Monday, 31 January 2011

A Musical Tribute to John Barry OBE (1933-2011)

It was with great sadness that I heard today of the death from a heart attack, of composer John Barry at the age of 77.

For me, 'Mr James Bond' is right up there with the 20th century's best when it comes to musical compositions.

He won 5 Oscars and a BAFTA Fellowship and was awarded the OBE in 1999.

Here are just a few of his finest compositions...

RIP John Barry

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Old at Heart (Part Deux) - The Rock'n Roll Golden Years of Music

Following on from my 'Golden Years of Music' blog post in which I reminisced of the songs from the 50s and 60s which I can recall from my childhood having been born the son to a 'Teddy Boy', a number of readers commented that what I left from my selection was a homage to the rock'n roll giants of the age.

As a fan of this genre then, I felt it only right to blog on some of the rock'n roll giants of this time.

Where do I start? Well, it has to be Chuck Berry hasn't it. From 1964, as made famous for a new generation by the 1990's film Pulp Fiction, 'You Never Can Tell'.

I've already blooged about my love for Fats Domino, so here he is, in 1957 with 'Blue Monday'.

Gene Vincent 'Be-Bop-A-Lula'd in 1956.

Forever in the shadows of the likes of Cash, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, was the highly under-rated Carl Perkins. A personal favourite of mine, from 1956, was his 'Honey Don't'.

But speaking of him just now, Johnny Cash is a great - certainly in my book. I could happily dedicate a whole blog post to him alone. But to pick one? Easy. Live from San Quentin, it's the 'Folsom Prison Blues'.

What can be said about Buddy Holly that hasn't already been said? Here he is in 1959 and it's 'Raining in my Heart'.

Of course I must give a nod to 'The King'. I'm a big Elvis fan but as he gets more than enough exposure compared to many of his contemporaries, for once I thought I'd 'bury' him in the middle of this compilation to showcase the others more. But here he is, in 1957 with the anthemic 'Jailhouse Rock'.

Eddie Cochran was another master. Here he is with his 1958 hit 'Come on Everybody'.

Don't forget the Spencer Davis Group. Here they are with another song made famous for younger generations like myself via film, in this case 'The Blues Brothers'. From 1967 it's 'Gimme Some Lovin'.

Now I'm a huge Roy Orbison fan. The 'Big O', like Elvis and Buddy Holly died far too young but like them, he left a musical heritage for us all. Here he is with a song from his 'Mystery Girl' album in 1988. He'd made a comeback and this performance was at Antwerp on November 19th of that year. He died of a heart attack weeks later on December 6th.

'You've Got It'.

But let's finish at the beginning. 1956 saw the first 'great' Rock'n Roll song thanks to Bill Hayley and the Comets. 'Rock Around The Clock'.

To conclude, to truly finish where I began and a second helping of Chuck Berry. Possibly the greatest rock'n roll song of all time from 1958. Was there ever a more famous boy than Johnny B. Goode?

All of the above ladies and gentlemen, is what I like to refer to as 'proper music'.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Mark Williams MP Calls for Direct Aberystwyth-London Train Service

Ceredigion's Welsh Lib Dem MP Mark Williams has re-iterated his call today for a direct train service between Aberystwyth and London.

It comes on the day that the Wrexham and Shropshire rail service to London closed. The service was reinstated in 2008 after a gap of 41 years, but has been scrapped by Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway (WSMR) after a fall in customer numbers.

A direct Aberystwyth to London service was turned down last year by the Office of Rail Regulation because of the effect it would have on existing routes.

Mark Williams MP said:

“The Wrexham and Shropshire train provided an excellent service, and many of my constituents have benefited from the provision of a direct service to London from Shrewsbury.

“This highlights the need for a direct service to London from Mid Wales, which would be a huge boost to the area, and I hope Arriva Trains Wales will consider submitting a revised bid for a direct Aberystwyth to London service.

“For too long Mid Wales has been left isolated by the lack of rail services, and the demise of the Wrexham and Shropshire service is another blow.”

Mark is right and Arriva need to submit a revised bid for a direct service to properly re-connect Mid-Wales with London now that this route that passes through Shrewsbury has as of today, ceased to operate.

The last direct train from Aberystwyth to London was in 1991. It's been 20 long years and as students and tourists alike will testify, it's been sorely missed. It would be great for our local economy at this time to benefit from this service and as Arriva Trains want it also, the Office of Rail Regulation now need to re-consider and give us here in mid-Wales this extra, much needed life-line.

Is Andy Murray the Man to end 75 Years of British Tennis Hurt?

Baddiel & Skinner famously sang of England's '30 Years of Hurt' in their footballing 'Three Lions' epic of 1996. As it happens, that particular English heartache now extends to 45 years and counting.

But that's nothing. Because British tennis fans have got a lot more hurt to mull over. To be precise, we've been waiting 75 years since the last British man won a Tennis Grand Slam - Fred Perry winning his 8th and final Grand Slam at the US Open in 1936. He was the first player to win each of the 4 Grand Slam titles but no British man has even managed to win one of them since.
Fred Perry

Andy Murray is now one match away from breaking that voodoo. His excellent, well fought win over David Ferrer today means that he is a Novak Djokovic victory away from creating history.

He's not the first British man to reach a Grand Slam final since 1936 but he is the first to have done so on more than one occasion.

John Lloyd lost in the Australian Open final in 1977 whilst Greg Rusedski lost in the US Open final in 1997. Andy Murray meanwhile lost in the 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open finals.

Britain has had more success in the women's arena but even that is now fleeting. The last female singles winner was Virginia Wade in 1977 at Wimbledon (having also won the US and Australian Opens in 1968 and 1972), a year after Sue Barker won the French Open in 1976.

But to wait 75 years for a male winner is quite staggering. Is Murray the man to do what the likes of Lloyd, Rusedski and Tim Henman failed to accomplish? It's about time that a British player stepped out from Perry's shadow.

