Sunday, 26 December 2010

I can't believe it's December

December has been cold and snowy but full of mulled wine and gin so everything is ok. Our little hen Myrtle has survived the sub zero temperatures and remains chirpy and up beat. Now all we need is some new chickens so she can have some friends, as she gets a bit lonely sometimes.

Christmas provided all the usual Yule time festivities. Christmas Eve at the Wheatsheaf pub, Midnight Mass with the family, members of my family being slightly too merry and pudding’s and monopoly at the Millards.

I managed to create Pheasant Pie on Christmas day that was lovely. I went pheasant beating back in November so I’ve had it in the freezer skinned and gutted ready to be cooked. I put together two recipes that I found online so in total it contained leeks, mushrooms, chestnuts, a lick of cream and a slurp of orange juice- and of course some lovely bits of pheasant. It was a treat. I’m hoping next year I can make another one and by then my home made sloe gin will be ready-can’t wait.

The snow has finally begun to melt in Wiltshire and once more I can see the grass in the fields. As I look out my window a worrying shade of grey lingers in the sky. There is a mist that needs to be shaken off. The last few days of December need to shake off the lasting bitter dew.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

McFly in Malborough

It was all about Malborough on Monday evening as one half of McFly dropped in to independent record shop 'Sound Knowledge.' Harry Judd and Dougie Poynter came to the Wiltshire town to promote their new album 'Above the Noise'. But by the numbers of fans that turned up I don't think the album needs any promotion! Hundreds waited in the cold November evening to catch a glimpse of their favourite popstars.

Dougie said he "was happy to be in Malborough" and when I asked which half of McFly he and Harry were, he said it was definitely the "Fly" half. I think the many girls waiting to see them would agree. On a serious note, Harry did mention how important it was for the band to come out and meet their fans.

Harry and Dougie seemed perfectly happy sat talking to their fans signing anything from guitars to posters. It seems they've grown up a lot since they first hit the music scene about 7 years ago. Harry seems to be more focused now and Dougie said he loved the sound of the new album. I certainly saw a lot of people clutching the new album and single so I'm sure the McFly boys will do well this year. McFly are going to be touring in Spring next year and their new album is out now.

'Sound Knowledge' is becoming a pop star hot spot. McFly are just one of the many bands to visit the store. Scouting for Girls, Ash and Turin Brakes are just some of the others that made the Malborough music hall of fame.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Storm in a 20s Tea Cup

Flapper dresses, long cigarettes, sequins and feathers, what more could you ask for on a night of smokey fun in London?

Bloomsbury Ballroom was the secret hideout for a 20s swinging party. Forget the fireworks and the sparkles in the sky, it was sparkling dresses and colourful drinks that lead the way. What was brilliant was the flurry of people in lavish outfits as I got off the tube at Holborn. Everyone was discreetly searching for the venue whilst glistening in the London lights.

Last nights 'Prohibition' party was just one of the many underground hits that seem to sizzle in the coldest of winter evenings.Smooth jazz on stage and roulette wheels on the floor. A range of cocktails on demand and tea cups for your ever strong 'Gatsby'.

Everyone had gone to town on costumes, no one looked out of place and it was very much like being in the Bugsy Malone film. Wonderful. Bright red lipstick and bright blue eye make up, it was an assault on the senses.

Everywhere I looked everyone had a smile on their face, much of this was due to fact there was someone selling bagels and cupcakes; a nice touch. I'm always happy when there is food in close range! But it was truly a brilliant night...a different take on festive fun but one that I very much enjoyed.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Bands, Bristol, Bonadventures...

Folk Night Bristol by bribriwilliam

I haven't been to a gig in Bristol for some time, so when I saw that Ellen and The Escapades were hitting the city I bought my ticket quickly. The band have played the festivals all summer long and even won Michael Eavis' heart at Glastonbury this year. So Bristol bound, I looked forward to night of folky rock.

They played at St Bonaventures Parish Social club which I didn't know even existed let alone held gigs. Trying to find the place to begin with, I asked a man on the street "Is it a real church?" to which he replied "Yes it is...well it's catholic...". I won't linger on that but it made me chuckle!Anyway, the social club is like a working men's club stuck onto the back of a church. Red covered booths and doombar on tap, a classy joint. But it wasn't the decor and choice of drink that was important, it was the bands.

Kicking off the night was singer /song writer Nick Parker with humorous ballads and gentle guitar playing. Nick tried to woo the audience with his vulnerabilty and continuous guitar tuning and it seemed to do the trick!

Next up was Scottish/ Leeds lad Gary Stewart who was surprsingly punchy. A unique voice and some really captivating sounds. For just one man and his guitar he filled the room effortlessly with northern passion and a bit of Bristol soul. I was impressed (which isn't an easy task). One of my favourite tunes was Behind The Door. The lovely Ellen accompanied Gary on stage to sing and it was great. I don't know how else to describe it so I'll let you have a listen and see what you think...

Finally Ellen and the Escapades settled on stage to introduce the backhalls of Bristol to their earthy sound. Each time I hear them play I can't get over the rawness of Ellen's voice and the soft harmonies that trickle through each song, magical. Very much still an emerging band we were treated to a few new, albeit unfinshed, songs. I look forward to hearing more of them. Coming Back Home always puts a smile on my face and the crowd rather enjoyed it too.

