Saturday 20 December 2014

Inexorable Peasant Logic

What to do with this Blog?

It previously served as therapy for me in my role as Chief Executive of Hafal. The idea was that it would be a place where I could sound off from the sidelines while letting users and carers provide the voice of Hafal through mainstream and formal channels. It did work well for that purpose.

I think I had another motivation which was to demonstrate some hinterland aside from my professional role, hence the almost equal number of posts about stuff I did in my own time. This might have suggested either that I was a frivolous person insufficiently dedicated to my professional duties or else that I was setting a good example of what is mischievously called "work life balance".

Some of the fun stuff was also simply an attempt to cheer up or amuse friends and supporters - and possibly to annoy those few bitter and twisted people who are ill-disposed towards Hafal or me.

The risk of continuing the Blog might be that it creates pity and contempt or alternatively envy and resentment at whatever I do next with my new-found freedom. This doesn't feel an easy balance to strike so I hope rather that, if I do continue, the content will reassure and delight readers who are big enough just to wish me well. I'm confident that there won't be anything much here for the bitter and twisted besides that envy and resentment (although if they persevere they will no doubt get the occasional opportunity to sneer and cheer at my mistakes and failures).

So I will see how it goes?

On the very first Monday when I didn't have to go to work (1 December 2014) I thought I should try out some of the routines which might feature in my new life. I imagined this might mean popping down to Tesco to buy some Dublin Bay prawns (what telly chefs call langoustines) which they have recently begun to stock at a good price - and perhaps a bottle of Muscadet - all with a view to filling the evening satisfactorily.

Mrs Blog had other ideas. If I was not paying for my dinner indirectly through earning a salary then I should earn it directly by catching it myself. So it was a 9 a.m., low-tide visit to the beach where I gathered a large bag of mussels. Of course I have done this before but there is a certain frisson, urgency even, in responding to Mrs B's inexorable peasant logic.

Mussels are good the Welsh way - just steamed open and eaten with brown bread and butter and accompanied by a big pot of tea - but it was the Breton way on this occasion (white wine, butter, parsley and garlic - no cream: that's a greedy Norman excess).

Now I am not doing, or even planning, anything serious, strategic or job-wise until the New Year at the earliest. I have however learnt already how easy it would be to fill my life with chores around the house and garden, visits to banks, brokers, and accountants, swanning around shops and so on. But I am resolved not to spend any more time on this stuff than previously or than absolutely necessary.

I have however begun consolidating or forming habits as a platform for a new life - early rising, swimming 40 lengths at least 3 times a week, walking 10,000 steps at least four times a week, regular meals. I've lost nearly a stone doing this and no silly diet in sight. The messages of Hafal's Let's Get Physical! campaign echo still around the staterooms of Blog Towers.


Horace, the eminent Roman writer of achingly beautiful and uplifting lyric poetry, has featured more than once in this Blog. I have been reading oenophile and journalist Harry Eyres' Horace and Me - Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet about his rediscovery of the poet after giving up classics at university (shame on him).

It's a casual, under-researched sort of book but it makes an interesting personal essay. I do agree with him that young classicists all love rude, crude and satirical Catullus and Juvenal but come back to Horace in later life to find the wisdom and comfort.

Worth a look but you need a good translation to hand: Harry's own does that thing of using modern references (like the Taliban) which makes a kind of sense because Horace did put contemporary news in among the timeless lyricism - but he got away with it whereas in modern translation I'm afraid it just grates like a guitar at Evensong. James Michie's respectful, conservative translation of the Odes alongside the Latin is best - various editions (including cheap second-hand) from Amazon. Read that first before looking at Eyres' book.

Cur valle permutem Sabina
Divitias operosiores?

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Thank You!

Well, this is my last week and I would like to extend my thanks to Members, volunteers, staff and Trustees for their terrific commitment and hard work in making Hafal such a dynamic and positive charity. We have seen so many clients transform their lives and make huge strides towards recovery during the lifetime of the charity, and it has been thrilling to be a part of Hafal's client-led recovery movement.

However, after 10 years (nearly 20 if you include the time when we were part of Rethink) I am keen to do new things. I'm delighted to be leaving the charity in safe hands with the appointment of Alun Thomas as our new CEO. I wish him - and everyone else who supports our important work - every success. I am very optimistic for Hafal’s future under Alun’s tried and tested leadership.

I will remain in touch and you won’t find a stronger supporter of this great charity!

And Alun has said: "It’s a privilege to follow Bill into this exciting role and I will work hard to ensure the continuing success of the organisation. I look forward to delivering on our mission to provide hope and practical support to people with a serious mental illness and their carers in Wales - and to achieve a better deal for the users of mental health services."


I enjoyed this insight into the challenges of being a Chief Executive!

Sunday 9 November 2014

Bernese Oberland?

This afternoon I made my first visit to Craig-y-Rhaiadr - not the famous one in Snowdonia swarmed over by mountaineers but the best kept secret one in Carmarthenshire, a couple of miles north of Cil-y-cwm.

The waterfall and its surroundings are just like the famous Reichenbach Falls over which Sherlock Holmes tumbled with Moriarty - or rather he didn't and played a cruel trick on Dr Watson by pretending he had, complete with a highly improbable note left on the cliff edge.

You can get a better idea of the falls and their setting from my video here...

