Wednesday 25 December 2013

Old vs New Testament

Happy Christmas, readers, and special greetings to Hafal's Members, clients, and staff - not least those working today - and I hope you enjoy the festivities and are looking forward to a great New Year!

The weather has been distinctly Old Testament in the last few days, Noah's Ark seemingly a more useful asset than any spare stable in Bethlehem (the Welsh Bethlehem in Carmarthenshire narrowly escaped complete isolation in yesterday's flood - a curious echo of the isolation of the original Bethlehem, on the telly yesterday for seasonal celebrations but visibly hemmed in by the infamous Israeli wall).

But the forecast looks a bit better today and I am about to do a huge walk as a kind of advance justification for eating Christmas dinner, the centrepiece of which is a Coop Elmwood "Very Small Turkey" (£10) - highly commended by independent reviewers.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Just A Point

Sensible people agree that it is generally pointless and oppressive to prosecute people who use hard drugs even though this is a serious criminal offence under our law. And I agree, but we might also agree that those people, in return for leniency, owe something back to us about preventing criminality.

But, anyway, what is your view about those who supply hard drugs?

I think most people agree that we should actively pursue and prosecute people who supply illegal drugs because they destroy lives and are a major cause of problems for our society.

We know that those who supply hard drugs are committing very serious criminal offences. More than that, most people agree that drugs are a major component in serious crime in the UK and are behind many major robberies and thefts.

So, if somebody admits to using hard drugs, the smart - no, expected, surely - thing for the police to do is to pursue vigorously the people who supplied them.

But, if the users of the drugs will not cooperate then the police might reasonably consider whether to prosecute the user because they won't help?

Nigella Lawson has said that she has used hard drugs, and it would be disproportionate to prosecute her - but she must of course now supply to the police the details of those from whom she received the drugs. Nothing less would be acceptable to decent people trying to uphold the law.

Friday 13 December 2013

Annus Mirabilis

What a tenth anniversary year it has been!

Our Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign galvanised thousands of people with a serious mental illness and their families this summer.

Together they resolved to get the best out of mental health legislation and policy now and in the coming years, working individually to get a great Care and Treatment Plan - see our Guide here - and collectively to encourage politicians and mental health services to deliver their side of the bargain - see the final report of the campaign here, an important document which will resonate into next year as we continue the push for service improvements.

Meanwhile we have engaged strongly with colleagues in England to address the widespread concern about changes to benefits.

This, candidly, remains an uphill struggle not only because it is an undevolved matter on which we can bring to bear less weight than on Welsh affairs but also because there is an inexorability about benefit reform on which it is hard to get traction. Much of the limited success to date has relied on legal challenge - look back through Hafal's Facebook platform to see news on this.

And what about next year?

Two big things jump out from all the engagement (and not just through this year's campaign) with Hafal's Members and the wider community of people with a mental illness and their families, namely...

(i) Physical health - specifically exercise, diet and nutrition, and access to physical health services. Key matters on which we can do a lot to help people very practically and have some fun too, though against a background of people with a serious mental illness dying perhaps 20 years younger (the statistics vary but, appallingly, it is of this sort of order).

(ii) Treatments for serious mental illness - both medical treatment (choice, side affects, management issues, dosage, etc) and psychological treatments (sheer availability of anything but also choice, timeliness, the range between light treatment of symptoms and in-depth psychotherapy, etc).

I am really pleased to report that we have agreed with campaign partners the Mental Health Foundation and Bipolar UK that we will address both these matters vigorously next year in two distinct but related campaigns.

The two campaigns will neatly cover two crucial "life areas" out of the eight areas in the Care and Treatment Plan - and of course we will through both campaigns sustain pressure to progress the wider, holistic, and systematic approach to recovery which Hafal's Members invented and campaigned so hard to enshrine in the present law.

I now have a good long break over Christmas during which I will probably refrain from writing about mental health matters, at least directly. There are those who think almost everything is about mental health and, more worryingly, that mental health services have lots of useful things to say about our "well-being". But nobody who has read this blog will be surprised when I say I am not one of those people.


Recommended Christmas reading: Brian Sewell's two volume autobiography now in paperback (links here and here), outrageous, fearless and everybody's favourite art critic since a self-regarding posse of thirty-five art establishment worthies wrote to complain about him in 1994. This famously back-fired as Sewell mercilessly rounded on them and got a lot of support from people fed up with all the nonsense
about "conceptual" art which continues to insult our intelligence to this day.

Sewell writes elegantly and with erudition but doesn't mince his words when simple language is all that is required. He surely spoke for the nation when he described Damien Hirst's oeuvre as "f**king dreadful".

Funny and moving but not for the faint-hearted as he writes graphically about his numberless homosexual encounters and an unsettling one with a voyeuristic Salvador Dali.

Postscript 2:

"Annus mirabilis"? Literally a "wonderful year" but well known as an amusing poem by Philip Larkin, the best 20c. English poet except perhaps Thomas Hardy (widely agreed) - and, a curiosity, it is read by the best 20c. English novelist (well, I think so) Anthony Burgess here.

Friday 29 November 2013

Comet Sail

A previous comet

See the story and text of a letter which I and 49 other charity CEOs have sent to Iain Duncan Smith about the effect of the Bedroom Tax on disabled people here.

I'm not sure myself that I agree that this charge - or more accurately benefit reduction - should be called a "tax" by its opponents but that is to split hairs. Whatever you think of the wider argument about how much space benefits can reasonably pay for in people's homes it is plain wrong to take money away from vulnerable disabled people who have need for space and for whom moving house would cause disruption and dislocation.

In practice the effect of the benefit reduction for most people (who will not be able to move) will simply be to reduce their income below that which was means-assessed for them - in other words they will have less to live on than IDS's own department thinks they need as a minimum. No, I don't understand either.

Besides there is more to it even than that. Retrospective law is generally regarded as oppressive and unfair because people couldn't obviously know the rules before they were dreamt up. I suggest that similarly it's not fair to tell people who are settled somewhere, often for many years, in a home which they chose - or had chosen for them - according to the rules which applied at the time...

"No, sorry, you shouldn't have been allowed that home and now you will have to get out - or you can stay but you won't have enough money to live on".

Just how long would the list be of things which the Government might reasonably cut first before they got to this?


How long indeed?

