Monday, 29 March 2010

Ramblers: 75th Anniversary

It’s the 75th Anniversary of the Ramblers organisation and to celebrate there are a series of baton walks. From Scotland to the South of England Rambling groups across the country will take on the baton.

I joined the Merthyr Valley Ramblers on their baton walk. We all met at Cardiff train station and set off along the Taff Trail. It was a gentle walk from the centre of Cardiff to Taffs Well. Along the way we walked through bird reserves, cathedrals and several weirs. I’d never been out with the Merthyr Ramblers but they were a really friendly group. Even Ollie the dog was charming and welcoming.

We stopped at Llandaff Cathedral to take out the anniversary baton and have a photo.

The group were slightly disappointed with the blow up baton and indeed so was I. For such a landmark year for the Ramblers the baton was slightly deflating. I love the idea of the baton walks but maybe it could have been executed slightly better. Maybe a metal baton that acted like a time capsule so we could put all the pictures from our walk in? Just an idea!

Aside from the lack of glamour of the baton the walk was a great success. A Saturday stroll that was perfect. A gloomy and drizzly Welsh day but smiles and sandwiches brightened the day.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Spring Time Lamb Time

Today is officially the first day of spring here in the UK. Even though it’s been a harsh winter and we haven’t seen the daffodils or the snowdrops blossom quite like they should have done, one thing about this time of year hasn’t changed.

Lambing. It’s the time of year that sheep farmers are ready on call at all hours of the day and night to aid any ewes that need assistance giving birth.

I visited a farm in the Rhondda Valley that is home to over 500 sheep. Caerlan Farm is a family run holding and I spent the day with father and daughter, Geoff and Rachel Thomas to find out more about lambing.

It was great to get out and about and get a feel for what farmers go through around this time. Not that I'm an expert already but I did learn a lot more about not just the highlights of lambing but some of the more trying moments for sheep farmers.

The lambing cycle begins in autumn when the lambs are served. The gestation period for ewes is about 5 months, so as days get brighter lambing season gets nearer. Sheep could have one lamb, twins or even three. The bond between ewe and lamb is not quite as straightforward as you might think.

Lambing Feature by bribriwilliams

I feel very lucky to have had the chance to see how Welsh farmers tend their flocks, I've had my taster of lambing live!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Artes Mundi

The National Museum in Cardiff plays host to work from 8 artists all over the world.
A £40,000 prize is up for grabs in one of the biggest arts competitions to be held in the U.K. Artes Mundi has arrived.

The 8 finalists are Adrian Paci, Fernando Bryce, Ergin Cavusoglu, Olga Chernysheva, Chen Chien-jen, Gulnara Kasmalieva & Muratbek Djumaliev and Yael Bartana. The winner will be announced on May 19th, so watch this contemporary arts space.

When you walk through the door of the exhibition it’s bright, airy and seemingly normal.
But do not be fooled into this false sense of security, as Artes Mundi is anything but normal. The work that greets you is that of Fernando Bryce. A compelling collection of ink print pictures that are hung on three walls. Bryce uses the theme of print media and how it depicts and moulds society. By using this simple style and bold images his work becomes extremely emotive. The sheer number of pictures that are hung so tightly on the wall suggests the strong influence the media has. I particularly liked his work because on face value it’s extremely subtle but his message is powerful.

After this interesting introduction into contemporary art, Artes Mudi becomes a cavern of cinema and pictures. Walking through the many chambers becomes somewhat maze like. You never know what surprise you are going to get around each corner.

The other work that really caught my eye is that of Gulnari Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev. As well as a short film they pair produced some brilliant artwork. The bold use of colour and simple designs captured my curiosity as I found myself gazing at the prints for a long time. By describing the art as ‘simple’ I do not want to imply that the images were primitive because they certainly weren’t. There was a lot going on in all of the pictures, lots to catch your eye, the design is simple but the content complex, contemporary art at it’s finest.

So some advice, go and have a look for yourself. Not only is it showcasing international talent, it’s providing inspiration for Welsh Artists. Coming soon I’ll have the thoughts of one that I met at the opening.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Dairy Industry: What's the future?

In January 2010 there were 2,034 dairy producers in Wales but over the past year Welsh dairy numbers have fallen by 3.2 per cent.Milk production is falling, threatening the long-term security of fresh milk supply from this country. So what is the future of the dairy industry? Planning has been put forward for an 8000 dairy in dairy in Lincolnshire which would be Britain's biggest dairy. The word 'intensive' springs to mind which is always thought to be a bad thing in farming. But do dairy farmers have a choice? Farmers cannot predict consumer demands and trends but have to make a living. Producing more milk would ensure more income which in any other industry would be seen as a good thing, but in farming it's not that straight forward. Consumers can be troubled by animal welfare, organic farming and may be caught up in the idealistic view of farming but these views aren't necessarily reflected in consumer habits. Shoppers may continue to buy the cheapest product on the shelf which may not come from the type of farm that they would like but on the shelf, only the price is compared.

Every week five Dairy Farmers in Wales go out of business. Falling milk prices, Bovine TB and the collapse of Dairy Farmers of Britain, meant that last year, nine hundred dairy farmers in Britain, left milk production. But some Welsh farms are surviving, by changing the way they sell their milk.

