Thursday, 31 March 2011

Comic Relief 2011 - My Best Bits

Earlier this month, I blogged here and here about my Comic Relief favourite moments from the past 26 years from the release of the first charity single between Cliff Richard and the Young Ones, the first Red Nose Day in 1988 and the present day.

Well, I felt it only right to bring that up-to-date with my favourite moments from this year's festivities which culminated in the record breaking £74m raised for charity on the night alone.

A World Record
For the days running up to Red Nose Day, March 18th itself, Radio One stalwarts Chris Moyles and Comedy Dave set a new world record for a radio show of 52 hours. I'm not a Radio 1 fan - I'm more of a Radio 2 or Classic FM kinda guy so imagine my surprise at finding myself glued to the BBC Red Button channel 301, watching great chunks of this record attempt being played out in front of my eyes.

They raised a whopping £2.6m for Comic Relief from their attempt alone. Staggering. Here's the moment when they broke the World Record...

Another Red Nose Day hit was 'Smithy saves Red Nose Day 2011' . The Gavin & Stacey star teamed up with George Michael and stars from the entertainment and sporting world (and Gordon Brown!) for a hillarious sketch around possibly the biggest table ever!

Then there was the Alan Partridge sketch. Here he is he on North Norfolk Digitial Radio's Mid-Morning Matters supporting Comic Relief in his own inimitable way!

I must admit that I enjoyed the Masterchef spoof with Ruby Wax, Miranda Hart, Claudia Winkleman and David Cameron!

We also saw Andy Murray being Outnumbered!

But my highlight? Easy. Another masterstroke from the genius that is Peter Kay and his alter ego Geraldine McQueen. Dueting with Susan Boyle, they covered the 1980s Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson hit.

Currently at No.11 in the charts, 'I Know Him So Well'.

Well done Comic Relief - you've played another blinder!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

When Jodie Foster Nearly Killed Ronald Reagan - 30 Years On

On March 30th 1981, Ronald Reagan became the first President in US history to survive an assassination atttempt.

Only 69 days into his Presidency, he was gunned down by John Hinckley Jnr in Washington. At first, the secret service declared that 'Rawhide (Reagan's codename) is ok...we're going to the Crown' (codename for the White House). But when blood came out of Reagan's mouth, he was rushed instead to the George Washington University Hospital. He'd suffered a punctured lung and after a successful operation, left hospital on the 13th day.

Hinckley, who wanted to get the attention of movie star Jodie Foster and decided that the way to do so was by assassinating the President of United States of America, was found not guilty due to insanity and has been in a secure psychiatric unit ever since.

Here is footage of that moment 30 years ago today...

What if?
It's a beloved question of historians but what if Reagan had died from his wounds?

George Bush Snr would've assumed the Presidency as the incumbant Vice-President, 8 years before he would actually do so in January 1989. The Cold War could've had a variant course from the one that was followed by Reagan and Gorbachov.

There are so many imponderables but what actually happened is that on the back of his recovery, Reagan, with his sunny personality, was feted as a hero and it can be argued, made his Presidency. He swept to a landslide re-election in 1984 and left office in 1989 with high approval ratings. Had he been allowed to stand again for President, he'd probably have got it by a wider margin than George Bush Snr eventually managed.

Here, speaking to Larry King, is Reagan's own recollection of a day that shaped his life and the life of the western world.

Monday, 28 March 2011

HLF Approve £4.7m grant to restore Cardigan Castle - Birthplace of the Welsh Eisteddfod

Today is a bloody good day for Cardigan, Wales and for anyone who values Welsh culture.
Cardigan Castle in 2014?

For today it was officially announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund have given their approval to a £4.7m grant application submitted by Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust on behalf of Cardigan Castle.

This is absolutely brilliant news for the castle and for us all here in the town. It is the moment when a great campaign to bring our historic castle back into full, open, public use, crossed the rubicon from being one of hope to one of expectancy.

A Potted History
Cardigan is a Welsh castle built in stone in 1171 - built by the native population and not by the Norman occupiers. It is a castle that, in 1176, witnessed a feast of celebration as poets and musicians competed for a chair at Lord Rhys's table.

As recorded in Brut y Tywysogion...

" Christmas in that year, the Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd held court in splendour at Cardigan, in the castle. And he set two kinds of contests there: one between bards and poets, another between harpists and crowders and pipers and various classes of music craft. And he had two chairs set for the victors. And he honoured those with ample gifts".

It was the first incarnation of our modern day Eisteddfod. After the final Norman conquest of the castle during the 1240s, the castle was reconstructed. Two towers, a new keep and the town wall were all built to create the stronghold, the ruins of which are visible to visitors today. A peaceful four centuries however came to an abrupt end when Oliver Cromwell took it upon himself to storm the battlements. The castle was uninhabitable from then on until the 19th century, when it breathed a new lease of life as it was converted into a residence with Castle Green House built inside the walls and incorporating the North Tower. A pill box was built overlooking Cardigan Bridge during WWII but the castle fell into disrepair after its final private owner Barbara Wood failed to keep up with the maintenance required on such an old and vast site. After threatening a CPO, the castle was sold to Ceredigion County Council in 2003 and it's re-emergance into the public consciousness moved into top gear from then until the present day.

Cardigan Castle and me
As I've previously blogged here, as a historian, Cardigan Castle has always been a special place for me.

As I said in that post back in September...

"I can remember as a child crossing the old bridge and always wondering what lay behind those great walls. Never in a million years could I have thought that I would one day become Mayor of Cardigan and donate my Mayoral Fund donations to the Cardigan Castle Fund. If current plans being pursued by local Building Preservation Trust Cadwgan are successful, then the castle could well be totally renovated and open to the public by 2014".

Well, they were indeed precient words because that final sentence is now a great step closer to becoming a reality.

Cardigan Castle as I have always known it

"...the end of the beginning".
But it hasn't been easy. After the Council bought the castle back in 2003 after a campaign led by the local Tivy Side Advertiser, it entered into discussions regarding the future 'end use' of the castle. It was at this stage that I became directly involved in the development of this story having been elected to the County Council in 2004.

I sat in many a meeting that dealt with the 'next steps' in bringing the castle into full public use. A viable, sustainable 'end use' was required with which to bid for grant funding. I can well recall the Keen Report which the authority spent a good deal of money on but which came up with no credible plan. We then had the Peter Lord proposal of housing a new Welsh Museum of Art in the castle. I recall a passionate public meeting in the town (which public meeting in Cardigan isn't passionate?!) to discuss the options in which I as a local member was sitting on the 'top table'. It was chaired by then County Council leader Dai Lloyd Evans and local residents didn't hold back from giving their opinions.

It eventually became clear that the County Council had gone as far as they could with the castle and when Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust requested the opportunity to take charge of this ambitious project, it was a welcomed change of direction. Since then, around 2007, they have put together financially sustainable options that have been welcomed by local residents. Along with their partners, they have worked with great patience to put forward a detailed bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for what is a £9.2m scheme.

Castle Green House

It was important as a part of their detailed bid that they could evidence public support for their bid. It was with great pride therefore that during my Mayoral year between 2009-2010, my Mayoral charity was the Castle Fund.

