Postcards ….. 20/21 June Lions 1st Test

Posted in rugby on June 21, 2013 by cardiffstu

20/21 June

Biggest day of the tour as Warren Gatland names his squad for the first Test against the Wallabies. A squad, different in parts to that picked by many when the original touring party was selected, mainly due to injury but in some cases to players in form.

Front row – Corbisiero, Youngs and A Jones.

Corbisiero was a late addition to the touring party. A better scrummager than Vunipola but given the weakness of the Aussie front row and the (extreme) likelihood that the refs won’t ref the scrum correctly, an odd selection unless he sees Maku as an impact player and carrier.

Youngs has played himself into the test shirt. Hubbard had to be the favourite when the squad was picked to tour yet Youngs impressed against the Waratahs, strong in defence, especially at the breakdown and carried well. Of the three hookers on tour his line out throwing has been the least wayward. Gatball needs set piece possession.

No surprise to see Adam get the three jersey, possibly the best tight head in World Rugby and does it in such and understated way. Many miss the graft he puts in around the pitch – not Melonesque but for a big guy he does more than his fair share.

Second Row – Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O’Connell.

Alun Wyn has been very impressive on this tour where some of his work at the breakdown has secured several turnovers on tour. He’s a natural leader in the pack and deserves his place in the starting XV.

Paul O’Connell

I think POC is an awesome player. He’s probably benefited from several injuries in the last few seasons in that the rest of his body has had time to recover and he hit a rich vein of form in the latter stages of the Heineken Cup. Has been as impressive as AWJ on tour, loves a good maul, a tactic that Gatland has shown glimpses of so far and could be key against the Wallabies.

Back Row – Tom Croft, Jamie Heaslip, Sam Warburton (c).

The balance of the back row was always going to dictate selection, especially in an area where the Lions are strongest. Tom Croft has caught the eye as he often does, from the wing. My preference of a blindside is to do the dirty work (one reason I’d have started Lydiate) but to his credit, Croft has been much more involved on this tour.

Heaslip – I have to start by saying I’m not a fan of his or his selection. Jimmy White Boots as he’s affectionately known by some carries well but offers little else and I worry that the fact he likes the “glamorous” stuff over the hard graft (tackling, rucking and the like) has earned him the selection over Toby who in my opinion is a machine. I’m happy to be accused of Welsh bias here, sure it’s there no matter how objective I aim to be!

Sam Warburton. The nicest guy you’re likely to meet off the pitch, the most fiercely competitive on it. Would have loved to see him go against Pocock in a Lions series but sadly it wasn’t to be. In the modern game where your 7 is a jackal, there is no finer exponent in the Northern Hemisphere. This is where I get accused of Cardiff bias ;)! The truth of the matter is, at 100% I’d take Sam over Tipuric every time. I have massive respect for Tipuric and it’s a great problem for Wales and the Lions to have.

9 & 10

Was it ever going to be Mike Phillips at scrum half in a Gatland coached Lions team. Mike provides the size and strength to be Gatland’s extra flanker, as crucial in defence as he is in attack. There will always be questions over his speed of service and may be the reason he’s gone with Youngs9 on the bench. Genia has had Phillips’ measure in recent meetings, it will be a great battle.

Sexton has been the form fly half in 6 Nations rugby and with Halfpenny to take the kicks there’s no pressure and be can play his game. Hopefully he’s given a degree of freedom to play what’s in front of him, his looping backs moves will add another dimension to the team.

Centres

The injury to Jamie Roberts has probably given Gatland one less selection headache. Jonathan Davies (sounds like Mavis!) had the game of his life against the Waratahs and seems to have finally developed the ability to pass accurately. He will make an interesting partnership inside to O’Driscoll’s outside centre.

BOD. One of the greatest players I’ve watched. May have slowed slightly but still has the great rugby brain that’s meant this will be his fourth tour. Another leader, this time in the backs, Sam will certainly not lack for support. Will be interested to see if BOD and Foxy play left and right rather than strictly in and out.

Three Quarters

George North has come through his fitness concerns and is hopefully at 100%. Needs to be busier than he has been at times in the last 12 months but most likely one of the first names on the team sheet.

Alex Cuthbert is probably the biggest beneficiary from Tommy Bowes injury, whom, in my opinion would have been the test 14. Alex has improved his defence considerably since bursting into the limelight but it is still the biggest weakness in his game – he can only benefit in this area being around some of the best players in world rugby. Quite possibly the deadliest finisher in the Northen Hemisphere at the moment.

Leigh Halfpenny. Player of the Six Nations, 26/27 kicks, puts his body on the line in every game. First name on the Team Sheet. Lions Man of the Series(?).

