Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Column, September 27, 2005

THE life of a soldier is not without its risks, as a glance at any war memorial should confirm.
It is not as if, when you take the Queen’s shilling, or whatever it is they pay a young man (or woman) nowadays to abandon their hoody for a short back and sides, that you think you’re signing up for kindergarten class.
Although the Army’s ad campaign which focused solely on ‘learning a trade’ and skilfully avoided the bit about fighting in far-flung climes against your country’s enemies was a little economical with the truth.
Now the ads are a little more accurate, in that they actually show soldiers in battle, which is, after all what soldiers are for – fighting, and, sometimes, dying doing so.
It is not the lot of a soldier to question whether or not he or she should do battle, it is invariably a case of following orders and getting stuck in.
Tennyson had it right – “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do & die.”
But Tennyson was writing about the Charge of the Light Brigade, a military disaster that covered its participants in glory, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the poetic Lord T.
There is little poetry to be had from the disaster that is unfolding in Iraq, and which claimed the life of another Welsh son, Fusilier Stephen Jones, from Denbigh.
Too tired to function he turned over his Land Rover as he wiped sweat from his eyes as he drove south of Al Amarah last year. That is not a soldier’s death, to be worn into the ground until you cannot function properly and then to die in a crash.
He had been married to his wife, Zoe, for just a month before he was sent to Iraq.
The coroner at his inquest, Nicholas Gardiner, rightly questioned the hours that troops have to endure on active service.
Another question might well be to the politicians who have sent the troops there in the first place. Politicians who have been indecently willing to send our troops in to battle alongside our US ‘allies’, but who don’t want to pay the bill for having an Army that can cope with the demands placed upon it.
The Army has had to deal with cut after cut under a government more willing than any since the last war to throw it into battle.
Tony Blair and his acolytes pay solemn lip service to the heroism of our armed forces, then in the next breath they merge regiments and discard the traditions that built an Army capable of doing the many jobs they see fit to give it.
There will be more Fusilier Joneses to be commemorated before we extract ourselves from the nightmare that Iraq has become.
And if you doubt that it is a nightmare, if you believe the flannel emerging from Downing Street about things ‘getting better’ out there, consider this.
Last week the new Iraqi police force arrested two British SAS soldiers, they promptly handed them over to local militia who, we can reasonably confident, would shortly have beheaded them, with video footage to be shown soon after.
Their rescue involved some of the most extraordinary scenes of the Army in action since this conflict began as soldiers leapt from flaming Warriors and then knocked a prison down.
In a nice piece of Army understatement it was said that a ‘negotiation’ had taken place at the prison. It does tend to concentrate the mind of someone you’re negotiating with if you’ve just driven a Warrior through his wall and he’s not staring down the business end of its barrel.
But let’s just back up a little – the police handed these two men over to the militia – that’s the police that we’ve put in place to make things in Iraq ‘better.’
That’s what they sang when Labour came to power wasn’t it ‘Things Can Only Get Better’?
Perhaps they sing it in Iraq now, on the grounds that when your police force works hand in hand with a murderous militia, it’s hard to see how things can get any worse.

IT is good to see that the tourism partnership in North Wales is not in the habit of examining the dentistry of gift horses.
They expect North Wales to enjoy £2.8m of extra money from visitors when Liverpool if the European Capital of Culture.
They’re even putting their hands in their pockets to fund a worker at Liverpool City Council to develop links in the run-up to and during 2008.
“Wales can’t afford not to have a presence at what will be a global platform in 2008,” said Dewi Davies, partnership director. Never a truer word.
So all the more stinging is the slap in the face delivered to Liverpool when it had the temerity to invite the National Eisteddfod there.
No final decision has been made and I hope cooler heads will prevail at the Eisteddfod and realise what a fantastic opportunity this is to show the world, not just Liverpool, that Welsh culture is very much alive.

