Saturday, 28 January 2012

28th January 2002 - A Day That Changed My Life

In January 2002 I began keeping a diary. My father had done so for decades and despite many previous stalled attempts, I decided to give it another go. This time it proved more successful and my diary ran for over 7 years until the very day I became Mayor of Cardigan in May 2009 (to my regret, the sheer workload that came with the role obliterated any time I had to continue with the diary).

I've therefore been looking back with some nostalgia at those first few entries a whole decade ago. I was a second year student in Aberystwyth University living in Pantycelyn Halls of Residence and enjoying a new leash of life through the new confidence it had given me - a confidence that I had been lacking in secondary school.

Contact Lenses
Within weeks of that new year, and noted for posterity in that first diary, was a day that really did change my life completely.

I'd been mulling the possibility for some time but had rejected the call but on January 28th 2002, I decided to make the leap and attend a fitting for contact lenses at the Aberystwyth branch at Raynors.

Amidst the activities of what was already a busy day, in the middle of my report back on that day, I wrote in my diary:
"Then to Raynor's for a 4pm contact lenses appointment. Took ages to put in and take out but much quicker at 2nd attempt. Quite happy with them - now just need to get used to them".
It was a relatively mundane diary entry for what would prove to be a life changing decision.

The appointment itself really must've been a strength of patience for the poor woman helping me because it really did take an age for me to put the lenses in at first effort. By ages, I mean well over an hour! Putting one lense in and then the other before removing them one at a time. Of course, the whole concept of putting your finger into your eyes is one that makes anyone flinch and on this first occasion, I did so continuously! She had the patience of a saint and in fairness had probably seen it time and time again with first time contact lenses users.

A New Mark Cole
My diary over the following weeks included many updates on the slow journey of my getting used to wearing the contact lenses and despite some setbacks, I held firm and it wasn't long before the processes were like second nature to me.

10 years on, I still wear contact lenses religiously and am thankful for that day when I decided to make the jump.

Why the overhype? Well put simply, you'd need to have known me beforehand I expect to understand. Only my friends who have known me for more than 10 years will remember me before I wore contact lenses. My eyesight has always been poor and since I was a child I'd always worn rather thick glasses - your 'Harry Potter specks' if you like. It was something I think that was always on my mind going through those always challenging years in secondary school. Though a pleasant and attentive pupil, I certainly lacked in a level of self-confidence in school.

Going to University changed that significantly as it gave me an opportunity to meet new friends and to reach out beyond the levels to which I had previously. But still there must've been an underlying sense of unease with myself because otherwise, why would I have wanted to have a contact lense trial in the first place?

I can not underestimate how those contact lenses changed my life. Suddenly, from my small sink-side mirror in Room 210 in Pantycelyn, I was looking at a new Mark Cole. He didn't wear glasses but instead looked as he would've when he was born. It may read as an odd thing here, but suddenly I felt as if I looked attractive - something I expect I had never felt previously. Suddenly, I became much more comfortable within my own skin and that gave me greater confidence in how I lived my life from there on. It meant I could now go on daredevil rollercoaster rides and see where I was going! It meant I could have my haircut and see the progress in live time and not just hope that when I put my glasses on at the end that all would be fine! Little things and bigger things, it revolutionised how I saw myself and therefore how I lived my life as a result.

It's odd how something relatively trivial had such a large impact on my life but when speaking to friends, I have often spoken about how the day I first wore contact lenses was the first day of a new life.

That day was 28th January 2002. It's been a great 10 years and I can look back today in particular at a choice very, very well made.

Friday, 27 January 2012

My Top 10 National Anthems

Thanks to Peter Black for bringing this brilliant article from the BBC about the 'sing-ability' of the Welsh national anthem 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' to my attention.

I have a soft spot for national anthems. They can say a lot about the country that it represents. Each has a unique quality that makes it stand out from the rest. In fact, so keen am I for these musical oddities, I have been known to run an audio round in quizzes that I have written for various gatherings, with a 'Guess the nation that this anthem represents' theme. Sad, I know!

As a particular connoisseur of sporting events and occasions, I have long been used to hearing the anthems of various countries being played, either in the build-up to a team event or in the celebratory occasion of a podium conclusion to a team or individual event.

It goes without saying that 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' is my Number 1. Yes it's because it's Welsh, but for any patriotic Welshman, it has a passionate resonance and a melody that inspires us greatly. I'm delighted that this academic article has shown that it comes out favourably on the 'sing-ability' scale though it doesn't surprise me at all.

So I'm taken it for granted that it is my favourite and removing it from the ensuing list which will countdown my otherwise Top 10 National Anthems.

No.10 - USA (Star Spangled Banner - Marvin Gaye at the 1968 World Series)

No.9 - Australia (Advance Australia Fair - Delta Goodrem at the Melbourne Cup)

No.8 - China (March of the Volunteers - with subtitles)

No.7 - Germany (Deutschlandlied - 1998 British GP Podium Ceremony)

No.6 - Russia (National Anthem of the Russian Federation)

No.5 - France (La Marseillaise)

No.4 - Brazil (Hino Nacional Brasileiro)

No.3 - Italy (Il Canto degli Italiani)

No.2 - Canada (Oh Canada!)

