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.