Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Lib Dem Blog of the Year 2011 Nominations

I've been a bit slow on this one what with Bank Holidays and birthdays and Council work, but thanks to a tip-off by Spiderplant Land, I have noticed that nominations for the Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards 2011 have opened and close this Friday, 2nd September.

A number of readers of this blog have already told me that they've nominated me in the recent Total Politics Blog Awards which is madness but a very nice, fluffy and warm kind of madness all the same.

I remember keeping Steph Ashley company at her first conference in Brighton (was it as far back as 2007?!) and she was deadly excited to attend the BOTYs - the Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards ceremony. I can recall gently scoffing at the thought as the whole idea of blogging had passed me by. But last September in Liverpool conference, just a week or so after I started blogging seriously, I did make a tentative first appearance in the BOTY Awards ceremony to put faces to illustrious names!

Since then, as I stated here in my blog just a few weeks ago, I have greatly enjoyed blogging during these past 12 months.

The 2011 Lib Dem BOTY Award categories are:
  • Best new Liberal Democrat blog (started since 1st September 2010)
  • Best blog from a Liberal Democrat holding public office (The Tim Garden Award)
  • Best use of blogging / social networking / e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat
  • Best posting on a Liberal Democrat blog (since 1st September 2010)
  • Best non-Liberal Democrat politics blog
  • Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year
Up to 3 Nominations per category can be made and they need to be e-mailed to

I've just cast my nominations for the blogs that I have enjoyed reading over the past year and for Lib Dem minded readers out there, if you haven't done so yet, I would encourage you to do so as well. The only one that I will mention by name now is that of my blogging mentor Andrew Reeves who I nominated for Blog of the Year in recognition of his blogging before his untimely death recently.

If you feel that my little addition to the blogosphere merits a nod in any of the categories above, then it would be great for you to do by nominating them to the e-mail address above.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A Gareth Epps Sized Lib Dem Conference Security Farce

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceI've been following with some incredulity this evening an astonishing exchange of messages on Facebook between Gareth Epps and the Chair of the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference Committee (FCC), Andrew Wiseman.

A few days ago, I received an e-mail that said:
"Dear Mark, just to confirm, we have received information from Greater Manchester Police that you have been successfully accredited for the upcoming Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2011. Your conference pass will be posted to you in September".
My e-mail response to the Lib Dem conference office was this:
"It's good to know. I was worried my past in the Colombian rainforests would come back to bite me. Maybe next year?"
The additional security measures at this year's conference has been met with hostility by a great number of long-standing liberals who deem the illiberal measures enacted for this September's Birmingham conference as a front against our civil liberties.

I sympathise with the sentiment and feel that having been a regular voting conference attendee, as designated by my local party for nearly a decade now, the concept of being 'checked out' by the police to ensure that I am suitable to attend is pretty demeaning.

But then I suppose I should count my blessings because at least I've been given permission to attend.

Gareth Epps
The same can not be said for many long-standing members who have had difficulties with their accreditation. Despite having paid for accommodation and planned for travel months in advance, delegates are now facing the uncertainty of whether they can attend or not.

Gareth Epps
More so, hundreds of already paid-up delegates are still awaiting news from Greater Manchester Police and are therefore in a state of limbo with only 2 weeks to go.

Gareth Epps is one of those in the former category and anyone who knows him realises what a ludicrous situation this is. Andrew Wiseman the FCC Chair has reacted on Gareth's Facebook wall tonight in a very matter of fact way which has not helped matters. Complaints that Gareth hasn't been sending the right passport style photo through to the conference office is missing the point entirely. Gareth Epps is a long-standing and well known Liberal Democrat activist, Federal Committee member and PPC (and nearly an MP in Reading for his efforts). He's opinionated, passionate in his views and is also very importantly, a keen member of the conference Glee Club.

Gareth Epps you could almost say is your stereotypical Liberal Democrat conference delegate for crying out loud and he's being refused entry now not only apparently by the police but by our own conference committee! If this can happen to someone like Gareth Epps who has the stomach to raise his voice and fight back against the authorities and these draconian measures, what about the quieter members who may not be so confident to challenge these dubious decisions? How many delegates may end up missing the conference because of these ill-conceived measures?

It is a complete and utter bloody farce.

Andrew Wiseman and his committee need to sort this out with a cold, sharp dose of common sense. If the likes of Gareth aren't able to enter conference, there'll be a blood-bath on the conference floor in the debate on this very issue on Sunday morning and it will be the members of the FCC that will be scrapped off the walls.

Communication, Communication, Communication

It's a re-hash of Tony Blair's old mantra that is the focal point of this week's edition of our local paper here in Cardigan.

The Tivy Side reports fairly in today's paper and on its website here, on a public meeting that I organised and chaired last Thursday between housing association Tai Ceredigion and local residents regarding a potential development of 6 single bedroom flats in the Maes-Yr-Haf area of town.

As the article states, it was an angry meeting that faced senior officers of Tai Ceredigion last week in the Bethania Chapel vestry here in town. It dealt with the twin issues of the plans to build these 6 flats and also Tai Ceredigion's closure of a well used local path adjacent to the development site just days earlier, despite my protestations to them to leave it open until the meeting at the very least so that they could hear the views of local residents on the matter.

In my 7+ years as a Councillor, it was one of the most challenging meetings that I have had to chair because of the understandable frustrations that were felt by residents who disagreed with Tai Ceredigion's concept of consultation on both of these issues. Anger was expressed at the lack of consultation in general and also, some of those who had had discussions on the issue of the footpath closure refuted the statements that Tai Ceredigion stated that they had made. I therefore organised Thursday's meeting to give the community an opportunity to air its feelings and it did so without hesitation. There was no point having a short half hour meeting so instead we went on for two hours. I hope that I gave everyone ample opportunity to have their say during that time to those making the decisions.

Today's Tivy Side editorial dealt with the twin issues covered in the meeting and concluded with this statement:
"Communication is more about listening than it is about talking. Tai Ceredigion is very good at putting out its spin in smart press releases throught its consultant PR company, particularly about how much it 'consults' with people. But it is engagement with the community and listening to their views that really counts. That's real, effective public relations".
The community are gathering together to launch a potential legal challenge to the closure of the footpath.

In the meantime, the planning application for the adjacent build is being submitted this week and the community will have 21 days to respond with its views to Neuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Planning Department, Penmorfa, Aberaeron, Ceredigion, UK, SA46 0PA. I'll be writing a letter to the Tivy Side later this week with the details once I know the application number.

Brian Blessed, Chancellor of Cambridge University?!

I couldn't believe it myself. But Brian 'Gordon's Alive!' Blessed is standing to be the next Chancellor of Cambridge University!

This has passed me by but apparently, Cambridge University is preparing itself for its first election to the Chancellorship since 1847!

Will this man be the next
Chancellor of Cambridge University?!
The University's choice to succeed the retiring Prince Phlilip (who has served as Chancellor for 35 years since December 1976) is Lord Davd Sainsbury, the former Labour Party Minister for Science and Innovation between 1998-2006. However, his expected unopposed elevation hit the ropes when a local shopkeeper Abdul Arain threw his hat into the ring in opposition to the Sainsbury empire's growing dominance over Cambridge High Street.

Brian Blessed's name then appeared after a successful Facebook campaign encouraged him to stand. Finally, before nominations closed back in June, the successful socialist barrister Michael Mansfield QC became the 4th candidate for a role that has previously been undertaken by Lords of the Realm, a Prince Consort (Prince Albert) and former Prime Ministers (such as Balfour and Baldwin).

