Saturday 31 July 2010

Den of Iniquity

I have puritanical views on gambling. I've never bought a lottery ticket and was horrified by Tony Blair's plans for super-casinos. I beat a tambourine for joy when son of the manse Gordon Brown consigned them to hell. However, there is gambling and then there is the "inside track": if you actually know something about the proposition then the case can be made for a flutter. Thus I was convinced by my friend Jorge Secada, a post-graduate philosopher from Lima, that Peru would easily beat Scotland in the 1978 World Cup ("Eet ees a dead cert, Beel!") and cleaned up with a £5 bet at 4 to 1. Similarly in 1979 I put £2 each way on 100 to 1 outsider Rankin in the Derby based on the first-hand report of a very drunk but plausible denizen of the Cow and Calf in Cambridge (weekend resort of choice for the County Mayo men building the by-pass). I also laid this off with a couple of pounds on the nose of the favourite Troy. Kerching! and celebrations all round on both counts. That was the last time I was in a betting shop - in the days when they had frosted glass and no comfort was permitted inside except smoking.

But last night my old friend Nick rings to tell me that he has bumped into the owner of Jimmy Styles running today in the 3.40 at Goodwood - it is 25 to 1 but, unknown to the public, actually on fantastic form. So I enter BetFred in Swansea (every comfort but no smoking) and put £10 on each way - the computerised slip says "Good Luck!" on it, a generous sentiment for a bookmaker. It is unplaced in spite of a "late spurt". For some reason my moral compass swivels once again towards righteous condemnation of this evil pastime: get thee behind me, Satan, for at least another 30 years.

A Boy Named Sue

I am back from an enjoyable but exhausting three days/two nights in North Wales. The healthy eating message from the excellent Wednesday event (see previous post) was followed through by our Learning Centre's key staff Irene Hogan and Anna Bellingham whom I introduce to the delights of Enoch's Fish and Chips in Llandudno Junction. Truly this is the Platonic paradigm of unpretentious cooking in contrast to the gastronomic desert of Llandudno itself. We eschew the "special" - grey mullet - fairly descibed as "earthy" but I'd call it "muddy" (I lived on grey mullet in more frugal times but it needs some disguising flavour - bacon strips work well). Following cod and chips the strawberries with ice-cream topped with whipped cream also hit the mark. Next evening we have the same again except fresh Conwy plaice this time. In my defence I did two longish walks each evening and two shorter jogs at 6am each morning so that's the net calorie equivalent of doing no exercise and living on cardboard Ryvita and rubbery cottage cheese.

We get down to business on Thursday looking at how N Wales can further contribute to the mission. Among other ideas we agree to take forward Vice-Chair Chris Eastwood's proposal to draw up advice for parents of patients with a serious mental illness on the dilemma of whether to offer their adult child a place to live in the family home. Of course there are no right answers on this one but staff describe the pressure applied by professionals (themselves under pressure to find a solution): one family worker witnessed how, when a mother dared to question the sense of her son coming to live with her, she was told impatiently "Oh well we'll have to find him a place in the night shelter". Parents can of course be compelled to issue formal notice to their child in order to trigger homelessness rights - not an easy thing to do to a vulnerable and possibly paranoid patient.

On Friday this conversation continues in Rhyl where Hafal's Caroline Jones has invaluable experience of organising tenancies for patients. We talk about the connected but (let's be clear here) distinct issue of the therapeutic or antitherapeutic effect of the family on people with serious illnesses. I have been rereading Oliver James' polemic "They F**** You Up" about the effect of families on mental health - he is selective with his evidence but offers an interesting contrast to the psycho-genetic focus of much modern psychiatry for which equally questionable claims are often made. One assertion he makes is that people with schizophrenia usually do better by not going back to the family home though he acknowledges that the best results are achieved where the patient does go home to a family which has fully taken on board how they need to relate in new ways to the patient. Unfortunately this means a lot more than understanding the illness though that, we know from experience, goes a long way. Of course this consideration is anyway only part of the equation - the parents/family also need to consider their own needs. Hafal's guide for carers can be seen on this link.

