What’s in a name?


When Zachary was younger, having his feet measured for school shoes was a total nightmare. The children’s shoes were on the top floor of the shop and it took all my wiles and threats to stop him from running around, annoying the other parents, pushing over the displays and/or toppling down the stairs. When I asked the shoe shop people why on earth they didn’t have the kids’ shoes on the ground floor, I was told it would be too dangerous. Too dangerous? Why? Because the children might run out into the pedestrianised road and be killed by none of the cars driving up and down? Anyway, I digress.  I’m good at that.

So, one day, Z was about seven or eight or nine (can’t remember) and I took him to buy the regulation black school shoes. We climbed the stairs and I muttered a prayer under my breath ‘If Zachary is good for me today, I will go to Mass every Sunday until I die’. God knew this was a load of twaddle, I was always making Him promises I probably wouldn’t keep.

We reached the front of the interminable queue with our little numbered ticket and I asked the young man his name. I found it easier to refer to shoe shop fitters by name than to keep saying ‘The lady’ or ‘The man’ and I felt it would help improve Zachary’s social skills. ‘Ahmed’ said the young man and so, throughout the fitting, I kept on referring to him by name. ‘Zachary, this is Ahmed’ ‘Now then, Zachary, put your foot on the measuring thingy for Ahmed, there’s a good boy’ ‘Zachary, sweetie, what do we say when someone helps us and does something nice for us? Yes, it’s ‘thank you’ isn’t it?. Well done sweetie, you’ve been very good today and we need to say A BIG THANK YOU to Ahmed who has been so helpful to us blah blah blah’ (even I get fed up with my own voice at times).

As I paid for the shoes, keeping a watchful eye on Zachary, who seemed determined to chuck himself down the very steep stairs before my credit card had been charged and he got to wear his shiny new shoes, I thanked Ahmed profusely. He handed me my slip of paper and, rather sheepishly said ‘Erm, it’s Ed. My name is Ed. When you asked me my name, I said ‘I’m Ed”


So, am I really Welsh?


Wales is doing very well in the opening rounds of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

We have beaten Uruguay, England (yay!) and Fiji to date and I feel sure Wales v Australia will be a real nail biter. I have always supported the Welsh rugby teams, always. My sister, Amanda, played fly half (No. 10) and Vice Captain in the very first women’s side and it is second nature to shout ‘Cymru am byth’ whenever I see those red jerseys emerge from the tunnel just before I sing ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ VERY loudly indeed.

But am I really Welsh?

Not according to my mother, who finds it fascinating that I make this claim every time the six nations kicks off. You see, she was born in Manchester (Salford). Her dad, Arthur Nolan, was also born in Salford; her mother, Patricia Hogan, was born in Dublin and BOTH her grandparents were born in Ireland. My dad, Des Bennett, also hails from the Emerald Isle and BOTH his parents were also from Dublin. I have not one single drop of Welsh blood in my veins and yet, I couldn’t feel more Welsh if I’d been born with a carved wooden love spoon in my mouth.

I was born in Cardiff in 1962, the family moved to North Wales in the mid 60s and both Amanda and I attended the local village school. I vividly remember one girl in my class who used to stare at me out in the playground. I used to stare right back at her too. Sounds rather unfriendly doesn’t it? The reason we used to stare at one another was because she didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak any Welsh. Some people find this hard to believe, that in the 1960s, some people living in the farthest northerly part of Wales actually didn’t speak English. They spoke Welsh at home, in school, when they were out shopping, having coffee with neighbours and English simply wasn’t required during their day to day life.

When we moved back to Cardiff in 1970, my parents felt strongly that both Amanda and I should learn the language properly. They thought it would a very useful thing to have under our belts should we decide to work and live our adult lives in Wales. So, they took us along to Ysgol Gynradd Bryntaf in Cardiff where we met the Headmistress for a chat. She then took me down to the Standard 3/4 classroom where I was asked to read in Welsh in front of all the Welsh speaking pupils. I can remember that moment to this very day; I wanted to curl up and die/crawl under a stone/run away, the last thing I wanted to do was to read from a well known Welsh children’s book, in a language which to a greater extent, eluded me completely and worse still, there were dozens of children staring at me, just waiting for me to get it all wrong. I busked to save my life and the words I didn’t understand, I just tried to pronounce as well as I could, in the hope the Headmistress would be fooled into believing I could actually speak The Language of Heaven. It worked and both Amanda and I started there in January 1972. For a very long time, I had to approach Mr Islwyn Jenkins, my form teacher, after every lesson and ask him (in English – aaarrrgghhh!) to explain all the things I had found impossible during the previous lesson. He was kind and patient and in September 1973, I began secondary school with a better understanding of the language than I had ever thought possible.

Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen was a fine school; the teachers were all Welsh speaking and the majority of lessons were taught in Welsh. When I took my O levels in 1978, each and every paper was set in Welsh (English and maths being the exceptions). French, science, music, art, Classical Studies, history – all set in Welsh. When I received an A grade for my Welsh language O level, I thought Mrs Ogwen was going to self combust with pride. I had had very little help with any homework, simply because my folks weren’t able to speak the language and so, didn’t understand any of my homework projects. Duw, it was ‘ard!

I am now in my 50s but if anyone ever asks me ‘Where are you from?’ I very proudly tell them I am Welsh. And I am Welsh, through and through. I was born and bred in Wales, I speak the language, I attended and competed in many of the famous music festivals (Eisteddfodau) and played trumpet in both the South Glamorgan and Mid Glamorgan Youth Orchestras. Hymns were sung in assembly in four part harmony as a matter of course, every day of the week. I studied Welsh literature, performed on stage, reciting and acting in Welsh and other than the odd family holiday, I spent the first 18 years of my life, living, breathing and singing the Welsh language.

Whatever the outcome of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, I will always be Welsh and proud of it! Cymru am byth!

Medium Sized Hippo

Since beginning this blog, quite a few people have queried the title ‘Medium Sized Hippo’ so here goes…

I have two sons, Dominic and Zachary. Zachary was diagnosed with high functioning autism when he was just four years old and over the years, his social skills have landed us in hot water more than once. Ask anyone with an autistic child what it’s like to live with autism and I bet you they will have more than one funny story about their child’s ‘black and white’ take on life, not to mention their brutal honesty. As the saying goes ‘Once you’ve met one person with autism – you’ve met one person with autism’ and it’s quite true, everyone with autism is quite different from everyone else with autism BUT there are certain traits which shine through time and time again.

“Mum, you look like a Sumo wrestler” springs to mind. I was getting ready to go out and Zachary happened to walk past the bedroom door just at the wrong moment. My usual response is “Yeah, thanks for that Zachary”, no point in getting stressed about it! In fact, it did prompt me to do something positive and a few years ago, I raised about £800 for the West Berks branch of the NAS by doing my ‘Diet for Autism’ so I had Zachary to thank for the incentive to lose one and a half stone in five months.

So, there we were, sitting in the back row of the cinema in Newbury, waiting for ‘Toy Story 3’ to start. I am such a Scrooge, I buy the sweeties before we get to the grossly overpriced cinema shops but of course, for some people, buying massive cardboard containers of cardboard tasting popcorn is all part of the experience. The adverts had started and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Zachary, open mouthed, studying a hugely overweight couple waddling up the cinema steps.

“Don’t even think about it” I hissed. Too late…

“Mummy, look – HIPPOS!”

I studied my fingernails hard, trying to pretend I didn’t know him but Dominic, was in fits. The rather large lady and gentleman had heard and although they seemed a bit upset, it didn’t stop them from settling down to their picnic of popcorn (large), Coca Cola (large), crisps and two Roman Catholic Family Sized packets of peanut M&Ms during the trailers.  Munch, munch, munch, they couldn’t eat it all fast enough.

That night, I decided it was time to move Zachary’s social skills along a tad. “Sweetie” I said, as he was getting undressed for his shower “you know that lady and man at the cinema, the ones eating all the sweets and popcorn? Well, do you think they would have been happy or sad to hear you calling them ‘Hippos’?” (no point in asking whether they would be hurt/upset/disappointed, Zachary needed black and white descriptions, obvious emotions and happy/sad were words I knew he could understand).

“Well, I expect they were sad” he said, slathering his hair in shampoo “but Mummy, they were like GIANT MARBLES”

“Yes sweetie, they were quite large but still, it might have really upset them to hear you calling them names so let’s try something. I want you to think about someone but I want you to keep your thoughts inside your head, don’t say them out loud. Do you think you could do that for me?”

“Yes Mummy. What’s for dinner?” (food is king in Zachary’s world)

“We’ll talk about that once you’ve done this thing for me. Right, off you go.  Time to think about someone but don’t say anything out loud”


“Wow, good boy. Well done. Were you thinking of something or someone?”

“Yes, I was thinking of someone”

“Good, well done and you didn’t say anything at all, that is really brilliant.  See you can do this. What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that you look like a medium sized hippo”


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Me and my dawgs!


Hello again!

If you’ve never met a greyhound, you might not ‘get’ why we greyhound lovers are so passionate about our poochies but do bear with me and you might have a better insight by the end of this post.

I am allergic to most fluffy creatures; rabbits make me wheeze, horses make me sneeze, most cats and many breeds of dog just make me feel poorly and so, I had resigned myself to a life without pets. My mum and dad had a variety of rescue poochies during my teens and I spent much of the time puffing antihistamine powder up my nose (not a good look when you’re trying to look cool in school), wiping my nose and putting eye drops into my eyes to counteract the dreadful redness. None of this worked, I looked a right mess…

In January 1997, I made two New Year Resolutions.

