Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, January 22, 2008

IN January a middle-aged man’s fancy turns toward his next holiday.
The rain is coming down in stair-rods, in the days when the sun does show through the perma-gloom of the clouds, it briefly shows it face above the horizon long enough to raise your hopes before setting and dashing them moments later.
Animals are walking round two-by-two as the waters rise and it’s got so bad there are rumours that water companies are even considering revoking their hosepipe bans for a day or two.
Having bagged one Welsh peninsula last year, the Llyn, we’re working our way down to Pembrokeshire this time in the hope that a more southerly aspect will help us escape the deluges that threatened to wash us into the Irish Sea last summer.
Mrs Banks is in charge of selection and she has found the perfect spot, and then revealed the price.
Apparently there is also a Pembrokeshire in Las Vegas which is the exclusive hang-out of the high rollers when they are taking a break from winning a losing fortunes at the tables. That could be the only explanation for the price Mrs B quoted me for a small cottage that she had found.
It must be set in rolling acres and enjoy fixtures and fittings the like of which we haven’t seem since the British Army liberated one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces and availed themselves of his gold-plated loo seats.
When I said I’d like to stay in. Pembrokeshire I didn’t mean renting out te whole region for my own personal use
But no, it’s a pretty modest bungalow, with a small garden, but it’s the going rate for that sort of place at that time of year – the school holidays.
Because it is the school holidays that bring out the spiv in just about every businessperson associated with the tourism.
Book at any other time of year and they’ll fall over themselves to fit you in. But try to get that six-week window of opportunity that coincides with your child’s holidays and all of a sudden they’re sucking their teeth and quietly sticking up their prices.
Yes, when it comes to getting away in mid-summer there’s more fleecing going on then in my uncle’s sheep-shed at shearing time.
The rule of thumb seems to be this – pick a figure that would make you wince – and then add another £200 or so.
Of course, you could argue that instead of going to the beaches of Wales, the more economical option would be to book a bargain bucket flight to somewhere overseas where there would be a far better chance of decent weather for a seven-day stretch.
But that would mean queuing in a British airport with a two-year-old and a five-year-old. That’s a whole new circle of Hell that Dante missed.
So instead of sitting in a departure lounge trying top control a small riot, I’ll be driving down through glorious Mid-Wales pointing out the landmarks of childhood trips where I, like my sons after me, inquired insistently from the back: “Are we nearly there yet?”
The other option would have been to take our son out of school to go on holiday during term-time. But a friend who had done the same warned us against this at the weekend. Did we realise we’d have to sign forms acknowledging our failure as parents for depriving our child of a week’s education, and did we accept full responsibility when he later dropped out only to reappear as a mugshot on Crimewatch, all because of our desire to get a cheap holiday?
So Pembrokeshire in school holidays it is and of course we’ll have a great time, despite the eye-watering hike in price.
But the tourism industry that has for so long relied on families like mine to fill its holiday homes should beware. There’s a chill in the air of the economy and just as retailers have had a miserable Christmas, so belt-tightening will extend to holidays too.
The expensive break in the UK will be replaced by a cheap one to Spain , or abandoned altogether.
The holiday home owners will blame market forces for the high prices, but it will be those same forces that may be their undoing in the next few years.
That’s the problem with sheep, you think you’ve got them all lined up to be fleeced, you turn your back on them and they’ve wandered off.

THE North West Wales NHS Trust has hit upon a brilliant way of cutting down on those troublesome infections like MRSA and clostridium difficile.
As many of these infections are believed to be carried in to thehospital, or spread, by visitors, they’ve planned a hospital with a unique way of dealing with that tricky problem.
Their plan for Ysbyty Alltwen, which will serve the Porthmadog area has 70 parking space, and more than 60 of them will be taken up by staff.
Brilliant. No visitors, no dirty hands on the wards, no infections.
It is brains like these they need at the very top of the NHS, they would cut waiting lists in half in a week, probably by halving the number of operating theatres.
Of course there are some moaning minnies who say that people in hospital would like the odd visitor. They’re nay-sayers the lot of them and I look forward to this policy being adopted by hospitals across Wales . Close the car parks, barricade the doors, together, or rather apart, we’ll beat the superbugs.

AMID the furore surrounding Jamie Oliver’s exposure of the cruelty of the chicken industry in this country there was a suggestion that it was somehow more ethical to eat game birds that had at least had a decent life in the wild.
Well, that would depend what you meant by wild. If you mean raised for most of their life in pens where they are fed and watered, then that’s a strange definition of wild.
Given a few brief weeks freedom before the shooting season starts, they are absolutely bereft of any natural wiles at all. I know, I live in shooting country and they practically flock round my ankles looking to be fed.
They are the stupidest creatures and when any other animal would lie low or fly away, they will fly straight into you. The one crouching in the hedgerow as I drove past should have stayed put, or at best flown in the opposite direction, but no, straight at the car was what its instinct told it and so my wing mirror was neatly excised and the pheasant met its end.
I couldn’t even find it for the pot, and yes, I know that’s illegal, but at £120 for a new wing mirror I think it would have been the most expensive pheasant ever killed.
Like fox hunting I think there are better things for our lawmakers to be doing than turning their attention to shooting, but the shooting enthusiasts ought to keep their heads down and avoid dubious claims about animal welfare.

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