I felt that I needed to give them this support because if their bid proved unsuccessful in this difficult economic climate where grants are drying up, it would probably mean the moth-balling of the Cardigan Castle project for a generation.

You can imagine by sheer delight therefore, after years of increasing hope but nagging uncertainty, when I heard last Wednesday morning that we'd got the full grant request of £4.7m! But it was embargoed until today so I can only give my sentiments today! But it is wonderful news. This now means that we're half-way to raising the £9m+ necessary to making our dream a reality.

But this is only a work-in-progress. The remaining money is still required but this positive news will I am sure, act as a magnet to draw down the match-funding required to bring us to our financial goal. It is now more than feasible that works on the site could begin before the end of this year and the 2014 completion date is still a very much hoped for reality. Seeing the removal of those awful stanchions will be a good start!

As Jann Tucker, the Chair of the Cadwgan Building Preservation Trust, in quoting Churchill said at today's official announcement in the castle:

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning".

It is indeed. There's much work ahead of us but the light at the end of the tunnel has just got that big bit brighter.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Dancing on Ice Finale - Cole's Final Verdict

Having kept a running commentary on the early weeks of this series of Dancing on Ice, I've fallen behind in recent weeks but wanted to conclude with one final post to cover tonight's final.

As I blogged about in those earlier stages, it was no surprise to me that Sam and Laura reached the final. They have been the two outstanding competitors so far and were joined in the final by Chloe Madeley who has also showed a great ability as ther series has progressed.

The Final 3
Sam's opening performance tonight was sensational and he well deserved the first 10 scores of the series. Laura and Chloe gave good but not spectacular initial performances which for me gave Sam the upper hand.

Then came their favourite routines re-visted. Alyson and I were delighted that Sam chose his Riverdance performance and again, he gave another great routine. Laura then upped the ante and did what we've been waiting for all series - a perfect score of 10, 10 ,10. Chloe then gave an excellent straight 9.5's performance to keep herself in the hunt.

But for me, the two that deserved to be in the final to dance the Bolero were Sam and Laura. I was pleased that the viewing public felt the same way.

The Bolero
Sam gave an excellent rendition of Torvill and Dean's famous Bolero whilst Laura's version I felt lacked a bit passion in comparison.

So on the basis of their final performance tonight but also on their performances throughout the series, I felt that the 2011 series winner deserved to be Sam.

I'm delighted that that proved to be the case!

A Deserved Champion
For me, my favourite performance of the series was the Riverdance epic mentioned above. So to close my Dancing on Ice 2011 commentary, here is Sam's performance of that routine in its original guise back in week 7.

Well done Sam! A deserved winner!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Elizabeth Evans Launches Her Assembly Campaign in Style!

Elizabeth Evans launched her Welsh Assembly campaign as Ceredigion's Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate last night in great style!

A packed campaign launch event in Aberaeron heard fantastic, stirring speeches from Mark Williams MP and from Elizabeth herself and the buzz in the room from the young and the young at heart alike was electric!

It's going to be a busy 5 weeks of campaigning but in Elizabeth, as I previously blogged here, we have a fantastic candidate.

It's time for a change in Ceredigion - it's time for Elizabeth Evans!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Ceredigion Community Council Raises its Council Tax (Band D) Rate by 600%

It's true, I couldn't make it up.

As reported on the front page of the southern edition of this week's Cambrian News, Dyffryn Arth Community Council have increased its precept 6 fold this year from £5,000 to £30,000 in one, fail incredible swoop.

Dyffryn Arth is a rural community council in mid-Ceredigion to the immediate north of Aberaeron - taking in villages such as Aberarth, Pennant and Nebo. The residents from this community council area will have had quite a shock when their annual council tax demand arrived in the post this month from Ceredigion County Council.

It shows that for 2011/12, as well as the overall increase in the community council's precept, the Band D rate will now stand at £57.31 per each resident tax payer. This compared to a 2010/11 figure of just £9.54. That's an increase of 600.7%! Absolutely staggering.

Legal Fees
Why, in the middle of a downturn, this incredulous increase? Well, as reported in the Cambrian News this week, as can be read here, it has been blamed by community councillors on a legal case which they lost and for which they must now pay. The Council decided to go to a tribunal to contest the sale of a piece of land which they believed had been bequeathed to the community council, to a private individual. They lost the case and having decided to cut their losses from appealing the decision, they decided to increase their precept in one-go to pay off the antipicpated legal costs of around £25,000.

Second Highest Band D Tax Rate in Ceredigion
It's quite stagerring in it's own right but when you compare it to the 50 other Town and Community Councils in Ceredigion, the scale of the rise is given an even greater perspective.

Because as this table shows, in 2010/11, Dyffryn Arth's Band D rate was just £9.54. This made it one of only 7 Town or Community Councils in Ceredigion to have a rate of under £10 and made it the 5th cheapest overall out of 51 (the cheapest being Lledrod Community Council at just £3.54 per each resident tax payer!).

Well, the 2011/12 table (which is not yet on-line) shows a new world. It's a world where the residents of Dyffryn Arth have now gone from paying the 5th lowest Band D Tax in Ceredigion out of 51 to paying the 2nd highest - beaten only by Aberystwyth!

It is, when you look at the figures, quite incredible. The residents of Dyffryn Arth will be paying from April 1st this year, £57.31 each instead of £9.54. Only Aberystwyth, with a precept of £240,000, has an understandably higher Band D rate at £69.43. The residents of Dyffryn Arth are therefore set to pay more than the residents of Ceredigion's major towns namely Lampeter (£47.89), Aberaeron (£45.82), Cardigan (£44.48), Aberporth (£36.80), Tregaron (£29.00), Llandysul (£27.29) and Borth (£24.22). Only 4 community councils have this year got a rate of under £10.

What it all means is that the community council of Dyffryn Arth now has at £30,000, a bigger precept than larger Ceredigion conurbations such as Tregaron (£15,000), New Quay (£12,428) and Llanbadarn Fawr (£29,866). Incredibly, it falls only slightly shy of its big brother neighbour in Aberaeron on £33,390

It has gone from having the 35th, up to the 7th highest precept of the 51 Town and Community Councils in the county.

As a Cardigan Town Councillor and formerly as an Aberystwyth Town Councillor, I have already sat through 7 discussions over the years regarding the setting of the annual precept and the Council Tax Band D rate. During the majority of these, there have often been Councillors who have called for a freeze in the rates. I on the other hand along with a majority on most occasions, have regularly called for a small but reasonable increase. This year in Cardigan Town Council for example, we decided on an increase of 2%. My reasoning for this is that it allows the precept to rise steadily over the years so when we have a major project or repairs work to undertake to our properties, the money will be there. Better a slow and gradual increase year-on-year in my book than holding firm and then when an emergency comes along, one large hike comes around the corner and gives a shock to the system of every resident who we have been elected to represent.