You can't get to the falls without a significant walk of about 8,000 paces (round trip) recorded on the Hafal Let's Get Physical! pedometer - nearer 10,000 paces if you are vertically challenged - and it's a hard uphill slog.

But all the more rewarding for that.

The real Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland

Holmes and Moriarty on the edge...

Great Welsh Bake-Off

Product of our Matisse-inspired art workshop

I enjoyed our excellent Autumn Conference last Thursday in Builth Wells which had me making a pizza...

Showing it off...

Interviewing our bake-off judge Dawn...

And thanking everybody for their kind words and for a delicious cake: this was my last event as Chief Exec of Hafal (note the flour from the pizza-making all over my trousers)...

Back home Huw and Rhys admire the drift-wood Christmas tree I made under the supervision of the team at Hafal Cardiff's stand...

Thursday 30 October 2014

Mission Impossible

I will miss many things of course about my time at Hafal, not least the regular trips to N Wales including the valuable meetings of local managers and Trustees designed to ensure that this end of Wales doesn't get neglected in Hafal's thinking about policy and services.

This was my last such meeting and it met or exceeded the usual high standard. It was rewarding to reflect on the success and continuing legacy of Let's Get Physical! and also to discuss early ideas on our plans for the next three years, especially our ambition to reach out to many more people with a serious mental illness and to address the problems of loneliness and isolation - huge needs which can and will be addressed decisively because our members and staff will work together to succeed.

I reflect that as I alight from the Hafal campervan it moves forward with assurance on its mission...

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Unsexy And Politically Incorrect

Hafal bows to nobody on our record of promoting an holistic approach to recovery from mental illness. Witness the success of Let's Get Physical! this year and a dozen previous initiatives, not least our successful campaign to ensure that Care and Treatment Plans prescribed under the Mental Health Measure require attention to eight "life areas". Plenty of people talk holistic but we walk the walk.

Plenty of people also bang on rightly about psychological therapies but not many have anything to say about the unsexy and borderline politically incorrect topic of medication, other than to try to push it out of sight as part of a "medical model" of mental health, a stale old argument which never took account of patients and families who are keen to consider all forms of treatment and don't for the most part bring ideology to the doctor's surgery - they just want what works and for serious mental illnesses that may well be a mix of both psychological and medical treatments.

One of the consequences of the hostility to medication (from busybodies not patients) was an argument that medication should not be a distinct category - alongside psychological therapies - in Care and Treatment Plans because (the politically correct people said) that would dignify medication too much.

The result was that the two types of treatment were lumped together and consequently (surprise surprise) psychological therapies were marginalised because it is easy to fill in the treatments "box" with details of medication only, as we warned all along.

Incidentally the Welsh Code of Practice under the Mental Health Act does distinguish the two types of treatment - because back then the hand-wringers didn't notice Hafal's influence on the Code until after it was settled. It's now being revised and may therefore change to reflect the Measure - which would be consistent but unfortunate.

Now, as part of our campaigning to promote choice and quality in treatments for mental illness, we have launched a new guide to treatments designed to give service users and carers key information on both psychological therapies and medication. See the guide on this link.

Hafal's 2014 treatments campaign is supported by Bipolar UK, Diverse Cymru and the Mental Health Foundation and aims to empower people with a serious mental illness in Wales and their carers to have their say on the services they receive – and to make an informed choice about their care and treatment.

The new guide includes an overview of the full range of treatments for serious mental illness including:

• In-depth psychotherapy
• Counselling
• Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT)
• Hypnotherapy
• Antipsychotics
• Mood Stabilizers
• Antidepressants
• "Complementary" Medicines.


For the record everybody agrees that in fact Hafal is very sexy (camper van and all) and always politically correct (in the literal sense).

And check out Hafal's sexy new website here: it not only looks good but tells it how it is and is never politically correct (in the pejorative sense).

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ultra Trendy

Back from an interesting break in London, taking in an expensive show ("Shakespeare in Love" - see above) and some modest-priced attractions which were arguably more memorable.

I enjoyed Dr Johnson's House in Gough Square. He might not have approved of the dressing-up box in what was his parlour but I wasn't going to let that go...

You may think the white daps are a bit out of place but I'm sure Dr J would have worn them to alleviate his gout just as I do. Incidentally wearing a hat indoors was correct then and only discarded in informal or intimate company. I am a bit of an expert on such things having recently read Liza Picard's Dr Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London in the Mid 18th Century which is full of interesting facts if oddly written (why tell us she doesn't like James Boswell? I don't care whether she does or not).

It was touching to see the statue of Johnson's cat Hodge out in the square. Apparently Hodge will also talk to you if you fiddle about with your fancy phone but we preferred to recollect how Johnson bought him oysters - a modest foodstuff in those days - I wouldn't give oysters to my cats now they £1 each on Swansea market - but I'm sure Hodge enjoyed them.

Johnson sensitively bought the oysters himself because he didn't want his servants to hate the cat as a result of doing that chore. Voltaire would never have thought of that.

A little further East there is St Martin's Ludgate, a Wren church which survived the Luftwaffe along with St Paul's 200 yards further on. It has special a holder to leave your sword in when attending a service which seems sensible.

Much further East up the Docklands Light Railway, and better even than the London Eye, is the new Emirates Airline cable car over the river. Apparently, I was told later, it had something to do with the dreaded Olympics so it's good to see there was some worthwhile legacy from the multi-billion pound fleecing of taxpayers, the Lottery etc for that infamous one week event for overpaid professional athletes whenever that was...

