And it came to pass in those days……

Time seems to be standing still on me, and yet the inevitable indicators that the end of the year is nigh keep rolling by.  Bangs and flashes that celebrated the attempts of one Mr Fawkes to effect a change of government seemed as nought compared with the ground shaking booms and bangs that are emanating from the nearby army range.  The weather, particularly the wind direction, make the activities appear much nearer and were quite sobering as Poppies were pinned to lapels to commemorate lost lives.

The world financial crisis is coming home to roost as our own Assembly government slashes budgets and the future is looking bleaker than ever.  Wales no longer suffers from massive job losses through the end of the old capital industries, mining and steel are only memories now, a generation has lived without them.  The insipid upward creep of unemployment is only now really beginning.  Some areas are a luxury in times of recession, my field of operation is one of them.  The Environment is always a luxury that can be easily cast aside when the purse shrinks.  I have been mindful, when fielding questions from farming customers, that history shows clearly Farming does well in a recession but itself suffers as the economy recovers;  farming seems set to be safe for a while,  but already the price achievable for beef is falling, lamb is hovering, feedstuffs and fertilizer, seed and fuel are on a steep upward curve.  Fuel in particular is heading back to its highs of two years ago, a time when farmers told me that once their own ‘red diesel’ (a tax rebated fuel for use by agriculture) reaches £1 per litre the end was in sight; its coming closer.

The Wye in autumn.

Wye oh Wye, there are ways of overcoming the depressing news and the onslaught of time - take time to take in what nature has to offer us.

The financial constraints will mean Higher Education, including Further Education colleges, will suffer substantial budget cuts and this will affect young people for years to come.

Added to the lack of training opportunities which will inevitably result from these cuts, will be the increasing lack of opportunity in the labour market.

Joined-up thinking has been one of my favourite call for years.  It doesn’t occur, not in Government, local or national, it is as ‘uncommon’ as ‘common sense’ !

When I was a student of economics one of the strategies we studied was Milton Keynes’ ideas for kick starting an economy in recession.  He recognised that the economy needed individuals to have the resources to buy goods and services.  Henry Ford had the same kind of thoughts, if he paid his workers sufficiently, they would form a major market for his cars (as long as they liked it ‘black’ !).  Maybe we need to dust off Keynes’ theories, there are already plenty of holes in roads that need filling…..  Of course, the typical response of a Tory government was to invoke a pseudo Keynesian approach and attack those lazy wasters who claim benefit and never work, well they would wouldn’t they.  Apparently anyone unemployed for longer than 10 minutes will be forced to go pick litter or some such.  The level of intellect within the upper echelons of government is startlingly low.  A former Welsh politician recently remarked that he felt there was such a low base-line of intellectual ability within British, particularly Welsh, politics that the country would struggle to overcome.  I’m afraid I concur,  I was never a fan of Thatcherite policies and even less of her Ministers, but the famous comment of the ‘less than politically erudite’ Rod Richards that most Welsh Labour councillors were fat and corrupt had more than a grain of truth, many of them (or their ilk) can now be found in all parties and in all governments.

I am feeling a little guilty, I feel I should be doing something, proposing new strategies, nagging those in positions of influence,  writing to educationalists, training organisations, even the Assembly department heads,  I should be getting off my …. and sharing my ideas.  The problem is I have become so cynical, so depressed by the lack of joined-up thinking, so dis-spirited by the infectious plight of young people and discarded adults whom I meet through my training courses.  I have, after more years than I wish to remember, evolved a strategy to detach myself from the pain and anguish of being confronted by such images of hopelessness and low esteem.

Training in the Valleys.

Both ends of the unemployment spectrum are brought together here in the Sirhowy valley. A 'training course' in maintaining and repairing tools, a day of frustration mainly but with the odd flash of inspiration.

I recently had to deliver a course in repairing and maintaining hand tools of the ‘gardening’ variety.  It was typical of the kind of  ‘lack of initiative initiative ‘ for which ex-industrial areas have become infamous.  At best they give employment to the folk who work for the multivarious projects, but as for the recipients of the ‘training programmes’ – forget it, few I have ever been involved in have done anything to assist the poor souls who get ‘sent’ to them.  This latest was a classic example; in order to keep getting their £64 per week (unemployment benefit now called ‘job seekers allowance’) they all had to do a four week ‘training course’ with the organisation for whom I was asked to deliver the course.  As usual there were major cock-ups, no keys, no tools, no-one knew I was coming………  The lady who had disorganised it (not the same lady as had messed up Flatholm, but surely her identical twin sister !) realised it was going to be a major c u and conveniently fell ill…… ubique paratus indeed, I am always ready for anything, and – even if I say so myself – we all had a reasonable day.

