Many years ago when I travelled round South America I visited many countries and a variety of interesting places, including Cartagena and San Agustin in Colombia, Machu Picchu in Peru, Foz do Iguacu on the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina and the national park, Torres del Paine, in the South of Chile. I clearly remember enjoying all of them immensely, and for a variety of different reasons. Another iconic tourist site I visited during that sabbatical was the Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, and I recall commenting to a North American lady standing next to me, admiring the view, that it was a shame the day was cloudy, to which she replied that at least it was another one that could be crossed off the list.
On Travelling, Selfies, and the Local Markets of Chiang Mai, Cardiff and Medellin as Alternative Tourist Attractions.
The day she died I was planning to go hiking and had everything laid out in the dining room ready for the hard day ahead. We received the call from the hospital just after midnight and I immediately took the decision to not go on the planned walk. This made me consider the different approaches to death in Colombia and Wales.
Love Sculpture, Welsh Counties, Burry Port, Lougher Estuary, Cefn Sidan, a French death and a historical landing.
Love Sculpture were a blues rock band formed by Dave Edmunds and John David Williams from Cardiff and Rob Jones from Barry, not far from Cardiff. The song Sabre Dance is a fast, energetic version of the classical song by Russian composer Aram Il'yich Khachaturian. It was this song which transported me back to a classroom in Whitchurch High School when I was aged around thirteen or fourteen.
One of the teachers, I guess it was the music teacher, had asked each member of the class to bring one of their favourite songs to the class to listen to and then explain why we liked it. In those days we didn’t have CD's or mp3 devices to store our music so everyone took their chosen song on good, old fashioned, vinyl. I still have over a hundred of my old vinyl albums, though I haven’t listened to them for many years.
One of my students was telling me recently that there is a turntable available which plays the vinyl records and at the same time records the music to a digital format while also removing the unwanted sounds of the inevitable scratches that the vinyl records were prone to picking up, especially at parties and being played on arriving home late on a Friday or Saturday night after downing copious pints of Brains beer in the pubs of Cardiff.
This school day memory says a lot about me, as at the time I already had long hair and was occasionally reprimanded by one or two teachers because of this, and I was the only one that took a rock song to the class to listen to that day. It is no surprise that I later became a hippie; the writing was already on the wall.
When I was very young, more or less from the age of two, I suffered from asthma. I must have been pretty bad as I remember my mother telling me that once when she was out with me in the pushchair a lady passing by said, with the subtly of a train crash, “You’re going to lose that one soon.” My mother told me that comment made her more determined than ever to do whatever she could to help me survive. And she did.
I remember her encouraging me to take part in athletics’ sessions at school, rather than using my asthma as an excuse to stay in the changing rooms, swimming endless widths across freezing cold outdoor swimming pools during the summer holidays and playing five sets of tennis at least twice a week at the local tennis club.
Her tactics paid off as here I am to tell the tale. Were she alive today I wonder if she would feel that her efforts had been worth it!!
At school I really loved sport, especially gymnastics, running and tennis, strangely I don’t remember much about the other subjects, and in fact don’t remember ever doing homework, though I must have done what was set otherwise I would have been expelled.
Many years after I had left school, around the age of thirty, I went to a gym in Oxford, where I was working at the time, and before planning a routine for me I had to do a fitness test which involved cycling on a static bicycle with various instruments attached to my body to monitor my response to the exercise. I did it once and the instructor said there was something wrong and could I do it again.
A second time produced the same error, and so I had to do it a third time. The instructor then told me the result was that expected from a professional athlete and for that reason he had assumed there was something wrong with the machine. He also told me it was too late to take advantage of this information as I was now too old to become a professional athlete. Maybe in my next life, though I am torn between being a sportsman, a botanist, a writer, a photographer and a rock guitarist As you can see I’m just a mixed up kid!
Anyway back to school and asthma. Due to my ailment I missed a lot of school, especially during primary. I remember having an asthma attack every ten days on average in those early days of the illness, and this meant I didn’t learn to read as quickly as my classmates. I remember once going to Sunday school in Cardiff, not my favourite activity neither then nor now,
Churches are very often architecturally beautiful and pleasant places to meditate in when virtually empty, but my appreciation of them ends there. Anyway, the lady in charge of the Sunday school, took us into the main church to watch the service and she gave us all a copy of the Hymnbook, and I have to admit my level of reading at that time was so bad I hardly knew which way up the book should be, and certainly had no chance of following along to the hymns.