Replacements.

Big front row impact from Cole and Hibbard around the hour mark and big opportunities for Vunipola to carry when some legs are more weary.

Ian Evans has done little wrong but Parling does offer something different to the starting second rows.

I thought he’d (Gatland) start with Lydiate given the respect he has for the player and the combination he creates with Sam. I’d expect Lydiate to start at least one of the remaining tests. SOB went backwards against the Brumbies.

Youngs & Farrell will be steady off the bench with Youngs hopefully offering something in broken play if the game opens up.

Maitland had a shocker against the Brumbies and can’t understand his selection on the bench. Hogg would have been my pick here, a much more capable player who may have suffered for his incorrect selection at ten.

Lions should win, comfortably, however the reality will probably be a close game.

These are the postcards of a Lions fan.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 18, 2013 by cardiffstu

Latest blog, hopefully more upbeat than my usual nonsense. I’m off on the British & Irish Lions tour of Australia (via Hong Kong) and thought some of you may be interested. I’ve entitled this “These are the Postcards of a Lions Fan”, inspired by the Manic Street Preachers who have arranged a tour to coincide with the Lions.

These are the Postcards of a Lions Fan…..

16/17 June
After an emotional farewell to my wife and daughter (first time I’ve been away from my daughter for this long), the road trip commenced with the minibus from Cardiff to Heathrow. Boys in good spirits, despite the long tailbacks on the M4, as per usual, no apparent reason for the delay.
Still, we arrived at T5 in good time and after a quick bite to eat, a few beers and an alarming rendition of Happy Birthday for me, we board flight BA027 for Hong Kong, the first flight of many in the coming weeks.
Loving T5, all ultra modern and swish, as travel should be. Sadly, the aged BA 747 was cramped and extremely hot for most of the journey. It’s around an 11 hour flight to Hong Kong, where you arrive at an equally modern airport. Signs of it’s once British “management” are still abundant but the scale of the engineering projects all over the islands is something to behold.
We are staying at the Traders Hotel which is very nice, have a great view from the room and the rooftop pool is something else.
Tired and weary heads didn’t venture far this evening, locating a local restaurant that served Chinese food (oddly) and huge bottles of Tsingtao. After an incredibly cheap meal, we headed for the ferry to Kowloon and a bar called Ned Kelly’s where I met a bunch of students from Sacremento – my student visit was to Budapest, what’s happened to the world?!
Some random wandering, the purchase of beer and a 1 am visit to the rooftop gym to drink beer and eat crisps at 1am. Not sure what day it is, where I am and where I go next but I certainly slept well!
June 18
After several phone calls from other rooms, I took the hint and got up. Our first breakfast in Hong Kong involved wandering round the local area (bypassing the easy option of McDonalds) before we found a small restaurant of which we don’t have a clue what the name is/was. The safe option of an omelette was my choice but it was accompanied by what appeared to be spaghetti bolognaise in a bowl of water. Lee asked for a coffee and a coke which he had served in the same glass. Nice.
Breakfast done, we made our way back to the hotel to meet up with the others before getting a taxi to the Peak Tram. For those unfamiliar with HK, the tram takes you up to one of the highest peaks in Hong Kong where you get some spectacular views of the skyline, harbour and islands that make up the region. I’ll try and post some pics to this blog if I can figure it out but have posted several via my twitter, @cardiffstu.
The tram ride is unusual in that its bizarrely steep at points and you slide back into the chair. It’s not a long climb, maybe 4 minutes and you are dropped off into a shopping centre giving you that true tourist experience where every ride ends in a gift shop.
The heat continued to be oppressive 32 degrees and beyond humid. We finished off our visit to the peak with a refreshing Tsingtao at the Peak Cafe with views across the other side of the island and butterflies the size of bats.
For some reason, and I’m still not sure why, we decided a walk around Kowloon would be a good idea. A short tube/rail journey from the central island to Kowloon and we set off on a long walk ending at Kowloon Park, via some of the strangest shops and markets you’re likely to see. Dried fish heads and meats hang outside alongside wheels and bearings some of the sights and smells can only be described as unique. It’s not something I could get used to, that along with sweating out ten litres per day!
Anyway, our exercise complete, we found our goal, that being Delaney’s Irish Bar to watch the British and Irish Lions take on the ACT Brumbies. Much had been made of the call up into the squad of several players as the rigours of a rugby tour take it’s toll on the original squad. After starting the tour with a wealth of wingers and centres, Warren Gatland has had to bring in players such as Barritt and Twelvetrees, the first who in my opinion isn’t a Lions quality test player, the second who may be in years to come. Of course the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Shane Williams , retired from international rugby for 18 months and asked to pull on the most famous jersey in rugby once again. I’ve always been a huge fan of Shane – not in the “give it to Shane” way of many sparkly cowboy hat bedecked international event goers – but in the way he’s handled himself throughout his career and been a great role model for our sport. That said, I was slightly disappointed that he was called in as it devalues the shirt – again, an opinion and he almost made the most dramatic of starts with near-try in the first minute of play.
What can I say about the game that hasn’t been said already? By far the most disappointing performance of the tour which is unsurprising given the composition of the squad with several players who were not included in the original squad. Toby Faletau played well, especially as his back-row partners were largely anonymous for the first hour until being replaced. I’m a great admirer of Justin Tipuric but (and no doubt I’m biased) but I will always take Sam Warburton at 100% over Tipuric at 100% in the modern game. Thinking back five years or so, when Martyn Williams was set to retire and the worry it caused followers of Welsh rugby, it is a great problem to have.
The over riding impression of the game was that Gatland was willing to sacrifice this game for the benefit of the Test series and if the gamble pays off and the Lions win the tour, will anybody, other than Brumbies supporters remember the result?

