Friday, 31 December 2010

A Winter Wedding

At what is a cold, bleak time of the year, it's lovely to have a winter wedding to go too.

So it is that Alyson and I have been looking forward to the wedding of good friends Dewi an Jo since we got the invitation a few months ago. The wedding took place on Wednesday in Manchester, in its Town Hall and the reception in the Midland Hotel.

It was a lovely occasion and was enjoyed by all. There were certainly many sore heads in the morning, that I can vouch for!

But to Dewi and Jo, best wishes for your future together. You're both great individuals and also a lovely couple.

A lovely way to end the old year and to see in the new.

School Reunion Week

The week between Christmas and New Year has always been a particularly relaxing one for me.

It's the only period of the year when it feels as if everyone is on holiday. The amount of e-mails and 'phone calls I get in this period is a fraction of what I normally receive as everyone is in the festive mood and unless there's an emergency, very rarely consider calling their local Councillor to worry them about their concerns.

As a result, over recent years in particular, I've taken the opportunity of having a quiet few days during this period to catch up with old friends.

Ysgol Dyffryn Taf - the 2004 Reunion
I left my seconday scchool in the summer of 2000. A whole decade ago? Time really does fly.

On going to Aberystwyth University, I quickly lost contact with most of my friends from school. So in 2004, having graduated and become a County Councillor in Cardigan, I decided it was time to try and catch up with some old faces. It worked out well as word spread and we had a night out in Tenby between Xmas in New Year with about 9 or 10 of us present. Nothing too formal, just a few pints and a catch up with old friends.

The 2009 Reunion
But, despite our saying that we wouldn't lose contact again, it has so happened. But last year at this same time, I made an effort to catch up with some more old faces. This time I caught up with my old childhood neighbour Justin Williams. We were always playing in each other's houses but I hadn't see him since my fathe died in 2003 as he had moved out to live in Canada. He's now engaged and doing well but on coming hme to visit his mum Trisha, it gave me a chance to catch up with him, his mother, her partner Nigel and her sister- Justin's auntie. It was great to see them all again and to see that they were still the nice family that they've always been.

I also caught up with the Evans family from Whitland who my family have know since my childhood. Llewellyn was in my class in primary school and though we'd caught up in the 2004 get together, I don't think I'd seen him since. In the meantime, younger brother Ryan happened to be a good friend of Alyson, who I got together with on Boxing Day last year. So with all of these newly re-made connections, a few of us caught up for a meal a the Black Lion in St Clears. It was a Whitland YFC Xmas dinner to be precise but a chance for me to catch up with Llew, Ryan and sister Sioned and their mother Vera who hadn't changed a  bit!

I've told my mum that in bot cases - with Trisha and with Vera, she should find the time to cach up with them also. I hope she does.

Ysgol Dyffryn Taf - the 2010 Reunion
So that brings us to this week. With this growing want to catch up with old friends, I was pleased to get a Facebook message (is there any other way nowadays?!) from another old school friend Alex Forder. Now, we've actaully met more recently than the 2004 get together when we caught up for a drink in Cardiff but now that he lives in Bilbao, Spain, the chances of a catch-up are rare. So he asked whether I wanted to have a curry one night during his Xmas break back home.

Well, why not indeed? So we then decided that we may as well try and see if we could get a group of us together from Dyffryn Taf. Admittedly, the idea was only discussed some 3 weeks ago so we had little time to plan, but it was worth a try.

Despite the short notice and the awful heavy rain last night, we still got 4 of us together for a (bloody fine) Indian and catch-up in Tenby. As I mentioned, I've seen Alex a few times in recent years - most recently in August 2008. As ever he was on good form and holds the rare distinction of being able to out-talk me! Dafydd Williams from Llanboidy also came down and apart from a fleeting 'hello' on a bus one time in the semi-distant past, I haven't seen him since we left school over 10 years ago. We'd been in the same class for 7 years in Dyffryn Taf so it was good to catch-up. Finally, completing the four-some, we had Gavin Harris who, like Alex, had come to Dyffryn Taf mid-way through the 7 years that I and Dafydd were there. Both Gavin and Alex were in our 6th form class so we knew each other well but the only time I'd met him since 2000 was in that 2004 get together. He joined the Marines as he always said he would, back in 2001, so is about to celebrate 10 years in the forces. He's just come back from a 3rd spell in Afghanistan having also been in Iraq and Sierra Leone. Much respect to the man and it was great to see him again.

The best thing about it is that it was as if none of us had changed. Alex, Gavin and Dafydd all spoke the same and looked the same as they did all those years ago, albeit maybe with a few years of age added on top! But it was good to catch up with good friends of old.

We drift apart so easily as people. A forgotten communication here, a reluctance to say hello there and suddenly, years go by without us keeping in touch with those who at one timein our lives, were those good friends. I hope I've managed to make some of those re-connections over the past few years and I hope to continue to do so in the future.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Chrsitmas to all my blog readers. I hope you have a peaceful, restful and cheerful time over the days ahead.

Don't drink too much or eat to many mince pies! Well, it is Christmas so...go on then!

Mark & Alyson

Thursday, 23 December 2010

We Lib Dems may dislike the Tories but Labour can *add expletive* right off

It's a bold, sweeping heading for a blog post if ever I've written one but after another tumultuous week for Lib Dem Ministers, some 'end of year' Coalition considerations must be made.

Torygraph 'Sting'
Over the past few days, Lib Dem Ministers have all found themselves at the end of what has basically been an entrapment process by the Daily Torgraph. The ethics and the legality of what this newspaper has done lies on extremly thin ice (sorry, seasonal pun intended) and could be challenged in the courts. But be that as it may, the repercussions of the so called 'revelations' must be dealt with.

Lib Dems don't like Tories - Shock Horror!
What we have heard have been rather frank, apparently 'off-record' murmurings of discontent from Lib Dem Ministers about their Tory coalition partners.

Well don't be surprised! In what has been an incredible year in British politics, we now find ourselves being governed by a full-blown coalition for the first time in 65 years. These things don't happen every day of the week and the implementation of such an arrangement between erstwhile political foes is bound to throw up many discontents.

What we've heard this week in the main has been a personal uneasiness between Lib Dem Ministers and Conservative colleagues who were until last May, sworn political enemies. Crossing the rubicon and working together as has been done in the public interest won't dispel these tensions overnight. Tensions will remain and so they should. For this is a coalition made up of two sovereign parties, both of whom have their own distinct agendas and ideas on how to best run the country. But neither won the election in May and so had to accept that working together in the spirit of compromise was the grown-up way forward.

Tories don't like Lib Dems? You can bet on it!
What we have heard this week of course are the Lib Dem 'discontents' on being a part of this practical process. But what the Daily Torygraph have decided against doing is shining a mirror against the Tory Ministers in the Government to see how they view this political arrangement. Because the truth of the matter is they won't be happy with it either and why should they?! Before the election they accused the Lib Dems of being a 3rd party irrelevance but now, they've had to share power with us and tht sits very uneasily with the right-wing of the Tory Party in particular.

