Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Lesser Spotted Byron

"Who the hell are you?"

Much excitement in Llandudno today with a rare public sighting indeed in the North Wales Weekly News of the Lesser Spotted Byron. This species is rarely seen in public with 'ordinary people' but can often be tempted out into the light by an appearance of the Minor Royal Family Member. This is a characteristic shared with another rare species very seldom found locally - the Hardly Ever Seen Betty Williams. I believe that this timid creature is usually only seen in public when there is an election due and will never stray from her natural Bangor habitat otherwise.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Communities First

The damming indictment of the Communities First Programme by the Welsh Assembly's Public Accounts Committee will come as no surprise to many people in the Colwyn Bay area. It was revealed that "Two-thirds of the money has been spent on administration and staff, when more money should be reaching the people most in need". Can anyone point to the tangible results of Communities First's involvement in the Colwyn Bay area?

My impression upon visiting the Communities First office in Colwyn Bay was that the group of very well paid staff exist in some form of alternate reality in their comfortable little Station Square bunker. Colourful artists impressions of future projects/schemes cover the walls, completely at odds with the squalor of the real world of Colwyn Bay's streets outside their front door.

We had visited them in order to discuss funding for our community environmental group, after seeing a glossy leaflet inviting local community groups to contact them.

Unfortunately, I got the distinct impression that it was all some form of charade and they didn't actually want to give anyone any money. Bear in mind that an environmental group only really needs tools/equipment, materials and plants in order to carry out its work. We were told that...

We couldn't have a grant to buy tools because 'they could be used outside the Communities First area'.
We couldn't have a grant to buy materials 'if they were to be used on Council owned land'. Hmmm, given that pretty much all the public land in the Colwyn Bay area is owned by Conwy Council, that's a tricky one to overcome!
We couldn't have a grant to buy guessed it... 'if they were to be used on Council owned land'.

So, a complete waste of our time and, from what I hear, several other community groups' time as well. The Communities First programme has cost £214m - what a waste of taxpayers money.

"the programme has been accused of adopting a top down approach that has largely focused on the administration of the programme and becoming yet another bureaucratic jungle for individuals and communities to navigate through. Such organisational and operational problems have culminated in the scandalous position of £6 million of Communities First funds allocated to our poorest communities being returned unspent to the Assembly Government last year (2006)".

Edit: Since I made the original post, I have been made aware of individual Communities First projects that are working hard to deliver the benefits to the local community that they were designed to do, so my blanket condemnation of the scheme was perhaps a little too harsh. It's probably fair to say that WAG needs to be keeping a closer eye on the projects that are not delivering and give them a boot up the proverbial, as their lack of results is giving the entire scheme a bad name.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Secrets of the Great Orme

Secrets of the Great Orme

Whilst enjoying a coffee in the Rest & Be Thankful cafe on the Great Orme in Llandudno this morning, my eye was caught by a counter display. I was slightly thrilled to see that it contained an updated version of a long out of print guide map to the Great Orme called Secrets of the Great Orme, originally compiled by Alan Collinson Design back in the 1980s.

If you're even remotely interested in the Great Orme, then I urge you to get this map, it contains a remarkable amount of information (some of it little known) and acts as an excellent guide to the headland. Besides showing all the roads, paths, cafes, toilets, area of interest, it also shows such things as every mineshaft (and there's quite a few) and even shows the routes of the underground mine passages. There's numerous little snippets of history and folklore, together with a guide to the plants, birds etc to be found on the Orme.

At £2.50, it's worth every penny. I've only seen it available from the counter of the Rest & Be Thankful cafe, though.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Grey Day

People of Colwyn afraid, be very afraid. The 'Powers That Be' that have already covered both Seaview Road and Station Road in a vast expanse of featureless Chinese grey granite are now marshalling their forces and preparing for a strike against Penrhyn Road. The photo above shows hundreds upon hundreds of grey granite paving stones stored in the Lansdowne Road Car Park, poised to remove any hint of colour and life from Penrhyn Road.

Public opinion certainly seems to be very negative towards the finished appearance of both Sea View Road/Station Road, with a common comment being about the almost total lack of colour and planting to soften all the paving. Apparently, the handful of half dead trees just don't cut it when it comes to greenery...

In addition, the granite is already starting to appear tatty, with oil stains and chewing gum being apparently too difficult to remove. I'd also maybe add a comment about the dubious environmental merits of importing Chinese granite halfway around the world, when there are plenty of UK quarries that could have supplied the paving. I'd maybe go even further and ask why paving needed to be used anyway when there are many alternatives to tarmac now available, including something called resin bonded surfacing, which produces an attractive and durable gravel surface at significantly less cost?

