Saturday, 30 April 2011

Is this the most beautiful piece of music ever written?

It has been a busy Bank Holiday weekend.

Yesterday saw the big Royal wedding. Whatever may be said about the monarchy, it was clear that at its very base yesterday, what we had was the marriage of two human beings who are clearly in love with each other. This is not the shot-gun sham of a marriage that this country witnessed 30 years before when Williams's parents walked down the aisle at St Paul's Cathedral. I stuffed election envelopes as I watched it with my mother and it was an uplifting spectacle. So good luck to them both - I hope they have a long and happy life together.

Today saw a real day of mixed emotions. First of all was the sadness of the funeral of Denfa Rees in Aberporth. Denfa was a staunch liberal and an enthusiastic and active supporter who had been brought down in recent months with incresaingly failing health. He will be missed.

From there it was the spectacle and pomp of a glorious Barley Saturday when the country comes to town in style. Closed streets and thousands of locals and tourists alike watch on as horses, vintage tractors and vintage vehicles parade through Cardigan town centre. Then it was election canvassing with a willing group of supporters alongside our excellent candidate Elizabeth Evans. It's what Denfa would've wanted and hopefully we can deliver a good liberal result for him in Ceredigion this coming Thursday.

The Mellow Sounds of the Piano
So I find myself tonight, tired and feeling jaded from the rollercoaster of emotions that has swept over me over recent weeks and over the last few days in particular.

With an opportunity to re-charge my batteries in readiness for the final days of the election that lie ahead, I've been listening to my 'Piano Moods' CD which to my shame, rarely gets a play here at home because I have such a vast collection of music that much often gets overlooked as is the case here.

But not tonight. On needing to unwind and to be transported into another world, I plumped for the piano to do the work and it has not let me down. I love my classical music and I love my modern pop and rock and easy listening music to boot. But the one musical instrument that connects the two and indeed which is at the heart of my love of music, is the sound of the piano.

So I've been listening to some wonderful, soothing, soulful tracks tonight including Nocturne No.2 by Chopin, Beethoven's Fur Elise and Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.

But the one that really took me to a better place was a piece of music that I have adored since I first heard it - probably as a child. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of music, of any genre, that I have had the pleasure of listening too.

It's Mozart and it's his Piano Concerto No.21 in C Major.

If anyone knows of a more heavenly sound, then please get in touch because I want to hear it. But I'm not holding my breath.

My music is a great release to me and on evenings like tonight, when I'm all tired and searching for a mellow sound to soothe those tired feet, I can be sure that somewhere in my CD collection, I have the sound needed for that moment.

For this moment tonight, this wonderful piece of Mozart is exactly what I needed.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Nail in Gavin Henson's World Cup Ambition

I'm sounding like a broken record here I know, but what the hell is Gavin Henson doing?

Reports from France today point towards his possible sacking by his new club Toulon, having only played 2 games for the fashionable French club since his sudden move from Saracens back in February.

Gavin Henson on his Toulon Debut
I wrote here about Gavin Henson's problems before launching an additional tirade against him here when he dropped Saracens for Toulon after only 3 months and 4 appearances at the club.

Now, it would seem that having made only 2 appearances for Toulon, he is on the verge of being shown the door after a late-night skirimish with his own team-mates in a club after a match win against Toulouse. He was suspended following the incident.

The uber-latest news is that the WRU have summoned the Centre to a meeting to discuss his situation with Chief Executive Roger Lewis and Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland.

Whatever the up-shot of this discussion, it's clear that Henson's head is not in the right place. The question of whether he should be chosen for the World Cup squad is a dud one because if he isn't playing rugby for his club sides, then there's no way that he should be chosen for the squad - no matter how big a name he is.

It's a shame because he hasn't made the most of his potential and is wasting a prodigious talent. But then that's his problem more than it is Wales'. There are plenty of aspiring, hard-working Welsh rugby players who would give their right arm for an opportunity to play for a big-name club and their country.

Until Henson sorts himself out, he should be nowhere near the selection sheet for the Welsh squad. The great shame is that I can't see when in the near future this situation may change for the positive.

A wasted talent. Wasted.

Monday, 25 April 2011

My Top 25 Only Fools and Horses Moments

Following on from my blog post tribute to John Sullivan here, I decided to follow it up with my Top 25 all-time Only Fools and Horses moments to further re-iterate his comic genius.

He managed to mix laughter, with drama, with tears of compassion as he told the story of an every-day London family who strove from day-to-day to make ends meet. They lived through the same highs and the same lows that we all do. It was John Sullivan's ability to turn these everyday emotions into a sitcom that made Only Fools and Horses one of the all-time greats of British situation comedy.

So here is my final tribute to John Sullivan - my top 25 Only Fools & Horses moments.

No.25 - 'During the War' (Time on Our Hands, 1996)

We begin at the end. Or the original end at least. By the time the 1996 Xmas trilogy was shown, Uncle Albert had for years bored Del and Rodney with his sea-fearing anectodes from 'During the War'. So when on this occasion Del Boy threatened his great-uncle on pain of having a cup of tea poured over his head, Albert responded with a wonderfully quick-witted response...

No.24 - Monopoly (Friday the 14th, 1983)
Here was a fine example of the mechanics of the Trotter family at play. In this case, Del Boy and Grandad teamed up against Rodney to deliberately wind him up - and of course, they succeeded!

No.23A 'Horrified' Uncle Albert  (Rodney Come Home, 1990)
This is just pure Uncle Albert! Del Boy wanted help to persuade Rodney that he was doing the wrong thing in taking a woman to the cinema whilst his marriage was falling apart but Albert couldn't get his timing right!
What tickles me most here is David Jason's expression. On a number of occasions as he chastises Albert for getting his timing wrong, he's finding it difficult to contain the laughter and to keep a straight face, so amusing is Buster Merryfield's acting as Uncle Albert.

No.22'Wendy House' (Healthy Competition, 1983)
It was apparently received one of the greatest laughs that the programme ever recorded from its studio audience as Grandad stole the scene by belittling Rodney's attempts to break-out on his own in business with Mickey Pearce.

No.21 - Trotters Independent Traders (A Slow Bus to Chingford, 1981 & Heroes and Villains, 1996)

Here, early on in series 1, Del Boy explains his business dreams. Rodney however, brings him back down with a bump by explaining that the company's acronym is TIT.

15 years later, to visualise Del's dream, we have Rodney's nighmarish futuristic dream at the start of the 1996 XMAS trilogy. Brilliant!

No.20 - Grandad's Cigarette Case (Homesick, 1984)
Grandad's deadpan delivery always delivered laughs and this story of his grandfather's old cigarette case which he wanted to give to Rodney didn't disappoint!

No.19 - Baby Joan (Sleepless in Peckham, 2003)
John Sullivan made Only Fools and Horses the beloved comedy that it is because he brought a depth to it that is missed in other sitcoms.
Having lived the lives of the Trotter family for over 20 years, it was emotional to see Rodney and Cassandra finally deliver a healthy baby girl in the last ever episode. Its conclusion, with Del and Rodney at their mother's ridiculously OTT grave, reminded us that the most important thing for our heroes wasn't money, but family.

