Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Further to .....

As we finalise the stories we've gathered over the last few months, we've decided to give people who are anxious about making their views public the opportunity to be anonymous.

Yesterday, one of these people sighed with relief, "I'm so glad there are other people out there who think as I do."

We're trying to recruit actors to voice the words of these anxious people, but yesterday, an actor completely refused to utter the words they were offered, words that would be quite normal in many parts of the UK, but cannot be spoken in the Ebbw Fach.

Isolated and silenced.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Rant about Freedom of Speech

People from the whole length of the Ebbw Fach, from Soffryd to Brynmawr, met us in Blaina Library today. With the generosity we've come to expect, many of them allowed us to record their stories. 

What we did not expect was a repetition of something that has happened several times in the last couple of weeks. And it's prompting our first Mythbusterstories rant.

To our surprise, we are finding more and more people who are unwilling to record their stories. Why? Because they are not Labour voters. They have thought intensely about life and come to conclusions that go against to main-stream Labour voting pattern of the Valleys, and do not feel free to express them.

"Why?" we ask.
"Persecution," one person tells us.
Someone else rang us up to withdraw permission for the use of their contribution. We had arranged for their anonymity, but they were still suffering sleepless nights for fear that they be might be identified.

All these people can articulate their views and argue their cases with vigour and clarity, but they are gagged. "It's the close-knit community," one of them explains.

The Valleys are part of Wales. Wales is part of Britain. Britain prides itself on allowing freedom of speech. What price Valleys freedom?

(P.S. Photos by Hannah, one of our non-political, non-anonymous storytellers with a superb secret photography habit.)

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


We've been trying to make sure the stories we collect represent the Ebbw Fach fairly, with an even spread of stories from along its length. Not only that, we hoped to achieve even numbers of men and women, an even spread of young and old. Let alone representing the minority groups carefully.

So we've been puzzled to find that our storytellers are predominantly older men and younger women. We have begun seeking older women and younger men, approaching places and organisations where they might be found.

But one of the Mythbusting storytellers, a delightfully reflective university student, has pointed out that the people who are coming forward to tell stories reflect the population and culture of the Valley. There are more older people than young, and, culturally, the men act as spokespeople in that generation. Older women are more likely to hold back and just let the men talk.

Amongst younger people, if the boys are in work, they won't be free to talk to us, and if they are hanging around on the streets........And what young man is really keen to talk and chat?

That begs the question of why the girls have been free to tell us stories. In some cases employers have given us permission to talk to them, and in others the girls have been shift workers.

Stereotypes? Well, it's challenged our ways of thinking about fair representation.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Wish it wasn't true

When we began, Mythbusters wanted to find stories that debunked myths, exposing them for the fallacies we hoped they were. But it can't always be done.

A lovely young girl serving here turned out to have done an apprenticeship, lost her job three times as businesses went bust, and been reduced to volunteering rather than earning. Wish it wasn't true.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


We've been out and about collecting photos from the mythbusting storytellers, but we've collected some classic statements on the way.

How about this:

"Storytelling, complaining and watching others work are the favourite activities in Abertillery."

Or this one, delivered in response to our statement that people in Cardiff didn't always say very nice things about Valleys people.

"WE sometimes don't say nice things about Valleys people."

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Are you sitting comfortably? We were

We were welcomed into Derek's fire warmed room, drying out after the Cwmtillery rain.

Mythbusting had taken us back to Derek's farm in Cwmtillery. Mythically Welsh, his wife apologised, "A farm house and I'm not offering you home-made cakes." The pair of them piled us up with photos to go with the stories Derek had recorded earlier.

Flynn, the trainee sheepdog, gave us a demo, Derek working him until he had penned four sheep. Mind you, we weren't so comfortable by then. Our shoes were soaked by the time we were back in the van.

Next came Reverend Patrick, who may have felt that his wish to welcome us was scuppered by his uncooperative espresso machine, but his amazing range of interests and imagination more than made up for the lack of beverage. His welcome was more than food and drink. He fired us up with his visions of vintage buses and potential future support for Mythbusters.

Noting classic Valleys entrepreneurial spirit as we passed, we made ourselves comfortable in a cafe to plan the next few days. Speedily, a man came over to us. We listened carefully as he regaled us with his woes.

"I'm sorry if I was interrupting you on the phone. I'm a bit deaf..... 
I'm so disappointed in the UK. There's no reason we should be in the state we are. 
We're the hardest working nation.....