My number on though has to be the anthem that united a nation in more ways than one. Merged in 1997, Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika employs the five most widely spoken of South Africa's eleven official languages - Xhosa (first stanza, first two lines), Zulu (first stanza, last two lines), Sesotho (second stanza), Afrikaans (third stanza) and English (final stanza). It is an incredible and worthy attempt to demonstrate and honour the multi-cultural make-up of a nation.

No.1 - South Africa (Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Meeting my Childhood Heroes: Andy 'The Viking' Fordham, Richie 'The Prince of Wales' Burnett and Me

Apologies to those who are not conoisseurs of the darting world for my back-to-back blog posts on this fine sport but it has indeed very much been a darting weekend for me.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jamie Lewis' wonderful weekend in qualifying for the full PDC circuit for the next 2 years is great news for us who know him here in his native Cardigan.

As it happens, on the 3rd day of that 4-day Q School in Barnsley, I was safely ensconced in another darting environment whilst keeping a close eye on his progress all-the-same.

Worthingtons Scarlets Darts Masters
To be precise, I'd been given time off for good behaviour to attend the inaugural darts masters at Llanelli's Parc Y Scarlets.

As a big fan of darts since I was a child, this was my opportunity to meet superstars of the game such as Phil 'The Power' Taylor, Simon Whitlock, James Wade and Mark Webster whilst also brushing shoulders with boyhood heroes of mine such as Co Stompe, Richie Burnett and Andy Fordham in what was a 5-Nations darting exhibition.

Having bought VIP tickets early on for the event, we got to enjoy a splendid (and it really was) 3-course meal prior to the event whilst greeting the above mentioned stars including Vincent van der Voort, John Henderson, Robert Thornton, Paul Nicholson and Barry Bates.

But whilst the 10 playing darters were introduced to us rather briefly, the two guest darters Fordham and Burnett arrived much earlier and were hanging around the bar at leisure talking to fans and signing

Andy 'The Viking' Fordham
At this point, the 15 year old in me got all excited and along with my friend Eleri who was with me and who was no less enthused, went over to wait in the impromptu Andy Fordham queue.

One of the most popular players on the circuit, Andy Fordham famously broke a run of losing in 4 BDO World Championship semi-finals when he won the crown in 2004 in his only appearance in the final. By now a postgraduate student in Aberystwyth University, I was still an avid darts fan and was delighted at what was a famously popular victory for the likeable Fordham.

His battle with his weight has been well known. He was known to consume some 25 bottles of lager before playing a dars match and at one stage weighed 31 stone. He's make great strides to lose much weight after that 2004 win having been told by doctors that his liver was 75% dead. He entered the TV programme Celebrity Fit Club and in time, he managed to lose some 15 stone.

But unbeknowns to me, a difficult personal year for my hero had led to him putting back on the weight. He has shot back up from 16 stone to 24 stone and when he signed my programme on Saturday (see above photo), he looked it. This wasn't the fitter, leaner Andy Fordham, but much more like that famous figure that lifted that famous trophy back in 2004. I didn't really take it in at the time as I was just too excited to see him and indeed, this was the image of the man that I had grown up with. But thinking back, with the sight of him drinking what seemed to be a watered down lager, it is a great concern. He said to me, "You don't mind I sit down do you?" and who was I to argue with this legend of the oche?

But it is a concern and I hope that he returns to full health soon as he has stated that he intends to do.

Richie 'The Prince of Wales' Burnett
Whilst waiting to see Andy, there at the bar standing a few feet away from us was Burnett, sipping a pint and chatting to fellow fans. I was a big fan of his when he reached 3 BDO World finals and won the crown in that first final in 1995 - Wales' first BDO win since Leighton Rees in 1978. He's making a worthy comeback on the PDC circuit and happily posed for photos with us and signed our programmes. What a star!

At this point I must add that Eleri was getting ridiculously excited! For me, Andy was the more iconic of the two stars but it was clear that Eleri hero-worshipped Richie!

The Darts
In the competition itself, it was a joy to watch from our VIP oche-side seats, the 15-time World Champion Phil Taylor in action. I've never seen the greatest dart player there has ever been play live before, but I have now. He and James Wade comfortably despatched Mark Webster and Barry Bates in the semi-final whilst Australia's Simon Whitlock and Paul Nicholson defeated Scotland's John Henderson and Robert Thornton after the latter had knocked-out the Dutch duo Co Stompe and Vincent van der Voort in a preliminary round.

In the final, despite leading 'The Machine' 3-0 in legs, Paul Nicholson lost 4 on the spin to James Wade who gave England the first rubber. 'The Power' then defeated Simon Whitlock to avoid the necessity of a doubles decider. The tournament victory then was England's and Rupert Moon of the Scarlets led the presentation ceremony in front of a packed 2,000 strong crowd in the Delme Thomas Centre.

It was a great night watching some of the world's present best darters competing for national pride and also some older blasts from the past. Speaking of which, before the final, Burnett and Fordham played a best of 3 legs exhibition match which Richie won 2-1.

