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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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Minister opens film premiere for port stories

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WALES’ Arts and Sports Deputy Minister has launched a new film charting the histories and life of five port towns in Wales and Ireland.

Premiered at Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth, the series of eight short documentary films and one feature-length film, At the Water’s Edge: Stories of the Irish Sea, aim to promote the ports of Fishguard, Holyhead and Pembroke Dock in Wales, and Dublin Port and Rosslare Harbour in Ireland, as well as the three ferry routes connecting them.

The films were produced as part of Ports, Past and Present, a project which explores the history and cultural heritage of the ports, showcasing stunning views of the landscapes and wildlife of the Irish Sea coast and revealing the human histories of the port communities.

In Fishguard, residents Gary Jones and Jana Davidson talk of invasions by pirates and French armies, while Hedydd Hughes explains how she teaches children about local legends. In Rosslare Harbour, the Todd family from Fishguard meet their Irish in-laws, the Fergusons.

Local historian David James shares the extraordinary story of how the son of a Japanese samurai came to plant a ginkgo tree in Pembroke Dock, and local councillor Josh Beynon explores the secret location where the Millennium Falcon was built for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. 

In Dublin and Holyhead, poetry by Gillian Brownson and Gary Brown celebrates the centuries old link of their ports. Historian Gareth Huws explains how traces of Bronze Age settlements can still be seen in the Ynys Môn town.

Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden MS, who came to the premiere, said:

“Through showcasing the rich and diverse cultural history of our ports, bringing life and colour through visual arts, literature and film, the Ports, Past and Present project will not only enhance the experience of visitors of all ages and interests, but also encourage more time and money spent in these communities.

“Engaging with local communities and increasing the awareness of port heritage through panel discussions, creative workshops and talks – is an excellent opportunity to gain the support of local residents ensuring there is a careful balance which works for the local communities as well as visitors from across the Irish Sea and beyond.

“I’m delighted to launch the film which will showcase and celebrate the best each community has to offer to prospective visitors and users of the ferry ports, but also capture the multilingual and multicultural nature of the ports and their surrounding areas.”

Professor Peter Merriman, project team leader at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Geography and Earth Sciences said:

“We are delighted that the Minister has officially launched our films, which portray the rich cultural and natural heritage of these Irish and Welsh port towns. They are the result of almost three years of work by the project team and our production partners Mother Goose films, and we hope that they will inspire visitors to spend more time in the ports as they pass through them.”

The films form part of a wider tourism campaign to raise awareness of the rich coastal and maritime heritage of the five selected ports and their communities.

Project leader Professor Claire Connolly from University College Cork said: “It’s a joy to see so many images and stories from Rosslare, Dublin, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock on screen. The lives and cultures of the port towns come to life in the films and together they offer an extended invitation to stop and stay in these storied places.”

Ceredigion Museum is also hosting a travelling art exhibition looking at the rich coastal history and heritage of the port communities.

Over the coming months, the films will have free screenings around Wales and Ireland, and will then be released generally so that the local communities can promote their own areas.

Ports, Past and Present is funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Ireland Wales Co-operation Programme, and operates across four institutions in Ireland and Wales, including University College Cork, Aberystwyth University, the University of Wales Trinity St David and Wexford County Council. The film has been led by a team in the Department for Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University.

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Aberystwyth Town to welcome Knife Angel sculpture

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A HUGE 27-foot sculpture, made from 100,000 confiscated knives, is to be welcomed to Aberystwyth town next month (1 June) as local community groups prepare to come together to promote key prevention, anti-violence and anti-aggression messages.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn, working alongside Dyfed-Powys Police, Aberystwyth Town Council and Ceredigion County Council is bringing the Knife Angel to Llys y Brenin square, Aberystwyth, where it will stand for four weeks as a physical reminder of the effects of violence and aggression.

The iconic sculpture – commissioned by the British Ironwork Centre in Oswestry, Shropshire and created by artist Alfie Bradley – will be on display in the town until 29 June 2022.

This will be the second time that Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn has bought the Knife Angel to the Dyfed Powys Police Force area, with it’s first visit being in Newtown, Powys in January 2020.  Mr Llywelyn has been keen to bring the Knife Angel back to the Force area since then, so that other communities can get involved in the key messages.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said; “The Knife Angel is a reminder of the devastating impact of knife crime, and any form of violence and aggression has on families and communities.