Apparently the comet in today's news known as "Ison" (story here) sailed "close" to the Sun yesterday i.e. only a million miles from it. We are 93 million miles from the Sun, luckily I guess, though I can't help thinking 80 million miles might be more comfortable and permit year-round short-sleeves, sea-bathing and long cocktails?

Now just pick any of the distances mentioned to get the length of the list.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Parthian Shot

It was uplifting to see the parting shot of the Welsh public services Ombudsman Peter Tyndall who, after years of fighting the corner of people trying to make sense of getting help simultaneously from both health and social services, said the apparently unsayable and suggested the two should be joined up - not just talk to each other, not just "share budgets", but merge into a single structure which would then be unambiguously responsible for vulnerable people.

I have met Peter several times and he was always attentive to Hafal's advice about assisting people with a serious mental illness. He's a wise man with his own mind and we should listen to him.

This is what he said...

"We need to be much better at delivering integrated packages of care than we are at the moment and that will need structural change. Many more people are living in the community and receiving support... Often that support is coming from private or voluntary bodies; on the other hand, you have nursing care from the district nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists and so on. We need to look at that as a single joined-up entity instead of the fragmentation we currently have.

"It's all very well to say to people to share budgets and so on, but why do you have separate budgets in the first place? Why do you have separate agencies in the first place? I think that's a historical accident and it needs to be corrected."

Amen to that, though not really an historical accident, I would say. The origins of social care as a separate undertaking were not accidental but a worthy effort by the post war state to see caring for people as a wider mission than treating health problems - and of course much good has been done as a consequence. I am not in the business of attacking social workers.

But here is a difficult truth. Citizens never asked for a separate social care agency and to this day they don't understand the point of having separate health and social care structures.

The argument for separate agencies has been made strongly over the years - not by consumers but rather by well-meaning busybodies, not least mental health organisations who to this day wring their hands about the distinction between "social" and "medical" models of mental health care. In practice patients do not understand this argument and find it bewildering, not because they are stupid but because these false distinctions have no relevance to the real lives of people seeking help to recover from their illness.

In fact a mistake was made from the outset (with the benefit of hindsight) and it would have been much more practical - and make much more sense to the public - to have broadened the concept of health (and so also the mission of health services) to embrace social care needs, child and adult protection, etc. This would also remove much of the stigma and public suspicion about social work.

And there is now an opportunity to put this right as I have previously pointed out here.

Mr Tyndall has gone to Ireland to be their Ombudsman - good luck to him and them - and we are left with his advice ringing in our ears. The Welsh Government has reiterated its policy of encouraging cooperation but not supporting structural change. But we've tried that for years and it doesn't work.


"Parting shot"? Pub bores with a classical education will tell you that the origin of this expression is the practice of ancient Parthian (Parthian = parting, geddit?) cavalrymen pausing as they ride away from an enemy to fire arrows back.

Complete nonsense, of course, invented by some wind-up merchant in Victorian times. "Parting" just means "departing" as any fule kno.

Friday 15 November 2013

Up 4 It!

At the launch yesterday

Excellent launch for our pioneering new "Up4It!" Early Intervention Service in S E Wales - in partnership with the Aneurin Bevan LHB. Thank you Big Lottery for the grant and thanks too to the Minister for backing this tough and demanding initiative.

Nothing controversial about educating all young people (or all people) about mental health (but that won't stop people developing serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder); nothing much controversial about supporting people with an established history of serious mental illness; but intervening at the earliest stages of psychosis, especially with children, is difficult ground on which we will have to tread with great care.

But then the whole idea is to combine sensitive clinical help with a determination to sustain young people's engagement with normal processes of education and getting into work, etc: hence this uniquely close partnership with the LHB.

There is also a very important, if secondary, consideration, namely the argument for such a service in terms of health economics. Purely preventive health initiatives have their place though they are notoriously elusive in terms of proving cost-effective. This is especially true in mental health - for the simple reason stated above that the common serious illnesses, which use up 80% or more of mental-health-specific resources, are not preventable by provision of advice to the public. However, the potential for saving resources through early intervention is another matter!

But, as I say, that would be secondary to saving lives literally and qualitatively...

Health and Social Services Minister Mark Drakeford AM, Professor Siobhan Mclelland - Vice Chair Aneurin Bevan Health Board, me, Team Leader Early Intervention Service Shane Anthony and John Baird, Consultant Psychologist

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Guest, Keen, and Nettlefold

Foghorn Leghorn, the Deep South's most famous free-range rooster - contented...but fictional

I have happy memories of keeping chickens in my back yard. I especially remember three indulged layers called Guest, Keen, and Nettlefold (I lived in the steel heartland of the Northern Valleys then) which Mrs Blog would bring into the dining room after meals so that they could peck clean our plates, an eccentricity which meant we didn't see some dinner-party guests ever again.

Anybody who has kept hens knows that they won't lay eggs - or they lay far fewer eggs - if they are unhappy or distressed. Further, birds being grown for the table won't put on weight so quickly if they are unhappy. Nothing very surprising about that really.

And yet people are surprised to read today (see the story here) that mass-produced, caged birds are happier than free-range ones which endure all the anxieties of bullying, accidents, and not getting to the food on time.

But it's not surprising. That's why free range eggs and chicken cost much more than the industrially-produced ones which are happier and therefore more economical.

So ignore the millionaire foodies who wring their hands and try to intimidate poorer folk into buying expensive but actually less "welfare friendly" food products. Instead just go about your shopping with a clear conscience and wonder at the strangeness of life.

Monday 11 November 2013

The Haftas

Hafal Wrexham - best film

Rather a hectic weekend so only now getting around to considering Hafal's 2013 "It's a Wrap!" Conference last Thursday in Builth Wells. Quite a day with over 200 present and a vast range of activities including music workshops, Tai Chi, and user and carer rallies. A really successful event thanks to Emma and all the many others who ensured our guests had an informative and fun time.

And then of course there were "The Haftas" - an awards ceremony celebrating the work of filmmakers who took part in this year's Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign. This involved a quick change for me from Hafal-branded smart(ish) casual to formal black tie in order to hand over the rather classy awards.

Go to our very own channel democratically known as Hafal Telly to see all the films and a short film from the event too which gives some clues about what we'll be up to next year - more about that soon.

Jake - for coolness under fire - see the out-takes scraped from the cutting room floor here

To read the Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign report go to this link.

Company Sec Nicola Thomas orders a G&T from a passing waiter

Wednesday 30 October 2013


Hallowe'en reclaimed by Hafal! See more fantastic pictures from Hafal Bridgend's party here. I particularly like the look of the cakes...