My family doctor was great, and he gave me some books to read at home to help me learn to read. They were from a series called Janet and John.
I read last week that a pair of twins, who had never met, finally did so at the age of 78. The two women were separated at birth as one, Ann, was put up for adoption. Her sister, Elizabeth, knew she had a twin sister, but despite various attempts to track down her sister, she was not successful.
Ann had no idea she had a twin, however, when her adoptive mother died she decided to start investigating her maternal family, and after much effort and various dead ends she finally discovered that not only did she have a sister, but that her sister was her twin having been born some twenty minutes before her.
Ann still lives in Aldershot, the town of their birth, while Elizabeth now lives in Albany USA. Last month they met for the first time and obviously
have a lot of catching up to do, and at the age of 78, time is of a premium. You can read the full story here:
I told this story to a group of students and one of them related another story, similarly surprising and one which also tends to give weight to the idea that we all have our destiny and that life is in some way planned in advance. This second tale is not so easy to believe, and were it a plot in a book of fiction one would be forgiven for thinking it was too farfetched to believe, but two different people here in Colombia have assured me that it is a true story.
Two girls met at university in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia and became good friends. One girl invited the other to her house for lunch and to study together. The family was amazed at the similarities between their daughter`s friend and themselves. They discovered that the two girls were born on the same day and at the same hospital. They decided to investigate further and a DNA test confirmed their suspicions. The girls had been mixed at birth and had been brought up by the opposite set of parents.
I believe they have decided to continue living with their non parents, but to start spending more time with their real parents and newly discovered family.
That they didn’t notice the lack of similarities between the parents and the baby in the first years is a little strange, however, what amazes me most is how they finally met at university and became friends as if it were a predetermined, scripted storyline. Imagine the shock for everyone involved and the psychological impact on the families, especially the two girls, to discover after all those years that their parents that presumably they loved so much and loved them were not really their parents.
The Gower Peninsula, its Beaches, Caves and Castles, plus the Murder Mystery which was solved too late.
This morning for some unknown reason I awoke at 3:25 a.m. and found it impossible to return to the deep sleep I so much wanted. I fail to understand why that peaceful, satisfying sleep was so illusive, but at 04:00 a.m. I gave up trying to fall asleep, and got up. Having checked my emails and the news on the BBC website, I now find myself sitting in front of my computer screen writing this blog post, and it’s only 05:00 a.m.
While I was lying in bed awake, but wishing to be asleep, my thoughts turned unexpectedly to memory, and the strange phenomena of being able to remember with immense clarity, certain situations, places, people etc, and yet at the same time having huge swathes of complete nothingness in-between these seemingly illusive segments of lucid recollection.
For example, suddenly my mind was hijacked by the memory of visiting Cardiff docks with my father to see the ships that were moored there. Occasionally there were ships with the hold full of oranges, and the dock workers used to throw us some which had split from their wooden crates during the voyage. It was great fun, running along the side of the dock trying to catch the oranges they hurled high up into the air.
Why that memory suddenly came to mind at 03:30 a.m. this morning I have no idea, but it led to a string of thoughts about what I could and couldn’t remember. For example until I was five I lived in a terraced house in Malefant Street, in the Cathay’s area of Cardiff, and the only memory I have of that time is a stained glass window through which light passed, creating beautiful patterns on the floor and wall, but in fact I’m not even sure if that was in the house I lived, or in my grandparents house which was a few blocks away in Clodein Avenue.
I remember the three schools I went to, Primary, Junior and High school; I remember some of the teachers, and some of my classmates, but not all of them. I remember sport, because that was my passion, and one or two other lessons, but I don’t remember ever doing homework, though I must have, otherwise I would have been thrown out of school! I also remember the tuck shop, strategically placed by the zebra crossing which led to the primary school, and buying black jacks, fruit salads and other tempting sweets designed to tease the pocket money out of the school children’s pockets.