In Novak Djokovic, he has a stern opponent. Yes, he isn't Nadal and he isn't the Federer who has defeated Murray in his previous 2 Grand Slam finals, but Djokovic is a real test. In 7 head-to-head matches, Djokovic leads by the slender margin of 4-3 but he does have the experience of having won a Grand Slam title in 2008 - in Australia of all places. Djokovic also defeated Federer of course in the semi-final so he's on top form.

So Murray has a tough tough test but then this is a Grand Slam final - there's no easy matches at this level!

Can he do it? Of course he can. But he needs his form to turn up at the arena on Sunday in a way in which it didn't when he played in his previous two finals.

It's been 75 long years. Britain deserves a win now surely! Andy Murray certainly does.

So...COME ON TIM! Uh....I mean COME ON ANDY!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A word of warning for Bob Crow - Don't mess with us Welsh Rugby fans

The on-going dispute between the RMT Union and Arriva Trains Wales took another dramatic, ridiculous twist yesterday when the former turned down a 12% pay increase over 2 years for its train drivers from the latter as reported in today's Western Mail.

If accepted, Arriva state that the offer would've taken the basic rise of an Arriva Trains driver up to £39,117 for a 35-hour four-day week. The RMT Union however claim that in all actuality, the rise is closer to 8% with an extra 2.5% in addition by making it compulsory for drivers to work occasional Sundays.

Either way, the offer in the current difficult economic circumstances nevertheless looks more than generous.

The annual average pay in 2010 for a Teacher for example was £31,852, for a Nurse was £26,184 and for a Social Worker was £25,712. So an increase in pay to the upper £30k pay bracket for Arriva Train Drivers at this moment in time should not be sniffed at.

RMT Strike on Wales Vs England Day
The RMT members voted to strike in protest on December 28th and of the 600 Arriva Trains drivers, some 120 are members of the RMT Union. Of those we are told,  52 decided to strike. But because it's unlikely that drivers from other unions will cross the RMT picket-line, Arriva's entire rail operation on the day of the strike is likely to be affected.

So, what day have the RMT Executive and leader Bob Crow opted for to strike? For maximum impact, quite incredulously, they have chosen Friday, 4th February to do their deed - the day of the opening Six Nations Match between Wales and England in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

It is likely that some 20,000 fans will be using the rail to travel to the game and whilst First Great Western and Cross Country services should remain unaffected, this will nevertheless cause great inconveniance to many rugby and sporting fans.

Don't mess with the Welsh Rugby fan Bob
The Western Mail's editorial today hit the nail on the head. It said:

"...strikes are generally doomed to failure unless there is at least some degree of public solidarity with the cause of those taking action. A society gripped with unemployment, inflation and rising prices, and hit this week with yet more dire economic data, will struggle to find sympathy for a group of already well-paid train drivers offered a rise of a mere 12%.

"These people should be grateful that they have jobs, not to mentiion the offer of any kind of pay rise. They should certainly not be targetting the enjoyment of Wales' loyal and enthusiastic rugby followers in a bid to line their pockets.

"It is about time that they accept the generous offer rather than risk creating chaos on one of the biggest nights of the year for Welsh sport".

Don't Take the Proverbial
There isn't much bigger an opponent for us Welsh than the English at Rugby Union. But if Bob Crow and his 52 voting strikers don't back down, Welsh rugby fans may well have found themselves a new opponent to challenge.

Bob Crow is a bully-boy tribalist who gives the Trade Union movement a bad name. If this strike on February 4th is carried out, he'll only be making more Welsh rods for his own back.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Gerry Adams - the Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead!

With thanks to a tweet from @helenduffett I fell upon this HM Treasury announcement that has been released today.

As it reads:

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer has this day appointed Gerard Adams to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead".

I know that this is Parliamentary protocol but as the BBCs Michael Crick blogged about here last Monday, Adams as has ever been his way, has not gone about resigning from Parliament to stand in the Irish elections next month in the conventional way.

So will he openly refute this piece of protocol?

Well, unless or until he does, we should now call this arch Irish Republican by his new title.

So congratulations to the new Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead!

Dennis 'The Menace' Tanner Returns to Coronation Street

We heard the news yesterday that Dennis The Menace’ Tanner is to return to the cobbles of Coronation St this March.

The son of Corrie legend Elsie Tanner, he appeared in the opening episode of the serial on December 9th 1960 having just been released from jail.

He left the Street in 1968 when he married Jenny Sutton and moved to Bristol.

Not only is he returning, but for authenticity’s sake, the great news is that he’s returning under the guise of Philip Lowrie, who originally played him in the 1960s. He has signed up for an initial 6 month contract and will renew his sparring relationship with Ken Barlow who also appeared in that first episode.

Goodbye, Hello – Ray Langton & Jed Stone
This won’t be the first time that a well known Cobbles character will have made a return after a decades long absence.

Ray Langton in the 1970s
Ray in 2005
Ray Langton, the first husband to Deirdre and father to tearaway Tracy, left for Holland in 1978.

27 years later in 2005, Neville Buswell resurrected the character to return to tell his daughter Tracy in particular that he was dying of stomach cancer.

He did so and they came closer to each other before he died in the Rovers in Ken and Deirdre’s second wedding reception (only the second character to die there after Martha Longhurst in 1964).

Jed Stone in the 1960s
But the longest character absence from the Street until now was that of Jed Stone who was a character from 1961-1966. Ironically, he was friends with Dennis Tanner and was famously a lodger with Minnie Caldwell at No.5 – her nickname for him was ‘Sunny Jim’.

Jed in 2008
He re-appeared under the same guise of actor Kenneth Cope after a 42 years absence in 2008 when he came up against Tony Gordon who was developing the Nightingale Terrace flats that had been Jed’s home for over 40 years. After a number of run-ins with Gordon, he was last reported to have suffered a second heart attach whilst in hospital in February 2009.

