Creative clan

This blog is about some of the things that are surprising me as I grapple with leaving the BBC after thirty years. I haven’t written a diary over the years but I have kept all my old note-books. I also have a lot of photos and with them I will try to piece together some interesting and surprising stories. This blog is really for me but if you find it interesting and surprising I will be happy.

My career at the BBC has spanned an unbelievable time of change. I have been interested in international development issues and the role of the media from my early days as a Producer/director at the BBC in the 1980s. My early programmes were mainly British based but in 1984, I made a programme about Dundee and how the Jute industry had transformed the city. I had the idea to look at how jute was grown in Bangladesh and the links with Dundee. I was able to raise some additional funding to go to Bangladesh and at the same time we made a film about how Bangladesh had recovered from one of worst famines in its history – ten years earlier. We filmed in a village, ten hours up river from Dhaka – a long boat trip with film (16 mm) equipment – through flooded areas. We arrived at the cut-off village – we were working with a local NGO who were staging a puppet show about how to tackle the issues of landlessness and the consequence of poverty. There was a huge amount of energy and humour which I was able to highlight in the programme. This was the beginning of my interest in international development and people telling their own story. With new technology the ability of people telling their own story has never been stronger.

our house in Wales

Troedrhiwtrwyn Farm

‘Troed’, as it is affectionately known by the family,  has been in the family since the early 1900s when our maternal great grandmother bought the farm. Dating back to the 17th Century, it is the original farmhouse of the area and is of significant historic interest today. Now ‘Troed’ is part of a hamlet of former miner’s cottages built in the 19th century revealing the rich history of coal in the area.

Troedrhiwtrwyn Farm is full of character and has retained many of its original features. It is constructed in stone on a south facing hillside near Pontypridd. Retaining many of the original features, it includes two living areas with low oak beams – each room has a large inglenook fireplace with bake ovens and oak lintels. There are two stone winding staircases leading to the upper floor comprising three bedrooms and one bathroom.

The house is reached by a private drive leading to a large garden on two levels. As you reach the house, there is a large south facing terrace with a Summer House and barbeque space. On the lower level there is a large grass lawned area on the lower level with mature trees.


Although Troedrhiwtrwyn farm was built in the 17th Century, there is evidence that the site was settled by Benedictine monks as early as the 14th Century as a station on their pilgrimage route from England to west Wales, probably because of its location. The farm is situated on a south-facing hillside overlooking a river valley near the present-day market town of Pontypridd. The original exposed stone of the house – up to one metre thick – attests to this early history.
Legend has it that a noteworthy and celebrated inhabitant of the farm was Evan James, the author of the Welsh national anthem – Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers). According to family legend, his son James James was walking one day in January 1856 on the banks of the river when the melody for Hen Wlad fy Nhadau came to him. When he gave the tune to his father, Evan James was able to compose the words of the present-day Welsh national anthem.
A memorial to Evan James and his son, in the form of two figures, representing Poetry and Music, stands in Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd.

Nearby attractions

The Rhondda Heritage Park demonstrates the rich history of the area. Part of the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery, Trehafod, it is one of the top heritage and cultural visitor attractions in South Wales. Facilities include the ‘Shift in Time’ Guided Tour which shows what life was like for those working in the mine.

Substantial remains of a Norman stone-built castle, raised by the de Londres family. The initial earthwork castle was established by William de Londres, soon after 1100.

Idyllically situated beside the river Ewenny, the joining point of two major Welsh counties of Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan, the castle was built to guard a strategic fording point.

You can still cross the river via the stepping stones at low tide, but take care as the tide changes quickly and you might get stranded on the wrong side. there is a pathway that leads from the stones to Merthyw Mawr village and sand dunes.

The Bunch of Grapes has been in the same family for 30 years and has evolved to survive as the climate changes.

It’s become a thriving gastro pub and a real-ale lover’s paradise that continues to develop and react to the changing market and the needs of people.

The Bunch of Grapes of today is a far cry from its former back street boozer image from its days serving the nearby canal and chainworks. The introduction of an in-house delicatessen, cookery classes, tutored beer tastings, a beer academy and regular beer and food festivals have all helped to establish this pub as the best in Wales!

To the rear of the Bunch is the only remaining double-lock system from the Glamorganshire canal, this impressive industrial superhighway of the late nineteenth century was a vital link for the steel and coal industry between Cardiff and Merthyr, long since buried under the A470 only small sections remain. The Pontypridd canal conservation group has been beavering away for the last few years trying to uncover and restore a vital piece of local history. The Bunch has been committed to helping whenever possible as the Bunch‘s history has always been linked to the canal and the Brown Lennox Chainworks. A selection of authentic photographs from this era is on display in the Bunch courtesy of RCT and Aberdare Library.


Shirlock Road life

Shirlock Road is wedged between Hampstead, Belsize Park, and Hampstead Heath in a little known area called South End Green.