The crowd lapped it all up. The walk-ons were fantastic fun! With every player coming on to their own chosen anthem, it gave the whole room plenty to get animated about! Many (and I would have to add myself to this list!) would be standing on their chairs and clapping manically to the beat as for example Phil Taylor came on to his iconic theme 'The Power' by Snap, Simon Whitlock came on to 'The Land Down Under' by Men at Work, Robert Thornton entered to the strains of The Proclaimers' 'I would Walk (500 Miles)', whilst the Welsh crowd went wild for Mark Webster's entry to The Stereophonics' hit 'The Bartender and the Thief'.

The one thing I did disapprove of were the Walk On Girls. At the Lakeside, the BDO don't demean women by using them as eye-candy whilst leading on the players but the PDC have clearly got a different philosophy on such things. Personally, it's not to my taste.

Apart from that, it was a brilliant night. I hope to see these darting giants again in the future but for now, I can at least say that I've seen and met some of my childhood heroes and can personally state that Richie and Andy were gentlemen - happy to meet their adoring fans and re-inforcing in this one at least that status of hero worship which they deserve and which I'm pleased to say, was not mis-placed.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Jamie Lewis puts Cardigan on the PDC Darting Map

It's been a great weekend for Cardigan's top darter Jamie Lewis.

Yesterday, the 20 year old gained a 2-year PDC Tour Card after coming through stiff competition from a 200+ strong field in the PDC's 4-Day Qualifying School in Barnsley.

Source: Red Dragon Darts
I've known Jamie and his family here in Cardigan for a number of years and as a keen follower of darts since I was a child, have taken a particular interest in Jamie's development as a former World Youth Darts Champion through to his progression onto the senior BDO and now PDC, darts circuit.

Jamie is a smashing lad. Indeed when he was 18, he became the first Welshman and youngest ever darter to be voted the British BDO Personality-of-the-Year. As the previous winner Martin 'Wolfie' Adams said of Jamie on him winning the prestigious award at the time: "He is a great lad, a credit to the sport of darts and I congratulate him on the award which is well-deserved".

Having taken strides forward in the BDO, he entered the PDC's Q School. I've been keeping a keen eye on the developments throughout the weekend on the PDC website and after 3 days of consistent, solid performances, Jamie gained one of the final 4 automatic Tour Cards yesterday afternoon out of a crowd of 204. This is a stunning achievement in itself and shows that the faith that many in the know in the darting world have in Jamie is well placed. Indeed, in avoiding having to earn his Tour Card via the 4-day cumulative Qualifying Order of Merit, Jamie out-gunned well known darters such as Andy Jenkins, Peter Manley, Chris Mason, Colin Monk and former BDO World Champions Les Wallace and Andy Fordham.

Indeed, Jamie beat the former World Championship semi-finalist Andy Jenkins 6-3 in legs yesterday in the final round to win his Tour Card outright.

The PDC Tour
This important milestone in Jamie's career means that he will now be one of only 128 PDC Tour Card holders for the following 2 years. This means that he will be guaranteed a place in all of the PDC's ranking tournaments which have a total £5m prize fund throughout the season. Jamie will now brush shoulders with the likes of Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, Simon Whitlock, James Wade and Raymond Van Barneveld who he shall now strive to compete against in the TV majors later in the coming season.

I'm excited for Jamie for the years ahead. He has so much potential and he now has the opportunity to demonstrate that at the very highest level in World darts.

Good luck Jamie. You've put Cardigan on the PDCs darting map and we're very proud of all of your achievements. Now go and win some more!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana

I adore classical music as I have testified time enough previously in this blog. Despite the annoying ad breaks, I am I must admit, a keen fan of Classic FM. Indeed, it is the 'default' radio station on my bed-side radio.

Every spring sees the climax of the annual Classic FM vote on our all-time classical tracks. It is apparently, the world's largest vote on classical music. I've never entered before but I may do this year. They request 3 song choices from each viewer - a Gold, Silver and Bronze choice for our top 3 individual pieces of classical music.

My problem is the narrowing down of the sheer wealth of classical music that I enjoy to just 3 tracks. It feels like an almost impossible task.

But one of the front-runners would certainly be this piece that I heard on Classic FM this morning and which I have adored since before I can remember.

It's the romantic and in my book, highly under-rated Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Nos Da i 'Denz' o Pobol Y Cwm - 1984-2012

Mae'n noson drist. Mae trigolion Cwm Deri yn delio gyda marwolaeth Denzil 'Denz' Rees arol 28 mlynedd ym Mhobol Y Cwm. Y diwedd yn dod yng nghannol gem o Scrabble!

It's been a sad night. The death of Denzil 'Denz' Rees after 28 years in Cwm Deri on Pobol Y Cwm brought to an end the life of the 10th longest-serving character in UK soap opera. He passed away tonight in the middle of a game of Scrabble!

Nos da Denz bach. Cysga'n dawel.

Good Luck Chris Coleman

So today the worst secret in British football became public knowledge.