A 1960’s Corrie Cobbles Reunion?
But Dennis Tanner’s return will break the Jed Stone record for a Street absence as it will be 43 years since we last saw him in Salford.

As Jed Stone’s fate has not been addressed now for almost 2 years, have the script-writers inadvertently left open the opportunity for the two old friends to be reunited over 45 years after they’d last met on the Cobbles?

Now that would be a Street treat…

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The King's Speech Sweeps the Oscars (Nominations)

The nominations for the 83rd Academy Award were announced earlier and Britain leads the way.

The King's Speech has 12 nominations, including those for Best Picture and for Colin Firth as Best Actor. Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush are also up in their Best Supporting Roles. I've seen the film and blogged a raving review here.

The 12 nominations earned are only 2 short of the all-time record of 14 held by All About Eve in 1950 and Titanic in 1997. 

The Western re-make True Grit is up for 10 Oscars, whilst The Social Network and Inception are up for 8 each.

Colin Firth will be favourite to win the Best Actor Award having won the Golden Globe last week though the competition for the Best Picture is fierce.

A Nod for Toy Story 3
I also noticed with great satisfaction that Toy Story 3 is also in the running for Best Picture. Never in the 83 year history of the Academy Awards has an animated film won the top prize but this is nevertheless only the 3rd time that one has even been nominated for it - the others were Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Up (2009).

I don't expect it to make history this year but it really is a technical masterpiece and it deserves to be comsidered with its real-life alternatives.

God Speed
But good luck to Colin Firth and co. Come February 27th, we'll hopefully have another Royal Oscar triumph to celebrate - following that of Helen Mirren as The Queen back in 2006.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Gray, Keys & Tottenham Hotspur - Footballing Idiots

What sheer stupidity. Absolute, ridiculous nonsense.

Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys should be relieved today to still have a job. They have been forced to apologise and have been removed from Sky Sports' commentary tonight of the Bolton Vs Chelsea Premiership match after their sexist comments about lineswoman Sian Massey.

What century do they live in? Here is the 'off-record' comments that has landed them in hot water.

Sian Massey is a professional and will not have been put in charge of manning one of the flanks of a top-flight football match if she didn't know the offside rules.

Come on, they're clearly both dinosaurs. What really adds to their woes is the fact that she clearly showed in the Wolves Vs Liverpool match on Saturday that she knew her stuff - the controversial Liverpool goal that looked off-side was in fact legitimate and she kept her flag down at the crucial moment to allow it to rightfully stand.

More power to her elbow and shame on both Gray (a former Villain may I add) and Keys. Yes, it was a private conversation between the two but they deserve to be shown up for being so medievel in their thinking. They're lucky to still have a job.

Is sexism still rife in football? Yes, it probably is and it should be bloody well stamped out.

A right Olympic Mess
Another footballing saga that has got my goat this week has been the on-going drama about whether either Spurs or West Ham should be given the keys to the 2012 Olympic Stadium after the games come to an end next year.

What a non-question if ever there was one.

West Ham are an East London club - they have the geographic sense to want to move into a new stadium on their turf. Tottenham Hotspur on the other hand are not and are clearly trying to grab an easy 'quick-fix' opportunity of getting over their capacity issues. White Hart Lane isn't big enough for their aspirations so the Olympic Stadium would suit them down to the ground.

But, they want to KNOCK IT DOWN and BUILD ANOTHER STADIUM at a cost of £300m on the same site. This is absolute madness. They also refuse to consider keeping the athletics track that would of course be integral to the Games in 2012. If this were allowed, it would, as Seb Coe said this week, make a mockery of Britain's original Olympic Bid. How can you have a lasting Olympic legacy if the main stadium is reverted into a football field?

At least West Ham would keep the integrity of the stadium intact. They would keep the running track around the football pitch and wouldn't knock the whole thing down only to build it back up again from scratch. So what if Harry Redknapp says it will lessen the atmosphere to have the fans further away from the action? If West Ham are willing to accept this downside then good for them. THIS IS AN ATHLETICS STADIUM IN THE FIRST INSTANCE HARRY.

It drives me mad and today we've heard that the decision that was due on Friday has now been postponed so I'm going to have to put up with more discussion on a debate that is so redundant, it's beyond belief.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Dancing on Ice (The Final 12) - Judge Cole & Rees' Verdict

Continuing with my Dancing on Ice commentary, tonight saw the first round of the competition proper.

Tonight, this is a joint Judging effort by myself and my Alyson.

But first of all, as I've done over previous weeks, we start with a vintage performance by Torvill and Dean. This time it's the 1982 World Skating Championships in Copenhagen and another of my favourite routines of theirs - 'Mack and Mable'.

This is what I'm talking about...

The 2011 In-Take
We're now down to the final 12 contestants for the competition proper. The judge's marks now count for half so it's beginning to get serious.

First up was Vanilla Ice. Admittedly Alyson and I were late in tuning in and missed his performance but from seeing the replay later in the programme, he looked solid and made good lifts as he did in his qualifier. Next up was Chloe Madeley who we just got back from supper to watch. As with her qualifier, it was a smooth and quick routine and certainly makes her one to watch in future weeks. Next up was Denise Welch who came in on her own which was a good start but it all fell away from there with what seemed to be stuttering performance. Dominic Cork gave a nervous performance having given a promising debut last week. Laura Hamilton was very good and gave an accomplished account of herself. Our Ashley (Steve Arnold) bless him was slow and compared to his colleagues, performed a very basic routine. Jeff Brazier's timing was poor and was ungraceful with his moves - particularly with his arms but had a good verbal joust with Judge Jason. Dave Vitty has a big fanbase and is going to need it because on the basis of tonight's performance was slow and pretty basic in comparison to his non-Ashley colleagues. Jennifer Metcalfe also came in solo and gave a fast, fun, great performance and made up for her slipped lift last week. Sam Attwater was by a wide margin the best of the night. He had power, grace and speed and performed his big lift with ease. Johnson Beharry isn't Alyson's favourite but he made a solid if unspectacular addition to tonight's show. Finally, Kerry Katona looked nervy and didn't expand on her qualifying potential.

