Notes on a Retired Life (cont’d)

THE number of older people using social media doubled last year, according to research from Ofcom, the telecoms regulator.

Among those whom Ofcom terms “social seniors” (ugh), 90 percent chose Facebook, which has simultaneously fallen in popularity with young people.

So much for my efforts to get down with the kids.


WE recently went through a heatwave. It prompted The Current Mrs Feeney to buy a disposable barbecue and a couple of steaks. We lit the tray of lumpwood, and left it for the recommended 30 minutes to get hot, before putting on the steaks.

For the next ten minutes we stared at the raw meat, as it stubbornly refused to cook. Then TCMrsF took the steaks into the kitchen and fried them. Delicious.


THERE was quite a reasonable crowd for the lunchtime showing of Churchill (see review below). TCMrsF surveyed the heads in the rows in front of us. Most were as silvered as this writer’s.

“I’m too young to watch this film,” she said.

A reviewer in a film magazine, to which I subscribe, this month suggested that a movie she had just savaged would be “just the bill for those seniors’ matinees where the ticket comes with a cuppa and a biscuit.”

Patronising rubbish. Cinema goers who are over 60 are just as averse to watching crap as anybody else.


I READ in my morning newspaper that Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement has intensified its rhetoric against migrants and Gypsies. Its leader described the inhabitants of Gypsy camps in Rome as thieves.

When TCMrsF had her purse stolen on the Roman metro this year, the charming carabinieri officer who took down her particulars explained to us, with a rueful smile, that the crime would, beyond doubt, have been carried out by a Roma child.

We are certain that it was actually committed by the bourgeois-looking couple who stood behind us on the train.


I HAVE always had a terrible memory for names. Not great for a journalist.

An acquaintance whom I had not met for at least 30 years bumped into me outside the supermarket. I was pretty sure that we had once played in the same football team, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember if he was called Ian (pronounced EE-ann) or Ieuan (pronounced Yi-ann). This matters in Wales.

I puzzled at it for hours, before it came to me with certainty. He was called Ivor.


AT TCMrsF’s request, I go through the cluttered drawer on my dressing table. Among the items no longer of any use, I find my mother’s and father’s bank cards. I cut them up and dispose of them.

More than a year after their deaths, moments of what is fashionably called “closure” continue to occur.


It’s nice to be back

A suggestion I made on Twitter, that Swansea City captain Leon Britton be given the Freedom Of The City by the council in recognition of his contribution to the club’s elevation to global recognition over the last decade, had been picked up by local and national media.

Very good for my ego. Even better if the council bigwigs actually do it.

Time, gentlemen?

It was a pleasant day so I walked into town for my weekly spot on Swansea’s local television station. Walking along Walter Road, one of the main thoroughfares into the city, it struck me that it still was home to many businesses, but that almost all of the pubs along the road had closed down. Conversely, there were now several coffee shops and cafés among the lawyers, financial advisors and letting agents.

Does this mean the day of the lunchtime pint (or two) is over, but office workers have developed an unquenchable thirst for a skinny latte?

Why didn’t I know this?

A rail trip to Carmarthen. I am surprised at how beautiful the view is from the train as it runs past Ferryside, looking across the River Towy to Llansteffan Castle on the opposite bank. I have delighted in views like this in Italy; why am I so ignorant about what is not far from my own doorstep?

Anybody but the neighbours

In Carmarthen, we have lunch in an Italian restaurant. I ask the waiter if he will be watching that night’s Champions League final. No, because he is working, but he will be hoping for a Real Madrid victory.

He is Italian, so why will he not be cheering on Juventus? “Because I am from Milan,” he says, in the tone grown-ups use to explain obvious truths to dim-witted children. A reminder that domestic rivalry will always trump national solidarity.

Another U-turn

A friend asks me for my “point of view” about the General Election. He means, how will I vote. I never say; people fought hard and sacrificed much to win us all the right to a secret ballot. But I do, truthfully, say that, 24 hours before election day, I am still undecided.