For a good week or so now it has been abundantly clear that the FAW were looking to appoint Chris Coleman as the next Welsh football manager.

There have been murmurings of discontent at his apparent choice. Most notably from Welsh Captain Aaron Ramsey. But the concerns that Coleman will shake up a settled backroom staff has been calmed by his insistence that he will work alongside those who were there before.

Gary Speed
It's this 'before' that is understandably causing so much angst for all involved. The FAW found themselves in the near impossible position of trying to find a way forward in the aftermath of Gary Speed's shock, sudden death as I posted about at the time at the end of November.

With the national team on the up and with a new cast of young up-and-coming, aspiring new players beginning to make their international mark, the blow of Gary's death was doubly felt. So much potential but suddenly, a shock to the system that now required a careful and compassionate transition to a new management team.

It is an unenviable task in the circumstances.

I would normally comment about the alternative candidates for the job and whether the choice made by the powers that be was a wise one. I certainly didn't hold back on my opinions when by beloved Aston Villa chose Alex McLeish as manager back in the summer.

So I could mention the only other name that had shown interest in the role, the ever-popular John Hartson. Popular with the players but lacking in managerial expertise? But then wasn't Mark Hughes in a similar position when he took on the Welsh reins a decade ago? What of Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush or Dean Saunders? All respected names in their own right.

Well, in all fairness to Chris Coleman, I see no point in going over the maybes or the alternate possibilities. At the end of the day, he's a well respected former player in his own right having played for Swansea City, Crystal Palace, Blackburn and Fulham and at the latter, showed great promise as a young manager before moving on to Spain and Greece where he managed Real Sociedad and Larissa respectively.

In the awful circumstances in which we have found ourselves, it is to Chris Coleman's credit that he has willingly put his name forward for any self-respecting Welsh football fan's dream role considering that it is in the worst possible circumstances imaginable.

As the BBC report on his appointment mentioned, Mark Hughes himself said of the news: "I think he'll [Chris] do a great job and respect the legacy Gary left behind."

In the circumstances, that is all we can wish for.

Good luck Chris Coleman. I don't envy you in the job ahead but you have my 110% backing. Go and make Speedo and the rest of Wales proud.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Back to the Future: Senna Signs for Williams

It feels as if there's a little bit of history repeating on the news yesterday that Bruno Senna has signed to drive for Williams F1 this season.

The timing for me is particularly poigniant. I recently watched the film Senna on DVD which chartered the career of Bruno's legendary uncle, Ayrton Senna.

Uncle Ayrton Senna with a young Bruno
As a connoisseur of Formula One and of its history and heritage in particular, the film was an absolute triumph. I was absolutely blown away at the raw archive footage and family sanctioned home videos that was used to guide us through the short-lived life of one of motor racing's greatest-ever drivers.

In places it reduced me to tears. Watching Martin Donnelly's career-ending crash at Jerez in 1990 sent shivers of horror down my spine. But watching the build-up to the San Marino Grand Prix of May 1st 1994 was heart-breaking.

I remember the moment vividly. I was on holiday that weekend with my parents in Cornwall and for once as a result, missed the race itself. I had begun watching F1 back in 1991 as a then 9 year old and Senna was for me the villain of the peace when up against my hero Nigel Mansell.

On the Friday of qualifying, April 29th 1994, Rubens Barrichello suffered a horrendous crash. Watching it in the film, it looked horrifying. How did Rubens survive that, like Donnelly did in 1990 I will never know. A day later however, Roland Ratzenberger was not so fortunate. On Saturday 30th April 1994, he became the first fataility in F1 since Elio de Angelis in 1986.

The next day, Senna, so the film tells us, went out to drive in only his 3rd race for the under-performing Williams with an Austrian flag hidden in his overalls. He had planned to unfurl it on the podium in memory of Ratzenberger at the end of the race. Senna never got to made that gesture.

Dad, Mum and I were driving back that Sunday afternoon from Land's End - the only time before or since that I have visited the British mainland's most south-westerly point. We were driving back listening to the radio news bulletin which to this day I recall announcing that 'the sporting world is mourning the death of...'. I can remember instantly thinking that it was surprising that they were still leading on the news headlines with the death of Ratzenberger a full 24 hours later. Then came the words that must've sent the coldest of shivers down mine and my father's backs - 'Ayrton Senna'.

Until I watched the film in recent weeks, I had never seen in the 18 years since, that moment when his Williams crashed at the Tamburello corner at Imola. I never wanted too. It was a rare race that I didn't watch live and I couldn't bring myself to watch the death of a superstar of the track after that. But the film, made with the permission of Senna's family, brought me to a head with that awful moment. As I watched it and the moments afterwards as the emergency services strived in vain to save him, I was moved to tears.

Now, only weeks later, the news is that Senna will race for Williams once more. In this case, the younger nephew will replace the Brazilian compatriot that was so fortunate to survive that crash on the Friday at Imola '94.

Ayrton and Rubens at Imola '94
After 19 distinguished years in F1, Rubens Barrichello looks set to bow out to the young Brazilian having started in an all-time record 322 Grand Prix. As a big fan of Rubenio, I will miss him if this does indeed mark the end of his F1 career.

