Thursday, 29 September 2011

A £9m Funding Jackpot for Cardigan Castle - Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!

What a brilliant day for Cardigan!

The Welsh Assembly Minister for Heritage, Huw Lewis AM, officially announced in the grounds of Cardigan Castle this morning that the Cardigan Castle project has been successful in drawing down some £4.5m in European Regional Development Funding.

This goes on top of the £4.7m funding that was secured back in March from the Heritage Lottery Fund and which I blogged about here at the time.

Cardigan Castle in 2014? It's going to happen!
This means that over £9m has now been secured for this pivotal project not only for Cardigan and our wider community, but also as I blogged about back in March, for Wales and its heritage as Cardigan Castle was the venue ot the first ever Welsh Eisteddfod back in 1176.

I explained back in my March blog of the importance of the castle culturally to Wales and to the local economy and of my personal association with the castle from my childhood love of history through to my Mayoral year back in 2009/10 when it was my Mayoral Fund for the year. This community support is now the final piece of the jigsaw that will mark the completion of an extraordinary journey.

The Cadgwan Trust has been set the target of raising £150,000 from the local community to show its support and some £20,000 of that has already been raised. This amount is important because the large sums of money that have been offered are on condition that this local fund it met. So out of a mamouth £9.5m or so project that was until only a few years ago a pipedream for those of us who wanted to realise the potential of our castle, we are now just some £130,000 short of the total sum.

The work on sight is now likely to start next year and for a start, those awful stanchions at the front of the castle walls will come down. The antipicated completion date of 2014 is now a realistic expectation.

I really can not overstate how big this news is to Cardigan. The dreams of countless individuals and the wider community are now finally on the verge of being realised. The fact that this is so in the middle of an economic downturn makes it an even more exceptional story.

For those who have visited Cardigan in the past and have driven past this large, closed off and overgrown castle over recent decades, they will know just what an achievement this is. If it wasn't for the castle volunteers, everyone at Cadwgan BPT as well as to the staunch support of Ceredigion County Council and the Welsh Assembly Government, none of this could have been possible. This has shown how collaborative working, can reap dividends.

Griff Rhys Jones visited the castle with the popular Restoration programme back in 2004. Cardigan Castle almost made the final but just missed out on qualifying as the best runner-up.

Now, nearly a decade on, Cardigan Castle will be restored to a new glory! I never thought that I could confidently say those words but here I am, doing just that!

Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A Tribute to a Comedic Genius - RIP David Croft

It was with great sadness that I heard yesterday that the great, indeed possibly Britain's greatest ever comic writer, David Croft has passed away. At the age of 89, he outlived his wife of 61 years Ann Croft by a matter of just months.

It was only last month that I blogged here about the death of the legend John Howard Davies and now the comedy world has lost another great man from that golden era of comedy in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

His writing and producing credits are like a Who's Who of Britian's best comedy through the decades.

With Jimmy Perry, he wrote Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, Hi-de-Hi! and You Rang M'Lord? With Jeremy Lloyd he wrote Are You Being Served? and 'Allo 'Allo as well as others. His final comedy piece was Oh, Doctor Beeching! which he co-wrote with Richard Spendlove.

His writing was refreshing as it was targeted for a family audience and as a result has remained timeless down through the decades. I must admit that I am a huge fan as my DVD collection will testify. The almost full range of Dad's Army, as well as many episodes of Hi-de-Hi, You Rang M'Lord and Oh Doctor Beeching! sit proudly on the shelf at home. I'm also a fan of Are You Being Served? and 'Allo 'Allo. He also introduced us to some of the now most well known comic catchphrases that have lasted the stretch of time. Such favourites as "Stupid boy". "They don't like it up 'em", "Don't Panic!" and "We're doomed!" all come from Dad'd Army alone!

It was David Croft who, as a producer, introduced the famous vignettes of the main cast after each episode of his various series following the now immortal words "You Have Been Watching ...".

Here is just a sample of my favourite David Croft inspired comic creations...





 

 
But I'll leave the final word on these classic comic creations with Croft himself,,,
 

 

 
You Have Been Watching...a Comedy Genius

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The British Political Conference Season - The Insider Media Perspective

We're in the middle of the political conference season. Ed Miliband will be delivering his keynote speech to the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool this afternoon following Nick Clegg's speech last week to the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham. Next week it will be David Cameron's turn in the Tory conference. Here in Wales, Plaid Cymru also had their annual autumn gathering two weeks ago.

Whilst I was in Birmingham last week, I spent a few hours at the bar in the company of one of Wales' political reporters. We had a good chat about all things political and rugby (it is World Cup season after all!) and I asked him how in his experience, did the different political party conferences compare. What he relayed to me gave a fascinating insight into a media perspective on these political gatherings.

He said that in his view the Liberal Democrat conference was a 'very nice' kind of gathering. The kind where delegates will drink a cup of tea and have a sandwich. Certainly more professional now that we're in government compared to how it was in years gone by but still with a sense of eccentricity about it. I can't really disagree with that! What interested me particularly though was his view on the conferences of the other parties as I have no insider knowledge of them.

When it came to the 'fun' stakes, he said the Labour Party conference, particularly in Wales, was the worst. It was tribal and from what he was implying, didn't have any redeeming features of which to speak. I suppose the inner-party rivalries and the factionalism that was rife during the latter part of their 13 years in power took its toll internally.  His take on the Plaid Cymru conference was interesting in that he said in recent years, particularly since they went into government in Cardiff in 2007, they had tried to become more professional themselves and had lost a lot of the 'fun' aspect that had been before. It is now apparently, a party conference that runs on media spin and policy soundbites more than ever before.

But it was his take on the Conservative conference which for me was the most interesting. The Conservative Conference he said was easily the most enjoyable. He said that it was their over the top exhuberance that made it so much more lively than any of the others. Whilst liberals might be drinking tea and eating sandwiches, Tories would be drinking champagne and dining much more lavishly. I suppose this is the Conservative way.

He said that out of all of the party conferences, the worst in his personal opinion as a neutral observer was the Labour conference. The Lib Dem and the Plaid Cymru conferences came in on about par with each other but the Conservative Party conference was far ahead of the rest.

I know of friends who visit all party conferences on behalf of their work, and it would be interesting to hear whether this is the kind of view also held by those working in the voluntary sector or in private enterprise. For whilst this is only one political reporters take on this rather unique and quirky part of British political life, it surely must resonate with others who have experienced the goings-on at all of the party conferences in recent years?

Personally, I'm just thankful that I don't have to attend them all. 5 days at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference per year is more than enough for me. It is an exhausting few days and I don't know how those lobbyists who live on the conference circuit manage to do so!

Monday, 26 September 2011

An Ode to Sosban Fach: Llanelli RFC - 5000 Matches and Still Singing

I am football before rugby. As a Welshman, this is almost slightly contentious. Having said that, as anyone who knows me will testify, I am sports mad and am a keen follower of the oval shaped ball's game as well. Life is only relative, after all.

Being from deepest west Wales, you would think that my allegiances would naturally gravitate towards the Scarlets of Stradey Park. Most West Walians have supported Llanelli RFC over Swansea RFC although there are many honourable exceptions.

I in fact, support neither. Or should that read, both? Because when it comes to rugby, my support is not as tribal as most. I simply support all of the Welsh regions and of course with a passion, the national side. When it comes to the Magners League or the Heineken Cup, as long as Welsh clubs progress, that's all I care about. It also doesn't help that of my University mates, there's a split between Scarlets and Ospreys fans.

So I'd like to think that on this matter at least, I come from a place of moderation where my views are not blinded by stringent club loyalty. So the comments that are to follow should be taken with that perspective.

The Heart of Welsh Rugby - Llanelli RFC
What does mean a lot to me in the broadest sense is history and heritage.

It is with this in mind that I salute the 5000th match played by Llanelli RFC and their modern alter-ego, the regional Scarlets side last Saturday night at the new Parc Y Scarlets.

