Granny’s story

Family tree research – doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? In fact it sounds depressingly like something old people with time on their hands do. Which is true of me, perhaps, though I like to think of myself as older …

Anyway, I embarked on some of this a few weeks ago. I’d put it it off for about 40 years as I thought I’d better things to. Maybe I was wrong.

My initial motivation was curiosity about the obvious black sheep character in my family – one of my grandfathers – who allegedly was “a useless drunk” (my father’s words) and had been thrown out of his own family home in Glasgow by his own sons when they became old enough. I soon learned that he died of TB in a hospital in 1939 – not living with his family and presumably alone. A dramatic and tragic tale made more intriguing by the rumour that he’d also been wounded at Gallipolli – did this explain his later decline, I wondered? Would the story of his eviction and rejection help explain my own dad’s distant and difficult relationship with me?

Well, one of the things I quickly realised in my research was that you don’t find the answers to questions like that – though you can, perhaps, get some facts assembled that allow you to make better guesses. But what you do learn is that there are all sorts of questions that you’d never even thought of asking.

Take my Granny, for instance. Writing this, I automatically typed her name with a capital letter because as a child I was taught to think of her as a fearsome, upright, revered and long-suffering Scots woman who you did not cross. My Mum was certainly intimidated by her, but maybe that’s what most women feel about their mother’s-in-law?

However, I slowly uncovered an unexpected Granny tale: I’d started out with a vision of a heroic picture of a woman who dealt determinedly with the failings of her husband and then laboured stoically with the burden of bringing up 6 children alone. But the truth is messier than that – isn’t it always?

Family mythology always placed my father as the eldest of her children, followed by his first sister (who in later years became the embodiment of primness and correctness). Bombshell No 1 was my discovery that the sister was born before my dad – and just a few months before Granny’s marriage – a shotgun wedding, no less.

So, next question – how come Granny – a young woman (18 at the time) – ended up pregnant by this possibly unsavory character and, come to think of it, how come none of her own brothers and sisters (all older than her) came to the rescue when she was dealing with 6 children unaided?

Time to look a generation further back in more detail, I decided. I started to delve deeper  – and also to spend money on subscribing to pay-per-view records. There was even an element of gambling thrill to this – every time you pay some of the credits you’ve bought, you have to hope or guess that that the record you’re about to see is about someone you’re looking for and not some other person with the same name. You win some, you lose some.

Gripped by mild gambling fever (it’s nice when you do win), I scrutinised my great-grand-parents records and soon realised that Granny’s parents were not the simple straightforward pairing I’d first thought. At some point in the mid-nineteenth century he had emigrated from Ireland to Scotland and, much more unexpectedly, he’d already married twice when he finally married Granny’s mum. So that made all Granny’s brothers and sisters probably just half-siblings.

Granny’s mum was no less intriguing. She too had married previously – to a bizarrely-named sailor and probably had a child by him.

So Granny’s marital role models were pretty ropey. That might be part of an explanation – so much for the stability and respectability of old-time family life.

But to the next question that arose: after Granny’s parents died (both gone by the time she was 12), where did she disappear to? Her 2 older (half?) brothers had by then married and started families of their own but the remaining 3 were living together as orphans – but without her, strangely. Was she farmed out to another relative? Shipped back to Ireland temporarily? Sent to live with other people by her rejecting half-siblings? A homeless waif and stray in the tenements of Glasgow? I simply don’t know (well, not yet, anyway – another thing I’ve learned is that family history research is never finished!)

So, the time Granny next surfaces in the record books, she’s got pregnant and married. Did she stay with her husband long? How and when did the marriage collapse? Again, records don’t really tell you that – but he was at least getting back into her bed 16 years after the marriage ’cause that’s when the last of her children were born.

So what have I learned? That the skeletons you find aren’t necessarily the ones you were looking for. That the past is something we change and shape using our own perspectives and value judgements. That the more answers you seek, the more questions you raise.

And, surprisingly, that researching your family tree can actually be compulsively interesting. Must stop writing know as I want to take a look at my great-great grandfather’s siblings …


The end of the affair?

Big changes often creep up on you in life.

You may have a photo of your sweet little kids in your wallet but one day you look up and they’re grown up adults and don’t have much to say to you.

You and someone else may have fallen madly in love but eventually you notice that you don’t have much left to say to each other.

