John Sheen and Farming in Cameroon

 A talk by John Sheen

Our meetings continued with a talk by John Sheen with the very intriguing title “Five Boys and a Pasty”. It was even more puzzling when John produced several gift bags which were obviously going to play a part in his talk.

For most of his working life John had been a teacher and then an Education Officer in Cwmbran. During this time he had been very active in local theatrical societies and so when he retired from education he spent a couple of years as the manager of the Dolman Theatre in Newport. While at the theatre he was asked by a local Probus group to give a talk and not having a clue what to talk about he decided that he would speak about his childhood. This was the talk we were about to hear and to date it has been delivered some 286 times to a variety of local groups in South Wales.

John was born in 1947 and considers himself to be one of the “lucky generation” or alternatively the “sandwich generation” i.e. those caught between caring for parents and grandchildren. John described his post-war childhood living in Port Talbot in the words of Bill Bryson as “radiantly unsophisticated” as those were the days without a car, fridge and credit cards.

Friday night was traditionally bath night when a dose of Syrup of Figs was also administered. Other memories were sweet rationing, which ended in 1953, liberty bodices,darning socks and turning of worn collars. The front parlour was kept for special occasions such as funerals and Christmas. Some of the remedies that were used such as Friars Balsam, Goose Grease and Gentian Violet were remembered by some of the group. As a special treat John was allowed a bar of Five Boys Chocolate (used as part of the title for the talk).

School day memories included Daps ( Dunlop All Purpose Shoe), Ladybird books which kept their price at 2/6p for many years and the First Aid in English used for the 11plus. Other school memories were the milk and orange juice and the savings stamps one could buy.

The 1950’s were eventful years and John remembered the announcement of the Kings death, the conquering of Mt. Everest and the coronation (pasties were provided for the party), Roger Bannister and the 4 minute mile and the Empire Games.

Other highlights of John’s childhood were day trips to Barry Island and Weston-super-Mare, the Corona man bringing bottles of Dandelion and Burdock and television programmes such as Andy Pandy, Mr Pastry, What’s My Line and Archie Andrews – the ventriloquist on the radio. John then demonstrated one of his favourite childhood toys the Magic Robot. Childhood finally ended when John moved from short to long trousers.

Everyone really enjoyed this talk which was

delivered so professionally which is not surprising as John has the theatre in his genes – his nephew is the actor Michael Sheen and his daughter Caroline has played in musicals in the West End. We hope that John will visit us again with another of his talks.


Helen Joy – ‘ Food for prosperity’

On the 10 th April we welcomed back Helen Joy who was going to talk about her experiences in local radio. However, she introduced us instead to ‘ Food for prosperity’ which is a project based in Cameroon in Africa. Through her radio work and her membership of Glamorgan Small Holders Association, Helen had been introduced to Carol Adams who is in charge of the project in Cameroon. The aim of the project is to help the people there to improve their farming and make the most of what they produce.

Helen brought Maurice Price with her. He is a fellow member of the Glamorgan Small Holders Association and he was persuaded by Helen and Carol to join five other people and go to Cameroon. His speciality is animal husbandry and the others comprised an electrician, and experts in charcuterie and preserving fruit and vegetables. They took a lot of cooking materials and what not. It was a special experience for Maurice as he had never been abroad or even on holiday before.

He gave us a detailed picture of life in Cameroon. The people are poor but make the most of what they have, turning old cars into pots and pans and using spare parts for whatever they can. Motorbikes are used to carry everything from the family to coffins!

He was impressed with the way the farmers looked after their pigs.Labour is cheap so farming tends to be by hand and not mechanised. They could produce meat but did not know how to butcher into different cuts and that was what one of the group showed them and another held classes teaching people how to preserve fruit and make jam.

Helen gave reports of their work on her radio programme. It is hoped that more people will go out to Cameroon to continue this work. More needs to be done to improve building and health care. At the moment, life expectancy there is 57.

Maurice enjoyed his first trip abroad especially as he was upgraded to first class on the way back! He has happy memories of hospitable people- he even had marriage proposals!