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Friday, 16 August 2013

A constant reminder of a grave injustice

In the 1960's, Wales was starting to get formal recognition that it was (whilst part of the United Kingdom) a seperate entity. The formation of the Wales Office after the 1964 general election was evidence of this, however a lot of people still felt that Wales was being taken for granted. An example of this was in Tryweryn in Gwynedd.

Liverpool City Council (or the corporation of Liverpool as it was called then) wanted a fresh supply of water and as Wales was the nearest location made an application to create a reservior. This application was immediately rejected by the local people who claimed that the local area was going to be flooded just so an English city could have water at the cost of the Welsh language. Several protests were held, but the project was completed and the residents were forced to leave their homes. This action led, indirectly, to Plaid Cymru winning the Carmarthen by-election in 1966 which forced the issue of the Welsh language onto the floor of Parliament for the first time.

Shortly after the flooding, a piece of graffiti appeared on a piece of wall just outside the village of Llanrhystud. The graffiti read "Cofiwch Dryweryn" which translates as "Remember Tryweryn" and has gone on to be regarded as "an iconic declaration of the Welsh people" which in 2005 attracted an apology from Liverpool City Council.

However, other people have treated it as just an example of graffiti. This was proven in 2008 when it was replaced by the words "Angofiwch Dryweryn" which translates as "Forget Dryweryn". The correct spelling was replaced the following day but in 2010 a more serious edit of the wording appeared when it was tagged

This led to a major discussion on how to preserve the wall and a fund had been launched the previous year by the Assembly Minister with responsibility for Heritage at the National Eisteddfod. And just as in 2008, this  edit was also replaced and the whole design given a fresh lick of paint

That was until today, when Mark Williams MP posted this picture on his Facebook page

Yep, it's been defaced again and even though it's not under the direct auspices of our community council, as Llanrhystud Community Council is next door, the mood of this area is the same:

"This wall is in rememberance of the people of Tryweryn who were forced to leave their community some fifty years ago. As such it is a piece of Welsh history. Would people appreciate things such as Nelson's Column in London being defaced? Or the Royal Mile in Edinburgh? Or the Giant's Causeway in Antrim? No and neither do I!"

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Two T's or not Two T's, That is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain is a small village in Powys that has for the last five years felt a little smaller than it should do. The reason for this feeling, it's missing a T. Although that depends on who you speak to.

Powys County Council say "In 2008 that it was correcting a mistake dating back to the mid-1800s when Llansantffraid - named after the female Celtic Saint Brigit - wrongly described her as a man. Dropping the "t" from the name correctly identified her as a woman, said the authority"

However, the local community say "The decision sparked a row in the village and two years later more than 70 villagers agreed in a surveythat the "t" should be restored, with only three opposing"

So what happens when you have two dimetrically opposite views? Answer: You have a referendum (although both sides are stressing that this is a "poll" not a "referendum). But it is not the first time that this sort of debate has happened. In fact it happened here in 1983 (only this time it was over an "N")

In June 1983, residents of the village where I live were asked "Do you believe that this village should be spelled LLANON or LLANNON?". The referendum was held by the local community council wandering around the village, knocking on people's doors and asking. By the end of the procedure 457 people had been asked (a little over half the population) with LLANON garnering 327 votes and LLANNON getting 130 votes (a margin of 72% to 28% in favour of the one N). However, this result was not met immediately with support with two letters to the Cambrian News stating that a) I wasn't asked and b) It has always been two N's. So I hope that when the village in Powys holds it's vote, all sides will agree with the verdict.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The economy may be growing, but people are still finding it hard

Last week, the economy of the United Kingdom was reported to have increased by 0.3% in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the fourth quarter of 2012 and to have increased by 1.2% since the first quarter of 2012. Not exactly earth shattering I grant you but a lot of people more clued up in economics than myself said that it showed the UK economy was healing compared to the time in 2008 to 2010 when the UK economy shrank every quarter for six quarters in a row.

Despite that however, people are still feeling the pinch and have to make decisions about what they can and cannot afford and sadly, despite the UK being a nation of animal lovers, it is pets that have taken the brunt. According to a report towards the end of last year, the number of pets being abandoned was 65% higher than compared to 2007 (before the economy collapsed). In laymen's terms, that means some forty one thousand animals. And sadly, a lot of those are older and therefore less likely to be rehoused.

Before I moved to Llanon, our pet cat, called Lady, died (in June 2010) after we adopted her as a kitten from our next door neighbour twenty years previously. And since we moved here (and found ourselves right on the main road) we knew that we couldn't have a cat unless it was completely used to being indoors all the time. A few days ago, a poster was put through my letterbox for me to post onto the community notice board from the Cat's Protection League asking if anyone would be able to adopt some of the cats they had received. One of those moggies seemed to fit the bill and so yesterday, one of their people had a look around (to determine if our house was suitable). After a few moments she determined that it was and so permitted us to adopt the moggy in question.
Therefore may I introduce you to the newest member of our household "Fluffy (nee Sherbert)"

However, there are still a large number of abandoned moggies still looking for homes, therefore if you live in Ceredigion and feel that you would be a good home to a cat (or another pet seeking a home) then please visit either the Aberystwyth branch of the Cats' Protection League or Ceredigion Animal Rescue and see if you can give a home to an abandoned pet.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Indulging my historical interest

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, Chanel Four Television in the Unite Kingdom came up with an interesting wheeze. People like history (the huge ratings for documentaries about the subject proved it) but would they be interested in actually seeing how historical discoveries were made? No one had a clue, and Channel Four being a channel that liked to step out into the unknown comissioned a series called Time Team which condensed an archelogical dig from months into hours (seventy two to be precise).

