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27 March 2011

Why Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs is no red-blooded Welshman

Anyone who thought Welsh football wizard Ryan Giggs would end his self-imposed international retirement and play against England on Saturday must have been dreaming.

Because when it comes to the Land of His Fathers, Giggs and patriotism have never been particularly close partners.

I’m a big football fan. I am also proudly Welsh. But when it comes to Giggs and his contribution to his country’s cause, that’s where I grab my little red ranting hood.

When our best player Gareth Bale had to drop out of the squad for the England game, the cry went up for Manchester United legend Giggs to step in. He did - but only to show his face and perhaps offer some friendly advice during a family holiday in Cardiff.

Had he been as dedicated to the cause as any true red-blooded Taffy, he'd have stripped off for action there and then. The golden boy may be 37, but he is still as good as any player in Gary Speed’s Wales squad.

The problem is that throughout his career, the Cardiff-born star’s loyalty to the land of his birth has been tenuous, to say the least. And there was as much chance of him saying yes as there was of Speed calling ME into the squad!

Ryan Giggs: No hero for Wales
Giggs opted out of international football three years ago - and Wales said goodbye to a tragic dragon rather than the magic one who has graced Old Trafford for the last two decades.

For me, it was a case of good riddance because I can count the number of outstanding performances he made for his country on one hand, if not one finger.

Those who do not know the full facts believe Giggs chose to play for Wales rather than England.

The reality is that our Ryan was born in Wales of Welsh parentage and has absolutely no English blood.

So the option was never there…even though he did qualify for England Schools courtesy of being educated in Manchester (where I am assured Welsh was not on the curriculum).

Look at the contribution Giggs has made to his ‘beloved’ Wales since leaving his native Cardiff at the age of seven and began speaking more like a Salford scally than a true Taffy.

Like myself and millions of other Welsh patriots, I’m sure he is proud of his blood line. But the reality is that everything about him, from his upbringing to his education and subsequent career, is pure English.

I was born in Birmingham but my Welsh father and English mother moved back to Wales when I was a baby and I will always by loyal to the country I regard as my homeland. Giggs is almost the reverse of this…so it would surprise me if his loyalty outside football is entirely to Wales.

I cannot imagine he supports Cardiff  Blues at rugby and Glamorgan at cricket, as I do - and I’d just love to know which side he favours when Wales play England in the Six Nations!

Admittedly, the guy has played some blinders for United - and is right up there with the greats of the Premier League. But all those comparisons with George Best are ridiculous - George had tricks Giggs couldn’t live with and unlike his Welsh counterpart, he could do them with both feet.

The thing that irks me about Giggs’s Wales career is that when he condescended to don the real red shirt he invariably either went through the motions or developed a mysterious injury which incredibly cleared up before United’s next game.

For nine years from 1991 he refused to play for Wales in friendlies - missing 18 matches, many of them important build-up games towards major tournament qualifiers. Had he played in even half of those, Wales’s 49-year spell without qualifying for a major tournament may well have ended years ago.

Patriotic Welshmen simply do not refuse to play for their country without a very good reason. Mind you, it might all have been at Sir Alex’s instigation. Now that is a thought.

I’ll have a think about that one...and then maybe I’ll grab my hair-dryer and head for Old Trafford.

17 March 2011

Is a 65mph speed limit the answer to Britain's soaring fuel costs?

The answer to the ever-spiralling fuel costs facing British motorists could lie on the roads...of Spain.

As petrol prices continue to soar in the wake of the political chaos in Libya and other oil-producing countries, pressure is mounting in the UK for a cut in petrol duty, which with VAT accounts for two-thirds of pump prices.

But tax cuts are one thing David Cameron's government simply cannot afford in the current depressing economic climate.

The solution? Well, one way would be to follow the Spanish government's example by cutting the motorway speed limit and reducing rail fares to encourage drivers to become public-transport passengers.

I know 65mph on the M1 or M6 seems a ridiculously inhibitive limit but if it saves the average motorist 10p a litre, it surely makes sense. After all, if the government were to reduce petrol prices by 10p, there'd be whoops of delight from the AA and RAC.

My good friend Mike Thornton is sales manager of the BK Executive chauffeur-driven car-hire firm, whose fleet of luxury vehicles include Rolls Royces and Bentleys. And he is well aware of how much fuel can be saved by reducing speed by just a few miles per hour.

''By slowing down from 70 to 65mph, the average motorist would use 10 per cent less petrol,'' he says. ''There are considerable savings to be made and if the government won't reduce the price of fuel, then this is another way to put some money back in the motorist's pocket.''

As someone who tootles around at a moderate speed and rarely uses motorways, I suspect my own savings would be minimal. But the revved-up racers who bomb around at the speed of sound could obviously save themselves a packet (not to mention the odd life or two)  if they actually had the sense  to slow down.

