Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Column, June 12, 2007

IF you log onto the Llanberis Mountain Rescue team’s website there’s a intriguing little button which says ‘We hope you don’t see one of these.’
When curiosity gets the better of you, you click the button and you’re rewarded with the view of an RAF Sea King enjoyed by a rescuee with the winchman descending to pluck them to safety.
And now once more the hills have been alive with the shouts of help from the English, fearing they won’t be alive much longer unless someone comes to get them out of the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.
You can’t really blame them for getting themselves into trouble in our mountains.
After all they’ve not really got anything worthy of the name themselves. I you come from somewhere as relentlessly flat as Birmingham, then you’ve never had a chance to develop an eye for the mountains.
So you might be tempted to try to scale Wales’ highest peak wearing nothing more substantial than trainers…and a summer dress…and with no food or water…and carrying a 9-month-old baby too, just, you know, to make it a bit of a challenge.
That was the state of the latest group of would-be Boningtons who decided they were going to bag Snowdon.
They got separated with two 14-year-olds ending up headed for Crib Goch, a ridge with 1,000ft drops either side. The only thing that stopped them meeting a grisly end was the RAF helicopter that plucked them, weeping, off the mountain. That will make for an interesting ‘What I did in the Summer’ when they’re back at school won’t it ‘I attempted a knife-edge arête usually tackled by experienced mountaineers in just my gym pumps’.
The rest of the group were found by Llanberis Mountain Rescue and were walked down to safety.
After their safe descent there were the usual warnings of the woeful state of their ‘equipment’ (for equipment, read t-shirts and one dress, summer, for the basking in).
Personally, I’m not sure this message is ever going to get through. Firstly, the warnings are usually reported by local media like the Daily Post, BBC Wales and so on, which are read by people who live locally and need no warnings that the mountains are dangerous – it’s preaching to the choir.
By this time those rescued are long gone, back to the Midlands or wherever, where they’re probably none too keen to share with their neighbours just how exciting g their holiday has been – imagine the chat about the snaps – ‘This is me clinging for dear life with one hand to a crumbling ledge in a gale, this is the nice RAF winchman, and this is the inside of a Sea King, yes it is roomier than you’d think isn’t it? Lovely views too.’
So others who might venture this way and who think they might combine a bit of sunbathing and paddling with a stroll up Snowdon in their flip-flops never get the message.
I think perhaps those rescued from our mountains might do a bit more to publicise just how dangerous it can be.
How about making them take home a sign to put up outside their house – ‘Brought back safely to you courtesy of Llanberis Mountain Rescue’, or maybe a bumper sticker saying ‘My Other Car is and RAF Sea King’.
The fact is that even experienced climbers and hill-walkers find themselves in trouble, so you can’t really say that only the experienced should go up into the mountains.
And I don’t think the volunteers who turn out to rescue people would want the mountains to become some exclusive little preserve – although they might like people to go up just a tad better-equipped than the Birmingham bunch.
So the best thing we can do is keep putting out the information, and, crucially, supporting the teams who go out 24-hours-a-day, 365 days a year, regardless of weather and risk to themselves to help those in trouble on the hill.
That to me is true heroism, when the easy thing to do would be to stay safe by your fireside, but instead you head out knowing that if you and people like you didn’t, then the mountains would be a far, far more dangerous place.
If you want to support Llanberis or Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue, it’s easy enough to do through their websites - or
And if you’ve got friends in Birmingham, tell them too.

THERE’S been a lot of talk about being British recently.
Reportedly Gordon Brown will be giving us a new holiday when he comes to power – Britain Day, prompting reams to be written about what we might do on Britain day to mark our Britishness.
Of course, those seeking a definition of Britishness are kind of missing the point, because there isn’t one.
Britain’s strength has been the fact that it is a nebulous alliance of nations who like nothing more than bickering with each other, unless someone threatens them, whereupon they turn on them with a united ferocity that is fearsome to behold.
No, so forget trying to sum up Britain, it means nothing to a people whose alliances probably lie with much smaller communities.
But I can offer one aspect of British life which seems to have united us all.
Weekly bin collections.
It would certainly seem that this is an issue that has got the nation’s knickers in a right bunch.
You can spy on us, detain us without charge, trample roughshod over the constitution, throw Magna Carta and habeas corpus out of the window, but mess with the binmen and you’ve got a civil war on your hands.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Column, June 4, 2007

WE are a third world nation, according to Sir Paul McCartney.
And if Macca calls you a third world country, you really ought to sit up and take note. He does know a thing or two about social deprivation, lawlessness and poverty – he’s from Liverpool.
But the rather predictable splutters of outrage at his off-the-cuff remarks to Kaiser Chiefs’ member Ricky Wilson, miss one important point – we are.
The Kaiser Chiefs are, as The Beatles were in their time, a popular beat combo, but I digress.
Let’s measure ourselves up to whether we are global superpower or international minnow shall we?
Well, one of the primary measures of whether you’re third world or first world is economic. Does the economy of Wales deserve such a tag?
Well, the third world nations are characterised as having weak economies, overly-reliant on agriculture and foreign aid and with high levels of unemployment.
Here we are a nation of near-bankrupt sheep farmers and my how we celebrate when we get Objective One status unlocking the Euro aid for our flagging economy. Objective One, in case you’ve forgotten, means you’re an area in Europe which the Eurocrats have decided is on its uppers to such an extent that billions need to be lavished on it to give it a chance of getting up to the standard of living that the rest of Europe enjoys.
Over on Anglesey they’re discussing how to get the one in four of the working population who are unemployed, back into work. Yes, one in four.
Third World nations often have their mineral wealth exploited by the developed world, having it extracted and carted off where they make more money for it.
Coal ring a bell anyone? And water still, it rains on us and its piped away to our ‘developed’ neighbour.
Now let’s consider transport. Third World nations have poor transport links that hinder their economic development.
If you’ve spent a day sitting in the jams on the A55 you might well form the conclusion that getting to Rhyl for the day was about as easy as getting to Timbuktu.
As for travelling from North to South by road or rail, all I can say is pack plenty of sandwiches, and drinks, and a tent – you’re going to be travelling for some time.
Third World nations suffer from poor health, where reasonably common ailments that are treatable in the developed world result in higher mortality.
How often does Wales plumb the depths of whatever league table there is relating to health? If a heart attack, stroke or lung disease is going to carry you off, chances are you’re living in Wales.
And Third World nations suffer as their people leave to try to find a better life elsewhere.
How many of Wales’s young people move to Manchester, Liverpool, London, or any English town where the chances of finding a decent job are hugely better than they would be if they stayed in their homeland?
Of course none of this will come as news to anyone who follows Welsh teams in England. If you’ve travelled to support Wrexham, it’s never very long before the opposition fans strike up a chant to the Latin-American rhythms of ‘Juantanamera’, shouting ‘Third world nation, you’re from a third world nation.’
It has to be said that the Wrexham fans, often sons of miners (now gone) or steelworkers (now gone) usually just shrugged and accepted the statement of the obvious.
Instead of outrage at a crass comment by an old Beatle, perhaps we would do better to examine the attitudes which prevail that still dismiss us as a third world nation, and whether there is any truth in them.

WHAT has happened to the singing of anthems?
There was a time when they were just belted out by the massed ranks of fans assembled to the accompaniment of some military band or other.
And the anthems usually, when sung properly kind of ambled along to a descending note and then we got on with the business of the rugby or football.
Now, however, we increasingly see the use of famous singers to ‘lead’ the anthems.
This has two effects, firstly the delay in the sound of the singer getting to the back of the stands means that the crowd is singing a good second or so behind their leader, which produces a most disconcerting echo.
Secondly, the singers, wanting to finish big, have taken to singing a counter-harmony of their final line. So when the voices of the crowd are going down, the singer is going up through the scales.
They’ve been doing it for a while now with Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau on the line ‘collasant’ where the singer holds a high note as the rest of the crowd descend.
But the worst examples recently were in the FA Cup when the two singers leading Abide With Me started the vocal gymnastics on the final line, and God Save the Queen was given the same treatment.
Abide With Me is what the band played on the Titanic as it sank beneath the icy waves, its finale should slip slowly to the depths, not a soaring vocal extravaganza.
It’s time for CAMPA, the Campaign for Proper Anthems, calling for:
· A halt to the practice of using sopranos to lead a crowd of predominantly dodgy tenors and baritones*
· Sing it the way it’s always been sung – stick to the original tune and forget the vocal gymnastics
· Pointing out to the Ruperts who follow English rugby that singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, a spiritual written by a former slave has just the teensiest bit of irony to it
* The exception to this rule is Katherine Jenkins when wearing a Wales shirt two sizes too small, she can carry on, but they can just turn off the microphone.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Column, May 29, 2007

