competitive instinct. After all you are going to have to compete for many things in life. Those of us who are disabled from birth need to realize that we need to do things as well as possible to be compared favourably with our able bodied counterparts. The cup was always hard fought for. I was a good wheelchair racer from quite a young age.

I also competed in the shot, discuss and the javelin. In fact, I would have been thrilled if we had a pentathlon! In fact for the last three years I was a pupil at Gogarth a cup was awarded to the pupil that had done best in all the events competed in on the day. It was called the Vicor Ladorum. I won it twice.

In the mid seventies it was decided that the Welsh Sports Association For The Disabled was to be formed and so a Welsh Championships was to be held. As our sister school Erw’r Delyn, Penarth had a running track it was selected as a venue. It was decided to send a team down to the outskirts of Cardiff to compete and to see if any of us could qualify for the proposed squad to represent our nation at the British Games. When I think back to those days I definitely have the feeling the pupils of the two schools didn’t get on too well. There was nearly a fight on one trip there and the teachers threatened to take us back to Llandudno.

In that first championship a few of us got into the squad. It was the same weekend as history was made at the Wimbledon tennis with the late Arthur Ashe becoming the first Afro-American to win the Men’s Singles title. That afternoon was baking hot. Alongside John Edwards from Ysgol Gogarth and Martin Evans and Stephen Thomas from Erw’r Delyn I completed in the wheelchair sprints. On the day we found that there was a 60metre race and a 100metre race. As neither Ysgol Gogarth or Erw’r Delyn had a 100metre track nobody had trained for it. Our then Deputy head, the late Emrys Roberts, said that I looked the stronger so should enter the longer Sprint. I made my way to the start feeling seriously nervous. The gun went off. For the whole race two of us were neck and neck until we crossed the line. To everyone’s surprise I won the race and therefore the schools first gold medal. Later that afternoon a Gogarth pupil from Caernarfon, Gareth Thomas won a silver.

On returning to the school a special assembly was organized so the pupils could celebrate the success of the team. Mr Rhapps had arranged for a comedian called Wyn Calvin to present the medals. He had presented a donkey to the school previously and we had called it Wyn. Not sure if he was impressed. Gareth Thomas and I were seated at the front and Mr Rhapps brought Wyn Calvin in. He sat next to me. He shook my hand and said good morning Reverend. Very odd.

I mentioned it to my Dad. He confessed that it could have been his fault. One of the Ministers in Llandudno was Wyn Calvin’s Brother John. Dad had told him about the presentation and that I was a Ministers son.

As with education, we can see that with encouragement disabled athletes can succeed. With the success of Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson in the Paralympics in the late 80’s and 90’s and with the 2012 games in London catapulting disabled sport on to TV screens world wide we now have disabled sports people who are world famous. As with all other sections of society we as disabled people need our role models too. Now we have them in sports and other areas. I am sure that sports for disabled people, with its roots in the rehab of troops after World War Two will go from strength to strength. As long as the media will stop one thing. That thing being to refer to disabled sportsmen and women as an inspiration! They would not refer to Sir Mo Farrah in that way so why do it to the likes of Johnny Peacock. As with every other sphere of life those of us who live with a disability want just one thing, equality.

A Special School?

One of the biggest days in a parents life is when they hand there child into the care of the school where he or she is going to be educated. When that child has a disability of any kind the feeling of trepidation is heightened for the parents.

Today, the vast majority of children who are like me ,full time wheelchair users, will be educated with their able bodied friends and hopefully will be able to flourish in the same way. In fact, thanks to the disability discrimination legislation passed in the UK, it is now illegal for a disabled pupil not to be treated in the same way as an able bodied one and if as parents you feel this is happening approach the school to start to rectify things and if you’re not successful move to local councillor and even MP to get what you deserve. We can only hope that the years of austerity have not too greatly reduced the schools ability to do this.

When I headed for my first day at school in 1965 things were very different.

My parents wanted me to be treated like any other child. They asked to see the head teacher at the local primary school, Manod Primary. They discussed whether they felt that he thought I could cope physically in the school. Believe it or not, as a 5 year old in 1965 I had not been issued with a wheelchair of my own. So had to be carried there. I then had to crawl around in the classroom and get on and off chairs by my desk. I enjoyed the lessons. My teacher, Miss Davies, was impressed that I could tell the time before starting school and my reading she said was near the top of the class. Like nearly all in my class I was bi lingual.

My parents believed that a child with a disability had to make the most of education and push themselves forward to avoid them being ignored. It’s sad to see that children with any difference from the norm have to make sure they work harder than others just to get recognition. They were aware even then that what ever talent you had needed to be made the most of as people would not expect you to achieve what able bodied counterparts could. However unfair that was.

By the the end of that first year at Manod Primary it was obvious that the lack of a wheelchair and the school building were causing me physical problems. I kept getting sores and splinters in my legs as I had poor feeling in them. My parents had to try and change things. They went to see the head teacher and between them they agreed that my physical needs were not being met at the school. He found it frustrating as my report was good. He asked my parents if they had heard of a new school that had opened in 1962 at Llandudno for children with physical disabilities to cover the 6 counties of North Wales and the parts of Cheshire which bordered Wales along with I pupil from Shrewsbury. It was called Ysgol Gogarth. They said they hadn’t.