Here is Blessed's You Tube pitch for the role in which he describes his humble origins and argues that the next Chancellor "must sweat blood to help people who are underprivileged", "with humour, and drive and soul and appreciation".

With no hint of irony, his most quotable line in the video comes at the end when he states "I love silence"!

But then this doesn't sound like a video meant for laughter. This, for once, is Brian Blessed being serious and being passionate about education. The concept is so ludicrous, it's positively brilliant. Can you imagine Brian Blessed handing out honorary degrees at every Cambridge University graduation ceremony?! The odd thing is, I can!

The last proper contest in 1847 saw Prince Albert, the Prince Consort score a narrow victory over the Earl of Powis by 954 votes to 837. It may have been a 164 year wait for the next contest but similarly, this looks like being another hum-dinger!

Brian Blessed? Chancellor of the University of Cambridge?! It could happen!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Splendour of Spa-Francorchamps

Back in May I gave a rather loving tribute to one of the top race tracks in motor racing - the Monaco Grand Prix. A victory there as I stated then, is one of the most prized achievements any racing driver could claim.

As an officiando of sporting and Forumla One history, there are in my mind a handful of others that are righfully prized in the same bracket as a win around the streets of Monte Carlo.

When it comes to history and motor racing heritage, the only race tracks that can equal Monaco are at Silverstone, Monza and Spa-Francorchamps.

The Monaco, British, Italian and Belgium Grand Prixs for me are akin to a Formula One equivalent of a holy quadruple alliance. It so happens that these race tracks supplied 4 of the 7 Grand Prixs in the inauguaral F1 World Championship of 1950 (along with the Swiss GP at Bremgarten, the French GP at Reims-Gueux and the Indianapolis 500).

To this end, as today sees the running of the 55th Belgium Grand Prix at Spa, I felt it worthwhile to extole the virtues of another of my favourite F1 circuits.

A Little Bit of History
Belgium and the Spa circuit in particular, oozes motor racing history and heritage. The first GP held there was 84 years ago back in 1925 and was won by Antonio Ascari (son of future 2 time World Champion Alberto Ascari) in an Alfa Romeo. The race was held at Spa a further 7 times before the outbreak of WWII and as mentioned above, became in integral part of the original World Championship series when it was launched in 1950. With the exceptions of 1957, 1959 and 1969, it was an ever-present on the F1 calendar until 1970.

A 1970s Exile
Concern about safety at the track however would mean that Spa-Francorchamps would go into a near 15 year exile as the Belgium GP alternated instead between the un-loved circuit at Nivelles (1972 & 1974) and at Zolder (1973 & 1975-1982 & 1984). Unfortunately, the 1982 weekend saw the death of the legendary Gilles Villeneuve at the Zolder circuit and its name, more than for anything else, is remembered for this one tragedy alone.

Formula One returned to a modern Spa-Francorchamps circuit in 1983 and from 1985 it became the sole venue for the Belgium GP once more. Apart from its controversial removal from the F1 calendar in 2003 because of the Tobacco advertising ban and again in 2006 due to circuit maintenance, it has remained an ever-present drivers favourite for the past 25 years.

A Firm Favourite
Spa is loved by both fans and drivers alike. Most F1 drivers will testify that it remains one of the most challenging and enjoyable races to drive with the famous Eau Rouge acting as one of the most famous sections of any F1 circuit world-wide. The same could be said of the fabled bus-stop chicane at the end of the 4.3 mile lap. But it all begins at what must be the most dramatic first corner in motorsport. The La Source hairpin is an extraordinary near 180 degree right-hand corner which always sets the heartbeat-a-flutter at the start of every Grand Prix.

Us fans love it for these above examples and also because it's 4.3 mile length makes it the longest race-track on the F1 calendar at just 44 laps in length. It means that the connotations weather-wise for the drivers can be mind-bogglingly complex to decipher. It is not unknown for drivers to have to confront one part of the course as dry and clear from rain and then another part that is wet and slippery. Indeed, such is the unpredictability of the Belgium weather that there was a time in its history when it had rained at the Belgian Grand Prix for twenty years in a row.

World Champion Winners
The Grand Prix at Spa has been won by the very best in the sport's history. Michael Schumacher has won it an unprecedented 6 times mainly in the 1990s whilst Ayrton Senna won it 5 times mainly in the 1980s. Jim Clark and Kimi Raikkonen won at Spa 4 times each in the 60s and 00s respectively whilst Juan Manuel Fangio won it 3 times in the 50s alongside Alberto Ascari who won it twice in that same decade.

Other notable World Champion winners at Spa include Jack Brabham, John Surtees, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Mike Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton.

1998 Belgium Grand Prix
Indeed, of all of the Formula One races that I have watched over the past 20 years, a handful of them stand out.

One of the was the rain soaked GP at Spa in 1998. The horrendous driving conditions resulted in opening lap carnage as 13 of the 22 runners were involved in probably the biggest pile-up I have ever seen live with my own eyes. It was the race where Schumacher dangerously went flying into the back of David Coulthard which resulted in sparks flying in the pits afterwards. The race was incredulously won by Damon Hill for the 3rd time but it was the first ever win for Eddie Jordan's team. Incredibly, it was capped off with Hill's team-mate Ralf Schumacher finishing in second for an unforgettable 1-2.

1991, 1992 2001 Belgium Grand Prix
Speaking of Jordan, 7 years earlier, a certain Michael Schumacher made his debut for the team at Spa. Today is his 20th anniversary race. A year later, now driving for Benetton, he scored his first Grand Prix Victory at the circuit. 9 years later in 2001, his victory at the circuit was his 52nd overall which helped him surpass the previous all-time Formula One GP wins record of 51 held by Alain Prost.

So who knows, can Schumacher win from the back of the circuit today to cap off the most incredible of personal relationships with a particular circuit?

He may of course and surprise surprise the forecast is looking unsettled! But then there are a surprisingly large number of top drivers on the grid today who will be eyeing their first win at this famous circuit. It is incredible to think that Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have never won at this inconic race-track.

That'll be one statistic they'll all be wanting to erase from the proud history books at Spa in a little over an hours time.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Reality TV's Original & Greatest Star - Maureen 'Driving School' Rees

So. Big Brother is back. I blogged here back in September of its long overdue-demise. Reading back on what was one of my formative blog posts nearly a year ago, it still reads well despite the odd spelling error.

It was as I said then, a programme which "split a nation but which has defined a decade". I honestly thought then that it would be the end but no, Channel 5 as I alluded too at the end of that post snapped up the rights for this tired old format. It is still with us but it won't last. It has, like Gaddafi, had its day.

But it made me wonder back over a decade of reality TV and though I stated in that original blog post that it was the launch of Big Brother in the summer of 2000 that kick started an extraordinary decade of television, it wasn't in fact the first of its kind here in the UK.

Driving School
For me, reality TV never really bettered one of its earliest efforts in the late 1990s.

I remember being glued to each episode of the docusoap Driving School when it launched for a single series of 6 episodes in 1997. Watching back the episodes now some 14 years later, still as a non-driver myself, I have much respect for those who tried something which has evaded me to date.

But there was no better and more believable trier than our Maureen. The fact that she was Welsh probably added to it but through the 4 episodes in which she starred, she shone through as a normal, everyday individual who had her dreams and who continued to fight for what she wanted despite the many setbacks that came her way.

Watching that first episode brought back such vivid memories. There was Joan and her dog sitting in the front seat and there were the instructors Paul Farrall and Pamela Carr from Streetwise Driving School. Before I heard it, on seeing Pamela again for the first time in 14 years I knew that there was something unique about her that had struck a chord with me then as a 14 year old. Suddenly, I remembered - her mobile 'phone ringtone! Just seconds before it made its first announcement, I recalled exactly what that memorable ringtone was!

