Archive for the ‘ Wales ’ Category

The Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival.

A few snaps from this years festival. Another great occasion, though we were only there with the back up camera on the final day. Must apologise, consumption was the order of the day, so photographic quantity and quality are on the short side with this entry!

The Rebel Brewery in full swing.

Choir in action.

As far as the memory goes.

The Jubilee: All Depends Where the Camera Points.

Anyone following the EyeOnWales twitter feed will know that we had some issues with all of the Jubilee palaver. General consensus from critics have fallen on our complaints as being those of lefty republicans, militant Welsh nationalists, xenophobes and most commonly, unpatriotic bastards. Who knows, maybe a bit of all of the above is indeed applicable. While not a republican blog at heart, we certainly have some issues with our democracy being advertised as a model to the world, while having to bend a knee and open a wallet for a monarch whose position is afforded to her by god (theoretically). We certainly have issue with decades of under investment in Wales coupled by massive contemporary spending cuts, while forking out direct and indirect costs running to the billions for a party. As for being unpatriotic, we have our Welsh flag flying proudly thank you very much, and it will remain flying proudly once all of those little plastic Union Jacks have been discarded to create some of the most festive landfill sites seen in the world – our patriotism is not defined by a government dictate to start celebrating.

But none of those issues has really grated. If people want to go celebrating the life of someone, fine, we don’t like the expenditure, or agree with the sentiment, but hell, there are plenty of things our respective Governments waste money on, this is just one more to put on the pile of burnt money, while people in Britain do far stupider things on a Friday and Saturday night than stand in the rain waving plastic flags at boats, in the grand scheme of things, it’s no great evil.

What does grate though, is the insistence of the national media in portraying the Jubilee as something that ‘everyone’ has got on board for. ‘The Nation comes together’ we are told, ‘street parties held across the nation’ we are told, ‘we are one country’ people insist, ‘the unity of the country’ is on display for all the world to see. You could mostly copy and paste these catch phrases into the commentary of any of the major news carriers in Britain (Wales included) and then on to the world. But was it really the case?

On the morning dog walk, Union Jacks have been spotted popping up here and there, the bunting going up, being blown down across the roads, to be replaced by some more the following day. Point your camera at those decorated houses and you would have yourself a fine snapshot of a nation in party mood yes? Then pan that same camera to the left, then to the right, then directly behind, nothing, just houses, no flags, no bunting, just homes, as they were and as they will remain. The dog walk usually identifies around 15-20 houses where the occupants have gone to the effort of decorating for the Jubilee. For each one of those houses, roughly 20-30 more will be found undecorated. Point your camera here, and what story do you then have for the newspapers? Television audiences are being cited as well by some as proof positive of the national mindset towards the Jubilee. Some 17million watching? Yet when the same argument is presented that some 45million were not watching, it is dismissed out of hand – proof of nothing the Jubilee fans shout loudly, except perhaps that the majority simply don’t care.

For us, it’s not so much an argument about becoming a Republic, or having a free and independent Wales, it’s about not being presented to the world as having taken part in a celebration of all the things that are the opposite of those sentiments. Freedom of choice and expression is a theoretical tenant in Britain, undermined by a national media that has been intent on painting a picture of unity in the worst example of jingoism in recent years, regardless of the reality. So perhaps that reality can be summarised for the many international eyes falling on the British Isles these past four days as such:

1. There are a lot of people celebrating the Jubilee, not everyone, not a majority, but a lot of people, and they had a fun time of it.

2. There are some people using the Jubilee to campaign for a Republic, not many, far from a majority, but some people, and they had a fun time of axe grinding.

3. Then there is the majority, not everyone, but most people, those who did not watch on television, stand by a river watching a boat, or climbed a hill to light a beacon, those who did not decorate their houses, or eat tea and cakes in the middle of a street.