"I used to want Such a nice man as the epitaph on my tombstone.
Now it'll have to be, I tried my best but I failed."

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A tiny titbit

One of the Mythbusters we met today declared, "Blaenau Gwent's the poorest part of the United Kingdom, but there's a smile on everyone's face."

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The story so far ......

The wonderful people we met last month gave us lots of material to edit, plenty of food for thought. We'll be back on the road next week, so we thought we'd give you a sample of the wisdom we've encountered so far.

"Every town here is full of beauticians.
I've spray tanned ladies up to 80.
Eyebrows are a massive thing for men at the moment."

"This idea that everywhere's full of drugs – I don't think it's any different from areas of Cardiff or anywhere in the country."

"There's not a lot of hope here. For me anyway, I can't see it.  The way out for me has been just working so hard to get away and I don't plan to come back."

"It would be nice to bring the valleys back to little businesses back in the towns, bring the money back, bring the people back."

"It's all one big party. Nothing's really that serious and it's all about having a good time. Try it sometime, you might like it."

Watch out for more posts next week.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Only in the valleys....

One of the people we spoke to in Cardiff described how he and his colleagues would laugh derogatorily and groan, "Only in the Valleys," as their expectations were confirmed.

Yesterday we completed our fifth day out in the van. And we too can say, "Only in the Valleys." But we say it with affection and awe.

We began the day in Brynmawr, the top of our Ebbw Fach patch. Within half an hour Donna, the manager of Kutz and Kurlz, had decided to let Laura, her beautician, give us an interview there and then.

Within another few minutes we were being regaled with stories by Ralph, the manager of the cinema.

He's fascinated by anything mechanical. "I wasn't interested in the Romans or the Stone Age in school, but once we got onto the Industrial Revolution my history teacher couldn't believe how my marks went up." Now he's a passionate air-show and steam fair visitor, expertly using his long-distance lenses to capture great shots.

After a chat with Tash, the Breaking Barriers Community Arts project manager, 

we parked up by Blaina bowls club for lunch. To our delight, our lovely signage brought ten teenagers over, who were all game for telling their tales, giving us their very positive views of their valley.

"We've got mountains. They haven't got mountains in Cardiff."

As we drove, we started counting, and by the time we'd called in on our old friends in the Blaina Library and art class, we calculated that we'd collected 15 stories in the last few days. Good, strong, long stories.

It's 'Only in the Valleys' you'll find people so hospitable, so welcoming and ready to give their time to talk and get involved. 

Now, to edit them.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The day the van caught people's eyes

We wanted to travel to the far end of our patch today so we began up in Sofrydd, where we'd noticed a Jaguar garage last month. The garage was shut and we were shocked at what we found:

People looked at the van with interest, but didn't seem in the mood to chat. That changed when we drove into the snack bar in Aberbeeg. 

Before we could even park, a welcoming man came over to ask what we wanted, and the ladies behind the counter were full of questions. Who are you? What's Myth Busters?

Joelene was delegated to talk to us and she gave us a great tale, full of opinions about the valleys, their difference from elsewhere and the treatment of the young. Not to be outdone, Rob added his voice and gave us more fascinating material - the sense of humour that used to be passed down through the generations. Two more stories waiting for editing.

Walking back to the van from buying lunch, we noticed a father and his daughter taking photos of the signs on the van. While they explained that they were Gareth the Garage and Ffion the Fish, and had spent 5 minutes laughing at all the names on the side of the van, we got out the microphone. Almost before we knew it, Gareth had agreed to record his ideas. Inviting us to come home and collect some photos, he said how we'd changed his day and how glad he was to be involved in Myth Busters. Result!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Myth Busting Heaven

It was a glorious day in the valley, so glorious that even the view from the supermarket car park was perfect.
Myth buster: it doesn't always rain in Wales.

As we travelled, we didn't find just what the myths told us to expect,

we found unexpected things too.

But however strange these were, they didn't beat the most unexpected thing that happened: we found ourselves abandoning the van and being taken on a tour of the ranch by a Texan complete with cigar.

Well, he obviously wasn't really a Texan, he was John, a former Ebbw Vale steel-worker who said, "It used to be a pleasure to go to work." And it wasn't really a ranch, but the pride and verve with which he drove us up and up over bumpy grassland and dirt tracks belonged up right up there with the Americans. 

