Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Column, Boxing Day, 2006

WHO would turn down free money?
Conwy County Borough Council that’s who. Or rather they turned it down on behalf of the traders of Llandudno.
If ever those traders find themselves tightening their belts they might want to reflect how the burghers of their borough have an aversion to cash if it’s brought in by bicycle.
You see Conwy’s Cabinet has said that not only does it not want cycling along the Nortrh Shore promenade, it has now asked officers to look for alternative route and to bypass the town entirely if necessary.
So cyclists travelling along Route 5 of the national cycle network might find themselves missing out the Queen of Resorts completely.
The burghers might mutter that cyclists don’t spend much anyway, but that would show that their grip of the facts is as shaky as their grasp of modern attitudes to health and lifestyle.
Last year no fewer than 13 million people in the UK bought a new bike, spending a total of £4bn doing so.
What those people soon discover is that, unlike in the days of their childhood, cycling is now a high-risk activity if you dare to venture on the roads.
So the next thing a lot of them do is look for safe routes on which to indulge their rediscovered love of cycling.
The national cycle network is just such a thing, well publicised, well signposted and one of the greatest uses of Lotto cash there has ever been.
I did Wales top to bottom and have the saddlesores to prove it, but it is the greatest advert for the natural beauty of Wales that has ever been invented and it costs practically nowt.
All over the UK it is being discovered by new cyclists who use it to commute or for days out, or for full-blown holidays. And when they do, just like any other commuter or tourist, they spend money as they travel.
The councillors of Conwy seem to have made the mistake of thinking that cycling is purely a low cost, low profit hobby.
What they don’t seem to realise is that in the past 20 years or so the industry has exploded, and while the cheap bike will always be available, there are plenty of people out there paying £3,000 or more for carbon-framed bikes with technology on them that would put the family car look like a Model T.
Now, spending power like that may be sniffed at by councillors comfortable in their expenses-paid position as the great and the good of their town, but traders working hard to make a living might not be so sniffy about whose money they accept.
I would also suggest that the councillors need to see a pack of hungry cyclists when they descend on a tea-shop – they spend enough in an afternoon binge to keep the place open for a month.
This is perhaps why the Cyclists Touring Club – it’s been going since 1878 so it can hardly be dismissed as bunch of weirdos in dayglo lycra – has described Conwy’s ban on cyclists as an ‘utter farce.’ A masterpiece of understatement if ever I heard one.
What is truly bizarre about Conwy’d decision is that at a time when the government, to its credit, is trying to get more people out and about doing more exercise and getting healthier, here you have a council doing its damndest to stop them doing just that.
Perhaps they imagine that by opening the prom to cyclists they will no sooner turn their back than the peloton of the Tour de France will shoot through sending pedestrians fleeing for their lives.
Not that having the peloton of the Tour de France hurtling along Llandudno prom would do any harm for their tourism figures, but I think we’ve already established that they are not interested in seeing tourism increase in their two if its on two wheels.
One wonders quite what the long-term strategy is of Conwy to keep Llandudno functioning as a resort.
Do they imagine that the dwindling crowds who brave the A55 will forever be able to resist the lure of cheap flights to hotter places?
The traditional seaside holiday has had its day band any burgher who believes it wasn’t assassinated by easyJet and had the last rites delivered by Ryanair is hiding his head in the sand of their resort’s deserted beaches.
The key to North Wales continuing success as a holiday destination is selling it to niche markets. Visit Wales has recognised this and has gone after lucrative markets like mountain bikers with a will.
They know they’ve got money to spend and they want them to spend it in Wales. Sad for the people of Llandudno that Conwy’d Cabinet don’t want them to spend it there.

NOT all bad news on the cycling front though.
Wales has two, count them, two mountain bike centres shortlisted for awards by Singletrack magazine.
If you’re not a mountain biker I doubt that Singletrack will have ever darkened your magazine rack, but trust me, for the aforementioned bikers with £3,000 bikes, it’s the bible.
Coed y Brenin and Afan Forest are two of the three centres that have been shortlisted for the Best UK Trail Centre award.
If they win, that’s more people down the A55 to spend their time and cash in Wales. Nice to see the vision behind Coed y Brenin recognised yet again.

SO Lembit Opik has swapped a weather girl for a Cheeky Girl.
I always found the frequency with which he and Sian Lloyd made their way into the papers more than a little irritating.
But when I saw her had taken up with Gabriela Irimia, Cheeky Girl, whose contribution music has thus far been a suggestion that we might touch her bum, it was one of those rare moments when I was utterly lost for words.
Still if Ms Irimia’s account is to be trusted, and she should apparently know, he is continuing in a fine tradition of Liberal politicians from Lloyd George through to Paddy Ashdown. And while Ming Campbell has them dozing in the aisles at Westminster, the same cannot be said for Lembit.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

I've peeled the carrots, potatoes, parsnips (which fine words do not butter) and sprout preparation is truly tedious.

Turkey is ready for the oven too.

So I'm all set to give the family and the in-laws food poisoning later today as someone left me in charge of the cooking.

A Happy Christmas to the benighted souls who wander here, usually in search of a Bristol graffiti artist who I ain't.

Will endeavour to keep the blog better updated in 2007.

Have a good one.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Column, October 24, 2006

JUST when did we win the war for the Welsh language?
I only ask because apparently I missed the party. The open-top bus parade of hunger strikers, prisoners of conscience, paint-daubers and sticker-stickers that must surely have taken place when it was decided that Welsh was safe forever.
Surely only an historic victoruy like that can explain Cymdeithas yr Iath Gymraeg’s decision to target Brantano in its latest offensive.
Yes, I had never heard of them either. Brantano I thought, didn’t he sign for West Brom early in the season, cultured left foot but prone to injury?
No, he, or it is a shoe shop.
And one that sells shoes without the benefit of using any Welsh. If you hawked crack cocaine outside a school gate you wouldn’t get a more outraged reaction from CYI – as long as you hawked it in Welsh that is.
Brantano along with its home, the Ystwyth Retail Park Aberystwyth, and other businesses there, were targeted because of the lack of Welsh language signage.
Brantano came in for some particularly liberal stickering – not because some of the protesters were checking out this season’s kitten heels – but because of their reported response to protests that they don’t need to use Welsh because ‘we’re all British.’
Well, yes, up to a point. But Brantano aren’t British, they’re Belgian, which makes their refusal to put up Welsh language signage particularly stupid.
Coming from Belgium where the Flemings and the Walloons try to rub along together with varying degrees of success, but speaking different languages, you would have thought Brantano would have realised the value of a little language sensitivity.
Apparently not. Hence their being sprayed with CYI slogans last week.
One wonders quite how much Welsh signage is needed to sell shoes – I mean it’s not as if you’re going to go into a shoe shop expecting to pick up a loaf of bread and 20 Marlborough Lights is it.
As far as I could see from the plethora of pictures Cymdeithas placed on their website, the Brantano signage plastered with “Ble mae’r Gymraeg” stickers consisted of a large poster which said: “We stock Clarks adult shoes” and another advertising a position there as deputy manager – please apply within. Let’s hop they find a deputy who speaks Welsh who can know a few Welsh signs up on the back of shoe boxes with a magic marker so as to avoid any further unpleasantness.
But given the paucity of language actually required to buy and sell shoes, it is more than a little curmudgeonly for Brantano not to put up a bit of Welsh signage.
Still it’s a bit of a comedown for the CYI whose campaigning actually had some meaning back in the days of yore.
A long time ago when I was a rebellious student, I wrote a rebellious thesis about this bunch of rebels. It involved some fairly lengthy correspondence with them and, strangely, every last bit of it had mysteriously opened while in the care of Royal Mail and was delivered to me in a plastic bag with a curt note of apology.
Could have been coincidence of course, but this was also the time when Meibion Glyndwr were at their fiery height and in the eyes of some nosey parkers one Welsh rebel is very much the same as the next when it comes to wanting to know what they’re posting out.
So back then, when CYI did something it mattered and people took notice. Now they seem a pale imitation of their former selves, struggling to find anything meaningful to do in a world where many of the institutions they used to rail against are completely and infuriatingly bilingual.
The police, councils, the civil service and a host of major firms would no more run their affairs in monoglot English than they would sell their grannies into slavery.
Who have they got left to fight, because daubing slogans on a footwear chain most of us have never heard of is a battle not worth having?
When Marlon Brando’s Wild One was asked what he was rebelling against, “Whaddya got?” was his answer, meaning anything and everything.
CYI might make the same reply, but now it sounds more like a plea than a statement of defiance.

JUST to show burghers can be sensible and perverse a matter of miles apart.
The burghers of Gwynedd have, to their credit, stuck by their guns and refused Asda permission to use more of its Pwllhali store for non-food retail – ie clothes and homeware.
Well done to them. They said they would and they refused to cave, so credit where its due.
Now of course they have to face the inevitable planning inquiry, but it’s hoped the inspector will take due account of the many people in the town who have voiced grave concerns at Asda’s effect on the local economy.

MEANWHILE down the road in Conwy, the borough council cabinet has flown in the face of local opinion and expert advice and refused to allow a cycle route along the prom.
This is despite their own environment scrutiny committee chucking their original refusal back at them and telling them to reconsider.
No, no, says the Cabinet, the preferred route is to send cyclists back through the town.
I do think when councillors make these daft decision they should be made to experience the fruit of their labours.
Having them trying to cycle in rush-hour traffic for a month would be a good start.

