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.