I have commented on quite a few novels with a mental illness connection and here's another one...

A M Homes' May We Be Forgiven will disturb some people with a portrayal of a violent secondary character whose lawyers assert mental illness as a defence - a matter never resolved.

But don't be put off: the key character is his brother and the novel describes his progress from guilt, repression and loneliness to self-forgiveness, engagement with other people, and happiness - all the while encompassing a biting satire on modern America. Vastly funnier than the cheap shots fired at the US by British comedians who clearly don't get the place at all.

These quasi-religious but in fact earthy and relevant American novels have no match in UK or other anglophone literature because they dare to be redemptive and idealistic.

Definitely good for your mental health - I found it uplifting after the trough of my recent physical ill-health and attendant low mood.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

National Cat Day

National Cat Day, our friends in the Mental Health Foundation tell us (follow links from Hafal's popular Facebook platform), along with the information that your pet can be good for your mental health.

I agree, although in the case of cats it isn't altruism on their part, just self-interest in comfortable interaction - as illustrated above.

Calon Lân

Great interview on Calon FM with Hafal's staff who spoke about Hafal’s campaigning work, the Mental Health (Wales) Measure, and our Big Lottery-funded Short Steps project, among other topics.

Especially good to be given time to explain in simple terms the symptoms of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Also an eloquent exposition by our staff of how the Mental Health Measure came to pass because of Hafal Members' pressure.

To listen to the interview go to this link.

I'm off to North Wales myself tomorrow - a long drive and an interesting test of my recovery from the sciatic nightmare which engulfed me last summer. I'll let you know...

Saturday 26 October 2013

Gone Nutting

A little harmless law-breaking does wonders for your soul (or for your "well-being" if you must - but let's steer clear of that mental-health-speak) by reassuring yourself that you are a free spirit and enjoy independence of action which transcends even the social contract in our democratic state.

Cripes, I hear you say, where is he going on this one - announcing an anarcho-syndicalist manifesto? Or allegiance to a new Caliphate?

Not quite, reader, let me explain...

It is a fantastic year for chestnuts - a profusion of prickly casings and big, conker-sized nuts within. Mrs Blog is competing hard with a local Chinese family and the canny Polish population in West Wales to gather in the nuts available on publicly-accessible National Trust parkland. I suppose this is technically theft as I point out to Mrs B (to snorts of derision).

However, I am too lazy to pick over the same territory and so take a further moral leap (past a sign officiously forbidding public access) and then a physical one (over an 8 foot deer fence - extremely carefully in view of my back trouble) to find a remote, natural sweet chestnut orchard where you can pick up as many as you want in a minute or two - Shangri-La (or should I say Avalon?).

And what to do with the nuts? Roasting on a fire is traditional and hard to beat (prick them before roasting and serve with a glass of sherry: that's exactly what I'm doing as I write this) and I have previously mentioned using them to stuff the Christmas bird.

Mrs Blog also puts about 4 oz of cooked chestnut as an extra layer for each lb of potatoes in a Dauphinoise recipe (see this standard version not including the nuts of course - that's pure Mrs B): sheer luxury, kind to your wallet, and seasoned delightfully with the recollection of mild criminality.


My father's last words were "Gone nutting" - scrawled on a note and left on the kitchen table. It was doubtless the strain of illicitly climbing a farm gate (aged 85) into a neighbour's field to collect hazelnuts which caused his heart to finally give up. A good way to go in many respects and it would have pleased him as a lawyer with anti-establishment tendencies that he was technically both trespassing and thieving at the time.

Not that he had a spotless criminal record - he was done in 1980 for refusing to pay his TV licence during the famous campaign for S4C - but that is another story.

Although it occurs to me that perhaps we should be campaigning for a posthumous pardon...

Friday 25 October 2013

It's a Wrap!

A last call for anybody who wants to attend the finale of our Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign - the "It's a Wrap!" event in Builth Wells on 7 November. It's almost booked out but there are a few places left if you are quick - contact

Goodies on offer include sessions on...

* Getting the most out of your Care and Treatment Plan: an interactive session to help you get a plan that meets your needs

* Carers’ Forum: have your say about what Hafal can do to improve the lives of mental health carers

* Short Steps towards work: hear how our Big Lottery-funded programme has helped prepare mental health service users for the workplace

* Housing Forum: explore how we can resolve the housing-related problems of mental health service users

* Wrap! music workshops

* Users’ Rally: help us to set our campaigning objectives for the year ahead

* Gaining financial skills for life: Get top tips from the Citizens Advice Bureau about how to manage your money

* Psychological therapies today: a brief look at psychological therapies and how they can help people with a serious mental illness towards recovery

* Official Screening: Lights! Camera! ACTION! The Movie (Director's Cut)

* The Haftas (Award Ceremony) (don't ask - but I fear I have some kind of humiliating role to play in this)

You can also visit the It’s a Wrap! newsroom (digital media workshop) and help the Editor produce a round-up of news from the day, have a go at Tai Chi, hear about the latest research from the National Centre for Mental Health, and talk to our partners in the Mental Health Foundation, Bipolar UK and Diverse Cymru.

And, if have time left, you can visit our interactive Exhibition Zone where you can engage with staff and volunteers at a series of displays showcasing Hafal’s work across the 22 counties of Wales.

Oh, and it goes without saying, the trusty VW campervan will be loyally parked outside, no doubt in the rain, looking forward to a loving wax and polish before hibernation in our lock-up...or will she be needed this winter for further duties?

Incidentally she features prominently on our revised Facebook header, set in a sunny but autumnal Tenby - worth stretching the blog template a little to show you here...

Friday 18 October 2013


Generating electricity since 1889

Many of Hafal's clients - both users and carers - suffer disproportionately from increasing fuel bills. This is because many of them have low incomes and therefore heat and light represents a substantial proportion of their unavoidable expenditure. It costs just as much to keep warm whether you are rich or poor.

So what about the current hikes in fuel bills which the press and politicians are so exercised about?

I won't enter the debate about whether an enforced price freeze would be sensible or effective - you can't do anything about it right now.

Shopping around for cheaper prices is worth doing although there is some doubt about whether that is wise during the time when suppliers are matching each others rises; if you go for a variable rate you may just find that your new supplier puts up prices a few days later.

