Get your culture where you can

South Wales Evening Post - 26 November 2013

THE old joke has this guy, sitting in a posh restaurant where they keep live lobsters in a tank. To his astonishment he notices that one of the lobsters has climbed up right to the rim and looks certain to escape. But when he alerts one of the waiters, he's told: "Don't worry sir, they're Swansea lobsters. The others will soon drag him down to their level."

Like I said, it's an old joke but one that irresistibly comes to mind as the post-mortem continues as to why Swansea Bay lost out on the City of Culture bid.

Let me be clear. I don't know why we lost. Neither does anyone else outside the judging panel, I venture.

But when it comes to a few reasons that have been suggested to me, I have to say that people who I'd previously considered to be fairly rational have come up with some crackers.

It's almost left me wondering why we didn't enter for the City of Paranoia award. We'd have walked it.

Regardless of whether the approach could have or should have been more inclusive, part of me can't help feeling a sense of pride at the ambition we showed and a tinge of regret that I'll never see an attempt to pin a formal cultural label on a city where ''Ow Mush'' remains a recognisable form of address – not to mention a song title.

I had no official role in the bid although it had my unqualified support. I never got to make that particular point to the gentleman of senior years (I should talk) who informed me in a very loud voice at a city hostelry that: "What you and your ilk should remember, is that culture does not begin and end in the Uplands.".

My first inclination was to protest that I didn't own an elk, but when I realised that the rest of his sentence made just as little sense, I opted to finish my drink and move on.

Such were my varied experiences of Beaujolais Day last week – a cultural epic in its own right and for which Swansea gets its own specific Wikipedia mention, I'll have you know.

I shared this piece of trivia with a group of curious but standoffish American visitors who were headed back to their hotel looking bewildered at seeing a small procession of shiny suits and cocktail dresses emerge from a minibus.

Looking back now, I probably shouldn't have embroidered things a little by explaining that the festivities were a modern version of an old pagan festival that marks the onset of winter or that Dylan Thomas had once written an ode in praise of the event on a beer mat. They did seem quite impressed though.

Maybe that's where we went wrong. A bit more emphasis on the poetic rather than the pragmatic. Some of the old artistic licence, as they say.

Yet if the bid organisers had thrown the entire kitchen sink and more at the getting the award, and I think they would have been justified in doing so, then it's inevitable there would still be criticism from those who seem to spend their lives sneering from the touchline.

As an uncle of mine used to say, we did what we did the way we did and it weren't good enough for some and will never be good enough for the awkward so-and-so's.

For myself, I have no problem in trading in Welsh stereotypes if it gets the job done. Having been involved with branding experts in the past, I've learned from them that the maxim of "whatever works" is a powerful one.

Cultural tourism is not just about attracting the tasteful, sophisticated punter. The same effort has to go into enticing the unconventional individual from abroad who is prepared to travel thousands of miles on the off chance of a ticket for a Swans home game.

You also have to seek out cultural references wherever you can.

When Anne Romney, wife of former presidential candidate Mitt, incinerated a batch of Welsh cakes live on US television last year there was fourteen times as much social media chatter from stateside citizens claiming a Welsh heritage than during the entire four-day visit to New York by First Minister Carwyn Jones a few months earlier.

The contest to be City of Culture was a close-run thing and absolutely worth the effort. If nothing else, the process heightened the region's profile and that is always a good thing.

I'm sure everyone concerned will review what they did and learn from the experience. When all said and done, I don't really think they have much choice.