Marcus Stead

Freelance Journalist Marcus Stead

An open letter to my cousin, Phil Stead

with 12 comments

I have never met my cousin, Phil Stead, but would very much like to. He took the trouble to write this open letter to me earlier today. Here is my response: 

Dear Phil,

Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful letter. I’d also like to wish you and Mair a happy 20th wedding anniversary.

I shall now address the points you made in the order you made them.

Our family

I can clearly remember when I discovered you and I were related. It would have been 1998-2000, and I signed up to the old Cardiff City FC newsgroup mailing list. I saw some of your posts and found it curious that there was another Stead on there. Soon after my first post, you contacted me to try and establish how we were related, as you were very keen on family tree research at that time.

I wish it had happened a little earlier, because my grandfather, Emlyn, who died in 1998, would almost certainly have been able to answer any question about our family tree you had asked. I asked my late father, Vincent, for his help in the questions you posed, but he couldn’t answer everything. He knew your father when he was a boy, but his memory of it seemed vague and they hadn’t seen each other for decades. He wasn’t able to say very much at all about what sort of a person your father was.

It is somewhat surprising that we have never met in person, because we both write about sport and share a number of interests. I have been asked many times if I am related to you, and we have a number of mutual friends and colleagues. You were supporting the Bluebirds in the ‘bad old days’ and I greatly admired the principled stance you took when the club’s colours were changed from blue to red. I have seen you on television several times and you come across well. Mutual acquaintances speak highly of you, so I have no personal axe to grind.

My experience of the Welsh language

Just like you, the Welsh language barely featured at all in my early education. I attended Holy Family Primary School in Pentrebane, Cardiff, between 1988 and 1995. Until around the time of the Welsh Language Act 1993, I barely heard a word of Welsh at school. Parents who wanted their children to be taught in Welsh could send them to a Welsh language primary school a short walk away. Parents had the freedom to choose the language in which their children were educated, which, in my view, is how it should be.

Things really began to change a few months into the 1994/95 academic year, when once a week, a teacher came in for one hour a week to teach us Welsh. In reality, it didn’t extend much beyond her teaching us to count to ten, the days of the week, colours, and a few children’s songs. Beyond that, a policy was introduced of ‘Welsh being used in a classroom context’. When the register was taken each morning and afternoon, we were no longer told to answer, ‘Yes, Mrs Sullivan’ but ‘Uma, Mrs Sullivan’ (is that even the correct Welsh word to use? I am not sure). Little stickers started appearing above classroom objects saying ‘cyfrifiadur’, ‘teledu’ and ‘bwrdd du’.

I recall on one afternoon, the older classes were taken into the school hall to learn the national anthem. It succeeded (I can sing it word-perfectly), but the way it was taught may not be to your approval. We were taught ways of remembering it that you may consider crude and unsuitable, for example, ‘mae hen’ became ‘my hen’. Even at the age of 11, I could tell that all this was essentially a box-ticking exercise. It wasn’t a meaningful gateway to the Welsh language or Welsh language culture.

From 1995-2000, I attended Corpus Christi High School, where Welsh was a compulsory subject until the end of year 9. For the first year, I ‘got by’, but in year 8, with the same teacher, I really struggled. Then, in year 9, something extraordinary happened, which I still can’t quite understand. I was in a much smaller class of about 12 pupils, with a different teacher. Welsh lessons became fun and a good laugh. I quickly made enormous progress, and it wasn’t long before I was near the top of the class!

At the end of year 9, we had the option of taking Welsh to GCSE level or dropping it. My year group was the last to be able to do so, as after that Welsh to GCSE became compulsory. The said teacher was mildly disappointed that I wasn’t continuing with it to GCSE level. Maybe if I knew for sure that she would be my teacher for the following two years, I’d have continued with it. Instead, I decided to take French and Spanish, which I was also fairly strong at, and both would enable me to communicate with potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world.

And that marked the end of me learning Welsh. You went down a very different path at around the same age, and I am happy for you. I don’t begrudge you a single second of the experiences you describe that clearly meant a lot to you.