Mr Lewis made enquires and was told that there would be a place available in September. Bizarrely, it was created by another pupil from Blaenau Ffestiniog Meryl Jones leaving the school after reaching school leaving age, her Brother Alun was in the senior school at Gogarth when I started my first day.

A few days later my parents received a letter from Mr Nefydd Davies, the head teacher, asking us to visit the school as a family to see if we felt it would be good for me. So, we travelled to Craig y don, Llandudno in Dad’s green Hillman Imp. Thanks to that car I was to become obsessed with cars and driving. In fact, the first thing I used to ask everyone that visited our home was, ‘what car do you drive’.

When we got there they let me use one of the schools spare wheelchairs and the feeling of freedom it gave me is something I still remember to this day. That, and the horrible smell of floor polish they used on the schools corridors. The electric floor polisher which the school care taker, Mr Williams, used was like something out of Dr Who. It’s strange what makes an impression an a child at the age of 6.

In September, along with my parents, I made my way to Ysgol Gogarth to start my school days proper. Through the local physio department in Blaenau I had been issued with a manual wheelchair. Nearly all the pupils in wheelchairs had a blue one. There were some who used an electric one as they couldn’t push a manual. Most electric wheelchair users lived with a condition called muscular dystrophy.

After saying goodbye to my parents until the following Friday afternoon I made my way to my class. I have learnt in the time that has passed that my Mum cried most of the way home. She felt, like many others, that sending a child with a disability to a boarding school at such a young age is hard.

I was taught in class 1 by Miss Pritchard. She would come back into my life years later in a way she or I never expected. She was a talented singer and was part of the choir which sang at the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. I remember all of us going to watch it in the school hall.  Like most of the teachers at Ysgol Gogarth back then she spoke Welsh. Luckily, I settled in quickly. Made some friends and tried to get involved in all that I could. The school was a boarding school with 4 dormitories. Junior Mixed, Junior Boys, Senior Girls, Senior Boys and Senior Girls. The schools dormitories were two stories reached by either stairs for children who could walk (known to wheelchair users like me as ‘Walkers’ or a lift which was situated in the middle of the the dormitory block.

In any boarding school a vital part is played by the care staff. In my time at Ysgol Gogarth the care staff were referred to as ‘House Parents’.

The ones looking after the Juniors like me were run by a lady from the next village to Blaenau called Dolwyddelan. Her name was Miss Jennifer Jones. She was known to all as Miss Jen. Those looking after the senior pupils were run by a man called Mr Lowe.

During my time as a junior two things seemed to be happening to me more than anything else. The Care staff were trying to get my bladder under control and the physio’s were trying to get me into calipers to walk with crutches. The first problem embarrassed me no end and several things were attempted to stop my having accidents due to my bladder weakness. Whilst the need for me to walk seemed pointless as I could get around so much quicker in my wheelchair.

It was a time of ‘Special Schools’ giving an education which concentrated far too much on supposed life skills and not enough on the academic skills of the pupils. Obviously, those in high places didn’t think much of the academic ability of the children who were born with a physical and not mental disability. Because of this mindset no provision was deemed necessary and so many children were not pushed in the way able bodied children in main stream schools were as normal.

Thankfully towards the end of my time at Gogarth they employed a graduate teacher, the late Yvonne Hughes, to test whether two of the pupils, myself and a boy from Hope near Wrexham called Stephen Evans could pass a CSE in English. Which we both did. The following year I passed an O level in English language and a CSE at (Grade1) in English Literature.

I often wonder what would have happened if the older pupils at Gogarth could have attended John Brights school in Llandudno as the pupils at our sister school, Erw’r Delyn, did at St Cyrus Comprehensive in Penarth. I would like to believe that given the same curriculum we would have taken the chances given to our able bodied friends with both hands. I have always believed that a person who lives with a disability has the mindset that nothing is going to stand in their way. As Mr Rhapps once told a journalist, ‘ If you want any of my children to do something, tell them they can’t.

After two or three years a new headteacher was appointed at Gogarth, Tudor Rhapps. He was from Pontypridd and looked like the late British comic actor Jimmy Edwards. He was also at Teacher Training College in Bangor with the actor Windsor Davies with who he remained friends. He had been in charge of hospital school in Heswall before coming to Gogarth. He was a talented pianist and played the organ too in a local church. When he was appointed it proved disappointing for the then Deputy Will Parri Williams. It was the policy at the school not to promote from within. He was to leave when a headship at another special school in Bangor, Treborth became available. He was a popular teacher. Apart from the lessons he taught he had one project which was close to his heart. He managed to get some raise beds built so that the older pupils could learn about gardening. I enjoyed it very much and now as I am nearing 60 I am tempted to see if the council will let me build one in my back garden.

There is one time of year, Halloween where I am reminded of Will Parri Williams. Every year he would disappear at the end of the school day and return in the evening dressed as a witch in full costume and make up. He used to scary the life out of me when I was a young lad.

As you can see by the way I have titled this post I am far from sure how special our school was. I enjoyed my school life. Made friends, thanks to social media, who I am still in touch with. Not forgetting I got a wife from having been a pupil there too. I am definitely the stubborn, independent person I am today because of Gogarth. But if my academic life at Ysgol Gogarth had been more rounded then I think my life would have been far more like that of my able bodied friends.