Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Column, June 27, 2006

IF any accident victims deserve a memorial then surely it is those who lost their lives when out on their bikes with Rhyl Cycling Club.
Plans are still in hand for what form that memorial might take and the club is, quite rightly, consulting the families of those who were killed to take into account their wishes.
The deaths of Maurice Broadbent, Dave Horrocks, Wayne Wilkes and 14-year-old Thomas Harland has understandably united cyclists across the country and the club has received donations from far and near for the fund set up in their memory.
The precise details of why this accident happened remain to be probed by an inquest and a trial, but one thing it has shown is the fragility of cyclists who take to the roads.
This week we have learnt that the UK government is not on course to meet its target of trebling the number of trips made by bike by 2010. In fact since the government made that commitment, cycle use has actually fallen.
It’s easy to see why that is, after all, if you are a parent, how happy are you to see your kids go out on a bike nowadays?
And let’s face it, it’s not the weather that’s worrying you, or the fear that your child might develop a tendency to dress in dayglo lycra.
No, the thing that worries you is what might happen to them on the roads. No matter how careful they are, no matter how well versed they are in the rules of the road, you cannot account for how safe those roads are.
Cycling any distance opens your eyes to just how appalling the standards of driving are in this country. In fact it might be an idea, before you allow anyone to even have a provisional driving licence, to require them to cycle everywhere for a year, just to show them how terrifying it can be when confronted by drivers oblivious to anything other than other car drivers.
It might do something to improve driver behaviour if they have an awareness of what it is to be vulnerable. Part of the problem is that modern cars are so comfortable, sound-proofed, air-conditioned and powerful that the driver loses touch with the outside world, cocooned in a metal cage.
This creates a sense of security which is only ever punctured in an accident that shows them just how little protection that steel cage affords them.
And if a car affords little protection, imagine how vulnerable you are on nothing more than a few steel tubes and a couple of wheels.
It’s going to take more than the leader of the Tory party cycling to and from Westminster to make this country fall back in love with the bike, especially when we learn that ‘Dave’ Cameron has a car following on, carrying his shoes, briefcase and a change of shirt.
Many journeys made by car could equally well be made by bike – better for the environment and better for the cyclist’s health and wallet. But it’s hard convincing people of those benefits when they know that a trip to the shops will be a white-knuckle ride worthy of Alton Towers.
So a memorial to the riders of Rhyl Cycling Club would be well worthwhile. Firstly as a focus for those who knew them and as a mark of respect. But secondly as a reminder to those passing that cyclists are just about the most vulnerable of our road users.
The French memorialise those who lose their lives on the road more anonymously. If you travel any of the country roads there you will see silhouettes of men women and children dotted here and there – indications of victims of crashes on the particular stretch of road. Macabre, but very effective.
If a memorial to the Rhyl cyclists makes more motorists take more care then it will truly serve their memory well.

I DO enjoy the occasional contribution from readers, especially when they are moved to write in verse. David Evans puts pen to paper on the subject of the England team, following the revelation that unlike bandwagon jumping politicians with their eye on Number 10 Downing Street, I am not supporting England in their forlorn attempt to win the World Cup.
Mr Evans writes: “Ingerland, Ingerland It’s the same old story, Surely you have little hope, And certainly no Glory.” Masterful, Mr Evans, masterful, and all the more appropriate when we hear that 100 England fans were arrested for racially abusing other fans and hurling chairs from the balcony of a restaurant at them.
It was, of course, inevitable given previous form and you only have to wonder at the news coverage of their behaviour which greeted their beer-sodden antics with relief as long as they weren’t knocking lumps out of other fans or one another. It comes to something when you’re grateful that your countrymen are merely behaving like boorish louts and not boorish, violent louts.
Classy behaviour, and little wonder that the German authorities are wondering if they behave this badly when they win, albeit unconvincingly, what are they going to be like when England lose a match?

BUT to return to happier World Cup matters, my chosen team, Ghana, continue their march to glory with a supreme performance against the USA who were duly sent home humbled.
Now the Black Stars have only the small matter of …erm…Brazil, to get past this evening. But look, the Brazilians have hardly been firing on all cylinders have they and anything is possible. Keep the faith. If they pull off a sporting miracle then they face France or Spain in the quarter finals and then, oh so sweet, England in the semis, that is making the rather large assumption that England will beat Portugal in their quarter final.

