We must do this more often

FINE VIEW: looking out from Southgate cliffs (National Trust picture)

THE Current Mrs Feeney and I did something on Tuesday morning that we hadn’t done for too long. We jumped in the car after breakfast and drove to Gower.

It was the first time we had done something spontaneous for ages. It made me wonder why retired life had become so bogged down in To Do tasks. I promised myself that, in future, I would take the time to ask myself if that thing I “have to do today” really does have to be done today (or ever).

We walked along the paths above the cliffs at Southgate. TCMrsF thought she could live there, or in near-by Pennard. We talked about the idea of moving out of the city. Beguiling on a day like this, with the yellow gorse bushes swaying in the breeze, and the sea shining out to the horizon; not so appealing (to me, at least) on a stormy winter’s night.

Put money in your purse

We stopped at a Gower pub for lunch after our walk. There was an exhibition of work by local artists in the function room, and we bought a framed watercolour for £30, and a smaller unframed piece for £5.

The desk did not take cards, so we had to scrabble in purse and wallet to scrape together the necessary cash. Almost embarrassing, but reassuring for a Retired Bloke to know there are still some places where you need real money in your pocket.

Include her out 

BREAKING THE CIRCLE: but The Daughter is still flying a flag for Europe

While we were out, the Prime Minister called a snap election. Which just goes to show you shouldn’t leave the house without being prepared for the unexpected.

Anyway, when I collected The Daughter from work that evening, I asked for her thoughts: “Why has she done it?” she said. “”It’s about Brexit,” I replied. “Fine. I’ll vote for whoever can stop it.”

That may prove tricky.

This isn’t looking good

I spent Friday morning trying to follow up possible lines of enquiry about my mysterious great grandfather, after the responses from Pembrokeshire and Suffolk record offices.

There was a suggestion that he may have given his birthplace as Ipswich when he joined the Army, simply to hide his true Irish origins (this supposes that 1: my great grandfather was the Army private who shared his name, age and town of residence in 1870; 2: he was indeed from Ireland).

Anyway, having discovered that, in the mid 19th Century, going on for half of British Army recruits were poor Irish Catholics, there is no obvious reason why my great grandfather would want to hide the fact of his birth in this way.

Searching records for people baptised William Feeney in the 1840s, I came across one who, in 1861, was residing at the St Mary Agricultural Colony and Reformatory in Leicestershire. My knowledge of such places is scant (ok, non existent), but given that there seems to be a very good chance that my great grandfather was up before the court bench both during and after his Army career, I could be forgiven for thinking that I see a trend developing.

Council of war

WOMEN’S WORK: and they weren’t about to go back into the kitchen when war was over

Sticking with the men at war theme, on Friday afternoon I went to see Their Finest in the cinema. Set in word war two, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film about film-making, and the value of propaganda, and especially about the role of women in wartime, and the subsequent tensions when they were expected to meekly resume their domesticated lives when peace came.

Apart from all of that, much of it was filmed in Swansea, and I had a lot of fun spotting locations; including the council offices, which made a very convincing Ministry of War.

And on we go

Today, Sunday, is our 29th wedding anniversary. TCMrsF says she’s getting used to me now.

 

No breakthrough in Suffolk

THE search for information about my great grandfather’s early life continues to frustrate my best efforts (for any new readers: I started off thinking he was born in Ireland, then found an Army record that strongly suggested he was born in Ipswich and raised in the Suffolk village of Trimley).

This week, Suffolk Record Office sent me the results of their research. There is no record of a William Henry Feeney baptised in any of the 18 parishes of Ipswich around 1843.

There are 15 entries for Finney, with one William (but for the year 1875), and none for Henry. There are also three entries for Finny, but none is a William or Henry. So the Ipswich line of enquiry goes cold.

In the parishes of Trimley St Martin and Trimley St Mary, there are 30 entries for Finney between 1813 and 1875, and one of them is for a William Henry Finney, son of Caroline Finney, who was baptised in 1846. This sounds very promising – and then a note in the baptismal records, to say that William Henry was being baptised several years after he was born – in 1831. So he cannot have been my great-grandfather.

Ah well, it’s back to searching for a clue in Irish records.

