Saturday, 29 October 2011

When Jimmy Savile met Rod Hull & Emu

He was one of the most eccentric names and faces in British entertainment.

He was the first ever presenter of Top of the Pops in 1964 and remained at the healm for 20 years. He returned for an episode in 2001 and was on-hand to co-present the final ever episode on July 30th 2006.

Savile was also well known for his charitable support. He competed for good causes in over 300 professional bike races and 212 marathons including the London Marathon at the age of 79. He raised millions of pounds for charity and for his efforts, he was awarded the OBE in 1971 and in 1990 he was knighted for his services in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. That same year he was honoured with a papal knighthood from the Vatican making him a Knight Commander of Saint Gregory the Great (KCSG).

For me however, he will always be remembered as the man who 'fixed it' for children of my generation by making their dreams come true. 'Jim'll Fix It' ran for 286 episodes from 1975-1994. Here is that famous opening theme and then a memorable Xmas special clip from 1976 with that other fabulous eccentric, Rod Hull and his side-kick Emu.

He was an eccentric character with a dress sense, a vocabulary and a taste in jewellery and cigars that marked him out from the crowd. He was a one-off. At 84, he certainly lived life to the full.

RIP Jimmy

In light of the revulsion that I have felt from the news of recent weeks, I have marked through the entirety of the blog post above.

I will not delete it as it needs to remain to remind myself of what I and the majority of the country believed of a man who it turns out, was nothing of the sort. It will stand in time as an example of how we can sometimes be so totally wrong that it beggers belief and almost defies comprehension.

I have never before and hope will never have to again, redact a previous blog post of mine in this way. I will now update my blog with news of this necessary change.

A Prayer for Bangkok

The increasingly concerning picures coming out of Thailand over recent days have saddened me greatly.

Source: BBC News Website
Its capital Bangkok is on the cusp of succumbing to an awful flood which has already taken more than 370 lives. Heavy monsoon rains have been causing flooding in Thailand since July with flood waters continuing to creep into northern districts of Bangkok. The centre remains mostly dry for the time being. Officials however have warned that high tides due this weekend, combined with the flow of run-off water from inundated central plains, could cause wider flooding.

The city is surrounded by flooded plains and the situation could deteriorate badly over the coming days.

My Bangkok Experience
The reason why I take a particular interest and concern in this news story is because I have been to Bangkok myself before.

It was back in 2008 when I spent two days and nights in the Thai capital city on arriving in the country before moving on to Chiang Mai in the north. I've happily admitted that out of all of the different locations that I visited during that 2 week stay, Bangkok was not a favourite of mine. To me, it was too much of a modern Asian tourism hotspot. It quickly dawned on me as I visited Chiang Mai and Kanchanaburi that Bangkok was not representative of the Thai nation in the more traditionally cultural sense.

Neverthless, it was a fascinating experience. Driving around in a Tuk-Tuk through the polluted Bangkok air was an unforgettable experience and I was delighted to successfully complete my first transaction in bartering with a local trader for a traditional Thai umbrella outside the Grand Palace. Unfortunately, within a matter of hours I then went and left it at the Railway Station where we'd called in to book our sleeper-train tickets to Koh Samui for later in our holiday. Typical!

We stayed in two different hotels during the two nights. They weren't the Ritz but then they did the job quite adequately - as long as you had a working fan in your room to deal with the humidity, you'd be ok. During the first night, not long after checking-into the hotel from the airport, I recall walking around the city at midnight - it was a bustling live city which for this little westerner that had never experienced the culture of the Orient at first hand was an eye opening experience. The next morning, I took the photo on the right, looking down from our hotel room on high at flooded streets below.

This remember is the city centre and here you had flooded streets. The example here as dated was on January 30th 2008 - you can see quite clearly the sight of moving cars making their way through high levels of water.

So the sad sights being witnessed this week, though are clearly to the extreme of what I myself witnessed in 2008, seem to signify a trend of a kind.

I hope that catastrophe can be averted this weekend. Thailand is a beautiful country with a welcoming people. They do not deserve this.

Friday, 28 October 2011

UK royal succession laws pulled kicking and screaming into 21st century

At last. At long, long, last.

The UK's Royal Succession laws have been altered to give equal gender and religious equalities where they did not exist previously.

As this BBC News Website article states, the leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state have unanimously approved the changes at a summit in Perth, Australia. Sons and daughters of any future British monarch will therefore have equal right to the throne. The ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic has also been lifted.

It therefore brings to an end the archaic situation where a younger male was given precedent to the throne over an elder female. A modern example is that of Princess Anne, the Princess Royal. Though the second child of Elizabeth II, she falls behind her younger brothers Andrew and Edward and their children in the line of succession to the throne simply because she is female.

Such a farcical anomaly should've been put right decades ago when equality legislation was being passed by Parliament in the 1970s.

The Monarchy has been pulled kicking and screaming into the 21st century with this long overdue decision. Of course, for many, this isn't enough. For a truly meritocratic nation, surely we should be a Republic? Yes, I can't argue with that. But I'm a pragmatist in such things. At the moment I'm a 'better the devil you know' realist and am happy to see the monarchy continue into the foreseeable future. Controversial and against the views of many of my liberal colleagues? I'm sure. But hey, this is my opinion.