More James Bond-style travel by catamaran to the South Bank where we take in the work of ultra-trendy artist Richard Tuttle in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern...

He has titled his piece "I don't know" which is disarming, brave, or unwise depending on your viewpoint. I looked at it from various angles...

..and indeed I concluded that "I don't know" although I do know that I was glad I didn't pay to see it (Mrs Blog even grudged walking 100 yards from the river-bank to take a look).

Faintly more interesting is this...

...the anti-submarine warship HMS President (1918) painted up in "Dazzle" camouflage by German artist Tobias Rehberger as part of the commemoration of the First World War.

Is camouflage art? "I don't know".

Monday 13 October 2014

Kwang Do Attitude

And I thought salsa was a piquant sauce to dip prawns in...

Our Let's Get Physical! 2014 national campaign reached its climax last Friday at an event held in St Fagans, Cardiff to mark World Mental Health Day. The event was attended by Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM and Kevin Brennan MP as well as service users and carers from across Wales, and saw the launch of:-

• A new Let's Get Physical! guide for mental health services on how to promote physical health, based on the experiences and insights of hundreds of service users and carers across Wales

• A new Let's Get Physical! website for mental health services providing tools and information on promoting physical health

• A Let's Get Physical! Report giving an overview of the campaign's many achievements.

Visitors at the event had the opportunity to watch live demonstrations on how to prepare hearty and nutritious meals on a budget; get a physical health check from a qualified healthcare professional in the Mobile Health Centre; have a go at spinning, Choi Kwang Do, salsa dancing and table tennis, and meet mental health service users, carers and professionals from across Wales.

The 2014 campaign was led by people with a serious mental illness and carers, and supported by mental health charities Hafal, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation; Diverse Cymru helped to ensure the campaign reached out to minority and disadvantaged communities.

During Summer 2014 the campaign engaged thousands of people across the 22 counties of Wales in 2014 including:

• Over 3000 service users and carers using Hafal and Bipolar UK services who took part in local Let's Get Physical! activities run through our projects across Wales

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

• Tens of thousands of people who followed and interacted with the campaign via the online social media channels of Hafal, the Mental Health Foundation, Bipolar UK and Diverse Cymru

• The 65,000 unique visitors who visited Hafal’s websites - including the dedicated 'Let's Get Physical!' website - and saw coverage of the campaign in the local and national media.

As a result, service users and carers across Wales are now much better equipped to improve their physical health - and mental health services are better equipped to support service users and carers to achieve their physical health goals.

Participants scored the effectiveness of the campaign (out of 10) as follows:

• In supporting them be more physically active – average score 9.4

• In supporting them improve their diet – average score 8.9

• In supporting them to get the right support from their GP to stay physically well – average score 8.5

Junaid Iqbal, a member of the campaign's Service User and Carer Panel, tells us: "What we’ve been doing, and what we will continue to do in the coming years, is to take the side of the users of mental health services and empower them to engage fully with those services.

"We're promoting co-production - where services and service users work together in partnership in an equal relationship to achieve the very best outcome."


But while we are about it - try this Welsh salsa recipe...

Mix together:-

4 large tomatoes, diced quite carefully into quarter inch cubes

½ medium red onion, ditto

½ leek, ditto (this is the Welsh bit)

1 fresh green chilli, deseeded, very finely chopped

1 handful fresh coriander, evenly but not finely chopped

juice of 1 lime

salt and black pepper to taste

Note: careful chopping matters in this otherwise easy dish - you want a nice, even and differentiated look, not a sludge. This is more like a salad or relish than a sauce - fantastic with anything from steaks to fish to cold meat. Best served after leaving one hour.

Friday 3 October 2014


Today Let's Get Physical! reached Neath Port Talbot at an event which included a healthy eating buffet, a zumba exercise class - and a Wii Fit competition.

I had a go on on a Wii boxing game in the office a year or two back - good fun but it strained my arms somewhat as I punched into thin air - instead of connecting satisfactorily with somebody's face I suppose?

Visitors at today's event also had the opportunity to get key health checks in the Mobile Health Centre which has journeyed to all 22 counties of Wales during the summer.

Alison Guyatt, Hafal's Recovery Centre Manager and a registered nurse, said: "We developed the Mobile Health Centre to raise awareness of the range of physical health checks that people recovering from serious mental illness - and their carers - can access through their GP and Primary Care Team.

"Our Let's Get Physical! nurses have been travelling across Wales and providing visitors at our 22 county events with the opportunity to have their blood pressure checked, their weight and height recorded and have a basic blood glucose check carried out.

"The message is simple: people with a mental illness and their carers should receive the right support from health professionals to stay physically healthy as well as mentally healthy - and it's something that we all have to work together to achieve."

Over 300 people have received a physical health check from the Mobile Health Centre during the campaign. While the results of these health checks remain private to individuals, overall findings indicate that:

• 18% of people were found to have above threshold blood pressure

• 47% of people were found to have above threshold blood glucose levels

• 10% of people were found to have both above threshold blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

People who were found to have above threshold blood pressure or blood glucose levels were strongly advised to make an early appointment with their GP, and further support is being offered to service users or carers through each of Hafal’s local projects.