Trounced by Brazil and out they go. Still, good while they lasted.
So, now, who to support next?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Column, June 20, 2006

HORLICKS is running and ad campaign at the moment depicting the UK’s least popular professions, asking how they sleep at night.
You may have seen them, they depict a traffic warden slapping a ticket on a car moments after its meter time elapses and poses the question, "How do they sleep at night." Cue film of the warden, mug of Horlicks in hand, thus answering the question.
But this week we’ve found one profession, which surely plumbs even greater depths of unpopularity than traffic wardens, estate agents, and politicians – car clampers.
Journalists, strangely enough, don’t even make an appearance in the bottom 10.
Ask yourself how you would sleep at night if you were the clamper who immobilised the car of district nurse Virginia Williams, of Queensferry.
Here I should declare an interest, because Virginia Williams was my neighbour for many years. Not that that makes a difference, if you clamp nurses on their way to patients then you’re going to have some answering to do in the great hereafter as far as I’m concerned.
So what you may say, why should a nurse get special treatment?
A nurse who was on her way to a patient, and who was calling at a pharmacy to pick up medication for the patient who was in considerable pain.
A district nurse who was then delayed 45 minutes in getting to that patient because she had to come up with £75 to pay the clamper before her vehicle was released.
"I tried to appeal to his better nature but he didn’t have one," said Mrs Williams, in a neat piece of understatement.
So, how does someone like that sleep at night, and how do the people who have since rejected her appeal against the charge?
I would think they are single-handedly keeping the malty night-time drinks industry in business.
I wonder what that particular clamper said to his children when they inquired: "What did you do today dad?" How did he spin what he did to make his son proud of his dad clamping a nurse on her way to a pain-ridden patient?
"This evil nurse son, she was cruelly and wantonly occupying a parking space while buying drugs, but I taught her, she won’t put patients before parking any time soon, ha ha ha ha."
It will make for an interesting morning when the lad share with his friends just what dad does for a living won’t it? The sons of doctors, lawyer, MPs, bank robbers and estate agents are going to be well impressed with his boats about his dad’s prowess in immobilising nurses on their way to treat patients aren’t they?
Quite why these legalised bandits have not been run out of town by our legislators is anyone’s guess, they often promise crackdowns on their behaviour, but Virginia Williams’s case shows that it’s all talk and no action.
Of course the clampers will argue they are just providing a service and the parking space belonged to someone.
Quite true, but clamping doesn’t exactly free up the space does it? In fact in this case it kept the car there for 45 minutes while she got the cash to free it.
But you can only hope what goes around comes around, one day the clamper might require treatment from someone like Virginia Williams, when he does he better hope his mates aren’t too busy that day.

ONE of the nicest compliments, alright, one of the very few compliments, writing this column has garnered for me was an invite back to my old school to speak at the Year 11 leaving ceremony.
It was nice to see some of my old teachers, many of whom have weathered the years better than yours truly – columnism, it’s a hard life.
But inevitably one or two were missing and sadly missed.
One of them was Valmai Bayliss, later Valmai Antrobus, my first year French teacher, the fact I can still conjugate the verb etre is a testament to her teaching skill. I remember her as a kind, gentle teacher, who put up admirably with the manglings of what can be a very beautiful language by her young pupils.
One of her colleagues, and another of my former teachers, Delia Bettaney, promised herself that when she retired she would open her garden in Valmai Antrobus’s memory to raise funds for Nightingale House, where she received such excellent care.
This Saturday, June 24, she is doing just that, at Rose Cottage, Rockliffe Lane, Oakenholt, from 10am to 5pm.
I hope that she gets a good attendance for what is a very worthy cause.

CALL it superb sporting acumen, comprehensive footballing knowledge, or, erm, blind luck, but my chosen team, Ghana, have set the World Cup alight.
After a disappointing, but predictable, defeat by Italy, they then turned the competition on its head by lashing the Czech Republic 2-0.
James Mossop, of the Sunday Telegraph, described their performance thus: "Ghana were the entertainers. They improvised so instinctively, their play was like peacocks dancing."
If they beat USA and Italy just draw against the Czech Republic then they’re into the next stage.
Go the Black Stars.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Column, June 13, 2006