Certainly worth looking for a fixed rate - quite quickly before all the rates rise - and the best advice on this can be obtained from that annoying but ultimately informative telly consumer pundit Martin Lewis - follow this link. Incidentally this website is what I use for advice on just about anything to do with savings, utilities, etc - it's an excellent one-stop shop.

And don't forget the other side of the equation, namely reducing consumption through insulation, smart timing of heating devices, etc - if you haven't addressed those opportunities quite aggressively already you might be surprised by what you can save. But be wary of very expensive options - you might never recover the cost of new windows or a "fuel-efficient" boiler for example.

The price hikes have also drawn attention to the hidden costs loaded onto fuel bills by successive governments which have got nothing to do with market forces or the wholesale cost of economic fuels but are imposed in the name of the environment - or, to put it another way, as a subsidy for opportunistic businesses and rich people who produce ludicrously expensive electricity using windmills turning unpredictably in the wind and photocells catching those scant rays of sunshine which occasionally strike these islands.

It must be a matter of doubt whether these cranky projects make any difference to global warming in the context of massive industrialisation of the emerging third world economies. But meanwhile poor people are being beggared by the hidden costs - about £130 a year at present and this will rise to £270.

If the cost was worthwhile it would be fairer to raise the money through taxation. But some realists suggest saving the money and bringing forward commissioning of nuclear capacity on the grounds that it's clean, cheap and reliable - and Chinese businesses are queuing up to build the power stations for us.

If anybody feels strongly about having to pay these subsidies through fuel bills take a look at the Soaraway Sun's campaign here.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Institutional Bias

Pen-y-Fal hospital 1851-1996

Disturbing revelations this morning about the running down of mental health services for people with a serious mental illness in England - see the story on our Facebook platform here. Beds have been closed and those that remain are rammed so that patients frequently have to travel long distances to get a bed (extremely distressing in an emergency) or indeed don't get one at all.

Common sense tells us that you always need spare capacity - 15% is about right - because admissions can't be planned: that's the nature of mental illness. But in England at least 1,711 beds have been closed since April 2011 (277 between April and August 2013) - a staggering 9% reduction. And, remember, this is in the context of a protected NHS budget in England.

How can this be? Well, we all know, don't we? Mental health remains the Cinderella service. When health budgets come under pressure managers feel much less ill at ease if they cut mental health than they do cutting other services. And why is that? Not because they are wicked people but they assume rightly or wrongly that their political masters and the public care much less about mental health services.

And yet...

Care Minister Norman Lamb tells us "There is an institutional bias in the NHS against mental health and I am determined to end this". Good for him for being so candid and let us hope he gets the message across to NHS managers that the unfair treatment of these patients has to stop.

So, can Wales smile complacently from the sidelines? I fear not. As in England successive Ministers have proclaimed varying degrees of priority for mental health services and there is useful legislation and many of the right words in the new strategy Together for Mental Health.

But there is nothing to suggest that Welsh mental health services are superior to those in England - indeed it is pretty obvious that modernisation in terms of hospital care lags behind - not the same thing as bed capacity but still a significant deficiency.

One of the weaknesses of the Welsh strategy is that it is light on prescribed levels of service - ie concrete things you can count in terms of what is available. Rather the strategy concentrates on "outcomes" ie targets in terms of improvement of mental health. Nothing wrong with that but it may not be enough to persuade hard-nosed NHS and council commissioners and providers to give due weight to resourcing mental health services.

It is a kind of acknowledgement of this that the Welsh Government remains committed to ring-fencing NHS mental health funding - a crude, unsexy instrument but, in the end, easily the most important part of the Welsh strategy if you are a realist. We badly need to make the ring-fence work effectively through transparent reporting - it remains near impossible to hold the Local Health Boards to account for the ring-fence, something we must focus on relentlessly.

You bet mental health services will be run down if we don't keep right on the case.

Monday 14 October 2013

Llanelli Beach

The very best thing for my bad back is to keep moving, especially walking and swimming. So off to Llanelli yesterday to knock out 10,000 paces on the sea-front at what I didn't know was called "Llanelli Beach" although I have visited many times before.

Everybody is smiling and happy, not just because they always are in this curious bit of urban Carmarthenshire but because the underdog Scarlets unexpectedly walloped Harlequins the day before in the Heineken Cup.

We had lunch in the Coast Path Visitor Centre - about £5, not bad and any deficiency made up for by the view over to the Gower (left), the coast up towards Kidwelly (right) and the Whiteford Point Lighthouse just visible on the horizon (middle), which I mean to visit some time - it is accessible at low tide, remarkably as it seems so far out when the water is in.

The water is very clean these days and there is commendably little modern detritus on the shore but a huge quantity of industrial debris including furnace clinker and building materials - I liked the rounded "boulders" in which you can see laid bricks...

Swimming for now is confined to my Health Club and in any case never suited to this spot...


Just finished Ban This Filth! Letters from the Mary Whitehouse Archive , a cheap shot editorially (because sneering and dismissive) at the legendary clean-up-TV campaigner but worth reading for what Mrs W actually wrote.

It comes as a surprise to find how flirtatious she was with her opponents in the BBC and elsewhere - evidently a sensuous sort of person who knew what she was talking about when it came to "adult" themes.

Of course much of what she said, especially about homosexuality, looks other-worldly or prejudicial now but her attack on pornography still resonates. She didn't see it from a feminist perspective but rather from concern about the corruption of young people - which is definitely the leading argument nowadays. Incidentally she commanded a lot of support in Wales where the influence of Nonconformism was still strong at that time.

I suppose she represents a classic case of being anti-intellectual and, though she was wrong about many things, she comes out rather well in exposing the self-righteousness of establishment intellectualism.

Interesting that Malcolm Muggeridge took up her cause in the 1970s and was widely mocked for it. He had visited the Soviet Union in the 1930s and reported what he saw - millions of people being deliberately and unnecessarily starved to death. Most soi-disant intellectuals of that time rubbished what he said - and their delusional conviction carried on in spite of the evidence until all but a few "tankies" grasped the reality as the unmistakable news came in from East Berlin (1953), Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968).

We really do need people to challenge the "intellectuals" and one of the qualifications for doing so is being prepared to be ridiculed.

Muggeridge is no hero, mind. He was a spectacularly brazen and persistent botherer of women in his private life while espousing Mrs Whitehouse, Mother Teresa, etc in public...