It really is odd the things you remember!

But it was Maureen's relationship with husband David that was the star attraction of the show. Their blazing rows as she tried her best to drive Betsy the Lada gave us moments of sheer comic gold. There are some moments that just can't be staged and their moments of mahem proves that fact sometimes really is weirder than fiction. The series climaxed by witnessing how her determination and stubborness eventually paid off as she finally passed her driving test at the 10th time of asking!

Here below are episodes 1,2,3 and 6 as they were the ones that involved our Maureen Rees the cleaner from Cardiff, the original reality TV star.

Roll over Big Brother, Maureen wins hands-down every time!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Death of a British Comedic Legend - RIP John Howard Davies

He may not have been a John Cleese or a David Jason or a Ronnie Barker, but the name John Howard Davies for me resonates throughout my youth as a man who from behind the scenes, played an instrumental part in the golden era of British Comedy.

It was with great sadness that I heard this evening that he passed away yesterday at the age of 72.

An Extraordinary Career in Comedy
Having been a child actor, John Howard Davies became a BBC producer from 1968 and he produced the first episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Goodies and a late series of Steptoe and Son.

In the mid-70s, his period at the BBC saw him produce the first series of Fawlty Towers and the entire series of The Good Life between 1975-1978.

He became the BBC's Head of Comedy between 1977-1982 during which time he helped launch cult classics such as 'Allo 'Allo and Yes Minister and possibly the greatest British sitcom, Only Fools and Horses. Blackadder and Not the Nine o Clock News are more famous names that owes great credit to Davies.

He moved on to became the BBC's Head of Light Entertainment and then moved on to work for Thames where he produced Rowan Atkinson's popular Mr Bean.

The depth and breadth of Davies's work throughout his career is quite simply breath-taking.

Here are a few of my personal highlights from a career that brought the world that most wondrous commodity - laughter. It really is the best medicine and for me, these programmes below retain an indelible mark on what was a happy childhood.

We finish with John Howard Davies in his own words, speaking about Fawtly Towers.

RIP John Howard Davies. Thank you for the laughter.

Goodbye Gaddafi

The empire is crumbling all around him.

Like the Romanian Ceausescu back in 1989 or with Saddam Hussein back in 2003, slowly but surely we are seeing the regime of a tyrannical tyrant, falling to pieces.

As I blogged here back in February, I supported the United Nations resolution to provide air attack to stop Gaddafi's regime from inflicting any further horrors on its own people. It hasn't been an easy 6 months since but it was the right decision at the time and events are proving that in retrospect it was the right decision also.

The relative ease to which the 'rebel' troops surged into Tripoli on Sunday gave the lie to Gaddafi's words over previous months. There has clearly not been the overwhelming support for the fallen leader in his nation's capital as he had stated there was.

I must admit that I missed the sudden and swift entry into Tripoli on Sunday evening so I was intrigued to read the views of friends on Facebook who criticised the BBC's slow handling of the on-going and fast-paced developments as opposed to Sky News' front-line presence. Stephen Glenn mentioned it in his blog post here and it chimed with my frustration at the Beeb's slow response to the London Riots of a few weeks back as opposed to Sky News' up-to-the-minute updates on their coverage.

The Arab Sptring Claims Another Victim
After almost 42 years in power (he took control after a bloodless coup on September 1st 1969), his reign as the longest-serving Arab leader is drawing to a close.

It is critical that this modern coup has been done on the ground by the Libyans themselves and not by an imperialist foreign power.

It follows on from the success of the insugencies from below in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt and whilst at the time of typing, Gaddafi's exact whereabouts is still unknown, it is clear that when he does surface, whether dead or alive (and I very much expect it'll be the former) it will be to a transformed political environment in his beloved Libya in which his his powerbase has evaporated into the mist of battle.

What will come next? There's no certainty. The west will hope for a relatively calm transition to a broadly democratic Libya thought the various factions that have brought about Gaddafi's downfall will quite likely have different opinions as to how that future should look.

There's no certainties apart from one and that is that Gaddafi's time as the Head of State in Libya is drawing to an imminent close.

Not a moment to soon.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Reflections on A-Level Results Day

It's a scary time.

No matter how old you may get and no matter how distant the years feel from when it was my turn to face that excruciating wait, the memories remain.

It annoys me slightly to see some good people commenting on how they don't care about today's A-Level results. The more the years pile on, the more results days we witness and the more we hear of the 'dumbing down' of our educational standards to ensure that high standards are achieved.

Well, let's not forget here that whilst many of us will have seen this day come and go many times, there was a time when it was we that were trembling with trepidation at what those sealed envelopes had to say for our effort and for our future aspirations.

A-Level Results Day 2000
It was 11 years ago now since it was my turn. The day arrived and the anxious build-up came to a head. If you thought GCSE results day was a nervous affair, it had nothing on this! Because the results this time round could mean the difference between going to Aberystwyth University as I hoped or an uncertain future that lay ahead through the Clearing system.

Our results were given to us by our form tutor Pauline Brind-Davies (who I met for the first time since that momentous day only last week and which I commented upon here) and if I remember correctly, our Head of 6th Form Mr Jarvis and quite possibly in fact, the Headteacher Dr Davies himself.

The year 2000 was the last but one to sit the old fashioned A-Levels which were the culmination of 2 years work in Years 12 and 13. That autumn, the first intake began the AS-Levels and were to sit the new A-Levels in 2002.

I was particularly nervous because my results were far from certain. The required score for me to attend Aberystwyth University to study Modern History and Politrics was 18 points. This equated to a 3 C average across my A-Levels of History, English and Business Studies. It didn't matter how they were achieved as long as the total matched that average or more.

I was particularly worried as I mentioned in the related blog post above that I may only get an E in Business Studies. This meant that I would need a BB average in my stronger subjects of History and English to get the 18 points needed. But I was expected to only achieve a C in English and I had undergone extra out-of-school tuition in Robeston Wathen to improve my English language in readiness for my finals.

So it was all I felt, on a bit of a knife-edge doing into the dreaded results day itself. My relief at finding that I had achieved a D in Business and a B in English to go with my B in History was therefore clear for anyone who knew me. I had in fact in the final analysis, 20 points.

But do you think that this was enough to calm my nerves? Not a jot! A gang of us went down to the Station Arms in Whitland for a celebratory or comiseratory drink that lunchtime. I was still technically underage as I didn't turn 18 until a week later (being the youngest in the year was always a pain up until that point!). But never fear, I had no time for drinking for I was still worrying that Aberystwyth University would not accept me for some unfathonable reason!

Such was my mild state of panic that I found myself at the public call 'phone in the pub searching through a Yellow Pages for the number of the History Department in the University. On finding the number and placing the call, I was asked on the other line for my name, the amount of points on my conditional offer and the number of points achieved. When my answer given made clear that I'd achieved more than the conditional amount I was met with a brief silence. Then the rather curt response "Yes, you're fine". As if to say 'stop wasting my time, there's students here who have underachieved and who have genuine reason to worry'! It goes without saying that I was mightily relieved to know for sure that my place was secure!

Good Luck!
So you can say, I sympathise entirely with those experiencing these mixtures of emotions today.

It is not just another day of spewed out statistics of 97% of students nation-wide achieving an A*-E grade. It is much more than mere figures. It is the hopes, dreams and aspirations of thousands of our youngest and brightest - all hoping that the future that they have tentatively mapped out can be realised.

