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Last updated: 20 June, 2005 - Published 08:56 GMT
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Dan's Blog

Welcome to my blog - the answer to all your questions: How do we get this programme to air? How did we make our choices of stories and why? Plus how we look ahead at what's in the news pipeline. If you have any comments, please use the email form on the right, or send them to

Life Rhythm

August 15th

It's always a bit of a struggle getting back into gear after summer holidays, I find.

I've lost the rhythm of the working day after three weeks in the fresh air.

Getting up at 5am requires a lot of planning and preparation so I don't wake up the whole household.

I've had to relearn how to stack things in the right order so I don't blunder around noisily as I make my somnambulant way out of the door.

One change to our programme plans has made the return to work a little less rushed.

We had been intending to head straight back to Gaza after our week of programmes from both sides of the settlement line at the end of last month.

As we discussed our plans - me on my mobile phone on the beach, the others still hard at work in Bush House - we realised that there are so many ways of getting coverage during this evacuation week it might be wise to wait before we go back.

The pullout enforcement is starting today and we're covering that with the help of colleagues Roger Hearing, Lucy Williamson and James Reynolds on the ground.

That will give us live coverage of the story as it breaks.

But we realised it might be very hard getting the kind of analysis we think we achieved during our recent visit.

It might prove almost impossible to hear the voices of the settlers, soldiers and local leaders during this week, bearing in mind the security operation being mounted by the Israeli army.

So since the evacuation operation is scheduled to take a month we've taken the decision to wait a couple of weeks before returning.

Then we can report on how the pullout is going, how close the Palestinians are getting to control of the new territory, and what kind of opportunity the change represents for Palestinians and Israelis and their allies.

As we waited for our press passes in an Israeli government office in Jerusalem last month, we were told they had received thousands of applications from foreign journalists intending to cover the pullout.

We can expect many of them to have been deployed by their editors to get the right dateline on one of the biggest stories of the year. They'll probably be gone in a few days.

Even if the pullout is as dramatic and controversial as seems likely there will come a time when other stories will push ahead in the news agenda.

What we in the World Update team seek to do when we take our programme on the road is provide extra value and new insights, not repetition.

The new shape of Gaza will become more obvious in a while. There will be fewer journalists chasing the story.

That'll be the right time, we think, to help you make a more thoughtful judgement about the impact of the pullout and its implications for the peace process.

Happy People

August 10th

As we reach the end of our holiday, I am remembering all the happy people I have met in these mountainous regions.

This week we travelled on the Ffestiniog Railway from the slate town of Blaenau Ffestiniog high in the hills to the harbour town of Porthmadog.

The narrow gauge line runs for more than 13 miles - a little over 20 km - along dizzying curves and inclines through stunning scenery.

And it's run by a lot of very happy people.

A lot of them are boys grown into men and living their childhood fantasies - driving trains, collecting tickets, blowing the whistle on the platform to hear the steam hiss and the pistons huff.

Dressed in oily denim they are obviously having the time of their life, day after day throughout the summer.

I was pleased to see that some of those volunteers on the railway were girls and women too. I tried to persuade Lejla, aged 12 and proud of being an 'urban chick', that it was a great thing the train that carried us back up the mountain had a soot-stained firewoman shovelling coal into the firebox.

She didn't really get it. Why was I making such a fuss about something so obvious - that women can do the same things as men if they want to? Of course they can.

A good thing my heightened consciousness, learned in the 1960s and 70s, means little to her these days.

(A news-pegged aside: as we try to discover what "British values" we share with second and third generation immigrants from Islamic cultures, now that the recent events have shown us the social and political distances between us, how will we get on discussing women's rights and freedoms? A question I will suggest for a debate on World Update some time soon.)

The other happy people we have met include:

...the site managers at the North Wales campsite.

You might remember we had trouble with the camp commander at the West Wales site, who got out his tape measure and drew our attention to the seven pages of closely typed rules. Let me show you what I mean.

It may be a grassy field with a few tents and a concrete shower block but it needs lots of rules!

At the latest site, though, where we have extended our stay day-by-day as the weather got better and the children made good friends, the couple who live in the caravan by the shower block seem to epitomise the stress-free life.

They have to clean things for about an hour a day, and then wander around occasionally smiling at the happy campers.

Their surroundings seem idyllic, with squirrels and sheep, cows and mossy hillsides.

I don't suppose they earn much as campsite wardens - but is money important when you know the most troubling thing you might have to worry about during the day is children having bike races?

...a shepherd who does the sheepdog and sheep shearing demonstrations we went to see. He has the pleasure of his successful relationship with his animals, and even better scenery with high mountains outside his door.

He also has a financial security many farmers don't enjoy because he has cornered the tourist market running his sheep shows in what he calls his 'agri-theatre' twice a day in the summer months.

...fighter pilots practising bombing runs overhead. Each morning the children cheer the jets as they do flips and loops over the mountains.

As you drive along the road you sometimes see markers on poles which I take to be their aiming targets.

They too must be doing what they have dreamed of since childhood.

Of course, if I imagine the job they're training for it brings me back sharply to the news environment I'll go back to in a couple of days.

For now, though, I just want to think of them as part of a more pleasant holiday picture.

Allow me that naivety for a while longer, please.

Word Power

August 7th

I mentioned at the start of this holiday phase of the World Update blog that I had a long association with Welsh and the Welsh language.

This weekend we have been to that great celebration of Yr Hen Iaith (the old language, i.e. Welsh) at the National Eisteddfod.

This is held in a muddy field, usually, and this year was no exception.