(E and the E are missing their bassist Andy Calder who is recovering from pneumonia which isn't very nice. Hopefully he'll be back on the scene soon. Gary had to step in to help and I think he rather liked it.)

What was great about my Bristol folk night is that all of the acts were friendly and engaging. Not one let us forget that it was them we were here to see. Who needs X-Factor?!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Wiltshire Rambles

It’s getting colder and crisper as we settled into Autumn. But sometimes that’s a good thing. The log fire can roar, the winter coats come out and leaves can crunch.

What better way to get warm than to go on a brisk walk. I joined the West Wiltshire Ramblers just south of Trowbridge on one of their walks. I was met a pleasant group of sixty something’s and Bailey the dog. A lovely bunch who welcomed me into their group.

As we set off I was intrigued to learn why these people had joined the Ramblers. For some it was the sheer joy of walking and getting out into the countryside, but for others it was life changing. One lady I met told me that after her husband died “Sunday’s were the worst” and the Ramblers saved her in way. When I hear comments like this it makes me realise that life should not be taken for granted and we should make the most of it whilst we can. Do the things we dream of.

Rambling is a social occasion as well as a health benefit. It’s also a great way to get out and see the beautiful landscape. Along our walk, much to my delight, we spied some sloe berries. I’ve cleaned them up and put them in the freezer, I can start making sloe gin soon! So not only did I get to meet some great people I also got thrown a great recipe for sloe gin. Good Times, Good Walks.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Jamie's Italian, Briohny's Disappointment

I finish work and head into Cardiff city centre to meet me friend for a coffee. But hey it’s nearly half six and there isn’t a queue at Jamie’s Italian. As they have a ‘no book’ policy I decided for a treat it might be a good idea to take advantage of the quiet Wednesday evening and go for dinner. I wish I hadn’t.

My friend and I were taken up stairs to where the light was dim I could hardly read my menu. Great. I was pretty hungry so decided to order a hearty pasta dish for my main ‘Mushroom Panzerotti’ and some chips and a selection of Italian bread to keep me going in the mean time.

Let’s just say the chips and bread were more style than substance. I think I counted about twenty chips. Just the fact that I could count them disappointed me. They were nice don’t get me wrong, but for the price they were, one may have expected a few more! Now, the bread. Is it just me that remembers a time when bread was just brought to your table? No charge, no ordering, just a nice crusty selection to nibble on whilst your choosing what to have. This tradition seems to have vanished in many restaurants and Jamie’s is no different.

On the plus side, my main meal came pretty swiftly. After just a few minutes of munching on chips and bread along came my pasta dish- described as ‘Home-made half moons filled with our mate Mike the woodman’s brown cap and porcini mushrooms, ricotta and parmesan, with crispy fried sage and gremolata.’ I’d quite like to know who this Mike is, I’ve never met him before. The dish arrived tepid. If it wasn’t for the fact I wash pushed for time I would have sent it back so that next time around the food may have actually been hot rather than being on the cooler side of warm. I was not impressed. The meal was alright, nothing extraordinary. It wasn’t as flavoursome as I thought it was going to be especially because it had Mike’s mushrooms in it. The crunchy sage was lovely, probably the best part of the dish! But once again, there wasn’t a great deal of this dish. I’m not someone who enjoys eating massive portions but I do like a meal that fills me up and doesn’t leave me still feeling hungry. But that’s exactly what I was after finishing my main meal.

On a positive note, because I was still feeling rather peckish I ordered pudding, and I’m very glad I did. ‘Awesome Chocolate and Espresso Tart with sticky glazed figs and orange crème fraiche.’ It truly was awesome. A rich chocolate taste with the dark bitterness of the coffee settling in the mouth, lovely. I’m a big fan of figs and I think they go with any dessert so I was a happy bunny. The tart pastry was thin and light, perfection. The tart’s texture was unbeatable. Smooth and dense, it never failed to satisfy with every bite.

I think I’ve learnt my lesson-enjoy Jamie’s desserts, just not his Italian.

Monday, 13 September 2010

September Sea

I haven't been abroad for two years, but this hasn't dampened my spirits...well not quite. I often forget how wonderful the U.K is. Just a few hours from Cardiff I found myself at Oxwich Bay. It had been raining all week but luckily the sky was kind and the weekend proved to be bright with sunshine and crisp with wind. On such a glorious weekend I was surprised to find the beach empty and bare. As I walked into the cool sea, there was hardly anyone around to hear my shrill voice as I entered the rough water. The waves tossing my limp body as I floated as best I could when the power of Neptune's force was hurtling itself at my back. Lovely. In the space of 24 hours I entered the sea three times on the Gower coast. Each time was like a separate holiday in itself. How wonderful the sea is. I'm always amazed at how great I feel after jumping in it. I still get the sense that I can do anything by just standing and looking into the empty unknown of the glistening blue that lies before me.

I'll stop gushing now. It was truly a great Gower weekend. Pasta on the camping stove with a small bottle of champagne, the waves crashing and singing the evensong.

Da Iawm

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Auto Jumble

The shape and set up of cars are changing all the time. These days you have to be more of an electrician to fix a car than a mechanic. But there are still those that appreciate the wonderful lines of classic cars, how they rock and how they roll.

But alas there are still those who would rather spend thousands tinkering with an old car rather than buying a modern one. Yes they exist and yes they are enthusiasts and yes they have to do strange things to get the right parts to fix their cars. At Egham and District Social Club the first Tuesday of each month the Auto Jumble Auction takes place. That’s what I said-the Auto Jumble Auction.

