Archive for February, 2010

A girl and a half

February 23, 2010


I grew up in the 1970’s in Clydach Vale in the Rhondda Valleys.  You turn left at Tonypandy and keep going up the hill till you reach Clydach.  When you hit mountain, that’s where Clydach stops.

We moved there when I was five.  My parents were both graduates of the London School of Economics and had lived in London and Manchester and Toronto (where my brother and I were born) and Worcester (where my sisters were born).  In 1970 my mother decided she wanted to go home to Wales and be closer to my grandmother.  My father, a boy from Wigan, decided he’d better go too.

 You got a lot more house for your money in Clydach than you did in Worcester.  My parents were able to buy a big old house, larger than most of the terraced houses.  They bought it from a Jewish doctor called Spector.  All the time we lived there it was always known as Dr Spector’s house.  There were tiny scrolls containing sacred Jewish parchment nailed on the inside of the doors.  The scrolls got less obvious every year as my mother gave the doors an extra coat of gloss. 

Although neither of them spoke Welsh my parents wanted us to be bilingual, like the Canadian French, and sent us to Welsh school.  I loved my school but it was a 40 minute bus drive away and only a handful of other kids from Clydach went to it.  What with the funny accent, the big house, the English Dad and the “posh” school, it wasn’t easy to fit in.  When I went to the Co-Op across the road shopping for my mother, Cynthia on check out said I was a girl and a half but she didn’t mean it in a good way.

When I was about ten I developed an obsession with horses.  I still have all my horse books, my Pony Club annuals 1975, 1976 and 1977.   I had riding lessons but they weren’t enough of a fix for me.  One day my Dad came home from walking the dog and said he’d arranged for me to go visit a lady called Hazel who lived with her husband Emrys in another big house with scruffy stables on a bit of hilly land carved out of the edge of the mountain just before it turns into forestry commission. 

 I went to Hazel’s all the time.  I  fitted in there just fine because Hazel didn’t just have horses but dogs too –Lassie dogs and Yorkshire Terriers- and there was almost always a litter of puppies.   There were tropical fish and terrapins and a mangy mousing cat and once even a fox cub that Hazel had found when she was out hunting and brought home.   She fed it and cared for it and we played with it like a puppy until it was old enough to be released into the wild and be hunted itself.  Hazel was a sporty, capable woman with red hair and pale skin and sturdy thighs.  She strode around the place in riding boots caring briskly for all these animals, her grown up children who still lived at home and me, a ten year old horse groupie. I never saw her do any cleaning and Emrys did all the cooking.  I didn’t approve of hunting but when Hazel went out with the hunt she looked regal as a queen, sitting high on her horse with her red hair done up in one of those nets. 

I stopped going to Hazel’s at some point, probably in 1977 about the time the Pony Club annuals stopped.  I finished growing up and went off to University and I didn’t keep in touch with Hazel.

Just last year, over thirty years since I last went to Hazel’s, I got in a taxi in Cardiff.  It took the driver and me about three minutes to recognize each other’s Rhondda accent.  He asked me where I’d lived and when I told him Clydach he asked for some reason had I known Hazel and Emrys?  Yes, I said enthusiastically, yes I did.   I was about to ask how they were, did they still have horses and dogs and the odd orphaned fox cub but before I got my questions out the taxi driver spoke again.  Both dead now of course, he said, long time ago now.  But she was a girl and a half that Hazel was. 

 The rest of the way home I sat quietly in the back and said a long over due thank you to Hazel and her family for all the fitting in she helped me do all those years ago when I needed it and for helping me feel very glad to be a girl and a half.

Women on Boards

February 17, 2010

The recent post on this blog “Getting an Ooh from Cardiff Business Club” discussed the lack of female representation on the boards of companies.  I was therefore very interested to read an article in last week’s Sunday Times – 14.2.10 Appointments Section, written by Adrian Furnham and extracted from his book “The Elephant in the Boardroom” published by Palgrave Macmillan.

In his article Mr Furnham discusses the role of boards, which is primarily to make decisions but also to support the leader, the “first among equals”.  He comments:  “Rather than being a forum where educated, experienced and rational adults meet to try to make wise business decisions, they appear to be  places of intrigue and backbiting, fear and loathing.”

