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!