What saddened me was the lack of recognition by ‘those that organise’ of the immense wealth of ‘work knowledge’ that they had ‘in-house’.  Four of those attending had spent over 40 years underground, in various roles, experienced and disciplined members of the ‘working class’.  We should learn from them, we should be harvesting their knowledge, squeezing every last drop of ‘juice of the valleys’ from the last of the golden age of  Keynes’ Full Employment.  We have a nation increasingly populated by the ‘un-working’ class, a generation of despair and lost youth.

It angers me when highly remunerated (with lots of ‘perks’) politicians and members of the business community speak ill of  the unemployed, anyone who gets to sit in judgement or set policy – especially on level of benefits – should have to have brought up a family (preferably as a single parent) on benefit, living in poverty on some derelict council estate in an inner city, oh yes, and have borrowed from loan sharks to buy the kids some pathetic Christmas present for which they will be indebted for ever.  “For the poor are with thee always”, and we should look after them.

As I write Ireland has once again hit a low, not a ‘potato’ problem this time, no, this time its the death of a Celtic Tiger.  History has plenty to teach us, one Irish politician has just remarked that “the extent of Ireland’s demise is ‘beyond the pale’ “.  I doubt he even knew the meaning of the term, to be beyond that pale was indeed a plight, for the poor not the land owning class.

I see some hope in this crashing world, it will force people to discover alternatives to wealth, adversity might just bring out a little of the best in all of us.  Do you know that in the 1843 Potato famine, the Sioux Indians (‘Native Americans now) sent a trunk of gold to relieve the suffering of the Irish peasantry – astoundingly it arrived and was distributed (something the Catholic Church can be proud of facilitating) – and to this day an elder of the Tribe marches at the head of commemorative processions.

Enough whimsical moaning meanders;  Welshwaller’s Blog is supposed to be the bearer of good news and interesting countryside tid-bits.  I had another little lesson this past week or so,  a lesson to reaffirm something I have long espoused.  ‘Going back’ is never a good idea – generally I avoid re-unions and get-togethers of elements of my life long past.  Rugby is a good example;  it formed a huge part of my life for more than twenty years.  I made good friends,  I made good impressions and many folk have a regard for me; that is very flattering and, in dark periods, its nice to drift back to a halcyon time of my life.  Similarly other parts of one’s life often get revisited, such as University and College re-unions – I almost went to one the other weekend but sense overcame – school, work, Army, family even ! Even photographs are a means of revisiting, but is it a good idea ?

I went back to Brighton for a re-union of a team I played for a long long time ago.  I had my doubts but actually there were people I really wanted to see, a close caucus of team-mates, my best man even, and some dear friends that will be up there in my top ten.  But….. memory deceives, things move on even when we are not there.  I often wonder if people and places I know and have been to, actually exist when I’m not there……. is that Einstein and his ‘parrallel universe’ I wonder.

The greening of the valley.

How Green was My Valley. Its hard to remember how smelly, smokey and busy the valleys used to be. This rural scene is just out of site of rows and rows of miners houses, narrow streets and hundreds of young people lacking a future.

I’m happy with my life, by and large there’s no huge regrets of wrong turnings or blind alleys.  I am shocked when I meet folk who hark back all the time to past glories, I just had a weekend of such folk, well two or three anyway; yes, we would all like to be back in our twenties, perhaps, but there’s no point in dwelling on that.  The guy I stayed with is a sad shadow of his former self, a man wracked by illness before his time, abandoned by so called friends and nothing but memories of past glories – in his case ‘beautiful women’.  The City seemed derelict and not at all what I had hoped to see, but then I didn’t really want to see it,  I know ‘going back’ is a non-event, guaranteed to disappoint.  Worse still, it confronts us with who we are and where we are at.  Inevitably we all remember things differently, even facts are argued over.  We know friends in a particular time and space, they have other lives and other sides.  We meet at small interfaces, significant at the time, maybe these times last for a few weeks, sometimes a few years, but in the grand scheme of our lives they are but fleeting moments.

I have always tended to close chapters and read on, leave behind things done and dusted, sometimes that has seemed heartless and hurtful, its how I do it.  Always a new horizon, always a new and thrilling challenge, hopefully a better one.  The trouble is, as my past gets longer than my future, there’s more and more baggage behind me and the odds on meeting up with my past get shorter.  And, so, its back to the hills, the quiet and the solitude of a place now itself beset with memories, but this time I’m guaranteed not to meet anyone who wants to remind me, just a whole pile of cold old stone waiting to be given ITS next life !

And – its official, Autumn colours have been more intense this year – I told you so, I showed you so, look at the Wye valley above !  Apparently its because the summer was so good for leaf production, in particular the sugar in them, and that is what causes a plethora of reds and oranges when the green, the chlorofil, dissipates.  So I was not imagining it, looking through some romantic nostalgic eye, no, Autumn was amazing this year !

Its the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society’s Winter Fair next week, and I’m returning to real Welshwaller work, so stay tuned.


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