But the rocket men need not worry about having to come off their accelerator pedals because Britain is unlikely to adopt an idea that has been thought up by Johnny Foreigner.

I've grumped about it before, but one of the biggest weaknesses of the British psyche is our refusal to acknowledge that other countries sometimes do things better than we do. And in this case the Spanish have beaten us to the punch.

Earlier this month, they reduced the maximum speed on motorways and dual carriageways from 120kph (74.5mph) to 110kph (68.3mph) as a temporary means of saving energy.

The price of rail tickets on suburban and medium-distance services has also been reduced temporarily to offset the economic consequences of the rise in the price of crude oil.

These two limitations will be maintained while tensions in north Africa continue, and deputy prime minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba is working on further measures like reducing street lighting and the energy costs of public buildings.

The Spanish authorities claim that the reduction in the speed limit could save drivers up to 15 per cent in petrol and 11 per cent in diesel.

Rubalcaba insisted that the tensions in north Africa do not pose a problem to supplies - but something had to be done to reduce the effect of rising fuel prices.

“Every ten-dollar rise in the price of a barrel of oil increases Spain’s energy bill by some 6,000 million euros,” he explained.

In 2008, a Daily Telegraph survey in 2008 found that of 27 European countries surveyed, Britain had the highest fuel taxes. Some 57p of the cost of a litre of petrol was tax, compared with 31p in Spain, 45p in Italy, 48p in France and 52p in Germany.

12 March 2011

Nature's vengeance: From my article published the day before the Japanese earthquake/tsunami

To me, life is all down to Mother Nature – the ultimate artist, sculptress, designer, you name it. The sole creator and also a fearsome adversary who is clearly on some sort of  mission in these times of political and physical upheaval.

Certainly the surfeit of natural disasters which have devastated the world over the past couple of decades suggests that something is changing dramatically in Mother Nature’s household.

10 March 2011

Spanish airport strike chaos: The 22 dates holidaymakers must beware


If you’re planning to fly from Britain to the Spanish sun this summer, take care – your holiday could be ruined before you even get here.
Unless planned talks between union chiefs and Spain’s development minister Jose Blanco are successful, travel chaos is set to strike over Easter, when airport ground staff are planning two 48-hour walkouts.
The planned stoppages are apparently being held to protest against the government's plans to sell off parts of Aena, the state-owned firm that runs Spain's key airports. The issue is so sensitive that three trade unions have announced a total of 22 strike days between April 20 and August 31.
Airport fire brigades, baggage handlers and runway staff are all involved in the strikes, which will also embrace Spanish bank holidays and the start and finish of the peak holiday season.
My friend Arno Otto of Murcia-based Seguro Parking tells me the travel dates to avoid are April 20, 21, 24, 25 and 30; May 2, 14, 15, 19 and 20; June 13, 23, 30, July 1, 2, 3, 4, 15 and 31 and August 1, 15 and 31.
If you’ve already booked, then it’s cross-your-fingers-and-hope time.
Will the Spanish union of misery makers settle their differences before we all start tearing our hair out? ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, are certainly hopeful the chaos will be avoided.  A spokesman pointed out that the Spanish industrial action was "only a proposed strike", adding: "Chances are it won't go ahead."
As for me, chances are I won't be leaving Spain until September at the earliest!

9 March 2011

Earthquakes, floods and Mother Nature: Is life for real - or just a dream?

Have you ever wondered if life really could be a dream?

That the people and places you see every waking minute of your day are all a figment of your imagination?

And that the dream will end when you wake from your marathon sleep - at the precise moment you take your very last breath?

Think about it for a minute. Because to me the ‘life is a dream’ scenario if far more feasible than the 'God made us' theory spouted by most of the man-made religions of this world.

I’m not saying there is NOT a God because I believe very strongly that everything on this earth was created by an awesome, omnipotent force more powerful than anything we can imagine.

However, I find it hard to identify with a biblical God who (unless you take the fables of the Old and New Testaments as gospel) chooses never to appear before or speak to those that He or She created. At least, not to an audience big enough to convince us.

Just one Almighty appearance in front of a couple of dozen people - preferably with a TV camera rolling - and we’d all be totally convinced. But it seems our Maker (as personified in official religion) has become coy about publicity over the last couple of thousand years.

To me, life is all down to Mother Nature – the ultimate artist, sculptress, designer, you name it. The sole creator and also a fearsome adversary who is clearly on some sort of  mission in these times of political and physical upheaval.

Certainly the surfeit of natural disasters which have devastated the world over the past couple of decades suggests that something is changing dramatically in Mother Nature’s household.

But back to our dreams, in which we see and interact with all sorts of people, many of whom we know in real life.. Yet we accept when we wake up that the entire dream was merely a fabrication of our mind.