What I do not think Channel Four was expecting was just how many people were interested and soon the team was going all over the place from the shores of Shetland to investigate Stone Age Life in the Northern Isles to digging up a World War II Spitfire in France, however sadly they never came to Ceredigion and following the decision of Channel Four to axe the series after twenty years they will not, but that doesn't stop other organisations doing their own digs and come tomorrow, that is precisely what will happen in this village (specfically about ten metres or so from my house)

That building is Llanon Cottage which was left to Ceredigion Museum as a bequest by Alex Cameron in memory of his wife who was a native of the village and whilst the cottage is interesting (showing life in the late Victorian era) it is not half as interesting as the piece of ground in front of it.

Now, the majority of you are thinking "Yes, and that is interesting how, exactly?", so let me explain. That (which today looks like an overgrown lawn) is the site of a Neuadd. Neuadd is the Welsh word for "Hall" and this hall has a central through passage with a room on both sides. One room has a fireplace on the side wall which is typical of the Tudor period. As a result there is very little known of the history of the building but its name implies that it may have been more important than others nearby: it is certainly larger than most other buildings would have been and as a result, the local archelogical trust have decided to find out why it was built in a place where (especially in the 1500's) there are very few peple around. The dig will be divided into three sections. The first part that starts tomorrow is a basic assessment of what there is. The second stage that starts in the summer is the actual dig and the third stage is the report of what they have found.

Now, if this has tickled your fancy then by all means come and help. You can find our village by searching for Llanon on any mapping software or app. There is a car park in Stryd y Ysgol (School Street) and then simply walk down Stryd Fawr (Great Street) which turns into Bridge Street. Turn left into Heol Non (Non's Street) and you will see a red cottage. Just walk towards it, introduced yourself and say "I'd like to help discover history" and say that Cllr. Hayfield blogged about it.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Living in the past is not something I normally do

But every so often the BBC's Parliament channel (usually on Bank Holidays or during the summer recess) shows an archive general election as shown on the BBC live on Election Night. Now, you may ask what's the fun of seeing something that you already know the result of, well, the answer is this:

And that is the myriad of graphics that they can produce with computers these days and with a suitably equipped laptop these days even someone like me can "remix" an election to make even a foregone conculsion of an election can become very interesting indeed. And when you consider that the election in question tomorrow is the 1983 election (an election where the Alliance came within 3% of becoming the second party of UK politics) you can see why I am so interested in it. Plus with Twitter and all these other aspects of social media that were not around thirty years ago, archive elections can be just as good as a real one. Therefore I would like to invite anyone on Twitter who would be interested in it to watch the programme (which starts at 10.00am BST tomorrow morning) to make any comments about it using the #Election83 hashtag and who knows, by the middle of the day we might be able to get it to trend in the UK

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Devolution by all means, Seperation is a no no

The more eagle eyed of you will have noticed a clock on the right hand section of this blog counting down the five hundred and something days until September of next year. This is a countdown to the recently announced referendum day in Scotland that was announced this week. Before I go into that, a little history lesson.

Referendums (or to be properly accurate referenda) are exceptionally rare in the United Kingdom. To date there have only been two national referenda, eight regional referenda and fifty two local referenda over the course of the last forty odd years. In order of them happening, first was the referendum about the United Kingdom's membership of the European Economic Community (the forerunner of the European Union) in 1975 which was a resounding YES

After that came the first regional referenda in Wales and Scotland where they were asked "Would you like to see Wales and Scotland have the right to make their own laws?". This is a concept called devolution and means that an area remains part of a country, but is able to leglisate in it's own area. Here the results differs. Wales gave a clear cut NO, but Scotland said YES, but fell foul of a rule about turnout. We then had to wait until 1997 when we suddenly had a rash of referenda (three regional ones in the space of about nine months). First was Scotland again being asked the same question as in 1979 and this time they gave a very clear cut YES

Wales, however, whilst voting YES was far more luke warm towards the idea

And in May the following year, London was asked if they would like an Assembly and they too answered YES but only a third of the electorate bothered to vote in the referendum. We then had to wait a few years until 2004 when another regional referendum was held, this time in the north east of England asking if they would like an assembly. However, their opinion was far more against the idea and they voted NO. Whilst this was going on several local councils across the United Kingdom were asked if they would like an elected mayor. Some did, but the vast majority were against the idea. The next major referendum was in 2011 when Wales was asked "Do you think the National Assembly should be able to make laws?". The answer was YES and a resounding YES at that.

Which brings us up to the modern day and the referendum to be held in Scotland in September next year. The question that will be asked is "Do you believe Scotland should be independent?". My answer to this question is a resounding NO and so, despite living in Wales, I shall be doing my little bit to ensure that the NO camp wins in some 500 days time, hence the countdown clock.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Today is a historic day

At 1900 GMT tonight, for the first time in nearly 600 years, the Pope (or to give him his full title Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God) will resign his office. The last Pope to do this was Pope Gregory XII who resigned in 1415 (thus ending the so called Western Schism, a hangover from the Great Schism of the 11th century). When the Pope resigns, the Papacy will become vacant and a new Pope will be elected by the Conclave of Cardinals.

