THE NEWSDESK: Valleys folk need jobs not pity
THERE'S an old Valleys joke.
Londoner pulls up in a Jaguar at a crossroads and rolls down the window.
He shouts at a local: "Dai, which is the road to Ystrad Mynach?" (insert your own Valleys town here, it's interchangeable).
Dai replies: "How did you know my name is Dai?"
Londoner: "I guessed."
Dai: "Well guess your way to Ystrad Mynach then."
I never promised it was funny. But strangely, I've been thinking of it all week - and the BBC's home affairs correspondent Mark Easton is to blame.
Mr Easton has admitted that he made up his mind about Blaenau Gwent before he went there for his report: "The Unbearable Sadness of the Valleys".
He said: "Did I go there having made up my mind about the story? Well, yes - in the sense that, as I said in the film, I went because of the numbers. Data from the Census 2011 told me that Blaenau Gwent had some of the most profound social problems of any in the country."
So, as a starting point "The Valleys" is reduced to one county borough, which is supposed to represent all - from bustling Caerphilly to Blaenavon or Treherbert.
Ah, let's go to Cwm - it has that nicely "Valleys" visual, doesn't it? That long terrace of houses.
And Mr Easton becomes one of those tip-your-head-on-one-side people empathising with bad news, all about the terrible statistics.
But what about the real people who defy that? What about those whose lives are branded "sad"?
Five days after the furore surrounding his film began, Mr Easton wrote: "What about the criticism that I had employed, as one correspondent put it to me, "every cultural cliché and stereotype that external visitors to South Wales repeatedly re-hash to construct a picture that is so outdated to people now living in the Valleys that it is almost a Comic Strip parody"?
"I suspect that this is just another way of saying "don't look at the chronic deprivation - look at this shiny new shopping centre or fancy clock". People in South Wales may be overly familiar with dying streets, welfare dependency, chronic widespread depression and charity food aid. But I think that is why we should look at it more, not less."
Missing the point. It's not that we look at it, it's how we look at it.
Employing those clichés within seconds of the film starting - the old male voice choir trick - sets the tone.
Sets our teeth on edge. Here we go again: the well-meaning outsider who thinks he can see our problems more clearly than we do tells us we are in a sad, sad situation. So sad, such despair. Telling us all these sad things we already know.
Mr Easton made much of his impartiality, not blaming anyone for the situation. But what his report also did not do was offer any answers.
The answer, of course, is stunningly simple.
Blaenau Gwent needs jobs.
What the piece failed to point out is that, as the answer is so simple, why this has failed to happen for decades, or how this can happen now in the middle of an economic malaise.
What the report also failed to show was the remarkable resilience and humour of the people I grew up with and who still live in my Valleys home town, just a few miles away from Blaenau Gwent.
So while reports like Mr Easton's are irritations, what's more important is that we focus on ways of harnessing that resilience, of turning around decades of joblessness and creating a better future.
A future where the brightest don't have to leave to have a career, or where towns become commuter dormitories for city workers.
If the Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale creates 12,000 jobs, we will all be delighted.
But what we've learned here is never to bank on outside help.
So it's vital Valleys folk and homegrown Valleys businesses continue to strive to make a better life for themselves - and are given all the help possible to thrive.
DAILY Mail writer Christopher Wilson contacted me after the question raised in my last column to say he had been to Tredegar House. I am happy to point that out. How he came to his conclusion after having been there? You tell me.
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