“You’re an intelligent man,” he replies, “so you can’t be thinking of voting for Corbyn.” I’m not sure these two things are mutually exclusive.  Then he – an implacable Leaver in the EU referendum – surprises me by saying that, now, he would vote for the UK to remain and help reform the EU.

It seems, with the rising threat (and reality) of terrorist atrocities on British streets, EU immigration is not the future-defining issue facing the nation after all.

Memories, in a bank statement

I spend an afternoon going through the files I had compiled for my parents in their last few years. I put bank statements, pension slips, cheque books, correspondence from various government and council agencies, and copies of all the forms we had to fill out in order to get them home, and then, residential care, into a large bin bag, ready to be shredded.

It feels strange. I had deliberately left the files untouched since their deaths. Some items I keep; I am sure I will have no use for them, but destroying them just would not have felt right.

Dead woman walking

I stay up half the night watching the election results. Nobody wins, and the country ends up hobbled with a hung Parliament.

In the morning, I watch the Prime Minister, mortally wounded after losing her majority in the House of Commons, make a ‘carry on as normal’ statement. Nobody believes her.

In the afternoon, I go to the cinema with The Current Mrs Feeney and The Daughter to see The Mummy. In this version, the mummy is female, risen from the grave, trying to restore the old order despite the inconvenience of being a dead woman walking.

It all seems oddly familiar.

Dodgy oyster

I WENT to a meeting of a local history group on Monday. I was hoping to find out something to help my family research project, and stayed to listen to a talk about the Mumbles Railway.

It was the world’s first passenger railway, but it was launched in 1840 to haul limestone from the quarries at Oystermouth to the docks at the other end of Swansea Bay.

The speaker had brought along two small limestone rocks. “Hit them together and smell them,” he said. A pungent odour filled my nostrils.

He explained how the limestone was created over millennia by dead sea creatures sinking to the bottom of what was then a tropical ocean.

The pong I was smelling came from 300million-year-old shellfish.

One man’s noise

Better news about the Springsteen book. A chapter on the ideas behind the tracks on his Born To Run breakthrough album prompted me to take it down from the shelf, and put it on the kitchen CD player.

Listening to Jungleland (played loud), while relaxing in the sun on the patio with the doors wide open, was very enjoyable. I’ve apologised to the neighbours.

Shut that door

Walking back from the newsagents on Thursday morning, I bumped into a Labour activist acquaintance, who was just coming out of his house by the entrance to our local park.

I complimented him on the fine display of Vote Labour posters in his windows, but could not help noticing that none of them had any mention of Jeremy Corbyn.

He is unhappy about this airbrushing of the Labour party leader. “He was elected democratically. You stick to your principles,” he said. Then he added, somewhat mysteriously: “You don’t burn down your house because you don’t like the colour of the front door.”

If the Labour party is the house, and Corbyn is the door, it strikes me that what is happening in this election campaign is more a case of putting up a screen in front of the door, in the hope that everybody looks at the house instead.

Problem is, if you can’t get past the door, you can’t enter the building.

Don’t know what to think

The Current Mrs Feeney and I went shopping for an upcoming trip to Spain. In Primark, she picked up a silver, see-through beach bag, and asked me: “What do I think of this?”

It turned out that she had no idea.


Shopping done, to the cinema to watch Jessica Chastain turn in a fantastic performance as a Washington DC lobbyist in Miss Sloane. Fans of TV shows like The West Wing or The Good Wife will enjoy the dialogue-rich experience.

But while the tv shows were 60 minutes per episode, the film is over two hours long. For the first time, I found myself wishing for a commercial break.

Here we go (again)

MY football team, Swansea City, has survived in the Premier League after looking doomed to relegation for most of the season.

Huge relief. Now I can start worrying about next season.