Morgan Williams, a service user from Neath Port Talbot, said: "I think the Mobile Health Centre was a great way of getting people to know about the key checks they should be getting from their local surgery. The campaign has shown that people with a mental illness and their carers have physical health concerns which need to be addressed on a regular basis. The Mobile Health Centre delivered a really friendly service and it gave us a record which we can take with us to our GP."

Let's Get Physical! sets a challenge – both to service users and carers, and to service providers and policy makers – to radically improve the physical health of people with a mental illness and their carers. The campaign is supported by mental health charities Hafal, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation; Diverse Cymru helps us to ensure that the campaign reaches out to minority and disadvantaged communities. The campaign was launched by Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM in May and includes 22 events covering all the counties of Wales.


Meanwhile on the window sills of the Blog household there is increasing divergence between those who take the Let's Get Physical! message on board...

Rhys about to leap 12 feet onto the pavement

and those who do not...

Huw (aka "Huge" by virtue of his indolence and consequent great weight) not going anywhere

Monday 29 September 2014

Total Body Workout

I am catching up with Let's Get Physical! after a week off...

When it comes to rock climbing, you can't beat Pembrokeshire - so the county's Let's Get Physical! activities have included plenty of opportunities for scaling and descending the heights. Earlier in the year Steve and Toby from Hafal's Tenby Resource Initiative did a sponsored abseil down Pembroke Castle (watch the video here). And at last week's event visitors had the opportunity to tackle a climbing wall.

Lee Toby Credland, a service user from Tenby Resource Initiative, said: "Climbing is huge in this part of the world because of the fantastic cliffs we have. It's a great exercise because it provides a total body workout and it strengthens core muscles as well as working your heart.

"It's also a really positive exercise because it's about goal-setting. You have a task to reach the top and you are determined to get there. The sense of achievement is great: anything seems possible after a climb. It really boosts your confidence."

Visitors at the event also had the opportunity to take part in a zumba dance class, a walk with 'Step2 Health', a kettle bells exercise session with a personal trainer, netball, an exercise bike competition and a reflexology session run by the AmberDen Foundation. Healthy food was on the menu throughout the day with fat/calorie contents detailed on menu cards.

Abby Roberts, Practice Leader at Hafal Pembrokeshire, said: "Members of Hafal's Tenby Resource Initiative have been inspired by the campaign to set up a healthy living club. They meet to discuss diet, plan meals and to cook for other members. They are also organising different types of physical activity and providing weekly weigh-in sessions for those wanting to slim down."

Let's Get Physical! sets a challenge – both to service users and carers, and to service providers and policy makers – to radically improve the physical health of people with a mental illness and their carers. The campaign is supported by mental health charities Hafal, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation; Diverse Cymru helps us to ensure the campaign reaches out to minority and disadvantaged communities. The campaign was launched by Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM in May and includes 22 events covering all the counties of Wales.

By chance I was actually doing some low-risk mountaineering in Pembrokeshire last week...

And some swimming - not bad for late September and look at the crowded beach...

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The Battle Of Ammanford

After my anticipatory visit on Sunday (see my last post) the Let's Get Physical! campaign officially reached Carmarthenshire today at an event supported by Swansea City FC Ambassador Lee Trundle and players from the first team. Visitors had the opportunity to take part in "Go Sport" activities, get tips from a healthy eating demonstration and receive key health checks in the mobile health centre.

Warren Williams, a service user from Llanelli, said: "One of our ongoing projects is the Activity Programme in Llanelli. Ten service users from our Llanelli projects formed the Activity Programme group and they attend a local gym once a fortnight to use the gym equipment and take part in activities such as badminton, table tennis and squash.

"It’s become a great way to socialise as well as a great way to exercise. We really feel valued as part of a team. We even have group competitions!

"Hopefully other groups will be set up across Wales as part of the Let’s Get Physical! campaign. Setting up a group is a great way to get people enthused about physical exercise – we encourage each other and we make exercising fun."

Practice Leader Jonathan Lewis said: "There are loads of ongoing Let’s Get Physical! activities in Carmarthenshire: we’ve developed new walking and biking groups and we’ve set up a healthy cooking/eating club.

The point of the Let’s Get Physical! campaign is to make permanent changes to the way we live and it’s been great to see clients and carers really embrace that message and make long-term plans for improving their health."

I look forward to bumping into the biking group next time I cycle up to Brynamman (which took me 40 minutes up, 20 minutes back - guess which way the Amman river flows!).


Ammanford is an admirably friendly and peaceful town but you should not mistake this for any acquiescence in injustice. In 1925 striking anthracite colliers objecting to persecution of union activists virtually took over the town and ambushed a large party of police marching in to suppress them. This action, known as the Battle of Ammanford, took place mainly at Pontamman up the road.

As the name implies this showed good tactics because the police had to cross the bridge there having arrived presumably at the railhead in Brynamman. The police expected no resistance and got a nasty shock - and it took some time for the insurrection to be put down.

Like many such incidents it is little talked about because there was a certain feeling of guilt in the community whose instinct, though they knew their cause was just, like today was for peace and not violence.

Medal struck for miners imprisoned after the Battle of Ammanford...

Monday 15 September 2014


Looking south over the river in Glanamman

Unfortunately I can't make it tomorrow to the Carmarthenshire Let's Get Physical! event in Ammanford - but I will cover it of course.