I WAS never that impressed with Dixon of Dock Green.
He might well have been the avuncular beat bobby we all wanted on our street corner keeping a watchful eye on the local villains who could be relied on to declare it a fair cop whenever he felt their collars, while also keeping the local yoyth in line with a loving clip on the ear when necessary.
But he had also been brought back from the dead having died at the hands of a young thug played by Dirk Bogarde in ‘The Blue Lamp’.
So policing by chumminess didn’t work and Dixon for all his‘Evenin’ All’ community spirit was not much of a match for a tooled-up criminal.
Give me The Sweeney any day of the week, if I dialled 999, I didn’t want Jack Warner pootling along on his bike to have a stern word with the miscreants. I wanted Regan and Carter barrelling round in a Ford Consul five seconds after I put down the receiver to give the slaaaags a good kicking before hauling them off to a well-deserved stretch.
And this sums up our somewhat odd attitude to the police. When all we need is reassurance from them, then we want them to be all cuddly Dixon figures, ever-present, but not too intrusive. But if you’re actually a victim of crime then you want Robocop and a full armed response if someone’s nicked the milk off our doorstep.
The police will be forgiven for thinking they can’t win and that they are always going to be seen as friendly but ineffective, or else a ruthless tool of the police state.
Indeed the unfortunate office in the court presided over by Judge John Rogers must have been a little non-plussed to be ordered from court because he was wearing the full kit required of officers by the North Wales force now.
Judge Rogers inquired of the officer what he was doing in body armour, with CS spray, baton and handcuffs to boot. “It’s my work dress your honour,” was the not unreasonable reply. Nonetheless the officer was ordered from court.
I don’t dispute the judge’s efforts to preserve the dignity of the court. A dignity which has been assailed from many quarters in recent years.
However, sadly, body armour, CS spray and baton are the tools of the job for officers across the UK nowadays and the courts must surely be aware of this having heard testimony from so many officers who have had recourse to use these tools to arrest someone.
The alternative to going to court kitted up is to go in dress uniform. Now consider this scenario: a North Wales officer on the way to court in dress uniform stops to intervene in a robbery and is stabbed to death because he was not wearing his standard body armour, or is unable to prevent an attack on a member of the public because he is not carrying baton or CS spray.
I would think that of this happened then the senior management of North Wales Police would be hung out to dry by the media who would demand to know why officers were being sent out without the equipment to do the job.
A far more mundane occurrence would be for a criminal in the court complex, and I believe there may be one or two of them to be found there on an average working day, to take a dislike to the way his case is proceeding and to create a disturbance or even try to escape.
In such circumstances the staff and public in the court complex might be reassured to know that there are officers around in full kit capable of dealing with the situation.
Officers in body armour may not be what we like to see in our courts, but officers in body armour are a sign of what a violent society we have become and the courts themselves have played a part in creating that society.

LAST week I wrote about two MPs Mark Tami and Martyn Jones supporting an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act which would have excluded MPs from its provisions.
Opponents to the amendment, mainly Lib Dems and some Plaid portrayed this as an attempt to prevent scrutiny of such matters as MPs expenses.
Since then I’ve heard back from both Mr Jones and Mr Tami to explain the stance they took.
Mr Jones said: “My prime concern in supporting the Freedom of Information Amendment Bill, was simply maintaining the principle of complete confidentiality when corresponding with, and representing my constituents.
“I have been an MP for nearly twenty years, and throughout that time, I have defended this principle ‘tooth and nail’, and I will continue to do so.
“The last thing anyone wants is for confidentiality between an MP and his or her constituents to be undermined, and that is why I voted for the Amendments.
“My relationship and the service I give to my constituents has always been, and will remain of paramount importance.
“I am certain that the majority of my constituents would support how I voted.
“Only 22 MPs voted against preserving confidentiality - most of whom were Lib Dems and the odd Nationalist. They were cynically attempting to make political capital out of this issue.
“Given the fact that the Lib Dems has made so much political ‘noise’ on this subject, one would be forgiven for believing that they were there in great numbers to vote against this Bill.
“The reality is very different. Only 16 out of 63 Lib Dem MPs could be bothered to be at the debate. The absentees even included their Party leader, Menzies Campbell.
“Their claims in the debate, about the Amendments somehow concealing information about MP expenses, is complete nonsense.
“All our expenses and allowances are already in the public domain, and will remain so.
“As for this Bill, guarantees have been sought from The Speaker, the he will ensure that MPs’ expenses will continue to be made public in the future. I wholeheartedly support that.
“People come to me for assistance on a range of matters – some relating to deeply personal and sensitive issues. These matters must remain private between me and the constituent. They are no one else’s business.”
Mr Tami said: “If you or a member of your family suffers a gross injustice, or rape, or abuse, or homelessness then I am sure you would expect complete and utter confidentiality from those you go to for help.
“There have been many cases of sensitive information being passed to third parties, including harassment cases, details about bogus arranged marriages and destitute families. In some cases the consequences have been devastating.
“The amendment is aimed at preventing this. Your assertion that Data Protection laws prevent the release of information is wrong and it’s a little late to complain to the Information Commissioner once correspondence has been released.
“Moreover, exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act are already in place for MP’s private correspondence and all Ministerial correspondence, so is it not right to extend that protection to all members of the public who wish to approach their MP in confidence?
“Clearly, many journalists would rather focus on the implications this amendment has for MP’s expenses, but the fact is that no changes to the current transparency will be introduced. Picking on this issue makes easy for cheap and easy news articles, but it shamefully ignores the need to protect the most vulnerable in society.
“Here we have an example of conflicting interests. Journalists wish to know every aspect of every person’s life because to reporters, we are all fair game for newsprint.
“But when your readers suffer at the hands of more powerful individuals or organisations, they must know their MPs can help without the risk of sensitive information being shared with anyone else.”
I don’t doubt for a moment the sincerity of the two MPs, however, at a time when their constituents are coming under ever more scrutiny and surveillance – be it by CCTV which has spread unchecked under their party’s government, or by the introduction of the ruinously expensive ID cards which everyone knows will do not a jot in the fight against terrorism – perhaps they ought to have thought through the impression this vote gives.
The Freedom of Information Act is already full of hole which allow public authorities to avoid giving out information. On top of that the government is also talking about changing the way in which it calculates the cost of requests so even more can be refused.
And now MPs vote to make yet another aspect of public life exempt.
While the tales of abuse and homelessness they use to illustrate their objections are persuasive, perhaps they can explain one thing.
If MPs’ correspondence was being obtained in such a way, exposing such sensitive matters, why is it then that the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, the watchdog set up to oversee the Act, has not received a single solitary complaint about the Act being used in such a way?

Column, May 22, 2007

LOVE mountain biking, but I accept that it is not without its risks.
If you choose to go up and down rock-strewn tracks on two wheels, the chances are that you will return from a trip with a few bruises and scrapes you didn’t have when you set out that morning.
I’ve fallen off more times than I can count, usually when trying something beyond my capabilities or that should only be attempted by someone with suppleness and reaction speeds that fled my aging frame about 20 years ago.
But I still love it and if anyone is going to get hurt it’s only going to be me. I accept that risk and I’ll admit that I do it because the risk is part of the enjoyment. There is a thrill to the fear of going down a drop where there’s a 50 per cent chance that I won’t make it to the bottom still attached to my bike.
If I’m injured, it’s me that’s to blame and I’m prepared to accept that it’s my own daft fault for going mountain biking.
Which is why I’m a little puzzled by motorcyclists.
They buy machines that are capable of outrageous acceleration and eye-watering top speeds, and yet they seem to expect us to believe that they do not buy these bikes to make use of these abilities.
I simply do not believe that anyone buys a bike of 500cc plus that is capable of speeds in excess of 120mph, buys it because they like the colour.
As a BBC documentary on speeding bikers has shown, they do it because they like the speed. They like the thrill that riding a powerful bike gives them and they like pushing their abilities to handle these machines on challenging roads.
The safest way to ride a bike would be on a deserted motorway in a straight line, but of course no-one expects bikers to do that. The most exciting place to ride a bike is on twisting roads where the bike’s ability to corner and accelerate are tested to the full.
And that’s where North Wales comes into the picture, because when it comes to twisting roads we’ve pretty much cornered the UK market haven’t we?
And so bikers beat a path to our door, with the sad consequence it has just been revealed, that 13 of them so far this year have met their end on the roads of North Wales.
Now, it might well be that there were other factors in those deaths, I will leave the coroners of the areas concerned to draw their own conclusions as to what happened. Lets face it the coroners service has had plenty of experience in dealing with such deaths in recent years.
And yet the motorcycling community would have us believe that all but a very, very few of them are not interested in the phenomenal capabilities of their machines, but would rather pootle along within the speed limit at all times.
Really? So why buy a 1,000cc machine then, when a 125 with an engine that sounds like a hair-dryer under stress would get you round perfectly well, if all you wanted to do was to stick to the speed limit?
One biker caught speeding by the North Wales police helicopter and subsequently banned from driving told the BBC that he would go and buy another bike once his ban was over and would do the same thing again.
I find it very hard to believe that someone riding a bike capable of 150mph isn’t tempted, quite often, to test its ability to go so fast. You only have to look at the way these bikes are marketed and take a quick glance at biker magazines to know exactly what they are interested in – blistering speed.
Now, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem for me, were it not for the fact that when motorcyclists crash they often get others involved, quite often in a car, van, or lorry.
It has to be said that it’s usually the biker that comes off the worst, so there is that going for them. When they risk life and limb it is usually their own and no-one else’s. But I think if I were driving a car that killed a biker, even if it were the bikers fault, that would be an experience that would leave a mental scar, although there were not physical ones.
Now bikers are saying their relationship with North Wales Police has been badly damaged by the showing of pictures of a dead motorcyclist to illustrate the dangers of speeding.
Perhaps that relationship would improve if bikers were a bit more honest with themselves and with us about why they love biking so much.

WHILE we’re on the subject of cycling, the new Highway Code is out and it has clearly been written by someone who has never been on a bicycle in their life.
Their advice to cyclists tackling a roundabout is to stick in the left hand lane at all times.
Word of advice – if you’re turning right, don’t even think about it, it would mean you going straight across the path of car drivers at least twice.
So the Highway Code is asking you to trust drivers to have seen you as they go round the roundabout and to have slowed down to let you cross in front of them as they try to exit.
Yeah, right.
Having a copy of the Highway Code in your hand will come as no comfort as they car you off to hospital, so do what’s safe, and use the roundabout just like very other vehicle on the road, left hand lane for going left or straight on, right hand lane if you’re going right – that way you don’t have to cross anyone’s path to get around it.
They’re talking about prosecuting cyclists who fail to follow these lethal bit of advice. I would rather be alive and in court than law-abiding and dead.

