Friday, May 29, 2009

Rugby Notes

It’s a big rugby weekend, with the first game for the British and Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa, 2pm on Saturday on Sky. It’s against a Highveld XV. No, not Ebbw Vale, but the veld of Rustenberg, near Johannesburg. Predictions are for an easy ride against the invitational team.

Confusion will reign the following Wednesday when the Lions take on the Lions. The Golden Lions (used to be Transvaal). To better tell them apart it’s the Xerox Lions vs the HSBC Lions.

Oh, and Wales are playing as well, vs Canada in Toronto, 7.45 on the Beeb.

Cricket Notes

Its summer so I guess I should mention cricket occasionally. Now that the damp squib that was the England/West Indies series is over, its time for the pyjama game to dominate. The Twenty20 World Cup is looming (5-21 June). Amongst those featuring are those giants of the game Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Bangladesh.

The groups stages are four groups of three, so only one from each group gets knocked out before the competition moves on to another group stage the ‘Super Eights’. The only excitement in the first week will be which of Australia, Sri Lanka and the West Indies gets eliminated – the seeding has somehow landed all three of them in one group.

My pick? It’s a bit of a lottery (not proper cricket, is it?) and the weather could play a part. India are defending champs (pictured) and the hot pick, but New Zealand always look like they could do well, and in Brendan McCallum they have a brilliant Twenty20 bat – as Glamorgan found out when he played over here briefly a couple of years ago. His last three Twenty20 innings? 61, 56, 69. Wow.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ava's Diary

I’m now walking endlessly, and stumbling and falling occasionally. I’m happy when trotting around the house and when I’m trying to feed myself, although I’m still confused when the food falls off my spoon. And my new trick is to blow kisses!

I’ve spent the last two weekends away, so I’ve gotten good use out of my travel cot. The weekend before last I went with mam and dad to visit autie Lou and uncle Dave (not really relatives, their mam and dad’s friends). Emily and Tess played with me and my toys, and introduced me to Hannah Montana. I still prefer Teletubbies though.

Last weekend it was the bank holiday trip down to our caravan at Gwalia Falls in Tresaith. The weather was fabulous and we found some new places to explore.

Saturday we went to the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve near cardigan. It has some really nice walks, and lots of butterflies, flowers and bizzarely, water buffalo. Oh, and a really nice visitor centre and coffee shop.

Sunday was a scorcher, so we had a picnic on Tresaith beach. I enjoyed playing in the sand, paddling in the pools left behind as the tide went out, and laughing at all of the other children playing. Got sand everywhere, including in my snacks. We all had a nice afternoon snooze on the beach under our umbrella. Bliss.

On bank holiday Monday I went for my first train ride. We all went on the Teifi Valley Railway, a steam train which runs from Henllan near Newcastle Emlyn. I waved at all of the passers-by, the trees, the sheep and the cows.

Before we went home, dad took me to Tescos in cardigan to have my passport photograph taken. I smiled for the photo booth cameraman, but clearly he was shy as he never came out of the booth. Now dad has to send the pictures off to get my first passport in readiness for our trip next month to Dinard on the Brittany coast of France – my first overseas trip, not counting when I was in mam’s tum.

There are lots more photos of me on dad’s Flickr website.

Music Notes

Last week I went to see Wine, Women and Song, a concert featuring three wonderful country/folk singers, Suzy Bogguss, Gretchen Peters and Matraca Berg. I’d seen Gretchen Peters at the Muni in Pontypridd last year, but had always wanted to see Suzy Bogguss, who has a brilliant voice.

A bunch of Grammy and CMA award winners playing an intimate venue in Cardiff is something you don’t get every day. Favourites include ‘A Bus to St Cloud’, ‘Independence Day’, ‘Hey Cinderella’ and ‘Aces’. A great evening out. Gretchen’s own journal of their tour is here.

The Globe in Cardiff is a new and very compact venue. Good for a show like this which meant that everyone was standing or sat within 10 yards or so of the stage. My next gig there will be in November when Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes will be appearing. It’ll be interesting to see how they manage to fit a 10-piece band in and still have room for the audience!

Our brother and sister-in-law went to see Southside last week over in the States, and Heather’s bog notes on the show are here.

Election Notes

The European elections are on 4 June. I registered for a postal vote a couple of years ago and have never ‘un-registered’. So this week my ballot paper arrived.

There are 11 parties standing, with some wired ones standing alongside the usual suspects. A few years ago the ‘Greens’ were seen as the loony element of politics; but nowadays they are positively mainstream. Especially when compared to UKIP, No2EU, the Jury Team (seriously), the BNP and the Christian Party. The full list of parties and candidates is here.