A best friend is someone you can always turn to – except, of course, when they get ill, fade away into illness and die.

I’ve been searching around for an analogy that conveys how the end of something you thought would last forever seems to be over. For that’s how I increasingly feel about me and my team. After 54 years, is it over between me and the Bluebirds?

The re-brand is 18 months old now. Lots of other fans have reached their tipping point at different moments. For me, it’s somehow been a more gradual process: slowly but surely I find myself caring less about how my team are doing.

Yes, I’m still going to games (I paid for my season ticket so I’m hardly going to not use it); yes, I still follow away fixtures via web-streams (gone are the days of affordable tickets at other grounds, it seems); yes, I still whoop with delight at the (rare!) moments  that we score.

But somehow it feels less important in my life. And it’s basically because the club I supported for all those years simply isn’t there any more.

The shirts are wrong, The badge is wrong. The nickname’s been banned. The stadium’s not the old one. The players clearly have no loyalty to much other than their enormous obscene earning potential. The owner’s unarguably a ruthless megalomaniac who will do whatever suits his financial interests. Every other employee of the club seems to have become a frightened yes-man. Many fans wear the red, though thankfully these are a shrinking proportion.

So why can’t I keep the faith? Why can’t I hang in there until the day eventually comes when Tan sells up and we return to blue? Because, in all probability that’s what will happen (though who knows if it’ll be months or years until it does happen).

But something’s died. Something can’t be repaired.

Even though I’ve marched, protested inside and outside the ground, worn the blue unwaveringly – my loyalty’s been met with contempt. My faith has been trampled on and exploited. My devotion has been worn down. My bond with the club  has been discarded and replaced with a commercial arrangement.

And even if something resembling “normal service” is ever resumed, I’ll never be able to trust in the same way again. It’s very like finding a lover has been unfaithful – even if you can find it in your heart to forgive them, things are never the same again.

And that’s where I’m left – watching with a great deal more distance in my heart than I ever thought possible. Feeling less joy and less pain at each goal and result.

It’s not all over, not yet. But things will never be the same. I’m left with a very modern feeling of disillusion and cynicism. It’s very, very sad.

Bluebirds Unite – time to say what we really think?

I’m a staunch BU supporter but am a bit out of the loop as far BU stuff goes (living in Bristol prevents me getting to most BU events other than those immediately before/after matches). I’m not in on whatever committee discussions or pub talks say at the moment as all I can tune in to are electronic messages – so apologies to anyone that I’m misrepresenting in what follows or to anyone that is already promoting the line I’m suggesting.

However, it seems to me that we’ve reached a crucial point in the current campaign. I could understand why BU decided on a strictly polite, no-anti-Tan line at the outset. I wasn’t in favour of it myself: coming from an Against Modern Football perspective, I couldn’t see any way in which we weren’t a prime example of a club being used as a rich man’s plaything and a financial investment. To my mind, Tan was never going to see us as anything else and would always do whatever suited him, whether we were polite to him or not. But I agreed to go along with it on the basis that reaching out to him seemed worth a try in most people’s eyes.

The evidence of the past few weeks provides overwhelming evidence that there is absolutely no point in trying to meet Tan halfway or expect him to make any sort of compromise,. Moreover, he clearly views any opposition to him with contempt and has no intention of negotiating or listening to arguments (“Always be red – ha, ha, ha!”).

His recent actions have produced a tide of revulsion amongst ordinary, non-campaigning fans (even, I suspect, amongst the club’s players and staff). Surely now is the moment for BU to seize? Let’s not fall into the trap that The Trust did at the start of the re-brand, resorting to polls and lowest-common denominator policies which ended up pleasing no-one. Let’s take up a clearly principled position and let people choose whether or not they wish to support it.

BU should declare itself determined to restore control of the club to those with the true interests of the club at heart, those who respect the club’s history, those who recognize the vital role of fans in determining the future direction of the club. This means, without equivocation, the end of Tan’s control of the club.

All the arguments put forward by Pro- or reluctant-reds up till now have relied on the false assumption that financial ruin awaits without him. Maybe it does, though there are many who now think that’s doubtful, for all sorts of reasons. But there is now a critical mass of fans thinking that there’s more to following a club than success or mere survival at any price. Better to die on our feet than live on our knees! Time to declare all-out opposition to Tan and campaign for a club that can reclaim it’s soul.