Column, October 17, 2006

I DON’T know what depresses me more – Rhyl’s funfair or its replacement.
There may be some who will rejoice to see the end of the funfair and its replacement with offices, housing and hotel.
Others may be sad to see a landmark of the North Wales coastline disappear. I’m just a little disappointed that something for which the term ‘fading glory’ might have been coined is being replaced with something which sounds so bland.
There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the funfair, but as owner Rhyl Amusements chief exec Harold Robinson conceded: “There’s a lot of nostalgia attached to this place, but it is just not economically viable any more.”
He’s got a better grip of the economics of it than I have, being at the sharp end of trying to tempt people onto the waltzers, but we’ll get back to nostalgia a little later.
But I have to say that even the name of its replacement – Ocean Plaza – makes my heart sink.
I know that some people living around the West End of Rhyl will see 50 flats, offices and a four-star hotel as an infinite improvement on a funfair, but they might not agree in a few years when the shiny newness of the flats has worn off and it’s just yet another nearly-new development on the North Wales coastline.
Because what’s also happening at the same time? Well Asda are moving their store there as well.
So what does Rhyl get to pull in the holiday punters? Yet another supermarket and a hotel, office and flats development. I can hear them cancelling their flights to Magaluf in their droves when they hear of those delights to be had in sunny North Wales .
Yes, the funfair had an end of the pier atmosphere to it, but at least it wasn’t part of some ghastly chain, at least it had a nodding acquaintance with Rhyl’s heritage as a seaside resort.
But the disappearance of landmarks like Rhyl’s funfair are all part of the creeping homogenisation of the North Wales coastal resorts.
Yes, the Ocean Plaza development will, if it goes ahead, have the effect of beginning the redevelopment of that end of Rhyl. Where Ocean Plaza leads, then the chain pubs and slightly more upmarket shops will follow, slowly but surely gentrifying the town. A task some might have described as impossible.
But the cost will be to sweep the town clean of any last vestiges of originality and character. The Rhyl visitor guide in 10 years time will just be a list of bars, shops and hotels which the visitor can see in any other resort in the UK .
You can’t really blame the council, as it’s not their fault the bars and tacky shops have spread through the town. Once one bar and one shop selling tat is allowed in – and after all, it’s not a legitimate planning reason to turn down a shop on the grounds it sells rubbish – then the council has no option but to allow them to proliferate.
What puzzles me is how the resorts of the South East of England can get this right and yet North Wales still fails to tap into the growing market for British seaside resorts.
In the South East resorts that were on their uppers have seen a resurgence in the family holiday trade. Perhaps not the weeks and fortnights of the past – but weekends and short breaks.
Here we haven’t really woken up to the fact that our customers in Liverpool and Manchester now have airlines on their doorstep that will whisk them to somewhere much sunnier for a fraction of the price of a holiday here, even though our resorts are a short drive down the A55.
There is a massive market in the nostalgia holiday – people my age who want to take our children on the sort of seaside holiday we had as children. Sadly if I take my children to some of the places I went as a kid, all they would find would be soulless rows of slot machines and bars serving the already inebriated enough cheap booze to get them really fighting drunk.
What the North Wales coast needs is some decent strategic thought and the planning powers to push through its ideas.
The answer lies not in chain pubs and stores and Ocean Plazas, but in small individual family businesses catering for short family breaks and charging prices which don’t make easyJet look like Santa Claus.
The sad thing is these businesses are already out there, fighting an image that has grown up round Rhyl over the years and gone unchecked by those who were happy to as long as it brought in visitors for whom a foreign holiday was a pipe dream.
The ills of Rhyl will take some sorting out, I’m just not sure Ocean Plaza is the remedy they’re looking for.

MEMBERS OF Pwllheli Chamber of Trade were surprised to receive a recent e-mail from Coun Michael Sol Owen.
In it he asked whether the Chamber would be extending an invitation to Asda to join their membership.
It’s a little surprising that in an area as rural as the Llyn, Coun Owen is not aware of the phrase relating foxes and what they do when allowed entry to a henhouse.
Given the fact that its membership may be dwindling when the full effect of the arrival of Asda is felt, the Chamber would be forgiven for recruiting Asda to its ranks.
All the same, I’m told the feeling among chamber members is that Asda should do the same as everyone else and fill in its application form for membership rather than expect an invitation, albeit at the suggestion of a local councillor.

A QUESTIONNAIRE arrives inviting me to give my thoughts on attitudes to crime.
In it I’m asked what, of a great long list, are my concerns about crime.
Along with drug dealing, litter, graffiti and speeding is ‘youths hanging around.’ That’s right – hanging around. Apparently, in the eyes of council bureaucrats, hanging around is a crime on a par with selling heroin to schoolchildren.
Firstly, if any youths were hanging round my home, they would clearly be lost and in need of assistance. I'm in the back of beyond, so they'd probably be in the early stages of hypothermia and dehydration.
But most importantly, this is, the last time I checked, a free-ish country and provided that you are not committing a crime or about to commit one, then hanging around is not an offence, and what’s more, none of anyone’s business.
Let’s face it, if you’re 13 years old, you’re too young-looking to get into the pub and too old to want to stay in with mum and dad, what more is there to life than hanging around?
Is it any wonder that children feel marginalised, criminalised and misunderstood when their mere existence is regarded as an offence?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Column, October 10, 2006

ALUN Pugh is either a fool, of the variety that is soon parted from his money, or a Machiavellian manipulator of the media who is wasted in the dead end of Cardiff Bay .
By now I’m sure you know that Mr Pugh was casting about for Christmas card ideas recently.
Now, when you and I hunt for Christmas cards, we might pop into WH Smiths and buy a box or two. If we’re feeling particularly munificent we might choose the type produced by various worthy charities.
Snow might feature on them, Santas, reindeer, elves, halls decked with boughs of holly – you get the picture. Alun Pugh didn’t – get the picture that is, or rather he didn’t get that picture. He got a picture of a Scrabble board, at a cost of £2,000 to the public purse.
Well what he actually got was the rights to use a picture of a Scrabble board on his Christmas cards this year. Not just any old Scrabble board, oh no, a Welsh Scrabble board.
So that’s alright then. Well, no, not, with a rather tedious inevitability, to his political opponents.
First up fulminating against the criminal waste of 0.06p per person in Wales was Owen John Thomas, of Plaid Cymru, who demonstrated the sort of decisive thinking which has seen his party govern so well for so many years…erm, hang on.
“I find it highly irresponsible and shall be getting in tough with Ieuan to see if we should be calling for his resignation,” said Mr Thomas.
Ieuan Wyn Jones, who shall henceforth be known as Geppetto, has yet to pull the strings to let us know whether indeed Mr Pugh must go.
And would that be the same Plaid Cymru that did not blush to squander cash on a new logo, a Welsh poppy done on a child’s Spirograph, as well as a sonic logo – no I don’t know what one of those is either.
Alright, it was their own cash, but it hardly fills you with confidence in their management of our money when they throw their own about with such gay abandon.
Then the Tory leader Nick Bourne weighed in with his contribution to Scrabblegate.
“How many points can you get in Scrabble for the word ‘profligate’” he inquired.
Oh, you see what he’s done there, it’s funny because, well, in Scrabble you score points for putting down words. If I were Alan Pugh I might be tempted to empty the Assembly coffers and splash the lot on the poker tables in Las Vegas, because quite frankly if this is the best the opposition can offer his position is unassailable.
“They don’t deserve to remain in office and the people of Wales will have the opportunity to get rid of them next May,” said Mr Bourne.
Oh really. And just which focus group has told him this. Because the last time I checked people tended to vote on the basis of stuff like, how much money they’ve got, how good their schools are, how they get looked after when they’re ill.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m fairly certain that come May if you trawl the polling booths of Wales you will not find one single person who has arrived there determined to vote out the party in power because of a £2,000 photo of a Scrabble board.
But there is just the slim chance that Alun Pugh’s Christmas card choice could be the work of a political mind like a steel trap. Unlikely I know, but bear with me while I explain.
Picture the scene, Alun is hunched over his Scrabble board, pondering what to do with his last double-L while at the same time the problem of Christmas card choice is looming.
In one fell swoop he decides that he’ll go for the Scrabble option, knowing that his political opponents will be unable to resist rising to the bait, thus ensuring that the Welsh language gets far more column inches than it ever would had he picked a boring old card with yet another snow-clad Welsh valley or mountain on it. Job’s a good ‘un.
So, Alun Pugh – media-manipulating genius, or spendthrift who shouldn’t be let loose with a piggy bank never mind our hard-earned cash – you decide.

SO the 'glorious' October 1st has passed and pheasants across the country are keeping their heads down if they know what’s good for them.
Pheasant season is upon us and in the fields around Banks Acres (Well, alright, it might not be acres, but I’m wondering if I can claim set-aside for a lawn that has remained resolutely unmowed most of the summer) resound to the sound of gunfire and red-faced chaps in ill-fitting tweeds bellowing at gundogs.
The surrounding land is not a natural home to wild pheasant – is there anywhere that is? – and so the poor blighters blown from the skies this weekend were reared for the purposes.
Now, I’m no rabid anti-bloodsports, dog-on-a rope saboteur. After all, while they were banging away at pheasants I was tucking in to a roast chicken and there are depths of hypocrisy to which even I will not stoop.
If you want to rear and shoot pheasants that is entirely up to you. But having seen these birds at close quarters in the past couple of months, since they were released into the woodlands hereabouts as little more than chicks, I do have to wonder how much sport there is to it all.
After all, we are talking about birds so terminally dumb that their favourite place to while away a sunny afternoon was sitting on the road outside our house, oblivious of the traffic which was far more efficient at culling them than were the poor shots with Purdeys this weekend.
I just think that if you want to shoot something that needs the persuasion of a line of beaters and a supporting cast of baying dogs to get airborne, then there’s not much of a challenge to it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Column, October 3, 2006

