Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Princes in the Tower - A Gruesome 1483 Royal Mystery: Solved

As a historian and in my earlier years, a particlarly keen Royal historian to boot, there there were a handful of dates that intrigued me because after all, we all like a good mystery.

What happened to King Edward II in 1327? What happened in 1399 to King Richard II? To what end came of King Henry VI in 1471? How was it that King Charles I met such a gruesome end in 1649?

They all of course run in a similar vein - the unglorious deaths of once glorious monarchs.

The Princes in the Tower
But there's one mystery that as a child, always haunted me. That of the Princes in the Tower in 1483. The fact that they were children themselves probably had a lot to do with it but also of course is the fact that history down through the 500+ years since has thrown up a multitude of differing explanations as to what happened.

Did they in fact survive or were they indeed killed? If the latter, when exactly did they die? How did they die and at whose hand was it at which they perished?

These were answers that I never expected to have a clear answer too and yet, all that has changed.

One of my seasonal reads has been Alison Weir's authoratitive dealings and detailed research on the matter and it has set out as reasonably as can be expected, in the cold light of day, the facts as they are known from the Chroniclers of the time. She deals with all of the various claims and counter-claims in a methodical and balanced manner, which is how I like it.

The Answer to the Mystery
So what happened to the boy King Edward V and his younger brother Richard, the Duke of York?

Well, they were indeed murdered, not surprising really but there you have it. Talk of the younger Richard having escaped are not borne out by the facts as they are known. Indeed, the finding of the bones of two young boys in the Tower in 1674 is generally regarded as being those of the two Royal brothers. An exhumation and examination of the bones in 1933 further suggested as soundly as could be perceived at that time, that this was the case.

But who did it? Well, for any real enthusiast, I would commend Alison Weir's insightful book to you as she clearly rules out the revisionists claims of it being either Henry, the Duke of Buckingham or indeed King Henry VII as the culprits.

Yes, the traditionalists were boringly right all along - it was wicked old Uncle Dick what done it.

As Alison Weir states, the evidence and the motive is clearly there but what she does that I had never seen before is set down the details of the deaths.

The boys in the Tower were never seen in public after Richard's coronation on July 6th. But from the evidence available, Alison King pinpoints the date of death as at the dead of night on the 3rd/4th September. She has enough evidence on which to base this claim. It was Sir Thomas More, writing forty years later, who provides the only clear and unambiguous account of the young Prince's fate. He had access to numerous sources who were alive at the time and who participated in public affairs during Richard III's reign and his comments stand up to the sources of the time who had not seen More's account themselves.

He relates to us, as Alison Weir suggests, that the order was given by Richard, whilst progressing towards Gloucester following his coronation, to one John Green, to carry a letter to Sir Robert Brackenbury, the then Constable of the Tower, to kill his nephews, Brackenbury however, refused to carry out the deed. Richard then approached a close confidant, Sir James Tyrrell to do the deed and as he sought advancements, was receptive to the request.

Richard sent Tyrrell to the Tower with an order that the keys be surrendered to him for one night by Brackenbury. Only on the orders of the King would the Constable have given up the keys to the Tower having done so, More further tells us that Tyrrell employed two men to carry out the murder - Miles Forest and John Dighton. With Tyrrell standing outside the bedchamber to guard, Forest and Dighton suffocated the boy Princes by smothering and stifling their air supply with the feather bed and pillows.

Thomas More reported that their bodies were then buried 'at the stair foot meetly deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones'. He believed that the bodies were later moved but the findings of 1674 sugested that he was right in the first instance all along.

The Court of Law Vs the Court of History
Of course, the limited evidence available would likely not stand-up in a modern day court. But on the evidence that is available as Alison Weir disects it, the court of history looks damningly on Richard and for good reason.

What would lend even extra weight to the explanation given above would be a new examination of the bodies as medical advances since 1933 could probably ascertain the sex and age of the bodies.

Until then, we will know no more than we know now.

But what I know now as opposed to the little that I knew before is enough for me to sumise categorically in my own head, the how, the when and the why of this most Royal of murder mysteries.

It was indeed Richard III what done it.

Monday, 26 December 2011

A Time for Goodwill to All

I hope everyone is enjoying the festive break - I certainly am. It's an opportunity to be with the family at a rare time when everyone is overcome with the sentiment of goodwill to all. Long may be it last.

Here is my annual little effort to sprinkle some goodwill around at this time of year. I delivered my Xmas Council greetings card shown here to residents living in my Aberteifi Rhyd-Y-Fuwch ward in the week leading up to Christmas.

I hope that they and all who read this are having a peaceful time and let us not forget how fortunate we are to have so much when far too many in the World, have too little.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 24! The Finale!

It's December which means for those who have them, it's been the time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I've been blogging a song a day, culminating today on Christmas Eve with this, my all-time favourite Christmas song.

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 24!

So this is it. My No.1 all-time favourite Xmas song.

It really wasn't a difficult choice in the end. There is something very earthy about The Pogues & Kirsty McColl's 'Fairytale of New York'. The harmonies between the two protaganists works out perfectly. I'm also a fan of Irish music so the melody rings perfectly for me.

It also has for me, one of most memorable lines in Christmas music

"The boys of the NYPD Choir were singing Galway Bay, and the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day".



So, that's your lot!

24 days and a countdown of my Top 25 Xmas songs. Some surprise choices no doubt and some unexpected omissions maybe I'm sure but then this is merely the choice of one person. I hope you've enjoyed them all the same.

May I take this opportunity of wishing all of my readers a Merry Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 23

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 23!

Today we have my No.2 all-time favourite Xmas song.

It is simply one of the most joyful melodies I have ever heard. Anyone who doesn't smile on hearing Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas' must have a heart of stone. It also has the most playful of videos which helps to further sell the song.



It also made a stunning appearance in the film Love Actually. I'm a soppy goat at the best of times but when young Olivia Olson gave us this rendition near the end of the film, it absolutely blew me away.

It shows how infectiously joyful the song is and that's why it's made No.2 on my Xmas list.



It would've easily have been my No.1, but there's one song that's trumped it...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 22

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 22!

Today we have my No.3 all-time favourite Xmas song.

It's a simple, bombastic effort by Andy Williams that does exactly what it says on the tin. Fewer songs can immediately get me into the festive mood so effortlessly than his 'It's the most wonderful time of the year'.

Take it away Andy...

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Ed Balls Can't Count

It is rather alarming to read this story in today's Independent from Labour's Shadow Chancellor.

He rashly calls on Liberal Democrat MPs to leave the coalition immediately and to join Labour in an alternative Government. He says:
"I think it would be much better now and for the future of the country if they did. It would be in the national interest. I don't think they should wait until 2015".
As the piece continues:
He points out that the Coalition's law bringing in five-year fixed-term parliaments allows for a new government being formed without a general election.
This is the Shadow Chancellor. A man who should have a decent head for figures. So how does he envisage this new Government being able to Govern in the 'National Interest' short of a general election and without a majority in Parliament?

The whole concept smacks of an incredulous disregard for the facts as they stand today.