Step one: a BU Tan Out banner on the march on the 24th before the Man U game.

Step two: open BU support for the sit-in after that match.

Up to now, it seems to me that this is what we’ve been thinking quietly. Time now to say loud and proud what we really think! TAN OUT!

After the ball: the anti-Tan demo at the South Wales derby

There’s been loads of coverage of the game so I won’t comment much on what happened on the pitch.   Suffice it to say that the general feeling at half time was we were definitely second best but by the end we were deserved winners. And how good that felt.

But it was unfortunate in a way that the game, which inevitably had a huge fascination in itself, detracted from the possible reaction of City supporters to the bizarre off-field events of the previous few weeks. Clearly, there had been a massive shift in fans feelings away from a reluctant-red position to an anti-Tan stance. There was simply too much focus on the result and on the rivalry for any real chance of anti-Tan feeling to emerge. Sure, a “Tan Out” banner did appear (briefly) in the Canton stand early on.

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I saw, sadly, just the one red scarf flung onto the pitch at one point during the game (perhaps not surprising, given that there were very few red scarves in evidence). I suppose it’s also true that there was far less red in evidence generally amongst the crowd ; blue was much more predominant, as of old, though the wet weather with attendant rain-gear lessened the impact of this. Also, there was a heartening burst of “We’ll always be Blue” echoing round the whole ground towards the end. To be fair, there was probably quite a bit more than this that went on, especially in the Canton end, but, like most, I was so intent on the game (the tension throughout was palpable) that I didn’t notice much, apart from the repeated and predictable attempts of Swansea fans to wind us up.

For me, it was only after the game and the celebrations that my revulsion against Tan re-surfaced. I kept looking towards the Canton end looking for the emergence of the promised protest sit-in but disappointingly not much appeared for quite a while. Sadly, most of the City fans had already left the stadium, all jubilant, by the time that a few banners began to appear and a smallish crowd began to gather round them. I made my over from the Ninian stand (no attempt by stewards to stop this) and soon found myself and about 200 others alongside 4 or 5 well-made banners. We sang and chanted with increasing gusto as our confidence grew, all heartened by the fact that we no longer felt alone. Our only audience by this time, paradoxically, were the remains of the Swansea fans (still corralled in the away section). But our songs grew louder as the acoustics of the empty stadium began to work in our favour. Stewards began to line up pitch-side in front of us but made no attempt at getting us out.

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There was just one steward who clearly was furious, shouting and gesticulating at us as we insulted his paymaster. Hilariously, the stewards around him had to focus more on getting him away than on anything we might do. The head steward (I forget his name but City fans will know the silver-haired one I mean) tried to insinuate himself into our crowd and talk us into stopping but on we went. One wonderful chorus of “Keep Cardiff Blue” went on and on and on, like a Buddhist mantra. We were encouraged also by the fact that there were still a couple of cameras operational above the grandstand and there were lots of silhouettes in the posh bars staring out at us. Just as we were starting to wonder how long we’d stick it out, an indecipherable message came over the tannoy. It wasn’t Ali and I’ve no idea what he said but it only encouraged us.

Suddenly the stadium lights were switched off, plunging it into a beautiful blue underlit twilight. It looked really great and really BLUE and drew a huge cheer from us. About half an hour had by now gone by; the stewards were beginning to line up on all sides of us. Our numbers were beginning to dwindle; a few urged that we all sit tight and refuse to be moved but most were happy to leave en masse, singing loudly and with heads held high, proud that we’d really succeeded in making our point. Some even had to pause in the opening to the staircase for one friendly steward to take a souvenir snap of us. (I doubt if Tan will be employing him at the next game!)

Lessons to learn?

  • There is a point in doing this kind of thing: it got a lot of coverage in the media.
  • It won’t be quite so easy next time (and I really feel there should be a next time); the club officials will do some homework, study their CCTV and try to figure out a way to prevent a repeat. But with enough numbers there’s little they can do.
  • There will be more of us next time, now that a precedent has been set. And with bigger numbers we’ll make more of an impact and add to the growing tide of feeling that wants our club back in the hands of those who care about it, those who know something about football, those who respect our history and identity, those who are prepared to let the life-blood of the club – the fans – have a say in our future.

