Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Column, October 24, 2006

JUST when did we win the war for the Welsh language?
I only ask because apparently I missed the party. The open-top bus parade of hunger strikers, prisoners of conscience, paint-daubers and sticker-stickers that must surely have taken place when it was decided that Welsh was safe forever.
Surely only an historic victoruy like that can explain Cymdeithas yr Iath Gymraeg’s decision to target Brantano in its latest offensive.
Yes, I had never heard of them either. Brantano I thought, didn’t he sign for West Brom early in the season, cultured left foot but prone to injury?
No, he, or it is a shoe shop.
And one that sells shoes without the benefit of using any Welsh. If you hawked crack cocaine outside a school gate you wouldn’t get a more outraged reaction from CYI – as long as you hawked it in Welsh that is.
Brantano along with its home, the Ystwyth Retail Park Aberystwyth, and other businesses there, were targeted because of the lack of Welsh language signage.
Brantano came in for some particularly liberal stickering – not because some of the protesters were checking out this season’s kitten heels – but because of their reported response to protests that they don’t need to use Welsh because ‘we’re all British.’
Well, yes, up to a point. But Brantano aren’t British, they’re Belgian, which makes their refusal to put up Welsh language signage particularly stupid.
Coming from Belgium where the Flemings and the Walloons try to rub along together with varying degrees of success, but speaking different languages, you would have thought Brantano would have realised the value of a little language sensitivity.
Apparently not. Hence their being sprayed with CYI slogans last week.
One wonders quite how much Welsh signage is needed to sell shoes – I mean it’s not as if you’re going to go into a shoe shop expecting to pick up a loaf of bread and 20 Marlborough Lights is it.
As far as I could see from the plethora of pictures Cymdeithas placed on their website, the Brantano signage plastered with “Ble mae’r Gymraeg” stickers consisted of a large poster which said: “We stock Clarks adult shoes” and another advertising a position there as deputy manager – please apply within. Let’s hop they find a deputy who speaks Welsh who can know a few Welsh signs up on the back of shoe boxes with a magic marker so as to avoid any further unpleasantness.
But given the paucity of language actually required to buy and sell shoes, it is more than a little curmudgeonly for Brantano not to put up a bit of Welsh signage.
Still it’s a bit of a comedown for the CYI whose campaigning actually had some meaning back in the days of yore.
A long time ago when I was a rebellious student, I wrote a rebellious thesis about this bunch of rebels. It involved some fairly lengthy correspondence with them and, strangely, every last bit of it had mysteriously opened while in the care of Royal Mail and was delivered to me in a plastic bag with a curt note of apology.
Could have been coincidence of course, but this was also the time when Meibion Glyndwr were at their fiery height and in the eyes of some nosey parkers one Welsh rebel is very much the same as the next when it comes to wanting to know what they’re posting out.
So back then, when CYI did something it mattered and people took notice. Now they seem a pale imitation of their former selves, struggling to find anything meaningful to do in a world where many of the institutions they used to rail against are completely and infuriatingly bilingual.
The police, councils, the civil service and a host of major firms would no more run their affairs in monoglot English than they would sell their grannies into slavery.
Who have they got left to fight, because daubing slogans on a footwear chain most of us have never heard of is a battle not worth having?
When Marlon Brando’s Wild One was asked what he was rebelling against, “Whaddya got?” was his answer, meaning anything and everything.
CYI might make the same reply, but now it sounds more like a plea than a statement of defiance.

JUST to show burghers can be sensible and perverse a matter of miles apart.
The burghers of Gwynedd have, to their credit, stuck by their guns and refused Asda permission to use more of its Pwllhali store for non-food retail – ie clothes and homeware.
Well done to them. They said they would and they refused to cave, so credit where its due.
Now of course they have to face the inevitable planning inquiry, but it’s hoped the inspector will take due account of the many people in the town who have voiced grave concerns at Asda’s effect on the local economy.

MEANWHILE down the road in Conwy, the borough council cabinet has flown in the face of local opinion and expert advice and refused to allow a cycle route along the prom.
This is despite their own environment scrutiny committee chucking their original refusal back at them and telling them to reconsider.
No, no, says the Cabinet, the preferred route is to send cyclists back through the town.
I do think when councillors make these daft decision they should be made to experience the fruit of their labours.
Having them trying to cycle in rush-hour traffic for a month would be a good start.


Rhys Wynne said...

I don't quite follow your argument re CYI. You start off asking tounge in cheek "when did we win the war for the Welsh language?" (I agree, ti's far from won).
Then you end by saying
"Now they seem a pale imitation of their former selves, struggling to find anything meaningful to do in a world where many of the institutions they used to rail against are completely and infuriatingly bilingual." - which seems to imply that you think the 'war' is over.

Personally, I think CYI and other interested parties should concentrate more on the public sector which (despist a few exeptions) still fails to provide an adequate service in Welsh.

If the general public would now for certain that they could be guaranteed a porper Welsh language service when dealing with the public sector, then they would become more confident to ask and expect an equal service from the private sector.

Having said that, some pressure needs to be put on the private sector as well. It wasn't just Brantano that was targeted (from what I gather as i wasn't there) but the new retail park as a whole and Branton was finally singled out as it didn't have a single word of Welsh anywhere inside or out. Just having 'Talwch yma' and general signs in Welsh would pacify Welsh speakers.

As to 'why you'd need posters in Welsh to sell shoes?'. Well for langugae to be normalised it has to be seen and heard. If they couldn't employ a Welsh speaker, having Welsh signage would show they'd made some effort to adapt to locality and respect the language of their customers.

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