With my Dad I walked into what I can only describe as the hall of a Working Men’s club. Two red and white striped plastic sheets were on the ground. Gradually as more people came into the hall the plastics sheets began to get covered with old cars parts, boxes of car books, car photos, tools and other car related objects. All the items were to be auctioned off.

As I sat on the dusty blue sofa that lined the edge of the room, I wondered what everyone was waiting for. The goods were laid out, the auction forms filled in, why wasn’t anything happening? The Auctioneer hadn’t arrived. Wow, I thought. We’re in the back room of a bar, there’s about 15 people here drinking cider and guiness and we are waiting for the professional Auto Jumble Auctioneer to arrive. But he did, carrying his own PA system he jumped up onto a small stage and so the auction began. It’s amazing what can happen in a room full of middle age men, alcohol and boxes of old junk. Bidding wars. Bidding starts at £2 and sometimes it got fierce. A box of old car books went up to £22! It was the most surreal thing I’ve witnessed in a long time. Not put off by my Auto Jumble inexperience I put in a bid for an old wooden toolbox. Three pounds; I got it! Only then did I fully understand why these things take place.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

CLA Game Fair 2010

Ragley Hall was the back drop for the 2010 CLA Game Fair. A dramatic setting and a dramatic event. Horse and Hound on parade, dogs chasing pheasant dummies, archery and fishing all to the song of rifles and other guns being shot in the background. The summer is the time when game keepers will be rearing their birds in time for the beginning of the shooting season come autumn. With many stands and shops available those wanting to find out more about the game industry it's certainly a great place to be to be educated. I spoke to Alex Butler who is the Central England Advisor from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust about the organisation and what it brings to the event. I also chatted to Charles Nodder from the National Gamekeepers Organisation to get the latest on current shooting issues.

Game Fair by bribriwilliam

But it's not just a place to sit and observe, there are many activities going on that anyone can take part in. I had a go at Clay Pigeon shooting and managed to hit two!I think I need a little more practice.
But apart from the fun and games the scale of the Game Fair just mirrors the size of the industry in rural communities. Game shoots add to the rural economy and Game Keepers can help preserve the wildlife in the countryside. The proud smiles of dog owners showing their animals skill, agility and obedience when it comes to working the land.

As a dog lover I was impressed by the standard and variety of the working dogs that were on show. I felt slightly out of place with out a dog at my heels but there were plenty around that I could pretend were mine.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Buffering in Bristol

First it was Shank, then came Release and now? Buffering is the third creation from Bristol film makers Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin, Bonne idee Productions.

In the back streets of Fishponds an derelict building has been transformed into an array of colourful film sets. Sex shops and bedroom orgies Buffering has it all. I went behind the scenes to take a sneak peak at what was going on set.

Buffering by bribriwilliams

And you can find out more about what the crew and cast are doing as they are keeping their own blog...Click here to read!

Using the city of Bristol as its back drop Buffering makes the most of local talent. The script is clever and witty, the plot quirky but kind and in some areas just a little bizarre! Without giving too much away it's a complex love story that spends most of its time on the internet. Does that not make any sense? Well good, it's not suppose too.

Shooting continues in Bristol for the next week or so and then comes the post production. Then we just have to wait and see when this little number will have its big premier.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Glastonbury 2010

Glastonbury, Glastonbury, Glastonbury. You come into my life for a week each year and toss me out like a half eaten sandwich. Recovering from dust, sun and fun I sit in my house thinking what happens next? Well I guess we’ll just have to wait until Glastonbury fever kicks off again next year.

But enough of sad reality, Glastonbury 2010 was a cracking show. The 40th anniversary of the biggest music festival there is. I was working on Worthy FM so as well as seeing the bands I got to interview some of them. One of my highlights was Ellen and the Escapades. They are the band that won the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition. Hand picked by Michael and Emily Eavis. I met up with Michael back in May and the way he described them was “just brilliant, fantastic”. As well as winning a slot on the Acoustic stage Ellen and the Escapades helped Michael open the Cadmus boat in the Green Kids field.

Well the band popped into my studio and supplied me with great entertainment. A great bunch from Leeds and a Californian intruder that has yet adopt a classy northern accent. Ellen reminds me of Joan Baez but with a deeper voice. Her back up boys fit perfectly into the acoustic / rock blend and they are the kind of band that you’d want at your house party; they’d have a great time but they wouldn’t trash the place. Well you can have a listen to my interview and lovely studio versions of Coming Back Home and This Ace I’ve Burned.

Ellen and The Escapades Interview by bribriwilliams

Well apart from sitting in a studio playing music and interviewing bands I got to go out and about and soak up the atmosphere of Glastonbury, and soak up the smell. Glastonbury is a big operation. I becomes the largest city in the South West for a week and requires precision planning to make it run smoothly. And one thing that has to run smoothly, are the toilets.

Glasto Toilets by bribriwilliams

I cannot believe it didn’t rain over the festival. I was camping on site for a week so I made the most of the unusually sunny weather to bronze myself! But the no show rain did have some downsides. The amount of dust that was circling in the air was unbelievable. I was walking around seeing mini tornado’s everywhere - very strange.

Another strange site is a lot of people dressed in pink walking around playing songs-The Ambling Band. I’ve been a member for over two years and I’m a newbie compared to the veterans that have been playing for over 20 years. Well we were playing in the Theatre and Circus field over the Glastonbury weekend, but our first gig was at the litter pickers party where Michael Eavis was the special guest.

