Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More Rugby Notes

The Boxing Day local derby (not) saw Ebbw Vale play host to Llandovery. A very festive day was had by all, with the exception of the Llandovery team who had their backsides handed to them, going down 38-13. And so Ebbw Vale go top of the Premiership again.

This year’s festive theme was pirates and there were many fine examples on display, as well as a selection of Santa hats. Pride of place had to go to former mayor Don Wilcox whose pirate outfit included a stuffed parrot on his shoulder that sung Jingle Bells.

On the field, the result wasn’t in doubt really as Ebbw soaked up some early pressure and then went down the field to earn a penalty try. Tries from Kristian Owen, Michael Delore, Simon Hunt and Andrew MacLaughlan followed, four of which were converted by Simon Hunt.

The only blot on the day was the sending off of Nio Aiono for a challenge which was adjudged to be dangerous challenge. It was clumsy and misjudged, yes, and the Llandovery player had to be stretchered off, but it didn’t appear to be malicious. Hope he recovers quickly.

My man of the match - Rhys Williams who helped the Ebbw pack to dominate the day.

Next game is this Saturday when Ebbw (and me) make the short trip to the flood plain known as Cross Keys.

Rugby Notes

The draw for the forth round of the Konica Minolta Cup was made behind closed doors last week. Ebbw are home to Caerphilly on Saturday 26 January.

The rest of the draw is:
Aberavon v Llandovery
Aberavon Quins v Blackwood
Bonymaen v Bedwas
Builth Wells v Bridgend
Carmarthen Quins v Cardiff
Glynneath v Narberth
Llanelli v Pontypridd
Maesteg v Glamorgan Wanderers
Merthyr v Cross Keys
Neath v Swansea
Newport v Llanharan
Newport Saracens v Ystrad Rhondda
Old Illtydian v Tondu
Waunarlwydd v Tonmawr
Whitland v Bargoed

Winter Notes

As well as some festive activities, this past week also saw the start of winter. I know the freezing temperatures of the past few weeks were just autumn; the worst is yet to come.

The debate on when winter starts has been knocking around for ages, with everyone except BBC weathermen conceding that winter starts at the Winter Solstice on 21 December. The Beeb in the wisdom (bless them) think that winter is December, January and February. The rest of the northern hemisphere think that its 21 December to 20 March.

Wikipedia provides a useful guide.

Garden Notes

Having a few days off over Crimbo has given us in the Janes-Veale household a little chance to sit down and watch the world for a short while.

The garden has been full of birds - collared doves, coal tits and long-tailed tits, dunnocks and greenfinches, as well as magpies and crows. Pride of place at this time of year of course goes to the robin.

Strangely, no squirrels at all this year. They obviously haven’t needed to venture far from the park to find their food.

TV Notes

Highlight of the Crimbo TV viewing was The Great Escape. The film has been around as long as I have; by now you would have thought that they would have learnt from their mistakes, but no, they still get caught. That motorbike is never going to get over the fence, Steve McQueen.

Dr Who was the only ‘must see’ TV this Crimbo, and even that was a little disappointing. Roll on Torchwood, which has become Dr Who for grown-ups.

But there was of course the glorious Christmas movie that is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I’m sure that by now I know the script better than Chevy Chase, but its laugh-out-loud funny every year.

Fantasy Football Notes

Who would have thought it. I managed to win both of my fantasy football leagues (US football, none of that soccer nonsense).

In my season-long league, I scraped into fourth place with an 8-6 record. I knocked off the number 1 seed 83-72 through a great performance in the snow by Jamal Lewis. In the final I beat the number 2 seeds 79-54 with huge games by David Garrard (first start for me, having finally give up on Carson Palmer) and Green Bay’s Ryan Grant.

Almost the same story in my half-season league. Scraped into the playoffs with an average 5-4 record through more points scored. In the semi-final I beat the number 3 seed 74-61 through late pick up RB Earnest Graham. The final saw a match-up with the 8-1 number 1 seed. New England’s Randy Moss and Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck came through for me and I won 66-63. Didn’t really deserve to win, having not noticed that Willie Parker had a broken leg and leaving Clinton Portis’ 21 points on the bench.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Frank's new step machine

A new Christmas pressie. Some co-ordination problems to start though!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."

