Archive for January, 2014

A Swansea Jack-Dad’s 100th Birthday

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

If he had lived, my dad (Jack James) would have celebrated his 100th birthday on February 10th. I’m publishing this tribute to him earlier because I will be on vacation on his birthday. He died in 1994 and his twilight years fell victim to that terrible disease-Alzheimer’s. My brother delivered the following eulogy at his funeral which is a fitting tribute to the life of a true Swansea Jack:
It was only when we moved back to Wales, to Cardiff, about 16 years ago that I first heard the expression “Swansea Jack” and I suppose that’s what Dad was, a real “Swansea Jack”. Born in Dyfatty St, not far from the centre of Swansea Town, I don’t suppose he ever imagined that not only would he and his brothers and sisters go to Dyfatty School, but so would his future wife, her brothers and sisters, and both of his sons.

Later, David and I both went to Penlan School and I know that I often pointed out that on the Swansea Schools Football Shield which frequently sat in the Trophy Case in Penal, there were several smaller shields showing that Dyfatty School had won the trophy a number of times when Dad would have been playing for the soccer team.
(Ironically, I also knew that on a night in 1942,Dad had stood on a hill overlooking Dynasty School watching German bombers drop incendiary bombs on the school)
Last week, after Dad’s condition really worsened, one of the nurses said “Jack is a real fighter”. And looking back, I can see that he was. He fought back against unemployment in the 1930s by going to London to train as a painter and decorator.
He fought in World War II, in the Royal Air Force. (Leading Air Craftsman, 2nd Tactical Air Force.) After the war he fought against a lack of formal education by going to night school to study welding and mathematics, and he became a highly skilled welder meeting a very high standard required by the American contractors who were building the new oil refinery at Llandarcy. Every time I saw the huge cooling towers I was reminded of Dad.

But he also fought for justice for people. He was for many years a shop steward in the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, I’ve got his badge here, and I’m sure that his willingness to speak on behalf of other people, to represent his fellow workers didn’t help him personally, but he never shirked the responsibility.
But, he and my mother also fought to make sure that David and I got the education that he hadn’t. It never seemed to bother him that neither David nor I inherited his skill with his hands, but he made sure that we used our brains (which we did get from him) the best we could.
Dad was a great sportsman – cricket, football he loved them both. Dad gave me a tremendous sense of fair play. Though I wasn’t very sporting, he taught me to take the ups and downs without moaning.
He was an excellent darts player and a formidable doubles player with his father Phil. His darts prowess had a strange consequence. When David was about 8, his school teacher asked the class if either of their parents had any notable achievement. The teacher went round the class and eventually got to David who said that his mother wasn’t famous for anything, but his father was – he’d been in every single pub in Swansea. I’m not sure if the teacher was impressed, but I’m certain my mother wasn’t when David went home to tell her!

Dad didn’t leave much, but as our uncle Cyril said, you probably couldn’t find a single person who had a bad word to say about him. He was generous, and brave. He was fair. He was a Swansea Jack.
There are many other things I could say but time doesn’t permit; his last years were tough, for him, for his brothers and sisters, for all of us, but he was a fighter to the end. In the book of proverbs it says:
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck”
David and I can endorse that today

Buried Alive

Saturday, January 25th, 2014


Occasionally, I publish a post from a guest blogger and today is no exception. My brother kindly sent me  the following post which confirms that blogs have no boundaries. Enjoy!

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there existed a very real fear of being buried alive. The worry was stoked by disturbing newspaper reports, including one that appeared in the New York Times. The brief described a young man by the name of Jenkins who had been buried the day after his supposed death. Apparently, when the coffin was opened many days later by his relatives, who wished to move the body to the family burial ground, they were greeted by a ghastly sight. Jenkins’ body was lying face down, with much of his hair pulled out. Scratches lined the inside of the coffin, as if Jenkins had tried to claw open the lid.