No.18 - Holding Back the Years (Little Problems, 1989)
Another example of this depth of emotion in the characters was shown here when Rodney married Cassandra some 14 years earlier.
Suddenly we are allowed to see a vulnerable and lonely Del Boy. A big brother, who having been a surrogate father to his younger sibling, is now watching that sibling grow up and become his own man. It's a meaningful scene because it shows that behind his brassy exterior, our Del is a human being with those every day feelings.
A beautifully poigniant scene.

No.17 - 'Dave' (Homesick, 1983)
A long-running gag of the series was how Trigger would always call Rodney, Dave. Here, Rodney makes his one and only stand against Trigger on this issue. Of course, with this being Trigger, it makes no impact whatsoever!

No.16 - Grandad Talks to the Urn (Ashes to Ashes, 1982)

Del Boy loved a practical joke and here he caught a guilty Grandad out with a corker!

No.15 - Batman & Robin (Heroes and Villains, 1996)

It has already gained inconic status as one of the most memorable moments in Only Fools history. The scene was set brilliantly and their arrival through the mist at the scene of the attempted crime was just perfect!

No.14 - Rodney’s Job Application  (Modern Men, 1996)

Here was another Del Boy practical joke, but this time on brother Rodney. Spurn Del Trotter at your peril!

No.13 - Rodney and 'Nervous' Nerys Go for a 'Cruise' (Dates, 1988)

This was brilliant! Rodney trying his best to show off in front of 'Nervous' Nerys from the Nags Head but making a pract of himself as ever!

No.12 - Blow-Up Dolls (Danger UXD, 1989)

The comic acting here is just golden. The look of horror on Del, Rodney and Albert's faces as the adult blow up dolls in their flat inflate on their own is just priceless!

No.11 - Del Boy Hang-Gliding (Tea for Three, 1986)

Here, Rodney turns the tables on Del Boy and gets his revenge on a prank played on him by Del with the sun lounger.

Again, the comic timing is just spot on. Del's growing awareness that he's been framed by his brother and the growing fear in his face of what it means is just a wonderful sight!

No.10 - Del's Revenge on Roy Slater (The Class of '62, 1991)

For me, some of the best comedy in the series came from the latter of the 7 conventional series that were produced.

Into my top 10 and this is a fine example of that. Having been hounded throughout his life by the dodgy copper Roy Slater, it was a shock for Del to find out that the character played brilliantly by Oscar winning actor Jim Broadbent was in fact Raquel's first husband.

Here, having been bullied and manipulated by the brute, Del and Rodney have the last laugh!

No.9 - The Chandeliers (A Touch of Glass, 1982)

Another iconic moment for the Trotters though maybe controversial in that it only makes my No.9. Still, it is a classic and there's really no need for me to explain why!

No.8 - Grandad's Funeral (Strained Relations, 1985)

Here again we saw John Sullivan's wonderful writing as he mixed the pathos and poigiancy of Grandad's funeral with gentle humour.

It was a particularly sad scene to watch because of the knowledge that Lennard Pearce who played Grandad had died in real-life. It brought along with it also, the introduction of Uncle Albert.

No.7 - Cwwwwying (Stage Fright, 1991)

Already mentioned in my original blog post tribute to John Sullivan mentioned above, this for me is an absolute classic and well deserving of its place in my top 10.

No.6 - Baby Damian (Three Men, A Woman and a Baby, 1991)

An earlier clip above saw the birth of Rodney's baby girl. Here, that wonderful moment when Del Boy exclaimed with joy when asked by Albert "What is it?", with the immortal words, "It's a Baby!"

Particularly poigniant here was the fact that Del clearly had his mother at the forefront of his mind at this seminal point in his life. The scene of him cradling Damian in the hospital window looking up at the stars spoke of a character that had depth and of a script that had meaning.

No.5 - The Peckham Riots (Fatal Extraction, 1993)

This is wonderful! A drunken Del Boy inadvertantly starts a full-scale inner-city riot when he sings Matt Monroe's classic 'One Voice' at 2.15am! Please note the cameo played by Eastenders' Charlie Slater!

The following scene of his making his way through the riot in true Western style was brilliant!

No.4 - Millionnaires at Last (Time on Our Hands, 1996)

It was the moment that we and Del Boy had all been waiting - when the Trotters finally became millionnaires!

The scenes at Sotherby's were wonderful. But also, as follows that clip, the warmth and love between the two brothers when Rodney bought Del Boy the Rolls Royce and the emotional moments afterwards when they went back to the Nags Head with their new found wealth. The reception that they were given showed that they were loved by their friends as much as they were by ourselves the viewing public.

No.3 - Del Falls Through the Bar (Yuppy Love, 1989)

It has been voted in some polls, the funniest comedy moment of all-time. David Jason's timing to get his comic fall to look authentic has made this moment one of the most remembered and loved of the televisual age. It makes my top 3 with ease.

No.2 - The Poker Game (A Losing Streak, 1982)

Any moment which sees Del Boy get one over on slippery Boycie is always going to be a favourite but here he does it in style. In this high stakes gamble, Del outwits Boycie at his own game and wins - it's just a shame that Rodney forgot about the double headed coin!

I managed to emulate this moment myself when playing poker on a Latvian holiday with friends some years back. I also found myself in the incredulous position of holding 4 aces in my hand or as I called it with an excited flourish...2 pair...

No.1 - The Bus Explosion (Jolly Boys Outing, 1989)

For me, some of the best episodes like 'Chain Gang' were those that utilised the entire cast. It was done with a tour de force in 1989 on the Jolly Boys Outing.

It gave us what in mind is the best moment in Only Fools and Horses. The sight of Rodney trying to explain to Cassandra on the 'phone that Del isn't a bad influence and then seconds later in the background, the sight of their bus exploding is still pure unadulterated genius!

It may not be your No.1, but it most certainly is mine!

I hope you enjoyed my little run down and please remember who was responsible for all of this - those who acted the scenes but also the man who wrote them, John Sullivan.

RIP John and thanks for the laughter.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

As the Yemenese Domino Falls, is Syria next?

First we had Tunisia. Then we had Egypt. Libya seemed destined to be next but is holding back against the tide. Bahrain is also fighting back whilst Yemen seems to be about to fall. Syria meanwhile is becoming more vulnerable by the day.

The revolutionary fervour that has swept through the Middle East and through the Arabic states there shows no signs of abating. But the responses of the main combatants to the internal dissent in their countries is not uniform.

To date, there have been revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt; a pending transfer of power in Yemen; a civil war in Libya; major protests in Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Oman; and minor protests in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Western Sahara.

Yemen Falls
The latest news is that Yemen's President Saleh has agreed yesterday to accept a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered plan to step down by 23 May in exchange for immunity. If he does indeed leave power within the next 30 days then he will become the 3rd leader to leave office amidst a popular uprising since the turn of the year.

But what of Syria? Whilst Saleh attempted to hold on against the grain, he ended up finding his position untenable as those on his own side deserted his call. In Libya, Gaddafi is clawing onto power with all of his might and with his not unsubstantial support, is not going to leave gracefully as the NATO powers have realised.