Yet, earlier in the same interview, Balls says:
"We are also facing a massive catastrophe in Europe. 2012 feels like the most dangerous year in my life. It is a very, very dangerous time...What we have seen is the inability of political leaders in the eurozone to put short-term politics aside and do what's right. This is about leadership. They have got to act and they can't. It is existential...when it happens there will probably be a crisis moment that puts things into deep freeze, making it hard to trade and hard to finance...the impact on growth and jobs is really dangerous."
I agree with his concerns. So how on Earth does he think that replacing a Government in Westminster with a healthy majority for one that could not muster enough numbers to pass through basic leagislation is going to help matters?

At a time of danger as he states, such a Kamikaze move would be absolutely disastrous for Britain. At this time of economic peril, stability is needed more than ever before. A change of Government on the current numbers as Balls calls for would be one of most destabilising events that could occur in the UK over the next 12 months.

The idea is preposterous and indeed, fundamentally dangerous at this time. Whatever the party politics of the situation, it can not work. If it could, then we may had a different result in May 2010 from the Coalition Governemnt that was eventually formed.

I can't believe that Ed Balls could make such a reckless suggestion. As Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, he should have a better grasp of figures and political common sense than this.

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 21

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 21!

Today we have my No.4 all-time favourite Xmas song.

My father was a Boney M fan and so it came to pass that I would become one too.Their Xmas take on Mary's Boy Child was genius. It's a wonderful, contemporary version of a traditional hit which has always been one of my festive favourties. I particularly adore the hook into Oh My Lord.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 20

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 20!

Today we have my No.5 all-time favourite Xmas song.

As with my previous choice, Bobby Helms' 1957 hit Jingle Bell Rock was made famous for a new generation by the Home Alone franchise. In this case, it came from the sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

It's another timless Christmas hit.

Monday, 19 December 2011

2011: A Bad Year for Bad Men - Kim Jong-il joins Bin Laden & Gaddafi. Who's next?

Back in May here in my blog, I commented on how 2011 was turning out to be a bad year for bad men on the news that Bosnian Serb Military Commander Ratko Mladic had been arrested by his own Serbian authorities.

As I said at the time...
"After Osama Bin Laden's capture and death at the hand of US forces, Bosnian Serb Military Commander Ratko Mladic has been arrested by his own Serbian authorities and awaits a probable extradition to the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague.
"With Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi under extreme siege from NATO forces in Tripoli and with long-standing leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria either out of office or struggling under severe local unrest to go that way, it has been an extraordinary 2011 for those who have been seen to use their powers for wrong".
When I wrote that post, little could I have realised that the names would keep on falling.

Gaddafi's recent fall was the most graphic depiction of a tyrant being stripped of his overwhelming power by his own people.

By contrast, today's news that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has died, supposedly of a heart attack whilst on the train, does not have the visual depiction of an end of a dictator's reign as those of Gaddafi or Osama Bin Laden or earlier, Saddam Hussein.

But it is nevertheless another incredible event that has seen the death of another of the world's most tyrannical leaders in this year, 2011.

North Korea's secretive ways and it's nuclear threat has made it one of the last outposts of a Cold War that came to an end a generation ago. Since succeeding his father in 1994, Kim Jong-il has done little to bring his nation back in from the cold. With his death, there is a mutual hope and fear for what is an unknown future in one of the most unstable corners of the world. In what direction will his little known 3rd son Kim Jong-un lead his nation no-one knows. He was educated in Switzerland, is 27 years old and was only unveiled as his father's chosen successor last year.

These are volatile times and for long-standing dictators, an increasinly worrying one.

Who's next? Mugabe? Assad? Castro?

There's still 12 days to go before we move into 2012 but one thing is certain, the world is a very different place to the one of December 2010.

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 19

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 19!

Today we have my No.6 all-time favourite Xmas song. I probably fell in love with Brenda Lee's 'Rockin' Around the Chistmas Tree' when I heard it as an 8 year old on the soundtrack to Home Alone which introduced me to a wealth of wonderful American festive hits.

So here's that version from the sountrack followed by a modern take in the name of charity which I adore too by Mel and Kim.



Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Love of History - an 8 year old's thanks. RIP Auntie Elinor.

It's been a sad week.

My mother's sister, my Auntie Elinor passed away peacefully last Saturday aged just 67. She had battled ill-health all of her life but recent years had been particularly difficult for her.

Yesterday, the family and the community of Eglwyswrw gathered at my maternal family's Bethabara Chapel in Pontyglasier to pay our final respects. Along with my 3 elder brothers, I was one of the pall-bearers. It was a role I have never undertaken before and it was particularly sad as we took her coffin in the cemetary after the service, past those of her mother and father (my grandparents), her brother-in-law (my father) and her grandparents (my great-grandparents). She is now at rest from this world, placed immediately behind the final resting place of her Uncle (my great-Uncle) Sidney.

The bilignual service was led very respectfully by the relatively new Minister Roger Morgan. In it, he relayed many fond memories that we as a family have of her and which will remain. He also read out a lovely message from the Irish country and western singer Paddy O'Brien, of whom Auntie Elinor was a big fan. Indeed, she was a member of his fan club and had met him in Ireland on a coach trip there when she was in better health in the 1990s. I e-mailed him on the Friday, notifying him of the sad news and thanking him for bringing her happiness and enjoyment throughout the years. To my pleasant surprise, from his home in County Cork, he replied within a matter of hours with this message. It was read out at the service yesterday.
I'm so so sorry to hear that Auntie Elinor has passed away. It's very humbling to know that she got so much enjoyment from my songs and indeed without people like Elinor I could not have made a career in music. She is now in a wonderful place from where she will look after all of you in very special ways. I feel privileged to have known her and just by knowing her has been a wonderful help to me along the pathway of life. May her gentle soul rest in peace. You are all in my thoughts and prayers at this very sad time. God Bless you always
Yours in Sympathy
Paddy
It was the least I could do for Auntie Elinor as it was she who helped me to realise a love of history which has extended through to an undergraduate and postgraduate degree in the subject in University.

I was only 7 or 8 years old when by pure chance, I bought a pack of playing cards whilst on a particularly wet holiday with my parents. But they weren't playing cards. To my annoyance, they were information cards about the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland. It however clearly triggered something inside of me which I had not known existed because I soon came to enjoy devouring the small pieces of information that were now before me.

On the back of this sudden and unexpected new interest, Auntie Elinor bought for me as a Christmas present in 1990, my first proper history book. She perfectly bought me a book about these same Kings and Queens and it gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore in more detail what I gleened from those information cards.

I still have that book and a photo of it, and the inscription that I wrote inside it at the time, can be seen in this blog post. I treasure this book simply because it was the one that began and inspired in me a wider love of history. I am particularly thankful to Auntie Elinor for introducing me properly to this subject matter which has become one of my greatest loves.

She is now at peace and I hope that she's now playing that piano-accordion to her parents and all of our family and friends who are up above.

Cysga'n dawel Auntie Elinor.

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 18

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 18!

Today we have my No.7 all-time favourite Xmas song. There's fewer feel-good Christmas songs around than Shakin' Stevens' Merry Christmas Everyone.

Here is a full-length cut of the video with a 55 second introduction which I had never seen before until this year!

