I watched MTV's new series 'The Valleys' once. I won't be doing so again.
For a start, the title's a big problem. It should rightly be called 'Bum! Fuck! Tits! Slag! Shag!', which would not only sum it up, but contain most of the dialogue.
Also, in the 1980s myself and the great-but-now sadly-not-publishing poet John Davies edited an anthology of prose and poetry from the Valleys with the same title. Will Seren Books sue, I wonder?
Of course, it wasn't about the Valleys at all, but followed the well-worn formula of Geordie Shore, Essex Whatever and Jersey Shore (does the latter really exist?) in which young and so-called glamorous young people are placed into a human laboratory ( house in Cardiff) as we observe their drunken, sexual antics.
The very term 'reality TV' is a classic example of Orwellian newspeak. It's like calling 'Merlin' a historical documentary. Like 'Big Brother' it employs all the elements of psychological control which Orwell railed against in '1984'.
These young people have been brainwashed by our shallow society into believing that the only way to get out of their 'crappy', 'shitty' towns is through celebrity.
Who can blame them? This is the 21st century fantasy promoted by most of the media, with their obsession with fame at all costs.
Jenna, with her law degree and boob job, doesn't want to be a solicitor, but 'rich and famous'.
Only the gay rugby player Liam seemed untouched by this monomania. It's no wonder Gareth 'Alfie' Thomas admires the programme, as the only glimpses of humanity were the positive responses to Liam's very public coming out.
So , where was the obesity, the fading tracksuits, disability benefits and diabetes?
These too are cliches of the Valleys, yet ones which are tragically closer to the truth today, as we struggle with the consequences of junk food and poverty.
What does the programme actually tell us about the Valleys? That there are young people desperate to get out to the bright lights of the city?.......They are probably there clubbing most weekends.
They end up modelling on the beach ( is it Costa Coryton?) with fish flapping from bikini bottoms ( Jenna again, despite her fish phobia!) or handing out leaflets for a night club.
Of course, the stereotypes abound : rocking sheep not horse, ubiquitous red dragon flag and typical Valleys' barbie, complete with inflated condoms ( a delicacy round these parts).
I began to speculate whether Iain Duncan Smith ( who famously urged the unemployed to get on the bus and look for work in Cardiff) wasn't the programme's producer.
I have wondered if it was worth bothering to write about this series at all, yet there may well be people whose views of the Valleys are affected by it.
Unfortunately, it is feeding into a consciousness that, aside from a few cliches, we are all basically the same : a chainstore/ supermarket uniformity.
It seems perverse in times of the New Depression, but I do feel there are unique opportunities in the Valleys.
Not only are there many skilled young people out of work, but there are also graduates who, in the past, would have left the area to find work.
I believe the Welsh Government must take the initiative and run a concerted campaign to encourage and enable people to set up co-operatives throughout the Valleys and the Credit Unions ( themselves co-operative banks) can play a crucial role in this.
They must put as much effort and energy into this scheme - call it 'Co-op Cymru' - as they would into election campaigns.
Conventions should be held in various locations bringing together all these young people, pooling their ideas and helping them with their plans and getting loans in the form of development grants and social enterprise.
There are enough young people who care about these places I personally love so much and change is already happening on a small scale.
MTV's 'The Valleys' is an insult to our acute awareness of history, to our music, literature, theatre, film and visual arts...all thriving today.
One young person I can think of who epitomizes this, regularly attends our popular Open Mic. nights at The Imp in Merthyr.
He aspires to be a better poet and performer of his work. He is already a very powerful performer, reciting his poems and raps with great skill and intensity.
There's very little money in poetry and even less possibility of celebrity. Yet this is his chosen path during very hard times, of which he has experienced many.
Like the character in my poem below ( a person I used to teach), he represents another side of the Valleys in all its exciting complexity.
One day, maybe, the media will fully acknowledge such people in a serious way, showing their lives with all the troubles and triumphs.
VAUGHANY ON-A TELLY
First time f' yers
an I seen im on-a telly,
Shane Vaughan, Vaughany
talkin from Cardiff prison
(well, tha's is second ome!).
But I woz totelee gobsmacked
coz ol Vaughany become a Muslim,
ee woz goin on bout-a Jihad,
slaggin off them extremists,
sayin ow ee'd found-a way.
Vaughany of all people,
oo'd studied burgleree
like we done GCSEs,
on'y time ee lissened
wuz Oliver Twist an Fagin.
Vaughany oo broke inta arf the shops,
oo got a PhD in pickpocketin,
oo wen down Cyfarthfa School lunchtime
arfta a fight, swum out t the islan'
chased by masses, flung stones from up-a tree.
