10 October 2021

Finally: interview in Welsh I thought went OK

It is not unusual that BBC or other broadcasters contact University ask for a specialist to comment on something in the news. Most of the time, it has something to do with biology and I don't respond. And if it is in English language medium, the pool of people they can fish from is, of course, rather big. When it is a Welsh medium broadcaster, the pool becomes a lot smaller. Within Ocean Sciences we have, as far as I know, just Dei and me in the academic staff, an ocean modeller and a geophysics-focussed man in the research staff, and a lady specialising in marine plastics among the PhD students. And then a lot of support staff, but the media tend to want a scientist. So marine biology is not very well covered in the Welsh media.

I had been roped in by BBC Cymru twice before; once because I was a European citizen and they expected me to be able to say something useful about Brexit, so that had nothing to do with Ocean Sciences. The second I was quite recent; that had something to do with a book published by my colleagues, and which for some reason had been linked with outrages sealevel rises in the popular media. And now had that gone? What can I say! Not so well. The first interview was five years ago, so after only a few years of learning Welsh. And the interview was done through a wire. If you're not quite confident in a language, you really don't want to have to respond to it if it comes into your head through headphones, and you can't see the person speaking. And the second time was this year, so after many years of Welsh practice, but still through headphones, talking to an invisible person. I wasn't particularly satisfied with that interview either. I didn't hear it back, though; I don't remember why not.

And then there was a request about the beach where I go every year with the first-year students. Dei initially took that on; he had already answered by the time I came out of the lecture and noticed I had lots of emails about the situation. But later he emailed me to ask if I would be willing to take over. And I was okay with that; not only do I know about this beach because of the trip with the students we do there, but also because this beach actually plays a role in the BRITICE-CHRONO project I worked on. So I know about the location and about why it is so important.

And why did the Welsh broadcaster, S4C, want to  talk about this beach? Is it so happens, there is a house just north-east of it, and it is perilously close to the sea. And now the owner had unsuccessfully applied for permission to improve the sea defences. There were lots of people who were worried about what damage the work would do to the amazing glacial sediments on the beach. And now they wanted someone to talk about why these glacial sediments were so amazing. I was glad to hear they would have someone else entirely to talk about the actual work on the sea defences, as I had no idea about these.

Dei was very happy I was willing to take over, and soon I was on the phone with S4C. And we agreed to meet on the beach. It was a beautiful day! And we had made the appointment based entirely on availability, and not on the tides. And so I found myself looking at the high tide. There wasn't much beach to walk around on, admiring the sediments! But it would have to make do. And soon my contact, Dafydd, appeared and introduced himself. While he was assembling his equipment had a small chat about what exactly he wanted to talk about, and how. I was hoping it would be willing to get wet feet (he said he had wellies in the boot of his car) so we could actually get onto the interesting part of the beach. He didn't seem keen! And in the end we settled for him just filming me with the interesting outcrops in the distance behind me. The unfortunate thing with that was that the sun was also in that direction, so I probably just looked like a black silhouette, but it would be silly to film in the other direction as then I would just have been talking in front of some fields and a parking lot.`

The beach seen from the parking lot

And then it started. He just put up a tripod with a camera, and a tripod with a microphone, and from behind the camera ask me questions. And I try to answer as best as I could in Welsh. I sometimes hesitated to search for words, but I wasn't self-conscious about that. And I think I got the message across. I felt good about it! It was great that I could look at him and watch him speak. A slight complicating factor was the sound of the waves, but I could hear him well enough, and it is just a lot nicer to talk to someone who is physically present. If Welsh interviews are like this then they're okay!

When we were done he asked me to do the same thing again but now in English. I was happy with that. I turned out to have said something I had omitted in Welsh, so then he asked me to say it in Welsh as well. Some editing would have to glue all of that together!

When we were done and got back to the cars he asked me if I was willing to do some of the interview again, but now with the sun on my face rather than in my back, and I was happy with that too. And then it was a wrap!

I wasn't gonna see my own interview, of course, not having a TV licence, but I was happy with how things had gone and went back to the office. Given that this actually went quite well they might ask me back… Watch this space!

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