It's the knowing that these grumblings are occurring underneath the Tory surface which makes us Lib Dems know that we're doing something right. Indeed, knowing that our Ministers have these deeply held reservations about their Tory colleagues gives us at the grass-roots level a confidence that they are doing all that they can to push Lib Dem influence to the max in their respective departments.

Vince Cable however, went to far. As much as I and most Lib Dem members would've been pleased to hear him speak of a 'war' against Rupert Murdoch, his comments were ill-judged because of the quasi-judicial role in which he found himself. In 'Council code of conduct' speak, he pre-determined himself and it was right that the decision on Murdoch's take over of BSkyB was taken away from him. It's a shame but the right thing to do all the same even though I share Vince's sentiments.

Rank Labour Hypocrisy
But despite this Lib Dem discontent, it is a boring matter of fact that we are doing what is best for the country in working together with the Conservatives to put the country back on the right track.

Ed Miliband's comments yesterday on launching a scheme inviting young people to join Labour for a penny, in a recruitment drive designed to attract disillusioned former Lib Dem supporters, was pathetic. He also extended an olive branch to Lib Dem ministers unhappy with the government's direction, saying he would "welcome" them on the Labour benches.

Is he stupid or something? As much as we don't find working with the Conservatives a bed of roses, at least they had the balls to come together with the Lib Dems to work in the national interest. The Tories could've stuck it out and led a minority-government, called a snap election for this autumn and could well have won a majority themselves as did Wilson for Labour in '74. But they, like the Lib Dems decided to put party rancour aside to put the country back on a more stable footing.

Labour refused to play ball. They refused to be constructive when the time for talking arrived. They refused to be pro-active in offering a non-Tory government alternative. They refused to admit that they had to accept much of the blame for the financial mess that they left the country in. They refused to take responsibility for their actions and were willing, indeed keen, to go back into opposition for their own party political benefit.

Such a reprehensible attitude towards the greater good has severely damaged their reputation with the Lib Dem grass-roots and now, Ed Miliband wants US, Lib Dems to join back with Labour? Is he completely insane? Me, a Lib Dem, to join a party that reneged on the top priority facing all politicians - the well-being of our country? A party that has such a 'clean-slate' of policies that what it adds up too is having no policies at all? A party that destroyed our civil liberties when in government? A progressive party?! Ha! No chance!

Making a Liberal Difference to the Government of the United Kingdom
The Lib Dem MP for Torbay, Adrian Sanders has put down in writing his own observations on the siutation in his blog here. He gives his own insiders view of the problems that we face as a maturing, grown-up party of government.

What particularly strikes true to me though is his comments about better promoting the message of what Lib Dems in government are delivering. He states:

"When constituents and others complain to me about putting the Tories in power I ask them to imagine a Conservative Government retaining a 50p top rate of tax, introducing an increase in capital gains tax, implementing a bank levy to fund child tax credits for poorer families, taking the lowest paid out of income tax altogether, extending the national minimum wage to include apprentices and reducing the age at which the full NMW is paid, increasing the number of social housing allocations above those of the previous Labour Government, establishing a pupil premium to increase the funding for pupils in poorer areas, investing £900 million to reduce tax evasion and amend legal loopholes that allow for tax avoidance, proposing a £140 minimum state pension, setting up a Green Investment Bank, moving towards a House of Lords elected by PR, agreeing to a fixed term Parliament and much, much more.

"And before they can say tuition fees I ask them would a Tory Government have agreed to a fee cap?

"Would they have introduced measures where all students will repay less per month under this Government’s policy than they currently pay? Where the lowest earning 25% of graduates will repay less than they do now? Where the top earning 30% of graduates will pay back more than they borrow and are likely to pay more than double the bottom 20% of earners? Where over half a million students will be eligible for more non-repayable grants for living costs than they get now? Where almost one million students will be eligible for more overall maintenance support than they get now? Where part-time students will no longer have to pay upfront fees benefiting up to 200,000 per year? Where there will be an extra £150m for a new National Scholarship Programme for students from poorer backgrounds and tough new sanctions on universities who fail to improve their access to students from such backgrounds?

"There is so much positive policy and influence to promote, but we can’t get it across to the electorate unless we can show how we made the difference. Getting this information out and understood is part of a giant task that now confronts us to rebuild trust with voters who feel we have let them down, or worse betrayed them".

His final point is key - getting that message out. Because there's no doubt that this Government has a real liberal streak running through it that would not have existed under a purely Conservative alternative or indeed, a continuation of the Labour farce that preceded it.

We need to tell the world and it's dog what we're doing and how we're influencing government policy with those of our own. We may not like the Tories, but the country is in damned better shape for having us in the middle of government with them that if the they or Labour were left in charge on their own.

So here is one Liberal Democrat member who laughs in the sorry face of Ed Miliband. As I mentioned in my blog post here when he was elected leader, Labour made a big mistake in choosing Ed over David. I agree with my sentiments then, even more today.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The King's Speech

I like a good film and I enjoy the whole cinematic experience - I have ever since I was a child.

Having said that, I don't go to the cinema half as much as I should. Mostly that's down to a lack of time as my work commitments take over but also because I often find there's little on that I want to watch.

I've always liked 'real-life' stories - particulary if they are actually based in reality. There are rarely that many about so I'm not often found chomping at the bit waiting to go to the cinema with excitement.

King George VI
Well, for once, I am. January 7th is the day when British cinemas shall be shown the dramatisation of a true and incredible story - that of King George VI and his battle to overcome a debilitating stammer.

'Bertie', as he was known to his family, was in this historian's opinion one of the most under-rated monarchs of modern British times. He only reigned for 15 years but in that time he led, alongside Churchill, his country through the ravages of war. He did so despite his condition and despite the fact that he had never expected to carry the mantle of Kingship. As Duke of York, he should never have had to have dealt with the pressure of being King but his brother's abdication (my father incidently was born during King Edward VIII's short reign of Jan-Dec 1936) to marry the divorced American love of his life shook the monarchy to its foundation and put on the throne a man who detested public speaking.

This film looks to explore and delve into these issues and it should be an absolute treat.

I found The Queen, starring Oscar Winning Helen Mirren to be absolutely absorbing and I have no doubt that her father's story will be the same. It is already being critically acclaimed and has been nominated for 7 Golden Globes. Colin Firth's acting in the lead role has been widely approved and with the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi and Timothy Spall in the line-up also, the production just oozes confidence and class.

Here is a snippet...

It seems to show signs of being another 'The Madness of King George' which excelled under the wonderful leadership of Nigel Hawthorne.

