Tag Archives: Aberdare Leader

That’s Yer Actual Welsh

In which The Author has one foot in the past and one foot in the future

The strange unexplained phenomena related to the reappearance of Dodge This have continued apace this week.
I was in Aberdare Library earlier, up to my ears in a recent Welsh dictionary, New Hart’s Rules, and previously unexplored regions of HTML, when an old friend appeared.
To begin at the beginning …

On Tuesday night, I bravely/foolishly/insanely (delete as applicable) volunteered to create and manage a blog for our local Plaid Cymru branch. Everyone else in the group knows I’ve got a couple of blogs already, and that when it comes to Magic, I’m the go-to guy. I mentioned a few things we could do once it was online, and got the go-ahead.
I made a start yesterday by setting up a dedicated email account and registering a subdomain of WordPress. Next, I painstakingly copied out all the text from our 9 Step Plan (not to be confused with the 12 Step Plan), and was wondering what to do next. I knew we had to have the Welsh and English text, of course, but I didn’t know how to set up two parallel columns.
I spent some time browsing the themes, but didn’t find anything that would fit the bill. I went to the support forums, explained what I was trying to do, and asked if there was a template which I could adapt for our purposes.
I wasn’t especially surprised when the answer was ‘no’. The best alternative was to set up two subdomains – one for English and one for Welsh – and link them together on the main menu. That was about as far as I got yesterday, and I remarked upon the fact on Facebook.
My very good friend John J. (who knows vastly more about HTML than I ever will) saw my status and sent me a handy list of codes for the extended character set. I’ve dabbled in Unicode, of course, but I’ve never explored the extra bits of HTML. I was running short of time, so I just set up one draft page for the time being and left it to cook overnight.
This morning, I dived back in and had a look at the work in progress. Cerith Griffiths, our candidate for the Welsh Assembly elections in May, had sent me some photos overnight. They needed a bit of tweaking, but after a little while I was happy that they’d be suitable to put on the site as a header and a Gravatar. I made a nice little watermark, used GIMP to add it to the pictures, and then went back to the dashboard.
By midday I was deeply immersed in the HTML editor, stretching my fairly rudimentary grasp of web design to its absolute limits, and had at least three windows open in GIMP so that I could manipulate the photos. I was also monitoring my email account in Firefox, and trying to follow an almost-helpful online guide to laying out text online in another tab.
Pace Alice, who was famously asked to believe six impossible things before breakfast: I was deeply immersed in the HTML editor, stretching my fairly rudimentary grasp of web design to its absolute limits, and had at least three windows open in GIMP so that I could manipulate the photos. I was also monitoring my email account, and trying to follow an almost-helpful online guide to laying out text online.
People still ask me why I don’t use the computers in the library for this sort of thing.
I’m not a Welsh speaker, which made the whole job even harder than usual. It turns out that WordPress allows users to have the interface yng Nghymraeg, which sounded like the perfect idea for our users. Add a quick link between the subdomains, and Robert is your father’s brother.
It wasn’t that straightforward, of course.
While I was playing in the settings menu, I discovered that WordPress allows you to post in a couple of hundred different languages, with scripts and everything to make it a truly global affair.I selected Welsh as the language for the interface. The page updated, and I had a flashback to about 2006, when Microsoft announced a Welsh language add-on for Windows. I decided that it sounded like a worthwhile feature for Word, so I installed it without a second thought.
Have you ever tried to do a System Restore in a language you don’t understand?
I have.
It turned out that Microsoft’s add-on didn’t just enable the software to access Welsh characters and vocabulary – it turned the entire computer into a presenter on S4C.
Anyway, I was making decent progress, and was still up to my ears in code when a familiar shadow fell across my desk. Imagine my surprise when Rowland D., former Aberdare Leader editor, Plaid Cymru stalwart, and long-time drinking companion of mine rocked up out of nowhere.
I’d emailed Rowland about half an hour earlier, along with the other members of the local branch, to ask them for their bilingual contributions to the Home/Cartref pages. I had no idea that he was in town today, and looking for someone to raise an elbow with.
‘I was just thinking the very same thing!’
I saved my work and we legged it to Thereisnospoon.