REAMS have been written about Tony Blair and his four-letter outburst when the Welsh didn’t duly elect the donkeys wearing red roses, sorry candidates, Labour fielded for the Assembly.
I can’t get too worked up about a Prime Minister not liking us because we didn’t vote for him, despite the fact he had given us the Assembly in the first place. An interesting idea on the part of Mr Blair though – I’ll give you democracy, but you’d better vote for me.
But mostly, I actually like being, as he bluntly put it, “f***ing Welsh.” Not a nation of cuddly, neutered, cod-Celts who weep into our whisky, about a mythical past and who can be relied upon to trot though the polls and vote Labour – but a spit-in-your-eye, troublesome reminder that not everyone can be doctored by spin.
Because the day we stop being the effing Welsh as far as the likes of Tony Blair are concerned is the day we’ve lost the streak of independence that sets us apart.
Better to bite the hand that feeds you than be thought a lapdog. It’s a lesson Tony should learn when dealing with President Bush.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Blair's Outburst (Slight Return)

Hywel Williams has written an excellent piece about the Blair business, in the Guardian here.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Newcastle and lon152

As the one man and his dog who read this blog will have seen, someone calling himself, or herself, lon152, is making a point about Newcastle.

What are they on about you might wonder?

Well, what lon is referring to is the fact that I work in Newcastle Upon Tyne - a long way from Wales.

Contrary to what he has said, I'm not from Newcastle, I'm from Hawarden, a little village on the border with England in Flintshire. I grew up there and lived there for 34 years - apart from my time in Liverpool studying law and Cardiff studying journalism.

lon clearly thinks that Welsh people living outside Wales have no business commenting on Welsh affairs. He's entitled to think that if he wants.

I would just point out that I'm not the first Welsh person whose career has taken them away from Wales and I'm sure I won't be the last. Whether what I write about Wales is worth reading I'll leave others to judge.

Who lon is I'm not certain, other than knowing he is based at the National Assembly, as he used its server to access my blog. Other than that, like so many people making comments on Welsh sites these days, he is anonymous. He set the identity up this month and this is his first appearance anywhere.

It might be nice to know his thoughts on Welsh matters, but that is a little difficult as he has no blog of his own.

But he is part of a pattern of comment being made on Welsh blogs by person or persons unknown who choose to do so from behind a cloak of anonymity.

Some people might find it a bit odd that someone paid by the public purse, or else by one of the political parties at the Assembly, should spend their time on something as pointless as this.

Still, into every life a little rain must fall.

You choose who you think has more to say about the state of Wales.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Column, September 20, 2005

BE careful as you read these words.
I am, it would seem, a recruiting sergeant for the homosexual cause.
By the time you’ve made your way to the bottom, oops there I go again, of the page you might not be the man or woman you thought you were.
All of a sudden a passion for Judy Garland, questionable moustaches and a penchant for comfortable footwear might seize you.
It’s a heavy responsibility I bear.
I’ve been taken to task by Amanda Woodruff, who has set herself up as guardian of public morality and who was not too taken with what I had to offer last week on the utter hypocrisy that lay behind Victorian values that so many people espouse.
Amanda is a worthy successor to my previous correspondent on these matters, the doughty Frances Summerbee, who memorably referred to me as the ‘Daily Post’s pro-homo spokesman.’
It’s not long before Amanda’s thoughts take her to the bedroom, or rather what other people, perverts the lot of them, do in the bedroom, and elsewhere for that matter.
Read on:

“David, you're an immature little boy, who loves courting attention. Am I right or am I right? Your latest piece de nonsense concerns Victorian values? Well, at least they had values. True, they could not live up to many of them, alas. But this present generation has no values at all. No benchmark, no yardstick, and precious few morals and inhibitions. Let me give you just two examples.

There was recently a procession of around 20,000 homosexuals and lesbians through Cardiff. They were parading their depravity before all and sundry. That is the crucial difference between now and then. And they did so with a £5,000 cheque from the Welsh Assembly Government and considerably more from Cardiff Council. And where were the Police? Actively taking part! And what would your advice be to these sad cases? Go and seek some help? No way - you would give them every encouragement to continue in their sordid lifestyle. Or you would not be a Daily Post columnist for long.

Take the government's attitude towards alcoholics and druggies. These freeloaders sign on for what is philanthropically known as 'Incapacity Benefit', which grants its claimants a minimum of £75 a week, which is much higher than JSA, plus rent and council tax paid for by the state. They are not required to even look for work. All they do almost every day is drop into the local off-licence and pub, take a few bottles of cider home, and cause a good deal of hassle to their long-suffering neighbours. And all at the taxpayers’ expense. They are even given an allowance by the welfare state to buy their booze. What a farce.