On that field, hundreds of displays set up by institutions and groups supporting or using Welsh surround a giant big top. Inside the big top Welsh is sung, recited, danced to and declaimed.

My children, who are educated in London and so don't speak Welsh, still had a great time trying climbing walls and listening to the music. There were also lots of free things - pens, balloons, wristbands, flags.

No child is completely unhappy if they come away from any event clutching a plastic bag full of giveaways.

Eisteddfod literally means 'chairing'. The most melifluous poet and writer in Welsh is chosen in a stiff competition. The winner is paraded in flowing Druidic costume around the tent, accompanied by a phalanx of flower girls dancing in the Celtic fashion. Then he is crowned Bard and seated in the grand chair, carved out of Welsh wood.

If this sounds a bit phoney to you, it is and the Welsh know it. The ceremony and much of the mythical Celtic stuff was 'reinvented' by 19th century proponents of Welsh nationalism.

But for the many decades the language was all the Welsh had to distinguish themselves culturally and politically, the Bardic confection was as good a way as any to hold the nation and the culture together. Throughout the bleak years of linguistic repression, the Eisteddfod maintained its stately procession from town to town - taking place alternately in North and South Wales each year, because there are dialect differences between the two regions.

Since 1999, though, the Welsh have had more than the tent in which to express their cultural autonomy. The Welsh national Assembly was established which gave devolution a shape in Wales that was not as far along the road towards independence as the Scottish Parliament.

The Assembly can't raise money and can't pass laws. It has to wait for the Westminster Parliament to do those things on its behalf.

It can administer the impact of those laws and the budget that goes with them in areas like health and education.

The Assembly has proved itself effective, apparently, and is now expecting Tony Blair's government to move things further along towards stronger autonomy.

At the Eisteddfod field, I met my old friend John Osmond, with whom in the 1980s I collaborated on a cultural magazine for Wales.

Now he runs the Institute of Welsh Affairs, a think tank.

He told me there might be new legislation in the next Westminster Parliament to make it easier for the Welsh to control their own law making.

There is still resistance amongst Labour back benchers in Westminster to full law making powers, but a compromise involving a complicated referral system to and from London is likely to go through.

Whatever the political outcome, the Assembly has developed alongside a growing confidence about the language.

TV programmes in Welsh, many for children, and many more Welsh language schools, have meant the number of speakers of Welsh has increased over recent years.

Even people who live in majority English-speaking areas now think of themselves Welsh in a way they would not in the past. Not many years ago they would have thought of themselves as British first.

The Eisteddfod itself, the cultural festival that survived those years of declining linguistic power, is going through a financial crisis. There is talk that it might not take place in 2007 (next year's is already safe, and will be in Swansea).

Perhaps the growing strength of Welshness as a political idea means the main guarantee of support for the language has moved away from the muddy field and into the less bucolic surroundings of the Assembly chamber.

To my mind, that would be a big loss.

I have very fond memories of discovering the rich sound of Welsh among the rich scent of farm animals.

Please click on this link to see more from the holiday blog.

I thought you might want to see a few more of the pictures from Gaza.

Chjldren of Gaza settlers protesting against the pullout plan at the main checkpoint into the Gush Katif Settlement block

Anti-pullout demonstrators gather at a village outside Gaza. The helicopter brought a former Chief Rabbi.

The beach at Gaza City, with one of the hotels already overlooking the Med. If things go well, there'll be some tourists one day, too.

The way out of Gaza along the tunnel at the Erez Crossing - depressing and unwelcoming. This is the Palestinian side.

Gaza Week

Friday 22nd July

Our decision to base ourselves in the technical security of the Jerusalem studio paid off.

As we were on air, the dramatic news came through that a suspected suicide bomber had been shot on the tube and that there had been more London underground closures.

We were able to get the latest news from our correspondents in London and from the news wires.

It seemed uncomfortably appropriate to be discussing suicide bombings from Jerusalem, where people have been living with that fear for five years.

You'll have your own view about the reality of the 21st century extremism known as the Global War On Terror. Are there really two sides in that war or is there simply a series of conflicts and power struggles linked only by the culture and religion of those fighting?

Whatever your views, you might understand why for us, using broadcasting technology that makes the world seem much smaller, discussing Hamas in Gaza and al Qaeda in London could seem to have a connection.

We need to be very careful about that feeling. It might lead us to make some wild and unhelpful generalisations.

Please let us know your reaction to our week from the Gaza Strip.

We're not sure we'll have such good access to the locations and people involved when the pullout starts in August. There might be closures and clashes that keep us on the edge of the story.

What did you learn from our coverage?

1 comment

I find it absolutely apalling that the London Police have said that they will continue their so-called shoot-to-stop policy. The police themselves have said that a bomb can be detonated by thumb and forefinger trigger. A bullet or 5 will never stop that. It's also worth pointing out that if the Brazilian gentleman had been a suicide bomber, the police would have killed themselves and others by shooting the suspect in the torso. Anyone wearing a bag full of acetone peroxide would blow up on hitting the ground due to the volitility of the explosive. What hope have the police of identifying a suicide bomber if they cannot even tell the difference between an asian and a brazilian? This policy needs urgent review. Clive in Hong Kong

I'm going on holiday to Wales for a couple of weeks. I'll keep up this blog and read your comments but that might be sporadic, depending on the availability of Internet cafes in the wilder parts of the West.

People down there believe the ancients used mysterious lines of force called ley lines to keep in touch. A kind of weird Welsh web.

Maybe I can tap into that.

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