I was greatly fortunate that my results day brought me the results that I required to realise my dreams of studying up the road from my Pembrokeshire home at Aberystwyth University. As an earlier blog post that I wrote here about my time there demonstrates, it was a venue and a period of study and living that changed my life.

It all started on that results day in August 2000 at Ysgol Dyffryn Taf, Whitland, Carmarthenshire.

I sincerely hope that all of my friends receiving their results today and indeed all students in this position at thisd moment in time are as fortunate as I was and achieve everything that they desire in thire futures that lie ahead.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A School Reunion...with a Difference!

It's a funny old world - but at times, a very pleasant one.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to be able to meet up with my Ysgol Dyffryn Taf 6th Form Class Teacher Pauline Brind, who I haven't seen in that whole 11 year gap since A-Level results day back in August 2000. We met up for a cup of tea and a snack in Cardigan's Pendre Art and caught up on old times!

Catching up with my 6th Form Teacher
Pauline Brind 11 years after leaving school!
She wasn't only my form tutor for the entirety of those Years 12 and 13, but she also taught one half of my A-Level Business Studies course alongside Mrs Atkins having previously taught me Business Studies for my GSCEs. I only got a 'D' for my A-Level Business Studies in the end but my 'BB' scores in English and History more than made up for it for me and helped me get the 18 required points for a place in Aberystwyth University. I vividly recall my relief though at that Business Studies result as I had been worrying that I may only get an E. This I can clearly recall was in contrast to the disappointed expression of Pauline Brind-Davies (as we knew her at the time) who said she expected a C from me! She said to me yesterday that remembering back, she thought I'd have an A! I was never that clever!

The teacher/pupil relationship is a special one and it lasts. I find it very difficult to call a teacher by his or her first name because in school, they were either 'Sir' or 'Miss' or Mr or Mrs Bloggs - never to be called by their christian name! But I helped Ms Brind with some casework recently which is how we got back in touch so with personalised e-mails going back and forth, it felt more natural now to just call her Pauline (plus, I've never really been the formal type!).

It was a lovely 90 minutes of catching up on school life - remembering the characters be it the excitable students or the mischievious teachers! In particular, Pauline reminded me of our unique farewell to our Head of 6th Form, Mr Jarvis before we all left that summer in 2000. I'd forgotten about it but then how could I?! Had a Dyffryn Taf Head of 6th Form up until then, ever had as a farewell present in the final gathering in the Drama room, a police clad strip-o-gram? I can't recall who it was amongst us that had orchestrated it but in all fairness, he saw the funny side!

A lovely gift - the 2000 School Photo and Box which
Pauline Brind gave me yesterday.
Pauline had brought with her, the all-school photograph taken early that 2000 which brought back memories of old faces. It was only the second all school photograph that we'd had in the 7 years that I was in Dyffryn Taf and whilst I have the 1994 picture here with me, though I'm sure I paid for that 2000 version, I never recall ever receiving it. But Pauline offered hers to me and it was a lovely gesture. It came in a lovely box with a Dyffryn Taf embossed logo on the front.

It was great to catch up and we've decided to not leave it so long next time!

Pauline said that she reads this blog so when you read this Pauline, when we meet up next time, bring that map of Thailand with you and we'll compare notes!

Monday, 15 August 2011

We Are Premier League! Swansea City - The Pride of Wales

It really is a historic day for Welsh football.

After 19 years, we will finally be represented in the Premier League at long last and a near 30 year-absence from the top flight will end when Swansea City kick-off against Manchester City this evening at 8pm.

I commented on my trip to Wembley to watch their ascent to the Premier League in the play-off final in my blog here and here.

It's going to be a long season and Swansea will have to pull out all of the stops to ensure that they stay in the top flight for a second season next year. I hope that Cardiff City can also make the leap this season to join their M4 rivals in the Premiership in 2012/2013.

But for tonight alone, I'll be lapping up the occasion. This isn't just Swansea City in the Premiership, it's much bigger than that. This is Wales in the Premier League.

Long may it continue.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

What's that coming over the hill? Is it a Conference? A Lib Dem Conference?

Oh yes it is.

I can't pretend that I wasn't ever so slightly excited when I saw the big brown package waiting for me in the post on Friday morning. I've been waiting for it for a few days now and what it signifies is that we are now on the cusp of the autumn party conference season.

I explained quite comprehensively here last September, why I enjoy attending Liberal Democrat conferences so much.

It really does feel like a family environment to me. Politics is an intense environment and it is comforting at times to be in the likeminded company of those who believe in the same values as yourself. I commented here about that growing Lib Dem family of mine after I attended Andrew Reeves' memorial service in London last month.

33 Lib Dem Conferences...and counting...
By my reckoning, this will be my 34th Liberal Democrat conference in a shade under 10 years since my first conference in Manchester in the Spring of 2002.

I have attended 19 Welsh conferences in that time (including the special conference in 2007 to discuss the formation of a possible Rainbow Assembly Coalition with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives). Indeed, since my first Welsh Liberal Democrat conference in Llandudno in the Spring of 2002, I have been an ever present apart from the autumn conference in Llandrindod Wells in 2004. In addition, I have attended 14 Federal conferences including every major autumn conference since my first in Brighton in 2003.

Birmingham 2011
So my first venture to a conference in Birmingham will by 15th at a UK-wide level. The pre-conference documentation arrives in two seperate batches - firstly the agenda and policy papers in early August and then at the end of the month, the Conference Directory and Training Guide.

The good news begins merely in the fact that the first pack arrived in the first place. The added security arrangements this year have caused great controversy amongst the rank-and-file and the new hoops that had to be lept through to register was quite off-putting. So the fact that pack 'A' has arrived means that my mamouth attempt to register on-line was not in vain!

I have also already booked into central and more than reasonably priced accommodation for the week so I'm all set for the trip.

I will have to wait for pack 'B' to arrive to plan my whole week around fringe events, training events and policy debates but the first glimpse at the agenda brings a number of very interesting topics to the fore.

The Agenda - Policy Debates & Speeches
The fact that we're now in Government means that our debates mean so much more than they did when we were in opposition. The result of the NHS debate in the Sheffield spring conference led to a change on Government tack on changes to the health service - a clear sign that having the Liberal Democrats in government is helping to moderate the worst excesses of the Conservative Party.

A significant debate on late Sunday afternoon titled 'Protecting Individuals and Communities from Drug Harms' will see the party debate a call for a government-backed inquiry into the decriminalisation of drugs as reported here on the BBC website and as Steph Ashley excellently comments on here in what is a welcome return to blogging after a 9 month hiatus.

Another debate which I expect to find overwhelming support amongst delegates will be the one on Tuesday morning titled 'Science Not Stigma: Ending the Blood Ban' which will focus the fire on the Blood Service for refusing to take blood donations from homosexual men who practise safe sex when hetrosexual men and women who have had unprotected sex can give blood after just one year. With blood stocks running low, this is a scandal.

I'm also looking forward to the 'Community Politics' debate later that same day which will reaffirm the party's commitment to a form of bottom-up politics that has stood it in good stead for some 40 years. This is more important now than ever before since we've become entwined with difficult decision making in Westminster. The Ceredigion Liberal Democrat local party were one of the many who jointly put it forward alongside Party President Tim Farron. I will also take great interest in the debates on 'phone hacking and the Arab Awakening.

Finally, to go back to my earlier barb about the additional security measures introduced by the police for this now Government influencing conference, I will take great interest in the Sunday morning debate on these changes and the attempt by the grass-roots to rest its conference back from the contol of the apparatchiks. I rather wish them well in their attempt and will have my voting card on the day to make my individual mark in this and all of the other debates which I have mentioned above and more.

