Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Column, May 16, 2006

I EXPECT so little of government in Wales, and yet it never fails to disappoint me.
The latest masterpiece of municipal jiggery-pokery is a land-grab that would make the bloke who bought New York off the Indians for $24 blush with shame.
Denbighshire is, reportedly, planning to sell out the playing field from beneath the skipping feet of the children who live near Marine Road, Prestatyn.
Apparently the land was gifted to the children of the town by an ancestor of Lord Aberconwy, but let’s not let that stand in the way of progress and a plan for flats linked to the unpopular sell-off of the town’s community hospital.
You have to stand back and admire the bare-faced cheek of it all I suppose, and you wouldn’t mind so much if another branch of Welsh government wasn’t trying to move in the opposite direction.
You see, in January last year, the Welsh Assembly Government published a document called ‘Climbing Higher’ - all about fitness levels in Wales. Lots of it is statements of the absolutely bloomin’ obvious, such as "Active people are more healthy", or "medical research has established the link between sport, physical activity and health." Groundbreaking stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree, why its author isn’t up for a Nobel prize is anyone’s guess.
But, to be fair, as well as this the document actually commits the assembly government to a few targets, one of which makes for interesting reading.
"No-one should live more than a six-minute walk (300m) from their nearest natural green space."
Now, I’m unsure whether a playing field counts as a ‘natural’ green space - a loophole through which the burghers of Denbighshire might nimbly leap. But nevertheless, while Cardiff is doing its bit to make us healthier, the councillors on the ground are selling the ground from beneath our feet.
Of course, Denbighshire isn’t the first to realise that playing fields can make a healthy, albeit temporary, addition to council coffers. They are not alone in eyeing up swings and roundabouts and realising they have a greater monetary value when replaced with bricks and mortar.
One playing field is hardly going to save the nation from obesity, but if all councils behave as Denbighshire wants to then the net effect is a bad one for children’s health.
Hardly a week goes by when we aren’t assailed by statistics telling us how unhealthy we are as a nation. One set of figures had six out of ten men in North Wales reporting themselves as overweight or obese - reporting themselves, mind, so you can add a couple more who were sucking their gut in and kidding themselves they were as fit now as they were when they were 14.
Collectively we are eating ourselves into an early grave on a diet of chips, burgers and pizza, consumed while devouring daytime TV.
It’s all very well the assembly government coming up with initiatives and schemes to help us get fitter, but the message has to be delivered before the damage is done.
Part of the problem is that those tackling poor health tend to come up with over-the-top solutions - such as outdoor adventure weekends, windsurfing or kayaking. All very worthy and great to take part in, but you can’t just pick up a kayak and go for a ten minutes kayaking on your nearest river.
Whereas if you’ve got a patch of green space, doesn’t have to be very much, you can play football, or rugby, or if you must, cricket, or you can go for a run, or even a walk.
All very simple, costs not very much at all in the way of equipment or organisation. All it needs is a bit of grass seed, the occasional mow and a sharp slap on the wrist to short-sighted councillors who want to see a For Sale sign on it.
The habit of fitness is picked up in youth - but if kids don’t have anywhere to play they’ll find other, less physical activities to keep themselves amused. It is hard enough to pry them away from their Playstations, but if they genuinely have nowhere else to go then a parent has no chance.
Still perhaps Denbighshire has shown the parents of Marine Road the way - after all, they aren’t the only ones who can grab land.
All they have to do is find another bit of land where nothing very useful is going on, register ownership, call in the demolition men, and grass it over. My tip - county hall, Wynnstay Road, Ruthin.

ARCHDRUID Huw Goronwy wants towns in Wales to twin with each other to promote cultural growth.
How’s that going to work then?
I always thought that twinning involved exposing yourself to another culture, language and way of life in an effort to broaden one’s mind.
Imagine the scene, the first group of twinners from Bangor, arrive, bags in hand, at their twin-town, Porthmadog.
"So, what’s the local speciality to eat here then…..oh….lamb."
"What drinks can you tempt us with then? Ah, bitter…or lager."
"And tonight you’ve laid on traditional folk music for us with…Dafydd Iwan…you’re really spoiling now."
"So tomorrow you’ve got a tour of the local beaches laid on…that’s….fantastic."
"Has anyone got the number of a taxi firm?"
The clich├ęd view of twinning arrangements is that it is just a junket for councillors. But while I carry no torch for freeloading councillors, I’m always a little wary of criticising junketing, as journalists are the greatest beneficiaries evermore of hospitality at another’s expense. Here I’ll declare my own interest having benefited from trips to Germany, Tunisia, France and the States - and in a couple of years when I must have seriously blotted my copybook with the editor - Bulgaria and the Isle of Man…in winter.
But genuine twin town arrangements, where schools and other community groups forge links with people whose experiences are genuinely different to their own, can only be beneficial.
The danger with Huw Goronwy’s idea is that a nation which already spends too much time looking inward, could become more insular than ever.


Rhys Wynne said...

One one hand I see what you're saying about councilors going on jollies. But rather than Bangor twinnign with Porthmadog, I could see benefits of Bala twinning with Blackwood. Many people in the south east have never travelled further than Breacon and know very little about their own country. Last year I went with a group of Welsh learners from th south east to Bala and they loved it, being able to use their Welsh with every stranger they met and in all the shops and pubs - something they can't do at home.

Getting to know more about languages and cultures of places far away is very important, be equally so is knowing your own country - it's not an either/or issue in my view.

Banksy said...

Exactly, so the idea is ok, as long as it doesn't interfere with traditional twinning arrangements.