I can't wait!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Domestic Waste Collections SUSPENDED across most of Ceredigion

Ceredigion County Council has announced that domestic waste collections across most of Ceredigion have been suspended for the remainder of this week. However, the County Council will attempt to collect domestic waste from:

· Aberystwyth town tomorrow, Tuesday 21 December 2010, and
· Cardigan town on Friday 24 December 2010.

Residents of other areas have been asked to keep their waste on their property and present it for collection on the next appropriate collection date as shown on their collection calendar.

A spokesperson for Ceredigion County Council explained: “Despite our priority highway network being open, many of our minor roads remain in a condition where it could be dangerous to drive heavy vehicles over them. The vast majority of our domestic waste collection routes do involve minor roads, therefore, it’s safer for us to suspend the majority of collections at the moment”.

Brian Hanrahan - 1949-2010

Brian Hanrahan, one of the most insightful of BBC journalists, has sadly passed away at the age of 61.

He covered, with his carefully crafted words, some of the major world events of the past 30 years. He was well respected by his peers and will be missed by those of us who have much respect for journalists of substance.

It is ironic that just a week after Britain's Harrier Jets were de-commissioned, the man who famously 'counted them out and counted them back in' during the Falklands War, has passed away.

To get around Ministry of Defence restrictions, he cleverly stated: "I'm not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back - their piolots were unhurt, cheerful and jubilant".

For me personally, because of my tender age I suppose, I mostly associate him with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those glasses and that calm delivery whilst hysteria and delirium was breaking out all around him will forever stay with me.

There's nothing better than excellent journalism which becomes as much a part of the story as the story itself. It isn't a matter of saying too much but a matter of knowing what to say, when to say it and when to shut up. The BBC have got the best reputation for this in my opinion and Brian Hanrahan epitomised that excellence.

As has just been reported on the BBC News, he was "A very decent man who will be much missed".

RIP Brian Hanrahan - 1949-2010

The Fear of (Xmas) Shopping

Ho Ho Ho!

The season of good will is with us though the weather has come with it.

Cardigan town has escaped the worst of the snow this last week. We've had a fair deal over the weekend but certainly nothing compared to other areas of the county and indeed the rest of the country.

I've been out xmas shopping in town and delivering my annual Councillor Xmas greetings leaflet around my ward during the past few days and now only have about a quarter left to deliver. But it's been pretty slippy out there - particularly off the main roads of the town centre.

But that hasn't deterred the shoppers. The town has been pretty busy today which is pleasing to see considering that many of the out-lying areas have been suffering from the snow much more than we have here in the town.

Personally, for one who doesn't enjoy shopping at the best of times, the thought of Xmas shopping usually fills me with dread. Many people simplify the process by shopping early for deals online, but others postpone, until running to stores at the last minute is the only option. In recent years, I've been known to fall into this latter category and have been found out shopping on Christmas Eve and then wrapping it all that evening. With 9 nephews/nieces, older siblings and of course my mother to cater for, it has always been a mini-nightmare.

Fighting the Fear
Thankfully this year I've been that bit more organised. It begins simply by deciding to give my nephews and nieces £10 each. Because with them now ranging from 2-13 years in age, the chances are that I'm either going to buy them something that they don't want or something that they already have. So giving some money should hopefully be my best bet. I certainly recall liking cash as a present when I was younger - I could use it for what I wanted then!

So that has left me with presents to buy for my Alyson, for her parents, for my mother and for her friend Ray. Impressively for me, with 5 days to go, I have now completed the job! This is slightly unheard of for me but it's good news for sure. I've also sent off all of my Christmas cards! I've even bought the bows and name cards for the presents (I'm actually, you may be surprised to read, a decent dab hand when it comes to wrapping presents) and I hope to wrap the presents all up now tonight which leaves me free to complete the delivery of my Councillor Xmas greetings leaflet over the next few days.

So, for once, I've made the whole shopping experience that little bit more reasonable for myself.

But that doesn't mean I like shopping...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

24 Years, 1 Month, 14 Days - Busby is Beaten

Today, Sunday December 19th 2010 is a day of some significance in the history of British football and specifically in the history of Manchester United.

For today sees Sir Alex Ferguson emulate Sir Matt Busby one final time as manager at Old Trafford - today see's him become the longest serving manager in the history of that famous club.

Sir Matt Busby
When Ferguson took charge from 'Big' Ron Atkinson in November 1986, United had gone 19 years since winning a league title.

That league title of 1967 had been won under Sir Matt Busby. He was the man who built Manchester United into a force to be reckoned with after WWII and then, after the Munich Air Disaster in 1958, re-built the side again. He won five league titles, two FA Cups and the culmination of his career was winning the coveted European Cup against Benfica at Wembley in 1968. He was Mr Manchester United and the statue that stands outside the stadium in his honour serves to remind both fans of the Red Devils and those like myself who don't, that this was a man of great integrity who was respected by all who knew him.

Sir Alex Ferguson
Busby cast an understandly long shadow. Between his departure and Alex Ferguson's arrival, United went through 5 managers - Wilf McGuinness, Frank O'Farrell, Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson.

Despite a slow start, taking 4 years to win his first piece of silverware with the FA Cup in 1990, Ferguson has done what his 5 predecessors could only have dreamt of - reviving the Busby glory years with those of his own and some.

Feruson's record is stunning and will prbably never be beaten. United have won 26 major honours under Ferguson. They've won 11 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, a Cup-Winners' Cup and, most crucially – for Ferguson has always bought into the United philosophy that Europe's premier competition is the biggest prize – two Champions Leagues titles (the first one in 1999 ironically coming on what would have been Busby's 90th birthday).

Like Busby, Ferguson's main quality has been the ability to be ruthless where necessary to re-build a team. He's done so to great success and whilst his manner is more abrasive than his famous predecessor, no-one can say that he doesn't deserve the spoils of his success.

The Future?
But Ferguson has no time to look back. He's still looking forward and at present, his Old Trafford outfit are 2 points clear at the top of the Premiership. He's guided the Red Devils level with Liverpool on 18 league titles each. He'd love to steer them to a record 19th league title next May.

But today, he can take a day off and look back at what has been an extraordinary career at Old Trafford. At a time when managers are expected to have to make an instant impact at a club and when the likes of Chris Hughton and 'Big' Sam Allardyce have both been riduculously sacked in recent weeks, Ferguson's example should shine like a star to all of those foolish Chairmen across the land.

Ferguson today surpasses Busby's record as manager of Manchester United of 24 years, 1 month and 14 days.

How long will he go on for and who could fill his shoes when he does?

I don't know so I'll end with a quote from the man himself. Just a few weeks ago on being asked about retirement he said this: "Retirement is for young people. I'm too old to retire".

But there's one thing I do know. When he does retire, the United faithful would be mad not to erect another statue of the man alongside that of Busby. He deserves it.