Meanwhile on Sunday I anticipated the event by cycling from Ammanford to Brynamman and back (about 15 miles) on the new off-road track which has recently been developed. At the moment there are no guides to it as far as I can see but there is some signage on the ground and it is marked on the Sustrans web-site here. Otherwise you can find the substantive start of the route 100 yards short of where Ammanford High Street hits the A474 east of the centre.

But come on, Carmarthenshire County Council, where is the leaflet and on-line guide we need to promote this?

Brynamman RFC: these playing fields are iconic landmarks in our industrial villages. The cycle path passes directly in front of the stand but you might not want to do that during a match unless you were prepared for a barrage of satire

It's a great route through fantastic countryside weaving back and forth across the Amman which is a delight - all natural, not one of the canalised drainage systems full of shopping trolleys which too many of industrial South Wales' rivers became, though they are getting cleaned up slowly.

Pausing to contemplate the river at one of several crossings - I spotted a huge, venerable heron but it flew off languidly before I got my camera out

And yet you are unmistakably in industrial - or formerly industrial - Wales as witnessed by the remains of heavy industry and the familiar housing stock from the late 19c to the late 20c. Also unmistakable because it is a safe bet to greet people in Welsh around here, unlike (oddly enough) much of rural West Wales, because there are precious few newcomers and even fewer tourists (and there won't be any in future if there is no publicity about the cycle route).

And if like me your Welsh is limited then cycling is a safe place to practice because if your interlocutor responds with something you don't understand it doesn't matter because you have already disappeared 200 yards down the road in a whirr of spinning wheels and the crunch of derailleur gears.

I wonder if my grandfather, then vicar of Ammanford, would have raced his motorbike up the Amman Valley on sunny September mornings 100 years ago? How could he have resisted, though he would have needed goggles and a scarf over his mouth to screen the smoke and dust which in those days invested this outpost of thriving Welsh heavy industry?

A welcome sight: passing Lidl (another iconic landmark of post-industrial communities) means you are nearly back in Ammanford centre...

Friday 12 September 2014


Mark Williams MP has lost two stone recently and his tip is to "cut the carbs"! Mark followed his own "Let's Get Physical!" plan which included giving up cake and reducing his sugar intake. Great example for the campaign!

Amazing sunshine and warm air (even though we were right by the sea) at today's Let's Get Physical! event in Aberystwyth. We took the opportunity to take a shot at goal in a penalty shoot-out before refuelling with a nutritious lunch and healthy smoothies.

Service user Joanna Regan tells us: "It was a World Cup year this year so football is even more in the public eye than usual. Football is a fun game and it's a team game. We wanted to show that exercise can be about getting together and taking part in a sport, not just going to the gym.

"People have really enjoyed the football - even if they haven't played since school! Let's hope the campaign inspires more people to join a local club or even for mental health projects to set up their own teams."

Today's event was attended by MP for Ceredigion Mark Williams, Mayor of Aberystwyth Cllr Brenda Haines, and Leader of the Ceredigion County Council, Cllr. Ellen ap Gwynn.

Hafal Aberystwyth Housing Support Worker Evan Elias says: "We’ve already begun a training regime which will continue into the winter. A weekly walking group has been organised for Thursday evenings and we're running a healthy eating group in the local project. We want to keep the momentum going so that the campaign has a lasting effect. It's about making permanent, positive changes to the way we live."

Let's Get Physical! sets a challenge – both to service users and carers, and to service providers and policy makers – to radically improve the physical health of people with a mental illness and their carers. The campaign is supported by mental health charities Hafal, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation; Diverse Cymru helps to ensure the campaign reaches out to minority and disadvantaged communities. The campaign was launched by Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM in May and includes 22 events covering all the counties of Wales.

Incidentally I asked Mark Williams whether he had been ordered up to Scotland to shore up the "No" vote (he's a Lib Dem): apparently there was a call to arms but he's not going. It is indeed moot whether it is a good idea to send in outsiders to advise the Scots.

We should watch the referendum with interest because it is going to affect Wales either way. A "Yes" will place us and Northern Ireland in the curious position of tiny partners in a smaller union even more dominated by England. If it's a "No", and if the "devo-max"/home rule promise scrambled together at the eleventh hour by the unionists is delivered, then questions will be asked about Wales' contrasting "devo-lite" position.

Actually the big, bread-and-butter issue short-to-medium term for Wales remains the Barnett Formula - put another way the £500 less each Welsh person gets in public services under the unreformed, out-of-date calculation. Let us hope that Welsh politicians of all parties use the aftermath of the referendum to push for fair play for Wales, not least for people with a mental illness and their families who rely more than most on public services...

Friday 5 September 2014

Two-L Llama Trekking

Today the Let’s Get Physical! campaign was in Gwynedd where visitors had the opportunity to find out about a unique North Wales service.

Service user William Williams-Jones tells us: "Today’s event took place at Tŷ Adferiad which is Hafal’s new Big Lottery-funded project. It gives people from across Wales the chance to come for a three day break and look at their recovery plans. It’s a completely unique, service user-led project.

"In the afternoons the focus is firmly on physical activity! Visitors can take part in motivational activities and outdoor pursuits. There are loads of things on offer including walking, rope work, sailing, canoeing, canyoning, quad biking and llama trekking.

"It’s about building confidence and trying new things. People leave here wanting to get out there and take up new sports. In the process they get to meet other service users and carers and make new friends."