Once more, with feeling

I AM continuing my journey through American playwright August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. Joe Turner’s Come And Gone, the second of Wilson’s ten plays charting the black American experience through the 20th Century, amply demonstrates that the richness of Wilson’s writing was not confined to his poetic dialogue. How is this for a stage direction:

“Bynum enters from the yard carrying some plants. He is a short, round man in his early sixties” . . so far, so straightforward . . “he gives the impression of always being in control of everything. Nothing ever bothers him. He seems to be  lost in a world of his own making and to swallow any adversity or interference with his grand design.”

Any ideas what these may be?

The first part of last week was busy with outdoor tasks in the continuing dry, warm weather. Standing on top of a stepladder, helping erect two replacement panels on our next-door neighbour’s back fence, I noticed these strange objects sticking up from our house roof.

Posting photos of them on Twitter and Facebook, in the hope that somebody can tell me what they are, has not yielded anything more useful than the suggestion that they fell off a passing jet airliner.

Where do screen turkeys go these days?

WASTE OF TALENT: not even Arkin, Freeman and Caine can save the day.

THE Current Mrs Feeney and I went to see Going In Style at the cinema on Friday evening. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin play three former ex-colleagues who decide to rob a bank when their old company moves production to Vietnam, and closes the pension fund they rely on to pay for their modest retirement.

On paper, it had a lot going for it. Three veteran movie stars with exemplary action credentials, and a topical plot about the way predatory and socially irresponsible international companies and banks treat their customers and workers.

But on screen, it was terrible. The comedy set-ups were predictable and limp; the action sequences were so awful, it was embarrassing to watch.

We were about 30 minutes in when TCMrsF whispered to me: “Should have gone straight to video.” Do turkeys like this still do that?


Just play me a song

I HAVE started reading Born To Run, the Bruce Springsteen autobiography I was given for Christmas. I like his music very much, but am finding the minutiae of his musical development, and the series of bar-bands that the emerging ‘Boss” played in, less than enthralling.

I think this confirms that I am not natural ‘fan’ material. I’d like to believe this is desirable in a journalist, but suspect my lack of interest in who the young Springsteen played, fought or slept with means I would never have been a success as a celebrity reporter.

I can live with this.

Close call

On Saturday morning, I collected from a local art gallery the painting I had bought at a recent show. There was a new one-man exhibition at the gallery, and the owner gave me a catalogue. I was about to say that I didn’t like the work, when she introduced the man standing next to her as the artist.

I said something non-committal, and left.


Retired Bloke in Rome

THE Current Mrs Feeney and I are back home in Swansea after five days in Italy with The Daughter Who Left.

We stayed in a small privately-owned hotel in Rome’s city centre, just around the corner from Roma Termini rail station. The Anxious Owner was a constant presence, always wearing the same suit, dusty moustache, and the look of somebody who knows his staff are doing something they oughtn’t to be but can’t work out what it is. We never saw him smile.


On Tuesday we did all the tourist things in Rome: Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Victor Emmanuel II Monument, Colosseum; you know the drill. This involved a great deal of walking; slightly more than 20kilometres – I know because The Daughter, who was wearing her Fitbit bracelet thingy, informed me with something approaching awe in her voice.

Also, because TCMrsF complained of blisters.


QUICK WORK: the high-speed train between Rome and Naples. All rail travel should be like this. It isn’t.

We went to see Pompeii the next day. We caught the 9.25am high-speed express from Termini to Napoli Centrale. It only cost 45Euros for all three tickets, and only took one hour to cover the 160-plus miles between the two cities. Our tickets guaranteed our seats. I was deeply impressed, and wondered why British trains weren’t like this.

Then we needed to catch a commuter train from Naples along the coast to Pompeii. We went to the ticket office to buy tickets.

“Pompeii? The archaeological site?” said the charming young woman behind the desk.


“Different company. Downstairs.”

It was our first lesson in Italian bureaucracy. It wasn’t to be our last.