FeatureAmblingBandBriohny by bribriwilliams

How can you sum up Glastonbury? You can’t. Stevie Wonder, Dizzee Rascal, making a wooden wand, dancing like a maniac to the Baghdaddies, making Kate Nash do a Gnasher impression and England going out of the World Cup all in one weekend. Enough said.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Cereals 2010

One of the biggest Arable events of the year is based in a farm not too far from Cambridge.
Who's it for? Anyone really, but you'll get most out of it if you can tell your wheat from your oil seed rape.

Unlike other agricultural shows where you would expect animals to be parading up and down in front of judges, Arable 2010 has quite a different feel. Patches of test crops lay in the ground. Rows of sugar beat that have different fertilisers on them. As some of the crops have been planted over a year ago, much more preparation goes into this event than I first thought. Squares of test crops where arable companies can show case their very best products. To add to the numerous crop science and agronomist stands, the show is punctuated with talks and conferences from the finest of the farming world. Debating GM crops, cash crops and the future of the arable sector.
Even the brand new Agriculture Minister Jim Paice put on his wellies and came down to the show.

I think the biggest buzz of the event was GM crops. It seems that farmers are for it but it's still the consumers and supermarkets that have to be persuaded. GM crops can be hardy, disease free and produce maintained high yields. Yet the grey cloud that surrounds the "frankenstein" food has not been pierced. Recently a GM crop of potatoes have been planted in Norfolk which can withstand against blite. It's caused a lot of controversy but it hasn't seemed to dampen the scientists enthusiasm to GM test.
But it wasn't just GM that was on the minds of the people at Cereals 2010. It's the ever changing markets and the fear of a world food shortage that encroach as well. The answer? The goal posts always seem to move in the Farming world.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Farmers Taking Up the Business Challenge

Rhys Rosser is part of the Young Farming Community in Wales and he's appearing in the BBC's Junior Apprentice.
Alan Sugar is putting young people through their paces and making them complete business tasks to see if they've got what it takes to become his young apprentice.
The Young Farmers Groups in Wales already do a lot to help young people with business and public speaking skills, but the YFC chairman for Wales wants to make the charity run more like a business. I met up with Nia Lloyd who told me about her vision for the future.

" We're working at the moment with the Welsh Assembly to establish an entrepreneurial competition to encourage the YFC clubs throughout Wales to look at themselves rather than just as a charity where they need to fund raise through sponsorship, to consider themselves more as a business social enterprise, so that's the idea of the project."

Social enterprises are businesses that have an environmental or social focus. The money that is made is put back into the business to develop it further. A sustainable model that can help the community. Nia has been holding meetings with experts so she can set up a Dragon's Den scenario where young farmers can pitch their business ideas. After going though an initial business workshop on June 26th, the final competition will take place at the Royal Welsh Show in July. The winning team will get to develop their business further and even meet the First Minister. An exciting time for young farmers. They can push themselves and work in groups to build creative social enterprises.

Young Farming Business by bribriwilliams

Social Enterprises have long been helping rural communities, so what inspiration can young farmers take from the social enterprises that are already up and running.
Trevor Stringer is the founder of Work On Farms. A social enterprise that links unemployed and disadvantaged people with work on farms. The idea is that farms provide a different kind of workspace for people where they can build confidence and learn new skills. Many of the people involved in the scheme aren't from farming backgrounds, so it's also a good opportunity for them to experience a different way of life.

" We can offer practical skills that will help people get employment. We've been supported by the local communities and the farmers...they've adapted to whoever we have sent to the farms."

John and Ann Rees are farmers that have been involved in Trevor's project. They've had people on their farm to help with their free range egg business. John and Ann have had to be patient and learn how to cope with a wide variety of people, from those who come from abusive families to recovering drug addicts, but they said it's all been worth it.

" You can see their confidence building. One lad we had couldn't even look you in the eye when he first came, but gradually his social skills improved. If farmers have the time, they should think about getting involved."

Work On Farms by bribriwilliams

The benefits of social enterprises are plain to see and after visiting a group of young farmers it seems they are keen to build on their business skills. Farming is evolving and the next generation of farmers will have to adapt to consumer demands and be able to manage their farm efficiently. Farming technology is always improving so young farmers need to be computer literate and have all the other expected skills of a farmer.

The average age of a farmer in Wales is over 50, so maybe Nia's vision of turning the Young Farmers Clubs into businesses, is a way of encouraging and nurturing an entrepreneurial change in farming. Maybe Rhys can inspire other young farmers to push themselves to their creative limits. Wales will be watching to see if this young farmer has got what it takes.

Monday, 17 May 2010

David Cameron Hits Cardiff

Cardiff Bay had a magical glow about it as the sun glided through the glass front of the Senedd.
David Cameron arrived to supporters from the public, Lib Dem's and the Tory's. There weren't too many boo's and hisses from the crowd as the Prime Minister met employees and fellow politicains.

Prime Minister by bribriwilliams

David Cameron described the UK as a family made up of England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. And like all families they would disagree and fall out over money.
The Prime Minster clearly had a soar throat from all the speeches he's been making. But he was focused and calm as he delivered his speech. The general view was that The Welsh Assembly Government and Westminster would have a better relationship from now, whether this will happen only time will tell.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Welsh Cider

I'm not much of a cider drinker but the sunshine, fresh air and willingness to try new things has caught up with me. Usually what springs to mind when you mention cider is Somerset, The Wurzels or teenage binge drinking. But not in Wales. Recently I've visited two artisan cider makers in South Wales and I've tasted some of their delights.

