More than two decades have passed since a solitary year spent on the campus at the University of Rhode Island. I looked a lot younger than my twenty-one years although in my mind I was already a seasoned man of the world, even when all other evidence suggested strongly that that was not the case.
There was something refreshingly archetypal in the appearance of the URI (as me and my fellow alumni call it) campus; a solid beacon of New England academia. Buildings of learning, of heavy stone and imposing heft, classically carved and angular; borders of well-mown lawn quads. Old buildings blending in with more modern, practical blocks of concrete and steel. Names which have stayed with me through the years: Roger Williams, Butterfield Hall, Roosevelt Hall, Heathman House, Memorial Union and the Ram’s Den.
About six weeks into my year on campus I made the monumental decision to have a haircut. The reason for the monumental nature of this decision was due to the fact that this would mark the first time I’d ever had a haircut on foreign soil (England doesn’t count).
‘I’d like a haircut, please,’ I said to the girl of similar age to me who was sitting behind a desk at the entrance to the hair salon. It was all a new experience, there was no receptionist at my barber shop back home, just a row of seats of varying comfort and some massively out-of-date car magazines.
The girl smiled, which, as a young and somewhat lust-starved male thousands of miles from home, I naively took as a sign of clear romantic interest – as opposed to the general friendliness she was actually trying to convey.
‘Sure,’ she said, quite beautifully ‘Have you got an appointment?’
I’d never had to make an appointment for a haircut before. I was thrown.
‘No’ I replied, as it seemed the honest thing to say, and perfectly encapsulated my predicament.
‘OK, well, we’re really booked up today but we can do Tuesday.’
This was as close to arranging a date with her as I would ever get.
‘Tuesday, er, yeah, Tuesday should be cool,’ I said, because I’m an idiot.
She smiled and I smiled and for moment it was obvious we were in love with each other.
‘We can do 4:3o.’
‘Cool. What’s your name?’
‘Gareth,’ I said, because that is, in fact, my name.
Now, I’m Welsh and, while I don’t have a strong Welsh accent, it was clear that I was in no way shape or form, American. Which had, on occasion, led to slight communication problems.
‘Jarret?’ she asked.
‘No, Gareth,’ I felt our relationship was on the rocks and considered whether perhaps we should start seeing other people.
‘Jarret,’ she once again said, as though trying to convince me that this was, in fact, my name after all.
‘No. Gareth,’ I said ‘With a ‘Gee’.’
There was a brief pause in the exchange; an impasse of sorts.
‘Gee. Gee for Grape,’ I said, not fully fluent in the phonetic alphabet at the time yet still not entirely sure why I opted for grape. She laughed, the way she used to in the early days.
‘Gee, for grape?’
‘Yes. Gee for grape.’
She wrote the letter G into the diary, then looked up, awaiting the next letter.
‘R,’ I said, which she wrote obediently down.
And, sure enough, an appointment was made for a haircut at 4:30pm the following Tuesday for a moron from Wales answering to the name of Grape.
Autumn came to Rhode Island around about the third week of October. Red and orange leaves swirled and danced on the wind and the nights’ grew dark and bitingly cold as we made our way from classrooms to halls to the comforting corner of the Mews Tavern in town.
And in a department store at the Wakefield Mall, I bought some clippers and never had my hair cut in America again.
As children of the Why Don’t You generation, my wife and I are pretty keen on the notion that our kids should make time to enjoy the outdoors and enjoy a range of different experiences when the time allows – especially during the long break from school that the summer holidays allow.
Indeed, my wife is such a proponent of this that she even runs her own successful blog – Get Out and About – which is directly aimed at encouraging families to leave the house and enjoy the manifold experiences to be had across the UK and, for that matter, the rest of the world (her / our National Trust A – Z Challenge was a minor twitter hit throughout 2014!)
Thankfully, both of our sons fully embrace the idea. My youngest divides his time between a football pitch, rugby pitch and tennis court during most weeks of the year while my eldest son, when not treading the boards (a budding actor, you see), is constantly thinking up new experiences that he can give a try.
