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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Column, December 27, 2005

IT is time we bit the bullet and accepted that the right to name children needs to be taken off some people.
Not everyone, just a minority. The minority for whom inspiration is mere flick of a TV remote control away.
They hit the first soap they find and then the cast list is their oyster.
This can only explain the abomination revealed in the latest statistics for baby names revealed by the Office of National Statistics for England and Wales.
The ONS results showed that the number of people choosing to inflict the name Aleesha on their children had risen by 298 per cent.
What could possibly be the reason for deciding that your child should have a name like a dyslexic take on Alicia?
Step forward ‘Eastenders’, where, reportedly, this is the name of a baby born to a character rejoicing in the title of ‘Demi’. Don’t ask me what part these characters play in the circle of hell that is this particular soap, as even a minute spent watching that dross is a minute of your life you’ll never get back.
I say that it is a minority of people who choose such utterly appalling name for their children because the ONS figures reveal that the top 10 names are far more sensible options.
Boys, in general, get good solid names like Jack, Joshua, Thomas, James, Oliver, Daniel, Samuel, William, Harry and Joseph.
The girls’ top ten is Jessica, Emily, Sophie, Olivia, Chloe, Ellie, Grace, Lucy, Charlotte and Katie.
Alright, there’s a bit of movement for fashion in there. David used to top the chart regularly, but now, inexplicably, has fallen from favour. A gross injustice.
In Wales there is not as much variation at the top as you might think, with the Biblical, but not especially Welsh-sounding Joshua topping the boys’ chart. However, Dylan and Rhys both make the top 10.
The girls’ chart, however, was topped by Megan, and Ffion made an appearance there at number 5.
But they’re all good names, spelt conventionally and which do not seem to owe their popularity to the fact they’ve been applied to some Z-list celebrity who’s famous for five minutes before being discovered snorting cocaine in the company of a gaggle of call-girls.
In fact, that’s a good guide for choosing your child’s name. Do not pick a name that you are likely to see splashed in 160-point bold across the front page of the News of the World. You won’t go far wrong.
But while the top 10 for girls and boys are fine names, it is in the nether regions of the ONS chart that you find the eccentricities.
Keira, as in Knightley, comes in an number 38. Scarlett, as in Johansson, makes an appearance as does Sienna, as in Miller.
As well as inspiring Aleesha, Eastenders is, apparently, the reason that Alfie, as in Moon, has suddenly gained in popularity, climbing to number 21.
You have to wonder whether the vicar at the font is tempted to turn down some of these bizarre choices. “What, you want to name your precious child after a cockney wide-boy on a TV soap played by Shane Richie? Get out an don’t darken my door again until you’ve picked something from the Old Testament.”
Before you accuse me of snobbery though as you hide your beloved Chardonnay’s eyes from this cruel column, this is not a class thing. For while Aleesha may certainly have been the choice of those with a lot to TV-watching time on their hands, you know the sort, more likely than most to appear on Trisha, the upper classes are just as capable of inflicting dreadful names on their offspring.
A swift perusal of the Daily Telegraph’s births marriages and deaths columns shows the lengths to which they will go in pursuit of originality. One poor mite this week was lumbered with the name Hanover, destined to spend the rest of her life saying no, not Hannah, Hanover, yes like the place in Germany, yes it is unusual isn’t it?
The sole consolation for the child is that at least she has safety in numbers, with siblings rejoicing in names such as Hadrian, Brittany, Blaec and Donnchadh.
But, it would seem, that one particular naming foible has died the death it so richly deserves, and that is the practice by some parents of naming their children after entire football teams.
My how their offspring must have laughed as they filled in yet another official form with the entire Liverpool European cup-winning side’s names.
There are a couple of reasons for this I think. Firstly the squad system means you no longer have to pick 11 names, but you’ve got 20 or 30 to get in. Secondly, the insidious rise of the football agent and big-money transfers has meant that by the time you get to the registrar, your beloved child’s name no longer plays for your favourite team, they’ve signed for Inter Milan for £50m.