First stop Gwynt y Ddraig Cider, one of Wales' biggest cider producers. It's not hard to see why they are one of the biggest producers as they have a wide range of ciders for all types of cider drinker. Run by Bill George and Andrew Gronow, the family cider farm started out as a hobby which grew into a full strength business. As well as stocking supermarkets and pubs they also host a cider festival with music and madness to draw in the crowds.

My personal favourite was the Autumn Magic cider. A light cider with a refreshing fruity taste, a bit girly but I loved it! And on the subject of girly cider the next farmhouse cider maker I visited was Jessica Deathe, a sheep farmer in South Wales. Jessica's cider is only available on draught or from good old farmers markets and trade fairs. Three Saints Cider is the name she sells her cider and perry under. It's a small business that Jessica runs by herself. She began making cider because of the ancient orchards she had on her land. Now if you give her some apples she make your cider for you! Three Saints Cider and Perry has a cider for all occasions, from A bit of Rough to the award winning sweet perry Laughing Juice.

These cottage industries have tickled my taste buds and refreshed my view of cider. The beverages are for the cider connoisseur, medium, dry, sweet or sparkling take your pick.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Rambling for Everyone

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile pathway between Eastbourne and Winchester. The route takes you on a journey from Beachy Head where you can look over the white cliffs and ends in the historic city of Winchester.

The national trail hosts many interesting and intriguing sites along the way. From the Jack and Jill windmills to the mysterious Chanctonbury Ring. But I just walked the first part of the trail along the coast near Beachy Head and finishing up at Birling Gap but it wasn't just any old ramble.
Radio 4 were recording their Saturday morning show Ramblings hosted by Clare Baldwin. To show us the way was South Downs Way National Trail Officer Andy Gattiker and we were joined by several members of the Disabled Ramblers.

Rosie Norris, Secretary of the Disabled Ramblers Association, joined nearly fifteen years ago and users a hardy mobility scooter called a Tramper to get out and about on countryside walks.
Rosie was accompanied by David Livermore, Dorothy and Bob Matthews all of which have disabilities meaning they can't go out hiking at the drop of a hat but have to plan, plan and plan to go out and enjoy the countryside. Whilst chatting to my fellow ramblers it became apparent how much of the countryside disabled ramblers can't access. I guess I don't really think when I go over a stile or through a kissing gate, it's just a transition that gets me to another part of my journey. But for disabled ramblers they are a boundaries, stop signs and no go areas. Rosie was telling me that to get out into the country someone usually has to go out and walk the route to check that there aren't any obstacles along the way and there is good access up and down the route. Something that I wouldn't have to consider if I wanted to go on a walk on the spur of the moment.
Our route along Beachy Head was wonderful. The sun was alert in the sky and the breeze was fresh as the sea air floated by. Looking out over the ocean, you couldn't have added anything to make it the perfect day. I enjoy the escapism and the peaceful calm that the countryside brings and now after spending the day with the disabled ramblers I appreciate it even more.

What was brilliant about Rosie, Bob, Dorothy and David is that they were keen for more to be done when it comes to disabled country access. They all are great campaigners for their rights to be able to enjoy the country they live in. Bob likes going out on his own to explore new areas and even got himself out of two snow drifts over Christmas. When he started going out with the disabled ramblers about 4 years ago he felt liberated by the new found freedom the group offered. David is taking a rambling group away to the Isle of White this year. Opening up another part of the country to those who once thought it was not possible. David even attends access forums to discuss countrywide access.

"Persuasion and education is the way to make landowners change their minds."

Even along the route we took there was still some unexpected terrain that caused problems.

The rambling experience not only opened up a part of the country I'd never visited but also showed me the struggle that many have enjoying our wonderful country.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Farming Today: This Week

Farming is a changeable business. Adapting to consumer demands and predicting future markets is never an easy task. To coin a phrase ‘farming aint what it used to be’.
Many farmers have to diversify, expanding their farm business in order to break even or hopefully make a profit. Some choose a more traditional diversification, bottling their own milk or selling ice cream. Others cash in on Farm Tourism.

All this week I’ve been lucky enough to help Radio 4’s Farming Today and the hot topic of the week has been Farm Tourism. Along with Producer Martin Poyntz-Roberts, Presenter Charlotte Smith and Select Committee Media Officer for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hannah Pearce, I visited a farm in Leicestershire to see how they have utilised their farm.

Tourism has become extremely important to the Rural Economy, providing 400,000 jobs and worth 15 billion pounds a year. Jasper and Mary Hart have a selection of self-catering chalets and a campsite to bring in a regular income. There is a beautiful fishing lake and stunning views. But if it’s not peace and tranquillity you’re after do not worry. The other half of the farm is now and off road adventure playground. Quad bikes, 4x4’s and buggies are just some of the vehicles you can jump on and try your hardest at driving round the tough terrain track. Avalanche Adventure even provides clay pigeon shooting, archery and much more. So if you want a ‘staycation’ more than a vacation maybe you should have a browse at a potential Farm Stay.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Hidden in the Brecon Beacons

The Brecon Beacons is a great place for walking, hiking, picnicking and taking in the wonderful country that is Wales. One thing I didn’t expect is a master class in rural skills, a very different kind of rural skill to what I was predicting.

