In memory of a garden bird

Yesterday I was weeding the last of six vegetable beds in our garden when I heard a kerfuffle by the Wendy house. I looked up to see a small garden bird being assassinated by a hawk behind a grassy knoll. The hawk I think was rather put out by my presence and hopped up on to the ridge of the roof of the Wendy house. It looked at me. I looked at it. It looked back at me. Neither of us moved. The other bird lay injured and panting on the ground. I reached in my pocket to grab my phone. The hawk flew off. No picture. I wondered what to do with the garden bird. I picked it up and it lay panting in my gloved hand. And then it stopped, and I realised that the life had gone from it. I put it back behind the grassy knoll, doubting whether the hawk would be back to claim its meal. Above me three red kites circled in the high distance. The ravens restlessly darted through the low skies. The robins, normally so brazen chasing the worms of the freshly tilled soil, hid. The humbled gardener brushed the soil off his fork and went inside for a cup of tea.

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New Zero Carbon Britain report launched today!

Really pleased to see that the new Zero Carbon Britain report is launched today! Making it Happen is the third Zero Carbon Britain report I’ve done the publishing work for and its great to be involved in something that continues to push at the frontiers of what we think is possible. To find out more about the report check out ZCB Co-ordinator Paul Allen’s quick video introduction and download the full report here (available as an interactive PDF).

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Looking back at the CAT oral history project

I can’t believe its five years since I started work on the CAT Oral History Project! This has got to be one of the most enjoyable, creative and life affirming things I’ve ever done. There were so many brilliant things about meeting the hundreds of people I met as a result of the project.

I can’t begin to talk about all the individual moments of joy and inspiration that rose up just because we started to talk to people. Oral history is a brilliant process. As a way of really listening to what people have to say about a subject it can’t be beaten. It was a complete privilege to spend time with people and learn from them, and then to make those interviews available for other people to hear.

I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything quite as good. I hope I do, but if I don’t, then this is a legacy I can be proud of. Partly because all that part of CAT’s history no longer exists, and the only place the culture of the place lives on outside of the memories of the people themselves is in these interviews and the various history books that exist, including my own. It really was a special place, far from perfect, but always striving to find a better truth. A better way of being human.

Some of this is reflected in the interviews. They are all available at the National Library of Wales. Most are about an hour long. Go to the library, pick out an interview, spend an hour with a stranger. Learn something new. If you can’t get there then this podcast is a great place to start. It tells the story of the beginning of CAT, and features a whole range of voices. I love just listening to everyone’s voices, with the different accents and ways of speaking. Turn down the lights, relax in a chair with a nice cup of hot chocolate. Listen whilst dusting. Enjoy!

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Sign the UNICEF child refugee petition

Protest the government for not allowing child refugees into the UK. Ask it to honour its commitments. Sign the UNICEF petition here.

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One Day Without Us

On Monday I went to the One Day Without Us protest in Manchester, organised alongside many other similar events around Britain, to offer some sort of solidarity to people who currently find their future in Britain uncertain following Brexit. We like to call such people migrants but they are yes, people like you and me.

I’m not a veteran protestor (I find myself embarrassed by my own chanting!) but I hate the demonization of migrant people and the sanctimonious we-were-born-here verbosity of privilege that has for some become the post-Brexit currency of UK citizenship.

When I was growing up in Lincolnshire the closest thing we had to a migrant was me, I came from Lancashire. I can understand how easy it is to fear and blame the migrant, with their strange Lancastrian accent, and propensity to clog dance, but as the old (immigrant) proverb from the film Strictly Ballroom goes “A life lived in fear, is a life half lived”.

If Britain signs up for the Brexit-at-any cost exit it is currently heading towards we can safely say that a fear of migrants will have taken Britain into a half-life experience. It will be like living in a street where all the other neighbours are organising a party to which we will never be properly invited. As they say in Lancashire, ‘don’t cut off tha nose to spite tha face’.

I’ve never really taken advantage of the European party. I’ve lived in Britain my whole life. For many years I hardly left Wales. I love it here. But that love comes in part from a safe place knowing that we are part of something bigger, a continent-wide family of nations bound by meetings.

