Unicycle hockey player followed heart to Wales; It took several years of adventures, which included living on a narrow boat and meeting his future wife on a voyage in the Antarctic, before Ben Tullis decided to settle down and make Cardiff his home. Laura Clements reports.
The 42-year-old IT expert, originally from Hastings, who works from his shed at home in Whitchurch, Cardiff, has not always followed the obvious path.
As a teenager, he could be found learning circus skills every weekend.
His niche was the unicycle and, by the age of 15, Ben was an accomplished rider.
"I think I saw someone on a unicycle when I was 12 and I thought 'that's the thing for me'," Ben said.
"Anything to do with balance, I was good at. There were quite a few of us who could ride so we started up a unicycle hockey club. We used to practise every Sunday."
But after leaving school and heading to study physics at Herriott Watt University in Scotland, circus skills took a back seat.
Ben never completed his degree, dropping out after four years and headed to Cambridge to work in IT.
In those first few months, Ben was commuting to his job from Norwich but he decided to buy a narrow boat and live on the canal.
One factor of boat living that appealing was the "low-tech life", he said, which was a welcome contrast to the world of IT.
Some of his friends in Cambridge worked for the British Antarctic Survey, the research organisation based at the university city.
With a focus on the environment, the organisation attracted "active types" and Ben applied for a job as a computer engineer.
It was while working for the organisation on a voyage to the Falkland Islands as part of a research expedition to the Antarctic that he met his future wife Nerys.
"She was the ship's doctor," said Ben. "Being on a ship is a very other-worldly experience. It's only 100m long and there are around 160 people on board. It's a melting pot of get up and go people. Over the two-month voyage, we got to know each other. When we got back, she said 'I don't know much but what I do know is I want to live in South Wales and speak Welsh'."
Nerys grew up in Cardiff and her first language is Welsh. There was only one option for Ben: to sell the boat and move to Wales with her.
He said: "I followed my heart, moved to Wales and began learning Welsh. Fortunately, Nerys agreed to marry me the following year."
The couple now have two children - Eirwen, five, and Mostyn, three - and Ben started a course with Learn Welsh Cardiff, which is run by Cardiff University on behalf of the National Centre for Learning Welsh.
Ben is determined to stick at it and speaks Welsh at home with Nerys and the children, who attend Ysgol Melin Gruffydd in Whitchurch.
"The children love to correct me whenever I make mistakes; therefore, I must persist and become a really fluent Welsh speaker to keep one step ahead of them," he joked.
It's not just the Welsh language that keeps Ben busy.
He has rekindled his love for unicycle hockey and joined the Cardiff Unicycle Hockey Club.
The club has become bilingual and enables Ben, and his teammates, to practise their language skills outside the classroom.
Cardiff Unicycle Hockey Club has grown in numbers and sucessfully recruited many Welsh learners over the years.
"It's a funny sport," he explained. "It's a mixed sport and age and gender give you no real benefit or advantage. Stick control is far more important." Ben regularly competes in tournaments around the country.
There are only seven or eight teams in the UK, he said, and while not the best team, the Cardiff squad are the only ones who focus on developing beginners.
"It's a small group - some of the people playing I've been seeing for the last 25 years," he said. "When I moved to Cardiff, I didn't know anyone so it was nice to have a hobby to resurrect. It's a really nice community."
Ben believes learning Welsh has been one of the best decisions he has ever made, after marrying Nerys, and would encourage anyone thinking of learning the language to give it a go.
Ben said: "If you start learning Welsh, you won't regret it. Use the language whenever and wherever you can as practising your skills can only build your confidence.
"I know that I will use the language skills I have gained for the rest of my life, and I will always be thankful for what Welsh has given me."
| To find a Welsh course or opportunities to practise your Welsh, go to learnwelsh.cymru
Ben with wife Nerys
Ben Tullis in action for Cardiff Unicycle Hockey Club
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|Publication:||Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Aug 29, 2019|
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