Elfyn Davies is runs SanCler Organic cheese and sells around 400 pots of organic smooth cheese a week. They come in different flavours,natural, basil and garlic, chives and dill and mint. Elfyn is currently working on a new cheese that's mixed with a fragrant marmalade, perfect on your toast in the morning. Elfyn can make 2 pots of cheese from 1 litre of milk, which is more cost effective. Any surplus milk goes to an organic milk co-op. So to compare what Elfyn would get for his milk if it sold it as straight liquid raw milk to what he makes now, he would get about 26 pence per litre from just selling milk but he makes £1.20 a litre by turning his milk into cheese. Elfyn told me that he would never go back to selling just milk. As a cheese producer he can dictate the price that he sells for and is more in control of his business. Something that he wouldn't have if he just stuck to milk production.

In Wales income from the farm business has fallen by 10.9 per cent over the last year. Farmers have to start thinking outside the box and adapting their business. One dairy farm near Bridgend has started bottling their own milk to cope with the ever changing dairy industry. By having control of all aspects of their business they are able to make a profit and invest in the future. Ty Tanglwyst farm is run by John Lougher and son Rhys Lougher and they have a small herd of Holstein cows. They managed to get a grant from the Welsh Assembly to develop their dairy farm which has enabled them to grow their business. Other farms aren't so lucky.
So what is the future? That is the million dollar question that I cannot answer and I doubt anyone can. Answers on a postcard please!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Cardiff: My Musical Journey

Cardiff has recently been listed as the second most musical city in the UK by the Performing Rights Society (PRS). Data was collected that showed which cities had created most muscians in relation to the overall population. Cardiff was topped the city across the channel, Bristol.

Having recently moved from Bristol to Cardiff I often find myself comparing the two, it's only natural. Also having played in bands and worked in the music industry, I find it fascinating how different the Cardiff music scene is to that of Bristol, or may be it's because I don't know where to find it in Cardiff.

So I went on a musical adventure which started at The Globe. This troubled venue has a lot to offer. The Globe has had complaints about the noise and had to try and raise £25, 000 to pay for sound proofing the bar. It's also had live music licencing issues, but I didn't have an issues about the night I had at The Globe. The bands, Dr Meaker from my lovely Bristol and The Word Virus Essay.

Night at The Globe by bribriwilliams

I was impressed. The Word Virus Essay eased us into a soulful music medley whilst Dr Meaker pumped the room full of movement and hiphop beats. Two contrasting flavours which complimented each other perfectly. The music night was hosted by The Minature Music Press which claims to be "the definitive guide to live music in Cardiff ". If my night at The Globe is anything to go by then I would say they've achieved their goal.

Next on the music trail was a micro festival held by the Artisan Brewing Company.

Micro Beer festival by bribriwilliams

The festival provided a taster of Cardiff nightlife, full of melody, mischief and madness. Strangely it was all finished by 9pm as the venue is slap bang in the middle of suburbia. Simon Doherty founder and head brewer at Artisan Brewing Company, provided the fragrant drinks and bands such as The Method simmered in the background.

All in a all a brilliant evening, one that I'm looking forward to again...but in the mean time? Maybe I'll check out the Open Mic night at North Star to see what new talent Cardiff has to offer.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Making a Mark: Women, the Media and Politics

What? IWA conference addressing questions of how fairly women are treated by the media

Where? St Peter's Church Hall, Cardiff

International Women's Day has long celebrated the role of women in society and how it has changed.

As part of this festival of the female the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) decided to bring a host of Wales' most influential women together to openly debate the role of women in the media and politics.

I W A feature by bribriwilliams

Beti George, BBC TV and Radio presenter opened the show with tales of her early work as a reporter.

Collecting vox pops on “vital issues such as, how do you stop your sleeping partner from snoring?”

There was laughter but this introduction set the debate on the role of women in the media. Either working in it or how they are depicted in it.

The conference had an impressive list of speakers ranging from University Professors, Industry Experts to Politicians.

The discussion on women in politics began with Dr Paul Chaney, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, and Professor Laura McAllister, School of Management, University of Liverpool. Laura has recently been appointed Chair of the Sports Council for Wales.

Some shocking statistics were revealed. In Wales only one quarter of local councillors are women. Laura believes that the media should help “construct new definitions of what a good politician is” as most of the time women are judged on their appearance and age. It is not embedded into our democracy to have gender balance in politics. Paul Chaney spoke of the importance of females in policy and law making. He showed us tables and graphs that displayed that women are more likely to raise issues about policies that they believed in and drive debates.

Up next to discuss Women in Welsh Media were Dr Cynthia Carter, Cardiff School of Journalism and Elin Wyn, Media Consultant.

They pointed out that women are outnumbered two to one on television by men. In recent media job cuts women are being hit harder than men are. Because of the constant need for content, many media employees end up doing the work of numerous people because of the cuts in media funding.