No dry stone walling in sight but beautiful glass ornaments, hand crafted bags, timber bird tables and a selection of local jams and honey.

The Brecon Beacons National Park visitors centre was host to a Rural Crafts weekend. I’d only ever been to the centre as a stop off point on a Sunday ramble. A quick cup of tea in the café before heading further into the hills. But not this time.

There was a white tent on the green outside the centre with a sign "Rural Crafts This Way"-so I went in. Being a bit of a magpie I went straight over to a table that glistened in the distance and low and behold, Ten Green Bottles.

Not only does the company create lovely glass items they work with people from local communities sharing skills and boosting confidence .

Ten Green Bottles by bribriwilliams

Not only does the company create lovely glass items they work with people from local communities sharing skills and boosting confidence . Another way of getting people back into work and providing qualifications. Rural Wales has seen the solution and not the problem.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Ramblers: 75th Anniversary

It’s the 75th Anniversary of the Ramblers organisation and to celebrate there are a series of baton walks. From Scotland to the South of England Rambling groups across the country will take on the baton.

I joined the Merthyr Valley Ramblers on their baton walk. We all met at Cardiff train station and set off along the Taff Trail. It was a gentle walk from the centre of Cardiff to Taffs Well. Along the way we walked through bird reserves, cathedrals and several weirs. I’d never been out with the Merthyr Ramblers but they were a really friendly group. Even Ollie the dog was charming and welcoming.

We stopped at Llandaff Cathedral to take out the anniversary baton and have a photo.

The group were slightly disappointed with the blow up baton and indeed so was I. For such a landmark year for the Ramblers the baton was slightly deflating. I love the idea of the baton walks but maybe it could have been executed slightly better. Maybe a metal baton that acted like a time capsule so we could put all the pictures from our walk in? Just an idea!

Aside from the lack of glamour of the baton the walk was a great success. A Saturday stroll that was perfect. A gloomy and drizzly Welsh day but smiles and sandwiches brightened the day.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Spring Time Lamb Time

Today is officially the first day of spring here in the UK. Even though it’s been a harsh winter and we haven’t seen the daffodils or the snowdrops blossom quite like they should have done, one thing about this time of year hasn’t changed.

Lambing. It’s the time of year that sheep farmers are ready on call at all hours of the day and night to aid any ewes that need assistance giving birth.

I visited a farm in the Rhondda Valley that is home to over 500 sheep. Caerlan Farm is a family run holding and I spent the day with father and daughter, Geoff and Rachel Thomas to find out more about lambing.

It was great to get out and about and get a feel for what farmers go through around this time. Not that I'm an expert already but I did learn a lot more about not just the highlights of lambing but some of the more trying moments for sheep farmers.

The lambing cycle begins in autumn when the lambs are served. The gestation period for ewes is about 5 months, so as days get brighter lambing season gets nearer. Sheep could have one lamb, twins or even three. The bond between ewe and lamb is not quite as straightforward as you might think.

Lambing Feature by bribriwilliams

I feel very lucky to have had the chance to see how Welsh farmers tend their flocks, I've had my taster of lambing live!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Artes Mundi

The National Museum in Cardiff plays host to work from 8 artists all over the world.
A £40,000 prize is up for grabs in one of the biggest arts competitions to be held in the U.K. Artes Mundi has arrived.

The 8 finalists are Adrian Paci, Fernando Bryce, Ergin Cavusoglu, Olga Chernysheva, Chen Chien-jen, Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev and Yael Bartana. The winner will be announced on May 19th, so watch this contemporary arts space.

When you walk through the door of the exhibition it’s bright, airy and seemingly normal.
But do not be fooled into this false sense of security, as Artes Mundi is anything but normal. The work that greets you is that of Fernando Bryce. A compelling collection of ink print pictures that are hung on three walls. Bryce uses the theme of print media and how it depicts and moulds society. By using this simple style and bold images his work becomes extremely emotive. The sheer number of pictures that are hung so tightly on the wall suggests the strong influence the media has. I particularly liked his work because on face value it’s extremely subtle but his message is powerful.

After this interesting introduction into contemporary art, Artes Mudi becomes a cavern of cinema and pictures. Walking through the many chambers becomes somewhat maze like. You never know what surprise you are going to get around each corner.

The other work that really caught my eye is that of Gulnari Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev. As well as a short film they pair produced some brilliant artwork. The bold use of colour and simple designs captured my curiosity as I found myself gazing at the prints for a long time. By describing the art as ‘simple’ I do not want to imply that the images were primitive because they certainly weren’t. There was a lot going on in all of the pictures, lots to catch your eye, the design is simple but the content complex, contemporary art at it’s finest.

So some advice, go and have a look for yourself. Not only is it showcasing international talent, it’s providing inspiration for Welsh Artists. Coming soon I’ll have the thoughts of one that I met at the opening.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Dairy Industry: What's the future?