MEMBERS of Parliament are not often to be found there on a Friday, which is the day they very often return to their constituencies to carry out work there.
But last Friday a fair number were found in the House where they passed a Bill to exempt Parliament from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
Those in favour of excluding MPs said it was to protect their confidential correspondence with constituents.
Critics said it was more to do with MPs preventing embarrassing disclosures, such as their expense being made public.
Two North Wales MPs who voted in favour of exclusion were Labour’s Martyn Jones and Mark Tami.
I e-mailed Mr Jones and Mr Tami over the weekend to ask them why they felt that MPs should be excluded from this legislation.
As of yesterday morning they had not replied. I hope they get in touch this week as I think this decision by MPs requires some justification and I hope they can provide it.

Column, May 15, 2007

FOR every ill of society today you can depend on a think tank somewhere coming up with a completely unworkable solution.
Just who these brains doing the thinking are is not entirely clear, but the think tanks go by some quasi-Latin name which seems to imply a depth of thought which is absent from their utterances.
The latest brainwave is an answer to childhood obesity – or how to get fat kids off their backsides so that they leave school with some semblance of mobility and without wearing a uniform that could double as a two-man tent.
And the big idea? Ban the school run.
Brilliant, give whoever thought of it in the think tank a great, big obese cigar.
On the face if it I can see the attractions of such a policy.
Anyone who has dared to venture out on the roads at roughly 8.15-9ish will know that they take their lives in their hands every day because of parents on the school run.
Quite why legislators felt the need to ban the use of mobile phones because they are distracting to drivers while allowing harassed parents to carry children to school every morning is beyond me.
The average school run driver is a) late b) distracted by that most distracting of sources, their own children and c) very often driving a 4x4 that would give a main battle tank a run for its money in a head-on crash.
I know how distracting children can be, my own three-year-old is perfectly capable of asking the exact same question 50 times without apparently drawing breath, and he thinks it’s ok because he prefaces it with ‘Excuse me daddy’, so he is being polite after all.
By the age of 10 they will have your psychological profile down to a tee and when it comes to pushing the buttons that make you detonate from the back seat, they will be past masters.
I never had been quite able to work out why mums and dads felt the need to deliver their children to school in a 4x4 but now it’s obvious that it’s because it’s the only thing with suspension tough enough to cope with their chubby kids by the end of their school career.
The fact is the only safe way to take children to school is to herd them into a small livestock trailer – I’m sure Ifor Williams of Corwen would make something appropriate, they seem to have made very other blimmin’ trailer in the British Isles – the use of a cattle prod would be perfectly acceptable, then wend your way to school with the soothing tones of Terry Wogan and nothing else.
But, as ever, I digress. The latest notion is to ban this because kids are getting fat and the theory is they would get more exercise if they had to waddle instead of sitting in the back of the car playing with their X-Station 3 or whatever bit of electronic kit is in vogue at the moment.
Great theory. Except for the small fact that way back the government allowed parents freedom of choice in picking which school to send their offspring to.
So instead of a bracing walk to the local comp, lost of kids would face a 10-mile hike to the school chosen by their parents because its Ofsted report said it achieved excellent results (never mind the fact that because so many parents have done the same it is now overcrowded and its pupil-teacher ratio is up the Swanee and it’s about to go into special measures.)
So far from being a health-giving stroll to school, many kids would face the sort of long march last undertaken by Chairman Mao and his followers.
The second fatal flaw, quite literally, in this bright idea is that in the golden age of schooling when we all skipped tra-la-la to school, the fastest thing on the road was an Austin Montego, which, in the terrible event it should mount the kerb and head straight for you, you had a good hour or two to sidestep it.
Now if you’re not taken out by a hot hatchback driven by some moron in a baseball cap you will be mown by a 4x4 driven by a parent temporarily distracted by their child’s insistence that they really must turn round and look at what they just found in their nose.
And just how would you police this ban? With the police, who have quite enough on their plate thank you without having to pull over 4x4s to see if the parent really has stuffed their children inot the boot to beat the ban (not a bad idea, try it to see if it cuts down the distraction.)
Has anyone thought of encouraging children to play outside a bit? I know, I know, fraught with health and safety dangers, but hey, lets give it a try. I’ve heard there’s a game once played by children before it became the preserve of overpaid male models, involving a ball, two sets of posts, and teams of 20-or-so a side kicking lumps out of each other through dinnertime, called football.
Perhaps I should join a think tank.

TONY Blair’s announcement of his departure typified his whole premiership and the contrasting views you have of his record.
It came just after he had visited the Northern Ireland Assembly to see both sides of the sectarian divide working to govern the province.
I was born in 1964 and Northern Irish violence was the background to my entire childhood and most of my adult years too.
One became accustomed to the steady drip of atrocity committed by both sides and the UK mainland campaign which saw the bombing of Birmingham, Guildford, and later Warrington as well as many, many others.
There is no doubt that lasting peace in Northern Ireland is a magnificent achievement, and Blair must take credit for seizing the opportunity presented to him and building on the moves made, lets not forget, by the oft-derided Prime Minster John Major.
But then all Blair’s achievements are coloured bay what continues to go on in Iraq – a bloody mess with no sign of the violence abating. Blair and Bush got rid of a monstrous dictator, for sure, but they replaced him with a state of lawless civil war which is still extracting a monstrous toll in that country.
Blair often talks about history and whether history treats him kindly will depend on what others no do to resolve the situation in Iraq and how many more lives it costs before that country finds the same sort of peace that Blair helped bring to Northern Ireland.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Column, May 8, 2007

I WONDER whether Churchill had to put up with this sort of thing.
In the midst of the Blitz as he contemplated the desperate battle to save this country from the jackboot did letters of complaint alight on his desk in the bunker.
When RAF aircrew on exercise occasionally ploughed into a hillside losing their own lives and taking several sheep with them, did anyone dare to protest at low flying back then?
The latest calls for an end to low flying over Wales come after a Hawk jet broke up on landing at RAF Mona, forcing the pilot to eject to safety.
This, opponents to low flying claim, is yet more evidence to show that we’re all at risk. Never mind the fact that it wasn’t low flying at the time, it was landing let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good old moan eh?
When did the British public decide that the RAF had enjoyed enough gratitude for saving our necks in the Battle of Britain and we could return to being a nation of whinging NIMBYs every time a jet passes overhead?
When on holiday a couple of weeks ago we were by Lake Windermere one day when the peace was shattered by two Harriers barrelling down the lake. Low? So low you could count the fillings in the pilots’ teeth.
Their sudden appearance was greeted with alarm and then disgruntled murmurs by the other visitors there. Banks junior, however, was dancing up and down shouting at the top of his lungs: “It’s the RAF, it’s the RAF” having been taught by yours truly that while the scream of the jets overhead might be a bit of a shock, the brave men and women who fly them are there to look after us.
Just in case anyone should suggest that my enthusiasm for low-flying jets is a luxury I can afford because I don’t see many of them, let me assure you that my home is slap bang on the flight path of both the RAF and the USAF too, so in the past month or so I’ve had Tornados, Hawks, a solitary Red Arrow, Tomcats and Eagles low enough to rattle the slates, as well as the occasional Hercules and multiple military helicopters too.
The Hawk crash last month was the fourth in nine years in or around Anglesey. Lest we forget, the RAF has seen higher attrition rates than that in living memory and the freedom of people to moan about the RAF was bought with the lives of young men who took to the skies in defence of their country.
If they hadn’t been prepared to make that sacrifice then the outcome of the war would have been very different and the whingers today would be trying to complain about the Luftwaffe, not the RAF, and they wouldn’t get very far doing that now would they?
Plaid Cymru’s Elfyn Llwyd wonders whether, in an era of modern warfare, whether low flying training is necessary any longer.
On balance, if I were a pilot going into battle, I think Mr Llwyd’s words would come as small comfort if I were shot down in flames because I couldn’t fly low, because Plaid Cymru, from the comfort and freedom of Wales had deemed it unnecessary in modern warfare.

THE coverage of the abduction of Madeleine McCann puzzles me a bit.
One can only hope that she is found safe and well (indeed, between the time I write this and it appears in the Daily Post that might well have happened).
But I do wonder that had she been the daughter of a single mum from a sink estate, rather than a GP and a cardiologist, whether the press would have been quite so understanding of the decision to leave her with her two-year-old brother and sister while they went for a meal, albeit checking the children every half hour.
The presumption seems to be that because they are educated, wealthy professional people, their actions are beyond reproach.
“We’ve all done it,” said one commentator of the decision to leave the children.
Well, I beg to differ, most of have not all done it, nor would we.
But remember this the next time some poor, less articulate, mother or father is caught leaving their kids home alone and see how they are hung out to dry.
The media coverage of this sorry story has more than a whiff of hypocrisy about it.