Now, I am not a Roman Catholic but would like to offer my suggestion for Pope. I am of the opinion that the next Pope should be someone who can offer dialogue with other religions and ensure that the majority of conflicts over religion can be prevented and as a result of that one name comes immediately to the fold, the Archbishop of Vrhbosna (which is the area of Bosnia and Herzegovnia that covers the capital, Sarajevo). Now, why do I believe he should be elected Pope? Because of what happened in the 1990's.

The former Yugoslavia was in the midst of a bloody civil war. Sarajevo was a literal no go area with snipers firing at random at anyone going around their everyday duties. In fact, the sniping was so bad and so random that even news reporters were sniped at and in the case of the BBC's Martin Bell shot at.

However, in the middle of all this Vinko Puljić who was the archbishop of Sarajevo, continued to make his daily visit to parishioners and he was imprisoned during one visit for twelve hours by the Serbian military in Ilijaš, running a serious risk when he rode in a United Nations Protection Force tank to Vareš and at the same time spoke to the Muslim forces trying to ensure a peaceful end to the seige. In an age when people of different faiths are constantly bickering between themselves leading to wars across the world, a Pope who has offered dialogue with other faiths should be the way forward

Monday, 25 February 2013

Asking for a level playing field online

Over the last few months, the power of the internet has been proven again and again. First of all, in July 2012, a pop record was released onto the internet by a couple of bloggers from South Korea. By the end of that day, it had clocked up half a million views. Five days later, it had been spoofed online (also by a pair of South Koreans), and the following day Robbie Williams (of Take That fame) mentioned it on his blog. That was followed by a celebrity tweet by T-Pain (an American hip hop artist) by which time the video had clocked up a million views. By the time the artist made his first appearance in the United States, the song had clocked up some three million views. So what was the song and the artist? Gangnam Style by Psy

Just as the world was recovering from that, a group of five people from Australia's Sunshine Coast uploaded a video called "The Sunny Coast Shake" where nothing appears to happen for half the video whilst a piece of electronic music plays. As soon as the "beat drops" (the name given in music for when there is switch of rhythm) the entire scene changes into one of madness. On February 10th, 4,000 copycat videos were being uploaded every day when the video gained "meme" status. As a result, the following day the number of copycat versions trebled and just four days after that, there were a staggering 40,000 versions (generating a total of 175 million views). The video in question? "The Harlem Shake"

Now, you might all be wondering "Well, that's all well and good but what does it have to do with anything?". The answer to that is size. Well, Gangnam Style is 175MiB (that for those unsure about how computer file sizes are calculated is is one hundred and seventy five times one million bytes or to put it another way one hundred and seventy million single letters or to make it even more simple to understand forty four copies of War and Peace). Now, in Korea that is a complete doddle to put online as upload speeds there average at about 18.04MiBps (which means that the Gangnam Style video would upload in about ten seconds). The Australian average upload rate is about 0.9 MiBps (which explains why the Harlem Shake video is only thirty seconds long). Here in the UK the average is nearer 0.43MiBps and in this part of Ceredigion I am lucky to get an upload speed of 0.03MiBps.

It is this disparity with the rest of the world that has prompted me to create an online petition through the National Assembly Petitions Committee which states "We, the undersigned, call upon the National Assembly for Wales to urge the Welsh Government to create a level playing field for internet provision by demanding that upload speeds are increased across Wales" and I have asked that a figure of 50% of average download speeds be considered as a end goal. If you agree with me (and you are resident in Wales) then please sign the petition and show that you believe that if South Korea and Australia can create internet memes (as well as allow businesses and cultural groups to show what Wales can do) then we ought to have the internet speeds in order to do so

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Would you like an extra £600 this year?

No, this is not one of those dodgy messages you get asking you to invest in a scheme that offers to pay millions of pounds out provided you put lots of money in, it is a genuine question, because (unbelievable as it may sound) at the start of the next financial year most people in the United Kingdom will be paying £600 less on their tax bill than in the financial year 2010 - 2011, some people could be paying as much as £1,200 less and if you are one of the lowest paid people in the United Kingdom then you will not have to pay any tax at all!

At the last election, if you earned £6,475 a year or less you didn't have to pay any tax at all. If you earned between £6,476 and £8,915 a year you paid 10% (so up to a maximum of £244 a year), if you earned between £8,916 and £41,275 you paid 20% (so up to a maximum of £7,480) and if you earned more than £41,276 then you paid 40% (so a minimum of £14,960). However, starting from April, the tax threshold before you start paying tax will now be £9,205. This means that if you were paying 10% tax, you now pay nothing at all and in this day and age when every penny counts, that has got to help.

So how do you have to thank for this rather unexpected windfall? Simple, us Liberal Democrats who said at the last election we would like to increase the tax threshold to £10,000 by the next election and here we are two budgets away from that election and we are only a mere £795 off that target. So if you see someone wearing a Lib Dem badge or handing you a Lib Dem leaflet today say to them "Thank you for the extra £600!"

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Keeping an election promise

If there is one thing that most elected officials are famous for it's not keeping their election pledges. It is, unfortunately, one of the main reason that's politicians of all parties are generally frowned upon for and all parties are just as guilty as each other. Whether it is the Conservatives who promised not to increase taxes at the 1992 general election (and then did), Labour who announced there would be a referendum on the UK's entry into the euro during the 2001 - 2005 Parliament and then announced there would not be one and even my own party's promise on student tuition fees. I do made a promise during the local elections in May of last year that if elected to the county council I would seek to establish a cultural link between Wales and the United States.