I have a clear memory of going to Rover Way, off Newport Road in Cardiff on a Sunday with my parents when my mother was learning to drive. There were few cars there on Sundays so it was a good place to practise. I remember walking up through Caedelyn Park, along the path behind Whitchurch Golf Course, across Rhiwbina Hill, and up through the fields to the Wenallt, from where, on a clear day, there were beautiful views across Cardiff, and out to sea. I also remember the immense joy I felt being surrounded by trees and nature, something that has stayed with me throughout my life.
One of the memories that sprung to mind in the early hours of this morning was a trip with some college friends at the end of term, when we drove to one of the beaches on the Gower Peninsula near Swansea. However, I only have two clear memories about that day, the first is that on the way back I sat in an open top sports car, and my long hair became so tangled that it took ages to brush out all the knots when I returned home. The other is that I got really sunburnt and it was agony sleeping for some nights after as my horribly red skin stung so much against the sheets of the bed. But, I don’t remember any of the people I went with, which beach we went to, what we did while we were there, or even if I had a good time, though I guess that I did.
And that dear reader is a rather long introduction to what is one of the most beautiful areas of Wales that I remember visiting during my time growing up in Cardiff – the Gower Peninsula.
Colombian elections and Ley seca - the dry law, buying train tickets in India, Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday and St David's Day.
Today in Colombia the people who are eligible, and who have the inclination, are voting for those they want to represent them in the Senate and the House of representatives. These elections will be followed in a few months by the presidential elections.
Though I am a resident of Colombia, I am not allowed to vote as I have not taken the citizenship. To be honest, with a British passport it’s far less complicated travelling than with a Colombian one, so I don’t see any incentive to go through what is probably a lengthy process with plenty of frustrating red tape designed to anger even the calmest among us.
I remember when I travelled in India; the procedure for booking a train ticket was exceptionally bewildering. On each of the three or four occasions that I tried to buy a train ticket the routine was the same. On arriving at the train station first you had to get a small printed form from one of the ticket windows, then go and look at the board in the station with all the train departures and arrivals displayed and complete the information needed for the form.
The next step was to take the piece of paper to another ticket window, where every time, the man behind the little glass window would say the train was full, but that the tourist office had an allocation, and that maybe if we went there we may be able to get the reservation. Off we trudged to the tourist office only to be told that there were no seats available with them either. So we bought tickets without a reservation.
On the day of departure we would arrive at the station and wait on the platform for the train. When we saw the train chugging along the tracks approaching the station my wife would take the backpacks, and I would line up on the edge of the platform along with the local Indian population who also planned to travel on the same train.
As the train edged its way slowly into the station we would all start running alongside, and when possible jump onto the train through the open doors and grab the nearest unoccupied seats. There were always plenty of seats available for those who got on while the train was still in motion. My wife would wait for the train to stop before boarding and walking up the aisles to find me.
Finally, once the train was in motion, the ticket inspector would saunter along the aisles asking to see the tickets, and for the reservation fee. Each time I would protest that I didn’t have a reservation, to which he would counter that we had seats so that was a reservation!
As I look out across Envigado towards the mountains, it’s a beautiful sunny day here in Colombia, in stark contrast to the recent weather conditions in North America and Northern Europe. Severe snow storms swept across many states of North America last week, and weeks of incessant rain have left many parts of Britain, especially to the south, under water as rivers have burst their banks sending the flood water into towns, villages and the local houses.
You can see pictures of the recent flooding here.
It’s a sad situation for those affected, but it’s nothing new. On the 7th of January, 1928, The River Thames burst its banks and flooded many parts of central London. It happened just after midnight while people were asleep so they had very little time to react. Fourteen people lost their lives and thousands of people, predominantly those from the poor slum areas, were left homeless.
Read about the the 1928 flood here.
There is now a flood defense constructed across the River Thames called the Thames Barrier which can be used to protect London against flooding caused by tidal surges coming up the river from the North Sea.
You can read all about the Thames barrier here.
I remember visiting a church situated on the coast, not far from Cardiff, with my parents when I was a kid which had been flooded in the past. It was a long time ago and I don’t remember which church it was, though it is most likely one of two, either Peterstone Wentlooge or St Brides Wentlooge. Both churches have plaques which mark the level to which flood water rose during the Great Flood of 1607.
The reason I remember the day trip is because my mother said she could see the ghosts of people in a corner of the church, trying to escape from the flood water. My mother saw ghosts on various occasions, and was always very calm, as if it were a normal experience.