At the end of 2014 my dad was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Whilst it’s always a shock to the system of any family when a loved one is hit by an illness, particularly one of those ‘C’ ones, for children it can be be all the more traumatic. As far as my children were concerned we were all, grandparents included, somewhat indestructible; constants in their lives always on hand to help with the school run or to cheer from the touchline or, often, to spoil them with sweets and other assorted treats. We made the decision to keep them informed, rather than overly coddle them on the situation, my dad’s prognosis was reasonably good and we decided that they ought to know that his situation was serious but that he was in good hands and would hopefully make a full recovery. But serious, as I say, nonetheless. To our great relief, my dad’s operation was a success and, despite a number of months recuperating, he has made a fairly remarkable recovery to full health. But the episode had had an effect on my kids; in particular my eldest son, Sam, aged 12. I won’t explain why because I’d encourage you to read it in his own words on the link below as he’ll elucidate a lot better than me. Suffice to say, however, that the whole business made Sam come to a decision: that he wanted to do something for those who might not be as fortunate as his granddad.
The Spirit of Why Don’t You / Get Out & About
With six weeks of summer holiday fun in which to look forward, Sam decided that, rather than contemplate the X-Box hours he could enjoy or the TV he could watch, he was going to get out, on his bike and ride around Cardiff to raise some money and awareness about Prostate Cancer. His other grandfather, Boppy Howard – a retired police inspector, professional grandparent and generally superfit bike enthusiast, was recruited to the task with the mission being to ride 70 miles in one week around the streets, parks and lanes of Cardiff City. 10 miles a day, every day for a week. The plan was to set up a Just Giving page and try to raise a few pounds to go towards the Men United / Prostate Cancer UK campaign.
We tentatively set a target of £500.00 to raise, and in truth, if Sam managed to get even half of that it would have been a job well done. So when we saw that the £500 barrier had been smashed by Day 2 of the ride, it was, to say the least, beyond expectation. Each day, Sam and Howard, dressed for the occasion in official riding tops kindly sent from Prostate Cancer UK headquarters, took to their bikes and hit the road, taking in the landmarks of the city and turning heads along the way; generating increasing interest and raising yet more money to the cause.
Their routes took them along the Taff Trail, to Llandaff, Heath, Rhiwbina and Roath Park. They stopped off alongside the Millennium Stadium, Swalec stadium and Cardiff Castle. Took the time to get a selfie by City Hall and make a few laps of Cardiff Bay and the Barrage. And by the time they arrived home in Whitchurch on Sunday, 70 miles and a lot of satisfaction later, there we were; proud parents, grandparents and brother, to greet them both in a fanfare of glitter (and kisses from his mum!) and raft of well wishes from friends, family and social media alike.
By the end of the week, Sam and Howard, slightly weary of leg but as full of enthusiasm as they possessed on day 1, had raised a staggering £1400!.
To read Sam’s story of why he did it and how the week unfolded, and to offer any donation that you may wish to add (if you are so inclined) then please take a look here: Sam’s Ride For Prostate Cancer
If you want frosties instead of cornflakes who am I to stop you.
Maybe not too pc but I have a real predjudice against biotics. For that matter I hate histamines as well.
It’s clockwise or nothing as far as I’m concerned
I am completely in favour of all types of chopped wood.
I oppose all kinds of dissertations as well.
I approve of everything that moves.
I just love him in high school musical.
There are much better parts of South Africa
I love it when time ebbs away
Vehemently opposed to anything that gets infected.
Which by definition makes me anti-short I suppose.
And other savoury products for that matter.
Metric measurements rule.
Although I preferred my twenties.
I hate stuff.
Hard to believe it’s really 15 years since that, somewhat memorable, Wales v England match at Wembley.
Anyway, I was a-hunting through some old boxes in the garage a few days ago and happened upon this little ditty below, penned a few days after the intoxicating event. So, what with another impending clash with them from over the bridge looming large, I thought – as a bit of nonsensical nostalgia – that I’d stick this up here on the interweb site.
So, a bit of background – in true Max Boyce, I was there mode…
And, for better or, almost certainly worse, this was my recollection of the occasion, in the hazy, lazy days that followed.