IN the past I have written somewhat scathingly of those who adorn their houses with as many Christmas lights as their overloaded fuse boxes can cope with.
I have not looked kindly on those whose homes flash away like a festive Chernobyl, illuminating the entire neighbourhood with their comedy climbing Santas and their luminous reindeer.
Bah, humbug, said I.
That is until I took my son past them. Now two and a half, he’s old enough to reaslise what’s going on and to him matters of taste, scale and decorum are just daddy being dull.
The bigger, brighter, more luridly-coloured, the better he likes it.
Driving down one particular street was like being on Sunset Strip, and he loved it. Pointing out each and every lit-up home where neighbours had clearly been trying to outdo each other in wattage, flash-rate and garish colours. Who would have thought you could buy and illuminated Santa descending from a roof…by a parachute.
I felt like Scrooge as he looked upon the crutch left behind by the departed Tiny Tim.
The lights chez Banks may remain minimalist white, but I’ll try not to be so snooty about those of you who entertain the children of the neighbourhood with every colour of the rainbow and a few extra too. And with that resolution I’ll wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2006.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Column, December 20, 2005

WELL what have we learnt from Sue Barker’s rib-tickling gag about Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson – or Churchgate as I’m going to christen it.
Churchgate – d’you see what I did there? Oh well, save it up till the end and give it me big.
Well, firstly we’ve learnt that some people should not tell jokes. Sue Barker is one of those people.
It’s like your aunty the church organist trying to do it, it just doesn’t work, you want to make them stop, but they insist on blundering on embarrassing all around them especially themselves when they realise that the punchline is X-rated and they’re talking to the vicar.
Secondly it’s about our attitude to the BBC and it’s probably a hangover from the days when its presenters would tell us the news from the Empire in full evening dress while being slowly strangled by their dicky bow.
You just don’t expect Auntie Beeb to deliver a gag as crude as ‘keeping Henson out of Church.’ As double entendres go it’s about as subtle as being hit from behind by the Pontypool front row.
The beauty of the double entendre, when it is well-crafted, is that it is on the face of it, entirely innocent, and it is only slowly that its dirty alternative meaning dawns on the listener.
And the true beauty is that the listener has to have a slightly dirty mind to even get it, so they can hardly complain can they?
None of this was the case with Sue’s not-so-funny at the Sports Personality of the Year Awards.
Firstly, for it to work, Henson would have to have a reputation as a church-goer in the truly Biblical sense. Which he hasn’t. He’s a nice lad, but it can’t be said that he’s chapel through and through can it?
He might be God-fearing, but he’s better known for wearing gel on his hair thatn his faith on his sleeve.
So keeping him out of Church is less of a double entendre and more a single entendre isn’t it?
Sue Barker may as well have just said to coach Mike Ruddock: “So, if you can make sure Henson doesn’t have too much rumpy-pumpy with Charlotte, what do you think your chances are of another Grand Slam.”
So it was a poor joke, and badly delivered by someone who really ought not to deliver jokes.
And that should have been the end of it really. It’s not the end of the world, just a bad joke on what has become a bit of a big, baggy monster of a year-end programme.
But no, we have to have the guaranteed, wind-up, shocked reaction after someone like Sue cracks a joke so crude don’t we?
I’m surprised questions weren’t asked in Parliament such was the moral outrage expressed the next day.
Apparently, we are told, Henson, though he wasn’t there when Sue expressed an interest in his sexual exploits, sat ‘stony-faced’ through the rest of the ceremony.
Stony-faced eh? How could they tell?
He will always be my hero for that kick and for that tackle on Matthew Tait, but I don’t look to Gavin for the whole gamut of emotions writ large upon his features.
I think he tries to keep his face as still as possible for fear that any seismic furrowing of his brow when he smiles might bring the whole edifice of his hair-do tumbling about his ears.
But really, come on, he’s a rugby player for heaven’s sake.
Now I know rugby has cleaned up its act ever so slightly in the days since the Lions knocked lumps out of the Springboks for looking at them funny, but you’re not telling me that a rugby dressing room is not the home of banter so near to the knuckle it would make an Ark Royal stoker blush.
What’s more I’m willing to bet that if Gavin is ever the target of such banter he gives as good as he gets and a bit more.
Furthermore if the worst anyone ever hears in a rugby dressing room and a rugby pitch for that matter is a minor crudity about Charlotte Church then rugby is not the game I used to play and love.
I could recite rugby songs that would make your hair curl and recount behaviour that would have its participants serving lifelong ASBOs. But this being a family newspaper, were I to repeat them here it would probably make this column my last.
Now, I’m guessing that while Gavin himself may never have participated in such behaviour, he was aware of it going on around him and front row forwards are not known to deploy the sort of wit made famous by Oscar Wilde.
In fact when it comes to crudity, they’d be far more at home with Sue.