Double Trouble
Unfortunately for the residents of Dyffryn Arth, they've suffered the double shock of a mamouth hike in their rates in one year and at the same time know that they are not going to see the benefits of it in the services that they receive from their local council. No, as is often the way, it'll be the legal profession who'll be laughing all the way to the bank in this case.

It goes to show the great care that is required, even at a community council level, of controlling the budgets for which they are responsible and of the decisions that are made. The decision made by those Councillors who serve on Dyffryn Arth Council to take their land ownership fight to a tribunal, with all of the legal risks and costs that that would entail, now looks like a grave one indeed - particularly for those residents in that parish who will now have to foot the bill. I'm sure that those Councillors will now have to face the wrath of their electorate.

They'll be doing so soon too - the next Council elections are in 12 months time in May 2012.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Pressure of Politics

I happened to bump into this blog post by Nick Radford recently which explained his decision to leave front-line politics.

I don't know Nick personally but his name is familiar to me within the Liberal Democrat Party and as he states he is a former Parliamentary candidate for the party in Wiltshire. He explains the many different reasons why he's leaving front-line politics after 5 years. I thought that his deliberations were very honest and thought-provoking and I'm sure he speaks for many people involved in politics for differing parties and at varying levels when he said in conclusion...

Nick Radford

"In all the 5 years that I was in politics, I never met a single person involved who came across as content, peaceful and happy in life. Everyone in politics is strained. I just don't think it is an occupation which puts you at peace. There is constant conflict, drama, hyperbole and everyone is always in a rush. You're always being attacked or attacking someone - it's just not good karma. It leaves you nervous, paranoid, hollow. There was no time for the simple things in life.

These days I feel like a different person. I have a quiet, wholesome happiness right at my core. I know it sounds cliched but I have an "inner peace" which I never had at any point in the last 5 years. I get to read books, go for runs, make good food, research obscure topics that interest me, spend time with my family and with Eeva, dream and make plans for the future – it's like a whole new lease of life".

I can certainly sympathise with his views. Being in politics isn't easy. It is immensly rewarding when you successfully help a resident with one of their concerns or when you have made a positive contribution to a facet of policy-making but living your life in the public eye can sometimes result in some of the emotions above that Nick testifies too.

I've been doing this now for 7 years and as mentioned previously, I intend to stand for re-election to Ceredigion Couny Council next year. I enjoy the drama, the hyperbole and the rush. If I didn't, I wouldn't have lasted as long as I already have.

But I'm only 28. In a way, like Nick, I've gone about it in an unconventional sense. Instead of taking on front-line politics in my latter years as is usually the case with many, I've done so from an early age - being elected originally at the age of 21.

Who's to know how I'll feel in 5, 10, 15, 20 years time. But I know that if the enjoyment of the cut and thrust of being in politics is ever overtaken by that hollow sense of paranoia and nervousness, then the time would come for me to make the same bold decision that Nick has made.

Good luck to you Nick. It's a courageous man that makes a life-changing decision from a life he has known to one he may not.

I wish you the best for your future.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Anarchy in Ceredigion

That's what there may well be if Dyfed-Powys Police withdraw their traffic wardens from patrol in the coming months as they've said they will do.

That was the message coming out from this morning's Ceredigion County Council Cabinet meeting from a number of Councillors from across the chamber - including myself.

De-Criminalisation of Parking
This issue arose in the discussion on the merits or otherwise of Ceredigion County Council taking over the responsibility of parking enforcement from the police by de-criminalising parking and making it a civil matter.

This Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE) has some potentially great benefits. One is that it will increase the number of enforcement officers from the current 3 Traffic Wardens that cover the entirety of Ceredigion to 8 and the money from parking fines that will be collected would go back to the Council and can be re-used for local highways priorities whereas the current fines from parking tickets simply go straight to central government.

Neighbouring authorities in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire already operate this CPE model and Powys will be going ‘live’ with it on April 1st. Ceredigion’s decision today to support the principle of adopting this system will make us the 12th out of 22 authorities in Wales to work under this civil scheme.

Anarchy in Ceredigion?
The concerns raised today were in relation to the intervening period between Dyfed-Powys Police’s withdrawal of their enforcement at the end of May and the commencement of the Council’s enforcement which will not come into being for at least 12 months (what with the need to consult and receive the consent of the Welsh Assembly Government).

We were told that the Chief Constable does have powers to ensure that there is coverage in such an interregnum and I requested in the meeting today that the Council continues its dialogue with him to ensure that there is enforcement coverage in the period up to when the County Council officially takes control.

Otherwise, as stated with concern by myself and colleagues from across the chamber, there may well be anarchy in Ceredigion where there will be no enforcement of parking at all. Imagine that? A scenario in Aberystwyth or in Cardigan where we have plenty of parking problems as it is, or in Lampeter where people will park where they like and for however long a length of time they like in the knowledge that no-one will enforce the traffic regulations against them.

This can not be allowed to happen and a partnership approach must be ensured between the Council and the police to guarantee that this 12 or so month void is filled.

But thankfully, the vote today by Cabinet, after what I am told by my Plaid Cymru colleague Alun Williams (who represents Aberystwyth’s Bronglais Ward) has been at least a 13 year wait, agreed in principle that we finally go down this path.

The Labour member for Lampeter Hag Harris, who sits on the Cabinet did joke at the end of the discussion that it was rather far fetched for a number of us to speak of anarchy – the Sex Pistols he said, it wasn’t! But I reminded him afterwards that the definition of anarchy is disorder or lawlessness and that is what would prevail if the unpalatable situation mentioned above were to come into effect in the months ahead.

Here’s hoping that common sense will prevail and that it won’t. But in the meantime I welcome today’s decision and look forward to the hoped for implementation of the CPE during the course of 2012.

Whilst Libya Burns, Yemen Bleeds

One of the great injustices of the developing situation in Libya over recent days is that it has now wholly transfixed our attention away from everything else. Admittedly it would now seem that the nuclear concerns in Japan are beginning to recede but there are nevertheless some 10,000 missing people in that devastated country that is seeking to rebuild itself after nature wreaked its awful magic there less some 10 days ago. But in recent days, it gets little coverage.

But closer to the Libyan home in neighbouring Arabic states, there is much happening that should be receiving far more media scrutiny but which, because of the Libyan intervention, is falling off the news cycle. There's the Saudi Arabian support of the Bahranian crackdown on its protests. There's also the increasing discontent in Syria where crowds have set fire to the ruling Ba'ath Party's HQ as the country's elite face the biggest challenge to its control since they took control almost half a century ago.

Yemen Bleeds
Then there's Yemen. Yes, Yemen. The discontent has been apparent there over the past month as the successful protests in Tunisia and Egypt gave protestors across the region hope that their cause could also lead to change.

It has been reported over the weekend but it was only today that I heard about the awful atrocity that befell up to 52 anti-regime protestors last Friday when snipers, loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire and shot them dead. President Saleh, who has been in office since 1978, announced last month amidst the growing discontent, that he would not stand for re-election in 2013 in the hope of calming the tension.

