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The Night Welsh Football Culture became Welsh Culture

(A version of an article I wrote for International Wales magazine)

At around 7.30pm on Thursday 24th March 2022, Cardiff City Stadium saw a change in Wales. It was the time that Welsh football culture collided with Welsh culture. This happened forty-five minutes before the match kicked off and a full hour and ten minutes before Gareth Bale’s exquisite free kick nestled in the back of the net after dipping below the Austrian crossbar.

For the last six or so years at Welsh football matches around the world while heading to your seat and reaching Y Wal Goch you had to make your way through the sea of Spirit of 58’ bucket hats, there was already a certain way that Welsh fans were starting to dress with more and more Cymraeg being spoken at the games as well. There was a new football culture starting.

There were also different songs that were starting to be sung at matches, with Welsh language songs such as Calon Lan and Yma o Hyd being sung during games and since our victory over Belgium in 2015 Euro qualifier when Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was sung at the eighty-five-minute mark which helped push the players over the line.

Not only have the fans noticed this change but the people at the FAW have noticed it with Noel Mooney leading the way. Knowing the importance, the Austrian semi-final, the FAW asked for us all to be in our seats at 7pm because the players wanted us to be there when they came out to warm-up. Word definitely got around as the ground was almost full by this time and the singing started and did not stop until late into the night. 

With fifteen minutes left before kick-off, there was a stroke of genius from the FAW who are very much in tune with the fans. The stadium announcer introduced Dafydd Iwan to sing Yma o Hyd. In the far corner of the pitch next to the Canton Stand he took to the small stage to a standing obviation, everyone in the ground knew something special was about to happen.

Then with the first line of the song you could feel it happening, the culture that has been building around Welsh football suddenly became Welsh culture. 33,000 fans all started sing a Welsh language song at the top of their voices, when we got to the chorus you probably could have heard it in all around Canton. Dafydd Iwan who has been singing this song for over thirty years to Welsh language audiences now heard his words sung back to him by thousands of people in a football stadium. By the second chorus tears of pride started rolling down the cheeks of Dafydd Iwan and many many others in the ground and I’m sure watching at home. 

Then it was time for our anthem, in all the years of watching Wales play I never heard our anthem sung with such passion and at such volume. Even the two thousand Austrian fans who were to my left were all caught up in emotion as I glanced over at one point and what looked like every one of them had their mobile phones out filming the singing and trying to capture the atmosphere. 

Those fifteen minutes changed everything, it wasn’t football fans singing anymore,  it became part of Welsh culture. 33,000 Welsh men, women and children standing together singing a Welsh language song that wasn’t our anthem felt like the most natural thing in the world and we all knew that this was the moment that it all changed, this was the start of a new awakening for Wales, a new era for the Welsh language. Remember this was the Semi Final, imagine the noise, pride and passion for the Final this June. 

Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth

Ry’n ni yma o hyd!

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The Wonder of Bruce Springsteen

I was told by a friend that she didn’t like Bruce Springsteen that much and only liked one of his songs ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ Yes, just the one song! Really! only likes one song! I will hand it to her, it’s an amazing song but there are so many other songs of his that are even better. I could easily make her sit through an hour long  PowerPoint presentation on how great he his but I thought this blog would be better for our friendship.

This will explain the wonder of the man to her and anyone else.

The first time I had heard a Bruce Springsteen song was when at a friend’s house going through his brother’s album collection looking for stuff to copy on tapes. Having flicked through the records I quickly found Queen’s Greatest Hits and put it on my first C90 cassette tape, hoping it would fit on one side, l mean come on there was only six in a packet and I wasn’t made of money. Then after three albums in a row where I asked, ‘Who is she?’ only to be told it’s a man, I picked up an album with a man stand in front of some red and white stripe background, with his back turned and a red cap stuffed in his back pocket. 

Born In The U.S.A/Bruce Springsteen was written across the top, I had to listen straight away. I had a feeling I would love this album, the blank tape when in, I pressed record with one hand and play with the other, within one second there was a chord played followed by a loud banging of a drum. This went on for 18 seconds (thanks to cd’s & Spotify I now know its 18 seconds) each banging of the drum sounded like a gun being fired, then came a voice sound like he was singing about a painfully time: 

‘Born down in a dead man’s town 

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground 

End up like a dog that’s been beat too much 

‘Til you spend half your life just covering up’

 I quickly looked to see what the name of the song was, and it was also called Born In The USA. Thinking he doesn’t sound like he is happy being born there, I took the lyric sheet out and read along as he sung. Realising it’s about someone coming back from fighting in Vietnam and not being treated well when he came back home. I would never have thought then that a song about that would hold any interest to me, but it did. Then the great songs kept coming then it came to No Surrender. Who would have thought that a man from New Jersey would be able to write something that could relate to someone in South Wales? 