Will Bruno Senna step-up a level at Williams in 2012? His form to date has been mixed and the very name that he carries must surely weigh heavily on his shoulders. But I'm sure he will do his best to do the family, and the memory of his uncle Ayrton, proud.

As for Rubenio, he can be thankful that he raced in the safest era of F1. The past decade was the first in F1 history in which there were no fatalities. 15 F1 drivers were killed in the 1950s, 14 were killed in the 1960s, 12 were killed in the 1970s, 4 were killed in the 1980s and 2, Roland and Ayrton, were killed in the 1990s. There have been no fatalities since but there have been some close scrapes.

So whilst Bruno races on, Rubenio, unlike the 47 who have lost their lives between 1952-1994 has at least lived to tell the tale of his career to his family. Ayrton Senna was the most recent in a sadly long-line of drivers who never had that opportunity.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Greatest at 70: A Tribute to Muhammad Ali

There is little than can be said of Muhammad Ali that has not been said already.

So to celebrate his 70th birthday today, I felt it apt to publish a handful of clips from his life that gave us an all-round view of this man - the boxer, the entertainer the man, the humanitarian, the Olympian.

The Boxer
We begin with what he did best. I could've chosen one of any number of videos to demonstrate just why he was a phenomenal sportsman in the ring but for me, one stands out.

Is this the greatest punch ever thrown in a Boxing Ring? In 1974 in the famous 'Rumble in the Jungle', Ali won back the World Championship Belt against George Foreman at the grand old age of 32. Harry Carpenter's Radio commentary added to the majesty of the moment as he described how Ali did it with a punch that came out of nowhere. It was the Ali way - soak up the punches and then counter-attack from off of the ropes.

"...and I don't think Foreman's going to get up...AND HE'S OUT. Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32".

The Entertainer
Ali wasn't just quick and fleet of foot in the ring - he was quick with his mouth too.

Michael Parkinson saw this side of him more than most of his contemporaries. He interviewed Ali in 1971, 1974, 1975 and 1981.

You can't fail to watch this montage of Parky's favourite moments in his 'special relationship' with Ali without smiling at Ali's quick-witted responses.

The Man
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinsons Syndrome in 1984, aged just 42. It has proven to be the greatest fight of his life but as in his earlier years, his tenacity, his dogged determination and his faith have seen him through.

Here he is, speaking on MSNBC News in 1991. Not even aged 50, the shocking change in his condition is clear as his speech has slowed from the hurtling speed of his earlier years as shown above, to a quiet but considered and deliberate murmour.

The Humanitarian
In his retirement, Ali has dedicated his life for humanitarian ends. For his work with the US civil rights movement and the United Nations, he received the the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony and the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold of the UN Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin - both in 2005.

That same year, his $60 million non-profit Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to displaying his boxing memorabilia, the center focuses on core themes of peace, social responsibility, respect, and personal growth.

The Olympian
For me, as one who was too young to remember him in his pomp, there is one moment, one memory that I do own and which will forever remain with me. It was his lighting of the Olympic Torch at the official opening of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to the sound of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy'. Watching this again for the first time in over 15 years brought me to the edge of tears.

This for me, spoke of a greater strength than he ever showed in the Boxing Ring. It spoke of a resolve to live his life and to continue to fight, in the full light of media exposure, his greatest battle of all.

The Greatest
To conclude my birthday tribute to The Greatest and to bring us back full cirlce, this clip from those same Olympics in 1996 when the IOC Chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch presented Ali with a replacement Gold Medal for the one that he had won in the 1960 Olympics in Rome but which had since been lost.

If the sight of him lighting the Olympic Cauldron nearly moved me to tears, this did the jov completely. Watching him accept the applause and adulation of the crowd and of the professional basketball players of the day, was wonderful.

It showed above all, that he is loved, respected and adored by all. Not only for what he achieved inside the ring, but for everything he has done outside of it, as well.

Happy 70th birthday Muhammad Ali

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Total Football: In Praise of Swansea City

After years of prevaricating, I finally made the jump last week and ordered Sky TV.

I arrived back from the darts at the Lakeside last Monday just in time for the Sky engineer's arrival for the installation.

So today I sat down to watch my first ever live Premiership match from the comfort of my own sofa. I could've watched Newcastle Vs QPR of course but no, there was live Masters Snooker on the BBC and a Ronnie O'Sullivan Vs Ding Junhui sizzler at that and anyway, what better first live match could I watch than Swansea City Vs Arsenal?

Total Football
Those first 90 minutes were an absolute joy to watch and validated my decision to buy Sky TV in one fail swoop.

Swansea City out-passed Arsenal! They played the Gunners at their own game and came out deserved winners. They had 55% of the possession, made over 100 more passes than the Londoners and had a higher pass completion rate!

That, in anyone's mind, is phenomenal. The fact that they did so having gone a goal down in the opening 10 minutes, makes it an even worthier effort.

