Friday, December 29, 2006

Ho Ho Ho

Had a very peaceful and relaxing Crimbo. Hope that you all did too.

Music Notes

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Merry Xmas Everybody and Fairytale of New York. Throw in a bit of Bing and a few carols and there’s a Crimbo to warm the cockles of your heart.

I have now entered the hi-tech music world. I’ve now got an iPod nano (yep, it was a CP). I’m now furiously copying my CDs onto my iPod and downloading podcasts from iTunes.

Xmas Decoration Notes

Driving around the area over Christmas has been livened up by the Xmas deccies a lot of houses have put up. The most over-the-top decoration I saw this year was a six foot inflatable Homer Simpson Santa in a garden in Trelewis. Marvellous.

Restaurant Notes

Revisited the Nant Ddu Lodge near Merthyr on Christmas Eve. Again, very welcoming and attentive staff, good food and even a chance of celebrity spotting. Julien Macdonald, probably Merthyr’s only celeb, was there having lunch with his family. (Does that cout as a crap spot, or what?)

Rugby Notes

One of the scandals of the rugby fixture list is that there is a blank Saturday right before Christmas. Instead the round of games were scheduled for Boxing Day. Ebbw Vale duly travelled to Llandovery and came away with a 13-9 win.

I wasn’t there, but there are fulsome reports on the Ebbw Vale RFC site and the Ebbw Vale supporters’ forum.

Fantasy NFL Notes

Won the Championship game in my fantasy league. It was a real nailer-biter. I won out 76-75 over the hateable Colts Rule. My team selection was way off as a left 25 points on the bench, and it came down to a late TD by SF’s Frank Gore and last minute scramble by Dallas QB Tony Romo to get me the winning points.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bring back…

The Times ran a column last week after readers were asked to nominate what ‘deeply unfashionable but useful things’ they would like to bring back.

Items nominated include hospital matrons, police officers who routinely plod the streets, Routemaster buses, red telephone boxes, public transport that isn’t aurally saturated with your fellow travellers’ choice of music, family meals round a table, good manners, National Service, a first postal delivery guaranteed to arrive before mid-afternoon, and school exams that children actually have a small chance of failing.

I fully agree with the sentiments of the list below, and found myself going “here, here” as I read through it. Proof positive that I am officially getting old.

Awnings in front of shops to keep the rain off customers and passers-by
Police stations that answer their own phones
Police stations, full stop
The notion of the customer always being right, or at least not always automatically wrong
“Customer services” departments that actually serve customers
Greasy spoon caffs that sell mugs of strong tea and real food
Celebrities who have some small measure of talent
Doctors who see you when you are poorly, rather than giving you an appointment next February
Blake’s Seven
Temperatures given in Fahrenheit in weather forecasts
Plays, films and TV dramas where every other word doesn’t start with an f
Blackboards in classrooms — and pieces of chalk that the teacher could throw at pupils not paying attention
Brown paper bags in greengrocers and supermarkets instead of non-biodegradable plastic ones
Sports clothing with the designer’s logo tucked discreetly out of sight
Hardware shops where you can buy a single cup hook (thank goodness for Harrisons in Ebbw Vale)
The sound of a “t” on the end of words ending in “t” — even when spoken by the Prime Minister in his “man of the people” mode
Unpretentious TV commercials that you can understand at the first attempt
School playing fields — and the obscure games that used to happen on them, such as cricket, rugby and hockey
National Health dentists, which could be financed by deductions from our wages — the deductions could be called “national insurance contributions”
People who help you with your luggage at railway stations — they could be called “porters”
Lady tennis players who don’t grunt
Not addressing people whom you don’t know by their first names — especially if you are trying to sell them something over the telephone
Being able to see starry skies in cities
January sales that started in January
Substitutes only for injured players in rugby and football
CDs that aren’t called “The Essential Collection”
Rag and bone men
TV newsreaders who sit still behind desks and read the news, rather than spinning round like maniacs and firing inane questions at reporters in exotic locations who have nothing useful to add anyway (an ITV trend which BBC has now started to follow)
Clothes for women with curves, rather than for well-dressed hunger strikers
The concept of being solely responsible for your own health, behaviour, punctuality and finances
An organisation of people’s representatives that regularly held the Government to account and stopped it acting in a high-handed way — we could call it something like the “House of Commons”
Small tins of paint
Bank managers who recognise their customers and perhaps even know their name
Clean, open public lavatories in every town and railway station, preferably staffed
Airfix kits — and people with the patience to do them
Whistling postmen and milkmen
Milkmen of any sort
Cinemas that give you two feature films, a newsreel and an intermission for your money
Cinema usherettes who walked elegantly, backwards, down aisles while displaying illuminated tubs of ice cream
A maximum wage for professional footballers
Alf Ramsay and Bobby Moore
The brilliantly simple idea of quenching your thirst with tap water
People who don’t mind going grey gracefully
Bicycle bells and mudguards
The label “Made in Britain” on anything — from clothes and food to cars, toys and games
Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe and Tony Hancock

TV Notes

Just watched the High Hopes Christmas special on BBC1. Whilst its set, Satellite City-style, in the Rhondda, all of the scenes were filmed in Ebbw Vale town centre.

Link of the Week

Ebbw Vale Today is a newish site which has lots of local information - news, weather, and lots of photographs of Ebbw Vale. Worth looking at to see how some things have changed. When I drove through town after the Maesteg game I noticed that the newly refurbished multi-storey car park is nowadays it up like a belisha beacon at night.

Opik Notes

So Lembit Opik MP has split with Sian Lloyd after sordid tabloid revelations on the weekend. He’s been “going out” with one of the Cheeky Girls, clearly for her sparkling intellect.

Welsh weather girl Sian Lloyd’s story is here, and the Cheeky Girl’s story is everywhere. OK, so he’s not so bright after all.

Squirrel Notes

Yes, by popular demand, it’s back. With the ridiculously warm autumn the squirrels have had no need to be raiding the bird table yet – there’s plenty of rich pickings to be had in the park yet. Walking through the park to the train station this morning I saw dozens of evil grey squirrels busily collecting their nuts for the winter. I’m sure that the invasion of the bird table isn’t far away now.

Amongst the birds visiting our table we have a robin as a regular visitor in the mornings – very festive.

Restaurant Notes

Cath and I visited the Foxhunter in Nantyderry the other night with Jon & B. I’d vaguely heard of it and might have been there many years ago. I might still not have if it hadn’t won an award in the True Taste of Wales awards. It’s the Eating Out in Wales South East region winner.

Very good scoff too, although to my mind a bit too pretentious.

Rugby Notes

The sun shone down on Eugene Cross Park on Saturday, but the rugby did not match the conditions. Nevertheless, Ebbw Vale managed to grind out a dour win over Maesteg, 18-15. I guess it’s a good sign that they can play badly and still win. Coupled win a Newport loss we go back to the top of the table & will be there until at least Boxing Day, when we play at Llandovery.

Scorers: Tries for Andrew Bevan and Ian George, a conversion and a penalty for Dai Langdon, one penalty by Sam Mills.

Highlights: Not too many, but Bevan’s opportunist try from a tap penalty was one.

Lowlights: Andrew McLaughlan’s silly yellow carding for impeding the Maesteg winger following up his kick.

The current table and lots more on Graham’s fan site.

Fantasy NFL Notes

Made it through the fantasy semi-final last weekend, winning big 89-37, again riding Romo, Tomlinson and Frank Gore. The final this weekend is against Colts Rule, who has a team heavy with Dallas players but has the evil Peyton Manning at the helm. They must be stopped.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I wonder if I can get reception here?

We’re at the top of the tallest mobile phone mast in all of France, also known as the Eiffel Tower. The guy in the queue for the lift is serious. It’s a good snapshot of the tourist sights of Paris though – people of all countries and IQs.

It seems to me that it’s a little less chaotic than London, which nowadays seems permanently thronged with tourists, making a simple task like walking down any shopping thoroughfare almost unbearable.

Cath and I, together with Cath’s mum and dad, flew BA from Bristol for a long weekend away. The flight took 50 minutes; the bus from Charles de Gaulle to the centre of Paris took longer. The flight was interesting, described as a “sporting wind”. In other words, blowing a gale.

Spent the entire weekend doing all the usual tourist stuff – the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe (not exactly sure which war they’re celebrating – must be an old monument!), the Champs Elysees, the Sacre Coeur, Montmartre and a Bataeux-Mouche on the Seine.

The hotel Best Western Derby had views of the Eiffel Tower, provided that you open the window and hang out of it in a perilous fashion. Well worth it though for the on-the-hour light displays on the Tower, sparkly stylee!

The food and wine were excellent, and the service friendly - not at all what the stereotypes suggest. Translating the menus was interesting, but we usually wound up with something good. Wild boar casserole with pasta was the highlight.