Crachach 

There are sadly no Steads left in my particular branch of the family. Those that I knew were mainly Labour voters, and unionists who could take or leave the Royal Family (though my father was definitely a republican). However, I am not connected to any political party, though people tell me I am ‘on the right’ (whatever that means). My values are: National sovereignty (UK), a low-tax economy, strong families, law and order, proper education, free speech, freedom, a ‘small state’ and personal responsibility.  I support the Royal Family as an institution, though I criticise individual members when I want to.

You refer to the singing of ‘There’ll Always Be an England’ during the Silver Jubilee of 1977. I have no objection to that. I will happily join in many songs from the UK nations. I don’t see it as an ‘either/or’ choice. I am proud to be Welsh. I am also proud to call England my neighbouring country. I am proud to have links in my bloodline to Devon, Herefordshire (as you remind me), Yorkshire and Italy.

I do question your claim that the ‘Crachach’ closed-shop elite is mythical. I have seen many examples of it in the arts, media, civil service and higher education in Wales. The late Ian Skidmore once wrote a blog article, sadly no longer available, titled ‘Wales is a Limitedd Company’ which detailed his own experiences of this while working at BBC Wales. Paddy French’s ‘Rebecca Television’ website also provides many detailed examples of this. Carolyn Hitt wrote an amusing parody of the Crachach in 2006. I know of journalists and broadcasters who feel ‘frozen out’ because they’re not part of the clique (being a Welsh speaker alone isn’t enough – the right family connections help), but have gone on to have successful careers on the other side of the Severn Bridge and beyond. There is an establishment in Wales that ‘looks after its own’.

Love Island 

It is of course wrong that the local community in Cefn Mably were sneering at your wife’s accent, but it sounds to me as though your heart was set on a move to North Wales in any case. I have had people mocking my accent during periods when I’ve lived and worked in England, and it’s just one of those things you learn to laugh off, or find a witty rebuke.

However, I strongly disagree with you when you say that Welsh speakers never speak Welsh to exclude strangers. I’ve seen it myself in Welsh media circles and I’ve spoken to many English visitors to our country who have had similar experiences. It is basic good manners to communicate with people in a language they understand, if possible, when in their presence.

I am glad you and your wife have found happiness in North Wales. You had the freedom to make that choice and things seem to have worked out very well for you.

A reality check 

At no point have I said that I am anti-Welsh language. But I am pro-choice. I believe in freedom of choice in religion, sexuality, and for people to live their lives in the way they wish as long as it does not negatively impact on others. For that reason, I believe parents should have the choice as to whether their children are educated in English or Welsh.

There is no getting away from the fact that English is by far the main language of Wales. 80% of the population of Wales speaks little or no Welsh.

The story of the last 40 years in Wales is one of a group of small, but vocal Welsh language campaigners demanding more and more, and being given exactly what they want, regardless of cost or benefit to wider society. It began with road signs in English-speaking parts of Wales being produced in both English and Welsh after a stupid and dangerous campaign by Welsh language campaigners of painting over English-only road signs. This was followed by Gwynfor Evans threatening to starve himself to death unless S4C was created in 1982. This was followed by the Welsh Language Act of 1993, which led to a massive increase in the use of Welsh in the public sector, regardless of demand. This was followed by the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999, which fewer than one in four of the people of Wales actually voted for. This was followed by another Welsh Language Act in 2011. In that same year, the Assembly’s powers were increased, which fewer than one in five of the people of Wales actually voted for.

To bring the story up to date, there is now a policy of ‘Welsh first’ road signs being gradually rolled out, regardless of the fact that in many cases these are in an area where only a tiny minority actually speak Welsh. Ever more provisions for the Welsh language are being made by the Welsh Language Commissioner, regardless of demand.

Value for Money? 