As I blogged here back in April, I was at Wembley when the Swans won their place in the Premiership. It was a joyous day. But looking ahead, there was no doubt that a tough year lay ahead. Since then, the Swans have lit up the Premier League with the same sparkling brand of football that has brought them up through the league pyramid in recent years. They've been praised by senior commentators in the game and by the likes of old-hands such as Harry Redknapp who have extolled their many virtues.

Brendan Rodgers deserves much credit for instilling into his squad the continued confidence to play the attractive brand of football that has won them so many admirers. It has meant as we head into the second half of the season that they sit happily in the top half of the table. There's still work to do but that 'magic' 40 points mark which is usually seen as the level required to stave off relegation is quickly drawing-in.

On today's performance, Swansea City should be preparing for a second season in the top flight. It would be a sad day for football if that didn't turn out to be the case.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Why Alex Salmond rightly holds the Ace in the Unionist Pack

I've been quite bemused this week at the toing and froing between Edinburgh and London on the issue of the timing of the referendum on Scottish independence.

David Cameron made a right dogs dinner of the attempting to put pressure on Alex Salmond and the SNP to bring forward the referendum to a time of Westminster's choosing.

Westminster watchers need to remember who it was that won the election in Scotland back in May of last year. Not only did the SNP win that election, but they transformed the political landscape north of Hadrian's Wall by winning an outright majority in a system run under proportional representation - a stunning electoral achivement. They did so on the promise of calling a referendum at the latter end of this Parliament.

So I'm sorry, but Alex Salmond has the electoral mandate to do exactly what he has stated in recent days - to hold a referendum in 2014.

Is the concern for economic investment in Scotland in the current constitutionally uncertain climate David Cameron's main worry as he states or is it just a ploy to try and get at the SNP? I expect it's a bit of both but it does him and Westminster more generally no good to be seen to be attempting to force this issue with the Scottish Parliament when they have already achieved an overwhelming mandate to do exactly what it is that they state wil occur in 30 months time.

Don't get me wrong here. I don't like Alex Salmond - I never have. I despair of his brand of nationalism which for me is rather distasteful and inward-looking. But he must be putting something into the water because it would seem that a lot of people like him and it does not do the Unionist camp any good to be trying to undermine him by a British Prime Minister whose own party can only muster a single Scottish Member of Parliament.

Of course there is concern that the Union might break-up but the decision must reside in Scotland and their elected government have the moral right to call that date at a time of their choosing. 2014 of course is of particular historic significance because it will mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Banockburn of 1314 when Robert the Bruce crushed the forces of King Edward II. There may be concern that the SNP will use this co-incidence to galvanise nationalistic fervour in favour of a new break from England. This I'm sure will undoubtedly be the case but again I say, tough. The SNP won the election and have the mandate to choose that date in that oh so significant year if they so wish. It doesn't mean that they have a cast iron certainty of winning the referendum of course, but they do have the right to choose that date all the same.

The Scottish Liberal Democrat Conundrum
As to the role the Scottish Liberal Democrats should play in this on-going saga, whilst I don't wish to tread on the feet of my own Celtic colleagues, I have taken great interest in the many comments made on-line by them over recent days. The response to Secretary of State Michael Moore's intervention in the House of Commons on Tuesday was particularly interesting. Andrew Page, Caron Lindsay and Alex Folkes certainly felt that he made a fine attempt at clearing up Cameron's mess.

Dan Falchikov however, believes that his comments were just another example of how the Scottish Liberal Democrats need to stop digging. As he said:
"The Liberal Democrats as a party that has always backed home rule should not be seen to be impeding the properly expressed wish of a democratically mandated Scots government.
"A period of silence from Moore, Cameron and Osborne on the constitutional question would be welcome - and might buy the Scottish party some breathing space to remove itself from the unionist hook it has impaled itself on".
This feeling chimes with the sentiments made by Andrew Page who blogged:
"There is absolutely no advantage into being tied into a Lab-Con-Lib alliance in which our distinctive voice and vision would be drowned out. We can do little for the cause of Scottish liberalism if for the next three years we are simply a minor partner in a coalition of negativity. In any case, the "no" campaign does not need us, and we don't need it. Instead, we have to find means of informing the political debate, speak common sense where necessary, to act as a sobering force, questioning detail and empowering the electorate to make an informed choice".

I sympathise particularly with Dan and Andrew's concerns.

As they see it, it is a matter of being seen as a positive force in the referendum and not necessarily as being simply reactionary. After all, the Liberal Democrats are a Federal Party. So why not support the provision of a referendum question that includes the 'Devo-Max' option of greater autonomy whilst remaining within the Union? It makes it clear that the party is not stuck in the past and wants a prosperous and free-thinking Scotland which at the same time has the cushion of continued association with the United Kingdom.

As a radical Welsh liberal, it is what I would wish to see here. A strong and powerful Welsh Parliament and civic society, deciding on its own issues whilst leaving the fundamental issues of defence to a federal UK-wide government.

These things are never straight forward of course but I would sense that the Scottish Liberal Democrats have an opportunity to carve out their own unique space in this debate. Otherwise they will be painted into the same corner as the Conservatives and Labour. This of course is exactly what Alex Salmond wants and therefore must surely be a situation that is best avoided.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Cardigan Bath-House Petrol Station Go-Ahead

I've spent the morning in the monthly Ceredigion County Council planning committee here in Aberaeron.