Speaking of the future, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's children will now fall into line with this new status so if William and Kate's first child is a girl and not a boy, then it is likely (if the Monarchy survives to such a date) then that our future Monarch, like her great-grandmother, will be a Queen Regnant.

The change to the marriage law is also greatly welcome. To discriminate against Catholics in such a way as to not allow them to marry the Monarch as has been the case since 1688 is absolute folly. Repealing this ban is long overdue but welcome for it.

These are small additional blows for gender and religious equality, but important ones all the same.

Since I wrote this blog post earlier today, Stephen Glenn has written this excellent counter-factual blog post on the history of the Monarchy had males and females had equality to succeed to the Throne throughout the ages. I highly commend it to you to read. My favourite counter-factual? Kaiser Willhelm II of Germany reigning as King William V of the British Empire - only in counter-factual 'what if' scenarios could such a thing have been possible!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Ceredigion County Council to Investigate Local Authority Mortgage Scheme for First-Time Buyers

Ceredigion County Council voted unanimously today to support a feasibility study to look into supporting a Local Authority Mortgage Scheme to help first-time buyers enter the market and find a home in the locality.

The motion was proposed by the Welsh Liberal Democrat group on the Council and in a relatively rare show of consensus politics, was supported unanimously by members from across the Chamber.

The scheme is an exciting one which has already been put in place by Welsh Councils in Conwy and Cardiff.

How would a Local Authority Mortgage Scheme work?
Well, as an example...

Say a house is for sale for £100,000 with a deposit required of £25,000 i.e. 25%. The prospective first-time buyer however only has £5,000 i.e. 5% available. The Mortgage provider in the current financial climate requires a deposit of 25% so the purchaser needs to find a 'critical friend' for the remaining 20%.

At this point, the council steps in and offers to be a guarantor for the remaining 20%. The Council does not hand over £20k to the purchaser but rather deposits the £20k with the bank. The bank in turn pays the council interest on this money - one English authority currently receives 4.7%. The Bank only dips into that 20% if the borrower defaults. If the bank incurs a loss the council cash would provide the indemnity.

The bank then provides the purchaser with a 95% mortgage.

In the event of non-payment, repossession and a distress sale, the buyer takes the first 5% risk, the council takes the next 20% of risk, and the bank takes a loss in the property falls below 75% market value. The council, or ratepayer, is taking on the risk that the bank deems unsafe.

Officer Support
Cllr Paul Hinge and Cllr Ceredig Davies who proposed and seconded the proposal rightly spoke to the Director of Finance in advance of submitting the motion to gather the support of the department for such an idea. The officers were enthused about this scheme and now the details need to put into place for a motion to be put forward to the Council in the new year.

Although I've now been on the County Council for 7 years, at the age of 29 I remain the 'Baby of the Council' so I spoke from that perspective on the matter in the Council Chamber during the debate and spoke up for the need for the authority to do all that it could to help young first-time buyers to make that huge first step onto the housing ladder. I was fortunate as I said in Council, to have had the support of my family to make up for the 'black hole' between my savings and the required deposit required for the mortgage. Without that support, I wouldn't be in this house which has been my home for these past near 6 years. But I was fortunate to have that support that is not afforded to all of my age. That is where the County Council have an opportunity to step in and to be that 'critical friend'.

It's an exciting project and I look forward to seeing the detailed policy come back in front of the Council for approval in the new year.

Below is the Motion that was proposed by the Welsh Liberal Democrat group this morning and which was supported unanimously by Independent and Plaid Cymru Councillors.

Ceredigion County Council believes that prospective first time buyers of affordable homes in Ceredigion are at a distinct disadvantage insomuch as they may well fulfil all the criteria set-out for the purchase of their first home but in the economic climate that exists and the requirement of very large deposits, they are unable to get a foothold on the housing ladder or indeed gain access to a home for themselves.

The turmoil in the financial and banking sectors has had a negative effect on the economy and on the local housing market. There has been a particular impact on first time buyers because of the general reduction in the loan to value mortgages from 95% down to 75% necessitating a deposit of some 25% of the house value. Mortgage insurance and shared ownership schemes have helped play a part in reviving the market but are unlikely to normalise the market for first-time buyers who are seeking an affordable home it is likely that low loan to value mortgages are likely to continue for some time. The lack of first-time buyers continues to depress the housing market and this consequently is having an adverse effect on our local economy. As a consequence of this, there is a real need to bring forward a scheme that will help stimulate the housing market and the wider economy.

Ceredigion County Council resolves to enact a feasibility study to ascertain whether a Local Authority Mortgage Scheme (LAMS) is a viable way in which the Local Authority can intervene and help first-time buyers enter the market and find a home in the locality.

Proposed by: Cllr Paul Hinge
Seconded by: Cllr Ceredig Davies

Monday, 24 October 2011

Will Libya follow Tunisia into the light or Egypt into the unknown?

It has been a monumental weekend for the Arab Spring.