 ‘Well we busted out of class 

Had to get away from those fools 

We learned more from a three-minute record 

Baby, than we ever learned in school’ 

 I knew I was going to be deep into his music and this was before Bobby Jean, Glory Days and one song from the end, Dancing In The Dark. What seems like a happy song when you just listen to the music, but one listen to the lyrics and it’s a totally different song. It was like he had written the song for me, a feeling millions of others got as well; “I check my look in the mirror, I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face” these songs as I got older had more and more meaning.  

 I had to listen to every Bruce Springsteen song I could get my hands on, every song was a story that someone could write a book about. Thunder Road for example, there have never been a better description of some making an entrance, he even sings about what song was on the radio. 

‘The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways 

Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays 

Roy Orbison singing for the lonely 

Hey that’s me and I want you only 

Don’t turn me home again 

I just can’t face myself alone again’

The rest of the song is just as beautifully descriptive. The River, the story of his Sister and Brother in Law’s life, sucks you right in. Born To Run, the ultimate getting away from it all song. Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, a song he is singing to someone who is feeling down, telling them how much they pick him up every day and it will all be ok (if only I had the talent to have written just one of those lines in that song) at this point there would be a slide on the PowerPoint with the lyrics but you can google them for yourselves. I could bore you for days listing all his great songs from the 1970’s to the 2020’s. Give The Boss a go, he will change your life.

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Live Music, I Missed You!

The last few months we have started to get back to some sort of normality and now that we coming to what is hopefully the end of the Covid pandemic, one of the things that have thankfully starting to come back is music concerts and at the moment, most of the gigs that are taking place are ones that were first due to happen in 2020/21. Some of these gigs I bought tickets for two and a half years ago so when reminders pop up on my phone its a nice surprise, having forgotten that I bought the tickets in the first place. But more importantly, bands have started to announce new tours for the rest of this year.

There is something special about seeing a band that you like live, it’s being in the same room as someone you have listened to for years whether its for the first time or for the twenty-fifth time (like with the Manic Street Preachers, who are just as good or even better than the last time you saw them, even after all these years). Every time you hear a song live it sounds different, but always better than hearing on the radio or CD. There is an atmosphere that builds up in the venue that makes that moment something you will always remember.

I’ve mentioned in a pervious blog that music is very important to me, it helps me a lot. I always connect songs to people I know or moments in time. Zombie Nation will always remind me of watching Wales play football, Three Little Birds by Bob Marley reminds me of a good friend, Church on Sunday by Green Day another good friend (the album it’s from also means a lot). These are just a few examples, there are hundreds more, but I’m sure like you most of the songs you reading this you all have a connection with certain songs. 

You can imagine how seeing the person(s) who wrote the songs performing them is a special moment for us. But what I didn’t realise until last month, when I started going to gigs again was how much I would miss them after two years.

Standing in front of your favourite bands with them singing your favourite songs is very emotional, an emotion that is very unique to live music. It’s hard to replicate this feeling, it doesn’t happen listening to a ‘Live’ album or watch a concert on TV. Standing in front of the stage at the time the first chords are being played can bring tears to your eyes, more so now that we lost two years of live music, I have started to realise what we missed out on these past couple of years.

This past month I have been to three live gigs (The Fratellis, Jake Bugg and Blondie) and one thing that have gotten in the way of the this wonderful feeling of being in the moment is that when the artist on stage starts to sing a popular song, hundreds of mobile phones appear out of nowhere and start filming. Something special is happening a few metres away from them and they watch it through a small screen. Sacrificing being in the moment just so they can post on social media. What I saw in the last gig was lots of people filming themselves singing along to the band. Am I getting old and not understand trends? I mean who even sits through the entire song when people post the band doing it? I just scrolled through twenty posts on twitter of people filming Paul McCartney singing Hey Jude, I really don’t want to watch you singing it. Ending this rant I just want to add one thing, by all means take pictures, I was take a few. They look so much better than the videos, take a couple of pictures or film a few seconds of the song and put away your phone and live in the moment.