That Sunday we woke early
The boys, the Hawk and me
On a floor in a flat in Fulham
A journey to Wembley
We walked out into that spring morning
Warm sun in a bright blue sky
Boarded a tube at Clapham Junction
Someone said, “if we win then I’ll cry”
In a pub by the ground we adjourned to
Not an English voice could we hear
For the Valleys had moved to London
Because Wembley was ‘home’ this year
In the ground Tom sang ‘Delilah’
The chorus the crowd joined in
And the sun beat down on the green grass of ‘home’
And for a second I believed we would win
We had lost to the Scots and the Irish
Written off without a chance
But Graham said have faith and we did
And we went and won in France
Now at Wembley against the English
Surrounded in the stand
We gifted the saes an early score
And I sat with my head in my hands
We were mocked as they stretched their lead
Swing low was the popular cry
But we stayed in touch thanks to Jenkins
And by a magical Howarth try
But the clock ticked down we were losing by six
A familiar feeling of woe
A penalty: a glimmer of hope
But only mere seconds to go
Wyatt to Howley to Senior Quinnell
To Gibbs, the crowd started to roar
As he scythed his way through the English defence
Raising his arm as he touched down to score
And I burst into tears embracing the Hawk
Saying, “Jenks still has to convert”
But this was a day for magic
The kick was, I knew, a dead cert
I slumped where I stood, crying freely
But the tears were of joy not sorrow
My voice had gone, my vision blurred
And I sobbed “I’m not working tomorrow!”
And so now we are back in Cardiff
Where God willing we shall stay
But the memory of that Sunday at Wembley lives on
Where we won while playing away
Some time ago I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have much of a clue about how anything worked.
Actually, that’s not strictly true.
I think I know HOW things work, it’s that I don’t know WHY they work.
Take mobile phones.
I know how they work, I’ve had it explained to me – several times.
The software in the phone converts the sound of your voice into an electrical signal which is converted into a radio wave which is, in turn, converted back into sound by the phone you’ve called.
Ok, I get that that’s how it works. No problem.
Why does that particular process do that particular thing?
Why, not to put too fine a point on it, is it so easy to explain the fact that one can pick up a little lump of plastic, touch a screen in a certain way and thus be able to speak and to actually be able to hear the words of another human being, holding a similarly unattached lump of plastic, who may be tens of thousands of miles away?
I don’t get it. You don’t even have to shout.
It’s frankly, when you stop to think about it, so mind-bogglingly miraculous as to render it near impossible.
If, when I’d asked how the whole process worked, I’d been told that it was, in actual fact, magic that made it happen, I think I’d find that every bit as plausible as the whole sound into electric into radio and what-not.
And it’s not just phones is it? Take a look around at the things we use, the things that operate the world, that light us up, that move us, entertain us and occasionally go ping! And we all just take it for granted – readily accepting that you can get into your car, push a button on a small device on your windscreen and have Homer Simpson tell you how to get, with complete accuracy and with no prior knowledge of from where you’re starting out, to any street in the suburbs of Kettering.
How does it work? Well, it’s your standard GPS signal that your receiver intercepts and pinpoints your location in relation to your destination and translates this into a series of instructions that we can read as a digital road map.
By why? Why should that be a good enough explanation?
We just accept that it does what it does.
Which, I suppose is fine.
But what if there’s an alternate theory? What if all this stuff works simply because we’ve all just become completely convinced by the explanations?
They work because we have, as a society, accepted that they, well, they just do.
Planes – planes are massive. Really, really heavy. But they fly, soaring thousands of feet in the sky in a way that seems to cock the now legendary snook at all notions of gravity. And we, thankfully I might add, just accept that they fly. We get on board, put our little straps around our waist, drink from those tiny cans you only find on public transport and happily accept that planes can fly.
We know there’s some kind of science and technology behind the reason – we know because somewhere along the line we’ve been told that that’s the case. But what if it’s our complete faith which keeps the plane in the sky?
We accept, without question, that they fly – so they fly.
The power of mass acceptance.
Frankly, I think it’s as good an explanation as any.
Oh, and does anyone happen to know what, exactly, a snook is?