I HAD Russian kale at the weekend.
Worry not, this has not become a column of what I have been mostly eating the previous week. I only mention it because it’s of relevance to the future of farming.
Not that I consume enough of the stuff, nice as it was with a little chilli, garlic and tomatoes, to keep any sort of agricultural enterprise in business.
No, what’s of interest to the future of farming is that it didn’t come from a supermarket, it came from a local farmer.
In an effort to spend as little time as possible in the Dantean depths that are the aisles of supermarkets, Mrs B and I have been making an effort to shop anywhere else.
To this end we have started getting a box of veg delivered by a local organic farmer – hence the appearance of Russian kale on the Banks dinner table this weekend.
Now, I don’t recall ever having had kale, Russian, curly, or otherwise, in 41 years of eating anything that’s put in front of me. But that’s part of the charm of this scheme, you’re guaranteed staples like spuds, carrots and onions, but the rest of the box is pot luck – whatever is in season. Fortunately they include a recipe for the more obscure items, or else the Russian kale might have been languishing in the Siberia of our freezer for some time.
But even better than that, though the kale was Russian in variety it was grown locally. It was picked, shoved in a box, and dropped off at my door hours later. You can’t get fresher or healthier than that.
Contrast that to supermarket veg and their insistence on having everything available, whether it’s out of season or not. Fruit and veg are flown thousands of miles packed in inert gas so they don’t decay.
Fruit is selected for shelf life not taste and then it’s picked green and hard so that it will withstand travel across half the world before it arrives on the shelves, Of course it never ripens properly and so it might be cheap and available out of season, but it also has about as much taste as the cardboard box it’s packed in.
Now, where this is of rel4evance to farmers is in the actions of the farmers that supplies me. More and more are doing the same, either providing box schemes, or going to farmer markets and cutting out the middle man – Tesco, Asda/Walmart, Morrisons, and selling directly to the public.
But typically, supermarkets seeing that there is a mood in the public to support local producers and not have their groceries flown in on a fleet of jumbo jets, are muscling in on this trend for locally-produced food.
They will trumpet now that they are selling local milk and meat and veg. Though as we’ve seen in the case of Bangor Tesco, local can mean that short trip down to…erm… Port Talbot .
It’s not hard to see the sense of organic box schemes and farmers markets, they’re better produce, better for you and better for the environment.
So how come the industry is so unutterably rubbish at getting that message across both to consumers and to government.
While on a shopping trip at the weekend I spied a leaflet on the counter inquiring as to whether I was a ‘friend of local food’. Well, I thought, with my organic fruit and veg safely unpacked at home and the fact that I was then buying bread from a local small baker, local food and I were not just friends, this was the beginning of something deep and meaningful, we were going steady.
The leaflet was produced by something called the National Farmers’ Retail Markets Association, or FARMA, and it wanted me to drop a pre-printed card in the post to Lord Rooker, at DEFRA.
On the card I would declare that I was a FRIEND OF LOCAL FOODS, their capitals, not mine, that I valued an alternative to going to supermarkets and that LOCAL FOOD AND FARMING MATTER TO ME! PLEASE DON’T IGNORE IT, again, their capitals, and their decision to use ‘it’ when they should use ‘them’.
I wonder what will happen when an avalanche (they hope) of these cards arrives at the House of Lords and ashen-faced flunkies approach his lordship, all a-tremble saying: “Beggin’ your pardon Your Lordship, but it’s the postbag, it’s enormous and we’re afraid to say that there are a lot of FRIENDS OF LOCAL FOOD out there, telling you not to ignore LOCAL FOOD AND FARMING.”
If this is the best that FARMA can come up with then they’ll be losing no sleep over at Tesco/Asda/Morrisons – they’ll just do another two-for-one offer on “Andalusian-pygmy-potatoes-smothered-in-Columbian-heather-honey” (no, I don’t know if they exist, but you can bet your life they soon will do if some buffoon in braces at M&S is reading this) and they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.
I wonder if too many farmers are already on the supermarket treadmill for the smaller organic ones to really have a go at them. After all, if you really criticise the supermarket industry, aren’t you by association criticising those who choose to supply them.
Wales , despite efforts to the contrary, is still a nation where small farms survive, often against incredible odds and their produce is second to none.
Getting that message across to the consumer is what’s important and you don’t do that with half-baked campaigns that are the equivalent of asking people to support motherhood and apple pie.

WELL done to the burghers of Conwy’s environment scrutiny committee for proving that not all burghers are silly burghers by batting back the council Cabinet’s decision to rule out a cycle path on Llandudno prom.
The committee has asked that the cabinet rescind its earlier decision which would have meant cyclists taking their chances with traffic in the town centre instead of cycling along one of the UK ’s most famous promenades.
Let’s hope the cabinet heeds their words and allows a scheme that will add to the town’s many attractions.

THE rescue helicopters get scrambled only to be stood down because what was thought to be cries for help on Snowdonia’s slopes were in fact mating goats.
I hate to say this, but I’ll get it in before someone English does, if there’s one place you would have thought they would have known what it was it is Wales .
Must have been tourists that dialled 999.

Column, September 26, 2006

JOURNALISTS and judges have to put up with people’s prejudices against them.
Alright, few tears will be shed about the fact that every journalist is viewed as a whisky-sodden doorstepping hack even if he’s a celibate, teetotal ecclesiastical correspondent for the Methodist Recorder.
Judges likewise are going to attract little sympathy when they complain of their image as stuffy, ex-public school, wealthy representatives of the establishment.
Neither has a reputation for being easily moved to tears. Yet Elizabeth Davidson, a grieving mother managed to do just that to one judge and this journalist in the past week.
Judge Julian Hall had to leave his court halfway through the case against Nolan Haworth when he read the victim impact statement given by Mrs Davidson, whose daughter, Margaret, was killed by Haworth, who was driving a car that crashed head on into hers as he raced to reach court for another crime he had committed.
The court had earlier heard that the 19-year-old had been driving like a joyrider, overtaking on double white lines and blind bends, before he passed a lorry on the brow of a hill and crashed into Dr Davidson’s car killing her instantly.
Her mother was the only person able to speak for her at his trial and it was what she wrote that reduced the judge to tears. A few days later she read it on Radio 4 and I’m not ashamed to say I wept too. If you’re a parent, try putting yourself in her position and see if you don’t do the same when you read some of what she said in that statement.
“How can I explain the impact the loss of my daughter Margaret has had on my life to someone who didn't know her. I would ask you therefore to bear with me for a moment to allow me to introduce her to you. ”Margaret was physically beautiful, fiercely intelligent and a caring thoughtful girl who loved fun, good food and wine, and especially the company of family and friends. ”How much time can I spend telling you about the two summers she spent working in dreadful conditions in Bulgarian orphanages; of the hours spent working for KEEN, which is an organisation in Oxford , helping disabled youngsters to have fun and reach their potential. “How do I feel knowing I will never see her smile again? “How do I feel knowing I will never see her arrive off the train, toss down her bag and wrap her arms around me and hear her say "how's my wee mum?" “How do I feel knowing I will never hold her child in my arms. “On the 16th of July 2005, we as a family had one of the happiest days of our lives. After years of studying and hard work on her part and financial struggles on ours, Dr Margaret E Davidson BM BCHMA graduated from Oxford University . On her way up to receive her degree, she turned to me and smiled a smile of sheer joy, love and gratitude. “Less than a year later I collected a very tasteful carrier bag containing a cardboard box labelled the remains of the late Dr Margaret E Davidson. “I don't know if these words have conveyed to you my sense of loss. Maybe there are no such words. Perhaps I should just have saved your time and said I loved Margaret from her first breath, and I will love, mourn and miss her until my last. Elizabeth R Davidson Mother”
That is an abridged version of what Mrs Davidson said and it is probably one of the most powerful and affecting statements of the loss caused by such offenders that I have ever seen.
That the judge was moved by her words is undoubted, which makes the sentence all the more odd. Just four years.
Four years for a man, who witnesses estimated was travelling at 70-80mph on a road with a 50mph speed limit as he sped to another court appearance. Dr Davidson was on her way home from a long night shift at a hospital in Banbury.
As her mother pointed out when interviewed, she is all in favour of new laws to try to tackle drivers like Haworth, but wondered why, when maximum sentences of 14 years are available for this offence, why they weren’t handed down more often.
A good question, and one which those who seem to make it their entire life’s work to oppose any restrictions on drivers’ freedom to go where they please at whatever speed they please to boot.
Whenever I have written on this subject I can rely on one of theses apologists for murder emerging from the woodwork with pathetic lines like ‘it’s not speed that kills it’s irresponsible use of speed.’
The sort of people that claim any police enforcement of road traffic laws is a ‘money-making scam’ and not an attempt to prevent them causing the sort of grief suffered by Dr Davidson’s family.
When one of their turgid e-mails arrives next time, I’ll refer them to the simple, heartrending words of Elizabeth Davidson and if their hearts aren’t made of stone perhaps they’ll give it a rest.

INEVITABLY last week’s sermon on the naming of Welsh children attracted a bit of reaction.
Gafyn Jones’s temperament as he wrote was perhaps indicated by his order to ‘please pay some attention to this.’
I duly did and this is some of what he said: “I found David Bank’s article in Tuesday’s (19th Sept) Daily Post one of the most offensive and derogatory pieces of journalism that I have read.
As a Welshman, I have lived in England for 6 years and have been at times, the butt of many a joke and it has always been taken in a light-hearted manner.
This article however, I find an ill informed and insulting piece of work directed towards the Welsh and their language.
It ridicules the most precious form of ones identity, the name given to them by their mother and father. We are privileged by our welsh language, most of our names have a true meaning and some names commonly used date back 2,000yrs before any “Banks’s” ever came to these isles.
Would David Banks ever contemplate putting into writing the fact that he thinks to call someone Mutjaba or Aikaterina is an excuse to mock them, simply because it is awkward for the English to pronounce?
I am not a welsh nationalist, I am simply a patriotic Welshman, proud of my language and it’s history and have justified concerns regarding it’s future.

I ask one thing of David Bank’s and others like him…a little respect please.

G Jones
Llandrillo Yn Rhos”

BUT then a letter arrived from Einir, aka Nin, who perhaps understood better than Gafyn what I was on about.
“Hello my name is “Einir”
I had no trouble with my name for the first 15yrs of my life when I lived at a small town in Merionethshire, but it has gone from bad to worse since then.
I met my husband, no problem with my name as he is also “Welsh”, BUT I moved to Flintshire not many people could say my name there except the few Welsh speakers I was called all sorts Enia, Eneer but I refused to answer to ENA, they asked if I had a second name, I have, it’s Euronwy! (I don’t think my mother expected me to move from the sticks).
We now live in a rural part of Lancashire where the friends I have made know I have a Welsh name but it’s far easier for them to call me “Nin” and I am getting used to it. We have joined the Welsh society and it is nice to hear people pronounce my name perfectly. I miss Wales but I have also made new friends here. “Cymry am Byth”
Einir E Edwards
PS We still have the Daily Post welsh edition delivered to our door from the local shop!”