Categories 1 and 2 have had plenty and some media coverage respectively, category 3 has been lumped in with category 1, and it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

We are not asking for less coverage of the Jubilee (though that would be quite welcome, I remember something happening in Syria, and some Egyptians being angry about something, but world news really has no place on the BBC while a party is going on in London), what we are asking for is less generalisation in the commentary. Some of the nation came together, yes, the majority did not. It would be nice if the world knew that, and was not painted a picture of everyone in the British Isles as having decorated their faces, heads and homes in Union Jacks; some of us were protesting against it, most of us ignored or didn’t care about it – and when discussing the impact of the Jubilee, perhaps some questions might be asked of why the majority didn’t join in, as opposed to why a vocal minority had a party.

Just one question on that topic perhaps, rather than presenting a million celebrating as being representative of the actions of 60+million, please BBC, are you listening? Oh, I guess not, well, it’s okay, I know you are busy, lot’s more Jubilee to be broadcast after all…

‘Gogwatch’ and the execution of the Welsh language.

We were introduced this week to the political musings of Gogwatch, an online community who present themselves as having ‘been set up by a group of people who care passionately about Wales and the Welsh people’. Yet, they qualify their intentions by making clear that they ‘are opposed to how the Welsh language is being forced upon our nation as a matter of principle’. Now, in such stated notions there is nothing inherently wrong you might think; free speech and all that. If you are concerned about the impacts of the forced application of the learning of the Welsh language then you would be standing by your beliefs by speaking out against it yes? Yet when working through the pages of this so called ‘voice of the silent majority’, there appears to be something far more sinister at work.

A selection of titles of Gogwatch blog entries offers a clear indication towards the intent of these people. ‘I come from Pembrokeshire – the Welsh language doesn’t belong here’, ‘Quest for “Welshness” is ruining our children’s education’, ‘Welsh education policy is serving nationalism ― not our children’, ‘Don’t speak Welsh? That’s OK, we might discriminate against you!’, and of course, ‘Dying for the Welsh language?’. The last title is particularly revealing, as Gogwatch attempt to paint a picture, where an emphasis on the support of the Welsh language, is the direct cause of cancer related deaths in Wales! These are pages of fear, constructive scare mongering that would make cold war propaganda experts particularly proud.

While the gibbering anger on display is a source of both concern and amusement, it is the volume of traffic that this savage little entry to the Welsh political blogosphere that should be particularly concerning. While the comments sections of the majority of blog entries include a balance of views and opinions, it is clear that the moderators are siphoning out the more vocal responses that oppose the words of the so called ‘silent majority’…interesting how a group can complain about not being heard, while clearly looking to control the voice of those they claim to control them. Put simply, Gogwatch is not a forum for debate, it is a table upon which sits a royal crest, a rose of England, and a white flag of surrender, with serried ranks of the eager to pleasers, longing to suckle from the white elephant of English language, English culture and English control.

Make no mistake about it Wales, Gogwatch is no friend of the Welsh language – they claim to be a friend of Wales and the Welsh people, yet their intentions are transparent to the extreme. Gogwatch is a friend of the Wales that is no longer Welsh. That is not to say that you must speak Welsh to be Welsh, but a Wales without the Welsh language will no longer be Wales, put simply, it would be England. That is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with England, but it is culturally distinct and unique from Wales, and the language plays an essential defining role in that distinction. A Wales without Welsh may as well abandon its rugby team, close down the Senedd (which of course Gogwatch would love to do), pull down the flag of the red dragon, place it in a box, then burnt and cast into the Celtic Sea, hoping that the charred remains might wash up upon the shores of Ireland, where someone across the water might recall their once having been a nation known as Wales.

Gogwatch has a single clear unstated goal – the execution of the Wales language. There is nothing balanced about their commentary, nothing inclusive about their community and no intention bar one, to march the Welsh language into a chamber at night when none are looking, and flood it with the toxic gas of the English word, hoping once and for all to finish the job of generations of invaders and traitors to the notion of Wales, the final solution to the problem of the Welsh language, its total and complete extermination.

For Want of Cricket at Glamorgan County Cricket Club.