There appears to be a real reluctance among Welsh language campaigners I’ve encountered as to whether all this investment in the Welsh language provides value for money. A few examples:

1. S4C receives an annual subsidy of £80 million from the licence fee pot. That’s well over £1.4 million per week. Yet aside from Pobwl y Cwm, live sport and the news, very little programming on S4C gets more than 30,000 viewers per week. Why can’t we have a debate as to whether throwing money at S4C when demand for it is so low (even among Welsh speakers, evidently) is a good use of public money? It has seldom been successful. Some years ago, a well-known Welsh radio broadcaster from the 1980s (now retired and no longer living in Wales) told me that in the 1980s, he and a colleague at BBC Wales worked out that for certain S4C programmes, it would be cheaper to send out a VHS video to anyone who wanted to watch them than to broadcast them over the airwaves – and that was in an era of four channel TV before the audience fragmentation of today.

2. The number of Welsh speakers fell in the decade to 2012, despite huge investment in the language in education and the public sector. So maybe money isn’t the issue? Why can’t we debate this?

3. All local council correspondence is sent in English and Welsh. The Welsh language version ends up going straight in the bin in many households. Why can’t councils send a questionnaire to all households asking whether they’d like future correspondence in English or Welsh, and then just send it out in their chosen language? People get criticised for even suggesting that.

Some Welsh language campaigners struggle to accept the reality that most people in Wales do not share their agenda. Demand for Welsh independence is only around 15%. Plaid Cymru is tearing itself apart, and is not taken very seriously by a lot of people. Of those 80% of the people of Wales who speak little or no Welsh, few have any intention of learning.

Their vision of Wales is not a vision of Wales shared by others. Some of us think of Welsh culture in different ways – our industrial and mining heritage, music – from classical to Tom Jones to the Manic Street Preachers, various sporting achievements, Brains beer, Welsh cakes, a night on the town, our spectacular coast and countryside. That’s what Wales and being Welsh means to me, and to many, many others. I am proud to be Welsh, I am proud to be British, and I am proud of the various components that make up my ancestry.

As I have repeatedly said, I am all in favour of children learning Welsh at school if that is the will of their parents. But others would prefer their children to learn other languages instead. As the 21st Century progresses, the world will become an increasingly small place. The jobs market is effectively becoming global. Today’s children will be competing for jobs with alongside those from Asia, South America and many other emerging markets.

Therefore, many parents would prefer their children learnt Spanish, French, Mandarin or any language that will enable them to communicate with hundreds of millions of people across the world. By contrast, Welsh is spoken by 20% of the people of Wales, in Patagonia, and hardly anywhere else.

A frequent argument I hear is that it’s not ‘either/or’ and they can learn both or several of these languages. Indeed they can, but there are only so many hours in a school day. I took French, Spanish, History and Geography as my GCSE options. I’d have needed to have dropped one of those to accommodate Welsh lessons.

To clarify my point – I acknowledge that the Welsh language is important to SOME families in SOME areas of Wales. But to many others it is not. I can understand some Welsh language campaigners finding it a hard pill to swallow. I ask them to please try and lose this mentality of ‘WE are Wales – the non-Welsh speakers just live here.’ Wales is a small country with a small population. We cannot afford to drive out our best and brightest graduates because they feel shut out of the jobs market on the basis they cannot speak Welsh. We need the best available people in the best jobs.

We also need to be honest about how Wales is under-performing economically. Why isn’t the Welsh tourist industry doing better at a time when the pound is weak? Other areas of the UK are benefitting. Why is Wales lagging behind? When I posed this question on Twitter, and suggested POSSIBLE reasons why, I received a barrage of abuse, but not one sensible suggestion as to why it might be happening.

Just ONE of the FTSE top 100 companies is Welsh, and even that has American management. Why isn’t Wales more entrepreneurial? As the (actually rather likeable) Welsh establishment figure Geraint Talfan-Davies said on TV a few years ago, if Wales had a nickname, it would be ‘Grant’. We are heavily reliant on subsidies from the English taxpayer to maintain our standard of living. I don’t like that fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. A disproportionate number of my friends and associates in Cardiff either work in the public sector or in retail. There isn’t anywhere near enough by way of small and medium-sized business activity.