Once more we've seen the latest chapter in the on-going saga that is the Bath-House development which I have commented on in this blog numerous times previously.

I called-in the application before the full committee because of the concerns in town and in the area about the slippage on site on the plateau which has been built to house the proposed Sainsbury's supermarket. We've already been told that the plans are 12 months behind time because the cut and fill land is not stable as is the case with the new Bath-House-Gwbert link road. I felt that this information needed to be shared to planning committee members before they came to a decision.

So whilst this plan is an improvement on the one that was refused last summer when the Environment Agency Wales objected to the initial plan of housing the petrol tanks above the Afon Mwldan relief tunnel, there are clearly still concerns. Yes, the now proposed petrol station will not be situated above the tunnel and the risk of seepage into the water course is therefore reduced, it will nevertheless be placed within the plateau that remains unstable.

A lively debate followed my comments as a local member and many Councillors on the committee echoed my concerns and those of local residents about the very security of the land on which this proposed petrol station and indeed the supermarket, is supposed to be built on.

With some reluctance, the planning committee accepted the officers' reassurance that no build could proceed until the engineers on-site have confirmed that the land is ready for the development. I don't have a vote as I am not a member of the committee but of those that did, all were in favour of approving the petrol station save one Councillor, who objected.

It was right that the concerns were brought to the committee so that they were fully informed of current concerns in the town and I'm grateful to those Councillors who added to that that I said.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

My Internet Stat Porn Monthly Report (16) December

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

A Busy Month / A Quiet Month
In one way, December was a busy month, in another, it was not.

My output for the month of 33 blog posts was the highest since March. This was due to my daily Musical Advent Calendar countdown to Christmas which accounted for 24 of the 33 posts. Despite this, because that bulk was of a niche interest, my December total viewing figures were markedly down on the previous month.

In December, I had a total of just 2,753 absolute unique visitors to my blog (down on my November total of 4,159 and substantially so on my May record of 6,485). Those 2,753 absolute unique visitors made 2,954 visits to my blog in December (again down on the 4,346 total from November and substantially down on the 6,908 record from May). They viewed 7, 310 pages (down on the Novmber total of 10,780 pages and the October record of 11,517 pages).

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

1. 9am: Swansea City AFC - Premier League!
2. My Xmas Card from Nick Clegg and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez
3. Labour's Leighton Andrews' Extraordinary Live TV Coco Pops Outburst
4. 'The King's Speech' - The Book Vs The Film (SPOILER WARNING!)
5. The Master of Political Cartoon Satire - The Independent's Dave Brown
6. Brian Blessed, Chancellor of Cambridge University?!
7. 2011: A Bad Year for Bad Men - Kim Jong-il joins Bin Laden & Gaddafi. Who's next?
8. The Aberfan Perspective
9. Ed Balls Can't Count
10. The Princes in the Tower - A Gruesome 1483 Royal Mystery: Solved

Of the 10, only 4 were written this month though this is the best new entry effort since August. The other 6 are popular blog posts written in months past that continue to attract hits. The 4 that I wrote this month came in at No.2, 7, 9 and 10.

Blog Traffic
Of all of the blog visitors this past month, 11.61% were through direct traffic (down from 13.57% in November), 28.33% came from referring sites (down from 43.49% in November) and 60.05% via search engines (up from 42.94% in November).

The bounce rate for the month was 14.69% (up on the November total of 7.34%). 78.54% of the total were new visits as opposed to 21.46% returning visitors.

An International Blog!
The visitors to my little blog came from 97 countries/territories this month - down from my November tally of 99 and down further on my May record of 123, with a cumulative total of 175 countries/territories having supplied visitors to my blog to date.

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

1. United Kingdom (No Change) 52.1% (=)
2. United States (No Change) 18.3% (-0.1%)
3. Brazil (No Change) 2.2% (=)
4. Germany (No Change) 2.1% (=)
5. Canada (No Change) 1.9% (-0.1%)
6. Australia (No Change) 1.7% (-0.1%)
7. Holland (+1) 1.4% (+0.1%)
8. Ireland  (-1) 1.4% (=)
9. France (+1) 1.2% (=)
10. Poland (-1) 1.2% (=)

A calm month with relatively little change in the Top 10 apart from Holland's continued move up to 7th from 8th and a rise from 10th to 9th for France.

It has continued to be a very cosmopolitan blog this month and honourable mentions must go in particular to the 5 new countries/territories that have provided its first viewers to my blog this December. This is the highest number of new nations to have visited my blog in a given month since last July.

Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Andorra, Nicaragua and Haiti have all 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!

Monday, 2 January 2012

On Becoming Engaged!

It has certainly been a memorable start to 2012!

I had decided before Christmas that I would propose to Alyson on New Year's Day. 2011 has health-wise, been a tough year all round for us so I decided that the perfect way to begin a New Year was to look forward and not back and what better way of doing that than by proposing marriage?!