Gaddafi's capture in Libya and the fall of Sirte made yesterday's proclamation of National Liberation in Libya feasible and it, as sure as anything, will have sent a stark warning to the likes of Syria's Assad who continue to crack down on internal dissent. It was an extraordinary spectacle to watch in the cradle of the Libyan uprising in Benghazi and whilst there's many difficult obstacles to overcome on the hoped for route to an open and democratic future, Libya don't have to look to far for a fine example of what can be achieved in a short space of time.

Free Elections in Tunisia
With a wonderful stroke of luck, as Libya rejoiced its formal declaration of liberation yesterday, in neighbouring Tunisia a hopeful and thankful population walked in their millions to the polling booths to cast their first vote in an open and fair election.

It shows what can be achieved in a relatively short space of time. For it was in Tunisia that the Arab Spring sparked into life last winter and where President Ben Ali fled on January 14th. Only 9 months later, the structures have been put into place to allow for a safe and fair election - one in which over 100 political parties are competing to elect a 217-member Constituent Assembly which will write a new Constitution and elect an interim-Prime Minister. Because of the system of Proportional Representation that has been used for the election and the plurality of male and female candidates, the result is likely to see the highest ever female Parliamentary representation in the Arab world.

Early reports estimate that 90% of the 4.1m registered voters have taken up their right to choose their elected representatives. There is clearly then a strong appetite in this once autocratic nation to take a democratic lead in deciding who it is that runs its own affairs. This of course it to be celebrated and welcomed most warmly.

An Uncertain Future for Egypt
However, on Libya's far border from Tunisia, we witness more concerning developments.

Barely a month after the flight of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak stood down on February 11th as Egyptian President. He transferred his powers to the Egyptian Armed Forces who immediately dissolved the Egyptian Parliament, suspended the Constitution of Egypt, and promised to lift the nation's thirty-year emergency laws. It further promised to hold free, open elections within the next six months, or by the end of the year at the latest. Protests have however continued through the summer in response to the perceived sluggishness in instituting reforms.

In the same similar timescale, Tunisia have managed to bring about democratic reforms that have not as yet been forthcoming in Egypt.

A Democratic Libya?
So Libya has two ways of looking as it begins the long journey towards instigating its future forms of governance.

With the NTC in charge, the hope very much is that the wind is blowing in the right direction. As I blogged here a few days ago, there are many surmontable obstacles that Libya needs to overcome. One of those is to meet the desires of its people in an orderly fashion. I stated then that the Libyan people needed to remain calm whilst their nation is rebuilt and soon enough, democratic elections will come.

For it is of course far to easy to oversimplify the situation in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. They have all awoken from different styles of autocractic and dictatorial rule but that should not mean that Tunisia's example can not be replicated over the border in Libya.

What fills me with hope is that those Gaddafi-regime weary Libyans, need not look across their eastern border in trepidation at what could be conceived to be the take-over of a nation from one autocratic regime to another. Instead, the civil war weary inhabitants of Sirte, Misrata, Benghazi and Tripoli can instead look across their western borders and witness an example of what can be done in a relatively short space of time.

If the Libyan nation goes to the polls in open and free elections next summer as is envisaged by the NTC, then the transition to an open and plural society should be secured. If however, those same new interim leaders defer and obfuscate to such a degree that we find ourselves still awaiting elections in Libya this time next year, then resentment and hostility will likely manifest itself as it is doing in Egypt at this present time.

The world is watching Libya's every move. Here's hoping that at the same time, Libya is watching Tunisia's every move, and not Egypt's.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Christina Perri - Jar of Hearts

I'm not a big fan of 'modern music'. That for anyone who knows me, is a given. Anything recorded post-1996 generally attracts a disapproving glance from this direction but there are of course notable exceptions.

It must also be said that Alyson's more modern tastes have inevitably rubbed off on me. I would have to grudgingly admit now for example, that I rather like Lady Gaga. But I don't shout about it too much as it would ruin my reputation of being an old sage when it comes to my musical tastes.

One of my slow burning favourites from 2011 has been this hit from unheralded artiste Christina Perri. I wasn't keen on it at first but the more I've listened to it and the lyrics, the more it has registered on my radar. In particular, Christina's top note near the climax to the song is absolutely captivating. It's a beautifully pure and haunting sound.


Saturday, 22 October 2011

For our returning Welsh Warriors...

As played on Classic FM this morning for the returning Welsh rugby squad after their brave, battling World Cup heroics.

Cymru am Byth

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Reflections on the Death of a Libyan Tyrant

So, there we have it - he's dead.

In all fairness, those photos were of nobody else other than the former tyrannical leader of the Libyan nation.

In the end, it came so suddenly. But then, that's how these situations usually climax. It certainly makes sense the long final battle for Sirte. Many had considered that Gaddafi's presence may have slipped away to foreign soil as his grip on power collapsed after the fall of Tripoli on 22nd/23rd August. But clearly whilst many of the old regime did escape with their lives, Gaddafi went back to his birthplace for a final battle. It makes sense of course because this was where his support was greatest. Indeed, the sudden collapse of Tripoli was almost unsettlingly brisk. It would turn out that it would be Sirte and not Tripoli that would put up the greatest resistance.

A month later and with the final surrender of Sirte all but confirmed, this sudden development has brought this civil war the gruesome sights that millions of Libyans had fought for since hostilities begun on February 15th.