The Skate-Off
On the performances on the night, we felt that the bottom two should be our Ashely (Steve Arnold) and Dave Vitty.

But in the end, his fan base saved Comedy Dave. Dominic Cork was going to be in trouble after his performance so finding him in the bottom two with our Ashley wasn't a huge shock. In the final amalysis,  Steve Arnold was always going to be voted off tonight having fallen into the bottom two.

Goodbye Ashley. It was fun, but your time is up.

So next week, we're down to the final 11...

A Failed Fianna Fáil & an Irish Political Earthquake

The Republic of Ireland's Green Party today withdrew from Brian Cowen's Fianna Fáil led Coaltion Government,

It means that an election is imminent. We're probably looking at mid-February instead of the March 11th date announced by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Cowen yesterday. He looked secure in his position when he won a party leadership secret ballot last week but a botched Cabinet reshuffle was rejected by their then Green partners and yesterday he announced that he would step down as Fianna Fáil's leader but would remain as Taoiseach until the election. Such an untenable position is extraordinary and all of this has precipitated today's pivotal decision.

Unless he dissolves Parliament tomorrow, he faces a vote of no confidence in his leadership on Tuesday. Without the Greens, his 2 seat majority has evaporated and he is likely to lose that vote in the Republic's Parliament, the Dáil Éireann (if it happens).

Fianna Fáil in Meltdown
The latest opinion polls show that the Republic of Ireland's long-serving governing party are on the verge of a historic meltdown. I don't use these words lightly.

As the Republic's finances has spiralled, and as the international financial bailout has led to swingeing public sector cuts, so have the governing party's opinion poll ratings. They were re-elected in May 2007 with 41.5% of the vote but in the latest Paddy Power Bookmakers Red C opinion poll on January 7th, they had slumped to just 14%. Fine Gael polled 35%, the Labour Party polled 21% and Sinn Féin polled 14%.

Fianna Fáil are tied, a month from a general election, in 3rd place, with Sinn Féin.

The Fall of Fianna Fáil?
This latest opinion poll points towards an electoral collapse for the party of Éamon de Valera, Jack Lynch and Bertie Ahern.

This is a party that first contested an election in June 1927 and instantly won 44 seats. It has never registered less than that figure in the ensuing 84 years. Indeed, between 1932 (when it first formed the government) and the present day, Fianna Fáil have won between 65 and 86 seats including a stunning 20 seat majority in a STV Proportional Representation election win in 1977 with over 50% of the vote (matching its achievement in 1938). Its lowest ever % total of the vote was the 26.2% it earned in that first election in June 1927. It has only polled less than 39% on election day on 4 times in its history.

The party has been in power for 53 years of its 84 year history and is the second most successful political party in the democratic world after the Swedish Social Democratic Party.

So an opinion poll that puts it in the low to mid teens weeks away from election day demonstrates how catasclysmic this election result could well prove to be.

The Alternatives? Fine Gael and the Labour Party
So if Ireland's top party are on the verge of an apocylyptic result, who is set to take advantage?

Well, the results show that it is the perennial 2nd party in Irish politics, Fine Gael who are set to capitalise. Unlike it's historic protaganist, it has never formed a single party government - only coalition governments, usually with the Labour Party. The reason for this? Because it has never polled, since it first stood in an election in 1937, more than Fianna Fáil. That's right readers - NEVER.

Its best result was in November 1982 when it won 70 seats, just 5 less than Fianna Fáil with its highest ever share of the vote at 39.2% - yes, the same 39% which Fianna Fáil have on only 4 occasions ever slipped under.

Only 9 years ago, back in 2002 when Bertie Aherne swept his way to re-election, Fine Gael 'collapsed' to just 22.5% of the vote and 31 seats - its worse performance since 1944. But under new leader Enda Kenny they won 51 seats with an extra 4.8% of the vote in 2007.

Now, with opinion poll ratings in the mid-30s, the Dáil Éireann's 'Father', its longest serving member Enda Kenny is now set to become the successor to Cowen as Taoiseach as the largest party in its history.

So who would Fine Gael partner-up with to form a stable government? It'll likely be their partners of old, the Labour Party. Back at the end of last year for the first time in their history, they led an opinion poll.

From its first election in 1922, it has fluctuated from a low of 7 seats in 1932 to a high of 33 in 1992. Led by Eamon Gilmore, they won 20 seats in the last election in 2007 with 10.1% of the vote. If they match on election day the state of the polls at present they are set for their best ever election result.

The Rise of Sinn Féin?
But keep a keen eye out on the IRA's political mouthpiece of old.

Sinn Féin are now the prominent Republican and nationalist party in Northern Irish politics but since the 1930s' due to their abstentionist policy, have been a bit part player in the Dáil Éireann. They currently only have 5 members but one of those was won in a sensational by-election result last year. Their 2007 result of 6.9% is likely to be smashed if their mid-teens opinion poll ratings transfer into polling booths votes on election day. With Arthur Morgan's retirement from Lough this year, Gerry Adams is also set to take his place to historically take a seat in Dublin.

A Historic Shift in Irish Politics
So, can Fianna Fáil fight back before election day? Maybe, but only if Cowen falls on his sword now and isn't seen to be the party's figurehead going into the election. The best I sense that they can hope for is to score 20% of the vote. They need to finish above Sinn Féin though this can't be guaranteed. It's likely to be a Fine Gael and Labour Party election win though the margins of which will determine the composition of the next government.