A Homage to Christmas Number Ones

This evening we will find out who has achieved the coveted title of 'Christmas Number One' 2010.

I'm not particularly bothered to be honest. I was very pleased that 'Rage Against the Machine' broke the 5 year stranglehold that X-Factor had on the honour last year but this year, whether it's 'Bird Is The Word' or Matt Cardle that gets it, neither will go down in the pantheon of famous Christmas No.1's.

Or will they...

A definitive list of our festive chart toppers since the charts began in 1952 can be found here but I wanted to pick my own personal favourites.

I've already blogged about my favourite Christmas songs here and 4 of the songs that I mentioned were indeed Christmas Number Ones (those from 1974, 1978, 1984 and 1985) so I won't mention them again here.

The Festive Top of the Pops
I've often incessantly bemoaned the past decade as being the worst ever in pop history for Christmas Number Ones because the songs have no relevance to the season.

Yet, even I must admit looking back, that some of the top positions in years gone by could be accused of the same, but are nevertheless copper bottomed hits.

The Number Ones of the past 58 years fall, as I see it, into two categories - the classic and the comedy.

Comedy Christmas Number Ones
The chart toppers from 1969 (Rolf Harris' Two Little Boys), 1972 (Jimmy Osmond's Long Haired Lover from Liverpool), 1980 (St Winifred's School Choir's There's No-one Quite Like Grandma), 1993 (Mr Blobby) and 2000 (Bob the Builder's Can We Fix It?) all certainly share the quirk of being rather eccentric, novelty tunes.

Added to these is the joyful Numero Uno from 1971. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Benny Hill...

Benny Hill - Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)
Uploaded by EMI_Music. - Music videos, artist interviews, concerts and more.

Another 'eccentric' Number One, but a hit all the same, came from 1983 - the unique, Flying Pickets.

The same could again be said for the Yule-tide chart topper of 1986. Another fabulous 'one-off' - this time from Jackie Wilson.

Classic Christmas Number Ones
Whilst they may not have been festive in nature, Christmas has also seen, interspersed by all the novelty acts above, hits from the biggest names of all-time. Elvis scored a Xmas No.1 in 1962 before the Beatles took Christmas by storm, bagging the title an unprecedented four times in 1963, 1964 1965 & 1967. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody was the only song to ever make the grade on 2 seperate occasions in 1975 and 1991 whilst Cliff Richard accomplished the Number One spot in 1960 (with The Shadows), 1988 & 1990. The Spice Girls then equalled the Beatles' hat-trick in 1996, 1997 & 1998.

But I want to pick out some other classic Christmas Number Ones of my own. To begin, a song I've long liked but only on looking up the information realised that it was actually a Xmas No.1. From 1959, Emile Ford & The Chekmates...

An absolute winner was the 1979 choice from Pink Floyd...

Now, admittedly, this next song shouldn't have made the grade. My Number One Christmas song of all time is 'Fairytale of New York'. But in 1987 it only made No.2. For me personally though, the blow is lessened by the hit that beat it. An Elvis re-make, it's the Pet Shop Boys...

A Very British Sense of Humour
But I think in a way, what these have all showed is that us British don't half enjoy being different when it comes to choosing our Number Ones at Christmas. From Elvis and the Beatles to the Human League and Whitney Houston to Mr Blobby and Rolf Harris.

So perhaps I should reluctantly admit that what we have seen over the past decade is merely a continuation of what has gone before over the previous 50 years.

So, to raise a toast to the eccentric, random, and let's admit it, at times completely insane British sense of humour that shows itself particularly at this time, I close with the Christmas Number One from the year of my birth, 1982.

He too was an Aston Villa fan and during the early 1990s was asked by manager Ron Atkinson to sing 'Nessun Dorma' at half time following a particularly poor first half performance by the team. He went on to run a restaurant named after himself, 'Renato's' in Tamworth but sadly passed away last year, 2009.

But I give you, in tribute to him, from 1982 when his and my Aston Villa won the European Cup, his Christmas Number One.

It's the British Christmas at it's worst, and therefore, looking at all of the above, by definition, it's best!

It's Renee and Renato!

Merry Christmas!

My Sports Personality of the Year - Phil 'The Power' Taylor

It's the annual 'pat on the back' night for those in sporting circles this evening as the nation chooses it's sports personality of the year.

Now let's not get hung up on the 'personality' bit. The name of the competition was changed from 'Sports Review of the Year' in 1999 but it's the same competition folks. We know it's all about sporting excellence so let's leave it at that.

The Crop of 2010
So who's in the running this year? Well, with no significant footballing or rugby triumphs to look back on over the past 12 months, it's actually a pleasantly open field in 2010.

Indeed, the 9 sports represented on the shortlist this year are Athletics (Jessica Ennis), Boxing (David Hyde), Cricket (Graeme Swann), Cycling (Mark Cavendish), Diving (Tom Daley), Darts (Phil Taylor), Golf (Graeme McDowell & Lee Westwood), Horse Racing (Tony McCoy), and Skeleton Bob (Amy Williams).

Some History
But this shouldn't come as a surprise because, looking back over the first 56 winners, 46 have come from individual sports. On only 10 occasions, has the winner been a part of a wider 'team'. It may be surprising to know that only 5 footballers have ever won the award (including Ryan Giggs in 2009), in addition to 4 cricketers and 1 rugby player.

Athletics has dominated with 17 winners coming from the track and field. An additional 2 have been swimmers with 1 rower on top.

Motor cycling/racing have taken the top prize on 7 occasions whilst boxing has done so 5 times.

There have been 3 horse jumping/equestrian winners, 3 tennis winners, 3 ice skating winners, 2 from the world of golf, 2 from cycling, and 1 from snooker (yes, Steve Davis has got a personality thank you very much).

The Contenders...
So the majority of the shortlisted few this year in fact, continue in a long tradition. Graeme Swann is the ugly duckling (see what I did there?!) in this case and I feel that whilst he's had a good season, he isn't deserving of the top prize.

Oddly, it is through his exploits in the 'team' element of golf this year, the Ryder Cup, that Graeme McDowell finds himself nominated. Personally, whilst I think he did a smashing job, I think the wider team should take the team prize this year in regonition of all of their efforts. Lee Westwood? Well, World Number One is nothing to be sniffed at but until he finally bags himself a major, I won't be voting for him for the top prize.

Tom Daley has already won the Young Sports Personality of the Year award but I think his time in the big league has not yet arrived though if he continues his impressive rise in the world of diving then it will probably only be a matter of time (how about a sensational Gold Medal performace in the 2012 London Olympics?)

David Haye, Jessica Ennis and Mark Cavendish have each had an excellent year and could be dark horses this evening but they don't make my top 3.

In 3rd Place...
Amy Williams deserves high praise indeed, having come from nowhere to win Winter Olympic gold, hurtling down a mountain at about 200mph on a toboggan (head first!) - which looks pretty damned scary to me! Hers was only the 9th British Gold in Winter Olympic history and the first individual Gold in 30 years. Big Respect.