Rowland headed back to Cardiff about two hours ago. In the intervening couple of hours we had a good chat about Plaid Cymru, the election in general, the election campaigns (ours in Cynon Valley, his in Cardiff South & Penarth), and – of course – gossip about the good old days of journalism.
I showed him the latest edition of Hart’s Rules, which (along with Fowler) made up the bible for journalists and editors back in the day. Rowland got out of print journalism in the late 1980s, just as the new technology was coming on stream. He never had to experience the joys of Unicode, HTML, XML, and all the other fun aspects which I’ve been coming to terms with over the past eighteen months or so.
But we did both come to journalism in an age when catchphrases and euphemisms (mainly, but not exclusively, drawn from Private Eye) were common currency. I didn’t pursue a career in the profession myself, of course, but I love to read accounts of heroic drinking and scandal in the great days of Fleet Street.
[A digression: When Rowland first came onto Facebook, I had the perfect profile picture for him. My very good friend and fellow proofreader Rob H. has been collecting Private Eye since before I met him. I knew he could provide me with the material I needed. Sure enough, a few days later he sent me this little gem, which used to head the Eye‘s ‘Street of Shame’ column in the late 1980s.
Rowland was highly amused by it, and used it as his profile picture for a while. It was only when a few of his old Celtic Press colleagues remarked on its appropriateness that he changed it back.]
Anyway, it would be a shame to let some of these old saws get rusty through disuse. I’m doing my best to keep them sharp and active, in the face of remarkable resistance.
I’ve lost track of the times I’ve used the phrase ‘I made my excuses and left’ in this very blog. The last time I said it out loud, I introduced it with the words, ‘As we used to say when I was writing for the Sunday People back in the 1950s …’ It fell on deaf ears. The girl I was talking to is probably in her early twenties. I doubt if she’s ever read a newspaper in her life, let alone one of Britain’s most notorious scandal sheets. Come to think of it, in another decade from now it’ll be possible to meet people who’ve never seen a printed copy of the Independent, never mind the News of the World.
[A digression: Tony A., the biggest piss-artist I know who’s still capable of moving under his own steam, asked me a few months ago whether you could buy the Sunday Pictorial. It was probably a good thing he asked me, really. Nobody else in the pub would have had a fucking clue what he was talking about.]
Another good phrase from the Private Eye days is ‘tired and emotional’. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been tired and emotional on occasions. I thought it was pretty much synonymous with pissed, personally.
 Rowland told me that he’d described himself thus to a friend in Cardiff one night.
‘I’d never describe you as “emotional”,’ she replied.
See, totally lost on young people.
The first time I ever spoke to my friend Florence, another old comedy line came to mind. That evening, I put a status on Facebook saying that I’d been ‘discussing Ugandan affairs’ on the train to Cardiff. It went over most people’s heads. Florence was born in Uganda. Ross D. caught on, luckily; otherwise, it would be as unfunny as most of the stuff on BBC 4Extra’s ‘Comedy’ Club.
That’s why it’s good to collect comedy catchphrases, slogans, one-liners, throwaway gags, and other silly asides. You can chuck them into a conversation with people who think Little Britain is the funniest thing ever broadcast in the UK, and reduce them to hysterics.
I don’t know how many times Vicki F. and I raided the archives of The Goon Show, The News Huddlines, Monty Python and The Two Ronnies for material when we were first writing Dodge This. We wrote an entire episode in Spanish, with Polari and English subtitles, just to honour the wonderful comedy creations Julian and Sandy from Round the Horne. I’m pretty sure we ripped off some lines from Victor Borge, Vivian Stanshall, Rowan Atkinson, Douglas Adams, and a host of other great writers as well.
In 2009, I was in a Creative Writing workshop with some fellow English students. Apart from the lecturer, I was the oldest person in the room. We were looking at a poem by a young woman who’d grown up in the Middle East when her parents were working out there. She recounted a strange episode from her early teens. She’d sort-of overheard a conversation between her father and an Arab merchant who’d come to their village. She didn’t understand what was going on, but she heard the words ‘camel’, ‘car’, ‘yacht’, and so forth.
It was only when she was older that she realised that the guy was trying to buy her to be one of his wives.
We all sat back, fairly shocked by this. I decided that Barry Took and Marty Feldman, writing in 1966, would save the day.
‘Here’s a useful tip,’ I said to the class. ‘Never try bartering in camels. People have never got the right money, so you have to have your change in goats …’
When was the last time you heard anything that brilliant on the BBC, eh?