So, when you feel comfortable being back out in large crowds, go and see live music as often as you can. Go to the small venues as well as the arenas and stadiums, the smaller venues are more intimate and also the tickets will not cost you a small fortune.  Remember there is nothing like hearing your favourite songs being sung to you while you stand at the feet of your favourite bands.

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The Beatles and My Depression

This could have been about any band. Good music helps lifts anyone’s mood so there are many bands and songs that I could write about but for the last six months I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot, including watching the eight hour documentary Get Back twice since it aired on Disney+ in November. 

Most of the time I have friends to talk to when I feeling down, but sometimes in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep you can’t really text a friend. So when this happens I listen to music with my headphones on. This is when the choice of music can help me get out of the down period and quickly. Songs in my mind are linked to people or moments and that makes me happy. If there is a song that I’m listening to when I’m spending time with someone, in my head I will always think of a certain person when I hear it. Three Little Birds by Bob Marley is one such song, with Best of You by the Foo Fighters reminding me of being in America as it was on the radio all the time. With a band like The Beatles whose music changes so much during the eight years they were releasing music,  there are songs that cover what I just mentioned for very different reasons.

We all know the songs The Beatles made, so I really don’t need to go into too much detail with them, we all tap our feet and move our shoulders when Twist and Shout comes on and if there is no one around dance like Ferris in the scene when it is played in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A lot of their songs from the first half of sixties are like this (they still made them in the late sixties) but it’s the song from their latter albums that for me lifts me up when I need it.

During the last few years of The Beatles, all four members suffered from depression and they wrote songs about it, which was unusual for that time as people didn’t talk about it back then. It’s this that has given me a connection to the songs, knowing George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr all felt the same way as I feel and manage to write such amazing songs about that feeling. Its almost as if they are talking you through it. When George wrote about having been down in Here Comes The Sun

‘Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here’

When I listen to this song I can think that this feeling with be over soon.

‘…I feel the ice is slowly melting’

And everything will be clear soon, that can really lift up. When Paul wrote about it in Let It Be, he wrote about his mother coming to him in a dream telling him to let everything be and he will be ok. Now of course because we talk about it more, we have have friends to tell us that, ‘you can do it’.

Their songs help me because even though they are singing about being down, there is always an upside. We can get through this, George even sung ‘All Things Must Pass’. There is an optimism in their songs that lifts me out of my down time. It’s like your musical heroes are saying to you, yeah we are down too but we can get through it. 

There are many more of their songs they did as a group and on their solo albums that we can relate to and when we can relate to something it can often help us, knowing that we are not the only ones going through this. So even though these songs are over 50 years old, they have become relevant to me and many others right now. This little thing of listening to music helps me a lot when I need it  and hopefully will some people who are reading this, whatever music you listen to. I’m very lucky that I have friends that I can talk to when I’m down, but some times late at night when the black dog comes I can always put on the headphones and listen to The Beatles.

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Memories With A Loved One We’ve Lost

I’ve thinking a lot about my Uncle Terry these last couple of weeks. He died from Covid back in December 2020 (the time period that had been in the news a lot due to ‘partygate’). More specifically, I’ve been thinking about things that we did when I was young. We once went to watch Wales play rugby in the old National Stadium (along with my Dad on a trip organised by the local rugby club). On one of these trips, we stopped to watch my first cricket match and even though I think the group went there because the queue for the bar was a lot smaller, I enjoyed the cricket anyway.

However before that memory there was one event that took place that involved my love of music, even as an 8-year-old, and my first visit to a pub.  

Back when I was that age I was obsessed with this artist, loved everything they did. One day my Uncle told me that in the local pub that he played darts for, they had just taken a delivery of what was at the time a state-of-the-art video jukebox. Of course this was before MTV and the myriad of other channels that showed music videos. Just to pique my interest even more he told me that it was in the room with the Pool Table. He told me that one day in the upcoming summer holidays he would check with the landlord if it would be ok for me to come with him one afternoon and have a couple of games of Pool and pick videos on the jukebox.  

The following week my Uncle came to my house and said that he would take me to the pub the first day of the summer holidays and he give me a list of some of the songs that was on the jukebox. Uptown Girl – Billy Joel (yes!) Down Under – Men At Work (yes!) Can’t Hurry Love – Phil Collins (yes!) I was already trying to work out how much money I would need to be able to watch all those videos and then at the end of the list, I saw the title of a video I was desperate to see, one of the first singles I owned and I just couldn’t wait to see it. Now these days, you could just ask Siri to play the video, but you have to remember, this was when phones had buttons and no screens!!!