Vaughany the 'pprentice joy-rider
abusin-a cops, pissed outa is skull ;
but now prayin t Allah
an soundin so spoffy,
like the kids ee'd larfed at in school.
It's like this week has been declared National Hypocrisy Week and everyone's in on the act.
A new transport secretary brought in the deliver the third runway for Heathrow, who has a phobia of flying.
Astonishingly, a new secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs (it used to be called 'Agriculture') who has ordered the mass murder of badgers in England, but who actually keeps two badgers as pets, names of Bessie and Baz!
You couldn't make it up. In fact anyone who's been following the latest series of 'The Thick Of It' will probably realise that reality is definitely weirder than fiction.
If Owen Paterson's pet badgers would seem to make him chief candidate for top of the Hypocrite Charts, then Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell has surely surpassed him.
Although he denies it, two policemen at Downing Street are adamant that he abused them , called them 'fucking plebs' ( not 'fuckin'...I'm sure he enunciated the word) and 'morons' after being denied access with his push-bike.
Mitchell was nicknamed 'Thrasher' at school and was shadow minister for the police! He is a notorious disciplinarian and advocate of strong law and order solutions. Mayor Boris at last year's Tory Conference called for the arrest of anyone who swore at the police......well, let's see that put into action.
To return to the badger cull and someone who isn't normally accused of hypocrisy, namely Queen guitarist Brian May.
May is a media champion of badgers and is very articulate and persuasive in attacking the cull. His arguments for mass vaccination are certainly reinforced by most scientific research and evidence from other countries.
However, May is also a staunch royalist, who claims that one of his best ever gigs was the one from Buckingham Palace in 2002, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee. Maybe he has taken the band's name too literally.
He supports the monarchy despite their appalling record on animal welfare. They hold regular shoots of birds and deer at their many mansions and their patronage of the RSPCA only serves to question the viability of that organisation.
On the matter of the monarchy, the photos of a topless Kate proliferating around Europe this week are another source of hypocrisy.
The Palace and its propaganda machine, emanating from Clarence House, are constantly using the celebrity status and good looks of Kate the 'Commoner' to boost the image of an aging institution.
Her dress at the wedding was of prime importance and during both the Olympics and Paralympics they engineered every possible photo opportunity, so those very paps they now condemn could zoom in and make the most of it.
They have the utter audacity to complain about the media 'objectifying women', when they have continually done the same thing.
In a week where PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were brutally murdered in Greater Manchester, I do feel that many spokespeople are guilty of hypocrisy.
Firstly, it is totally wrong to claim that it isn't part of a 'British tradition' to arm the police.
That part of Britain which most vehemently expressed its Britishness ( ubiquitous Union Jacks and red,white and blue paving-stones) is n. Ireland.
Before the Troubles began in the 1960s the RUC were always armed. They were armed from the very inception of the sectarian statelet in 1922, despite the fact that the IRA became an organisation without an armed wing, which was essentially Marxist and also peripheral.
The RUC was an instrument of colonial rule in n. Ireland and their guns merely reinforced Loyalist hegemony.
When sections of the police and media do propose the death penalty for those who kill police officers, their blatant hypocrisy is disturbing.
I say this because when the police kill innocent people they aren't even prosecuted, let alone imprisoned for their crimes.
From demonstrator Blair Peach, to case-of-mistaken-identity Jean Charles de Menezes and , more recently, to Ian Tomlinson, who was assaulted by PC Simon Harwood when he happened to be caught up in the G20 protests, an attack which led directly to his death from internal bleeding.
Harwood may have been dismissed from his job, but he was not prosecuted. The record of the police in bringing their own officers to justice is nothing short of woeful.
So, in National Hypocrisy Week I haven't even mentioned Nick Clegg and it's hard to decide who are the worst offenders, from the Palace to Scotland Yard, from one minister to another.
( Thanks to Andrew Herbert on FB, for giving me this idea).
IT'S NATIONAL HYPOCRISY WEEK!
It's National Hypocrisy Week
and Brian May appears on breakfast TV
with a furry animal on his head ;
he's railing against the badger cull
but as befits his band's name
his best time was on Buckers roof
playing for the other Queen.
How can you take him seriously
when he fails to condemn their shooting parties
and patronage of the RSPCA?
It's National Hypocrisy Week
and there's talk of police arms
and the death penalty for those who kill them,
while PC Harwood, murderer of Tomlinson
( a man in the wrong place, wrong time)
is sacked but not held accountable
despite the evidence on video.
But hasn't it always been so :
Blair Peach and Jean Charles de Menezes
assassinated by cops and no justice still?