 There was a time not so very long ago, when Robert Croft danced and sang his way into the night as Glamorgan Country Cricket club celebrated a remarkable county championship victory. It was a time of great excitement for cricket inWales. Not that many year after, the same cricket club played host to an experimental Wales v England series of one day ‘internationals’, that saw an even more remarkable result in the first engagement, as Wales defied the odds to secure a comprehensive victory. For a time the success gave way to mediocrity which in turn gave way to abject on field catastrophes. Then, the guiding hand of Maynard, the name that was so synonymous with the success that had been tasted by the club in recent memory, returned to turn the club around from county cricket embarrassments, to form defying competitors who recorded back to back victories and then some for the first time in almost half a decade. In honour of his efforts to turn the club around, Maynard was fired, and went with him out of the door followed the last shred of any competitive sense the club might once have had, the last semblance of respect the organisation deserved as a competitive sports team.

 Now we hear, having stood resolutely in the way of Welsh country cricket fans ability to enjoy their sport, that Glamorgan Country Cricket Club are going to do their upmost to block the formation of a Welsh International Cricket team. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t the goal of a Welsh sports team be to develop the best Welsh sportspeople? Should they not strive for those talented Welsh athletes to represent their nation? Not if it costs Glamorgan Country Cricket Club anything!

 So much of what has been rotten with this cricket club has been its manifest in its desperate clamour for cash. Destroying Glamorgan’s original ground and abandoning its relationship with so many historic grounds aroundWalesin order to construct the meccano style stadium that occasionally hosts international cricket, has been the bain of the clubs recent history. Yet it was not done with any notion of developing the next generation of cricketers inWales, no, it was done to make money, the irony of course being that any game of cricket involving a team other than England and Australia proved to be a crippling financial inconvenience that served to embarrass both the club and the nation.

 Now we hear that the only reason that Glamorgan’s elite school of managerial idiots would want to block the formation of a Welsh international cricket team, would be for the fear that their crappy little stadium might no longer be able to host the loss leading Englandtest matches that they so jealously guard. Once again, Glamorgan Country Cricket Club show themselves to be as narrow minded and selfish as they have been with every single executive decision taken in the 21st century. Me, me, me they cry, why, why, why we should be shouting back. Why on earth should we care what Glamorgan want for the future of Welsh cricket, given that they seem to care so little for it themselves.

 Frankly, cricket in Wales does not begin and end at Glamorgan, as has been shown with the newly elevated status of the Cardiff University side to first class level. Glamorgan have come to symbolise something very rotten, and their existence is not a prerequisite for the growth of the game in Wales, the creation or otherwise of an individual Welsh team, and certainly not for the sustainability of the game. That they think and probably believe that they hold the power of veto over the creation of a Welsh international team goes only to illustrate the extent of their inflated ego. It’s time somebody told those who hold the reins of power at Glamorgan where they can go with it, because their current stance, and that taken on most cricketing matters over the last 5 years, have only served to damage the game in Wales – we might well be better off without them!

Strikes, Welsh Labour and the BBC.

Watching an attempted national strike on television and twitter has made for an interesting day, and I think by the end of it, I’m more inclined towards supporting the industrial action than I was at daybreak. This though has as much to with the amusement of watching Welsh Labour move further and further away from their partners in London (no bad thing) and the idiots paraded on the BBC as part of their largely tedious coverage, than it has to do with any real issues.

From very early in the day the first proudly posted images of the 8am strikers began to appear in the twitter feeds, as Welsh politicians fell over themselves to illustrate the fact to anyone who might be listening that, yes indeed, they were there braving the elements and standing shoulder to shoulder with the put upon masses. Most parties were represented, apart from the Tories of course, who followed the London party line. Embarrassing tweets praising those working the train lines filtered through from the true blues, which of course were all trumped by David Cameron’s later triumphant ignorance towards the dismay of his millions of employees, discounting their mass walk out as a ‘damp squib’…DC certainly staying in touch with his workforce today eh (one wonders if his advisors have a laminate picture of green hills covered with rainbows glued to his bedroom window so that every morning he wakes to a world in which everything is just fine…). While some Plaid members bemoaned the fact that they were not being allowed to speak at a selection of rallies, it was the enthusiasm showed by Labour ministers on the picket lines that amused most. There stood Rosey Butler, sticking it to the man, while her big boss Miliband in London argued in the opposite direction – plenty of clear red water on display in Wales today.  