19th/20th June

Last day in Hong Kong before we head to Brisbane – exciting stuff as it’s my first trip to Australia, plus there’s some rugby being played.

Pretty lazy day in Hong Kong – day started with a visit to one of the local restaurants to sample Dim Sum. Ordering involved lots of pointing and gesticulating, my sprite become a coke and not entirely sure what we ordered was what actually arrived but it was great to sample the authentic local cuisine. Sadly, our imaginations ran wild and breakfast became a bush tucker trial of sorts!

The rest of the day was spent with feet up at the Hotel before heading to the airport. The departure lounge is more like St David’s 2 shopping centre in Cardiff yet I couldn’t find a Hello Kitty gift for my daughter – at times I’m a shocking father.

As I write this first bit, I’m at 38,000ft, there are three hours left until we arrive at Brisbane, it’s 2.22am in the morning and over the Arafura Sea. I should get some sleep.

20/21 June

Biggest day of the tour as Warren Gatland names his squad for the first Test against the Wallabies. A squad, different in parts to that picked by many when the original touring party was selected, mainly due to injury but in some cases to players in form.

Front row – Corbisiero, Youngs and A Jones.

Corbisiero was a late addition to the touring party. A better scrummager than Vunipola but given the weakness of the Aussie front row and the (extreme) likelihood that the refs won’t ref the scrum correctly, an odd selection unless he sees Maku as an impact player and carrier.

Youngs has played himself into the test shirt. Hubbard had to be the favourite when the squad was picked to tour yet Youngs impressed against the Waratahs, strong in defence, especially at the breakdown and carried well. Of the three hookers on tour his line out throwing has been the least wayward. Gatball needs set piece possession.

No surprise to see Adam get the three jersey, possibly the best tight head in World Rugby and does it in such and understated way. Many miss the graft he puts in around the pitch – not Melonesque but for a big guy he does more than his fair share.

Second Row – Alun Wyn Jones and Paul O’Connell.

Alun Wyn has been very impressive on this tour where some of his work at the breakdown has secured several turnovers on tour. He’s a natural leader in the pack and deserves his place in the starting XV.

Paul O’Connell

I think POC is an awesome player. He’s probably benefited from several injuries in the last few seasons in that the rest of his body has had time to recover and he hit a rich vein of form in the latter stages of the Heineken Cup. Has been as impressive as AWJ on tour, loves a good maul, a tactic that Gatland has shown glimpses of so far and could be key against the Wallabies.

Back Row – Tom Croft, Jamie Heaslip, Sam Warburton (c).

The balance of the back row was always going to dictate selection, especially in an area where the Lions are strongest. Tom Croft has caught the eye as he often does, from the wing. My preference of a blindside is to do the dirty work (one reason I’d have started Lydiate) but to his credit, Croft has been much more involved on this tour.

Heaslip – I have to start by saying I’m not a fan of his or his selection. Jimmy White Boots as he’s affectionately known by some carries well but offers little else and I worry that the fact he likes the “glamorous” stuff over the hard graft (tackling, rucking and the like) has earned him the selection over Toby who in my opinion is a machine. I’m happy to be accused of Welsh bias here, sure it’s there no matter how objective I aim to be!

Sam Warburton. The nicest guy you’re likely to meet off the pitch, the most fiercely competitive on it. Would have loved to see him go against Pocock in a Lions series but sadly it wasn’t to be. In the modern game where your 7 is a jackal, there is no finer exponent in the Northern Hemisphere. This is where I get accused of Cardiff bias ;)! The truth of the matter is, at 100% I’d take Sam over Tipuric every time. I have massive respect for Tipuric and it’s a great problem for Wales and the Lions to have.