Now, you may think that because I was not elected to the county council everything I mentioned in my election manifesto is no longer valid (and indeed some parts are indeed no longer valid) however I was elected to a community council and the one thing that I can do on that that I promised in my election manifesto is to create a cultural link between Wales and the United States and that I intend to do.

You may remember last year the community of Dull in Perth and Kinross in Scotland had agreed to be twinned with the town of Boring in Oregon in the United States which the media on both sides of the Atlantic announced as the marriage of Dull and Boring which is perhaps a little unkind on both. Well, I have decided to also seek a similar position for our community here in Wales, but because of it's size we could not be "twinned" with anywhere, but what we can do is have a "Memorandum of Understanding" (in effect a sort of informal "Hello there, any objections if we get to know each other a bit better?" document). The question therefore remained "What community in the United States would make a good community to do this with?".

After a lot of considerations (including Cambria County, PA, Middleton, WI and Montgomery County, TX) I felt that I was looking for somewhere with a more local feel to it and so wondered if there was a St. Bridget somewhere in the United States (the English translation of our community) and lo and behold I found one. St. Bridget in the state of Kansas. It's a small community (just like ours) with 173 people living there at the last census in 2010. There are seventy four households (perhaps a little more than here) with a roughly 50 / 50 gender split. So having found a suitable location, the next step was to say to the community council here that I would like to start discussions with the community of St. Bridget about the possibility of entering into a memorandum of understanding. Last night we held our meeting and told the council about the history of St. Bridget and how as we shared a common name I would like to be able to see if the community of St. Bridget would be interested in sharing a cultural link with the community of Llansantffraed. I am pleased to report that the council agreed with me and that I am will later on today contact the local council that covers St. Bridget and ask to speak to the mayor with a view of speaking to the council at their next meeting to see what they think of it.

Therefore (as I have a large number of Americans who read this blog) I would like to know do you have any cultural links with either Wales or the United Kingdom and if you do, then please do tell me what you get up to. If this linking with St. Bridget in Kansas works, you never know I might be tempted to see if we can do something similar.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Our Prime Minister has offered his views, now I would like to offer mine

On Tuesday morning, David Cameron MP (Con, Witney) put forward his views on Britain's relationship with the European Union which he said he would put to a referendum if (after a Conservative overall majority at the next election) he was able to discuss with his European partners how Britain worked within the context of the European Union. He had his say and therefore I would like to have my say.

The Prime Minister is indeed right to reflect on the history of Modern Europe. The Elysee Treaty that he mentioned, which celebrates it's 50th anniversary this year, was the starting ground for the European Union that we know today and the remarkable events of 1990, not only in the former East Germany but all across the former Warsaw Pact countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic nations) was a demonstration that humanity has the right to decide it's own future. However, for the last forty or so years, Britain has not had a chance to decide on it's future as an EU member and I believe that time has come, not after the next election, but today.

I was born in 1974 and therefore was less than a year old when Britain was last asked to offer it's thoughts on the European Union and yet, thanks to the power of the Internet as well as the archives of BBC Parliament, I know how the British people voted. Overwhelmingly in favour.

However, the question asked in 1975 was "Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?" and since then a lot has changed. For starters, the Common Market (as it was called then) was dumped and replaced with the term "European Economic Community" or EEC for short soon after the referendum. Then in 1993 under the leadership of Jacques Delors (a former member of the French Socialist Party) the term EEC was dropped and replaced by the term European Union. Ever since that moment, alarm bells have started to ring in the United Kingdom as more and more people believed (whether rightly or wrongly) that the European Union was trying to become the dominant force in Europe by taking in countries and becoming a "United States of Europe". This perception was not helped by the introduction of the Euro in 1999 (as a virtual traded currency) and in 2002 by the first actual notes and coins and made people here even more scared. This was reflected in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament when the United Kingdom Independence Party polled 16% of the vote and won twelve seats. Their policy was summarised by the newly elected UKIP MEP for the East Midlands, Robert Kilroy Silk, when he was asked what he would do sitting in the European Parliament. "Wreck it - expose it for the waste, the corruption and the way it's eroding our independence and our sovereignty" was the reply he gave, only to clarify it a short while later by saying that he wanted to "draw attention to its deficiencies". It is this disconnection to the European Union that is at the heart of the problems with the UK's relationship and therefore whilst I welcome the Prime Minister's offer of a referendum, I would like to ask why wait until after the general election. Myself, and everyone else in the United Kingdom under the age of 58 has never been asked their views on the European Union, so I would humbly ask the Prime Minister to reconsider his thoughts and hold a referendum on the European Union at the same time as the European Elections in June 2014 (after all Scotland will be holding a referendum on their future in the same year and holding it at the same time as the European Elections will enable the discussions to be solely focused on the European Union). It will allow me to be able to say YES to the European Union and argue that it may not be perfect, but it is better to be on the inside sorting it out than from the outside with no influence on it whatsoever.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Yes, I know it's been some time but there is a reason

As you may have noticed I last put something up here in November commenting on the crop of elections that the United Kingdom had been experiencing and nothing at all over Christmas until today. Well, the simple reason for that is, unfortunately, time constraints. As well as being a community councillor, I am also a registered carer for my grandparents. This means that I am paid by the United Kingdom government to do things for them when they cannot (for instance, make them cups of teas, wheel trollies to and fro and so on) and over Christmas we had a lot of family commitments and that meant a shedload of baking (which my grandmother being a past president of the Women's Institute in Warwickshire, she is a past master at) and so therefore they were even more tired than usual (and it's taken me this long to recover) but recover I have and am now able to get back to the business at hand which over the last few days has been the snow that has been falling over various parts of the United Kingdom (including this part).