The Eisteddfod 

Some people seem rather offended by one tweet in particular about the Eisteddfod with the ‘speaking Welsh or very drunk’ remark. I actually borrowed that joke from the Welsh language comedian, Daniel Glyn, who made exactly the same joke on a feature for a BBC Wales feature about Glantaf School that you posted a link to on your Facebook wall several years ago. Incidentally, Daniel made a remark in that same feature along the lines of, ‘some people feared that Glantaf opening would lead to the creation of a middle class Welsh speaking elite who’d end up getting all the best jobs…..and they were right!’ I’ve had professional dealings with Daniel a number of times and we seemed to get along, but surely this remark is an admission by him that the Crachach is very real? And as for his/my joke – why didn’t he receive a similar backlash for saying the same thing I did?

My reasons for not being a fan of the Eisteddfod are many – a ‘Mind Matters’ column in Wales Online in 2006 summed it up, slightly more crudely than I would, with the words: “It’s a mind-achingly banal cross between a Women’s Institute convention, a Morris Dancing championship and the annual Conservative Club summer fete. Harp-playing, dancing with brooms and tedious speech choirs may have their place in our national tradition but are they really going to keep the youth of tomorrow thronging to get in?”

Eisteddfod 1I tried very hard to watch a few hours of this afternoon’s Eisteddfod coverage on S4C and, despite 12 years having passed since that article was written, I’m afraid I found it difficult to argue with that definition. The site is just a short walk away from Butetown, one of the oldest and most racially-diverse communities anywhere in the UK, yet I didn’t see a single non-white face in the Wales Millennium Centre main hall or in the surrounding area outside throughout. This screenshot demonstrates that there were empty seats and a disproportionate number of those in attendance were elderly.

It doesn’t feel like a festival that celebrates all that is good about Wales – English speakers, Welsh speakers, different racial backgrounds, many faiths and so on. It felt very much like the Welsh ‘establishment’ speaking to itself at the expense of others, and, yes, I was bored watching it.

I don’t want to spoil anybody else’s enjoyment, but if there is to be a festival so narrow in scope, I don’t see why the public purse should be expected to subsidise it? I do not demand that the taxpayer subsidises my tastes in entertainment.

Conclusion 

There’s an old saying – ‘you are judged by the company you keep’, but I don’t agree with that. For instance, I don’t judge people by how unpleasant I find other members of their family. I also grasp that in politics, especially international politics, you sometimes have to be diplomatic with unpleasant characters for the greater good.

For that reason, I am glad that you are keen to distance yourself from those who have been harassing me in recent days, which extends well beyond Twitter, incidentally. Some of it, which I won’t describe on here, is now in the hands of the police, so I won’t comment any further, other than to say their behaviour has been utterly despicable and a disgrace to the cause they claim to represent.

I work on the assumption that if people are being foul-mouthed and abusive, they have lost the argument, and they have certainly lost the right to communicate with me, since my policy is to block and ignore all such people. It implies inadequate vocabulary and insecurity on their part.

But there is a wider question that needs to be asked as to why such a substantial number of Welsh language campaigners are so unpleasant and aggressive? I think what this boils down to is that over the course of the last 40 years, Welsh language campaigners have been asking for more and more, and have usually been given whatever they want. They’re not used to people challenging them or questioning whether every aspect of it is an appropriate use of public money. Unused to being challenged, they resort to insults, threats, and ever-more menacing behaviour. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their agenda is ‘fair game’ to be abused, threatened, or shouted down.

Dissent is not tolerated. A ‘live and let live’ attitude is out of the question. Injecting a bit of humour into the debate is a definite ‘no, no’. Anyone who doesn’t share their ideology needs to be bullied, abused and driven out of Wales. I should also point out that this ‘win at all costs’ mentality can be found in wider political discourse in the UK nowadays, and it is by no means confined to this issue.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I think it’s time we met up, don’t you? Anywhere that serves Brains SA or Felinfoel Double Dragon will do!