Across the Atlantic, in 1895, physician J.C. Ouseley lent a measure of plausibility to the frightful accounts. After conducting extensive research, he claimed that as many as 2,700 people were buried prematurely in England and Wales annually. Though Ouseley’s statistics were likely exaggerated, groups like the London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial (LAPPB) were founded to curb the chances of such a nightmare scenario actually occurring. With wide public support, the LAPPB and other smaller organizations lobbied for burial reforms and demanded that doctors thoroughly inspect fresh corpses for signs of life.

As a result of the public outcry, many physicians developed and instituted quite a bizarre arsenal of diagnostic procedures for verifying death. Preventing mistaken burial became a top priority, as well as a marketing gimmick. Bereaved relatives would pay higher prices if it ensured that their loved ones weren’t confined to coffin while still alive.

In 2002, medical historian Jan Bondeson researched some of these quirky methods for his spooky, fascinating book Buried Alive. Science writer Mary Roach neatly and humorously summarized them in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

“The techniques,” Roach wrote, “seemed to fall into two categories: those that purported to rouse the unconscious patient with unspeakable pain, and those that threw in a measure of humiliation.”

The soles of the feet were sliced with razors, and needles jammed beneath toenails. Ears were assaulted with bugle fanfares and “hideous Shrieks and excessive Noises.” One French clergyman recommended thrusting a red-hot poker up what Bondeson genteelly refers to as “the rear passage.”

hot poker

A French physician invented a set of nipple pincers specifically for the purpose of reanimation.

Nipple Pincers

Another invented a bagpipelike contraption for administering tobacco enemas, which he demonstrated enthusiastically on cadavers in the morgues of Paris. The seventeenth-century anatomist Jacob Winslow entreated his colleagues to pour boiling Spanish wax on patient’s foreheads and warm urine into their mouths. One Swedish tract on the matter suggested that a crawling insect be put into the corpse’s ear. For simplicity and originality though, nothing quite matches the thrusting of “a sharp pencil” up the presumed cadaver’s nose.

None of these methods gained wide acceptance, however, especially because there existed a far simpler, much less humiliating, albeit smellier method of determining death: putrefaction. After two to three days of the body being left out, optimally in a hot, humid environment (or not so optimally if one is prone to queasiness), it becomes rather apparent if the person is alive or dead. The abdomen will start to swell and grow discolored, and there will be a stench.

Oh, will there ever be a stench.

But, if the stench isn’t obvious enough, you can always wait five days, at which point the skin will start to blister.

Nowadays, of course, we have more refined and scientifically valid methods of determining death. Doctors can precisely monitor heart rate, breathing, as well as brain activity. When such signs are absent, a person has probably passed on. They also watch for hypostasis, where the blood pools in the lower portion of the body, and algor mortis, a rapid drop in body temperature.

At its most basic, death is end of life. There’s a caveat, however, because scientists still can’t entirely agree on how to define life. So for now, death remains at least partially shrouded in mystery. But rest (in peace) assured, our powers of observation have grown advanced enough that you almost certainly don’t have to worry about waking up inside a coffin.

A Cause for Concern

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Two weeks ago Swansea City created history by defeating Manchester United for the first time at Old Trafford. They won the 3rd FA Cup tie with a late goal from their 12 million pound strike Wilfried Bony.  United are a very mediocre outfit these days compared to the dominating teams of the Ferguson era, and were without their two best players Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie. The Swans weren’t very convincing either, but their possession game was enough to stifle the threat from United’s hapless strikers, and Bony finally took advantage of United’s vulnerability in the air.

A week later the Swans returned to Old Trafford for a Premiership game and were predictably and comfortably defeated 2-0 by a United side still lacking quality but good enough to sweep aside an inept Swansea. Putting sentimentality and tradition aside I would much prefer three points from the Premiership game than a win in the FA Cup. Take Wigan Athletic for example. Last season they won the FA Cup but were relegated from the Premiership.