Hot Metal

In which The Author takes you on a trip back in time

Sometimes my research for the Street Names Project takes a turn in a totally unexpected direction. I proved this last week, as I told you in And Another Thing… It happened again this morning.
As I’ve mentioned previously, Aberdare Library archives old editions of the Aberdare Leader on microfilm. There’s also a card index under numerous headings, listing the articles from its launch in 1902 to the mid 1930s. (After that, though, you’re on your own!)
Fortunately for my purposes, the cards pointed me to the issue dated 1 December 1934. I racked it up on the new machine and scrolled through to page seven. Sure enough, the item I wanted was exactly where the index said it was. (If only it was that easy these days, eh?)
I made a few notes and was about to return to the starting point when I spotted something in the adjacent column. And them coincidences struck again!
Yesterday I had a rather amusing exchange of emails. On Monday I’d followed up my recent appeal on behalf of local librarians (see Profiling the Present) with a letter to the editor of the Cynon Valley Leader on the same theme. The group editor from Media Wales had kindly taken the time to reply, although I admit that, to begin with, I wasn’t sure what to make of it:
A shame you had to slag off our newspapers in your blog! Apart from that, a couple of good posts.
However, I pretty well agree with you on most counts, certainly the fear of the digital black hole. I can’t understand how we are all sleepwalking into this disaster.
I have been a journalist with Media Wales for more than 35 years, starting with the Gwent Gazette (sister title to the Leader and Observer) and I have seen all the changes since the days of hot metal.
I regret we can no longer give the service we used to, but nowadays money matters most. We try to keep up the good work on our local papers with a smaller and smaller resource.
But just know that we DO care and we do our best.
I emailed back to apologise for touching a nerve, and we ended up having quite a pleasant correspondence. And that’s where the coincidences kicked in again. Rowland had texted me on Thursday afternoon to see if I was in town. We ended up going for a pint (I know, I was surprised too!) and bumped into ‘Jack’ Wood, who also worked on the Leader back in the day. The omens were propitious already.
Anyway, what I found on the reel this morning was an amusing article by ‘R. E. Porter’, on the trials of producing a local newspaper.
As I’ve told you before, I toyed with the idea of a career in journalism when I was in my early twenties. When we were involved with the Cynon Valley Profile, Rowland arranged for us to follow the progress of a typical Leader, from initial news-gathering, through the editorial process, and finally to its production at the huge Celtic Press works in Dowlais.
This was shortly before the whole production process was revolutionized by the new technology, which had already swept away the old Fleet Street and led to running police battles with the print unions at Rupert Murdoch’s new base at Wapping. It also (in the words of Private Eye) baffled at least one pissed old hack of my acquaintance.
I doubt if anyone entering the profession these days would recognise the term ‘hot metal’ – although I remember it being used as a catchline for HoTMetaL on a book on Web design, back in the mid-to-late 90s.
The article I found this morning is an intriguing flashback to a part of everyday life which has changed unimaginably even in my lifetime. Anyone coming to the media now will find it impossibly quaint and old-fashioned. It brought back some happy memories for me. In an attempt to redress the balance in favour of the journalistic profession, I thought I’d share it with you…

“The Local Rag”