James takes for the title of his book the first line of Philip Larkin's poem "This Be The Verse" - you can hear him read it (swear-word warning) here but if you are new to the poet please don't judge him by this slight, two-dimensional piece. If you want a much more subtle analysis of the effects of parenting on a child's future listen to Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" (link here). Note how the son starts with homicidal anger at his father's unconventional strategy for parenting, then recognises the sense in it and forgives his father, almost resolves to adopt the same approach with his own children, but finally decides to break the cycle. I have a tenuous link with Sue having once stopped like him for a brew in Gatlinburg, Tennessee: however, unlike Sue I did not then go on to have a gun-fight with my long-lost father but I did have my first (and last) Subway takeaway roll there (meatballs with an odd sauce).

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Northern Soul

100 Hafal activists, staff, and guests risk the weather to join our annual North Wales invitation event including sports, healthy picnic and some unobtrusive but valuable consultation on campaigning issues. Hafal's networks in North Wales have a great track record in campaigning, resisting the understandable temptation not to bother with the devolved government in Cardiff or with Westminster on the grounds that they are both remote and unapproachable (though they may feel that sometimes!): rather they have vigorously engaged with key issues and used local pressure on Assembly Members and MPs to contribute decisively in our successful campaigns on such matters as the first Mental Health Bill (R.I.P.) and the emerging Measure.

The rain teases us in the morning but leaves us alone from lunch-time onwards. The final tug-of-war competition is closely fought and includes some surprising contestants sacrificing their demure dress to grass stains and scuffing in no-holds-barred combat.

Congratulations and thanks are due to all the staff and volunteers who made such a success of the day and especially to Janet Randles who applied her reliable organisational skills to great effect.

Oh Dear

Meagre fare at the second production in the Swansea Grand's Summer Season. Good enough acting is let down by a poor play not sure if it's a farce or a sentimental tear-jerker. Actually it looks like a staged version of a third-rate 1970s sit-com.

People think actors who played significant parts on telly in times gone by live in Cannes and top up the bank account with fees from repeats on Dave but I can reveal that they are in fact treading the boards for modest pay in provincial rep. Somebody should give them a decent play to perform like a Noel Coward.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Ease the Squeeze

Many of you will have seen Private Aron Shelton in the news: he lost his leg in an explosion in Afghanistan and came home determined to get on with his life. Being proud and self-reliant he readily volunteered the information to the Department of Work and Pensions that he had managed to rehabilitate himself to the point where he could walk 400 metres, albeit with great difficulty and in serious pain. The DWP promptly axed his Disability Living Allowance thus depriving him of funding for a small car which had been helping him regain his independence.

Private Shelton’s experience has a close parallel in the world of mental illness. Hafal has taken up the cases of a number of individuals who have lost benefits because of what they told the DWP. Like Private Shelton they have been committed to their recovery and have put a very positive gloss on their progress to date: typically they have spoken ambitiously and with confidence about getting and holding down employment while playing down the challenges still posed by significant symptoms of serious mental illness. In some cases and most distressingly these statements have not just been inspired by an optimistic outlook but by delusions resulting from their mental illness: most people with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia will recognise the “I can do anything” moments either in psychosis or in extreme upward mood swings. DWP staff are often unable to spot exaggerated or delusional statements and anyway their mind-set is, I suspect, to be guarding all the time against people exaggerating their disability rather than the reverse (and of course we all recognise that there are people prepared to be economical with the truth in order to secure benefits).

Now Hafal offers a positive message to people with serious mental illness about their prospects of getting into education and employment. Indeed we currently operate a large-scale “Short Steps” service, funded by the Lottery’s “Mental Health Matters” grant scheme, which has exceeded targets in getting people with serious mental illness back to work. However, we need to be careful not to encourage service users to report their ambitions and aspirational goals rather than their realistic present position to DWP. To this end we have incorporated advice on benefits and money, alongside the Short Steps message on employment, in a summer campaign we have called “Ease the Squeeze” – this campaign is relatively low-key and targeted directly on affected clients and families - unlike our flamboyant “Road to Recovery” events but equally important. More information about "Short Steps" here.