But what of Syria then? President Assad has shown short shrift for his opponents and has used force to break-up the protests in his own country. But the protests have continued. The Syrian Cabinet resigned as a concession to the protestors and now in recent days, he has ended the decades old state of emergency law which has been in place for 48 years. Yet this decision last Thursday did not calm the protests. Indeed they have intensified. The rebels can smell change. Unfortunately, they can also smell blood. In the two days since, some 120 Syrians it is believed has been killed as the protests move into a new phase of intensity.

Britain's Foreign Sercretary William Hague now 'strongly advises' Britons to leave Syria because of the 'rapid deterioration' in law and order there.

It is clear that we are reaching a serious cross-roads in developments here. Will Assad continue to lead a crack down on his own people? Will he make more concessions to try and calm them down? He may see Bahrain as an example of how he can fight his way back to security but then the example of Yemen shows that this may not work. He's been using the carrot and he's been using the stick, but neither has yet appeared to work.

It all depends now on his own supporters. If Assad can keep his army and his Government on side, it will not be easy to force his removal. But if the protests grow in number, the pressure on those at the top to change sides will intensify. That will be the tipping-point as it has been in the other Arabic countries over these past few months.

But whilst the west are willing to intervene in Libya, in Syria as with Yemen and Bahrain, it sits back as the region burns.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Cwwwwying with Laughter - A Tribute to John Sullivan (1946-2011)

I've been shocked tonight to hear of the death of John Sullivan, the comic creator of Only Fools and Horses.

John was only 64 and has died after spending six weeks in intensive care battling viral pneumonia.

John wrote many stand-out sitcoms over the years including Citizen Smith and Just Good Friends but it will be his creation of that wonderful, loveable rogue Del Boy and his Trotter family for which he will quite rightly be fondly remembered the most.

Only Fools & Horses
I'm a big OFAH fan. Indeed, apart from the last 3 installments, I have every single episode on VHS up to when they became millionnaires in 1996.

It was the warmth of the writing and of the characters that made me and millions alongside, love this sitcom so much.

John Sullivan
Indeed, ironically, only last night in the Lib Dem office in Aberystwyth after a day of campaigning, I ended up showing a number of those there with me a clip of a wonderful episode from this giant of British comedy. 

There had been a mention of K.D.Lang during the evening and that got me thinking about Roy Orbison. So I found on my laptop a youtube clip of their 'Crying' duet together from the 1980s which I adore. Our agent Mike Woods then reminded me of the episode of OFAH when John Sullivan found a comic twist to this song of the day. I couldn't but resist finding it and watching it for the first time in many years as it always went down as one of the funniest moments in this comedy's long and proud history. I watched it last night with Mike and with others who had not seen it before.

Little was I to know that the comic genius who had written that wonderful moment and many others with the Trotters, was seeing his life draw prematurely to a close.

Sir David Jason said today on the sad news: "We have lost our country's greatest comedy writer but he leaves us a great legacy, the gift of laughter.

So, my tribute to John Sullivan must be that clip from episode 3 (Stage Fright) of series 7 that I watched only last night. It literally left me Cwwwwying with laughter and for that wonderful immortal gift, I give John my sincere thanks.

RIP John Sullivan

My Beer Free Lent

I've never attempt a lental 'fast' before.

But this year I decided that I was up for the challenge to test my will power and what way better than to do so by giving up beer?

A more Beer Free than a Free Beer Lent!
I'm a real ale/Guinness drinker. On certain select occasions (like these warm, warm days we're experiencing this week), a nice cold lager also goes down nicely. I don't like cider.

So with the Assembly election campaign reaching it's heightened climax, I thought the best thing to give up would be this beer. I'm glad to say that I have stuck to this challenge! Apart from a 'one-off' pint of Guinness on St Patrick's night, I've kept off the beer and stuck instead to the odd glass of wine here and there and in the main, diet coke!

I've also lost half a stone over the past 40 days. Now that could be down to the additional stomping of the pavements that comes with electioneering but I think the main reason has got to be because I've cut out those social pints of beer that I'll allow myself from time to time after a busy day of work.

So as the clock moved past midnight this morning into Holy Saturday, I drank a well deserved pint of lager to toast a successful 40-day fast.

But I'll also take heed of the fact that I've lost some much needed weight these past 40 days so perhaps in future, I'll stick a bit more to the wine!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Wishing Gerard Houllier a Good Friday

I was shocked to to hear that Gerard Houllier, Aston Villa's manager has been taken to hospital.

Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier
Houllier of course it is well remembered, underwent an operation on his heart whilst manager of Liverpool a decade or so ago but on being offered the hot seat at Villa Park earlier this season, was given the all-clear to take on this demanding and pressuried role.

He's had a tough baptism in the Midlands as the Villa have struggled to gain any level of consitency and have been floating around the relegation zone for most of that period. Indeed, I mentioned my grave concerns on the situation as a long-suffering Villain in a blog post here some months back. But two wins on the bounce has propelled us into mid-table and a hat-trick of wins at home to Stoke tomorrow should absolutely secure safety.

His fellow managers have wished him a speedy recovery.

Kenny Dalglish, manager of Houllier's former club Liverpool, said: "Your health is more important than anything, so we wish him well and I'm sure he is in the best possible hands."

"Doctor [Mark] Waller is there, who was the club doctor here when Gerard fell ill in 2001, so he's got a good guy beside him and I'm sure the people there will do everything they can to help.

"We won't be morose about it because we don't understand [the nature of Houllier's problem], but we send him our best wishes."

Stoke's Tony Pulis said: "Everyone in football will wish Gerard a swift recovery, we hope he is well and I am sure they will be looking after him.

"We have some fantastic medical people in this country and I am sure he will get well looked after.

"Irrespective of what medical care you get, nothing stops you from getting excited on the touchline or carrying the pressure on your shoulders if things aren't going too well. Pressure is part of the job, you get used to it."

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini also had kind words for Houllier.

"It is not easy because, when you are under pressure, you can have some problems. But I hope Gerard comes out of hospital very quickly because he is a big person, a big manager.

"He is my friend and I hope he can be on the bench in the next game."

Fulham boss Mark Hughes added: "Our thoughts are with Gerard and his family. It's a worrying time for them and his club because he's the figurehead.

"We hope its nothing too serious."

Houllier's assistant Gary McAllister took Thursday's training session and will take charge of the squad for Saturday's game at Villa Park.

But today my thoughts are with Houllier. Whilst he may not have been my first choice as Villa's manager, the truth of the matter is that Martin O'Neill was always going to be a tough act to follow, no matter who it was that stepped into his shoes.

He is said to be in a stable condition and will remain in hospital for some days.

On this Good Friday, I wish Gerard well in his recovery and hope to see him back in the dugout before the end of the season.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Vice Chair-Elect of Ceredigion County Council - Cllr Mark Cole

It's been a hot day. A beautiful April day. Just right for donning some summer clothes. I however, have been wearing my suit - all day long!

This evening, Cardigan Town Council had one of it's two annual grants evenings in the Guildhall where the Council gives out cheques to worthy local causes. It's a lovely occasion and I had the great fortune during the last municipal last year of being able to chair both occasions when I was Mayor of Cardigan.

The Chains of Ceredigion
It was quite apt because this morning, we had a full meeting of Ceredigion County Council in Aberaeron and at the end of the agenda, it was that time of the year once more to choose who the Chair-Elect and Vice Chair-Elect of Ceredigion County Council would be for next year - 2011-2012.