Now, that is clearly not as bad as some parts of the country, including parts of the Brecon Beacons (Sennybridge in Powys had 26 cm (a little over ten inches) of lying snow by Saturday morning) but as this is the first village where there have been neighbours within easy distance, on Friday I went to see all of them and asked if there was anything I do to assist them in this cold weather. Thankfully they were both able to cope and were keeping warm and therefore keeping well, but as this cold weather continues to cover the United Kingdom this seems an opportune moment to ask "Are you looking after your elderly neighbours?". All it takes is just a gentle knock on their door and when they answer say "Is there anything that I can do for you?". Sometimes the only people that speak to elderly people in a community are the postman and the milkman. So for as long as this cold spell continues, think about those who are unable to help themselves and offer to help them yourself.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The end of a long month of electioneering

Tomorrow, in the Westminster parliamentary constituencies of Middlesbrough, Rotherham and Croydon North, voters will be electing new MP's following the deaths of the sitting MP's for Middlesbrough (Sir Ian Bell) and Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks) and the resignation of the sitting MP for Rotherham (Denis McShane) over the continuing fallout over the expenses scandal that hit Westminster in 2009. As it is very unlikely the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) will cover the results live (and that these elections will bring to an end the most dense electoral calendar in the United Kingdom for the best part of 18 years) I will be covering them myself (with the help of some colleagues of mine from other parties and none in the United Kingdom) using the Blyve service. You are more than welcome to drop in during the night (the coverage will start at 10.00pm GMT) and comment or indeed ask questions about how the United Kingdom elects it's MP's.
To take part simply come to this site again at 10.00pm GMT tomorrow (November 29th 2012) and log in as a guest.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them

Armistice Day

Your son and my son
Are walking free today
Because of all those other sons
Who gave their lives away.

Poppies in November
Scarlet petals fall,
Remember then remember
Their answer to the call.

Flanders fields are green now
And long forgotten wars,
Are buried deep and silent,
Beyond the reach of tears.

The senseless song of war now
Has faded with a sigh;
The blacksmith and the farm boy
Who didn’t want to die

But leaves fall in November
Upon a million graves,
And still above the cenotaph
The flag at half-mast waves

And for all the sons of England
At rest around the world
We stand two minutes silent
With down-cast flags unfurled

Oh long may we remember
In the peace we have today
Our sons, and loves, and brothers,
So long now passed away

And hold aloft the poppy
And give it to a child;
And tell him about Flanders,
Where the poppy’s growing wild.
(c) Mary Rose Hayfield 2006

Tomorrow is the eleventh day of the eleventh month and at the eleventh hour across the United Kingdom, the country will pause for an act of rememberance for two minutes to remember those who have died in battles around the world.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Remember, Remember, the fifth of November

The rhyme that this blog entry is titled by, goes as follows:

Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, twas his intent to blow up King and Parliament
Three score barrels were laid below to prove old England's overthrow
By God's mercy he was catched  with a dark lantern and a lighted match
Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King. 

And is a reference to why every November 5th in the United Kingdom, people shoot fireworks into the sky. The reason goes back to the early 17th century when England and Scotland experienced their first act of political union. When King James I ascended to the English throne in 1603, he was already a king (namely King James VI of Scotland) and as a result became the first King of Britain (as the monarch surveys over two nations). However, he didn't exactly have a very good start. The reason? Well, he was a protestant (who worshipped according to the edicts of the Church of England founded by Henry VIII) whilst there was a large number of people who wanted Britain to become a Catholic nation (and worship according to the edicts of the Pope). Needless to say, some Catholics didn't like the idea of a Protestant king and set about trying to get rid of him. And so in May 1604, a group of Catholics led by Robert Catesby met in a room in the Strand to decide what to do and they came with an explosive idea.

The plan was to hire a chamber below the House of Parliament, and then transport under the cover of darkness thirty six barrels of gunpowder which would then be detonated as the King opened Parliament. Amazingly, the plot was not discovered until about twelve hours before Parliament was due to gather and it was discovered by someone not being able to keep his mouth shut (or in these days of internet privacy settings, forgetting that not every you write online stays private)

How not to promote a Gunpowder Plot online

Yes, that's right. One of the plotters told his brother in law (who just happened to be a member of the House of Lords) that he should not attend Parliament on November 5th. He, of course, raised this with the authorities and the plot collapsed around the plotter's ears. But that wasn't the end of it. As the plotters made their escape from London, they were holed up in Holbeach House in Staffordshire (with the aim of escaping to Wales) but things just went wrong from there on in. First, there was an explosion of gunpowder (which due to the wet autumn Britain was experiencing, was drying out indoors), then the combined forces of the Sheriffs of Warwickshire and Worcestershire descended on the house during which there was a fire fight which resulted in six of the plotters being arrested (the other six being killed). Those arrested were sent to London and on January 27th 1606 they were all found guilty of treason and sentenced to death (but this being the 17th century, being sentenced to death wasn't just a case of being hanged). It was a case of being hung, but cut down whilst still alive and then being your entrails removed (whilst you were still alive remember) and then being quartered (in other words, beheaded, and chopped into four sections).