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Written by Marcus Stead

August 8, 2018 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

12 Responses

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  1. Thank you for your attempts to rationalise and justify your comments Marcus. You make every effort to modulate your previous comments and views, but unfortunately you still trot out the same banal ‘truths’ that I’ve heard for 70 years from so many Cardiffians – the ‘all I want is choice’ and ‘yes they do change language to speak behind your back’ -as well as the inaccurate and selective S4C figures (have you bothered to look at the latest accurate figure for viewing in S4C in England alone, let alone the on-line use !!?
    Let’s give you a little of my experiences of growing up as a Welsh-speaker in school in Cardiff and then Barry. I was refused for admission in 1949 to the (then) only Welsh primary school in Cardiff because my parents had bought a house they could afford in Twynyrodyn – I was grudgingly admitted with others from Glamorgan a term later, but my skint parents having to pay for a bus to Ely Bridge and I was picked up from there by a school meals van, to arrive in the the two cramped classrooms in Sloper Road smelling of cabbage – and abused as a ‘four-eyes Welshie’ by other children on my way home.
    When we moved there, Bryntaf was a haven for that first rapidly growing school, but it, and every Welsh medium school then and afterwards was always opened in the cramped and overcrowded old buildings other schools rejected. As the schools grew in size and number, so vicious protests by many councillors – and many non-Welsh speaking parents -opposed every development. The first secondary school, Glantaf, was greeted by banner-waving opposition, and even over the past decade Treganna has been located not in the areas where most of its parents live, but out on Leckwith! Why? because one couldn’t possibly move a half-empty English school out of its catchment area! In 1999 at the 50 years’ celebation, I heard the then Director of Education promise a ’Welsh primary School in every ward’. We’re still waiting for them.
    Yes, I’ve been abused for speaking to a friend in a Cardiff pub in Welsh – ‘nobody speaks Welsh in Cardiff – they’ve never spoken it here’. ( ‘Learn your Cardiff history, mate’ was my response) Yes, I watch S4C from choice – but I also watch Channel 5 and 5USA. Get over it! I speak Welsh, but I taught English – oh yes, and I speak other languages as well – not like a native but well enough to function and communicate in French, Spanish and Italian. But in secondary school I had to give up my favourite, Geography, and in return the only Welsh I was offered was the same as you had. I sat for five years bored out of my mind at the back of the class and got 100% on papers my teachers didn’t bother to mark.
    I still see the same venom against any expenditure on Welsh spewed out weekly in ‘SW Echo’ letters column, I hear the same old accusations of Welsh ‘crachach’ and jobs for the boys spewed out daily ( I’m sorry Marcus, if you’d said ‘Labour ‘crachach’ and Labour jobs for the boys I might have agreed with you)
    If I were you, I’d get angry that you and so many like you were deprived of their own birthright language People like you DESERVED to have both languages which you should have inherited – and thousands of parents who were in the same situation as you are now sending their children to Welsh-medium schools because they want back what they didn’t receive – the second of their two languages. Welsh belongs to you as much as to your relation, Phil.

    And don’t give me that guff about not seeing any different colour faces around the Eisteddfod. If you believe the unbelievably hackneyed Western Mail pictures this week, you’d think the Eisteddfod was only populated by druids! Go down for youself to the (free!) stalls and performances around the Millennium Centre, and see the families – of all hues! – who have come down to enjoy the festival – from Butetown, Grangetown, Adamsdown, Roath quite as much as Llandaff and Penylan. My mates Feredun and Faruk are going tomorrow morning, and Faruk doesn’t even speak much English ( and my Kurdish depends on Google translate). And ask their chidren to use their Welsh on you. Most won’t be fluent, but many will – and they speaks Kairdiff in both languages, echoing the old dialect of ‘Gwenhwyseg’ Welsh which used to be the language of the Vale and Valleys as far as Hirwaun and Porthcawl.
    And yes, there is translation equipment all around the Eisteddfod ‘Maes’ so you, whose Councillors and schools failed you in ensuring you had both languages, can share the experiences that I have – but which my father never had, because his (Welsh-speaking) parents a century ago brought up their five children in Cardiff to speak only English ‘ because that was the way to get on in the world’

    Monoglot English speakers here, as elsewhere, just don’t get it. Over half the world’s population is bilingual, and it’s getting more that way, particularly as more across the world have English, like me, as a second language. And Cardiff, if it’s to have any credibility as a capital for the whole of Wales, needs to be dragged back into the renewed bilingual Wales it should be pioneering.