The new UK Government’s determination to redouble efforts to reduce the number of people on disability benefits is fair enough only if the revised tests distinguish properly between those who might reasonably go back to work and those for whom work is presently too much, too soon for them to handle, notwithstanding their honourable and courageous determination to contribute to society through employment.

Meanwhile I repeat Hafal's message to anybody with a serious mental illness who is negotiating with the DWP on benefits...


The best approach is to get help both from a benefits specialist like CAB and from an agency like Hafal which understands your illness - and you will need to involve your doctor.

Don't leave it to chance.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Some years ago I read that visiting a DIY/garden centre is top of the list of things to do on a British Sunday: not just to buy screws but to have coffee - lunch even - as a bit of a treat. Since learning this depressing statistic I have made a great effort to avoid the dispiriting experience. In fact long ago I decided that all household maintenance chores and other tedious domestic projects should be banished from 5pm Friday until Monday morning. The idea is to do such things on week-day evenings leaving the weekend free for unfettered fun and games. I have very studiously implemented the weekend regime but sadly not the compensatory week-day application. Hence the thread-bare carpets, collapsing bookshelves, yellowing paintwork, and the fancy phone system (no wires required!) still in the box after 3 years. Well, phooey I say.

Today is an exception as I have agreed to pick up some garden chairs on special offer at B & Q in Llanelli. We are in and out in 3 minutes, however, and I even agree to go on to Lidl to stock up on their award-winning olive oil. But there is an annoying little queue so that is ENOUGH and it is picnic time overlooking the estuary and the Gower beyond. Somebody made a decent job of the Millennium Path around the coast here, great for cycling, bird-watching, and mudlarking.

Over the sandwiches and crisps I read in the paper about the debate on whether to put up a statue to Welsh explorer Sir Henry Morton "Dr Livingstone I presume?" Stanley in Denbigh. The doubt arises because he apparently thought little of shooting the local people he encountered as he explored Africa. But putting it up doesn't mean you approve his behaviour. If you can put up a statue to Stanley's fellow countryman Oliver Williams (aka Cromwell - see this post for enlightenment) then the Denbigh matter is a no brainer. Some people think we shouldn't read Philip Larkin, England's greatest poet of the 20th century, because he was found after his death to have written dirty racist remarks in his correspondence with Kingsley Amis and others, but the sad truth is that many great artists are flawed and life would get very tedious if we had to judge their morals as a prerequisite to reading or looking at their work. Come to think of it Wales' greatest poet of the 20th century R S Thomas had some brisk things to say about the English and what should be done with their holiday cottages. Reprehensible (though a long way short of Stanley's misdeeds) but it can't diminish the poems. Anyway, I'm off to lark in the mud.

Go here for the 1968 song (reached number two but regretted as too unserious by the band).

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Rural Rides

It's the Royal Welsh Show and I go up to Builth to witness the microbus wowing the crowds and getting our message across to this 200,000 plus audience of farmers and other countryfolk. Rain does not dampen enthusiasm and hats off to Andrew Mulholland for setting up and looking after our large stand for the duration - the Show seems to get up with the farmers but go to bed with the clubbers - long days indeed. Among other contacts I talk to Simon Hatch, Director of the Samaritans in Wales, about the importance of sustaining a focus on reducing suicide among the high risk group often oddly neglected in this context - people with severe mental illnesses, many of them known to services, of whom around 10% will take their own lives. John Rose from the Big Lottery warns of the impending cuts in Lottery funding: well, yes, and when their Mental Health Matters funding ends in three years time we will all need to be sure our exit strategies are in place as no doubt the general squeeze will still be tight. I also chew the fat with Fireman Sam and Sali Mali who confirm they are just good friends (see this link which clears up any misunderstanding).

