Brand Wales

About 20 years ago I tried to start a ‘wear red’ day on 1st March to celebrate St David’s Day.

I got about five of us to turn up on a damp Tuesday in the local pub to have a beer and talk about our cultural identity over a pint of Brains SA. This was in Pontypridd and we swore that the following year we’d get more people, and the year after we’d sweep the country with our positive nationalist fervour. This was a long time before social media of course and years before the Cardiff parade. Anyway it failed.

These days we have American supermarkets, who’ve seen the potential to cash in, produce a tacky Cymrufication kit where parents can buy leeks, daffodils and various other ‘red’ stuff rather than making their own like they used to do.

Recently the BBC gave Wales an extra £8m while Scotland got £30m and a new TV channel. Scotland does have twice as many people I guess but whilst we complain the real reason has to be to stop any further push for independence. Listening WAG? Hint, hint.

Journalist Carolyn Hitt, of the Western Mail, tells us that whilst we love to support the rugby team we are pretty crap at caring about other aspects of Welsh life – ‘the arts and media; education; health; how we are governed; our economic development; our future in the union.’

Frankly, I think she needs to realise that us Welsh do care about those things. The people I know care quite a lot in fact! Unfortunately rugby (or football) is the only thing we can get ‘marginally’ involved in these days without someone from the thought police telling us we’re inappropriate.

Let’s look at her list shall we?

OK, the ‘arts and media’ first. The WAG funds the arts council (we’re talking millions of pounds here), the arts council gives most of it to the Welsh National Opera (that favourite of Welsh pastimes that many a Chantelle from Abertridwr looks forward to every year), then they give millions to Literature Wales who give it to their friends and relatives (they probably even have a list of whose turn it is), some is given to the Welsh Books Council who give it to their friends who set up publishing houses that publish the friends and relatives of the people Literature Wales give money to! Then there are magazines that no-one reads that review this shit and the awards, bursaries and residencies and so on… it’s a very complicated, cyclical thing this arts business. Then BBC Wales and the Western Mail reviews all the crap that is produced (that still no-one buys) and then they get more funding, pay for a stand at Hay-on-Wye (that no-one looks at), have a few lunches and the rest is dished out to ‘artists’ who fancy travelling with their aunt to some third world country or sailing their boat around California whilst sipping champagne… for fucks sake!

Here’s a thought. The international Welsh Poetry Competition, founded and run in Pontypridd is now in it’s 11th year and has never had a single penny from the ‘arts and media’ in Wales. People fund it; poor Welsh people and those from overseas. I could go on, there are plenty of examples of worthwhile ‘projects’ in Wales but the ‘Welsh media’ refuse to engage with them! It’s a closed Taffia shop.

OK, second, what about ‘education’? Strange but true, I used to be a secondary school teacher but managed to ‘escape’ before the stress of caring killed me. Why did I leave? Was it the naughty children? No it wasn’t. It was the same reason very few teachers I know want to carry on. It’s was the constant pile of bullshit the government and media heaped upon me. Here’s an example of current said bullshit:

The EWC… ever heard of it? No, neither had most teachers before they got a demand for money from them. In the case of schoolteachers it was £45 a year. What for you ask? Well, nothing really. Now in 2016 there were 36,951 teachers registered. That equates to £1,662,795. Where does that cash go? No idea. Probably to pay the staff to do the website and email more demands for money to teachers who have enough bullshit to deal with without more piled on top of them! Who suffers? Yep, the kids. Your kids.

Oh yeh, and have schools improved lately? Nope. Got worse in fact. Standards are falling, pupils are getting left behind in maths and science, they’re becoming more obese because of a lack of will by WAG to prioritise physical education and our fat, dull kids (who aren’t actually any different from kids years ago) now think the only future they have is a YouTube channel selling makeup tested on their pets.

Of course while this is all going on our politicians are still having all-expenses-paid trips to the Far East to ‘look at’ how they do it better rather than just adopt a Scandinavian model and have done with it.

OK, third on the ‘Hitt list’ – health. Mmm? I think to suggest people don’t actually care is rather insulting but unfortunately we are all too sick to protest against the £1 million spent on Arabic, Czech, Mandarin, Bengali and Polish translation services. We are too busy dying on waiting lists to march in the streets about the crazy 40+ non-clinical staff (we’re talking ‘carbon manager’, ‘leadership coach’, ‘equality and diversity officer’ etc.) who together earn a total of £1.5 million a year in our Welsh NHS.

To be fair though the WAG has responded well to this crisis. Since 2010 they’ve spent over £100,000 on ‘potted plants to cheer themselves up.

Next up, ‘how we are governed’. Are we you ask? Oh don’t get me started on this one! OK, how about £15 million lost on ‘dodgy’ land deals? How about £60 million still not recovered from LG? The St Athan cock up which saw the MoD cost us £113 million. The £5 million wasted on a ‘cooking bus’ – honestly I’m not making this pile of shite up!