The highlight of the weekend was getting a taste of how Parisians and their children enjoy the Christmas festivities. The annual Christmas window display at the department store Galeries Lafayette is a Paris tradition, and did not disappoint. The muupet style Pigs in Space display seemed the most populr. Eating roasted chestnuts whilst enjoying the mobile displays really did feel like the start of Christmas.

Festive Notes

The Christmas decorations at the Welsh Assembly Government offices in Cathays Park are so minimal as to be apologetic. There’s a single Christmas tree, wedged in the corner of the reception area, and nothing else.

In being on one hand afraid of upsetting wither the politically correct multi-faith view of the world some loonies have, yet on the other not wanting to get the Daily Mail ranting “Wales cancels Christmas”, they have ended up with a half-arsed compromise.

At least the staff know what to do: festive bunting and Christmas trees decorate most of the offices and cubes across the building.

Travel Notes

Overheard a guy buying his ticket from the conductor on the morning train: “A return to Cardiff please.” “Where from?” “Where I got on.”

I fear for the world.


The French café au lait coffee is wonderfully strong, so I guess their espressos must be like a shot of pure adrenaline.

Link of the Week

My local watering hole, The Bunch of Grapes, is one of three pubs owned by Otley Brewing. The other two are The Otley Arms in Treforest (“O Block” of my university days) and The Rickards Arms Hotel, also in Treforest.

Most amazingly though in this day and age of globalisation is that they run their own brewery in Pontypridd. There’s a good list of beers to be had, and its well worth making the trip to Ponty to sample a few of them.

Viz Notes

Without a shadow of doubt the highlight of each edition of Viz is the Letterbocks section. Here’s a letter from last month’s edition: “Posh Spice recently revealed in an exclusive interview that she ‘wishes that she could be anonymous’. Don’t we all? PS. The irony of saying such a thing during the course of an exclusive interview was clearly lost on her.”

And from the Top Tips section: “Elderly drivers. Pressing the pedal on your right will make your car go a little faster. Forget all that nonsense about suffocating at speeds above 15mph, it was all a myth.”

Rugby Notes

Ebbw Vale played out their second draw of the season at Neath on Saturday. Both draws have been against Neath, and both have been 23-23. What a bizarre coincidence.

Scorers: Tries for wings Andrew Bevan and Simon Hunt and fly half Sam Mills, one conversion and two penalties for Mills also. He missed another five kicks though in a game which we were 14 points up in with 20 minutes to go and should have been further ahead.

Maesteg at home this coming Saturday in what should be a mudbath unless it stops raining soon.

Ice Hockey Notes

Went to see the Cardiff Devils last Wednesday at their new arena. There was a very good crowd, with lots of drums to keep the noise level up. Cardiff duly produced the goods and dispatched the Manchester Phoenix 7-4. Great entertainment. I suspect that the stream of home games over the festive period may help Cardiff up the table.

Fantasy Football Notes

Another good win to end the regular season last weekend, this time 111-39. Finished the league as champion, but that’s only part of the season. Now it’s the last four in the playoffs. Hopefully LT, Antonio Gates and Donald Driver can have another good week.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Home from home

Went and bought a caravan last week. Or more accurately, a static holiday home. It’s on the Gwalia Falls site in Tresaith, just up the road from Aberporth. It’s got views over Cardigan Bay, and it’s a five minute walk down the hill to Tresaith beach (and the local pub, The Ship). Can’t wait to be spending many a weekend down west come the spring and summer.

I have to say that I had the usual stereotypical views of caravans, as being pokey and lacking in any modern conveniences. My eyes were opened by a quick visit to a few caravan parks in West Wales last month. Ours is 32 feet long, with proper plumbing and a full-size shower, a fully-equipped kitchen and 2 separate bedrooms. It’s even wired for digital TV and has wi-fi internet access on the way.

Our newly acquired second home is an Atlas Ruby Super, and whilst this isn’t the exact layout, the style and size is the same and it gives a good feel for the place.

Movie Notes

Went to see Casino Royale on Saturday night. Thoroughly good entertainment and a great return for the James Bond franchise. Daniel Craig is a convincing 007, even if some of the action scenes are a little preposterous.

Nice to see that the Bond girl was an accountant from the Treasury, giving the rest of us civil servants a new role model. OK, not a perfect role model – after all, she sold out to the baddies by the end of the movie.

BTW, whatever happened to the Pearl and Dean movie adverts of my youth?

Choc Ice?

Choc Ice? have just played their Christmas concert to a sold out crowd at Dempseys in Cardiff. The usual wonderful mix of talent and mayhem was on display, and as usual there was nothing finer than the encore song, a Yorkshireman version of Bohemian Rhapsody. They were supported by country outfit the Cotton Pickin´ Critters and Dutch rockers Maximum Metallica.

The Critters and Choc Ice? will be appearing our wedding, so be prepared!

Rugby Notes

Travelled to Llanelli on Saturday. Ebbw Vale lost 13-17 to the Reds (well, they can’t be the Scarlets can they? That’s the “regional” team – their word, not mine.)

Ebbw gave a first start to Dragons Academy outside half Dai Langdon. Overall, I though he played well but he missed a couple of first half penalties which in the end made the difference.

We dominated up front and led for the first 70 minutes, but didn’t finish chances when they presented themselves. Whilst we didn’t play well, this was one we should have won.

The crowd at Stradey Park was dismal. There were clearly more Ebbw fans than Reds. That they offered the argument that the Scarlets were on TV against Sale (BTW, good work Kingsley) speaks volumes about the farce that is regional rugby in that part of the world. I’m sure this wasn’t a big worry for Llandovery and the other teams in West and North Wales.

A Newport win takes them back above us on try count.

In other shock rugby news, Ebbw Vale actually was featured on Scrum V. Nice interview with Alan Evans on the team bus too.

Scorers: Try for Andrew Bevan, conversion and 2 penalties for Dai Langdon

Highlight: Another good performance at scrum and lineout

Lowlight: A worrying number of injuries: hopefully none of them are too serious, with another key match (at Neath) coming up this Saturday.

Rally Notes

Marcus Gronholm won the Wales Rally GB last weekend. Stages were held in the Swansea valley and above Carmarthen and Llandovery as well as a big showpiece stage in the Millennium Stadium. It seemed to me, though, that the TV coverage was pretty thin on the ground.

Ice Hockey Notes

The Cardiff Devils are finally coming home. Allegedly. They have been playing in exile since their home, the Cardiff National Ice Rink, was demolished at the end of last season to make way for another shopping development. Sophia Gardens was rejected as a possible temporary home (by the same disgruntled residents currently fighting the cricket ground expansion). Eventually a site near Cardiff Bay was found, and the Devils were due to play their first home game of the season last Saturday.

The game was called off just one hour before face-off when they couldn’t get the ice surface ready – apparently there was sand showing through the ice. Next game ought to be this Wednesday.

All the fixtures and directions to the new venue can be found on their website.

Fantasy NFL Notes

Huge fantasy NFL win over the Thanksgiving weekend. In a stroke of genius I picked up free agent Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, and he then proceeded to have one of the best games that anyone could on Thanksgiving Day. He threw 5 TD passes and racked up 36 points for me. Everyone else contributed too, and I won by a record score (for me anyway) 131-59. The highest score in the league before this explosion was 98.

By comparison, this weekend I squeaked by, winning 58-44. Romo came crashing down to earth, giving me just a single point. But LaDainian Tomlinson is Mr consistent and earned me a difference-making 20 points.

There’s just one week left before the fantasy playoffs, and I reckon I’m guaranteed top place in the playoff rankings.

Friday, November 24, 2006

5 minute interview

I have been profiled in this month’s in-house magazine Seren (not in the way you profile serial killers, though). The sub-editing managed to ruin most of the attempted jokes; they clearly thought that being a civil servant and having a sense of humour were mutually exclusive. So here, for those who care, is the full, un-butchered profile:

Martin Veale – Risk Improvement Manager

What is your main job role?
To lead on the development of risk management in the Welsh Assembly Government. We have made significant inroads over the past few years, and the proper structures and processes are now in place, but there’s still a long way to go to get all staff thinking about risks during the course of their daily jobs. My focus is to raise awareness of risks, how to spot them and how to manage them.

What do you enjoy about your job?
Being in a role where I can help others to do their jobs. It’s very wide-ranging. I interact with lots of different people and I have to know a lot about the workings of the Assembly Government.

What drives you mad about your job?
It’s often difficult to find out who is the right person to talk to and I can’t bear out of office email responses along the lines of ‘I’m on leave and your email has been deleted’. How does that help communications?