Dangerous charm

SO LONG, KID: Alex Frith was able to charm the grumpiest editor

THE Current Mrs Feeney and I were at a funeral on Monday. Alex Frith walked into my life one morning shortly after I had taken over the Editor’s chair at the South Wales Evening Post in 2002.

She breezed into my office, introduced herself as my Children’s Editor (until that moment, I was unaware that we had one), and explained that she wrote a weekly column about elf-like marine creatures called The Bumbles of Mumbles. Apparently, every Christmas there was a Bumbles Special show at the Grand Theatre. All of Swansea’s dance schools took part. At the end of the show, every dance school principal received a bouquet on stage. It would be very kind of me if I would agree to do the honours this year.

Which I did. That year, and every year after that. Every year, I would tell myself that I wouldn’t get talked into it again. Alex would walk into my office, tell me that my ‘aura’ was “looking good, kid,” and leave with my enthusiastic agreement. Worked every time.

Which just proves, there is nothing more dangerous for a man than a charming woman.

Denying the undeniable

I WENT to a Silver Screening at our local Vue cinema this week. They are for those of us who have reached what is called, in polite society, “senior” status. TCMrsF was unable to join me, if you get my drift.

The film being shown was Denial, about the real-life (unsuccessful) libel action brought by Hitler historian David Irvine against an American Jewish female writer who accused him in her book of deliberately distorting historical facts about the Holocaust to suit his own political views.

Having visited Auschwitz Birkenau twice, I find it hard to comprehend why anybody would seek to reject the truth about the biggest crime in history.

I thought Timothy Spall was horribly watchable as Irvine, but the film struggled as a courtroom drama because of the defence team’s decision not to put either the defendant or any Auschwitz survivors in the witness box. So, no climactic showdown between Irvine and her or them.

Still, a reduced-price ‘superior’ seat, and free coffee and biscuits. I must go again. TCMrsF won’t be joining me.

Time and tide

POSTCARD SCENE: this is how I recall Langland Bay in the 1970s.

TO Langland Bay yesterday, with The Gamekeeper son, our daughter-in-law and our two grandsons, who had a lot of fun exploring rock pools and digging holes.

I was shocked by how little sand there was on the beach. I recall Langland in the 1970s as a golden cove; now it is strewn with black rocks. Either my memory is wrong, or time and the tides have wreaked havoc.

Reading plays aloud was torture

THIS week, for the first time in many years, I sat down and read a play. Gem Of The Ocean is the first (chronologically) in August Wilson’s ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle. My interest was sparked when The Current Mrs Feeney and I recently watched Denzel Washington’s cinema version (above) of the fifth play, Fences.

Studying for an English Literature degree meant that I had to read a lot of plays in university. Before that, there were school lessons that involved each boy in the class in turn reading aloud – and generally without any comprehension of what he was saying –  while the English teacher sat at his desk and quietly shuddered as Shakespeare was murdered.

Apart from lots of Shakespeare, I remember the class stumbling through The Playboy of the Western World, and (earlier) a play called The Iron Butterfly.

I wonder if playwrights are still being tortured in schoolrooms today.

It’s easy for me to stay calm

GLORY DAYS: Swans fans celebrate the club’s promotion to the Premier League in 2011

ALL the shower talk among the Retired Gentlemen’s Swimming Club regulars this week has been about Swansea City Football Club’s ever-growing relegation peril.

It seems increasingly likely that the Swans will fall out of the Premier League, after a six-year stay at the elite level. There is the predictable mixture of disappointment and fatalism at the prospect, but I detect also a degree of anticipation of more enjoyable afternoons at the Liberty Stadium should the club fall back into the Championship next season.

I understand why; it would be nice to once again go to a game with a sense of excitement and anticipation, in place of the trepidation and foreboding that has been our constant companions this season.

I am not convinced, however, that the two Americans who paid £100million to buy a major shareholding in the club last summer would view relegation with my degree of equanimity.

Thanks for the memories; now get lost

On our way to the most recent Swans game at the Liberty – a savage 3-1 defeat after we were leading 1-0 with only two minutes left of normal time – I bump into the editor of a fanzine, who asks me to write something for the next edition.

I have done a defence of the club chairman and his former board colleagues, who have all been branded “greedy bastards” for selling their shares to the new owners.