“Behind the Scenes” in Our Office

We are quite aware that we are often dubbed “the local rag” by many of our 25,000 or so readers (who, however, would be extremely loth to give us up). But bringing out the Leader is a more strenuous and exacting business than you people think.
Indeed after three days of working at extremely high pressure (perhaps twelve hours a day) to give you the week’s issue of news, views and advertisements (so that you know on Thursday almost everything that has been going on for the past week) we see the “formes” clamped on the printing machine and hear the rumble of the rollers as it sets off on its weekly grind at 9 p.m. (approximately) on Wednesdays, feeling that we are well worth tuppence.
It is surprising how few of you 25,000 or so people who read us every week know anything definite as to how we are produced. You know us by the black sign, with golden letters “Leader Offices”, swinging in the breeze outside our office in Cardiff Street, but your familiarity with our day’s work ends stops short at the counter of our “front office” where the dark young lady or the auburn young lady or perhaps even The Editor himself or one of his assistants answers an enquiry or accepts a news offering or an advertisement (professionally dubbed ad). No doubt you take the remainder of our establishment for granted; you know that the paper is printed somewhere or other, you know there are reporters who write it (you see them at everything interesting that goes on in the Valley).
Let me give you an intimate glimpse of us “behind the scenes”. We are a self-contained establishment but like Gaul of old we are divided into seven parts, each of which has its contribution to make to the production of The Leader.
The front office where the two young ladies before mentioned preside is in effect the commercial department. They take in and book advertisements, answer inquiries (which, like auctioneers’ lots are too numerous to mention), conduct the sales accounts, despatch parcels to news agents all over the Valley, and read proofs (of which more anon).
Through the glass panelled door (in the background) and down a long passage is the heart of the establishment, the editorial office (where Mr Porter once a week is privileged to shape these “intimate glimpses” on a noisy typewriter). Well lit by two large windows and furnished with desks, chairs, telephone, waste-paper baskets, and the usual accessories, and a book-case crammed with reference books, files, etc, etc, it is a centre of activity throughout the week.
Here the staff reporters consume many pencils and vast quantities of paper in writing up their “copy”, and budgets of news and notes from correspondents in all the towns and villages of our area are edited and arranged for “setting” by our printers. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (increasing in volume and rapidity each day) “copy” from these outlying districts pours in until at times it threatens quite to engulf the Editor and his assistants. Each correspondent writes up his material prolifically, and the task of editing is a difficult one, needing great concentration and knowledge of the affairs of the day. Mis-spelt words have to be corrected, redundant phrases deleted, poor construction improved, libellous matter keenly watched for, flattery and exaggerated criticism all ruthlessly cut out. In addition, the Editor and sub-editor have to decide the importance of a paragraph, to see that the right “angle” of a “story” is exploited, and finally to place head-lines and sub headlines on all features.
Correspondents sometimes attach too great importance, or insufficient importance, to a story, for instance, the man who waded knee-deep into the River Cynon and pulled out a child who was never in any danger of drowning is not worth the half-column of extravagant drama and superlative praise a correspondent has given it, while the case of an unfortunate paterfamilias, who, sitting to Christmas dinner with his family, inadvertently ran a fork into his eye is worth a great deal more than the three lines another correspondent gave it, tucked in at the end of a lengthy funeral report, and deserves a bright “write-up.”
Then correspondents too frequently allow “a gloom to pass over a village” when a resident dies, or too regularly commence a concert report with “the large and appreciative audience who filled the hall to capacity.” Hackneyed phrases and cliches, as far as possible in the rush of the day’s work, have to be deleted and more original openings given to paragraphs.
Then the copy is taken down to the linotype room in the basement, which is probably the most interesting place on the premises. The linotype (of which there are three here) is a wonderful machine, worked by a key-board similar to that of a type-writer. Skilled operators work these machines, which, roughly, turn out about a column of matter per hour.