In addition, there will be the keynote speech by Nick Clegg to close conference but also a Q&A session with him in which party members can ask what they like without any pre-warning. There'll be speeches by Vince Cable and Chris Huhne which I will also want to hear as well as one by Steve Webb MP the Minister for Pensions (a particularly important issue for me representing as I am an area with a high proporition of elderly residents). I'll be looking forward also to Kirsty Williams' speech as our Welsh leader on the final day following what will also be a very interesting Q&A session on international affairs with amongst others, Paddy Ashdown.

So there's much going on but the above is a mere drop in the ocean of what will be occurring during the course of those 5 days in Birmingham.

I can't wait for pack 'B' to arrive in the coming weeks for me to complete my plans. But come what may, I have a particular plan for the Saturday afternoon - I'm off to Villa Park to watch my boys take on Newcastle! Well, kill two birds with one stone and all that!

Cardigan Street Racing (featuring the 2011 Welsh National Criterium Championship)

It's been a glorious day in Cardigan.

The town centre today hosted its 2nd annual Welsh National Criterium Championship as a part of a day of Cardigan Street Racing.

We've had hundreds of locals and tourists in the centre of town watching up and coming youngsters and top quality street racers strutting their stuff in an ubber competitive environment.

See below some photos of the event that I took from around the challenging town centre circuit during the course of the afternoon.

It's been a good day for Cardigan. Well done to the competitors for putting on such a great show for us and to the event organisers Velo Teifi who have expertly organised and put together in advance a full programme of races and to the marshalls on the day today for ensuring that the safety of the competitors and the public has been at the forefront of their minds.

Finally, thank you to Mr Blue Sky for bringing the weather to make it a crackin' day out for the whole family.

I'll Have to Say I Love You with a Song - Jim Croce

Ever heard of Jim Croce? Me neither. But on being a rather avid listener to Magic FM at home when there's nothing worth watching on the TV, I've come to hear his voice with a growing regularity.

Magic FM does have a tendency to play the same playlist of songs on what feels like a loop but then I like the songs that come up so I shouldn't really compain.

Jim Croce
One of those that pops up keenly and which I've really grown to like is Jim Croce's 'I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song'.

For a keen musical connoisseur, his was a name that had never crossed my path before. Indeed when I first heard the song, it's regularity on the radio station made me think that it may have been a modern release but the sound just didn't sound 'current'. No, it was more of a 70s sound which was always pleasing on my ear.

On investigation, it turned out to be so. Between 1966 and 1973, Croce released six studio albums and 11 singles. His singles "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and "Time in a Bottle" were both number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Indeed, the former is a hit that I'm well versed with, but through the voice of Frank Sinatra who covered it. I hadn't realised that it was sung originally by Jim Croce.

But it's his 'I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song' which I've taken too. It was actually released posthumously on December 1st 1973 after Croce and 5 others were killed in a commercial plane crash on September 20th. The song reached No.9 in the US Singles Chart.

Here it is...

Saturday, 13 August 2011

"Mr Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall" - Berlin, 50 years On

Today is the 50th anniversary of the division of Berlin and the coming of the Wall on August 13th 1961.

At the Berlin Wall in 2006
It was the single most visible monument to the failure of Communism. It was an attempt by the authorities to stop their own people from migrating to the democratic west.

It was also as a result, the single seminal moment that marked the end of the Cold War. The indredulous scene of Berliners climbing the Wall unhindered by the East German Security Guards sparked joys throughout the free world.

The wall, which had torn a city in two, witnessed over its 28 years in existence, the deaths of at least 136 Berliners who attempted to scale it to flee that East for life in the free West.

My Pilgrimage to Berlin
As a historian, I have greatly enjoyed my many visits to countries around the world over the past 6 years. There is however, only one city that I would without hesitation put above all of the rest.

Being a historian in Berlin is like leaving a child loose on a box of chocolates. I was that child, in 2006. Is it quite simply, the best city in the world that I have ever visited.

Yes, there is little architecture left from down through the centuries that has survived the devastation of two World Wars and the division of the Cold War Era. But this is nevertheless, a part of that history.

From the concrete East, Alexanderplatz and Unter Den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate, the Wall itself, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Olympic Stadium and the Monument to the Holocaust alongside Hitler's underground war bunkers, every street in this city speaks and has a story to tell.

I fell in love with Berlin and lapped it all up. In particular, I become wholly engrossed in the post-war, Cold War era and the devastating division that the Wall brought to this city.

Here is JFK speaking at the Wall shortly after it was built in 1961...

In 1987, on the 750th anniversary of the city, President Ronald Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear Down This Wall".

"A Cheerfully Anarchic Night"
In 1989, the unthinkable became visibly thinkable.

I'm unable to watch scenes of November 9th 1989 in Berlin without shedding tears. When in Berlin, I bought at Checkpoint Charlie a DVD of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. It is moving and incredibly emotional. To see the uncontrolled joy, shock, incredulity and sheer disbelief in the faces of the Berliners who either crossed the border or welcomed those who did so, moves me to tears every time.

The same can be said of a number of the clips that follow from the BBC news bulletins that covered the story. In particular, Brian Hanrahan's piece for me, captured the essence of what was a moment of history in the fall on the Iron Curtain. I blogged on this when he sadly passed away last December.

Here, in brief, is a concise and insightful history of the Berlin Wall to the very apt sound of Scorpion's Wind of Change.

For me, in audio, the perfect accompaniment to the Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall is Beethoven's 7th Symphony in full. The despair of the 2nd movement followed by the joy of the 3rd and 4th for me, hauntingly sums it up perfectly.

It is only right to give the final words on today's sombre anniversary to the current President of Germany, Christian Wulff who said:
"The world situation, of which this wall was a symbol, seemed irreversible to many people. But this was not the case. In the end, freedom is unconquerable. No wall can survive the will for freedom in the long term. The violence of just a few has no hold over the drive for freedom of many."
...and finally to the Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit who told a ceremony on Bernauer Street today:
"The Wall is history but we must not forget it."
Amen to that

In Praise of English Test Cricket...

The England Test Cricket Team - No.1 in the World.

No, it isn't a surreal dream - it is an almost inconceivable fact.

I'm a 1990s boy and can recall enjoying watching the cricket during those formative years. Clearly at a County level I followed Glamorgan and indeed it was a brilliant memory when they won only their 3rd County Championship in 1997. I still have the Western Mail from the following day safely stored upstairs to mark a historic event after their previous victories in 1948 and 1969 (it's a good thing too because they look nowhere near winning a 4th title anytime soon!).

English Cricket - In the Doldrums
This was the era of Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe, Devon Malcolm, Andy Caddick, Darren Gough, Dominic Gough, Jack Russell et al.

I remember watching the Test matches with enthusiasm but it was as if the script had been written before a ball had been bowled. England would lose to Australia in every Ashes series and they would never win the Cricket World Cup. It was a team of underachieving grafters. Great talent but with an inability to fulfill their potential.

This of couse was the era of Steve and Mark Waugh, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Mark Taylor, Hanse Cronje (yes, I know I know), Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Anil Kumble.

This was my era.

The concept, having lived through that decade that Australia could be anything other than the top team in world cricket was just unthinkable. If I were of an older generation, I could probably have said the same of the West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s.

Top of the World
So it comes to pass that England have climbed to the summit of Test Cricket.

The historic 2005 Ashes triumph over Australia was something of a false dawn. They couldn't follow that up and indeed were embarrasingly whitewashed by the Aussies back on their own soil at the end of 2006.