The criticism has grown harsher as the team’s struggles have intensified, but the board delivered a decade of extraordinary success before it was all undermined by poor decisions in recruiting new players and managers.

The harsh truth is that sports fans have short memories. Players, managers and directors are only as good as their last game.

Sticking to dry land

TO the preview of a new exhibition of paintings by three landscape artists at the Attic Gallery on Friday night. I bought this piece by Michael Howard; not the former Conservative leader who was in the news this week for apparently comparing Spain’s interest in Gibraltarian tax arrangements with Argentina’s military invasion of the Falkland Islands; this one is a retired head of art at Rugby School.

I asked him if he had any plans to paint on Gower; “too watery,” he said.

Overpowered

THE sight of the sun has prompted furious activity in our back garden – including powerwashing the decking and patio. A wet and dirty job. “We really need to do this every month,” said TCMrsF. Really? Couldn’t we just move house instead?

Conduct Unbecoming; or maybe not.

ON the day the United Kingdom sent a letter to Brussels, starting the process of leaving the European Union, I sent a letter (cheque enclosed) to the Ipswich office of Suffolk Archive Service. It seemed appropriate.

It was Brexit that started me on my quest to uncover my great-grandfather William Henry Feeney’s early life. The Daughter Who Left held out hopes that it would qualify her for an Irish passport, and continued EU citizenship when the UK finally severs its ties to the EU.

Sadly for her, it now appears that old William Henry may have been born, not in Ireland, but in Ipswich, starting out at a young age on a career in the British Army which ended with a posting to west Wales, and eventual marriage to my great-grandmother.

The notes from the 1870 Regimental Board meeting that discharged him reads: “His name appears five times entered in the Regimental Defaulters book, including one court-martial and one civil conviction (tried and imprisoned for assault). His conduct has been good.”

Which begs the question: what did you have to do, in the British Army in the 19th Century, before your conduct was judged bad?

Facing up to reality

THE Daughter joined The Current Mrs Feeney and I to watch a live cinema screening of a performance of Madama Butterfly on Thursday. It was her first experience of opera.

She did not enjoy it much. She couldn’t understand what they were singing (in Italian), and was distracted by the English subtitles running along the bottom of the screen.

GEISHA LOOK: it’s not what I saw on the cinema screen.

I was struck by something else, however; the cinematic close-up shots made it obvious that Butterfly was being sung by a non-Asian soprano.

I knew that before the performance began, of course, and it is hardly unusual. Did it even matter? Her voice was beautiful, and she portrayed the character’s journey from teenage geisha to tragic mother with huge skill.

From the stalls, it would not have even been noticeable. It’s just that, on a cinema screen, everything is enlarged and emphasised.

Behind the mask

AS it happened, TCMrsF and I were back in the same cinema on Friday – and back in the Far East, to see Ghost in the Shell, the first big Hollywood live-action adaptation of a Japanese animé film.

The lead character is a first-of-its-kind creation; a cyber-enhanced robotic body (Shell) inhabited by a human brain (Ghost). It (she?) is played by Scarlett Johansson, and we both thought that she was very good at portraying the machine/person’s growing crisis as the human intrudes on the manufactured.

WEST OR EAST: Scarlett Johannson has been caught up in a “whitewashing” row

But Johansson’s casting in the role, which was clearly Asian in the animé (and preceding Manga comic) version, sparked a furious debate about Hollywood “whitewashing” non-white characters.

I understand why people were angry; but it made me wonder if Japanese opera lovers were similarly unhappy about a Western Butterfly – or does the Geisha make-up mean the issue of is irrelevant?

Who will speak for the fish?

WHAT will Brexit mean for the fish in our rivers? In all the debate about the UK’s exit from the EU (two years and counting down), this is not a topic I’ve seen addressed anywhere.

The only reason that I’ve raised it here is because of a conversation I had in the showers at the pool where I go for a regular morning swim.

A fellow devotee of the early dip, who happens to be a very keen angler, was bemoaning the fact that EU agricultural grants had had a devastating effect on fish stocks. I asked him to explain his thinking.

