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Regional Blogs, Royal Wedding

Royalty, vertigo and very good food

VERTIGO (and the art of not looking down)

It’s strange how your heart can leap and fall all at the same time.

No, it isn’t love, or a tax rebate.

On Thursday the very cheerful people who run the engine room of ITV Wales News, the Forward Planning Department, told me – ‘Rob, we’d like you to go and do this story on Britannia Bridge’. Which is both a good thing: because it’s a wonderful place, and a bad thing – because I get vertigo. And bridges usually mean vertigo.

To anyone who isn’t touched by the demon trouble, vertigo isn’t exactly just a fear of heights – that’s perfectly natural – it also includes a bizarre desire to wander close to the edge of a height and a lemming like urge to see what would happen if you fell off that edge. Which isn’t something I decided to mention at the health and safety briefing before we wandered over the railway part of the bridge.

Anyway – the story is that Network Rail are spending four million pounds carrying out work on the bridge: it’s taken three years to plan. It only took four years to build the entire bridge in the first place, but that was back in 1850, before the idea of health and safety being a good thing and child labour being a bad thing caught on.

So full of trembling, we went up the stairs on to the workers’ walkway: and the first thing we see is one of Robert Stephenson’s beautiful stone lions, four of which guard each end of the bridge with its lips graiffit’d in with lipstick. It’s one way of welcoming people to Anglesey. And then – a hundred feet up – it was all completely safe.

No chances for vertigo whatsoever. Just a thin strip of blue to tell you that, past the safe bit, the Menai Straits were there. I don’t know why I feel disappointed not to have been scared out of my wits, but I was.

PUTTING UP A MARQUEE IN A GALE

Last week wasn’t ideal for marquee erection, but being the week when Prince William and Catherine Middleton made their first public engagement, it had to be done.

Treaddur Bay was transformed by film crews into an international media event: I met Canadian cameramen in the local pub, a Japanese photographer by the Spar, and Ben Fogle who was filming for NBC, to show America what Anglesey is all about.

But the most fun was – royal watchers, skip this bit, because I don’t really have any great revelations and if I made them up it could border on the libellous – actually wandering onto the lifeboat Prince William (and Catherine Middleton) were going to name.

It’s about thirty feet long, and wonderful. In the shelter of the RNLI’s station there, it looked like a gigantic boy’s toy – wander out into the bay itself, look at the white horses on the coast, and you realise that this thing is going to get quite some use.

We have some of the busiest sea lanes in Britain: and when it all goes wrong, a score of bleepers go off and a solicitor, a policeman, Richard the ambulanceman who showed me round et cetera all turn out and try and make things sane: imagine trying to save crew from a coaster in a force nine, working from a platform often far smaller than the ship they’re trying to save. And not being paid for it. That’s basically what the RNLI are all about.

THE FINE ART OF NOT MAKING YOUR STOMACH RUMBLE IN PUBLIC

Food is an art. Being a chef is an art. Having watched it for myself, winning the young Welsh chef of the year contest, held in Rhos on Sea last week, is definitely also an art.

Spending two or three hours watching people pipe fondant, blowtorch crème caramels, braise lamb until its perfect is great fun, if you get to eat it all at the end.

If you don’t, and you’re hungry, it’s a suburb of Hell: watching people come out with ever more inventive things to do with food and only being an onlooker – not recommended.

My cameraman Gerallt and I spent hours trying to stop our tummies performing the 1812 overture. ITV and the BBC (both very hungry by around noon, with not even a Bath biscuit in sight to stave off the pangs) plotted briefly on some sort of distraction which meant we could whip at least one plateful.

In the end, we decided to suffer for our art: it was proof though of the Italian saying that you eat first with your eyes. Which probably sounds a little less graphic in Italian, but you know what I mean…..

AND FINALLY, THE TWITTERING OF THE ROBINS AND THE ROARING OF THE DRAGONS

Come on you reds. Or Dragons. I haven’t actually forgiven Wrexham FC for not being the Robins any more, or for (at one point a few years ago) swapping the slightly wonky and endearing version of Men of Harlech that they used to run out onto the pitch for with something much blander.

Right now, there’s a fight going on for the future of Wrexham FC. Just as they’re nicely placed to try and leap from the play offs back into the Football League, where a town as big as Wrexham should be, off the pitch an awful lot is happening.

On which I can shed no light, apart from a wonderful article Patrick Barclay wrote about his love for football in Dundee earlier this week in The Times. Football is obviously all about winning, losing, relegation, the occasional promotion, travelling hundreds of miles to see your lot put in the most woeful performance ever, disappointment and irrational love. In short, it’s a relationship: but you pledge yourself to 11 men wearing white football boots instead of your significant other.

But – he wrote – if you give that love to an Arsenal or a Manchester United – you’re unlikely to hit the disappointment side of things. Relegation: forget about it. Bad matches – they happen, but there’s another Champions League game just round the corner.

With Wrexham – as with any other club that’s not likely to face Barcelona on a Wednesday night – there is the unexpected moment of beauty. A well taken corner. Mickey Thomas’ free kicks. Something to stir the adrenalin and wake up the soul, and not make you mind in the slightest that you’ve paid eighteen pounds to get in to see it in the first place.

They don’t happen often: that’s why football’s like opera – one great aria can make the past two hours of boredom worth it. One great turn and shot can erase the memories of ten lousy games.

So whatever happens – whoever wins the fight for the heart and soul and business future of Wrexham FC; come on, you reds…..I may even pay my eighteen pounds to watch Forest Green Rovers this Saturday, once I’ve worked out where Forest Green actually is……

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