It's National Hypocrisy Week
and doting hubby William Wales
(that's why I call us 'Cymru')
is suing the paps who zoomed from distance
at his beloved Kate's mammary glands,
when all the Palace do for papers and telly
is use her clothes and outward charms,
their exploitation just as much in money's name:
our taxes paying for their lives of luxury.
I have a confession to make. Despite being an atheist, I've been to chapels twice this week.
No, I haven't been saved!
Firstly, I went to Hanbury Chapel in Bargoed, now known as the Public Library.
It's an utterly awe-inspiring place to hold a Creative Writing class for adults and I'm privileged to be able to tutor there.
Our latest challenge is to come up with poems about the building and I've actually written two. I'm sure that members of the group will be equally inspired.
My first reaction was to write in Welsh, which is really gratifying. This poem isn't for public consumption yet though. My reliable editor ( my wife) needs to scan it very closely, especially my wayward mutations!
The library has only been open a couple of years and from the facade it seems like you are indeed entering a chapel. Immediately, leaflets and books on local history both announce its very different identity and perplex the stranger.
The space has been used so wonderfully, it's full of light and words lifting to the ceiling with clarity. So many of the original features have been retained, so this was no act of civic vandalism. Organ pipes and organist's chair are immaculately preserved and there's even a constant light on the latter.
It's a pity the place isn't available for book-lovers' weddings, dressed in character out of Hardy or Bram Stoker, with the organ's grand tones summoning the atmosphere of 19th Wessex or Gothic Dublin meets Transylvania. Sadly, the organ isn't working.
One of my group asked if they had a Bible there and the librarian had to delve deep into the basement to produce a specimen, pristine and untouched. Ironic in a place where sayings from that book are still muralled with absolute conviction.
Another in the group recalled attending 'Songs of Praise' there. She was a Welsh Baptist but the denomination there was English Baptist and Cymraeg would not have been used in either prayer or hymn.
Intricate and ornate railings, stained glass windows depicting the 'green hill' and roses growing and ,amazingly, in the basement itself were the original altar and pews, not shipped off to St. Fagan's, but as though waiting for time-travel to happen. Close by a room full of computers, it seemed like a battle of the centuries was lining up.
And that's what you notice about such libraries nowadays. It's no longer the newspaper room, reference library or children's section which is busy, but the computers.
Perhaps libraries should make free e-books available for downloading, or be full of various You-Tube films of poets , or other writers reading extracts from their latest novels..........perhaps some are like that.
One thing is missing however. Unlike Rhymni with it's homage to Idris Davies as you enter, there is nothing about local writer John Tripp here. I know John spent much of his life in Whitchurch, Cardiff, where he is remembered, but some acknowledgement would be fitting.
I urge anyone who hasn't visited Bargoed Library to do so. Wander around and breath in the atmosphere. Be inspired!
It's still a sanctuary as well. In the modern part at the back there's a cafe and while I was there a distraught young man entered. He insisted he didn't want anything, just to stay there. He proceeded to walk around, very agitatedly staring out the window on look-out for someone after him. I noticed later he was sitting on a sofa in the main part of the library and looking somewhat relieved.
The other chapel I went to was Calfaria in Heolgerrig; this time to the back room normally reserved for a Polling Station. Here I collected my order of a dozen free range eggs and bag of salad potatoes from a local co-operative run by the Gellideg Foundation.
As one woman there said - ' We are run by the people, for the people!'
The quality of produce (they also provide vegetables and salad) is superb and long may their co-op flourish, using local goods and skills.
During a week when a number of us writers ( from various parts of south Wales, but a couple from Heolgerrig ) are hoping to set up a publishing co-operative, I am optimistic that these are small signs of a future Wales.
More people need to get together and pool their skills in this manner. Quality products which aren't beyond the price of most people must be a priority. Laudable though the might be, too many of the products coming out of Wales (like Halen Mon and Penderyn Whisky) are luxury goods for the wealthy.
What this small food co-op shows is that an alternative can be created to the juggernaut supermarkets which crush everything in their way.
As an atheist, I have to say that I much prefer chapels performing these functions (though Calfaria is still a functioning one) : where words of many kinds are praised and people come to support the fruits of the soil rather than making offerings to a God invented to explain the origins of mankind and an after-life to render them immortal ; gods of another kind.
IN BARGOED LIBRARY
'Suffer Little Children...'
'We Need To Talk About Kevin'
O Worship The Lord In Beauty Of Hounds -
misreading of scripture
faith in dogs
O O O O O
O O O O O
the calls down mines
cuddly green dogs
pulclick puldrag pulfleat pultap pulchat
screen truth google bible
no search engine
Normally, my first game of the season is one of utter excitement and boundless optimism (some would say delusion). Even in the bad old days of Alan Durban I couldn't wait for the footie season to begin and a chance to see my beloved Bluebirds flying again.
