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
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