Where would you like your department to be in five years?
Being the best it can be. Somewhere where there are no surprises and things are properly planned and managed. Somewhere where there’s no need for a risk manager – because everybody does risk management every day without thinking.

What’s your favourite book?
Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent and Stephen King’s Faithful – his diary of the 2004 Boston Red Sox season.

My biggest influence is...
Geoff Boycott, who taught me to get by with what you’ve got, make the most of your talents, and play a forward defensive.

My proudest moment was...
April 28 next, when I get married to my fiancée Cath.

The best thing my parents taught me was...
Play fair. Don’t hit other people. Put things back where you found them. Say sorry when you hurt someone. Clean up your own mess. Flush.

What’s the first thing you’d do if you won the lottery?
Shout ‘Woohoo!’, then pay off the mortgage (a good accountant’s answer) and book tickets for the winter Ashes series down under.

Link of the week

Beaufort Hill Ponds and Woodland Preservation Society is a new organisation set up following the demise of Corus in the Ebbw Vale area to preserve the local ponds and surrounding area. The ponds were built back in the 1800s to supply water to the local iron (and later steel) works. The area starts at the pond at the top of Highlands Road in Beaufort and leads up to the Heads of the Valleys Road.


I succumbed to my first eggnog latte of the festive season at Starbucks in the Llantrisant Borders bookstore the other night. I think that I’ll be beating a regular path to the store for the next month or so.

Obviously keen to take a break from training for tomorrow's All Blacks game, Wales captain Stephen Jones, Martin Williams, Gethin Jenkins, Kevin Morgan and Rhys Thomas were in Starbucks. They had a quiet coffee and signed a few autographs.

Fantasy Football Notes

LaDainian Tomlinson couldn’t do it all on his own this past weekend. He hoovered up 32 points with 4 touchdowns for the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night, but the rest of my team could only manage 37 between them. Still joint top though at 7-3-1.

Hotel Notes

It’s the second time in a week that I’ve stayed at the Macdonald Holland House Hotel in Cardiff. Last week was the CIPFA in Wales conference. This time around it was the annual training conference of the Traffic Commissioners (they adjudicate on the granting and revoking of operating licences for haulage and bus contractors). I’ve been appointed as a (very) part-time financial assessor to the Traffic Commissioners.

Anyway, the hotel is on Newport Road, its quite new and very swish. It's not often that you walk into a hotel bedroom and wonder where the bed is! It had a sofa and a couple of easy chairs, a whiz-bang flat screen TV/computer and wifi access. Highly recommended, but I suspect not cheap.

TV Notes

It’s a pleasure to hear Ritchie Benaud back on TV. He’s doing the BBC highlight package of the Ashes tour. The other commentators include Tony “make them grovel” Grieg and my hero, Geoff Boycott. The commentary makes the sound trashing being handed out by the Aussies thus far more bearable.

Rugby Notes

Gerald Davies was booked to be the after dinner speaker at the CIPFA Wales conference last week. I wasn’t looking forward to listening to another Cardiff-centric lecture on how rugby should be run, but thankfully I didn’t have to. Thomas Gerald Reames Davies was a no-show. He’s got time to meander down memory lane for Scrum V and be in the stands for the Canada game, but clearly not enough to send his apologies to the conference.

The host of the evening did his best to embarrass him in his absence, reading his thank you note despite Davies not being there to be thanked. He also did the old Max Boyce joke: “How fast was Gerald Davies, dad?” “He was so fast that he could turn out the bedroom light and be in bed before it was dark.”

Monday, November 20, 2006

More from the Maldives

The Maldives are over a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, covering 500 miles of seas just north of the equator. Its north-east to India, west to Africa and south to the Antarctic. (

The islands are in clusters, or atolls, surrounded by barrier reefs. These reefs are the dividing line between the deep sea and the pale blue shallow lagoons that are such perfect conditions for snorkelling and diving.

And here’s the link to the hotel itself. A bunch of my photos are on my Flickr website.

Water Notes

1. Just standing on the jetty we saw stingrays, baby reef sharks and fish of all shapes and sizes. It’s like having your own aquarium, but way better.

2. Tried snorkelling on our second day. The resort provided us with snorkels, masks and fins. No sooner had Cath and I stepped down off our deck into the water than a neighbour spotted a turtle. He was probably about four feet long, and a remarkable sight to see. We managed to swim with the turtle for several hundred yards; the turtle swimming gracefully and me trying not to drown in my excitement. One of the highlights of the trip.

3. To preserve fish stocks, no net or trawler fishing is allowed in the Maldives. This leaves far more fish for the island’s resident grey heron. Each night we saw him waiting patiently on the bottom step of the jetty, watching the fish that are attracted to the area by the lights.

It’s a perfect lesson in patience; he waits for a fish to come close enough and near to the surface before he strikes. He must have stood in the same spot for 20 minutes before diving in after a fish. The hapless fish was brought back up onto the jetty before being swallowed whole, headfirst. Just like in the cartoons, you could see the shape of the fish in the heron’s neck as it went down!

4. The resort arranges boat trips every day out to one of the nearby reefs so that we could go snorkelling. I had some misgivings about stepping off a boat into deep water (I’ve studiously avoided watching Jaws and Open Water in the run up to his holiday). New friends Ian and Tracy were dab hands though and we quickly took to snorkelling like ducks (or fish) to water. The vast array of fish and the sheer number of them completed boggled me. There were times when I couldn’t see the sea bed for schools of fish. As one guy on the trip said, “it’s like swimming in fish soup”.

These one hour trips quickly became one of the high spots of the holiday, and each time there seemed to be different types of fish to see.

I was even lucky enough to see and eagle ray swim underneath me. At the time I had visions of Steve Irwin’s demise flashing through my mind. The ray must have been six feet across, and came over the reef directly in front of me. Before I had a chance to panic, it simple followed the reef downwards and in a matter of seconds was out of sight in the deep waters.

These websites give a good idea of the variety of sea life and their stunning colours ( and

Glove Notes

I thought everyone would know that the coral reefs are fragile and shouldn’t be damaged. Especially if you’ve travelled thousands of miles to see them firsthand. But no.

The regular lowlight of these snorkel trips was the way in which a small minority of guests though it was perfectly OK to stand on the coral, and even the one idiot clinging on to the coral to take his underwater photographs. It was hardly an accident; he even had “dive gloves” on for exactly that purpose. Han(d)s seemed not to care about the damage he caused as long as he got his picture. Many more like him and there won’t be anything left to take pictures of.

Monsoon Notes

In fairness, when it rains, it really rains. The kind of rain that soaks you in a minute or less. All you can do is batten down the hatches and ride the storm out.

Sitting on the beach we could see the clouds building, bigger than usual – dark grey and flat at the bottom and tall and fluffy white higher up. And heading our way. It was early afternoon when the rain engulfed the nearby island: time to beat a hasty retreat to the bar. And rain it did, for six hours solid. In a very unscientific measurement a one-inch deep ashtray filled with rainwater in 20 minutes. Best to stay indoors and read a book. Or write a blog.

Only one complete day lost to rain, although other downpours came in the evenings and overnight occasionally.

Star Notes

One thing that you notice in the Maldives is how many more stars you can see. Thankfully, there’s very little light pollution, and so the sky is wonderfully clear.

Instead of the usual hundreds of stars that can be seen from a typical British city, there are thousands visible. Nebula clouds and the Milky Way are visible with the naked eye. We even saw some shooting stars.

Cocktail Notes

Sunday night was cocktail night. Head barman Fernando was in charge of knocking out some of the most lethal concoctions known to man.

We sampled Arrack Colada (Sri Lankan coconut rum), Deep Sea, Brandy Alexander and the wonderfully mistyped Shandy Lady. The general recipe was: lots of local booze, more booze, ice, fruit juice and a slice of pineapple to garnish. Marvellous. The walkways back to the water bungalows seem a bit narrower after a few drinks though. Needless to say I’m a bit fragile writing these notes the next morning.

And then of course there was the night we set fire to the waiter

Karen orders a B-52, a lethal concoction of Baileys, Kahlua and Cointreau. The waiter brings it to our table lit with the alcohol burning merrily. By the time he gets to us though some of the booze has been spilt and the outside of the glass and his tray are on fire too. Undeterred, he serves the flaming glass and in the process sets fire to his hand. We sit be bemused silence while he shakes his hand, trying to extinguish it.

“Scorch” is very good about it all and smiles through the pain. By this time, of course, the straw has melted and laughter erupts. Good cocktail though, and no lasting damage to our waiter.

Travel Notes

1. Qatar Airways is one of the best (if not the best) airline to fly with. Even in cattle class there was miles of leg room, really good food and in-flight entertainment second to none – over 50 on-demand movies, a couple of hundred CDs from which to create personal playlists, and games too.