This time almost everything had changed. I missed the opener v. Huddersfield, which we'd won. I had spent the close season thrilled by our plethora of potentially great signings, yet seriously considering a boycott.
I knew others who had done so ; sent their season tickets back or refused to renew them. I knew they were a very small minority and I'd met others who embraced the changes.
Interestingly it tended to be the Valleys' ones who rejected the way we'd been treated and Cardiff ones who put the money before anything else. Perhaps there is a difference of culture and environment here, as we live constantly with the effects of history and are always aware how it shapes the present. We cannot easily agree to its obliteration!
There are exceptions, of course, and I met one man who used to be the 'bucket boy' for a local Boys' Club, where I'd briefly been a trainer.
At that time we were struggling in the lower reaches and he had supported Merthyr avidly, dismissing the Bluebirds.
Like many others he became a fan as we became successful, especially with promotion and the FA Cup Final. I don't blame him in any way and we need more like him, but when he expressed his willingness to accept those changes, playing in red with a dragon crest, I wanted to remind him of past allegiances.
So here I was, Cardiff City v. Wolves and walking to the ground after a summer of contentious debating.
The Malaysian owners had lied to us and treated us with utter contempt. My son had urged me not to go and I certainly felt guilty.
Initially they abandoned the re-branding exercise and there were suggestions that they would pull out altogether. They actually apologized to fans who had felt insulted.
Then it went through anyway and there was no doubt that all those fans supporting it would be pointing out the vast sums ( for us, at least) spent on players over the summer and saying - ' I told you so! This investment is
a result of the re-branding.'
Of course, this argument is nonsense. Not a penny of the money raised to buy players has come from the change to red shirts and dragon emblems.
The £10 million plus spent on the likes of Nicky Maynard and Craig Noone (not to mention Bellamy's wages) comes from loans taken out by owner Vincent Tan, who is still charging the club 7% interest on borrowed funds.
So why the changes? Were they necessary?
Well, commercially is has been a handicap, as less fans have bought the shirts than usual.
I was pleasantly heartened by the fact that many in the stadium (especially the Ninian Stand) still wore the blue of the past and not the away shirts.
The question remains : given my opposition, should I have been attending at all?
Like the Supporters Trust (which I recently joined) I favour a different approach to a boycott.
My allegiance is to the team and the club, even if our owners have dictated ludicrous alterations. We, the loyal fans, will be there ( pick and shovels optional) when Tan and his ilk have long gone.
As my son rightly said, the changes are a massive gamble on reaching the Premiership. I believe that if we fail to do so this season they may well sell the club anyway.
The only possible way the red shirts could prove commercially viable would be if we were a Premiership club and even then........ would we be able to compete with Liverpool and Man U in terms of shirt sales?I doubt it.
QPR are owned by a Malaysian and they play in blue and white, so why us? If red is so lucky, why don't they change to it?
It was difficult being in the ground and seeing all those red shirts, yet the many blue encouraged me.
We are fans divided and that is contrary to the whole sense of belonging to a club.
However, when we scored and almost everyone chanted 'Bluebirds! Bluebirds!' it seemed like an act of sheer spontaneity reaching back through the years, rather than one of deliberate defiance.
The Supporters Trust have been told by the club that no peaceful protests will be tolerated inside the stadium, as it would divide fans. Presumably anyone doing so will be evicted and ,quite possibly, banned.
This is an absurd policy as our fans have already been divided by the owners!
At one meeting of the 'Keep Cardiff Blue' campaign, members were threatened by red-shirters, who said they 'would bury them!'
On the playing field it was hard at times and I did feel I was a neutral watching two strange teams play. It probably didn't help that many of our team were new signings who I hardly recognized, like Mutch and Connolly.
Despite this, I still savoured the intense thrill of our goals and joy of victory : Whitts was himself, utterly brilliant. His goal celebrations are unique as well; the essence of anti-celebrations as he shrugs and barely smiles, bombarded by our ecstatic players with outflung limbs.
My son watched it on Malaysian TV with English commentary and told me they kept referring to us as the 'red dragons'. Nobody in the stadium even muttered such a description.
I remain in a dilemma, yet cannot abandon the club and team I have followed since returning to Wales at the age of 18.
STILL A CLUB
Seemed promising walking towards the pub,the Ninian Park,
blue-shirted fans with Bellers on their backs.
But soon sightings of that dreaded colour :
were we playing Notts Forest, Charlton? No, Wolverhampton Wanderers!
