I took the car for an MOT and found history, industrial heritage, world class nickel refining and a hidden canal, alive with colour and beauty.

The beautiful historic Swansea Canal at Clydach

Last week I was stopped and spot checked by police on the way to the supermarket. This is all part of the new “Stay At Home” policing policy to stop the spread of coronavirus; was the journey essential? Once satisfied that the trip was legitimate, the officer browsed the vehicle and told me that my front tyres would need changing very soon, along with the renewal of the MOT. Thanks for letting me know, I thought!

In this time of lockdown I wasn’t sure how I was going to replace the tyres or indeed renew the MOT? However, after some local research I found a garage that was still open for business in a village called Clydach at the foot of the Swansea valley, six miles north east of Swansea city centre .

I’ve driven past Clydach and through it on many occasions, but had no real knowledge of its history, although there are many visible reminders of its industrial past including the centrepiece of the village, a large almost ugly red brick building known as the Mond. Until yesterday I had no idea what this structure housed or indeed its significance to Clydach’s history.

The Mond, Clydach (Image: Adrian White)

Friday the 24th April, was another beautiful spring day with lots of sunshine and temperatures above 20 degrees. I arrived at the back street garage, hidden away from the deserted main road and asked the owner if he could recommend anywhere where I could take a walk, whilst waiting for the car to be completed? “The canal that runs alongside the Mond – it’s a short distance from here, it’s peaceful has lots of things to see and you’ll be amazed with its natural beauty,” said John.

Coal Tram & Coal . Anthracite coal transported down the valley to Swansea’s metallurgical industries and for global export.

I’ve since learnt that the Swansea canal has a long history, dating back to 1794. Constructed by the Swansea Canal Navigation Company it was built to serve collieries, iron and copperworks along the Tawe valley, plus a channel for the movement of the materials these industries produced.

Boats built in yards along its route transported huge quantities of coal, down the valley to serve the metallurgical industries and to waiting ships at Swansea docks for export. From the docks this precious cargo was shipped all over the world. The canal’s decline was sealed with the creation of Swansea Vale Railway and it’s written that the last commercial journey took place in 1931. The canal and railway were key logistical transport functions of this area’s industrial past, but the canal itself is still very much alive, with clear waters teaming with small fish and tourist trails and cycle paths alongside its banks.

Swansea Canal, Clydach

After a few minutes walking I arrived at the main entrance of the big red brick building and noticed on the other side of the road a powerful statue of a lone figure draped in a long coat and wearing a large hat. This is the statue of Ludwig Mond, situated close to the canal itself and overseeing the entrance to the Mond works that he helped create.

Ludwig Mond was a German Jew, who studied chemistry and came to England as a young man and set up a research laboratory in the stables of his London home. His assistant was an Austrian called Carl Langer and in 1889 Mr Langer discovered a process that separated nickel from ore. This was the spark that ignited the plan to create a refinery in Clydach and production began in 1902. It was the perfect location to build a nickel refinery as the process required good quality coal and the Swansea Valley had an abundance of top quality anthracite. Swansea docks was located just 6 miles south of the village and was ideally placed for world export of this precious metal.

Ludwig Mond 1839- 1909 (Image: Robert Mellen)

At its height it is written that over 40% of Clydach’s population were employed at the Mond works and although it remains open today, the workforce is now limited to just over 200 people. The refining process produces 99.9% pure nickel which is then used in specialist applications such as stainless steel products and a wide variety of nickel alloys.

Mond Nickel Refinery 1926 (Image: Adrian White)

Again after doing some basic research, I’ve learnt that the plant remains a world leader and it’s nickel has been in high demand for over a hundred years, including the second world war, when nickel was needed to build ships and battle tanks. Ludwig Mond died in 1909, but his contribution to Clydach’s development including employment and housing is remarkable and his influence remains today. His statue stands majestically overlooking the Mond refinery and it’s testimony to his vision and foresight that the Mond continues to produce world class nickel in the 21st century.

It’s amazing what unforeseen circumstances can unfold each day. Coronavirus has changed all of our lives and things happen as a result of its dreaded presence, some bad and ironically some good. Living in Swansea it is unlikely that I would have travelled to Clydach to buy tyres or to renew an MOT on a car. However, having had to do something that was out of the norm I discovered a whole new experience of fascinating history, natural beauty, industrial heritage and a world class refinery at the heart of a local community.

This really was a memorable journey.

Historical bridge support & signage Swansea Canal, Clydach

Happy Easter

It’s Easter Saturday morning and the sun is shining, through the gaps in my window blind. I lie in bed listening to the early morning bird song, crystal clear and uninterrupted by traffic or any other man made noise.

The roads are deserted and as I peer through the bedroom window into the clear blue sky there are no vapour trails. The aeroplanes all but a few have stopped flying. There is a calm and serenity, a paradox as we could easily forget the chaos that rages around us, as we all try and come to terms with this new way of life.