But it hasn't done so and indeed, the awful events of last Friday have only heightened the anger levelled at the President and his regime. Whilst the leaders of the country's two most important tribes have now turned against their President, so has some of his closest political colleagues. The Human Rights Minister Huda al-Ban resigned, calling her government's action as a "horrible, cowardly and perfidious crime". Abdullah Alsaidi, Yemen's ambassador to the UN also resigned in protest to the crackdown.

So what did President Saleh do in response last night? Typically, he attempted to pass the buck and lay the blame at his Cabinet's door by sacking them all. Like his Arabic counterparts, he is attempting to save his own skin by blaming those below him. Like his Arabic counterparts, he has been in power for decades and has lost the confidence of his people. Like his Arabic counterparts, he is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that his time is up and that he should go.

Western Hypocrisy
Yet, there is hardly any mention of the Yemen in the news at the moment. It is being totally overshadowed by the UN-mandated action in Libya. Yes, a number of MPs in Parliament spoke of the situation there in today's House of Commons Libyan debate and it is important that they did so to remind Parliament of other neighbouring nations that are being allowed to get away with doing similar deeds to what Gaddafi would have done on his own people.

Even in the British press, it's all about Libya. This is of course understandable but the protestors in Yemen are unlikely to get a look-in. Indeed, even the internationalist 'The Independent' only reported on Yemen in yesterday's edition on page 29. It's all rather depressing stuff.

But it was the ever thought-provoking Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who stated quite clearly in the same paper yesterday that the west are guilty in the outset for fostering these autocratic leaderships over the years. An example is the very fact that the US sponsors President Saleh to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, to keep al-Qaida in check. In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia have moved into Bahrain with force to help with the crackdown against their demonstrators there. But have there been calls from the western powers for the UN to come down severely on these nations as they have in Libya? Of course they haven't. This is what we call 'double standards'.

Yasmin rightly stated:

Yemenese President Saleh
"Many of the weapons Gaddafi is using were sold by us to him – thank you very much, Mr Blair. As Tunisians and Egyptians made their bid for freedom, PM Cameron was out there selling to the bastards, colluding with them with a smile on his face. The French have been just as busy. (Their excuse is jobs. If miners and other workers are dispensable, why should those making blood goods be for ever protected? So others will step in to make the devil's tools? Let them.) Now they want to be saviours. Not so fast gentlemen. Could you first apologise? And then promise no more such deals? If not, even if Gaddafi is driven out, Western involvement will be suspect. It will be seen as toxic effluence which contaminated the budding Arab Spring.

"Their (the west's) movers and shakers cannot go on cultivating hideous leaders and then turning on them when the winds change. They embrace Saudi Arabia and in the same moment shoot down Libya. Such hypocrisies will no longer be swallowed by people who are now globally connected. Realpolitik needs, I know, to prevail over idealism some of the time. However, if the West wants respect for backing democracy and humane standards, it has to put its own houses in order. The Arab revolutions have spread to our shores and are calling out for consistency and honour and for a foreign-affairs reformation. Whatever happens in Libya, our Government must listen or be damned".

This, perfectly encapsulated by Yasmin, are my foreign ethical policy concerns. The realpolitik of the situation as she admits and as was eloquently stated in the House of Commons today, means that it can not always be possible to do what is right all of the time.

But even if that be the case, the west would have a better moral vantage point to cast its opinion on the internal wrangling of failing nation states if it didn't have a sordid past of selling arms to these nations and propping up what are more often than not, autocratic and aggressive regimes, because it best suits the status quo.

It all comes into sharper focus on days like these. The Libyan intervention is indeed, as I have previously mentioned in this blog, a necessary one. But then there are also other nations such as the Yemen where the case for similar actions could arguably be made. But of course, if the west's hypocritical, double standards needs are better served by not rocking such boats, then the call for international action may well be muted in comparison.

In the meantime, whilst Libya burns for what will hopefully be a better future, the likes of Yemen are allowed to bleed to death.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Wales Resurgent in 2011 World Snooker Championship Draw

Thanks to the excellent prosnooker blog which I heartily recommend to all snooker officianados, I have seen within hours of the draw, the 2011 Snooker World Championship First Round fixture list for the competition at the Crucible between April 16th - May 2nd.

What a tournament it is set to be!

Wales Resurgent
Of particular interest to me is the fact that there will be 5 Welsh players in the tournament proper this year. In my near 20 years of watching snooker, I can't remember when Wales last had such a complement in the final 32 in Sheffield - if anyone can tell me it'd be greatly appreciated!

The 5 Welshman represented this year are Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens, Dominic Dale, Ryan Day and Andrew Pagett. At best though, only 4 will get through to the last 16 as Mark Williams has been drawn to play Ryan Day in Round 1.

Mark Williams is on great form this year and is set to become the World Number One at the end of the season for the 3rd time in his career. Having slumped out of the top 16 only a few years ago (falling to No.22 in 2008/09), he's made a remarkable comeback when many others may have just given up. His quest for a 3rd world title (having won previously in 2000 and 2003) will start against a tough opponent in Ryan Day. Ryan has had a poor few years and has slipped back in the world rankings having shown such promise only a few years ago. He has yet to win his first major ranking event, despite having reached 3 ranking finals and reached a career high No.6 in the World Rankings, but the talent is undoubtedly there.

What of Matthew Stevens? Well, like Mark Williams (who he lost to in the only ever all-Welsh world championship final back in 2000) he's had a great season and is set to cement his place back in the top 16. He qualified by potting the final black in the deciding frame against Fergal O'Brien to win a nail-biter, 10-9. For a twice world championship runner-up (2000 and 2005) and 3 times losing semi-finalist (2001, 2002 and 2004) who has fallen on lean times of late, you can see how much the win meant for him as he qualified for the Crucible for the first time in 3 years...

He plays Mark Allen in the first round and it'll be a tough contest. Allen reached the semis in 2009 and the quarter-finals last year. He's an up-and-coming snooker star and will prove a more than competitive opponent for Stevens on his Crucible return.

What of Dominic Dale? Well, Dominic is quite the enigma. He is the only player to have ever won multiple ranking events despite having never broken into the World Rankings top 16. He won the Grand Prix in 1997 and then a whole decade later, won the Shanghai Masters in 2007 (beating compatriot Ryan Day in the final). He's currently ranked at No.45 in the world and has been drawn against Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round. That's a tall, tall order for Dominic to overcome but it'll be good to see him back at the Crucible and good luck to him on his return.

Finally, a name that was barely known to me - Andrew Pagett. Now Andrew isn't a newbie on the snooker scene. Indeed, he turns 29 in the middle of the tournament next month and has been a professional since 2003. He lost his place on the circuit however in 2009 but re-gained it for this 2010/11 season. He had never in all of this time, qualified for the final stages of a snooker tournament - until last week! His appearance at the Crucible next month will not only be his first there, but will be his first at any final stages in a snooker ranking event! He's currently ranked at No.78 in the world and by my reckoning will be the lowest ranked player in Sheffield next month. He defeated former Crucible finalist Nigel Bond in the earlier qualifying rounds before beating Andrew Higginson 10-6 to seal his place in Sheffield - his joy can be seen here...!