The real draw of South End Green is Hampstead Heath. We are a five minute walk to the entrance to the Heath on Mansfield Road at the top of Shirlock Road. The neighbourhood is home to the Overground station – Hampstead Heath, and is one of the main jumping off points for rambles in the hills of the Heath. Parliament Hill, with its expansive views of the city, is a short walk away from our house, as are the famous bathing ponds, which sit ready for those brave enough to jump in on sunny afternoons.

South End Green is a great neighbourhood with a mix of family houses and flats. The Green itself is full of restaurants and cafes, many of which have been open for decades. We love getting baguettes and pastries from Euphorium Bakery, Le Pain Quotidien has a lovely communal table and Zara is a great option for a Turkish meal. For traditional tea-rooms, there is Polly’s and the new Silverberry Deli & Kitchen. We also have a fantastic M&S Food Store on the Green and the Italian deli Giacobazi on Fleet Road has wonderful home made pasta.

South End Green is also home to some great pubs. It not only has one on every corner, but many of them attract locals from all over north London. The Garden Gate has one of the best beer gardens in the city, The Stag some of the best pub food and the Freemasons is our favourite.

South End Green has some impressive institutions, too. One of London’s few outlets of the beloved Daunt Books is here, and while it lacks the stunning interior of its Marylebone counterpart, it still has a great selection of books and a strong travel section. Around the corner is the Keats House museum, where poet John Keats lived and wrote his famous poem “Ode to a Nightingale”.

We are well situated and in close proximity to Hampstead Village, Belsize Park, England’s Lane, Primrose Hill and Camden Market. These are all great neighbourhoods and you can reach all of these places in no more than a twenty-minute walk. Our famous 24 Bus that we recommend to everyone is a two minute walk away and can take you through Camden to Gower Street (near the University of London buildings), Leicester Square – get off here to get to Covent Garden and Soho, and on through to Trafalgar Square, Victoria and Pimlico near the River and Tate Britain.

Enjoy your time with us!

Reflecting on the internet

This week I have read three articles, which are an interesting commentary on the history of blogging within education. Here are the links:

Bartlett-Bragg Anne (2004) Blogging to Learn Flexible Learning, 2004 edition, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Downes, S (2004) Educational Blogging, EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 39, no. 5 (September/October 2004): 14–26
Selwyn, N (2009) Challenging educational expectations of the social web: a web 2.0 far? Digital Competence Vol 4: 72-85

I had most affinity with the article written by Neil Selwyn (2009) – it reflects many of the areas I have been thinking about in connection with my work in media and international development. Sonia Livingstone identifies three ages of internet studies in her book the New Media handbook: the first age, beginning in the mid-1990s, was what was called ‘punditry rides rampant'(Wellman, 2004: 27): the second age is optimistic but peppered with views from the sceptics. Then, with the dot-com bust at the beginning of the 21st Century, the second age turns to third age – where researchers are looking at how the internet is embedded in everyday life: looking for evidence and seeking to document users and uses of the Internet.

In this period, blogs have grown from an ‘arcane curiosity’ (Livingstone, 2008) to a common and popular mode of online communication in just a few years. Easy-to-use software has merged the graphic and hyperlinking features of web pages with those of older, collaborative, computer-mediated communication forms. What is interesting to note in the in the three readings is that Word press wasn’t even mentioned.

Blogs as identified in the history of the internet outlined by Downes in his article shows how blogs expanded at an exponential rate after 9/11 – Downes in his article talks about how the political sites related to 9/11 reshaped “the entire internet media landscape”. This has expanded the range of networks and in this sense we have departed from the mass communication model of one to many associated with mass production and consumption, and mass media. To the extent that society is a ‘network of networks’ (Castells, 2002), researchers like Sonia Livingstone are rethinking the once-dominant ‘one-to-many’ frame of mass communication and its role relative to one-to-one and many-to-many modes of communication.

As we seek to understand the impact of the Internet and this age of connection, it has focused attention on a topic of extraordinary importance: the need to re-imagine the experience of learning.

The impact of the Internet within education has never been greater. How has this changed education? What role has the internet played in this – there is no doubt that the process does allow for more connected learning but is this true in practice? All the articles talk about when the excitement of writing blogs wears off students simply use the internet for social purposes.

It is the convergence of ICTs that has been facilitated and shaped by the parallel convergence of entertainment, education, work and civic activities, and interpersonal communication. There is no doubt new media and information technologies open up new, more active modes of engagement with media — blogging, mobbing, texting, IMing, spoofing, and a dozen more; the list of new media uses is in continual flux.

The network metaphor increasingly dominates our discourse in technologically advanced societies and increasingly in other parts of the world. Perhaps what is most notable about the sheer volume of interest and work in this area is that it has been built on the assumption that the ubiquity of ICTs is a public good, with surprisingly little analysis of whether ICTs are, indeed, to be uncritically promoted, or whether gaining access to the Internet or other new media technologies is so obviously a ‘good thing’. This is what Selwyn is questioning.