Whatever your Welsh rugby allegiance, it would be a brave man who would not accept that the embodiment of the passion and soul of the history of Welsh rugby does not reside in the club that until November 2008 played at the legendary Stradey Park.

5000 games on from its reputed first match on January 1st 1876, the club and region can recall Welsh legends that played in the red of Llanelli. Without doubt its finest hour came in the 1970s when  the likes of Ray Gravell, Gareth Jenkins, Delme Thomas, Phil Bennett and Derek Quinnell played for a team that was coached by the best Welsh coach the national team never had the honour to play under - Carwyn James.

© Alan T Richards
In their near 140 year history, they have supplied the Welsh national side with at least 17 Captains since 1891 and have supplied the British and Irish Lions with at least 24 players since 1938.

The Day the Pubs Ran Dry
Throughout the years, Llanelli have incredibly never lost to Australia. They've played them 5 times and won in 1908, 1967, 1984 and 1992 to go alongside their 28-28 draw in 1975.

They have also defeated Canada (1903), Czechoslovakia (1957), Tonga (1974) and Fiji (1985) but there is one match and one scoreline that is and will forever, be etched on the collective memory of the Welsh nation for as long as a rugby ball is kicked.

October 31st 1972 was the day immortalised by the Welsh folk singing comedian Max Boyce as 'The day when the pubs ran dry' when Llanelli beat the mighty All Blacks by that unforgettable scoreline, 9-3.



Now I know that Swansea RFC fans will respond with the comment that they have supplied the Welsh national side with at least 20 captains since 1891 and the British and Irish Lions with at least 23 players since 1904. They will also add that they have defeated South Africa 3-0 back in 1912, it was they who first beat the All Blacks 11-3 in 1935 and it was they who beat the then World Champions Australia 21-6 in 1992.

Indeed, Cardiff RFC fans could also add their tally of at least 36 Welsh captains since 1884 and that they have supplied the British and Irish Lions with at least 40 players since 1904. They could also boast of their victories against South Africa in 1907, a 100% record against Australia with wins in 1908, 1947, 1957, 1966, 1975 and 1984 and also against the All Blacks of New Zealand in 1953 by 8-3.

But it is with the wonder of television, in that golden decade of Welsh rugby, against that most stern of international opponents, that Llanelli RFC's victory in 1972 will surpass all others in the annals of Welsh club rugby sporting history. Whether Swansea or Cardiff fans accept this is a mute point - it is a simple and unquestionable fact.

Happy Anniversary i'r Sosban Fach
Llanelli's famous ode is the song, Sosban Fach. Such is the team's interconnection with this song that catalogues the troubles of a harassed housewife, that saucepans sit proudly atop the rugby posts at the new Parc Y Scarlets.

They'll be singing Sosban Fach down in Llanelli and throughout Wales and beyond for years to come and Welsh rugby and Wales as a nation is all the better for it.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The ghost of Charles Percy lives on in America's staunch support for Israel at the UN

Ever heard of Charles Percy? Me neither but back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was apparently the US Republicans answer to JFK. He died in the past week and Rupert Cornwell the excellent Independent journalist that covers American politics, wrote an obituary for him last Thursday which can be read here.

Arab/Israeli Tensions in 1984
A moderate Republican, he was, so says Cornwell, sizing up a Presidential bid in 1976 but the demise of Nixon and the coming of Ford blew his chances out of the water. He continued however as a respected politician of the American right and in 1981 became Chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But in 1984, in a year when Reagan swept to a crushing re-election victory to the White House over the Democrats' Walter Mondale, Percy lost in his attempt to win a 4th term in the Senate in the state of Illinois. He lost to the Democrat Paul Simon but the reason many argue that he lost resonates to this day and indeed to the current diplomatic wranglings being witnessed at this very moment in the UN.

Cornwell notes that Percy "...had criticised Israel for missing opportunities to negotiate with the Palestinians, he had described Yasser Arafat as a "relative moderate", and had twice voted for controversial sales of US arms to Saudi Arabia, opposed by both Israel and AIPAC, the main Israel lobbying group in Washington".

The Jewish lobby wanted blood and they got their man by heavily financing and supporting Simon's campaign. Did it swing the campaign decisively in Simon's favour? Who can say but the response of AIPAC was clear. As Cornwell goes on to quote the Group's President Tom Dine at the time "All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to defeat Percy, and American politicians – those who hold public positions now and those who aspire – got the message".

Cornwell concludes by stating that Congress's lockstep and virtually unanimous support of Israel since suggests he may have had a point.

Arab/Israeli Tensions in 2011
Percy's death last week therefore has a particular resonance at a time when a Democratic President of the USA threatens the UN with a Security Council wielding veto if the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas continues with his call for full membership of the United Nations.

Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations
I've been mulling over the diplomatic wranglings of recent days as the United Nations has played centre stage to this latest chapter in the sorry recent history of Arab/Israeli relations.

I've been desperately trying to realistically size up what has been right and what has been wrong about the recent moves by Mahmoud Abbas to request full membership status of the UN at its General Assembly in New York this week.

My gut instinct as one who has always shared great sympathy with the Palestinian cause has unsurprisingly been one of support. After all, after decades of deadlocked peace talks, why not just take the call for full nationhood status to the UN where there is clear support for such a call? But then there's my dismay at the Obama administration's response that any formal application will be vetoed by the USA in the Security Council. This takes us right back to the case of Charles Percy and the tribal nature of American party politics on this issue in which the Jewish lobby hold so much sway.

The response from Obama and indeed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one that could actually be seen as being reasonable. It isn't they say that they are against a two state solution, just one that is opposed from top-down from the UN as opposed to one that is agreed bottom-up by both sides on the ground. At first sight this of course holds water - any agreement to co-exist side-by-side with each other can only realistically be made with another Oslo syle agreement by both the Palestinians and the Israelis.

But, and this is the big but, peace talks have stalled having gone round and round in circles for years. The election of the right-wing Likud leader Netanyahu as Prime Minister only intensified the concerns of all moderates that no common ground could be found between the two sides. This seems to have been bourne out by the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank which led to the collapse of the last round of talks in September 2010. Netanyahu will riposte by claiming that the reason of the collapse in communication is the Palestinians unwillingness to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. At the end of the day, they all must make compromises if they are to live together but in the mean-time, one side of the divide has it's national boundaries and a sovereignly recognised state whilst the other does not.

So who can blame the Palestinians for wanting to kick up a diplomatic fuss about it?

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama
Are they right in doing so in such a way that will provoke the US into having to make an embarassing veto on the matter? Well to begin with, the US haven't got to veto but the recent history of the Jewish lobby's power in American politics as stated above demonstrates just how difficult it would be for Obama in an election year to go against their views. It's a sad situation but I can almost understand why he feels he must take that view even though I wish he didn't feel so beholden to one pressure group.

So Abbas will seek to force a vote on the issue at the UN and the result seems to be a foregone conclusion. Yet he could seek to request a secondary level of upgrading in Palestine's status short of full UN membership. The Palestinians currently have permanent observer status in the UN but a simple majority vote in the General Assembly could increase this status to one of a non-member observer state as is held for example by the Vatican City and has been held in the past by Switzerland. Such a move if successful would improve the Palestinians' chances of joining UN agencies and the International Criminal Court, although the process would be neither automatic nor guaranteed.

So there should as I read it, be a legitimate opportunity for the Palestinians through this watered down alternative route, to increase their influence in the UN as it would be likely that such a majority, non-veto wielding vote could be won in the General Assembly.

So with this in mind, should they put a stop to their futile call for full membership, knowing that the America have already guaranteed its failure by promising a veto if such a vote in the Security Council ever came to pass? In my mind, absolutely not. If the Palestinians, knowing how one country and one country alone can have the power to deny them membership, wish to embarass that country by proving it to be the case, then good luck to them. Not only that, they can show just how much support they have within the UN by seeking to increase their influence by becoming a non-member observer state. If they achieve the simple majority needed but indeed, receive the support of as much as two thirds of the UN membership, then it will prove to the Security Council and to the USA in particular that the international community are ready to admit Palestine into their club, whether Israel are willing for that to happen now or not.