This song absolutely rocks my Xmas socks!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 17

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 17!

Today we have my No.8 all-time favourite Xmas song. It's a popular festive seasonal hit and one that gets me into the festive mood immediately.

A good old-fashioned Xmas belter, it's Elton John's 'Step into Christmas'.

Friday, 16 December 2011

My Internet Stat Porn Monthly Report (15) November

Here belatedly is my fifteenth monthly round-up of blog figures for anyone who is remotely interested in who reads my little blog. These stats for the month of November come courtesy of google analytics.

Calming Down
As with September and October, November has been a quiet month.

Indeed, my output for the month of 18 blog posts is the lowest since this blog got going in earnest in September 2010.

In November, I had a total of 4,159 absolute unique visitors to my blog (down marginally on my October total of 4,218 but substantially so on my May record of 6,485). Those 4,159 absolute unique visitors made 4,346 visits to my blog in November (again down marginally on the 4,581 visits total from October and substantially down on the 6,908 record from May). They viewed 10,780 pages (down on my October record of 11,517 pages).

The top 10 stories by direct page views that you've read this past month were:

1. Gary Speed
2. 9am: Swansea City AFC - Premier League!
3. Labour's Leighton Andrews' Extraordinary Live TV Coco Pops Outburst
4. Wembley Bound with Swansea City AFC!
5. The Aberfan Perspective
6. Twitter's Anti-Bullying 'Words Can Hurt' Sensation and how I was bullied in school
7. British Guns on Dublin's Streets
8. Andy Murray Needs to Summon the Rory McIlroy Spirit for Sporting Immortality
9. The Master of Political Cartoon Satire - The Independent's Dave Brown
10. 'The King's Speech' - The Book Vs The Film (SPOILER WARNING!)

Of the 10, only 2 were written this month - the other 8 are popular blog posts written in months past that continue to attract hits. The 2 that I wrote this month came in at No.1 and 6.

Although a quiet month on the whole, my blog post on the sudden, shock and much publicised death of Welsh football manager Gary Speed made November 27th the second ever busiest day on my blog with 988 visitors in those 24 hours alone. That blog post as a result quickly moved up the charts to become my 5th most read post of all-time out of a total of over 450. My blog post this past month on bullying also proved popular.

Blog Traffic
Of all of the blog visitors this past month, 13.57% were through direct traffic (up from 9.36% in October), 43.49% came from referring sites (up from 35.91 in October) and 42.94% via search engines (down from 54.73% in October).

The bounce rate for the month was 7.34% which again, like with the September and October figures seems remarkably low to me but then who am I who to argue with Google Analytics?! 85.25% were new visits as opposed to 14.75% returning visitors.

An International Blog!
The visitors to my little blog came from 99 countries/territories this month - down from my October tally of 104 and down further on my May record of 123, with a cumulative total of 170 countries/territories having supplied visitors to my blog to date.

The top ten countries to date are as follows (with position change from October & % of total views):

1. United Kingdom (No Change) 52.1% (+1.2%)
2. United States (No Change) 18.4% (-0.6%)
3. Brazil (No Change) 2.2% (-0.2%)
4. Germany (No Change) 2.1% (-0.1%)
5. Canada (No Change) 2.0% (=)
6. Australia (No Change) 1.8% (-0.1%)
7. Ireland (No Change) 1.4% (=)
8. Holland (+2) 1.3% (+0.1%)
9. Poland (-1) 1.2% (-0.1%)
10. France (-1) 1.2% (=)

After their mamouth leap up the rankings in October, Brazil have consolidated their place in 3rd whilst the only significant change this past month is Holland's move up from 10th to 8th.

It has continued to be a very cosmopolitan blog this month and honourable mentions must go in particular to the 2 new countries/territories that have provided its first viewers to my blog this November.

The Faroe Islands and Benin have both supplied its first reader to my blog during the past month!

Fair play to them all, and to you all, for putting up with my ramblings!

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 16

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 16!

Today we have my No.9 all-time favourite Xmas song. Derided by many, I personally adore the simplicity of Johnny Mathis' lyrics and that beautiful melody.

'When a Child is Born'.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 15

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 15!

Today we move into my Top 10 of Xmas songs.

We begin with a song that transcended music. Band Aid's 1984 Xmas smash will go down in the pantheon of musical history not because of what it was, but because of what it stood for and the way in which it was created.

But having said that, it's still a bloody good song. 'Do they know it's Christmas?'



Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 15

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 14

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 14!

Today, I bring you the final of Bing Crosby's 3 entries on my list. We've heard his eternal hit White Christmas and his duet with David Bowie but today, for me my favourite Bing Crosby seasonal hit is the one that really puts me in the Xmas cheer.

'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas' is a big and warm hearted Christmas hug of a song.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 13

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 13!

Today, a firm favourite as Jona Lewie stirringly delivers his anti-war themed 'Stop the Cavalry'.

There are fewer more emotive lines in popular music at this time of year than 'Wish I was at home for Christmas'.

Monday, 12 December 2011

My Xmas Card from Nick Clegg and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez

So today in the post, I rather unexpectadly received a Xmas card from Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez.

Now, as I prepare to enter the year in which I turn 30, I must admit that my memory isn't always the best but having said that, I'm pretty sure that this is the first time that I've received such a card from the Liberal Democrat Party leader and now Deputy Prime Minister. I may be wrong here but it doesn't stand out in my memory from years past so I'm presuming that this is the first time I've appeared on one of his lists.

Jim Hacker in Yes Minister
It immediately brought to my mind the sight of the hapless Jim Hacker in that 'Party Games' episode of Yes Minister when as Chairman of the Conservative Party, he found himself swamped with a mountain of Xmas cards that he had to sign in differing variations depending on who the recipients were.

It made me wonder how many Xmas cards that Nick Clegg and his office feel obliged to send and to which various groups. For example, I can't be sure as to why it was decided that I should receive a card though don't get me wrong, it is a nice gesture which I appreciate.

The card is not signed by Nick as party leader or as Deputy Prime Minister. It is actually quite a personalised looking card signed by Nick and Miriam. Now of course I realise that the signatures are printed from the original as to sign each one individually could take weeks as was indeed Jim Hacker's concern and whilst it was a basic message that wasn't written specifically for me, the fact that it comes over as a more personalised card with the front depicting a family of snowmen made me feel that I was on the 'personal' list of card recipients. Of course I don't know whether this is the case or not. I mean, has Nick Clegg used the same card and internal wording for every single card sent or are there indeed different messages and signatures for varying groups of individuals as was the case with Jim Hacker?

I don't know, but as I say it is a nice touch and it has given me a perfect excuse to find and replay that memorable scene from Yes Minister...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 12

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 12!

Today we witness one of the most surreal duets in the history of pop music. The whole concept of putting Bing Crosby and David Bowie together on the same single must have come about as the result of some hallucinogenic drugs, but in this case, it was an inspired choice! The pre-amble chat before the song is wonderfully bizzare!

'Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy' was recorded on September 11th 1977 for Crosby's up-and-coming Christmas TV special. The show aired on November 30th but by that time, Crosby was dead. He died on October 14th, of a massive heart attack, barely a month after this incredibe recording, whilst in Spain having completed a full round of golf.

