Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Column, April 18, 2006

WELL now you know. If you were thinking of opening up an outdoor sports store in Betws y Coed employing staff who think speaking Welsh is 'rude' – think again, the mighty Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg has spoken.
It is with no great pleasure that I recount the depths to which this once noble organisation has sunk. But after the latest escapade when they staged a demo at the Blacks store in Betws I'm afraid to say that CYI has lost the plot.
This was an organisation which once made people sit up and take notice, it picked its targets with care and they had to take notice when it did.
But back in the '70 and '80s Wales was a target-rich environment if you were looking for ignorance of and even hostility towards the Welsh language.
Government, schools, the health service, police and the media sat up and took notice when they had a point to make. If they didn't it wasn't long before they got an not altogether welcome visit by CYI members who would occupy their offices, or worse.
The history of civil disobedience in defence of the Welsh language is a long, colourful and honourable one. But now you wonder whether, having won the argument against many of the big fish – government, police and the school system – that CYI is rather casting about looking for a role and not being altogether successful in finding one.
It hardly becomes the organisation to sully its name with a pointless little demo at a solitary sports shop. What on Earth did they hope to achieve? It's not as if the society is incapable of the sort of action which made its reputation. Only a couple of months agoi Gwenno Teifi did time in a young offenders institute after she refused to pay court-ordered compensation to Radio Carmarthen that was damaged in a protest over its lack of Welsh-language broadcasting.
However, there is a difference between a radio station, which has a franchise to broadcast to thousands of people, and one shop having one ignorant member of staff.
It's not as if Blacks hadn't said sorry, but apparently they hadn't said sorry in a satisfactory way. So Blacks was the target of a sit-down protest by 20 CYI members as a result and they're threatening more unless they get a meeting with bosses there.
The man whose alleged experience while shopping at Blacks, Dilwyn Llwyd, said: “My complaint is that the assistant called me rude for speaking to her in Welsh and assuming that she spoke Welsh.
After taking part in the protest he said: “It's not for me but for the language – to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. I know that I'm in the right, there's no argument over that.”
No argument over that? I beg to differ. Firstly what is 'this kind of thing'? As far as I can see if what is alleged to have happened did happen, and remember we have yet to hear the shop assistant's version of events, then all CYI have proved is that Blacks have one assistant who behaved in an ignorant way.
That's regrettable, but I'm not sure what principle CYI are defending in staging a sit-down protest at Blacks. Is it their right not to be confronted by ignorance while shopping? Because if it is the there are a lot of shops out there and I suspect they'll be doing a lot of sitting in future before they eliminate it from Wales.
You will always get people whose appreciation of the language and its survival is not what it should be. You will always get individuals who even display hostility towards the language too.
As long as those people are not in positions of power then their effect on the everyday life of Welsh -speakers is minimal.
Fundamentally though, I think CYI needs to rethink its policy in relation to situations like this. While direct action undoubtedly has its place in bringing powerful bureaucracy to heel, it's an over-reaction to deploy the same tactics in the case of one small shop.
If you want to be taken seriously then there needs to be a proportionality to your actions, unfortunately the Blacks protest was totally disproportionate.
When they invade mob-handed for such an isolated case they run the risk of people forming the view that they are, well, a bunch of nutters.
It has been suggested in some quarters that my questioning of CYI policy over this issue makes me 'anti-Welsh'. If you think I'm anti-Welsh then you've not ben paying attention for the past seven years (and admittedly no-one would entirely blame you for that). But I would just say you can be in favour of the fight, while questioning the tactics.
It would be a sad day for the Welsh language if future valid protests are taken less seriously because of this over-reaction.
In the past when Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg spoke, people had to listen. The sad thing is, I wonder if many people are listening any more.