Not That Edwina

Swansea Grand Theatre's Summer Repertory season kicks off with "The Late Edwina Black", a slightly stilted but fun enough detective thriller by jobbing 1950s playwrights Dinner and Morum. Much of the dialogue is taken up with two lovers who each suspect the other of bumping off the "wife in the way" - the eponymous E.Black - falling out irretrievably before finally finding out (look away now if you are going to this play!) that neither of them did the dirty deed. I have loyally attended this five play July/August season for many years, combining where possible a swim in the Bay and a picnic before the performance (two for one tickets on Tuesdays, by the way). This time the weather is vile but, no matter, it is "Steak Night" at Wetherspoons - very nice but you have to ask them to heat the plates.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Island Fling

The microbus chugs across the Menai Strait for Ynys Mon's "Road to Recovery" event at the Dingle, Llangefni. Understandably there is concern from Hafal Members about the effect on mental health services of the Council's severe financial problems. In a way the problems on the island presage difficulty which may be faced elsewhere when the real cuts come. The message must be that front-line mental health services must not be targets for cuts though of course it is fair to seek maximum efficiency. The Council should also consider which mental health services might be more cost-effectively provided by the voluntary sector.

Monday 19 July 2010

White Van Man Fan

There is an outbreak of transparency and candour in the road transport industry: last week I was rammed by a truck but its driver - and later its owner - were text-book helpful in sorting it out (and thanked me for being decent about it which goes a long way); and driving to work on the M4 this morning I see a van with a sign on the back - "How is my driving? If good please report stolen".

Sunday 18 July 2010

Criminal Justice - Something to Celebrate?

There seems to be a real prospect of a progressive approach following the new Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's remarks about the folly of expanding the number of prisoners in England and Wales in recent years. Following a backlash from his predecessor in the last Tory government (Michael "Prison Works" Howard) the jazz-loving, suede-shod, veteran Minister struck back:-

"There is not and never has been, in my opinion, any direct correlation between spiralling growth in the prison population and a fall in crime.

"Crime has fallen in Britain throughout a period of both rising prison populations, and throughout the same period of economic growth, with strong employment levels and rising living standards.

"No-one can prove cause and effect. The crime rate fell but was this the consequence of the policies of my successors as Home Secretary or, dare I gently hint, mine as Chancellor of the Exchequer at the beginning of a period of growth and strong employment?"

Long ago I met Howard (a Welshman of course - my Dad recollected his parents' shop in Llanelli selling ladies' fashions) when he was Home Secretary: he was holding forth enthusiastically at a conference dinner in Cardiff about the then new-fangled invention of car radios which were rendered inoperative when stolen. I was then working for NACRO and had been tipped off by clients in East Swansea that this inoperation could be reversed by placing the radio in a freezer overnight. I told the Home Sec about this: "Nonsense!" was his reasoned reply (mind you, I hope he is right about today's car radios or else please keep this trick to yourselves). I haven't met Ken but always liked the story that his very first instruction when appointed Health Secretary and on entering his office at Richmond House was to call for an ash-tray.

The challenge will be to ensure that the 10% of men and up to 27% of women in prison who have a severe mental illness (I'm talking about psychosis, not just the still very serious problems affecting many more prisoners) are the priority for an alternative approach. Hafal's Criminal Justice Link services now have in-depth knowledge of the experience of many individual prisoners which will inform our campaign.

For Hafal's policy perspective on criminal justice see here; if you have a serious mental illness and are in trouble with the law see our detailed guidance here.

Meanwhile ideas about punishment do vary: I read this week that Justice Robert Shuster sentenced two unfortunate miscreants in Tonga to be whipped with the cat-o'-nine-tails (it was reversed on appeal). And where did His Honour get his inspiration from? I will let him speak for himself:"I have no doubt that whipping them is barbaric, but when I was at school in Wales I got the stick just for talking in class. A lot of people would think that the sentence I imposed was a fair punishment". It is heartening to note that the much-vaunted Welsh education system is projecting its progressive values even to the other end of the world.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Flinty Resolve

