Wednesday 26 September 2012

Full Welsh

As we get closer to Friday's climb up Snowdon presumably the weather forecast should get more accurate. This morning on breakfast telly the prediction is for favourable weather: the Met Office says there is a chance of rain for a time on Friday, but it should otherwise be a dry if rather cloudy day. Winds will become more westerly, so it should feel a little warmer than previous days which is surely encouraging.

So what preparation should you do? Well, obviously check you've got the required kit and you've done the required paperwork (see this link) and for my part I propose to do a short walk tomorrow with fresh dubbin on my boots, enjoy a good meal Thursday evening, have an early night, and then wolf down a "full Welsh" (preferably including both laver bread and black pudding) in the morning but at least 2 hours before the climb.

I look forward to seeing the advance guard in Llanberis tomorrow evening and then the rest of the 100-strong team on Friday plus over 60 supporters cheering us on at our "Basecamp Bash" in the Electric Mountain Centre. Hafal Ymlaen!

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Buzzing With Life

I'm struggling a bit to get back into the habit of doing this Blog so, rather late, I'm pleased to report on the excellent Movin' On Up event in Wrexham last Friday...

Wearing her hat as the local Assembly Member we were pleased to see the Health Minister Lesley Griffiths who stayed a long while talking to clients over lunch as well as doing the formalities by presenting mental health service users from Hafal’s Wrexham project with Agored and City and Guilds certificates for work completed on a range of subjects.

Lesley said: "As the Assembly Member for Wrexham, I have known of the good work done by Hafal here in Wrexham for many years. Through my role as Minister for Health and Social Services, I am also familiar with the valuable work undertaken across Wales by Movin’ On Up’s’ other partners, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation. It is therefore a pleasure to attend this event and especially to be asked to present these certificates. Education and training are of central importance to a rounded approach to treating mental illness, helping us to treat the patient as a whole, rather than as a collection of symptoms.

"The Welsh Government is currently implementing the Mental Health (Wales) Measure which incorporates such an approach, placing a duty upon mental health services in Wales to agree Care and Treatment Plans together with the users of secondary mental health services. It is great to see this approach being put into effect by service users and their families on the one hand, and local professional teams in Wrexham on the other. Together they are helping to put the service user at the heart of mental health services."

Speaking of the positive impact training and education has had on her life, Wrexham Service user Naomi Challoner tells us: "Not so long ago I was quiet and wouldn’t speak openly in public. I wasn’t in a good place, my mental health was affecting all areas of my life. But then I started to work with a Community Link Service and since then I have gained confidence. I’ve done two Agored courses and my outlook on life has changed. For example I’m much more confident socially now.

"I represent Hafal’s Wrexham project at events. In June I went to Cardiff to the launch of the Care and Treatment Planning Guide which was produced by Hafal in collaboration with our Movin’ On Up partners. I spoke to Lesley at the launch. Lesley then came to one of our focus groups at a later date and remembered me. At the focus group I spoke to the Minister about how much my life has changed. She took an interest in the courses I have done and the fact that I share my experiences with others.

"I wasn’t in a good place, but now I’m buzzing with life. This is thanks to Hafal and the support I have had."

It's enough to make me glad to be back from my holiday! Well, nearly.

The event also featured instruction in hula hooping which went down very well. The convincingly energetic and proficient-looking picture of me is however a fake (I cannot tell a lie) as I couldn't keep it up at all. I may have to practise in secret in order to compete with Hafal Public Affairs chief Peter Martin who grasped the technique instantly while claiming never to have done it before.

We also enjoyed a singing session facilitated by a local choir. Remarkably within 10 minutes the brilliant instructor had us singing "Pick a Bale of Cotton" in four part harmony - eat your heart out Gareth Malone (you know, the well-spoken choir bloke off the telly).


Before I went on holiday Hafal Newport's Practice Leader Michelle Boyd, having read my post about chick lit historical novel The Thread (see here) and knowing I was off to Greece, offered to lend me Louis de Bernières' Birds Without Wings. In spite of her accurate reassurance that this was not chick lit I ungraciously turned down the offer on the grounds that I was fed up with historical novels.

Half way through my holiday I ran out of books and went hunting without much optimism in the little shelf of books left by visitors in the hotel. Lo and behold, among a lot of pulp (and, indeed, chick lit) there was the Bernières book again! So in order not to cheat fate I thought I had better read it.