The day finally came and I was about to set foot inside The Punch House, my first time ever in a pub! We walked into the Pool room and I could hear Karma Chameleon. I turned around and saw the biggest tv I ever saw, it must have been at least 40 inches (or the little tv as it’s called now). I walked up to the jukebox and just stared at the screen, after standing in awe for a few minutes I snapped out of it to check that the video I wanted to see was on the jukebox. It was and I couldn’t wait to throw as much money in the video jukebox as it wanted to take from me.  

We played a few games of Pool while I waited for the videos that have already been picked to have been played, as each video finished and I was filled with hope that the video would finally be the last video, but each time my hopes were dashed. Then the time came, the final video played and I finally got my turn to watch the video that I have been waiting for, I put the money in and pressed the button and there it was! The moment I was waiting for, the video for Rat Rappin’ by the puppets Roland Rat and Kevin The Gerbil. I was in heaven, watching them on a giant 40” screen (as I said, times were different then.)

I know that is not the coolest first time in a pub story, going there to watch two puppets rap but I still remember it like it was yesterday and it gave me a good memory of the time I spent with my Uncle who is no longer with us. Also, I would just like to point out that I did listen to cool music at time. I was 8/9 year old when it happened and liked puppets as well, who didn’t at that age.

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The Day I Went To See A Play and Ended Up Acting In It! 

Yes, that’s right I went to see a Play and ended up playing two different parts in it. It wasn’t as if I had anything to do with the Play. The last thing you expect when you go to the theatre is that you get called up on the stage, especially when you are watching a One Person Play! So here is how it all came about.

One evening my friend Tim and I went to Newport to watch a Play about Oliver Reed, who was a well known actor but was even more well known for the amount of alcohol he would drink every day. I already mentioned it was a one person play, which sounds boring but knowing what a hell raiser the man was we thought that there would be some interesting stories in there about his life, so we took a chance.

We got into our front row seats just as the curtain lifted to reveal the set which naturally was a pub. The actor playing Oliver Reed came on stage and walked to the bar and kept calling for ‘Andrew’ the barman.  He called out for a few minutes then walked over to me and said ‘there you are, get behind the bar and serve me’.  At this point I wanted to slide down in my seat and hope that he would move on but when he pointed to where the steps were. I thought that the least embarrassing thing to do would be to go up on stage and hand him a couple of drinks and sit back down as quickly as possible. Once on stage he lead me behind the bar and pointed to the drinks and said ‘beer please’ I handed him bottles while he did his monologue. When that came to an end he pointed to bottles that was on the shelf behind me and said ‘join me for a beer.’ Thinking it was finally over and I could go back to my seat, I grabbed a bottle off the shelf. I followed his lead and started to knock back the drink, it took five second for it to hit me that my drink wasn’t the ‘fake’ beer he was knocking back but real beer. I had visions of him telling me to drink another bottle and of me falling of the stage drunk.

Thankfully he told me to grab some bottles and hand them out the people around me. Sitting back down I handed a bottle to Tim and said to him ‘I’m glad that’s over with, I can relax now!’ Little did I know that the Second Act would be more like an Anxiety Dream than the nerve racking First Act! 

The rest of the First Act was entertaining and more importantly I was left alone, mid way through the Second Act he started to tell the story about him being drunk on an American talk show and one of the other guests became so annoyed with him that she poured a drink over his head live on tv. He started to tell us that he was on the Johnny Carson show when he looked over to me and a sudden rush of dread washed over me as he walked over me.

He looked down at me and said ‘c’mon Johnny Carson, come up here’ again I thought the less embarrassing thing would be to just go along with it than to protest and stay in my seat. As I walked across to the stool that was at the centre of the stage he handed me a microphone and a stack of index cards. My first thought was I hope these are just props but that hope soon vanished when I looked at the cards and typed on the first card was the script for the next scene, gulp! 

He also brought a woman up on stage to play the guest who poured the drink over his head and I heard him stay ‘all you have to do is pour the drink over me when I tap you’ At this point I was hoping I would only have to say one line but a quick glance at the other cards I notice ‘Johnny Carson:’ on at least four of the cards. It was then I made the mistake of looking out at the audience and noticing it was full of people all staring back at me. I kept saying to myself ‘pretend this is school and you are speaking in front of the children’. Thankfully I was next to the stool has I felt my legs starting to shake and my knees knocking and I managed to sit down before my legs give way.