Hafal Flintshire welcomed the microbus last Friday for afternoon tea in the latest event of our “Road to Recovery” campaign. The North Wales leg of the journey takes in all seven northern counties during the high summer including our large-scale North Wales jamboree for invited Hafal activists and Members on 28th July in Colwyn Bay. All credit to Hafal’s North Wales staff and volunteers for organising events every week including the school holidays – and thanks to Andrew MacIntosh for driving it to the venues, setting up all the kit, and keeping her lovingly-polished between her public engagements. She is certainly rising to the occasion and Andrew claims improbably that he got her up to no less than 60mph on the flat, a startling feat for the unimpressive-looking, 46 year-old, air-cooled, 1.5 litre powertrain modestly secreted in her rear end.

The bus heads to Ynys Mon this Friday – more about that in due course – but meanwhile the National Assembly is today discussing the Mental Health Measure following publication of the Legislation Committee’s report. Hafal is staking out the lobby with Sue Barnes, National Service User Champion, and John Gilheaney, our Young People's Information Officer – you can see their briefing here.

The worry for our Members is that the Measure certainly looks like a good thing but the devil is in the detail. The core of the Measure - the bit which could make the biggest difference – is Part 2: this section accords a legal right to secondary mental health patients to have a care plan the format and content of which may be prescribed. The trouble is that any old care plan will not do much good: some current care plans do little more than state a medical prescription, who will administer it, and that it will be reviewed in a year. To make a difference it is essential that the format and content of a decent quality care plan is clearly prescribed. The Assembly Government has already identified from service users and families what should be in an holistic, recovery-focused care plan: the 9 life areas which need to be covered are already prescibed in the Welsh Code of Practice for the Mental Health Act and these same 9 areas have been flagged as quality practice for the current Care Programme Approach by the Minister (see the diagram below). So the work on identifying what is needed has been done: now we need to see that go into the Measure not just as vague guidance but legally-required practice.

There are other useful elements in the Measure but we mustn’t be distracted from the centrality of Part 2 and the need to get its content and accompanying regulations right.

Monday 12 July 2010

Another Swan

This time not Cyril but the "Swan of Avon" as Ben Jonson poetically described Welshman William Shakespeare (see this post). I spend the weekend in Surrey in order to attend the Globe Theatre for Henry iv 1 and 2 on Saturday and Sunday night. Although a brilliant theatre it is excruciatingly uncomfortable so my advice is:- (a) don't even think about standing in the pit unless you are an impoverished teenage athlete (even that may not be enough - in a particularly bloody Titus Andronicus I saw several people pass out and get carried away on special stretchers); (b) go for a seat to the rear of the tiered galleries so you have something to lean against; (c) take a cushion.

The two Henry iv's are my favourite plays and I have seen some memorable performances defined mostly by whoever plays Falstaff. Robert Stevens in the famous Adrian Noble RSC production in Stratford (1993) remains my favourite; but Michael Gambon at the National Theatre in 2005 was a great disappointment in spite of sycophantic reviews (one critic observed in passing the small matter that you couldn't hear him properly from the cheap seats - guess where I was sitting - which I reckon is an irreconcilable defect). This weekend's productions (link here) are excellent with lots of music and action, great visual effects from costume and scenery, good diction (M Gambon please note), and a lack of undue reverence for the language and text.

My picture shows Owen Glendower discussing the division of spoils with Mortimer and Hotspur. It is historically accurate I believe that the rebels' plan had Glyndwr not only getting back his own country but also a massive and fertile chunk of the Midlands: so why didn't he turn up at the Battle of Shrewsbury which would surely have won the day for the rebel cause? Well, for all the speculation it was probably because of some bureaucratic delay: like the Assembly Government's deadlines today Glendower's promise of an army in "less than two weeks" - and whatever the real Glyndwr estimated - may have been optimistic.

The weather is sweltering and getting into central London something of an ordeal. Waiting for the train to Waterloo in Farnham station an old man points out some house sparrows in the bushes on the other side of the line. There used to be far more of those, he says, before the busybodies from the RSPB "reintroduced" sparrowhawks a few years ago: he warned them but says he just got a lot of patronising reassurances. Sparrows had been decimated since, whether I believed it or not. I said I believed it: the clue is in the name - "sparrowhawk".

