Monday, 31 December 2012

A Happy ABBA New Year to all!

I know that I'm probably sounding like an old record with this now regular New Year's post, but this is ABBA and it is New Year, so you're stuck with it!

I do adore this song though and as the lyrics of this highly under-rated ABBA hit 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 2013.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Roger Williams MP & Rodney Berman Honoured in New Years Honours List

Stephen Glenn this morning was hot off the press with his response to the Olympic-laden New Years Honours List.

I was delighted to see the likes of Bradley Wiggins receiving a Knighthood and our Welsh Taekwondo Olympic wonder Jade Jones receiving an MBE for their efforts. But for the exhaustative Olympic list, please do check out Stephen's post for the run-down.

I would like to add from a sporting context that Andy Murray was awarded the OBE after a stellar year on the court and well deserved that accolade was too.

Roger Williams CBE
Roger Williams CBE
I wanted instead however, to say a word about those away from the sporting arena who have been honoured.

Roger Williams MP in particular stuck out for me as a wonderful nomination for the CBE and his surprise at the honour is a mark of the man. I've known Roger now for near on a decade and since 2001 he has been a staunch advocate for the residents of the Brecon & Radnor constituency in Westminster.

As the BBC article above notes, Roger was one of the founder members of the break-away SDP in the early 1980s when he joined his (and my) political heroes Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins in leaving the moribund Labour Party to form an exciting, new and progressive centre-party that would shake-up British politics.

Roger is an under-stated man but I could not think of anyone better deserved for the CBE that he has been awarded today.

Rodney Berman OBE
I was also delighted to hear that Rodney Berman has also been recognised for his work in local government after his 8 year stint as leader of Wales' largest council in Cardiff.

Again, a dedication to public service has been rewarded in what I'm sure for Rodney was an unexpected nod of approval by the Cabinet Office.

My warm congratulations go out to them both in particular as I know them personally, but also to all of those in Wales who have been recognised for their works in today's list.

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Saturday, 22 December 2012

"We just won the Olympics!" - My 2012 Top 10 Sporting Highlights

For such a sporting nut as myself, I have barely touched upon what has been an incredible year in sport.

The incredible Premier League finale, Chelsea's dramatic win in the Champions League, the astounding Olympics and Paralympics, the Tour de France, Andy Murray and the rise of British female tennis, Rory McIlroy and the Ryder Cup and even to end it all, a first England cricketing win in India in a generation.

I happened to miss the Sports Personality of the Year Award on Sunday as I was away in Manchester. Of all the years to miss, it's a shame that I had to miss this one.

But having said that, it could not have altered what for me were the defining moments in sport in 2012. These were not necessarily the moments chosen by the mass crowd, but those that I witnessed as they happened - searing seconds or minutes of brilliance that had me at the edge of my seat, literally screaming at the TV screen.

There are by definition therefore, moments that I did not see live and that, no matter how extraordinary or momentous they were in their own right, could not repeat themselves so vividly for me in replay when the result was already known. In particular and as a classic example, I missed 'Super Saturday' during the Olympics when the UK won a stunning 3 track and field Gold Medals within an hour of each other. I was out having a rare evening out with an old friend and so I could only relay in amazement the feats that were unfolding via the BBC Olympics internet text coverage via my mobile 'phone. I also missed the Tour de France but used the BBC website for regular updates to keep me up-to-date with Bradley Wiggins' historic first British win in the Tour.

So here are what for me, were the defining 10 moments of my sporting year...

No.10 - Team GB Showjumping Olympic Gold
I've always had a particular love of show jumping because compared to its dressage counterpart, it's actually quite easy to understand.

Here, we see the incredible jump-off between Team GB and Holland which was described by the BBC commentary as " a penalty shoot-out" I vividly recall watching and going mad as Peter Charles gave Team GB a 3rd clear round out of 4 to guarantee their first team showjumping Olympic Gold since 1952!

No.9 - Alan Oliveira Vs Oscar Pistorius (200m Paralympics Final)
It was an incredible sight to see the poster-boy of the Paralympics from South Africa who had wowed the world by qualifying for the semi-finals in the Olympics, be brought back down to size in such amazing fashion.

As Oscar Pistorius strode into the final straight, it looked as if Gold was once again his after his exploits in Beijing 2008. Then suddenly, Brazil's Alan Oliveira shot past in the final lengths for an incredible victory. It was one of the stand-out moments in a fabulous Paralympics and was made more so by the surprisingly unsportsmanlike response to the result by the previously imperious Pistorius.

No.8 - Usain Bolt (100m & 200m Olympics Gold Medals)
He had already made his mark in Beijing but it was in London that Usain Bolt made his mark in sporting history indelible and permanent.

No-one had ever retained the sprint double in Olympic history but I watched in awe as the Lightning Bolt strode away in the 100m in an Olympic best of 9.64 seconds and then did the same in the 200m. Despite the concerns that he was not fully fit going into the competition, there was a sense that the world wanted this man to do something that had never been done before and we cheered as he raced into the record books.

No.7 - David Weir (800m Paralympics Gold Final)
The Weirwolf took all before him in London 2012 which acted as a wonderful example of the human spirit when faced with adversary.