We've been together now for 2 years and a week (since Boxing Day 2009) and you know when friends and family are constantly asking when will there be an announcement that in the eyes of the wider world, this was the next logical step. Thankfully for Alyson and I, it was also how we saw it. We have spoken about the future and getting married so it wasn't exactly an 'out-of-the-blue' proposal but having said that, I wanted to get it as right as possible.

So I bought the ring in the old year. Knowing that Alyson isn't one for flashy jewellery, I bought a small, under-stated but lovely looking 9 carat diamond 3 ring stone  9 ct gold, 3 stone diamond ring (thanks Stephen!) as shown here in the photo. I must admit, that on searching for the ring in Carmarthen one afternoon late last year, I was very much like a fish out of water! Anyone who knows me will laugh at the concept of me tryng to find a suitable engagement ring for Alyson! But, I took a no-nonsense attitude into the enterprise and having visited 4 or 5 different stores that afternoon, I made my decision and bought the ring that same day!

With Alyson being an only child, her family are very close and they have made me feel like a part of the family over the past 2 years. So it was only right that I do the traditional thing in advance and ask for parental blessing for me to ask her the question. Again, I did this in the old year and because they are so close, I asked both her mother and father for their blessing and not just her father as is the traditional way of things. I'm glad to report that they consented!

The History
That brought the final question of the 'where' and the 'when'. The 'when' as I had decided above would be on the first day of a New Year. The 'where' was not so straight forward. With the weather over the New Year here in west Wales so changeable, I was owing much to luck.

In the end, I left it to my father to decide. Dad's is a south Pembrokeshire family and I spent the first 17 years of my life living down near Loveston and Martletwy so my roots are firmly planted in the soil of the south. Dad passed away back in 2003 but we have fond memories of him and a wealth of his home-made videos which he would customise from home on his editing suite. Many of those videos started with the views of the sunsets in the west Wales sky and the one that always stays with me are those sunsets at Landshipping on the Cleddau Estuary played to a relaxing classical music back-drop. Landshipping as the crow flies can be no more than 4 or so miles from my paternal home and barely a mile or so from Martletwy where I attended Sunday School and where my father's sister Aunty June and her family, my cousins, live today. My great-Aunty Dolly lived in Landshipping too and I vaguely recall visits down to the village and to the same quay there from where my father filmed much of his video footage.

Down at the quay also is the small monument to Pembrokeshire's greatest mining disaster when, on Valentine's Day, February 14th 1844, 40 miners drowned in a horrific accident at the Garden Pit mine there. The shaft was 67 yards deep and much of the workings ran beneath the estuarial waters of the Cleddau and Daucleddau rivers. Miners were at their work when the usual water seepage, which was encountered at this mine suddenly began to increase in volume. This concerned the miners so much that they left the mine only to be sent back after being reassured that all was well. One hour later the sea broke into the workings in such a deluge that 40 miners were drowned, unable to escape the torrent.

In 2002, the bilingual Memorial Plaque there was erected by the community in memory of a disaster that tore the heart and soul out of the community. I haven't been to Landshipping in that time and it's quite likely that my father never saw this plaque before he passed away in 2003. The names are of young men and children of the village and it struck home with me to see that the surnames of 5 of them was 'Cole'. Indeed, 3 of them were John Cole. My name is John Mark Cole. My father's first cousin is John Cole. Indeed, when my paternal grandfather Benjamin married my paternal grandmother Maud, she didn't have to change her name - she was already a Cole from a different branch of the name .Such is the popularity of the Cole name down in south Pembrokeshire! It was from her side of the family that great-Auntie Dolly came from and she as I have stated above lived in Landshipping. So I intend to investigate into my family history on my father's side as I expect that it quite sadly may be the case that a number of these names on the plaque, are distant relatives of mine.

The Big Ask
So, being a sentimentalist at heart with a close association to my family history, I chose to go back to Landshipping for the first time since I was a child and I proposed to Alyson there down at the quayside. Tradition being as it is and many have asked me this over the past 24 hours, I can now confirm that I did get down on one knee and propsed to her in Welsh and she did indeed say yes!

The weather wasn't the best but during the time we were there, we were fortunate enough to have had a lull in the showery rain that had persisted all day. We drove back to Llanboidy to Alyson's home to tell her parents the news. On the way, I called my mother and spoke or left messages with my 4 elder siblings to tell them the news also! Everyone I'm pleased to say, was delighted!

So, there you have it! I am now engaged and may I take this opportunity of thanking everyone who in the past 24 hours have shown such love, affection and friendship on our happy news. Mine and Alyson's Facebook page has gone absolutely insane on the news! I've had over 200 'likes' to the status and relationship updates and innumerable messages of goodwill from friends near and far. Alyson can account for the same.

So 2012 is here, it's a new start for us and looking forward, may I wish everyone a happy and a positive year.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A Happy ABBA New Year to you all

As the lyrics of this highly under-rated ABBA song goes...

"Happy new year, Happy new year, May we all have a vision now and then, Of a world where every neighbour is a friend".

I wish all of my blog readers a happy, prosperous and peaceful 2012.