Column, September 19, 2006

THANKS to University researchers we now know the Welshest place on the planet, and we know the Welshest name as well.
So if you are Gwyndaf or Einir and you live in Llangefni, then you are about as Welsh as it's possible to be. In fact you're so Welsh that English people will start talking Welsh in your presence, just from the power of your Welshness. A bit like Svengali, but with soft mutation.
We know this thanks to some analysis of first names and surnames which found that the people most likely to have a Welsh surname were men called Gwyndaf and women called Einir.
And an analysis of the ethnic origin of surnames across the UK found that the Welshest place in the UK was Llangefni.
They are no doubt celebrating on the streets of there at this news, and carrying any Gwyndafs or Einirs they can find shoulder high.
But would that those with a hankering for a Welsh-sounding name would stop at Gwyndaf. But no, no. Such is the desire nowadays not only to be Welsh, but to wear one's Welshness as a badge of pride, nay rebellion, that our children have been enlisted in the quest for uber-Welshness.
. Roll-call at any Welsh school can sound like a reading of the Mabinogion where parents have outdone each other in their desire to make their children as Welsh as Welsh can be.
There's an odd tendency for those with ordinary Welsh names to give their children the sort of Welsh name that no-one except a student of Medieval Welsh history has ever heard of. As if to say 'I'm Welsh, but my son here is really, really Welsh right, and to prove it I've given him a name which even I can't pronounce properly.'
The poor kid has to be sent to a Welsh-medium school, otherwise he'll spend his schooldays being chased by a baying mob. Then he either changes his name by deed poll or becomes a Welsh nationalist to avoid a lifetime of people giving him a blank look when he pronounces a name coined by Gerald Cambrensis.
Of course, The English can't claim any high ground here having blighted the world with unfortunately-named children. How many Kayleighs are there now wandering around wondering where on earth mum and dad got their name from, having, fortunately, never heard of Marillion, or Fish, their aptly mullet-haired lead singer.
Imagine seeing a video of that dirge and having your parents tell you that that is where they got your name. A lifetime of therapy would surely follow.
The worst people for this though are the Taffia, the professional Welsh, who try to out-Welsh each other at every turn, up to and including using their children's names in a competition to see just prove how immersed in the culture they really are.
Do you think they pause smugly at the font when the poor vicar christens their offspring with a name that has more double-ls than an Anglesey A to Z and turn to the congregation to see if they know what obscure Welsh manuscript penned in the Dark Ages they culled that beauty from.
What they forget is that unless they follow their parents into a Welsh university and a safe job in the herd of white elephants on Cardiff Bay, their name will hang round their neck like a Welsh Not.
Most children will grow up to be educated or make a living in England where their parents proof of a point might be a burden. The English will not nod appreciatively at the Celtic literary erudition of the name, they'll just mispronounce it...all the time.
The English mispronounce everything, even English names. While Gwyndaf is just about within their capabilities, anyone called Einir is destined to be called Ena unless she spends her whole life on our side of the border. And God help her if the English run her name through a spellchecker, as Microsoft suggests she is called Ironing or Martini.
Now, I know we shouldn't cow-tow to the English in what names we give our children, but then when we lumber our children with a name that sounds like an exercise in nasal mutation it's they who will be fighting the battle, not us.
If you have a genuine desire to preserve old Welsh names, then change your own name to something that makes you sound like a character out of Lord of the Rings, don't inflict them on your kids.
TESCO ought perhaps to have seen the folly of advertising just how 'local' all their produce was, after all, it's a catchphrase adopted by the shop in The League of Gentlemen, and few people would choose to buy their groceries there.
Now Tesco has had its knuckles rapped for deciding that, when it comes to Wales, 'local' encompasses everywhere from Port Talbot to Holyhead.
But they can hardly be blamed can they? If you fly your green beans in from Kenya and your strawberries from Spain, then the short hop from the valleys of South Wales will seem local to you, especially if you are a floppy-haired fop from an advertising agency for whom Wales is about as foreign as Azerbaijan.
Still, it does rather help with the excuses to be deployed to the nearest and dearest when next nipping out for a snifter.
“Where are you going?” she may sweetly inquire.
“Oh, just for a pint at the local,” you reply, before embarking on a three-day binge in the fleshpots of Cardiff.
Thanks Tesco, every little helps.

Column, September 12, 2006

NEWSPAPERS, mused George Bernard Shaw, are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation.
I have to admit a vague sense of shame whenever I see that quote, having, in my time reported of a fair few minor disagreements that, under my skilled hand, became furious rows that had, inevitably, erupted, with the various participants storming, raging or fuming depending on which side of the thesaurus I'd got up that day.
It seems though, that while the press may be unable to distinguish between one minor event and the end of the world as we know it, we do not mistake one for the other.
Conwy County Borough councillors have trumped the gutter press it would seem they believe a bicycle accident would be the collapse of civilisation.
This can surely be the only explanation for their, frankly bizarre, decision to refuse permission for a cycle route along that most famous of seafronts Llandudno Prom.
Here was a chance to put the ailing Victorian resort firmly on the map of must-see places for the many cyclists beating a path, or should that be cycleway, to Wales since Sustrans has done so much to make it a cycling heaven.
The Sustrans routes across our country have brought in countless tourists, and their wallets, who have rediscovered the beauty of Wales, be it the breathtaking, literally if youre cycling, mountains of the North, or the industrial heritage of the valleys of the South.
But cycling, it would seem, is a no-no in Llandudno.
And the excuse for this piece of local misgovernment is, wait for it, health and safety.
Yes, the reason they chopped down conker trees in one area, banned sixpences from Christmas puddings and in one school even banned oranges for fear of a child choking on a pip health and safety.
Now, if there were a multitude of people hobbling into ever A&E department in the land, having been mown down by lunatic cyclists on beach-front promenades I would perhaps concede that the burghers of Conwy had a point.
But lets face it, if this was a common occurrence it would have been a plotline in Casualty by now you know the scene, elderly couple amble along seafront unwittingly heading for their doom at the other end of the prom a little lad wobbles along on his bike with stabilisers, mum and dad look proudly on, not knowing that in two minutes their son will slam into grandma and granddad and so will unfold another typical day in Holby General.
In fact, so infrequent are cyclist pedestrian accidents that I had real trouble tracking down any reasonable statistics for this hazard that Conwy councillors fear will blight their promenade.
In a House of Commons answer in 2003 it was revealed that, for that year, 77 pedestrians had been injured by cyclists on the pavement. A shocking figure, but not, perhaps, as shocking as the 3,453 who were hit on the pavement by cars that year.
The councillors of Conwy might also have been cut a little slack if there had been plans to run the peloton of the Tour de France down the promenade as soon as they had allowed a cyclepath there.
Now, much as I would like to see the Tour use the North Wales coast as a stage, Im thinking the Prom would not provide the ideal environment for cycle racing.
In truth, the people most likely to have used this would be children on a day out and tourists gently progressing along the coast. Not Lance Armstrong, head down, hurtling along on a time trial.
The sad thing is that the Llandudno had been suggested as one of the first towns in Wales that could be truly cycle-friendly. And by that it was meant to be along the model of Dutch towns where the cyclist is truly safe and the car is virtually eliminated.
And if the councillors of Conwy had really doubted the ability of cyclists to mingle safely with pedestrians I would have forgiven every last one of them a junket to any Dutch town where they would have seen myriads of cyclists and pedestrians going about their business without significant injury to either.
Fat chance of that vision of Llandudno now though eh? And by fat, I mean artery-clogging, early-death-inducing fat. The sort of fat the government, to its credit, is trying to get off our waistlines by encouraging more of us to get off our backsides and onto bike saddles.
That will only work if there is a perception that cycling is safe. You dont foster that perception by banning cycles from nice, safe promenades and make them take their chances with town-centre traffic.
If the councillors of Conwy were really concerned about health and safety they should not be bothering themselves over a few cyclists, they should be putting 20mph zones in every residential area of their borough. That would really have an effect on public safety.
Im willing to bet that more people have been injured by cars in Llandudno than have by cyclists and yet what is the borough council doing to curb that dreadful dangers in the public midst. Putting more cyclists in the path of cars, thats what.

ONE of the many ways of wasting rather more of your time than you intended on the Internet is to view the Darwin Awards site www.darwinawards.com
The awards are dedicated to those who improve the quality of the human gene pool by removing themselves from it.
Highlights of the 2005 awards for me included the man who decided to weld himself a chimney-cleaning device, using a hand grenade as a weight. Why he wanted to use the grenade is unclear, but the grenade did what grenades are meant to do when he started welding.
Then there was the man whose curiosity got the better of him and he decided to peer down the tube of an rather large rocket firework to see how it worked, and you can probably guess the rest.
So those idiots throwing themselves off a bridge over the Dee in Llangollen and filming themselves in the act can perhaps look forward to a place in the next Darwin awards, or rather, their nearest and dearest can, them not being around to enjoy their fame

Friday, September 08, 2006

Column, September 5, 2006

SOMETIMES writing this column you have to take the long view.
On a weekly basis I'll receive letters and e-mails telling me how fat-headedly wrong I am on this, that or the other issue.
And they may well be right. But now and again they aren't, but finding out who's right and who's wrong might take a little time. That's alright, I'm a patient man.
So, having been told how wrong I was to dare to criticise the burghers of Gwynedd when they allowed Asda/Walmart to build a new superstore in Pwllheli, I might be forgiven for saying 'I told you so' at the news of the latest development there.
The latest development there being, more development there, or rather different development from the one that was granted permission by Gwynedd councillors earlier this year.
They gave permission for the store on condition that only 10 per cent of its floorspace should be 'non-food retail' - ie clothing, electrical goods and so on.
Asda has now asked for that permission to be changed to allow 33 per cent non-food use.
Now, when I was fat-headed enough to query the wisdom of allowing a 15,000 sq ft superstore in a community like Pwllheli, I was was accused of 'sexing up' the story and that I should check my facts. I must admit I'm rather proud to be surely the only journalist in Britain who has managed to make a supermarket planning application sexy, but I digress.
Coun Michael Sol Owen wrote to me and set me straight. He said: "The choice was either throw out the revised application, thus facing the almost inevitable appeal, going in front of the Assembly Planning Inspector and against ASDA with the principle of a supermarket already accepted since 1999.Or pass the application with a number of strict conditions on the type of sale of goods etc.Should ASDA appeal against some of these conditions, we would have a much stronger case to put in front of the Inspector as the conditions would have the backing of the Local Authority and be based on local and national precedents."
He added: "I believe that we arrived at an acceptable compromise, considering the circumstances."
Hmmmm. Well, it seems it was an acceptable compromise to the councillors, but not, as we see, to Asda.
So this plan now goes before the burghers of Gwynedd once more, this time in its 33-per-cent non-food, local-trader-killing format.
Still, I've no doubt that the burghers of Gwynedd, will stand stoutly behind the ramparts of their planning conditions they laid down and rebuff this plan. After all, the council has a much stronger case at any appeal now doesn't it, as Coun Owen said. So that's alright then. I look forward to the council's strongly-worded rebuttal of this scheme. I won't be holding my breath though, just in case.
To be honest though, this was always on the cards wasn't it? Asda/Walmart has a business plan for its stores and those business plans are drawn up by bods in its head office, not councillors in North West Wales.
They know exactly how much they can make from floorspace devoted to non-food retail and exactly how far along the planning appeal process it is worth them going to get the space they want. And they also know the cost to the public pocket is going to be a big worry for any local authority minded not to let them have their way.
And why not? Why shouldn't Asda get their way and sell whatever they want in Pwllheli?
Well, it might be that despite their promise of new jobs, what supermarkets do is actually replace existing jobs with lower-skill, lower paid jobs.
It might also be that while local traders profits go back into the local economy, where they live, Asda/Walmart's profits go back to their shareholders in the USA - ie not Pwllheli.
Too late now to do anything about its arrival, it's already towering over the houses adjoining it. But at least the councillors of Gwynedd can make a stand over what is sold there. When they meet to discuss this plan I look forward to them doing just that.