It was at this point he whispered to me to read the first line. I started to read the first line but was thrown by how loud my words were coming back at me through the microphone, which made my hands shake more. Now, not only did I have all the people looking back at me but I also had to concentrate on following the script and not dropping all the cards on the floor. After reading the introduction and asking a few questions that was written on the cards all the while hoping it would all end soon. I turned over the next card and to my relief I noticed on the written at the bottom ‘drink poured over Oliver’

I finally relaxed enough to say my last line of the script (but not enough to remember what the line was) and look up in time to see the drink poured over his head so I must have read the line correctly because she knew what to do and the audience applauded. I tried to get off the stage as quickly as I could, he whispered thanks to me when I walked past him. I got to my seat and flopped down and said ‘lets never sit in the front row’ 

For the rest of the show I panicked every time he walked over to my side of the stage and gave him my the best ‘don’t you dare think about it’ look. Thankfully the play ended without my acting skills being called upon again and my heart rate returned to normal.

The following day the actor playing Oliver Reed tweeted that the show was going to the West End. I jokingly messaged him to ask if he minded me telling people that I acted in a play that was heading to the West End, he said ‘of course you can’ 

So that was the story of me acting in a play that was heading to the West End.

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Fighting Back Against Depression and Anxiety

I know there are a lot of blogs on here giving advice about mental health and a lot of those Facebook posts with saying ‘the kettle is always on for you!’ but I just wanted to write about my depression and anxiety and what I’ve been doing to keep the black dog at bay. I have been encouraged to write this and hopefully it will help at least one person reading this. 


I won’t bore you with my background but it’s been officially thirteen years that I have been dealing with both anxiety and depression, where is first began a couple of years after my Father passed away in front of me one Saturday afternoon. But like everyone else, when you look back on everything you can see that you had it a lot longer than that. 
Now there is one piece of advice in this blog (before I carry on with my story) that I want you to take. Tell your friends and ask for help. Remember your friends all love you and they will understand and will help you through it all. Speak to them when you are down it’s surprising how even a simple text message conversion can ‘pick you up’. I better move on with this before I start singing You’ve Got A Friend by Carole King.

Right, I will skip forward a few years. My journey to changing my attitude towards my depression was when I worked with a friend. We would chat at the end of the day about how I was coping and using very dark humour which helped a lot. Laughing at it made it less scary, it was then we decided that I would start having ‘Ego lessons’ to help me believe that I could do whatever I set my mind on doing and that whatever the state of my mental health was at the time it would not stop me doing what I wanted to do. One of the things I did was to set myself a lot of small and achievable goals. By making that list of goals, it give me something to work towards and because they were achievable it helped build my confidence. It started with going to a gig in Cardiff on my own. Not wanting to miss the band because my normal gig going friend couldn’t make it. I decided that I would give it a go and if I couldn’t cope then I could always come home early and I would have at least tried. With encouraging messages that night I made it through the entire gig! Well, that one gig on my own lead to another and another. It might not sound like much to some but its a massive achievement to others including myself and I proved to myself that if I put my mind to it I could overcome my depression and anxiety.

Having made this big step I decided to challenge myself even more. One night I was browsing through the gig listings and noticed that a band that I recently gotten into from America was going to tour the UK with the dates announced later that evening. The excitement soon ended when the closest gig to Wales was London, England over 150 miles away. That’s when the ‘Ego Lessons’ kicked in and I decided I was going to make this bold move to take the trip on my own and stay overnight. After a conversion about “could I actually do it?” and being told that I was really brave in trying and it would be a life changing moment for me not letting this illness dictate to me what I could or couldn’t do, it wouldn’t beat me.


The reason I’m telling you about this is that the day we set the little goals for me to complete to help give me confidence snowballed into this. Setting goals to get you through a morning will soon turn into having a good day. Once you get a couple of days under your belt its then a week before you know it. Soon the bad days will get further and further apart.

 
I got through that trip on my own with no panic attacks, even though I went on the packed London Underground. I say that I was on my own but I was in constant contact with friends helping me take my mind off what I was doing and stopping me from having that moment where I would be calling my friend screaming to them ‘Oh my gosh! I’m in London on my own! What the hell was I thinking?!’ Now I’m not suggesting people go off travelling to the other side of Great Britain to see a band on their own to beat their anxiety, that was my particular hill to climb. Whatever challenge you set yourself, you will have so much pride in yourself for completing it and one thing anxiety and depression doesn’t like is you feeling good about yourself.

