Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Eid livestock plans 'folly' says Dolly

Welsh farmers have met with Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones to express their opposition to EU plans to introduce Eid for Muslim sheep and goats. The EU believes that creating a three day holiday at the end of Ramadan would go some way to show Muslims that it is serious about building a mature relationship with Islam. It is also seen as helping to pave the way for Turkish accession into the EU.

However, NFU Cymru vice-president Ed Bailey does not agree. "It is just another example of Brussels bureaucrats having pie in the sky ideas without any understanding of the practical realities of commercial sheep farming...Sheep farmers throughout Wales are horrified at the prospect of having to cope with Eid which would serve no purpose."

It is thought that giving Muslim sheep and goats three days off milking would reduce farmers' incomes, as well as create tensions between Muslim livestock and those that follow an alternative religion, who would not necessarily understand why their Muslim colleagues were getting three days paid leave.

Dolly, spokewoman for Atheist Livestock Association (ALA), pointed out the particular frustrations felt by the atheist community: "Personally I find it difficult to believe in any sort of deity since my own creation showed that mature differentiated somatic cells in an adult animal's body could under some circumstances revert back to an undifferentiated pluripotent form and then develop into any part of an animal. The idea of introducing a three day holiday just for one section of the livestock community is really baad. It's pure folly."

Following the meeting with farmers the Minister visited Mynachdy Farm, at Ynysbwl, near Pontypridd, to see a live demonstration of sheep Eid. Sheep there have been taught Welsh from a young age and were able to recite Takbir bilingually for the benefit of Ms Jones, who doesn't speak Arabic. The sheep then celebrated the end of fasting with lots of grass.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Welsh Affairs Select Committee

Back in July the Welsh Affairs Select Committee complained that AMs were sending too much work their way. As the Committee is the group of MPs that debate and process Legislative Competency Orders, they are a vital cog in the new machine of 'Welsh law'.

Of the forty MPs Wales returns to Westminster, Plaid has as many as the Tories (three) and the Lib Dems have four. I was therefore surprised to learn that there are in fact three times as many Conservatives on the Committee as either Plaid or Lib Dems.

The clerk of the committee told me that "The appointment of Members to serve on select committees is made by the House of Commons, on a recommendation from the Committee of Selection (itself a select committee). Membership of select committees is intended to reflect, so far as is possible, the balance of the political parties as returned to Parliament at the last general election." In other words, the Conservatives' strength in parts of England means that they are awarded a greater number of positions on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee than parties performing as well, if not better, in Wales alone.

More intriguingly, Mark Pritchard, one of the Conservatives on the committee, represents The Wrekin, near Telford, Shropshire. Apparently, MPs serving on the Welsh Affairs Select Committee do not have to represent constituents most affected by 'Welsh Affairs'. I'd have thought the clue was in the name.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Oriental bird gives pleasure to Powys man

A Lady Amherst pheasant has been regularly sampling Pete Bryan's nuts since January.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

An Inconvenient Youth

Al Gore told the Clinton Global Initiative in New York yesterday, "If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration."

This comes on the back of Greenpeace activists being found not guilty of causing criminal damage at Kingsnorth Power Station in Kent earlier this month. Their defence was 'lawful excuse'; they argued that the emissions produced from burning coal at Kingsnorth put property around "in immediate need of protection". As one of the Greenpeace activists Ben Stewart asked, "If jurors from the heart of Middle England say it's legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet, then where does that leave government energy policy?"

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Criced Cymru

In light of Cardiff hosting a one-day international between England and South Africa a few weeks ago, Mohammad Ashgar AM called for Wales to establish a full national cricket side. How would this happen?

It is important to note at the outset that Wales does have a history of competing in international cricket. The first match was against Scotland in Perth in 1923 and Wales beat the West Indies in 1928. Half a century later Wales competed in the first ICC Trophy, a tournament for non-Test playing nations, won by Sri Lanka. More recently Wales have played England in 50-over games, winning handsomely in 2002 (admittedly with the distinctly non-Welsh Jacques Kallis on board).

Many Welshmen have been of Test match standard over the years, not all of whom were selected by England. The most notable and recent is Simon Jones who played such a big part in the 2005 Ashes success. Others include Simon's father Jeff, who won fifteen caps for England in the 1960s, and Robert Croft, who played twenty-one times for England between 1996 and 2001.