Our tickets reserved about a square foot of floor space, from which you could grasp an overhead rail in an attempt to stop yourself from falling into the person jammed next to you as the train juddered to a halt at every suburban station. This felt more like British rail travel.

FALLEN ICARUS: young women were keen to be photographed in front of him. I can’t imagine why.

Pompeii was far bigger than we had expected; impossible to do it justice in a few hours. I recall especially the Forum and the Basilica, with their fallen monumental statues, including one of Icarus (left). For some reason, young women seemed very keen to have their photos taken standing just below his waist. I can’t imagine why.

Back in Naples we went upstairs (different company) to buy tickets back to Rome on the 6pm express. “I have no tickets left,” said the charming man behind the desk. “I can get you on the 6.40.”

“Yes please. Three tickets please.”

“Forty-five Euros.”

“Yes, that’s what we paid this morning,” said TCMrsF, handing over a 50Euro note.

“Forty five Euros each.”

I know inflation in Italy is higher than in the UK. But, still.

STATION MUSIC: there’s a piano on the platform. People randomly play it. Other people start singing. Nobody thinks it eccentric.

Compensation of sorts while we are waiting for the train. There is a piano on the platform forecourt. A man sits down at the piano stool and begins playing. Other men, middle-aged, obviously locals, gather around and start singing what sound like popular drinking songs. I think how extraordinary that a piano has been provided, or at least tolerated, by the station authorities – and that it hasn’t been vandalised.

I turn around to see The Daughter sat on a bench with a small dog on her knees. The dog’s owner, a tiny man, stands next to her, grinning with delight.

At the end of a long day, back in our hotel room, TCMrsF and I agree that more Continental rail travel would be a good idea.


LONG WAIT: they say the queues for St Peter’s are shorter in the afternoon. Don’t believe them.

On Friday, we queue for two hours in the morning to get into St Peter’s. A guide explains that there is always a long wait because entry to the church is free. He says the queues are shorter in the late afternoon, from around four o’clock. That’s the time we leave after several hours looking at the extraordinary religious and artistic treasures on display. The queue is even longer than in the morning; stretching out of the square and out of sight down the side streets.

We pay a last visit to the Trevi Fountain, which looks less impressive on this cloudy day, and buy ice creams. Another bureaucratic experience; we decide what size and flavours we want at the display counter, pay at the cash desk at the other end of the parlour (the bored cashier finishes her text message before agreeing to notice us), take our receipt back to the display counter, and give it to the assistant who joyfully accepts it and gives us our ice creams.

And this is still less protracted than buying a takeaway sandwich at another shop; there, we made our choice, received a ticket, took it to the cash desk, paid and received another ticket, took that ticket back to the man who had received our original order, who read the cash desk ticket carefully before giving us the sandwiches we’d asked him for five minutes earlier.

As fast food goes, it’s pretty slow. But the sandwiches and the ice creams were all delicious.

A crowded evening Metro train back to Termini, where TCMrsF discovers her bag is open and her money purse has disappeared. We try to report the theft to two men in uniforms in the station. They are not policemen. We try two more men, in uniforms and impressive berets. But they’re not policemen either. Eventually we are directed to a police station hidden away at the furthermost corner of the station.

The Carabinieri officer (cautious eyes, long grey beard) who takes the details says: “You are safe in Rome. But your things are not.”

The Daughter wonders if we’d like to know how many kilometres we covered looking for a policeman. We decide that we don’t.

At the end of a long day, back in our hotel, TCMrsF and I agree that more Continental rail travel would not be a good idea.


Waiting for our flight home on Saturday. A young man lays down his travel bags and sits at a baby grand piano standing in the concourse for departure Gate E. He begins to play. Some classical, some Adele. Italy; surprising and full of contrasts. Old and new. The luxury and the Naples slums. Maimed beggars on streets of beautiful young men and women.

What a fabulous week.

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.