9 & 10

Was it ever going to be Mike Phillips at scrum half in a Gatland coached Lions team. Mike provides the size and strength to be Gatland’s extra flanker, as crucial in defence as he is in attack. There will always be questions over his speed of service and may be the reason he’s gone with Youngs9 on the bench. Genia has had Phillips’ measure in recent meetings, it will be a great battle.

Sexton has been the form fly half in 6 Nations rugby and with Halfpenny to take the kicks there’s no pressure and be can play his game. Hopefully he’s given a degree of freedom to play what’s in front of him, his looping backs moves will add another dimension to the team.

Centres

The injury to Jamie Roberts has probably given Gatland one less selection headache. Jonathan Davies (sounds like Mavis!) had the game of his life against the Waratahs and seems to have finally developed the ability to pass accurately. He will make an interesting partnership inside to O’Driscoll’s outside centre.

BOD. One of the greatest players I’ve watched. May have slowed slightly but still has the great rugby brain that’s meant this will be his fourth tour. Another leader, this time in the backs, Sam will certainly not lack for support. Will be interested to see if BOD and Foxy play left and right rather than strictly in and out.

Three Quarters

George North has come through his fitness concerns and is hopefully at 100%. Needs to be busier than he has been at times in the last 12 months but most likely one of the first names on the team sheet.

Alex Cuthbert is probably the biggest beneficiary from Tommy Bowes injury, whom, in my opinion would have been the test 14. Alex has improved his defence considerably since bursting into the limelight but it is still the biggest weakness in his game – he can only benefit in this area being around some of the best players in world rugby. Quite possibly the deadliest finisher in the Northen Hemisphere at the moment.

Leigh Halfpenny. Player of the Six Nations, 26/27 kicks, puts his body on the line in every game. First name on the Team Sheet. Lions Man of the Series(?).

Replacements.

Big front row impact from Cole and Hibbard around the hour mark and big opportunities for Vunipola to carry when some legs are more weary.

Ian Evans has done little wrong but Parling does offer something different to the starting second rows.

I thought he’d (Gatland) start with Lydiate given the respect he has for the player and the combination he creates with Sam. I’d expect Lydiate to start at least one of the remaining tests. SOB went backwards against the Brumbies.

Youngs & Farrell will be steady off the bench with Youngs hopefully offering something in broken play if the game opens up.

Maitland had a shocker against the Brumbies and can’t understand his selection on the bench. Hogg would have been my pick here, a much more capable player who may have suffered for his incorrect selection at ten.

Lions should win, comfortably, however the reality will probably be a close game.

22 June 2013, First Test, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Game day is here! The four year wait is over, the discussions over selection can be put to one side (for now) and its time for the Lions to roar!

Supporters of the Lions have been building in number since we arrived on Thursday and Queen Street in Brisbane was the famous “Sea of Red” that is often quoted. If the high street is anything to go by, the red jerseys should outnumber those in Green and Gold by 2 to 1.

Good night last night, drinking and singing until the early hours – Delilah, Molly Malone, Calon Lan, Bread of Heaven, Flower of Scotland and I even sang Swing Lo – this would never happen elsewhere! No we are Lions.

Strangely nervous ahead of the game – not quite the throwing up nervous when I used to play but there has been such a build up for this trip that now it has arrived it’s the realisation of how big and unique an event the Lions tour is that finally dawns on you.

Good luck boys, the talking is over, it is time.

22nd June part 2

Game day! We walk from the hotel to Subcorp Stadium, home of the Queensland Reds and for this evening the Qantas Wallabies, aka Australia. The numbers build as we get closer to the ground, the majority of the support (so far) are wearing red.
We head for the Caxton hotel and it seems that half of Brisbane has the same idea, the streets reverberate to the sounds of a drunken rendition of Delilah and not all from Welsh voices.
The atmosphere is electric, the banter largely good natured, you could be at a rugby international anywhere in the world.
The Suncorp is a modern ground, the facilities are great and wandering the concourse I bump into an old work colleague, small world.
As the countdown to kick off begins, the teams enter the arena and the time for the talk and hyperbole is over. Thankfully, the Lions don’t have the dodgy anthem of previous tours and with the Aussie anthem out of the way we can start.
Not many observations from the game – I hate to make flash judgements on decisions and play from so far away from the action but here are a few anyway!

First penalty of the game was a poor decision – tackled Lions player can’t release the ball if he’s still covered in tacklers. This sets the tone for the reffing of the breakdown, if you can call it that and Australia’s first try. A great run from Genia (an anagram of genius) and finish by Folau.