But there is no denying that England now deserve their position at the top of the ICC Test Championship.

Since May 2009, they have gone 9 Test series without defeat...

Beat West Indies 2-0 (home)
Beat Australia 2-1 (home)
Draw 1-1 with South Africa (away)
Beat Bangladesh 2-0 (away)
Beat Bangladesh 2-0 (home)
Beat Pakistan 3-1 (home)
Beat Australia 3-1 (away)
Beat Sri Lanka 1-0 (home)
Lead India 3-0 (home)

The victory over Australia in Oz last Winter was truly majestic and proved beyond doubt that the order was changing. It is however more than apt that they have reached the pinnacle by unseating the Team that have been in that place since December 2009. India have been a shadow of their former selves this summer but don't take anything away from England - they have demonstrated a ruthless ability to tear their opponents apart at the first sight of weakness - a quality required but that has rarely been witnessed in an English cricketing team in my 20 year memory.

The Reliance Mobile ICC Test Championship mace
They have reached the pinnacle with a solid batting line-up in Strauss, Cook, Trott, Bell and Pieterson. But it is the growing depth in the bowling attack that has impressed me over recent years. Anderson, Bresnan, Broad, Swann and Tremlett have taken English Test Cricket to another level and they are a team to fear.

England will at the end of this month formerly take over from India as the holders of the Reliance Mobile ICC Test Championship mace (pictured). They follow Australia (74 months), South Africa (4 months) and India (19 months) to top the rankings.

They deserve their place and I hope that it will continue for some time. On current form, there is little doubt that that can be the case.

It seems like a long time since those dark days in the 1990s!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Planning Application Success for the Highbury

I was pleased to be able to convince my Ceredigion County Council colleagues on the Planning Committee this week to support the application made by the Highbury Guest House in the middle of Cardigan for disabled parking and access.

The Highbury is a popular local business in town and particularly on a Sunday when its fantastic Sunday Lunch Carverys (I should know, I've tried them often enough!) are booked out week after week. So this application will support a local business and will do so by giving a boost to those who require disabled access.

The problem we have is that the building is listed as it stands on the location of the old 18th century Cardigan gaol and despite the worthy merits of the application, the planning officers recommended refusal for an application that would open up the front wall to alllow room for two disabled parking bays and a disabled ramp up from the street level to the ground level of the building.

Cardigan's Highbury Guest House
Indeed, under the Council's relatively new system of delegated powers, they have the right along as long as the local member is in agreement, to refuse an application without it needing to go to full committee. As the local member for Pendre, I therefore received a call a few weeks ago from the planning case officer asking for my permission to allow them to throw the application out on the grounds that the building was listed and that changes would be out of step with a conservation area.

Full Planning Committee
I refused the request and asked for it to come to full committee which is how it ended up doing so this past Wednesday. As a historian, I'm happy with the design put forward by the applicants of retaining the original front wall fabic by re-instating it alongside the new proposed parking area. I said as much on Wednesday.

I also noted that there were no objections whatsoever for the application. No objections from the Highways Department to the new access point, no objections from the Town Council and no objections from any local residents.

I also picked up on some glaring errors in the planning report that presented the application to full committee. It mentioned that there was ample parking spaces in car parks at Market St and off North Road and that there was a bus stop outside the property. I had to made the point that all 3 were factually incorrect! Indeed, there is no Market St in Cardigan! I think the report meant the car park at Greenfield Square behind the Guildhall. There is also no car park off North Road but the Fairfield Car Park does lie at the end of Napier St which comes off North Road and whilst it may be possible to hail a bus from the Highbury area of Pendre depending on the bus driver, there is no designated bus stop there - as one who regularly uses the buses, I should know!

Success - but now for CADW
With this support for a local business and for improved disability access in town, as well as picking up on needlesss and self-defeating errors in the planning report, I managed to convince the voting members on the committee to oppose the recommendation and to suppot the application unanimously which was highly pleasing.

But that isn't the end of the matter. Althought the Council now support the application, because it is a listed building, it must now go forward to CADW (the Welsh National Trust if you like) for their support. They could still turn it down but I hope that they will see sense and support this application for the reasons that I have stated above.

Will common sense prevail? We will see. But for now, positive progress at least.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Pembrokeshire Landmark for the UK's Camping & Caravanning Club!

I haven't properly blogged about it until now but my family run the Dyfed Shire Horse Farm in Eglwyswrw, north Pembrokeshire. I'm delighted to blog that they have become the 1,500 Certificated Site of the UK's Camping and Caravanning Club!

The farm, which is just a few miles south of the Ceredigion border and my home town of Cardigan, is run by my brother after my mother retired at the end of 2009 after running it for 15 years. We opened the farm for a month in 1992 and properly for the spring and summer season in 1994 as a means of diversification so that we could sustain the long and proud tradition of keeping the family shire horses on the farm in memory of my maternal grandfather J.R.Lewis who passed away at the end of 1991 and who was a Shire Horse man to his bones.

I spent my summer months as a teenager working on the farm whilst friends would be enjoying the freedom of their summer holidays. Looking back, it was a great experience for me as it put me into constant contact with people and it certainly stood me in good stead many years later for my time in public service.

Horses and Hills - A Perfect Camping Match!
Huw, the eldest of us 5 children (I'm the baby of the family!), has now been running it for some 18 months and has renewed the farm attraction and is now expanding out into unchartered waters.

The Camping and Caravanning Club!
A new chapter in the development of the family business was opened last week when, after much inspection, the farm became the 1,500th certified member of the UK's Camping and Caravanning Club as can be read here in their own press release on reaching this landmark.

To quote the Friendly Club's own website:
The site is in a secluded and picturesque area of the farm and campers have free access to its facilities for the duration of their stay.
The farm is a member of Farms for Schools, which means their facilities meet required standards for health and safety and educational resources.
Site owner, Huw Murphy, said: “We were looking to diversify from our core business and noticed that a lot of our visitors were camping in the area.
“As campers with two young children ourselves, we wanted to provide a smaller, less commercialised site similar to those we often look for when booking our own holidays.”
Facilities on site include toilets and showers, a farm trail and an onsite shop and cafe where campers can pre-order breakfasts and lunches.
Attractions on the farm itself include Shire Horses, rare-breed sheep and pigs, indoor and outdoor play areas and donkey rides.
The Club’s Exempted Camping Manager, Damien Field, said: “We are delighted to have achieved this milestone, which means we can offer our members more places to camp than ever before.
“Dyfed Shire Horse Farm is an excellent example of some of the diverse attractions our Certificated Sites offer and we’re pleased to welcome owners Huw and Nikki to the network.”
With stunning, peaceful views of the Preseli Hills, it really is a great location to pitch up for the evening - particularly as the field adjacent is the home to our month old filly foal and her mother!

If you would like to book a pitch at the Dyfed Shire Horse Farm, please contact the site directly on 01239 891 107.

Well done indeed to Huw and Nikki! An excellent piece of rural diversification!

A Blog Re-Vamp (Version #2) - Comments Welcome

As I mentioned last week, I have re-vamped my blog front page after 11 months and over 100,000 pageviews after I started blogging properly last September.

Yesterday I made the initial changes by making changes to the content. I've done so by making a push on promoting local businesses and organisations in Cardigan and also more widely throughout Ceredigion in the hope that I can give them some free publicity. I have done so so by placing prominently their web links on the front page.

Today I have re-vamped in its entirety, the design of the blog to move away fromt the standard blogger template which was beginning to grate with me. I've gone with a light blue background and a chequered flag image to signify my passion and that of my father before me, to motorsport. The new template has also got clearly defined sections which better seperate the core content to the links and buttons down the right hand-side.