Caught Dead or Alive?
Should he have been caught alive to be put on trial in the Hague? Ideally, yes. Does his death make him a martyr for his remaining supporters? It is a concern. But having said that, his death will bring a sense that the civil war has now, after 8 months, come to an end.

Source: BBC News Website
It is easy for us here in the west, sitting on our comfy sofas and watching these incredible scenes unravel live on the 24-hour news cycle to pontificate about what should have been done. The truth of the matter is that Gaddafi will have been found by angry Libyans who will have wanted revenge for his actions that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Libyans over not just the past 8 months, but also, over the past 42 years.

With emotions running so high, this really has to be expected and in its own way, respected - even if this is not the way we may have gone about things in the west.

Well done to the UN and to NATO
I am not one that supports international action for the sake of it. I supported Afghanistan. I opposed Iraq. For me, the support of the UN is pivotal in whether foreign intervention is legal or not.

As I blogged about at the time back in March, the UN did the right thing to authorise support for the then Libyan rebels. With the support of France and the UK, NATO were right to carry out its targetted bombings of Gaddafi's defensive positions. This is not a position that I take lightly but the real-politik of the situation sometimes requires such actions. I am pleased that the UK played its part in this necessary venture but today's events will hopefully bring that involvement to a close.

An Uncertain Future
So what next? The NTC will soon move to Tripoli and a full transition to democratic elections will begin in earnest.

But there may be some time before those elections take place and quite frankly, there's no hurry. I hope that the Libyan population give its new transitionary government the time to put a broken, war-torn nation back together. More important right now for Libyans is not the ballot box but clean flowing water, electricity and a home in which to live. There is now a need to build a civic society from nothing that will stand as a basis for a future democratic state.

This will all take time. A long time. It will only work if the various factions and tribes in Libyan society pull together and work towards a common goal. If they don't, Libya's future may still be a bleak one.

The lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan was that elections for elections sake, mean nothing. George W. Bush's fanaticism about this being the hold grail of foreign intervention was horribly misplaced. I hope that Libya does not make the same mistake. I don't think they will. Because more than anything, this has been an uprising from within. NATO air strikes were critical of course, but that support would never have been given if there wasn't a clear sense that Libyans were themselves rising against their tyranical dictator and needed the extra support.

This has been a Libyan victory and they now need to ensure that the future is a Libyan one. Get the infrastructure right, improve the living standards of its residents and a transition to a democratic future is possible.

It is a historic day in Libya. But it is one that reminds us why he was so sought after in the first place.

For the family of Yvonne Fletcher and for the 270 families effected by that disaster on December 21st 1988 and also for those killed by the IRA with the use of Gaddafi-sold semtex, it is a day possibly, to reflect on how this man brought such horror to their world.

It's time to move on but for many, moving on is not so easy because of the actions of Muammar Gaddafi.

This is the end of the beginning as the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon stated in his response to the news. The work for a fair, free and open future in Libya has only just begun.

A Sight for Sore Welsh Footballing Eyes - No.45 in the World

Only back in August, Welsh football hit the doldrums. Placed at No.117 in the FIFA World Rankings, we had fallen below those footballing giants from Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Haiti and Guyana. Oh, and the Faroe Islands.

It resulted in the embarassing sight of Wales being drawn in the same bottom pot of European seeds for the 2014 Brazilian World Cup qualifying campaign as the likes of San Marino and Andorra.

But, back-to-back wins in the Euro qualifiers against Switzerland and Bulgaria have suddenly propelled Gary Speed's young team up to a 17 year high of 45th place in the world. This suddenly places Wales above the likes of the Czech Republic, Cameroon, Ukraine, Poland and Austria.

It also places them back above Scotland (51st) and Northern Ireland (84th) as the second highest Home Nation in the list behind 7th placed England.

Ironically, despite being drawn as one of the bottom seeds in that World Cup draw, things could've played out much worse. As it happens, Wales have been drawn in Group A in what will be a real Balkans hot-house. They will play Croatia (12th), Serbia (23rd), Belgium (37th) and Macedonia (93rd) who happen to be managed by former Wales boss John Toshack. Oh, and let's not forget Scotland.

It really is a quite ridiculous state of affairs but then, having fallen so low, winning against much higher rated teams will do wonders for your ranking and that's what Wales have done these past few months with 3 wins in 4 matches. Of course, the youthful, basic raw talent has always been there but only now are we starting to see what it can really do.

Speaking of Toshack, I do feel sorry for him. Because it was his policy of bringing through the Welsh youth onto the international stage from an early age that has set the basis for where Gary Speed's boys are today. Toshack's problem however was that he ran out of time. By playing the long-game, he effectively destroyed Wales' short-term aspirations. But maybe, just maybe, that long-term strategy may just reap dividends in the future. Here's hoping.

We're still a way off Wales' best-ever ranking of 27th that was achieved under Terry Yorath's leadership in August 1993, but this is at least improvement.

What next? This is Welsh football - I haven't got a clue.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Malta or Cyprus?

Alyson needs a holiday and in fact, so do I.

Indeed, unless I leave these British shores before the end of the year, 2011 will be the first year in which I have not had a foreign holiday since 2004.