But whatever happens, it can be fair to say that this is going to be seismic. This result in some 4 weeks time is going to be a political earthquake. Do not underestimate what is about to happen.

Fine Gael have never been the top party in Irish politcs.
Labour have never looked so strong.
Sinn Féin  have never looked so ominous.
Fianna Fáil have never been so fragile.

The economic mire which the Republic has found itself in is going to result in unprecedented scenes next month. To what extent that will be will only be known on election night.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Old at Heart - Celebrating The 50s & 60s Golden Years of Music

I was born in the wrong decade. My University friends always commented on it when they'd look through my CD collections.

I was born in 1982 and I am very fond of the music of my 'yoof' in the early 90s. But having said that, as anyone who knows me will testify, I've got a really eclectic taste in music. From classical, to rock to Brit Pop and back again.

But I've always had a particular soft spot for the 50s and 60s. It'll be my father's influence for sure. His musical taste lived through me during my formative years (including, quite randomly, the love of the Blackpool style Wurlitzer - which my mates found highly amusing!).

The Frankie and Benny Experience
But when you look at the music from the 50s and 60s particularly, it's just a wonderful wealth of quality. It's the era that above any other it can be argued that fashioned the music that was to follow through the remaining decades of the 20th century - rock'n roll emanated here and thank heavens for that.

The lyrics and the melodies are so simple and straightforward. They tell a story that we can all relate too.

I've been happily reminded of this having not listened so much to this era of music of late by my regular trips to the new Frankie and Benny's in Carmarthen with my Alyson. I absolutely adore the atmosphere there because they play these very songs and I find it difficult to eat the American/Italian range of food on the menu when I'm constantly singing along to every single song being played!

So, I've chosen a random mix of songs from this era that always make me smile.

We begin with Bobby Vee who in 1961 asked us to 'Take Good Care Of My Baby'.

Meanwhile, back in 1958 Michael Holliday told us 'The Story Of My Life'.

The Bachelors meanwhile were in 1964, singing about their dear 'Diane' .

What about Helen Shapiro? Well in 1961, she was 'Walking Back To Happiness'.

Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr stuck live glue. 'Me and My Shadow' 1962 style.

Sam Cooke knew in 1959 '(What a) Wonderful World' this could be.

In 1961, Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer were 'Two of a Kind'.

Back in 1954, The Chordettes were dreaming of Mister Sandman.

By 1958, it was all about the 'Lollipop' (as made doubly famous for me by being in the 1980s film 'Stand By Me').

In 1959, Dion & The Belmonts asked 'Why must I be a Teenager in Love?'

Meanwhile on the same theme, The Shirelles asked in 1960 'Will you still Love Me Tomorrow?'

As far as The Everly Brothers were concerned in 1958, 'All I Have To Do Is Dream'.

Nat King Cole tells us 'When He'll Fall In Love'.

From Dean Martin in 1955, 'Memories are Made of This'.

I finish with a lovely little ditty from the diddymen man himself - Ken Dodd. From 1964, 'Happiness'. 'Nuff said.

Hey there, Boo Boo -Yogi Bear in 3D!

I've barely newly satisfied my urge to make a rare appearance to the cinema to watch 'The King's Speech' and now, like a street full of buses, another film has grabbed my attention.

This time, a world away from Colin Firth's Golden Globe winning performance, it's Yogi Bear in 3D that has captured my imagination!

Hey there, Boo Boo!
Like many of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, there was something wonderfully avocative of childhood with Yogi Bear. Although a late 1950's / early 1960s invention, generations of children have embraced this playful character's harmless attempts to steal 'pic-a-nic' baskets from visitors to the wonderfully named Jellystone Park with his companion Boo-Boo.

Now, Yogi's being re-incarnated with the voice of comedic legend, former Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd whilst Boo Boo will be voiced by musical superstar Justin Timerlake.

Smarter than the Average Bear!
The film was released just before Christmas in America and will be released on 11th February here in the UK.

Should I embarassed to want to go and see a children's movie in the cinema? Hell no! It seems that many of my friends who are older than my tender 28 years are also keen to re-live a part of their youth!

So, here's the trailer and I look forward to a great 'pic-a-nic'...

Friday, 21 January 2011

Voice Box Transplant 'Miracle'

'Progress' can often be a double edged sword..

But in the medical world, 'progress' more often that not has positive conotations.

Brenda Jensen
 Today, the BBC reports here of another medical 'miracle'. Over the years, the boffins with brains have found how to translplant various organs in the human body to enable the continuation of life.

The first successful organ transplant was of the cornea in 1905. The kidney was first successfully transplanted in 1954, the pancreas in 1966, the liver in 1967, the heart again in 1967, the hand in 1998, and the first full facial transplant in July 2010.

Voicebox Transplant - Brenda Jensen's Miracle
Well now in America, after 11 years without a voice, Californian resident Brenda Jensen can talk once more with her own voice after a pioneering 18 hour operation on her voicebox proved successfull. It's only the second time a voicebox has been transplanted but the first time in history in which it has been done at the same time as the windpipe.

She has not been able to speak since 1999 when it was damaged during surgery. Since then, she has been unable to taste or smell food, could breathe only through a hole in her windpipe and could talk only with the help of an electronic voice box.

13 days after her operation, she was able to whisper her first words "Good morning, I want to go home". Slowly, her voice has stengthened and she is now able to speak for lond periods of time.

This is the story...

The Wonders of Modern Science
It's incredible that as a human race, we have become so sophisticated that we are able to achieve with success these complicated procedures.

I could feel tears welling up in my eyes as I saw the news and this incredible story earlier. To imagine being without a voice for over 10 years and then, by a miraculous operation, to hear it once more must be an unbelievable sensation.

Well done to the surgeons that succeeded in this mind-boggling achievement. They are pioneers who follow in a long and proud line through history and through the 20th century especially.