SO the Assembly elections produced not quite the defeat Labour were fearing and not quite the sweeping victory Plaid Cymru hoped for and we get not quite a government as a result.
A coalition beckons which will limp on and how popular it is will, I reckon, depend on how decent a fist of being Prime Minister Gordon Brown makes.
Alec Salmond’s SNP may dream of independence, but with no overall majority and Labour and the Lib Dems opposed, it looks like it will remain a dream.
Here we’re still wedded firmly to the fortunes of England and so we’ll rumble on, tinkering at the edges of being a proper government, but always beholden to whoever is in Number 10.
The Assembly electoral system is such that results like last week’s are more likely than not, which might be what Labour wanted when they set the whole thing up.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Column, May 1, 2007

I FEEL very sorry for Mark Gibney.
He died an horrific death when his motorbike crashed into a car and no-one deserves a fate like that, whatever contribution they made to it.
I feel even more for his family, who have been left to grieve for him. The awful thing is that death is so common on our roads that the true loss of a person is never told, they become yet another statistic to most people, whereas their loved ones are left to mourn their loss.
But in the clamour to criticise Richard Brunstrom after he showed an invited audience pictures including those of Mr Gibney’s body, one group of victims seem to have been forgotten.
When Mr Gibney hit a car so fast he was decapitated by the impact, his headless torso was left embedded in the wreckage of the car, trapping a young family inside for 90 minutes.
Of all the people I have sympathy for in this awful event, it is them. They weren’t going too fast and yet they have to live with the memory of what happened to them that day. It is not something that will be easy to forget.
I understand completely the decision by Mr Gibney’s father to try to shield the family from the true nature of his son’s injuries. But in my opinion too much shielding goes on, and we, the press play our part in that too.
We have a family audience and we know that were we to tell the full story of what happens in these accidents the phone would be ringing off the hook with complaints.
So we talk about ‘serious head injuries’ and ‘multiple injuries’, ‘spinal injuries’ and so on, repeating the intentionally bland information given to us by emergency services who are also trying to protect the victims and their families from the gruesome truth.
And they are the other people I feel sorry for – the police officers, ambulance crews and firefighters who get called to deal with these accidents. Sure they’ve got training and counselling available and experience must numb them to the dreadful scenes they witness, but I’m not sure I would ever forget some of the things they have to witness.
Mr Brunstrom decided to show these pictures, not as some sort of shock tactic for the general public, but to inform journalists and others of the truth behind the Arrive Alive campaign. To show them the real nature of the events the campaign is trying to prevent.
Predictably, certain sections of the London-based tabloid press decided to ignore entirely the point he was making and go off on their usual ‘Traffic Taliban’ rants wheeling out Paul Smith of Safespeed to yak on about what an outrage this was.
Remember this – Paul Smith and his cohorts have never had to go around to someone’s house to knock on their door to tell them their son is dead.
The event by North Wales Police marked the United Nations Global Road Safety Week, in which it was revealed that road accidents are now the main cause of death worldwide of people aged between 10 and 24.
Deaths on the road in the UK claim 3,200 lives a year. That figure is dropping, but not fast enough.
That’s the equivalent of eight fully-laden jumbo jets dropping out of the sky every year. If that were to happen, do you think we would continue flying? Do you think there wouldn’t be public inquiries and calls for ministerial resignations for running an aviation system so dangerous?
And yet that is what happens on our roads, day-in, day-out. And that’s just the figure for deaths, on top of that you have just under 30,000 seriously injured. That is real carnage, rail crashes that grab headlines like the recent Virgin train crash pale into insignificance compared to what happens on the roads.
And yet when police officers like Mr Brunstrom and his Arrive Alive team confront us with the truth of what happens we hold our hands up in horror.
If one biker backs of the throttle just a fraction this weekend as a result of learning what really happened to Mark Gibney, and it is the biker who arrives home instead of a police officer bearing his family the worst of news, then for all the indignation, bluster and calls for his sacking, what Richard Brunstrom did will have been worthwhile.

OF course Prince Harry should go to Iraq. You don’t join the army unless you accept the risk of active service and he knew exactly what he was doing when he signed up.
His granddad and his uncle both served their country in times of war and there is absolutely no good reason why he shouldn’t.
Of course, were he to be killed it would be a tragedy, but no more so than for the families of the 112 service personnel who have died fighting there since the conflict began.
Much is being made by Royal correspondents getting an attack of the vapours about the fact he’s third in line to the throne, but surely the whole point is that there’s a line – in other words, should the worst happen, someone else moves up a notch.
The various lunatic militias tearing Iraq apart have made their threats, but I would just point out that he does sit in a tank and that he and his comrades in arms will be allowed to shoot back.
If members of the Royal family are not to be allowed to serve on active duty then they should not be allowed to join the armed forces. If they aren’t allowed to go where the action is then they become rather pointless figureheads, a role I would have thought the monarchy were keen to avoid.

THE merchants of doom opposed to holiday homes in North Wales often refer darkly to the fate suffered by the Lake District, where so many homes are taken by holidaymakers.
I’ve recently returned from a holiday on the shores of Lake Coniston and far from it being some resort bereft of locals, it was in fact bustling even in April, and there were plenty of lakelanders there making a packet from tourists like me.
This summer I’ll be holidaying on Llyn, in, say it quietly, a holiday home, and I’ll report back on the comparison between the two places.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Column, April 24, 2007

DOORS to manual.
A phrase any of you who’ve flown might have subconsciously registered as you approach your destination.
It will probably mean little to you, but if you’re the daughter of a former air stewardess and you’re the girlfriend of the heir to the throne, then hearing it muttered by the various hangers-on attracted by such a man might just mean quite a lot to you.
Kate Middleton’s mother was an air stewardess and while that might not have made a bit of difference to her eligibility as a girlfriend and future wife of Prince William, as far as William, his father, or the Queen are concerned, apparently it made a bit of a difference to assorted ‘courtiers’ who took a dim view of someone of such low breeding.
Of course, the fact that Kate Middleton’s mother and her husband set up and run a business that has earned them millions doesn’t make it any better, in fact it makes it worse.
Those who disapproved of Kate Middleton and muttered doors to manual’ when she came into a room with William do not do anything so common as ‘earn’ money, they inherit it, along with the attitudes that many had thought buried a long, long time ago.
But why should we care about the end of a relationship between one rather privileged young woman and one fabulously privileged young man?
Because he styles himself William Wales and one day, in the normal course of events, he will be Prince of Wales. And whether we agree with that or not, we should have some concern about the behaviour of the man who will bear that title, and his cronies.
There was a time in recent years when the Royal family seemed to have turned a corner. The Queen’s years of dedicated service and the understandable public sympathy for William and Harry after the death of Diana meant that the institution of the royalty had shed its anachronistic image.
People who, it has to be said, do not quite understand how monarchies work, even spoke of skipping a generation and having William ascend to the throne after the Queen, bypassing his father altogether.
William was young, handsome, and popular. He spent his gap year doing good works in South America and elsewhere and on his arm he had a young, attractive girlfriend who, was not titled, could not trace her ancestry back via several European dynasties to the Norman conquests, and was not ‘old money.’
She was, to be blunt, one of us and it looked for a short while, at least if you were Woolworths commemorative pottery department that is, like she was marriage material and might be our future queen.
I don’t think anyone can seriously suggest that William and Kate should have continued a relationship if their hearts weren’t in it. But what hgas been supremely annoying in the past week or so is how the boot has not very subtly been put into Kate Middleton and her family for being, well, not suitable, too middle class to seriously have a hope of one day marrying a prince.
Some idiots were even talking about bloodlines for God’s sake, as if William were some sort of pedigree hound that had taken a shone to a bit of a mongrel.
The theme that ran through the poison dripped on Kate Middleton’s background was that she might be middle class, but that was somehow worse than being working class. The message was clear – the aspirations of the middle classes like the Middletons were basically those of people who do not know their station.
And that’s a little bit of a problem, because, well, an awful lot of us are middle class now.
We might have working class roots, but back in the ‘60s and ‘70s our parents pushed us that bit further up the educational food chain in an effort to give us a better start in life than they had.
As the son of steelworker and a nurse I might have working class roots, but that’s all they are, roots, 20 years in the soft-handed world of journalism after a making it through higher education means I can’t claim to be working class any longer.
And there are a lot of us in that boat – a generation or so out of the working classes.
Now, if the assorted hangers-on, flunkies, and so-called friends, of Prince William are saying to the middle classes, ‘sorry, her mum and dad might be self-made millionaires but she’s still not good enough’, then that’s rather a slap in the face for a large section of the UK population.
And rather than recognising that they should have known their place in life, those middle classes might just begin to question why they tolerate having such an offensive bunch of inbred hoorahs lording it over them.
And they might begin to question the wisdom of an heir to the throne moving in circles when it is considered acceptable to taunt a young woman because her self-made millionairess mother was once airline cabin crew.
William ought to be aware that the comments made by those who claim to know him in the past couple of weeks have been vile and do him no credit. They make him appear to move in circles where inherited wealth and privilege are the only means of being accepted.
But more and more wealth in this country is being created not by dint of who your daddy and his daddy and his daddy was, but by hard work. If you are telling those that create the wealth in this country that their daughters are not good enough for royalty, then they might question why their taxes are good enough to fund the royalty.
William would have been wise to more publicly distance himself from the crass, snobbish and stupid remarks made in the wake of his split with Kate Middleton.
And, if he wields any influence with those who made such idiotic comments, he would be well-advised to tell them to shut up.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Column, April 17, 2007