There was much hypocrisy a hundred years ago. But, hey, look all around you today - the country has gone to the dogs. You mention a 'veneer' of respectability. That veneer separates us from savagery. As the saying goes - 'hypocrisy is the due paid by vice to virtue.' Now even that veneer has been stripped away, thanks in no small part to the efforts of misguided social engineers like yourself. You and your left-wing ilk have much to answer for.”

I have to say that in six years writing this column I have yet to feel the dread hand of the editor on my shoulder and a kindly word suggesting what I should or should not write. Nevertheless, I wonder should I adopt “Homosexuals – encourage them in their sordid lifestyle’ as a mission statement.
Anyway, Amanda gave me pause for thought. Had I spent the past six years campaigning on behalf of the gay community? Had a generation of young Welsh men and women come bursting forth from the closet, empowered by my weekly blather?
Do readers find themselves unaccountably humming ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ every Tuesday morning? Do men, having read my words, not only find they have something sensible to say to their wives about shoes, but realise that it’s not entirely unreasonable to own more than a dozen pairs?
I wondered myself and so set about searching the archives to see, however subliminally, I had been promoting the love that dare not speak its name.
The truth was shocking.
I have written in excess of 300 columns since 1999 and in that time I have tackled gay issues no fewer than five times – six counting today. It’s a wonder they don’t give me my own float at Manchester’s Mardi Gras. Me, in a sequinned dress and a dodgy wig, surrounded by oiled-up hunks, belting out ‘I Am What I Am’ – that would draw a crowd.
Inevitably Amanda, like Frances before her, and a bravely anonymous contributor who decided I was a ‘campaigning homosexual’, suggests that I may be gay myself because of my ‘outpourings over the years’ (five columns, it’s hardly a Dickensian output, but then one is probably one too many for Amanda).
This will come as news to Mrs Banks, who has been trying and failing to get me interested in curtain fabric for months – now I’ll have no excuse.
Thanks Amanda.

AFTER Amanda’s acerbic remarks it was time for a more pleasant diversion.
Up pops another regular correspondent, but this time on a far more pleasant subjects.
Welcome back Alison Jones with another example of ‘The Size Of Wales’ – the ongoing campaign to have Wales recognised as the standard unit of measurement for something that’s ooh, quite big.

“Things have been a bit quiet on this front recently but 'Coast', BBC2 did come up with the fact that the Fens are 1/5th the size of Wales.
I don't know whether to be pleased that Wales was chosen to be fractionalised rather than them searching for somewhere which was just right, or not.
Visualising something the size of Wales is quite hard anyway. I can readily visualise something the size of, say, a white delivery van of 'whitevan man' fame, or even an elephant if told whether it is Indian, Africa, baby or full grown.
These are things within my comprehension, but I am starting to have problems with the enormity of life today.
But hard as it is for me to embrace the full meaning of something the size of Wales, to then ask me to cut this up into 5 pieces and see just one of these pieces floating in front of my eyes..... well, all meaning seems to be lost.”

Indeed, Alison, but it’s yet another mention for Wales in connection with a subject it has nothing to do with whatsoever. That’s the sort of advertising even the Wales Tourist Board can’t buy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Blair's Outburst

Column will be blogged tomorrow, but I've not bothered with Blair and the "F****ing Welsh".

Does anyone actually care that much? Do you expect a politician, in private, to say anything else when results go the wrong way?

I just cannot get worked up about it in the slightest, so I've written about something else and left others more exercised by his language to comment.

In the grand scheme of things, I think taking us to war yapping around the heels of the USA ranks higher in his list of crimes and misdemeanours than does a few ill-tempered words about us.


I appreciate that the eight-figure counter in the bottom right may be a little of the optimistic side, and that it's perfectly possible to change it to a more realistic three-figure sum, or perhaps two.

But just getting it there was a major achievement, so it's staying.