While Welsh Labour moving further and further away from the policy position of the London Labour party was amusing, and certainly helped in warming to the picketers, the BBC then stepped in to seal the deal. Of all the private sector workers to question on the rights and wrongs and relative sympathies that might be shared with public sector workers, the BBC turned first to a coffee house lackey and then to an estate agent. While not wanting to directly insult anyone in particular, someone who pours coffee for a living, and estate agents, must be the two most replaceable types of employees in the entire world. That they could be essentially compared to teachers and health care professionals verged on the ludicrous. Really, a coffee shop button pressing grunt passing judgement over a teachers right to strike would have probably been reason enough to side with the strikers, but in this case, it was the deal sealing cherry on top. Well, that or a smug bastard of an estate agent smugly finger pointing from within the comfort of his shiny knock-off excuse for a suit – both are equally irksome.

However, something frustrates about today’s strike, and Cameron’s ‘damp squib’ line has some resonance. A one day strike sends a message, for a day, tomorrow everyone will be back where the government wants them to be, and the world will carry on as if the movements yesterday never occurred. If the Unions and all those who feel put upon are serious about their concerns, the action considered must go much further than a single day. Take a look at the bloated salaries of tube drivers in London. Rightly or wrongly, for a employment sector that asks its employees to press three buttons and little else, they do rather well when the pay check drops through the door. That has come from block strikes. Disrupted for one day is a pain, disrupted for two days, three days, that is when people start to pay attention. And while it may be spurious to cite the expenditure of the British government on aircraft carriers that will never even be used, to the tune of a cost that would cover almost exactly the shortfall that is being argued over in relation to pensions, the comparative expenditure is food for thought. So come on the public sector, the country does need you, but they won’t realise it until you buck up your ideas and kick on for a week’s worth of strikes. These one day efforts will achieve nothing – listen to your leaders in Westminster, they are essentially mocking you from their warm halls. Stick it to the man, but do it with some conviction already! They have the money, make them realise that they have no choice but to spend it on you rather than to spend it on boats that will never even see water!   

Welsh Regions Warm Up

What a difference a few weeks makes, or does it? Going into this year’s Heineken Cup, all the talk surrounding the Welsh regions was one of pre-emptive disappointment, a funeral parade held in advance of the inevitable crashing and burning of the so called professional elite of the Welsh rugby community. Well, two rounds in and the Welsh regions, over two competitions stand undefeated. Unlike in previous seasons, this is not a case of remaining undefeated by virtue of only having defeated fellow Celtic League cohorts or Italian regions, no, this time the Welsh regions stand undefeated over the elite of Europe, English and French clubs no less!

Now, while it is far too soon to start hailing this as anything more than a couple of very good weekends for Welsh professional rugby, it can at the very least be seen as something very promising. This is not just Welsh teams putting in backs to wall defences at home to secure their victories either, this is Welsh teams going into the backyards of England and France’s best, and winning with conviction. There is even a growing sense of frustration that some Welsh teams are not offering enough in their victories. The Cardiff Blues for instance were pointed by the BBC punditry as disappointing in their victory over London Irish. Regardless of the man advantage, this was the Blues beating London Irish, a Welsh team beating an English team, in Europe, and we are disappointed in them. Not so very long ago we would, as collective followers of Welsh rugby, have sat back in stoic acceptance, that a defeat in Europe to the English or French was just an accepted norm, to be frustrated by yes, but not so much to take disappointment from. Now we win, and we are disappointed, maybe the Gatland/New Zealand mentality is asking something of the fans as well as of the players these days.