The Lions advantage at the scrum was negated by Chris White – the sooner passive engagement, straight feeds and hooking of the ball are brought back, the better for Rugby. Thankfully, the Lions line out, a concern all tour went relatively well and Tom Youngs threw some tidy darts.

George North’s try was an exceptional solo effort and reminiscent of when he burst onto the international scene against the Springboks. His second try was equally impressive, sadly the TMO didn’t agree, maybe rightly ;).

The biggest concern had to be the balance of the back row. Heaslip and Croft are ball carriers but often go missing at the breakdown, leaving Sam to do a lot of the dirty work himself – 14 tackles in any game is a pretty impressive shift. He can’t do it on his own and sadly it appears Gatland won’t be brining in Lydiate or Falatau to even up the odds.

At times Foxy and BOD looked like they’d just met but this did improve marginally as the game went on. For the style of rugby Gatland plays, there is a huge gap when Roberts is out.

Everytime the Wallaby backs had the ball, after quick service from rucks and the like, Genia ensured they had quick ball, often drawing defenders, they looked dangerous. An early injury to Leali-ifano and then Berrick Barnes were costly blows to Australia, although arguably starting Barnes at 15 was a strange choice with Kurtley Beale on the bench.

Australia played the better rugby and can count themselves unlucky not to go into the second test 1-0 up but then that’s rugby. 14 points went begging during the 80 minutes due to missed kicks. As time expired and the Lions had a scrum near half way, most (Lions) supporters would have put money on an Australian penalty and that’s what happened. Thankfully, Beale had the wrong studs in a churned area of the pitch and the Lions head to Melbourne needing a win to take the series.

The evening and morning were spent enjoying the rugby hospitality of our hosts. A great first Lions test for me.

23 June

We depart Brisbane and head for Sydney, arriving to Welsh weather. The Australian friends I have who always complain about the weather in the UK will never be listened to again!

Thankfully, we arrive at our hotel around 4pm and can check into our rooms. Staying at the Travelodge, Wynyard which is a nice enough hotel and within walking distance of the Rocks, Harbour Bridge etc. we don’t venture far tonight, finding a local micro-brewery where the owner buys us a few rounds to add to our own and we finish the night in a local karaoke bar to thrill our hosts with dodgy renditions of some classics. Oh dear!

24 June

The travel and late nights have caught up with me. Managed to turn my alarm off and sleep until after midday. Nobody around so I had a wander around the Rocks, under the Harbour Bridge – to walk over costs over $200 – and to the Opera House. It’s a bit surreal to have seen images of these places so many times and to be walking around them. A quick bite to eat at The Rocks Cafe and I hit the hotel gym to sweat off some beer.

Day finishes with a nice meal at Aki’s Indian restaurant. The food and service were excellent but very expensive. In fact, Australia is proving to be very expensive.

25 June

Bondi beach today. Again, the weather is Welsh. We get there via train and by bus – Sydney’s public transport system is pretty straightforward to navigate and seems to run to time.

I was impressed with Bondi – very clean and the waterfront wasn’t over developed. Some big waves and quite a few people out surfing despite the weather. I particularly liked the “graffiti” wall near the beach, some great pieces and will try and post a picture or two later.

Heading back to our Hotel and then off to The Lord Nelson Brewery – a must visit if you like beer that isn’t the fizzy lager crap served everywhere in Australia! The landlord was adopter rugby supporter and new his beers – a nice range of ales and the like is a good way to lose an afternoon.

We manage to find a good spot to watch the Lions take on the Melbourne Rebels, possibly the last game for several of the players on this tour. The selection of players in this fixture is usually a good indicator of the selection for the following test however some will be fortunate enough to move into the test 23.

It’s good to have Tuilagi back to fitness and several other players such as Sean O’Brien, Maitland and Farrell redeemed themselves after some poor performances the previous week – the players looked as though they were playing for selection. Lydiate captained the side, contributing 15 tackles plus so much more during the game – another example of why he is the perfect partner to the Lions captain. Toby also put in another strong performance and must surely start one of the tests? He slipped when almost certain of a try but I guess most Lions supporters would take that slip with Beale’s slip on Saturday. The Lions ran out comfortable winners against the weakest of Australia’s Superugby sides – now they can concentrate on the Tests.

26/27 June

26th was largely unremarkable, involving two more airports and another flight as we departed Sydney for Melbourne. I enjoyed Sydney, just scratching the surface of what is there and no doubt I’ll come back again.