Soon, people began placing effigies of the plotters onto bonfires, and fireworks were added to the celebrations when they were introduced to the United Kingdom, but despite the fact that he wasn't the main plotter, it is Guy Fawkes that we associate with this date and hence we have the alternative title for today as Guy Fawkes' Night

Saturday, 6 October 2012

This past week started off so well

Last Sunday, the whole of Britain cheered it's socks off when the European team came back from a 10-6 deficit to win the Ryder Cup for the seventh time in nine outings and then a few hours later James Lewis became the first Welshman to win an international bodybuilding contest since 1973 (when Paul Grant defeated a certain Lou "The Incredible Hulk" Ferringo to win that year's Mr. Universe title) by winning the 212lb class at the 2012 Mr. Olympia contest thus continuing the glorious summer of sport the United Kingdom has been having

However, on Monday evening that mood suddenly changed

April Jones, a five year old child from the town of Machynlleth in Powys, had disappeared after being seen by children she was playing with getting into a light coloured van at 7.00pm on Monday evening. The alarm was raised about half an hour later and by 9.30pm that evening a national child alert (similar to the American amber alert scheme) was issued asking for people to phone in sightings of her.

And all the time the people of Machynlleth continued their search, however on Friday morning, the police made an announcement that changed the whole mood of the town

And yet, the search still goes on, so as a resident of Machynlleth from 1979 to 1982 and again from 1993 to 1998, if you are a resident of Machynlleth (or any of the villages nearby) and you saw anything (no matter how insignificant it may seem) that may help Dyfed Powys police find something, then please ring 0300 2000 333 or if you are afraid that you might get into trouble (because you were not supposed to be there) leave an anyomous message on this posting and I will forward it to Dyfed Powys police.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Conference season in the UK means election season in the US

When it comes to elections, like most things, America does it bigger than anyone else (and with an electorate approaching 300 million perhaps that is not suprising). I've been interested in the presidential and congressional elections in the United States since 1988 when (to my suprise) ITN (Independent Television News) did an experiment when they simulcast (i.e showed the same feed as) the ABC News network's coverage of that election

Of course as I was only 14 at the time, I couldn't stay up for the whole election as I had school the following morning, however in 1992 (having stayed up all night to watch my first British general election) I thought that I might try the same for the United States and this time I decided to watch the BBC's coverage. Sadly no video exists of that programme, but you can see some of the BBC's graphics at Mike Afford's website (who was the person who came up with them).

It is fair to say that I was more than suitably impressed and so in 1996, watched that year's election and saw the re-election of President Clinton (explained by the BBC in only the way that they can)

However, when it came to the 2000 election, the UK was undergoing a bit of a broadcasting revolution (although I was only partially aware of it). In the UK, the BBC were still at it but had been joined on the scene by Sky News (now available to most people thanks to the minidish satellite television technology) and so whilst I watched Election Night on the BBC, most people were watching Sky News however despite falling asleep shortly after the Florida projection (confident that whoever won the state would win the presidency) I was up and doing when the BBC broke with this newsflash at about 2.20am EST

and we all know what that led to of course. By the 2002 midterms I too was fully satellited up (which mean a question I have never had to ask since, "Do I watch the Music Man film on Sky Movies or the US elections on CNN?"). Of course the mid terms were going to win and it gave me my first chance to see how the Americans reported on their elections

This got me pondering and so for the 2004 Presidential Elections I decided to virtually endorse a candidate (not being an American of course I couldn't actually endorse) and after careful consideration I plumped for Senator Kerry and so asked those Americans I knew online if they would consider voting for him at the election. One of my friends from Ohio said "You do realise that you are treading on thin ground?". When I asked why, he showed me why. The Guardian newspaper's letter writing campaign seemed like a good idea. Concerned residents of the UK (and other countries) asked the residents of Clark county in Ohio to (like me) consider Senator Kerry. The county's reaction to these requests was forthright to say the least. One letter that was printed in the Guardian read as follows:

Thankfully by the 2008 election season things had calmed down a bit and with both major parties having to select new candidates I decided to virtually endorse two candidates. On the GOP side Gov. Huckabee (for his policy on health) and Sen. Obama on the Dem side (for his policy of change) but wondered if there was something else I could do, so contacted both campaigns and asked if I could campaign for them in the UK. The Obama campaign thanked me but said they had more than enough people to help, but the Huckabee campaign welcomed me with open arms and when the Gov. narrowly lost in South Carolina in 2008, I got a honourable mention in his concession speech (as part of the people from Europe who used their free cell phone minutes)

So when the election came I virtually endorsed Sen. Obama and was watching a programme called Washington Journal on C-Span (being shown on the BBC Parliament channel) before the election and noticed they were talking about how important Ohio was to the Obama campaign. I noticed that they accepted international calls and so asked them "Can Obama win without winning Ohio?" (a question that seemed to slightly throw the Obama campaign manager)

Now, four years later on, I find that with the US deficit rapidly reaching (and indeed breaching) $16 trillion (that's a 16 with twelve noughts after it) and neither of the mainstream candidates either willing to accept it or do anything about it, I have decided to do something very odd by US standards and that is endorse a candidate who isn't likely to win. That candidate is the Governor of New Mexico, Governor. Gary Johnson who is running under the Libertarian Party ticket. The reason I am backing him is for the simple reason that if both main parties are going to ignore that debt, then let's choose someone from neither party who can perhaps knock a few heads together and get some sense going in the corridors of Washington. A forlorn hope, perhaps, but if enough people come to the same conclusion, who hopes what can happen? After all, remember this unexpected suprise in 1998?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