In Ceredigion, more often than not, when it comes to choosing our Chair, we take the party politics out of the equation and ensure as far as possible, a reasonable rotation of this important position between the respective Welsh Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Independent groups on the Council (there is in addition, 1 Labour member of the Council who sits on the Cabinet). I'm not so sure that every one of Wales' 22 authorities are as fair in the way that it decides on which political parties or none should be given this position.  It is to Ceredigion's credit that we do.

The current Chair is Cllr Haydn Lewis, a highly respected and long-standing Independent Councillor for Penparc ward which happens to border my own Cardigan Rhyd-Y-Fuwch ward. Our current Vice-Chair, Cllr Catherine Hughes is the Plaid Cymru Councillor for Tregaron. As is the custom, she was unanimously supported today in Council from all sides of the Chamber, to become what will be Ceredigion County Council's first female Chair, at the Council's AGM on Friday 20th May.

This meant that the next Vice Chairman should come from the Welsh Liberal Democrat benches - the last from our group being Cllr Fred Williams who was Vice Chair in 2006-07 and Chair in 2007-08. It was with great humility that I found myself in the unexpected position of being proposed and seconded for the role by my fellow colleagues today.

Why unexpected? Well, perhaps because for one so young, I didn't expect to be given the opportunity to be Vice Chair at such a relatively tender age. Indeed, when at the last AGM in May 2010, the then out-going Chair, Lampeter's Independent member Cllr Ivor Williams asked me to give the official vote of thanks, I was incredibly touched at the gesture. For it was the first time in my 6 years on the Council that I was to play a formal role in the AGM. I honestly thought at that time that it may well be the only time that I may ever have a formal part to play at that annual event.

Yet having said that, I was elected in 2004 at the same time as Catherine Hughes so we have now both served as County Councillors for 7 years - giving us both ample time to have learned the Council ropes with its procedures and formalities. In that time I have already served a two year term as the Chair of the Environmental Services and Housing Scrutiny Committee and of course at a community council level, I proudly served as both Deputy Mayor and then Mayor of Cardigan between 2008-2010 and in doing so, became at the age of 26, one of the youngest known Mayors in Cardigan's history.

So it was a humble experience today to find my colleagues putting forward my name to become what will be the youngest Vice Chair in Ceredigion County Council's history, at the age of 28. My Welsh Liberal Democrat group leader and Cabinet Member for Education, Aberystwyth's Cllr Ceredig Davies proposed me and the Independent Councillor for Capel Dewi ward near Llandysul, the Cabinet Member for Finance Cllr Peter Davies seconded the proposal.

There have been times in years gone by when opposing candidates have been put forward against the unwritten Ceredigion code mentioned above. Today however, it was a real pleasure to have the Council support the proposal unanimously with my Plaid Cymru Council colleagues putting their hands in the air in unison with my Welsh Liberal Democrat and Independent colleagues. It was a particularly nice gesture for the Plaid Cymru Councillors for Llanbadarn Sulien and Beulah, Cllr Paul James and Cllr Lyndon Lloyd to come over to congratulate me on my election as Vice Chair-Elect. It doesn't happen every year but when it does, like today, it shows that we can as a Council put aside party political differences. It's gives me an uplifting sense of humanity.

So having served as Deputy Mayor and Mayor of Cardigan, I'm now looking forward to working as the new Vice Chair of Ceredigion County Council alonsgide our new Chair, Cllr Catherine Hughes and I will give her my 100% support in that role once we assume our new positions on May 20th.

I'm going to be wearing that suit more often once more - no matter what the weather!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

My Pembrokeshire Karting Championships Debut!

I've loved F1 since I was about 9 years old. Watching Mansell Vs Senna in Grand Prix's throughout 1991 and 1992 alongside my father has made me a fan for life.

I've always loved karting. I guess the two are linked. Ever since I began watching the former, I enjoyed when possible, the latter. Be it on the little go-karts in Oakwood or the slightly larger ones in Heatherton or the real thrill of donning overalls and gloves at the indoor race track in Haverfordwest, the want to be the next Damon Hill, the next Mansell, was always something I craved.

Of course it was never going to happen and I never expected it too but that childhood fantasy could at least in small part be brought to life with those rare glimpses of speed on the karting tracks of Pembrokeshire.

Having done a fair but of karting when I could with my school friends as a teenager, I went nearly a decade without barely touching a kart. Then there was Kevin O'Connor's stag do in Eastbourne a few years back and the 12 or so of us had a Grand Prix session where we did heats, a semi-final and a final. To my surprise, I realised that I still had that aggression behind the karting wheel which I had when I was younger but now, with the contact lenses instead of the old glasses, I had one less thing to be inhibitive about. I did well and got through to the final 6 and finished a podium-shy 4th place. A good result fair play I felt!

So when my old school mate Luke contacted me some 10 days ago asking if I wanted to take part in the up-and-coming 3rd annual Pembrokeshire Karting Championships in Carew, on a Sunday which is my quietest day of the week and for just £35, I was unable to resist.

Pembrokeshire Karting Championships
Now I've never competed in any proper, organised motor racing championships. It's all, as written above, been for fun. But the prospect of at least, on maybe just this one occasion, taking part in a bone-fide competitive racing environment was something that I just had to do.
The Carew Karting Track

The fact that I'd never done something like this before was new. It being in Carew was even newer. For all my years as a child of attending various Carew Sunday Markets on the site of the old WWII air strip, I'd never actually driven around the 500m karting track there.

So Luke and I arrived on Sunday wondering exactly what it was we'd let ourselves into.

But we needn't have worried because what transpired was the well oiled machine of a well organised event now running in its 3rd year. In its first year in 2009 there were 3 race days. Last year in 2010 there were 4. This year, clearly demonstrating a growing interest, there are 5 rounds and this was to be the first of those 5 - with the series concluding 5th round in October.

An all-time record 23 competitors arrived for the day and we were soon all suited out and ready to go. We knew that there was going to be some real tough competition because a number of those who turned up did so with their own karting overalls and helmets! No messing!

So on went the overalls, the gloves, the balaclava (that was a first!) and the helmet and we were ready to go!

We were given a number of laps to acquaint ourselves with the track but I, typically, far too hot headed for the moment found myself instantly in 'race mode'. So instead of testing the limits of my ability on the race track, I found myself going hell for leather and driving far too quickly down the back straight into the final double right-handed turns 8 and 9. Because I was trying too hard too early, I found that I hadn't mastered that final double-hander until much later on in the day and even then I'd have a few to many spins there for my own liking.

After the practise laps, it was time for the real action. This action also required a new skill with which both Luke and I were unaccumstomed - the rolling start!

Across 16 heats, we all ran in 3 each with each heat lasting 10 laps each. Points were awarded for the various placings and those total scores when added up, as well as contributing towards the overall championship standings, also determined the starting places for the 3 (non-scoring) semi-finals with the top 2 in each of those qualifying for the round final where extra points are awarded.

My first heat wasn't great. I started it in 4th and I struggled with my over enthusiasm and inability to keep my foot off the throttle long enough to get around those last two bends. Spinning furiously, I kept losing time and ground on my rivals. Yet, I somehow managed to finish in 4th which must've meant that whoever was behind me was struggling even more than I was!