I hadn't seen his earlier 5000m and 1,500m victories but was on the edge of my seat as he prepared for the 800m. It was incredible to consider that he could compete in this sprint race having completed his earlier longer victories and with the Marathon to run days later.

So I yelled and yelled in encouragement as Weir went into the final lap placed second and with as tough a challenge as he had faced throughout the whole 2012 London Paralympics. He managed to take the lead around the outside and held on against a late challenge to complete a hat-trick of track Gold medal performances. His marathon victory that would followed crowned what must surely go down as one of the greatest feats in Olympic and Paralympic history.

No.6 - Andy Murray (Olympic Gold & US Open Success)
After reaching his first Wimbledon final, the sense of loss that I felt when he failed to fulfill his potential against a rejuvenated Federer made what was to follow the more remarkable.

Only weeks later, he showed the courage and determination required to reach the pinnacle of any sport when he returned to the same Wimbledon surroundings and beat that same man Federer for Gold.

It was a critical break-through for the man from Dunblane but it was not a Grand Slam triumph. But it was a critical confidence boost as he went into the year ending major at Flushing Meadows. I stayed up into the early hours as Murray once more showed his determination as he resisted a Djokovic comeback from 2 sets down to force a decider. Just when it seemed that momentum had swung against the Scot, he immediately broke the Serb and in the early British hours, finally ended a 76 year long wait for a male British major tennis winner.

No.5 - Team GB Team Gymnastics Olympic Bronze
Gymnastics was always a sport that I watched rather forlornly as a child. Those who competed were always wonderful proponents of their art, but none of them in the higher reaches ever seemed to be British.

Suddenly I was transfixed as 100 years of waiting for a British Gymnastic team medal came to a glorious though controversial conclusion.

It was deeply ironic that in Team GB's dual with the Ukrainians, it was one of the apparatus that I had always least enjoyed watching, 'The Floor' that was to prove pivotal. Suddenly I was mesmorised as Dan Purvis and Kristian Thomas nailed their performances for a sensational team medal. Then there came the Japanese controversy which temporarily had Team GB placed in Silver position.

It mattered not one jot to me that Japan were re-instated. I was just delighted to have watched live as Team GB did something I thought I would never see in my lifetime. I did however feel pretty sorry for the Ukrainians!

No.4 - Justin Rose' putt on the 17th Vs Phil Mickelson (Ryder Cup)
I had finally given in and purchased Sky TV at the start of the year and I can not think of a time when it was better justified than when I watched in incredulity as Europe came back from the dead to defeat America on the final day in historic fashion.

As Alyson tried to sleep upstairs, I was bellowing out from time to time as Europe made a putt here and there to claw their rivals back.

There were particular moments in the whole of that weekend which were critical but I'd pinpoint one putt that stood out above all others. Having salvaged a half on the 16th, Justin Rose went onto the 17th green a shot behind Phil Mickelson and saw his rival go within an inch of chipping in for a critical match point for the team in red. As it turned out, Rose had a lightning quick put from great distance for the hole or a more likely two-putt for a half which would've meant he'd had to have won the 18th to gain a half point for Team Europe.

It was a sensational putt and the look of sheer confidence on Rose's face spoke for a team that was on the march. It became clear how critical the putt would become as Rose went on to win the 18th to record an incredible and absolutely vital 1 hole victory over Mickelson.

As it turns out, a number of other critical putts went Europe's way as they not only held onto the trophy with a match tie but won it outright.

It was pure sporting drama of the highest level and Justin Rose and Team Europe rose to the occasion.

No.3 - Welsh Rugby Union 6 Nations Grand Slam
As a child, the likelihood of Wales winning a Grand Slam was little more than that of Team GB winning an Olympic gymnastic team medal.

Then came 2005 and 2008. But after the heartbreak of a World Cup semi-final defeat to France last autumn, there were nerves about how the team would fare. They were dispelled when a last minute Leigh Halfpenny penalty beat the Irish in the opening match in Dublin. I remember punching the wooden table in Aberystwyth's Llew Du in delight when the ball went through the posts. Said hand was in much pain afterwards!

Then came a fast-improving England at Twickenham. Only once since 1988 had Wales won at 'HQ' and that was in 2008. I was in Thailand at the time and didn't know the result until a day later after a long-distance call home from the banks of the River Kwai.

So I had NEVER seen Wales beat England at Twickenham - NEVER. So it was with utter joy and amongst many English supporting fans in Aberystwyth's Pier Snooker Club that I saw this hoodoo ended when Scott Williams broke a 12-12 deadlock with a sensational rip, kick through, run and score under the posts with just minutes to go.

The Grand Slam decider against France oddly does not register in my memory as vividly. It was the encounters against Ireland and England that stand out as Wales equalled the record of their heroes from the 1970s of a 3rd Grand Slam in 8 years.

No.2 - Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking (Women's Lightweight Double Sculls Gold)
This for me was pure magic.

There were greater rowing performances during the 2012 London Olympics and who can argue against Katherine Grainger's Golden performance after 4 consecutive Olympic Silver medals?