The huge dragon emblems branded on our stadium ;
I thought we'd been taken over by aliens.
Only the Supporters Trust had our bird displyed :
slimmer, more streamlined, almost re-made.
Flags of red and black waved as our team came on
and I was in a state of utter confusion.
Half fans in blue, half in Welsh national dragons :
felt as if I was following two teams, not one.
But every time we scored ( and we got three),
we were chanting 'Bluebirds! Bluebirds! joyfully.
Saw the past and future, ayatollah with my hands,
when we are still a club and not a brand.
The struggle for the Welsh language would seem an irrelevance at a time when many people are trying desperately to survive : when unemployment is rife and cuts seriously affecting services and benefits.
Is Cymraeg a luxury we can ill afford during such austere times?
First and foremost, the struggle to ensure that Welsh has parity with English and thrives into the future, is not one which can be separated from much wider issues.
Parents are increasingly denied choice when Welsh language provision in education is denied because of limited budgets. In Merthyr, for example, there is a need for another Welsh-medium Primary, yet this is only a long-term possibility.
Graduates and school-leavers educated in Welsh often have to seek work elsewhere and cannot use their bilingualism in employment which would help the language flourish.
S4C has undergone a huge culling process in the last year and lost some of its best programmes as a result, such as 'Bandit'. Its total lack of appeal to young people remains an ominous concern.
Cymdeithas Yr Iaith has always acknowledged the way that other vital issues effect the language's very existence and has taken an active role in the past against the ownership of second homes and closure of rural schools.
However, there is still a need to look beyond the purely material.
People still need more than the basics of a decent job and home. For some it might be the 'X Factor' on television, for others a spiritual solution. For many in Wales it is the learning of Welsh and with it a discovery of a sense of purpose and belonging.
Many are learning for all manner of reasons (including some who have moved from England) : to help their children at school, to use it at work,
to socialize or to find out more about the culture of Wales and reclaim the past.
Despite its apparently healthy state, Welsh still isn't given equal status by private companies and even some public services remain shamefully negligent.
Merthyr Welsh language campaigner Jamie Bevan was recently released from a short spell in prison for his activism.
Jamie was carrying on the fine tradition of civil disobedience so integral to Cymdeithas.
People who simply aren't bothered about the language may well call it pointless. But to me he was showing us all - through his remarkable stance - that society's injustices can be fully confronted.
As a protest against spending cuts imposed on S4C, he broke into a Tory Party office. He was later fined, but refused to pay this because the orders were not sent in Welsh.
Even in prison he continued to highlight the gross injustices of the system. He was denied access to any activities at Cardiff Prison because they gave him forms to fill in English only, refusing his requests for Welsh ones.
This is Jamie's 'Pennill Carchar Cymreig' which he sent me while there :-
Yn y carchar budur hwn
mae na ambell i swyddog call
ond y rhan fwyaf yn dweud :
'Welsh, wos that?'
'You're 'avin a f**kin laff!'
Dim llyfrau, dim gym
na dim dewis bwyd
dim ffon, dim bacco
na dim bywyd rwydd.
Jest taro dy enw ar linell y Sais
'And fall in line for an easy life...
stop talking your shit and givin' strife...
sign the forms for an easy life.'
Jamie was a Welsh political prisoner who refused to be cowed into submission.
In this short poem he expresses the constraints of the prison and refuses to conform. He serves as an inspiration to those who are learning Welsh, to Welsh-speakers and those who care about the language.
He is an activist aware of the broader perspective and, indeed, he was arrested at the protest against Mrs Windsor's visit to Merthyr, only to be released without charge.
If people dismiss Cymraeg as peripheral, then they are denying a fundamental part not just of our past, but of the future and the real possibility of a fully bi-lingual nation.
I've heard some talk about elitist education and 'jobs for the boys', but in most parts of Wales it isn't the crachach who are sending their children to Welsh-medium schools, but working and middle-class families who are not 'ordinary', but have made an 'extraordinary' decision.
LLYTHYR I JAMIE
Diolch Jamie am dy waith
yn y carchar dros yr iaith
diolch am dy safiad,
siom bod mwy ddim yn gwybod
ac yn siarad a fi'n amyneddgar :
pob brawddeg amser hir i ddysgwr
diolch am y cerdd bach yn y llythyr
llawn o jocs mawr fel arfer
diolch i sgrifennu am y dyfodol,
mae angen mwy fel ti yn yr ardal
diolch am dy ysbryddoliaeth,
wedi dechrau ar yr un taith
diolch i ti, cyd-wladwr, gwerinaethwr,
sosialydd fel fi, o Ferthyr.