The BlogFather – The Badly Drawn Area of Merthyr Tydfil
The title of my site may throw you but, thanks to freedom of movement, I’m a Scotsman living in South Wales. I’ve lived down here in Merthyr Tydfil for almost thirteen years. It’s natural to dislike your surroundings – the mundane day-to-day drab lifestyle, the same sounds, sights and people…there will be times, regardless of where you are, that you refer to it as a shit-hole.
As a result, I was also torn as to what sub-title to put it under as it’s really one for ‘Gonnae No Dae That‘ but, as a father whose kids were born and bred in Wales, ‘The BlogFather‘ seemed more apt. Sod it, I’ll stick it in both. Ooo err. So what am I doing down here anyway?
My wife (fiancee at the time) moved up to Scotland to be with me, for seven months. She hated every minute. I, who felt no major ties to staying there (and who could manage with not seeing my family for lengthy periods of time and make do with the odd phone call here and there) decided to move down here and, over a decade and three children and a wedding later, we’re still here.
I prefer living here. It’s fairly peaceful. I’m a twenty minute walk from my work and there are plenty of shops and amenities. Should we fancy a change, Cardiff is only a few miles down the road. My hometown of Kelso, in the Scottish Borders, is…quaint. There’s not much there. More than there was when I was a kid but still…The roads are all windy A roads with no dual carriageways. Getting stuck behind a truck or tractor is commonplace and you’re stuck for the long haul – unless they turn off or, on rare occasions, signal you by.
Down here, everything is pretty much dual carriageways and we’re mere miles from the nearest motorway. It feels…connected.
But then, when shows like ‘Skint‘ and ‘Valleys Cops‘ come along, there is never a bigger disconnect. If you were to believe the shows, you’d think it was like we were in the UK’s equivalent of the ghettos of Los Angeles. The shows paint the inhabitants as slow, simple-minded folk that are only a few teeth away from the inbred monsters in ‘Deliverance‘ or ‘Wrong Turn‘.
Merthyr is a town that is going through a change. A change to deliver a more vibrant and positive image to counter the abysmal portrayals the media would have you believe. Ask the riff-raff why they do drugs and break the law and their response is a monotone, “No jobs, innit?” There are jobs. Plenty of them if you’re not fussy and, let’s be fair, beggars can’t be choosers.
In Scotland, after a temporary job came to an end, I was unemployed for thirteen weeks. The only law I broke was maybe burning the odd CD/DVD every now and again. I continued to apply. No reply after no reply, interview after interview. I persisted because I couldn’t afford not to. I was paying £300 a month to my Mum for ‘digs’ – the money I had been earning whilst employed was never squandered. I always kept some in case.
Bearing in mind, I came from a single parent family whose father had previously tried to kill my mother, who had beaten my brother and sister and me. A background that the media would have you convinced was the perfect recipe for anti-social behaviour or a psychopath. A hoodlum, junkie…whatever. It’s no excuse – we are who we are because of our own choices.
So, when watching these shows and initially laughing at the states on people less fortunate than ourselves, those people are right outside our door. I walk past them every day on my way to and from work. It’s not like a documentary on the shanty towns of India or some other faraway place. It’s right here and right now.
What these shows won’t tell you or show you (because good things don’t make hype or talking points – controversy sells) are the achievements and good things in Merthyr. Yes, there are plenty of run-down buildings and vacant premises – name a high street or a town that doesn’t have those. Kelso, which is a pretty small town, is home to around five thousand people. Merthyr has over ten thousand. What’s strange is that there seems to be a much greater sense of community here, with a larger population, than in my hometown.
There’s a regeneration program underway and the town is looking nicer and feeling more homely than it ever has. ‘REDHOUSE‘, near the centre of town, always seems to have events – from plays to musicals, bands and comedians, it has become the heart of a lot of the activity in Merthyr. Events like World Book Day, which I never had as a kid nor would I have attended if I did, even draw me out (must be the parental side of me) to see what’s going on and be a part of something.
If the town is as poor as everyone seems to make out, why have there been such big redevelopment plans – look at ‘Trago Mills’. Another retail park right by a retail park. More jobs. More money in the local economy. But will any of the rabble these shows depict apply for any of these future jobs? Probably not. Why? A bunch of excuses; blaming ‘the system’ or someone else for their own failings. Continuing to smoke dope or drink ‘White Lightning’ by the gallon just to moan and do the same again tomorrow and the day after and the day after.
Merthyr could accept that it’s a shit-hole and dig its heels in to fit the bill the media and the nimrods claim it to be. But, instead, it moves on. Against adversity. Against all the naysayers. But it’s the greater populace that drives it forward. If the town and the people were as poor as they all say, then why did everyone dig deep to help little Mia?
I don’t recall anything being as powerful as seeing these bows on houses, business and cars all over town and the surrounding area to show support – to help a little girl receive the treatment in America that her family desperately wanted her to have and that ANY parent would want for their little one. Over £300000 has been raised in a town that is supposedly poor and is uncaring, apathetic and lacking empathy.
The Gurnos gets a bad rap. We’ve all made a joke or a remark at some point but, just like Merthyr itself, it’s not that bad. Our hospital, Prince Charles Hospital, is deep within the Gurnos and we have spent many an hour there over the course of the three pregnancies and other health woes. I have even walked all the way from work to the hospital when Seren, our eldest, was admitted and my then-fiancee was there with her and unable to pick me up. I walked over three miles after rushing out of work and worrying myself sick over my daughter. I remember the day well, it was sunny and I don’t recall seeing a single person in the Gurnos (with the exception of cars driving by).
These shows depict the area as if everyone is outside getting involved in everyone’s business. Like the Welsh version of the ‘King of the Hill‘ intro with everyone lined up drinking, smoking or shooting up. It’s nothing like that. While Merthyr has it’s share of trouble and crime, if you go by the law of averages, I’m sure that the crime rate here is comparable to other places with a similar population size.
As the phoenix rises from the ashes, #MerthyrRising above all this media martyrdom is par for the course. I have seen great change in, what amounts to, a third of my life. I’m not from this town and I’m not even Welsh, but I have a vested interest as my three girls are Merthyr girls (Murfa girls) and I doubt we will ever move away from here. Not because we can’t (as the shows would have you believe) but because this is where we belong.
Merthyr has a history of being the underdog and, in memory of Merthyr Rising of 1831, the Merthyr Rising music festival takes place on the anniversary of the rebellion of workers who sought change and fairer pay and better living conditions. It’s about time that shows like these stopped, but who is to blame? South Wales Police obviously agreed to participate – did the Council have any say in the matter? Shouldn’t content like this be vetted in order to provide a true and accurate reflection of an area and its people rather than the sordid state of affairs the producers relieve their business-focused erections to?
What you see on TV is a wildly exaggerated falsehood and, as a resident for over ten years, I say #NotMyMerthyr.
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