He plays Jamie Cope, another young snooker talent who has already reached 2 ranking finals in his time. He also, under the new rolling ranking system, finally broke into the World's top 16 last October. This will be a fascinating first round encounter.

So I'm looking forward to a Snooker World Championship which will have a greater Welsh flavour to it than I can remember.

Bring it on!

World Snooker Championship First Round Draw (Last 32) in Full
Neil Robertson v Judd Trump
Marco Fu v Martin Gould
Graeme Dott v Mark King
Ali Carter v Dave Harold
Ding Junhui v Jamie Burnett
Peter Ebdon v Stuart Bingham
Stephen Hendry v Joe Perry
Mark Selby v Jimmy Robertson
Mark Williams v Ryan Day
Jamie Cope v Andrew Pagett
Mark Allen v Matthew Stevens
Stephen Maguire v Barry Hawkins
Shaun Murphy v Marcus Campbell
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Dominic Dale
Ricky Walden v Rory McLeod
John Higgins v Stephen Lee

Libya: The new Korea?

We've moved into the opening few days of open confrontation between the UN-mandated forces and the Libyan authorities under Gaddafi's command.

I blogged here last week about my support for the UN-led action on Libya but now, as we look at the repercussions of the opening days of conflict, it's worth casting an eye to the end-game.

How's it going so far?
What is the aim of the UN-sanctioned action in the first place? Well, it is too safeguard the Libyan civilians who are opposing Gaddafi's rule. So, how's it going so far? Well, by all accounts it seems to be going pretty well. The allies, led by the UK, US and France have rapidly managed to gain control over the airspace above Libya. That means that they've been able to neutralise Gaddafi's air attacks on his own civilians - particularly in his attempt to regain the second city Benghazi. It seems that the feeling there is now more positive as the inevitability of a Gaddafi counter-attack there has been minimised for the time being. It would seem that there is still Gaddafi-led air strikes occuring against dissidents to the west of Tripoli so the allies haven't necessarily gained complete air superiority yet in securing the No Fly Zone.

Whilst it has been the UK, US and France who have led so far, Denmark and Norway are said to be sending 6 planes each to help with their international effort. In addition, Spain has sent at least three planes, whilst Italy also has jets ready to deploy. Canada has deployed six jets to Sicily and is preparing them for action.

Source: BBC News Website

But most importantly is the news that Qatar are to send in 4 planes of their own to help enforce the No Fly Zone. As the first Arab state to do so, this would give the west-dominated UN-sanctioned effort much more credibility in the region. Other Arab countries are said to be prepared to join the effort as well and as far as the US, UK and France are concerned, the more the merrier. Why? Well because the Arab League's Secretary's call since hositilies began to pull back from ariel bombing will have concerned the west.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who supported the UN resolution, on Sunday criticised the severity of the bombardment.

He said: "What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians".

If the Arab League begin to openly criticise the actions because they go further than merely securing a No Fly Zone then it could undermine the whole campaign. Yet, the UN resolution was a strong one and clearly gave much flexibility to the coalition forces to ensure the safety of civilians in Libya. If the Arab League aren't happy with this, why were Lebanon, one of the main instigators of the resolution along with France and the UK in the first place, not more vocal with these concerns or told by their neighbours of them at the time?

What's the end-game?
So, it seems to be going well so far. But, what next? What is the end-game?

There's news this morning that a senior Gaddafi command centre has been struck by a coalition missile strike. It is not inconceivable then that with all of this targeted bombing, Gaddafi himself may be killed during this confrontation. I doubt that will happen mind (though saying that, it is reported this morning that one of his sons Khamis Gaddafi has died of burn wounds sustained during an attack on Saturday when a Libyan Air Force pilot purposefully crashed his jet into the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli where Gaddafi and some of his relatives are staying) and even if it did, would it make him a martyr in the eyes of his followers? Because, and let's not beat about the bush here, Gaddafi, for all we may think of him, still has a clear support base in Libya - predominantly it would seem, around the capital in Tripoli.

A significant question is, what is in the minds of the vast majority who we have not seen on the Libyan streets over recent weeks? Yes, there's a very vocal section of the population who want rid of him but likewise there's a vocal section who also support him. What of the majority that have not raised their voices either way? Do they secretly want rid of Gaddafi but are too afraid to say it or are they actually content with him and like his many keen followers, are rallying to the flag in a patriotic fervour from being under attack from 'foreign aggressors'?

This is all important because unless Gaddafi himself is killed in an air strike (and even then he would probably be replaced by one his sons like Saif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi) then he will retain the support of a substantial part of his country - predominantly in the west. In the east however, the second-city of Benghazi remains the hub of the anti-Gaddafi resentment.

Without coalition troops on the ground but with control of the airspace, it would be unlikely that there could be much movement from either side into the other's territory. There is the strong possibility of an impasse where both sides hold control over a significant proportion of Libyan territory. Unless the coalition forces are willing to bomb Gaddafi into submission (which would be testing the UN-mandated resolution to its limits), then what is the alternative?

If this uneasy truce were to evolve over the days, weeks and months ahead, then the stasis may resolve itself in a resolution that has uneasily kept the peace on the Korean Peninsular for the past 60 years. The allied carve-up of Korea, agreed at the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945, divided the north and south along the line of the 38th parallel. A 3 year war errupted shortly afterwards from 1950-1953 and a troubled truce has lasted ever since.

Could there be a similar fate for Libya? An isolated (because he has led in isolation before) Gaddafi-led west and a UN-supported east under a more democratic, secular leadership? Probably not you may think but then, with or withour Gaddafi, what are the realistic alteranatives?

It is with great relief that I don't have to resign

As I mentioned in a blog post here a fortnight ago, I've had a real conundrum to deal with, with regards to the Cardigan Primary School planning application.

The issue as stated previously is that whilst I sit on the Governing Body of the school, the plans and the impact of the new entrance onto Pont-Y-Cleifion in particular, have aroused concerns from local residents. As their local Councillor, it is my duty to represent those concerns at the necessary level. However, as a Council appointed member of the primary school's governing body, I have had a clear conflict of interest.

Dispensation Granted
Well, thankfully, the planning committee deferred the application to give me time to seek dispensatrion from the Standards Committee to speak at the meeting next month and in the meantime, sought a site inspection panel to meet on-site next week to further look into the application.

This is the first time in 7 years on the Council in which I have felt obliged to go in front of the Standards Committee to request the dispensation to speak. Not doing so would mean that I wouldn't be able to fulfill the basic task of being an elected Councillor - representing the views of local residents in my ward.

So the Standards Committee met this morning and I attended to give my take on this complicated predicament. I'm pleased to report that they granted me my request of speaking in both the site inspection panel meeting next Monday and in any subsequent planning committee meetings that deliberate on this issue for the next 12 months.

It would've been a sad day for local democracy had the standards committee decided otherwise and forced me to resign from the governing body to do my job. But thankfully, it hasn't come to that. Today's decision means that I can do my job of representing local views whilst retaining my place on the Governing Body of Cardigan Primary School.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

My Top 3 All-time Snooker matches - #3 Hendry Vs O'Sullivan in 1997

I'm a sporting anorak there's no getting around it. I'm a font of useless knowledge that usually only comes in handy at pub quizzes. But then, I enjoy the randomness of my knowledge because I'd like to think that it gives me the perspective to make observations such as the one below.