GIVEN the foaming-at-the-mouth tone of last week's diatribe on the evil that is horse racing, it was perhaps inevitable that one or two people might just take issue.
And lo, a missive arrives like a cavalry charge from no less than Newmarket itself, home of the sport, as Julie Lingham informs me, when she writes:
"Dear Mr Banks,I have just returned to Newmarket (home of horse racing) after visiting my parents in Gronant, Flintshire, N Wales. Last Tuesday August 29th, I was absolutely horrified and disgusted when I read your article on Horse Racing in the Daily Post.I have made a very good and honest living working in the horse racing industry over the last 20 years. I ride out for the one of the top racing yards in Newmarket, I have worked in the stud office of one of the top owners and I have travelled world-wide and met some amazing people many of them famous and every one of them a pleasure to meet. I have also owned racehorses myself. You are totally wrong in all your comments and you have no idea what you are talking about.I am amazed this was allowed to be printed by an arrogant journalist as yourself. I would advise you to do your homework a little more thorough before putting pen to paper next time. I have placed your article on the notice board at work and I was not alone with my comments.Maybe you should look at what is happening in the world before writing ridiculous articles.Let's hope you do a little more research when you write about another equine sport.
Julie Lingham

Bang go my chances of a tip for the 2.30 at Towcester then.

THE more people want Charlotte Church to fall flat on her face, the more I get to like her.
Especially in the face on English media coverage which cannot resist pointing out that she is Welsh, as if it is some sort of handicap inviting sympathy or derision.
I watched her show and I have to report that it was awful, but quite enjoyably awful. The sort of awful that the post-pub crowd it is aimed at will especially appreciate.
Now all she needs are some guests who are not blatantly plugging a book, film, CD or show, or who are not trying to revive a career so flagging that it should have been taken to a darkened room, given a bottle of whisky, a revolver and invited to do the decent thing a long time ago. And she shouldn't be so nice to them.
And I liked her foul-mouthed theme tune too.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Column, August 29, 2006

I'LL tell you one thing I absolutely hate.
And when I say hate, I mean despise with all my heart.
It's the one thing that causes an involuntary shudder of loathing whenever I hear it mentioned.
Horse racing.
I cannot stand it, and I hate everything associated with it.
What has brought on this strop with the world of the turf you might well ask. Well, sitting, no, being trapped, in the quiet coach of a train this week only to be joined by what might charitably be described a ‘punters in high spirits’, or more accurately a boozed-up horde.
The quiet coach, mind, quiet. Not the coach where you conduct your mobile phone calls at full volume while laughing raucously with your mates and drinking even more than you’ve obviously already imbibed.
Perhaps this hatred dates back to dull Saturday afternoons when BBC2 was showing the test card and so it was a choice between Mick McManus giving Mark 'Rollerball' Rocco a richly-deserved half-nelson, or racing from Kempton, Lingfield, Catterick or some other Godforsaken outpost of the racing empire on the other side, ad nauseam.
Or perhaps having worked in Chester I've seen how it brings out in those who are unwise enough to attend it, the worst traits in their personality, and then magnifies them.
Whatever it is, if some equine version of foot and mouth were to clear our racecourses forever more, I would drink to that happy, happy day in almost the same measure as those who imbibe with such gusto on what they annoyingly refer to as 'a day at the gee gees.'
Where to start, where to start.
First there are the men, some of whom are clearly not used to wearing a suit and who last pressed it into service around the time of their wedding, or court appearance, and who by the end of the day are much the worse for drink and have that hunted air of someone who has spent a lot on booze and even more on unsuccessful bets and who is now going to have to explain his demeanour and his bank balance to a disapproving spouse.
This state does not stop him from drinking even more as he makes his way home, thus rendering him belligerent, as well as broke. Not a happy combination at all.
Then there are the women. I would venture to use a cliché as cruel as mutton dressed as lamb, were it not for the injustice this does mutton.
They may have started the day looking sophisticated in their gauze creations topped by a feathered hat, but by the last race what elegance they had managed to muster has disappeared in an inebriated battle to stay aloft on heels that are probably a good two inches too high for them.
Put the two groups together and you have a rough approximation of what it must have been like to have Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde descending upon you, accompanied by the cackling camp followers.
And yet I'm sure that on any other day these people are quite respectable pillars of the community. They obviously have disposable income, because they are disposing of it with gay abandon, mostly on the basis of the fact they like the horse's name (more of those stupid names later).
These are the very people who, were a group of behooded teenagers to appear on their street corners, would be the first to summon the police to have the lot of them ASBOed lest the value of their houses be sullied by the presence of lumpen youth.
But if it's a choice between the behaviour of a hoodie, albeit sullen, and a boozed-up, boorish, racegoer, give me the Goth who wouldn't be seen dead, or should that be undead, with a copy of the Racing Post in his hand, any day of the week.
And then there are those silly little cardboard badges they give you for the races. Not a ticket, oh no, that's the sort of thing reserved for football matches.
No, if you're going to the races it has to be a badge and there are also gradations of badge available, according to which bits of the course you're allowed into, and if you've splashed out for an expensive badge then it will be big and gaudy and by God you're going to show it off by wearing it prominently displayed on your paunch. It's a sort of caste system of vulgarity, with those who aren't the pariahs in the cheap enclosure advertising the fact as openly as they can.
Of course, there is always one in any group going to the races who pretends to know more about the whole business than anyone else. He will arrive armed with a few tips, which he will divulge to a favoured few, who will then bet more than they should while describing it as a ‘little flutter.’
Then there are the bookies.
Occasionally you are invited to sympathise with these vultures when some 100-1 shot romps home (shot, romps home, give me strength, I've become infected with the language these people use as well – try 'wins')
“It's been a bad day for the bookies,” some chump newsreader will intone when informing us of the unlikely victory.
Oh really? Bad day eh?
Any of them gone out of business then?
Any of them unable to put food on the table as a result of charitable odds they gave their loyal punters even though they knew it would cost them dear?
Any of them not going to be back at the next race meeting because bookmaking, it's a mug's game that they only did for love, now they're going off to be a potter?
Licensed pirates the lot of them, only pirates had the decency to fly the skull and cross bones to warn victims of their intent.
And as for those who actually own horses, well, I might be a little more convinced of their love of the beasts were they not so quick to administer the coup de grace when a horse suffers an injury which would not end its life, but does curtail its earning potential.
And the names they give them are only excused by the fact that horses are so stupid they have no real concept of what their name is so it doesn't matter what you call them anyway. Unless you've got a carrot in your hand, or a sugarlump, the only thing that stirs what little grey matter a horse possesses is a horse of the opposite sex.
Given a choice a horse would amble about a field and eat grass all day long. When coaxed, with a whip, they will run moderately fast for short distances, but not as fast as anything equipped with an internal combustion engine.
If they were invented now how would you convince an incredulous public to take them seriously? Horses – not as fast as a 50cc scooter and more expensive to run. I can't see them troubling the execs at Honda anytime soon, can you?
Naturally there will be those out there who say that I do not understand the 'sport of kings' and they are quite right, and nor do I want to.
Sport of Kings? It is the class system writ large and reeks of snobbery. From the exile of those who cannot afford to bet yet still do to the cheap seats, to the fawning over the so-called gentry by those who have managed to get themselves into an enclosure above their station.
And Royal Ascot. About as regal as a night out on Blackpool prom with ridiculous women in ridiculous hats posing for press photographers who, year-in, year-out, will turn out the same pictures of the same 'fillies' in the same daft hats, and worse, men trying to look like they belong in a top hat..
There, got that off my chest. Next week….Showjumping.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Column, August 22, 2006