NOT really a language is it?
That’s the conclusion one or two English people reach when confronted by two welsh words in particular – teledu and toiledau.
It’s more an odd way of pronouncing English isn’t it? We just nick an English word, add in a few ffs, dds, lls and use au instead of s for plurals and bob’s your uncle, or rather wncl as we might have it.
And they’re right. How jealous we must be of a people whose language has remained unsullied by outside influence, pure and true to its Greek and Latin roots.
The English can dine in a restaurant, a la carte on a smorgasbord of, whelks, yoghurt, mousse and fromage frais. Or you might simply sip a latte or a lager in a café and you would still be speaking the Queen’s English.
You could live in a bijou hacienda in a cul-de-sac or plaza, perhaps even a bungalow or a chalet. If your tastes were grander perhaps a place with a concierge or a verandah and naturally its bidet and sauna would be en suite. It would come complete with an au pair and you’d still be speaking the Queen’s English.
You could cover your body with tattoos if that wasn’t taboo and the language you would be using would still be QE.
You might be clothed in a bra, bikini, knickers, bandoleer and culottes, shod in espadrilles, wearing jodhpurs coloured khaki and a kaftan woven from calico or chintz. You might look a bit avant garde, but you would be speaking the Queen’s English.
If animals were your forte you could go on safari to spot penguins, canaries or cockatoos and corgis or even take in a gymkhana or polo match.
An Englishman can take to the road in a diesel-powered juggernaut and even tow a caravan before stopping off at an oasis and the language he would be using would be the Queen’s.
If you were a bit of a thug you might cause a fracas or even mount a coup d’etat to dispose of the ancien regime just like the tsars, and the clique convicted on a dodgy dossier of evidence would be put to the guillotine.
If you were of a more nautical bent you could sail your flotilla, or even an armada or catamarans before putting into a marina.
If the wanderlust seizes you, you could schlep your way to your destination and if you started to perspire then a dab of cologne or eau de toilette will sort it out.
If you were some sort of wunderkind you could tot up the cost of a devastating tsunami using an abacus though pundits might frown if you showed any schadenfreude in the wake of the disaster.
To make the peace you might hold a powwow, but if that didn’t work you could always engage the services of an assassin or mount a guerrilla campaign, naturally using the Queen’s English.
If the cold wind blows then you’ve a choice of anorak, parka or a cagoule to keep out the chill and you’d still be speaking the Queen’s English.
You might think this column a little bizarre or even poppycock, but it’s because there’s a bonanza of words in English that started off their lives not being English and which the English just purloined along the way.
You could in fact spend your whole day speaking English, but using words that weren’t English and if you ran out of steam and feared you might be incommunicado then you simply filibuster.
You see languages don’t work well if they’re subject to some sort of linguistic apartheid, it’s the ability to assimilate others that makes them so strong.
It’s part of the reason that English has become a sort of lingua franca, as it were, it has given it its strength and its enduring character.
There is an irony to those who snigger at the Welsh snaffling a modern word here or there, when English has plundered other languages just as the Empire expanded. They are rightly proud of the language used by Shakespeare, or the Bard, as he is known, a word they stole from the Welsh.
So in answer to those who think toiledau is linguistic larceny, I would point out that today’s column has been brought to you courtesy of Algonquin, Dutch, Eskimo, Egyptian, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Tahitian, Tamil, Tibetan, Tongan, Turkish, Urdu, Yiddish and of course, Welsh, and every word of it the Queen’s English.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (Dutch word).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Column, April 10, 2007

I LOVE a good war story.
Probably not the most politically correct thing to admit nowadays, but there you go, I was born just 20 years after we’d defeated Germans a second time and the three TV channels we had in those days fed us a regular diet of war films depicting our victory.
So be it Battle of Britain, Dambusters, D-Day or A Bridge Too Far I would sit spellbound cheering on our chaps and booing the beastly Bosch.
And I think there are plenty of others out there who share my taste for tales of those who heed the call to arms.
We’ve been told tales of those who do battle from Chaucer onwards and some of our greatest literature has been set in wartime – don’t believe me? See Shakespeare’s Henry V.
More recently we’ve seen Andy McNab and others tell the tale of the Bravo Two Zero mission in the first Gulf War.
So why has everyone had an attack of the vapours over the sailors and marines seized by Iran?
I notice that one of the talking heads wheeled out to give an opinion on them selling their story was Bob Stewart, formerly Lt Col Stewart of the Cheshire Regiment. He seemed to give his grudging approval but said it might sour the deal for others with a better story to tell. That’s ‘Bosnia Bob’ who wrote the bestseller ‘Broken Lives’ about his time serving with the conflict.
I don’t know if our own North Wales member of the team that was held by the Iranians, Andrew Henderson, is one of those who has sold his story, but if he has, then good luck to him.
I confess that I cannot understand the attitude displayed by one or two relatives of servicemen who had died in Iraq, who objected to the HMS Cornwall crew selling their stories.
They seemed to be objecting to their profiting from their ordeal, while families of those who die are given very little in the way of compensation. The logic of that argument escapes me I’m afraid. Families of service personnel killed and those who are injured deserve better support than they get at the moment, but that should not stop those with a story to tell telling it and profiting from it if possible.
But then this is just the latest in a long line of rubbish that has been written and broadcast about this crisis.
First we had the Fay Turney – should she have been there, shouldn’t she have been there debate – which, given the fact we have had women serving on front line units for ages now, was frankly fatuous, space-filling nonsense. We’ve got women in the forces now, deal with it.
Then, as the crisis entered its second week journalists short of facts to fill their column inches started speculating on just whether a blooming great big frigate like HMS Cornwall, which is just, so, well, big, could let those nasty Iranians in gunboats take our brave chaps and chapess.
If you are under the impression that mighty Britannia that rules the waves should have blown them out of the water let me tell you a tale about an exercise called Millennium Challenge.
This was one of the biggest military exercises ever staged by the USA, against a fictional Middle Eastern country run by a crackpot despot – sound familiar. For the exercise they had a retired general running the despot’s forces.
When the US fleet sailed into the Gulf, the fleet of small private boats the despot had swarming around them carried out suicide attacks and sank three aircraft carriers, 13 other ships with the loss of thousands of US lives. It was a good job that it was just a desktop exercise.
The Cornwall, a lone frigate, was vulnerable to such swarm attacks and could only stand by and watch its crew members taken. We should have more ships there, with more helicopters, but then many of our ships have been mothballed to save money by the very people who got us into this conflict in the first place.
I might just remind you that the man who sent them into this illegal war, Tony Blair, is rumoured to have a book deal worth £4m lined up to tide him over in his retirement from front line politics. So lets not begrudge those on the real front line from making a fraction of that.

THE little lad at on the pavement was throwing something up in the air and when it went into the road, so did he.
Right in front of my car.
So there were a few things he and I were both thankful for this particular Easter Sunday.
Firstly, I’d been watching where I was going, I’d seen him, and I saw his dive into the road.
Secondly, I was doing less than 30mph.
Thirdly, the brakes on my car worked when I stamped on them.
Of course, it would have been his fault had I not been able to stop in time, but I imagine that would have been little comfort to me and even less to his parents, had I run him over.
So don’t let any of those so-called ‘motorist’s organisations’ that carp about speed cameras kid you that there is no reason for enforcement of speed limits.
It is 30 for a reason and that little lad, and his family, have good reason to know that.

I DIDN’T agree with a lot of what Ivor Wynne Jones wrote in the Daily Post.
But then, that’s kind of the point of a good columnist – which he undoubtedly was.
He had written for this paper for as long as I can remember reading it and a couple of decades beyond that.
He was something of a lodestone, showing true north. You might not want to go north, but it’s always comforting to know which way north lies.
His was a distinctive voice and North Wales will miss it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Down the Pub

I met an English smoker today who had recently returned from a trip to Wales.

He tells me he walked into a pub where they had been speaking English until he walked in whereupon they all started speaking Welsh.

But not only that...they all stopped smoking too.

Column, April 3, 2007

IT’S not hard to see why people are cynical about politics today.
After all on a daily basis we are reminded just how much they can lie to us when our newspapers and TV screens are filled with images of sailors and marines captured by Iran .
If it weren’t for a few crucial untruths – such as the weapons of mass destruction Iraq was 45 minutes away from using on us – we wouldn’t even be anywhere near that benighted country and our sailors and marines would be in harm’s way elsewhere around the globe.
So when we’re engaged in a war that we were misled into fighting, the stock of our political leaders is going to be a little on the low side as a result.
From the ‘90s onwards we have seen a steady poisoning of political life in the UK as we all too readily followed the US example of using spin and counter spin to knock opinion poll points off one another.
It has reached the stage where those briefing and counter-briefing for their poltical masters care little about what people actually think, but presume that if the media take the bait they must be doing their job.
In the meantime successive elections see turnout figures that would have those who fought and died for our right to vote turn in their graves.
It is always the excuse of the intellectually bone idle for not voting – can’t be bothered, all the parties are the same.
And the party flunkies who contribute to this in turn blame the media for exposing the spin and counter spin that mars today’s political debate.
You only have to listen to five minutes BBC radio of a morning to realise that many of today’s politicians have some sort of genetic affliction which renders them incapable of giving a straight answer. It’s either jam today AND tomorrow or we’re all going to hell in a handcart, depending on which party is giving the answers.
I’ve used to have every sympathy with someone who looks at the cynical manipulation of UK politics and then washes their hands of it and spends polling day mowing the lawn.
But those of you who claim all politicians are the same need to revise that opinion in the wake of a couple of things that have happened in Wales this week
Firstly, the days when a quiet drink in your local resulted in you returning home smelling like an ashtray are over. Smoking has been banned in a public place from now on.
Of course, there will be a hard core of smokers who will not agree with me here and will dream of the day when they can light up their slim panatellas at the bar once more.
But for the majority the freedom not to inhale someone’ else’s cigarette smoke will be a welcome change and for 400 people a year it could mean the difference between life and death – that’s how many they believe die because of smoking related disease but who will be spared by the ban.
On top of that we’ve now got free prescriptions in Wales – which will help some people enormously. OK if you’re on limited income you might already get free prescriptions, but for those on average wages an illness which involved getting two or more medications could be a real drain, especially for chronic conditions that were not quickly cured.
And these two measures were achieved by our Assembly – you might not like them, especially the smoking ban, but you cannot deny they will affect people.
And unlike Westminster politics where the difference between New Labour and New Tories appear to boil down to which way the leaders part their hair, Welsh politics is still refreshingly party political and you have a choice between Oldish Labour, old Plaid Cymru, the Tories and the Lib Dems. And what’s more they seem to have a few ideas that are actually different from one another
So if come the elections in May you’re envisaging a gentle day sharpening the mower blades and giving the lawn another crop – think up another excuse, that one is wearing thin as your lawn.