LITTLE did I know what a raw nerve I’d be touching when I suggested yet another supermarket was not the answer to North Wales’s problems.
Christine Price is the latest to set me straight and she writes:

“David,David,David what a short-sighted article in todays paper re Prestatyn.
On your own admission you do not live in the town- if you DID you would be on your knees praying for the arrival of Tesco.
How many peope in what is virtually a retirement town have the transport to travel out of town to shop,the physical ability to carry the shopping home on the bus or a decent enough pension to pay top prices.
Tesco would address all of these problems, not just for old codgers but for young families on limited incomes too.
We could actually shop at reasonable prices and either afford a taxi home or - glory be - have home delivery.
When was the last time you walked up Prestatyn High Street?
The bottom of the town looks like a scud missile has hit it,Ethel Austen have been forced to close their doors ( supposedly a temporary measure but I have serious doubts about that),shops all the way up have closed and are boarded up precious few true shops remain.
There are plenty of charity shops and multitudes of "visitors" gift shops but you can count on two hands the shops which locals use.
If (please God ) Tesco do come I and others will not abandon our butcher, fruit shop or chemist(the local one).
We will have CHOICE and hopefully be able to purchase it and get it to our homes with the minimum of effort.
I enjoy your column - especially the caustic comments - but please consider the whole community when writing on such an emotive subject,we are not all still working,we are not all in the best of health,we don`t all have cars.the low skill,low paid jobs ARE STILL JOBS FOR SOMEONE !"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Column, December 13, or rather the lack of it

Yes, well, due a series of technical hitches too tiresome to go into here - even for a blog. I had to write my column on my wife's laptop - rather a natty little iBook - tangerine.

Anyhoo, I had to send it from her e-mail and here's the thing, I forgot to send a copy to myself. Quelle dommage.

So here's the abridged version.

Wrexham is as in love with the motor car as LA, so a survey of European cities has revealed.

It is the most motored up place in Europe for commuters.

That's because, I said, it has a public transport system that is a bag of bobbins.

Oh and I had a funny letter from a bloke called Charlie Roberts about panto. He remembers one in 1946 allegedly starring Issy Bonn (singer, comic, was one of the images on Sgt Pepper album apparently)

The panto, Sleeping Beauty, went on - no Issy, until ten minutes from the end, when the Good Fairy asked Beauty what she would wish for.

"I'd like to hear Issy Bonn sing 'The little Boy Santa Claus Forgot'" replied Beauty.

One comes Issy in full evening dress, belts out four numbers, and exits. Crowd loved it.