Elin highlighted the fact that working the media industry is unpredictable. As a news reporter you could be following any story which may take you anywhere in the country. Fitting that around a 9-5 timetable isn’t possible. Women find it harder than men to put off having a ‘media shelf-life’. There is a gap in representation in women over 35 in the media because it is thought that once you take a break to have children you never get back in. It was an important issue to raise. What was evident is the amount of support that women can offer each other. Maybe more could be done to put women in contact with others that have already been through the demanding work life that they are about to go into.

The topic then moved onto how women are never called upon as experts in the media. It always seems to be male professionals that are quoted rather than females. A better relationship was called for between journalists and non journalists. It’s not just about making yourself known to a journalist but being proactive and listening out for topics of discussion where you may be the right person to talk to about it.

Often regarding science based subjects women are always expected to turn something dull into an alluring fact.

“Women are expected to make science sexy and accessible.”

Professor Jenny Kitzinger, Cardiff School of Journalism, has found in her research that 5 males get quoted for every 1 female scientist in the media. She drew our attention to the fact that when male scientists are described they are portrayed as “stereotypical geeks” the young whizz kid and the eccentric professor. But often women in science get measured against ideals of femininity and enthusiasm is interpreted as “girlish flirtation”. It is tough to find the right balance of being a good speaker or someone that can be used by the media industry and acquiring the respect of the media and the audience. Being an expert who can explain jargon but without being to ‘down with the kids’. Maybe this all comes down to confidence and the way we perceive ourselves. If we looked at ourselves differently then maybe we could somehow shape the way people view us.

Well this certainly was the theory of the next guest at the IWA conference. Women Making a Difference was the title of the workshop lead by Kate Thomas. At first I thought it was quite odd that we were told we had to write down ‘things we liked about ourselves’ and the things we ‘most value’ about our character. But there was method in the madness. Kate’s presentation was based on an idea that by focusing on the positive aspects of our personality we can change certain characteristics about ourselves. To demonstrate this we all had a balloon we had to blow up steadily every time we told a different person something we liked about ourselves.

The balloon represented our “core beliefs”. If the life we live is centred around positive core beliefs then we are more likely to be confident and happy with ourselves. Kate gave us statements to finish writing, as well as questions to answer. My favourite statement was:

“I may not be perfect, but I’m proud of myself because…”

The media presents so many ideal women who are seen to be perfect and can do everything but of course this just isn’t the case. But this doesn’t mean the pressure to be perfect goes away. But this statement really struck a chord as we all have elements of our lives we can be proud of and it’s these moments we should be focusing on rather than the negative elements. Remembering the things we’ve done, not the things we haven’t.

And next to speak were women that have definitely made their mark in society.

Julie Morgan, Labour MP for Cardiff North, Kirsty Williams, Liberal Democrat AM for Brecon and Radnor, Karen Robson, Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Cardiff Central and Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales Central. All began by giving an introduction of their route in to politics and the way they are represented in the media.

I found it highly amusing that Julie Morgan often referred to Westminster as “the old boys club”. They all spoke of how they found it hard to be quoted about the policies that they are backing. Kirsty remarked on how the media in Wales always pick up on the clothes she’s wearing rather than the campaigns she creates. One newspaper described her as being “dressed as an air hostess”. Surely the newspapers should be writing about her political views rather than her dress code.

Leanne suggested that the bad press they receive as female politicians was “chiefly about attitudes of the gender roles in society.” Even though we live in a modern society that has reached gender equality we still cannot shake off the stereotypes of yesteryear that dictate how women are perceived.

Karen mentioned that she held a workshop for young people and how to become involved in politics. She described how one girl had told her she was put off by politics because of “the way women are portrayed.” It becomes slightly scary that our nation could be losing a whole generation of intelligent, charismatic politicians because of how the media depict the present ones. Karen also set the notion that women “aren’t always as supportive as we could be…as a sisterhood we need to step back.” This remark somewhat typifies what the IWA set out to achieve with this conference.

The audience was filled with strong women. If we all pull together and help each other, then we can only improve. It was a great feeling to be amongst pro active women who cared about their role in society. The event brought together like minded females who can unite and grow. Kirsty Williams emphasised that if you weren’t willing to fight for something, who will?

The penultimate chapter of the conference was handed over to working journalists. Led by Lynne Walsh and joining her were Martin Shipton, Western Mail,Betsan Powys, BBC Wales Political Editor, Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards Trust.

A lot of the talk was about the future of journalism. 24hour news maybe have resulted in the decline of article accuracy as journalists now have to produce more content than ever before. The time constraints mean that journalists don’t have as much time to source new contacts and check that they are suitable for broadcast. But Betsan Powys made it clear that experts were picked not because they were male or female but because they were the best for the news story.

Martin Shipton addressed the issue that there always has to be a balance of what is published in newspapers and what sells them. Advertising and marketing revenue has fallen so newspapers are coping with less staff but still have to produce a profitable product.

So what’s the way forward?

As the conference drew to a close the last discussion was about what the future will hold for women, politics and the media and whether we can shape it.

The general feeling was that whatever the path is women have to walk it together. The media industry recognising that they can change they way in which women are represented, politicians understating what journalists need and more support amongst female professional. All of these are advantageous suggestions to how women can build a better future for generations to come.