So here is Bing's final musical triumph, and possibly the most unlikely, of them all.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 11

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 11!

Today we have another under-rated sesonal hit. This time from the talent that is Chris Rea. A sweet melody and catchy lyrics, it hits the yule-tide spot. He's 'Driving Home for Christmas'.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 10

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 10!

Today, that perennial favourite from the that top pop crooner, Dean Martin. 'Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!'

Friday, 9 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 9

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 9!

Today we have a song that has only become a seasonal favourite of mine over the past year or two. I'd never given this song any credit in years gone by and yet somehow out of nowhere, I am now a firm fan of David Essex's 'A Winter's Tale'.

Watching the video over now, it's hard to fathom that this is the man who was recently on Eastenders, almost 30 years later!

But still, it's a sweet melancholic ballad and I adore it!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 8

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 8!

Today we have a contribution from The King himself. The antiphesis to Bing's White Christmas, here is Elvis' 'Blue Christmas'. All together now...

"You'll be doing alright, with your Christmas of white, but I'll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas". Love it!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

December 6th - A Tragic Day for the Orbison Family

The news today that Barbara Orbison, the wife and manager of the iconic rock star Roy, has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of just 60 is awfully sad. The fact theat she died yesterday on the 23rd anniversary of her husband's death makes it that much more poigniant.

Barbara and Roy Orbison
Source: BBC News
They met in 1968 when she was 17 and he was 32 and they married 9 months later.

He divorced his first wife Claudette (yes, THE Claudette) before re-marrying her but she was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966. Whilst touring England in 1968, he heard the news that his home in Tennessee had burned down and his two eldest sons were killed in the fire.

Roy died of a heart attack aged just 52 on December 6th 1988 just as he had found a new lease of life with the Traveling Wilbury's.

He was a giant of rock and roll and I am huge, huge, huge fan.

They are survived by Roy's remaining son with Claudette, Wesley and by his two sons with Barbara, Kelton Orbison Jr and Alexander Orbison.

For them and for all 'Big O' fans out there, there is only one song that I can play at this sad time. It's the one place where nobody ever dies.

'In Dreams...'

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 7

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 7!

Today we have a highly under-rated song from the best band of all-time. Yes, even though Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody was the Christmas No.1 in both 1975 and 1991, their only actual festively inspired tune failed to make as much of an impact when it was released in 1984 making only No.21 in the charts. The fact that no promotional video was made for the song probably plays a large part in this.

But I love it...and so should you. 'Thank God it's Christmas'.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 6

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 6!

Today we have a beautiful, haunting rendition of 'Oh Holy Night' by Celine Dion. I randomly fell in love with this song when I first heard it on the film Home Alone. Of all of the many different renditions of it that I have heard since, none have come close to that shown here. That top note just sends shivers down the spine.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 5

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 5!

Today we have the first duet of my countdown. It's a modern classic by those Welsh legends Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews. 'Baby it's Cold Outside' is great not only for the song and the clear chemistry between the two but also for the video in which that is made abundantly clear.

Also, you've just got to love that big band sound!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Wales' Wing Wizzard Signs Off - Recollections of a Magical Millennium Stadium Experience

Yesterday, thanks to a last minute spare ticket offer from one of my older brothers, I found myself in the unexpected but wonderful position of being able to see Shane Williams' emotional farewell in person.

It was my first visit to Cardiff to see a Welsh rubgy international since the last ever test match at the old Arms Park / National Stadium on March 15th 1997. Back on that day, Wales were soundly beaten by England in the old 5 Nations Championship but from the old stands, I was able to watch Johnathan Davies take his Welsh bow as he retired after winning 37 Welsh union caps having spent his career traversing the codes of rugby league and union. Though only 3-6 down at Half-Time, the Full-time score read 13-34 but despite this, the curtain call gave Davies his final moment in the sun as he scored his final points in international rugby with the last points of the game as he converted a late Rob Howley try.

Nearly 15 years later (having witnessed a 2003 Scotland Vs Wales Six Nations match in Murrayfield inbetween), I returned yesterday to the Millennium Stadium to watch a player who had not even started out back then in 1997, to take his final bow as well.

Wales' Record Try Scorer
Yes, the word 'legend' is overused and particularly so in the world of sport.

But for Shane Williams, no other word can do justice to the impact that he has had on Welsh and international rugby.

Having made his international debut back in 2000 at the relatively grand old age of 22, he would become a central member of both the 2005 and 2008 Welsh Grand Slam winning teams, scoring tries against Italy, Scotland and England in 2005 and against Italy, Scotland, Irleand and France in 2008. He was named the player of the 2008 tourament and later that same year, he became the first Welsh-man to be crowned the IRB International Player of the Year. He would go on to overtake Gareth Edwards as Wales' top try scorer in the history of the northern hempsphere's premier international championship and helped Wales to a record-equalling World Cup semi-final appearance back in the autumn.

But there was still one game to play...

A Magical & Emotional Atmosphere
Shane had decided to postpone his World Cup completing international retirement by one match so that he could finish a proud and distinguished career for his country in front of his home fans. It was therefore with much delight that I clutched at the 11th hour offer of a ticket to see that match yesterday.

We arrived in the stadium for the 2.30pm kick-off at 2pm by which time a multitude of Welsh Male Voice Choirs sitting in the old stand that backs onto the Arms Park were already in full swing. It sent the shivers down the spine to hear them sing a favourite of mine 'We'll Keep a Welcome' before they launched into renditions of Sospan Fach, Gwahoddiad, Cwn Rhondda, Calon Land, Men of Harlech and Delilah.

Although it was a dry Cardiff afternoon, the decision by the powers that be to close the roof for the match proved in my mind to be an inspired choice. The enclosed nature of the match gave a real sense of togetherness and added to what was a special and unique atmosphere.

After the Male Voice Choirs sang, we watched a video on the big screens of Shane's best moments in the red shirt of Wales. It cranked up the emotional levels even further before the man himself led out his country to the sights and sounds of those wonderful, blazing Millennium Stadium pyrotechnics. The surge of emotion running through the crowd was electric and when Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was sung and Shane could be visibly seen to be struggling under the weight of the occasion, it really was something to behold. There are few times when I have ever been as proud to sing my national anthem as I was at that moment yesterday afternoon.

The match itself didn't wholly live up to the occasion. The first half was a well fought, evenly balanced affair and at 6-3 ahead at Half-Time, I felt it gave a decent reflection of the match at that stage. But Wales never turned up for the first 20 minutes of the second half and the sin-binning Yellow Card didn't help matters though in my opinion was wholly deserved. Three Australian tries pretty much put the result beyond us and a great sense of anti-climax was sweeping through the stadium. But suddenly, a Rhys Priestland try gave a glimour of hope.

Wales' Wing Wizzard Signs Off
As the game entered its final 5 minutes, I was aware that Shane may be substituted so that the crowd could give him a standing ovation. This seemed to make sense to me and so it was that I kept looking out for him to see if Wales could somehow orchestrate a final hurrah for the small man in stature, but big in heart, before his retirement.