And how would we be rewarded if we’d cost our companies hundreds of millions of pounds I wonder? The sack maybe? Jail perhaps? Well, how did the politicians deal with all this waste? They gave themselves a pay rise. AMs got a pay rise of £10,000 so they now get £64,000 for wasting our cash while the rest of the population struggle by on benefits, zero hour contracts or minimum wage.

Economic development? Mmm? Port Talbot steelworkers getting their pensions cut, Ford Bridgend losing jobs, Boots shops to close, the list goes on. How exactly are ‘ordinary’ people able to fight against this? And as for our future as part of the Union – we haven’t had one for hundreds of years so nothing’s changed there? A Westminster Tory government not knowing or caring what or where ‘Wales’ is.

So rugby. Well, it’s the only thing we have isn’t it? Although corporate wankers (like the overpaid BBC and other media) have taxed the ‘ordinary’ Welsh rugby fan out of existence. £100 for a ticket my arse! Who can afford that? Only people who work in government or the media! I played rugby from age 9 until I retired and used to watch Wales religiously at the ‘Arms Park’ but can’t afford to go anymore. The WRU have ruined rugby for real rugby fans – they got rid of the best region in Wales; the Celtic Warriors, they out-priced the valleys, buggered up the trains and now pipe music around the stadium while the ‘fake news’ media (BBC and Western Mail) tell us ‘what a great atmosphere’ there is in the stadium. Bullshit.

And as for national pride plummeting when Wales lose – this isn’t really anything to do with national pride, it’s just the realization that everything is totally fucked. If we win we give ourselves a week off dwelling on the fact that we’re screwed. Wales always has been and nothing will ever change except the gap between the ‘have’s’ and ‘have-nots’ will grow wider because the only people who can make a difference – the media – refuse to upset the cosy little apple cart they sit upon.

Hitt also claims there is no easy answer to understanding ‘Brand Wales’. I disagree. The Brexit vote, for example, didn’t uncover anything anyone outside the closeted, politically-correct media and government didn’t know already.

I also find it hard to agree with the Western Mail’s prescriptive idea about ‘Welshness’ that should include radical Islam as practiced in our capital city’s mosques and taxi firms. The most liberal ‘Welsh’ people I know don’t want this in their country. Try walking down ‘Riverside’ or ‘Adamsdown’ at night and play ‘spot the infidel’ if you don’t believe me. Yep, it’s you!

Moving on though, I agree that ‘Scotland and Ireland have embraced their clichés and reaped the tourist rewards’ but why haven’t small-minded Wales done the same? Many have tried to open a ‘Welsh-themed’ pub but once again the media fails to help those not financially connected to themselves. Wales is a land packed full of creative individuals, forever struggling with one finger in the dam and one trying to conduct the orchestra of progress. No-one in power gives a shit unless they can make a buck too. Is this Thatcher’s ‘I’m alright Jack’ legacy or an influx of English immigrants who’ve diluted the original altruism or the coalface camaraderie of Welsh man and woman? I’m not sure.

For 20 years I’ve also been observing that ‘there are more Irish-themed pubs in the Welsh capital than Welsh-themed pubs.’ My friends, Welshmen and countrymen don’t have the cash to open a ‘Welsh-themed’ pub although many of us would love to do so.

Hitt concludes her article saying ‘we need a strong media’ yet continues to work for Trinity Mirror who admitted they were involved in the phone hacking scandal in 2014. Maybe she should quit her high-paid job, start her own newspaper or online blog and see just how far she can get changing things from within the real world?

Incidentally, back in May 2016 she wrote a column defending the millions of pounds of taxpayers money spent on the salaries of her fellow journalists (John Humphreys used to earn approx. £450,000) and even falsely claimed that Netflix costs us more than the BBC. Mmm? Really? I pay £12.12 a month for the BBC and iPlayer deletes all the good stuff I want to watch yet Netflix costs me £5.99 a month and I get to save stuff for years! So, sorry, you’re talking bollocks love!

Anyway, back to the point in question and why us Welsh can’t seem to ‘brand’ ourselves successfully on the global stage. The answer? Easy – money. Equality and fairness in funding. Maybe the Western Mail can donate £10,000 to the international Welsh Poetry Competition? Then I’d be able to advertise and promote the contest in the USA. Maybe BBC Wales can do a TV programme on where exactly the arts council millions go? Maybe the newspapers can do some hidden filming in Cardiff’s mosques or better still follow a few AMs or local, geriatric councillors around and see what they get up to.

Then again, maybe they’re not ‘all in this together’ with us and just talk shit ‘cos it pays well. Very well.

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