The plot is very like The Thread but takes place in Anatolia so it's the Greeks who get kicked out this time rather than the Turks. I enjoyed it. It's much better written than The Thread and I finished all 600 pages in a day. However, it shares with The Thread the irritating improbability that the key characters (denizens of a remote village in the 1920s) are all enlightened, politically-correct modern liberals who get on with their neighbours easily and wear their Islamic or Greek Orthodox religions  lightly rather as if they were pick-and-choose and undemanding New Age cults.

Of course I know that there was successful cohabitation but there was also surely a great divide in religious culture which would have been absolutely visceral and could easily mutate into sectarian violence as indeed it did, just like the partition of India and, closer to home, Northern Ireland. I am afraid that it is not enlightening to pretend that ordinary people of different cultures will always get on fine if only there are not external forces at work.

As a matter of fact I did cross the divide while I was on holiday, crossing from (Greek) Samos to visit Ephesus in Turkey (see pic below). Back in Samos the next day Mrs Blog told the young man in the newspaper kiosk about our trip and he said wistfully that Ephesus was really a Greek city and it was sad that the beastly Turks had control of it - but of course we British wouldn't understand that. On the contrary, Mrs B countered, we Welsh had much the same experience building great cities like London only to see them taken over by an alien Anglo-Saxon culture. Anglo-Saxon? "Like German" explained Mrs B drawing instant comprehension and sympathy as the Greeks have one good reason to hate the Germans (the occupation of Greece in the early 1940s) and one more doubtful one (Mrs Merkel's reluctance to increase their pocket-money).

Thursday 20 September 2012

Samian Semiotics

Well, I'm back. I've been to the island of Samos to celebrate the centenary of its joining Greece in 1912 and to study three symbols of ancient civilisation.

The classically-educated (and therefore philhellene) British patriarchs who forced the Ottoman Empire to concede independence to Greece in 1830 balked at letting poor old Samos go with them because it's only a stone's throw from Asia Minor. Instead they made the Sultan give them "devo-max" autonomy under a fairly powerless "Prince" in a funny fez and exotic costume whom the Sultan appointed but who had to be a Christian - a very British solution known as the "Hegemony" but it worked quite well and the islanders enjoyed a bit of a boom making Turkish cigarettes before finally breaking free.

Long before that - in around 440 BC - history's first historian Herodotus wrote that he was interested in Samos because...

ὅτι σφι τρία ἐστὶ μέγιστα ἁπάντων Ἑλλήνων ἐξεργασμένα, ὄρεός τε ὑψηλοῦ ἐς πεντήκοντα καὶ ἑκατὸν ὀργυιάς, τούτου ὄρυγμα κάτωθεν ἀρξάμενον, ἀμφίστομον...δεύτερον δὲ περὶ λιμένα χῶμα ἐν θαλάσσῃ, βάθος καὶ εἴκοσι ὀργυιέων· μῆκος δὲ τοῦ χώματος μέζον δύο σταδίων. τρίτον δέ σφι ἐξέργασται νηὸς μέγιστος πάντων νηῶν τῶν ἡμεῖς ἴδμεν (my loose translation- they built three of the greatest constructions of the entire Greek world, namely a half-mile long tunnel [to carry water] which was built from both ends and met in the middle, ... a vast mole in deep water [to enclose their harbour], and a huge temple [to Hera])

Many people say that Herodotus made up most of what he wrote but in the last two weeks I've been down the tunnel, parked my car on the mole (in the modern Greek navy's car park thereby avoiding a two euro charge), and clambered over the very impressive temple (pic below) - so I'm convinced at any rate.

Herodotus also relates how the Samian tyrant Polycrates (an amiable hard case who was mainly responsible for the three wonders described above) was considered so lucky that he tried to make some bad luck for himself by flinging his favourite ring into the sea. However, later that day a fisherman presented him with a fish...which contained the ring which it had swallowed before being caught. Spooky but as I said I don't doubt H's veracity. I bought some good (but sadly jewellery-free) fish from the boats which looked much like the ones from 2,500 years ago but with the sensible addition of a Honda outboard.

There is also a fair amount of Byzantine stuff there but something had to give so that I could escape to the cool comfort of swimming in the Aegean. So, no, not all hard work.