In 2nd Place...
The favourite with many bookies to walk away with the award tonight, I would place Tony McCoy as runner-up.

Until this year, he had done virtually everything there is to do in his sport. He's ridden 3,000 winners, has been the British Champion Jockey every year since 1995/6 and has won the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Hurdle and the King George VI Chase.

But this year he crowned a magnificent career, by winning the Grand National at Aintree on Don't Push It.

In his career, he has ridden in over 13,000 races - that's the equivalent of 31,000 miles or 1.25 times around the Earth! I've had the great fortune of having witnessed him race a few times myself recently at the new Ffoslas Racecourse in west Wales.

If he wins, I'll take my hat off to him because it would be deserved.

But having said that, he isn't my number one...

And the Winner is...
Well, it leaves only one left. Phil Taylor for me, pips Tony McCoy by a head at the winning post.

A controversial choice? Absolutely. To begin with, many don't even recognise darts as a sport. But forget about the old 1970s and '80s stereotype of men swigging at lagers as they prepare to tackle the Ochey. This is a sport that has moved forward by leaps and bounds over the past decade in particular and there is one man who has stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Phil 'The Power' Taylor has won the world championship a stunning 15 times. His first in 1990, as the protegee to Eric Bristow was on the BBC in the then unified BDO Championship. His second in 1992 which I remember like it was yesterday, was his sudden-death final leg win over Mike Gregory who if memory seves, had at least 6 darts for the title but missed every one.

Since the great 'split' of 1993/'94, the PDC Championship on Sky has slowly become the one in which to be seen. So much so that the BBC sponsored BDO is now seen as a 'feeder' for the former. Phil Taylor has staggeringly won 13 of the first 17 PDC World Championships - making the final on 3 additional occasions. His only failures came in 1994, 2003, 2007 & 2008.

This year, 'The Power' is currently holder of the World Championship, World Matchplay, Premier League and UK Open titles. He is the World Number One and in his career has amassed a stunning nine '9 Dart Finishes'. This can't be underestimated. Whilst I can not factually prove it, such constant precision I'm sure is equal if not better than scoring a hole in one in golf or a 147 in snooker.

May the Best Man Win
Whoever wins, there will be a new name on the trophy this year. Indeed, in its 57 year history, it has only been won on two occasions by three individuals - Henry Cooper, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill.

In those 57 years, like with horse racing above, darts has never supplied a winner of the British Sports Personality of the Year, so I'll be content if McCoy wins.

But darts is very much a 'working-class' sport and I think it has been derided for far too long. It desereves Olympic status and its main actors respected in the same way as those of other sports.

Which better way to do so than by seeing Britain choose Phil Taylor as its Sports Personality of the Year for 2010? He's got my vote.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Alternative Queen - A Tribute

There have been competitions recently to find which is the greatest musical band of all-time. You could easily make the case for the Beatles, Led Zeppelin or Westlife (just kidding there folks) but for me, it'll always be Queen.

Pioneers in their own unique way, they spanned two decades with a music that will echo down the ages.

I'm unfortunately too young to have seen them at their prime but at least had the pleasure of seeing them in their modern incarnatrion with Paul Rodgers a few years ago in Cardiff. They rocked then so I could only imagine how absolutely phenomenal they would've been to see live when the immortal Freddie Mercury was alive at the helm.

Having rocked their way through the 70s, they made their mark on the musical industry indelible and permanent when they stole the show at Live Aid in 1985. Like all the top artistes, they have successfully managed to adapt their image over time to stay in-sync with the musical vogue of the time.

All along this journey throughout the 70s and 80s, they have made hit after hit after hit.

But I want to concentrate on some maybe, lesser known hits. Those that may not be known as widely beyond the scrum of Queen fans.

The song that launched then into the stratosphere came from their second album, aptly named Queen II - The Seven Sea of Rhye.

The A Night at the Opera album from 1975 of course gave us Bohemian Rhapsody. But save this, it's a sweetie bag of joys. To begin, Freddie's fabulous 68 second ditty, Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon.

Continuing from the same album and on the same theatrical Freddie theme, it's the irrepressible Seaside Rendezvous.

Next is a Brian May track from again, the same album (it really is that good an album folks!). I heard him play this in Cardiff when I saw him live with Roger Taylor and Paul Rodgers and it absolutely blew me away. It's the beautiful '39.

Can I pick another from the same album? Please?! Thanks! Love of My Life says it all in the title.

Moving on finally, to the News of The World album from 1977 which have the world We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions, check this out, written by the 'quiet one' John Deacon, it's Spread Your Wings.

Queen enjoyed courting controversy and they enjoyed making visually striking videos to promote their singles. Well they did both in good store on the 1980 Jazz album with Bicycle Race. Beware, the following shows naked women riding bikes. Typical Queen then!

I'm a big fan of The Works album from 1984 which gave us Hammer to Fall, I Want to Break Free, Radio Ga Ga & It's a Hard Life. It also gave us the poigniant 'Is Thus the World we Created'

Moving on to their final years. The Miracle album from 1989 is another big favourite of mine. The corresponding single The Miracle had yet another wonderful video with young fans playing out the roles of the four band members with the main men making a late cameo at the end. But more important are the wonderful and moving lyrics.

Next, from the same album, a real hidden gem. Rain Must Fall.

Freddie's final album before he passed away in 1991 was Innuendo. From it, again with a wonderful video is the eccentic greatness that is 'I'm Going Slightly Mad'.

The final Queen album to include Freddie's voice came 5 years after his death in 1995 - Made in Heaven. Let Me Live is one of the best songs they ever wrote with a gospel choir thrown in. Here it is with the official dramatised video.

I conclude with a final 2 songs from Queen's 14th and final studio album. In appreciation of Queen but with special thanks to Freddie himself, for giving us this music, Heaven For Everyone.

Finally, this song was the last song that Freddie solely composed in its entirety before he died at the prime of his time, at the age of just 45 in November 1991.

Fitting for the season in which we're in, it's A Winter's Tale.

RIP Freddie

Friday, 17 December 2010

Snow Vs Salt (aka Keeping Ceredigion Moving)

It's started snowing and over the days ahead, it's likely to get pretty bad here in mid-Wales.

Here in Ceredigion, we're ready with our salt because after our experiences from last year, it really is best to be prepared.

The 2009/10 Winter Experience
The last winter was said to be the coldest in 30 years since the winter of '81/'82. That makes sense to me because I was born the following August and in my recollection, it was certainly the coldest winter that I can recall.