The last thing I will tell you about is my greatest achievement in all this. Way down at the bottom of my list was to lower the dosage of my antidepressants. Something I never even dreamed of being possible. You’re almost dependent, believing you can only feel good if you take these tablets. The medication has helped me a lot, massively even, but it’s not something you want to rely on for the rest of your life. Around March 2019 I decided after speaking to my doctor and friends that I would lower my dosage down from 30mg a day to 25mg, I would try it for a month to see how it went and if it didn’t go well at least I tried. This is a truncated version of events to keep this to around 1200 words and not to bore the life out of you. Luckily for me this went well with no side effects and down days only what was sort of expected, you know it will never go away completely you just have to stop it controlling you.


The next part of the plan was to drop down another 5mg the following Easter, but 2020 had other plans and along came Covid-19, the reason we have been walking around with our glasses all steamed up for the last 18 months! After talking it over we decided to wait until a vaccine was found for this horrible disease, as we had no idea how long we would be in lockdown and how being shut indoors was taking away our escape route of going out and about when we needed to just leave the house or go to live events and as I have perviously written about in another blog, going to the football (or to any other sporting event).
Thankfully with restrictions being lifted in Wales this July (2021) and with my long summer break coming up I decided to give the second drop a go. It’s now September and thankfully no side effects (touch wood).

I wrote this as I mentioned at the start, that I was encouraged to with the hope that someone will read this and think they can do something similar and not let this illness rule their life, it won’t beat us. I’ve been very lucky having really good friends who have help me through this. Hope you have some one who can help you, don’t be afraid to talk to people.


Take care/Cymerwch ofal.

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Missing More Than The Match

Now there has been a lot of sadness in 2020 and a lot of disruption to normal life due to COVID 19 and if like me you deal with depression and anxiety every day you know that small changes can affect you as much as major changes. One of these small changes for me has been not being able to go and watch football matches. I know a lot of people reading this will understand missing going to football matches, I know some of my friends do and I also know that some of my friends don’t like football and as one of my best friends described it as ‘it’s boring, just men kicking a ball around and falling over’ but I know that even so she understands what it means to fans of the game and especially us Cardiff City and Wales supporters. For the people who don’t like football or any sport come to that might not understand why we watch it, please stick with me as I will try to explain that it’s more than just a game and I am missing more than just the match.  

As I said please stick with me here, I’m not going to talk about the actual football matches as being a Cardiff and Wales fan for most of my life they have been heartbreaking with every 5 years or so you get one of the most amazing days of your life. I’m going to tell you about what I am missing and didn’t realise how much it has helped me over the years until it’s been gone for just over 8 months.  

I am a season ticket holder with Cardiff City and the equivalent with Wales, which in case you didn’t know what that means, it’s that I have a ticket for every home Cardiff and Wales match and in fact I even have the same seat every time for both. Cardiff plays at home normally once a week, so I have something to look forward to each week from August to May. I’ve mention at the beginning of this that the black dog of depression follows me with its friend anxiety. So, having something to look forward to each week is a major help when things are not going well or even just having a bad week in work. Now it’s the something to look forward to is what I am missing the most, with gigs being cancelled for most of 2020 there hasn’t been much I’ve had to look forward to with the expectation of the weekly Zoom Pub Quiz with my friends which has been great.  

We all need that something to look forward to help us get through the week; going out for a drink on the weekend, going to gym, gigs etc. Everyone as something, so hopefully you will understand what I’m missing. I will give you an example of what a day is like and don’t worry I won’t talk about football, so if you hate football please keep on reading. 

A tough week in work and everyone cannot wait till the weekend with the hope of doing something to let off steam. I know that if I’m feeling down during the week it’s only a few more days and I’ll get to have my day out. More often than not I go to a game on my own and I know it might sound strange that I would want to be on my own but an hour in the car driving to ground is relaxing, even when I’m stuck on the motorway. I will catch up on podcasts that I haven’t had time to listen to or play an audiobook (sometimes just play music loud and sing along).  

I park the car about 5 minutes’ walk from the ground and even though I’m on my own, I’m walking with a few hundred people and even though we don’t know each other there is a togetherness like when you are at a concert. Yes, walking with hundreds of strangers helps my anxiety, don’t ask me how but it does.  