His theory went something like this: EU grants encourage farmers to maximise the amount of land they have under cultivation – including boggy land along riverbanks that would otherwise be left in its natural state. Along with the rest of the farmer’s fields, this land is given large doses of fertiliser. Then, at times of heavy rainfall, this fertiliser is washed into the rivers because the bogs no longer act as natural sponges. The fertiliser kills invertebrates in the water, and the fish starve.

Being neither farmer nor fisherman, I have no idea if he is right; our son The Gamekeeper says there is something in it, though blaming it on EU grants is pushing things a bit.

Now that we have finally delivered the letter to Brussels, formally starting the exit process, I cannot help wondering if anybody is going to be negotiating on behalf of the fish.

Inquisitive East meets intellectually lazy West

This time last week we were in Stratford-upon Avon, to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Snow In Midsummer, a modern adaptation of a classic Chinese play (it says on the programme notes.)

I enjoyed it very much, but it did get me thinking how little I know about Chinese culture – which, let’s face it, has been around for quite a long time.

My ignorance and my lamentable lack of curiosity about the subject was only driven home the next morning by the large numbers of Chinese tourists on the streets of Stratford, photographing everything of a Shakespearean theme.

The wrong actress in the house

On Friday afternoon I went to the cinema alone; literally so. Not only was The Current Mrs Feeney unable to join me, but I was the only person in the audience.

At least that meant there was nobody to distract me from the film. Viceroy’s House tells the story of the weeks leading up to the partition of the Indian sub-continent into the states of India and Pakistan, as the British prepare to get out after three centuries of colonial rule.

END OF EMPIRE: Lord Mountbatten, Gandhi, and Lady Mountbatten outside the Viceroy’s House in Delhi, in the last days of the British Raj.

The film takes a very Upstairs, Downstairs view of proceedings. Upstairs, the last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, is locked in increasingly urgent talks with Indian political leaders in what turned out to be a doomed attempt to prevent the country being torn in two.

Downstairs, there is a star-crossed love affair between Mountbatten’s Hindhu manservant and his wife’s Muslim maid, while the Viceroy’s House staff begin to divide along religious lines.

The film was competent, but never quite matched the scale of its subject matter. I did very much enjoy Gillian Anderson’s performance as Lady Mountbatten, but unfortunately, when I was discussing the film on our local TV station a few days later, I attributed the role to Pamela Anderson instead.

Now I cannot shake off the image of Lady M in a red swimsuit, bounding athletically along a beach with the Indian Ocean breakers crashing ashore behind her.

Not wisely, but too well

TWO former colleagues tied the knot on Saturday. An occasion of much drinking and dancing. It was lovely to see so many old faces, and catch up with what everyone had been doing over the last four years.

I’m sure the conversations were fascinating; if only I could remember them.

 

We should have gone to India

WOUNDED ANIMAL: Hugh Jackman gets his claws into the role of Logan/Wolverine

AS yet another skull splintered, splattering blood and brain matter, I reached the conclusion that I would rather have been in British Colonial India.

The Current Mrs Feeney and I had been undecided about our regular Friday afternoon trip to the cinema. Should we watch Logan, the latest in the Marvel Comics X-Men franchise, or Viceroy’s House, the historical tale of the last days of the British Raj?

We decided on Logan. Neither of us had seen the earlier X-Men films, but the critical noise about Hugh Jackman’s third outing as Logan/Wolverine had been loud and positive, going as far as describing it as a work of movie-making genius.

And anyway, TCMrsF wasn’t sure she could stand two hours of Gillian Anderson’s hilariously strangulated English accent as Lady Mountbatten holding court as the sun went down on the British Empire, and the sub-continent descended into religious and sectarian slaughter.

CLASS ACT: Patrick Stewart achieves his usual excellence as the ailing Professor X.

I was very encouraged by the start. The early scenes between Jackman, the ever wonderful Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier/Professor X), and Stephen Merchant (Caliban) were smart and emotionally engaging.

Mind you, Logan’s metal claws had already ripped apart a gang of would-be car thieves. And then the serious stuff started. Two hours later, TCMrsF and I agreed that there had been simply too much stabbing, slashing and decapitation for us.

I could see why some critics had liked it so much; beyond the gore and the well-choreographed fight scenes, there is a lot going on in the background.

