GREY DAYS | SOUTH WALES

THOMAS KING & OLIVER TOOKE

2013


Grey Days is a melancholy celebration of Britain, traveling to different and unusual areas of the country, covering themes and topics that are important to the British identity. The name 'Grey Days' derives from the infamous weather found here, and the title aims to unite everyone under the universal struggle to persevere through it.


It's a series of collaborative road trips by two photographers, to different parts of the United Kingdom and to photograph quieter aspects of British life that usually go by unnoticed. These projects are carried out over a couple days, or up to a week. Working in a collaboration helps to break the mould of the singular view of the artist's interpretation of the land, and citizen's opinion of his country. Both photographers bring different life experience and memories to the project, and their visions of their own country will differ, leading to discussion as to the intricacies of what it means to be British and what makes up Britain. 

As the wind blows and the sun shines we travel over the Severn bridge towards our destination, south Wales. It has only been a week or so since the decision to head into the ‘unknown’, for us anyway. What will this week long trip bring us? We know for sure a lot of rain and wind and some very cold nights. However, the thought of who and what we will meet along our way fill’s us with high spirit and an urge to press on.

First stop, Caldicot, and the gods are on our side. The sun is in the sky and it is dry under foot. Caldicot has long been the first stop for people venturing into south Wales for hundreds of years, until recently this meant navigating the treacherous waters of the river Severn. However today, thankfully for us we can safely drive over the bridge and keep our feet dry.

As we went over the bridge a tall tower jutted up from what looked like an old industrial area and so we decided to park the car and investigate on foot. We came to learn that this was once in-fact one of the biggest paper mills in business within south Wales. Employing a lot of the local commu- nity but sadly had closed a decade before as the production of paper had been outsourced to the far east. Over the years this once bustling business had become dormant within its surroundings and the local people had to find employment else where.

We took a walk for a couple hours around the local area and it was clear to see the impact of such businesses coming to cease within the local community and surrounding area.

However aside all this the bridge that now connects Wales to England has brought some benefits. It creates this con- nection, and with the connection comes industry and com- merce. This is vital to Wales economy and the local busi- nesses which rely on this link. Goods can now come and go with ease allowing for a much more fluid connection to be established. Will Wales see an increase in productivity soon?

It becomes clear as we carry on with our journey through the south of Wales that the landscape that is before us is not as it seems. The scars of many years of mining, open cast and underground, has taken its toll, and the lay of the land tells many stories. The remaining piles of dirt and stone dug out from deep inside of the hill sides, line many of the horizons and the absence of foliage is noted. The essence of a landscape, which was once pristine and held acres and acres of forest can been seen, however it is broken like a puzzle by the man made veins scouring the land.

This change in the landscape falls innocent as the culprit turns up, the natural abundance of minerals and resources needed by humans to engineer the rise in economic power. Wales, and its inhabitants, lay near the ever more power hungry English. They and their lands fell like a pawn in chess, to allow the forward momentum of the British economy to grow. This need of the English for the resources the Welsh possessed brought with it a boom in industry. Mining for coal and other minerals flourished and created money for Wales through exporting it to England. The large crops of trees which lay at the top of the valleys, again another exportable commodity and this is why today the land is so scared. 

Beyond the mouths of the valleys concrete urban jungles become far and few between and the drawn out countryside villages become prominent features. These small communities lay isolated with unknown faces rarely seen. It was here that me noticed the strength in the community and how this plays a vital role in helping out each other when in need. Everyone knows each other even in the larger towns and each person seems to play a key role in the local societies. This is very different from where we’re from. Where we are from isn’t like this, only the very small towns seem to have this connection between their inhabitants and if your from a larger town or city then there is no hope in hell of remembering the next person from the next you meet in the local pub. To us this was interesting as it brings the whole area closer together which in turn helps with the local spirit of things. Everyone seemed to go out of their way for us when we stopped to ask questions on the area and each person gave us numerous names within the local community that could help with this ever unravelling story of south Wales. It was clear to see that in these smaller towns in the valleys the recession hadn’t hit as hard as it had back home. After asking the locals why this was it became clear that they were adamant that by living towards the lower income line this made the community stronger. Everyone got their produce locally not normally from big chain supermarkets keeping the money where it was most needed. In turn the local shops kept above board and saw out the worst of the recession.

Passing through Merthyr Tydfil we pulled in to get some food. We stumbled across a fish and chip shop and the women who owned it got talking with us. Her name was Donna and she stood with a quiet presence, which contrasted her warming personality, she explained how

the chip shop had stood in the community for over 50 years. She serves many customers travelling through however remembers all the locals by name and face. We ate our chips and curry while studying the mural on the back wall which held old school photographs from decades passed. Donna spoke of these images saying how it showed how things were and how things have changed. One of the first people we met in Wales was at the Severn bridge. Pete was a businessman from the Midlands, he was sat admiring the view over the Severn on his first trip to Wales. He was looking for business oppertunities to construct schools. This could be a sign of further investment and helping to build a stronger infrastructure within Wales.

15 years ago the community was hit hard by the closure of the local mine. However it was not all lost as a new quarry opened near by. Many communities are built around the former mining industries. Ray, and old Englishman, lives upon a road which has been there since the Roman times. The row of houses he lives in have been there since the turn of the 20th century, making them some of the oldest miners houses in the area. Most the people who live there today are either descendants or relatives of mining families. Ray originally lived in London, looking after his mother until her death. He was a roadie, and travelled with Genesis, Status Quo, Eric Clapton, Beach Boys and Titanic. He move to this part of Wales after travelling around for 9 months and has lived here for 27 years originally buying his house for a mere £10,000. When asked why he decided to live here he said -

“The people, the people are really nice... ....until you cross them.”

The old country of my fathers is dear unto me, Country of poets and singers, celebrities indeed,: Its warring defenders, so gallant and brave, For freedom their life’s blood they gave.

County!, Country!, Pledge-full I am to my country! While seas secure, this land so pure, o may our old language endure. O land of the mountains, the bard’s paradise, Whose preci- pice, valleys lone as the skies, Green murmuring forest, far echoing flood Fire the fancy and quicken the blood.

For tho’ the fierce foeman has ravaged your realm, The old speech of Wales he cannot o’erwhelm, Our passionate poets to silence command Or banish the harp from your strand.

Welsh National Anthem By Evan James, and son, James James. 1856

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