PERHAPS they are saving it up for the anniversary of victory, but do you detect a slight reticence among the TV channels to mark the Falklands War anniversary?
Whatever your views on sovereignty now that Argentina is a democracy, back then the islands were invaded by a country whose military leaders dealt with opponents by dropping them from helicopters. So we were right to try to kick them out and the fact that we managed it is a tribute to the extraordinary talent, determination and courage of our armed services.
The Argentinians didn’t think we’d try, the Americans thought we would try but we’d never pull it off, but in what was a very close run thing which would have been turned by a couple more accurate Exocets, we won.
For many of us in this country it was as formative an experience as, say, living through the Second World War was for a previous generation. It was a cornerstone of our experience and it defined us as a nation.
And so, 25 years on, you would have thought a little more would be made of what happened back then – a more organised, higher-profile commemoration of what went on.
Instead we seem to be on an interminable and highly-publicised guilt trip about slavery, laid on us by the BBC, despite the fact that none of us, not a one, had anything to do with it, nor would we in any way condone it.
But the Falklands , which were liberated by a fair few Welshmen as I remember, seem to be passing us by a little. The odd documentary here and there buried in the schedules in the twilight hours, but little else.
Perhaps, in the words of Woody Allen, they’re saving it up until the end and giving it us big, and the commemorations of our victory will be slightly higher profile.
We don’t wear victory well unfortunately, which can sometimes leave those who made sacrifices for it feel that they have been forgotten. We ought to remember that, whatever the political back story, the Falkland Islanders were a free people and they remained free because of the ability of members of our armed forces to fight and willingness to give their lives for that freedom.
And that is something we should remember with gratitude.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Column, March 27, 2007

Q. I say, I say, I say,what’s the secret of good comedy?
A. I don’t know what is the sec …
Yes, well it loses something when it’s written down and it’s not being delivered by Woody Allen, but you get the gist…I hope.
The secret of good comedy is also to never, ever, not once, let a politician deliver a gag in a speech.
Alright, they might be great at the one-liners in real life – think Winston Churchill and the lady who said she’d poison him is she were his wife, quick as a flash he said if she were his wife he’d drink it.
Or the battleaxe MP who told him he was drunk, to which he replied, yes, and she was ugly, but he would be sober in the morning.
And Denis Healey’s dead sheep jibe will be printed with his own and Geoffrey Howe’s obituary no doubt.
But it’s in conference’s speeches that they collectively administer the coup de grace to anything remotely funny.
You see, they’ve read the speech over and over again and they know they’re going for a laugh at this point, and they don’t want it to fall flat in front of the cameras, so they deliver it with all the subtlety of a brick in the forehead.
If it were not for the serried ranks of party members clapping and laughing loyally they would get the gong and be unceremoniously hoiked of the stage by a large hook.
Think Thatcher and her “every Prime Minister needs a Willie” – she was talking, about Whitelaw and I just don’t want to go any further.
Or Iain Duncan-Smith and his “quiet man turning up the volume” speech, just…dire.
And now Ieuan Wyn Jones has joined the fray with a crack at Peter Hain.
Here it is and be warned, should you be drinking tea, prepare to splutter it across the breakfast table at your nearest and dearest in a display on uncontrollable mirth.
Now the set up for this gag is the fact that Peter Hain’s very positive slogan as we approach the Assembly elections is “Vote Plaid and get Tories”. You also need to know that Hain’s ambition of getting his hands on the deputy leadership of the Labour party has been backed by none other than Richard Wilson, aka, One Foot in the Grave Star.
Now, I don’t know if some bright spark in Plaid party command had this bright idea, or whether it was Ieuan himself.
But quick as a flash, well, several weeks after Hain came up with his slogan, Ieuan shoots back: “Well in the words of his new best friend Victor Meldrew ‘I don’t believe it’ and neither will the people of Wales.”
I wasn’t at the conference – I’m not entirely sure they would let me in even if I asked – but I’m guessing this had the party faithful rolling in the aisles, or rather chortling and politely applauding, while the rest of Wales simply wondered whether they might find a re-run of ‘One Foot..’ on digital somewhere, anything was better than this.
The sad thing is that Ieuan Wyn Jones’s crack was in response to admittedly negative campaigning by Labour, and so they responded with some negativity of their own.
It’s all very well harping on about how negative Labour are, but if you then come up with a little list of just how rubbish Labour have been for the past few years it rings a little hollow.
The problem is that in amongst the party politicking Ieuan had secreted away a few policies which actually look interesting and which to dust off an old political cliché, put clear blue water between them and Labour and the Tories together.
An inflation cap on council tax for pensioners and plans to repay student loans for five years for those who stay to work in Wales.
Pensioners will like the first idea and I really like the second. Time and again I’ve banged on in this column about the drain of young talented people out of Wales and at last Plaid has seen fit to come up with an idea that is just a start to remedying it.
Of course, to resurrect political cliché number two, the devil is in the detail, as many former students do not have to pay off their student loans immediately because their first jobs are relatively low paid and they don’t cross the threshold at which they have to start paying their loans.
So if Plaid are promising to make payments and then they won’t need to make any it’s a bit of an empty promise. F however, they’re promising to start repaying regardless of income then that’s a great idea and if they’ve costed it out and it won’t break the bank then it’s a really creative bit of thin king about how Wales can retain some of its young talent.
Likewise £5,000 match deposits for first-time buyers is another great bit of thinking which might help redress some, just some, of the issues in the housing market in Wales. It’s never going to be the whole answer, but if it helps just a few get onto the housing ladder it’s go to be a good thing – but again, just as long as Plaid’s sums stack up.
The frustrating thing is that when, to complete the hat trick of political clichés, you’re forever asking politicians ‘where’s the beef?’ and along comes Ieuan with rump, ribeye and sirloin in one speech, it needs no dressing up, especially with fourth-rate gags about a BBC series that ended years ago.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Column, March 20, 2007

Yes, I know, I know, I've been most remiss in recent weeks, but here it is anyway.

I SUPPOSE you have to admire their optimism.
I mean having spent so many Six Nations in the past clinging on to mathematical hopes of salvaging some glory, or worse avoiding the wooden spoon, you can see how they might have approached Saturday’s match with something other than a feeling of impending gloom
And you can see why, Mike Catt had had a good match, they’d beaten the French and so, if results went their way, they might be masters of their own destiny come 5.30pm on Saturday.
And so they were, the Six Nations championship was in England’s grasp when they took to the field in the Millennium Stadium against Wales.
There was just the small matter of winning by a margin of 57 points.
The French, out of a sense of decorum, kept the champagne on ice until the end of the Wales England game, but they could have cracked open the bubbly the moment they stepped off the pitch because their grip on the title was never in any danger.
In what alternate universe did even the most blindly loyal England follower believe they were going to stick 57 points up us, and do it unanswered?
I’ll tell you the only way they were going to do it, a detachment of Royal Marines on the England 22 armed to the teeth and with orders to shoot to kill. Even then I’m fairly sure that Shane Williams, being officially faster than a speeding bullet, would find a way through to the tryline.
Were there really any England fans trooping into the stadium who believed that?
Perhaps there were and they might have pondered over the differential scores and points differences and come up with the idea that they might just do it.
Then one of their number, whose grip on reality had not been totally loosened by copious pre-match quantities of Brains Dark, would have piped up: “Ah, but this is Wales-England.”
Then they will have tucked up their hopes for another year, realising that, even if they were to win – and it has happened on occasion – it would be a war of attrition with every point surrendered with the same reluctance you would have to giving up your firstborn.
If there were any poor misguided souls who still harboured a shred of hope that it was they, not the Irish or French who would lift the trophy at the end of the day, then James Hook’s charge-down try will have settled their hash for them.
They will have momentarily forgotten that they were playing the original dogs in a manger who would have anyone but England win and would duly raise their game to prevent such an occurrence.
The English side may not be the ‘Ruperts’ of old, ex-public schoolboys of a certain social standing who were there to be taken down a peg or two by a Welsh team which similarly is no longer made up of men forged in the mining communities of ghe valleys.
But old enmities run exceeding deep and if Wales produce just one great performance a season it will be against England. They will run that bit faster, push that bit harder, tackle that bit more ferociously, simply because they are doing it against England.
There is a danger in letting ourselves become too defined by sporting set pieces like this. After all, rugby no more defines the entire Welsh nation than Wimbledon does the English.
So be it, we must force ourselves to forget sporting glory lest we take our eye off the ball in other, more important, matters.
It’s no good turning a blind eye to our Assembly’s failings, and successes, because once a year we have the diversion of the rugby, albeit a very entertaining diversion.
But it would also be wrong to deny ourselves just a few moments to bask in a great win by a Welsh side.
You cannot help but enjoy the spectacle of a Welsh pack routing their opposition. There is a sheer joy to be had in watching Shane Williams frighten the living daylights out of his opposition by his ability to sail past them in the blink of an eye.
James Hook is simply a revelation, a great player and another kicker who must make his opponents’ hearts sink as he slots kick after kick after kick.
And the tackling, it was like watching the All Blacks, some of the hits doled out by Welsh players must have been been felt by the England players’ grandparents, such was their ferocity.
And talking of the All Blacks, that will be the real test of this Welsh side. No-one can argue they were firing on all cylinders in this Six Nations. But what they did show is the ability to play with speed and brilliance.
They were not able to sustain it in these matches, but if they were able to for the World Cup then who knows what they could achieve.
That will be the real test of greatness, whether they can repeat this sort of performance against the mighty All Blacks, or Australia, or South Africa.
As I said last week, the result of this Six Nation may make Wales a weak prospect on paper and those facing them will have been lulled into a false sense of security.
Another group feeling a bit safe from Wales are the bookmakers who have put them at 70-1 to win the World Cup. England they’ve got on at 22-1.
I’m not a betting man, but after Saturday’s performance I think the odds on Wales are a bit long and it might just be worth having a few quid on them to pull off an extraordinary victory.
Do you know if we all put £5 on them to win and they pulled it off we would be up as a nation by more than £1bn.
That would fund quite a celebration party.