No self-respecting Swans supporter should accept a piece of silverware in the trophy cabinet in exchange for a place in the Premiership. And I’m afraid continual involvement in the FA Cup in addition to the poison chalice, alternatively known as the Europa Cup, is dragging the Swans dangerously near to the relegation zone. It is known fact that the Europa Cup has a draining effect on a club’s resources. Matches are played on a Thursday and the Premiership game is arranged for a Sunday which leaves little recovery time from traveling and injuries.

Swansea’s squad is decimated with injuries: Michu, Michael Vorm, Hernandez, De Guzmann, Tiendalli, Jose Canas, Roland Lamah and Dyer are currently on the sidelines. Last season’s talisman, Michu, is a huge loss particularly his goal contribution.

Yet Michael Laudrup refuses to recall Ki Sung-Yueng from Sunderland who was loaned to them at the beginning of the season. Laudrup’s intransigence is baffling. He paid 51/2 million pounds for the player in 2012, but after one season off loads him to Sunderland where reputedly he is their most consistent player. His apparent refusal to give a player like Donnelly a chance in the absence of Michu rather than persist with the ineffectual Vasquez is also a source of frustration.

Let’s face it: some of Laudrup’s more expensive signings have not been very impressive. Pablo Hernandez cost 5 million pounds and has spent more time on the treatment table than on the pitch. Ki Sung-Yueng arrived with a big reputation from Celtic, but struggled to gain a regular place in the first team. At the beginning of the current season, Laudrup decided to replace him with Jonjo Shelvey, paying Liverpool 5 million for his services. Shelvey is an enigma to me.

He is highly rated in some quarters, but I believe he lacks the nous and consistency required of a midfield player to succeed in the Premiership. I shudder to think of the consequences if he continues to dictate the play for the rest of the season. Wilfried Bony cost 12 million pounds and arrived from Holland with a big reputation as a goal scorer. To my mind he lacks pace and is a touch on the lazy side.

To be honest the Swans style of play is comparable to a mid- table team in La Liga which is where Laudrup previously spent most of his time managing a football team. Yes they pass the ball around in ever decreasing circles, but most of the time it lacks tempo and purpose. What’s the point in have the lion’s share of possession if you don’t make attempt to score? Furthermore what’s the point in playing with wingers who can’t cross a ball properly?

Swansea are seven games without a victory in the Premier League and have seriously struggled to pick up points recently. In fact, they have only won three games at the Liberty since February last year. Their opponents on Saturday are Tottenham Hotspur who are currently in the midst of a revival under new manager Tim Sherwood. If current form is anything to go by the Swans will do well to salvage a point. But what they really need is a win and 3 points to begin climbing away from the relegation zone.

A Review of 2013

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

January: We thoroughly enjoyed celebrating the New Year in Savannah, Georgia with our friends Jimmy and Kathy. Savannah is a walking city oozing history and Southern charm providing you sidestep the projects and homeless which applies to any city in the world. A bloody Mary at Chubby’s on the riverfront was one of the highlights.

February: We were subjected to our first dramatic incident of the year when a couple of our friendly neighbor’s (I use the term figuratively) trees came crashing down onto our property. In Georgia damage to one’s property is deemed to be an Act of God and the neighbor is devoid of responsibility. Nevertheless, $1900 for a bunch of firewood is too rich for my tastes.

Pope Benedict XV1 resigned/retired making him the first pope to relinquish office since Pope Gregory X11 in 1415.

Swansea City won their first ever trophy in their 100 year history by demolishing Bradford City 5-0 in the Capital One Cup Final. Unfortunately they appeared to suffer from a cup hangover for the rest of the season by only winning one more win in the Premiership.

March: We spent a delightful time on the island of Bermuda which is steeped in British colonial history.  We booked a cozy little retreat through “Vacation Homes by Rental” which my wife picked out on the internet. The owner had done a fabulous job converting a two-storey brick built storage building into a modern residential unit. We paid a visit to the “Swizzle Inn” and eventually “staggered out” after several rounds of the local brew “dark and stormy.”

