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A morbid interest? 08 January 2009


So here we are back in school. The cold icy  weather still doesn’t stop some kids turning up in school without a coat and  they huddle together for warmth like penguins. They are of course pleased to be  back in school. Like most of the teachers they are keen to restore some kind of  normality to their lives because the Christmas holiday can become very boring. Even  for the truly committed teenager, there is still a limit to the amount of  chocolate they can eat.
I was ready to go back and to catch up on  the gossip and also to try and bring pay day a little closer. At the moment it  seems a long way away!
But even though I am throwing myself back  into my ordinary life, the priorities of the book still push their way into my  attention.
I had a phone call from the local evening  paper in Swansea, The Evening Post, telling me that  they are doing a feature on the book. Excellent. The publicity will definitely  help!
What I have found very useful actually is  this website. I can direct anyone here to get the background  information that they need and I know also that they are getting a consistent  message.
What I have found is that journalists  always ask the same question. I presume that it is the question they believe  their readers would want them to ask.They ask me why I do something that is as  morbid as looking at headstones.
Well I don’t believe it is morbid at all. Gravestones  are about people – the people who lie beneath and those who put the headstones  there. And is there anything more interesting than people? Just look at the  things that they do.
In the case of these headstones, those  involved do things that lead to a tragedy. But it is not usually by design. The  grave isn’t the culmination of a complicated plan. The headstone appeared as a  result of a unique, sometimes accidental, combination of events.
Look at Thomas Heslop, shot in the back in a  duel.
Look at Adeline Coquelin, a young girl  drowned a long way from home.
No one really wants these things to  happen. They just happen. Stuff happens. It happens all the time.
It might happen to us one day.
So I don’t see it as morbid at all.
Rather, my interest is an act of respect  for those who have gone before. Because they represent true history. These are  not the stories of great political conflicts. These are the stories of ordinary  people.
Just like the rest of us.
That is why they should be remembered.


Being a boy – 30 December 2008

We went off to Mumbles to look for a grave yesterday. Well a collection of graves actually, for we were looking for the Mumbles Lifeboat crew who died in 1947 in a storm.

It was bitterly cold with a wind whipping off the exposed beach like a knife but it hadn’t kept people away. In fact it was very busy indeed.  It was the Monday after Christmas and I think many had developed terminal cabin fever. They were desperate to get out of the house, no matter what the conditions. Consequently the streets were full of shuffling figures wrapped up in hats and scarves, looking for cafes.

We left the main street and went up the steps to All Saints church. I wanted to look at the stained glass window there that commemorates the loss of the life- boat crew to check a couple of details. However we couldn’t get in because there had been a funeral service which was just coming to a close. It is that time of the year.

A backlog created by Christmas that needs to be managed as quickly as possible. Tears, handshakes, hugs, big limos. The mourners were gathering for their hurried goodbyes and all you could hear in the wicked wind were elderly men asking for the nearest toilet.

Sad isn’t it? As a man I can acknowledge that we are always dominated by one thought only. It is all we can cope with. At any point of our lives in fact. It is just terribly sad that we are all destined to reach that point when the more interesting and exciting ideas are replaced by the pressing need to know always where the nearest toilet is located. It is the common future that we all share.

I watched the old men in their dark suits for a while with some considerable sadness and then hurried off down to the public convenience. I certainly didn’t want to be at the back of a lengthy queue.


A Busy Year – 28 December 2008

It has been an exciting year. All the usual things that I have done in the course of 35 years as a teacher have established a familiar rhythm and pattern to my life. But of course on top of it all now there has been the book, which suddenly arrived and blinked at the world at the beginning of November.

Prior to that there was a long period of waiting.

Right at the start of the year I had to write a replacement chapter to maintain the theme of unfortunate deaths so I took out the nineteenth century ironmaster, Robert Crawshay (who is now sitting in Volume Two) and substituted Joseph Butler, who was shot by a poacher in 1868.

I remember driving into West Wales on New Years Day in 2008. It was cold and quiet. The whole of the countryside appeared to be ours. Apart from a large party out watching a hunt near Tregaron we hardly saw anyone. We found the grave much more easily than we expected and sat in the car in the absolute peace and quiet eating our sandwiches.

We then drove on to the Hafod Estate (a remarkable place which will also feature in Volume Two) and then on to the Harbourmasters in Aberaeron for fine coffee in their lovely lounge. It was an excellent and a successful day and a really good start to the year. And now that year has almost disappeared, and the book we have talked about for so long is enhancing shelves everywhere.

And not just in shops I trust.

As I sit here in a post Christmas glow I hope for two things. I hope that those people who have copies of the book find that it is worth reading and that 2009 brings with it just as much interest and just as many unexpected discoveries as 2008

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