Ray was content to build a playlist that met his high musical standards, Karen played Tetris, Cath watched Jaws and I just endlessly fiddled with the technology.

2. Male International Airport takes up its own island, just a short boat ride away from Male itself. The runway is the only one in the world which starts and ends at the sea. From there to the resort it’s a seaplane transfer ( It’s a 40 minute flight in a 20-seater Twin Otter piloted by an Aussie dropout in bare feet. Magnificent views of the atolls and lagoons: what a great way to get an idea of the sheer isolation of these islands.

The seaplane transfer at the end of the holiday was even more spectacular. We asked the pilot if he would do a low flyover of the island so that we could get a last look. He agreed, in retrospect a little too readily.

He proceeded to buzz the island, giving a wonderful last photo opportunity. He then flew the next ten miles or so at palm tree height, skimming the nearby islands and coral reefs. It was a truly wonderful end to a great holiday. I guess it just goes to show that there’s no harm in asking. All the while the barefoot pilot (Sri Lankan this time) had a big grin on his face. If you’re going to be a pilot then that is a great place to do it.

3. It’s amazing how people from some lands are hell-bent on getting onto the plane first. As the plane won’t go before everyone is on board, I guess the attraction is simply the opportunity to annex the overhead lockers.

4. I lament the demise of the airline peanut.

Rugby Notes

It looks like I missed Ebbw rugby more than they missed me when I was away. Two good wins (23-13 at home over Pontypridd and 21-19 at the evil empire, Cardiff) kept Ebbw near the top of the table.

Saturday’s win over Glamorgan Wanderers combined with Newport’s loss at Llanelli means that Ebbw Vale GO TOP! The 39-22 scoreline doesn’t do justice to the one-sided nature of the game. If a few more passes had gone to hand it could easily have been a 50-pointer.

Scorers: 5 tries in all, for Aiono, Shelbourne, Cleaver, Hunt and Dan Phillips. 2 penalties and 4 conversions for Sam Mills. Mills is starting to show in the overall point scorers table, and Bevan, McLaughlin and Hunt now all have 4 tries on the season.

Highlight: Great piece of cornerflagging from Kristian Gay to save a try.

Lowlight: Yet another yellow card for Nio Aiono.

Fantasy Football Notes

LaDamien Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers must have a bad back from carrying my fantasy football team on it week after week. The three weekends I was away he scored 29, 27 and 31 points. The only other players that featured were Ahman Green of the Packers (18 in week 8), Marques Colston of the Saints (12 in week 9) and Donald Driver of the Packers (15 in week 10).

I’m now 7-2-1 (7 wins, 2 losses and a tie) and tied for first place in my league with a Colts fan.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Paradise in the Maldives

Just back from my hols in a little bit of paradise known as the Maldives.

The hotel/resort was called the Chaaya Lagoon, formerly known as the Hakuraa Club. It’s an island of its own (as many hotel/resorts are in the Maldives).

The only way on or off the island is by seaplane or by dhoni, the local boats. Its protected from the Indian Ocean by the coral reef which forms the boundary of the atoll – on one side of the island its about 200 yards away. There are no cars, and the only sound is that of the waves breaking on the distant reef – very soothing.

The island has 70 water bungalows, built on stilts over the lagoon and connected to the island by a series of walkways. There are 10 beach bungalows just back off the gently sweeping crescent-shaped beach. One restaurant and two bars, a gym and a spa complete the amenities. But, as an island, it has to provide its own water and power; so there’s a generator and a desalination plant hidden amongst the palm trees.

The water is shallow (wading deep) for hundreds of yards in all directions, making it perfect for snorkellers. The water gets deeper at the end of the jetty where the planes land and where the scuba divers hang out.

The island is no more than a couple of feet above sea level, and stood no chance when the tsunami hit on Boxing Day 2004. The wave reached 10 feet high and destroyed everything. Staff and guests waited out on the roof of the restaurant until boats could be arranged to evacuate them to a neighbouring island that wasn’t as badly affected, and were eventually rescued by the Pakistan navy. It’s a miracle that only one person was killed on the island that day.

The resort got rebuilt in less than a year, and is a truly wonderful place. They say that the marine life will take longer to recover, however. I Saw proof positive of the marine life on the daily snorkelling boat trips out to a nearby reef. Whilst there’s dead coral (caused as much by the 1998 El Nino as the tsunami) there’s also lots of coral thriving, in all shapes and colours. And there’s thousands of fish too.

Lots more notes to come in the next week or so, but in the meantime there’s plenty more pictures on my Flickr website. There’s a link on the right.

Friday, October 27, 2006

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere

Got my Jimmy Buffet CD packed, I going south – changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes and all that stuff. Yep, flying from Manchester early on Friday morning with Karen & Ray & C (of course) to the Maldives. Or specifically Hakuraa Club, part of Meemu Atoll. It’s about 2 degrees north of the equator. The flight is via Doha to Male (the Maldivian capital) then to the resort by seaplane!

This will necessitate a break in transmissions for a few weeks.

My Bit of Welsh Heaven

This is in today’s Western Mail. It’s by David James, a builder from Beaufort (no, don’t know him).

“When people ask us Ebbw-ites to suggest somewhere nice to go for a meal, we always tell them to go anywhere “down the country”. What they really mean is anywhere in Crickhowell or Llangynidyr.

“For me, paradise is getting in the car outside my house in Beaufort, heading out past the housing estate in Garnlydan and then dropping into a brave new world of beautiful countryside and lovely houses.

“All of a sudden you go over this bump in the road and in front of you is the valley, rich and glorious. It’s a long, windy road to get from the top of the moors down to Crickhowell, but the views are so spectacular you won’t want the drive to end.”

Here, here. It’s one of the best drives in Wales (as long as the fog doesn’t come down or you run out of petrol!)

Concert Notes

Went to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Coal Exchange on Tuesday night. I think it was my fourth time, and every time they’ve been excellent. This time was no exception. It’s one of the best nights out anyone could ask for.

They’ve got a new CD out, called Into the Harbour, but of course the concert had all the old favourites too. There was also I Hear You Knocking, Rebel Rebel and Help Me Rhonda, Dueling Banjos, and pretty much whatever Southside could think of or someone in the audience shouted out. It started with “Try to Understand…” and came to a chaotic end some 2½ hours later. I don’t know how they find the energy (especially since they must be knocking on by now) but I was knackered just watching.

Interesting Fact I: the two roadies were fabulous stereotypes – one had grey hair and ponytail, the other balding with a ponytail. And with way too much workman’s bum on display too.

Interesting Fact II: the clock in the Coal Exchange has the inscription underneath it “Tempus Fugit”. Well, it certainly didn’t apply to the clock itself, which was stopped at ten past five.

Rugby Notes

I’ll be missing Ebbw Vale’s home game with Pontypridd and the away game at Cardiff. Check out the scores on

Blues number 10 Nicky Robinson has admitted that his team's policy of buying in foreign players has cost him a place in the Wales squad. The Blues region (their word, not mine) bought New Zealander Ben Blair now gets all the kicking responsibility for the Blues, and so Wales opted for kicker Ceri Sweeney as their second outside half as cover for Stephen Jones.

So much for developing Welsh talent, eh?

Fantasy Football Notes

A big win last weekend thanks to LT and my makeshift QB John Kitna, and I had the most points of any team in the league. I’ve got to pick sides for the next three weeks before I go away though, so I’ll be happy to still be in the top 4 when I get back.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Aberaeron and beyond

Bit of a catch-up of the past week’s events. Spent last weekend (and a bit of the week) down West Wales. We stayed at the Harbourmaster Hotel in Aberaeron. The suite we were in occupied the whole of the top floor and had wonderful views of the harbour and the sea. The price you pay for old fashioned charm? Whacked my head a few times on the wooden beams!

Spent Monday morning on Penbryn beach. It’s owned by the National Trust, and you can only get there by walking through the woodlands, Lost-style. This, combined with the fact that it was a Monday morning in October, meant that we had the whole beach and the beautiful blue sky all to ourselves.

As we left the heavens opened though, so we retired to Newquay for lunch, and partook of one of the great holiday traditions: eating fish & chips in the car.

Restaurant Notes

It seems an age ago, but it was only last week, we went with Jon and B to the Felin Fach Griffin near Brecon. The food there was superb. I had Wild Mushroom Tagliatelli, Welsh Venison & Sticky Toffee Pudding (not all at the same time). Faultless.

The place has a very comforting atmosphere with a roaring fire. Not surprising that it has won a string of awards. Well worth the trip – but book a table beforehand.

TV Notes

The new BBC spinoff from Dr Who started on BBC Three last night
Torchwood. It’s a more adult-orientated series about a secret group tracking aliens on Earth and features Captain Jack from the recent Dr Who series. The series is set in Cardiff, and the headquarters of Torchwood are located under the Wales Millennium Centre. Lots of shots of Cardiff landmarks, and jokes about being Welsh are scattered throughout. And to prove its aimed at adults, they occasionally say f***.