It would increase the pressure on their western supporting allies to force Israel back to the negotiating table to cut a final deal with Palestine that will find a viable solution to the two-state conundrum that has evaded generations of politicians and diplomats.

Am I confident it will work? Absolutely not. Do I believe that Palestine have every right to force the issue further in this way? Absolutely.

Charles Percy will probably be looking down now in exasperation as this diplomatic merry-go-round plays its course as his country proves to be one of its greatest stumbling blocks, simply due to the strength of the Jewish lobby in America. Charles Percy will himself know more than most, about that.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The one where Nick Robinson was turned away by security: A 2011 Birmingham Lib Dem Conference Review

I've been away for a week in Birmingham at the annual autumn Liberal Democrat party conference. Having not had a foreign holiday this year (for the first time since 2004), this was a welcome opportunity to stretch the legs even if the distance to the middle of the country didn't match that of my furthest trip away to Thailand back in 2008. Unlike last year, I decided to keep my laptop at home this time and to blog about it on my return. With it being my 35th party conference over the past 9 years (if my memory serves me correctly), I have much to be able to compare it too.

A Lib Dem conference perspective from Northern Ireland by Stephen Glenn can be read here and likewise another view from Sheffield boy Anders Hanson can be read here. For a Scotitish flavour, Caron had all angles covered. This meanwhile is my distinctively Welsh flavoured perspective on proceedings.

Another 5 days of amusing anecdotes came to a particularly surreal conclusion before my early departure on Wednesday morning. For personal reasons I changed my plans at the last minute and decided to leave for home early which meant missing Kirsty Williams' speech as Welsh Liberal Democrat leader and that of Nick Clegg who closed the conference. Instead, my last action of the week was a set of Radio Cymru and Radio Wales interviews in the ICC. I arrived a few minutes early at 7.55am, only to be told by the police that the security scanners would not be operational until 8am. This would prove tricky as I was expected on air after 8am and would have to walk right around the back of the ICC to the media entrance to gain entry entry in time. As it so happens, seconds later up came Nick Robinson the BBC's political editor seeking entry for a similar reason. I expected to see the police wave him through due to his 'importance' but I must admit to being rather pleased to see him being given the same treatment that I had just been subjected too. With an audible huff, he briskly made his way around the longer 5 minute alternative route around the building and I duly followed him. We both got to our destinations at 8am but it must be said that he did so quicker than I did - I've been known to walk quickly but Nick Robinson outpaced me at an impressive rate!

On arriving back at my hotel to pack for my departure, I was met at the entrance waiting for his taxi, by the immense presence of our Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael. I've only come to know Alistair well over recent months but in that time I've become a big fan and it was a nice way to end conference to see him greet me as I crossed the road towards him.

These events ended what had been another exhausting conference week.

The Policy
It must be said that the mood was one of a party in robust and quietly determined form. From the sheer bemusement of Liverpool 2010 when all walked around in a state of incredulity that the liberals were in government, here now was a party that was much more at ease and settled with itself and understood its role as a responsible party of Government.

No real dramas, no real nasty surprises, no real rebellions with which the media pack could get their teeth into. No, this was a week when the party exerted its controlled opinions on issues of importance such as the NHS reforms whilst acknowledging that we do so now from a position of strength in government and not a position of forlorn hopelessness on the opposition benches.

Things aren't going to be easy, but governing in the national interest is the right thing to do - the simple and unavoidable message from all at the Birmingham 2011 conference.

The Football
Away from the speeches and policy debates, it was a busy time to catch-up with old friends and to meet new ones. I also took the unique opportunity of a Lib Dem conference in Birmingham to make my first visit to the mecca that is Villa Park for some 7 or 8 years. Ironically, it was against the same Newcastle opposition that I saw at my first ever match at Villa Park with my father back some 16 years ago back in 1995 when Kevin Keegan's men were atop the Premiership table. With added irony, the 1-1 draw scoreline from that match was replicated last Saturday. It could've been better yet it could've been worse so on balance, I'll take a point.

The Fringes
The now traditional Roger Williams MP led RSPCA curry and beer night fringe was again well attended and quite bizzarely, our table which was headed up by both Roger and Mark Williams MP, won the quiz! That was followed by a very enjoyable 'Welsh Night' in which our hosts All Bar One had to put up with what I felt was a rousing rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau by Ollie Dunckley, Chris Took and I - it duly won us a deserved round of applause!

My favourite fringes of the week had to be at the Guardian when an irritable James Landale from the BBC rightly provoked the ire of Paddy Ashdown and Lynne Featherstone who responded with no mercy but with great applause from the assembled throng. Also the Lib Dem History Group's launch of its new history on British liberalism in the company of Shirely Williams and once more, our Paddy.

My Aberystwyth Student Lib Dem Children
It was great to catch up with so many friends from over the years and many of them hailed from earlier times as a student in Aberystwyth University. Indeed this autumn marks the 10th anniversary of the incarnation of the current Liberal Democrat student society in the University as started by Andrew Falconer and Stuart Garlick and which I tentatively got involved in at that time. Over the past decade I have seen students come and students go. Some have moved on to higher things in the party whilst others have remained close friends whilst making a career outside of politics.

I caught up with many of them this past week and helped introduce many from our current intake to the weird but wonderful world of the Liberal Democrat conference. I must admit that as the 'Elder Statesman' of the group, I take a great paternalistic pride at seeing what at once were quiet but keen members grow to become positive, committed and enthusiastic members of the party but more importantly than that, to be good liberals. If my attempt at support and encouragement has helped them in their development as good human beings in any way over the past decade, then I am immensly proud to have played my part.

The Finale - Glee Club
It was particularly pleasing to be able to introduce at least 4 of our students to the almost indescribable event that is Glee Club (although Caron gives a good account of it here). Anyone who knows me within these circles will testify that I am not a Glee Club apologist. I adore it and its crazy, self-depracating ways and I will shout it loud and proud to anyone who will listen.

It really is like Marmite is Glee Club - you'll love it and come back for more each time or you'll never touch it with a 10 foot barge pole for as long as you live. I'm glad to report that my students unsurprisingly fell into the former category with myself. As Caron said in her piece, the comic singing interspersed with patriotic renditions (I led Glee Club in Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and Cwn Rhondda!) and comedy turns from prominent Members of Parliament makes it an uniquely surreal experience for any first-timer. I also took slightly less clear photos of Paddy Ashdown (it's that man again!) whilst doing his (in) famous joke and also Party President Tim Farron whilst leading his rousing version of the Ting Ting's That's Not My Name which though only in its 3rd year is already becoming a cult classic!

Paddy Ashdown, one more time...
But I was destined to bump into our Paddy just one more time before I left. Whilst waiting for my interview for Radio Cymru on Wednesday morning, Paddy came down beside me to do an interview with Radio Wales. His with Ollie Hides began and Betsan Powys the BBC Wales Political Editor did all she could to stall the Welsh interview with me until the one being broadcast live a foot away from us came to an end. But time run out and we had to begin our Welsh interview despite the live 'interference' from the English interview alongside us! It's the first and probably the last time that I'll find myself going up against Paddy Ashdown!

So, the curtain came down on another conference. It was sad to leave because as I now rarely visit the spring weekend Federal conferences, this is often the only time of the year when I get to catch up with my extended British Liberal Democrat family in full. But at the same time, it is exhausting and I was more than ready to go home knowing that I had yet more anecdotes and stories to tell to the next generation of Liberal Democrat activists.

Friday, 23 September 2011

The 182nd Most Popular British Political Blogger! Thank You To My Readers

I've been away for the past week at the annual Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham (a review to follow in a forthcoming blog post). During the week I've been away, Total Politics have been drip-feeding their 2011 Blog Awards Results out to the wider-world. It's the first time that I've been involved in the proceedings and I must add my comment to that of others that the way in which they were released did not show Total Politics off in a particularly professional light.

