OPINION; In association with.
Mid Glamorgan now falls under the description of a 'preserved county of Wales', no longer part of the administrative configuration that governs the estimated population count of 423,200 but retained for ceremonial purposes and wider community responsibilities under Lord Lieutenant Mrs Kathrin Thomas.
A Sheriff is called to make a meaningful contribution to his county during his year of office; '"to lend active support to the Royal Family, the Judiciary, the Police, the emergency services, local authorities to the church and other faith groups; to ensure the welfare of visiting High Court Judges; to support the Lord-Lieutenant and to support and promote the voluntary sector." Busy year!
Certain features have changed since my last Merthyr visit some time ago.
This time, I spent some time driving around the town before I realised that I was on a lengthy ring-road. It was new to me. I took wrong turnings off it into a tangle of one-way streets. I asked directions from a kind woman who was prepared to instruct me, er three times... or was it four? It transpired that I was at the wrong end of town for The Red House, the Old Town Hall. I tried to spot a white-on-brown sign, but saw none. My fault. The Red House is tall and red-brick and obvious, and also there was a clue: uniformed police stood at the front door.
Inside, were poised three trumpeters, I guessed from the Police band, ready to give it a blast. A full attendance nodded to the large gold shield of Mid Glamorgan's arms, gold with three red chevronels with ornaments added, historically the arms of the de Clare family who were Norman Lords of Glamorgan. To the shield's right is a miner with pick in hand and a steelworker to the left.
The Red House. Under theatre lights - not switched on - was evidence of a very active community where learning and live entertainment is always on show. For example it was immediately obvious that if you wanted to learn how to draw and paint you can go to the Redhouse to pursue your artist's instinct where there is ample accommodation for pastimes and pleasures.
For the swearing in of the Sheriff, Merthyr provided a good atmosphere: formal enough but informal too for the musical talent attending.
After the historic words had been spoken, the traditional exchanges were made between the Lord Lieutenant, retiring Sheriff, and newcomer to pass on the Sword of Office. The music was beautifully played and sung. Eve Price was a most expressive harpist before the ceremony, during and after it.
At one stage I thought it had been too long a wait for the young children in the choir to wait. But the mixed voices from Ysgol Rhyd-y-Grug in Aberfan gave a very confident and positive performance. Their two musical directors Sali Philips and Sharon Hedges had prepared them expertly through Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and Rule the World by Take That, in Welsh translations, followed by long applause. Out of a simple ceremony had come a relaxing afternoon, and not without tea and cake.
Driving home, I looked back to a charity cricket match I played on Hoover's ground in Merthyr.
I can just see and hear the opening bowler, Max Boyce, thundering over the ground off his long run-up, glaring at the batsman all the way. Good bowler, Max.
Batting low in the order was Howard Winstone, who batted left handed, and found Peter Walker's spin bowling so impossible to hit with his whirling bat that he lost his cool and marched smartly down the pitch to look up a long way to inform the extremely tall Glamorgan and England all-rounder that if he did not stop twisting the ball, he would be back to give him a boxing lesson. Walker desisted.
Our celebrity cover fielders worked in perfect harmony and didn't let a ball pass them all afternoon. Barry John glided while Gareth Edwards dived to stop the hardest drives.
It was a full house of spectators.
So, off our new High Sheriff will go to fulfill the tasks, which to many people may appear to be superfluous, shackled as we are to the proposition that politicians are the most important civilians available to discuss or perform civic duties.
The Shrievalty can be the perfect glue to hold communities together peacefully, without having to dispense political messages. Perhaps it is possible to extend that concept. In societies riven in many ways, perhaps by many religions, we should always try hard to stir in peace with the glue.