Youth and young manhood… Or how to silence the doubters

In world which values youth above most other things, it seems odd that Luke Thomas has come up against such criticism in his so-far short career.

lukeThe 20-year-old chef from North Wales became the UK’s youngest head chef at the age of 18, and by the account of many of the country’s top chefs, he is the real deal.

But still there are comments from all sorts that he’s too young to handle it, he doesn’t have what it takes.

When I spoke to him, he was very sanguine about the support or otherwise of people in his industry, showing a mature attitude which one might not expect from one so young.

His stance, really, suggests that there will always be people who support you and you must value them, and there will always be those who doubt you, so you must learn to challenge them through your actions.

Not a bad rule for any of us.

Read the piece here.


Meet the meat… Or an investigation into ethical veal

Everyone enjoys what they term good food, but perhaps if I suggest I’m a bit of a foodie, you’ll have an idea of the level of food obsession.

That’s not to say I have never eaten McDonald’s – I have, most recently about two years ago after a late night drive home from Bristol airport – or don’t understand the peculiar pleasure of jalapeño peppers eaten from the jar.

But generally, I’m a fan of delicious food out in places that pride themselves on delicious photo-22ingredients selected in season for their provenance and quality.

Food Adventures really grabbed me the first time I read about it.

it’s not some sort of supper club – the days out organised by the company will put you in the same room as some great cooks to hear all about their experience, take you on a wine tour round South Wales’ surprisingly varied vineyards and get you out in the countryside with foragers.

I got to go down the farm with Food Adventure to meet some frankly adorable veal calves before enjoying some of their meat for lunch.

I’d like to say it was tricky eating something with such an adorable face, but it wasn’t.

It was absolutely delicious.

Read the piece here.

Walk this way… Or the weatherman who walks and talks for Wales

I’ve previously mentioned on this blog the unique celebrities who pop up in various parts of the UK.

Thanks to skipping from one part of the UK to the next in my adult life, I can happily say, ‘Fred, there’s no bread’ and ‘Gonnae no dae that’ where it will be recognised.

But it wasn’t until moving to Wales that I understood the power of an enthusiastically-delivered ‘shwmae’.

PIC CREDIT: Media Wales

Courtesy of Derek Brockway – weatherman, presenter and much-loved personality in these parts – it’s almost a national catchphrase, simply meaning ‘hello’.

I spoke to him for a piece on his book, Great Welsh Walks, and it was very entertaining hearing his stories of wandering the Welsh countryside.

One of the most endearing details is that Derek often finds himself meeting people who recognise him on his walks, but for the Weatherman Walking it’s all part of the exploration.

“I forget where I’ve been, I’ve done so many of these walks,” he laughs. “But it’s important to me that people get out and explore.”

Almost enough to inspire me to get my boots on and start stomping through the countryside. Wonder if I’ll bump into Derek up Pen y Fan. I’ve got my ‘shwmae’ all ready…

Read the piece here

Sowing the seeds… Or an important window onto modern farming

Farmers are more known for working the fields than surfing the web, but Gareth Wyn Jones is one North Wales farmer who is bucking the trend.

I first encountered Gareth on Twitter where he was often to be found making comments on everything from the price of food to the treatment of rural services in Wales.

Draw that up into a neat bundle with his appreciation for his stunning surroundings on the Carneddau Mountains and he was one of the most vocal farmers in the UK.

As I spotted him, so did BBC Wales, and when they showed his programme The Hill Farm, it was a terrific chance to see the man behind the social media persona.

Starting the four-part series with winter scenes which saw Gareth dragging countless sheep garethcarcasses from snow drifts that topped the height of a full-grown man, it was an emotional and intimate portrayal of the life and work of a man and his family.

A massive part of the strife which meets modern farmers seems to be competitively representing themselves in the market they’re in.

Gareth tells a story of going to a large supermarket with his daughter one day after the harsh winter on the mountain.

“I came to one shelf with a few pieces of Welsh lamb. Stacked high next to it were three or four shelves of New Zealand lamb at half the price.

“You imagine how I felt at seeing that, after saving as many of those lambs as I could during the snow.

“Honest to God, if I was the sort to cry, I would have.”

It seems that we’re all lucky Gareth counts his smartphone alongside his quad bike as an essential tool for the modern farmer.

Read the piece here

It’s only natural… Or how the world around you has good points and bad

Coming from Northern Ireland (via Scotland), I’ve got an array of cultural references which, frankly would make no sense to the average Welsh person.

Such Norn Irish folk heroes as May McFettridge or Julian Simmons may fill me with memories, or Scottish presenters like Dougie Vipond and Sally Magnusson, who are household names north of the border.

Credit: Keith Morris

It was only when I moved to Wales that I realised the fame of Iolo Williams. A nature expert and wildlife presenter, he’s a regular go-to for the BBC Wales and S4C nature output – a safe pair of hands with the expertise to back up his TV chops.