Of course, no Welsh team is going to win either European Cups on the back of these performances alone, but for the first time in many years, we conclude the first round of European fixtures with all Welsh teams still competing in their groups, and in most cases, running the show so far. Is this a knock on effect from the Welsh teams’ relative success at RWC2011? Is this perhaps an indication that in terms of development, the regional system is actually producing some positive results? After all, look over the Scarlets line-up that looked so strong against a Northampton team lacking in cohesion, it was young, it was Welsh, and much of it was home grown. Again, it’s not a team that has won anything yet, but the signs are certainly promising. Whatever the reason, it is a heady position to be in, to have four competitive Welsh teams in Europe’s elite rugby competitions.

We will all wait with baited breath to see how these performances develop, as ones of consistent success or flash in the pan victories that will ultimately be forgotten. Yet, the displays produced by talented Welsh teams so far should bring smiles to the collective fan base. More so because these are performances being delivered by teams containing very few of the men who starred in red in New Zealand. Wales has an excellent first international XV, but game by game, the regions seem to be showing that there is an increasingly talented pool of players knocking on the door, and that, more than initial success in rounds 1 and 2 of the Heineken, should be a reason to smile at this point in the season.

 

After this was first drafted the Ospreys managed to embarrass themselves into a draw in Italy, however, even that result should bring some cheer, as promising young outside half Matthew Morgan saved the blushes of the outift…though that might be clutching at straws on that particular game…

Newport’s Gentleman’s ‘Art’ Club…

Perhaps a little late to this story, but still well worth a mention, Newport Museum and Art Gallery revealed it’s saucier side in a recent temporary exhibition entitled: ‘The Institute of Mental Health is Burning’. For anyone who has not yet sampled the Art Galleries most recent offerings, the opportunity to do so is there for another few weeks, the exhibition running through to the start of December, but be warned, those of a nervous disposition, those easily offended, and frankly, anyone under the age of 18, you may do well to give this one a miss.

The local museum fraternity in Wales is under as much pressure as anywhere else in the UK, as budgets are cut, and the demand to justify their existence becomes almost a daily battle. Perhaps it was with this in mind that the museum invited Neil McNally to enter the museum domain, and set about his curation of this temporary monstrosity, that in order to ensure the relevance of the local museum and gallery, the only way forward was to be as controversial as possible.

Well, perhaps that’s being too harsh, it could have been more controversial I suppose. They could have removed all the walls, and daubed the words ‘Hitler – What a Guy’ in blood red letters over an oil painting of the Berlin Olympics opening ceremony…that would have been more controversial I suppose, but not by much. For anyone who has missed for hoo-hah, the main controversy surrounds what simply amounts to a series of hardcore pornographic paintings. Close up snap shots of paintings they might be, and you don’t have to squint your eyes to make out the very clear and brazen content of the selected works. While not speaking for entire exhibition, much of which is hung around the most derivative of installation works which looks more akin to half unpacked student waste than it does a work of art fit to grace the company of Lowri, the saucy images do stand out as particularly obscure or poorly, depending on your perspective, chosen works.

With little to speak of in terms of artistic merit, this element of the collection really amounts to little more than sensationalist titillation of the basest nature. Really, the Art Gallery may as well have installed a collage of genitalia clipped from a Hustler magazine, and it would stand to make as valid a contribution to the art world as these offerings. But perhaps in these harsh economic times, this is how Newport’s Art Community wish to ensure their relevance. In time the title ‘Art Gallery’ might make way for ‘Gentleman’s Club’, where the lighting around these three works will be turned down, so gentlemen voyeurs may ‘enjoy’ the Galleries best offerings in privacy…

Really, contemporary art has an important place in Wales, but is outright pornography something that we want to encourage when presenting the best offerings from the Welsh artistic community? We can offer more, and ‘Newport Museum and Gentleman’s Club’ can certainly offer more from its vast holdings than this trash – buck up your ideas Newport, and take this installation where it belongs, out back and in the bin, for that is the very best this waste deserves.

Occupy Cardiff – A Cause without a Cause?