My second heat was even worse! Far from improving and getting to grips with where my braking points should be, I found myself continuing to make the same mistakes. I began the race in 2nd but after a poorly judged lunge down the inside on the first corner of the rolling start, I found myself well down the positions and more mistakes soon relegated me to a poor and distant 6th and last position for the remainder of the heat. Talk about frustrating! Yet, that frustration must've had some benefit because amidst this poor showing, I managed to clock up what would be my fastest lap of the day in this heat - a lap of 24.57 seconds as opposed tot he quickest of the day of 22.92. The winner of the fastest lap for each round gets additional points and the overall fastest lap winner at the end of the season wins the Fastest Lap Challenge.

The 3rd and final heat saw me competing on much better terms. I began in 3rd and made a decent start before what I presume was a shunt into me from behind which tipped me surprisingly high considering that I was in a kart! But despite being knocked about a fair bit in the collision, I managed to extricate myself from the melee that followed behind us to get back underway having only lost one place. I then dealt with myself in a much more measured way and found that my now 4th place became relatively secure. I finally mastered that final double right-hander and finished what I felt was a very creditable 4th, with a more than reasonable margin over the two who were behind me. What did frustrate me however was that the 3 in front of me slowly drew away and I struggled to keep up with their pace. But in terms of consistency and actually mastering the circuit, this was a good result.

So with the points accumulated, I started my semi-final in 7th out of 8 but thankfully there were no points to be awarded here because my perfomance was abysmal! For all the good work I'd done in the final heat, it was as if I hadn't learned anything come the semi-final! I was spinning into that infernal final double right-hander left, right and centre and I finished a poor last!

The Championship Standings after
Round 1 of 5
I wasn't expecting to make the final of course but performing so lously in what I knew would be my final race of the day did irk me!

Luke meanwhile, scored one point more than me in the heats and finished a very credible 5th in his semi-final. He certainly showed some of that raw aggression that he always had as a teenager.

So overall, I must say that I didn't disgrace myself and that's a good enough start for me! For my first such competitive ride, an overall finish of 19th out of 23 is no bad shakes! Luke finished in 17th and in the Rookie of the Year competition we were placed 10th and 8th respectively out of 14.

Round 2? Bring it on!
So we now have 4 more rounds of the championship to navigate. The next is in June and I'm looking forward to it! Having now given it a go, I can now set myself reasonable targets from which I can judge my progress. I want to be able to prove that I can be more consistent and in doing so, set faster lap times.

No doubt Luke will say the same!

So my debut has been made and though I've still, 2 days later, got the bruises and the aches and pains to prove it, it was bloody good fun!

Michael Schumacher I am not. But Ralf Schumacher? Well, maybe indeed!

Monday, 18 April 2011

History, Culture and Hi-De-Hi! My Positive Chiang Mai Story

Today's Independent carries this worrying story of a spate of sudden deaths in Thailand's northern city Chiang Mai which have not been properly explained.

A British couple, a 23 year-old New Zealander and a Thai tour guide have all died within 16 days of each other in adjoining rooms in the same hotel - the 3-star Downtown Inn. They all died in remarkably similar circumstances and whilst the local authorities are blaming it on food poisoning - and specifically to 'toxic seaweed', others believe that it can not be so straightforward.

My Chiang Mai Experience
Whatever it is that has happened here, it is clearly a tragedy for those involved. To go away on holiday and to never return, for whatever reason, must be a great shock to those back at home who never could have expected such a scenario.

But it would be in this case, a tragedy also if the good name of Chiang Mai as a tourist destination was irrevocably damaged because of these happenings. I can say that as one who has visited this wonderful city, back in 2008.

It was during my 2-week holiday of Thailand back at the start of that year that I visited, on my second stop having landed in Bangkok, the city of Chiang Mai. I've mentioned the holiday in passing before on this blog in a previous post here.

Having been rather underwhelmed by the overbearing experience of Bangkok, my friend Kendal and I who were travelling at the time decided to cut our 3 night stay in Thailand's capital city short and after two nights, caught a flight up north to our next destination on our world-wind tour of Thailand.

More Hi-De-Hi than the Ritz!

 The flight up I must say, was one of the dodgiest I have ever encountered. I can't recall the name of the company with whom we flew, but it was a domestic service which resembled and felt more like travelling inside a rattling box of eggs. It wasn't a long flight thankfully because I didn't feel particularly safe but we landed and we found our way to the accommodation which we had booked earlier that morning - the Eagle 2. It was like something from 1950s Maplins in the BBC spoof comedy Hi-De-Hi. The decour was old-fashioned and the security on the doors were not necessarily the best and all-in-all it really was incredibly cheap and basic. But having said that, we were paying the equivalent of £2 each a night for the stay so we were delighted!

A Buddhist Temple in Chiang Mai
The city is located some 435 miles north of Bangkok in the northern Thai hills and is therefore a good deal cooler than most other areas of the country. This in itself made this pale skinned lad like the place! It is not that big and is medieval in origin which instantly attracted this historian's attention. It was founded in 1296 and the old city was surrounded by a moat and defensive wall because nearby Burma was always a potential threat. We were located at the heart of the city, within the city walls.

Wales 2-0 Scotland!
There were Buddhist temples aplenty and I found the religious bedrock on which this country is based fascinating. In Chiang Mai alone there are over 300 temples (or 'wats' as they are known locally). The city is important culturally as well because of its links with the River Ping on the banks of which it is located. I travelled up and down this river on a bamboo boat and it was magic!

The night-life was a lot more relaxed than it was in Bangkok. An enjoyable recollection that I had was of bumping into a Scottish lad and an Australian woman who were in the town one night and the 4 of us met up later that evening for some drinks. He challenged me to a Celtic duel on a pool table in one particular pub (played on a half-sized snooker table!) and I'm glad to say that Wales beat Scotland 2-0!

Elephant Trekking
We also went elephant trekking whilst on our stay up in the north which was one of the most surreal experiences of my life and I also had the experience of having a snake being put around my neck! After all, you may only ever get these opportunities once!

So this particular leg of my journey was undoubtedly one one of the best that I experienced on what was in the round, a wonderful holiday.

With my new mate, Sid the Snake!
Chiang Mai will always go down in my affections as a 'real' Thai city. Not a modern cosmopolitan giant like Bangkok, but a real city with history and character.

So for all of the awful news that has come from that city in recent weeks, please don't let it put you off what was for me, a wonderful experience.

Would I go back to Chiang Mai? In a shot.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

A Scilly War that lasted 335 Years (1651-1986)

I love historic quirks.

One that I was unaware of until this week was that of the 335 year war between the Isles of Scilly and the Netherlands! Today, April 17th, is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Treaty in 1986 which ended this unlikliest of rivalries!

Isles of Scilly
Republic of the Seven United


It apparently all began during the English Civil War. Cromwell's Parliamentarians had taken control of mainland Britian, forcing the Royalist Navy to retreat to the Isles of Scilly, which lie off the Cornish coast and which were under the ownership of Royalist John Grenville.

The United Provinces of the Netherlands had been supported by the English in its Eighty Years War against Spain. Having finally gained official independence from Spain in 1648, they therefore sought to maintain their English alliance and sided with Cromwell's Roundheads.