THERE is something fitting about the English sending us their rubbish to be deposited in large holes left after they extracted whatever useful that once resided there.
They left us a legacy of large, worked-out quarries and so I suppose that, in a way, it’s thoughtful of them to come up with a handy way of filling them up.
The world is built with Welsh brick and roofed with Welsh slate, so there’s a kind of symmetry to them sending us something to put back into them. Just slightly sad that it wasn’t something a little more desirable than millions of tonnes of rubbish.
I’m not objecting to us taking it because it’s English rubbish mind you. I’d like to know the figures for how much rubbish is exported from Wales to English landfill sites before I sallied forth on my high horse.
I suspect though that, as a predominantly rural nation without the huge urban sprawls generating the vast mountains of rubbish that English cities do, we are a net importer of rubbish – with more coming in than ever goes out.
You also have to be ever so slightly careful about levelling such criticism against a neighbour as near as Liverpool.
The city was built by the Welsh. We even held eisteddfodau over the water in Birkenhead. So many of its present residents who are generating the rubbish to be dumped in Hafod Quarry, near Wrexham, are Welsh by parentage, if not by birthplace. At least they’re sending something to the old country.
As the nearest large city to North Wales it still provides a ready source of employment to many young people, so it’s a little difficult to object to disposing of rubbish from them that would have been coming our way anyway had they stayed.
So those fulminating against the idea of English rubbish sullying our pristine Welsh landfill sites ought, perhaps, to take a deep breath and – in the words of those Scousers who would foist their refuse upon us – calm down.
But what is objectionable is the fact that we seem to have no control over what rubbish is dumped in our back yard at all.
This is clear from the fact that rather than our Assembly dealing with this matter, as it should, it has taken the redoubtable Martyn Jones, who has had to ask for a meeting with Environment minister David Milliband to try to sort this out.
You’ll note that this a Westminster MP talking to a Westminster minister. Presumably this is one of those irritating things that remains the preserve of the London parliament and so despite the Assembly’s ability to talk, oh my how they can talk, this is not one of the things they can talk about.
Or rather, they might be able to talk about it, but there is precious little they can do about it. And there should be something they can do about it.
The UK as a whole has a scandalous record when it comes to recycling its rubbish, preferring instead to burn or bury it, resulting in massive landfill sites stroing up who knows what problems for the future, or incinerators belching out who knows what into the atmosphere.
One authority which set up a high-profile recycling scheme was even found to be shipping the supposedly recycled rubbish off to India for sorting violating all manner of international treaties governing what rubbish can be shipped where.
But it seems that if you want to ship your rubbish to Wales then come one, come all, plenty of room here. And if Liverpool can do it, then you wonder where else is eying up our redundant quarries in the hope they will provide a home for their unwanted waste.
I’VE written before about the joys of the correspondence that this column attracts. Some of it a real pleasure to read, and not just when people are agreeing with me.
But now an again you get the odd, the very odd, letter or e-mail that just rocks you back on your heels.
The latest comes from someone who believes he has something useful to add to the discussion about the Rhyl Cycling Club tragedy.
In his email ‘Mr Williams’ says: “To look at both sides of the coin I do not believe it was a wise decision by the Rhyl Club to organise an outing on such a frosty morning with icy roads. There are faults with both sides.”
In other words, we’re all fine to share the roads when the conditions are fine, but if it a bit nippy then the roads become the preserve of the people who have the only real right to be there – the motorist.
So that’s cyclists put in their place then, save your weird habit for when it’s sunny.
As I said, as more and more people take up cycling the nation is dividing into those who know what it’s like to ride a bike on public roads and those who don’t.
And I know which of those groups makes the better car drivers as a result.

NOT Entirely Surprising News – an Iraqi NCO being trained in Wales has decided that, on balance, he prefers the peace and quiet of Wales to the civil war of his home country.
He and an Iraqi interpreter on a night out in Cardiff at the end of their training course, failed to turn up for their passing out parade, after which they would be shipped back to the war zone that is their country.
So, the choice confronting them was a simple one – do your duty and go back to the war zone that is your home country. Or continue enjoying the welcome in the hillsides, or anywhere else you could evade detection for that matter.
Hmm, Brecon or Baghdad, Brecon or Baghdad – it’s a poser I’m sure you’ll agree. But on balance I think you and I would choose the place where there was less chance of meeting a grisly death by decapitation or power drill.
I’m sure their superiors back in Baghdad won’t see it this way, but at least his British training taught this NCO to use his initiative.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Column, August 15, 2006

TRUST is like money in the bank.
When you’ve got a lot of it – for instance, if you’re a new government, elected to replace a clapped-out, sleaze-encrusted, snouts-in-the-trough bunch of Tories – there might be a temptation to get a bit cocky.
You’re like a wide-boy bond trader in the City, flashing his cash and spend, spend, spending. Of course, governments don’t spend trust by buying a new Porsche, no, they go to the Bank of Trust, enter their PIN and take out enough to take us to war – two, three, or even four times.
And all the time the bank manager is watching your account diminish gradually. You might make a deposit now and again, throw the electorate the odd bone by fulfilling an election promise or too, albeit half-heartedly and not quite how you said you would do it.
But slowly, steadily, you sink into the red, and when you tell the public something, they give you that look that people gave Pinocchio when he started telling porkies.
And you have to say that this government has got form for being economical with the truth. How long have we been in Iraq now? And how many British soldiers have died there? And why did we go there? And just how many weapons of mass destruction have we found?
The answers to those posers, as you won’t get them from a fork-tongued government minister are as follows: Three years; 115; Who knows, but if you believe the official version it was because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction; none, zip, nada, not a sausage, a big fat zero on the WMD count.
So when you wake up to BBC Breakfast to find ‘Dr’ John Reid, home secretary, looking at you grim-faced and telling you that it was about to start raining planes but for the prompt action of our police and security services – your first reaction is to check the length of his nose.
And for a moment I thought it was bring your son to work day, when Dr John made his statement, but no, it was no fresh-faced schoolboy sitting next to him, it was little Dougie Alexander doing his best to look stern or it would be lines for him after school.
Then we had the ridiculous, gurning performance of John Prescott trying to look statesmanlike, and failing, when he said his piece later on. John was apparently ‘incandescent’ at the suggestion he had been sidelined in all of this.
It shows just how bankrupt this government are of our trust when I was rather hoping Blair would come back from his hols because I would rather have him in charge than a bunch of bickering schoolboys vying for position after his departure.
You see the Great British Public (© John Prescott when he’s belatedly sucking up to us having had his thunder stolen by so-called Cabinet colleagues) does not like being taken for a ride.
It will be very interesting to see, if an when this plot comes to trial, just how far advanced it was and whether the alleged plotters had anything with which they could bring down a plane. Or was it still in the realms of a theological discussion debated alongside just how many virgins awaited them in the hereafter (and while we’re at it, if the number of female virgins in Heaven outnumbered the men by 72 to 1, wouldn't the human race have died out somewhere in the Dark Ages? Just a thought…carry on)
As I travelled by train on the day of the police raids, the talk in the carriage was not of the arrests and the possibility that 10 planes may have been blown out of the sky, but whether this was another government ruse to scare the willies up the Great British Public (© Prezza).
And they don’t help their case when, not 24 hours later, their minions start briefing the media about how this proves we need ID cards and 90-day detention for terror suspects. They truly take us all for a bunch of mugs.
The problem this government has is that it has made a miscalculation about just how bellicose the British are. I disagree completely with these wet liberals who claim we are a peace-loving nation. History is littered with the corpses of people who underestimated just how much we liked scrapping.
And when I say we, I mean we, because the British Empire was won by sending large numbers of Welsh and Scots abroad to win it.
But we like to have a good reason for the aforesaid scrapping and most of all we like to win. Committing us to open-ended foul-ups like Iraq where our troops are Aunt Sallies for every insurgent who can lay his hand on a rocket-propelled-grenade is not good tactics.
Sending our troops in with rifles that don’t work, boots that melt, not enough armour and too few helicopters is, in a word, indefensible.
But worst of all is lying to us about why we were going there in the first place. Then, when a real threat emerges, possibly such as the one which happened last week, rather than trusting our government to serve our best interests, we wonder whether to believe them or not.

FOR a group that have a reputation as the hard men, and women, of the road, bikers are a touchy bunch. Suggest, as I did, that they don’t all meekly stick to the speed limit and instead overtake on blind bends as if North Wales was an extension of the Isle of Man TT and they’ll fill your e-mail inbox with their electronic whinging.
North Wales deputy chief constable Clive Wolfendale had the temerity to suggest on his North Wales Police weblog that a peaceful holiday in the Lakes had been somewhat marred by the high-pitched whine of motorbikes. An issue which he said the Lakes shared with Snowdonia.
The British Motorcycle Federation said that this was somehow against the rules, that he was using official police resources – the blog – to promote personal opinion.
So, instead of engaging in a debate about the merits or otherwise of motorcycle noise, the BMF’s attitude is simply to say Clive Wolfendale shouldn’t have said what he said, on a North Wales Police blog.
So they’re not even shooting the messenger, they’re shooting the means by which the messenger delivered the message. Like I said, they’re a rum bunch. Perhaps it’s the high-pitched whine of their engines – gets to you after a while.

Column, August 8, 2006

LIFE'S cheap when you're a cyclist.
In fact it's worth a few quid and six penalty points.
The relatives and friends of the four members of Rhyl Cycling Club have been dignified in their silence since the accident that killed their loved ones.
They allowed the judicial process to take its course and what a fine day for British justice it was when we find the driver charged with having three defective tyres.
What's more, three defective tyres that did not contribute to the accident. So that's it then? Four lives lost and the driver involved gets a fine and a few penalty points. And not enough penalty points mind you to take him off the road, for as his solicitor explained, he would suffer extreme hardship if he lost his licence.
The magistrates could only sentence him for what he was charged with, and so that's what they duly did. The statement released by the families afterwards was the modicum of reason and dignity we have come to expect, expressing their disappointment with the decision to go with such a low charge.
Like them I await the inquest into this case with great interest, because the way things are going it is yet another example of no-one being to blame when cyclists come of worst.
It may well be that this was a pure accident. I just find it strange that when motorists come into conflict, their insurance companies somehow manage to work out who it is that's to blame. But when a cyclist gets involved in an accident, they have to accept that accidents happen.
And accidents do happen to cyclists in ever greater numbers nowadays don't they? Accidents involving injury and death to cyclists is the one group of accidents that is growing and yet we see case after case where drivers are able to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the accident.
How many times has a lorry driver/motorist/bus driver elegantly excused themselves for any blame for wiping a cyclist off their bike in one easy manoeuvre by claiming “I didn't see him/her.”
Has anyone in court thought of saying to them: “Yes, and that's because YOU WEREN'T LOOKING PROPERLY WERE YOU?!” And whenever I write these columns bemoaning the fact that drivers claim they can't see something that is actually bigger than a pedestrian, the letter writers come out of their holes.
I was particularly amused by the recent correspondent who complained about cyclists 'riding two abreast.' Gasp, is that the sound of Western civilisation crumbling round our ears I hear? What, two-abreast, as is allowed in the Highway Code? The fiends, you should have run them off the road, and if you didn't, don't worry, odds are someone will soon anyway.
And it isn't long before someone complains about us riding on pavements as well. Look, the reason anyone rides on a pavement is because it's probably been made to dangerous to go on the road in that particular stretch by selectively blind car drivers who don't give us enough room to ride.
There have even been calls recently by particularly idiotic correspondents in national newspapers, for cyclists to have number plates on their bikes, just like cars.
Oh yes, that's the answer to the carnage on our roads isn't it? Never mind about the 3,000 plus deaths caused by drivers every year, let's crack down on the handful of cyclists who cut up journalists on national newspapers shall we? And while we're at it, could
I have good reason to write this as up until recently I had confined most of my cycling to mountain biking on bridleways and tracks far from traffic.
However, a few months ago I decided to do part of my daily commute by bike. As this involved a train journey too, I bought a handy folding bike which would stow away on the train. This is essential on most train journeys as most train companies seem incapable of getting their heads round the idea that someone might want to carry a bike on their journey and so there's never enough room on their trains unless you're bike is junior size with stabilisers, or a folding bike that you an hide so that the conductor doesn't look at you like you're a terrorist attempting to cripple the railway system by means of a solitary bicycle.
Anyway, as if cycling wasn't bad enough, now I'm guilty of riding a 'weird' bike, and you know what that means don't you? Even less leeway given by buses, lorries and cars, that's what. Well, it's a small bike, with small wheels, so I need a small clearance don't I?
Alton Towers could introduce it as a new white-knuckle ride – BikeCommuter – it wouldn't be so bad if you were taking your life in your own hands, but you're placing your life in the hands of drivers who seem to find endless new ways of taking their eyes off the road.
I was travelling in the other day and I saw a woman leaning over into the centre of the car, while using the rear view mirror, I kid you not, to brush her hair – at 60mph.
Of course, if she had wiped anyone out while coiffing herself at the national speed limit, I somehow doubt her defence solicitor at trial would have highlighted her grooming habits and that if she was going to kill someone, she may as well do it with her parting in the right place.
No, no, hers would be the usual excuse – I didn't see the cyclist/the other car/the pedestrian/the barn door before I hit it.
I'm sure the driver of the car that killed the Rhyl cyclists is haunted by what happened, although, not, it's fair to say, as haunted as those who are bereaved.
While one doesn't want to launch a witch hunt of one driver, it would be nice, just once in a while, if the prosecuting authorities contemplated throwing the book at a driver involved in cyclists' deaths, instead of letting them off with what looks like the lowest charge available.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Column, August 1, 2006