Glamorgan of course are the only first-class County side in Wales and so any Welsh line-up would inevitably be made up of many Glamorgan players. At the beginning at least, it could be that Welsh-born cricketers play for Wales in one-dayers, including the World Cup, but for England in Test matches. Ed Joyce played one-dayers for Ireland before winning Test caps for England.

A Wales Minor Counties team has existed since 1988 and competes in the Minor Counties Championship. Glamorgan themselves used to play in this competition until they were awarded first-class status in 1921. Wales Minor Counties also played in what was the NatWest or C&G Trophy - 'the FA Cup of cricket'. However, the format was altered in 2006, leaving no place for a Wales side.

So how might Wales get their own national cricket team?

Scotland have shown us the way. Scotland resigned from the UK Cricket Council (then superseded by the England and Wales Cricket Board, or ECB) in 1992 and two years later were elected to Associate membership of the International Cricket Committee. They qualified for the 1999 and 2007 World Cups and have since played in several other international tournaments, winning the inaugural ICC Intercontinental Cup. Capturing the ICC Trophy in 2005 meant that Scotland gained temporary first-class One-Day International Status in January 2006.

Currently it is the Welsh Cricket Association that looks after the amateur game in Wales. The Association is a member of the England and Wales Cricket Board, commonly referred to as the ECB with the W conveniently dropped. (Even the website is ecb.co.uk). Wales would have to break from the ECB and become an Associate or Affiliate member of the ICC to be able to enter the ICC World Cup Qualifier (formerly ICC Trophy). It is performing well in this competition that confers qualification for the World Cup.

There are many Welshmen at the top of the game. David Morgan, former Glamorgan and ECB Chairman, is now President of the International Cricket Committee, Tony Lewis - nine times capped by England - is Chairman of the MCC, and Hugh Morris (three caps) has worked for the ECB for many years and is currently Managing Director of England Cricket.

Ashgar's Plaid colleague Adam Price tabled an Early Day Motion in 2002 that expressed the desire for a Welsh national team to compete in the World Cup. Now that Ashgar has raised the issue once again, maybe the Assembly can put pressure on the top brass to give serious consideration to the proposal.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

From Leader of the Knights who say 'Ni' to Leader of the Free World!

Michael Palin's Secretary of State could well be Roger the Shrubber. Perhaps Michael's campaign might then do a little better than Sarah's on foreign policy, and could provide a more coherent answer to Charlie Gibson's questionning (see the video below for Sarah's response and then decide which is better).

Charlie Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

Roger the Shrubber: In what respect Charlie?

Charlie Gibson: What do you interpret it to be?

Roger the Shrubber: His horticultural view?

Charlie Gibson: No, no, the Bush Doctrine. He enunciated it in September 2002 before the Iraq War.

Roger the Shrubber: I agree with the principle but not with the name. I think every garden in America needs a 'bush', as you call it, or what I'd call a shrub. I'd like to see the new President, whoever he may be, redefine it as the Shrub Doctrine.

Putting semantics aside for the moment, even those who arrange and design shrubberies are under considerable economic stress at this period in history. Like I said earlier, I think a shrub in every American garden can only be good for those of us who design, arrange and sell shrubberies.

Convincing, huh? Then compare that with this:

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Bale=Giggs Mk II? Let's hope not

Bale=Giggs Mk II

Born in Cardiff, having a left foot touched by magic and with a knack of lighting up Wales's World Cup Qualifying Campaigns, Gareth Bale and Ryan Giggs have much in common. Bale has been far and away Wales's brightest light in the campaign to date, generating excitement reminiscent of that surrounding Giggs during the early nineties.

There is certainly much similarity between their early careers. Giggs made his League debut at 17 and was named the PFA Young Player of the Year at the end of his first full season (1991-92). At sixteen years of age, Bale became the second youngest player to appear for Southampton, behind Theo Walcott, and his first full season saw him named the Football League Young Player of the Year. Giggs became Wales's youngest international in 1991; Bale did the same in 2006.

Walcott has since moved to Spurs' North London rivals Arsenal and has generated a great deal of coverage in the English press after his hat-trick against Croatia. Bale's contribution to Wales's qualifying campaign could yet be the bigger story. That depends on whether or not he can inspire Wales to go one better than they did with Giggs in 1993. The early signs are promising; despite missing a penalty in Moscow, Bale then set up Ledley's equaliser with a superb break into the Russian box.