Much of Mankind's greatest achievement have come from this - Science, Science, Science.

Put Out The Trash Day - Coulson Quits No.10

What unfortunate timing.

Andy Coulson has managed to announce that he's quitting as David Cameron's Director of Communications at the same time that sees Labour reeling from Alan Johnson's sudden resignation, when Tony Blair has had to confront the Chilcot Inquiry once more, and when a suspect has been arrested. for the murder of Jo Yeates.

A coincidence? Pull the other one.

News of The World Phone Hacking
Coulson resigned as Editor of the NOTW back in 2007, saying that he took ultimate responsibility for the scandal that resulted in Royal reporter Clive Goodman being jailed for conspiracy to access phone messages. Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months on the same charge.

Coulson has since denied any knowledge in the scandal but it has continued to haunt him during his 3 year stint as David Cameron's main PR man. Coulson was interviewed by the police last November but the following month, Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said no new charges would be brought in the case, owing to a lack of admissible evidence.

Nevertheless, some public figures are taking civil legal action against the newspaper, and documents disclosed in those cases have led to new developments.

A Cloud Over No.10 Downing St
It was an eye-catching appointment when Cameron employed Coulson whilst he was Leader of the Opposition and many political commentators thought it ill-advised of Cameron to keep him on when he became Prime Minister.

Cameron's judgement really has been questioned on this issue and I'm amazed that Coulson has lasted this long.

He's now leaving because the continued media coverage of this scandal "made it difficult for me to give the 110% needed in this role".

Or, was it a matter of damage limitation? Did he and Cameron realise that he wasn't going to last and waited for the ideal PR moment to let the decision go public? Only last week in a BBC interview, Cameron was asked if it was true that Coulson had offered his resignation - the PM declined to answer. So it would seem that this has been bubbling underneath the surface for some time.

Answers Please
But this isn't the end of the matter. We need to get to the bottom of this squalid mess. How widely known and how deeply affected was this illegal surveillance? What has been the extent and the role of the Metropolitan Police in all of this? What does this mean for News International? Where is the ethics in all of this?

Coulson may be gone, but the stench of gutter journalism remains.

It's clearly, in West Wing parlance, 'put out the trash day'. But that trash is still stinking.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Miliband & Balls - More Edd the Duck than Ed Murrow

This one will be un-Cole-like brief post but it really is interesting times for the Labour Party.

Goodbye Alan
I’ve always rather like Alan Johnson and thought that he was one of Labour’s best electoral bets to take over from Gordon Brown. But he didn’t stand so we’ll never know. What we do know is that Ed Miliband’s surprise decision to make him Shadow Chancellor barely 3 months ago was a mistake. Gaffe after economic gaffe left him floundering and didn’t give Ed the kind of media coverage that he wanted as he tried to stamp his newly found authority over his bewildered, election battered party.

But for all his error prone pronouncements of late, his standing down from the Shadow Cabinet, like with David Miliband before, will be a big blow to Labour. These are two big respected beasts that they can scarcely do without right now.

Balls in more ways than one
As opposed to the inherently more likeable and reasonable Johnson, I’ve still yet to find any redeeming features in the shape of Ed Balls.

He’s a typical, Brownite/Prescottite tribal Labour bully-boy bruiser. His language is the kind that will put people off politics and he’ll rub up the wrong way as many if not more people than he’ll positively persuade with his arguments.

The Ed Show
So, we now have 2 prime Brownite Labourites at the helm of the Labour Party - both of whom happened to be called Ed.

What kind of show are they going to put on for us I wonder.

A more statesmanlike, responsible and reasonable opposition to the Coalition? Or more of the same juvenile, childish behaviour that we have become far too accustomed too since the autumn?

I expect it'll be less Ed Murrow and more Edd the Duck.

Liberty Vs Security - Lib Dems get Detention without Charge Progress

An issue of much discussion within the Coalition government seems to have found a reasonable compromise as the BBC News website reports here.

Detention without Charge
Home Office Minister Damian Green announced in the House of Commons this morning that the Government is not intending to maintain the 28-day limit to detain terror suspects without charge when its 6 month extension lapses next Tuesday. Instead, it will revert back to 14 days. Home Secretary Theresa May is to report fully on anti-terror measures in Parliament next Wednesday.

The Liberal Democrats campaigned to reduce the limit after Labour in Government continued to increase it and in doing so, erode fundamental liberties in the name of security. Indeed, in November 2005, Tony Blair suffered his first ever Commons defeat as Prime Minister after 8 years, when he tried to increase the limit to a mind-boggling 90 days. How would you like to be detained for 3 months without charge? Well thankfully, 49 Labour MPs rebelled against their leader and the amendment was lost by 322-291 votes. The 28 days amendment won the day by the similarly narrow margin of 323-290 votes.

Control Orders
In the wider debate, there is a power struggle going on within the coalition between the securocrats and those who deem a re-balancing between liberty and security as essential.

This decision is most certainly a step in the right direction. Personally, I think 14 days detention without trial is too much. What about the terrorists the securocrats will bellow. Well, what about the fundamental tenet that underpins (or is supposed to underpin) our legal system - that of innocent until proven guilty?

Before jumping onto the security bandwagon, people should ask that question of themselves. How would we like it if a member of our family was detained without charge? Not very nice is it.

It was Benjamin  Franklin who framed it in a way that those who value liberty have failed to better in the 200 years since.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Getting the balance right is of vital importance and the Government's first responsibility is to protect its citizens. But it must also ensure that it protects us from an overwhelmingly powerful state.

We should not wish to be an authoritarian state. Labour got the balance wrong and even their senior members now admit so.

This is not George Orwell's 1984 and I hope it never will be, because what kind of living is that?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

More gloom for Israel as Ehud Barak quits Labour Party

Back in October, I commented here on the on-going middle-eastern impasse in Israel.