But anyway, the results themselves amazed me. I was really quite stunned to have made such high entries into 5 different categories at my first attempt. The various categories were broadly split into two - for individual Bloggers and for Blogs.

In general terms, I came out much higher as an individual named blogger than my blog did on its own merit. I don't really know what this means but it would seem to indicate that my presence as a Welsh, local government and Liberal Democrat individual blogger has been greater than the presence of the total worth of the blog in which I have written.

Either way, here are the results...

In the Top 50 Welsh Blogs List I came in at No.20 which is especally pleasing as I have been particularly keen over the past year to emphasise my Welsh roots in my writings.

In the Top 35 Councillor Blogs List I again came in at No.20. Again, this is particularly pleasing as I have attempted amongst my various writings, to give an insight into life as a Cardigan and Ceredigion County Councillor. On which note, hearty congratulations should also go to my Ceredigion colleague, Plaid Cymru Councillor Alun Williams who came in at No.35 on the list.

In the Top 100 Lib Dem Bloggers List I came in at No.22, right in the middle of a mix of names of Lib Dem bloggers who I greatly respect.

In the Top 100 Lib Dem Blogs List I came in at No.37, again right in the middle of a mix of Lib Dem blogs that I greatly enjoy reading.

Finally, whilst my blog didn't make the overall Top 300 UK Political Blogs List, my name as an individual Blogger more than did so.

In the Top 300 UK Political Bloggers List I finished high up at Number 182, ahead of (amongst others) Jon Snow, Daniel Finkelstein, Bethan Jenkins AM, Glyn Davies MP, Johann Hari, Simon Hoggart, Ed Miliband and possibly best of all, Nadine Dorries!

I will proudly add the buttons to my blog over the coming days to showcase these results as I am incredibly thankful to all of my readers who voted for me in the recent Total Politics Blog Awards in the Wales, Council and Liberal Democrat categories.

I dedicate my first year growth and acknowledgements to my blogging mentor Andrew Reeves who gave me such encouragement and support along the way before his untimely death back in June.

Thank you Andrew and thank you to everyone who made the effort to nominate little old me and my writings in this way.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

No Lighty, No Likey

In Victoria Gardens
A number of confused and bemused residents have contacted me in recent weeks, asking why a number of lighting lamp posts in the town have been cut in half.

At the time of these happenings a few weeks ago, even I didn't have an answer. But on enquiring with the Council, it soon transpired that there was of course a reason. As it happens, the Council had sent me a letter which crossed in the post and which explained that on evaluating the street lighting across the county, many needed to be removed for safety reasons and will be replaced as soon as is practically possible.

On North Road

It would've helped of course had us local Councillors been sent these letters of explanation before the lamps were removed and not after.

As you can see in my photos here from North Road and Victoria Gardens in Cardigan, the lamp stumps have been covered over for the time being with yellow taping.

In the meantime, I have copied the letter that I received from the County Council's Highways Department and along with a covering letter from myself, have posted it through the 150 or so houses that live in the immediate vicinity of the 5 such lamp posts that have been cut in half in my ward during the past month. The letters aren't only for information but also note that the Council have requested that residents get in contact if they want to prioritise any of the lamps to receive the remedial works in the first instance.

Friday, 16 September 2011

A Swansea Valley Tragedy

It is inconceivable that such a relatively small community as the one of Pontardawe, north of Swansea could have experienced the double tragedy that it has this past week.

The heartbreaking death of young 5 year old Harry Patterson was bad enough. Police are investigating reports that he was playing outside his house on Tuesday evening when he is believed to have released the handbrake of his parents’ silver Seat car after climbing inside. As the Western Mail reports, he is thought to have leapt out in panic and hit his head as the car rolled back down a steep incline

If that horrific news from Alltwen, near Pontardawe wasn't bad enough, just a few miles down the road came the news yesterday of the trapped miners.

As I went to bed last night, the news was that divers have been sent into a flooded mine at Gleision Colliery near Cilybebyll, Pontardawe to rescue four miners trapped 90m underground. The men had been trapped by water since Thursday morning.

The news today has been gut-wrenchingly solemn. At this moment, 3 bodies have been found. The search for the 4th miner is still on-going and the fading hope is that he will be found alive.

My thoughts are with all of the families and friends of all of those touched by these tragedies this week. It is an incredibly sad and difficult time and one in which the community I'm sure will all pull together at this time of disbelief and grief.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Johann Hari: A Personal Apology

I'm in a rather melancholic mood this evening. I've received some sad personal news so I'm in a rather reflective frame of mind.

It is as such that I happened to fall upon this Personal Apology from Johann Hari in today's Independent.

As an Independent reader for many years, I've been a Johnann Hari fan for some time. I've not always agreed with everything that he has said but on balance, I have done so and I have throughout, been impressed with the way that he has tackled a number of significant issues head on.

I'd heard that he had found himself in trouble for his writing style under claims of plagiarism and that he had been suspended by the newspaper whilst it undertook an inquiry into his ethical workings.

His response today is a brutally frank and painfully honest apology.

It saddens me greatly that it has come to this. As he points out, his fall from grace is a particularly public and humiliating one because he himself has held others to account for their failings. He now has had to taste that same bitter medicine.

But there's more to this that adds to my sense of sadness. He comments on the issue of the perceived plagiarism. It's a tecnhical issue that he discusses but he accepts that what he did was wrong and that he was arrogant and stupid to not ask for the advice of his colleagues on the matter of how he assembled his stories from the sources that he had gathered.

But it's his second revelation and apology which particularly sadenned me on reading it this evening. It was an acknowledgement that he had gone into the Wikipedia accounts of opponents that he had clashed with over the years and altered the entries in a juvenile and malicious manner. I was unaware of these doings but clearly they must have come to light as a part of the investigation that has been on-going over the summer.

I feel greatly let-down by a journalist who stood for high ethical morals and yet who, in his own time, reduced himself to such purile behaviour.

But everyone deserves a second chance and Johann Hari is not excluded from that. I hope his public humiliation will result in his re-evaluating certain facets of his character and of his writing technique.

As his statement concludes:
"In my work, I’ve spent a lot of time dragging other people’s flaws into the light. I did it because I believe that every time you point out that somebody is going wrong, you give them a chance to get it right next time and so reduce the amount of wrongdoing in the world. That’s why, although it has been a really painful process and will surely continue to be for some time, I think in the end I’ll be grateful my flaws have also been dragged into the light in this way. I would like to apologise again to my readers, my colleagues and the people hurt by my actions. I know that some of you have lost faith in my work. I will do everything I can now to regain it. I hope, after a period of retraining, you will give me the chance".
The Independent's reply can be read here. Hari is to take four months' unpaid leave to undertake a programme of journalism training at his own expense. He will also return the Orwell Prize which was awarded to him in 2008.

Chris Blackhurst, editor of The Independent, said:
"We always pride ourselves on pursuing the highest ethical standards at The Independent. Regrettably, Johann fell below those in some aspects of his journalism. He has acknowledged his mistakes and made a full apology. There is no doubting his talent as a columnist and we are hoping to see him back in The Independent in the not too distant future”.
It's a human tragedy for this young man but his employers are clearly willing to give him, after a period of time, a second chance. I for one, will give him that chance as well.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

This is why I love my job

I returned home to my Aneddfa home in Cardigan today after a few days away to find the usual pile of post waiting for me. Most of it was junk mail, some of it was Council paperwork for future committee meetings.

One piece of post stood out - a card shaped envelope with my name and home address hand-written on the front.

I opened it to find a lovely 'Thank You' card inside from a local resident who I helped recently with a housing problem. Without naming names (caswork confidentiality of course), this lady got in touch with me a few months ago asking for help in her quest for a housing transfer. Her current flat was not suitable for her as the neighbouring tenants were causing her much trouble and she was at her wits end.

I receive a number of housing requests for support and write in to the housing list officer in the Council giving my support but ultimately the final say rests with the officials and not myself.