It’s interesting to note that of the four MEPs representing the Wales constituency, three are standing down at this election. They are anonymous MEPs Jonathan Evans (Conservative), Eluned Morgan and Glenys Kinnock (both Labour). That leaves only the anonymous MEP Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru) standing for re-election, and I wouldn’t recognise her if she walked in right now.

So Wales can look forward to either a new start with fresh representation for Wales in Europe, or else having four anonymous MEPs riding the Euro gravy-train.

Veale Notes

Leighton Veale is standing for Labour in the forthcoming European elections. No relation. In fact, I’ve never heard of him before the Labour leaflet came through the door this week (he’s on the right in the pic; don't know the shifty geezer in the middle). His day job is as a councillor for a London Borough.

He’s fourth on the list for Labour, which means that, barring a Labour landslide (v unlikely) he won’t get elected; there are only four MEPs being selected altogether.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Expenses Notes

I attended the Wales Audit Office conference last week. A range of interesting speakers were laid on, including three Ministers, Lord Digby Jones, ex-MP Sir Richard Needham and Steve Thomas, Ebbw Vale’s finest and also chief executive of the Welsh Local Government Association.

At the Q&A panel I asked “Regarding the current MPs expenses fiasco – where were the auditors?” The issue of the role of audit wasn’t really covered in the responses, but Steve Bundred, chief executive of the Audit Commission was clearly of the view that some of the claims made by MPs represent a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006 and he expects to see prosecutions.

Lets hope so. For too long, miscreants in public life have been allowed to slink out of the limelight without properly having been held to account for their actions. MPs need to be held up to the highest standards of behaviour; standards they have decided to ignore en masse.

The argument that it was a way to top up pay doesn’t carry any water – rules is rules.

One last point. The herd mentality here is terrifying. The number of MPs caught by The Daily Telegraph with their fingers in the till is now more than a small minority. There is a substantial minority involved, and by the time all the expenses have been revealed it may well be a majority of them.

TV Notes

Britain’s Got Talent? Britain’s Got Problems, more like. Like all good train-wreck TV, its horrendous and wonderful in equal measure. But if these genuinely are the best 40 acts in Britain (UK actually) then gawd help us.

Clearly there are some brilliantly talented ‘turns’, but some of the dross that got through to the semi-finals makes you realise that it’s an entertainment show rather than a talent contest, and the aim of the judges is to be provocative rather than be talent scouts.

It’s disingenuous to vote someone through to the semi-finals and then tell them that they are rubbish. Nevertheless, it’s good TV, although not up to the standards of my other ‘reality TV’ viewing - The Apprentice and the recently finished American Idol.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

TV Notes

A week behind the TV series but this Lego version of The Apprentice is still very funny.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Janesy Notes

My favourite freelance journalist has been hard at it to keep me and Ava in toast and jam.

Janesy’s latest article in the broadsheets was a full-page story in the Work section of last Saturday’s Guardian on controversial jobs. I know I’m biased, so I’ll just repeat here one of the comments made online…

“Brilliant article. I wish there were more pieces of this quality on”

There’s a link to Janesy’s website on the right - over by there.

Old Jokes' Home

Some swine flu jokes that have been doing the rounds lately…

I just called the NHS Swine Flu helpline... All I got was crackling.

It was once said that there would be a black president when pigs flew... 100 days into Obama's presidency... and swine flu.

Probation Notes

It is reasonably well known in probation circles that the current configuration of probation services in Wales is unsustainable. There are currently two Probation Trusts (South Wales, my patch, and Dyfed Powys) and two Probation Areas (North Wales and Gwent). Not for much longer it seems.

As these notes of a meeting of all chairs and chief executives show, the South Wales and Dyfed Powys Trust Boards have agreed to proceed to second generation Trust status together and possibly with one or both of the remaining Areas in Wales.

The single Trust in Wales option would clearly be able to deliver front-line services to a standard equal to or better than that delivered by the current four provides individually, because the costs of running four HR, IT and finance systems would reduce. And of course, there would only be a need for one set of Board members.

Since the Ministerial drive is for the new round of Trusts to be established for 1 April 2010, there isn’t much time for the Trusts and Areas to come to an agreement and submit a Trust application to the MoJ.

Lots more is happening behind the scenes. When it makes it to the public domain I'll be able to talk some more.

Travel Notes

Overheard whilst on the 'cruise' around Cardiff Bay...

Boy to mother: "Mam, why is that town moving?"

Ava's Diary

It’s been ages since I updated my diary, and I have some important news to report.

As of last Saturday, I’m officially a proper walker – albeit with lots of falling down too. On Friday I was taking two steps before collapsing, and lunging from one bit of furniture to the next. But on Saturday I walked the entire length of Nanna Ena’s living room.