The final minutes of an illustrious Welsh
rugby union test playing career
It was with this in mind that my celebrations for Priestland's try were slightly muted as Shane was on his shoulder ready to score had he have made the pass. But Priestland touched over himself and the chance had gone. Thankfully, I was proved incorrect with the substitution judgement and the game went into overtime with Shane still on the pitch. From my low-level, ground-side vantage point, my eyes kept darting across the pitch as Wales put together one final attack to look for that No.11 figure. He was either on our left-wing or on the far side right-wing. The accompanied photo here illustrates this vantage point with the No.11 standing alone from the pack, waiting for his moment. He was here on our side when Priestland opted to go for the line himself but suddenly, minutes after I took this photograph, he was now on the far right-side as the ball was spread out wide in the dying seconds.

Suddenly there was a gap and the ball found itself in Shane's grasp. He had an overlap which he could've used but like Priestland before him, was not going to give the ball away with the line at his mercy. We went absolutely bonkers! The sight of our Shane scoring a final try for Wales in his final match, in the final minute, with his final touch of international rugby was a historic sporting moment to savour. We didn't care now that we'd lost the match 18-24 because our boy had signed off his international career in the same way that he had played over the previous 11 years - with passion, skill, a deftness of foot and a raw burst of speed that left those behind him in his wake.

Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!

It was a 58th and final try for Wales in 87 appearances. This, along with 2 test tries for the Lions brought him to a final round figure of 60 international test tries - leaving him in 3rd place in the all-time list of international test try scorers behind Daisuke Ohata's 69 in 58 appearances for Japan but most significantly, just behind Australia's David Campese who crossed over 64 times in 101 appearances.

His interview straight after the final whistle as he held onto his two children, both with the name 'Dadi' on the back of their No.11 rugby shirts and his failed attempts to keep his emotions in check pulled at the heart-strings even further. It was a moment he had deserved after a career's service for his country.

A remarkable career, a remarkable player who proved that in rugby terms, small can be beautiful and who put a decade long smile onto the face of a nation.

So it was yesterday, that a nation cried and wept with joy as a name that will do down in Welsh rugby folklore alongside the likes of Bary John, Gareth EdwardsMervyn Davies, J.J. Williams, J.P.R Williams and Neil Jenkins to name but a few, made us smile one last time. I'm proud to say that 'I was there' when it happened.

Thank you Shane. Diolch am yr atgofion felys.

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 4

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 4!

Today we have the Slade smash hit 'Merry Xmas Everybody'. It's easily one of the most played songs at this time of year and probably because of that, it isn't an absolute favourite of mine, as it can sometimes suffer from 'over-kill'. Still, it's a hit and has to make my Top 25.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 3

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 3!

Today we have the Mud classic 'Lonely this Christmas'. It may not be an upbeat Xmas tune but it's got a lovely melody and does speak for many at what is usually considered a happy and joyous time of year.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 2

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

I'm blogging a song a day, culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve. So let's continue on our seasonal countdown...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 2!

Today we have Wizzard's classic 'I wish it could be Christmas Everyday'. It's an oft played song at this time of year and though it isn't an absolute favourite of mine, it still has to make my Top 25.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 1

It's December which means for those who have them, it's time to get out those chocolate advent calendars!

But for those of you who, like me, don't do such things anymore (and indeed for those of you who still do!), I thought I'd give my own unique little twist on this festive time of year with my Musical Advent Calendar countdown of my Top 25 favourite Christmas songs!

Culminating with my favourite on Christmas Eve, I will blog a song a day, beginning with an opening double salvo today to whet your appetite!

So here we go...

Cole's Musical Christmas Advent Calendar - Day 1!

We begin with an Irving Berlin classic from 1942. It's Bing Crosby's White Christmas.



We zip forward in time to a modern hit by Peter Kay's alter-ego Geraldine McQueen in 2008 - Once Upon a Christmas Song!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

£300,000 Annual State Pension Uplift for Pensioners in Cardigan

These are clearly difficult times. Today sees the largest strike in the UK in some 30 years over the issue of public sector pension reform. At the same time, the economic winds are turning decidedly chilly.

But there was good news in the autumn statement made in Parliament yesterday.

In particular, as a Councillor in a ward with a high number of retired local residents, I was very pleased to see an uplift in the State Pension by £5.30 a week from April 2012, delivering its single largest ever cash increase. The pension credit standard minimum guarantee will increase by 3.9 per cent in April 2012 to ensure poorest pensioners also benefit from the triple guarantee. This equates to an annual increase per person in the state pension of £275.60.

This of course compares particularly favourably to that infamous Labour Government increase in the State Pension of just 75p.

Here in Cardigan, a total of some 1,090 pensioners will benefit from the increase - to the total tune of £300,404 a year. Across Ceredigion more widely, 17,150 pensioners will benefit to a total of £4,726,540.

The mark of a society many will argue can be demonstrated in how it treats those who have contributed to it for their entire lives, and now depend on it in for support following retirement. With ever increasing energy costs, life is not getting easier, but this uplift of £275.60 a year per pensioner, shows them a great deal of respect and living in a town with a large number of pensionable age, I am pleased that they will righly benefit from the new Triple Lock that guarantees them a fair increase in their State Pension.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Ceredigion Council Unanimously Call on Health Minister & Hywel Dda Local Health Board to Scrutiny

Last week I blogged here on a Health motion that Cllr Elizabeth Evans and I proposed and seconded for a full meeting of Ceredigion County Council yesterday.

I'm pleased to report that the motion was passed unanimously by the entire Council.

We have called on the Health Minister in Cardiff Bay and the Hywel Dda Local Health Board Management Team to meet with us as a full Council to answer a series of questions regarding the service provision in Bronglais Hosptial but also the future capital spend plans for Cardigan Hospital, Tregaron Hospital and the future Cylch Caron project and the Aberaeron integrated healthcare centre.

Passions were high in the Council as members showed a relatively rare but important show of unified strength against the Hywel Dda Health Board in particular and their perceived lack of direct accountability and their stubborn unwillingness to attend public meetings to discuss their plans with elected Councillors and local communities at the same time. The public meeting in Tregaron last week is a case in point - a crowd of some 150 local residents met to discuss the sudden and unconsulted upon donwgrade of hospital beds there from 20 to 12 but where the local health board? They hid behind a pre-written statement that was read out at the meeting. Here in Cardigan, the same health board recently withdrew with just a week or two to spare from a public meeting with the Town Council and the Hospital's League of Friends about Cardigan Hospital. It does not engender confidence in their actions if they continue to avoid public scrutiny like this.

So we now await for a response from Hywel Dda and also from the Health Minister Lesley Griffiths. We are expectant and we will not take no for an answer.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Gary Speed

I woke up this morning wondering whether I could bring myself to support Swansea City against my life-long love of Aston Villa this afternoon. Breaking allegiances for a match after 19 years of support was a big thing for me. I was going to blog about it. Now, quite frankly, I couldn't give a damn who wins the match.

There are some things in life that are wholly inexplicable. Events that shock, stun and numb beyond comprehension.

The news that Gary Speed has been found dead, apparently by his own hand, has caught everyone unawares.

