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Photo: Thomas Jones
Hafod Hardware in Rhayader, Powys, Wales, has a story to tell about generations working in a family business. Its low-budget, Christmas advertising video has gone viral.

The Holy Grail of many small businesses is a video ad that touches people in such a meaningful way that it goes viral. I am not sure if going viral necessarily generates a lot of business, but it definitely generates attention.

Consider, for example, this hardware store in Wales. Unless you lived nearby, you would not actually be able to shop there regularly. But I think that after seeing this video, you might go out of your way to buy something one day and take a selfie.

Copied more or less from the style of a department store giant with a huge ad budget, the ad has managed, on a shoestring, to draw a large following. According to the Guardian, that’s because the small family business has a real story to tell.

Stuart Heritage’s report starts with the department store. “This year’s John Lewis Christmas advert, in which a dragon tries to kill several people then holds up a pudding, reportedly cost £7m [$9,190,300] to make. And that’s fine. It’s a good advert, and John Lewis has a reputation to uphold, and you can’t really put a price on the half a morning of vaguely duty-bound Twitter buzz it generated.

“However, by no means is it the best Christmas ad this year. That plaudit now goes to Hafod Hardware, a tiny independent family-run hardware store in Rhayader, Powys, whose ad cost just £100 [$131.35] to make. …

“A little boy wakes up. He brushes his teeth, eats his breakfast and goes to work. He opens the shop, fixes a broom; he cleans the counter and restocks the shelves. He serves a customer, does a bit of accounting, serves another customer. At the end of the day he switches off the light, bends down to pick up a Christmas tree and – PLOT TWIST! – he’s actually a 30-year-old man. The strapline comes up: ‘Be a kid this Christmas’. …

“The advert is being hailed as a celebration of traditional Christmas spirit, the strength of the independent, and the importance of community. … [But] while it’s impressive that the shop has only spent £100 on the ad – and that was to pay for an engineer to record the song on the soundtrack – it still manages to crib pretty heavily from the John Lewis playbook. There’s a kid. There’s a tree. There’s a slowed-down cover version of a well-loved song. …

“But let’s not be too mean-spirited. The fact is that the Hafod Hardware advert packs an almighty punch, because of the history of the shop itself. It has been open since 1895, fending off competition from bigger companies with every step; and it’s a true family shop, passed down through the generations.

“The grandfather in the advert is the nephew of the founder, the man at the end (his son) runs the shop with him and the little boy could feasibly grow up to run the shop after him. Any old idiot can get a kid to sweep up a shop, but the magic of the ad is that it shows the real flesh and blood lineage of Hafod Hardware. It’s the beating heart of the community, and has been for years. No amount of money can buy that.”

If you were making a video for your business that you hoped would click with a large audience, what would you put in it?

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Michał Iwanowski
Michał Iwanowski came across graffiti in Wales that said: ‘Go home, Polish.’ Eventually he did. The
Guardian writes that his 105-day slog restored his faith in the people of a volatile, fractured Europe.

Today’s divisiveness is exaggerated. There are certainly times I chide myself for naïveté, for believing that divisiveness is exaggerated only because I want to. Maybe it isn’t true. Then I read an article like this one about a photographer in Wales who, buffeted by Brexit xenophobia, decided on an experiment.

Sean O’Hagan writes at the Guardian. “On 27 April this year, Michał Iwanowski left his house in Cardiff to walk to his home village of Mokrzeszów in Poland. Carrying British and Polish passports and wearing a T-shirt bearing the word ‘Polska,’ he began his 1,200-mile journey east, sticking as closely as possible to a straight line he had drawn on a map. Over 105 days, it would take him through Wales, England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic. Along the way, Iwanowski posted a [diary] on Instagram,. …

“ ‘I saw the project as a way of thinking about the idea of home,’ he says, ‘not least because it would take me from the place I have lived in for 18 years to the place I come from. And I would be doing it at a time when Brexit had made the idea of home, identity and belonging a very politicised subject.’

“Iwanowski had been thinking about walking to Poland for several years, after being confronted in 2008 by graffiti scrawled on a wall in the Roath area of Cardiff, where he lives. ‘Go Home, Polish,’ it read. …

“He often appears in the images, sometimes as himself, sometimes as a generic wanderer lost in an unfamiliar landscape. In one self-portrait, he clings to a tree as if in danger from a threat just out of the frame. In another, he tries in vain to squeeze between two concrete posts – the immigrant’s experience distilled.

“Central to the project was his desire to meet people. It was not always easy. In France, he did not really connect with anyone. In Germany, an enraged local chased him off an allotment he had wandered on to to ask for directions.