As you can gather, I stick to a routine and it’s the routine that helps. My walk to the entrance I need to go to takes me through the players car park and I always say hello to the players on their way in and yes, I still get excited at meeting them as I did when I was a kid. 

Then I even miss this part, putting the card in the wall and the turnstile turning. The next part I know everybody will understand missing, buying a Vegan burger and chips to take to my seat to eat and usually dry off as it always rains and I normally get soaked. 

I mentioned that I have the same seat, well the same goes for the people around me. It’s almost like a big family in those seats, three generations sit behind me who always ask how I am doing and how my family and friends have been, the father and son who sits to the left of me who always makes sure we have sweets (mince pies at Christmas). It’s easy to see my I miss that part, hopefully they will all be there when we are allowed back. As it gets close to 3pm we all stand up and sing Men of Harlech (you know, the one from Zulu) and the players come out on the pitch. 

I promised I wouldn’t take about the game so I will stop there. Hopefully you can see what I meant when I said I’m missing more than the match. I’m missing the hour drive, the five-minute walk, the burger and chips, the togetherness of the seven people sat around me and the 33,000 other people. I know people are missing more important things like their family, but this was my light at the end of the tunnel and I’m sure everyone who is reading this has that light that they are missing. 

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Having To Take a COVID-19 Test

Well, here’s how my first week back in school ended. At the end of the second day back I started to feel unwell, two days is all it took! Two days! Thursday after the first day back with the children, I started having aches and pains, then I started coughing. Then coughing and coughing some more, then the coughing carried on all night and in the morning, there was more coughing. The following morning, I was messaging my friend and I mentioned that I couldn’t stop coughing but I was certain it was a cold. Natasha said to me to speak to people in school about it, even though it’s probably a cold it maybe for the best to take a COVID test as I have one of the main symptoms and coughing all day in a class doesn’t look good in front of the children either. I got to school and saw the Head outside and mentioned to her what my night and morning had been like and she said that I should take a test just to be on the safe side, so off to Cwm I went.

I drove down to the Testing Centre and was stopped by security and told to wind my window down an inch, I told him that I was sent there from school. He told me that I would need to book online before they would be able to do a test for me and that I would have to leave the Test Centre and book. I had to wind my windows back up and turn the car around but the space I was told to turn around in was tiny. At this point I was more nervous about knocking over all the cones rather than taking the test. Having turned the car around without killing any cones, I went online and booked a test. Having answered a few questions about where I worked and what was wrong with me (I know what you are thinking, telling them what is wrong with me must have taken a long time but they only needed to know about what was wrong COVID related) I was told there was an appointment available for me in 10 minutes.

Driving back the few hundred yards back to the Test Centre my anxiety started to go through the roof. I got back to the same security guard I had spoken to 15 minutes earlier, showed him my phone with the appointment QR Code, he told me to drive down to the bottom of the site. When you get there two people stepped out and placed a cone in from of my car, the man asked me to hold my phone to the window and scanned my QR Code. He showed me his phone and on his screen was all my details, through his mask he asked were they all correct. I nodded and he pointed to the lady that was in front of my car and she held up a sign with an arrow pointing to the right, after she removed the cone I drove around and another lady was holding up a sign with LANE 2 written on it. In front of me was four portacabins each with a number at the front, I drove to lane 2 and waited. By this point my anxiety was making my stomach do somersaults and with all the coughing it wasn’t a nice feeling. I stared straight ahead to try and calm myself and take deep breaths, I got so into the calmness that I didn’t notice the man walking around my car until he banged on my window making me jump as much as my stomach was. He held up a sign which said ‘Phone this number’, I phoned and could hear ringing in the distance wondering what was going on I looked at the man he reached in his pocket and answered his phone. I took me a few seconds to realise that I had just called him, during this time he had disappeared from in front of me and started to ask questions. ‘Do you have hand sanitiser?’ ‘Do you have tissues?’ after answering ‘no’ and ‘yes’ he told me to lower my passenger window a little and as I lowered it a grey envelope flew through the window and landed on the passenger seat, I was then told to close the window and drive off. Pretending to myself that I had just received my spying mission after a clandestine meeting (but in reality, it probably looked like a dodgy drug deal in a McDonalds car park) I drove off to be guided into what was like a pit line made out of cones! Yes, more cones!