In January 2010 there were 2,034 dairy producers in Wales but over the past year Welsh dairy numbers have fallen by 3.2 per cent.Milk production is falling, threatening the long-term security of fresh milk supply from this country. So what is the future of the dairy industry? Planning has been put forward for an 8000 dairy in dairy in Lincolnshire which would be Britain's biggest dairy. The word 'intensive' springs to mind which is always thought to be a bad thing in farming. But do dairy farmers have a choice? Farmers cannot predict consumer demands and trends but have to make a living. Producing more milk would ensure more income which in any other industry would be seen as a good thing, but in farming it's not that straight forward. Consumers can be troubled by animal welfare, organic farming and may be caught up in the idealistic view of farming but these views aren't necessarily reflected in consumer habits. Shoppers may continue to buy the cheapest product on the shelf which may not come from the type of farm that they would like but on the shelf, only the price is compared.

Every week five Dairy Farmers in Wales go out of business. Falling milk prices, Bovine TB and the collapse of Dairy Farmers of Britain, meant that last year, nine hundred dairy farmers in Britain, left milk production. But some Welsh farms are surviving, by changing the way they sell their milk.

Elfyn Davies is runs SanCler Organic cheese and sells around 400 pots of organic smooth cheese a week. They come in different flavours,natural, basil and garlic, chives and dill and mint. Elfyn is currently working on a new cheese that's mixed with a fragrant marmalade, perfect on your toast in the morning. Elfyn can make 2 pots of cheese from 1 litre of milk, which is more cost effective. Any surplus milk goes to an organic milk co-op. So to compare what Elfyn would get for his milk if it sold it as straight liquid raw milk to what he makes now, he would get about 26 pence per litre from just selling milk but he makes £1.20 a litre by turning his milk into cheese. Elfyn told me that he would never go back to selling just milk. As a cheese producer he can dictate the price that he sells for and is more in control of his business. Something that he wouldn't have if he just stuck to milk production.

In Wales income from the farm business has fallen by 10.9 per cent over the last year. Farmers have to start thinking outside the box and adapting their business. One dairy farm near Bridgend has started bottling their own milk to cope with the ever changing dairy industry. By having control of all aspects of their business they are able to make a profit and invest in the future. Ty Tanglwyst farm is run by John Lougher and son Rhys Lougher and they have a small herd of Holstein cows. They managed to get a grant from the Welsh Assembly to develop their dairy farm which has enabled them to grow their business. Other farms aren't so lucky.
So what is the future? That is the million dollar question that I cannot answer and I doubt anyone can. Answers on a postcard please!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Cardiff: My Musical Journey

Cardiff has recently been listed as the second most musical city in the UK by the Performing Rights Society (PRS). Data was collected that showed which cities had created most muscians in relation to the overall population. Cardiff was topped the city across the channel, Bristol.

Having recently moved from Bristol to Cardiff I often find myself comparing the two, it's only natural. Also having played in bands and worked in the music industry, I find it fascinating how different the Cardiff music scene is to that of Bristol, or may be it's because I don't know where to find it in Cardiff.

So I went on a musical adventure which started at The Globe. This troubled venue has a lot to offer. The Globe has had complaints about the noise and had to try and raise £25, 000 to pay for sound proofing the bar. It's also had live music licencing issues, but I didn't have an issues about the night I had at The Globe. The bands, Dr Meaker from my lovely Bristol and The Word Virus Essay.

Night at The Globe by bribriwilliams

I was impressed. The Word Virus Essay eased us into a soulful music medley whilst Dr Meaker pumped the room full of movement and hiphop beats. Two contrasting flavours which complimented each other perfectly. The music night was hosted by The Minature Music Press which claims to be "the definitive guide to live music in Cardiff ". If my night at The Globe is anything to go by then I would say they've achieved their goal.

Next on the music trail was a micro festival held by the Artisan Brewing Company.

Micro Beer festival by bribriwilliams

The festival provided a taster of Cardiff nightlife, full of melody, mischief and madness. Strangely it was all finished by 9pm as the venue is slap bang in the middle of suburbia. Simon Doherty founder and head brewer at Artisan Brewing Company, provided the fragrant drinks and bands such as The Method simmered in the background.

All in a all a brilliant evening, one that I'm looking forward to again...but in the mean time? Maybe I'll check out the Open Mic night at North Star to see what new talent Cardiff has to offer.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Making a Mark: Women, the Media and Politics

What? IWA conference addressing questions of how fairly women are treated by the media

Where? St Peter's Church Hall, Cardiff

International Women's Day has long celebrated the role of women in society and how it has changed.

As part of this festival of the female the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) decided to bring a host of Wales' most influential women together to openly debate the role of women in the media and politics.

I W A feature by bribriwilliams

Beti George, BBC TV and Radio presenter opened the show with tales of her early work as a reporter.

Collecting vox pops on “vital issues such as, how do you stop your sleeping partner from snoring?”

There was laughter but this introduction set the debate on the role of women in the media. Either working in it or how they are depicted in it.

The conference had an impressive list of speakers ranging from University Professors, Industry Experts to Politicians.

The discussion on women in politics began with Dr Paul Chaney, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, and Professor Laura McAllister, School of Management, University of Liverpool. Laura has recently been appointed Chair of the Sports Council for Wales.

Some shocking statistics were revealed. In Wales only one quarter of local councillors are women. Laura believes that the media should help “construct new definitions of what a good politician is” as most of the time women are judged on their appearance and age. It is not embedded into our democracy to have gender balance in politics. Paul Chaney spoke of the importance of females in policy and law making. He showed us tables and graphs that displayed that women are more likely to raise issues about policies that they believed in and drive debates.

Up next to discuss Women in Welsh Media were Dr Cynthia Carter, Cardiff School of Journalism and Elin Wyn, Media Consultant.