“Most of the time, though, it was the sheer energy-sapping doggedness of the undertaking – ‘the drudgery and sweat’ – that tested him as he trudged wearily through often empty, unchanging landscapes. On 8 July, his Instagram post read: ‘On Wednesday I crashed and decided to throw in the towel.’ For a few hours, he sat at the side of a road, dehydrated and exhausted, having thrown his rucksack into the bushes in a tantrum. ‘It lasted a few hours,’ he wrote. ‘I got back up.’ …

“Iwanowski’s long walk ultimately proved both cathartic and life-affirming. … ‘I had become more cynical of late. The experience has banished that cynicism. People are OK. In fact, they are often gloriously generous.’ …

“ ‘Look, I know I am a white male and that I passed quickly through towns and villages, where I was not perceived as a threat. But my experience was so overwhelmingly positive that it has made me question everything I read in the media about the hardening of attitudes that Brexit has supposedly provoked.

I think that a few loud, extreme voices dominate the debate, but ordinary people are stoical or confused – and perhaps a little angry. But they are also decent.’ …

“Has this odyssey changed his way of thinking about home? ‘It confirmed something. I feel utterly at home walking in the landscape, wherever that landscape is. I don’t need to be told by a government, “This is your home.” The ground beneath my feet sanctifies my belonging in this world – not the passport given to me by a country.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Dave Parkinson / The Tivyside Advertiser
Retiring owner of Bookends bookshop in Cardigan, Paul Morris, left, with new owner Ceisjan van Heerden.

Here’s another great story about people who love bookstores enough to try running one. This version is not about taking on the gig for one day, as the New York Times book critic did in this post, or doing it for a vacation week, as I reported here. It’s about completely taking over.

Alison Flood has the story at the Guardian. “The UK’s newest independent bookseller is gearing up to open his doors [November 5, 2018] – after winning a bookshop in a raffle.

“The unusual prize was dreamed up by Paul Morris, who opened Bookends in Cardigan [Wales] four years ago. The shop is profitable and would have made an estimated £30,000 in a sale, but Morris said he wanted to give someone else the chance to realise their dream of running a bookshop. Over the last three months, anyone who spent more than £20 was eligible to be entered into a raffle to win it.

“The name of the winner, Ceisjan Van Heerden, who is from the Netherlands, was drawn out of a hat containing 59 others at a ceremony last week, as Abba’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ played to a crowd. …

“ ‘I thought about selling it, but I thought instead, let’s give someone an opportunity in life which they might not otherwise have had. The principle was to make sure the shop continues in good hands,’ he said. “[Ceisjan] is a regular customer and I’m really pleased it was him – he wants to run it.’ …

“Van Heerden told the Tivyside Advertiser that he was ‘so shocked’ when he heard he had won. ‘I love books and read a lot and just happened to be in the shop when a TV crew was making a film about Paul’s decision to raffle it off and I bought a ticket,’ said Van Heerden.

“He officially takes over the shop on 5 November and said he is planning to run it with a friend from Iceland, who is now moving to west Wales. Although the pair have been friends online for nine years, they have yet to meet face to face. ‘It might sound strange, but we are sure we can make it work. It is just an amazing opportunity,’ he said.” What could possibly go wrong?

More here.

 

 

 

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Photo: Daniella Cheslow/NPR
Jeff Britten stands in the doorway of the Baptist chapel in Haverfordwest, Wales, where he meets regularly with other members of his group sponsoring a refugee family. The name of the group is Croeso Hwlffordd, or Welcome Haverfordwest in Welsh.

What can I say? There are kind people everywhere. This story is about the efforts of residents of a small village in Wales to welcome refugee families from Syria. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do — there are so many differences in experience and culture. But these people knew it was the right thing to do.

Daniella Cheslow writes at National Public Radio, “Back in February, Jeff Britten sent a description of Haverfordwest, his town of 13,000 people in southwestern Wales, to a family of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

” ‘I ran around town and took pictures of the castle, the best bits, the River Cleddau,’ Britten says. ‘I produced a map which showed the location of the house, and that everything was in walking distance, supermarkets, schools, a mosque. It was all there for them.’

“He hoped the family, whom he contacted with the help of the Home Office, which controls U.K. immigration, would come live in Wales. At that stage, he knew little about them, only that they were Syrians recognized as refugees by the United Nations.

“Britten is 71 and retired from the pharmaceutical industry. The idea to reach out to Syrian refugees came in late 2016, when he heard that two other Welsh villages had adopted refugees from the country, and he called a meeting in a Baptist chapel in his own town to inspire his neighbors to do the same. …

“The refugees have come to Wales as part of a community sponsorship program that began in the U.K. in 2016. A group of British citizens can commit to providing refugees help with housing, navigating schools and doctors, language and the job search.