Friday 11 October 2013

Dynamic and Flourishing

Two classicists and our Assembly liaison specialist Junaid Iqbal

A great day yesterday at the Senedd where we celebrated World Mental Health Day in style with a crowd of 70 plus including the Minister of Health Mark Drakeford AM, many other Assembly Members, dignitaries and user and carer activists - all there to mark the conclusion of our best ever campaign Lights! Camera! ACTION! run by mental health service users and carers and supported by Hafal, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation.

The Minister tells me that he is also a classicist (I didn't know that) which prompts me to suggest that with our infinitely relevant and applicable (as opposed to completely impractical and irrelevant) education together we could sort out all the problems of mental health services. He is too polite to point out that he went on to qualify as a Social Worker (and the rest - he's a Professor of Social Policy at Cardiff University) whereas I am still winging it on Horace, Euripides, and a gradually receding recollection of irregular Greek verbs (note to self - must relearn these).

At today's event we presented the Minister with our Campaign Report which points local services and national policy makers to good practice in mental health service delivery across Wales – and tells them what changes we want to see in services. The message is there's more to do – including...

• We want all service users to have an excellent and ambitious Care and Treatment Plan which identifies long and short-term goals in all relevant areas of life

• We also want a turnaround in the approach of commissioners so that all services are planned in response to needs identified in Care and Treatment Plans (as opposed to the other way round)

• We need a Welsh solution for giving control of resources to service users and carers

• We also need to evolve new policy and legislation in the next 5-10 years not only to provide greater empowerment to service users and carers but to address inequalities in all areas of life including training, employment, physical health, housing, etc.

A huge thank you to the thousands of people who took part in the Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign including...

• The 2000 Members of the partner organisations

• Over 3000 service users and carers using partners' services who took part in local film projects or made individual film blogs at the projects

• Many thousands of people who attended the 22 county events, the launch of the campaign by Health and Social Services Minister Mark Drakeford at the Assembly, and the Royal Welsh Show event

• Over 5000 people who followed and interacted with the campaign via our online social media channels (including over 2000 new followers of the campaign on Hafal’s Facebook platform)

• The 40,000 people who have received a copy of the Care and Treatment Planning guide (provided on request to service users, carers and professionals).

A big thank you too to Emma and the rest of the crew who put on such a spectacular show yesterday.

See more reportage and pictures on the campaign's dynamic and flourishing Facebook platform.

Not sure why I was remonstrating with the charming and blameless lady from ITV?!

Animal Magic

Finally got round to downloading pictures from my holiday last week. I am still angry at missing the great sunshine this summer (how quickly will the rest of you forget how fantastic it was and revert to grumbling about the weather?) and it was a bit of a challenge to find colourful subjects to photograph now that most of the floral variety has passed.

But try these from the beach at Caerfai, a mile south of St David's...

And see my David Attenborough-style film of a heron taking off and landing at the other end of the beach. Twitchers will no doubt tell me it's common but I haven't seen a heron hunting at low tide like this...

Meanwhile back home we are dealing with two other life-forms - cats and the fleas which have infested them on and off throughout the aforementioned torrid summer.

In the old days you could buy a deadly spray from the hardware shop (was it DDT or Agent Orange, not sure?) one idle squirt of which would eliminate the whole teeming mass of nasty insects and they wouldn't come back for months.

Today the odds have evened up considerably. The feeble chemical still legally available (some kind of herbal dilution - so that's not going to work, is it?) is virtually a waste of time (the chemist admits frankly). The best approach is to apply the Dyson meticulously every two days, treat the moggies themselves with one of those spot chemicals on the back of their necks, and let them go around attracting and so killing the remaining fleas.

This takes some nerve as all one's instincts are to banish the cats from the soft furnishings: ours were evicted to the top of the freezer until we learnt the hard way that they can help you clear up the problem...


We learn today that elephants are smarter than monkeys - see the story here - which has surprised the scientists. Well it doesn't surprise me nor surely anybody else who learnt all about animals from Johnny Morris on the BBC in the 1960s and 70s.

Morris (a Newport man) understood that animals are profoundly boring for the most part so he made them interesting by giving them funny voices and a script which he delivered himself. Quite accurately his monkey voice and script made the brutes appear idiotic and annoying whereas the elephants were a bit slow but sage and measured.

Needless to say the Beeb has destroyed the archive of these brilliant shows and we now endure an avalanche of humourless nature programmes in which the animals have nothing useful to say but go about their business rather disgustingly - mainly eating (or having sex with) each other and when they are not doing that they are defecating. I know, that is nature, but I'm turning over.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Onwards and Upwards

Here's a sneak preview of some of the conclusions of our User and Carer Panel in their report at the end of this summer's Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign (to be published tomorrow when it is launched at our World Mental Health Day event attended by the Minister and other AMs and dignitaries along with a big crowd of user and carer activists - more on this in due course)...

The feedback demonstrates how as service users and carers we feel that while there is sound legislation and policy in place, now is the time to follow through and deliver responsive and empowering services...

• We want all service users to have an excellent and ambitious Care and Treatment Plan which identifies long and short-term goals in all relevant areas of life.

• We also want a turnaround in the approach of commissioners so that all services are planned in response to needs identified in Care and Treatment Plans (as opposed to the other way round).

But more radical change is needed even in the medium term. We cannot simply rely on the implementation of the new law and policy to address the huge inequalities faced by people with a mental illness and their carers...

• We need a Welsh solution for giving control of resources to service users and carers and this is part of a wider debate about access and choice when it comes to health and social services.

• We also need to evolve new policy and legislation in the next 5-10 years not only to provide greater empowerment to service users and carers but to address inequalities in all areas of life including training, employment, physical health, housing, etc

... so they are truly thinking ahead!

There is plenty more in their report about the immediate challenges of implementing the Measure and the Strategy but they are dead right to point out as well that the present legislation and high level policy, sound though they may be as far as they go, will not be sufficient to get us onwards and upwards over the coming decade.

Let's hear it one more time - we will never achieve really excellent services until we leave behind the "take it or leave it" approach and give users and carers choice which keeps providers on their toes.

A Welsh solution is needed for this which will have to embrace more than just mental health services. Current arrangements for choice - really only in social care, not health - are limited and very hard to navigate.

But the universal, legally-supported Care and Treatment Plans offer an ideal platform for choice and control by patients - so why not pilot an approach to patient choice and control in the mental health field?

It would make a change to see mental health services take the lead instead of stumbling along behind...