I'm incredibly numb right now. There are no words that can truly express the feeling and sense of loss right now of a young man who had the world at his feet.

A professional for Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United, he held the record for Premiership appearances at 535, until recently overtaken by David James. He was Wales' most capped outfield player with 85 national appearances to his name.

He became the Welsh national manager only last year on December 14th and has since turned around a nation's fortunes by leading us to a run of wins and a rise from 117th to 50th in the FIFA World Rankings.

He did not live his private life in the tabloid newspapers. He had two young children and seemed to lead a happy life and there was so much potential looking forward.

Gary made an appearance on Football Focus only yesterday and he was laid back and seemed to be excited about these future challenges.

We don't know what was going on within but a form of depression that must have brought about this incredulous and disbelieving news is heartbreaking. Depression is suffered by a large percentage of the population and it takes far too many lives. It has apparently taken another this morning and it is just a solemn, horrendous development which I just don't want to believe.

RIP Speedo, my thoughts go out to his friends and family at this awful, heart-breaking, devastating time.

My Freddie Mercury Interview in Golwg - English Translation

Back on Thursday on the 20th anniversary of Freddie Mercury's death I commented here in my blog that I had given an interview to the Welsh language weekly magazine Golwg about him and my love for the music of Queen.

Here is that interview with an English translation for those who have requested it.

20 years since the death of Freddie Mercury, Cllr Mark Cole from Cardigan  still marvels at the magnitude of his talent...

"I was 9 years old when I came across the music of Queen, and that after Freddie Mercury's death in 1991. They had re-released Bohemian Rhapsody at Christmas-time and it went to No.1 for the second time. This was the first time that I had heard this odd, long song. It was totally different to everything else that I had heard before.

"I like a range of music. everything from Classical to the Beatles to Oasis to Sinatra to Pulp. But to me, Queen are at the top of the pile.

"I remember going to Blackpool in 2000 for a YFC convention and I came across Queen's Greatest Hits II in HMV there...buying it and realising that the band had so much more music than I realised - on the radio they tend to only play songs such as 'Don't Stop Me Now' but the band have so many more wonderful songs.

"As the words from Radio Ga Ga say: "Our music changes through the years". Between 1971 and 1991, Queen showed how to change with the times. Madonna is a different example of an artiste who has changed with the times in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I like all of Queen's music, but I get pulled more towards their later stuff in the late 1980s and early 1990s

"Like the music, Queen's videos were so different and unique. For the song 'The Miracle' (1989), four children act as the members of the band and at the end, Freddie and the band members appear and join the child actors to sing in the video. It's brilliant. In the video for 'Breakthru' (1989), the band are on the train The Miracle Express and it attracts the attention instantly.

"I have read many books about Freddie and the band. He knew from 1987 that he was HIV+, but he carried on to record songs. It's clear in 'The Show Must Go On' , the final song on the final album, that he was saying thank you to his fans: "Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking, but my smile still stays on" - here was a man who was facing death in a heroic manner.

"At the beginning of the year I saw The King's Speech. I studied history in University and I love it. I enjoy biopics that revolve around real everyday life. I enjoy going to gigs and I have seen Elton John, Billy Joel, Kenny Rogers, Madness and the Manics. But the best band that I have seen were Madness in the CIA in Cardiff. They were incredible, giving a great performance.

"I often consider how much of a shame it is that I was too young to see Freddie live. But I have seen Queen with Paul Rogers, so I have seen the Guitarist Brian May and the Drummer Roger Taylor live at least, and they were fantastic.

"In their final album before Freddie died, Innuendo, there's a song called 'I'm Going Slightly Mad' - at times in life, particularly when you're a Councillor, you feel as if you're hitting your head against a brick wall. It's a comfort to listen to this song and know that other people feel the same".

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Cardigan's Primary & Secondary Schools will get £71,100 of Welsh Pupil Premium funding

Yesterday I blogged here about the Welsh Assembly budget deal between Welsh Labour and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

The budget is to be officially voted upon on December 6th but once it has been passed, it will give Welsh schools an extra £34,299,900. As a share of that, Ceredigion pupils who are classifed as being on free school meals will benefit to the tune of £450 each - a county total of £511,200. In a small authority such as ours, these are significant amounts of monies to our schools.

Here in Cardigan town, we will benefit from a combined total of £71,100 that will to go our school children who need that funding the most to reduce the impact of poverty on educational attainment. Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi, our primary school here in Cardigan, will benefit to the tune of £36,450 whilst Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi, our secondary school, will benefit to the tune of £34,650. As a Governor in both schools I know that this will be welcome extra funding.

So well done to Kirsty Williams and the Welsh Liberal Democrat team in Cardiff. Even in opposition, we're still managing to deliver on an election pledge of ours from the 2010 General and 2011 Welsh Assembly elections. Our children are the ones who will benefit from this and I can't think of a better way to influence politics for the better than by doing that.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Responsible Opposition - Welsh Liberal Democrats support Labour Assembly Budget

Whilst the Liberal Democrats continue to make tough decision in Government in Westminster, here in Wales of course, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are in opposition.

Today, led by Kirsty Williams, we proved that we can be responsible in opposition here in Wales just as we are being responsible in Government in London.

Welsh Assembly Budget
Last week, Labour lost a vote on its budget in Cardiff Bay. Back in May they missed out by a matter of only a few thousand votes on gaining an overall majority in the Assembly and instead came eye-wateringly short on 30 out of an Assembly of 60. So last week, the Welsh Conservatives, the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru joined together to tie the vote at 29-29 (Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer don't vote). With the tie, the Presiding Officer cast her vote for the status quo and the Labour budget fell by 29-30.

With this paralysis and the threat of another defeat against the Labour Government next week, there have been background discussions between all parties but particularly between Labour and the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.

Welsh Pupil Premium
This afternoon, Kirsty Williams announced that an agreement has been made between Carwyn Jones' ruling group and the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

As Kirsty says here on the Freedom Central website, she will lead her group of 5 to support the budget on December 6th having secured £32.04 million, of which £20 million is new money, for a Welsh pupil premium to reduce the impact of poverty on educational attainment. In addition, the Welsh Liberal Democrats have been able to agree an Economic Stimulus Package of £38.9 million to be spent on a range of measures to stimulate the economy and protect jobs.

The Pupil Premium was one of the Liberal Democrats' main election pledges in the 2010 General Election and it has been since rolled out across England. Now, thanks to the Welsh Liberal Democrats, it will be rolled out in Wales as well. More funding shall also support an economic stimulus package that will help boost the economy and protect jobs in what are extremely difficult times.

As Kirsty concludes:
"The Welsh Liberal Democrats are a small group in the National Assembly, but our influence in the budget negotiations will have a big influence on children’s lives and will help give our economy a helping boost.
"It would have been easier politically to walk away, but the Welsh Liberal Democrats have instead worked with our political opponents to agree a budget for the good of Wales. We are proud that our influence will make a difference to children in Wales and provide a welcome boost to the economic recovery".
A responsible opposition? Ed Milliband could well take a leaf out of Kirsty's book.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

How this 9 year old came to love Freddie Mercury and Queen

They say that February 3rd 1959, the day when Buddy Holly died, was the day that music died. Another such similar date it could well be argued was November 24th 1991.