IT must be an odd job being a copper sometimes. If you take a softly, softly approach, then if things blow up you’re accused of doing nothing, hiding your head in the sand, plodding.
Then if you take a proactive approach and ask people to use a bit of common sense, you’re accused of over-reaction, overstepping the mark and not knowing your place.
Clive Wolfendale has probably been a copper long enough to shrug off the less temperate reactions to his remarks last week about England fans flying their multiplicity of flags in Wales.
Let’s look at what, exactly, he said shall we? Well, he said that he wished people would reflect before festooning their vehicles in St George flags and driving them through Wales.
Note, he didn’t tell them not to, he didn’t say it was against the law, he even said he would fly a flag himself when England were playing.
No, as someone whose job it is to keep the peace he asked people minded to deck themselves in red and white to think a little about the sensitivities of the communities in which they were planning to do that.
There are parts of Wales were such displays will not raise an eyebrow – my own backyard of Deeside for instance, where English and Welsh rub along together because geography and economics have forged a mixed community over generations.
But further west where communities see their character as being under threat from holiday homes and house prices, such flying of what they see as a foreign flag might not be greeted so kindly.
That doesn’t make it right, of course, you should be able to fly whatever flag you want whenever you want. But Clive Wolfendale isn’t charged with policing some mythical Xanadu where the lion lies down with the lamb and fans of opposing sides cheer one another on, full of the Corinthian spirit.
He has to look after the policing of North Wales where some people won’t blink at a St George flag, while others will see it as an act of antagonism.
As for the outrage at his suggestion that flag-waving is a prelude to violence and racism. Well, again, in an ideal world this would not be the case. And the vast majority of England fans flying the flag are perfectly law-abiding, gentle souls who would not dream of becoming violent or racist.
But once again, let’s deal in reality shall we? If any set of fans have got form for racism and violence it is a tiny minority that support England.
Now, the police have done a good job of stopping them going to Germany by confiscating their passports well ahead of the tournament. But that does mean they’re stuck in this country where they are a problem for the police here.
And the other thing you ought to note about the outraged reaction to what Mr Wolfendale said is that most of it came from politicians.
Politicians will do anything they can to hitch their clapped out old wagons to sporting success stories, witness them falling over each other to sign an early day motion urging the England team to bring the World Cup back to the UK.
An early day motion is sometimes a valid means by which a politician can bring to the attention of the Commons a matter of concern.
They cost £2,500 a pop of taxpayers’ money and so putting you name to one that supports England in the World Cup might be seen as a waste of and MP’s time and our money. Take note Albert Owen (Ynys Mon) and Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside).
The Tories have shown no more sense on this issues with David Jones fatuously commenting that flying a little flag on your way to Colwyn Bay isn’t going to spark any violence. And of course, that is what Clive Wolfendale was aiming his remarks at wasn’t it, people flying one flag, not idiots draping themselves, their cars and their bull terriers in the flag and then getting lagered up in the Welsh resorts before letting everyone one know where they were from as if we hadn’t all guessed already.
And Clive Wolfendale had a wider message to give out – the rise in domestic violence and racism during football tournaments, often linked with increased alcohol consumption.
The politicians so quick to condemn him were strangely silent on that topic. But then, they may be the very politicians who voted through 24-hour opening for pubs. Wouldn't want to be accused of hypocrisy now would we?
Coming up with a political solution to domestic violence and racism is a bit of a big ask for politicians more comfortable signing early day motions.
Best leave it to the police to deal with stuff like that eh?
I’M a sad, racist, bigot. Well, so I’m told in an e-mail that arrived last week after I declared my support for Ghana. Bit of a blow really, as I regarded myself as such a sunny chap.
Apparently this is because I don’t default to supporting England when Wales aren’t in a competition. It’s odd this assumption that underneath we’re all English, and our Welshness is just an add-on option. Like we’re a fundamentally English car with a bit of Welsh trim.
Anyway, my correspondent dropped that one line bombshell and followed it up, when questioned, to say that it was because I assumed all Welsh people would not be supporting England.
I don’t think that’s what I wrote, I just said I wouldn’t. What other Welsh people do is entirely up to them and if they want to support England that’s absolutely fine. But a lot of Welsh people I know won’t be and they’ve chosen other teams to shout for.
A lot are behind Trinidad and Tobago because of the Wrexham link, but I went for Ghana because I learnt about the country in school and that’s as good a reason as any (one devout Welshman I used to work with was a die-hard Spurs fan for no better reason that some Londoners who moved to his village gave him a Tottenham strip when he was five – out of such random events lifetime devotions are born)
If I had genuinely wanted to wind up England fans then I’d have chosen a team from their group to support, but I didn’t.
As I write this Ghana are preparing to take on the mighty Italy. Let’s hope an upset will have set the competition alight by the time you read this.

POST SCRIPT. No such luck. A 2-0 drubbing. Played well, and one or two penalties ought to have gone their way.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A sad, racist, bigot

That's me, seemingly. So I'm told by who sent me a one-line e-mail to drop this bombshell.

It appears that my support of Ghana over, presumably, England, makes me sad, racist and a bigot.

There are of course, a lot of teams in the competition, and so, by Mr/Ms Eccles' logic, supporting any of them over England is an act of sad, racist, bigotry.

