Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What city do you belong in?

You Belong in Amsterdam
A little old fashioned, a little modern - you're the best of both worlds. And so is Amsterdam.Whether you want to be a squatter graffiti artist or a great novelist, Amsterdam has all that you want in Europe (in one small city).
What European City Do You Belong In?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Column, April 25, 2006

IF there's a case which sums up the depths to which the NHS has sunk it is that of the nurse fined for parking at her own hospital.
The Victorian mill owners missed a trick there didn't they? They paid their staff in tokens to spend in the company shop, giving with one hand and taking with another, but sadly internal combustion and mass production came a little late for them to take advantage of their workers' need to park somewhere.
No matter, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Denbighshire County Council are keeping the spirit of Thomas Gradgrind alive and well and it's hard times for anyone who dares to park on a grass verge, well a £60 fine fixed penalty at least.
Now with even more staff heading for the hospital the staff car park is going to be a target-rich environment for the attendants who hand out the penalties isn't it?
But it's just a symptom of the malaise that afflicts a health service which is meant to be free at the point of delivery, but which is being pushed to fleece its users, and its staff, in any other way possible.
The car parks have long been coveted by private enterprise who see them as a way of making a fast buck. You've got patients, people have to come and visit them, sometimes for a long time, well why not make them pay for the privilege. OK you might have to put up a swanky new bit of building to pay for the privilege of having the car park, but once you've got your greedy mitts on the parking, you can start steadily putting up the fees and employing wardens to ticket and clamp togett you even more hard cash.
Then there's the charming invention of bedside TV consoles. An impressive-looking bit of kit, resembling for all the world one of those bleeping monitors on Casualty, hovering over the beds in lots of hospitals nowadays. They even have a phone attached too, so the patients can call out without even having to get out of bed.
Of course, there's no such thing as a free lunch, or a free TV and time and calls have to be paid for, in advance, with tokens from a machine.
You're not going to let your nearest and dearest while away their convalescence without a telly, and so invariably relatives spend what's left of their change after they've been mugged by the car park machine on buying some TV time.
And here's the clever bit. You can't turn the TV off, because it carries ads, which are also being paid for, to a physically, if not quite literally, captive audience. All you can do with these infernal machines is turn the screen to the wall, volume off, and hope that its glow doesn't disturb your much-needed sleep.
Want a picture of the scan of your baby-to-be? That'll cost you too.
Food, drink - why visit the supermarket concessions in the foyer.
How old people manage to die of malnutrition in hospital is anyone's guess when there's enough to feed the 5,000 sitting in shops in hospital reception areas that are beginning to resemble shopping malls.
The NHS may still be free at the point of delivery, but if you're planning on using it any time soon, best keep you wallet handy, you'll be needing it.