This time a lady walked up to my side of the car and held a sign with another number to call, she told me to open the envelope and read the instructions. Number one was to sanitise my hands, two to make sure I had everything on the check list, three to blow my nose, four ‘look inside your mouth, and find your tonsils’, number five… at this point I went back to number four! Why do I need to find my tonsils I thought this was swab the inside of your cheek? Looking at the next page I could see a diagram of someone rubbing the swab on their tonsils, just looking at the drawing made me feel like I was going to be sick. Trying to calm myself I thought it would be better if I read on but looking at number seven and seeing the words ‘into nostril until you feel resistance’ didn’t help at all. That was it, the butterflies inside me was using my stomach and a trampoline, my hands started shaking more than they normally would. As you can imagine by this point, I was feeling sick, shaking and ready to go home. When this kicks in all rationale goes out the window and being in a car when you are unable to open said windows doesn’t help at all. I was doing my best not to have a panic attack.

After a few deep breaths I went back to number 5, ‘open the package and gently take out the swab.’ No problem, easy to follow. The package opened easily enough; I pulled the swab out. Now anyone who knows me would never hand me anything that is delicate or that shouldn’t touch anything else with the way my hands shake even at the best of times. Well, two seconds and one twitch later the swab was on the passenger floor. Luckily the lady who I had spoken to was walking past and I got her attention to explain, I’m guessing it happens a lot because she didn’t roll her eyes and sigh when I told her and she give me a new swab. Another sign was held up in front of me, this time it was telling me to put my hazard lights on my test was complete.

So, having calmed myself enough to get the shaking down to a minimum, I went for it. First attempt didn’t go to well as soon as it touched my tonsil, I thought I was going to be sick. It was the same feeling as sticking your fingers down your throat. Second attempt was successful even though all the while I was making noises like I was going to be sick. The swab came straight out of my mouth and straight up my nose (yes, you had to use the same one) as per instructions I rotated it soon as I felt resistance, this made me cough more, my eyes water and my head go foggy. I managed to put the swab in the vial and snap the off the end without any major incident and put my hazard lights on and waited.

This round of signs told me to phone the number again and was told to hold the bag with the vial up to the window to show her, then to place that bag into a bio-hazard bag and seal tightly and to drive around the corner. Within 50 yards was more people with more cones and signs. ‘I will place a bin by your down’ thumbs up, then she walked back to the front of the car ‘open your window a little and drop the bag into the bin’ At this point I started to doubt the accuracy of my throw, with the swab incident I doubted that I would have been able to walk to the bin and place it in, but I went for it and it landed in the bin and with a little fist pump that I hope no one saw. The final sign said ‘close window’ and the cones were removed, I drove off but had to pull over in a layby because of the fogginess (I could taste the swab and feel it up my nose for a few hours and the following morning.)

And so the waiting begins the leaflet said 24 hours for the results. Problem is every minute that as passed since arriving at the test centre my confidence that it is ‘just a cold’ as faded. 99% certain is now around the 90% mark and Dropping fast. So, I found a way to pass the time away as I wasn’t allowed back to school; sleep! After coughing so much that my stomach hurt, I went to lay down in bed for a little while.

6 hours later I woke up, went to make cup of coffee. At least 17 hours left before I find out what the verdict is, I’m hovering around the 75% mark and dropping fast. After staying awake long enough to have something to eat and to drop my confidence level to around 60%, I wasn’t sure how I would get through those hours.

To cope with this and the fact that I was now coughing like an old man who smoked 60 cigarettes a day since they were 12. I decided the best thing to do was to go back to bed, which killed another few hours. Yes, I went to bed and slept twice in one day! My body was working at a student on Monday level but it was what I needed as I was now 50/50 and really start to worry.

After a hour or so, I got up in time to put the news on to see a report on the increase in covid cases in Wales!!!By the time I went back to bed (the time you should go to bed, not lunch time) I was laying there worrying about who I could have giving it to, I had spent the afternoon before helping Lizzie in her classroom and was feeling so bad she could have caught it because of me. Only a few hours ago I was almost certain it was just a cold, now I was worried that I could have made my friend ill.

At this point I must have worried myself to sleep because the next thing I knew I was awaken by the sound of my phone pinging. I looked at the clock and it was 6am, not realising there was a 6am on a Saturday I picked up my phone in a daze and noticed a text notification from the NHS and all you could see on the preview was ‘NHS COVID-19 Notification Dear Stephen Baker’ Taking a deep breath I opened the the text ‘Your Coronavirus test result is negative’ it took me a second to realise that negative means a good thing when it comes to medical test. Big sigh of relief, followed by a bigger effort not to text everyone to tell them my good news at 6am!