Visitors at today’s event also had the opportunity to have key health checks in the mobile health centre, talk to a nutritionist, take part in have-a-go sessions using a range of gym equipment, and enjoy a healthy buffet.

Hafal Practice Leader Mandy Morsley says: "Hafal Gwynedd will be running regular healthy eating group and exercise groups beyond today’s event. As for Tŷ Adferiad – we will continue to develop a progressive service which leads the way in lifting service users’ and carers’ expectations. Our aim is to get people to take part in outdoor activities that they would never have thought of trying. And hopefully once they have tried them they’ll want to carry on!"

Find out more about Tŷ Adferiad here.

The one-L lama,
He's a priest.
The two-L llama,
He's a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn't any
Three-L lllama
. - Ogden Nash

How to drink a smoothy...

Thursday 4 September 2014

Obama Is Welsh - Official

Okay, let's appreciate courteously the "Bore da" we got out of Barack Obama this morning but it would have been even better to get a "Rydw i'n Cymro", equivalent to "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner"), as President Kennedy famously said in 1963.

One of the vital functions of this Blog is to flush out famous people from around the world as actually being Welsh.

It is now a familiar ritual when recent American presidents have been elected (Obama included) to flag up their Irish origins and then send a film crew to a remote bar in County Mayo or wherever and interview some of its worse-for-wear and bewildered denizens about their famous scion. But what about Wales?

I am pleased to be able to report that the President is in fact Welsh - proved by close examination of the family tree of his maternal grandmother. Quite a lot less Welsh than, say, the admirable Welsh King of England Henry VII (who wasn't all that Welsh strictly speaking, except in surname, appearance, and temperament) but Welsh for all that.

Meanwhile I see in my copy of The Washington Post this morning that they have helpfully offered some useful Welsh phrases for the President to deploy including...

Does dim dwywaith amdani, dim 'sgidiau ar y tir

("Make no mistake, no boots on the ground")

I took this photo while driving inside NATO's massive security stockade in Cardiff - before they closed the gates!

Friday 29 August 2014

The Sun Shines East, The Sun Shines West

At the Ynys Môn Let's Get Physical! event today those attending had the opportunity to WALK A MILE cross-country with the aim of inspiring a new habit.

Bronwen Pritchard, a carer in Ynys Môn, explained: "We wanted to do something simple and with a clear message. WALK A MILE is about setting ourselves an achievable goal of getting outside and doing a short walk – which a lot of people can do on a regular basis.

"For us the campaign is about setting realistic goals which can lead to lasting lifestyle changes. WALK A MILE is just that: it’s something many people could fit into their day or week. We want everyone who can to WALK A MILE when they can! It’s the first step to a healthier life – and Ynys Môn is the ideal place when it comes to walking."

Heather Russell-Hughes, Hafal’s Practice Leader in Ynys Môn, said: "Like many other projects, we think that walking groups are one of the most enjoyable and accessible ways to promote exercise. As a part of the campaign we are starting a new walking group with the idea of eventually moving people onto established walking groups in their communities. And we also plan to provide indoor exercise at the project during the winter months for those who don’t want to brave the elements!"

To paraphrase:

Everything seems lovely
When you start to roam
But here's what you'll be sayin'
When you are far from home...
For one of your smiles

...okay, it needs some work.

Friday 22 August 2014

Real Caviar

I drove up last night so I could meet the campervan - and friends and colleagues from across North Wales - when Let's Get Physical! reached Colwyn Bay today for a fantastic event which included walks along the promenade, Tai Chi sessions and healthy eating demonstrations.

Today's event is just a highlight in an ongoing programme of Let's Get Physical! activities in Conwy, one of which is a monthly 'Around the World' meal.

Andy Dawson, a Hafal service user at Colwyn Bay, tells us: "The Around the World events are a really worthwhile and pleasurable addition to the activities calendar, not only for the company and the camaraderie but also for experimenting with food and learning new cookery skills. We really get into the swing of whichever theme the meal is related to by preparing music: for example, Reggae for for the Caribbean or James Bond music for 'Bond Night' (which includes real caviar and optional fancy dress!).

"There's a lot of talk about eating more healthily but we want to think about making our food more adventurous and appetising as well, putting healthy ingredients to good use and with a vegetarian option for every meal."

Visitors at today's event got the opportunity to make fresh smoothies and tortilla wraps. Communities First demonstrated how to make cheap and simple meals which are both nutritious and delicious, and a dietician from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board was on hand to share useful tips.

Advice and information was available from a range of organisations including:

• Stop Smoking Wales
• Exercise by Referral
• FareShare Food Coop
• Specsavers
• Mental Health Foundation.

Diverse Cymru provided advice and information on BME mental health and advocacy, and how physical wellbeing can lead to better mental health; Bipolar UK provided advice and information on bipolar disorder and local services. Visitors also had the opportunity to get free health checks in the mobile health centre.

Hafal Practice Leader Phil said: "We'll be continuing the theme of Let's Get Physical! throughout the summer by running weekly coastal walks and hikes, Tai Chi sessions and healthy eating barbecues. We see the promotion of physical health as a key part of our service - and one of the main ways that people can benefit from being a part of Hafal."