1) to get more fresh air (I had been recording an album of my own material and sitting in front of my keyboards and computers all day long was not helping my complexion) and…

2) to do A Good Turn. I thought about it and realised if I want to walk the dogs at the National Canine Defence League shelter in Hampstead Marshall, I could kill two birds with the one resolute stone. I rang them, they said ‘Ooh, yes please’, I took an antihistamine tablet and set off to see whether my allergies had improved at all since my school days.

“Hello, you must be Fiona. Would you like to walk those two?”

I peered through the mesh, into the pen which housed two rather large, hairy German Shepherds. They didn’t look terribly friendly and I decided it might not be the most efficacious start to my dog walking career if they were to bite me so I looked up and down the row of pens and asked “What’s that one there, in the cage next to them? He looks a bit sad.”

“Oh that’s Saracen, he’s a greyhound, he’s been with us a while, he was abandoned after he finished racing. If you walk him, make sure you keep him muzzled, he has attacked a few of the smaller dogs”.

Flippin’ ‘eck, this really wasn’t turning out to be the best idea I had ever had, maybe I should just go home and put down a few more backing vocals.

I had never met a greyhound and to be honest, he wasn’t the best example of the the most beautiful breed on the planet (my words, nobody else’s). Some kind soul had made him a coat from an old grey blanket, with proper blanket stitching and everything. It was a very cold January and he was a bit skinny so I’m sure he was very grateful but sartorially speaking, the look was rather spoiled by the two old school ties, sewn together to make the belt tied under his tum which prevented the whole thing from falling off.

“Hello Saracen” I said, wondering whether I was allergic to greyhounds and that, as they say, was THAT.

I was in love.

Totally, head over heels and quite passionately in love. Those beautiful brown eyes bored into mine, he moved his head closer to the mesh fencing at the front of his pen so I could stroke behind his silky ears and I was instantly besotted.

I took Saracen out for his first walk and he spent the whole time nuzzling me, trying to persuade me to remove his muzzle. “I can’t do that, they’ve told me you’re a menace around titchy dogs, stop nagging.” We reached the open fields and I took off his muzzle, making sure to tell him NOT to tell anyone when we got back.

This was the beginning of my love affair with the world’s fastest breed of dog and I soon put pen to paper on the adoption papers, promising I would never sell him or give him away. If there were any problems, I was to take him straight back to the NCDL (now known as Dogs Trust).

Problems? What on earth did they mean? How could this soppy, affectionate hound possibly cause me any problems?

Well, within the first week, he had attacked a tiny Westie and left it for dead (it limped off and I still don’t know what became of it) and on another long walk, I stupidly removed his muzzle and he picked up a passing rabbit sized dog (a toy poodle) and shook it. I had to bash him to make him let it go and to make things worse, the tiny pooch’s owner told me it was blind. Groan…

“Saracen, you horrible dog, how could you do this to me? I bring you home, give you a lovely comfy bed with a duvet, loads of food, treats, water, walks and cuddles and THIS is how you repay me.”  He was the scourge of Greenham; other dog walkers avoided us, tutted a lot and most crossed the road when they saw us approaching.

Then, to add insult to injury (or injury to insult), he bit ME! The very person who had released him from 15 months of living alone in his pen at the NCDL, the person who, before even adopting him, had bought him his very own water/food bowls, lead, muzzle, coat, grooming kit. The person who fully intended taking care of him for the rest of his life. Why had he bitten me? Simply put, Saracen bit me because he was scared. He had clearly been ill treated (he had only one and a half ears, I suspect someone had tried to cut out his identification tattoos) and was always very nervous if I approached him from behind. He often slept with one eye open so he could gauge where I was in relation to his bed. On this occasion, a piece of paper had wafted from my desk and landed close to his nose so when I bent down to retrieve it, VOOM, he lunged and bit me on the arm. I was in shock and really didn’t know what to do next.

I knew he was a lovely dog, I knew he didn’t mean to hurt me (don’t ask how, I just knew) but when I found out I was expecting a baby, everyone said “You HAVE to get rid of that dog, he might harm the baby’. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t turn my back on him and so, I vowed to keep him and the baby separate at all times. I took full responsibility and thankfully, there never were any incidents of any kind and so, eventually, once he realised we were not out to hurt him and the world wasn’t such a bad place, Saracen settled down and became the very dog I knew he was from the start. He loved everyone (and everyone’s dog). I was eventually able to let him off the lead and he would stand, towering over other titchy dogs, wagging his tail sixteen to the dozen, so happy and relaxed, a changed dog.  When we lost him to bone cancer in 2003, I thought I would never ever stop crying, he was a one off, a sweetheart, my beautiful stripey boy.

I will be writing more about greyhounds; they are wonderful animals, they fascinate me and eventually, I hope some of you might even consider adopting one!

For now, TTFN from me and my current poochies, Amber, Rosie and Cleopatra!  Fiona xx