Thursday, 12 December 2013

Fed up with idiots slagging off the Rhondda

Why are outsiders so contemptuous of the Rhondda? Why do they think nothing good deserves to happen here?

I remember during the fabulous last night of the June Tabor/Oysterband tour hearing some woman sniffily comment in the queue for the Ladies, "Why on earth did they choose this place for the last night?" Well, why not? The Park and Dare is a beautiful little theatre. Anyway, what's wrong in having big city dwellers forced to travel to an event for a change!

Likewise, when I searched for reviews of Tonypandemonium, recently put on at the Park and Dare by the National Theatre of Wales, I found the following written by a Cardiff resident, who braved driving along the "relentless ribbon of squat miner's [sic] homes"  [the houses are not much different to a lot of houses in Cardiff, actually, although set in much nicer landscape] to a place which to him "might as well be on the moon as many of us lot down on the coast less than an hour away are just as likely to tour outer space." to Treorchy, a place where he feels "it’s extraordinary to find a theatre flourishing up here" - Why should Treorchy not have a theatre? It was paid for by the miners of this place. 

More recently, another Cardiff bigot was sounding off on Facebook about "Valley girls", who according to him, start 99% of all fights that take place in Cardiff centre on a Friday night. 

I have only found civility and courtesy among the people of the Rhondda. Young people move aside to make way for me in the street, people say "hello" and smile.

Another misguided perception that is wheeled out over and over again is that the Rhondda is ugly, full of slag heaps and barrenness. I was delighted to attend a talk given to the Rhondda Civic Society in Treorchy by Richard Wistow, County Ecologist. He told us that the Rhondda is one of the most biodiverse regions in the United Kingdom. It is specifically the coal spoil that has allowed the development of some unique habitats!

I am so glad that I did not let any of this prejudice affect my decision to move here from Nottingham six years ago.  I go into cities when I have to, but am always glad to get back home to my peaceful and beautiful valley.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Is the Rhondda going to lose vital hospital services?

When I first moved to the Upper Rhondda, I was amazed and shocked to find that the nearest hospital with full facilities, including A+E, was about 12 miles away at the Royal Glamorgan near Llantrisant.

To drive there from the Upper Rhondda takes about half an hour if the roads are clear, but can take 45 minutes or longer during peak time traffic. For people who do not have access to a car (about 40% of Rhondda residents), an expensive 75-minute journey involving two buses is required. This, added to long hospital waiting times, is tiring and stressful for people who need frequent clinic appointments and plays havoc with life, especially if someone is in employment.

I was turfed out of the Royal Glam A+E at around midnight once, after waiting hours to be treated for a dislocated finger (it happened outside of the opening hours of the local "minor injuries unit" at Llwynipia, three miles away from home). I had to pay £40 for a taxi home!

This is the sort of situation I might expect to find in a third world country, not here.

However, now the plan is to "consolidate" some hospital services even further. Of the five proposed options, the one that people fear will be adopted will move so-called "consultant-led" services away from the Royal Glam to Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr. This will affect the special-care baby unit, complex injuries and suchlike.

Driving to Merthyr from Treorci takes about half an hour, same as to the Royal Glam. However, this is provided the road over the Rhigos mountain is open, which is not always the case in winter. If the road is closed, it takes about an hour, because it's necessary to go all the way out to Pontypridd. The situation is even grimmer for public transport users, who have to go via Pontypridd regardless. Their journey time will take between 95 minutes and two hours and will require using one train plus two buses, or three buses.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and Shelly Rees-Owen, local councillor for Pentre and Plaid Cymru candidate for Westminster elections in 2015, at the demo at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital

Today was the last day for public submissions to the "consultation" concerning hospital service provision. It also saw the last of several protest demonstrations, this one being at the Royal Glam itself. I fear though that the decision has already been made, and that the residents of the Rhondda will once again be the direct victims of planned cuts in services.

To add to this threat, Labour-led RCT (Rhondda-Cynon-Taf) Council is looking into imposing zero-hour contracts on home care staff. It is suspected that this will be the prelude to privatising the service.