Thursday, December 20, 2007


No good reason, just thought I'd post this pic of the hound.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More train notes

From BBC commentator’s Betsan Powys’ blog

35,000 metres of fencing
30,000 tonnes of ballast
21,000 metres of rail
8,000 metres of cabling
800m of platform
382 parking spaces
45 years
30 million pounds
24 cycle lockers
17 daily journeys
15 days of public exhibitions
13 signals
8 passenger help points
6 new stations
5 new switch and crossing units
4 days of press releases
3 minutes for WAG to turn on Blaenau Gwent Council
2 million pounds before the line gets a clean bill of health
1 almighty blame game
0 first passenger train since 1962 to arrive at Ebbw Vale Parkway at 11.42 on Friday 14 December.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Car Notes

Bought a new car today. Well, ‘pre-enjoyed’ to use the new language (‘second hand’ in old money).

It’s a Toyota RAV4. The spec is 2005, five door, automatic, alloys, electric sunroof, radio/CD, air conditioning, electric windows, ABS, immobiliser, remote locking, roof rails, and a pile of airbags. Oh, and its blue.

Probably one of the simplest car-buying transaction I’ve ever done. The interweb has levelled the playing field. All the research can be done at home, so that you know exactly what’s out the and how much they cost. So instead of sales reps the guys on the forecourts are not much more than cashiers.

Pick it up tomorrow, and hand over our old Saxo and a small pile of cash.

Rugby Notes

Ebbw Vale saw off a robust challenge from Llantrisant yesterday to go through to the last 32 of the Konica Minolta Cup.

They won out 46-13, and led from the very first minute. A cold, frosty day and a muddy pitch ensured a good, old-fashioned cup game. A physical game saw both teams adopt a brawn over brains approach, with the rolling maul much in evidence.

Draw for the next round will be held in secret sometime next week.

Scorers: Two tries for Ian George, a hat trick for Simon Hunt, fresh back from representing England in the Dubai Sevens, and also tries for John Bowd, Bryan Shelbourne and Rob Lewis. One conversions for Bryan Shelbourne and two for Aaron Bramwell.

Man of the match: Rhys Williams. Simply everywhere.

Highlight: In the crowd, Gareth, freshly returned from Africa, was wrapped up in 9 layers against the far-from-tropical weather. Bitter, mun.

Elsewhere, there was no giant-slaying - all of the Premiership teams got through, although Tredegar came very close to toppling Aberavon, going down 24-29.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ponty Notes

A sign sprung up a few weeks ago to say that a batch of land is available for sale just below our house, on Ynysangharad Road – the land shown on the left half of the picture from the auctioneer’s website.

It was due to go to auction last week, and is described as a “sloping parcel of overgrown land”. The slope is somewhere in the region of 45 degrees! Despite this, the estate agent/auctioneer believes the site “would appear suited to a residential development, subject to gaining any necessary consents.”

It doesn’t appear to have been sold, but as a warning to any potential purchasers, here’s notice that I’ll be objecting to any ‘necessary consents’.

Baby Notes

Not long now. Just over a month to go to Cath’s due date (18 January).

There’s a final scan scheduled for 27 December, and then in January the three ante-natal classes start. Since one of the classes is a tour of the maternity suite at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot of training.

Thanks goodness we’ve got a big group of friends with children, all of whom are more than willing to pass on their advice and stories – both good and bad. One of the secrets is to filter out large chunks of the stuff we get told.

Rugby Notes

Rather than rained off, the Swansea game at St Helens was monsooned off on Saturday, as was the rest of the Principality Premiership. Which means that Ebbw Vale stay top for another week.

Had a chance over the weekend, amongst construction of IKEA wardrobes (lightly covered in arterial splashback), to see some of the Heineken Cup rugby on Sky.

Highlight was referee Wayne Barnes stopping the Scarlets v Munster game “for 30 seconds whilst this blows over”, on which Scott Quinnell commented “he’s obviously not been to Llanelli before”.

Travel Notes

Getting to London a little early for my meeting on Monday (at the Treasury since you ask), I got off the Tube one stop early and took a lunchtime stroll through St James’ Park. On a brisk December day it was very reminiscent of Boston Common.

The pond was teeming with wild birds – greylag and Canada geese and swans – with one black swan getting all the attention and bread.

With views of the London Eye and Big Ben lit by a low watery sun against distant grey clouds, it was an oasis of calm amongst the chaos – a wonderful retreat away from the general hustle and bustle that is London in the run up to Christmas.

More Train Notes

Following yesterday’s post below; things have taken a turn for the worse.