But for me, the sheer joy and amazement that was etched on Katherine Copeland's face as she and Hosking crossed the line gave me one of the images of the Olympics.

But it didn't end there! The wonderfully joyful and childlike response by Copeland afterwards where she exclaimed "we just won the Olympics!" was brilliant! Then there was the emotion of the medal ceremony when they both fought back the tears - demonstrating just how much it meant to them.

This one race epitomised in a team context everything that London 2012 and the Olympic spirit was all about.

No.1 - Jade Jones (Taekwondo Olympic Gold)
A surprise for most I'm sure, but if there was one moment in a wonderful Olympic year that stood head and shoulders above all else for this proud Welshman then it was this one.

What made Jade Jones' progress to her Taekwondo Olympic final extraordinary for me was that as she did so, I quickly came to be an expert and fan of a sport that I had hardly ever watched beforehand and of which I certainly had no knowledge.

It was late evening when the final came to pass and I went absolutely barmy as the seconds elapsed and at every scoring point made by the Welsh wonder.

When the Gold medal was won, our Jade gave that wonderful look of elation as she took off her protection head guard and flung it in the air. The commentary also added to my sense of utter jubilation - "You little beauty! And the teenage kicking superstar from North Wales is the Olympic Champion!"

Really, what could top that?!

What a year it has been. I don't think it could ever be topped but for whilst it lasted, I lapped it all up!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Justice for the 96: One Step Closer - Now for Xmas No.1

A great stride forward in the search for justice for the families of Hillsborough was made today when the Lord Chief Justice quashed the verdicts of the original inquest into the 1989 disaster.

It follows the Hillsborough Panel's report which was published on the 12th September - a damning document that made today's news surely inevitable.

Nervertheless, it will hopefully gives those families who have fought for so long, some respite this Christmas in the expectation that the New Year will bring the full justice that they have long craved.

The Justice Collective
In the meantime, I sincerely hope that come this weekend, the charity single being sold to raise money for the families as they continue to fight their legal challenges, becomes Christmas Number One.

The Justice Collection's take on the beautiful and haunting Hollies hit 'He ain't Heavy, He's my Brother' has, at the mid-week mark, edged ahead of the X-Factor's James Arthur by a wafer-thin 3,400 copies.

Here it is...

It may well be only the second time that an X-Factor winner hasn't taken the Christmas crown. That in itself should be a reason to rejoice but this year, we have a deeper reason to support an alternative to the Simon Cowell juggernaut.

2012 was a breakthrough year in the fight for justice for the 96. It would only be apt if it were concluded in such a fashion - a win for the underdog against an all-mighty machine.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Joining a New Political Party

Today I joined a select group who are members of the dual party membership club. 

I've been a member of the Liberal Democrats since I joined Aberystwyth University in September 2000 - I never thought I would join another. But today I have joined their sister party, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland as a show of support after the outrageous recent events that have befallen David Ford and his colleagues in recent days over the Unionist flag dispute.

Source: The Guardian
It comes after a vote at Belfast City Hall earlier this week in which the nationalists wanted to remove the Union flag from flying from the building completely but the Alliance Party which holds the balance of power on the Council put forward a compromise which meant the Union Jack would be flown on designated days.

Alliance Party offices and the homes of Alliance Party members have been attacked since that vote as the old and ugly sectarian face of the past has reared its head once more. In Carrickfergus on Wednesday for example, the constituency office of Stewart Dickson MLA was burnt out by protestors. David Ford, the Alliance leader and Minister for Justice in the Stormont Parliament called it an "assault on democracy".

As this BBC article states, threats have also been posted on social media sites against party members and only today, the Alliance Party MP Naomi Long has reported on Ulster TV that she has received a death threat which she said has warned her not to continue living in her East Belfast home.

'Today we all vote for the Alliance Party'
Today's Belfast Telegraph has pulled no punches as its editorial sides with moderation as espoused by Alliance and against the old forces of hate that have appeared once more this week.

To quote the Belfast Telegraph today...
"The city council is democratically elected, which has been conveniently forgotten by some, and a vote was taken to fly the flag on designated days. This was a result of the Alliance Party trying to broker a compromise between the intractable positions of unionists and nationalists/republicans. The rest is now another dark chapter in what is supposed to be, at least as far as the outside world cares anymore, our peace time society".
It continues...
"This newspaper takes no political sides, choosing to seek out the good in all parties. But the targeting of Alliance, a party which has much to contribute to a forward-looking political debate, represents a desperate recent low in community relations".
I love Northern Ireland and as I have written before in this blog, I have visited Belfast on a number of occasions. It's a fantastic, vibrant city offering so much potential. When friends ask me with trepidation about the 'Troubles', I have countered positively that whilst it will take generations for the wounds to heal, this is a country moving forward.

So it has been with great sorrow that I have witnessed from across the water, this fall back to the ways of old.

In solidarity for my friends in Northern Ireland who espouse a different way from those of the past and who have found themselves under serious attack this week, I have therefore made the leap of not only supporting them from afar as a member of a sister party, but by joining their ranks outright.

I would urge those who read this and agree with the eloquent editorial in today's Belfast Telegraph to consider doing the same  You can do so here.