New Statesman | What the story of the niqab-wearing Welsh speaker tells us about what we want to hear

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You know this story because you’ve seen it on Facebook. Maybe you’re one of the 20,000-some people to have shared it. Or if it missed your wall, you saw it today in the Metro or the Times or the Welsh local press. It’s an irresistible one, seen through the eyes of a man on the replacement rail service between Newport and Cwmbran, though he doesn’t participate – he’s not the hero here, just the storyteller.

There’s a woman in a niqab, talking to her son in a non-English language. On the seat in front of them: a white man, who turns around and tells the woman that she’s in the UK and should be speaking English. On the seat in front of the white man, an elderly white woman who now says to him: “She’s in Wales. And she’s speaking Welsh.” How delicious. And how unlikely, if you care about things like that.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

[Filmstar] sleep furiously

Sleep Furiously cover

That arrestingly contradictory title? It’s taken from a linguist’s game, devised by Noam Chomsky as an example of a grammatically correct but meaningless phrase: “colourless green ideas sleep furiously”.

This quiet, rhythmic, carefully-observed documentary of rural life in Wales seems absurdly far from such academic exercises – the hill-farming community of Trefurig it observes is embedded in everyday realism. Villagers debate the closure of the under-subscribed local school. Cakes are baked. Sheepdogs compete in trials. Calves are delivered in a slither of blood and mucous.

But this is an imperilled community, desperately close to becoming as non-existent as Chomsky’s colourless green ideas. The residents are mostly elderly, and the services which bind the community are astonishingly fragile: even the sign posts are falling apart. That accounts for the sleepiness.

The fury comes out in moments of small desperation, such as the frantic snuffling of newborn piglets, or the dust and ghosts of an abandoned farm. Time-lapse photography and the lack of a storytelling narration are reminiscent of the Koyaanisquatsi films, and the Aphex Twin soundtrack has a similar elusive expressiveness to Philip Glass’ work – but this is a film that gets close enough to its subjects to show their faces. Remarkable, beautiful film-making.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009