The model of access most often discussed with regard to ICTs is that of the telephone, where telephone service is seen as a basic necessity and therefore governed or regulated on the basis of ‘universal service’ or ‘universal access’ principles or obligations (Lievrouw, 2000). In contrast, the ubiquity of mass media (or lack thereof) was not generally framed this way. No literature sprang up to document and criticize television or radio ‘divides’, for example, when those technologies were introduced. On the contrary, considerable research effort was devoted to controlling or minimizing exposure to television – to reduce children’s viewing, or to regulate adult tastes for films, video and electronic games.

Selwyn points out that the feeling is that the social web use in education is not as positive as we would like to think and to some extent it should bring into sharp relief the future of education itself. Selwyn feels that the gaps in understanding need to be recognized. One area that distinguishes new media from earlier mass media channels and content is the possibility of interactivity associated with newer channels through such things as blogs. But what do people do with this increased possibility of interaction. This is a potential area of research – particularly in the other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia.

Moves from mass society towards networks have entailed corresponding shifts in people’s engagement with media. From an emphasis on mass audiences – but confined to the domestic and the local to a diverse repertoire of mediated and unmediated communication and information sharing. To an emphasis on the collective power and individual action of the internet that extends beyond domestic and local boundaries.

globalisation, media and identity

Globalisation has not been a coherent and homogenous phenomenon. Many aspects of it such as movements and migrations are not new but it is the speed and spread that are faster than we have seen before. Giddens (1990) writes that in pre-modern contexts both time and space were fundamentally linked to a person’s immediate location, but the invention and spread of the mechanical clock had the effect of universal time. He observes that the liberation of time and space is a pre-requisite for globalisation as a direct consequence of modernity.

Giddens uses the term time-space distanciation while another theorist Harvey (1990) talks about time-space compression. Both acknowledges that they are social constructs and that the world is becoming a smaller place as a result of technological advances that enable people to interact with one another across the globe.

The later developments of media and communication technology compressed time and space even further. Electronic communication and news, first by the telegraph and later by radio, television and now the internet have created a new concept of time that hastened the pace of life by constantly reminding us that something is happening – if not here, then somewhere else. Not only do people become aware of other places and the events occurring there but the media remind us that the world never sleeps even if its audiences do.

Before the development of electronics, media and communications could be restricted within one country. Media and communicators have both contributed to nation building and globalisation and continue to do so. But because national spaces have become much more open, it is difficult to keep space purely national.

De-territoirializaion contests not only the traditional thinking of land and culture ties together, but also the idea of geographical territories matching peoples citizenships, nationalities and identities. Increasingly because of media and communications, people are able to live in different spaces that may match their locations, but are also able to reach out. The fact that people have been able to reach out of their locations through media and communications to share a national space indicates that they could go further to share a global space.

According to many theorists the sense of place has been fundamentally changed by the arrival of media and communications. Their presence changes places into spaces.
The media have created the idea of the mass audience: the same message delivered to many people around the world at the same time. What this means in practice is that places started to open up to the mediated relationships provided by the mass media. What was earlier considered to be out of reach was now reachable through that media. Something fundamental changed: the places people lived were no longer the only places they had access to. This change touched both people and places. It is not only that place and space became partly separate from each other, but also that hitherto unknown places began to have an effect on known places. When space shrinks, what is out there becomes closer and brings change in both people’s identlites and places.

Media and communication transform place and space not only by connecting places with each other and shortening the distance between them but by creating new spaces within and outside places where former rules and norms do not necessarily hold. Space could also be seen as something liberating, with elusive boundaries and with new possibility but space can also become restrictive, closed and hierarchical. Space like places are not free from power and struggles are fought over who is taking control over them.

As Doreen Massey has observed ‘social relations which are the essence of social space are decreasingly place bound or contained in the boundaries of a physical locale.’ Although people live more globally through mass mediated experience, their global and local experience differ from each other. By their very nature, the media offer one way experiences which are consumed in localities by audiences, not by members of the global community.

This, of course is no different from McLuhan’s global village. But one of the areas of change now is the nature of media. It is difficult to argue against traditional media, since they are predominantly one-way. However with the emergence of the internet, the clear distinction between different forms of communication – oral, script, print, electronic partly disappears and through blogs the internet combines these forms; the immediacy of orality with the ability to write a message but also to print it and to send it to an unlimted number of people electronically. It makes it possible to switch from one identity to another and back again to be public and private, to be at the same time sender and receiver.

Globalisation has increased the range of sources and resources available to us ‘allowing the production of hybrid identities in the context of post-traditional global society where although bounded societies and states are very much still with us, the circulation of other cultural discourse cuts across them.’ The emergence of the internet and other new media has given users the means to generate, seek and share content selectively, and to interact with other individuals and groups on a scale that was impractical with traditional mass media. Even though selectivity, interaction and content creation each have a longer history through other media and, of course face-to-face communication, it is their specific recombination on a vast scale that mediates a new and challenging set of social consequences. We are only at the beginning of understanding this process.


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