Across the country, salt levels depleted to exceedingly low levels and Ceredigion was no different. The County had 6,000 tonnes of salt and it wasn't enough. The Highways Department it must be said dealt with it all and with the complaints and concerns of individual Councillors (including a scathing put down by myself one week in the local Cardigan paper) very professionally. The over-riding sense that I felt from my fellow Councillors of all political persuasions and none was that the Department and Cabinet Member Cllr Ray Quant had been very upfront, honest and transparent with the developing situation across the county on a daily basis.

The 2010/11 Winter Experience?
Well, hopefully we will be able to look back in the spring and at the weeks and months to come in the same way.

Cllr Quant certainly started as he intended to continue when he spoke direct to us all at the end of our Xmas Council meeting yesterday. He stated that as a result of the Council's experiences last year, they had increased their stock this time around to 9,000 tonnes. But the cold snap that we suffered a few weeks ago has already swallowed up the additonal 3,000 tonnes. So we are now on the cusp of this tough weekend back at the 6,000 tonne starting point at which we were at last year.

So we have a real challenge to face. Out of the 1,400 or so miles of Ceredigion roads, Cllr Quant yesterday told us that some 350 of those are covered with pre-treatment. These of course are the main trunk roads and the main arteries that connects the county with itself and neighbouring counties.

Whilst these understandably get the focus as the economy must keep moving, the 42 of us who have been elected onto the County Council will all keep a weary eye on our own 'patches' to ensure that those areas that we feel need to be treated are not forgotten. For those rural communities it will be difficult as the Council, due to budgetary restraints, have reduced this winter the amount of roads that it will pre-treat. Small, country roads may be a danger and rural members will no doubt put the pressure on the Highways Department if they feel that they are being forgotten.

For me, here in Cardigan, the greater problem is the pavements. Last year, it was in places safer to walk out into the road to avoid having to walk on the pavements. I myself fell over on two occasions so my concern is for the elderly residents of my ward who will be particularly vigilent as the weather deteriorates.

My plea is for anyone in Cardigan to contact me on 07817 865 712 if there are concerns about particular areas of town that need gritting.

Communication, Communication, Communication
The key to getting through the next few days and weeks with the best outcomes is to communicate. The Highways Department need to continue to communicate with us members as I'm sure they will and we need to ensure we communicate with local residents.

Watch this space...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Working with the (Plaid Cymru) Enemy

Some jest there with the title - I couldn't resist!

But with the festive season of 'goodwill to all men' upon us, it's been good to see a little less of the partisan politics in the County Council Chamber this week.

A Plaid Cymru/Welsh Lib Dem Join Motion
Today, I was very pleased to formally second a motion on behalf of the Welsh Liberal Democrats (our Council Group photo to the right), put forward by the leader of the opposition Plaid Cymru group on the Council, Cllr Ellen ap Gwynne, in support of the extra powers referendum to the Welsh Assembly that will take place here in Wales, next March.

The motion was carried comfortably with only 4 members against - Ceredigion County Council therefore now formally endorses a 'Yes' vote in the referendum next May. 

This was a pleasant situation because it came this morning in our annual 'Christmas Council' meeting which was followed by our annual Xmas Dinner (paid individually by members I may add!). The County Council meetings are normally held in the Council Chamber in Aberaeron but the Xmas meeting is always held in the Chairman's parish so today we were hosted by the village of Ferwig in Cllr Haydn Lewis' 'Penparc' Ward.

The agenda was surprisingly light and there was very much a 'seasonal' feeling to the meeting, with jokes and pleasantries exchanged before, during and after.

Partisan Politics
This is welcome, because whilst in the 6 years that I've been a member our Council meetings on the whole have been held with a good deal of decorum, there have been many a spat and tantrum thrown in the Chamber down the years from both sides of the aisle. It's the way of politics of course although I would like to think that in the round, ours in Ceredigion is more reasoned as is the case with the 'newer' politics of the Welsh Assembly than the 'older' politics of the adversarial style in Westminster.

Certainly, from what I've heard from friends and colleagues across the country, Ceredigion's compares favourably when it comes to how we undertake business. In most Councils, the largest 2 parties of 20th century politics, Labour and Conservative, hold sway. The historical animous between the two - the old dogma of left vs right - is still very much alive and kicking in Town Halls across the land and the vitriol is very rarely far from the surface.

But here in Ceredigion we really are quite unique. There is only 1 member out of 42 that has been elected from either of these two heavyweights of 20th century politics - Labour's Hag Harries in Lampeter. There are no official Conservative Councillors on Ceredigion County Council.

That isn't to say that there's never any animous between the majority of Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrats Councillors of course - we have our moments! But on the whole, it seems to me that ours is a slightly older, rural and not urban kind of politics. Whilst we don't always see eye-to-eye politically in the Chamber, the personal relationships between members is good. I can personally state that I have very good relations with very many members of the Plaid Cymru group. Indeeed, only last Tuesday, their Group Deputy Leader Cllr Paul James happily gave me a lift from Aberaeron to Aberystwyth after we'd both spent the morning sitting on two licensing panels with each other.

I could quite easily find myself going for a pint with many of my opposite numbers. Not all maybe, but a good number all the same.

Positive, Not Negative
It's certainly better this way. Of coure we'll argue and disagree from time-to-time, but when there is common ground, it's better for us all and more importantly for the residents who we have been elected to represent, to come together and to work together for the greater good.

We did that today, and as members of Ceredigion County Council, on this day at least, we should be justly proud.

A Proud Day to be a Liberal Democrat - Ending Child Detention

It's been a rocky few weeks for the Liberal Democrats as the tuition fees debate has given us our first real test since going into Government.

But today as members, we can be justly proud to be Liberal Democrats in goverment because Nick Clegg has announced, as promised, that the barbaric system of detaining children will end by the by next May.

As reported on Freedom Central, no child is currently in an immigration detention centre and no child will spend this Christmas in an immigration detention centre. The Coalition Government has also announced the reform of our immigration system to make it more family friendly – creating a system that is humane, fair and effective.

Labour Shame
In Labour’s last 5 years in office alone the Government locked up 7,075 children for an average of just under 2 weeks each (12.74 days). That works out at 7 children a day. Last year alone, 1,065 children were locked up by Labour, 173 of whom were locked up for longer than a month.

For all their progressive talk, Labour's record in government when it came to civil rights was shoddy at best - such are their controlling, authoritarian tendencies.

Liberal Democrat Infuence in Government
The Coalition’s Programme for Government stated that ‘we will end the detention of children for immigration purposes’.  

There is no doubt in my mind that if it wasn't for the Liberal Democrat influence in government, this would not be happening. Had the Tories been in government alone would they have prioritised the ending of this inhumane policy? I very much doubt it.

Because this is a policy long-championed by the Liberal Democrats. They were the only party to include this commitment in their manifesto. In an open letter to Gordon Brown in 2009, Nick Clegg wrote: “One of the best ways to judge the moral compass of a nation is how we treat children … How on earth can your government justify what is in effect state-sponsored cruelty?”