They pointed out that women are outnumbered two to one on television by men. In recent media job cuts women are being hit harder than men are. Because of the constant need for content, many media employees end up doing the work of numerous people because of the cuts in media funding.

Elin highlighted the fact that working the media industry is unpredictable. As a news reporter you could be following any story which may take you anywhere in the country. Fitting that around a 9-5 timetable isn’t possible. Women find it harder than men to put off having a ‘media shelf-life’. There is a gap in representation in women over 35 in the media because it is thought that once you take a break to have children you never get back in. It was an important issue to raise. What was evident is the amount of support that women can offer each other. Maybe more could be done to put women in contact with others that have already been through the demanding work life that they are about to go into.

The topic then moved onto how women are never called upon as experts in the media. It always seems to be male professionals that are quoted rather than females. A better relationship was called for between journalists and non journalists. It’s not just about making yourself known to a journalist but being proactive and listening out for topics of discussion where you may be the right person to talk to about it.

Often regarding science based subjects women are always expected to turn something dull into an alluring fact.

“Women are expected to make science sexy and accessible.”

Professor Jenny Kitzinger, Cardiff School of Journalism, has found in her research that 5 males get quoted for every 1 female scientist in the media. She drew our attention to the fact that when male scientists are described they are portrayed as “stereotypical geeks” the young whizz kid and the eccentric professor. But often women in science get measured against ideals of femininity and enthusiasm is interpreted as “girlish flirtation”. It is tough to find the right balance of being a good speaker or someone that can be used by the media industry and acquiring the respect of the media and the audience. Being an expert who can explain jargon but without being to ‘down with the kids’. Maybe this all comes down to confidence and the way we perceive ourselves. If we looked at ourselves differently then maybe we could somehow shape the way people view us.

Well this certainly was the theory of the next guest at the IWA conference. Women Making a Difference was the title of the workshop lead by Kate Thomas. At first I thought it was quite odd that we were told we had to write down ‘things we liked about ourselves’ and the things we ‘most value’ about our character. But there was method in the madness. Kate’s presentation was based on an idea that by focusing on the positive aspects of our personality we can change certain characteristics about ourselves. To demonstrate this we all had a balloon we had to blow up steadily every time we told a different person something we liked about ourselves.

The balloon represented our “core beliefs”. If the life we live is centred around positive core beliefs then we are more likely to be confident and happy with ourselves. Kate gave us statements to finish writing, as well as questions to answer. My favourite statement was:

“I may not be perfect, but I’m proud of myself because…”

The media presents so many ideal women who are seen to be perfect and can do everything but of course this just isn’t the case. But this doesn’t mean the pressure to be perfect goes away. But this statement really struck a chord as we all have elements of our lives we can be proud of and it’s these moments we should be focusing on rather than the negative elements. Remembering the things we’ve done, not the things we haven’t.

And next to speak were women that have definitely made their mark in society.

Julie Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff North, Kirsty Williams, Liberal Democrat AM for Brecon and Radnor, Karen Robson, Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Cardiff Central and Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales Central. All began by giving an introduction of their route in to politics and the way they are represented in the media.

I found it highly amusing that Julie Morgan often referred to Westminster as “the old boys club”. They all spoke of how they found it hard to be quoted about the policies that they are backing. Kirsty remarked on how the media in Wales always pick up on the clothes she’s wearing rather than the campaigns she creates. One newspaper described her as being “dressed as an air hostess”. Surely the newspapers should be writing about her political views rather than her dress code.

Leanne suggested that the bad press they receive as female politicians was “chiefly about attitudes of the gender roles in society.” Even though we live in a modern society that has reached gender equality we still cannot shake off the stereotypes of yesteryear that dictate how women are perceived.

Karen mentioned that she held a workshop for young people and how to become involved in politics. She described how one girl had told her she was put off by politics because of “the way women are portrayed.” It becomes slightly scary that our nation could be losing a whole generation of intelligent, charismatic politicians because of how the media depict the present ones. Karen also set the notion that women “aren’t always as supportive as we could be…as a sisterhood we need to step back.” This remark somewhat typifies what the IWA set out to achieve with this conference.

The audience was filled with strong women. If we all pull together and help each other, then we can only improve. It was a great feeling to be amongst pro active women who cared about their role in society. The event brought together like minded females who can unite and grow. Kirsty Williams emphasised that if you weren’t willing to fight for something, who will?

The penultimate chapter of the conference was handed over to working journalists. Led by Lynne Walsh and joining her were Martin Shipton, Western Mail,Betsan Powys, BBC Wales Political Editor, Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards Trust.

A lot of the talk was about the future of journalism. 24hour news maybe have resulted in the decline of article accuracy as journalists now have to produce more content than ever before. The time constraints mean that journalists don’t have as much time to source new contacts and check that they are suitable for broadcast. But Betsan Powys made it clear that experts were picked not because they were male or female but because they were the best for the news story.

Martin Shipton addressed the issue that there always has to be a balance of what is published in newspapers and what sells them. Advertising and marketing revenue has fallen so newspapers are coping with less staff but still have to produce a profitable product.

So what’s the way forward?

As the conference drew to a close the last discussion was about what the future will hold for women, politics and the media and whether we can shape it.

The general feeling was that whatever the path is women have to walk it together. The media industry recognising that they can change they way in which women are represented, politicians understating what journalists need and more support amongst female professional. All of these are advantageous suggestions to how women can build a better future for generations to come.