It’s shown on Sunday nights at 9pm on BBC Three. A more than adequate substitute for those who are missing their Dr Who fix.

But is it Art?

Stopped off at the Chapter Arts Centre in Canton last week for a meal after work before meeting some friends. It seemed to be populated by a very “right on” crowd, the sort who knit their own yoghurt (© Alexi Sayle) and who singularly seemed unable to smile or laugh about anything. I was expected a menu made up of purely quinoa and beancurd, but there were actually some meat dishes on the menu. Very informal place, but with good, cheap food.

The main exhibit at the Chapter at the moment is a gallery given over to a work by Simon Pope. It’s an entirely empty, whitewashed gallery with a single inscription on the wall: “you are invited to recall, from memory, a walk through a gallery space.” OK, this is final proof that I’m turning into my dad, but come on, what a load of bollocks.

Needless to say, the media has finally caught up with what you are able to do with an Arts Council grant, and has been giving the artist, Simon Pope a good kicking.

Living Notes

A recent survey by Channel 4 drew up a list of the worst places to live in the UK. Merthyr Tydfil came 3rd and Blaenau Gwent came 9th. The survey was based on 5 criteria: crime, environment, lifestyle, education and employment. The rest of the top ten:

Hackney, London
Tower Hamlets, London
Merthyr Tydfil
Newham, London
Islington, London
Strabane, N Ireland
Blaenau Gwent

But on the plus side, Blaenau Gwent has some of the cheapest house prices in the UK, it’s on the doorstep of the Brecon Beacons, the train line is being built and its home to Ebbw Vale RFC.

Rugby Notes

Ebbw traveled to Bedwas on Saturday and came away with another hard fought win. This one was too close for comfort. It could have been a 40-pointer if the early chances had been taken, but in the end we had to settle for a 19-16 win. It was one of the dirtiest games of the year, with the second half being full of niggles. Bedwas gave away a string of penalties, some of which we bizarrely ran and other, more difficult ones resulted in missed kicks.

We say 3rd in the table as the top 4 all won.

Scorers: an interception try for Simon Hunt, with the rest of the points again coming from Sam Mills (who should have had plenty more)

Highlight: Neil Edwards again was excellent, and the scrum on occasion looked like a force to be reckoned with.

Lowlight: halfbacks were poor, and failed to get the back line going. Its worrying than a series of passes to get the ball out to the wing sometimes looks beyond us. And Nio Aiono got get another yellow card, his third of the season, which will probably lead to a ban for him.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rain stops play

Came home at 19-1 for the Haddocks (see last post).

Rugby Notes

Another great win on Saturday, this time 24-13 at home to Swansea. We never looked in real trouble. The pack was wonderful, causing the Jacks some real grief in the scrum and lineout (picture shows captain Craig Cleaver leaping salmonesque), as well as scoring a try from a 25 metre rolling maul.

Swansea never looked like winning and scored their only try when Greg Roberts was in the sin bin just before half time. This despite some dodgy refereeing by Hugh Watkins and by Swansea back rower Ritchie Pugh, who didn’t shut up the entire game. The ref proper managed to add 10 minutes of injury time in the second half. Good job we were a score clear, or the nerves would have been jangling again.

We are now riding high in 3rd in the table. A first home outing for the blue change jerseys, as seen in the pic. Very nice too.

Scorers: tries for the front row men Ian George and Richard Wilkes and for both wingers, Matt Jess and Simon Hunt. Two conversions for Sam Mills

Highlight: the work rate of Kris Gay who covered a huge a mount of ground and played the entire game. Good turnaround, Kris.

Lowlight: a red card for Kristian Owen for fighting on the fringe of a melee late in the game.

Fantasy Football Notes

Big win on the weekend, beating the top team 89-81. Huge 4 touchdown performance from LaDamian Tomlinson and 4 TDs from my WRs and TEs sealed the win. Need to sort out my QB position though; with Culpepper out for a while it looks like it’ll have to be Jake Plummer. Yikes.

Link of the week

Buzzwhack is a website that has all the corporate speak (bullsh*t bingo, in other words) you could ever want. Here are a few examples:

carbon-based error: Error caused by a human, not a computer (which would be a silicon-based error).

featurise: To add features to a product - often unnecessary - in the name of meeting a customer's needs. "As users identify new ways of using it, we try to featurise the product to meet those needs."

fugitive information: I once knew it and it didn't matter then so I let it go. But it does matter NOW and I can't remember it.

landspam: Spam delivered the old-fashioned way - on paper and via your local postman. Some of us still call it "junk mail."

non-verbal leakage: Body language, particularly in business where you can tell more about what the buyer's truly thinking by his or her body language, not by what he or she is saying.

plutoed: To be unceremoniously dumped or relegated to a lower position without an adequate reason or explanation

ringxiety: Triggered by the ringtone of a cell phone, it's when everyone in a public place or meeting reaches simultaneously for their cell before it begins its second embarrassing ring.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Haddocks up

It was the presentation evening for the Cardiff Midweek Cricket League last night, held in the glamorous surroundings of the Electricity Club in Pontcanna.

The Haddocks were there in force to collect our trophies as runners-up in Division 3. The squad representing the club last night was (in strict batting order):

Jon C
Matt G
Rich "The Ghost"

It was generally agreed that the best performance of the season came from Knotty, whose administrative skills pushed us up the table when our athletic skills weren’t able.

Guest of honour was Robert Croft, until a month ago the captain of Glamorgan. He had some strong views to express on the current Glamorgan team, the future without overseas players, the England team and in particular Nassar Hussain and Duncan Fletcher.

There was £6.80 left in the kitty at the end of the night. As there's not much you can get for £6.80 these days, one of the boys decided to stick it on a horse. With a cricket theme we went for “Rain Stops Play” in the 4:55 at Newmarket. Needless to say...

Full results for the season are on the CMCL website here. Photos from the event will also show there in the next couple of weeks.

Travel Notes

The train ride home from work follows the line of the river Taff. As I was gazing out of the window of my train carriage the other evening I spied a game of canoe polo on the Taff. I was impressed with their skill and their ability to cope with the cold!

Fantasy Football Notes

43-32 win in this week’s fantasy football. Thanks to Robbie Gould, the Chicago K who got 19 of my points. Culpepper didn’t play, and I left 2 TDs on the bench through Gates and Keyshawn Johnson. That’s one lucky win.

Rugby Notes

Ebbw Vale welcome Swansea to Eugene Cross Park tomorrow in good spirits after a fine win over Aberavon last weekend. Neil Edwards has recovered from the injury to his right foot that he suffered against Aberavon to take his place in the second row.

The Ebbw Vale team: Andrew McLaughlan, Matt Jess, Kristian Owen, Gareth Roberts, Simon Hunt, Sam Mills, Bryan Shelbourne, Ian George, Richard Wilkes, Kristian Gay, Matty Griffin, Neil Edwards, John Bowd, Nio Aiono, Craig Cleaver (c).

Replacements: D Williams, L Williams, R Bowen, J Lydiate, P Horgan, D Phillips, J Quirk.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Top afternoon walking some of the Forestry Commission land at Garwnant. Lots of dog walkers there, but these days its all a bit too much for Marvin who stayed at home.

Restaurant Notes

Sunday lunch at Nant Ddu Lodge. Its a hotel, bistro and spa, located on the A470 north of Merthyr Tydfil. Top scoff.

Tigers in Four!

If the Boston Red Sox can't win the World Series, then the next best thing is that the New York Yankees don't either. They were knocked out of the playoffs yesterday by the Detroit Tigers 3-1 in the best of five series.

The New York Mets look like a good bet right now - they swept the Los Angeles Dodgers yesterday.

Rugby Notes

Great win for Ebbw yesterday over Aberavon. 27-25 in a thriller. We could have wrapped it up early but a few forward passes meant that we didn't capitalise on early pressure, and we let Aberavon back into the game.

Some great work in the lineout by Neil Edwards again, and the front row worked hard too. Our backline looked good going forward, with Matt Jess impressing every time he had the ball. Tackling was a bit loose on occasion though. Good heart though, and we managed to fight some loose officiating which let the Wizards get away with muder on the fringes. After 48 second-half minutes the ref eventualy called time & we came away with a much deserved win.

Scorers: tries for Simon Hunt, Nio Aiono (in his best game for the club) and John Bowd, with 3 conversions and two penalties for Sam Mills.

Highlight: best all-round performance of the season.

Lowlight: the way that the lineout disintegrated in the last ten minutes without Neil Edwards to organise it. Could have cost us the game.