I'm a snooker fan and there have been some wonderful matches played over the years. So for my own enjoyment and for anyone out there who share's my passion for the green baize, I'm going to concoct my Top 3 Snooker matches of all-time.

In at Number 3...
Here we see the final of the 1997 Liverpool Victoria Charity Challenge Trophy Final.

The Charity Challenge Trophy (latterly the Champions Cup) was a non-ranking Snooker event that ran from 1995-2001. For its first 5 years between 1995-1999, it was a charity event in which the world's best snooker players were playing not for themselves, but for their own choosen charities. So in the run-of-the-mill world of snooker, this was not a 'normal' tournament. There was none of the tension of playing for yourself with career earnings available or ranking points to be won - this was just an old fashioned charity contest. But that in itself brought pressure - the pressure of wanting to win for your chosen charity.

But though it was for charity only, the contest attracted the best of the snooker world. In its 5 charitable years, the winners were Stephen Hendry (twice), John Higgins (twice) and Ronnie O' Sullivan (once).

Well, in the 3rd installment of this now defunct series in 1997, we saw possibly the best two players in the history of snooker slug it out - Stephen Hendry Vs Ronnie O' Sullivan. The former at the peak of his powers as the current, 5 times World Champion, against the up-and-coming raw talent that was the latter.

Watch the highlights of this incredible final below. As the young presenter Eamonn Holmes (indeed, Anthea Turner led the behind the scenes coverage!) stated, the final would go down in the annuls of snooker history.

Indeed, ex-pro Willie Thorne added: "I've been a professional for 20 years and this is the greatest final I've ever seen".

He went on to call it: "The greatest match that's ever been witnessed on television"

Hendry burst into a 6-2 first session lead in the best of 17 encounter. So he only needed three more frame to win and to earn his charity the National Playbus Association £100,000 in prize money. On the other hand, Ronnie O'Sullivan's charity the Dyslexia Institute, looked liked being the runners-up.

The second session continued ominously for O'Sullivan as Hendry won the first two frames of the session to lead 8-2. But O'Sullivan is made of stern stuff and he fought back...and back...and back. 6 frames on the bounce and he levelled the match at 8-8.

Now this had happened to Stephen Hendry before but in the reverse. In the 1991 Benson & Hedges Masters Invitational non-ranking final at Wembley, he fought back from 0-7 and 2-8 down to level at 8-8 against Mike Hallett. Hendry won the decider to complete an incredible comeback which in itself would make a Top 10 Snooker match run-down if I were ever to do one.

Well, here at 56 minutes, the boot was on the other foot. It was now Hendry who had seen a 6 frame lead evaporate in front of his eyes. The momentum was with O'Sullivan.

But this is Stephen Hendry we're talking about and what he did in that deciding frame has never before, or since been repeated in the history of snooker...

An incredible finale to an incredible final. The only ever maximum break 147 that has ever been recorded in a deciding frame of a snooker match. But not just a final frame maximum, but one made having lost the previous 6 frames.

As Rex Williams in the commentry box exclaimed as the frame progressed: "Well I thought miracles stopped happening 2,000 years ago but, this is just unbelievable stuff".

Jim Meadowcroft exclaimed at the end: "That is the gretest performance I've ever seen in me life".

Not just with the finale but with the 7 century breaks that were scored during the match by both men, it is without doubt one of the best matches of snooker ever played and deserved of it's place in my Top 3. But that means there are in my mind, 2 matches that surpass the one above.

Stay tuned to find out which ones...

PS The celebrity 'pounds-for-points' at 45 minutes was wonderful! Never did I think I'd see John McCririck and Tessa Sanderson play snooker!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Elizabeth Evans calls on Chancellor to Axe Planned Budget Fuel Duty Rise

Ceredigion’s Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Candidate Elizabeth Evans has welcomed her party president's call for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to axe a planned fuel duty rise in his budget this month.

Liberal Democrat President, Tim Farron MP has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer calling on him to axe the planned fuel duty rise in his budget next week.

Labour announced the fuel duty increase in its final budget in power and it will come into force soon.

The average price per litre has now reached 130.03p for unleaded petrol and 135.44p for diesel, a record high. Tax accounts for 63% of the price of fuel at the pump.

Recently the Department for Work and Pensions announced that significantly fewer people than had previously been calculated signed up for Jobseekers Allowance in the early months' of 2011. This news coupled with the higher than expected quarterly tax figures; have meant that the Treasury will have more room for manoeuvre at this month's Budget than was previous thought.

Elizabeth and Tim would like to see the Treasury use this opportunity for some spending in the Budget to axe the proposed fuel duty rise and help hard working people in Ceredigion.

Elizsabeth Evans with Lib Dem President Tim Farron MP
at Tregaron Mart
On a visit to Ceredigion last week, Tim Farron said: "High fuel prices are causing real hardship across the country. I think we need to help hard pressed families and businesses and an easy way of doing that is cutting the cost of fuel. I am calling on the chancellor to use his budget to help us all by doing this",

Elizabeth Evans added: "In rural areas like ours a car is not a luxury it is a necessity. It's therefore crucial that the government seeks to support us by scrapping this planned budgetary fuel rise. Tim is therefore right to call on the Chancellor to do this and I was delighted to meet with him last week and to take him around Tregaron Mart where those concerns were being expressed to us both by farmers and local residents.

"I'm also delighted that our local MP Mark Williams has been fighting our corner by requesting that rural Wales and Ceredigion specifically be included in the Government's rural fuel rebate scheme. The Welsh Office with the support of the Minister David Jones are on-side and it's similarly important that we're successful in this call as the scheme, if implemented, could see a reduction in fuel prices at the pumps in Ceredigion by as much as 5p per litre".

Well said Liz.

I agree with David - Cameron & Owen

The United Nations have voted to enforce a No Fly Zone above Libya. Pardon the language, but about bloody time too.

I blogged here, 19 days ago of my pride in the UN for agreeing significant sanctions on the Libyan government. As I stated then, in the world of international diplomacy, progress if made at all, is usually slow and protracted.

Yet, despite this acceptance of the real-politik of the situation, I have become increasingly frustrated in recent days at the UN's hesitance to go a step further whilst in the meantime, Gadaffi's regime has systematically, aggressively and bloodily set about to regain the territory lost to their opposition over recent weeks.

The growing concern was simply this, would a tougher stance against Gadaffi have come too late? The discussions and considerations over the detail of a United Nations resolution only gave Gadaffi more time to undertake his aim of re-establishing control over the entirety of Libya.

UK, France & Lebanon lead the way
Thankfully however, we have an agreed resolution and the British Government deserve praise for leading the calls for a No Fly Zone from an early stage.