I FELT for Jesus this Easter, we were both martyrs to large pieces of wood. He was nailed to the cross, I was strapped to a sander doing the floor. Before you have me excommunicated (and does the Welsh Presbyterian church do excommunications I wonder) I'm not actually against a return to a stricter observance of Easter.
When did it become a festival of DIY and shopping? It was once the holiest festival of the year, of far greater significance than Christmas in the religious calendar. Now it's an excuse for consumption on a grand scale. The shops on Thursday were packed as people stocked up as if it was a famine approaching, not sa couple of bank holidays.
But what I truly object to is the way that some store are depicting it as yet another reason to buy toys. TV ads, blatantly aimed at kids, suggested that parents should go out and but their children toys – for Easter.
Never mind chocolate eggs, oh no, your child's happiness this Easter apparently depends on their having a walking, talking robot, a snip at £80.
What happened to just going out for the day with your kids? Have we become so devoted to consumerism that a Puppy In My Pocket or some other plastic monstrosity is actually preferable to a day at the seaside?
You'll be pleased to know that I managed to extract myself from the clutches of the sander before the weekend was over and spend the day at the beach.
But if it is the only way we can break the grip of our obsession with shopping and DIY, then I'm all for greater religious observance, but why stop at Easter?
I'm thinking of running it past Mrs Banks as an excuse for downing tools. “Yes dear, much as I would like to paper the walls today, if you consult the calendar you'll find it's the feast of St Boniface so I shall be putting me feet up and remembering his sacrifice.”
Do you think I've got a prayer?

7 comments:

Mr Gasyth said...

"One small shop" in Betws y Coed Blacks may be, but it is part of the Millets group (360 shops throughout Britain, 14 in Wales) and therefore a perfect example of how the Welsh language is ignored by the large companies who come to Wales to make money, but show no respect to the Welsh language.

A new Welsh Language Act would compel such companies to provide bilingual sineage and such - there is not a single word of Welsh to be seen in any of Millets shops at the moment. So what you might say, that wouldn't stop the odd loose cannon of an employee making rude comments to Welsh speakers, but there you'd be wrong.

Half the problem the language faces is it's continued lack of visibility in our country. Yes, it's on the road signs, and there may be a little in your local post office and if you're really lucky, your bank. But otherwise it's invisible to the vast majority of the population the vast majority of the time. If the employee in question was working in a shop where Welsh was a visible as English, in a town and in a country where she saw Welsh everywhere, every day, then she would have been much more aware that she was in a Welsh-speaking environment where it is perfectly normal for people to start a conversation in Welsh. Her attitude, and that of the thousands of others who are ignorant of the language would change - surely even you can see that that can only be a good thing?

Banksy said...

I agree, but I can't quite see how one employee's ignorance is indicative of company policy.

You cannot legislate away individual stupidity.

By all means make Welsh more visible, and that is CYI should be aiming to do, rather than frittereing away its energies on relatively minor slights to the language.

Mr Gasyth said...

You cannot legislate away individual stupidity.

True, but you can legislate to create a luinguistic environment where such ignorance of Welsh would be impossible.

By all means make Welsh more visible, and that is CYI should be aiming to do, rather than frittereing away its energies on relatively minor slights to the language.

You're missing the point. CYI are using the Blacks case as an example of why a new Welsh Language Act is needed. Its not wasting its time on a minor slight, but publicising that slight as sympomatic of why the current situation is unacceptable because of the ignorace of Welsh it allows within large sections of the population. It is innumerable 'small' cases like this that make up the very big problem that a new Act would help tackle.

Banksy said...

How?

Mr Gasyth said...

How?

I refer you to my first comment here:

"Half the problem the language faces is it's continued lack of visibility in our country. Yes, it's on the road signs, and there may be a little in your local post office and if you're really lucky, your bank. But otherwise it's invisible to the vast majority of the population the vast majority of the time. If the employee in question was working in a shop where Welsh was a visible as English, in a town and in a country where she saw Welsh everywhere, every day, then she would have been much more aware that she was in a Welsh-speaking environment where it is perfectly normal for people to start a conversation in Welsh. Her attitude, and that of the thousands of others who are ignorant of the language would change"

Thatsnews said...

But Banksy, you noticed it. Indeed, you have commented on it and given them more publicity.

Therefore their demonstration worked. And as it is part of a large chain with branches throughout the Uk it is not "one small shop."

Banksy said...

Commenting on a blog post that's more than a year old? Slight misnomer Thatsnews?

I refer you to the column and my comments - the ignorance of one employee is not indicative of company policy, no matter how large or small.

As to whether my commenting on it makes it a success, that rather depends on whether you believe the old adage about there being no such thing as bad publicity.