I've also widened the width of the blog as I was getting increasingly frustrated at what I felt was its 'clunky' nature with some posts and their photos or video clips too large for the space afforded to the core content. That has now hopefully been rectified by this change.

Finally, following on from the masthead design used by Alex Folkes which I've always liked, I have somehow by hook or by crook managed to do the same with mine with a photo of a younger me aged 3 or 4 to remind myself that life is for the living and that for as long as we are young at heart, nothing should phase us in the challenges that lie ahead. Thank you to Alex who gave me some helpful advice on doing so.

I would be interested to hear what visitors to my blog think of the changes. Is it more user friendly and is it easy to read? All constructive views will be greatly welcomed!

In the meantime, as I stated yesterday, if there are any other businesses or organisations in Cardigan or throughout the county (or indeed Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire!) that would like to add their website link to my blog, then please don't hesitate to contact me and I will add them also!

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A Blog Re-Vamp (Version #1)

As I mentioned last week, I have re-vamped my blog front page after 11 months and over 100,000 pageviews after I started blogging properly last September.

I've made a push on promoting local businesses and organisations in Cardigan and also more widely throughout Ceredigion in the hope that I can give them some free publicity.

I had intended to do so as attractive and eye-catching 'buttons' but short of having the html coding for every site, I have failed to decipher how I can do so just with the website addresses so for now, they will be placed prominently on my blog front page as links. If you know how to do so as buttons, please do get in touch!

In the meantime, if there are any other businesses or organisations in Cardigan or throughout the county (or indeed Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire!) that would like to add their website link to my blog, then please don't hesitate to contact me and I will add them also!

Monday, 8 August 2011

London's Burning

The scenes tonight on BBC News 24 are horrific. It's heart-breaking. The scenes from Hackney and tonight, Croydon, were bad enough but now I'm hearing of looting in Clapham. I was in Clapham staying with friends only last month and I've already texted them to ask them to stay safe.

My thoughts go out to everyone suffering at the hands of a mindless minority tonight and over recent days.

Total Politics Blog Awards

I hope that Alex Folkes doesn't mind my leaning on his insight into mentioning that the Total Politics annual blog awards nominations have opened this morning.

As a new blogger on the scene over the past 12 months, I must admit that I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to release my creative juices onto the wide world during this time. As keen readers will be aware, there are no limits to what I may write about. Be it about local issues here on the Council in Ceredigion, Welsh issues or national issues more widely, my musings as a Liberal Democrat activist or my passions for sport, music, TV and family, there is no telling what I may coment upon.

I've been mildly staggered at the amount of people that have read my blog during the past year and hope that my posts have been both intellectually stimulating and enjoyable to read.

I've just cast my votes for the blogs that I have enjoyed reading over the past year. If you haven't done so yet, I would encourage you to do so and if you feel that my little addition to the blogosphere merits a nod in the Lib Dem, Wales and/or Councillor categories, then it would be great for you to do so right here. Either way, you have to vote for at least five blogs in order of preference and voting closes at midnight on August 19th.

Get voting!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Memories of my Father

It's been a great Sunday.

I've spent much of this quiet day re-living my youth but more so than that, doing so in the company of my father.

Dad died over 8 years ago back in June 2003 and it goes without saying that life has never been the same since. As with any family bereavement, the memories that you have of a lost loved one stays with you and helps them to live on even after death.

A Man of Photography
With Dad, we also had the added bonus of having not just those memories in our mind, but also down on film as photography and recording was one of his life-long hobbies and passions.

In his youth, Dad used to have his own dark room on our Hungerford Farm home where he would develop his own photographs. He also took photos on the old fashioned slides and every Christmas without fail as a child I would wait in anticipation for him to set up the screen and the projector in the living room to show us these slides with photos from the 1960s and 1970s.

As technology developed, Dad didn't hesitate to move with the times. By the late 1980s, the 'You've Been Framed' generation had arrived with the fashionable coming of the hand-held video recorder and Dad took to this new form of photography and filming like a duck to water.

My Memories of that Hand-Held Recorder
This is the period of his life that I recall vividly as a child growing up at that time. If he wasn't out on the farm milking the cows or bringing in the silage, he would be in his bedroom, playing with his editing suite as he put the music and the words to the images that he had taken.

Dad was an artistic man. Though he left school as soon as he could due to a dislike of the formal structures of a formal education, aged 14 in around 1950, he always had an eye for the moment.

From around 1988-1995, he filmed almost anything that moved. I have been reminded of this today by watching his video from 1993 and also his 'Official' Dyfed Shire Horse Farm video which he compiled to showcase the work of a traditional farm for visitors to watch on our open farm. In those two reams of film, there stands an example of all of the weird and wonderful things that Dad enjoyed filming. Be it life at home on the farm with the filming of the cattle going out onto grass for the first time in spring, or holidays in North Wales and Windsor and the Wye Valley with me and mum (and all of the farm visits that went with them!), or of my sister's graduation in Bath University, or of live Truck Racing (Dad's other big passion was motorsport) or of local events like Narbeth's Winter Carnival, Dad was interested and would be there with his camera to capture the moment.

Just watching these two tapes today, they spoke of a man who had an interest in human nature and in nature itself. In particular, I can always recall those videos that he would edit and put together of quiet natural moments. In the video from 1993 alone he quietly filmed the sunsets over Landshipping and Lawrenny and the Eastern Cleddau river meandering its way down through Gelli, Llawhaden, Canaston Bridge and Blackpool Mill. Nothing exciting to watch in itself you may think? But this was nature and it was clearly something that Dad enjoyed greatly.

The Music
What also resonates with me down the years and which struck home again today was the music that he would put to the footage. There would be some pieces of filming that would have no background sound but in the vast majority of cases, as well as including a written description of the event being shown, he would add a layer of fitting music that would add to the scene.

This had its greatest impact in those moments when he was filming nature. A scene of the River Teifi flowing over Cenarth Falls with the background music of a Strauss Waltz was entirely fitting for that moment. This was Dad's way. I've often said that my eclectic and wide ranging taste in music is due in large part to my Father and that can be seen in the musical pieces that he used for his home-made videos. Why do I love classical music? How come that Strauss is a particular favourite of mine? Why have I got a soft spot for pan-pipe music? Why does the Wurlitzer sound resonate so much with me? Why does ABBA'S instrumental 'Arrival' mean so much to me? Simply because these and more were the sounds that I heard throughout my childhood as my father would use them to go with his works of art.

The irony of this is that very rarely would my Dad make an appearance on film during this period because invariably it would be he who would be filming behind the camera. He did however make more of an appearance in the 'official' farm video and his commentary over it all was informative for the viewer who may have had no understanding of the farming, rural way of life. But what they captured were a glimpse into the world of my father - his interests, his passions, his loves.

It is one of my greatest frustrations that with the on-set of my busy political life over the past 8 years or so since Dad died, I have never got around to converting these VHS recordings onto DVD for posterity. Over the years, some of the videos have deteriorated and will need some work done to them before they can be converted. Some are worse than others although on the whole, they're not in bad shape. There are some like the videos I watched today that on watching them, seem as if they were only put together by my father yesterday and not 20 years ago, such is the clear quality of the picture.

So having dusted them off and reminded myself of this crucial link to my father, it's now time to guarantee that future generations can enjoy these sounds and sights of the late 1980s and early 1990s well into the 21st century.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Goodbye to Bubba 'Hightower' Smith

An an 80s child, the Police Academy series of films were a rite of passage and I lapped them all up (well, apart from the final installment).