David Cameron has been forthright in his opinion on the need for further action against Gadaffi in order to protect innocent civilians on the ground. Indeed, he wasn't the only David who has been on the same wavelength as me on this issue. Weeks ago when the Libyan situation was beginning to deteriorate, Lord David Owen, who I rarely agree with on anything, was calling for such an imposition and I agreed with him at that very early stage.

But it was only the call, last weekend, by the Arab League of the imposition of a no fly zone that really gave the British, the French and the Lebanese who have led the calls for further action, the momentum with their Security Council colleagues. Because without the support of the local Arab community, there could be no realistic action in Libya by the international community without the risk of further inflaming regional tensions.

So with great relief, I watched the UN Security Council vote tonight for action. The detail of Resolution 1973 is as follows.

Resolution 1973
  • A call for an immediate cease-fire by Gadaffi and his forces
  • Authorises a No Fly Zone
  • Rules out a foreign occupation force
  • Tightens the arms embargo
  • A ban on flights leaving Libya

The final result saw 10 vote in favour, 0 vote against and 5 abstain.

The USA, UK, France, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Colombia, South Africa and Portugal voted to approve the resolution, while China, Russia, Brazil, Germany and India abstained.

The fact that Russia and China were persuaded to merely abstain and to not wield their veto is quite an achievement in itself. The 10 votes in favour also surpassed the minimum of 9 out of the 15 required for a successful resolution to be passed.

So now we enter a new phase in this Libyan story. A new and of course potentially dangerous chapter for the pilots of the international allied aircraft that will soon take to the skies above Libya lies ahead of us but this is the reality of the situation.

UN Resurgent
The UN has in recent weeks, re-asserted itself as a credible international body of importance after years of being ignored and neglected by George Bush Jnr and this is to be greatly welcomed.

To live in and to be a part of a reasoned international community means that we must work together in times of urgency when innocent civilians are being attacked by their own government. We have a moral responsibility under the UN charter to act and I'm pleased that, better late than never, the international community has responded in the necessary way on this occasion.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Mark Williams MP Champions Rural Fuel Rebate for Ceredigion

I was very pleased to hear Welsh Minister David Jones announce yesterday that he has written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, asking for rural parts of Wales to be included within the rural fuel rebate scheme.

This came after our local MP Mark Williams quizzed the Minister during Welsh Questions.

Mark Williams wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on the issue in January, and has long campaigned for a rural fuel rebate in areas such as Ceredigion, where the price of fuel is often higher despite there being fewer public transport options.

The Government has announced that they will pursue a rebate scheme, which would apply in the Highlands, the Northern Isles, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Islands of the Clyde and the Isles of Scilly. The scheme could see fuel prices at the pumps in these areas be reduced by 5p per litre.

During yesterday's Welsh questions session, Mark Williams pointed out the difficulties many in rural Wales are experiencing due to the current high cost of fuel, and asked for the Wales Office to urge the Treasury to include parts of Wales in the scheme. In response, David Jones confirmed that the Wales Office had written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Commenting, Mark Williams said:
Mark Williams MP
- Fighting for Ceredigion 

“The Government should be congratulated on their plans to introduce a scheme to help make rural fuel affordable, when the previous Labour Government claimed this was impossible.

“However, it is important that that help should be available to other similar communities, and I would argue that much of rural Wales would meet the criteria on remoteness and sparseness.

“This is a very good scheme, which is why the Liberal Democrats have been arguing for it for many years, but it needs to apply in all extremely rural and sparsely populated areas, so that we are not paying more for our petrol.”

It's good to know that our local MP is fighting for local, rural residents here in Ceredigion during what are difficult times for the rural economy with the escalating price of oil.

Here's hoping that the Government will agree with the representations made and include rural Wales in this rural fuel rebate scheme.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Cllr Ian Stoker chosen as next Cardigan Deputy Mayor

It was announced in Cardigan's local paper, the Tivy Side this week, that Cllr Ian Stoker has been chosen to be Cardigan's next Deputy Mayor.

This decision was actually taken 2 weeks ago at our last full Council meeting and I was absolutely delighted to propose Ian to be the next Deputy Mayor. My proposal was seconded by Cllr Linda Grace and he was elected in a secret ballot by 6-5 against Cllr John Adams-Lewis who was proposed for the role by Cllr Gwynfi Jenkins and seconded by Cllr Catrin Miles.
Cllr Ian Stoker

Ian is an Independent Councillor on Cardigan Town Council and is a well respected member who was elected in a by-election back in 2006. He brings an invaluable and unique insight to the Council chamber as he is wheelchair user. As a Councillor, he has therefore brought to our attention, issues of access and issues of equality around town that have previously been missed.

Ian is well liked and is known to be a tenacious fighter for his Teifi Ward in southern Cardigan and will serve the town proudly as its Deputy Mayor for the year from this May. His elevation will further highlight disability causes and I look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role.

In Cardigan's long and illustrious history, I'm told that I was potentially the youngest Mayor the town has had when I served in the role in 2009-2010 of all of those that went before me dating back to 1396! In the same way, this could well be the first time that Cardigan will have benefited from having a wheelchair-using Deputy Mayor. If this is indeed the case, about time.

Well done Ian on a muchly deserved election as Cardigan's next Deputy Mayor.

Comic Relief (1988-2011) - My Best Musical Bits

Comic Relief has always captured my musical imagination.

Since the Comic Relief charity was launched on Christmas Day 1985, it has raised over £650m for good causes around the world.

Along the way, it has made us laugh...and laugh loudly...

The first Red Nose Day was held in February 1988 and the second was in 1989. Since then, they have fallen one every other year - usually in the 2nd or 3rd week of March. The next is this Friday, 18th March 2011.

So, I'm dedicating two blog posts to celebrate this truly British tradition of supporting charity through comedy. The first one here revolved around the comedy, this second revolves around the music.

So, here are some of my Comic Relief Red Nose Day 'Best Musical Bits'...

It all began in fact, not in 1988 on the first Red Nose Day but in April 1986. Comic Relief's first charity single was Cliff Richard and The Young Ones with Living Doll which topped the charts!

Next up was a Christmas re-make of Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree by Mel & Kim (Mel Smith and Kim Wilde). It peaked at Number 3 in the charts in December 1987.

The first actual Red Nose Day single release was the Feruary 1989 version of The Beatles' Help! featuring Bananarama with French & Saunders and Kathy Burke. Again, it peaked at No.3 in the charts.

March 1991 saw Red Nose Day's 'The Stonk' by Hale and Pace and the Stonkers which topped the charts! This is the first Comic Relief single that I can vividly recall at the time.

April 1992 saw a time-out from Red Nose Day, as the Smear Campaign & Mr Bean released a General Election themed special - '(I Wanne Be) Elected'. It peaked at No.9 in the charts!

Red Nose Day 1993 witnessed Right Said Fred and Friends, 'Stick It Out' reach No.4 in the charts.

Also from 1993, this 're-make' of Bohemian Rhapsody by the favourites of the day. Personally, the weathermen's inclusion and that of the cast of 'That's Life' & Emmerdale are strokes of genius!

Hugh Laurie also plays a blinder! 'Ma-ma, just killed a chap...'