I SHOULD have guessed that I hadn't heard the last of the Blacks saga - you remember the store that was target of a demo after one of its assistants suggested a customer was rude for assuming she spoke Welsh.
Aran Jones, chief exec of Cymuned, whose numbers swelled (if that's the right word, there were after all only 20 of them) the Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg demo, writes in to set me straight in a few matters. Well, he wrote 700 words originally so it's more than a few.
Firstly, a simple factual point - far from being a single shop, Blacks is in fact part of a reasonably hefty chain - over 350 shops in Britain, as I understand. No, it's not as hefty a target as government (a battle which the Cymdeithas have yet to win, by the way) - but it's a long way from the Mom'n'Pop store idea that comes across in your latest article!
Secondly, and more importantly, I genuinely think that you are underestimating the social importance of the kind of attitude that was revealed by this incident. You say that one or two people in a small town are of negligible importance, particularly when compared with government and big businesses - but language planning research over the last fifteen years shows that this simply isn't true.
As you know we state at Cymuned (and, incidentally, eight of the protesters at Blacks were Cymuned members acting in support of the Cymdeithas), community is the key issue in language planning. One of the most damaging aspects of language shift in Welsh-speaking communities is the enormous impact on social confidence that even a small amount of hostility has when it is sanctioned and normalised by the society.
It really isn't that different, after all, to our action against Somerfields. We didn't act against Somerfields because the chain was above a certain pre-determined size - we acted against Somerfields because leaving that kind of attitude unchallenged allows it to become the social norm frighteningly quickly.
Against that kind of background, accepting that a shop worker effectively has the right to scold someone for speaking Welsh with them is like a step back into the dark ages (or the 1950s, at any rate!). Such things are symptomatic - if she was the only shop worker in Betws, or in Gwynedd, to speak like that, local social pressure would have cured her ages ago. She's not - she's one of a worryingly large number, and I'm afraid that articles like your latest give confidence to people who are keen to reject any idea that the language is affected by them as individuals.
There's the key point - too many people now follow the line that they're all in favour of the language, as long as they don't have to change anything they're doing.
As Chris Myant, Director for the Commission for Racial Equality Cymru, says - you can't reverse language shift without some people being inconvenienced, and individual responsibility has to be put on the agenda at some point.
If the nicest person in the world moves into a Welsh-speaking community and doesn't learn the language, they are helping to destroy the social fabric it needs to exist. We have to change attitudes at ground level - no Language Act can hope to do that, but it's just possible that making sure that someone points out how shameful such behaviour is, whenever and wherever it happens, will in the end make it socially unacceptable.
As you know, I think your work on language issues is a consistently important, useful addition to the debate. But I think you may have misjudged this one - disagreeing with tactics is one thing (admirable and often useful), but propping up an unhealthy mindset that reversing language shift is a far away, governmental responsibility, and that no individuals need to change their attitudes, is quite a different matter.

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?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Column, April 11, 2006

WHAT on God's good Earth is a Welshy?
I only ask because I want to know whether to take umbrage or not.
It has been said that this was a term used by a Question Time panellist about us, Inspector Knacker of North Wales Police has become involved and now national newspapers are asking whether we are the touchiest nation in the world.
All very messy, and even the H-bomb of racial debate has been deployed - it has been dubbed, wait for it, political correctness gone mad.
And I haven't even had me two penn'orth yet. Do you ever get the feeling you've just arrived in a bar after everyone's had a good scrap?
Anyway not wanting to miss my chance to saddle up my high horse if Ms Odone had cast even the slightest aspersion in our direction I did a little research into what she actually said.
I've found out, and I have to say I could have saved a lot of police time as well as a couple of acres of rainforest in newsprint if they'd all just come to me for a proper interpretation.
In fact, I'm thinking of offering it as a media service from now on - Banksychecker - if you're worried that you're insulting the Welsh, run it by me first, I'm on a hair trigger, if I respond with a string of expletives and a month of columns you know you've overstepped the mark.
But back to what Ms Odone actually said, and let's put it in context shall we, because having heard her before I suspected that she hadn't just leapt onto the Question Time panellists' panel and started shouting 'Little Welshies' at the shocked audience.
Here is what she said, when asked one of those easy-peasy questions at the end, this was about Wales's chances of hosting the 2012 Olympics after the latest Wembley setback:
"The Welsh, I can tell you, are whooping it up already," said Odone. "They are saying 'We are going to have a whole English football extravaganza up here.' And from now on, they [the English] are not going to be talking about the 'leeks', and they are not going to be talking about the 'little Welshies'. They are going to be saying 'Excuse me, could we come in here, could we please?' "
So, she did utter the words 'little Welshies' didn't she? But for heaven's sake, will you look at the rest of the sentence?
If you've got half a brain you can work out she wasn't insulting us, in fact quite the reverse, she was saying that any English people who have patronised us in the past with talk of leeks and little Welshies won't be doing so any more because we've nicked the FA Cup from under their noses.
So, let's be clear, there's is absolutely nothing wrong with anything that she said, other than the fact she clearly doesn't know some of the names we get called.
Leeks and little welshies, I'm telling you, if that was all I'd heard over the years from grunting neanderthals who don't like us I'd count myself a very lucky man.
I've never heard anyone use the term welshy and if they did I'd be more likely to think them a bit odd than any sort of racist.
But that's all by-the-by, the fundamental point is that Cristina Odone was not calling us little Welshies, she was saying that is what some people have called us, but they won't be able to any more because we host lots of English football finals.
That's it. It might be a tad short on the logic side, I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced that the Millennium Stadium is going to halt all anti-Welsh jibes nationwide, but it's a nice thought.
So North Wales Police should have saved their resources on this one. They've got bigger fish to Tony Blair.
Now, if they can spin that investigation out a bit longer I'm all for it. It might have no merits, but if it's getting up the nose of Alastair Campbell then they can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned.
Can they not arrange for him to be taken in for a bit of questioning? You know, in the custody suite, remove his shoelaces and tie for his own safety, and a little chat with a grim-faced DI.
You wouldn't be so brave then Tony, without your backbench mates behind you. Five minutes of good cop, bad cop and he'd be singing like a canary.
And by the way, it was The Guardian newspaper that asked if we were the touchiest nation in the world, while deploying the Alf Garnett defence - where's your sense of yoomah - to what was said about us.
The answer is of course that yes, we are the touchiest nation in the world, just as every Guardian reader is a sandal-wearing beardy lefty who knits his own yoghurt.