“Whilst there has been a 105% increase in knife crime in Wales over the last decade, rest assured that the Knife Angel has not been brought to Aberystwyth because of any major problem with this kind of crime in the area.

“However, we do acknowledge, that knife crimes have taken place here within the last year. Although a proportion of these were domestic, not street based, it is worrying that a small number of these involved suspects under the age of 18. I am pleased to see however that the Police and partners have come together over the last 6-months to put interventions in place to divert children from knife crime.

“Prevention of crime and diversion away from crime is essential. We hope that the Knife Angel will greatly assist us in raising critical awareness of knife crime whilst creating a widespread intolerance to violent behaviour within our communities.”

Inspector Andy Williams of Dyfed-Powys Police said: “While Dyfed-Powys Police is one of the safest places to live and work in the country, we still see the devastating effect knife crime has on our communities.

“In July last year we had a murder in Ceredigion involving a knife, when John Bell died after being stabbed in Cardigan.

“That case showed the devastation knives can have, with the loss of a life and the impact that has on Mr Bell’s loved ones, withs the man responsible rightly being sentenced to life in prison.

“The Knife Angel is a very dramatic and powerful sculpture that aims to inspire people not to turn to knife crime or even to carry a knife for protection.

“I would urge anyone to go and see it. Take your children and make a day of it to take in this poignant reminder of the dangers of violence and aggression, particularly when weapons are involved.”

Aberystwyth Town Mayor, Dr Talat Chaudhri, said: “We welcome the Knife Angel to Aberystwyth and stand together with towns and cities where knife crime is a bigger problem than it is here. There is no place for violence of any kind in our community.”

Children and young people from across Aberystwyth and neighbouring areas are being encouraged to get involved as well as community groups and organisations, in visiting the Knife Angel and taking part in engagement activities which focus on the key messages – the impact of violent crime, prevention, and diversion away from violence.

If you would like to find out more about how you, your community, school, college or university groups can get involved, please contact the Commissioner’s Engagement Team on OPCC.Communication@dyfed-powys.police.uk.

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Young person celebrates kickstart job and overcomes several obstacles

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22-YEAR-OLD Lee from rural Ceredigion found it challenging to secure permanent employment. Having no mode of transport as well as his diagnosis of autism and depression meant that Lee has experienced significant barriers with finding and maintaining employment. Communities For Work Plus (CFW+) provided Lee with the right tools and opportunities to find the right role for him. He now has a job at ASN Watson (Savers), with a more positive future ahead.

Lee was struggling financially with increasing debt and although he had been working in the past, the nature and environment of the work was not practical for Lee’s abilities; he was often misunderstood by employers.

After being referred to CFW+ from Job Centre Plus, Aberystwyth, Lee received support with job searches, applications, cover letters, cv writing, and interview skills. He’s now in paid employment, secured through the Kickstart Scheme. The UK Government Kickstart Scheme provides funding to employers to create jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit.

Lee said: “The project helped me a lot as I struggle to know where to start when it comes to finding jobs, but this definitely helped. Communities for Work+ has got you covered!”

Communities For Work Plus is a Welsh Government funded project, delivered by Ceredigion County Council which supports individuals in or at risk of poverty, aged 16 or over, across Ceredigion and throughout Wales. Participants may be experiencing in-work poverty, unemployment, living on minimum wage, or struggling to pay basic monthly outgoings on sporadic zero-hour contracts.

Misha Homayoun-Fekri, CFW+ Mentor said: “Lee has been a pleasure to support. He was always very responsive, and we worked together every step of the way. I am so pleased for Lee that he has found a job that he can be happy in.”

Since starting his new role, Lee has become a lot more independent, his mental health has improved, and has started to save money for the future.

Councillor Wyn Thomas, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member for Schools, Lifelong Learning and Skills, said: “One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. A report released by the Office for National Statistics shows that only 21.7% of autistic people are in employment; meaning that businesses are missing out on the opportunity to benefit from the strengths that autistic people can bring to the workplace. So, it’s great to hear that Lee has found an autism-friendly employer through the support provided by CFW+ and I encourage more employers to be more inclusive to all abilities when considering employees.”

If you think the project may be able to help you or if you would like more information, contact the team on 01545 574193 or email TCC-EST@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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