And in the darkness bind them

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 8, 2013 by cardiffstu

I have just realised my last attempt at a blog was over two years ago.  Where does the time go?  Prompted by some recent comments on an old blog I thought I’d have another crack.

The main reason is, I guess, fear of confronting something that has had a huge bearing on my life in the last few years, depression.  It’s been the cliched “emotional roller coaster” of watching my daughter grow up and all the joy that brings, a promotion at work, the onset of depression and darkness, redundancy and (hopefully) the promise of a new beginning.

Many hear the word depression and switch off – it’s not something that many are interested in and most have no desire to discuss.  What is it?  Sadly I can’t answer that because from my experience every person suffers in a different way.  Of course their are common symptoms but how we arrive at those symptoms (if that’s even the correct word) is unique.

I’d had a brief encounter with depression in 2001, brought on by anxiety and stress at work. A change in job seemed to “fix” me and I was depression free for several years.  Actually, looking back, I now realise that I was never free of the darkness of my depression.

I realised something wasn’t right in the summer of 2011 whilst on a family holiday.  This is supposed to be a time of happiness and relaxation yet I was constantly on edge, unable to relax with constant doubt and what many sufferers experience, paranoia.  At times my skin felt as though it was on fire, I struggled to sleep.  Let me expand on the paranoia.  It didn’t occur all of a sudden – although, arguably I’ve always had a degree of self-doubt – but crept up on me to the point where it was all encompassing.  I’d worry, endlessly that colleagues were criticising me behind my back, I’d think the same of friends and family and this, in turn, began to affect my mood.  People who know me appreciate that I’m not the happiest soul but this was different.

Depression is often referred to as the “Black Dog” but I quite like dogs.  Maybe it’s my Dark Passenger but less sinister than Dexter’s?  For me, I visualise it as one of Tolkien’s Ring Wraiths.

The paranoia often manifests itself as a feeling of impending doom – something bad is going to happen soon and I’m not going to be able to control or stop it.  Simple, everyday tasks like answering the telephone would become difficult and often impossible because of the fear as to what the call would contain.  Saying goodbye to my wife, daughter and friends became so difficult as I feared it could be the last time I would see them.  Irrational? Absolutely.  But mired in this darkness, the rational and irrational become so blurred that the first instinct is to withdraw – not fight or flight but hide.  I dealt with my illness (or didn’t) by withdrawing from life.  I stopped socialising as I found it almost impossible to be around people, especially large groups.  I had to stop working, my concentration was virtually non-existent and at times I would be trying to do several things at once yet achieving nothing.  My solution was to hide away at home, hoping I’d get better but not really helping myself.  Actually, that’s not true – you’ve heard the phrase “time is the healer” and to a certain degree this applies to (my) depression.

It’s a strange feeling and again I’m generalising but depression provides many strange sensations.  As well as the sensation that my skin was on fire, at times you feel as though you’re underwater – your senses are muted and it almost feels like an out of body experience.  Some days you don’t want to get out of bed and face the world and other days you make it to the sofa and your first realisation that the day has passed is the return of your loved ones home.

One question that I was asked by my doctor was along the lines of “have you thought about ending things?”.  Normally, this sort of question would shock me but I’m not sure it even registered at the time as unusual.  The answer was yes and no.  No in that I hadn’t thought about ways to end things but yes in terms of I’d thought about not being here and the effect that would have on those around me.  In my mind there’s a difference.

When everyday is filled with darkness, every day is a struggle and every day you can’t see a way out it seems like you will never be better, never be normal, never be yourself again.  I’d have severe mood swings, be easy to anger and often irrational.  How my wife coped and still made sure my daughter was unaffected I’ll never know – she deserves a medal and better than me, I am eternally grateful.

The turning point for me was redundancy.  As mentioned previously, part of my withdrawal had involved stopping work.  The doctor had signed me off to allow me time to focus on me and getting “me” back.  At first my employer was understanding but in the end my experience of them was awful – I was just another employee number and a problem to deal with.  After working there for fifteen years and putting in everything, there wasn’t even a sorry you’re leaving card. Bastards.  On the plus side, it set me free!  The day of the phone call my mood improved, I guess I’d been stuck in a rut for a number of those years, putting pressure on myself to succeed and being my own worst critic.  I’d found the career unrewarding and the culture had become one of profit at all costs.  It didn’t sit well with me personally and I’d felt trapped in this job with commitments outside of work that needed to be met.  Thankfully, I’ve escaped.

Where am I now?  I’d like to think I’m better although I don’t think I’ll ever be free of my depression.  At the moment I have more good days than bad and its when you can recognise the bad days as not being the norm that you realise things have improved.  I’m certainly in a better place and fighting my demons, which, is all I can do.