The Dutch Navy suffered losses at the hands of the stubborn Royalist Naval fleet based in Scilly and on March 30th 1651, Admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp arrived in Scilly to demand reparation from the Royalist fleet for the Dutch ships and goods taken by them.

According to Whitelocke's Memorials (cited in Bowley, 2001), a letter of 17 April 1651 explains:

"Tromp came to Pendennis and related that he had been to Scilly to demand reparation for the Dutch ships and goods taken by them; and receiving no satisfactory answer, he had, according to his Commission, declared war on them".

As mainland Britain was under Parliamentary control, this was therefore a Declaration of War on the Scilly Islands themselves and themselves alone.

Royalist Defeat
Just months later in June 1651 and without a shot having been fired, the Parliamentarians forced the Royalist fleet to surrender. The Dutch Navy left as a result but did not officially declare peace with the islands.

Peace at Last!
In 1985, Roy Duncan, a historian and Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Council, wrote to the Dutch Embassy in London to dispose of the "myth" that the islands were still at war. Embassy staff found the myth to be accurate and Duncan invited Ambassador Jonkheer Rein Huydecoper to visit the islands and sign a peace treaty.

Peace was declared on 17 April 1986, 335 years after the "war" began.

The Ambassador joked that it must have been harrowing to the Scillonians " know we could have attacked at any moment".

Well, indeed!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

My Top 3 All-time Snooker matches - #1 Davis Vs Taylor in 1985

In the run-up to this year's 2011 Snooker World Championships, I've been looking back at the history of a sport of which I am a big fan and have chosen my personal top 3 snooker matches of all-time.

I blogged here and here a few weeks ago of my 3rd and 2nd choices, so here now, on the morning of the opening matches of the 2011 World Championships, is the match which for me is the greatest in snooker history.

1985 World Snooker Championship Final
For those who are avid snooker fans, it'll be no great surprise to find that I've chosen the epic that occurred in 1985 between 3 time and current World Champion Steve Davies, and the Northern Irish favourite and 1979 losing finalist Dennis Taylor.

It is of course regarded not just as a seminal moment in the history of snooker but also I would like to think, one of the greatest sporting moments of the 20th century. I would like to explain why in my humble opinion, it is well deserving of this recognition.

Davis was the snooker machine of the 1980s. He had won 3 consecutive titles running into the 1985 final and was the favourite to win a 4th against Taylor who's only previous final appearance was a losing one to Terry Griffiths in 1979.

The final seemed to be going the way of the form book. Davis swept all before him as he white-washed Taylor in the first session 7-0. He then moved 8-0 ahead before the plucky Northern Irishman clawed his way back admirably into the match by winning 6 straight frames in a row to reduce the overnight margin to just 7-9.

There was little between the two during the second day's play but Davies nevertheless opened up a 17-15 lead to leave Taylor needing to win the final frames to win the match. Taylor won the first two of those to force a 35th and final frame.

It would prove to be one of the most dramatic climaxes imaginable. The tension was at fever pitch as both players missed opportunities. Taylor, once again playing catch-up in this crucial decider, pulled out a great long pot on the final brown and then potted the blue and pink to bring the final frame of the final and championsip, down to the very final black ball.

The final frame lasted 68 minutes and in the end, famously of course, after the safety play and the misses on the final black, it was Taylor, to the raturous delight of an enthralled Crucible Theatre crowd, who sunk the black to win a famous and immensly popular first and as it would turn out, only World Championship.

In this case, actions speaks louder than words so watch here, the final stages of that incredible final frame...


Here, watch both Davis and Taylor reflect, years later on what was an incredible match. The comments of those who remember it at the time adds to the fact that this was a moment in sport which had the country hooked to the TV set.

Indeed, the climax of the final in the early hours of that Monday morning was watched by 18.5 million people - which remains a record for BBC2, and also remains a record post-midnight audience for any channel in the United Kingdom.

Full credit for Steve Davis for being able to look back in retrospect and for taking the result in good heart.

That celebration of Taylor's is now almost as famed as the winning pot itself. It was just a delight to watch the emotion after the tension of the proceeding frame.

World 1985 Final - Rematch
Finally, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that titanic encounter, the two rivals played out a re-match at the Crucible Theatre. The match was played with great humour and it was in itself, a joy to watch!

The total match time of 14 hours 50 minutes was the longest ever recorded for a 35-frame match.

It will surely, never be bettered and will for years to come keep its place in snooker history as the greatest match ever played - no contest!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Remembering the 96 - You'll Never Walk Alone

On April 15th 1989, 94 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at a football match. 2 more were to die of their wounds.

79 of the fatalities were aged 30 or younger. Two sisters, three pairs of brothers and a father and son were among the dead.

RIP to the 96
You'll Never Walk Alone

Thursday, 14 April 2011

My Top 20 Greatest Sporting Commentary Moments Countdown (No.5 - No.1)

This is the fourth and final blog post installment of my top 20 greatest sporting commentary moments countdown.

My first three blog posts which can be viewed here, here and here, gave my countdown from No.20 down to No.6. Here, we countdown through my Top 5 to the big one - my No.1 Greatest Sporting Commentary Moment of all-time!

But before we move into the Top 5, a reminder of the 15 that came before it...

At No.20 - Ian Botham’s 'Leg-over' (Agnew and Johnston)

At No.19 - Tiger Wood's 16th hole chip at the 2005 US Masters (US commentary)

At No.18Sally Gunnell "Gets the Gold" at Barcelona '92 (David Coleman)

At No.17Steve Davis Vs Dennis Taylor in the 1985 World Snooker Final ('Whispering' Ted Lowe)

At No.16 - "Dessies done it" - Desert Orchid wins the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup (Peter O’Sullevan)

At No.15 - "What a Goal! Radford the Scorer!" (John Motson)

At No.14 - "Where were the Germans? But frankly, who cares?!" - The 1988 Seoul Olympic Hockey Final (Barry Davies)

At No.13 - "YOU'VE WON IT KELLY, YOU'VE WON IT!" - Kelly Holmes wins 800m Olympic Gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics (Steve Cram)

At No.12 - "...With All this Mayhem, Foinavon Has Gone off on His Own" - The 1967 Grand National (Michael O'Hehir)

At No.11 - "...Maggie Thatcher, can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher, Your boys took one hell of a beating!" - Norway 2-1 England in 1981 (Bjorge Lillelien)

At No.10 - "...and I've got to stop, becuase I've got a lump in my throat" - Damon Hill wins the 1996 F1 World Championship (Murray Walker)

At No.9 - "...and Emlyn Hughes left" - The Hillsborough Disaster (Peter Jones)

At No.8 - "...and I don't think Foreman's going to get up...AND HE'S OUT. Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32" - The Rumble in the Jungle (Harry Carpenter)

At No.7 - "...its only 12 inches high, solid gold, and it means England are the world champions" - 1966 English World Cup (Kenneth Wolstenholme)

At No.6 - "...its up for grabs now" - Liverpool Vs Arsenal 1989 League Championship Decider (Brian Moore)

So now, this is it. The Top 5, or as I'm going to re-name it (because I've left one out which I forgot!), my Top 5.5!