Well, things have this week got that bit gloomier still.

Former Labor Leader and Israeli Prime Miniter, Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister, abruptly resigned both the leadership and his membership of the Labour Party on Monday to set up yet another new Israeli political party. The new party will be names Atzmaut (or Independence) and will be 'centrist, Zionist and democratic.

He has been joined by 3 fellow Labour ministers from Benjamin Netanyahu's coaltion government and also by an additional Labour MP from the Knesset. The remaining Labour members of the government have resigned. Barak remains in Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition which, despite being reduced to 66 seats out of Knesset total 120, has in the Prime Minister's eyes, been "greatly strengthened" by this move.

Fractured opposition to Netanyahu
This has meant that the opposition to Netanyahu and his Likud Party has been further eroded and fractured. Indeed, it now means that the governing coalition is now dominated by parties that largely oppose granting major concessions to the Palestinians.

In the cause of a long-term, stable two-nation peace, this latest development does not seem to have helped matters.

The decline of the Israeli Labour Party
What this also means is that the Labour Party, once one of the colossuses of Israeli politics, is now almost a mere bit player.

It has over the years given us names such as David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and of course Nobel Peace Prize winner and the architect of the Oslo Accords, Yitzhak Rabin - all giants in Israeli history.

They peaked as a single party with the 44 Knesset seats that they won as recently as 1992 but in the most recent elections in February 2009, they won just 13 seats and less than 10% of the vote. This week's split means that they are now left with a rump of just 8 seats.

It is now the more centrist Kadima Party, that split away from the right-wing Likud Party when Ariel Sharon was leader, and not Labour, that now leads the battle against Netanyahu.

The Palestinians ended the direct peace talks with Israel at the end of September after Benjamin Netanyahu refused to commit to another long-term settlement building freeze.

Will this week's turbulent political developments help jolt the peace process back on track? Unfortunately, I very much doubt it.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Labour - the new Thatcherite Republican Party

It has surely been a mind boggling 24 hours for Members of the House of Lords.

Their mamouth all-night sitting came to an end earlier today after almost 21 hours. This isn't the longest sitting in its history but it certainly gave the Prevention of Terrorism Bill debate that ran from 11am until 7.31pm between 10-11 March 2005, a run for its money. It is also likely to be the first of a number of all-night sitting over the coming days and weeks so that record may go yet.

Why? Well, Labour are adament that they will destroy the Coaltion Government's Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill which needs to be passed by mid-February for the AV Referendum to go ahead as planned on May 5th.

Filibustering - American Style
Labour have talked and talked and talked. They will of course argue that their cause is legitimate but the reality is that they're looking to deliberatley cause trouble for the sake of it. They argue that the Bill is 'political'. Well, bringing in AV which is Labour Party policy and which is supported by their own leader certainly shouldn't rankle. As far as the equalisation of constituencies is concerned, making every vote as equal in weight as possible as the next one is a laudable objective. If that so happens to mean that a number of overly populated Labour seats of old will need to be revised, then so be it.

If anyone is 'playing politics' here then it's the increasingly infantile Labour Parliamentary Party.

Their West Wing style filibuserting efforts of trying to talk the bill to death will not be successful. The Coaltion Government are united in its resolve to conclude this business on time and I am confident that they will.

No, No, No - Are Labour the new Thatcherites?!
It was Labour's great nemesis Margaret Thatcher who famously exclaimed 'No, No, No' in the House of Commons as her Prime Ministership came towards its end. Yet, now ironically, it's the Labour Party themselves that are sounding more militantly Thatcherite in their negativity than ever before.

Not only Thatcherite, but also like her beloved Ronald Reagan's own Republican Party.

Since 2008, I have witnessed with growing incredulity the American Republican Party's complete and utter obstinance against the democratically elected Democratic Congress' political wishes. You can disagree with decisions made but do so in a pro-active manner. Heckling and shouting for the sake of it without giving a viable alternative is irresponsible opposition. Sadly, the Democrats undeservedly lost control of the Lower House of Congress last November and the Republicans now have a foot back in the door.

Now we see the Labour Party here talk and act with the same vitriolic sentiment. Since the election last May they have been quick enough to damn any initiatives that the Coalition Government have put forward. On the biggest single issue, the economy, they have not put up any detailed alternative to the Coalition's spending cuts. But then how could they when Ed Miliband has a 'blank piece of paper'.

Indeed, one of the most illluminating blog posts that I've read in a long time was on this very point and was published yesterday by The Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant. I really encourage readers here to read it as it makes the point that Ed Miliband can't differentiate between the deficit and the debt (two very different things) and also adds that Labour wasted an opportunity to fix the roof whilst the sun was shining a decade ago.

A travesty to British Democracy
This sour-grapes rubbishing of anything coalitionist is now this week being witnessed with this House of Lords fiasco. What kind of democracy do we live in that can see such ridiculous scenes as we have witnessed these past 24 hours? On that point, what type of political party would stoop to such levels? Well, the Labour Party, clearly.

As Party President Tim Farron stated in an e-mail to members earlier today: "I’m all in favour of proper debate but Labour is cynically using the old politics of the worst sort to stop people have their say. Labour peers claim to be offering scrutiny, but that argument vanishes as soon as you examine their behaviour in the debate".

It's even more unbelievable as it's Labour who claim the credit for (semi) reforming the House of Lords in the first place. To be more blunt, it's their cack-handedness that allowed it to remain in a semi-reformed stated for this past decade. Like with other Labour messes that were left behind last May, it's been up to the Coaltion Government to try and put things right.

So there will soon hopefully be progress made by Nick Clegg to bring a final solution to the House of Lords fiasco. But until then, we must watch another as the Labour Party do all that they can to stick two fingers up to the coalition.