The BBC website and elsewhere report that the official opening of the Ebbw Vale train line has now been cancelled and the start date of 22 December has been put back to some indeterminate date in the New Year. This cancellation comes just two days before the official opening, and demonstrates a staggering lack of planning. Was it the wrong sort of frost this week?

WAG Ministers blame Blaenau Gwent council, who in turn seem to blame their contractors – contract management, anyone? The council said "We were assured by all parties that the date of 22 December for commencement of services was achievable, and are bitterly disappointed that last-minute issues have forced a delay.” Not the only ones, mate. Disappointed, but frankly, not surprised.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Train Notes

Today’s Western Mail carries the story that the official opening of the Ebbw Vale train line to Cardiff is happening as planned this Friday (14 December). However, that doesn’t mean that services start that day, or even the next one – the scheduled hourly service doesn’t actually start until Saturday 22 December, another 8 days away. So, the answer to the question ‘when is an official opening not an official opening?’ is ‘when it’s a PR exercise.”

Even after the delays (the original start date for the service was “summer 2007”) two stations, Cross Keys and Llanhilleth won’t be open - but will open for business in another 3 months. Allegedly.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Steelmen go top

Rather than write my own match report from Saturday evening floodlit (and flooded) encounter with Llanelli, here is a report from the South Wales Argus that tells a pretty good account.

Ebbw Vale 16 Llanelli 0

EBBW Vale showed those watching their clash with Llanelli on television just how tenacious they can be with a bullying victory that sent them to the top of the Premiership table.

The awful conditions that blighted sporting events throughout the UK meant that the S4C cameras didn't capture a spectacle that many would have hoped for, but it was an absorbing contest none the less.

It was weather that made the hardy souls getting drenched on the terraces realise how lucky they were not to be the poor cameraman stuck 50 yards up a crane in howling winds.

But while others grimace at such conditions, the Vale pack just get on with what they do best - grinding the opposition down. In fact, when the likes of John McPhail, Rhys Williams and John Bowd see puddles on the pitch they probably break into a smile. The Steelmen's back-row trio were immense and it was them who took the plaudits rather than Llanelli's promising youngsters.

Andrew McLaughlan was named man of the match by the commentary team, but while the full back's covering and big right boot was key to Vale's victory, the sponsors' choice of Williams was a better option.

The number eight has been blighted by injury since returning to the club from Cross Keys, but he looked back to his best on Saturday as he charged into Llanelli, making hard yards with every carry.

Vale bossed the game from the off and should have had a much more comfortable lead than the 6-0 one they held at the break. Two Aaron Bramwell penalties, the second with the last kick of the half, were all they had to show for their efforts with the wind at their backs, and a more experienced side could have made them pay for that.

Llanelli spent 20 minutes down to 14 men, Scotland prop Bruce Douglas and hooker Craig Hawkins both seeing yellow for pulling down mauls, but they defended with far more determination than they did in defeat to Newport a week earlier.

Vale were frustrated after numerous attempts to drive over the line were repelled, but were also fortunate to keep their lead when centre Richard Thomas intercepted a pass by Aussie outside-half Michael Delore inside his own half, only to throw an inaccurate offload to Alec Jenkins.

And things looked ominous when the visitors began to dominate territory and possession in the second half. However, not for the first time this season, the Steelmen showed tremendous discipline to defend their line without incurring the wrath of referee Jon Mason.

And that restraint paid off when Bramwell made it 9-0, a large lead given the conditions, on 53 minutes when Llanelli ended Vale's best move of the match from an offside position.

Lock Neil Edwards, who is ominously starting to regain the form he showed last season, came up with a couple of big steals off Llanelli throws to distinguish the visitors' hopes and then Vale added some gloss in the closing stages.

Llanelli were deep inside and put in to a scrum inside their own 22 but the front row of Ian George, Richard Wilkes and Anthony Lott applied the squeeze and won it against the head to allow McPhail to cross unopposed. Job done.

Ebbw Vale: A McLaughlan, J Williams, K Owen, A Bramwell, A Bevan, M Delore, R Lewis (B Shelbourne 65), I George, M Williams (R Wilkes 75), M Jones (A Lott 56), W Thomas, N Edwards, J Bowd (captain), J McPhail (G Donaldson 79), R Williams.

Scorers: try - J McPhail; conversion - A Bramwell, penalties - A Bramwell (3).