Wales annihilated England in the final game of the Six Nations Championship. The media had made England hot favorites to blow away the Welsh and win the Grand Slam and Championship. Maybe that’s all Wales needed to romp home 30-3 and claim the Champions crown for themselves.

April: I made my first fishing trip which is odd when you consider I lived on the coast for over forty years. Panama Beach, Florida was an ideal location for my virgin fishing venture and the icing on the cake was catching a 4 pound  Spanish mackerel (the fish increases in size each time I mention it) at my first attempt.

A bomb exploded in the crowd as runners crossed the finish line during the Boston Marathon on April 15. Three spectators were killed and 264 were injured.

May: Talk about a roller coaster month. My granddaughter Alice Violet was born on the 21st and four days later I was admitted to hospital with appendicitis. I was assured by medical staff it warranted routine surgery and I would be out within a couple of days. Unfortunately I developed complications and two days turned into a two week stay.  New medical terms, ileus, nasogastric tube, and PICC line, became very familiar to me.

Alex Ferguson retired after managing Manchester United for nearly 27 years. His resume of 13 premiership titles and two Champions League wins is unprecedented in the English game.

June: The roller coaster ride continued. My grandson, Alexander Charles, was born the night (7th June) before I was to be discharged from hospital.  Weak as a kitten I was looking forward to flying out to California on the 14th to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary. Not so fast old man, there’s another twist in the tale.  On the eve of our departure, we were subjected to a violent storm and four massive trees came crashing down in our backyard, one narrowly missing our house and another landed on our neighbor’s roof. Miraculously our friend told us to go and assured us that he would take care of the situation. Reluctantly we obeyed and had a wonderful time on the Californian coast.

Sopranos star James Gandolfini died aged 51.

July: Tension was in the air again with my stepson experiencing severe headaches and numbness down one side of his body. He was subjected to a series of tests at Emory Hospital and was diagnosed as having an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in his brain. It was determined that he would require surgery to remove the AVM.  On a lighter note, Andy Murray became the first British player to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. The British Lions defeated Australia 2-1 in a series down under thanks to a nucleus of Welsh players.

August: My stepson underwent brain surgery and I transformed into a drill sergeant to help him embark on a slow road to recovery. Fortunately he was in good shape physically and the prognosis was good. Meanwhile my wife started a new job and coped magnificently bearing in mind her husband and son had recent spells in hospital.  England retained the Ashes by a flattering margin of three tests to nil.

September: Summer was nearly over and it was a time to recharge the batteries. Atlanta had suffered one of the wettest summers in years. What was the point in emigrating all those moons ago if I couldn’t enjoy blue skies sitting in the hot tub?

October: We flew over to England to see my new grandchildren. Not so pleasant was encountering the obnoxious British motorist. Happily my children and grandchildren were in rude health, and one couldn’t ask for more. It was great to meet up with Archie at the Salutation Inn in the picturesque village of Castlecombe.

Landscapers transformed our back yard resembling a war zone into a potential green oasis.

November: We stayed at home for Thanksgiving in Atlanta for the first time in years and became acquainted with Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Swansea City and Cardiff City played each other for the first time in the Premiership. The result was not good for a Swansea Jack, losing 0-1 to their arch rivals from the East. To add insult to injury, the goal scorer was a former Swans player, Steven Caulker.

December: England suffered the ignominy of a whitewash in the second Ashes series of the year. Bizarrely, Graham Swann announced his retirement in the middle of the series. Obviously he saw the writing on the wall and didn’t care for the script. Despite a 0-5 thrashing the captain Alistair Cook and coach Andy Flower were not dismissed.

Nelson Mandela, prisoner turned president, anti-apartheid icon, and father of modern South Africa died aged 95.

History was made in the James household when we cooked our second turkey of the festive season. My family and I wish you a happy new year, and on a personal note we would like to look forward to a healthier one.