Hearing Voices

Just read a new memoir by Studs Terkel.
If you haven’t heard of Studs, you should check him out.
Studs is now 95 and has therefore, obviously, been around.
He’s done a lot in that time, radio presenter, writer, oral historian.
For years he took out his tape recorder and interviewed people, “ordinary people”, about the experiences of the Great Depression, racism, the Second World War.
His memoir, Touch and Go, takes its title from Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, or more precisely the Rev Eli Jenkins’ prayer. “For whether we last the night or no/I’m sure it’s always touch and go”.
With nine decades under his hat, Studs would be forgiven for having little more than lasting the night or no on his mind.
But he’s not that sort of guy.
After listening, really listening, to people for God knows how many years, he now has a few observations of his own.
One should strike a cord in offices up and down the country. It’s a lament for “human noise”.
Studs cites the newspaper office as an example. Once, he points out, the city desk of any paper was a place of voices, people hollering back and for, running this way and that.
Today, it isn’t so. And many journalists would agree.
“The young journalists are seated side by side, staring into their terminals,” he writes. “They are a foot away from each other, yet miles apart.”
I suppose they are emailing each other, one reason why human noise has become quieter.
Studs tells a story to illustrate something else that’s taken over.
He’s at an airport where they have just installed trains to the terminal. The train is packed. A robotic voice comes over the PA system to say where they are: “Concourse One”, etc.
Just as the doors are closing a couple rush in and pull them aside. They collapse with their bags.
The robot voice booms: “Because of late entry, we are delayed thirty seconds”.
Everyone in the carriage glares at the late-comers.
Studs smiles, he’s had a drink, and he cups his hand over his mouth. “George Orwell, your time has come and gone!” he booms back.
There is silence. The crowd now takes Studs into its stare. He realises there are suddenly, in his words, “three of us before the firing squad”.
The human voice is cowered, but not Studs.
There is a little baby sat in the lap of a Mexican woman. Studs bends down. “Sir or Madam,” he says addressing the babe in arms, “what is your opinion of the human species?”
There’s a pause. And then the baby giggles.
“Thank God,” says Studs. “A giggle. The sound of a human voice. There’s my hope.”
:: Big Issue Cymru, February 11-18, 2008

The Wise and Foolish Dreamers: Wales and the Spanish Civil War exhibition is now on display at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs, Temple of Peace, in Cardiff.
The centre’s links to the Welsh involvement in the Spanish Civil War go back to the 1980s when it began to manage a special fund donated by Welsh veterans of the International Brigade.
The money was to be used to maintain links between young people in Wales and Spain.
Wise and Foolish Dreamers is the biggest project so far carried out with the help of the fund, and it is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
It includes a touring exhibition, a DVD, and a book, which pupils from three schools had a hand in helping to design and produce.
The project was launched in May 2007. This exhibition, which consists of 6 large panels and a short film, has already been displayed at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, Ammanford Library, the National Eisteddfod in Flintshire, Rhondda Heritage Park, Trehafod and Pyle Life Centre in Bridgend.
It is at the Temple of Peace until February 12, where there will also be a major conference on February 9-10. Speakers will include Professor Paul Preston.

St Athan on Dragon’s Eye

The BBC’s Dragon’s Eye entered the fray last night to raise questions about the actual number of jobs to be created at the St Athan military training academy.
The programme probed claims that the base would create 5,000 jobs. The PCS union claims the privatisation of training services is about “job relocation rather than job creation”.
Vale of Glamorgan MP John Smith remained bullish, having staked his reputation on the development. He claims the 5,000 jobs figure might even be an under-estimate.
What Is Wales? has long felt the 5,000 new jobs claim just doesn’t add up.
As long ago as July 2007 I focused on a report by Cardiff University’s Stuart Tannock which questioned how “many high quality new jobs” will actually be created for locals.
As I pointed out, politicians were slow to raise these questions themselves because, as we have seen in Wales, “No-one dares criticise job creation, be the creator a dodgy call centre company, a shaky Korean technology firm or the arms industry.”
In August in the Big Issue, I asked: “Just how many jobs will the academy really create? A cursory investigation reveals that many jobs will be relocated from elsewhere. Hundreds of others will be in the base’s construction.”
Local people might feel they deserve further proper scrutiny of the St Athan project.

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