I bumped into this lady a few weeks ago in the middle of town and was delighted to here her tell me excitedly that she had been offered a transfer and she was moving the next day.

A few weeks later, she has gone to the effort to send me this thank you card. Today, I received it in the post.

A part of it read as follows...
"Thank you lots Mark.
"Without your help I would never have moved from the hell I was living. I no longer have to wear ear plugs on a daily basis. I love my new home and the people are lovely and friendly"
"Wishing you well and look forward to you popping in".
It's a lovely gesture because whilst it's my job to help residents like her in their dealings with the Council, it really is incredibly uplifting to receive a card like this. There's always a difficult and problematic issue to deal with and not everything runs as we would like in local government. It often feels like a case of banging my head against a brick wall. But then that's bureaucracy for you.

But this is what it's all about. It's a simple gesture that reminds me why I entered local government in the first place 7 years ago and why I hope to continue doing this job for more years to come.

It's a basic matter of helping people to live their lives as happily and as comfortably as possible.

If I were to be run over by a bus tomorrow, it could at least be said of me that I have helped improve the quality of life of local residents by doing my job as a local Councillor.

What job could be more rewarding and fulfilling than that?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Where were you on September 11th 2001?

As a historian, I'd be interested to read your answer to the question posed in the title.

Why? Because it was 102 minutes that changed the World.

At 8.46am local time, Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
At 10.28am local time, the North Tower collapsed.

Those 102 minutes signalled the beginning and the end of a chain of events that have gone down in infamy, and turned the world upside down.

In between, the south Tower had also been struck and had collapsed and the heart of the US Defense - The Pentagon - had also been infiltrated. A 4th plane was grounded by brave citizens before it arrived at its supposed target of the White House or Capitol Hill.

A Game-Changer
It was that epoch-making, era-defining day in history that heralded in a decade of fear as the Cold War that had ended a decade earlier was now replaced by the War on Terror. The attacks in Bali, Madrid and London were to follow and a whole new level of counter-terrorism legislation the world over would take centre stage.

The war in Afghanistan began barely a month later on October 7th 2001 and continues to this day. Likewise, the second Iraqi War begun on March 20th 2003 and is also still on-going. Thousands of allied and civilian lives lost, billions of pounds squandered. All in the name of security. All with its origins in that fateful blue September day.

Where was I?
September 11th 2001 was a seminal moment and day in history for my generation.

For older generations such as that of my mother, it can be asked 'Where were you when JFK was assassinated?' For those of this modern era, the question asked of us by our children and grandchildren will likely be 'Where were you on 9/11?'

It is scarcely believable that it has been a decade since those horrific pictures of 10 years ago. My memory of that day is still vivid - still etched in detail in my mind.

For us here in the UK, it was early afternoon. The timing of the first impact was 1.46pm BST. I recall sitting alone in my bedroom in the Preseli Hills of north Pembrokeshire at my computer, playing Championship Manager. It was coming to the end of the summer holidays and I was just weeks away from starting my second year in University. I had just turned 19.

By the computer was a TV and I was watching ITV at the time whilst playing on the computer. It was I'm sure, an episode of Crossroads which at about 2pm had gone to the mid-programme interval. But instead of returning to the second half, the transmission was broken by breaking news from ITN.

I vividly remember being taken aback at this break from normality and my immediate thought was 'The Queen Mother has died'. She had just turned 101 and it was only a matter of time and in that split second I recall thinking that that time had come. But no, she would outlive her own daughter Princess Margaret who died on 9th February 2002. Queen Elizabeth passed away on March 30th that same year.

The 21s Century's Pearl Harbour
Suddenly what transpired in front of me on that small TV was an awful accident in New York.

A plane had apparently flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It was a bewildering sight and event to take in. Then came the second impact as the South Tower was hit. Again, such was my utter confusion, I couldn't consider is as anything else than just a horrific coincidence. I don't recall that second impact as clearly as the one that was to follow but that third impact is as clear as day in my mind. When the reports came in that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon, the gravity of the event suddenly struck me in all of its horrific reality.



This, was not an accident. This, was an orchestrated attack on the US mainland, not seen since the attack on Pearl Harbour during WWII.

The rest of the day became a blur from there on in as I no doubt found myself glued to watching the unfolding events.

It was a day of horror that, due to modern technology, was all captured live on camera as it happened. Looking back, it made the event so much more real in the minds of those of us watching it at the time. It wasn't being told that JFK had been assassinated, it was akin to actually seeing the act occur with your own eyes. Here we were, watching this inconceivable act unfold as it happened in real-time.

A New World - A Darker World
I just so happened to be watching a TV at the time that the news broke. Had that not have been the case, the scarring images of the initial impacts would not have lived on with me as they have. But a decade on, the recollection is still fresh in the mind.

It's a haunting feeling. A feeling of a loss of innocence. I had only just began to grow-up having left school to attend University the year before. Here was an added sense that the world in which I now lived was not the one of my childhood. It was a much darker, scarier world. Over the past 10 years, it has remained thus.

Where were you?
So where were you on September 11th 2001? As a piece of social and oral history, I'd be interested to hear your remembrances of this tragic day, 10 years on.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A World in Union - Welcome...to the 2011 Rugby World Cup!

Tomorrow sees the opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

I can't really believe how quickly the past 4 years have flown but here we are awaiting a feast of  sport - and all in the early hours of the morning!

If Wales qualify for the quarter-finals (particularly after the shambles of 1991, 1995 and particularly 2007) I'll be content. But time will tell.

I also decided to join a sweepstake for the event. Having won a handsome £28 in the football World Cup sweepstake last year when Spain came out victorious I felt it worth having another punt. But drawing Italy means my hopes are severely restricted!

But in the meantime, with thanks to Harry Hayfield on Youtube, here's a jolly message of good luck to all of the competing nations in the weeks ahead to the tune of the Rugby World Cup anthem 'The World in Union'.



Come on Wales...and Italy!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

I'm ready for the Lib Dem conference, but is the Lib Dem conference ready for me?

The shambolic preparations for the 2011 Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham continues.

With just 10 days to go, scores of members are still awaiting to be given their accreditation to attend. Many have already paid for their travel and accommodation but are currently in limbo. Others meanwhile have delayed the booking of such until they've got confirmation that they can attend which means they'll have to pay more for last minute accommodation and transport once the clearance has finally been given (if it is in fact given).

10 days to go and still not knowing what is happening? Taking away the issue of the principle at stake which is a seperate matter, the process that is currently dealing with delegates' registrations is proving cumbersome and unfit for purpose. It's madness. Pure and simple.

Proper Planning Prevents...
I had my accreditation e-mail last month and as a result have been able to confirm my arrangements.

I booked my hotel room at the Etap on a good recommendation from York's Nick Love a few months ago and I booked my train tickets last week. This for me is rather unheard of - even whilst everything else has fallen into place the weeks running up to a conference, I've never planned my transport so far in advance. But my very reasonably £29 priced return train tickets arrived in the post yesterday.

Ready for a trip to my Nirvana - Villa Park
I've also gone a step forward and taking the opportunity to buy myself two tickets for the Aston Villa Vs Newcastle match on the Saturday afternoon having not been to Villa Park for some 7 or 8 years. At a bargain £40 deal for both tickets, I'll be delighted to lap up the atmosphere of the Hotle End. The tickets likewise landed on my doormat this morning.

So I am ready for conference. But is conference ready for me? Clearly not. Because whilst I've been accredited (for which I suppose I should be thankful) and have received my first conference pack as I commented with some excitment at the time here, I am still waiting for my conference pass to arrive in the post along with the second conference pack. This is rather frustrating. Normally, both packs will have been posted out by the end of August but here I am with barely a week to go before my train leaves Aberystwyth and I'm still unable to plan the detail of my week because that second pack with information on conference fringe events and training opportunites is still lost somewhere in the ether.

