Saturday, 5th February, 2011.

Hard Times

Sculptor Howard Bowcott has been commissioned to create a monument to those who worked in the slate-industry up in Blaenau Ffestiniog.

The town is spending four-and-a-half million pounds on improving itself.   Rightly so, but I do hope that it retains its past quaintness, though.

Blaenau Ffestiniog – and, indeed, many little places up in that area – employed thousands of slate-workers.   They lived in pretty dire conditions and were slaves.   Wage-slaves, that is;  but nevertheless slaves.   We rarely hear of that slave-trade . . .

I am always moved to melancholic sadness when I pass through the area and see the “glory” that remains:  great piles of broken slate everywhere, much of it now overgrown by bramble and grass.

There were skills here, skills which do not exist today.   There were men who knew how to split slate without waste.   Their hands were constantly cut and raw from their work.

Now, like our coal-mines, the slate quarries are all but idle.

So Mr. Bowcott’s work will be a great tribute to the men of Wales who created, with their bare hands, this once-thriving industry.   Let us not forget.

New Skills For Old

As the old skills we once had die – both in Wales and throughout these Isles – there is always something new to learn.

In Cardiff, there’s a big event to promote work in call-centres.   Many hundreds of jobs will be created, we’re told.   And, though call-centres cannot ever be part of Wales’ manufacturing industry, those jobs must surely be welcomed.

However, a friend of mine recently received a ring from a call-centre.   The caller claimed his name was Harvey Owen, but his manner of speech denoted that he was based in Calcutta or somesuch city.

“Harvey” told my friend he was calling from Windows, and that they’d had warnings from his computer that there was a virus infecting it.   My friend asked if the warning had been sent manually or automatically generated.   “Harvey” said it was the later.

My friend was then asked to go into his computer and change some of the settings so that Windows could delete the virus.

It was at this point that he became suspicious.   He asked how he knew that “Harvey” was a genuine caller from Windows.   Instantly, he was given an 0800 number to ring back.

After he’d ended the call – having told the uncomprehending “Harvey that Owen was a fine old Welsh surname – he checked with a couple of his computer whizz-kid friends.

And, sure enough, this was a scam.   Make those changes to the settings and Harvey and his gang could hack in and copy all sorts of files and information from the PC.   “Ring the Police” was the advice.

He reported the call to the Police.   As he put the phone down, it rang.   “Harvey” was asking why he had not called back!

Then he received a genuine call:  the Police rang to say that they already knew about this scam – but are powerless to help as it originates in a foreign country where our boys in blue have no jurisdiction.

I pass this on to warn you, for my friend is not the only one in Wales to have received such a hideously dishonest call.

A Sad Passing

The actress Margaret John has passed on.   I feel she will be a sad loss to acting and to Wales.

Her acting career spanned a few decades, but she went out on a high playing her part in “Gavin & Stacey”.   That series will be a great memorial to Margaret, for not only has it proved popular beyond our land, but it has also shown the world that Wales has a strong talent for the performing arts.

It may even have caused people from the other side of Offa’s Dyke to find out where Wales is, and discover that it’s not simply another English county . . . !

Archie Lowe

archie.lowe@googlemail.com

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About Archie Lowe

Though not born in Wales, I have lived and worked here for many years now. I love the place and love that mercurial thing "Welshness". I have been accused of being "a Taffophile" - which is pretty near the truth. The question I ask whenever some idea comes up for the whole of the UK is: "What's in it for Wales". I believe in an independent Wales and am so pleased that our Assembly is a big step on that road.
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