See you after the Man U game!

Bluebirds Unite!

Trading in the dark: the joys of moving house

Imagine you want to buy something, right?

You go to the shops in search of it. The owner of the shop says you can’t come in unless you ask him where everything is and what it costs. He says he won’t charge you and it seems like it might be easier this way as he seems to know lots about everything for sale inside. So he takes you in and shows you around, urging you to buy various things.
You end up asking to buy the thing you want – well, the nearest thing he can find for you – even though you’re a bit suspicious by now as you’re sure there must be something in it for him. He then tells you that the price tag on what you’re after is invisible. He can guess what you should pay for it, he tells you, but he can’t be certain. You make an offer but he then explains that the item doesn’t actually belong to him but to somebody else who’s using the shop to sell it. He says he’ll talk to them about what you’ve offered for it.

He gets back to you after a while and says that the offer is a great one but the seller wants to wait a bit in case somebody else offers more for it. Sure enough, somebody does – but the shopkeeper won’t tell you how much they’ve offered, only that you must offer more if you want to buy it. So you cautiously do. It then dawns on you that he and the seller know a lot more than you do about the transaction and that the mugs who are shelling out (that’s you and somebody else out there) are being used against each other to get as much as possible for the seller and the shopkeeper. But you haven’t much choice as there doesn’t seem to be anywhere else you buy these kind of things.

Imagine now what would happen if you wanted to sell something similar in the same shopping world.

You take what you’ve got down to the shop and ask the shop owner to sell it for you. He insists on a percentage fee of whatever it’s sold for. You agree ’cause you can’t see how anyone who wants your product will get to know about it unless they come to the shop. Eventually someone buys your thing and the shopkeeper takes his cut. You’re wondering what he did to earn this apart from putting it on the shelf and keeping the shop open but there you go, that’s life.

Now imagine you want to sell one thing and buy a different version of it, all at the same time.

The shopkeeper shows you some things you might consider buying for yourself and explains that the reason they’re so expensive is that lots of people want them. He urges you to make an offer for one you like (he still won’t tell you the price of anything). It’s a very expensive thing you’re buying – possibly the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought in your life – but he tells you you must hurry and make an offer before someone else comes into the shop and snaps it up. So you do.

The cycle of hidden offers being pitched against each other – you’re beginning to get the picture now, yes? – then begins, complicated this time by the fact that you can’t actually afford to buy the expensive thing you’re after unless you succeed in selling the one you’re trying to get rid of.

By now you’ve been to the shop dozens of times and beginning to wish you’d never started. But having put all this effort in, you persist and end up agreeing to an offer on what you’re selling and you get an offer accepted on what you’re buying (though it’s sadly more than you wanted to pay, largely because of the blind auction you had to go through to get your offer accepted).

The shopkeeper then tells you that everything’s fine except the people you’re selling to and buying from are also in the same position as you – needing to sell before they themselves can buy, so the whole transaction will now have to go on ice until everyone involved ( which may, of course, ultimately involve lots of other people further up and down the chain in both directions) are in a position to buy, sell or both. The only way this can happen, of course is by finding someone at either end  of the chain who doesn’t need to do both things at once for some reason (such as having loads of money).

Eventually, the world becomes full of people wanting to buy and sell things but unable to do either. Unless, of course, somebody cracks and agrees to do just one part of the process, which then triggers a series of transactions – all of which the shopkeeper takes a cut from.

Have I convinced you yet that this doesn’t seem a very fair or efficient way of organizing commerce? Have you noticed that the only person to really benefit from the system being arranged in this way is the shopkeeper?

Take my advice then. Don’t ever try to buy or sell your house, especially through an estate agent. There must be a better way, if I could only think of it.

In the meantime, I’m off to murder mine.

WOMEX 2013

You’ve been to WOMAD, right. You know all about the £140 it costs, the effort involved in hauling all your gear into the campsite, the tiredness you feel after being on your feet for 15 hours each day, the rush to get from the Radio 3 stage to the Siam tent before the next band starts, standing in the rain at the main stage.

But it’s always worth it, somehow, ’cause you come away besotted by some act you’d never heard of before you went – Darkhabrahka anyone? Or Dub Collossus? Or Anda Union? ‘Nuff said.