When the key is pressed a matrix (or little mould) for any letter, figure or sign in our language drops from a magazine above the key-board and moves across on to a tiny bar. Words are tapped out on the key-board, and the moulds, with appropriate “spacers”, drop on to this little bar, move across into a drum, where through an aperture, a mere slit, molten lead from a pot heated by gas, is pressed against the moulds, and the line of type reproduced in metal is trimmed by a knife to the column width (13 cms). When the line has been made, the moulds move back out, and an iron “arm” descends from the rear of the machine, picks them up, and passes them on to a cunningly devised iron “conveyor,” which drops every mould back into its own compartment in the machine. Type of various sizes, in capitals or “small” letters can be used on these machines, including the bold type used to give prominence to certain important sentences or paragraphs in the news. The linotypes, by the way, are driven by an electric motor.
These lines of type are then placed on a “galley” and taken into the “stone-room,” where a proof is “pulled” of the columns of matter, and sent back upstairs with the manuscript “copy.” Each proof is then corrected by one reader, while the other reads from the “copy.” All proofs are then carefully looked over by one of two persons in the Editor’s office, and afterwards sent back downstairs to be “revised.” This is done by the linotype-operator re-setting each line which contains a mistake, while a compositor takes out the “bad” lines from the galley and replaces them with correct ones. The corrected “galleys” are then shelved in the stone-room to await “make-up.”
This department is named from the great stone table upon which the paper is “made up.” The foreman-printer, who is the “make-up” man and has a number of assistants, has iron chases (square frames on the “stone”) which are divided into columns by brass rules. The type, according to positions occupied by weekly features or the importance of news stories, is then fitted into the iron chases which, when filled and clamped with iron “keys,” become “formes,” each forme being a page.
Large advertisements, in the meantime, are being “set” by hand in the composing room on the top floor, from the advertiser’s manuscript “copy,” and are read and corrected in a similar way to the type set on the “lines.” When complete these advertisements are brought down and fitted into their places in the formes.
Photographs have to be sent away to engravers to be copied onto zinc “blocks,” which, in the same way, are fitted into the chases to make the complete forme.
The formes are afterwards carried into the machine room adjoining, to be placed on the big “flat-bed” printing machine, which turns out about 1,200 to 1,500 copies an hour, which are then placed through a cutter and folder, all worked by electric power.
Two pages are printed on Tuesdays, four on Wednesday mornings, and the remaining four are left to be filled with the late news on Wednesday, to be completed by about 8.30 to 9 p.m., and put to bed about 15 minutes afterwards.
Wednesday night on the “stone” is the most exciting and strenuous time of the week. Copy is pouring down from upstairs to the linotype room, the machines are in full operation, chattering like machine-guns; advertisements, perhaps, have come in late, and stone-hands are anxiously watching space, for it is possible to “over-set” and to find yourself with two or three columns too much for your space.
The stone-hands are experienced in this work, however, and it is seldom that this happens.
Slowly the space is filled up, there are awkward little spots at the foot of columns to be filled up, but resourceful workers on the stone by juggling with type and the aid of small “fill-ups” finally get the formes filled, and there is a great to-do of flattening and testing, and then the last four formes are carried to the machine.
The most terrible thing that can happen on a Wednesday night (or indeed any other time) is to drop one of these formes, and see the type go “pie,” thousands of lines scattered haphazard on the floor with several hours’ work necessary to sort them back into the right order again!
Happily this seldom happens (we hope we are not inviting ill-luck this Wednesday evening by saying this!) and by 9 to 9.30 we are safe on the machine.
The first two copies are carefully scrutinised and examined for errors previously undetected, then when the Editor gives the “O.K.,” the machine starts on its first 1,000. The major portion of the first edition of the paper is ready for the sellers by 6 p.m. on Thursday.
There are other departments to our establishment, including the printers’ “hell,” where cast type is melted to make ingots, to be fed again to the linotypes next week; the paper room, where (as its name indicates) various kinds of paper is stocked, and the hand-setting room on the top floor, where the contents bills are set.
Alas! our office has not the picturesqueness of those peculiar establishments in New York or Chicago newspaperdom as depicted on the screen. We do not sit at our type-writers with our hats on, and our ties off, chewing cigars, and at odd moments wisecracking into a telephone.
However, there is excitement enough in bringing out the Leader—though you may call it the local rag … and after all, don’t all the newspaper magnates who beat their drums and thunder out their condemnation of governments always agree that the “weeklies” are the backbone of journalism in Great Britain?
There are no dominating personalities here to be referred to; the Leader staff is a team, pulling together.
So let me end by expressing the hope that I have provided you with some interest in giving you a glimpse “behind the scenes” in our office.