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.