Ever since that first holiday in this series to North America in 2005, I've caught the travel bug. There's a big old world out there with new experiences and things to see and learn. Expanding our horizons to learn of other cultures and traditions from those of our own is one of the most fulfilling things that I have ever done.

So after what has been a difficult summer health-wise, we're considering a short break late next month. It will also be our first holiday together. Nothing's set in stone but the idea that has been mulling around in our heads is a short break to the Mediterranean. In particular, we're thinking of either Malta or Cyprus as two island destinations which neither of us have previously visited.

If readers have views or reviews on either, please do comment below as we are genuinely unsure at this moment in time, which one we may choose.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Goodbye Betty and thank you for the Hotpots

I've been away in Wrexham over the weekend at Welsh Liberal Democrat conference. It must be said that what was a pleasant weekend was destroyed by the rugby result. I can't write fully about it right now because it's too painful. Suffice to say, the manner of the defeat was bitterly difficult to comprehend and cast a shadow for me over the entire weekend.

An added source of sorrow on Saturday was the news that Coronation Street legend Betty Driver has died aged 91. It's no secret that I'm a big Corrie fan. But as a man of heritage, despite my relatively younger age, it is the history of the Street that enamours me more than the modern day goings-on down on the Cobbles. The link to the past means a lot to me so I take great comfort in knowing that the likes of Emily Bishop, Rita Sullivan and Ken Barlow form a direct link to a time on the show when those same Cobbles were trodden on by the shoes of Ena Sharples, Annie Walker, Albert Tatlock and Elsie Tanner. Betty's on-screen alter-ego, Betty Turpin (and later Williams) shared that same heritage as she had been working behind the bar at the Rovers Return since 1969. She appeared in over 2,800 episodes during the past 42 years and though in many cases was an under-stated character who never had many major plot-lines throughout those 40+ years, she nevertheless played this matriarchal figure that anchored the programme down to its proud roots and traditions.

There have been countless eulogies for her in recent days and deservedly so. But I'd like to mention Daran Hill at Wales Home who gave a more personal account of this stalwart figure which deserves a read and which I for one, can not better.

In addition, thanks to Liberal England, I fell upon this Desert Island Discs interview with Betty which was transmitted only back in January this year.

An incredible character with a wonderful sense of humour, she will sorely missed.

So we bid adieu to Betty and her hotpots, not that Betty Driver would mind - in real-life, she was a vegetarian!

A Corrie legend has left us and when the news is broken in the Rovers Return over the coming weeks, there will be tears. I suspect that I will be one of those to shed them because we haven't just lost our Betty, but we've also lost one of those indelible links to that glorious past.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Sleeping Rough in Aberystwyth

Last Thursday night, I joined a hardy handful to sleep on the streets of Aberystwyth to help raise awareness for World Homelessness Day which was last Monday, October 10th.

The 'Big Aberystwyth Sleep Out' was organised by the local branch of the homelessness charity 'The Wallich' and I had been invited as a County Councillor to spend 12 hours between 8pm last Thursday night and 8am last Friday morning, sleeping outside the Matalan store in town with little more than a sleeping bag and a number of layers of clothing to keep warm.

I've often thought of doing such a thing but the opportunity has never arisen until now. I was therefore pleased to accept and along with some 15 other members of the local community, we did so last week despite the cold and wet weather.

Lib Dem student Ollie Dunckley joined me and we were in good company as in particular we were joined by local Aberystwyth Town Councillor Wendy Morris-Twiddy and Cambrian News journalist James Nicholas. But it was the company of 23 year-old Jamie, who had previously lived on the streets and in hostels before settling down and starting his own business who brought alive to us the real-life context of what this 12 hour shift for us meant for those who have to live with it on a regular basis.

Sleeping Rough in Aberystwyth
We settled down by midnight into our sleeping bags but despite having some shelter, the blustery wintery weather made its presence felt. As the heavy showers came down, the wind often saw it blow the rain over us as we made our best efforts to keep warm and dry under our sleeping bag covers. I personally found it quite difficult to fall asleep. What struck me was the feeling of a lack of security and the vulnerability of being in such a position - even though we were of course fortunate to have a good pack of us all supporting each other in doing the same thing. When I did eventually manage to fall asleep, I did so relatively soundly and awoke at 6.30am with the dawn slowly coming upon us. By 8am we had all departed.

Of course, we were fortunate. We had tea and coffee available to us thanks to the support of local businesses and we also had the nearby Council toilets open all evening for us. We also, as I noted above, had each other. These are luxuries that those sleeping in shop doorways the length and breadth of the land have not got. What we experienced during those 12 hours was the mere tip of the iceberg of how it must be to live on the streets.

But even that small window into this world taught me that it is a harsh, cold and unpleasant life out there. I will certainly never look at a homeless individual living on the streets in the same light again.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

How I helped Nick Clegg's office sort out its computer gremlins

Well, it's kind of true.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from Nick Clegg's office in response to one I had sent to him back in August. Not a quick response I hear you say? Well, indeed. Funnily enough, the reason I wrote to him in the first place was due to this snail-like response of his office to e-mail correspondence.

Let me explain...