He goes on to identfiy the typical problems that executive teams face and how they should deal with them.  Problems included bloated membership – the optimal number for an efficient team is between 7 and 12 apparently, too big leading to splits with a few turning silent and others becoming very vocal, and so the size of the board should be limited to the optimal number.  Naked ambition for the top job and personal agendas are also problems, the suggested solutions to which are bringing succession planning out into the open and for teams to specify the personal criteria and the process by which the top job is awarded plus having a very clear agenda for board meetings.

The most interesting problem identified by Mr Furnham from Superwoman’s point of view is what he calls the Conspiracy of Silence.  He comments that suprisingly senior managers often cope with issues by never mentioning them, the well known “elephant in the room” syndrome.  Executive teams often deal with emotional issues – succession planning, relationships at work, the company’s future – by just not talking about them.  Mr Furnham advocates putting these issues on the table and says “Interestingly it is often tough professional women – so often missing from boards – who deal with this problem best.  This is an issue of emotional quotient rather than intelligence quotient  – and real balls.”   I’m assuming Mr Furnham used the dash advisedly there to make it clear that it’s the emotional quotient and not the intelligence quotient that requires real balls. 

So Superwomen when you’re making your case for a seat at the boardroom table bear in mind what Mr Furnham says.    Having women on the board is  not only good for profitability and for tapping into women’s talents and their increasing purchasing power it is also good for corporate governance .  Women will put the non discussable issues on the agenda and then tell it how it is.   Just make sure though that when you’re shooing the elephant out of the boardroom you don’t step in the mess it left behind.

Aur Pur/Pure Gold – Bethan Darwin, Back Home

February 11, 2010

 Libraries across North Wales have launched a reading promotion in partnership with local FE/HE colleges to introduce readers to the good reads available in Libraries. Now in it’s third year the promotion called Aur Pur/Pure Gold has been extended to reach readers in FE/HE libraries. Librarians from Estyn Allan y Gogledd, the reader development network, have chosen twelve books, all from Wales but which take the reader to many different places. The authors of the most popular books in English and in Welsh will be presented with an Aur Pur award designed locally. Reading groups in libraries across North Wales will also be reading and discussing the books, and they would welcome new members to join them. The aim of the promotion is to show the wide range of stimulating books available free of charge for readers in libraries in Wales, and has been funded from the Welsh Assembly Government’s National Marketing Strategy for Libraries. “Welsh gold is valuable, rare, and alluring”, said Alan Watkin of Wrexham Library Service .”The rich seam of the imagination is much easier to mine, and readers can find it at their local library. We’ve chosen twelve books from Wales, six in English and six in Welsh, which take you to many different places. Whatever your reading taste, there’ll be something here to entertain, challenge and enrich everyone. We are delighted that the promotion will reach a wider audience of readers via our partnership with the colleges’. All the books featured as part of the promotion will be available for loan via college and public libraries. The 12 books in the Aur Pur/Pure Gold promotion are:

Back Home, Bethan Darwin

The Schoolboy, Holly Howitt

Mrs D’Silva’s Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta, Glen Peters

Tag, Stephen May

My Little Armalite, James Hawes

Flint, Margaret Redfern

Mr Blaidd, Llwyd Owen

Man Esgyrn, Sian Owen

Hi a fi, Eigra Lewis Roberts

Haf o Hyd, Geraint Lewis,

Alias Myth a Jones, Dafydd Huws

Superwoman by E J Catering – feeding a cold

February 10, 2010

Like the rest of Wales I seem to have a clinging cold that I just can’t shift.  No amount of early nights, hot baths, bed socks and chick flicks were helping so I decided to turn to food for a natural healing and flush it out with fresh chilli, ginger and garlic.  The  combination of sweet ginger with the pungency of garlic is a wonderful flavour combo. It will fill your house with an amazing aroma that begins to help clear your nose immediately and their anti-viral qualities are excellent for curing colds. Fresh chilles can be as stimulating as a glass of whisky!  In fact the heat from the chilli triggers the release of endorphins in the brain, which has a pain relieving effect similar to that of morphine.