On reflection, Charlie's letter was the best bit of the column.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Column, December 6, 2005

HOW will suing Alder Hey get justice for Luke?
Luke’s life was cruelly short, the hand life dealt him meant he was never out of hospital and that’s where he died after just 10 months.
When Luke’s mother Ruth was battling in the courts for her son’s right to life, I wrote in support of her fight.
I thought it was wrong for doctors, who had developed the means to keep gravely ill children alive, to wash their hands of the decision not to use those skills.
By asking the courts what to do they were essentially passing the buck, making it the courts responsibility, not their own.
But now I’m afraid I don’t see any purpose in suing Alder Hey for what happened.
Ruth Winston-Jones says it is not about money, and I’m sure that is the case. No mother would ever argue that mere money could compensate for the loss of a child.
And anyway, the figures handed out by the courts for the loss of children – unlike those for, say, the loss of a wage-earning parent – are always so shockingly small as to be insulting to the memory of those who have been lost.
But I’m afraid that even though the family insist that it is justice for Luke, not money, that this is about, money is what it will become about.
Because to sue a hospital requires lawyers, and they need money. And once a hospital is sued it will need lawyers to defend itself, and they will need money too.
In the end you will have two sets of lawyers making money hand over fist from a case between two sides who want absolutely nothing to do with money.
And what if Mrs Winston-Jones wins, what then? Where will a compensation award come from? Presumably from health authority coffers or at least from their insurers.
Then what will happen? Their insurance premiums go up and there will be less money to spend on what they should be spending it on – children’s care.
Is that a fitting memorial for Luke?
This is not an argument that hospitals should never be sued, but I certainly don’t think they should be sued as often as they are.
All too frequently a hospital is hauled before the court because a grieving relative believes that to do so is the only way they will achieve some recognition for the errors that were made in their loved one’s treatment.
Money is the last thing on their mind, but, if they win, they succeed in taking money off the hospital. And of the errors in care were caused by underfunding then money is the last thing they can afford.
I know it’s not possible to make hospitals immune from prosecution, but if parents aren’t interested in money and yet the only way they have of seeking redress is to ask a court for money, surely it’s not beyond the wit of man to come up with a better way of acknowledging fault.
If all a family want is a public statement of responsibility and an apology, isn’t there a way of them getting that without employing horrendously expensive lawyers?
And the fact is that, if all a family wants is an apology, very often that is exactly what they don’t get, as out of court settlements usually bring civil actions to an end with no admission of responsibility.
But is this really a case of negligence? At his inquest Ruth said life-saving equipment was removed from his room moments before his death.
But, given the fact that the court had said the doctors had the right to refuse aggressive treatment of Luke if his condition worsened, does that amount to negligence?
The inquest decided not, Merseyside Police never brought any charges. I can understand a parent’s pain and desire to have someone answer for what happened, but is that someone the doctors, nurses and management of Alder Hey?
Is anyone responsible for the death of Luke other than whatever genetic fluke caused his condition – fate, chance, or God.
But then it’s easier to blame a hospital than to blame God I suppose.

SOMEONE out there shares my almost obsessive dislike of pantos, particularly those whose cast-list is made up of former soap stars and reality TV cast-offs.
Someone calling himself ‘Pantodame’ left me this message: “Anyone wanting an entertaining time on a cold, miserable Manchester evening must try the Palace Theatre's festive offering – 'Peter Pan' – featuring that excellent 'Eastenders' japester Steve McFadden paired with another comic giant, ex-Eastenders actress Sophie Lawrence!
“My wife and I are about to get our house repossessed but we won't mind putting ourselves further in debt for the potential hilarity that this union promises.”
My advice to you pantodame, and I’ll put it in charming Eastenders patois is to “Leeeve it, it’s not worf it.”

NICE work if you can get it – being a Gwynedd councillor that is.
Especially now that you can rely on the council tax payers of the county to pitch in with £30,000 to a special pension fund being set up for departing councilors.
It’s been defended by those who claim it will attract younger people into local politics.
I’m not entirely sure I want someone coming into local politics, which after all, should be about public service, on the basis if how well they can feather their nest.
After all they get very healthy allowances, plenty of foreign junkets and now they can expect a pension for the privilege as well.
And it does leave you with a bit of a dilemma at the ballot box too – if you can’t stand your councilor you might want to vote against him, but now by doing so you’re just putting a pension in his pocket.