Yes, I'm aware that this information is on-line but I'm a conference traditionalist. Just like with the Xmas edition of the Radio Times, I want the hard copy on my lap so I can circle all of those fringes and policy debates that I want to attend. I want to see the fringe clashes in black and white and have to work through which ones I'll attend and which ones I'll have to miss.

But I can't do that yet and that's frustrating.

For once, I'm completely ready for conference except, that conference isn't ready for me.

Monday, 5 September 2011

That Freddie Mercury Google Doodle!

This is just amazing.

I blogged this morning on Freddie's 65th birthday and chose 'Don't Stop Me Now' in tribute not realising at the time that those crazy, cool guys at Google had made their own wonderful tribute to the same song.

Here is their Google Doodle for September 5th 2011 (September 6th in America)...



This Guardian article asks what would Freddie have been doing today if he was still with us. It gives a link to an interview with Brian May on this anniversary.

He says:
I was first introduced to Freddie Mercury—a paradoxically shy yet flamboyant young man—at the side of the stage at one of our early gigs as the group “SMILE.” He told me he was excited by how we played, he had some ideas—and he could sing! I'm not sure we took him very seriously, but he did have the air of someone who knew he was right. He was a frail but energised dandy, with seemingly impossible dreams and a wicked twinkle in his eye. A while later we had the opportunity to actually see him sing ... and it was scary! He was wild and untutored, but massively charismatic. Soon, he began his evolution into a world-class vocal talent, right in front of our eyes.

Freddie was fully focused, never allowing anything or anyone to get in the way of his vision for the future. He was truly a free spirit. There are not many of these in the world. To achieve this, you have to be, like Freddie, fearless—unafraid of upsetting anyone's apple cart.
Some people imagine Freddie as the fiery, difficult diva who required everyone around him to compromise. No. In our world, as four artists attempting to paint on the same canvas, Freddie was always the one who could find the compromise—the way to pull it through. If he found himself at odds with any one of us, he would quickly dispel the cloud with a generous gesture, a wisecrack or an impromptu present. I remember one morning after a particularly tense discussion he presented me with a cassette. He had been up most of the night compiling a collage of my guitar solos. "I wanted you to hear them as I hear them, dear," he said. "They're all fab, so I made them into a symphony!
To create with Freddie was always stimulating to the max. He was daring, always sensing a way to get outside the box. Sometimes he was too far out ... and he'd usually be the first to realise it. With a conspiratorial smile he would say "Oh ... did I lose it, dears?!" But usually there was sense in his nonsense—art in his madness. It was liberating. I think he encouraged us all in his way, to believe in our own madness, and the collective mad power of the group Queen.
Freddie would have been 65 this year, and even though physically he is not here, his presence seems more potent than ever. Freddie made the last person at the back of the furthest stand in a stadium feel that he was connected. He gave people proof that a man could achieve his dreams—made them feel that through him they were overcoming their own shyness, and becoming the powerful figure of their ambitions. And he lived life to the full. He devoured life. He celebrated every minute. And, like a great comet, he left a luminous trail which will sparkle for many a generation to come.
Happy birthday Freddie!
Posted by Dr. Brian May, CBE. Guitarist.
I can't top that final luminous sentence and I can't top the Google doodle either.

Happy 65th birthday Freddie - the world still loves you!

Happy 65th Birthday Freddie Mercury

Today is Freddie Mercury's 65th birthday. If he'd have been alive now to witness it in person, it would've been a riot!

Incredibly, it will be the 20th anniversary of his passing this coming November. Time really does fly. But for die-hard Queen fans like myself, Freddie hasn't left us. He remains, through the wonderful musical legacy that will echo down the ages as I mentioned in this blog post of their lesser known hits back in December.

Wherever you are now Freddie, you'll be having a right old knees-up I'm sure!

So in tribute to Freddie on this day, a song that is still being regularly played in clubs, pubs and discos througout the land and which summed up his way of life. It has brought the music of Queen to a whole new generation of music lovers and will ensure that his and Queen's names will live on forever.

Happy birthday Freddie! Keep rockin'!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A Year in Blogging (Part II) - The Statistics

Yesterday, I blogged here about the odd circumstances that brought me into the blogging world and I commented on some of my personal favourite blog posts along the way.

Today, it's the hardcore statistics.

Google Analytics & Flag Counter
I began blogging properly a year today, September 4th 2010. I didn't however synch up my blog to the excellent and recommended Google Analytics software (with thanks to Ali Goldsworthy for doing so!) until September 20th. So the stats I am about to unleash doesn't cover the entire year as such but for the sake of a fortnight, I'm happy for these to stand as my figures for my first year in blogging.

For information below on the nations/territories that have visited my blog however, the statistics come from Flag Counter which I added to my blog on September 13th and which therefore has an extra week's worth of statistics over Google Analytics. The numbers that both have thrown up are generally very similar so I have faith in them both, unlike the Blogger Stats from the site itself which in my mind overinflates the pageviews to the blog so I have generally avoided using it for statistical purposes.

Stat Attack
This is my 386th blog post since this day last year. As of this afternoon, according to the reliable Flag Counter and Google Analytics, over 49,000 absolute unique visitors have visited my site and those blog posts in the past 12 months. Of these, some 75.40% are new visitors and 24.60% are returning visitors. According to my Blogger Pageview counter, they has accounted for over 111,000 pageviews made in that time though I tend to believe the more reliable Google Analytics number of 65,000 pageviews.

According to Google Analytics, the bounce rate for my blog during the past year has been 72.51%.

Busiest Month
As my monthly stat reports have shown, there has been an unsurprising general trend of growth in readers to my blog as it has become more established. My busiest month, according to Google Analytics was that of May with 6,485 absolute unique visitors to my blog making 6,908 visits and viewing 9,738 pages.

My busiest month in terms of output mind was January with 42 blog posts published in that month.

Busiest Day
On May 2nd, my Osama Bin Laden's Death - Obama's Victory & Pakistan's Shame blog post clearly hit a nerve and resulted in a daily record of 992 visitors making a record 1,341 pageviews.

Top 10 Most Read Blog Posts
According to Google Analytics, the Top 10 most read blog posts during the past year in terms of pageviews have been:
  1. 'The King's Speech' - The Book Vs The Film (SPOILER WARNING!) (4,951 Pageviews)
  2. Rory McIlroy - A Leap of Faith to Join the Immortals of Golf (4,763 Pageviews)
  3. Has Mark Webber Blown It? (2,884 Pageviews)
  4. Labour's Leighton Andrews' Extraordinary Live TV Coco Pops Outburst (1,673 Pageviews)
  5. Osama Bin Laden's Death - Obama's Victory & Pakistan's Shame (1,482 Pageviews)
  6. My Sports Personality of the Year - Phil 'The Power' Taylor (1,050 Pageviews)
  7. As the Yemenese Domino Falls, is Syria next? (842 Pageviews)
  8. The Aberfan Perspective (803 Pageviews)
  9. An Apology to Karen & Richard Carpenter. Yours Sincerely, A Musical Snob. (771 Pageviews)
  10. Wembley Bound with Swansea City AFC (693 Pageviews)
Top 10 Traffic Sources
According to Google Analytics, the Top 10 traffic sources to my blog during the past year in terms of visits have been:

  1. Google Organic (15,469 visits)
  2. Direct Traffic (6,292 visits)
  3. Facebook (4,769 visits)
  4. Google.com (3,009 visits)
  5. Google.co.uk (2,790)
  6. Blogger.com (1,338 visits)
  7. Lib Dem Blogs (1,335 visits)
  8. Twitter (1,170 visits)
  9. Lib Dem Voice (850 visits)
  10. rialtocr.blogspot.com (665 visits)
According to Google Analytics, 48.10% of my traffic during the past year have come from referral sites as opposed to 37.40% from search engines and 14.50% from direct traffic.

