Meic Stephens, Welsh cultural giant (1938-2018)

October 3, 2018

 

Meic Stephens grew up in the little welsh village of Treforest and became one of the leading cultural figures of his generation in Wales, as a writer, editor, poet, and arts administrator.
We grew up together in two close families living in one of the ribbon streets of the villages lining the South Wales valleys.

In the 1950s, Meic was a few years ahead of me at Pontypridd Grammar School. One of my earliest recollections of him at the time is our experimenting together at home with one of the new-fangled tape-recorders. Meic choose to declaim with appropriate hwyl, from Under Milk Wood. Even then he had become committed to the nationalist politics, and culture of Wales.

Our paths after our schooldays diverged. I became nomadic, Meic stayed close to his roots. He became more than fluent in Welsh, and a distinguished author and poet narrowly missing the converted crown at the National Eisteddfod. His passion became the development of the Anglo-welsh cultural voice.

Sam Adams, writing in the Guardian, noted his achievements. Academically, he was able to join the University of Glamorgan, ‘a stone’s throw from his birthplace’, on the site of the old School of Mines. He became professor of ‘welsh writing in English’.
One of his interests was reflected in the obituaries he wrote in The Independent, mostly for other literary figures in his extended network.

During my extended exile in America and then England, my main contact with his burgeoning career were those obituaries. I even missed the one written for him, being by then a less-regular subscriber to the i.

I retain some comfort from my  memories, and a story I like to relate of a childhood in which the South Wales valleys were brim full of poets. I was not, I like to say accurately,  even the most celebrated poet in the village. I was not even the most celebrated one in the street.


Independent Judgement. I will miss you greatly

February 15, 2016

Obituary for a dear friend

Indy Paris RotatedThere was an inevitability about the passing of the print version of The Independent. I will miss a quirky friend who made morning coffee the more enjoyable for several decades.

My not particularly guilty secret. I became addicted to the print version of the Independent for a bundle of reasons. Now I have a tough decision. What will take its place in my affections?

But that decision is for the future. Now is time to recall the best of friends, brilliant, contrarian, instinctively liberal.

The Indy was not always reliable. It could never be guaranteed to turn up as regularly as I could have liked. In the three Newsagents closest to me, one always ordered a reasonable supply. One gave up stocking the paper a few years ago, and the third resolutely refused to double its numbers of copies, meaning that at times I was thwarted by someone else with a minority taste in the news they preferred, and the way in which it was presented.

A cause a day

Then there was a period a few years ago when every day was time for a new cause waged against a national or global injustice, until I felt slightly desensitized in my enthusiasm for for the ‘Cause of the day’.

Looking back

The Indy was born as a reaction against the last big disruption to the print media.

In the UK. Rupert Murdoch was successfully breaking the hold of the old print Unions. A handful of journalists opposing the Murdoch dominance formed The Independent.

The project was always fighting the economics of a declining market recognized so shrewdly by Murdoch whose Empire had the financial muscle to run promotional campaigns that further weakened its competitors. The Independent would have gone under far earlier if it had not been bought in 2010 for nonfinancial reasons for £1 by Evgeny Lebedev who has bankrolled it since to the tune of £60m

Its innovations included messy changes to a tabloid size, and occasional excessive exuberance in design ideas that never quite lined up with user appeal.

Now creative destruction will hit a fair number of the staff, even some among a talented bunch of journalists.

Chess

One of the reasons I stuck with the full rather than the little Independent.

The chess column shows tireless interest in the game by Grandmaster Jonathan Speelman. Maybe the e-paper will give him a nice new platform for his daily offering.

Obituaries

Its obituaries by Meic Stephens gave me a link with my school days. Thanks to Meic I was not even the best poet in the village. Don’t know if he will get a chance to write an obituary or a poem in memory of the print Indy.

Not just a Viewspaper…

Viewpaper accusations by Tony Blair were taken on board unashamedly, as the Independent ironically admitted the importance of opinion pieces. Mr Tony was uncomfortable about the paper’s uncompromising stance over Iraq, and several other of his policy decisions.

Great journalism

I’m among the readers who dote on Mark Steel’s brand of satirical commentaries., Robert Fisk’s foreign affairs polemics, and Rupert Cornwall’s effortless demonstrations of his deep insights into politics to match those of his step brother David, aka John le Carre.

What next?

Do I seek out a new morning partner to gaze at over my coffee? These are early days after a heart wrenching loss.