He had a real treasure to show us; he was taking us to a record-breaking spot, the highest tee at the highest golf club in Great Britain, the 14th tee at West Monmouthshire Golf Club.

Myth buster: golf is not just for Scotland and men in pin-striped suits 

Oh yes, and would you believe it? This Valleys Welsh golf course has to have irrigation to prevent it drying out. And this is Wales. 

Thrilled with the day's Myth Busting, we arranged to meet Derek the sheep. On the way over, we met the confectionery crunching kids of Cwm Celyn:

And when we arrived at Derek's, the mythic welsh babbling brook, sunlit hills, still lakes, barking dogs and hearty hand-shakes were all present.

Derek regaled us with a full half-hour of tremendous tales before we steered the van back down the valley past the sheep grazing between the coca cola bottles, along the main road to the depot.

Another day of Myth Busting over.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Myths with passion

Today began in sunshine and ended in rain, with plenty of grey weather in between.

That weather reflected the range of emotions we encountered in the people we met today. 

The shop-keeper angry that the arrival of super-markets had brought about the closure of local shops and the emptying of high streets - no more does Violet the Wool ply her trade. 

The cheerful milkman surviving on the loving loyalty of his customers. 

The jovial farmer tending his sheep, defiantly surviving whatever nature or the state can throw at him.

Older people enjoying valleys companionship in all its warmth and laughter,

while young women sadly but determinedly spoke of working hard to get out of the valley where they see no future for themselves.

The despair in the face of the factory manager who couldn't let us chat with her employees because she didn't even know if the factory would still be open next month and they were all afraid.

Maybe these stories confirm myths about the valleys, but they are myths with faces, myths with voices, and those faces and voices are not old and dead, but very much alive and feeling.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The first day in the life of .....

At last, yesterday we could truly rig the van and head out.

First for the magnetic signs:

Then for the homely bit:

Our windows looked wonderful....just look at our views!

In accordance with our plan, we could see both the Valleys and the Big City, Cardiff, together. The snippets we collected last week in Cardiff were very provocative about the Valleys. Here's a flavour:
When we played them to Valleys people at our first stop, Llanhilleth Institute. Sure enough, they did just what we wanted: they raised hackles and got people talking.

Then off we went to see who we could find, and what they would say.

First up was Mike the Greek, selling luscious looking fruit and flowers beside the road.

Matt's getting his story ready, so come back later for that.

We thought we'd try and find somewhere we could park up in Abertillery, but the van was too tall for the car park and we found ourselves travelling further and further out. We decided to follow a sign for a picnic area, thinking we'd find people with more time to chat there, but when we arrived, the glorious sound of bells was filling the air.
We had to find those bell-ringers. There they were.....a tiny church almost hidden by trees.

A twisting drive up the hills - that van can turn on a sixpence - took us to where crowds of school children were crocodiling along to what must have been an end-of-term service. Up and up the hill to find a parking place, where we happily diverted from the hunt for the bell-ringers as all our ideas of valleys houses went out of the window. Glorious homes, with views you couldn't beat anywhere, and evidently proud to be Welsh.

We were even invited back by a friendly householder who gave us a lead to a friend the other side of the valley, pointing out the house we needed to find. So maybe the stereotype of friendliness is true. No myth to bust there?

At last we went into the churchyard, and heard the children singing.

What a mixture of hope and sadness, care and neglect.

Winding back down the hill following our trusty OS map and the signs from the friendly householder, we found his friend's house. The barkiest dog in the world greeted us, but after that we were set for a long chat, a lot of stories and a richly rewarding afternoon. But you'll have to wait for another day to hear those stories.

Friday, 6 July 2012

What's in a name?

We carried on preparing the van today. As always, things didn't go completely smoothly.

We've joked a lot about the fact that, stereotypically, Matt's doing the carpentry and Katrina's making the cushions and curtains and doing the cleaning. And of course, Matt drove the van first...it seemed natural. 

How easy is it to break the mould and do things differently? Our flier lists a whole lot of Welsh nicknames, but we've come across some interesting real ones recently.

Jack the Judge - a clerk at an Assize court
Gary Star - whose father ran the Star Hotel
Squito - whose father was called Moss
Jack Black and White - a pigeon fancier whose lofts were painted black and white

How hard is it to break the mould of a name like that, to change the way people look at you?