Click on it to get your own, it's actually quite easy, and free.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Column, September 13, 2005

THEY want to open a sex shop in Llandudno.
You can see why, it’s an untapped market. The only thing that passes for erotica there is a dawdle through the underwear section at M&S and then you run the risk of having your collar felt by a security guard should you linger too long amid the lingerie. Not that I’m speaking from experience, oh no.
But the burghers of Llandudno are having no truck with an emporium selling erotic DVDs and videos. The town’s mayor said that to do so would ‘bring Llandudno down to Rhyl’s level.’
Hostilities have inevitably broken out over this insult to the good town of Rhyl with explanations demanded, denials issued and letters flying back and forth as if both towns’ councils do not have better things to do.
Whether a sex shop is more suited to Rhyl than Llandudno I will leave you to judge, personally I have thought that Rhyl’s tackiness was of the innocent kiss-me-quick variety rathe than do-something-X-rated-to-me-quick, but there you go.
No, what stopped me in my stride was Coun Parry’s explanation as to why Llandudno was not a suitable venue for a sex shop.
“We don’t want that sort of thing in Llandudno,” she said, “We are a Victorian town, what would our ancestors think? The Victorians had good standards and principles.”
Just which Victorians is she referring to?
The only Victorians I’m aware of consumed pornography on an epic scale. When the new technologies of photography and then the cinema were in their infancy it was not long before Victorians were using them to produce pictures and films of women with not very much in the way of clothing on at all.
The peep show is a gift to us of those straight-laced Victorians.
And if pornography wasn’t enough, prostitution was rife and what’s more child prostitution at that.
Those who claim the Victorians had high standards are confusing the austere image of Queen Victoria with her subjects, who were at it like rabbits.
She may have spent her latter years in widow’s weeds, but her subjects were engaging in debauchery on a scale not witnessed since the fall of Rome.
The Victorians might have had an outward appearance of principle morality, but it was a thin veneer that concealed the suppressed perversion that lurked beneath.
And those who regard the Victorian era as ‘the good old days’ might like to remember that for many working class children it was a time of malnutrition, forced labour, rampant disease and an early death.
Those who hanker for a return to Victorian values really don’t have the first idea what those values were.
Yes the Victorians left us a magnificent civic legacy with the buildings and other works that were built during that time.
But to argue that their morality is in some way superior to ours now is to ignore what a hard, miserable, short life many people endured then.
So, in actual fact, if Llandudno is to be an authentic Victorian resort, it really should be encouraging the proliferation of sex shops.
It might also consider legalising prostitution, bringing back child labour by sending the little hoody-wearing hoodlums up chimneys, and look into the reintroduction of a few Victorian diseases like rickets, cholera and typhoid.
A dark, satanic mill belching a cloud of noxious smoke over the Great Orme would also add to the authenticity.
It might not do the tourist trade much good – but then, they could always go to Rhyl.

IT would be nice to say Anglesey County Council has seen sense in its row with parents over the £60 up-front fee it was demanding for bus fares.
Splitting it £30 now and £30 in January might, to the councillors, seem like a reasonable compromise.
But if you’re a parent you’re being asked to shell out in September, when you’ve just paid for school uniform and all the other essentials, and then again in January, just when you’ve paid for Christmas.
It does make you wonder just how in touch with reality the council is.
The council claims it has listened to representations of those involved. Listening is one thing – taking a blind bit of notice it quite another.
I’ve yet to hear any sort of reasonable explanation offered by the council as to why parents can’t pay on a much more manageable daily or weekly basis.

WATCHING the Ashes this summer , it has been nice to see a set of England supporters who have been able to have a few (or more) drinks and not then go on to riot.
The banter has been barbed, but good natured and the spectacle will have won many new fans for the game.
Channel 4 should take the lion’s share of the praise for this as their coverage has been informative, witty and entertaining throughout. A real lesson that coverage of a sporting event does not need to dumbed down, overloaded with graphics and/or a musical soundtrack.
What a shame then when the English have found something which helps define them as a nation that the whole lot is sold off to Sky where they’ll have to pay through the noise for a satellite dish to see it from now on.
An example of stupid greed by the England and Wales Cricket Board who should have been capitalising on new-found interest in the game by keeping it on free-to-air TV.
But while I’ve enjoyed watching the series, I’ve yet to join the hordes expressing a new-found love of the game. Silly mid-off is as much a mystery to me now as it was when the Ashes began.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Column, September 6, 2005