The ludicrous characterisation of the main characters is what made the brand such a popular and long-lasting one.

It was therefore with no small degree of sadness that I heard a few days ago that one of its giants, both literally and metaphorically speaking, has died aged just 66.

Bubba Smith
It can be far too easily forgotten that Charles Aaron 'Bubba' Smith was in fact first and foremost, a famed professional sportman who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Colts in 1970.

But for those of my generation, it was his gentle giant Hollywood turn as Moses Hightower that will go down in the memory. Here is a brief compilation that has been put together by ITN to mark this sad occasion.

RIP Bubba 'Hightower' Smith

Friday, 5 August 2011

Should the UK re-instate the death penalty?

Put simply, no. Put more forthrightly, absolutely not.

If you agree with me, please sign Martin Shapland's e-petition at the HM Government e-petitions website. It can be found here at

It has currently been signed by over 12,500 people as opposed to the contrary e-petition which has been started by Paul Staines (the infamous right-wing on-line commentator Guido Fawkes) which has currently attracted just over 6,800 signatures.

This is an issue of principle. I believe passionately in my view on this matter and it's important that in this on-line battle that those of us who do not agree with the death penalty make our voice loud and clear.

You may agree with me and you may not. That's fine because that's democracy. But if you agree with my sentiments, please sign the petition.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Lib Dem By-Election WIN!

Yes, you read that right.

The Liberal Democrats in Ceredigion today won a by-election in Aberystwyth. It will not have been highlighted on the major election blogs because it was not a unitary vacancy on the County Council. But a victory in the Rheidol Ward by-election for Aberystwyth Town Council is nevertheless a welcome thing.

The by-election was called when former Liberal Democrat Town Councillor Martin Shewring resigned from the party and from the Town Council recently but decided to stand in the ensuing by-election as an Independent.

Tonight, he lost as the Liberal Democrat candidate Wendy Morris-Twiddy, the daughter of former Aberystwyth Mayor Mona Morris, won the seat back for the Liberal Democrats.

The final vote:

Timothy Foster (Green Party) - 36
Samantha Jane Mackenzie-Grieve (Plaid Cymru) - 57
Wendy Elizabeth Morris-Twiddy (Welsh Liberal Democrats) - 135
Martin Shewring (Independent) - 108

Spoilt - 2

Majority - 28

Well done to Wendy and to the Liberal Democrat team in Aberystwyth - a sterling effort!

Give Me Your Money! Helping Cardigan's RNLI

I've spent an enjoyable 3 hours today with the local RNLI branch and their fundraising buckets at Cardigan's Tesco supermarket.

With thanks to Richard Fletcher for
taking the photo!
I've helped them before as I also do with the local Royal British Legion Branch every year selling red poppies. It's so easy because everyone knows what both the RNLI and the British Legion do and how important they are to us here in our coastal community.

Nowadays of course we're not allowed to rattle the buckets or even to entice people over to us. We are expected to stand still and wait for people to come over to volunteer their donation to us. Over a 3 hour stretch, that's a lot of time of standing around hoping that Tesco customers come over with a donation! The fact then that the Lifeboat tabard tells them exactly who we are however is a great help and the response today was great.

My problem mind, if you can call it that, is that I know too many people in Cardigan. I've therefore been known to call out to anyone I know even at a distance and lure them over and today was no exception!

Still, if it means more money goes into the boxes to support this wonderful and critical local service, then who's complaining? It also gave me an opportunity to chat to loads of local people who I know and as anyone who knows me will testify, I like to chat!

So all in all, it has been a grand old day!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

My Internet Stat Porn Monthly Report (11) July

This is my eleventh monthly round-up of blog figures for anyone who is remotely interested in who reads my little blog. These stats for the month of July come courtesy of google analytics.

Calming Down
After the busiest two months on record in May and June, July was a quieter month.

Although my output for the month of 30 blog posts signified an increase from the 25 in June, the viewing figures were significantly lower than my previous bests. In July, I had a total of 4,531 absolute unique visitors to my blog - down from the 5,844 figure in June and my May record of 6,485 but was up on the figures of 3,971 in April, 3,764 in March, 3,926 in February, 2,370 in January, 1,702 in December, 1,024 in November, 701 in October and 597 in September.

The 4,531 absolute unique visitors made 4,832 visits to my blog in July, down from the figure of 6,222 in June, and 6,908 in May but up on the figures of 4,335 in April, 4,237 in March, 4,308 in February, 2,668 in January, 2,180 in December,1,396 in November and 1,107 in October). They viewed 6,662 pages, compared to 8,787 in June, 9,738 pages in May, 6,239 in April, 6,121 in March, 6,447 in February, 4,240 in January, 3,435 in December, 1,991 in November and 1,711 pages in October.

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

1. Rory McIlroy - A Leap of Faith to Join the Immortals of Golf
2. The Face of Unimanageable Horror - Anders Behring Breivik
3. Anders Behring Breivik - In His Own Words
4. Andy Murray Needs to Summon the Rory McIlroy Spirit for Sporting Immortality
5. Has Mark Webber Blown It?
6. Labour's Leighton Andrews' Extraordinary Live TV Coco Pops Outburst
7. Lembit Opik Apologises for Mick Bates Slur
8. The Ed Miliband Media Car Crash
9. 'The King's Speech' - The Book Vs The Film (SPOILER WARNING!)
10. An Oslo Tragedy

Of the 10, 5 were written this month - the other 5 are popular blog posts written in months past that continue to attract hits. The Norwegian tragedy cast its long shadow over the month as 3 of my top 10 posts were dedicated to the awful events there in recent weeks.
Whilst my Rory McIlroy - A Leap of Faith to Join the Immortals of Golf blog post remained at No.1 for the second month running (and has now become the second most read post of all-time), my Has Mark Webber Blown It? blog post remained in the top 5 for a 9th consecutive month despite having still never made the monthly top grade!

Blog Traffic
Of all of the blog visitors, 17.09% were through direct traffic (up from 15.48% in June), 44.64% came from referring sites (down from 47.07%) and 38.27% via search engines (up from 37.45%).

My top 10 referring/search engine sites for the last month were (with change from June):

1. Google (No Change)
2. Facebook (No Change)
3. Twitter  (+1)
4. (-1)
5. Lib Dem Blogs (+1)
6. Lib Dem Voice (+1)
7. (-2)
8. (New Entry)
9. Yahoo (+1)
10. (New Entry)

An International Blog!
The visitors to my little blog came from 102 countries/territories this month - down marginally from the 107 total in June and the record of 123 in May, but up on the 94 in April, 88 in March, 85 in February and 68 in January (with a cumulative total of 163 countries/territories having supplied visitors to my blog to date).

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

1. United Kingdom (No Change) 49.3% (+1.4%)
2. United States (No Change) 21.1% (-1.1%)
3. Germany (No Change) 2.6% (=)
4. Canada (No Change) 2.3% (-0.1%)
5. Australia (No Change) 2.0% (-0.1%)
6. Ireland (No Change) 1.6% (-0.2%)
7. Brazil (No Change) 1.3% (-0.1%)
8. France (+1) 1.2% (+0.1%)
9. Poland  (-1) 1.1% (-0.1%)
10. Holland (No Change) 1.0% (-0.1%)

It has continued to be a very cosmopolitan blog this month and honourable mentions must go in particular to the 8 new countries/territories that have provided its first viewers to my fledgling blog this July.

St Lucia, Suriname, UzbekistanNew Caledonia, Cape Verde, Papua New Guinea, Cameroon and Cambodia have all supplied their first readers to my blog during the past month!

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