Please do leave your comments as I genuinely like to know my readers thoughts on the choices that I have made. No doubt you will like some more than others. Hopefully, some have refreshed a far and distant memory whilst for those who may be viewing some of these clips for the first time, I hope this is proving to be an enjoyable educational experience!

So, here we go...

No.5.5 - "IT'S LINFORD CHRISTIE" - 1992 Barcelona Olympics 100m Final (David Coleman)

One of only two commentators to achieve two entries in my chart, the first is David Coleman. As mentioned previously, Coleman had a natural ability in the greatest sporting events, to encapsulate the need to provide information whilst imparting drama into his commentary at the same time.

As I've already said, I am biased in that the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was one of the seminal 'coming-of-age' sporting occasions of my childhood. I was only 10 at the time, but the vivid recollections of sounds and images from that glorious celebration of sport are still with me, burning bright.

The one that burns brightest, is Coleman's wonderful commentary of Linford Christie's victory in the 100m final. His delivery increased in tone as the race progressed before he reached the epic crescendo as Christie crossed the finishing line to win the Gold Medal.

Wind forward to 4m 05 seconds for the commentary in question.

Bloody brilliant!

No.5. - "Good luck mate" - Cliff Thorburn's 147 at the 1983 World Championships (Jack Karnehm)

It all began with a fluke on the first red.

Little were we to know that that piece of good fortune for Canadian Cliff Thorburn would result in the first ever maximum 147 break in the Snooker World Championships. Thorburn, the World Champion in 1980, diligently made his way through the 15 reds and as he closed in on the final colours, the tension in the arena built-up as all who were watching realised that they were on the verge of watching a historic moment in snooker history.

With only the final black to be potted, the commentator Jack Karnehm captured the mood by simply saying: “Good luck, mate". He was speaking for everyone watching.

When the black found its target, Thorburn gave the moment the visual image that matched the tension and drama that had built-up over the previous minutes. He raised both arms, dropped to his knees and on rising was embraced by Terry Griffiths and Bill Werbeniuk, a fellow Canadian. A wonderful scene of joy and Karnehm's commentary played it's role to the full.

No.4 - "...double 12!" - Paul Lim's 9 Dart Finish in the 1990 World Darts Championship (Tony Green)

As a child and teenager, I'd always watch the world darts championship from the Lakeside on the BBC with my father. For the last 2 years, I've been fortunate enough to have visited the 'Home of Darts' and watch it for myself.

But every year without fail, they will show the footage of Paul Lim's 9 dart finish from 1990. It was the first time that this 'Holy Grail' of darting excellence had ever been witnessed in the World Championships. It has of course been replicated many times now in the break-away PDC World Championships over the past decade and more but incredibly, Paul Lim's achievement in 1990 has still not been matched on the Lakeside stage in the BDO World Championship, over the past 21 years.

Tony Green, BBC's voice of darts, gave the commentary that this piece of sporting history deserved. What amuses me is that he alludes to the fact that Lim had had a chance of a 9 dart finish in his previous match after he threw his first three 180s - little was Green to know when he said that how wonderfully prophetic his words were to prove to be!

No matter how many times I watch it, it still sends the shivers down my spine!

No.3 - "...AND SOLSKJAER HAS WON IT!" - 1999 Champions League Final (Clive Tyldesley)

I'm not much of a Clive Tyldesley fan I'll happily admit to you right now, but when Manchester United turned their 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich on its head in injury time, his words blended in with the drama like sausages blend with mash, like Morecambe blended with Wise and like I blend with ridiculous similies.

There are times when commentators sometimes over-egg the pudding and make sweeping predictions that then rebound on them when they fail to materialise, but when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poked in that incredulous second injury-time strike to land what would be the Red Devils' first European Cup since 1968, we all knew that when Tyldesley yelled out those immortal words, he was right.

No.2 - "RED RUM IS GOING TO WIN THE NATIONAL!" - 1973 Grand National (Peter O'Sullevan)

Peter O'Sullevan joins David Coleman as the only commentators to achieve two entries in my top 20 and this effort has really stood the test of time. Only a few others date back further than the famous words uttered by racing's favourite commentator when a certain Red Rum overtook a tiring Crisp in the final few yards to win what would be the first of a historic 3 Grand Nationals.

It was an incredible finale as Crisp, who had led by such a distance for so much of the race, saw his lead evaporate as Red Rum clawed his rival back in. It was one of the greatest finishes to a Grand National and O'Sullevan's authoritative commentary lent itself to the unfolding drama.

Truly one of the greatest pieces of commentary in sporting history.

But, not in this humble sports fan's opinion, the greatest. For me there is one piece of commentary that blows the rest away...

No.1 - "THIS IS GARETH EDWARDS...A DRAMATIC START...WHAT A SCORE!" - Gareth Edwards 1973 Barbarians Try Vs New Zealand (Cliff Morgan)

It was, most will agree, the greatest try scored in the history of rugby football. It was blessed with having had the good fortune of being matched by the commentary that covered it.

The try scored by Gareth Edwards in the opening minutes of the friendly match between the Barbarians and New Zealand came from the Gods. The commentary by Cliff Morgan, in that distinctly Welsh voice, did likewise.

Ironically, Cliff Morgan's commentary would never have happened had the iconic Bill McLaren not conceded defeat to a bad bout of flu just two hours before kick-off. What would McLaren in full flow have made of it all?!

Of course we'll never know and indeed we don't need too because here we are, watching what in my opinion is the best piece of sporting commentary, ever.

So, there we have it. A countdown of my now 21 (!) top sporting commentating moments of all-time. I hope you enjoyed them and agreed with some of my entries, if not all of them!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Welsh Liberal Democrats Launch Assembly Manifesto in Ceredigion

It's been a busy week. Amongst all of the campaigning, we hosted the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP to Ceredigion last week when he visited our candidate Elizabeth Evans' hometown of Aberaeron to meet local representatives of the local business community.

Today, we were back in Aberaeron for the launch of the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Manifesto.

Kirsty Williams, our popular Welsh leader, officially launched the manifesto this lunchtime in front of the TV cameras (and Newsnight's Michael Crick!) and a gathering of supporters. Our Elizabeth Evans introduced Kirsty and the assembled media pack to Aberaeron and Kirsty's manifesto launch went out (so I'm told) live on BBC News 24.

Kirsty Williams launching the Welsh Liberal Democrat
Manifesto Today in Aberaeron
Kirsty Williams, in launching our manifesto said:

“This election is the chance for the people of Wales to set the direction of the Welsh government until 2016.

“My children are at primary school. By the time we next debate these issues at a Welsh election, by the time we next decide the direction of schooling in Wales, they will be kapproaching their GCSEs. For them and for thousands of other children, this will be their chance.

“This election is too important to allow the Labour Party to ignore Welsh issues. Labour and Plaid have left us with a weak economy, underfunded schools and an NHS that costs more but delivers less. The Welsh people deserve a proper conversation about how we in Wales address these issues.

“No more excuses. The Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that Wales can do better. That is why we are setting out a radical manifesto full of positive ideas to:

· Create jobs and improve our economy by offering companies £2,000 for staff training if they provide jobs to unemployed young people.