Top 10 Keywords
According to Google Analytics, the Top 10 Keywords typed into a search engine that have brought visitors to my blog are:

  1. Rory McIlroy (1,811 visits)
  2. The King's Speech Book (859 visits)
  3. Mark Webber (769 visits)
  4. Coco Pops (397 visits)
  5. Phil Taylor (309 visits)
  6. Mark Cole Blog (242 visits)
  7. 80th Birthday Poems (184 visits)
  8. Lionel Logue (155 visits)
  9. Zoe Scott Alan Partridge (148 visits)
  10. John Barry (145 visits)
A Proudly International Blog!
When it comes to the geography of my readership, I have found Flag Counter to me a more reliable source than Google Analytics as some 276 visits have not been registered with the nation of origin whereas with Flag Counter, this number is only 187.

Therefore, according to Flag Counter, the top ten countries to date (with % of total views and total visitors) are:
  1. United Kingdom (49.7%) (24,479 visitors)
  2. United States (20.2%) (9,949 visitors)
  3. Germany (2.4%) (1,200 visitors)
  4. Canada (2.3%) (1,111 visitors)
  5. Australia (1.9%) (944 visitors)
  6. Ireland (1.5%) (755 visitors)
  7. Poland (1.5%) (732 visitors)
  8. Denmark (1.3%) (644 visitors)
  9. Brazil (1.2%) (609 visitors)
  10. France (1.2%) (594 visitors)
During the year, 165 nations or territories have supplied visitors to my blog! If my reckoning is correct, that still leaves another 54 nations/territories left unaccounted for - still work to be done then!

The Next 12 Months
Looking ahead, all I can do is to do what I've done over the past 12 months - to write on issues that interest me. Whether they interest my readers is another matter but for now, a heartfelt thanks to those who visited my site over the past 12 months.

If you've enjoyed reading the blog posts that I've written half as much as I've enjoyed writing them, then it can be put down to being a good partnership!

Please keep reading...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Red or Black? Ant & Dec Win Either Way

I'm not a Doctor Who fan.

So tonight I've been watching ITV and the newest Saturday evening entertainment extravaganza - Red or Black?

Just like Channel 4's recent success with The Million Pound Drop where the added suspense of knowing that anything can happen in front of your eyes, adds an excitement that is lacking in its pre-recorded equivalent.

Equality of Opportunity
I've been derided for being a fan of Deal or No Deal but I'll stand by that and it's for the same reason that I've enjoyed Red or Black this evening.

The format comes down to a simple matter of luck. Just like with Deal or No Deal, Red or Black requires no skill and no expertise. It is a format which is egalitarian and fair. Anyone can play and anyone, no matter what their age, class, sex, race etc, could conceivably go all the way to the live final for a single spin for a million pounds.

I enjoy skill-based quiz or entertainment based shows. As a quiz boff, the uber-competitive Eggheads is excellent but only the keenest pub quizzer could ever compete. Likewise, the increasingly popular Pointless, hosted by Alexander Amstrong puts a twist on answering questions but again, a certain amount of knowledge is necessary.

We're all different with our own quirks and individual fortés but progammes such as Deal or No Deal and Red or Black levels the playing field and puts all on an equal footing. Personally, whilst they're often ridiculed for their simplicity, I rather like that basic trait.

A Star Attraction - Ant & Dec
So for me, this evening's new gameshow which will be running all week, already has a crucial vital ingrediant working in its favour.

It also has another - its presenters.

Ant & Dec are a televisual phenomenon. Since their lives collided on the set of Byker Grove back in 1989, they have moved on to release singles as PJ & Duncan and have moved on to an extraordinary media career as a double act.

Their main hits include:
  • SMTV Live (1999–2001)
  • CD:UK (1999–2001)
  • Pop Idol (2001–2003)
  • Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway (2002–2008)
  • I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! (2002–present)
  • PokerFace (2006)
  • Ant & Dec's Gameshow Marathon (2006)
  • Britain's Got Talent (2007–present)
  • Ant & Dec's Push The Button (2009–present)
  • Red or Black? (2011–present)
They are apparently inseparable. Indeed such is their intertwined popularity, it is reported that they are each insured against the other's death, although the amount is unknown.

Their media persona is such that to assist with identification, all of their TV appearances and publicity photos have Ant on the left and Dec on the right.

Why so popular? They just have that cheeky charm that endears them to the viewing audience. It is also strikingly obvious that they are close friends. The rapport that they have with each other shines through and after 20+ years together it isn't surprising. Yet some relationships can sour with age but this one seems strong and when their success is as inextricably linked to each other as theirs is, that isn't surprising.

Such is their popularity with the British public, the success of a new show such as Red or Black is all but guaranteed by having the duo as the anchors.

Red or Black? Ant and Dec? They're all winners.

A Year in Blogging (Part I) - Why, How & My Favourite Bits

On September 4th last year, I decided to undertake a novel social experiment. I was going to go where I had never thought I'd go. Not only that, but I was going to go to a place which had in the past attracted ridicule from this very place.

Yes, I was going to enter the dark, murky world of blogging.

An Aborted Start
I had in fact made an aborted attempt back at the beginning of 2009, beginning with a blog post on the eve of President Obama's innauguration. But I only managed 7 blog posts over the next 5 weeks before it all dried up. But my Mayoral year in Cardigan from that following May to May 2010 ended up having long-term repercussions that led me to begin properly back in September last.

From Diary to Blogging
The manic Mayoral schedule which saw me complete 460 engagements in 12 months had a negative impact on my diary keeping. Having kept a diary since the beginning of 2002, any semblance of order fell apart as my Mayoral duties took complete control of my free time. As a result, over 7 years of the Cole Diaries came to an abrupt and unexpected end - the final entry being the day of my Mayor-Making in May 2009.

Although I had gently ridiculed my blogging friends in the past, I found in the summer of last year after my Mayoral year had been completed that I now had no outlet for my creative writing tendencies. Although I do not consider myself creative in the general sense, I have always had a passion for writing and whilst the diary was a more structured and in part formal means of communicating my thoughts to paper through the written word, it did nevertheless become a part of my daily routine - usually before I went to sleep.

But having now gone over a year without the diary, the thought of going back to it was not one that appealed to me. I therefore went back to my dormant blog and considered making a proper go of it this time as opposed to the false start of early 2009.

A Year in Blogging
There was no snappy welcome or introduction when I decided to jump into the blogging world properly as a diary substitute. No, instead I was spurred into action as a direct result of Wales' loss in their opening European Championship qualifier to Montenegro with this despairing rant about how Paul Bodin broke my heart back in 1993.

It was a marker for the future. Suddenly, here was an opportunity for me to write creatively about the interests and passions that have made me the person that I am. That means personal blog posts, blog posts about my work as a local Councillor in Ceredigion, blog posts about the Liberal Democrats and politics more generally, blog posts about my homeland in west Wales and blog posts on passions of mine such as sport and music.

I quickly found a rhythm with my blogging as it filled the void that had been left by the loss of my diary keeping. If there's been an urgent issue that has made its name in the news and I have happened to be on-line at the time to comment on it, I've done so there and then. But generally, if I have an opinion, I'll write about it in the evening after a day's work and before bed and will release it at a suitable point in the future. So I've usually got a back-log of a few blog posts waiting to be released as long as they are not time sensitive. I don't know if this is how other bloggers work but it has served me and my time constraints and working schedule, well.

In those formative months, Andrew Reeves was always at the end of a Facebook message, happy to help with any queries that I may have. I am indebted to him for the cheery support and encouragement that he gave to this green blogger still finding his feet in this overwhelming new world.

My Favourite Blog Posts
As I said, it was the opportunity to unleash the creative shackles of writing a formal diary to the more fluid form of blogging that has given me much pleasure over the past 12 months. In that time I have written 383 blog posts - just over one a day on average which almost corresponds directly to my old diary output.

The second part to this blog post which I'll publish tomorrow will cover the year in statistics but it's odd which blog posts prove popular and which don't. There are some that come out of nowhere to become the most widely read. Others which I've poured much love and affection into, are clearly not to the taste of the wider readership. But then, that's half the fun - not knowing which words of wisdom will fly and which will largely be left un-read.