It’s nice to see an occupy movement settle in under the shadow of Cardiff Castle. We in Wales never like to be left out of a good global movement, and the Occupy movement has certainly managed to unite people in major cities across the planet. As the foul winter weather appears for one night only (come the weekend all will be sunny and fine for the protestors), those hardy enough to have arrived will warm each other with their collective sense of self satisfaction, that they, and no one else, is standing up against the…, well, what is it exactly they are standing up against?

The Occupy movement is a bit of an oddity in many respects. While we are all being encouraged to show sympathies to the cause of the protestors in the valiant attempts to keep their tent cities intact in the face of political, police and, in some cases, religious opposition, one wonders what it is exactly that so many people are uniting, globally, against? Is it bankers, austerity measures, oppression, exploitation? In some cases there have been complaints levied against bus companies for raising prices, in others arguments have been levied against high taxation – while some voices within the same movement argue for increased taxation, just so long as it’s coming from the pockets of the ‘right’ people.

Watching the Occupy London news coverage the most distinctive thing about the scene in the background of the endless live reports, were the confusing mismatch of banners and placards. ‘Screw bankers’ some shout, ‘the end is nigh’ cry others, while some shout with conviction to ‘free Palestine’. Am I missing something, would the freedom of Palestine help the global financial problems (funny if it would eh)? Indeed, would taxes on the banks solve everything? Would cheaper bus rates perk everyone up? Maybe, but probably not.

The greatest irony of so many of these occupy movements, is that they are in most cases located in the heart of major spending zones, and it’s not spending by bankers. Come down to Newport, South Wales for instance, and you will see no shortage of people on weekdays ambling up and down the high street with bags of loot aplenty – while we complain so much about the condition of the country, it doesn’t actually seem to be stopping us from spending, our pockets remain lined with coin, yet we complain so much about our inability to pay for things (before quenching out thirst with a £3 Starbuck excuse for a hot beverage).

I suppose the thing that fails to inspire about the Occupy movement is that so much of it relies on finger pointing. Everyone has a finger to point at someone, someone else is responsible and someone else should take the punishments of austerity. My sympathies are limited. Yes, bankers are bad, most of the country (and world) would conclude that bankers have played their part in fucking things up for the rest of us (many bankers included), but whacking banks with taxes and fines is not going to change the world – the change must come from the mindset of the people, to give more and take less, bankers and protesters alike. Yes, a subsection of society is more responsible for this than others, but making that same subsection carry the can will not actually fix anything, like it or not, we are in this together.

Perhaps that should be the message of the Occupy movement, ‘we are all in this together, so let’s all tighten the belts’. That, or any coherent message would be good, something to clearly unify people. As things stand, ask one Occupy protester what they are protesting about and it will be a message very different from that provided by the next protester you speak to. So, while it is nice to see the politically active community who are pissed off about the state of things in Wales, speak up and join the ‘sit in a tent’ party, one can’t help but conclude that without a greater sense of cohesion, a clear single message, that this, as with so many of the other branches of the protest, although it will continue to whatever is seen as its ultimate end, will largely be ignored. As the storms close in over south Wales, and sympathies grow for those sticking it out outside Cardiff castle tonight, minds can’t help but be drawn to the Chartist movement, where a portion of those who put their name to the Newport rising, failed to show up due to soggy conditions and a warmer place to be had in the pub. The Chartists, in their unity, stand as a historical precedent for the potential success of a nationwide politically driven movement that stands in the face of political opposition and local authority oppression. The Chartist cause though stood successful in the long run, and much of this stood on a clear message, manifest in the People’s Charter, the points demanded by the Chartists for the reform of the nation. The Occupy movement would do well to follow their example, if this is ever be anything more than a small collection of plucky souls sticking it out against the weather and diminishing media coverage.

Fight for the cause, but make that cause clear to all who might follow.

Weobley Castle

St Cadoc’s, Llancarfan – Conservation

Some images and a video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQQ-M1sXWKQ of ongoing conservation work at Llancarfan, a hugely important project just outside of Cardiff, uncovering some very exciting medieval wall paintings.

More here: http://www.stcadocs.org.uk/en/paintings-selection.html