Wednesday 25 September 2013


Some of what I missed this summer

So, I have been back in work for a couple of weeks on light duties, the pain from my back largely relieved but a pale shadow of my former self - not that I've lost a lot of weight but I feel drained of physical energy and somewhat mentally flattened too. Not helped by having to wear a heart monitor for a week - 7 weeks after the previous cardiac event (you wait 2 weeks in England, incidentally).

I am now going to take some holidays which will hopefully reinvigorate me - "rejuvenate" might be a better word as I felt about 100 years old in the worst of the last few weeks, maybe 70 now, and look forward to lowering that to my real age (54) and not stop there but move on down to (let's not be too ambitious here) 35ish? I am optimistic and that will get me there.

There were no surprises when I got back to the office because I've been well briefed but it's good to report excellent continuing progress with substantial new services developing (more later on these) in spite of the continuing squeeze on money in the wider economy.

We've also had our best campaign ever - Lights! Camera! ACTION! - with the last of 22 local events tomorrow in Ammanford and culminating in a big celebration on World Mental Health Day on 10 October where we will return to the Senedd and present our report to Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM along with assembled dignitaries and user and carer activists. See the amazing variety of film blogs and other reportage on our flourishing Facebook platform here.

In due course I'll give you some privileged advance sight of some of what we have found out during the summer but for now a reminder of what the campaign has been about. We have been calling for...

• high quality Care and Treatment Plans for everyone receiving secondary mental health services

• full choice and control for service users on the content of Care and Treatment Plans

• prompt delivery of quality mental health services in response to those Plans and to the needs of people with a serious mental illness using primary care services

• further reform of services which increases service user and carer control over the choice and commissioning of services

• a longer-term move towards full equality in Welsh society for service users and carers including equal access to health and social care, housing, income, education, and employment.

The "Lights! Camera! ACTION! user and carer panel:

It's giving nothing away from our panel of users and carers' final report to say that the great thing about the campaign is how it has been about achieving these things (especially the first two) not just demanding them and making the argument for them.

Underpinning this has been the distribution of a staggering 40,000 of our Care and Treatment Planning Guide - that's in response to specific requests not sending them out unsolicited. And we are following this up with a brilliant training course for users and carers - again, more about this soon.

We may truly find ourselves entering a time when users and carers, as individuals and through their own organisation Hafal and our partners Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation, are leading the way in modernising - revolutionising even - mental health services - let's hope the politicians and professionals can keep up!


The Daily Telegraph has been publishing a series of letters arguing about where the remains of Richard III should be reburied. Much of this has been about the dispute between Leicester (near where he was poleaxed by Sir Rhys ap Thomas and subsequently buried at the time in what later became a parking area) and York (his home territory).

Other claimants include Westminster Abbey (where his nemesis Henry VII - that's Henry Tudor - and many other monarchs lie) and even the RCs have weighed in suggesting a tomb in Westminster Cathedral (home of English Catholicism) on the basis that he was a Catholic. Well, of course he was but proper Anglicans - not the wishy-washy ones around today - would say that the Church of England is the true inheritor of Richard's faith because the Reformation wasn't about a breakaway faction from Rome but a revolutionary continuation of England's ancient church when Rome had lost the plot.

You might wonder why any of them should want to celebrate and dignify this bad man who stole the throne and murdered the Princes in the Tower? Time is evidently a great healer. Perhaps in 500 years time they will all be squabbling about who can rebury Jimmy Savile with pomp and ceremony?

But some of us have longer memories and the Telegraph published this letter in today's paper...


Put him back in that car park – an appropriately humiliating resting place for a tyrannical infanticide. Thank heavens Henry Tudor won at Bosworth and ended the Middle Ages. We haven’t looked back.

Bill Walden-Jones

You can find it on-line too here along with other letters on the matter plus a contrary comment posted this morning...

The letter from Bill Walden-Jones is perhaps the most obtuse that I have read in a long time. I dare say there will be a riposte or three winging their way to this newspaper ere long.

...which I publish here in a spirit of providing the scrupulous balance which readers of this Blog have come to expect. But you could gently remonstrate with me if I ever write "ere long" other than satirically.

That car park: the cross marks where he was found (and should go back):

Henry VII's tomb in Westminster Abbey, a fitting memorial to this great Welsh king who founded the modern state:

And, lest we forget, here's Sir Rhys ap Thomas' more understated but dignified resting place . You can see him in St Peter's, Carmarthen, but you really need a step-ladder if you want to look the celebrated regicide in the eye:

Thursday 29 August 2013

Marking Time...

Apologies for the lack of posts and I owe you an update which I'm afraid is basically about me...

Following my heart problems last month (now almost resolved - probably an arrhythmia only and recent tests show the organ itself in reasonable working order) I developed a slipped disc now exactly 4 weeks ago which has completely prostrated me.

Those who have experienced these things will know that very acute pain can be alleviated but only with painkillers which themselves have severe narcotic side effects so long as you require a lot of them - and remain debilitating until you can more or less abandon them except for the purposes of getting to sleep for example. I am only now gradually emerging from a fog of dulled pain and dulled intellectual functioning - and hence only now getting around to this Blog again.

So, it would be gratifying to be able to report to you about interesting books I have read and internet studies which I have undertaken while unwell but the effect of the drugs - essential though they are - has been that I have been unable even to read newspapers, still less actively assist my colleagues in Head Office, though of course I have kept in (fairly passive!) contact with them especially about key matters.

Not that this should cause too much concern to those who care for Hafal because our excellent management and wider staff team obviously do not depend on me to progress the organisation's business and this they have been doing with their usual vigour - see for example the amazing range of activity reflected on our Facebook pages which I have found most cheering - albeit from the sidelines.

I am hoping to get back into work soon but it will take time - please bear with me!

Wednesday 31 July 2013

"Lights!" Sheds Light

I'm busy catching up with Hafal's summer campaign having been preoccupied recently with my own health problems...

This seems a good moment to reflect on the campaign so far and consider what we are learning from it (and thanks to Hafal's public affairs chief Peter Martin for briefing me). But first a reminder about what we are up to.

The Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign is being led by mental health service users and carers, capturing their experiences of using mental health services and how effectively the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010 and the new mental health strategy are being delivered.

The Campaign was launched on 9th May 2013 by Mark Drakeford A.M., the Minister for Health and Social Services, and representatives from each of the 4 main political parties also spoke at the event in support of the campaign: Ken Skates (Labour), Mark Isherwood (Conservative), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) and Kirsty Williams (Liberal Democrats).