It's party conference season

The United States may have it's conventions with all the razzle dazzle that you associate with the United States, the People's Republic of China may have it's National Policy Committee meetings but here in the United Kingdom, the first weeks of autumn are always party conference season and at the same time it means that the Westminster bubble goes on holiday. I am not sure how this order started, but the order appears to be that the Liberal Democrats have their conference first, Labour have theirs the following week and the week after that the Conservatives do, so for the next week or so all eyes will be on Brighton and the Liberal Democrats. Now, as a newly elected Liberal Democrat community councillor you might well imagine that I would be walking around the south coast resort saying "Hi, Nick" or "Vince, how nice to meet you in person" but sadly, I'm not, primarily due to the fact that being a registered carer for my grandparents I can't really leave them for a week and secondly, the expense of staying in Brighton is a bit too much for me to handle. Thank goodness therefore for BBC Parliament which shows all the party conferences live (and without commentary) which means I can watch all the debates (if not take part in them) and listen to all the various views (plus the addition of Twitter and the old #ldconf hashtag means that I am set).

However, there is one downside to the Westminster bubble going on holiday and that is the news media also go on holiday and so when a poll comes out saying "Liberal Democrats fall behind UKIP in national polls" you might expect me to be a little glum. Well, actually not because despite what the media say we have been here before. Let me take you on a little history lesson. The year is 1989 and the Liberal Democrats (or to give them their proper title at the time, the Social and Liberal Democrats) had just come out of a very messy divorce with the Social Democratic Party (whom they had an electoral alliance with between 1981 and 1988). In the European Elections of that year (an election when the centre parties never do as well in as other elections), the Social and Liberal Democrats polled 6% of the vote (which doesn't sound too bad), however that is in context of the Green Party (who up to that moment in time had never scored more than 1% in a national election) polling a staggering 15% of the national vote. As a result of that election, the Social and Liberal Democrats (or SaLaDs as they were perhaps rather unkindly called) slumped from 11% in May 1989 to a very paltry 6% in September 1989. However, by the time of the 1992 General Election the Liberal Democrats polled 18% of the national vote and managed to win an extra four seats (Bath, Cheltenham, Cornwall North and Devon North), so am I depressed? Not really, because this is all part of the natural ebb and flow of British politics.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Olympics and Paralympics may be over, but that's no reason to stop the awards

Those of you from around the world may have thought that following the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games earlier this month that Britain would go back to it's usual routine of football (soccer to my American readers) and ignore everything else. That's not true as this time of year gives the United Kingdom a chance to show that we can make anything a sport, even the humble act of farming.

Every year (from the beginning of September to the end of October) ploughing matches are held up and down the country (usually by the district level) where local farmers come to see who can plough the fields in the best possible manner, and every year there are national (and indeed international) ploughing matches where nations from all over the place send their best teams. Well, this coming weekend, the Welsh national ploughing match visits Llanon (one of the villages in Llansantffraed community council's area) and holds it's annual event.

Now, just like any major event there is of course an opening ceremony and whilst it may not have the sparkle or glamour of an Olympic opening ceremony, it does have it's own tradition, namely a "Blessing of the Plough" ceremony held in a local church. This is a special church service where the plough (or in this case a ceremonial plough) is blessed by the local vicar and reflects the tradition where the plough would be blessed at the start of each year.

After the plough has been blessed the competition starts in earnest and tomorrow I will list what sort of events will be contested.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The End of the Summer of Sport 2012

And so, there we have it. The end of over four months of sporting action. The end of a summer when the world came to London, London welcomed the world with open arms and when saying goodbye said "And come back and see us again"

And what a summer it has been for the small nations of the world as well, so it only seems fair to create the Small Nations Medal Table (for both the Olympics and the Paralympics)
  1. Jamaica (5 golds, 4 silvers, 4 bronzes)
  2. Slovenia (1 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronzes)
  3. Namibia (1 gold, 1 silver)
  4. Trinidad and Tobago (1 gold, 3 bronzes)
  5. Latvia (2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze)
  6. Fiji (1 gold)
  7. renada (1 gold)
  8. Iceland (1 gold)
  9. Macedonia (1 gold)
  10. The Bahamas (1 gold)
  11. Mongolia (2 silvers, 3 bronzes)
  12. Estonia (1 silver, 1 bronze)
  13. Cyprus (2 silvers)
  14. Botswana (1 silver)
  15. Montenegro (1 silver)
  16. Gabon (1 silver)
  17. Qatar (2 bronzes)
  18. Kuwait (1 bronze)
  19. Bahrain (1 bronze)
So, to the nineteen small nations that won a medal this summer, I doff my hat to your countries and say "Congratulations" and please do visit our humble nation again (although next time, try and bring some sunshine with you, if that's possible)?

The 2012 Paralympic Games : The Small Nation Summary

Latvia: 1 gold, 1 silver
Namibia: 1 gold, 1 silver
Fiji: 1 gold
Iceland: 1 gold
Jamaica: 1 gold
Macedonia: 1 gold
Cyprus: 1 silver
Slovenia: 1 silver

They may only have won a total of 6 golds and 4 silvers amongst them, but yet again the small nations have proven that they can punch well above their weight. Take for instance the island nation of Fiji. It only has 848,000 residents and yet they managed to win a higher rank of medal than Slovenia (who have almost twice the population).