Let's Get Physical! sets a challenge – both to service users and carers, and to service providers and policy makers – to radically improve the physical health of people with a mental illness and their carers. The campaign is supported by mental health charities Hafal, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation; Diverse Cymru helps to ensure the campaign reaches out to minority and disadvantaged communities. The campaign was launched by Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM in May and includes 22 events covering all the counties of Wales.

Friday 15 August 2014

Mood Foods

David Hanson MP tries to make off with the VW

Let's Get Physical! reached Flintshire today at an event in Aston Park Community Centre where visitors had the opportunity to pick up a copy of Hafal Flintshire Carers' Cook Book.

June Davies, a carer from Flintshire, said: "We've got so many good cooks here that we decided that we wanted to share our recipes. So we had the idea of publishing our own recipe book.

"The book includes healthy and nutritious recipes which we have tried and tested. It has really made us look at what we eat, the ingredients we use, how we source our food and how much it costs. We hope the book will inspire service users, carers and anyone else to eat more healthily and to experiment with their cooking."

The new book includes a recipe from the MP for Delyn, David Hanson, and is published by Double Click - a design and printing business which supports and provides training/work opportunities for people in the community with a mental illness.

Visitors at today's Let's Get Physical! event also had the opportunity to get key health checks in the Mobile Health Centre; take part in self-defence exercises, Tai Chi and a walk; and sample mood foods and healthy bites.

Janet Fletcher, Hafal's Acute Family Support Coordinator in Flintshire, said: "This year's campaign has really got us motivated: there are loads of ongoing activities following today's event. We're partnering with Flintshire County Council's Sports Development section to run a monthly carers' walk which will involve training some of the carers to be walk leaders.

"We're also running Tai Chi sessions and monthly ten-pin bowling groups. Throughout the summer we'll also be inviting primary care-related speakers to our partnership meetings including a dental hygienist. So we're definitely looking at the big picture!"

Let's Get Physical! sets a challenge – both to service users and careers, and to service providers and policy makers – to radically improve the physical health of people with a mental illness and their careers.

The campaign is supported by mental health charities Hafal, Bipolar UK and the Mental Health Foundation; Diverse Cymru helps to ensure the campaign reaches out to minority and disadvantaged communities. The campaign was launched by Health Minister Mark Drakeford AM in May and includes 22 county events covering all Wales.

Monday 11 August 2014

Joint Working

Hampshire County Lunatic Asylum, later Knowle Hospital

The former psychiatric hospital estate has been used for many interesting purposes, not least super-luxury apartments (see the fancy flats at the former Knowle Hospital in my picture above).

But it must be a first to turn a disused psychiatric hospital ward into a cannabis factory as has happened at Whitchurch Hospital in Cardiff - see the story here. And before the hospital has actually closed its doors.

Apparently the villains had tapped into the Health Board's electricity supply to create the intense light and heat required.

My experience of mental hospitals is that they are often kept much too warm and stuffy, like wards for people who are physically fragile, which is inappropriate and encourages passivity.

So the leccy bills probably didn't go up.

Friday 8 August 2014

Denbighshire Diggers

Let’s Get Physical! reached Denbighshire today where the campaign has inspired service users and carers to start their own vegetable plot.

"You can’t beat home-grown veg – it’s fresh and it tastes better because you’ve grown it yourself," says Lauren.

"There’s something therapeutic about growing your own vegetables: it absorbs you and you get to see the vegetables grow and flourish. Plus you get some exercise into the bargain, you grow really healthy and nutritious food and you save quite a bit of money on your shopping.

"We’re trying to prove that growing veg is something that anyone can do, even if it’s just a few essentials like potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. What’s really nice is that we’re doing it in partnership with Barnardo’s, so we are also using it as a way to make links with the community and grow friendships."

Today’s event took place at Hafal’s Bryn y Wal project; activities and stands included:-

• Bootcamp taster sessions
• Golf taster sessions
• Football obstacle course
• Healthy eating advice
• Information on Rural Regeneration (Food Co-operative)
• Advice on giving up smoking
• Table tennis
• Mobile Health Centre health checks.

Hafal Denbighshire Practice Leader Nina said: "In addition to the new vegetable plot we are also getting some chickens so that we can have our own freshly-laid eggs. It’s about encouraging each other to take an active part in producing our own food – and about making our diet healthy and nutritious. We’re also running a weekly Meal Challenge which gets people to share healthy recipes they have prepared, plus we’re running walking groups and promoting access to exercise groups in the community."

Another excellent example of making physical health fun and sociable, combining diet, exercise and those health checks!


Roman Geezer

Maiden Castle: doesn't make any sense, does it?

I am interested in the news (link here) that the National Trust has acquired another hill-fort in Dorset - well, I'm not that interested in the news but rather in the BBC's explanation of what a hill-fort is which they say they got from the British Museum, who ought to know.

But they evidently don't know. We are told "some provided secure living space for large numbers of people, whereas others may have been empty refuges or used for religious ceremonies and celebrations". In other words they haven't a clue what our early Welsh ancestors were up to building these colossal monuments.

It is one of those things which we take for granted and we vaguely accept the glib explanations of historians. But actually why is there a hill-fort every few hundred yards as you walk around the Pembrokeshire coast, with sufficient space to hold many times the present population? And why the multiple concentric rings instead of one great big wall like everybody else builds a castle?

If you study the matter you find that the experts are all over the place, some even suggesting they were really for keeping animals rather than defensive which is clearly ludicrous.