Saturday 10 July 2010

Nice One Cyril

Hafal's Sports Day is the best ever with over 200 attending, including not only clients of Hafal projects but other service users with acute needs who flourish in the sunshine and get stuck in enthusiastically to the volleyball, soccer, welly-whanging and a host of other challenging activities. We resolve to extend an invitation next year to other acute services - in plenty of time so that statutory and private sector hospitals can organise accompanying staff.

We are graced by the presence of Cyril the Swan, Swansea FC's mascot, who participates decorously in photo opportunities. His famous fracas with Millwall FC's Lion in 2001 is now a distant memory. The Swan decapitated the Lion and then punted its head into the crowd; in a rare interview - he is a mute swan apparently - with Dutch television he was asked what he had said to the Lion: he confirmed that he had offered the advice "Don't f**k with the Swans". No stranger to controversy in 1999 he was fined £1,000 for dashing on to the pitch and grabbing the ref during another Millwall game; he also landed in hot water for barging over Norwich City coach Bryan Hamilton and he once hurled a pork pie on to the pitch during an FA cup tie with West Ham. However, before you wonder if Cyril is a suitable role model for our event, be assured that he has turned over a new leaf and anyway upright and responsible BBC Match of the Day viewers have voted the Swan "Best Mascot". We are to hope that his recent marriage to Cybil the Swan also heralds a more serene - if less exciting - future.

Thursday 8 July 2010


The UK's armed forces have not been much out of the news over the last few years because of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. When the violence ceased in Northern Ireland you might have hoped for a period when British troops would have been out of danger but these other conflicts seemed inexorably to fill the gap. As well as the stark and very public tragedy of deaths in battle there is another legacy of service life which is not much talked about, that is the damage which is evidently done to many servicemen and women’s mental health.

Statistics are hard to come by and there seems to be some reluctance on the part of the Ministry of Defence to come up with the figures. An important indicator is the number of veterans who end up in the criminal justice system because their lives have fallen apart after leaving the armed forces. UK armed forces only number 180,000 and yet up to 10% of the 85,000 prisoners in England and Wales are veterans and many more are in the criminal justice system. It is difficult to assess the mental health problems of veterans but one sad statistic is that more Falklands veterans have committed suicide than the number who died in the conflict itself.

It must also be assumed that Wales has a substantially greater problem than elsewhere in the UK: 5% of the UK population lives here but about 11% of the armed forces are recruited from Wales. Elfyn Llwyd MP, chair of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group, says of veterans "Unfortunately, far too many become completely cut off from society and end up in prison, probation or on parole. Some of these young people have been to hell and back and it is our responsibility to help them. Clearly, we are not spending enough time preparing our soldiers for life when they leave. More help needs to be available as a matter of course both during and immediately after active combat, regardless of whether they ask for this help." Read more via this link.

Hafal has experience of assisting veterans with serious mental illness in our services and also employs a high proportion of ex-service personnel. The consensus seems to be that the factors which make service personnel prone to mental health problems are not straightforward. There is certainly evidence that combat itself can traumatise individuals but there are also other important factors including the “work hard play hard” culture (supported by cheap alcohol) and the deliberate encouragement of dependency on teamwork which may be useful for military discipline but means that many veterans find that they cannot manage their lives independently.

I would not hold out too much hope of the Forces themselves addressing these problems. Unfortunately the public is quite starry-eyed about the British military believing it is "one thing we do well". However, those with first hand experience know that alongside much professionalism and selfless courage there is a long history of startling incompetence in the management of the armed forces. My late father visited Germany just before the war and witnessed the impressive militarisation of the Nazi state. A couple of years later in 1940 he found himself in the Royal Welch Fusiliers defending the south coast from the vantage point of Ditchling Beacon having been issued with five rounds of ammunition and seeing around him amateurish and bungling officers devoid of all common sense. Indeed he contributed to the general chaos on one occasion leading an entire motorised brigade on manoevres into a farm-yard through faulty map-reading. Thank heavens for the English Channel.

