Saturday, 17 April 2010


My wife celebrated the Grand National by backing the first three fallers. The only cause for surprise is that her betting slip has not so far won a literary prize.

Everything else she writes seems to attract them like flies.
The Arts Council of Wales awarded her the Irma Chilton prize and four thousand crisp oncers for her contribution to children's literature. Her first book, Steel Town Cats, won the Tir na n-Og, the premier award for children's fiction in
Wales. For “The Terrible Tale of Tiggy Two” I fully expected her to get a Life Peerage in the Birthday Honours List.

If you think I am boasting, forget it. I am complaining. I have written eighteen books on topics ranging from Welsh history and outstanding Welshmen to Japanese prisoner of war camps. I have written comic novels, after which I was described as the heir to Tom Sharpe, historic novels, an "hilarious autobiography" - according to the Daily Post - topographical books, and I've edited an anthology of prose and poetry. Not even a Mention in Despatches.

I wouldn't care but it's so embarrassing at Census time when they send round that form and you have to list qualifications and awards. Hers kicks off with Master of Arts (Oxon), then lists her glittering prizes. Me? Certificate 'A', Part One, for proficiency in assembling a bren gun.

Would you like to go through life as a mock-Denis Thatcher?
Even he was better off. At least he had a famous name.
Celia writes under her maiden name, Lucas.


No one has as many titles as my old chum Gwyn L Williams, Head Honcho of Olympic Cultural Events in Wales: Chief executive of Llangollen International Eisteddfod, a Lt Governor (Hon) of Oklahoma, choir conductor, visiting professor at seven universities, senior BBC Music producer, composer, Director of Theatr Harlech.

Gwyn L was Musical Director of the 150-voice, century-old Liverpool Welsh Choral Union. He also directed Cantorion Menai, a 40-voice chamber choir, and the Montgomeryshire Festival Chorus, an amalgam of four choirs. He was in addition guest conductor of the five choirs which amalgamate annually as the Dee and Clwyd Festival Chorus.

He has blown his own trumpet too. There was a time when he blew a mean horn with the London and Liverpool Philharmonic orchestras, the London and Festival Ballet orchestras and the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra.

Power mad?

“Oh no,” he told me when I once taxed him with it. “If you want a sense of power in music, blow a trumpet. You can bring an orchestra to its knees any time you like. You just play loud.

“The disadvantage is that a trumpet cannot have dialogues with other instruments. It is a primary colour, primeval even. A conductor can have these dialogues. By gesture and eye contact you suggest to your oboeist a particular way of doing things. Sometimes he will do exactly as you wanted, others he will start going off along a route of his own. It’s very difficult to explain because it all happens in a microcosm of time. You may think ‘Oh, that is good’ and allow him to travel. Or you bring him back because you control the orchestra and you don’t allow him space.

“Physically, conducting is very demanding. We rehearse for about ten weeks. Final rehearsal is about three hours, followed by a three-hour concert. The morning after I feel as though I have been run over by an elephant.”

And so many choirs?

“My job was to make ordinary people sing. It has taken me a long time to learn it and I am just beginning to get over being frightened. You know what you want but you wonder, until the concert begins, whether you can deliver.

“A conductor must know every single note in the score. You cannot stand in front of two hundred people without knowing more about the music than they do. For The Dream of Gerontius I took two weeks off. I spent six or seven hours a day reading the score.

“You don’t have to mouth the words when you read a book. In the same way you hear the music in your mind. It is communicating to me in the sounds that are coming off the page. It is also communicating spiritually.

“What I have to do in rehearsal is to listen to what I am getting in my head and try to change the physical presence of the music from the choir until it gets as close as humanly possible to my concept of it.

“In performance you use the bricks you have made in rehearsal and build a house with them. Nothing is perfect but sometimes you know you have got it right. You cannot will it to happen. Indeed, it has only happened to me half a dozen times in ten years. Suddenly you feel connected to the composer, to the musicians and to the audience. Everything you are suggesting to the players and the singers comes back and is funnelled through you to the audience.

“You cease to be an individual. Something takes you over. It happened when the Liverpool Welsh Choir, the Welsh Chamber Orchestra and Cantorion Menai did Faure’s Requiem y in Bangor Cathedral. Again in Porgy and Bess in Montgomery. It has happened in The Messiah with the Liverpool Welsh a couple of times.

“Music never leaves you alone. I have no life outside it. Music is what I am. My favourite piece of music? The one I am conducting at the time. You fall in love with a piece of music. It is like a relationship. It consumes you completely. You can be talking to somebody and it is like having music on in the background of your mind.

“Musical ambition? To get better at what I am doing. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than working at a single piece with a group of people for a couple of months, then putting it together on the day with another group of musicians who have come in specially, and delivering it. If I can do all that and make sure everyone has a happy day I have achieved my ambition.

“We are living in a musical golden age. British musicians have a worldwide reputation for their ability to read a piece and perform it straight away. Choral societies are the great enablers. They enable orchestras to exist. But I wonder what the future is.

“We have wonderful choirs and musicians because of the policy of the sixties and the seventies when peripatetic teachers taught music in schools. That system has been dismantled, so, give it another twenty years, and I don’t know where we will be.”

I will take short odds on one Olympic event. It is just a case of which Welsh choir it will be.


Sarah Palin's demands included: first or business-class travel, or a private jet no smaller than a Lear 60; two bottles of water at the lectern with bendable straws; and pre-screened questions.

There are plenty of people, apparently, willing to give in to Palin's demands: she's made at least $12 million since resigning as governor of Alaska. -- ABC News