But wait a minute. There is an easier way to get to those kind of pay-offs. WOMEX is not so much WOMAD-lite as WOMAD-concentrated.

I won a pair of tickets in a competition to go to the 3 nights in Cardiff last week  (born lucky, that’s me) and went along not knowing quite what to expect. What I found was shorter sets admittedly (45 mins) but that was more than made up for by merely having to turn 90 degrees to get from one stage to another (OK, sometimes I had to walk 50 yards). And I could get to the bar. And the loo. And have a coffee. And stay dry. And sit down if I wanted. In soft seats. And sleep in a proper bed.

This may sound like World Music for softies, but believe me it felt just as good as the real thing – with the added bonus of  not needing a holiday at the end of it and having rubbed shoulders with endless music biz insiders and successfully pretended to be one of them.

Oh, and this year’s WOMEX sensations? Fanfara Tirana meets Transglobal Underground from Albania were great fun. Lau were really nice (though invisible ’cause they sat down!). Filastine & Nova were fascinatingly multi-media and had something to say. And my jaw is still aching from when it hit the floor 4 bars into the set from Korea’s Jambinai. Watch out for them all next year.

So, I’ll still go through the pain of going to WOMAD next summer, confident that it’ll still be worth it. But maybe I’ll give WOMEX a try next autumn? It’s in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. It’s not as nice as Cardiff, admittedly – what could be? – but I’m already plotting a trip. And entering more competitions!

To Senghenydd – with my little pick and shovel

It was a mixture of things that prompted me to drive over to Senghenydd the other day – a desire to discover more about an utterly shameful episode in our local history, a chance to share a rare moment from the past, a way to express a lingering solidarity with the lost political cause of the miners …

But there was one other thing that prompted me – a bizarre feeling of connection, especially strange given that, even though I was brought up in north Cardiff  and used Caerphilly mountain as a sort of backyard playground as a child, I’d never actually set foot in the place.

Connection? Well, there’s the unique song we Cardiff City fans sing for starters – “with my little pick and shovel I’ll be there ” – a historic symbol of the fact that the roots of CCFC lie in the heyday of the South Wales coalfield.

More to the point, there’s the fact that (as was said in the oration at the ceremony) “men and boys coursed their life’s blood to carve the coal seamed Klondikes into new communities, vibrant of spirit and searching of soul, they set up, from wage contributions, the cornerstones of society in their clubs, institutes, halls, libraries, hospitals and chapels.” The very fabric of South Wales society and culture – the fabric of which CCFC is a vital part – was created out of the boom years of the coal industry.

But there was one more thing that drew me. Somehow, in an impertinent way, I felt that the memorial event mirrored what’s been happening to my club recently. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to suggest that the needless sacrifice of 440 men and boys in any way is equivalent to the fortunes of a football team. But somehow there are parallels: ordinary working people being treated as with contempt by those with more wealth and power than them; those same ordinary people rediscovering a belief in their own worth, their own past, their own future; an attempt by ordinary people to set the record straight and build for the future by learning from the past.

As I reflect on it now, although superficially it seems trite, it nevertheless seems true – both Senghenydd and CCFC’s recent past are about the same things: history, pride and identity.

I respectfully attended the ceremony, learned a little more about the terrible events of 100 years ago, found the ceremony moving in parts, was impressed by how close-knit a community Senghenydd seemed to be, even now, sang along to a lusty rendition of Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (impressively, nobody bar the choir joined in the English one! ) and then drove home again.


The final paradox of the day dawned on me later. As I trawled the net looking for crumbs of information about whether Malky, our manager, had been sacked or what had gone on during the day’s 5-hour board meeting (gradually discovering that we were again being told absolutely nothing), I felt a strange growing sense of solidarity with the ordinary people of Senghenydd.  During the day they had waited patiently and with dignity outside the railings of the memorial park, watching those inside the enclosure – the dignitaries, politicians, priests, the wealthy and powerful – dominate the event and then linger before going off to free refreshments in the VIP marquee. Only then were the gates opened for ordinary members of the public to get inside, lay their flowers and pay their respects. Some things, it seems, never change, but the memorial remains as a testament to the success of a local community in rediscovering their history and taking pride in their identity.

Now that’s something –especially in these dark days of the club’s history – that all CCFC fans could take heart from.