In Britain we have had one vote on Europe, to leave the institution called the EU. We didn’t have a vote to leave the single market. We didn’t vote to stop freedom of travel. We didn’t vote for Theresa May’s government. The Conservatives didn’t even vote for Theresa May’s leadership.

There is no democratic mandate for what is happening right now and yet it will determine the national psyche, probably at least until I’m nearing retirement. Not being able to vote again on all these fundamentally important issues will create unhealable division and a national trauma (not just the 48% of us who confidently and without fear voted remain, but those of the 52% who didn’t think they were voting for all this other stuff and will slowly start to hate their own decision).

So now is the time to say something. To stick up for ourselves, our democracy and our values, and for refugees, EU workers living here, friends and neighbours who come here to study or work, or just to be with us. We need you and we want you to be part of our lives. If one single friend has to leave Britain because of our decision to leave the EU I will be as mad as hell! So I’m practicing my chanting. No room for embarrassment any more.

‘No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here’

‘No, hate, no fear, EU migrants welcome here’

‘No hate, no fear, all migrants welcome here’

‘No hate, no fear, we are all migrants here’.

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Sunny winter climb on my dutch bike

The mountain roads around Machynlleth are spectacular on any day but a joy on a windless sunny day in winter. This is on the mountain pass to Llanidloes and its been an ambition of mine to climb this on my bike since I arrived in Wales 22 years ago! I went up on my Dutch Gazelle bike. Such a beautiful heavy bike and so nice to ride, no one expects it to climb a hill like this, but I did it without climbing out of my saddle. I got my Gazelle from Berno in North Wales. He’s a great guy with some brilliant bikes. Would highly recommend him.

http://thecyclingdutchman.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-missing-link-quality-bicycles.html

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Wales: Epic Views of A Small Country

I imagine that any book written by Jan Morris will be worth reading. No wonder The Times named her the 15th greatest British author to have emerged since the second world war. Her prose is fluid, dynamic and full of insight. The scope of her approach is grand, yet each sentence is full of detail. The kind of writing that smooths your progress over the terrain of a subject like a brush clearing the ice in front of a curling stone.

Over her very long and distinguished career she has taken her curling brush over subjects as diverse as Spain, New York, Venice and Huddersfield! Although one might imagine that these books are all about travel she refutes the label of travel writer. She writes not about movements and journeys, but about people and places.

Of all her 50 plus books, I’ve only previously read A Machynlleth Triad, probably not long after I arrived in Machynlleth in 1994, a book which imagines the town’s past, present and (perhaps Utopian) future. Having now glided so easily over the 458 pages of Wales – Epic Views of a Small Country I don’t know why I left it so long to pick up my second Morris.

I was reading the 1998 edition, a revised and updated edition of The Matter of Wales, itself published in 1984. The book is mostly concerned with the character of Wales, as defined by the past, so this isn’t a problem, although there are some moments that jar. For example, she talks about the Welsh Assembly as an infant concept, rather than what it is now, a late teenage reality. It would be good to know whether she feels Wales’ vision of itself has changed in that time, especially following Wales’ surprise Brexit vote.

In the 1998 edition, there is much made of the lack of Conservative political representation in Wales, no longer the case. Obviously, there is no mention of UKIP, which secured 7 seats at the Senedd in 2016. Politically, the Wales of 1998 is dominated by the Liberals, Labour and Plaid Cymru. Forgotten insights from the time surface. The fact for example that Cardiff itself voted against having a Welsh Assembly. Which reminds us that people don’t always know what’s good for them, for Cardiff itself has benefited enormously from the presence of governance.

Never the less, putting these things aside (and there is a 2014 edition should you not wish to) the 1998 edition of Wales is glorious and relevant, an exhilarating ride through the many deep and layered cultural dimensions of our small nation. Politics, religion, sport, medicine, industry, community, language (yr hen iaith in particular), agriculture, music, literature, architecture: each subject is covered with equal passion, dexterity and detail.

The one intriguing question I am left with: is this a book for those of us who love Wales but are not of Wales, or also for those who were born here and are already steeped in its language, culture and history. In other words, is it for those who seek a mirror to a world they know well or for those who want a window into a world they wish to know better?

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