Friday, October 06, 2006

New arrival

Our friends Sion and Cath had a new baby boy this week, in rather dramatic circumstances. They chose to have a home birth, and on the fateful day the midwife determined that nothing was going to happen and went home. Cath then went into labour and Sion ended up delivering the baby, being talked through it by the ambulance driver.

Both mother and baby Amig are fine. Sion reckons he’ll be dining out on the story for years to come.

Cube Notes

Excitement this week has been caused by something in the water. Someone reported a worm in their glass of water from one of the water fountains in the office. Probably more worrying was the response to the email that went to our facilities management people:

Q - I just found a worm in my water from the dispenser on the second floor, south wing AO5; I have it by my desk in a cup. I hope I have not taken a worm in this water. What do I do with it?

A - We will send a Handyman up to check it out.

After a day or so of rumour and wondering, an official announcement came.
There is a low risk from drinking the water. All the water fountains are now out of action and water samples have gone off to the public health laboratories. It transpires that this “worm” is now being called a “non-specific bacteria”. Well that's OK then.

Travel Notes

Enjoyable - Was up in London earlier in the week, and stayed in the Thistle Selfridge Hotel. Nice too. Very convenient for Selfridge's (downstairs) and the rest of Oxford Street.

Aggravating - the quiet car on the train was only disturbed five times by various idiots/executives making self-important phone calls.

Ebay Notes

My first venture into the world of Ebay has been a successful one. We had roof tiles left over when we put a fibreglass sloping roof on the kitchen and porch instead of the leaky tile roof. Having tried salvage yards and even the Council to get rid of them, I turned to Ebay. And I sold them for £145, when I was going to be happy just getting rid of them!

Rugby Notes

The Daily Andrex has this as the Ebbw team for tomorrow’s game against Aberavon at ECP. I’m yet to be convinced about Roberts in the centre (may as well play NCR!) or Aiono in the back row – hopefully they can both good this week.

A McLaughlan, S Hunt, K Owen, G Roberts, M Jess, S Mills, B Shelbourne, I George, D Williams, K Gay, M Griffin, N Edwards, J Bowd, N Aiono, C Cleaver (captain).

Replacements: R Wilkes, J Corsi, R Bowen, J Lydiate, P Horgan, D Phillips, J Quirk.

Aberavon have lost coach Kevin Hopkins to the Ospreys set up, but still have Mark Jones: probably not the best tactician but a good motivator!

Fantasy Football Notes

As predicted, I was well beaten last week 62-47 and I’ve now fallen to 1-2-1. I’m looking for Cadillac Williams and/or Duante Culpepper to break out of their slumps to help my team this week. I could be forced into the transfer market if they don’t shape up soon.

Link of the week

Dilbert, the cartoon strip, now has a blog.

Dilbert’s newsletter (sent out to members of Dilbert’s New Ruling Class) includes some true quotes from people who put the DUH in In-duh-vidual:

That's water over the bridge.
You're dead meat in the water.
They have us by the balls of our feet.
They should lock him up and throw away the book.
Make sure you cross your p's and q's.
Don't look a blind horse in the eye.
I put my wrong foot in the wrong mouth at the wrong time!
Cows died to give us that cheese.
Don't slap the hand that milks you.
Call me back at your least convenience.
It's six of one and one of the other.
I can't do it in the spur of a hat.
That's going to change the whole ball of works.
They're not the brightest box of cookies.
The pro's for are more than the pro's against.
I wouldn't touch him as far as I could throw him.

Good sign!

Monday, October 02, 2006


Finally, there is actually progress in the development of the Ebbw Vale train line. It’s been 44 years since passenger trains last ran to and from Ebbw Vale. It’s been over 4 years since the Assembly made the announcement in 2002 that the line was to reopen.

But last week the first JCB moved in to start the work necessary to get the train line and six new stations ready for opening next summer.

There’s more comment here (the Councils’ view) and here (a more independent view).

Travel Notes

Enjoyable - Spent the weekend staying with some friends in Bobbington. Wonderful lazy weekend. We visited Moseley Old Hall on Saturday, a National Trust property near Wolverhampton where Charles II hid from Cromwell many years ago (in 1651 to be precise).

Aggravating - I have no idea why the M4 was like a car park at 2pm on a Friday afternoon. But the fact that’s it a) just two lanes wide between Cardiff and Newport is just nuts, and b) its the local bypass for Newport residents don’t help.

Welsh Notes

Apparently Wenglish travels less well across the UK than all the other dialects. Great Wenglish words include:

Ach-y-fi! – expression of disgust or repugnance
Butty – a friend, colleague, or one of a pair
Cwtch – to snuggle or lie down
Daps – plimsolls
Mitch – to play truant
Potch – a mess, trouble, even to date
Tidy – good, excellent
Where’s it to? – where is it?

Restaurant Notes

The Drawing Room in Builth Wells has been named as the AA Welsh Restaurant of the Year. Haven’t been there. Yet.

Rugby Notes

I wasn’t there, but all reports tell of another nail biting finish before Ebbw came out victorious at Cross Keys 15-11. The weather was just a touch inclement. One update text I had said that we had the tide with us first half.

Scorers: tries for Andrew Bevan (again) and Andrew McLaughlan, with a conversion and penalty for Sam Mills.

Highlight: the win

Lowlight: another two yellow cards; we’ve got to get our discipline sorted out.

Football Notes

I got to see the New England Patriots’ 38-13 demolition of the Cincinnati Bengals last night. Sky Sports has a doubleheader each week (the US 1pm and 4pm games). But in addition its interactive service offers some alternative games, and this was yesterday’s.

Running Backs Corey Dillon and Lawrence Maroney dominated and made it easy for Tom Brady to throw with ease.

Baseball Notes

The road to the World Series begins with the opening play-off matches starting on Tuesday October 3 with two five-game series' in both the AL and NL before the winner go for the title.

American League Division Series:
Oakland v Minnesota
New York Yankees v Detroit

National League Division Series:
San Diego v St Louis
LA Dodgers v New York Mets

Running Notes

Watched the Great North Run on TV yesterday and thought to myself “I could do that”. So I might next year. I’ve got until the application forms come out to talk myself out of it.

Link of the Week

There’s lots of Pontypridd stuff on, including an excellent article about regional rugby in the Valleys.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

10k +

Lots of photos from the Swansea Bay 10k here.

According to the published results (available here), I finished a creditable 2,105th. A few Ebbw Vale connections: David Roberts (67 mins – raising money for Ebbw Vale First Responders), eyejay (54 mins) and Andrew Biston (49 mins).

TV Notes

And so Rockstar Supernova comes to an end. In the end Supernova (Tommy Lee, Gilby Clarke and Jason Newstead) picked Lukas Rossi, a Canadian who was previously working at a Hooters restaurant before this leap into fame. My money was on the Aussie Toby Rand, who I would pay to see sing. They now embark on a tour starting in January, and probably coming to a big stadium near you.

Must see TV this autumn appears to be The Sopranos (although this series doesn’t seem to be up to speed yet) and The Apprentice USA. These two are buried in the schedules on More4 and BBC2 at midnight respectively. There’s obviously no room for any good TV in amongst the “soaps”.

Season 2 of The Office: An American Workplace starts this week (on ITV2 of all places). In the first series Steve Carroll did a good job of taking on the Ricky Gervais character, so it should be good.

Rugby Notes

Clive Rowlands talks a lot of sense. He’s got a beef with the “regions” & the number of foreigners coming in. Especially when they claim some key tasks, such as ex-All Black Ben Blair taking over kicking duties for Cardiff. This robs Wales second-string outside half Nicky Robinson of the job. Let’s hope that Stephen Jones doesn’t get injured this season.

Fantasy Football Notes

My team duly went down to a crushing defeat last weekend. I had a few key players missing and the rest all decided to have off days (Burress so much so that he got benched in the second half of the Giants game).

This week doesn’t look to get much better unless Culpepper finally gets it together. Otherwise I’m completely dependent on the LT bandwagon in San Diego continuing to roll.

Link of the week

This site has been developed by a Pontypridd man (not me) to demonstrate how soccer players can be prima donnas or sometimes just stupid. The name of the website “Footballers Are Idiots” says everything.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Some Glasgow pics

This is the slightly surreal walkway from the Glasgow Exhibition Centre to the train station.

And this is the Science Centre and the Glasgow tower.


Well, I finished the Swansea Bay 10k run. It was a good running day, if a little on the warm side. A good-natured field of 3,000 duly lined up at 1pm and by 1:05 many of them were dots disappearing into the distance as I plodded along.

I thought I paced myself OK, with 6½ minute kilometres right through (except the 8th km which seemed to go on forever). Finished well though, and completed it in 65 minutes.

That time is right in the middle of my 3 over the past 3 years: 2004 was 59 minutes, 2005 was 71 minutes.