· Tackle the spending gap, providing more money for schools by targeting additional money at the 80,000 pupils who need it the most so that schools can afford to invest in the things that really matter, such as smaller class sizes or one-on-one teaching.

· Cut waiting times by cutting waste. We will improve healthcare by switching ineffective spending in the NHS to the frontline.

· Radically overhaul the energy efficiency of an extra 12,000 homes by doubling the money available for tackling fuel poverty.

· Make sure your council can deliver for you by cutting restrictions that stop them innovating and acting in the best interest of local communities.”

The fully costed manifesto gives the people of Ceredigion and indeed Wales more generally, an opportunity to support a party that wants to support enterprise and not hold it back. Here in Ceredigion, as the Deputy Prime Minister heard last week, that will be greatly welcomed.

It was great to have our launch, the day after Plaid Cymru had theirs, out in 'real' Wales. Plaid Cymru decided to hold theirs in the Cardiff Bay bubble but we rightly took it out into the country. Indeed, on asking the formiddable BBC journalist Michael Crick (who I can exlusively reveal, is partial to some victoria sponge), when did he last come to this part of the world, he answered by saying that this was the first time that he had visited Aberaeron and his last visit to Aberystwyth was some 10 years ago.

So it was nice to bring the media out of their comfort zone as well!

Now it's back to the door-steps to spread our message of optimism which can be read in the manifesto which Elizabeth and Kirsty launched today in the heart of Wales.

My Top 20 Greatest Sporting Commentary Moments Countdown (No.10-6)

This is the third blog post countdown of my top 20 greatest sporting commentary moments.

My first two blog post which can be viewed here and here gave my countdown from No.20 down to No.11. Here, we make a move into my top 10!

No.10 - "...and I've got to stop, becuase I've got a lump in my throat" - Damon Hill wins the 1996 F1 World Championship (Murray Walker)

I'm a big F1 fan and there will never be a greater commentator than the irreplaceable Murray Walker.

He's known, indeed famed, for his 'Murray-isms' - his frenetically passionate commentary which often turned into amusing on air mistakes. His boy-ish enthusiasm was contagious and I could not watch a Grand Prix and not get excited when he was at the microphone.

For all of his 'Murray-isms', my choice at No.10 has to be the emotional moment when he saw home his great friend Damon Hill to win the 1996 F1 World Championship. It was indeed, history in the making as Damon, as Walker explained during the course of the final lap commentary, became the first son of a F1 World Champion to emulate that achievement. Murray Walker of course, having commentated since the 1940s, knew Damon's father Graham very well. The latter was a double World Champion in 1962 and 1968 (not 1965 as Murray said in his commentary!) but was killed in a flying accident in 1975 when Damon was only 15 years old.

So the family story made it that much more personal for our Murray and his commentary style was one that was always passionate so his famous response here, was typical of the man.

No.9 - "...and Emlyn Hughes left" - The Hillsborough Disaster (Peter Jones)

My entries to date have been full of raw emotion, passion and gusto...and often humour.

But these attributes aren't always required to make a fine contribution with a microphone. Indeed, sometimes, less is better.

Here, the late BBC radio broadcaster Peter Jones gives his final offering of the Hillsborough disaster on the 15th of April 1989. His words were full of poignancy as he mentioned in a hushed and melancholic tone, his final observations on what had been a devastating day.

He made it feel very personal. His observations of what remained, struck the sad tone that was just right for this awful, awful day.
"The gymnasium here at Hillsborough is being used as a mortuary for the dead and at this moment, stewards have got little paper bags and they're gathering up the personal belongings of the spectators and the red and white scarves of Liverpool and the red and white bobble hats of Liverpool and red and white rossetes of Liverpool and nothing else".
No.8 - "...and I don't think Foreman's going to get up...AND HE'S OUT. Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32" - The Rumble in the Jungle (Harry Carpenter)

To the world of boxing and again, like with Formula One above, there was only one commentator in the ring - Harry Carpenter.
He was beloved by the great and good in this most ferocious of sports - including the great Ali.
Indeed, his commentary when Ali stunned George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire in 1974, lives in history alongside that famous right hand blow that brought Foreman to his knees.
Ali had been struggling during this 8th round. He'd been up against the ropes as Foreman laid punch after punch after punch into the former World Heavyweight Champion of the world. It looked to anyone who was watching that this man was on his last legs. But this was no ordinary boxer, this was Muhammed Ali.
Carpenter's radio commentary (which added the colour to the picture that the listener could not see) gave us in unbelieving words, the incredible sight of Ali turning the contest around in one, final, lethal move.

"...suddenly Ali looks very tired indeed. In fact Ali, at times now, looks as though he can barely lift his arms up . . . Oh, he's got him with a right hand! He's got him! Oh, you can't believe it. And I don't think Foreman's going to get up. He's trying to beat the count. And he's out! Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32!"
What more could you want with radio commentary? You were made to feel as if you were ring-side!
No.7 - "...its only 12 inches high, solid gold, and it means England are the world champions" - 1966 English World Cup (Kenneth Wolstenholme)

His famous line as Geoff Hurst scored his hat-trick concluding, World Cup winning strike for England is of course probably the most famous line in commentating history.
But the iconic "And here comes Hurst. He's got... some people are on the pitch, they think it's all is now" I think overshadows the simplicity of Kenneth Wolstenholme's wonderful words when Bobby Moore went up to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy from Queen Elizabeth II.

No.6 - "...its up for grabs now" - Liverpool Vs Arsenal 1989 League Championship Decider (Brian Moore)

Just missing out on the top 5 at No.6 was Brian Moore's commentary to what was the most extraordinary finale to a football league season ever witnessed.
By sheer coincidence, the final match of the season on May 26th 1989 was between the top two teams in the First Division and the teams were close enough on points for the match to act as a decider for the First Division Championship. Arsenal needed to win the game by at least two goals to take the title, while Liverpool enjoyed home Anfield advantage and had won the FA Cup the previous weekend.
The match had been originally scheduled to be played on April 23rd. However, on April 15th, Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest was the scene of the Hillsborough disaster. The Liverpool-Arsenal fixture was postponed, with no suitable date found until after the FA Cup Final. Liverpool beat Everton 3–2 in that game, meaning that if they won the League title as well, it would complete a historic second Double.
Liverpool were therefore looking good to follow up on their league and cup double of 1986 as it was presumed that the mighty Reds would not lose by a two goal margin at fortress Anfield. Why? Because Liverpool had not lost by a two goal margin at home in 3 years whilst Arsenal had not won there in 15 years.
Leading up to the crunch decider, the Daily Mirror's sports section led with the headline "You Haven't Got A Prayer, Arsenal".
But, leading 1-0 going into injury time, Arsenal did this...

Quite incredible and Brian Moore's commentary summed up the extraordinary moment when the gap opened up for Michael Thomas to take his chance. He took it, and in doing so, upset the form book and brought a staggering conclusion to the duel.

Brian Moore meanwhile, gave the words and the sound that sets this moment in its righful place in sporting history. 


Stay tuned...
So there's we are. My top 20 countdown has come down to the top 5. You have already seen some extraordinary commentating moments but the cream of the crop is yet to come.

So stay tuned for my final installment tomorrow, when I crown my greatest sporting commentary moment of all time.