This double-whammy attack on the healthcare provision in a region with above-average health problems is despicable. It gives me a further reason for supporting Plaid Cymru as the only party that offers hope for a better future to the most deprived parts of Wales.

Members from the Treorci branch of Plaid Cymru, including Treorci local councillors Emyr Webster and Sera Evans-Fear

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Is Wales divided by Welsh?

The recent commotion surrounding the refusal by past Arch Druid of the Gorsedd, Robyn Lewis, to pay a bill in a Spar shop in Pwllheli unless he was told the amount due in Welsh has again brought the status of the Welsh  language into the spotlight. The incident occurred shortly after published census figures revealed a fall in the number of Welsh speakers in comparison with the previous census.

Unsurprisingly, the gutter press made a meal of this event. Daily Mail readers probably took the prize for the crassest and most ignorant comments made.

Whether or not Dr Lewis was cruel to the cashier, whether or not the shop manager was over-reacting by calling the police (given that the situation was finally resolved through the intervention of another cashier who was prepared to state the sum owned in Welsh) are all valid questions, but not ones I will be discussing further, not having been a witness to the event.

What does stand out is Dr Lewis' comment:
"All I wanted was an answer in my own language, in my own country."

My greater consternation is reserved the fact that the Daily Mail permitted bigoted, ageist and also racist comments to appear below its article (although I know from personal experience it does censor comments made by readers of its web site).

Why do some Welsh people hate Welsh?

Even more, I am saddened by comments from people who say they are proud to be Welsh, but hate the Welsh language and want it to disappear. This is not the first time I have seen such comments below newspaper and web articles.

I contrast this with my experience in Catalonia. All the Catalans I have ever met have been fiercely proud of their language, determined to preserve it and to increase its use. Their language was suppressed by Franco perhaps even more harshly than Welsh was suppressed by governments in London, yet it has returned triumphantly and is valued by the majority as a symbol of their nation.

Going by a long forum discussion, in which I participated some months ago, the favoured reasons given by non-Welsh-speaking Welsh people for hating Welsh are:

1. It isn't useful for anything

which is immediately contradicted by the second reason:

2. Welsh speakers are favoured for some jobs

Ergo, by the opponents' own admission, speaking Welsh IS useful for something. To this can also be added the fact that learning any language makes learning further languages easier, because it breaks the brain out of the set grammatical and sound patterns of the mother tongue. Anyway, if utility is the criterion, is learning Welsh any less useful for the average person than some of the other subjects taught in schools?

My experience as a Welsh learner

The third oft cited reason some Welsh people give for hating Welsh is that all-Welsh events make them feel excluded. I countered by saying it is hardly fair to criticise Welsh speakers for wanting to attend events in their own language, especially when that language is under such pressure from English.

That was not good enough for them. They went on to moan Welsh speakers are snooty, want nothing to do with those who do not speak Welsh fluently, and so on....

Well, I'm sure there are bigoted Welsh speakers around in Wales, just as there are bigoted non-Welsh speakers!

However, I must say that this is not my experience. I've been learning Welsh for nearly five years now, but at a very slow pace as my time is limited. I am far from fluent.

Nevertheless, being a Welsh learner has opened up some wonderful experiences to me. I have met many delightful people and participated in highly enjoyable events. I have never been made to feel humiliated because of my low level of proficiency.  On the contrary, people have gone out of their way to help me understand and feel part of things.

I've also discovered that Welsh-speaking Wales has a lively and vital culture. Going to the National Eisteddfod has become one of the high points of my year, as have the musical events I attend, such as the marvellous BEAM.

Making the decision to learn Welsh is one of the best things that ever happened to me...

... and I am not even Welsh (well, not by genes, although since moving to Wales, I like to say I am Welsh by choice).

So, although I am just a far from proficient learner, I intend to be present at the rally organised by Cymdeithas Yr Iaith in Merthyr Tudful, to join others saying "Dwi eisiau byw yn Gymraeg" (I want to live in Welsh)