AND talking of birds, can we just take a deep breath and calm down about bird flu? Please?
Two things have got to happen before this becomes any sort of threat to human life in this country.
So before you think about despatching you pet budgie in a pre-emptive cull, you might want to consider the following.
To spread to humans in any numbers the bird flu has to mingle with human flu in order to mutate into a virus than can be passed from human to human instead of bird to human.
To do this you need large numbers of humans with human flu in contact with large numbers of birds with bird flu.
We don't have that in this country, we tend not to live with flocks of hens around our ankles at the breakfast table.
Even in the Far East, where people live in far closer contact with large poultry populations, H5N1 has still not mutated into a pandemic human flu virus.
So worry more about the traffic outside your door, as a speeding driver is far more likely to hurry you off into the hereafter than any swan with sniffles.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Me, on the BBC

If any of you are up early enough, I'm on BBC Radio Wales tomorrow (Tues).

I'm talking about an article in today's Guardian which asks whether we, the Welsh, are the touchiest people on Earth. This was prompted by the police talking to Cristina Odone about her Question Time contribution in which she used the term 'little Welshies.'

I should be on at 7.50am.

As I'll explain in my column later she wasn't saying quite what she's accused of saying.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Hello to visitors from Press Gazette

Some of you might be wondering why the former editor of the Daily Mirror is wibbling on about things North Welsh.

He's not, because I'm not him, though we share the same name.

For some reason as well the Press Gazette has linked here, very kind of them, but perhaps a tad confusing for those of you expecting trenchant comment on the state of British journalism, and instead you get me.

Anyhoo, the site you're looking for is

But thanks for looking in anyway, do call again soon. Column's in here every Tuesday or Wednesday, depends when I get my arse into gear.

And the other David Banks doesn't get e-votes on whether he's a twat or not does he? Oh no. For that sort of blog excitement this is the place to be.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Hello to visitors from maes-e

A hearty good afternoon to all those of you finding your way here from the maes-e webchat place.

Apparently there's a bit of a poll going on there as to whether I'm a tw*t or not, and it has to be said that apart from one or two brave souls speaking in my defence the voting is not going entirely my way.