As a 9 year old, I can only vaguely recall the death of Freddie Mercury. Only 10 days earlier on November 14th 1991, the only grandparent that I ever met and knew passed away. 5 days later on the 19th, he was buried. I didn't attend the funeral but was back in the wake instead. I remember it vividly because the news on the TV showed the release of Terry Waite after 1,763 days of captivity in the Lebanon the previous day.

It had been a rather tumultuous few days because this was the first time I had ever experienced the death of a close relative. Then 5 days after the funeral came the news that this important, well known singer from a popular rock group had also passed away. It was clearly a bad month for good men so this 9 year old thought.

I had never heard of Freddie Mercury let alone listened too or had an appreciation for the music of Queen. Yet the irony here is that it was Freddie's tragic early passing that acted as the catalyst to change all this.

In the December, as a tribute to its author, the remaining members of Queen re-released Bohemian Rhapsody as a Double A-side with These Are The Days Of Our Lives. Suddenly, the airwaves were full of this insane, random and lengthy song that first hit the top of the charts 16 years previously. It became the first song ever to get to number one twice with the same version and is also the only single to have been UK Christmas number one twice with the same version. It remained at number one for five weeks that winter to go along with the nine weeks during which it originally topped the charts in late 1975 / early 1976.

A Wonderful Fanaticism
With its second, second coming the next summer as a classic part in the film 'Wayne's World', I can recall being bemused by this intriguing 'new' sound. I kept wanting to re-listen to it. I kept wanting to sing the many different, eccentric parts within it. Suffice to say, I was hooked.

Over the coming years through secondary school, I was joined in my growing enthusiasm for Freddie Mercury and the music of Queen by school mate Luke Rowland. We'd listen to Queen religiously and my interest grew. But it was only as I was on the cusp of leaving secondary school in early 2000 that I graduated beyond the music of Queen's 'Greatest Hits'. I recall a trip to Blackpool for the annual YFC national convention with James Rees, a fellow member of Llawhaden YFC and whilst there, I bought with great excitement from HMV, Queen's Greatest Hits II. Suddenly I'd opened the door to a whole new decade of Queen music and to a 80s sound which I arguably preferred over their heavier 70s vibe. I wonder if James can recall me listening to this new sound sensation on my walkman in our hotel room overlooking the Irish Sea at the same time that we watched the all-Welsh World Championship Snooker Final between Mark Williams and Matthew Stevens? I still do!

As I went to University in Aberystwyth, my love for Queen showed no signs of abating. It helped that in Sarah Green, a housemate of mine in my 5th and final year, I had found another Queen soul mate. Indeed, I recall buying her the Queen Greatest Flix DVD as a birthday present at that time!

Official International Queen Fan Club Convention!
As time moved on, I bumped into Robin Whitmore who like me by now was a Liberal Democrat local party organiser from the East Anglian side of the country. He too was a Queen fan but he put me in the shade - he'd been a member of the Official International Queen Fan Club since the early 1970s - before I was even born! He enticed me to join him in attending a Queen Fan Club convention as he had never been before but wanted company in doing so. I did so in early 2009 at the Breen Sands Pontins resort in the west country! It was one of the most surreal weekends of my life and I absolutely enjoyed every moment of it. The eccentric enthusiasm, love and joy for the music of Queen that was felt there by all of the 1,000 or so attendees was just an electric experience which I hope to re-live again in the coming years.

I also joined Robin in witnessing the closest I will ever get to seeing Queen live in concert when I saw Queen + Paul Rodgers live in the CIA in Cardiff during that same period. Listening to Brian May singing '39 with the whole audience joining in with him remains one of the most special moments of my life. It was a truly exceptional, unforgettable experience.

On the back of the convention, I just had to join the Fan Club! I'd never joined before but I have been a member ever since.

My Golwg Interview
Having contacted the Queen Fan Club to ask for Welsh based members, Barry Thomas of the popular Welsh-language magazine Golwg was given my details and contacted me some years ago asking whether I would give an interview as someone who lives in the public-eye but who has this every-day love and enthusiasm for a popular rock group. Of course I would be!

But the interview never materialised until I had a 'phone call out of the blue last Friday. It was Barry, years after his initial query, asking whether I could give him that interview to coincide with the 20th anniverary of Freddie's death. I did and it has duly been released in today's edition of Golwg on that very anniversary. I supplied to him this photo that shows me with a mere sample of the videos, cassette tapes, CDs, books and magazines that I have as a Queen fan - as well as my fan club membership card of course!

It has gone full circle for me. Because if it hadn't have been for Freddie's untimely death 20 years ago today and the re-release of Bohemian Rhapsody that came as a direct consequence of that, I would never have become a fan at the time that I did. That doesn't mean of course that I wouldn't have become a fan at a later stage - with music of the calibre written by Freddie, Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon, it would surely only have been a matter of time before I'd see the light. But the simple and sad truth of the matter is that it was in my case, Freddie's death that led directly to my interest and love for the band which he helped shape into one of the greatest in 20th century music.

For me, there's no question about it - they are the best band of all-time. My many blog posts here about them and their music will prove testimony to that belief.

Thank you Freddie. You are still alive in your music. The Show Must Go On.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Health Motion to Ceredigion County Council (28-11-11)

Next Monday, I shall be seconding a motion being proposed to a full meeting of Ceredigion County Council by Cllr Elizabeth Evans, in support of our health services here in Ceredigion.

The motion calls for a meeting with the Welsh Assembly's Health Minister and the change management team at the Hywel Dda NHS Trust to answer the great concerns being expressed at present about the future provision of services in mid-Wales' only District General Hospital in Bronglais, Aberystwyth and also to clarify the future plans for Cardigan Hospital, Aberaeron Integrated Health Centre and the Cylch Caron project in Tregaron.

The motion below is self-explanatory and I hope that it will receive the unanimous support of Councillors from across the Chamber to send a clear message to Hywel Dda NHS Trust and to the Welsh Assembly Government that we will not stand idly by in Ceredigion whilst the threat to our health services increase.

COUNCIL NOTES:
Ceredigion County Council notes that Hywel Dda Health Board under the direction of the Welsh Government (WG) Health Minister is undertaking a substantial review of Health Service delivery in its operational area, and as a council we are concerned what this will mean for Ceredigion particularly in light of the Health Minister’s decision to put on hold long awaited capital expenditure on health projects within the county, namely Cardigan, Aberaeron and Tregaron.

Ceredigion County Council further notes that a change management team has been brought in to achieve this substantial change. Ceredigion County Council notes that this substantial review has been directed by WG to provide a service that can operate within the constraints laid down by the Health Minister in her announcement on Tuesday 1st November.