WELL, having served my time in the trenches of show reporting I have to say I feel a little cheated.
I’ve done my bit for British agriculture – interviewed show judges who swear they can tell one sheep from another; talked to rosy-cheeked men who actually know what suckler premium means and picked my way between the cowpats in a search for elusive winning breeders.
Back in the day I developed the thousand-yard stare as the editor cast about the office for someone to send out in the agricultural hinterlands.
“Banks, you’ve got a pair of wellies haven’t you? I’ve got just the job for you.” And off I’d go into the fields to dutifully file my reports from the showground.
Now, I’m not making any claims to have been a hot-shot reporter, but I believe that if any pole-dancing had been going on, I might just have twigged it was a bit of a story. And anyway, even if I didn’t, I was usually paired with a photographer about as libidinous as a goat on heat and if any stripping had been going on he would have been in there snapping away for posterity and the darkroom wall.
So, now my show days are long behind me, trust the Royal Welsh to stage a show more akin to Vegas than the Valleys.
And trust the Royal Welsh to respond in a manner as po-faced too.
Investigations have been launched, action is being considered and a mountain is being constructed where once resided a molehill.
Gentlemen of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now as I am about to talk about thongs, and not the sort of thong you find on sandals.
After a celebration to mark Enzo Sauro’s winning of a contract to supply beef to M&S a young lady performed a striptease, on a table.
It gets worse.
She was then hosed down with water, shock, horror, with water used to clean the cattle.
Security staff who rushed to the scene – well, yes, they would wouldn’t they, I dare say I might have managed a brisk trot if I’d got wind of what was happening – struggled to grab hold of her slippery body.
Her thong, of which she had divested herself during the impromptu striptease (although there doesn’t seem to have been much teasing about it) was returned to he on the end of a pitchfork.
Past chairman of the Welsh Black Cattle Society OG Thomas was incensed, saying it ‘lowers the standards of the Royal Welsh.’
Mr Sauro has denied any connection with the strip, saying that what the young lady does in her social hours is up to her.
Anyway, witnesses were upset, the ‘incident’ was reported and now the WBCS is writing to all its 1,000 members about it.
Hopefully the change in the weather will allow those so quick to complain to cool down a bit.
This young woman might have hit upon the very answer to Wales’s ailing farming industry.
All the time we hear tales of young people leaving farming and the countryside for better-paid jobs in cities.
You don’t get pole-dancing in cattle-sheds when you do an office job now do you?
And let’s not be sexist about this, I’m sure there are plenty of buffed-up farm hands out there who could have entertained the ladies atop a table should they have been so minded on that hot night at the Royal Welsh.
They already had record crowds at the show this year. Wait until news of the extra entertainment gets out and watch them flocking in.
Alright, they might be seedy little men in dirty raincoats, but hey, paying visitors are paying visitors. And perhaps they can take up the baton in the WI tent – after all, they’ve got form for stripping off haven’t they?
This is an idea that’s got legs…and arms…and, well, you get the picture.
Why can’t the sheepdog trials join in too? Every time the dog makes a mistake, the shepherd loses an item of clothing. That would make them take care with their whistling wouldn’t it?
The Royal Welsh Show – Now With Added Nudity – I think we’re onto a winner.

NOT five months ago I wrote about the national media’s obsession with weather and its inability to distinguish between a wintry spell and a natural disaster that was going to freeze us all in our beds
I predicted that as summer approached the reverse would be true and a few consecutive days of sun would see the ‘Phew, what a scorcher’ headlines dusted off and lo and behold that’s what we’ve got.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with reporting that it’s hot, or that we’ve broken a few records, as happened on Anglesey a couple of weeks ago.
But where it gets slightly silly is when papers portray one hot summer as proof of global warming.
One irony of global warming is that, in all likelihood, Wales and the UK will actually get colder, because the Gulf Stream that warms our shores will stop flowing.
And can we please come up with some better advice to those wishing to cool down than ‘Drink plenty of water. Sit in the shade’ Millions of years of evolution have made us do that instinctively and anyone who doesn’t ought perhaps to lose their place in the gene pool anyway.
Britain is a temperate country and the hot weather will be followed by relentless wind, rain and grey cloud as autumn sets in.
Buy some ice cream and enjoy the weather while it lasts.

LAST week’s column about the paedophile protests in Plas Madoc brought a stream of complaints from those who took part.
Let’s be clear about a few thing shall we?
The people of that area have a right to protest, as I have a right to criticise them.
But as I said to those who complained to me in person – to simple say ‘Paedos Out’ doesn’t really come up with an answer to the problem. Nor does it show the protesters in the best light either.
No-one wants paedophile living in their midst. But unless they are jailed for life – and we can have a whole other debate about how many of them that should happen to – they are always going to be let out into some community somewhere.
If we sited special hostels for them away from all civilisation, they would simply abscond and then where would we be? What we as a society do with this sort of offender is a complex question and placard-waving doesn’t really get us anywhere near an answer.

Column, July 25, 2006

WHAT I want to know is where they get their placards from?
Does B&Q have a special aisle, between plasterboard and coving, labelled ‘Paedo Protest Materials’, where you’ll find a ready supply of cheap 2by4 timber and plywood sheeting and marker pens, slogans for the daubing of?
The paedo protesters were out in force at the weekend. Well, what would you do on one of the hottest days of the year, lie in a darkened room with the fan blowing full pelt, or take to the streets to make your feelings known about the paedos? (You’re against them, just in case you’re wondering, no-one is in favour of paedos except judges, social workers, probation officers and wet liberals)
There they were in Plas Madoc, Wrexham, outside the Plas y Wern bail hostel, 50 protesters with their placards out.
One of them even read ‘No More Paedos’, as if someone was actually suggesting it as a policy – ‘You know Plas Madoc. It’s lacking that certain je ne sais quoi, I’ve got it, more paedos, that’s what it needs.’
Apparently the protesters were concerned about the bail hostel’s proximity to primary and secondary schools in the area.
Well, yes, if you place any building, in any reasonably urban area in the UK there are going to be primary and secondary schools nearby, because, you know what, a lot of people who live in towns have got kids and they need educating somewhere.
So, why not put the bail hostels up on the moors somewhere, where the only thing to excite the perverts is the occasional red-socked rambler?
I’m no expert in penal policy, but, I’m guessing that it’s because the assorted ne’er-do-wells, rogues and, never forgetting, peedyphiles, would up sticks and do a runner in an effort to get back to civilisation.
Some of them might get caught, some of them wouldn’t, and some of them might end up living in Plas Madoc, where no-one would know they were a paedophile and so they would be more able to offend again than if they are under the supervision of the probation service.
I appreciate that the residents of that area are not going to be happy that sex offenders are in their midst, and I write this as a father of two children. If someone wanted to open such a facility in my village I’d hardly be thrilled.
However, I’m capable of appreciating the logic that if they are going to be anywhere, it’s best that they are under some sort of supervision then not.
Unless of course you hold the view that all paedophiles should be locked up for the rest of their lives. Some, the most serious, are, but others aren’t. No-one with a reasonable knowledge of penal policy would suggest that we should do that and to do so would entail a prison-building programme on a scale last seen in Stalinist Russia.
And you know what happens then don’t you – protesters, placards, ‘No to the Prison in our back yard’.
So, we could just hang them all I suppose, and the, regrettably, Welsh mob who daubed paint on a paediatrician’s house, paediatrician, paedo, all the same aren’t they? – would no doubt approve of such a plan.
But if you hang paedophiles, then what do you do to murderers? Hang them as well…twice?
No, the last time I checked we did have ambitions of being a civilised society and while paedophiles commit utterly disgusting crimes, the law takes the view that there are more and less serious offences.
For example, those placed on the sex offenders register include predatory paedophiles who sexually abuse and kill a child, as well as a 16-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old child. Both are offenders, but I’m sure most of us are capable of distinguishing between the two and seeing who poses the most risk to our children.
Those who are a serious danger to the community should remain incarcerated until they are no longer a danger. Those who pose less risk should be allowed out once they have done their time, but under strict supervision.
And this is where the Plas y Wern hostel comes in. The local MP, Martyn Jones, a man who has been in the job long enough not to be fobbed off by any civil servant, has received assurances that serious sex offenders are not being kept at the hostel.
I think it’s time the residents of Plas Madoc binned the placards and cooled down.

