According to my Facebook timeline, tonight Ferndale featured on BBC’s The One Show. Ferndale is a little village in the Rhondda, which is a small valley in South Wales. There is a idea that not much happens in Ferndale, so the fact that it was on The One Show is big news. The reason for said feature is the Sky sitcom Stella, a comedy about valleys life, which has been filmed here. It’s not the only thing that’s brought attention to our valley recently. MTV also decided to focus their attention in this direction and make another one of their ‘reality’ shows, holding several local individuals up for nationwide mockery, in that special way only MTV can. As a result there are many perceptions and opinions flying around regarding this place I call home.
I have spent most of my life in Ferndale. I was born and brought up here, and after several years spent in Cardiff, it is the place I will live in for the foreseeable future. I didn’t always love it. If you grew up in a small town place, you will understand how suffocating it can be living somewhere that doesn’t seem to grasp that there is a world outside of its boundaries. Everyone knows everything about everyone else, and a huge amount of people spend their entire lives here. The capitol city is about 20 miles away, and there are people here who will gasp at the thought of travelling such a distance. I was determined to never be one of those people. When I was a teenager, I didn’t understand that I could avoid being one of them and still live here. I didn’t know how to seperate the mindset from the place. It took moving away for several years to realise that I could.
Living and working in Cardiff was total freedom for me. There were shops open after 10pm! There were nightclubs! Buses more than once an hour! I COULD BUY NME FROM MY LOCAL NEWSAGENT! A whole world opened, a world of coffee shops (and therefore coffee addictions), walking to work and people who were like me. The opposite, so I thought, to the Rhondda. But when the credit crunch hit and I was made redundant twice in a year, I was forced to admit defeat and move back home.
To say I left Cardiff begrudgingly would be putting a very positive spin on how I actually felt. The first night I spent back in my mother’s house I actually cried. How would I cope without Starbucks? A daily commute to work, 90 minutes each way, now lay ahead of me. Bad bus services, no cinema, and a six mile trek to the nearest shop that sold any kind of decent music magazine. I could not and would not adjust to a life like that. But then something really odd happened.
I didn’t hate it.
My best friend Becky played an instrumental part in my new life. Every other day she appeared at my front door and forced me to put on my trainers and go running with her. As we talked and ran my way out of the slump I’d fallen into, I noticed something that years of only seeing the low grade graffiti outside the local working mens club had blinded me to; the Rhondda is a a beautiful place. Utterly beautiful. Rows of pretty terraced houses run along the river and curl up the sides of mountains, lush green mountains clad with thousands of trees and speckled with hundreds of sheep. Quarries and waterfalls carve both wide chunks and slender lines from the slopes and in the summer they turn into a purple patchwork quilt of heather. You can walk along the river for miles, right up to where it starts springing out of the mountainside. You can wander in the forestry and come across secret wishing wells or small lakes. Wherever you stand, in the middle of a street, on the main roads, in the lanes behind your house, you will be able to see something beautiful.
Aside from the scenic aspects, the fact that everyone does know everyone else makes it safe. The kebab shop might be the only thing thats open past 11pm, but you can walk around in the middle of the night and not once feel threatened. Kids still play together in the streets and in the summer, people pull their chairs outside their front doors and the whole street sunbathes together. It is a poor place. Teen pregnancy and drug addictions are rife, and some people live in real poverty, but at the same time there’s a quick, self-deprecating humour in almost everyone I know. People just get on with their lives, making the best of what they’ve got, and there will be no airs and graces, no egos. Nobody is better than anyone else. Everyone says hello to each other on the bus, in shops or in the pub. That spirit of community is something that should never be taken for granted.
I don’t know if I will always stay here. I’d like to see more of the world, meet more people, do more things, because I know that life outside of the Rhondda exists and is pretty good. But it is my home, and I love it. That is something that is far more important than being able to walk to the cinema or having easy access to coffee made by global corporations. I can laugh at things here, but I will never mock it, and I will defend it to the last breath if anyone else thinks they have the right to.