For Christmas, my parents gave my boyfriend a book entitled "Crap towns returns", which I'm sure most people have heard of. They gave it to him because they found it hilarious that our own home town, Merthyr Tydfil, featured in it, as it has done many times before because, according to the masses, it's a crap place to live.
Following that, a discussion on Facebook about the benefits system prompted some to make some distasteful comments about Merthyr as a whole, which was completely wrong and naturally infuriating.
While it is pretty funny and it's all well and good for me to joke about the unemployment rates, the famous Gurnos estate, and the fact that the average life expectancy there is 58.8 years, it doesn't change that fact that it is not ok when someone is criticising it without ever having visited. The fact is, despite its flaws, I have a very deep love for the place. It is fantastically beautiful and there are lots of hidden gems that only us locals will be able to find. The problem is that many people are unable to see past the statistics.
I'm not here to deny the statistics. They are very much true - Merthyr is in the depth of high unemployment, many people are claiming benefits and we have a surplus of people and not enough places to cater jobs for them all. The rumours surrounding Merthyr are very rarely positive due to a few areas of the town being a bit rough around the edges and a general sense of being forgotten by the Welsh government. But, what I am here to remind you of is that there are places like Merthyr across Britain, where a bad reputation outshines the place beneath. I could list a whole range of towns I think are crap because of their bad reputation, but I won't because you should never judge a book by its cover.
Despite the fact that parts of Merthyr are a bit ropey like many other places in the UK, it is a beautiful place to live in and visit. There isn't much going on there, granted, but it has a rare quality I have yet to find anywhere else and that is a strong sense of community and togetherness. In fact, I challenge anyone to walk the streets of any dozen or so towns or cities of their choice in the UK and then talk a walk in Merthyr. The friendliest people will be in Merthyr. The people who value being able to smile at passersby, say hello and generally make an effort to acknowledge others on the street will be in Merthyr. The people of Merthyr, they are truly wonderful. There isn't much going on in Merthyr, but there are many places that are worse and much more run down.
Frankly, I am beyond proud to say that I was born in Merthyr. Even though I have since moved on and have now lived in Swansea for nearing three years, I miss the place every single day. It's such a beautiful place to see, with rolling countryside and such rich and cultured heritage. The novelty of always driving towards a mountain will always be one that I treasure.
The crap towns list clearly did not focus on the surrounding countryside, nor did they speak to the good - natured, warm people or consider anything other than the economic viability of the place. Merthyr is by no means beyond the help it needs to rejuvenate itself. Realistically speaking, the crap towns list serves no real purpose other than to give the general public an opportunity to make jokes at the expense of town with reputations that surpass them, and others that don't deserve to be on there at all. We should remember that Merthyr is not the only place in the UK with a bad reputation and that people should give it a chance to showcase the good qualities before judging it on the bad ones. After all, every single town and city has parts of it that are rough around the edges.