Not in my name, and not any more.

You want to see how Liberal Democrats in government are playing a positive role in changing lives for the better? Then here's a case in point.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Cardigan Magistrates Court Blow

The news is coming through this week that Cardigan Court is set to close under HMRCs rationalisation programme.

This is a real blow to the town after a strong campaign led by local residents, Cardigan Town Council and Ceredigion County Council to keep our court open.

The closure of the court was proposed under the original plans, announced in July, but the Lord Chief Justice recommended that Cardigan, along with a number of other courts in Wales should stay open.

However, the Conservative Courts Minister Jonathan Djanogly confirmed in an oral statement yesterday that Cardigan would be among the courts closing.

Ceredigion’s MP Mark Williams has rightly expressed his dismay at the decision. He has campaigned against the closure, securing a Westminster debate, and making a submission to the consultation.

He said:

“This decision is a huge blow, and I don’t think considerations of the distance to be travelled and poor public transport links have been fully taken into account. People from Cardigan and the surrounding area will not be able to get to the courts in Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest for the start of the morning, and many will be severely inconvenienced.

“The Government are right to be considering where savings can be made in the Courts Estate, but the Lord Chief Justice rightly argued that plans to close the court are unfeasible because of the long distances to the alternatives.

“I fear that access to justice in the south of Ceredigion will be impaired by this decision, and there will be knock-on implications for legal services in Cardigan.

“If the Government are going to close court buildings, they must give more serious consideration to the Magistrates Association’s suggestion of mobile justice in non-court buildings to give people the opportunity of local justice.”

The arguments that Mark Williams makes are clear. In such a rural area as ours, the closure of our Magistrates Court would threaten the opportunities that local residents have to access their justice system.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Room 101 - Lib Dems & Tuition Fees

My 101st blog post. The Number 101, or in its proper context, Room 101, is of course synonomous with George Orwell's Masterpiece 1984.

Room 101 is a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love in which the Party attempts to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear or phobia.

The Lib Dems' Room 101 - Tuition Fees
After the last week, it could well be said that the issue of tuition fees has become an issue of torture for the party.

In a blog post here that I wrote last week, preceding the big Thursday vote, I gave my take on how the result would likely pan out...

" betting (if I was a gambling man), now that the Ministerial team have all said they will vote in favour, is on a Governmental majority of between 10-15 votes".

On the Lib Dem rebels, I also said: "I'm proud that local Ceredigion MP Mark Williams will be one of those and I hope that more than 20 of our backbenchers follow suit".

The Result
The Governmental majority of 21 in the end was a shade over my estimate and the number of Lib Dem MPs to vote against the Government was 21 - just past my estimate.

In Favour (28 MPs)
Danny Alexander
Norman Baker
Sir Alan Beith
Gordon Birtwistle
Tom Brake
Jeremy Browne
Malcolm Bruce
Paul Burstow
Vincent Cable
Alistair Carmichael
Nick Clegg
Edward Davey
Lynne Featherstone
Don Foster
Stephen Gilbert
Duncan Hames
Nick Harvey
David Heath
John Hemming
Norman Lamb
David Laws
Michael Moore
Andrew Stunell
Jo Swinson
Sarah Teather
David Ward
Steve Webb
Government whip Mark Hunter acted as a teller.

Against (21 MPs)
Annette Brooke
Sir Menzies Campbell
Michael Crockart
Tim Farron
Andrew George
Mike Hancock
Julian Huppert
Charles Kennedy
John Leech
Stephen Lloyd
Greg Mulholland
John Pugh
Alan Reid
Dan Rogerson
Bob Russell
Adrian Sanders
Ian Swales
Mark Williams
Roger Williams
Jenny Willott
Simon Wright

Abstained or Absent (8 MPs)
Lorely Burt
Simon Hughes
Tessa Munt
Sir Robert Smith
John Thurso
Stephen Williams
Chris Huhne (at climate summit in Mexico)
Martin Horwood (at climate summit in Mexico)

There's a lot of discontent in the party at a grass-roots level as a result of the divide but unlike the Labour Party when they were in goverrment, I don't see this become a wider rancour at a Parliamentary level at the party leadership.

The Welsh Dimension
A sub-set addition to this result was that here in Wales, all 3 of the Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the measure. Mark Williams and Roger Williams were joined by Jenny Willott who resigned her Government position to do so.

This is one in the eye for nationalists who argue that the Welsh Liberal Democrats, along with the Welsh Conservatives and Welsh Labour are 'London-led' and that they, Plaid Cymru, are the only party that care about and will look after the interests of Wales. What a load of absolute rubbish.

There are many of us here in Wales who can't stand this close-minded nationalistic rhetoric. No one party has a monopoly on patriotism and this one vote in itself shows that we in the Liberal Democrats are a federal party that operate at that federal level. We'll do what we decide is best in Wales and vote accordingly. Kirsty Williams is our leader in Cardiff and we're proud to lead from her example.

Whilst I'm disappointed that the MPs above voted in favour as they did, I'm proud that the 'Welsh Three' stuck to their guns and voted against. More power to their collective elbows.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Blog Post 100 - Vladimir Putin Sings Fats Domino

You couldn't make up such a blog post title but, as ever, reality really is better than fiction.

It's quite apt really as it turns out that this is my 100th blog post. 93 of those have been written since I re-started this blog back in September with the other 7 from early 2009.

I'd hope that my varied take on the world keeps viewers interested. There's plenty of 'political' blogs out there and plenty of 'sport' blogs and plenty of 'entertainment' blogs but this is very simply and very uniquely, my blog, and because of that, you get to get my views on anything and everything that interests me.

So, thanks to everyone who has read the previous 99 compositions. I've had residents in Cardigan stop me in the street saying how much they enjoy it as well as receiving messages from others across the globe saying how they enjoy it's varied content.

Over 3,900 people have read the blog in that time from at least 80 countries across the world. So thank you all! It is nice to know that my take on issues great and small are of interest.

Because this isn't just a political being...but the blog of a normal person...

Vladimir Putin - The New Fats Domino?!
So, to stay in-keeping with the above, it's apt that my 100th blog post is about a mixture of entertainment and politics. In this case, the almost incredulous sight of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin singing live in front of a charity concert in St Petersburg recently.

Now, I'm a rock'n roll fan. It's my father's musical heritage that passed down to me. There are many singers from that tradition that I could write about in awe until I bore everyone to death - one of those is Fats Domino. Under-rated compared to many of his era but a giant of blues and rock'n roll in my book every day of the week. His records 'Blue Monday' and 'Ain't That a Shame' are particular favourites of mine.

He also had the hit 'Blueberry Hill'. Here he is singing it only a few years ago at the young at heart age of 79.

Now we've had the sight of Putin giving his take on Fats' hit record.