COUNCIL BELIEVES:
Ceredigion County Council believes that these constraints laid down by the Minister take no account of Ceredigion’s rurality which has to be considered as a significant factor in the matrix of any health care provision. Operationally, the Minister has stated that no District General Hospital (DGH) will be shut. However, there is only Bronglais DGH between the A55 corridor in the North of Wales and the M4/A48 corridor in the South. Therefore, Bronglais is of strategic and primary importance to the delivery of safe health care in a geographical operational area that covers half of Wales and needs to be adequately resourced by Welsh Government

Ceredigion County Council further believes that any down-grading whatsoever of any one of the core services currently provided at Bronglais would render the population at severe risk. Services at Bronglais DGH must include: abdominal/colo-rectal surgery, accident and emergency, cardiology, elderly medicine, gynaecology and obstetrics, maternity, oncology, orthopaedics, paediatrics, respiratory, stroke facilities, and mental health services together with all on-site supporting services. These core services and their supporting elements are essential to the delivery of a sustainable and safe healthcare provision in the area otherwise the loss of anyone of these individual services will render this facility no longer able to serve the population as a fully functional DGH which can provide a safe, timely and accessible health care service appropriately to the population; again it must be stressed that this must be adequately resourced by Welsh Government.

COUNCIL RESOLVES:
To write and to call for urgent meetings with both the Minister and the Change Management Team at Hywel Dda with all Councillors in order to:

Strongly argue that Bronglais DGH should keep all the services listed in the above paragraph and to nurture the continued development in all areas where expertise already exists. Consequently, Bronglais DGH must be considered separately as a special case given its geographical position within Wales and the continued ground-breaking developmental research, which has already been professionally recognised.

Clarify in its entirety the capital expenditure position and the operational intentions for Cardigan Hospital, Aberaeron Integrated Health Centre and the Cylch Caron, Tregaron projects.

Proposed by: Cllr Elizabeth Evans
Seconded by: Cllr Mark Cole

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Timmy Mallett, Perry Como & Dangermouse

For a child of my era, it's been a rather sad week.

The death of songwriter Lee Pockriss at the age of 87 reminds me of a song that he wrote that was originally a hit in 1960 for Brian Hyland but which I remember 30 years later as a 1990 hit for a boy-hood idol of mine, Timmy Mallet.



As well as writing 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini' he is also credited with a particular Perry Como favourite of mine from 1957, 'Catch A Falling Star'.



Another loss this week has been that of animator Mark Hall who was a co-founder of Cosgrove Hall with Brian Cosgrove and was responsible for creating, amongst others, Danger Mouse and The Wind in the Willows. He died of cancer at the age of 74.

Dangermouse was an iconic children's cartoon of the 1980s and is adored by children of that era. Having David Jason lead with the voice of our hero was an added touch of genius.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Twitter's Anti-Bullying 'Words Can Hurt' Sensation and how I was bullied in school

Is sensation too strong a word? Well, if your 4 minute long Youtube musings on bullying are re-tweeted by Stephen Fry via John Prescott to their combined total of 3.5m +  followers and is being shown in school assemblies across the country in the fight against bullying then yeah, I call that a sensation.

Here below is Hannah Thompson's video on the effect that school-yard name-calling bullying had on her as a 13 years old.

Now I must declare an interest here. I know Hannah and I know her very well. She came to work with us in Mark Williams MP's office as a painfully shy and quiet work experience pupil from Tregaron Secondary School back in around 2008 when she would've been about 15 (I may be wrong with the dates but it's about this time).

As she says, she and her friends were quirky and rather off-the-wall with their sense of humour but I must admit that I took to it instantly. Who at that age would go and become huge Cliff Richard fans for example?! As an office and as a party, they fitted in effortlessly. The name that we in the office gave to Hannah and her gang which included Holly and Aithne as well as others was the 'Tregaron Mafia'. They quickly became involved in local politics and have been fantastic supporters locally over recent years.

So I must admit that I am ridiculously proud that our Hannah has became such a Twitter viral sensation and for such an important cause to boot. Here is that video.



Being Bullied
I was also bullied verbally at school. It was also in the form of name-calling and snide remarks made behind and often in front of my back.

Specifically, it was the the fact that I had big glasses (such has been my poor short-sightedness from a very young age) which led to the unfortunately inevitable '4 eyes' comments but most significantly the fact that my slight speech impediment with which I can not say the letter 's' clearly and have a difficulty in rolling the letter 'r' made me the easy butt of many cruel jokes.

Looking back, the bus trip to and from school was never an easy one for me and I can often remember wanting to break down and cry because of the harsh things said of and to me. I always stood my ground, grinned and bared it but on the inside, I was an emotional mess. It certainly made me more reticient when it came to speaking up in class. Because at the back of my mind as I was often reminded, I had this ever so slight lisp which made me sound different to everyone else. I hated it.

How on earth I managed to lift myself up from all of the knocks that I received from this I do not know. There must be a wilful force within me that doesn't let such injustices get me down. I'm proud of what I have achieved in the 10+ years since I left school and I hope that young people in Cardigan and more widely who may suffer now with what I suffered from then, can use me as an example of how such things should never be allowed to hold you back. I still have that same speech impediment but I don't realise it much of the time now. It's just a part of who I am and everyone accepts me for who I am in the whole and not just in part.

So well done to Hannah for reminding us that 'Words Can Hurt'. They certainly can but as she says, it's a big world out there that extends far beyond the school yard.

Hannah, you are an inspiration and I love you and your eccentric, weird and wonderful ways to bits! Don't you EVER change!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Free Xmas Parking in Ceredigion

Ceredigion County Council's Cabinet this morning agreed to allow for free parking throughout the county from 10am on the 3 Saturdays running up to Christmas - the 10th, 17th and 24th December.

Traders from Cardigan have been making the case for free festive parking in the town for years because of the negative impact that the same policy in neighbouring Carmarthenshire has had on trade in our town. It has been exacerbated by a new policy to a similar effect coming into force this year in Pembrokeshire.

This year, the County Council Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Ray Quant has come down to Cardigan to meet with representatives from the Cardigan Chamber of Trade and from the Cardigan Traders organisations who have pushed him on this issue. He also accepted an invitation to meet with Cardigan Town Council in the summer where we again made the same comments to him.

It is a great concern because whilst the big supermarkets such as Tesco in Cardigan can afford to supply to its customers free parking, the town centre businesses must reply on the good grace of the local authority to keep its parking charges at an appropriate and reasonable level. To support local businesses and also the local residents who use them, this is therefore a weapon in the County Council's armoury which it has at its disposal but which it has never before utilised in Ceredigion,

I was present in the Cabinet meeting this morning and spoke on the issue. I stated that I personally supported an extentsion to the free parking period to take in the two weeks before Christmas from 12th December to the 24th which was an option in the paper put before the meeting. At a cost of £3,000 a day, it would've meant a total of £36,000 that would need to be found from the Corporate Finance Budget as a means of supporting local business. But with tight budgets, the Cabinet opted to support the 3 Saturdays prior to Christmas option.

It is a shame that this scheme could not have been taken a step forward in this case as I called for, but it is at least a positive step forward which will now have set a precedent for next year and beyond when we can seek to expand on this early Christmas present for local residents and local town centre traders.

This is a positive result for those Cardigan traders who have been campaigning for years to level the playing field with neighbouring towns such as Newcastle Emlyn and Carmarthen. It can go further but Cllr Ray Quant fairly delivered on his promise back in the summer to take these calls back to his department and to push for this positive change.