These two recipes are quick and easy as I didn’t feel like cooking much.

Saturday night – Chinese mussels
1 kilo of mussels
2 fresh chillies, one red, one green
4 inches of ginger
3 stems of lemon grass
4-8 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons Thai fish paste
1 tin of coconut milk
Salt and pepper

Wash the mussels removing any beards or barnacles.  If any of the mussels are open give them a good hard tap on the sink. The shells should close,  if not discard them.
Chop the garlic, ginger and lemon grass very finely.  Thinly slice the chillies on a diagonal.
In a large bowl mix together the mussels, garlic, lemon grass, ginger, chillies, Thai fish paste, coconut milk, salt and pepper.
Heat a heavy-based saucepan until it is just beginning to smoke and tip in the contents of the bowl,  placing the lid on tightly.  Give the saucepan a  shake and allow to cook until steam is streaming from the under the lid. Lift the lid and give them another good shake, all the mussels should be open. Add the chopped coriander to the sauce and spoon into a bowl.

Sunday lunch –Pan fried chicken with garlic sauce
2 free range chicken breasts – split in half horizontally
Salt and pepper
Pinch of cayenne
4-8 cloves of garlic – minced
8oz chicken stock
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
Season the breasts and in a good frying pan heat a splash of olive oil. Fry the breasts on both sides for a couple of minutes, they should have a nice golden brown colour. Remove from the pan and put on a plate.  Melt a knob of butter and add the minced garlic, fry for a couple of seconds and pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer, add the crème fraiche and  put the chicken breast back into the pan. Cook slowly a low heat  for a further five minutes.  Serve with something green.

I did feel great straight after both meals but am still not 100% cured.  Maybe this bug likes my cooking too!

Super Injunctions

February 1, 2010

My football mad, early rising eleven year old has taken to pinching my Sunday paper.  By the time I drag myself out of bed my Sunday Times has been whipped from the door mat and I have to track down said eleven year old to find it.  Usually the only bit he reads is the Sports Section and the rest of my paper gets handed back in pristine condition but yesterday I found that the main paper had also been pored over.   Because of course John Terry was on the front page  not for scoring on the pitch but off it.  Allegedly.   

“What’s alleged adultery mean Mum?”

“Erm,  he’s being accused of kissing someone else’s girlfriend.”  (He’s only just turned eleven and for the moment – I accept it’s probably a relatively brief moment –  not showing the least bit of interest in sex.)

“Whose girlfriend?”

“Wayne Bridge’s.”

“But he used to play with him at Chelsea before he moved to Man City!”  (I wish he was as good at remembering to bring his hat/coat/gloves home with him after school as he is at remembering football statistics).  “That’s awful that is.  You just don’t do that to your mates.  Can I go out the garden now to play football?”

When your average person is allegedly adulterous the press don’t tend to take much notice.  When you’re the England football captain they do.  And when you’ve tried and failed to keep hold of your Super Injunction (a court order which prevents not only reporting the allegation but also the fact that an injunction even exists) the press pays even more attention.   Freedom of expression getting one past the privacy post makes for good copy on more than one level. 

It’s believed one of the reasons that John Terry failed to retain his Super Injunction was because he and his lawyers emphasised to the court the possible loss of his future earnings more than they did the effect on his wife and children and this I think is one of the saddest aspects of this story.   Was John Terry really more worried about money than he was about his wife and children being publicly humiliated?   I suppose there’s a possibility that once she’d had time to come to terms with the betrayal Mrs Terry might also have been worried that his sponsors might drop him.   When you’re tamping mad with someone who’s image earns him sponsorship deals worth £4m and possibly considering leaving him,  do you start a viral campaign asking everyone in the world to post up on their Facebook status that your husband is a liar and a cheat or do you do everything in your power to keep his image clean and the maintenance pot as high as possible?

Life is complicated and the choices us grown ups make aren’t black and white like the choices we made when we were eleven.   I do know that.   But wouldn’t life be better for everyone,  however old or however rich we may be, if there were still some things that you just don’t do to your mates?