Back in August I'd been contacted by a local resident in Cardigan who happens to be a Liberal Democrat member as well. He had e-mailed Nick Clegg on a number of policy based issues that were on his mind. But the response was not quickly forthcoming and so he asked me to help him in inducing a response from the Deputy Prime Minister. I therefore sent this e-mail (with his name blocked out for confidentiality) to one of Nick Clegg's many e-mail addresses...
Mark Cole, Aug-11 19:40 (BST):
Dear Nick,
You recently received correspondence from **** **** who is a Lib Dem member in Cardigan. As he mentions below, he has had no response to that communication - not even an acknowledgement.
He understands that your office will be busy, dealing with a mountain of correspondence I'm sure but he would appreciate a holding response until he receives a fuller reply in due course.
Could I therefore suggest as a follow-on to this that an automatic e-mail acknowledgement system is set-up? Our local Lib Dem MP Mark Williams has one so that local residents know that their e-mails have arrived safely. Just an idea.
I would greatly appreciate it if your office could reply to **** as he is a conscientious member of the party.
With kind regards,
Cllr Mark Cole
Well, 2 months have rolled on and suddenly, out of the blue, I received  from a member of Nick's staff this e-mail in response yesterday...
**** ****, Oct-12 15:30 (BST):
Dear Cllr Cole,
Thank you for your email and your suggestions to Nick Clegg MP. I am replying on his behalf.
I am sorry that **** **** had to wait so long for a response, and that he did not receive an acknowledgement on sending his message. We have now contacted **** **** addressing some of his concerns.
We have recently moved to a new system to manage and respond to correspondence, and we have experienced a few problems with this. We have now resolved the issue and acknowledgement emails should be sent out to everyone who contacts Nick.
Thank you for your email and your concern. You were quite right to point out that **** **** had not received a response, and we hope that the situation has now been resolved. Needless to say we are reviewing our systems in order to deal with correspondence more efficiently.
Kind regards
**** ****
Office of Nick Clegg MP
So there we have it. Clearly, Nick's office has been experiencing problems in dealing with what I'm sure is a deluge of correspondence. But as eventually explained in the e-mail, hopefully all is now in hand and whilst there was a long wait in getting a response I'm pleased that one was eventually received and with sincere apologies for the delay.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

3 Ceredigion County Councillors admit their £12,000 expenses errors

Last week, I commented here on a Cambrian News article which had brought to light the fact that 2 Ceredigion Councillors had been overpaid a total of nearly £12,000 in expenses over the past 11 years.

In that post, I commented that neither of the two had been named which was unfortunately casting a shadow over the remaining 40 of us who had not made the error.

Today's Cambrian News front page however, rectifies that. As this article states, there were actually 3 Councillors who had wrongly overclaimed. They were Cllr Haydn Richards (Plaid Cymru) who over-claimed £1,203.40, Cllr David Evans (Plaid Cymru) who over-claimed £5,100.42 and Keith Evans (Independent) who over-claimed £5,484.12 in travel expenses.

They had all paid back the overpayment and I believe the reasons that they gave in mitigation for their errors.

It was only fair on the remainder of us that they stepped forward and admitted their mistakes and I'm pleased that they did so.

Under the new system that is in place, such errors shouldn't occur again.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A Boring 2011 F1 Season? Not a chance. Well done Seb Vettel!

It is the venue where F1 folklore has been written and another chapter was written today.

The Japanese GP at Suzuka witnessed those epic tussles between Prost and Senna in 1989 and 1990. It witnessed an emotional World Championship win for Damon Hill in 1996. It was also the venue for World Championship success for Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher. Amidst such an illustrious list, it is apt that Sebastian Vettel today won his second consecutive F1 crown at the circuit by the fairground today.

It had been written on the wall for much of the season and today, with 4 races yet to go, he has made a mockery of his world class opposition by sealing a historic back-to-back Championship win.

Should we complain at this relative procession though? Absolutely not. I've heard a few moans that this season hasn't been as close and exciting championship wise as in recent years but that should not take away from Vettel's achievement. He has shown himself to be a class above this year and has confirmed his own credentials as one of the best of his generation.

In his victorious quest, Vettel has out-gunned former World Champions Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

With 5 World Champions on the track, we really are living through a golden era of F1. The fact that 2011 did not see a final race showdown only demonstrates how well Vettel has done against such stern opposition. Indeed, this is now the exception rather than the norm. In 2006 (Alonso), 2007 (Raikonnen), 2008 (Hamilton) and 2010 (Vettel), the championship went to the wire. In 2009, Button only secured the title in the penultimate race. So this is the earliest Championship win since 2004.

When I was growing up throughout the 1990s, a last race championship decider was a rare and relative luxury - nowadays, we have had a wealth of last race nail biters to enjoy. So let's not worry too much that on this occasion the championship has been decided early.

Youngest ever double World Champion
So let's look more at what has just been achieved.

Sebastian Vettel is now the youngest ever double F1 World Champion. In doing so, he has become only the 15th driver in the history of F1 to win 2 World titles - joining an illustrious list that includes the likes of Stewart, Lauda, Piquet, Clark, Graham Hill and Fittipaldi.