I’ve been fortunate during this time to have some great friends who’ve seen beyond the sullen, miserable exterior and done so much to help me – I’ve probably made more friends as a result of this depression than before.  Thank you to my friends.  My family have been supportive throughout and I’d like to thank my parents for their support.  The biggest thanks go to my wife who’s held it all together, I don’t deserve her.

That’s it. Two years in the making and it probably reads like crap.  I’ve stopped and started this blog so many times but seem to be in a position where I can look at things objectively.  I hope this helps others understand either their own depression or that of others.  It’s so easy to not talk about mental health issues and in some cases it’s best not to talk about them straight away, but eventually it helps.

And in the darkness bind them.

Suck my stereotype

Posted in Uncategorized on March 10, 2011 by cardiffstu

Empty your mind. Forget the deadlines or the meetings and just think of nothing.

Gay

Black

Elderly

Disabled

Four random words. Now jump back ten seconds to when you read those words for the first time (in the context of this blog). What were the first thoughts that sprang to mind for each? I’ve clearly chosen words that are deliberately evocative because each will likely give an image or stereotype, rightly or wrongly.

Let me focus on the last word. Disabled. If I cast my mind back to 2006 the year I first volunteered for something called The Fieldfare Kielder Challenge.

The Challenge is a series of games that require teams to work together to achieve a goal, may be scoring the most points, moving through a maze or some form of problem solving. Teams are comprised of eight children between the ages of 11 and 16 and normally at least four will have some form of disability. The aim? To give children an opportunity to mix, promote inclusion and expose the children to the great outdoors. A series of heats takes place across the UK with the top six teams travelling to the final held at the Kielder Forest, Northumberland.

So back to stereotypes. I volunteered back in 2006 for a variety of reasons, one of the main reasons was I knew nothing about disability and wanted to find out more – I have the sort of personality that leads me to jump in with both feet when I want to find out something. This has led me to build a car and learn to play the drums amongst other things!
I also got involved because I wanted to give the kids an opportunity, something that is vitally important to me as when I was growing up I had lots of opportunities because of people who volunteered their time.

This is where stereotypes come in for me. I think, in fact I know I had preconceived ideas of what disability was and how this prevented people from doing the regular things that I take for granted. Someone in a wheel chair would be miserable, someone who was deaf wouldn’t be able to lead a normal life and so on. Forgive me but I was clueless. I was also making an effort to overcome my preconceptions so hopefully you won’t judge me as all bad.

The biggest realisation for me is that it doesn’t matter. That’s not to make light of disability, far from it. What I have learned is to look beyond that disability and that stereotype to who the person actually is – a person like you and I with all the other day to day issues that we encounter.

Volunteering has been very rewarding for me. The children with and without disability have constantly amazed, inspired and moved me to tears. They have overcome societies preconceptions as well as the usual insecurities of being a teenager to make lifelong friends and I feel change their lives.

I have found this blog hard to write because it exposes a part of me that I am not particularly comfortable with – I am often to quick to judge or stereotype somebody I meet for the first time. Maybe it’s part of human nature.

What I try to do and what I urge you to do is find the real person behind the stereotype, your life will be richer for it. Chances are you’re somebody elses stereotype too.

Stuart
Male
Welsh

Them and Us

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2011 by cardiffstu

Them and us.  Three words that you’ve probably heard before and may have used before but together what do they mean?

Them and us.

As a Cardiff boy, them can mean anybody who isn’t from Cardiff where the “us” is fellow Cardiffians, the “them” those who aren’t.  But at what point does them, become us?  Most parts of the world have a local rivalry which can manifest itself in many ways – I have a passion for rugby so lets use that as my example.

Cardiff against Swansea in both rugby (Blues v Ospreys) and football is an example of them and us.  From good-natured rivalry and competition to outright hatred among some so-called supporters.  Come Six Nations time, the them become us as we unite as Welshmen (and women) to support our national side with all the pride and passion that the Welsh are famed for.  Now the “them” are English, Irish, Scottish, French and Italian.  Add into the mix a British and Irish Lions tour every four years where the “us” includes an even greater group.  Broaden this out to rugby versus football and “us” now includes even more of “them”.

There is often a barrier created where others are perceived as being different.  I have, in my rambling and ineloquent way tried to give an example of differences above in a sporting context but these differences can be down to beliefs and morals, religious views, ethnicity, culture and a multitude of other factors that may or may not exist.

I believe that an element of fear leads to this – fear of something different, fear of change that is often driven from a position of ignorance or a stubborn belief that any views that are different from our own are wrong and therefore unacceptable.  I have been guilty of this in the past and probably will be in the future.  I can try not to be, to control my first impression of others but can I do this or is it part of the human condition, perhaps an inherent instinct and part of self-preservation and the survival instinct, fight or flight.