I remember a letter in the North Wales Pioneer from a year or so ago, that said something along the lines that Conwy Council were determined to turn Colwyn Bay into something resembling Albania, where all work on public areas is carried out at the cheapest possible cost, with no regard to the aesthetics or long term value. I think they were spot on in that assessment! Numerous examples abound, but one of the most obvious is the ludicrous way in which the town's original cast iron street nameplates (in perfect condition apart from needing a cost of paint) are replaced by flimsy aluminium versions, which last barely 10 years before needing replacement. When will they learn?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Pole Position

The pole in the photo above (which holds several signs) has been lying on the grass verge at the side of one of the main footpaths on North Parade in Llandudno for several months, maybe since September last year, ever since it was uprooted by vandals. It's been there so long that someone from Conwy Council has actually come along and filled in the hole it used to be sited in on the other side of the footpath with earth! Is there no-one with the gumption to think to themselves..."Hmmm, I must arrange for someone to come and put that pole back up"? It's hardly like you can miss it when you're walking past. The mind boggles....

Monday, 8 February 2010


Something of a unexpected twist for the blog with this post, straying as it does into the realms of literature. I noticed in the Sunday Times this week a prominent piece about the death of author J G Farrell back in 1979, coupled with a mention that his 1970 novel Troubles had been long listed for the Lost Man Booker Prize, an award for novels written in 1970 that missed out on the opportunity to win a Booker Prize that year due to changes in the eligibility rules.

I only discovered Troubles a year or so ago, when it was recommended by a friend on the Flickr website, who said something along the lines of I would not believe who good this novel was. That's asking for trouble, of course, but the thing is...they was absolutely right! This is an absolutely superb novel, so full of detail and nuance that it requires several reads to appreciate it all. And don't be fooled by the mention of Booker prizes into thinking it's dry and stuffy in tone - it's written in a very lively and readable manner, with moments of humour on every page. If you do nothing else this year, I urge you to give this book a try! If you enjoy it (and why wouldn't you?), then the good news is that there are two other major novels by Farrell to read, namely, The Singapore Grip and The Siege of Krishnapur. There's also a few 'minor' novels worth a look, the best of which is A Girl in the Head.

Major Brendan Archer travels to Ireland - to the Majestic Hotel and to the fiancée he acquired on a rash afternoon’s leave three years ago. Despite her many letters, the lady herself proves elusive, and the Major’s engagement is short-lived. But he is unable to detach himself from the alluring discomforts of the crumbling hotel. Ensconced in the dim and shabby splendour of the Palm Court, surrounded by gently decaying old ladies and proliferating cats, the Major passes the summer. So hypnotic are the faded charms of the Majestic, the Major is almost unaware of the gathering storm. But this is Ireland in 1919 - and the struggle for independence is about to explode with brutal force.

J G Farrell was born in Liverpool in January 1935. In 1956 he went to study at Brasenose College, Oxford; it was while there he contracted polio. He drew heavily on his experience for his second novel, The Lung (1965). His novel, Troubles (1970), the first in the Empire trilogy, won the Faber Memorial Prize in 1971. A film version of Troubles was made for British television in 1988. The second in the Empire trilogy, The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) won the Booker Prize. J G Farrell died in 1979 at the age of 44, after drowning whilst fishing at his home in Ireland.

Amazon Link:

Sunday, 7 February 2010

For Art's sake!

The revelation in the North Wales Weekly News that pressure group Save Our Promenade had discovered the cost of the sculpture shown in the photo above to be THIRTY SIX THOUSAND POUNDS must have come as a surprise to many. I looked at it myself this morning whilst passing and could probably have knocked up something similar from B&Q for about a tenner. It's by the Beach Cafe on West Shore, Llandudno, if you want to go and admire it.

I can only echo the words of Save Our Promenade spokesman, Mike Pritchard, when he says that "It's a massive amount to have spent on a sculpture...because it's used as a dog toilet and a receptacle for all sorts of rubbish". In fact, I'd probably go a little further than Mike, and describe it as a 'load of utter crap'.

I'm currently investigating the possibility of opening my own Public Art Design Practice - I'll only be supplying Councils, of course, and I'm thinking about specifying a minimum spend of around £30,000 per artwork. Good idea?

Friday, 5 February 2010

A Clean Sweep

Last painted in 1900? (Photo Credit)

The news that Conwy County has been awarded top marks with regard to the cleanliness of its streets is welcome indeed.

"CONWY county has cleaned up in a survey to find the most litter free streets in Wales. The area came out top with inspectors sent out by the Keep Wales Tidy campaign to check on litter and general cleanliness. It achieved an overall score of 72.5% up five points on last year and above the Wales average of 66.87%."

It's certainly fair to say that Conwy's streets and town centres are looking cleaner than ever, and credit should be given to both the Council employees and the Cabinet Member for the Environment, Mike Priestley, for their hard work.

But, of course, much remains to be done. Street cleaning is of a high standard but general maintenance of public areas is nowhere near as good. I've previously mentioned the proliferation of chewing gum on pavements throughout the County - again to his credit, Mike Priestley has promised to tackle the problem.

I've also previously mentioned other areas where improvements made (quite often at relatively little cost ) could significantly improve the appearance of an area. Things like fixing cracked paving stones, painting railings, varnishing benches, planting trees, repainting street's about attention to detail, which as any businessperson knows, makes the difference between a good business and a great business. If Conwy Council can grasp this, then we would really see some progress in raising standards.

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