So people of Wales, know your place, if you're not in the finals yourselves, then fall into line and give your full-throated support to Sven's men, lest you be tarred with the same brush as me.

Me, I'm still supporting Ghana. Gooooo on the Black Stars.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Column, June 6, 2006

WE are an island race, and our culture has been shaped by the fact that we are surrounded by the sea. It has been our defence, a source of commerce and now it is a place of leisure – if you can get at it that is. Large sections of coastline in Wales and England are denied to the public because they are owned by the Crown, or private landowners, and there is no right of access.
But not for much longer. A proposal has been made to open up the coast to give people a right to roam the 2,733 miles of coastline in England and Wales – they’ve already got it in Scotland.
But wouldn’t you know it as soon as the word public access is muttered, landowners start grumbling at the prospect of urban hordes making their way out to picnic on sites of special scientific interest.
Because that’s what you would do if you were given a right to roam the coastline isn’t it? You’d get up of a morning, turn to your lovely wife and say: “Darling, today I’m going to exercise my right to roam the coastline by plonking my fat behind on a tern’s nest while enjoying a pork pie and a glass of dandelion and burdock out in the sunshine.”
I would be more inclined to believe their portents of doom if this had happened in Scotland, but it hasn’t. Where are the stories of wanton destruction of rare habitats north of the border due to a right to roam the coastline? There are none.
Furthermore, we’ve had a right to roam the countryside in England and Wales now, and when that happened there was a right commotion from landowners who warned it spelt disaster for farming/the environment/civilisation as we know it.
Where are the stories of right to roam causing any such damage? Any reports of hooligan ramblers trampling crops in an orgy of red-socked vandalism? No I can’t recall them either.
Where are the charabancs loaded with sink-estate youths descending upon areas where previously sheep safely grazed? None to be seen.
The idea that people are going to make their way to the areas involved in any significant numbers is sheer fancy. Getting people to walk any significant distance from their B&B is a major achievement and it would be a sea-change in national character if we suddenly became a nation of hikers, seeking out the roads less travelled just because the government opened up the coastline. It’s a nice thought though.
Firstly there won’t be any of the facilities many people want when they go to the seaside – car parking, toilets, somewhere to buy a bucket and spade. Secondly those who would dedicate themselves to walking in these hitherto restricted areas are hardly the kind of people who would wantonly ignore restrictions placed to protect wildlife.
In fact anyone who was intent on trampling birds’ nesting grounds is going to do it anyway, right to roam or not. Landowners are talking about ‘managed access’ with warden-controlled areas. But that’s not a right to roam is it, if you’ve got some warden breathing down your neck warning you where you can and cannot walk.
In Wales the coastline is one of the main reasons people visit us and opening up mor of it to public access can only bring in more visitors, more money, more jobs. I’m looking for a downside and I can’t see one.
The present government’s troubles over sleaze, an oversexed deputy prime ministers and the war in Iraq make it all too easy to forget its real achievements since 1997 and the right to roam was one of them.

ALUN Pugh’s call to language campaigners to put down their paint brushes may seem a sensible one. He wants to spend cash on the language, he says, and cash is being wasted cleaning public buildings of their daubed slogans.
I’ve said before that some of the campaigns launched by language protesters have been counter-productive, particularly those aimed at tourists who are coming here to spend money and should be made to feel welcome, not like a gatecrasher at chapel.
But Mr Pugh seems to have forgotten that civil disobedience and non-violent protest has a long and honourable record in British politics.
If he doubts this he might want to inquire of the present Welsh Secretary as to what can be achieved by such tactics. As a leading light in the anti-apartheid movement ( his parents were ‘banned persons’ under the South African apartheid regime) he led the campaign which disrupted the South African rugby and cricket tours of the UK.
An honourable record indeed. If young people are prepared to go to prison for what they believe, and this has been the case recent with Gwenno Teifi, then Alan Pugh ought to talk to them rather than lecture them on wasting money.

FINALLY, just to ratchet up the excitement as the World Cup approaches, a little more about my chosen team – Ghana. Well, their nickname is the Black Stars – from the country’s tricolor flag which bears a black star in the centre – and under the visionary leadership of coach Ratomir Dujkovic they qualified top of their group and have notched up victories against Jamaica and the Korean Republic in their warm-up games.
The shining lights of the Black Stars (see what I did there) are skipper, Stephen Appiah, and Chelsea’s Michael Essien – who was Africa’s most expensive player.
Their first match is on June 12 against Italy. I’ve yet to find out what their fans chant, but you’ll be the first to know when I do