I will try to avoid the religious debate on what is only my second blog (maybe I will be brave enough in a few blogs time!)  but religious differences have been at the heart of so many wars and conflicts it is the extreme example of them and us.  These started in a small geographic location initially and as the world has shrunk through time with better travel and transport and more recently the internet, the scenarios by which them and us are thrown together have become more frequent.  Social media such as Twitter have highlighted these differences – I do not feel the need (at the moment) to take to the streets to protest or to riot to fight against a oppresive regime or to battle against injustices against my countrymen.  But if we look at “them” in Egypt, “them” in Tunisia and now “them” in Libya and Bahrain we can make them become us.

Think for a minute about what you want for those near to you, be they family or friends.  By this I don’t mean all of the trappings that come with success, the shiny new car, the holidays and nice house.  Strip that away and go back to the basics, what do we as humans need to survive.  Abraham Maslow is famous for his hierarchy of needs (Google him) where he uses a pyramid structure to understand what humans need, with physiological needs at the base of the pyramid (the basics such as air, food and water) through to the self-actualisation at the top of the pyramid where man (in the human sense) achieves their own full-potential.  Without the base or foundation, nothing is achievable.

I do not mean to belittle the current struggles around the world as people fight for their freedom but what I am trying to say is this.  Is what I want as a father, what you want as a father or mother or brother or sister or friend that different from what they or “them” wants?  We all want to be safe, secure, fed and watered in fact we all need this.  We all have emotions, beliefs and characteristics and yes these are all different but fundamentally there is no “them and “us”.

We are all the same, we are all different and like it or not we are all on this short journey called life together.  Embrace and celebrate the difference between them and us and enjoy the ride.

Hopes, dreams, aspirations and terror.

Posted in hopes and fears on February 18, 2011 by cardiffstu

How many blogs start with the words “this is my first blog, be gentle”?

I have often thought about blogging but always thought why would anybody want to listen to the stuff and nonsense that rattles through my mind on a daily basis.  Having overcome my initial reticence here is my very first effort.  Be gentle!

The most important thing in my life and my greatest achievement outshining any sporting or academic effort has to be my daughter.  Quite simply, she is my life.  Everyday she learns something new, says or does something that stops you me in my tracks and makes me realise how brilliant and fragile this thing we call life actually is.

I could probably write for days, weeks and years about how wonderful she is (in my rather biased opinion) and at some point I probably will.  But today is not for that, rather the sheer terror that being “Dad” fills me with.

Before you ask, this isn’t going to be me writing about how important Dads are (they are) or how easy Mums have it (they don’t – Mum is definately the toughest job in the world, ever, bar none), more a perspective on how being a Dad makes me feel.

It all began on the day my daughter arrived.  Up until this point, I was a spare part in the process, yes, nine months previously a moment of my magic on my part (ha) set things in motion and yes, during the time in between I had done “Dad” stuff like buy a pram, prepare a nursery but none of this is anything that anybody else could not do.  Whether they would want to do this without payment is another matter but I digress.

Where were we?  Ah yes, the arrival.  It is that dawning realisation that when you last left the house there were two people and when you go home there will be three of you.  This person has come to live with you, will be a part of your life until you are no more and will be largely dependent upon you for everything for some time.  For some this is a worry, for me it is terrifying.

Will she like Dad?  Will she be fit and healthy?  What will she be and how will she get there.  Thoughts like these and a thousand others go through your mind the moment the umbilical cord is cut and they don’t stop.  Ever.

I guess my greatest worry about being “Dad” is that she has everything she needs in life to be the best she can be.  Who decides what the best she can be actually is could be me but if I am being honest with myself is entirely up to her and maybe that is the worry.

Every parent has hopes, dreams and aspirations of what their child(ren) will become.  If I am honest, personally some of this is driven by my own failings and by that I don’t mean to say I am a failure.  There are many things in life I would like to have done, opportunities I didn’t have or didn’t take and a lot of things that I wasn’t even aware I could achieve for one reason or another.

The fear on my part is that she won’t have what she needs from me, be that financial, emotional or something else that holds her back.  On the opposite side of providing her with all the opportunities, support, encouragement and love that she needs is giving her the freedom to become the wonderful girl and woman she will no doubt become.

The terror?  It doesn’t get any easier as each day there are new worries (its called growing up apparently) but I wouldn’t change it for the world.  A smile, a hug a kiss or just being called “Dad” can instantly make a bad day, good.

Through her make flight my hopes, dreams and aspirations.