“Twenty-five Syrian refugee families have arrived and been settled so far in the U.K. via community sponsorship; of those, six families went to Wales. …

“In Haverfordwest, about 30 residents answered Britten’s call and signed up to sponsor the newcomers. … Jenny Blackmore had worked with Syrian refugees in the nearby town of Narberth and noticed that housing was often a stumbling block to fulfilling the government’s conditions. Landlords had to keep their homes open while the Home Office processed the resettlement application, and the government paid a lower rental rate than the market could offer.

“Blackmore’s mother had recently died and left her an inheritance. She invested it in a three-bedroom, two-story rowhouse in the center of Haverfordwest, with the aim of housing a refugee family.

” ‘I decided it would be a sort of fitting legacy, really, to my mum and dad’s memory, to do something — yeah, it’s an investment for my family, but it’s also a kind of investment in people’s lives,’ she says.”

More here.

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Photo: Andrew Jackson for the Guardian
Elin William says, “From the moment I started strumming, the turkeys crowded ’round.”

A few months ago, I told my younger grandson that I had read a story about a woman who plays music to calm down turkeys. I don’t think he quite believed me.

But it’s true. Elin William wrote at the Guardian about her unusual use of music.

“I got my first guitar when I was 12, and it’s been a slow process of self-tuition since then. I also play piano and violin, but I only play the guitar to the turkeys on the Rhug Estate farm in Corwen, north Wales, where I work.

“It began as an experiment. Rhug is an organic farm, and the main principle is to create as little stress as possible for the animals. But the farm is on the side of a main road, so some get spooked by loud noises: the traffic, machinery or sounds from the car park. We started playing the radio to them overnight. We’d put on Classic FM when we were shutting up at 7 pm and leave it on until we returned in the morning.

“The turkeys in particular responded really well. So we started playing the radio all day, every day. Then my boss, Lord Newborough, thought, ‘What if the music was much more up close and personal?’ He knew I played guitar and suggested I had a go. …

“From the moment I started strumming, the turkeys crowded ’round. I got the impression they enjoyed listening to me play. They started pecking on the guitar and plucking the strings. That’s the result of organic farming: you get inquisitive animals, rather than ones that are scared. …

“I’ve now performed in front of hundreds of turkeys. … I sing Welsh folk songs and ones my dad would have loved to hear, like the Animals’ ‘House of The Rising Sun’ – that’s the one I like playing most. …

“I’ve been described as a turkey whisperer. It’s like a horse whisperer, but not as glamorous. I don’t have a magic touch – anyone who played to them would get the same reaction, to be honest. …

“I’m an animal lover and it’s important to me that the turkeys are happy. But I’m not a vegetarian. Getting so close to the birds doesn’t make me think I have to give up meat. Farming is a mega industry, but here the focus is on quality of life. Having worked with them, it’s impossible to imagine turkeys in cages.” Read more at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: The Guardian
One recent immigrant from Pakistan was welcomed into the home of Jo Haythornthwaite of Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow, an example of individuals stepping up to help refugees.

The hostility to immigrants that fueled the Brexit vote in Britain gets all the attention, but there are other voices. There are always other voices.

Gregory Maniatis writes for the Open Society Foundations about refugee outreach across the British Isles.

” ‘I can’t solve the whole Syrian crisis, but I can do something, for a few people.’ The words of Olwen Thomas, from the port of Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, probably sum up the feelings of many people around the world, as we follow news reports about the terrible difficulties that have faced refugee families fleeing the conflict in Syria, as well as other crises around the world.

“Thomas, and other members of her community, are now doing something significant through their involvement in the Fishguard Refugee Sponsorship Group. The group was one of the first to respond to a UK scheme first announced last July by the British Home Affairs Minister Amber Rudd and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby — the leader of the Anglican Church.

“Under the Community Sponsorship program, local groups agree to sponsor refugee families and help them integrate into life in the UK by assisting with things such as finding housing, securing access to medical and social services, arranging English language tuition, and supporting them towards employment and self-sufficiency. …

“One Welsh group in the small town of Cardigan has raised £12,000 as part of its application to the scheme. Vicky Moller, a member of the group, told the BBC … ‘People are very, very keen to help.’

“The sponsorship model being launched in towns and cities across England and Wales is partly inspired by a hugely successful effort launched in Canada in 1979, when the mayor of Ottawa, Marion Dewar, mobilized an effort by community groups to settle 4,000 mostly Southeast Asian refugees. To date, Canadian communities and citizens have resettled almost 300,000 refugees through its private sponsorship program. …

“Chris Clements, a director of Social Finance UK, … has noted the shortcomings of ‘traditional’ refugee resettlement in the UK, which has left many refugee families isolated and struggling to adapt to their new surroundings. This in turn results in high rates of unemployment, depression, stress, and other problems.

“Community sponsorship, Clements says, ‘enables local people to take responsibility for resettling a refugee family, supporting and empowering them to rebuild their lives.’ ”

More here.