Rugby Notes
Oh dear. It started so well too. We won the first half at Maesteg 23-6. The problem is that we lost the second half 31-0. There was a strong wind at the Old Parish, but that wasn’t enough to account for the change in fortunes.

We took almost all of our chances early on, but crumbled under the onslaught of the Maesteg pack after the break. With two in the bin early on, the 13 men were no match. To be honest, all 15 were no match for the rampaging Maesteg team second half. I’d like to know what they put in their half-time tea. Maesteg’s Ian Boobyer was head and shoulders the best player on the field.

Scorers: 2 tries for Andrew McLaughlin, both converted by Sam Mills who also added 3 penalties.

Highlight: Andrew McLaughlin had a great game at full back. Andrew Bevan was everywhere again.

Lowlight: Dismal start to the second half, when we were down to 13 men.

Cricket Notes

The end of the season brings relegation for Glamorgan after a play-off hammering by Hampshire in the Pro40 League. So it’s going to be Division 2 in one-day and the county championships.

Last season, they lost 14 out of 16 matches in Division One of the Championship and they found Division Two no easier, with just two wins. They finished bottom but one.

According to reports they are going to have to play without overseas players until 2009. All available cash is to be channelled into the ground development. So there will be a lovely ground but nothing worth watching there.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hospital hell

Had an appointment this morning for a consultant to do an ultrasound on my shoulder. It was at the Heath – University Hospital Wales in Cardiff.

Appointment was at 10:30, so naturally I’m still waiting at 11:00. It gave me some time to get a glimpse of a system teetering on the brink of complete collapse. A guy in front of me asks why he’s had to wait since 9:30, and this starts off a discussion amongst receptionists and staff as to whether the consultant is actually in the building.

Generally the receptionists answer to any question is “I don’t know”. Which she has to use on a regular basis. The only thing she was sure of was that she wanted “two toasts with butter, love” to a colleague on the phone whilst another patient stood patiently waiting to be “receptioned” (their word, not mine).

One yoof in the waiting room had a nasty case of chavitis – pink burberry baseball cap & fully be-Burtoned. Oh, and the average age of mums-to-be waiting for their ultrasounds – about 17.

Fantasy Football Notes

I had a good fantasy football win last weekend on the back of a good performance from LaDamien Tomlinson and an overtime TD catch from Plaxico Burress.

This week I’m hit by some players on their bye week (especially LT) so I think that I’m struggling to keep my unbeaten streak alive.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Just how far was that?

If you’re sitting at home resting your aching bones and wondering just how far you’ve been running, then this is the gizmo for you. It’s an online pedometer - a Google hack (whatever that actually means!)

Google Notes

Came across this guide to how to get the most out of Google, including ego-surfing. There’s a whole book called 55 ways to have fun with Google, which you can download free of charge.

Link of the week

The title of this blog is Question of the Day, and that’s exactly what it does. Pose simple, obvious conversation/argument starters.

Tardis in Glasgow

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On a bus to Clydebank

Just returned from a long weekend in Glasgow. Very nice city centre; City of Culture a few years ago. Did an open top tour bus around the sights. Ok, not that many of sights really – a few museums and art galleries, a bunch of universities and lots of churches and pubs. Huge selection of shops in the Buchanan Galleries and the St Enoch shopping centre. Oh, and the last remaining “tardis” style police boxes in the UK – this one I saw in Buchanan Street (picture to follow).

Spent part of Monday afternoon (whilst avoiding a downpour of biblical proportions) in the Gallery of Modern Art. Some nice exhibits and some utter tat. But the common theme was the staggeringly pretentious write-ups each piece had. For example, one piece allegedly “alludes to our own nature constantly moving between the two states of lightness and darkness. An artist is someone capable of unveiling the invisible, not a producer of objects.” And in this case a producer of conceptual bullshit!

Yesterday, we decided to venture to the Science Centre. Asked in the hotel’s reception how to get there. “Get the number 40 bus from just around the corner.” The number 40 bus duly pulls up, a Glaswegian version of a Shamrock Shoppa. “Does this bus go to the Science Centre?” I asked. “Aye.”

And so the journey through hell began. Our £1.20 single bought us a trip through every council estate in the Glasgow area, and East Dumbarton too. The driver was clearly multiskilled, as he was able to have one eye on text-messaging and one on counting his change whilst barrelling down the road. In fairness, he only ran two red lights, probably due to having his baseball cap pulled down over his all-seeing third eye.

After almost an hour we arrive at Clybebank bus station, having never been nearer the Science Centre than when we got on the bus. A six stop train journey back towards Glasgow got us to the Science Centre eventually – about an hour and a half after we set off. The return journey by train into Glasgow was under 10 minutes.

On the plus side though, we saw parts of Glasgow that the tour bus didn’t take us to.

Interesting fact of the week that may interest only me

The Gorbals district in Glasgow was originally a leper colony. The lepers were allowed into the city on market day provided they rang a bell to warn others. These bells became known as the gory bells, and over time the area they lived in became the Gorybells or Gorbals. Bet you didn’t know that.

Travel Notes

Enjoyable: Flights from Cardiff to Glasgow on bmi baby were just 99p each way. Taxes pushed the total up to £60 for the two of us.

There were 16 staff on the security checkpoint in Cardiff Airport. One of the good things about travelling through provincial airports is that there aren’t the queues at check-in and security that you can find at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Aggravating: On-site car parking is a bit of a reach when it’s a 20 minute walk from the car to the terminal.

Restaurant Review

The Willow Tearooms are famous for being redesigned by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the early 1900s. The tea room in Buchanan Street is a reproduction of the original in Sauchiehall Street nearby. Populated largely by ladies who lunch, it’s a great spot from which to watch the Glaswegians. Apple Pie and coffee were the order of the day, and they went down a treat, accompanied by a Times crossword (T2 rather than the nasty cryptic version).

Rugby Notes

It’s a draw! Ebbw drew 23-23 with Neath on Saturday. They were champions last year and by far the best team in the league, so we would have taken the draw at the start of the game. We definitely would have settled for a point after going in 17-6 down.

Second half was far better, and our constant pressurising paid off. We led 23-20 into the last minute of the game. Kicking game was an improvement too.

Scorers: 2 tries for Andrew Bevan, both converted by Sam Mills who also added 3 penalties.

Highlight: Chunky had a blinding game in the loose, and new boy Matt Jess showed well on the wing. Young scrum half Tom Edwards was the Western Mail’s man of the match.

Lowlight: Surprisingly, a couple of line-outs lost on our own throw late in the game, the last of which could have cost us the game.

Cricket Notes

Crofty’s gone. Robert Croft has resigned as captain of Glamorgan. David Hemp will replace him for the rest of the season (what there is of it) and presumably will be Glamorgan’s full-time captain for next season too.

Its bizarre that as Crofty has had his best season as a bowler for many years (he’s generally been regarded as the best off-spinner in “English” cricket this year) so his ability to motivate the side has completely disappeared. OK, he hasn’t had a pretty average team to run this year, but sometimes he appears completely disinterested.

Worryingly, there’s talk that Glamorgan may not be investing in overseas players next year as their cash goes into the ground redevelopment for the 2008 season. It looks like the 2007 season could be a write-off.

This week’s sign of the apocalypse

Went shopping in my local Tesco the other night, when I came across an aisle full of… Christmas puddings! Yes, there are less than 100 shopping days to Christmas. Quick, go buy your turkey now!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Our true purpose?

At a meeting earlier this week I heard what I hope was a malaprop “we need to keep the inertia going”! At last one civil servant has recognised his true purpose.

Wikipedia has a good section on examples of malapropisms. Of course, these are different to spoonerisms.

Random Thoughts

A petrol price war is looming. Nice to see prices down to 88p a litre when they were over £1 in some places last month.

Travel Notes

The London Underground is unbearably hot still – even in the middle of September. And its now £3 for a one-stop journey. That’s a far cry from when Ken Livingstone was leader of the GLC (no, not the Goldie Looking Chain) in the 1980s and Fares Fair meant that people were actually being encouraged onto public transport.

Fantasy Football Notes

My Ebbw Vale Steelers came away with a draw in week 1, thanks to a useful Monday night effort from my San Diego contingent.

Will be running out the same team this week, but picked up SF running back Frank Gore to pad out my bench.

Rugby Notes

So the Scarlets will go bust if they don’t get their new ground, eh? Just one question. When’s the party?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Severn Up

Its 40 years since the first Severn Bridge was opened. Boy didn’t they have foresight with that name, eh?

It cost £8 million to build, and at £4.90 a pop to drive over it, that’s only just over 100 cars a day for 40 years to pay for it. So why does it seem like there are thousands using it?