Incidentally, and for the blog only, I'm grateful to the reader who sent me a T-shirt this week depicting a dragon shoving a chariot up a bulldog's arse.
He's selling them on e-bay should you wish to obtain one.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Column, January 30, 2007

WHAT would make an Englishman jealous of the Welsh?
I ask because that’s the foolhardy promise that Rhodri Morgan has made.
Not only can we aspire to be the equal of our larger neighbours, such will be the quality of services this side of the border, the English will be green with envy, according to Mr Morgan.
You can only applaud his aspirations, but I have to say it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the relationship we have with the English.
For them to ever be in a position where they felt jealous of us, some terrible disaster would need to have befallen them the like of which the world has never seen before.
Maybe, just maybe, if the icecaps melted and the flatlands and hillocks of England sank slowly beneath the globally-warmed waves, they might, just might mind you, cast an envious eye in the direction of Snowdonia and dry land. But even then they’d just move in and call it England, they have, after all, got form for that sort of thing.
No I have spent some considerable time now moving among the English, and have to say that in their dealings with the Welsh, the green-eyed monster rears his head very rarely, if ever.
My scouse-inflected vowels mean that I’m rarely picked out as a Welshman, until I reveal my status – usually while capering about laughing in the aftermath of a successful Six Nations campaign (if we’re unsuccessful, then the Welsh light is hid firmly under a bushel and they can think me scouse for another year for all I care)
But when I do define myself as Welsh it is usually greeted with a nonplussed silence as people try to work out why on earth I would want to do so, after all they say, I don’t sound Welsh. What they’re saying to me is that I could ‘pass for English’ so why don’t I keep my guilty secret to myself and enjoy all the privilege and benefits of being born as one of God’s favoured (English, that is). Just keep schtum about the taffy bit, they won’t tell a soul.
Either that, or they treat me to a rendition of what a Welsh accent should really sound like, which for the record is usually a rather nasal-sounding tenor, with a good dollop of the Hindu Kush thrown in, peppered with a few ‘look you’s, ‘there’s lovely’s and an obligatory reference to sheep.
Jealous? You’ve got a mountain or two to clim before you make them feel that Rhodri.
In the eyes of the many English who have not been here, Wales is a mystery involving hostile and aging locals, firebombers who would burn down your beach windbreak if it started looking a bit like a permanent residence, leeks, daffs and ladies in tall hats.
Those who have been here are, of course, much better informed and can add in beautiful beaches and mountains to the list of hostile locals, firebombers, leeks, daffs, etc, etc.
Of course, most of us care little how we are defined by people who don’t even know us and we quietly get on with our own, Welsh, thing. And long may that continue. But it won’t continue for very long if those who dismiss us as daff-loving choristers realise that actually there’s a better life being had in Wales than there is over in England.
Were Rhodri every to succeed in making the English jealous of us, you can bet that the next day there would be questions in Parliament and whichever Chancellor was in power at the time would come under enormous pressure to cut off the largesse that was being thrown in our direction courtesy of the English taxpayer.
Of course they neatly ignore the fact that an awful lot of English taxpayers are actually, like myself, Welsh taxpayers, in England. All they see is liberties being taken.
Look at the way they moan at the financing of the Scots. Millions are being lavished up there, mostly it has to be said to stop them drinking, smoking and eating themselves into an early grave and who would begrudge them that – the English would, that’s who.
But Scotland always has in its favour that fact that most English people do not want to live there. We don’t have that advantage, as we know, lots of English people want to live here, especially when they retire.
If we succeed in making them jealous then ever more of them will make that journey westward to spend their twilight years taking advantage of the superb services Rhodri is putting in place. And given that the English will have paid for them with their taxes, I can’t see how we can complain (although I’d sure quite a few of us will)
But like Rhodri, I dream of the day that the Welsh inspire something other than sneering condescension in our neighbours, but suspect our days would be numbered after is we ever did.

THE caller wondered is Mrs Banks would be at all interested in the installation of a stairlift at our home.
“Not really,” she replied.
“Oh,” replied the eager young man on the end of the phone, obviously sensing hesitation and a possible sale in her tone, “Are you managing without then.”
It was at this point that Mrs Banks revealed that she had yet to hit 40 and that while we had been renovating our house, a stairlift was not high on the list of priorities, and that, yes, she had been managing without than you very much.
I think she was a little hasty myself. Think about it, you come home from a long, hard day and all you want to do is collapse into bed – what could be easier than sitting yourself down and zipping up courtesy of the stairlift?
And if they could organise a rail for the thing running to the nearest pub, they’d be onto a winner chez Banks and my order would be in post haste.
So if the nice young man would like to call back he’ll get a less frosty reception from the, aging, man of the house.

Column, January 23, 2007

“O would some Power the gift to give us. To see ourselves as others see us.”
Burns night this week, not that I’ll be saluting the haggis, or whatever twee ceremony Yanks who have traced back their family tree to some bloodthirsty clan or other might indulge in.
No, I thought it was apt given the self-flagellation we’ve indulged in after we held the mirror up to ourselves when three deeply stupid women were caught doing a bit of bullying.
Alright, it was a bit of bullying that was watched by millions of people, sparking off a diplomatic incident with India and causing 40,000 people to complain to TV watchdog Ofcom.
So it perhaps transcended the schoolyard, but nonetheless the sackcloth and ashes we’ve donned as a nation as a result is as over the top as the title ‘Celebrity’ that has been put in front of Big Brother (H from Steps, oh deary me, we really are pushing at the envelope of the definition of celebrity this time aren’t we?)
It has to be said that this series, like its non-celebrity counterpart, would have passed me by without even a flicker of interest, unless by some glorious lapse of security one of the housemates had managed to secrete a Kalashnikov in their washbag and had taken out the entire cast and crew before turning the gun on themselves.
Sorry, just need to take a moment to sit back and happily contemplate the idea of a BB bloodbath.
Right, back to the case in hand, is Jade Goody a racist, bigot, anti-Christ and while we’re at it can we blame her for the rise in interest rates and global warming?
Well, no, probably not. Stupid, oh definitely, a bit of a bully, yes that as well. Racist? Well, apart from replacing Shilpa Shetty’s surname with Poppadom, she didn’t actually say anything racist.
If you want to find the housemate planting burning crosses on the lawn, look no further than Jade’s hench-chav Danielle Lloyd who memorably suggested that Shilpa should, ahem, ‘go’ off home, and you can replace the word she used instead of ‘go’ as it can’t be repeated in a family paper. She also suggested that she did not want to have food Shilpa had prepared as she did not know where her fingers had been, wondering out loud whether it was India or China where they ‘fingered their food.’
Check out you local high street dear, you’ll find the burger/kebab/fried chicken emporiums that abound do not furnish their British clientele with much in the way of knives and forks and it’s us that finger our food as much as anybody.
When she entered the house Danielle, a celebrity we had to be told, for being, briefly, Miss UK, said she just wanted the viewing public to get to know ‘the real me.’ Oh my, I think we’ve done just that Danielle, and pretty vile it was too. I’d stick to the fake you if I were you.
But I think it’s a tad unfortunate that the one time this dreadful show which delights in a group of hopeless, no-marks parading their profound ignorance before us, actually does something interesting, there are questions in Parliament, effigies burnt in the streets of India, and Ofcom has to set up a hotline for the time-wasters who have clearly got nothing better to do with their lives than express their righteous indignation at a stupid woman doing something a bit, well, stupid.
As a masterclass in how bullies operate it was fascinating, Jade and her gaggle of cackling backers fulminating against Shetty, who was everything they weren’t – beautiful, talented and a celebrity. How galling she must have been to someone like Jade whose career is based on being a celebrity for wanting to be a celebrity once and not quite winning.
It has to be said though that it’s not unreasonable for Jade to believe this is a sound basis for a caree, given the multitude of shows that abound giving z-list so-called celebrities a crack at doing something they’ve never tried before in the hope they’ll fall flat on their backsides.
Step forward Lisa Scott-Lee (see what I did there ‘step’ forward…suit yourself, pearls before swine) who is currently ‘Dancing On Ice’, or at least she was last time I could be bothered to check. She might have been evicted from the rink by now, or do they just drop them through a hole in the ice to a watery grave? Wishful thinking.
Lisa, her many fans will be pleased to know, is soldiering on and her new album is out in South Africa and the Benelux nations. Fret ye not though, UK fans will be able to buy an import or download it digitally – be still my itching mousefinger. It’s called ‘Never or Now’ to which the correct response is, of course, a resounding never.
Jade is a product of a culture that says you can be famous for basically doing not very much other than turning up and saying something stupid in front of a camera and given the amount of TV producers who seem to be turning that out as a format, she’s not wrong in wanting her slice of the action.
To be confronted by someone who can act, sing and, I’ll wager, chew bubble gum and walk at the same time must have been something of a culture shock for Jade.
It was nothing to do with race, it was a clash of the talented with the talentless. It also has to be said that Ms Shetty, who has carved out a career in front of Bollywood cameras, played the role of victim to absolute perfection and if she was genuinely surprised not to be voted out on Friday, she was the only one in the whole country.
And that’s the other thing we seem to be forgetting. When confronted with a gang of bullies victimising someone, the great British public voted with their premium-rate phone calls and hoiked out the ringleader quick smart. Would that the victims of schoolyard bullies were saved so promptly.
Now that Jade has departed to take her place as the official UK ’s most hated former contestant of a reality show, the house has become rather dull. Danielle Lloyd has taken to playing to her strengths, which don’t involve anything from the neck up, Jo O’Meara (in S-Club Seven apparently, whatever an S-Club is) is morphing into Pat from Eastenders and dull old Jermaine Jackson is trying to keep the peace rather missing the point of the whole thing.
Our one hope of someone going postal is Dirk Bendict, who I trust has a Colt 45 tucked away in his cigar box. One more A-Team jibe and there’ll be blood on the walls. I love it when a plan comes together.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Column, January 16, 2007