COVID-19 is a menace, a pandemic that has unleashed terror, death, economic meltdown and uncertainty since its outbreak in the Chinese province of Wuhan in December 2019.

The whole world is affected and the latest death count is 103,512 as of today 12:02 GMT, 11th April 2020.

In the UK, the latest figures show just over 70,000 registered cases as the death toll edges towards 9,000. Our NHS staff are on the frontline of this war, doing their job and risking their own lives to fight this silent enemy. They are brave, exhausted and stretched to their limits, this great British army of angels struggling to cope with the huge influx of COVID-19 patients, which includes our very own prime minister.

Global, national and personal, there are so many stories to tell.

At that personal level, my mum suffers with dementia and is in a care home. The home is under lockdown and we cannot touch, hug and hold in her time of need, so we rotate bi-daily visits to blow kisses via the glass window pane that separates us. She becomes agitated because she doesn’t understand what is happening and why we can’t go inside. Each visit ends in heartache, tears on either side of the glass that divides us. This tragic play happens daily in every care home across the country, our family just one of many.

What about work life? A very strange predicament for millions of people across the UK and indeed the world. I’m the owner of a Cafe Bar, which was forced to close on 20th March 2020, the instruction came directly from the UK Government . COVID-19 had arrived and lockdown was now in place.

Despite huge government support funds for UK business being announced, I like many other business owners have not been able to access a single penny to date. It’s clear that unless something changes soon, certain businesses will will run out of time. Hibernating a business costs money and with no cash flow many businesses across the UK could close within weeks. Again, our business is just one of many with a story to tell in this crisis.

In addition to the business I have a day job in media, but a third of the workforce was furloughed on the 1st April 2020. We have no idea what the future holds? Again we are not alone as millions face financial and economic uncertainty.

Yet despite all of the above, the world is still turning. Is this nature’s way of cleansing this planet that we’ve taken for granted for too long? What’s clear is human beings are not in control at all, this world was spinning a long time before we arrived and will probably continue to do so a long time after we’ve left.

It’s so peaceful now at 14:00 GMT this Easter Saturday. We await the latest government statistics. Another minister flanked by medical and scientific advisors, unleashing the latest news, advice and guidance including the usual instruction – “Stay At Home”. These are predictable yet uncertain times.

It’s a beautiful day. The birds are still singing, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Spring is definitely here and flowers are beginning to bloom.

Happy Easter

A short story from the past.

An old Irish friend that I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago in the beautiful Northern Irish village of Cushendall, responded to my recent post (Linkedin).

When I first met CJ he struck me immediately as a fascinating chap, and made an early impression. He was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about his Irish roots and he invited me on a short guided tour of Cushendall, which included a brief history of Curfew Tower, the garrison’s controversial past and its role in the town’s once central crossing point.

The Tower is now owned by artist Bill Drummond; a friend of Bill and I was the connection and reason for that initial visit to this gorgeous part of County Antrim.

History and fond memories aside, CJ sent me an image (a cartoon that mirrored my reaction to what is going on right now in our COVID-19 world) which has since disappeared into cyberspace, but the message included a flabbergasted cartoon character expressing himself in reaction to some shocking facts – “WTF!”.

The image captured my thoughts when creating this blog. Words cannot express what is happening right now as COVID-19 rages and drags this world into a future of mortality and economic uncertainty.

WTF, alarm and shock? That’s how I felt when we first met as CJ’s history lesson about the tragic past unfolded and it’s my same reaction today, but in a very confused COVID-19 world. Same reaction – different time, but tragedy is again involved under very different circumstances!

Thanks again CJ for your wit and sharp mind even in these difficult times, and most importantly your longstanding friendship!

Stay safe my friend – thought you might recognise this image?

Boris Johnson

Today Boris Johnson the PM of our United Kingdom is in intensive care fighting for his life as COVID-19 continues to ravage our communities.

This virus does not discriminate. The letter below arrived in this morning’s post. There’s an irony in its timing but a stark warning for us all. As I write this blog all our futures seem so uncertain.

My business, a small Cafe Bar in Mumbles was forced to close on the 20th March 2020 following an instruction from the UK Government that all pubs, bars, cafes etc should close with immediate effect. My day job is new business development at a Cardiff based advertising agency. On the 1st April (fools day of course – it was no joke) I along with 11 other colleagues was put on furlough leave.

Our health service is under huge pressure to cope, the economy is in free fall, our PM is fighting a personal battle as we continue to find away through this apocalyptic nightmare. We will get through this but the human and financial cost will be huge.

I wish you well Boris and I pray to god that you and others in similar circumstances have the strength to pull through. As a nation and society we must stick together, follow the guidelines, support the NHS and work tirelessly as one to overcome this deadly disease.