The USA '94 campaign started with a 5-1 defeat in Romania and finished with a crossbar ending Welsh dreams. What appears to have opened the window of opportunity for Wales in 1992/93 is the fact that the top four teams in Group 4 all took points off each other. In 2008/09 Finland have already pushed Germany all the way in a 3-3 draw.

The great shame with Giggs wasn't so much the fact that he didn't get to play on the world stage but that he didn't play for Wales as many times as he ought to have done. He won just 64 caps in sixteen years; by comparison, Manchester United team-mate Paul Scholes won 66 caps in just seven years. Yes, Scholes played for England at France 98 (4 games), Euro 2000 (4), World Cup 2002 (5), and Euro 2004 (4) but even without these tournament appearances he still averaged seven caps per year. This compares favourably to Giggs's four. Hopefully Bale will show more commitment to the Welsh cause than Giggs did during the last decade of his international career.

The bigger question, of course, is whether Gareth Bale's chest is anything like as hairy as that of Ryan Giggs and whether he'll ever get name-dropped in The Simpsons.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Dear Jeffrey Lewis

Having listened heavily to a couple of Jeffrey Lewis albums ever since my girlfriend introduced me to them a couple of years ago, the frankness of his song-writing meant that going to Clwb Ifor Bach last Wednesday to see him play live was like the first meeting with a pen friend you've never replied to.

I can't play guitar but the music seems simple enough for the most part; it's his lyrics that get you. Personal and speaking directly to the audience, Jeffrey Lewis lays his life out on stage. He was visible throughout the supporting acts, either at the merchandise stall or among the punters. We were joined for the last song of The Wave Pictures by Lewis standing next to us making a sketch of the scene. I'm hoping that he works it into his next distinctive interview or failing that the next in his series of comics.

A couple of songs that I hadn't heard before have stuck in my head ever since the gig: Roll bus roll and Broken. Listen yourself and see what I mean about the lyrics. Then go and see him live.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Parry 'just made up the numbers'

Reading between the lines of a BBC article, and taking the headline far too literally, it would appear that Wales manager John Toshack had to ask Paul Parry to leave the Wales squad on Sunday night for fabricating the ages of fellow squad members.

Having no idea what the players' real ages were, the 28-year old made them up in an attempt to look like a big man. It is rumoured that he referred to Arsenal starlet Aaron Ramsey as 'the three year-old with the weak left foot', in reference to Parry's own strength on that particular side of his relatively middle-aged body, and ridiculed Saturday's matchwinner Sam Vokes by calling him 'a twelve-year old boy with size 18 shoes' - apparently unaware of how close he was to the truth (Vokes is in fact 18 and has size 12 feet).

Toshack said, 'It's a shame that Paul has so little knowledge of his fellow team-mates that he doesn't know their ages. We're supposed to be a group, you know. I mean I know for a fact that I'm 59 but Paul said I was 73. It's unacceptable behaviour from a Welsh international to make these sorts of figures up. I had a quiet word with him, away from the toddlers so as not to upset them, and we both decided that he would leave the squad.'

Parry has got previous making up the numbers, most notably in his Maths GCSE and again when his friends had a spare place going on a package holiday to Majorca in 2001.

[This post is pure fiction and bears no resemblance to 'the truth'.]

Monday, 8 September 2008

Vokes stokes Welsh hopes

Wales worked hard to overcome Azerbaijan in front of a sparse 17,000 crowd at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday. The roof had been closed to protect the surface from the heavy downpours that have been such a feature of this summer, and despite some concerns aired before the game about the state of the pitch due to hosting the opening leg of Madonna's world tour the turf played well.

Yet the decision taken by the FAW to hold this game, along with the Liechtenstein and Finland fixtures, at the Cardiff venue looks particularly ill-judged. Several hundred fans queued in the rain for tickets in the hours before the game, adding considerably to the 8,000 sold in the preceding weeks, yet this still left the cavernous Stadiwm y Mileniwm merely a quarter full. The atmosphere was poor and was reduced to the drone created by the ubiquitous plastic horns flogged to SDHD (SunnyDelight-Hooked Delinquent) children.