THOUGH it has to be said that Plaid Cymru has kept us entertained in recent months, I’m beginning to suspect there’s a thin thread of genius in amongst all the madness.
You have to admit some of their japes have been most amusing – sonic logos (nope, still not a bloomin’ clue), giving up our armed forces, and most recently a free laptop for every child in Wales to play grisly video games or download porn, (alright, I should point out for boring old accuracy’s sake that games and porn do not actually feature in any of Plaid’s announcements of this gem of an idea, but I suspect I know what a 16-year-old boy might do with a laptop given half a chance)
But as the elections loom and the government wheels out its big guns to warn the four horsemen of the apocalypse will canter across the land if we dare out a tick in any box but the right box (Labour), Plaid has pulled off a neat trick.
Up in Scotland their daubing themselves in woad, doing a Mel Gibson and trying to break up the union. (alright, alright, accuracy and all that – there’s been no woad as yet and no Scots nationalists have been hung drawn and quartered and had their head put on a spike – but there’s time yet, it could be a rough campaign.)
Up there they want their independence, or as Mel would have put it while whirling his claymore: Freeeeeeedommmm.
Down here Plaid has taken a little more of a pragmatic stance, if one less likely to stir the heart and inspire a rush down the A55 to take back Chester.
Plaid wants “to promote the constitutional advancement of Wales with a view to attaining full national status for Wales within the European Union.”
What? I know, I don’t know what it means either. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the genius of it.
Peter Hain was making much of the threat of nationalists and Tories to our beloved union this week, perhaps echoing the thoughts of Gordon Brown who’ll be holding the reins quite soon if things go as disastrously bad in the local elections under Blair as they well might.
But what nationalists is he talking about then?
Because Plaid aren’t intent on splitting up the union, they want full nation status within the European Union.
And what pray might that mean? No more Westminster taxes (and no more cashback either)?
Our own navy, army and air force, or are Plaid really going to disband the Welsh regiments and hope that no-one can ever find their way into the Irish Sea to threaten our shores? That’s probably not that bad an idea, because if CNN and Europe are anything to go by, one thinks we’re a bit of England anyway, according to a map they produced, the other had us not existing at all when they managed to produce a map that stopped at the Severn.
Plaid’s vestigial links to a movement for independence have withered the longer they have sat in the Assembly, tasting what little power they have down there and realising that that’s about as far as they’re going to push it.
They’ll get not further as a movement for independence because there’s absolutely no-one who wants independence anyway.
If they campaign on an independence ticket they know they will leave people so profoundly unbothered that they risk killing the election campaign dead in its tracks.
Up in Scotland they’re all fire and brimstone about cutting their ties with England , until, perhaps, they realise their oil and gas is running out as fast as their people are running south to get jobs.
Here in Wales we occasionally don’t like being patronised by our larger neighbour, but all in all we’re slightly better off than we were under previous Tory administrations.
And ‘slightly better off’ is not the stuff that inspires a revolution. Plaid are not the bogey men Peter Hain would have you believe, but without that ethos of independence running through what they do, it’s hard to see what they are at all.

THERE is a particular to being a politician and that is the picking of the pointless fight.
Firstly, it gets your name in print.
Secondly, if you pick the right fight, it’s one that no-one will expect you to win, but, even better, one that they can’t check whether you’ve won or not.
Thirdly it shows you sticking up for your constituents, even if they were never really in any danger anyway.
Witness the brave words issuing from Ceredigion MP Mark Williams over Ofcom’s ban on junk food advertising.
Now, this ban was aimed at stopping burger chains hypnotising our children into eating burgers as big as their heads, but in defining junk food, Ofcom have caught up cheesemakers, because cheese has got a lot of fat in it. Well, sorry to break this to you cheesemakers, but it has. You try making fat-free cheese and you would be selling big blocks of nothing.
North and Mid-Wales is home to many cheese dairies, but correct me if I’m wrong – and as father of a three-year-old who is just beginning to fall under the influence of the idiot lantern, I don’t think I am – I don’t remember many North Wales dairies hawking their delicious wares on prime time TV.
That is unless their product was the slice of gloopy cheese in a cheeseburger being foisted upin our hoodied youth by an American megaburger chain.
I can’t see the boards of directors of the aforementioned Welsh dairies glumly looking at their sales figures and saying: “If only we could lavish millions on TV adverts and nab the slots in children’s hour, they’d be pestering their mum to slip half a kilo of our traditional farmhouse-matured cheddar in with the crisps and cola. We’d be quids in, if it wasn’t for that pesky Ofcom."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Column, January 9, 2007

I DON’T think the Aston Hill has ever featured in postcards depicting the great landscapes of Wales .
As Welsh hills and mountains go it is way, way down on the list of those that have won our country’s reputation for wild, unspoilt beauty.
If you covered it in tarmac and put a motorway up it, no-one would really miss it. Hang on, that’s just what they want to do?
My own interest in this small unsung corner of Wales is the fact that if you look to the left while heading up that hill you might just catch a glimpse of the window of the bedroom formerly occupied by your truly.
I grew up within a stone’s throw of the Aston Hill and, sentimental as I am for my home town, even I would not claim the Aston Hill as some area of outstanding beauty that needs to be snapped up by the National Trust lest it be lost to the nation forever.
But I’m not entirely surprised that the plan to put what will be a seven-lane motorway through the place has attracted more than a few voices of opposition. In fact they face protests by not one, not two, but four action groups opposed to the plan.
What did the planners honestly expect? Did they think that it’s just such an anonymous stretch of mid-20th century housing that no-one would notice when they ran the M25 past their front doors, demolishing 50 homes in the process?
Did they kid themselves that a community that was used to the clouds produced by Shotton Steelworks and Connah’s Quay power station wouldn’t really notice the fumes from the millions of cars they would drive right past their gardens?
Perhaps they thought that ears deafened by years of traffic noise wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between four lanes and seven.
The planners have pointed out that the traffic on the Aston Hill is not local, so shutting off slip roads won’t do any harm, as most people on it want to get further into Wales anyway.
Marvellous, so the communities either side of it get all of the hazards in terms of noise and damage to health, and none of the benefits. And just who are these planners planning for pray tell? It sound to me like they’re more interested in shaving a few minutes of the journey time for the residents of Liverpool rather than looking after the best interests of the people of North Wales .
Because what happens when you run seven lanes up Aston Hill, eventually it comes to an end, and you get a bottleneck somewhere further down the A55. And then the planners there will have the bright idea of making it seven lanes wide, and so on and so on, until you’ve got seven lanes running all the way to Holyhead and straight onto the ferry for Ireland , no need to stop in Wales at all. Brilliant.
Because, utmost in all planners minds, is God forbid that anyone should be put off going in a car anywhere and the A55 must be a constant thorn in their side.
I’ve always said the A55 is the best advert for easyJet evermore. How many drivers must have sat in a traffic jam pondering the fact that the cost of the petrol they’ve wasted going nowhere could have bought an air ticket somewhere hot where the local don’t daub their road signs with slogans telling them the place isn’t for sale to the English.
But that doesn’t stop the planners mantra – more lanes, more lanes, more lanes.
Kids with asthma? Well, probably their parents fault for smoking. Accidents? Look, you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few heads, or eggs, or something like that.
Seven lanes is progress see? Well it is progress of sorts I suppose, the jams will start at Holywell now instead of Aston.
In 10 years time we will look back and wonder how they managed to turn North East Wales into a glorified motorway verge, though perhaps glorified is putting it a bit strong – just a motorway verge then.

SO that’s it then. Saddam dangling at the end of a noose and in scenes reminiscent of VE-Day a deliriously grateful Iraqi people drape garlands around the necks of the conquering Tommies and GI Joes who gave them their liberty.
What? Car bombings, suicide bombers, executions by death squads operating under the nose of the Iraqi government. Surely not.
Surely the Iraqi people will grasp liberty with open arms and we’ll be able to bring the boys (and girls nowadays) back home to Blighty.
Not a chance. It’s worse than ever and we might want to get out, but we’re going to leave an unholy mess behind if we do it as quickly as we’d like.
Which means more suicide bombs, more military funerals for more grieving families back here.
I didn’t think it was possible, but with Iraq descending into lawless chaos, people there will start missing the ‘good old days’ of their deposed and now dead, dictator.

PLAID, the mad woman in the attic of Welsh politics, has come screaming down from the loft with another pearl of a policy.
Free laptops for all high school pupils in Wales . More stunning thinking from the party that brought us the sonic logo – no, I don’t know what it’s for either, but hey, I’m not down with new technology like the kids at Plaid are, so what do I know daddy-o.
Never mind the fact that it will cost a bomb and not all children will need one – they’re having one.
The children will get to keep them for their school years. Presumably then Plaid wants them to be handed back, imagining that a laptop that has been kicking about in a school bag for five years will be use to man or beast.
Here’s another idea and Plaid can have it for free. What say we drop the laptops and buy them some books?