Like many budding classicists I was brought up on the story of the siege of Maiden Castle by the Romans. But this turns out to be pure fiction dreamt up by the famous archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler.

I think the archaeologists are making too much of their own specialism and we are better served going to the literary sources. Julius Caesar did his fair share of attacking hill-forts and in his own account of the Gallic wars he always refers to them as oppida (townships). I buy that, and with it the necessary conclusion that the population of Celtic Europe was far larger, and far more sophisticated, than presently thought.

Pembrokeshire for example must have been intensively farmed by substantial communities larger than the present villages, very close to each other (typically they would have been able to see several other townships from the vantage of their own) and with the people going back into their townships at night.

This still doesn't explain the multiple walls but I'll have to think about that.


Caesar is especially reviled by schoolchildren studying Latin because he is invariably the first author you encounter - he wrote in a simple and uncomplicated style as you might expect of a soldier and suited to beginners.

We also hated him because he was so spectacularly self-centred, taking credit for everything that went right and blaming his lieutenants when they went wrong; and ridiculously he thought he could get away with this by writing about himself in the third person. But we got his number...

Julius Caesar
Roman Geezer
Squashed his face in a lemon squeezer

Thursday 7 August 2014

Slightly Spooky

Have you seen the Holy Grail? If so ring West Mercia Police

An update on my last post...

Yesterday I left work at five to pick up Mrs Blog at Carmarthen Tesco's where among other stuff she had bought a crate of value-brand ("every little helps") bubble bath which is a morning treat before my Let's Get Physical! healthy breakfast (options - all at about 200 calories - are: a big spoon of baked beans on toast; two fish fingers on toast; egg on toast; two pieces of toast with Marmite; porridge; or two slices of grilled Lidl Bavarian ham - we call it "facon" as it is a good low-fat bacon substitute - on toast).

I arrived to find her a little dazed as moments before the Unknown Saint Of Cenarth had walked up to her and asked if we had got home safely. Yes thank you, she said, and he went on his way. Slightly spooky, although I guess Carmarthen Tesco's is probably the nearest big supermarket to Cenarth.

Also slightly spooky is the story of yesterday's police raid on a Herefordshire pub in search of the Holy Grail which, as everybody knows, used to reside in Wales having been brought over by Joseph of Arimathea.

They found a salad bowl (full story here). Let's hope they find the real thing soon before it is acquired by a sect of neo-Nazi spiritualists who harness its powers for evil purposes?

Sunday 3 August 2014

The Unknown Saint Of Cenarth

Q: Where does this path lead?

A: Down to the high tide version of the low tide picture at the head of my Blog (at the moment - it will change!)

Yes, I have enjoyed Sunday lunch at my Mum's with an old friend of the family. Most enjoyable and I found time for the walk illustrated above.

The Cardi in me noticed some drain pipe remnants in Mum's back yard - could they save me money fixing a land drain issue in Mrs Blog's garden? I measure them - probably not, they are 4 inch not 6 inch pipes. Ho hum.

This momentary breach of sabbatarian probity is punished an hour later. On the way home I get a puncture and pull into the White Hart pub car-park in Cenarth.

Panic. I don't even know where the spare is hidden! But I patiently read the manual and locate it strapped under the boot.

Feeling rather pleased I exhibit maximum Zen calmness, find all the kit, and work out what I have to do (Mrs B has no faith in me but I persist confidently).

But I fail. The nuts on the wheel will not budge.

At this point anti-sabbatarianism comes to my aid because the pub is open (it wouldn't have been a few years ago) and within it I find a saint who spends the next two hours helping me.

He too can't do it with the pathetic kit supplied and goes back to his farm to fetch a cross-wrench - he is held up by a herd of cows so takes ages.

But it too won't budge the nuts.

We both set off on foot to find something to help - he finds a bit of a tourist's caravan's TV aerial which might do it (I am tempted) but I find a scaffolding pipe which we put over the cross-wrench to create a 5 foot lever (clever, eh?) and together we finally loosen the bolts.

Then we find the spare is flat (possibly a criminal offence on my part? If you even ask the question the answer will be yes).

The patient saint drives me a long way to a garage and we blow up the spare and drive back and put it on.

Meanwhile Mrs B slightly offends the saint by asking him (to my horror) how long he has lived in the area. He says all his life.

This is an interesting lesson about local Welsh accents. Mrs B was brought up in the same county for heavens sake but admittedly at the other end of Carmarthenshire - but she swears he sounded alien to her ("surely some kind of Gog?").

But the saint puts up with all this to complete the job.

At this point you might agree with me that there is a potential embarrassment. I choose, I think quite well judged, to say:

"Look, you might take offence if I ask but is there anything I might pay or do for your trouble?"

Brilliantly the saint doesn't want anything, doesn't take offence, but laughs happily, waves his hand, and disappears into the pub again, unwilling even to hear our profuse thanks - so he is even unwilling to embarrass us because it would embarrass him.

We agree as we drive home that actually many people - maybe even most people? - would have helped like that.

No less credit to the saint but what a fantastic reminder of that great decency which surrounds us all.

Truly the bad people are a minority and, I swear and often argue with my friends, they have the worst deal - we can all see the high-profile nasty exceptions but even they are, I think, probably not happy.

This matters professionally too. In advancing the cause of people with a mental illness we should not make the mistake of thinking that most people's first instinct will be other than friendly and supportive.