But Vettel has done more than that. By winning two World Championships back-to-back, he joins an even more exclusive list by becoming only the 9th driver to have done so - along with AscariFangio, Brabham, Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Hakkinen and Alonso.

He will look at 2012 as an opportunity to really cement his place in the history books. If he can win a 3rd consecutive championship, he will match a feat only previously accomplished by Fangio and Schumacher.

It's a big ask and one which Hakkinen and Alonso failed to achieve in 2000 and 2007 respectively. But Vettel, in that Germanic Schumacher mold has something about him. In my opinion he is truly world class and at such a young age, has the ability in my mind to challenge some of those records that Schumacher set during the past 20 years.

It's a big ask but of all of the drivers on the grid, I sense that Vettel is the one more than any other, who can do so.

Time will tell but in the meantime, warm congratlations to Seb on today's fantastic achievement.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ireland Wielded the Dagger, but will not wear the Rugby World Cup Crown

In politics the old phrase goes that he who wields the dagger, never wears the crown. It could well be said of Michael Heseltine. Ireland, are the 2011 Rugby World Cup equivalent of Michael Heseltine.

In those 80 minutes against Australia in the group stage which resulted in that stunning 15-6 win, they blew the 7th Rugby Union World Cup wide open. The expectation of a titanic first ever New Zealand Vs Australia final was instantly blown to smithereens. Suddenly it was now an all-but dead cert that we would have a clear cut South Vs North Hempisphere final - all thanks to a heroic Irish display.

You would feel then that Ireland deserved to reach the final to face the All Blacks, South Africa or perhaps a re-match against the Australians for their efforts. But fate can be a cruel mistress and so it proved today.

Heroic Ireland
As a Welshman, I was obviously jubilant at the fantastic result this morning. But as a neutral, I would have been desperately sad for the Irish. Despite their earlier heroics in the tournament, it was an equally brilliant defensive performance today by Wales that meant Ireland would not reap the rewards that they had sown.

In his graceful blog post this morning, Stephen Glenn rightly noted that this was the last opportunity for the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, Gordon D'Arcy, Donncha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell to shine on the world stage. They had set themselves up to do so in incredible style with that earlier result, but it was not to be. We will not see their likes again in another World Cup and it is indeed likely that this will be their international swansong. What has arguably been the best decade in Irish rugby history is reaching a critical moment in its development and those that we will not see grace an international rugby pitch again will be missed. This was the golden opportunity for them to sign off in a blaze of glory but instead it was with more of a whimper that they left the field of play. It is sad that this has proven to be the case.

Wales Rampant
For Wales however, it is of course a different story.

When the World Cup started last month, as I blogged here, my hope and expectation as was that of the Welsh nation was that we should at least reach the Quarter-Finals. After our shambolic pool stage exit in 2007 however, we knew that nothing could be taken for granted. It was nevertheless expected that we would just about get through the so called 'group of death' by defeating Samoa and Fiji and would gracefully and respectfully bow out to the might of the Tri-Nation Champions Australia in the last 8.

But that's where reality took a different course and Ireland played those 80 minutes against Australia for which we owe them a debt of gratitude. It is Wales and not Ireland however that has taken a growing momentum into the knock-out stages and demonstrated their potential at a yet higher level. Our narrow opening match defeat to current champions South Africa showed that the potential was there but how ironic it now is that had we have won, we would have ended up playing Australia in the final 8 anyway! As it turns out, that narrow loss was followed by a battling win against Samoa and then impressive performances in defeating Namibia and particularly Fiji.

The try count has been high, the level of play has been fast-flowing and the defence has been stern. Indeed, Wales' points difference in the pool stage was only bettered by the All Blacks themselves.

We now look ahead at a French team whose only consistency is its inconsistency. They turned up and played well against England today but who knows which French team will appear next Saturday. Either way, Wales have got a wonderful opportunity to reach a historic first ever World Cup Final.

Shane Williams Scored his 57th Welsh Try Today
Whatever happens, Wales are now guaranteed two more matches in the tournament - matches that, similar to the likes of O'Gara and O'Driscoll today, are likely to see the final flourishes in international ruby from Stephen Jones (if he plays) and Shane Williams. It was Shane who showed just what he brings to the team when he scored his 57th Welsh try to put Wales on their way this morning (his 59th Test try in total - 2 scored for the Lions). It is not inconceivable that what we saw today could be his last try for Wales. I certainly hope not but it reminds me that the thought of a Welsh team without him is not one I can easily get my head around and yet the burgeoning young talent in the team, led by the likes of George North should leave us in no doubt that the future is looking incredibly positive for Welsh rugby.

But that's for tomorrow. The here and now is a golden opportunity to write ourselves a great slice of Welsh sporting history and our boys are up to the challenge.

But at this time of great hope and excitement for Welsh rugby, I spare a thought for a gallant Irish side and those players who will have to put their hopes in a new generation of young Irish hopefuls.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

When Kylie Minogue met Lord Ashcroft

It was quite a surreal sight but one which I was nevertheless quite touched with when I watched this BBC News piece yesterday.

Lord Ashcroft awarding an Honorary Doctorate to Kylie Minogue?! Not even in the scripts of Neighbours could you have considered such a thing possible.