I often dream I can fly – or that I am on the edge of a cliff or a roof trying desperately not to fall off. At the time it all seems so normal and no-one could convince me it is not really happening. But when I wake up, the content of my dream still vivid in my mind, it seems ludicrous that I ever believed the bizarre events were for real. ‘How on earth did I not realise at the time that I was dreaming?’ I regularly ask myself.

In my sleep, my experiences are surrounded by what seem to be living, breathing creatures. Yet the reality is that every second is the bizarre product of a single subconscious mind.

And so to the BIG question: Is it not possible that life itself is just one long dream – a dream that lasts from the second we are born until the moment we die?

There is only one person that I KNOW for a fact exists. And that is myself. My family, my friends, my readers (if I have any)…I assume of course that they are all real people. But whilst they are all tangible parts of my day-to-day experience, a tiny part of me keeps asking: ''Am I the only person living in this world - with everyone else just a part of my imagination?''

That’s all for now folks. Back to sleep, all of you. If you're for real, that is.

4 March 2011

Is Sir a sport? The truth about Paul McCartney and Tom Jones

Can you imagine a young Paul McCartney beetling around the country following his favourite football team? I certainly can't.

That’s not to say that sport and music don’t mix – just that Mac the Knight seems about as steeped in the beautiful game as old codgers like myself are besotted with rap music.

Yet various websites would have it that Sir Paul is a keen Everton fan.

The reality, however, is not exactly engraved in blue-and-white stone. ‘‘Here's the deal,’’ the great man explains. ‘’My father was born in Everton, my family are officially Evertonians, so if it comes down to a derby match or an FA Cup final between the two, I would have to support Everton.

"But after a concert at Wembley Arena I got into a bit of a friendship with Kenny Dalglish, who had been to the gig, and I thought 'You know what? I am just going to support them both because it's all Liverpool and I don't have that Catholic-Protestant thing.'

"So I did have to get special dispensation from the Pope to do this but that's it, too bad. I support them both.
"They are both great teams. But if it comes to the crunch, I'm Evertonian."

Personally, I would have thought that master musicians of McCartney’s talent would be too driven by their first love to be sidetracked by such trivialities as football. And it’s clear from his comments that Paul is a bit of a sporting fence-sitter, anyway.

At least his explanation sounds marginally more sincere than fellow Beatle Ringo Starr’s assertion that he’s a Liverpool supporter because ''I like the colour red”, which  presumably he also bangs the drum for every red-shirted team from Arsenal to Aberdeen. Well, I love the colour purple but that doesn’t mean I support the team they call the Royals – be it the monarchy or Reading FC.

Great Scott! Tom Jones as I remember him in Pontypridd
The only celebrity I actually KNEW before he was famous is another shining knight, Tom Jones (yes, I am that old!). I gave him his first-ever write-ups in the Pontypridd Observer a couple of years before he hit the big-time – in the days where he sang around the South Wales clubs under his stage name of  Tommy Scott.

Whilst Tom may have been built like a sportsman, I can assure you he never showed the slightest interest in football, rugby or any other sport. And believe me he definitely was neither gay nor a wimp.

Cardiff City, the nearest professional football club to Pontypridd, were in the old First Division - the equivalent of the Premier League. But although I was a keen Bluebirds fan myself, the only birds Tom was interested in were certainly not blue. Nor had he any time for Spurs, Manchester United Spurs or any of the other big-name teams of that era.

The sporting fraternity sometimes wheels the great man out onto the green, green grass of home to sing at the occasional Wales rugby international and what have you. But while the old Jones heart may still beat for his homeland, I doubt that Sir Tom's head really cares about match results, whatever the shape of the ball.

Having said that, many celebrities are completely smitten by sport - and particularly football. Some to the point that their names are synonymous with their favourites - for example the oasis of Gallaghers at Manchester City and Mick Hucknell’s simply-red love affair with Manchester United.

Others, I am convinced, just attach themselves to the mast of the big-name clubs for effect. Teams like Manchester United and Arsenal, for example, have such large fan bases that showing token support for them might just persuade a few extra fans to buy their CDs and albums.

Conversely, when I was young (and there aren’t many people alive who remember that!), major pop stars  were rarely linked with sports teams. Presumably with professional footballers no better off financially than miners or postmen, there was no glamour spin-off for the marketing people.

Indeed, I can’t remember Elvis Presley, the biggest name in music during that era, having any particular sporting allegiance. And the only British top-tenner I recall with strong football ties was Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers fame.

Until he came on the scene, if you weren’t a fan of Hollywood musicals, the song You’ll Never Walk Alone would have meant nothing to you.to the vast majority of people.

Now Marsden’s name is likely to live as long in the Anfield memory as those of Bill Shankly and Dalglish.
And thereby hangs a tale – because some sources insist that until Liverpool fans adopted his 1963 smash hit as their club anthem, Gerry was in fact an Evertonian.

Perhaps it’s time he had a chat with Macca and Ringo.