AS I sat down to write this my attention was momentarily diverted by two low-flying jets that passed so close over my house I could count the fillings in the pilots’ teeth.
I am working on convincing Banks junior that the RAF are nothing to fear, as their daily approach is usually greeted by his flying into my arms in alarm.
“The RAF are there to protect us,” I tell him, “So we should just wave to them.”
He’s slowly coming round to the idea. I’ve skated over the fact that the occasional F-15 is an American plane. He’s a bit young for “Well son, we’ve allowed ourselves to be a runway for a global superpower and it’s the price you pay for the Prime Minister being Bush’s poodle.”
Anyhow, I’m sure many of you have experienced a few flights out of RAF Valley, seemingly skimming the trees.
The MoD website makes it ridiculously easy to complain about such things, but before you reach for your keyboard, consider the example of Wing Commander ‘Grumpy’ Unwin, who departed of this world last month.
A hero of the Battle of Britain, whose courage earnt him the Distinguished Flying Medal…twice, and he was confirmed as shooting down 14 enemy aircraft, although he probably accounted for more.
Here was truly one of Winston Churchill’s few. In his later years he became the Permanent President of the Courts Martial and he said: “I presided over 300 courts martial, and not one chap was found guilty of low flying.” So, before you put pen to paper, or log on, to complain about the jet that has just momentarily disturbed your peace, remember Grumpy Unwin, and the men and women in our skies doing the same duty he performed so well.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Column, July 18, 2006

I’M not sure at what point the panic set in. Perhaps it was when Mrs Banks told me that our best-laid plans of going into hospital to have our second baby had gone awry and that, on reflection, our dining room floor was as good as a delivery room.
Or maybe it was when, while on the phone to the ambulance controller, telling her that half an hour was really and awfully, awfully long time to wait for an ambulance, that I had to inform her that the head was crowning and that after a long and varied career in journalism I was about to embark on an adventure in midwifery.
It’s then that you find out why, on the old movies, they always shout for hot water and towels when a woman is about to give birth.
Towels to try to save the carpets, and hot water to start scrubbing them presumably. Perhaps, as he made his way into the world, William Kit Banks had an inkling that having daddy as a catcher was not a good idea, after all his nickname as a rugby player was Teflon, due to the non-stick nature of his hands when catching the ball.
So he held on until the ambulance crew arrived. But you form your opinions of these crews from Casualty and you expect them to have delivered dozens of babies, usually in the midst of some other disaster that has grim-reaped the citizenry of Holby yet again.
It was a good job than that Daniel the ambulanceman, sorry, don’t know his surname – hey, give me a break, it wasn’t a moment to be taking shorthand notes – informed us after William’s arrival that this had only been his second delivery and that he had only had a day’s training in just what was expected of him.
So given the fact that William is our second child I was about as experienced as the man who turned out to be our midwife.
Son Number 1, at three years of age, showed admirable grace under pressure, running in and out with grandma to check if the ambulance had arrived, ie, something useful, unlike dad who confined himself to reminding the mum-to-be to breath, something which given the noise levels in the room at the time, she was perfectly capable of doing unprompted.
Once the ambulance crew arrived Son Number 1 sat across the room with a grandstand view and proceeded to click away with his camera. Fortunately for Mrs B’s dignity he did this without the benefit of film, but a promising career as a photojournalist beckons methinks.
Quite what he made of it all I’m not sure, but he didn’t seem quite as traumatised about it as dad who was a blubbing fool when presented with his new son. Safe to say junior’s theory that the baby would emerge ‘through mummy’s tummy button’ was well and truly shattered that day.
I’m informed that he looks like me, but what people are basically saying when they tell you that, is that you’re a bit chubby, your hair is thinning and your toilet habits leave a lot to be desired.
William is, of course, a bundle of unadulterated joy, which is a good job given his ability at not one week old to deprive both parents of a wink of sleep.
And it’s only in the aftermath that you get an inkling of the mysterious ways in which women’s minds move. Bear in mind that Son Number 1 was born after an ambulance trip between hospitals with mum and unborn son hooked up to monitors. Son Number 2 lays waste to the dining room lovingly renovated over a year by his mum and dad.
Not 24 hours later, having cleared what Grandad told us ‘looked like a field hospital’, Mrs Banks in all seriousness turned to me and said: “You can see why people have three.”
Anyway, despite the drama, both mum and son, 8lbs 13½ozs for those of you who keep score, are doing fine. Dad’s still a wreck.

A MONTH or so ago I wrote about an event in memory of one of my former teachers, Valmai Antrobus, who died of cancer. Delia Bettaney, another of the teachers from my old school, Hawarden High, opened her gardens to the public to raise money for Nightingale House, the hospice that cared for Mrs Antrobus.
I’m very pleased to tell you that Mrs Bettaney’s event raised £1,100. A great contribution to a worthy cause and a fitting tribute to a much-loved teacher.

I CAN’T say the bosses at Burger king will weep to read this. After all, I’m hardly a fan of their products and none of their franchises are going to go bust through my continuing failure to ever darken their doors.
But the way they treated a little Welsh firm that makes flapjacks makes the idea of tasting their flame-grilled monstrosities every more unlikely.
You see the Corwen-based firm, Wholebake, decided to call one of its products a ‘Whopper’. Because that’s what it was, a big flapjack. No, no wrote Burger King, you’ll find that the only Whopper being eaten legally here is the big meaty one in a bun. Cease and desist.
Wholebake, not having the funds to do battle with Burger King has withdrawn from the fray and renamed their product. But you have to wonder at the mentality of whichever of His Highness’s flunkies took this action.
Are they seriously saying that one of their loyal customers, walking down the high street, intent on treating himself to a whopper, with fries, and Coke, hey, make that large fries, large Coke and one of those apple pies as hot as the centre of the Sun, is going to be misled into buying a flapjack instead of a burger?
It might actually do them some good if they were, but despite the damage to your health overindulgence in burgers will inflict, I’ve yet to hear that it renders consumers incapable of distinguishing beef from oats.
But hey, maybe they’re telling us something about the taste of their product, or lack of it. Anyway, my advice next time you want a Whopper, buy the one that’s better for you, buy the one that’s made by Wholebake

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Column, July 11, 2006

THE future of small schools in Gwynedd hangs in the balance. As with any of these things there are lots of options on the table, but no-one seems to be talking about actually keeping small schools open.
It seems inevitable that some will close their doors to become pricey conversions for the well-to-do, no doubt prompting protests about incomers undermining the very communities that the schools used to serve.
Of course there’s a consultation exercise going on to try to find a solution, and no doubt much hand-wringing going on at meetings.
The sad thing is that small schools do a very good job. Every study you see of pupil achievement confirms that children thrive in smaller classes where they get more individual attention. No great surprise there, but they also cost more.
And as the pupil rolls fall the cost per head goes up until finally the council bean-counters can be contained no longer and the close their doors.
There is, of course, another solution to this problem, but in Wales we tip-toe round it as if it where some great taboo.
And the solution goes back to those dratted incomers buying up the converted schools. We need more people to join our communities. And a lot of those people are going to need to be English. As long as Liverpool, Manchester, London and even Cardiff continue to generate the huge number of jobs that they do, Wales will always see a net migration away of young people.
Let’s face it, what would you do? You’re straight out of school or university, you’ve got qualifications and the choice is stay in Wales where there are no jobs or what jobs there are are poorly paid, or look over the border to a big city where you can take your pick, find a house and get a start in life.
I know that educational standards are slipping but believe me, young people are not that stupid. Of course they are moving away from Wales and who can blame them for that, they have to live.
So we either fiddle while Rome burns, or should that be while Gwynedd empties, or we accept what is happening and try to find ways to remedy the situation.
One way is to recognise that after 10 or so years of living in and around cities, sometimes people tire of the crowds, crime and congestion and hanker after a simpler life. The constant talk nowadays is quality of life and work life balance.
Families would actually like to live in Wales. Some of those families are English. The big barrier to living in Wales, particularly the West of Wales has always been communications. The A55 on a Friday is a great disincentive to those who might think of commuting.
But more and more people are able to work from home now thanks to broadband computer links that make it as easy for them to be there as in an office.
Where would you rather work every day, in an office in city-centre Liverpool, or with a view of the Menai Straits. North Wales undersells itself as a place to live and work because it has become politically awkward to talk about inviting inward migration.
Instead we fiddle round the edges trying to come up with ways of tempting young people to stay, rather than accepting they are going to leave.
What we should be doing is making sure that when they want to return and start a family they are able to do so. Instead of bemoaning the fact that young people can’t afford a home in the community they were born in – which is frankly a bit unhealthy anyway – we should celebrate the fact they’re off into the wide world and welcome them when they want to come home.
Communities need new blood and it matters not a jot to me whether that’s English, Welsh or any other nationality for that matter.
Once you’ve convinced people that Wales is a good place to live, then you can concentrate on the argument about the language. Not the other way round.
At present the message being given to people who think of coming to Wales is that they’re not welcome because they are a threat to the continued existence of the language.
So you can review the future of schools all you want, but remember, a school is just a building, the important thing are the children who pass through it. Without them it may as well be a house for the well-heeled.
Until we accept that on the present model of Welsh society our traditional communities are dying, we will do nothing to halt their decline.
Unless they change they are truly doomed and more schools will close their doors.

MY poetic correspondent D Evans, the Laureate of footballing verse, has put pen to paper once more.
“From Swansea’s own DVLA,
I’ve had a letter just to say,
That drivers with a low IQ,
Are dangerous to me and you,
So, to avoid an accident,
The following was sent,
They fly a flag and so beware,
When first you see the flag take care,
Don’t lose you cool, be at a loss,
It’s a big white flag, with a big red cross.”

Spot-on once again Mr Evans. Always like a spot of the old poetry in the column. He is Pam Ayres to my, erm, Esther Rantzen. An analogy I will proceed with no further.

I’VE written here before about the irresponsibility of the chattering classes who whipped up fears about the MMR vaccine.
On the basis of no scientific evidence whatsoever they perpetuated the myth that there was a link between MMR and autism when there was none.
As a result of their selfish stupidity we now have measles outbreaks in this country where before there were none. Now it emerges there is an even greater threat resulting from the claptrap they propagate. The rumours of MMR’s link to autism have reached developing countries, as a result MMR uptake is dropping. Measles may not be the killer in the West it once was, but in the Third World it kills 1,000 children every single day.
Those who have given credence to the lie that there is a link between autism and MMR ought to think about how many of those lives would have been saved but for their superstitious nonsense.