WHO should care what appears on an obscure little website set up to attack Welsh nationalists?
Not many of us, perhaps, but now someone has lost their job because of this site’s activities.
The Natwatch site published an e-mail from Rhodri Tomos, who worked at Gwynedd Council. It was perfectly obvious from its content that Mr Tomos would find himself in some difficulties if it was published.
Whoever it is that runs the website decided that he or she could not care less about the consequences though, and published it with Mr Tomos’s name attached.
As a result Mr Tomos has resigned from his position as research and information officer.
Natwatch had published his e-mail on its website in which he suggested there was more to the refusal of the Pwllheli marina deal than met the eye.
And what should happen next? Lo and behold the Labour party turn up like flies around…well, we all know what flies gather around, demanding an inquiry.
Last month Aled Cottle found himself on the receiving end when an intemperate e-mail from his address was sent to the Natwatch site and Labour was as keen then to make capital out of the situation.
Which leads to the question, just who is running the Natwatch site? It would seem, given their keenness to ride on its coat-tails that the Labour party are very familiar with its content.
Perhaps they’re just avid readers of the web and spend their days trawling sites like Natwatch on the off chance it will give them material about their opponents. Or perhaps they know more about the site and its creator than they are letting on.
It would be reassuring to see the Labour party distancing itself from the actions of this site rather than using it as a stick with which to beat their political opponents.
It’s fair enough targeting political parties like Plaid, they’re big enough to look after themselves. But when you cause someone to lose their livelihood simply because you don’t like their politics or they won’t give you the information you want then it’s no longer a bit of fun on a website.
But then to rub salt in the wound, after causing Mr Tomos’s resignation, the Natwatch site describes him as a “brave whistleblower.”
“This man had the guts to stand up to his employers over a poor decision that would have transformed the Pwllheli area for the better,” says the site.
Contrast that with their communication when Mr Tomos offered them the information in the first place, in which they said: “We can easily survive without the support of a nat (nationalist) with a chip on his shoulder.”
Now the site weeps crocodile tears for Mr Tomos and calls for his reinstatement, when it was its actions that caused him to lose his job in the first place.
The really stupefyingly dumb thing about the site though, is that there might have been something to the story.
What if there was more to be told about the Pwllheli marina? Instead of finding out, whoever the half-wit is that runs the site simply outed Mr Tomos as its source.
If there is anyone who knows more about the marina story, you can bet they won’t be going to Natwatch with the information given its scant regard for confidentiality of sources.
And then we get Labour lumbering in its wake calling for all correspondence of the matter to be published. Brilliant, like that’s going to get you anywhere.
Both Aled Cottle and Rhodri Tomos were foolish to communicate with this site and put themselves in jeopardy as a result.
If anyone out there is thinking of doing the same then I suggest you be very careful about concealing your identity.
Better still, contact the Daily Post, the journalists here are bound by the Press Complaints Commission Code to respect confidential sources.
You’ve seen how the Natwatch site betrays its sources, it’s your choice.

THE latest Wales Tourist Board promotion dropped out of the Sunday paper when they were delivered at the weekend.
Included in the leaflet extolling the virtues of Welsh mud in its many forms – from that applied as a beauty treatment to that which flies off the wheels of your mountain bike – was the fascinating fact that the sea off Wales is warmer in October that it is in June.
I suppose it’s just the temperature on the beach after your dip that might be a bit off-putting then.
But can the WTB explain why they keep banging on about a visit to Wales being and ‘honest’ experience.
Some marketing whizz has told them that this is the latest buzz word in holidays and they are wearing it out, I’ve heard it so often.
But what does it mean? What is an ‘honest’ experience? More important, what is a ‘dishonest’ experience.
Other than that I think the marketing is spot on and they’re doing a good job of showing the variety of holidays available in Wales all year round.

MUCH as I adhere to the view that footballers are a bunch of overpaid nancies who deserve a good slap, I can’t see the sense in what the Wales fans did at the weekend.
Booing someone’s national anthem, no matter how much of a colonialist dirge it might be, serves no purpose other than to pander to the fans whose knuckles scraped the floor as they entered the Millennium Stadium.
Really, did they expect Beckham to dissolve in tears and go back to the dressing room when he heard the first boo accompany the first bar?
All it achieved was to fire up an England side, who, given the narrowness of the victory, could have well done without firing up at all.
Just think, if you were there and you’d kept your trap shut, you might have been celebrating a victory instead of mourning yet another defeat.
It’s nothing to do with respect, its whether you want to go on losing, or whether the occasional victory might just lift the gloom.