It may be coincidence, but at a time when all the talk in the United States seems to be about building walls, this is a road movie about people trying to cross borders. The irony, of course, is that they are trying to evade border patrols in order to get out of, rather than into, the States.

There is also stuff in here about the dangers of “Frankenstein Science” research into gene manipulation of both food and human beings. I got the impression that director James Mangold isn’t a fan of GM crops.

Richard E Grant’s character (Dr Zander Rice) will inevitably conjure up images of the way the Nazis perverted scientific research through people like Mengele at Auschwitz.

So, it is fair to say that this is far more sophisticated and complex than your average superhero film. I just wish it had been 30 minutes shorter and 20 mangled corpses lighter.

As we left the cinema, I asked TCMrsF what she thought of it: “Violent,” she said. Quite.

Retired Bloke Rating: *** OK way to spend an afternoon at the cinema (if you’ve got the stomach for it.) I’m sure other people will rate it much more highly.

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The Film Buff Stuff:

Logan

Director: James Mangold

Writer: Mangold/Scott Frank/Michael Green

Cinematographer: John Mathieson

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E Grant.

 

 

Bosnia mission led to retirement degree

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THE old woman dressed all in black sat on the steps in front of her hut. She had gathered wild garlic that morning, and she was trying to sell it to anyone passing her gate. A van drove down the road and stopped near her hut. Some men got out, and the old woman hobbled towards them, offering them the garlic. They shook their heads to indicate they did not want to buy any. One of the men opened the back doors of the van and took out a small parcel. He handed it to the woman, who opened it cautiously. There were tins and parcels of food inside. The woman looked at the men, and smiled. One of the men lifted a camera and started taking photos of the scene.

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This was Bosnia, in the aftermath of the Balkan wars that had shattered the region following the collapse of Yugoslavia. The man behind the camera was Dave Coffey, a manager with a pharmaceutical company in Swansea. He was part of a humanitarian mission organised by churches in the city.

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Dave was already a serious, if amateur, photographer. What he saw on that visit, and on other trips to the war-torn country over six years, ignited a passion that would result in him spending three years of his retirement obtaining a degree in photo-journalism.

Dave’s path into retirement has a familiar theme. After 36 years service in the pharmaceutical industry, changes to his role had left him feeling “like a puppet.” When he asked if he would consider early retirement, he was ready to consider it.

“My only concern was, could I survive financially,” he says. We are in the room at the top of his house where he spends much of his time editing the 45,000 images he has stored on his computer. Once he would have spent hours in the dark room he built at the bottom of his garden. Technology has made some things much easier for the dedicated photographer.

“At 62, it would be another three years before I started getting my state pension. But when I worked it all out, it seemed fine. When I actually retired (in December 2006) I accepted it for what it was. I didn’t have any problems adapting to a life without a paid job. I’m a busy person.”

Retirement gave this former grammar schoolboy from Liverpool the opportunity to pursue his photographic passion, and achieve a lifetime ambition to obtain a university degree.

“My family could not even have thought about being able to afford to send me to university when I left school in 1961.”

It wasn’t just his interest in photography that guided his choice of subject. “The photojournalism course at Swansea Metropolitan University was a modular degree. I didn’t want to be writing essays under pressure.”

He started the degree course in 2007, and gained a 2:1 honours degree three years later.  The work he did for his degree resulted in two books of his photographs, retracing his childhood around Romer Road.

Along the way, the knowledge he had gained in 25 years as a member of Swansea Camera Club meant he was able to help many of his younger and less experienced fellow students.

One of them is now a lecturer at the same university. He and Dave meet up regularly to exchange ideas. “There are always new software systems being launched. You never stop learning,” he says.

It is not only alumni that Dave remains in contact with. During one of his visits to Bosnia, he befriended a ten-year-old boy called Daniel. “Thirty years later, we are still in touch with each other. I want to go back soon and photograph the rebuilding of his town.”

Meanwhile, Dave is keeping busy, despite recent operation to remove cataracts from both eyes. A regular swimmer, he also walks daily and works out with weights in his garage three times a week (“They’re not heavy weights,” he points out.)

His next target is to be awarded a Fellowship by the Photographic Association of Great Britain. “I need to select a project, but I’m looking forward to getting on and taking my photographs.”

This is a retired bloke who remains in focus.