Much more sensible would have been to take these first three home fixtures to the excellent Liberty Stadium, as Toshack himself argued back in June and Carl Fletcher has done in the aftermath of the Azerbaijan game. Saturday's crowd transferred to the home of Swansea City FC would have created a much better atmosphere for the Welsh players, possibly intimidated the Azeris and taken senior international football to a West Wales audience. Many, possibly including myself, would not have made the trip to Swansea for such a fixture but that difference would have been made up by a similar number being drawn to the Liberty Stadium from the local area and further west.

The FAW talked of having to consider what would happen in the case of Toshack's squad putting together a decent run of results and attracting far bigger crowds for the games later in the programme; all five venues needed to be decided far in advance. Fair enough, but this overlooked the fact that the first three games are against teams that are likely to attract fewer spectators and the final two games are against Germany and Russia; take them to the Millennium Stadium by all means, we'll need the full force of 72,500 voices behind Wales if we are to take anything from two of the best teams in Europe.

This was Berti Vogts's first meaningful game as Azerbaijan manager and he was hoping to add to their only victory of 2008 – a 2-1 win in Andorra. That they have recorded two draws and lost all four of their other games this year by a single goal suggested that this would be a more difficult challenge for Wales than the 4-0 thrashing handed out in 2003, or the Giggs-inspired 2-0 victory two years later. On both of these previous occasions, Wales had opened the scoring in the first few minutes of the game and the desire for a similar settling influence was clear on Saturday with this young and untried starting eleven. Simon Davies was the only survivor from the ill-fated Euro 2004 campaign and was captain for Saturday's clash.

The back five had only forty caps between them and five of the team that Toshack selected in Cardiff are members of the Under-21 squad that is so close to qualifying for the UEFA Championships playoffs. Despite this inexperience and new defensive line-up with Ashley Williams partnering Craig Morgan at centre-half, Wales started brightly and played good passing football during the first half without really troubling Agayev in the Azerbaijan goal. Wayne Hennessey, on the other hand, had to be at his best to keep out an effort that took a deflection off Williams. Wales clearly dominated to the break but in spite of the best efforts of Bale and Gunter to get forward from full-back and create, genuine chances were few and far between. It really was Bale and Koumas – who had three injections prior to the game to allow him to take the field – who provided the Welsh fans with their best hope.

The second half started slowly and the desperation of the crowd seemed to reach the players as their efforts became less and less coherent and increasingly forced. It was a Gunter surge into the box that induced a foul tackle and brought Wales their best opportunity to put clear water between them and the Azerbaijan team who by this time had decided that taking a point back to Baku would be cause for celebration. Koumas failed to convert the spot kick, however, and vented his frustration moments later when smacking the ball into the stand after being found guilty of fouling an opponent. The necessary yellow card followed and added to a peculiar booking for Bale minutes earlier, meaning that Wales's two best players from Saturday are both one booking away from suspension in this round of qualifying. A minor point, maybe, but one that might become more significant when the bigger games come around.

Soon after the penalty miss Azerbaijan were reduced to ten men when Ramim was dismissed for a second bookable offence, the referee having to be reminded by the crowd and Welsh players that the number seventeen had already received one yellow card. Toshack then made the decisive substitution that was to win the game. Sam Vokes replaced Wolves team-mate David Edwards to join fellow Under-21 striker Ched Evans up front for the final twenty minutes. Urged forward by a newly interested crowd, Wales pushed for the killer blow and put the visiting team under sustained pressure. Finally a Bale corner caused enough confusion in the Azerbaijan six-yard box for Vokes to sweep home the loose ball and give Wales the three points.

A daunting trip to Moscow follows on Wednesday where the Welsh defence can be assured of a far sterner test from the likes of Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko. The deserved three points gained from the Azerbaijan encounter should offer some confidence for the trip to the Russian captial and Welsh fans ought to be hopeful given that the average age of the finishing eleven on Saturday was a mere twenty-two. This is a Welsh squad that will only improve; whether this campaign is too much, too soon remains to be seen but the Welsh international scene over the next four to eight years looks as promising as it has in decades.

Gray's Monotony gets off the mark

This is a blog for sport, politics and whatever 'culture' implies.

(My girlfriend told me to write this first post so that both she and the world know what this is all about.)