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DVLA: Licensed to drive me round the bend?

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screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-14-39-57OF LATE, this Herald reporter has been suffering from assorted driving licence complaints, very nasty at my time of life. In the English of England, by the way, licence with a ‘c’ is a noun and license with an ‘s’ is a verb. So, before learning to drive, you apply for a provisional driving licence, but the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) must license you to drive. I would have made a great English teacher, I think. But what about in the US, you ask? Don’t go there. My geography is not great. 

Now, I was very fond of my old pink driving licence, folded into its crumbling, brittle with age plastic wallet. Occasionally, I’d take it out and look at the signature of that young man, just a couple of weeks past his seventeenth birthday, who’d passed his test first time and signed on the dotted line with a shaking hand. In those days in Llandrindod there was only one roundabout and during the test we had to pretend we were approaching a set of traffic lights because there weren’t any. You did, though, have to watch out for horse drawn drays bearing loose hay. Passing my test was aided in that, for my rigorously scientific eye-test, the examiner asked me to read the registration number of my own Ford Anglia, one of only two cars parked in the street. The other, a Hillman Imp, belonged to a cousin of mine.

Anyway, move with the times, isn’t it. So at the designated moment, I relinquished Lily, the pink driving licence, and got my new modern plastic photo card. And a scrappy old piece of green paper that I had to carry around as well, the law stated.

Oh well, ours not to reason why. So I folded that scrap of green paper and carried it around in my wallet for years, though I never grew at all fond of it.

Then, a few months back, I was in the process of hiring a minibus for a trip to London to protest against Trident and I proudly produced my plastic driving licence card and unfolded the requisite piece of green paper, tattered and much the worse for wear having shared a wallet compartment with a toothpick, a self-tapping screw and a Murray Mint (‘too good to hurry’, it’d been there for years). “Oh, we don’t need that anymore,” the woman hiring out the minibus told me. Here I must avoid naming the hiring company in the interests of commercial fair play: No free advertising in the Herald! Suffice to say, it was Talybont’s largest minibus hiring venture.

“What do you mean you don’t need it?” I demanded, brandishing the tatty green shred of paper. Did this woman have any idea how difficult it had been over the years for a simple soul like me not only not to lose one thing, not only not to lose two, but to keep two things together in close proximity for times such as this?! What if the police stopped me, would I still need the green parchment then? “No,” the woman reassured me. “But your licence is almost out of date and you’ll have to get it renewed or they’ll fine you a £1000” Well, when you put it like that.

THE NEW NEW LICENSE

A couple of months after the minibus trip to London, where we had a lovely time and met some nice people but failed to stop the Westminster parliament eventually voting to renew Britain’s abominable nuclear weapons system, I remembered to check into renewing my driving licence. The main reason the DVLA stated for renewal was so that my license would bear a ‘recent and true likeness’ of me, ‘in sharp focus and clear’. When I came to fill in the form, though, I was pleased to find I could also renew my license online – without having a new photograph taken or posting anything off at all. As that saved me a trip into Aberystwyth to find one of those photo booths (do they still exist?) or someone who would snap my unsmiling visage in the back of a shop somewhere, a process that always seemed to involve an umbrella and an arc lamp, I was quite pleased.

Online, though, I was slightly mystified to find that the image on my new driving licence would be the same one as on my passport – apparently the DVLA has access to that data. All well and good, except that my passport photograph was much older, much less a true likeness and much less sharp and clear than the photo on the driving licence I already had! In fact, the photo in my passport bears a striking resemblance to a latter day Little Richard wearing a nylon stocking over his head and seen through what used to be called a peas-souper fog on a dark night. Still, if it saved me a trip into town and the price of a new photo and a postage stamp, and it kept the DVLA happy, so be it: press ‘Continue’. Pay £14 and Bob’s your uncle! (And Little Richard’s your twin brother).

INSULT TO INJURY 

In time, my new licence arrived in the post, all pink and plastic and very little different except for the murky grey Little Richard photograph on the front. But hang on, what was this across the way from the image of the aged rock and roller? A Union Jack!

But wasn’t I from Wales and living in Wales? Hadn’t we had devolution for longer even than I’d held on to the green half of my old driving licence? Wasn’t the DVLA in Swansea? This didn’t seem right at all. But what was to be done?

ENTER THE DRAGON! 