Ah me. Into every life a little rain must fall

The answer is, of course, yes I am. I urge you all to get back there, vote early and vote often.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Column, April 4, 2006

I'M touched by the faith that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg have in the forces of law and order.
Their view that a new Welsh Language Act would be the answer to all of the ills foisted upon our tongue is as quaint as an Ealing comedy starring Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford.
The latest evidence that only a new Act will do comes courtesy of Blacks, who have a shop assistant who doesn't speak Welsh, shock horror.
I'd take their claim a little more seriously if they did not make it every day in the week which has a y in it. The sun comes up of a morning and CYI will claim it's incontrovertible proof that we need a new Welsh Language Act - it's shining on English!
It may come as a terrible shock to CYI and I'm sorry to break it to them so brutally, but the majority of people in Wales do not speak Welsh, so finding a shop assistant who doesn't, albeit in the Welsh-speaking fastness of Betws-y-Coed, is not akin to news of the Moon landing or Kennedy's assassination.
Hold the front page, someone in Wales speaks the same language as most of the other people in Wales.
Now, admittedly Blacks should have Welsh-speaking staff somewhere at hand, but it should be pure economics that forces that upon them. As the gentleman who made the complaint demonstrated, it is possible to take your business elsewhere. Betws is not exactly short of outdoor equipment shops.
But no, this is, according to CYI, yet more proof that Wales needs a new Welsh Language Act. Which makes you wonder what, exactly, do they expect to be in that Act?
Perhaps they expect the new Act to contain new policing powers. Can we look forward to a language version of The Sweeney, operating out of Colwyn Bay police HQ.
"Guv, we've 'ad a call that there's a shelf-stacker down at Tesco who used a soft mutation when everyone knows 'e should have done a nasal."
"The nonce, get the Jag out, 'e's nicked."
The police in Wales already have plenty on their plate without having to patrol the counters of North Wales shops.
Is a new Welsh Language Act going to contain a Outdoor Sports Shop (Provision of Welsh-speaking staff and no backchat) Clause?
Because if it isn't, what exactly does CYI think a new Welsh Language Act will do?
I suspect, though I might be wrong, that someone, somewhere at Blacks could have spoken Welsh to the customer, but he met an assistant who did not know that.
So in terms of proof, I think CYI are going to have to come up with something a bit more cast-iron than that. It's hardly the sort of stuff that prompts Royal Commissions - quick there's a boycott of Blacks bobble-hats in Betws, better rush out that White Paper before they start burning walking socks in the street.
CYI don't really help their case, which may well be a good one, by citing such weak examples as 'proof' of the need for a change in the law. One shop assistant couldn't speak Welsh to one customer, my God, the barricades will be burning in Betws tonight won't they, Blacks will rue the day they didn't send every last one of their staff to nightschool.
All that this case confirms is the ability of the likes of CYI to go off like a bottle of pop. There are plenty of genuine cases of Welsh people being prevented from using their language, but how is CYI going to react to them if it's already said that this case is 'proof' of the need for a new Act?
Keep your powder dry for real battles and treat matters like this for what they are, a silly mistake which is hardly a threat to the language.

REGULAR reader(s) (let's not be too optimistic) may remember the colourful activities of the japesters at Natwatch last year.
It was they who broadcast the ill-judged words of Aled Cottle and then Rhodri Tomos to the world, thus landing one in hot water and prompting the other to resign his job at Gwynedd council.
Then they went very, very quiet.
It has been suggested they're a New Labour prank, other have said they're an unholy alliance of 'anyone but Plaid.'
Whoever they are, it would seem they are back. An e-mail arrives announcing their re-launch and inviting 'friends' to a fundraiser for a contribution of £10.
I did check the date it was sent, and if it's an April Fool then they are a day late.
Their return is, so they say, in anticipation of the next Assembly elections and they want to raise cash to keep the site going until then.
Quite how they've decided I'm a friend I'm not sure, although presumably because I've given them more publicity than they deserve in the past.
Their stated aim for the election is to MakeNatsHistory. Not entirely up to them of course, but if they have been watching the activities of Plaid in recent months with more leaders and ex-leaders around than you can shake a stick at, an impartial observer might suggest they're managing that without any help from Natwatch.
Any party that thinks its future is dependent on having a 'sonic logo' - a jingle to you and I - might be considered to be on its last legs.
Still, elections can be dull at the best of times, particularly now parties of all hues have adopted the politics of spin.
The re-emergence of Natwatch may make for a more interesting few months than we had bargained for.