Evening All

In a move that’s a million miles from Dixon of Dock Green, the local police have gone online. They’ve set up, which is a useful contact with local police officers, and also a great name for a website.

I’ve been in touch with the local constabulary after a spate of ASBOs-in-waiting “doing donuts” in the local B&Q car park at night. “We’ll send a patrol car” they reply dutifully. Perhaps an hour later, well after said yoofs are elsewhere, a patrol may arrive. Never mind, I’ll persist with the local council and constabulary, and perhaps something will get done (lock up the car park or the yoofs, or both) before someone gets killed.

Garden Notes

Spent a chunk of time on the weekend pulling out brambles. This stuff grows like wildfire and has taken over some of the bedding areas. I’ve got a nice bunch of war wounds where the brambles put up a good fight. But in the end there was only going to be one winner. Until next spring that is, when growing season starts again.

Rugby Notes

What can I say? We were a shadow of the team from the week before. The three injuries we picked up at Bridgend were all missing this week, and the lack of strength in depth showed in a 7-12 defeat vs the evil empire Newport.

That said, in the words of David Lloyd, “We flipping murdered them”. They didn’t look like scoring a try, and we must have had 80% of the ball. We played a ten-man game, but when the penalties game we didn’t kick them. Bryan Shelbourne missed a couple at Bridgend but thankfully they didn’t matter. This time the four missed penalties would have given us a comfortable win.

Scorers: tries for Andrew Bevan, converted by Shelbourne.

Highlight: Neil Edwards winning almost every Newport throw at the lineout.

Lowlight: Dismal lack of variety. We seemed afraid to pass the ball through the three-quarters.

Personal high spot: Handing out a hefty chunk of abuse to the evil empire’s #14 Michael Poole. He looked like he was out on day release from some institution. He proceeded to muff every ball that came his way.

Football Notes

The NFL is back. Sky’s first game was the Thursday evening season opener between Miami and Pittsburgh. Defending champion Pittsburgh’s defence won it 28-17 in the end with a couple of interceptions. TV coverage was from NBC who haven’t had an NFL contract for years, but looked just like any other channel. They even imported Al Michaels and John Madden to call the game.

The early Sunday game was Atlanta’s demolition of Carolina. The acquisition of John Abrahams looks like a very good one, since he terrorised the Carolina QB Jack Delhomme. Carolina won it at a canter 20-6.

New England won 19-17 late to beat Buffalo.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I’ve been moved out of my office and into Cube-land. Yep, I’m now on a huge open plan area. By my reckoning there are 200 souls living in this one section of Cube-land. It’s called the South Wing, and is a million miles away from The West Wing.

Fortunately, my desk in right in the corner of this chaos. And to boot, I have windows. In estate agent parlance, I now have a dual-aspect window. With views over the university and the old Welsh Office building. Could be worse I guess.


Ebbw go top!

OK, joint top with all the other teams who have played one, won one. Saturday saw a very encouraging win at the Brewery Field, 16-7. Good travelling support; it sounded like a home game. A couple of dropped try-scoring passes in the first half kept it to 6-0 before a Bridgend breakaway led to a penalty try for a high tackle at the corner flag & a 6-7 half-time deficit.

Second half could have seen us loose our heads after a running battle between new winger Craig Jones (who looked lively throughout) & his opposite number, but regrouped well & got two good tries to wrap it up. The picture shows Neil Edwards soaring to take another clean line-out. There’s lots of chat and comments on the game on the Ebbw Vale fan forum.

Scorers: tries for Bryan Shelbourne & Matthew Griffiths, 2 penalties for Shelbourne.

Highlight: DNG falling over on the terrace whilst celebrating an Ebbw try. Hope the ankle’s OK.

Lowlight: Worryingly, there were a few injuries. New lock Craig Blunsden, hooker Matthew Williams (Chunky) and ex-captain Kristian Owen all went off in the first half. Hopefully none of the injuries were too serious.

Personal high spot: It’s now become a tradition that after the first penalty of the season to Ebbw, I give the shout "All the time, ref!" I thoroughly milked the round of applause too.

With losses for last year’s top teams Newport and Neath (our opponents the next two weeks) as well as Pontypridd and Cardiff it was a very good opening week of the Principality Premiership.

In other but less important rugby news, South Africa beat New Zealand. Well, it was NZ IIs, but you can only beat the team in front of you. The Boks won 21-20 in a good close game, New Zealand’s first defeat in 13 games. The last game of the Tri Nations is this coming Saturday when South Africa takes on Australia.

Local shooting of the week

A man in Golivon apparently took exception to neighbours making lots of noise with their motorbike, so he shot and injured them both before turning the shotgun on himself. He’s dead, the others are in hospital. So much for a quiet Sunday in sleepy Monmouthshire. The story is here.

Sad, bizarre but rather inevitable news of the week

Steve Irwin - the Crocodile Hunter – died on the weekend. Apparently he was killed by a StingRay. He was 44. There’s a report here.

This week’s sign of the apocalypse

I was sitting in a café in Pontypridd market on Saturday morning taking my morning constitutional coffee, when I spied a mix of old and new. Across the other side of the café was an older gentleman, complete with flat cap and thick glasses. But in complete contrast to this setting, he had a flashing Bluetooth earpiece. It looked more out of place than lipstick on a pig.

TV Notes

The Apprentice USA is back. Donald Trump runs the rule over another bunch of business wannabees. Each week The Donald utters the immortal words “You’re Fired!” Unmissable stuff. It’s on two nights a week at the midnight hour on BBC2.

The Sopranos is back for its last ever series, on E4. As usual, full of action and swearing in a Noo Joysey accent. Now that The West Wing has gone, it’s the best thing on TV.

Some new dictionary definitions?

Abdicate (v.) - to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
Balderdash (n.) - a rapidly receding hairline.
Coffee (n.) - the person upon whom one coughs.
Esplanade (v.) - to attempt an explanation while drunk.
Flabbergasted (adj.) - appalled over how much weight you have gained.
Frisbeetarianism (n.) - The belief that, when you die, your Soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
Lymph (v.) - to walk with a lisp.
Negligent (adj.) - describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
Oyster (n.) - a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
Rectitude (n.) - the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
Testicle (n.) - a humorous question in an exam.
Willy-nilly (adj.) - impotent.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I can see for miles...

This is the view from Pontypridd. Well, actually it’s the view from the mountain up above Ponty, called Cefn Eglwysilan, which stands at 1,253 feet (I know for someone who used to live at above 1,000 feet in Ebbw Vale, its not exactly high). There’s a bit of info here. Walking up it is the most exiting thing I did this festive weekend. The picture shows the view south to Cardiff and England beyond. You can see the Millennium Stadium on the very left, and Flathom and Steepholm are visible too.

The only other happening even worthy of report this weekend was a visit to the new Border’s bookstore opened in Llantrisant recently. Spent a lazy morning there stocking up on books for my holiday to the Maldives. Authors as diverse as PJ O’Rourke and Richie Benaud will accompany me.

CD of the week

Bought the new Bob Dylan CD today – Modern Times. If it’s anything like as good as his last, Love and Theft, it’ll be good. First hearing left me impressed. (But then what do I know – there are others who do this review stuff so much better.)

Rugby Notes

With the Tri Nations championship already in the bag, New Zealand fielded a virtual second team in South Africa last Saturday. After a close first half, Dan Carter’s 60-yard penalty at the stroke of half time seemed like a kick in the Springbok privates.

The second half turned into a procession, with New Zealand running in tries at will. Jacque Fourie got a couple of consolation tries late on. It finished up 45-26. The South African captain Jon Smit was a complete pain and whinged to the referee throughout – Chris White showed great patience not to penalise him despite repeatedly telling him to shut up.

The world rankings right now look like:

1 New Zealand
2 Australia
3 New Zealand II
4 the field

Cricket Notes

In the C&G 50-over cup final on Saturday, Sussex beat a star-packed Lancashire team by 15 runs in a great low-scoring final. Some superb bowling, especially from Mushtaq with 2-19 and James Kirtley with 5-27 was the difference. Lancashire’s Dominic Cork was unlucky to be stranded at the end – he’s an irritating git but I’d have him in my team.

Kirtley’s tears at the end clearly showed what it meant for Sussex to win their first trophy for 20 years, and for him to have come back from a reportedly dodgy bowling action.

England’s 20/20 team looked pretty average, and when Pietersen got out first ball, the game followed to its natural conclusion. They couldn’t bowl to Afridi and a win with 13 balls to spare is a pasting in this sort of game. Highlight of the game was Michael Yardy’s blinding boundary catch.

Link of the Week

This is brilliant and original video. Well, what would you do with eight treadmills? The band are called OK Go, and their website has more of the videos in the same lunatic style. They’re an international (and more well known) version of Choc Ice!