Aside from admitting that his love for animals didn’t stress to all of the natural world – “If I was a dictator, I’d just do away with all cats” – Iolo was chatting about his love of the sea and the coastline of Wales.

Having never lived further than 40 minutes from the sea at the most, I’m inclined to agree with him when he says, “I was always fascinated by the sea”.

Those raised paddling in rock pools, swimming in inclement waters and generally messing about in the salt water understand when they grow up exactly how closely related to the marine world we are, how it’s simply an extension of land under there.

That didn’t stop me from developing a pathological fear of sharks which has stayed with me throughout my days – but then, as nature lover Iolo shows, even if you love one part of Mother Nature’s bounty, you don’t have to love it all.

Read the piece here

Positive role models… Or how a politician learned from his inspirational parents

Some stories have so much humanity and bravery it seems like they must be a fiction.

I felt that way when I spoke to Peter Hain and his mother.

The Labour minister was well known for his activism in his youth, campaigning against apartheid in his birth country of South Africa, but his awareness and bravery is traceable back to the actions of his parents Ad and Wal Hain.

Ad and Wal by Peter Hain, Biteback Publishing
Ad and Wal by Peter Hain, Biteback Publishing

In his book, Peter details the fight they had with the powers that be in a country where people were judged to be lesser because of the colour of their skin.

To us, it defies logic that the couple were banned from speaking to groups of people, a practice which saw Ad miss a daughter’s birthday party.

We cannot imagine a world where Ad resolved to be in attendance in court to help young black men gain justice after being picked up without their family’s knowledge.

But we are all too aware of the demonisation of people who are different to ourselves, and the book struck me as a real warning of that sort of thinking.

The book is subtitled ‘Values, duty, sacrifice in apartheid South Africa’, but when I spoke to Ad about her experiences, it struck me that there was little in the struggle that Ad and Wal spearheaded that should be seen as ‘duty’, simply because there were many South Africans at the time who didn’t do their ‘duty’ to fight for freedom, merely toeing the party line.

Ad also went to the Nelson Mandela trial which saw him sent to Robben Island, and was proud to mention the affection that the former South African president had expressed for Ad and Wal and their family.

One more piece of the story that’s almost impossible for us to imagine, but to Ad and Wal, it was just part of real life.

Read the piece here

No more bridezilla… Or why a high-profile bride surprised me

I’ve never dreamed of getting married – it’s just not for me.

But I have often interviewed brides for publications, and let me tell you, they are intense.

Even after the wedding has taken place, they’re keen on evaluating and measuring the success of everything they’ve done – from the table favours to the first dance, the vows to the last.

ringIt’s always been a bit of a crazy world to me, someone who would be much happier spending all that hard-earned cash on a holiday somewhere incredible – finally seeing Petra, or visiting Red Square to see the bright colours of Saint Basil’s in person.

But when I spoke to Karen Paullada from Stella, the bride thing started to make sense.

As an actress in one of the UK’s most loved sitcoms, I expected her to be starry or perhaps have an attitude.

That was wrong for a start – she was funny, kind and very charming.

But also, she was so laid back about her wedding that she made me see it in a whole different light.

“I didn’t understand why everyone was getting so stressed over it all, I thought it was really easy,” she told me.

With the pictures showing that the final event was stylish, modern, and packed with friends and family including Stella writer and comedy queen Ruth Jones, it seems like maybe the low stress approach is the way to go.

In fact, if it’s that much of a breeze, perhaps it’ll catch on.

Read the piece here

Happy talk… Or why being nice can help make everything better

It’s funny when you finally get to speak to those personalities who you’ve always been aware of.

There’s something magical about being able to tell friends and family which known names you’re speaking to this week, but when it came to Griff Rhys Jones, it was beyond ‘interesting’ and entering ‘legend’ territory.

Of course, as a known face, I’d my assumptions about him in place.

The man, the legend

Speaking to him the first day back after the new year break, I was acutely aware of his quick wit and often acerbic comments and I have to admit to being a little uneasy.

In that situation, there’s nothing better than investing time and effort in as much preparation as possible, because knowing your topic well generally means they’re pleased to invest time in your chat.

In the event, I needn’t have worried.

From the off, the Cardiff-born, Essex-raised comic, actor, presenter, author and all-round British icon was a delight.

Funny, interesting and chatty beyond any limits, it was tough to keep to the topic – his ITV programme A Great Welsh Adventure with Griff Rhys Jones – when faced with such a great wealth of material, including anecdotes and observations from his many decades in showbiz.

It occurred to me after we chatted that perhaps the way I approached it was all wrong.

After all, someone who had a snappy temper and was difficult to draw out in interviews would hardly wind up with such sizeable success over a long period of time.

Or, as my mother always says, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Read the piece here