So forgetting the data and the popularity or otherwise of what I have written, here's a small compilation of my personal favourite blog posts.

Losing a Father (Sept, 2009) - My Sympathies with David Cameron on the loss of a father, looking back at that same seminal moment in my life back in 2003.

The Pope and Me (Sept, 2009) - My views on religion as seen through the prism of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the UK.

A Time for Lib Dem MP's to Rebel (Oct, 2009) - My take on the Tuition Fees Debacle at the outset. As I said then, "There's a time and a place for rebellion - particularly in government. This is most certainly one of them".

The Aberfan Perspective (Oct, 2009) - One of the most poigniant posts that I have written.

My Desert Island Discs Choice of 8 (in Solidarity with Nick Clegg) (Oct, 2009) - An opportunity for me to espouse the virtues of my all-time favourite pieces of music.

My Flirtation with Burma (Nov, 2009) - A personal recollection of an Asian Odyssey to the Bridge on the River Kwai brought on by the release of Aung An Suu Kyi from house arrest in Burma.

"In the name of God, do your duty" - A Tribute to Atticus Finch (Nov, 2009) - An ode to a literary, fictional hero, 50 years after the launch of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.

Martin Bell, Ceredigion's W.I. and me (Nov, 2009) - My brush with a boyhood political idol (and Ceredigion's W.I.!).

A Homage to Christmas Number Ones (Dec, 2009) - A journey down the weird and wonderful world of some Christmas Classics (and some not so!).

I'd rather be watching the Darts down at the Lakeside... (Jan, 2010) - Realising a boyhood dream.

Jeux Sans Frontieres on S4C (1991-1994) - Wonderful Memories! (Jan, 2010) - Sentimental, childhood nostalgia.

Tesco Vs Sainsbury - Cardigan's Cuban Missile Crisis (Feb, 2010) - A supermarket war in Cardigan and my quotation of Dean Rusk in the Ceredigion County Council Planning Committee!

A Day in the (Cardigan) Life of Cllr Mark Cole (Feb, 2010) - Why I love being a Councillor.

Fianna Fail in Meltdown - Early Irish Election Results (Feb, 2010) - My fascination in Irish politics and history gave me a particular insight into a historic Irish election result.

The Deputy Prime Minister - Putting Ceredigion on the Map (April, 2010) - It isn't every day the Deputy PM comes to Ceredigion you know.

My Top 20 Greatest Sporting Commentary Moments Countdown (April, 2010) - Because I love sport and because I love iconic moments in sporting history.

My Ceredigion and Welsh Lib Dem Assembly Election Review (May, 2010) - Does exactly what it says on the tin.

An AV Referendum Battering? Good (May, 2010) - My blunt conclusion to an AV Referendum mauling.

Dyfed Celt Troops the Colour! ****Photo Special**** (June, 2010) - A proud day as our family's shire horse makes his big Horseguards Parade debut!

A Graduation of Aberystwyth Liberals (July, 2010) - Showing my appreciation to a fab gang of graduating student Liberal Democrat members.

My Weird and Wonderful Lib Dem Family (July, 2010) - Another poigniant post in the aftermath of the shock death of Andrew Reeves and the ties that bind my Liberal Democrat family together.

"Mr Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall" - Berlin, 50 Years On (Aug, 2010) - A glowing tribute to my favourite world city on the 50th anniversary of the erection of the Berlin Wall.

Memories of my Father (Aug, 2010) - A recall of my father and his love of photography.

As it happens, that brief selection begins and concludes with personal reflections on my father. That is one of the reasons I've enjoyed this past year in blogging. It has given me an opportunity to reflect publicly on what has been a fortunate life to date and all of the myriad different people and places that have touched it.

Tomorrow as I stated above, I'll be releasing my blog stats for the year.

Friday, 2 September 2011

It's all just a little bit of history repeating (not)

No, I don't mean the London Mayoral election that will see Boris Vs Ken Vs Brian next year as it was in 2008.

No, I'm talking about tonight's Welsh football result.

A year tomorrow, Wales lost their opening Euro '12 qualifier away in Montenegro. It was the catalyst that brought be back to blogging a day later. That first blog post here lamented a lifetime of frustration in following the Welsh football team.

It didn't get better either as they went on to lose their next 3 qualification matches. The ignominy of being cast in the same qualifying pot for the 2014 World Cup draw as the likes of the Faroe Islands, Andorra and San Marino as a result, really is the lowest of the low.

But the talent is there and tonight, a year on, we managed to inflict on an impressive Montenegran side, their first defeat of the campaign in a worthy 2-1 win. The hope for Wales must now be that we can go on and overcome Bulgaria and Switzerland in the group to finish a respectable 3rd to give us momentum going into the World Cup qualifiers next September.

So, to cheer what was a rare but much welcome result for the Welsh football team, a tribute from one of our own.

From 1997, it's Shirley Bassey and the Propellerheads.



It's all just a little bit of history repeating (not).

Thursday, 1 September 2011

My Internet Stat Porn Monthly Report (12) August

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

Summer Disruption
The problem this month however, is that I'm not going to give the detailed stats as I have had 'malfunctions' with the google analytics link to my blog.

It is in fairness my fault. During the month, having passed the 100,000 pageviews milestone, I decided to give my blog a make-over and therefore freshened it up with a whole new look and new local links. The problem is that I hadn't realised at the time that so doing disrupted the flow of data through to google analytics. I therefore went 3 whole days in the middle of the month with no data transfer at all until I managed, with great help from Greg Foster, to get the link up-and-running again.

I am wondering whether, now that I've gone full circle with a whole year of blogging, whether I shall give up n the monthly reports. I'll see how I feel this time next month.

So the stats here will be brief as I can not give an accurate, proper monthly report.

What I do know is that having written 32 blog posts this past month, as opposed to 30 in July and 25 in June, the viewing figures have actually been markedly lower because I've been writing more on local issues which don't attract as many 'hits'.

Although not complete because of that mid-month lapse, I am willing to give an indication as to the popularity of the most read blog posts this past month.

So 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. A Gareth Epps Sized Lib Dem Conference Farce
3. Labour's Leighton Andrews' Extraordinary Live TV Coco Pops Outburst
4. Wembley Bound with Swansea City AFC!
5. As the Yemenese Domino Falls, is Syria Next?
6. Lib Dem By-Election WIN
7. Cardigan Street Racing (featuring the 2011 Welsh National Criterium Championship)
8. In Praise of English Test Cricket...
9. 9am: Swansea City AFC - Premier League!
10. Reflections on A-Level Results Day

Of the 10, 5 were written this month - the other 5 are popular blog posts written in months past that continue to attract hits.

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, it is now on the verge of overtaking my 'The King's Speech' - The Book Vs The Film film (Spoiler Warning) blog post to become the most read post of all-time.

An International Blog!
I can at least give some concrete data on the countries that have been visiting the site.

The chart below has seen Denmark move into the Top 10 for the first time, whilst Poland has made a marked rise up the rankings. The dual reason for this is that I have seen a lot of extra traffic arrive at the site from these two countries over the past week to visit my Rory McIlroy - A Leap of Faith to Join the Immortals of Golf blog post.

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

1. United Kingdom (No Change) 49.6% (+0.3%)
2. United States (No Change) 20.3% (-0.8%)
3. Germany (No Change) 2.4% (-0.2%)
4. Canada (No Change) 2.3% (=)
5. Australia (No Change) 1.9% (-0.1%)
6. Ireland (No Change) 1.5% (-0.1%)
7. Poland (+2) 1.5% (+0.4%)
8. Denmark (New Entry) 1.3%
9. Brazil (-2) 1.2% (-0.1%)
10. France (-2) 1.2% (-0.1%)

It has continued to be a very cosmopolitan blog this month and honourable mentions must go in particular to the 2 new countries/territories that have provided its first viewers to my fledgling blog this August.

Timor-Leste and Aruba have both supplied their first readers to my blog during the past month taking the cumulative total of countries/territories to have supplied visitors to this blog over the past 12 months to 165!

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