So yesterday, mam and dad took me to get my first proper pair of shoes. I had my feet measured in Clarks in Talbot Green. I’m officially a 3½ G. Which is about as small as they make shoes. Dad still got fleeced for £26 for my appleshine pink leather shoes though. They said come back in 6 weeks, because by then I’ll probably need a bigger pair; dad sobbed.

My vocabulary is growing all the time. My new words are ’doggie’ and ‘rabbit’ and ‘apple’. I can point them out in a book and I point to dogs in the street and say ‘doggie’. I’m learning all the time and I’m happy to sit in my highchair and turn the pages of a book and point at the pictures.

Last Sunday I went with mam and dad to Cardiff Bay. We went on the Aquabus ‘cruise’ around the Bay. I enjoyed waving to all the other boats in the Bay.

The May bank holiday weekend was spent at our caravan at Gwalia Falls. It was nice and sunny and we went to Llanerchaeron gardens on Saturday, and Cardigan Island Farm on Sunday.

Politics Notes

All public appointments, including MPs and my Board post with South Wales Probation and my civil servant job, come with a requirement to abide by the ‘Seven Principles of Public Life’, first published by the Nolan Committee in 1995. These principles are:

Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

How many of these do you think that MPs have breached in the current expenses fiasco? Selflessness, integrity, honesty, openness have all been laid waste to.

The oft trotted out line of “I was only following the rules” doesn’t wash here. As a public appointment, you not only have to do the right thing, you need to be seen to be doing the right thing. MPs, it seems, did neither.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Cricket Notes

It’s stupidly early in the season to be playing Test cricket. Heck, the domestic season has only just kicked off, and even the Haddocks have only had one game in the Cardiff Midweek League – played 1, won 1.

There have been seasons where England have played seven Tests before, but the unrelenting rise on one-day cricket means that we have some really stupid international fixture scheduling.

After this week and next, there’s a seven week gap to the big game – the first test against Australia in Cardiff on Wednesday 8 July; June is given over to the 20/20 World Cup. The final one-day game with Australia is on 20 September.

Whatever happened to Tests always starting on a Thursday? And there always being a week off between games. All that’s gone out of the window, and as a result people get out of the routine of following cricket.

A bunch of players in the England and West Indies teams have just this week returned from the Indian Premier League in South Africa, hardly the best preparation for a Test series. OK, I know I’m starting to sound like Sir Geoff boycott on this, but he’s right.

It’s the same with domestic cricket. It used to be Sunday league, 4 day games around those (Thurs, Fri, Sat & Mon), and Benson & Hedges/Gillette knockout cups in midweek. For the past month there have been games going on in a multitude of competitions at the same time. But now the next round of county championship games is over a month away. Players don’t know if its whites or pyjamas, and fans can’t be bothered; witness the half empty stands on days 1 and 2 of the first Test.

I should say that the new coach has done a good job in shaking up the England team and getting some new blood in. Swann, Onions (am I the only one who thinks he bowls like Alan Denning?) and Bopara have all done well so far.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Information Notes

We clearly live in interesting times, and no one can deny the fact that we are exposed to much more information that at any other time in history. It’s not the Information Age, it’s the Information Overload Age.

The question on most minds today is how anyone can get any work done with all the information that is directed at you.

There’s keeping up with your emails, in work and at home. Then there’s this blog, of course. Then some FaceBooking, LinkedIn and of course Twitter.

Even if you move away from the interweb, 24 hour rolling news channels on TV welcome you with open arms. And mobile phones mean that you’r enever out of touch.

… and we wonder why the day rolls by so fast these days?

Well, there is talk of our Gwalia Falls caravan site in Tresaith having wi-fi installed, but until then I’m happy to retreat to an area of outstanding poor mobile phone reception for a long bank holiday weekend.

Graduation Notes

My cousin Helen James has recently qualified as one of only a few Family Law Advocates in the UK is the first Fellow of ILEX (Institute of Legal executives) to qualify within Somerset under the new assessment procedure.

From her company’s (Dyne Drewett) press release: "I am overjoyed to have gained this qualification. The course was extremely challenging but well worth the effort. It means that I can now represent individuals in the Family Proceedings Court or in open court. Being able to offer a complete service will I know be appreciated by clients, particularly during extremely difficult and stressful times.”

ILEX President, Lesley Graham said: “My heartiest congratulations to Helen, one of the very first Legal Executive Advocates in the country to complete our new and demanding Family Law advocacy course. I am delighted she will now able to apply her skills in court on behalf of her clients.”

Wow! Well done.