It's a real farce - this incident over the past 24 hours and Labour's more general unwillingness to be in any way a reasonable and responsible opposition.

But Labour shouldn't fear for I'm sure there are two emminent politicians who would be proud of their negative and oppositionist 'achievements' - step forward Sarah Palin and Margaret Thatcher.

Minimum Alcohol Pricing - Good or Bad?

I read with great interest earlier, this BBC News article about the Coalition Government's plans to bring in a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales.

In the Coalition Agreement, it was stated that: "We will ban the sale of alcohol below cost price". Ministers are now fleshing out their proposals to make this a reality.

It will work by banning shops and bars from selling drinks for less than the tax paid on them. It is hoped that this will send a signal that the Government is clamping down on the sale of extortionately cheap alcohol.

As the Home Office released table below shows, it works out that a 4.2% can of lager will not be able to be sold for less than 38p, whilst a beer must be sold at about 21p per unit and 28p per spirits which equates to £10.71 for a litre of 37.5% vodka.

Not Enough?
The BBC however reports that Professor Ian Gilmore, of the Royal College of Physicians stated on Radio 4 that this isn't enough. He said: "It's a step in the right direction but I have to say, it's an extremely small step. It will have no impact whatsoever on the vast majority of cheap drinks sold in supermarkets."

Health campaigners have backed a higher minimum price of 50p per unit minimum to take into account also the cost of production and therefore likewise believe that this initial step doesn't go far enough.

Supermarkets Vs Public Houses
Personally, I'm very pleased to see this planned introduction and see it very much as a 'starting point'.

I've always been greatly frustrated at how cheaply supermarkets often sell alcohol - often delibereately sold as a 'loss leader'.

I've personally been of the opinion that pubs around the locality here in Cardigan and Ceredigion and further afield have often been unfairely tarnished and accused of fueling under-age drinking and irresponsible, anti-social behaviour. Whilst there are no doubt some that do flout the licensing laws, I personally find, as a member of Ceredigion County Council's Licensing Committee, that the vast majority of licensees are responsible and have many safeguards to ensure that all of those who drink in their taverns are legally old enough to do so and do not do so to excess.

For me, it's the ability to buy drinks (or get your friends to buy drinks) at a cheap rate from the local off-license that can often lead to more problems. Again, the vast majority of off-licenses work within the law but if you're a 15 year old wanting to drink a bottle of cider, it's going to be much easier and cheaper to get an older friend to buy the alcohol to drink off the premises than it would be to drink a pint of it, on the premises.

A Step in the Right Direction
So a minimum alcohol pricing policy is certainly a move in the right direction in my mind.

Does it go far enough? Maybe not. But then, introducing such a scheme in itself is a bold move which the previous Labour Government failed to do so we shouldn't expect to make the leap that some capaigners want in one fail swoop.

But by introducing the principle of a minimum alcohol price, it will make it much easier in future to use this as an additional means to try and clamp down on anti-social drinking.

It isn't a one size fits all remedy of course. It is only one component of a much wider strategy that needs to focus on this detrimental aspect of modern living.

But will it make a positive difference? Despite what some may say, I believe it will and I welcome it.

Cardigan Allotments Progress

It's been a very productive morning in Ceredigion County Council's Cabinet.

The Council's ruling executive has supported officer's recommendations to discuss the terms and conditions for a lease on the Feidrhenffordd Allotments site with the recently constituted and enthusiastic Feidrhenffordd Allotments Association.

A Historial Saga
This brings us near to the conclusion of a saga that has gone back almost 40 years.

The allotments have a long history in Cardigan, going back to the mid-19th century, back to the days of the old Cardigan Common. When a large part of this land was sold early in the 20th century to become what is now the King George V Playing Fields, the allotments moved up to their current site just below Tesco's and inside the by-pass (which when created in the early 1990s, took up some of the site).

Cardigan and its Common (circa 1834)
Who owns the site? Well, since local government re-organisation back in 1974, there has been a long running disagreement between a number of local residents and allotmenteers and the District / now County Council. Is is the latter that owns the site or indeed, Cardigan Town Council?

Moving Forward
Whoever is right, in my role as a County Councillor, the most important thing for me was to see these allotments being cultivated and used in its entirety. By doing so, we could then truly safeguard the site for future generations to use.

The Town Council, whilst I was in the chair as Mayor last year, tentatively agreed to enter into negotiations with the County Council about the details of a lease but it's fair to say that a number of Town Councillors were happier to allow the County Council to deal directly with the Association. I and many others on the other hand felt it would better safeguard the site if the Town Council were to take on the lease with the County Council and to then sub-lease it to the Association.

Cardigan's Feidrhenffordd Allotments - the long strip at the
bottom and piece of land on the right.

But, after discussions with County Council officers just before Christmas, we were informed that the legal department were able and willing to put in a clause to an agreement between the County Council and the Association that if the latter were to disband for any reason in the future, then the Town Council would get first refusal on taking over the lease.

At our Town Council meeting at the start of this month, this written security was welcomed by the majority of the Council including myself. We agreed as a result of this, to support a direct lease from the County Council to the allotments association so to cut out the 'middle man' as it were.

Cabinet Approval
This morning, Cabinet agreed to this way forward and also rejected a private bid by a local business for a part of the allotments site which had further complicated matters. These offers have been made before and this one, the first since 2003, threatened to de-rail what had been a necessarily slow and delicate process of moving this long and fraught situation towards a successful conclusion.

We're nearly there now. The Association of course need to agree terms with the County Council and I hope that this will not be too complicated, but the principle has now at least been agreed. I hope that in the next few months, a lease will be signed that will safeguard the Feidrhenffordd Allotments for the foreseeable future.

This is what the association, who deserve much credit for their enthusiasm and commitment want, this is what the Town Council want and this is what the residents of Cardigan want.

I'm pleased that the County Council has seen fit to agree that this is the correct way forward.