So far our mobile studio has broadcast from 12 local events across South Wales and has now moved up to cover 7 North Wales counties during the high summer before heading south again to complete all 22 counties by the end of September.

Service users and carers have been talking openly and honestly at the events, many through film blogs, about their experiences and how services have either helped or hindered their own personal recovery. Also as part of the Campaign service users and carers are completing a feedback questionnaire asking about their experiences of primary and secondary mental health services.

A wide range of issues have already been highlighted by people who use mental health services, including:

• the importance of peer support in a person’s recovery

• the need for people to have somewhere secure to live

• the importance of people having greater control and more power over how services are planned and delivered

• the need for effective care and treatment planning

However, one particular message is emerging already from the campaign, and this is the need for psychological (talking) therapies to be made more widely and readily available for people with a serious mental illness, and for easier and faster access to these services. For example:

• Nigel from Newport spoke about the shortage of trained practitioners, and how it wasn’t tea and sympathy he needed but good professional therapy to help him and others with similar needs move on in their personal recovery.

• Steve from Torfaen spoke about how his psychiatrist referred him to see a psychologist but that he had to wait for over 2 years before he got an appointment to see one.

The feedback sheets also show that for many people the only option they are being offered is prescribed medication, despite a clear need having been identified for some form of specialist psychological intervention.

The Lights! Camera! ACTION! user and carer panel

So what should our response to this be? Our campaign service user and carer panel will respond formally at the end of the campaign but the feedback so far demonstrates once again that all people with a serious mental illness should have access to a range of psychological therapies. Specifically mental health services should ensure...

• routine availability of a range of psychological therapies for everyone diagnosed with a psychotic illness

• a priority for access to psychological therapies for those in greatest need

• psychological therapies for people diagnosed with a psychotic illness are available and widely used within mental health units and hospitals and becomes a standard provision

• psychological therapies begin as soon as possible for people diagnosed with a psychotic illness, and as a minimum follow NICE guidelines

• As well as making available access to specialist psychological interventions, a full range of psychological interventions are made available for people diagnosed with a psychotic illness to meet their primary care needs also (e.g. anxiety disorders, depression, etc.)

Meanwhile we have learnt a lot about implementation of the Care and Treatment Plans prescribed by the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010 which established a platform for people to have a greater say and more control over a range of care and treatment services they receive. Feedback suggests that more people who use secondary mental health services now have a fully completed Care and Treatment Plan. However, the quality and usefulness of those plans still varies across Wales.

Training is key to this, and not just training for the professionals. Take a look at the training course How to Get a Great Care and Treatment Plan that has been developed for delivery to mental health service users and carers by Hafal and its partners Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation. We look forward to this training being widely rolled out across Wales to help drive up the quality of people’s Care and Treatment Plans.

Friday 26 July 2013

Welsh Air-Conditioning

Mrs Blog's garden which I have been contemplating now that the cardiologist has allowed me out

An up-date: symptoms permitting I will be back in the office next week. I look forward to catching up and resuming this Blog's commentary on the wider world of Hafal and mental health...

During the fierce heat and my worst moments of illness a week ago Mrs B filled two pop bottles with water, froze them in the freezer, and then played a blow-heater (on "fan only" setting) at them and onto me on my sick bed

Thursday 18 July 2013

Important New Comparative Study Of European Healthcare Systems

Dr Rhys inspects the heart monitoring machine

I'm still "under the doctor" as they say around here, in fact under an orgy of them as the specialists move in to prod and poke.

The good news from my cardiologist after a thorough exam last night is that some kind of electrical fault is most likely causing my heart to fire erratically, information which does not of itself relieve the symptoms of breathlessness and fainting but at least removes the sensation that I am about to meet my Maker or else enter eternal oblivion (take your choice).

As a classical philosopher and admirer of Montaigne I don't think I'm particularly afraid of death but I can report that its seeming imminence over the last week was...distracting.

As I write I'm wired up to a contraption which records every flicker of life in my mortal carapace and will be compared with a diary which I am instructed to keep about what grindingly mundane activities I'm up to and how I minutely feel, all in interminable and tedious detail - exactly like what everybody puts on their Twitter page.

Apart of course from Hafal's always relevant and useful tweets to be found here.

This Blog is supposed to be at least partly corporate and not just about me but I can't yet do justice to the much more exciting things happening in Hafal - see the links to the right especially our Facebook platform which has no rival anywhere for the amazing film reportage of people with a mental illness and their families. Humbling stuff.

I shall return, as General MacArthur said sucking on his corn-cob pipe.


There again I should really get something in about health policy etc so try this...

Comparing notes on Skype yesterday my older brother who lives in Spain reports an interesting conversation with his GP who has practised across Europe. He told my brother that patients require different things to satisfy them according to where they live.

Apparently he found that British patients want to be told that there is nothing wrong with them and to be sent on their way; by contrast the Spanish (perhaps because they are still excited to get free stuff from their relatively new healthcare system) want to be given lots of different pills in exotic shapes and colours.

"And you know what the French want of course, Señor Walden-Jones?"

"Are we talking suppositories here, doctor?" guessed my worldly and perceptive brother.

"¡Exacto! The Frenchman does not believe anything can do him good if taken only orally".

Conforming to national trends my brother, who is at least as healthy as me, takes a colourful cocktail of pills for obscure prophylactic purposes - while I take nothing at all.

But we both agree that if we lived in France we might object to the medication on offer but it would be superfluous to tell the doctor where he can stick it.

Friday 12 July 2013


So far in my life I have been lucky with my health. Indulgent readers will know that I am an occasional martyr to gout but I rarely get nasty bugs or even colds and have a pretty good sickness record - some recent years without time off and others with just a day or two (usually gout).

So, it was an unwelcome surprise to spend much of my holiday last week in the Isle of Wight, plus all the current week, poleaxed by a mystery illness which has left me prostrate, breathless, and miserable in a way I have not experienced before.

The tests continue but the money is on either an electrical fault (causing an arrhythmic heart) or an unknown virus. Not knowing doesn't help but of course that isn't so unusual as medicine is a less sure science than we would like to believe. The reason I am writing is that the first signs of remission are upon me (touch wood) so that I can bear to switch on the pc and contemplate life beyond lying on my sick bed drinking sweet tea.