Sunday, 9 September 2012

And so, the great Brittish summer of sport comes to an end

As I write this the Men's and Women's Wheelchair Marathons are underway (with the Women just completing their first lap down the Mall) marking the start of the final day of competition of the London 2012 Paralympic Games and the end of a summer of sport that started off back in May with this small event at a Royal Air Force base in Cornwall

continued across the United Kingdom

during which time we had the Wimbledon tennis championships and the European Football Championships in Poland and the Ukraine before arriving in the Olympic Stadium early in the morning of July 28th

and marked the start of the 2012 Olympic Games. After those sixteen days of triumph, the Olympic Games closed but just a mere two weeks later, the Paralympic Flame was ignited

marking the start of the Paralympic Games which today come to an end. I, as I have said on many an occasion, make no apology for being such a fan of both the Olympics and the Paralympics (both the Winter and Summer editions) and this also applies to the Commonwealth Games as well (to be next held in Glasgow, Scotland in about two years time), so although (as with the Olympic Closing Ceremony) I shall change channels to avoid blubbing at the extingushing of the Paralympic Flame this evening, I certainly intend to follow in the spirit of the Games and hope that I can "inspire a generation" by reporting on any local sport in the Llansantffraed area that might make someone reading this think "Mmm, I quite like the sound of that"

Thursday, 6 September 2012

That's the problem with the Paralympics, they don't last long

The Paralympics may have just finished their first week, but with only eleven days of competition, that first week means there are just four days left until the closing ceremony on Sunday, so how are the small nations doing so far?

Namibia: 1 gold and 1 silver
Iceland: 1 gold
Jamaica: 1 gold
Latvia: 1 gold
Macedonia: 1 gold
Slovenia: 1 silver

Now, on the face of it that would suggest that they are doing a lot worse than in the Olympics (where several small nations got multiple golds), but look at it this way. These are the Paralympics (for elite atheltes with a disability) and as such there is a smaller pool to choose from, therefore if you are a small nation you have an even smaller pool of talent to choose from than the Olympics, so therefore you have less chances to medal. So the fact that Namibia (a country with only 2 million people) has managed to beat Jamaica (2.7 million) shows that you can have ideas well above your station

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Everybody ready for Part Two?

Yes, it's true, the flame is crossing the country again and this evening will once again burn in the Olympic Stadium, only this time it's not the Olympic Flame but the Paralympic Flame signalling the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games and just as in the Olympics, I shall be supporting the small nations. So how do the small nations do in the Paralympics?

Jamaica (population: 2,651,000): 20 golds, 16 silvers, 18 bronzes (from ten Paralympics)
Iceland (population: 295,000): 14 golds, 13 silvers, 34 bronzes (from eight Paralympics)
Kuwait (population: 2,687,000): 9 golds, 15 silvers, 18 bronzes (from eight Paralympics)
Estonia (population: 1,330,000): 4 golds, 8 silvers, 7 bronzes (from five Paralympics)
Slovenia (population: 1,967,000): 3 golds, 6 silvers, 7 bronzes (from seven Paralympics)
Latvia (population: 2,307,000): 2 golds, 3 silvers, 4 bronzes (from five Paralympics)
Cyprus (population: 835,000): 2 golds, 2 silvers, 1 bronze (from seven Paralympics)
Trinidad and Tobago (population: 1,305,000): 2 golds, 1 bronze (from two Paralympics)
Luxembourg (population: 465,000): 1 gold, 4 silvers, 2 bronzes (from six Paralympics)
Bahrain (population: 727,000): 1 gold, 3 silvers, 3 bronzes (from seven Paralympics)
Botswana (population: 1,765,000): 1 gold (from two Paralympics)
Mongolia (population: 2,646,000): 1 gold (from three Paralympics)
Bahamas (population: 323,000): 2 silvers, 3 bronzes (from five Paralympics)
Macedonia (population: 2,034,000): 1 silver (from four Paralympics)
Namibia (population: 2,031,000): 1 bronze (from three Paralympics)

So, as was proven with the Olympics, just because you don't have many people doesn't mean that you can't punch above your weight. Therefore, to all the Paralympians taking part in the Games over the next week and a half, not only do I wish you all the best of luck, but salute you and hope (as Channel Four are doing in their promotions) you prove to the world that you are superhumans

Monday, 13 August 2012

London 2012 : The Small Nations review

And so, as the Olympic Flame was extingushed (whilst at the same time being reborn in Rio in four years time), the Games of the 30th Olympiad of the Modern Era have come to an end with the Americans topping the medals table for the first time since the Sydney Olympics back in the millennium, but how did the small nations do? The answer is, they did the best in a similar timescale as well.

  1. Jamaica (4 golds, 4 silvers, 4 bronzes)
  2. Slovenia (1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronzes)
  3. Trinidad and Tobago (1 gold, 3 bronzes)
  4. Latvia (1 gold, 1 bronze)
  5. Grenada (1 gold)
  6. The Bahamas (1 gold)
  7. Mongolia (2 silvers, 3 bronzes)
  8. Estonia (1 silver, 1 bronze)
  9. Cyprus (1 silver)
  10. Botswana (1 silver)
  11. Montenegro (1 silver)
  12. Gabon (1 silver)
  13. Qatar (2 bronzes)
  14. Kuwait (1 bronze)
  15. Bahrain (1 bronze)
Which gives a total of 9 golds, 12 silvers and 18 bronzes (which if the small nations had been a country in their own right would have placed them eighth overall (between France and Italy)