But this wasn't Ramsey Street. No, this was Anglia Ruskin University where the 43 year old superstar was recognised for her work in promoting breast cancer awareness with an Honourary Doctorate in Health Sciences at a ceremony in Chelmsford.

Kylie was already a beloved celebrity but the way in which she valiantly fought against her own battle with breast cancer only increased this love and affection still further.

Her award here then was justly rewarded but it was amusing to see the comedy in the moment as Kylie tried to tease the top Tory donor as he gave her the official command.

Having never been to University herself, she said her father would be justly proud to see her receiving this academic honour.

Well done to Kylie or as we should now call her...Dr Minogue.

Ceredigion Councillors Overclaim £12,000 in Allowances

This week's Cambrian News has reported on this story in which two Ceredigion Councillors have been overpaid £11,787 in expenses over the past 11 years.

The report notes that the overpayments have been paid back and that a shake-up of the allowances system should ensure that such errors are not made in the future.

However, because neither Councillor has been named, it does cast a shadow over the remaining Councillors on the Council. I know for example of one Councillor who has already been upbraided in the street by a local resident, accusing him of over-claiming on expenses to which he categorically responded that he was one of the 40 innocents out of a Council of 42.

This of course is the concern - that the errors made by two Councillors could reflect badly on the remainder of the Council. I would therefore take this opportunity to state that I am not one of those two Councillors. Indeed, I have not claimed a penny in expenses since my election so over-claiming on them is in my case, a particularly implausible likelihood!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The longest headed goal in footballing history?! Arise, Jone Samuelson!

I can't believe that I missed this stunning headed goal from Norway last weekend.

As shown here on the BBC News website, Jone Samuelsen has written himself into footballing folklore with what is surely to be confirmed as the longest headed goal in the history of the game. It was scored for Odd Grenland in injury time to cap a 3-1 victory after the opposing Tromso IL goalkeeper went up to the opposite side of the pitch to take part in a corner for his team.

What makes it remarkable is that the goal was from within Jone Samuelsen's own half and is reputedly some 57m from the goal itself. It has now made an internet sensation out of this unheralded Norwegian footballer - such was the outlandish proportions of this freakish footballing act.

Well done Jone Samuelsen - you've just created a little bit of quirky footballing history and I salute you for it!

My Internet Stat Porn Monthly Report (13) September

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

After the August malfunction, normality has resumed although the re-setting of the Google Analytics link to my blog has thrown up some new and rather odd statistics.

Calming Down
The start of my second full year in blogging has been a relatively quiet one.

My output for the month of 21 blog posts is my lowest since last November when I blogged 19 times. This was mainly through my week away in Birmingham when I left the laptop at home.

In September, I had a total of 3,636 absolute unique visitors to my blog (down on my May record of 6,485). Those 3,636 absolute unique visitors made 3,859 visits to my blog in September (down on the 6,908 record from May). They did however view 9,725 pages which was only marginally eclipsed by the May best of 9,738 pageviews.

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. Labour's Leighton Andrews' Extraordinary Live TV Coco Pops Outburst
3. Wembley Bound with Swansea City AFC!
4. Johann Hari: A Personal Apology
5. Andy Murray Needs to Summon the Rory McIlroy Spirit for Sporting Immortality
6. A Gareth Epps Sized Lib Dem Conference Farce
7. Happy 65th Birthday Freddie Mercury
8. 'The King's Speech' - The Book Vs The Film (SPOILER WARNING!)
9. Brian Blessed, Chancellor of Cambridge University?!
10. Red or Black? Ant & Dec Win Either Way

Of the 10, only 3 were written this month - the other 7 are popular blog posts written in months past that continue to attract hits. The 3 that I wrote this month came in at No.4, 7 and 10 - revolving around Johann Hari, Freddie Mercury and Ant and Dec's ITV Show Red or Black?

During the course of the month, my Rory McIlroy - A Leap of Faith to Join the Immortals of Golf blog post remained at No.1 for the fourth month running and has now become my blog's most read post of all-time.

Blog Traffic
Of all of the blog visitors this past month, 12.52% were through direct traffic, 25.92% came from referring sites and 61.56% via search engines.

The bounce rate for the month was 8.01% which seems remarkably low to me (as opposed to a bounce rate of 67.78% for the past year).

An International Blog!
The visitors to my little blog came from 98 countries/territories this month - down from the May record of 123, with a cumulative total of 166 countries/territories having supplied visitors to my blog to date.

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

1. United Kingdom (No Change) 50.9% (+1.3%)
2. United States (No Change) 19.7% (-0.6%)
3. Germany (No Change) 2.3% (-0.1%)
4. Canada (No Change) 2.2% (-0.1%)
5. Australia (No Change) 1.8% (-0.1%)
6. Ireland (No Change) 1.5% (=)
7. Poland (No Change) 1.4% (-0.1%)
8. Denmark (No Change) 1.3% (=)
9. France (+1) 1.2% (=)
10. Brazil (-1) 1.2% (=)

It has continued to be a very cosmopolitan blog this month and an honourable mention must go in particular to the 1 new country/territory that has provided its first viewers to my fledgling blog this September.

American Samoa has supplied its first reader to my blog during the past month!

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