But I can't do justice here to all the exciting stuff going on at Hafal, not least the Lights! Camera! ACTION! events and the annual Physical Health Awareness Day (though lordy am I aware of the importance of physical health right now) but instead I will lazily steer you towards our brilliant Facebook presence here which tells you about what we are doing and much more besides - and there's a lot of your feedback too.


In my enforced indolence (and as a distraction from the tests and probing) I have been playing with a machine on the net where you can upload your mugshot and it looks for similar faces. You can find it here.

My best match was Michael Gambon about which I am fairly neutral but Mrs Blog seems quietly satisfied to get Jennifer Ehle. I hope Mr Gambon won't take it the wrong way if I say that he would be lucky to bag Ms Ehle. And indeed I am a lucky man myself...any chance of another cuppa?

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Newport, Newport, Newport

Nothing ever really happens around here
Just smoking, fighting, and drinking beer

Newport's own rap satirists Goldie Lookin Chain were proved wrong yesterday - it was all happening because of another successful visit for the Lights! Camera! ACTION! "motorcade of cinematic thrills" - camper-van and mobile studio - to the city including a forthright plea by Rachel Ayriss for basic information to be provided to carers telling them what's available locally - see the film here.

For Hafal's guide for carers follow this link.

It is quite difficult to find repeatable lyrics from GLC but I like this...

Twinned with Guangxi, Province in China
There's no province finer
Josie D'Arby's from Newport
Yes, it's strange, we didn't know either...
Thank you Wikipedia
Let's say some more
Newport, Newport, Newport.

Monday 24 June 2013

Capital Gain

A lot of blokes in a garden - including Mark Drakeford AM (left) and Kevin Brennan MP (front right)

A great Lights! Camera! ACTION! event in Cardiff on Friday and the sun shone unexpectedly making the garden setting at St Fagan's a real delight.

Mark Drakeford tipped up in his capacity as the local Assembly Member - showing great interest and commitment to the Campaign which he had launched in his ministerial capacity just last month - and gave us a great interview which you can see here.

Local MP Kevin Brennan also came to lend support and gave a useful insight into the problems of employment assessments for people with a mental illness: see the interview here.

Gender balance restored

A reminder that the Campaign is calling for...

• high quality Care and Treatment Plans for everyone receiving secondary mental health services
• full choice and control for service users on the content of Care and Treatment Plans
• prompt delivery of quality mental health services in response to those Plans and to the needs of people with a serious mental illness using primary care services
• further reform of services which increases service user and carer control over the choice and commissioning of services
• a longer-term move towards full equality in Welsh society for service users and carers including equal access to health and social care, housing, income, education, and employment.

Our iconic VW camper-van and mobile studio are on location at 22 local county events taking place throughout the summer and the Campaign will conclude with a red-carpet event at the Senedd on World Mental Health Day in October.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Military Duffers and Clerical Boobies

Dancing Baroque-style (but without a wig) last night in Newton House

My Mum lent me and I've just finished reading Rodney Bolt's The Impossible Life of Mary Benson about the eponymous wife of the Victorian Archbishop of Canterbury Edward Benson and mother of six including E F Benson, author of the Mapp and Lucia novels.

The Archbish almost certainly suffered from bipolar disorder and most of the children had serious mental health problems, particularly Margaret who spent long periods in fairly benign (and incredibly expensive) asylums.

Mary herself was not ill but her life was made "impossible" by the fact that she was betrothed to the future Archbishop while still a child when she was in fact gay and actively so throughout her adult life, something which troubled her at first but which she reconciled with her deep Anglican faith by reasoning admirably that her physical relationships must be okay with God as they were manifestations of love and didn't do anybody any harm. And several of her children were also gay and apparently at ease with that if not with many other aspects of their lives.

The Archbishop went along with this so long as Mary's partners didn't annoy him - some did. When Edward dropped dead suddenly Mary lived with Lucy Tait, daughter of another Archbishop of Canterbury.

Mary Benson

The book is most fascinating because the author resists applying any modern labels or commentary either to the family's mental health challenges or to homosexuality. Rather their own words are simply reported, giving an entirely different slant to these matters and not in some respects an inferior one to today's - essentially they accepted how they were, saw only the consequent practicalities and had no interest in the opinion or strictures of wider society or of the law. This was the privileged perspective of a wealthy family of course. See Hafal's leaflet on Bipolar Disorder here.

For all that it was difficult to enjoy the book because all the members of this family were spectacularly self-centred, self-regarding and opinionated to the point of being intolerably irritating. I can imagine no worse experience than spending the weekend with them, rather in the way that I wouldn't have wanted to spend time with Charles Dickens in spite of his brilliance and humanity.

To understand just how annoying our 19th century forbears could be read Lytton Strachey's wicked set of potted biographies Eminent Victorians.

No, much better to set the dial on your time-machine 150 years earlier, not forgetting to pack a powdered wig in order to fit in unobtrusively...

Last night I did just that but forgot the wig - attending a Baroque soirée at Lord Dynevor's pile Newton House under the glare of portraits of the assorted military duffers and clerical boobies (no match for the formidable Rev Benson, inventor of the Christmas service of nine lessons and carols) who were the successive Barons - none of whom seems to have lived up to the glory days of their ancestor Sir Rhys ap Thomas, possibly because they didn't refresh their genes or bank account by marrying clever or rich women (the secret of the success of the British aristocracy through the ages).

The house, a fairly hideous Victorian gothic blot covering an 18th century neoclassical gem (there's my prejudice again), is now in the hands of the dreaded NT but this event was organised in support of the excellent Marie Curie Foundation and made full use of the elegant interior.

The dancing was fun but the best bit for me was our own local soprano Julia Jones singing Purcell, Monro, Arne, and best of all Handel. Also I have to admit enjoying the Ave Maria played by Gerald Jones (piano) and Abigail Hammett (violin) - actually a combination of Bach (early 18c. Baroque) and Gounod (19c. sentimentalist). So, there you are, the two eras working together.


Another recent jaunt was to see the Mousetrap in Swansea - pretty fair rubbish not up to Agatha Christie's usual mediocre standard. Search me how it's lasted 60 years in the West End - possibly by playing it much more for laughs. Of course I won't tell you the plot but I was intrigued to find that it relied on a flabby and faintly offensive take on mental illness. But I enjoyed sitting outside the Swansea Grand in the interval...

And I'm pleased with this photo from Laugharne last weekend...

And thanks to Dan and his Breton partner Claudine for playing at Mrs Blog's big birthday party...