Monday 5 July 2010

Vintage Port

Hafal Gwynedd delivers a classic "Road to Recovery" event with the microbus looking well in the Summer sunshine on Porthmadog High Street. A record 72 people sign up to the Campaign calling for:-

• A new Welsh law (Measure) which gives priority to timely treatment and comprehensive care planning.
• All mental health services to be developed and delivered in response to individuals' care plans.
• New resources to bring mental health services up to scratch.

Hafal Gwynedd’s event coincides with the publication of the Assembly Legislation Committee’s report on the draft Mental Health Measure (see this link). We are very pleased to see that the Committee is calling for the Measure to include young people (excluded in the first draft) but disappointed that they did not see the need for time limits in relation to completion of assessments and care plans under Part 2 of the Measure which provides rights for people requiring secondary mental health services. In the absence of clear time limits there will need instead to be case law to establish how quickly assessments and care plans should be completed: Hafal will certainly aim to support judicial review where delays seem unreasonable so that precedents can be established. How much better if the time limits were set out clearly in the first place?

This Thursday the bus will also be at Hafal’s annual Physical Health Awareness Day which has so far attracted over 200 bookings! I freely confess that, when the suggestion for such an event was first made some years ago, I was sceptical about how many Hafal clients would want to engage in a vigorous round of sporting events but my doubts were wholly misplaced and we can scarcely manage the numbers which grow every year. There is tremendous enthusiasm for the various competitive sports on offer on the day which gives the lie to the idea that clients prefer passive and unchallenging services. I also believe there is a huge amount of work to be done to open up access to mainstream sport and recreational facilities for people with a serious mental illness – and this annual event has already inspired several of our local services to open those doors into leisure centres, rambling, and so on.

As if to prove the point while writing this post I receive news of Hafal Members who successfully completed the gruelling British Heart Foundation cycle ride around Swansea and the Gower yesterday (see picture below). I missed this year's event but have done this and some other BHF rides before (including the spectacular "Round the Harbours" Portsmouth one) in memory of my brother Alan who died from heart disease a few years back: BHF is a good charity with realistic goals and gentle and effective messages which we should all heed. Follow the link above for good advice and opportunities to get involved!

Friday 2 July 2010

At Last...

...having drawn a blank all week five sparkling mackerel take my silver foil lures (better than either traditional feathers or fancier rigs) off the rocks just North of Caerfai. I normally eat fish on Friday but had been muttering about getting some pork chops - evidently some benign force thinks I should be eating fish. The sea is seething like boiled milk and my boots are soaked from the swell at high tide...but who cares?

Serious sea fishermen/women can be rather sniffy about mackerel: some of Hafal's Members in Swansea are accomplished bass anglers (and have given me some useful tips) but I'm sure they won't grudge me my moment and nobody denies that mackerel make great eating when completely fresh.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Whale Ahoy!

North Pembrokeshire has its share of wrecks around its coast but none so improbable as the giant model whale which foundered and sank off Dinas Island during the making of the film Moby Dick in 1954 – the one with Gregory Peck as the obsessed Captain Ahab.

There are no Welshmen among the multi-national crew of the Pequod in Melville’s book, though ace harpooneer and pagan philosopher Queequeg is described as “this fine young savage – this sea Prince of Wales” because he is the first son of a cannibal king. This great American novel captures all the facets of the US, good and bad – melting pot of race and faith, pioneering adventure, paranoia and hubris in the face of shadowy enemies, you name it. The millennial, quasi-religious language and plot could only be American and indeed are hard for Europeans to engage with but worth the effort in order to understand that their rich culture is so vastly more than an exiled version of our own. Truly the States are the new Rome and the best we can ask for is to be their vassal Athens of faded glory, too often ignorantly sneering at their “lack of civilisation” while accepting their protection successively from Imperial German, Nazi, and Soviet barbarians.

Still no fish (or whales).