Unbeknownst to me, the UK Government had decided back in 2014 that the Union Jack would appear on all new drivers licences in England, Wales and Scotland (good luck with that up there, by the way!). So, this wasn’t some post-Brexit triumphalism on behalf of the DVLA then, as I’d initially suspected. In January this year, a well-known publishing company in Wales decided to physically challenge the Government’s decision by producing Red Dragon stickers to cover up the Union Jack. This news had completely passed me by until my mate Ben tuned me. He’s very good with IT and confused senior citizens. Coincidentally, the publishing company in question is to be found just a few yard down the road from Talybont’s largest minibus hiring venture. This little town is clearly a big player. Fflur Arwel, Y Lolfa’s head of marketing, told me: “We decided to produce these stickers with the aim of giving people the choice. We believe it is completely unfair that Britishness is being imposed upon us in this way. People are not given the choice to declare their nationality nor show that they are proud to be Welsh.”

One of Y Lolfa’s customers, Meurig Parri, wrote to the DVLA after he received his licence, complaining that: “My new licence arrived with the Union Jack on it. I am Welsh, and the flag of my nation is the Red Dragon, not the Union Jack. This is a purely political move, by using a document that should be completely apolitical.” The DVLA responded, explaining that the decision taken by the Westminster government to include the Union Jack on driving licences was ‘to strengthen national unity’.

Meurig Parri was not happy with the explanation, however: “My nation is Wales. If I have any feeling of ‘national unity’, it will be towards Wales – not Great Britain!”

Well, I’m with Meurig on this one; if I have any feelings of national unity… But what happens if I cover the Union Jack with Y Ddraig Goch and the police stop me?

Speaking about the legality of using the stickers, Y Lolfa told me: “The stickers do not change, damage or impact any information presented on the licence – they only cover the Union Jack. The licence remains valid even with the stickers.” However, the DVLA does warn drivers not to change their licences as this could lead to difficulties with ‘the authorities’. Back in January, though, a spokesman for the DVLA declined to comment on whether sticking Y Ddraig Goch over the Union Jack would invalidate the licence.

FLYING OFF THE SHELVES

Now, I’m widely known as an obedient citizen who is respectful of authority, so what was I to do? I’m no hero, no Gwynfor Evans, I don’t want any trouble. But the matter was taken out my hands – literally – when some unknown entity spirited my licence away from me and just did the dreaded deed. I expect MI5, MI6 or the Household Cavalry to break down my door at any moment. It’s the tower for me, sure as eggs, and throw away the key! Luckily, I probably won’t be alone. A photograph on this page shows Haverfordwest-born actor and Super Furry Animal Rhys Ifans obviously celebrating that he now only needs to carry one driving licence. And look, the phantom dragon sticker has got to his licence too!

Since their release, Y Lolfa publishers and printers have sold more than 5,000 packs of stickers. So, are they flying off the shelves? Fflur Arwel again: “We received a very positive response to our campaign since its launch and the stickers have been in great demand. People clearly feel very strongly about this and do not feel represented by the Union Flag – nor that their Welsh nationality is being respected. The people of Wales have chosen their own flag over the Union flag.” Sticeri Draig Goch can be purchased direct from Y Lolfa (www.ylolfa.com) or ‘from all good bookshops’, although actually in Aberystwyth I could only find them in Siop y Pethe.

A pack of six red dragon stickers costs just £2.

Anyone who buys a pack of red dragon stickers only for one to ghost its way onto their driving licence will be left with five stickers (I would have made a great Maths teacher too). Can Herald readers perhaps suggest creative ways of using these spare stickers? Finally, as I look at my newly beautified driving licence, which I am already very fond of, I feel a chill pass over me as I spot trouble ahead. No, not the Household Cavalry this time. Hovering above Little Richard’s fuzzy head is another flag. It is the flag of Europe, ‘a circle of 12 golden stars on an azure background’.

Right in the middle of the circle of golden stars, starkly printed in middle- England Brexit white, is ‘UK’. When the UK follows through on its vote to leave the EU, I’m guessing our driving licences will have to change again. Best to hold onto one or two of those red dragon stickers, then, fellow rock and rollers.

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Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian

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NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.

The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.

High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).

NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.

24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.

NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.

Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.

“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.

“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”

Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.

Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.

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​Major bequests for Aber research ​

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TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.

The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.

Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.

The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.

The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.

“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”

The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”

Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.

The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.

“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”

In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.

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Driving Wales to international skills success

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AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.

The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.

Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.

This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.

Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.

Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.

Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.

“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”

In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.

“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.

“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”

Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.

“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”

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