I remember once when we were on holiday in Southern Ireland, in a field where my father and I could only see a herd of cows, my mother could see people dressed as Quakers burying someone. The owner of the farmhouse where we were staying confirmed that the field had been used in the past as a Quaker burial ground.
I sometimes have premonitions; maybe it is something I have inherited from her. The night before the Twin Towers collapsed after being hit by planes in the notorious terrorist attack, I dreamt that I had to go to hospital and have both my legs amputated. The dream was so vivid, that on waking, the first thing I did was to check that my legs were still attached to the rest of my body. Luckily they were. Later when I saw the two towers collapse I realised that my legs were a symbol in the dream for the twin towers.
Was it a coincidence or was it a premonition? Usually when I dream I forget the details immediately on waking up, usually when the dream is linked in some way to something which then happens in the immediate or near future I can remember every little detail of the dream for years to come.
Asang, the man of Light in Taginambur, Borneo, plus the Royal Marine and the Quarter Master Sergeant.
All families are different, but all have a past, which maybe if investigated, can surprise and intrigue. My family has some interesting characters hidden away in the depths of time.
Soon after my father died many years ago at the age of 78, my elder brother discovered a letter among my father’s possessions. The letter had been sent from Northern Borneo during the 1950´s from a cousin of my father called Trevor.
As a child my brother remembered hearing about Trevor and his mother Grace from our father. They were missionaries and had gone to Borneo, now part of Malaysia, in 1939, when Trevor was aged 29. The letter had a return address, albeit from many years previously, and my brother decided to write back to our uncle Trevor on the off chance that he could still be reached at that address. To his surprise he received a reply.
My uncle Trevor still lived in the same village, Taginambur, and aged 87 and partially blind, took the effort to write back. This led to my brother going to Borneo to visit our uncle for two weeks.
Originally from Cheddar in Somerset, Trevor had never returned to Britain since his arrival in Borneo as a missionary. He had married a local girl and with her had two daughters. He spoke the local language and was known by the tribe he lived with, the Dunsun tribe, as Asang, the man of light. I have a book about his life and signed by him called, Asang, The story of Trevor White and the Dunsuns of Sabah.
It’s strange reading about someone who I never met, but who was a member of my extended family. Trevor had an amazing life, a life far from what could be called normal, and even though I am not by any means a religious person, and don’t necessarily agree with missionaries trying to push their beliefs on other people, I admire his dedication to something which he believed in and thought was right.
So Christmas is almost upon us once again. Yesterday, Sunday the 23rd I got up early and went to the gym to work out as part of my preparations for a long, nine-day trek I am going on early next year.
On the way to the gym, in a small square outside a church, the Red Cross had set up a small awning under which they planned to encourage people to donate blood. Having donated blood on various occasions in the past I stopped and asked if it was okay to give blood after doing vigorous exercise, and they said it wouldn’t be a problem.
After an hour and a half of cardio and weight training aimed at increasing the prospect of my being able to survive the up and coming trek without looking like a weakling, I left the gym and headed back to the nurses with their needles and syringes. The first question they asked me when I arrived was, when was the last time I had visited North America, to which I replied that it had been four years ago. I also clarified that I was in fact British rather than North American or a Gringo, which is the common word used here for most foreigners. To say that I am Welsh would have confused them unnecessarily.
The term Gringo is said to be derived from the chant of the Mexican people at the North American soldiers in Mexico who wore a green uniform, “Green Go, green go,” which over time became Gringo. Here most foreigners, whether they be from, North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Europe are bundled into the same category and referred to as Gringos.
Oriental looking visitors are usually diverted into another category, that of Chinos, irrelevant of the possibility that they may be from a country other than China. There is a video on YouTube of the Miss Panama contestant answering a question about Confucius. She said he was, “un Chino Japones,” a Chinese Japanese. She then goes on to say that he invented confusion!
I don’t know why in beauty contests they tend to ask the girls questions which are usually difficult for them to answer based on their education level or the time given to answer the question. Another classic is the answer of Miss South Carolina who says that most North Americans can’t locate North America on a map because the majority of U.S. citizens don’t have maps.
You can see the video of both contestants here.
Welsh, Photographer, Vegan, English teacher and translator from Spanish to English.