1994 saw the Pet Shop Boys release 'Absolutely Fabulous' for Comic Relief - it peaked at No.6 in the charts.

1995 saw a change in emphasis as the official Comic Relief singles for Red Nose Day became more serious in tone. Nevertheless, it didn't make them any less of a hit than those that went before.

The first, from that year, was the powerful and moving Love Can Build a Bridge by Cher, Chrissie Hynde, Neneh Cherry and Eric Clapton. It would become the first of an incredible 9 consecutive Comic Relief singles chart toppers.

1997 saw the Spice Girls and the Sugar Lumps do their bit for Comic Relief with 'Mama / Who Do You Think You Are?'.

In 1999, it was Boyzone's turn and they made a popular cover of the favourite, 'When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going'.

In 2001, Ronan Keating's protégé Westlife took the mantle and upped the ante with their cover of 'Uptown Girl'.

In 2003, Gareth Gates and The Kumars gave us 'Spirit in the Sky'.

2005 saw an innovation. The official Comic Relief single was McFly's All About You...

However, an unofficial single was also launched in 2005 courtesy of Peter Kay. It revitalised the career of Tony Christie and topped the charts for 7 weeks!

'(Is This The Way To) Amarillo'...

So in 2007, Comic Relief officially launched 2 charity singles for Red Nose Day - a song by a mainstream artist, and a comedy song.

The mainstream effort was 'Walk This Way' by Girls Aloud Vs The Sugababes.

The comedy effort again came from Peter Kay and again topped the charts. This time in the guise of Brian Potter & Andy Pipkin with the Proclaimers, it's 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)'.

2009 followed on the same theme. The mainstream effort was by The Saturdays with 'Just Can't Get Enough'. Theirs was however, the first Comic Relief single to fail to make the top of the charts since The Pet Shop Boys in 1994, peaking as it did at No.2.

The comedy version for the year however, returned Comic Relief to the top of the charts the following week. Bryn and Vanessa (Rob Brydon & Ruth Jones) with help from Tom Jones covered the country hit, '(Barry) Islands in the Stream'.

So it's been a memorable, musical 23 years of Comic Relief - here's hoping for many, many more!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Goodbye Pantycelyn Halls of Residence?

I read with interest, this BBC News article a few days ago about the future of Aberystwyth University's Welsh language Hall of Residence, Pantycelyn.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post here about my formative experiences in Aberystwyth University, Pantycelyn Hall and the time that I spent there is one that I look back on with great fondness.

Be it the cleaners, the students or the staff, there was always a great community spirit in Pantycelyn in the 2 years that I lived there (2000-2002) and for me, it had an atmosphere and an identity that could not be replicated in any of the other Halls of Residence on campus.

Pantylceyn Hall Opened in 1951

The plans now, as have been openly discussed for a few years, are to upgrade the facilities available for students in the University with the building of a 'new' Pantycelyn on the Clarach Road near the current student village, Pentre Jane Morgan. The costing for the development is estimated at between £40m and £45m, and could start as early as autumn 2012.

So, it opens up the distinct possibility, indeed probabilty, that having opened in 1951 and having housed Prince Charles for one term in 1969 before becoming a Welsh language designated hall in 1974, that this grand old building may soon be closing it's doors to student for the last time after 70 years.

There's talk that it may be converted into office space for University staff so it will likely remain an University asset. But if in the near future, it does indeed close down from serving as a Halls of Residence to primarily Welsh-based students, it will mark the end of a significant chapter in Welsh cultural history.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Alan Partridge's Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio! (episode 12)

Following on from my recent blog posts about the return of the comic leg-end that is Alan Partridge to our airwaves, we continue with the series.

He's back hosting Mid Morning Matters on North Norfolk Digital Radio (with new sidekick Zoe Scott).

Episode 12 demonstrates that Alan has no idea what 'Uggs' means in modern parlance and if you give him 6 months notice, he can can borrow you a Range Rover 'like that'!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Comic Relief (1988-2011) - My Best Comedy Bits

Comic Relief has always captured my comedic imagination more than Chilrdren in Need ever has. Maybe it's because its being held every other year adds to the excitment of its coming each time a delicious new installment of this now legendary telethon is offered to us.

Since the Comic Relief charity was launched on Christmas Day 1985, it has raised over £650m for good causes around the world.

Along the way, it has made us laugh...and laugh loudly...

The first Red Nose Day was held in February 1988 and the second was in 1989. Since then, they have fallen one every other year - usually in the 2nd or 3rd week of March. The next is this Friday, 18th March 2011.

So, I'm dedicating two blog posts to celebrate this truly British tradition of supporting charity through comedy. This first one revolves around the comedy, my second will revolve around the music.

So, here are some of my Comic Relief Red Nose Day 'Best Comedy Bits'...

It all began here, in 1988.

In fact, it began 240 years earlier. In 1648 to be precise. Here, Blackadder: The Cavalier Years  finds our famous favourite at the heart of the English Civil War - on the doomed side of the Royalists!

Best moment - King Charles I (played with a good touch of Prince Charles by Stephen Fry) meeting Oliver Cromwell (an excellent Warren Clarke!). Brilliant!

From that original programme also, University Challenge with The Young Ones!

Moving on to 1989, Rowan Atkinson again takes the chair but this time as the host of the 'Master Member' quiz with Lord Hailsham, David Owen, Gerald Kaufman, Kenneth Baker, Leon Britton, John Smith, David Steel and Shirley Williams.

Love it!

Again from 1989, a special Who's Line Is It Anyway, hosted by Clive Anderson with guests Stephen Fry, Josie Lawrence, Paul Merton, and John Sessions.

From 1991, a Hugh Laurie news sketch. Whatever happened to him?!

1993 saw Mr Bean's Red Nose Day.

It also saw Victor Meldrew take a bath and ask that immortal question - 'Is Nicholas Parsons dead?!'

1993 also saw a special Mr Bean's Blind Date!

In 1995, we saw a new skating star take to the ice. It's Torvill & Bean!

Moving forward, 1999 saw The Vicar of Dibley meet Johnny Depp!

1999 also saw Alan Partridge sing Kate Bush!

2001 saw Eastenders get in on the Comic Relief act - keep an eye out for some of the good old characters from a decade ago! Also, gotta love the writers in the 'Story Conference'!

2003 saw comedic turns in a Comic Relief Blankety Blank by, amongst others, Matt Lucas as Su Pollard, David Walliams as Ruth Madoc, Martin Freeman as Johnny Rotten and Simon Pegg as Freddie Starr. Peter Serafinowicz meanwhile perfected Terry Wogan!

2005 saw Little Britain's Daffyd interview Elton John!

Here, Lou and Andy meet George Michael!

2007 saw the Nan Taylor take on the Banker in Deal or No Deal!

It also saw the return of a now married Vicar of Dibley in a Celebrity Wife Swap with Sting!

The latest installment in 2009 saw Davina McCall Vs David Tennant at Comic Relief Mastermind!

There's so much more that I could've chosen but it gives at least, a glimpse of our comedic talent doing good through the ages.

Keep an eye out for my next installment - Comic Relief (1988-2011) - My Best Musical Bits