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The last time I checked into the always intriguing website This Is Colossal, I followed a link to My Modern Met, where Katie Hosmer writes about a trampoline that people are bouncing on in the Llechwedd slate caverns of Wales.

“This underground labyrinth of netting is a giant trampoline playground set inside a slate quarry cavern in the Welsh mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Developed by Zip World, Bounce Below [offers] visitors a playful experience deep beneath the surface of the earth.

“The tourist attraction features three giant trampolines suspended across the cave, ranging from 20 feet to 180 feet high. Ten foot net walls prevent people from climbing out, while walkways connect the trampolines, and slides offer an easy way to exit. As visitors jump around, the walls of the surrounding cavern are illuminated with glowing blue, green, pink, and purple lights.

” ‘We got the idea when my business partner saw this done in woods in France but this has never been done in a cavern, this really is a world first in Wales,’ says Sean Taylor, owner of Zip World. ‘It’s a one hour activity where customers get dressed up in a cotton overall and given a helmet; they then jump on a train and travel inside the mountain.’ ”  More crazy pictures at My Modern Met, here.

How do you keep ’em down in the bouncy house after they’ve seen cave trampolining?

Photo: My Modern Met

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“Good good good good vibrations.”

I wonder if the Beach Boys ever thought about this aspect of good vibrations — how they can bring the joy of music to those who can’t hear.

According to Gramophone magazine, “The BBC National Orchestra of Wales will perform a series of free concerts in Cardiff on February 26 and 27, which aim to make orchestral music accessible to deaf and hard of hearing adults and children. …

“The events will feature sign language and live subtitles, and will allow audience members to sit within the orchestra, in order to feel the vibrations from instruments as the musicians play. The five concerts will demonstrate concepts including pitch, tempo and dynamics through music including ‘Hoe-Down’ from Copland’s Rodeo, ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Grieg’s Peer Gynt and the theme tune to Doctor Who. Four of the concerts will be aimed at students from primary and specialist schools, and adults in care homes and day centres. The fifth concert will be open to the public, allowing deaf and hard of hearing children and adults to take part alongside friends and family.”

More.

Photograph: Betina Skovbro
BBC NOW presented a pilot event for the deaf and hard of hearing in October 2012

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When I saw the headline at Wired, it didn’t really compute.

“Artists Create Portraits on Live Grass.” What? I don’t get it. Did the artists set up easels and paint with oils? Did they paint directly on the grass?

Writer-photographer Jakob Schiller explains.

“It all started, as these things sometimes do, by accident. In 1990, before they worked in photography, [Heather] Ackroyd and [Dan] Harvey created an art installation that covered an entire room with grass. As part of the art piece they had left a ladder leaning against a wall and when they went to remove it they saw that the ubiquitous and fast-growing plant had been imprinted with the shadow. The grass had stayed yellow where the ladder had prevented it from receiving any light.

“ ‘We didn’t know straight away what we were looking at, but we knew that we had observed something important,’ Ackroyd says.

“They began playing with the idea of manipulating the light that hits grass and by the next year were projecting light through an old 35mm Kodak projector onto a swath of grass on the wall.”

What to think as the grass withers and dies? It’s kind of a Dorian Gray scenario.

Read more about the project at Wired‘s Raw File, here.

Photograph: Ackroyd & Harvey.
Myles, Basia, Nath and Alesha, The Big Chill Festival, Eastnor Castle, between the Cotswolds and the Welsh Marches. 2007

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I had dinner with friends at Harvard Square’s Casablanca last night.

Hadn’t seen them in ages. Their older son is moving to New York City with his family this summer. A key attraction is an experimental “international” school opening in Chelsea in the fall. My friends’ granddaughter will start in the new middle school and their grandson in the new elementary school.

Avenues School is the brainchild of publishing whiz Chris Whittle, best known for his not-so-successful Edison Schools. He puts that experiment in a positive light on the Avenues website, saying that it helped to spark the charter school movement. My friends say that experienced and inventive educators from all over have rushed in to help with Whittle’s new global approach to education.

“Begin by thinking Avenues Beijing, Avenues London, Avenues São Paulo, Avenues Mumbai,” says the website. “Think of Avenues as one international school with 20 or more campuses. It will not be a collection of 20 different schools all pursuing different educational strategies, but rather one highly-integrated ‘learning community,’ connected and supported by a common vision, a shared curriculum, collective professional development of its faculty, the wonders of modern technology and a highly-talented headquarters team located here in New York City.”

Erik went to an international school in Wales, a United World College, and made lifelong friends from many nations. As Avenues plans to do, United World Colleges has campuses in different countries. The one in Wales is for high school, but other UWC schools are, like Avenues, preschool to 12th grade, even beyond. Kim Jong-Il’s grandson attends the one in Bosnia!

 

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