    Alwyn & Zohrah Evans

    August 9, 2018 at 12:41 am

  2. Nice reply. Much to agree with.
    Shame you blocked me on twitter now as would be interested in your posts perhaps

    Ceri

    August 9, 2018 at 8:35 am

    • What is your Twitter handle, please? I’ll unblock you. I’ve had to block so many in recent days, you may have been blocked by accident.

      Marcus Stead

      August 9, 2018 at 5:18 pm

  3. This is a really great response to an equally impressive letter. It’s a shame the Western Mail only included a link to this and didn’t give it equal standing.

    I agree on almost all points and have had the same experiences growing up in west Wales. It is a shame that social media trolls have forced people to be fearful of voicing such views in public.

    Thank you for using your profile to speak out.

    Welsh Man

    August 9, 2018 at 3:03 pm

  4. So who decides what you want to censor Marcus? That’s the beauty of WordPress – you, like your Welsh-speaking but Welsh-denying UKIP mate David Wyn Jones ( Penarth Daily Vitriol( sorry – News) can vent their prejudices on their freely then censor – as you’ve done me – anyone who dares argue with your immense chip on your shoulder! Go – I dare you – print this, together with the long response from me you’ve already blocked.

    Alwyn & Zohrah Evans

    August 9, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    • I’m guessing you’re referring to David Morris-Jones, who I have never met and isn’t a UKIP supporter as far as I am aware. His blog gets more hits than that of the local newspaper, so he clearly has a following. I did not censor your last long, rambling, semi-coherent comments. The email to notify me of your remarks came through, but I have been in work today and am now approving comments in bulk. Your earlier comments are not in the box for some reason. I have no idea why.

      Marcus Stead

      August 9, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    • I have now found and approved your earlier rant. It was in my spam folder……

      Marcus Stead

      August 9, 2018 at 5:24 pm

  5. How is this response dismissing his cousins letter? He has responded to the points raised in the letter to him as is his right. Just because he holds different views it does not constitute being dismissive. Walesonline’s headline though is divisive and plays very handsomely into some of the points he raises. I understand both perspectives without creating barriers amongst people who are Welsh and proud to be so language aside.

    C James

    August 9, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    • Just a quick comment. I found Marcus initial post unpleasant – but not in any way racist, gammon or any of the other comments that have been thrown his way. Welsh speakers are our own worst enemies sometimes. I understand why we react way though.

      My experience is very like Alwyn & Zohrah Evans comment. I was born in Cardiff in 1957 and have always lived in this city. I am a Cardiffian and my family has lived here for close to three hundred years. We aren’t some weird ‘aliens’.

      I was also one of the thirty children of my age who received Welsh Medium education in Cardiff.

      Here’s my point. As a small child, I was frequently dismissed by other kids as a ‘Welshie’, a ‘caveman’ and a ‘peasant’. That fine. Kids are cruel. I dealt with it

      What I can’t understand is Marcus sense of victimhood.

      How did us thirty kids somehow oppress you?

      Vaughan Roderick

      August 10, 2018 at 10:27 pm

      • Hello Vaughan, good to hear from you. We haven’t met since 2006 but I had some good conversations and laughs with you at BBC Wales around that time……I’m afraid I don’t follow your trail of thought on this. You were born in 1957, I was born in 1983. Why would I feel oppressed by a class of children who left school years before I was even born?

        Marcus Stead

        August 11, 2018 at 3:16 am


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