Putin the Politician
Now, Putin is without a doubt a shady character. A former member of the KGB, he rose to political significance under Boris Yeltsin and took over from him after his shock, surprise resignation on Millennium Eve 1999, to serve two 4 year terms as President. Currently the Prime Minister, most pundits expect him to stand for President again in the near future.

His conduct in office has been questioned by domestic political opposition, foreign governments, and human rights organizations for leading the Second Chechen War, for his record on internal human rights and freedoms, and for his alleged bullying of the former Soviet Republics.

At the same time, he is credited with bringing political stability and re-establishing the rule of law to the former Soviet Union. During his eight years in office, due to strong macroeconomic management, important fiscal policy reforms, and a confluence of high oil prices, surging capital inflows, and access to low-cost external financing, Russia's economy bounced back from crisis, seeing GDP increase by 72% in PPP, poverty cut more than half and average monthly salaries increase from $80 to $640, or by 150% in real rates. Analysts have described Putin's economic reforms as impressive.

Putin the Individual
But where Putin stands out from most world leaders is his extra-curricular hobbies. He's a well known Black Belt at Judo and is a strong swimmer and cyclist. He certainly isn't shy in showing his many and varied talents.

Well, now he's turned his talents to playing the piano...and front of the likes of Kevin Costner, Gerard Depardieu, Mickey Rourke, Sharon Stone, Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn. He did so at a reception at an ice stadium in a St. Petersburg concert which was dedicated to fighting children's cancer.

Apparently, he was cajoled into singing and said "Like the majority of people I cannot - but do like to sing and to play - so you'll have to rough it", as he sat at the piano and played the beginning of Blueberry Hill. The tune was immediately caught by Maceo Parker's jazz band. The prime minister then took the mic and sang it in English himself.

It must be said...he can hold a tune...

Mind you, his predecessor Boris Yeltsin was known to have his idyosacratic ways as well...

Maybe it's just something in the Russian water...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Williams Vs Higgins - Two Snooker Greats

Today's UK Championship snooker final between Mark Williams and John Higgins has felt like the turning back of the snooker clock a good decade and its been a pleasure to watch.

Williams leads 6-2 going into the evening session tonight and is on-course to record his 3rd UK Championship win having lifted the trophy back in 1999 & 2002.

John Higgins has also lifted the title twice, back in 1998 & 2000 - the two of them winning snooker's second most prestigious title for 4 years out of 5 at the turn of the millennium.

After the controversy of the match-fixing allegations that led to a 6 month ban earlier this year, Higgins, in his first tournament back in the saddle has shown that whilst his judgement let him down this year, his talent hasn't deserted him.

Williams on the other hand has fought back against career threatening bad form after he dropped out of the World's elite top 16 a few years back, to show once more what he's all about.

A Return of the Snooker Elite
Because both Williams and Higgins share the highest snooker accolades with other masters of the game over the years.

In the list of all-time ranking tournament winners Higgins sits at No.4 with 21 wins and Williams at No.5 with 17 wins. The only players above them are the legends of the game Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Ronnie O'Sullivan with 36, 28 and 22 respectively.

Higgins has matched O'Sullivan's 3 World Championship wins whilst Williams has won it twice.

The only other player to have reached double figures in ranking event wins is Jimmy White with 10.

When it comes to century makers, the top 4 of Hendry, Davis, O'Sullivan and Higgins also make the top four (in the order of Hendry, O'Sullivan, Higgins and Davis on 749, 614, 447 and 318 respectively - Mark Williams comes in at 8th with 244)

The New Guns a Blazing
The new snooker stars are a breed apart and will lead the game into the next decade with great distinction. To name but a few, the likes of Shaun Murphy, Ding Junhui, Stephen Maguire, Ali Carter, Mark Selby and current World Champion Neil Robertson are world class and will contest the major finals for years to come.

But they will do well to make it past the 'Top 5' into the upper echelons of the game's record breakers becase the top 5 mentioned were in their time, an absolute class apart also.

With Davis already on a gently downward spiral and Hendry on a currently more turbulent one, it can be safe to say that there won't be many more World Snooker Ranking Finals that pit any of these 5 against each other.

So savour what is a real treat for us snooker fans this evening - a final between 2 of the greats of the baize.

Killer Corrie Quotes - The Greatest Hits

Such has been the popularity of my Corrie blog posts this past week (smashing a number of my blog records along the way), I thought I'd conclude what has been a dramatic and historic week on the Cobbles by putting my 10 Killer Corrie Quotes into one blog post in descending order, based on their popularity in terms of page profile views on this blog.

So here goes pop pickers...

In at Number 10...
"Mike Baldwin might be a smooth lecherous Cockney. But there's aren't many of the boss class left like him. Dedicated to grinding the faces of the working classes and laughing all the way to the bank. Now that's what I call job satisfaction" - Alec Gilroy

At Number 9...
"Natalie Barnes is that hard faced, if she fell on the pavement she'd crack a flag" - Vera Duckworth

At Number 8...
"I was really something when I was young. A different lad every night of the week, they queued up just to walk me 'ome from work. An' then the dance 'alls...'Ow I come to throw meself away on a nothin' like Arnold Tanner I'll never know. I could 'ave done anythin'. Got anywhere. I don't just mean fellers. I mean life generally. I was a fighter...I walked down this street last night in the pourin' rain an' cried...for a girl 'oo once 'ad guts, and hope...only she's dead now. I'm not sure just when it was she died" - Elsie Howard (nee Tanner)

At Number 7...
"You could meet Alf Roberts riding on a horse in the middle of the Sahara Desert and still know he's a grocer" - Audrey Potter (later Roberts)

At Number 6...
"It wasn't just the cobbles that got us here all together today. It was a feeling of tradition, of community and I'm proud of where I come from. I've lived here all my life. I've seen a lot of people come and go, a lot of changes, a lot dramas down this street. Like lots of other streets where people are living and trying to get together but it's just that I find that there's something a little bit special about this one and I know that you all feel the same. So I want you to raise your glasses with me and drink a toast, to Coronation Street" - Ken Barlow

At Number 5...
"Annie Walker'd attend her own funeral if God let 'er" - Albert Tatlock

At Number 4...
"I've always wanted to be stormy, passionate and tempestuous. But you can't be. Not when you're born with a tidy mind" - Emily Bishop

At Number 3...
"If my wife put her mind to it, she could find reasons why Mary and Joseph were unfit parents" - Don Brennan speaking about wife Ivy Brennan

Just missing out on top spot at Number 2 is...
"You know what your trouble is, Stan? You're lax - lax from the neck up and relax from the neck down" - Hilda Ogden to husband Stan Ogden

But top of the Killer Corrie Quotes at Number 1 is the original Corrie Battle-axe...
"There's some very peculiar people in this Street" - Ena Sharples

Thank you Coronation Street for an incredible week, but more importantly, for the past 50 years. Here's to the next 50.