Last week and a return to Cardiff City Stadium to conduct poetry workshops for the club and LitWales as part of the All Skilled Up project.
Delighted to be back, as I'm sure were the others involved, Mike Church and Patrick Jones.
Nothing and everything had changed.
The fee had been cut drastically (writers get used to this, I'm afraid), but I was looking forward to working with children from two Primary schools.
I breezed in like some ex-player rejoining (like Danny Gabbidon , in fact) and told the receptionist of my intentions.
I confidently walked into the corridors only to find that the Community office had gone, replaced by the Finance Director's (shut). Trapped in the bowels of the ground I envisaged having to remain there till the weekend game, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finding me, so I'd have to tell him -
'Listen up OGS, with all due respect....... you are clueless!
Since you took over we've had no team spirit, organisation or tactical awareness. You've changed the team every game, then asked for consistency!'
Of course, I wheedled my way out and ended up back at reception, like some annoying board game.......never got to meet Ole, or even Scott Young, who used to be head of the Community programme , but has moved on to training youngsters.
I was fortunate to be sent to the wrong room, the Captain's, where I'd never been before and surrounded by large photos of our finest captains. Age kicked in, when I recalled watching many of them. Kav was one of my favourites......how we need someone like him now!
Our proper venue was disappointing, as we used to work in the higher-up suites where pupils could gaze over the stadium and make notes for their poems. The meeting room was windowless,claustrophobic.
Panic stations as there was no flip-chart, just a computer and screen which went AWOL for the afternoon session ; a bit like most of our players for the second half of last season!
Yet the kids were tremendous : enthusiastic and imaginative, they volunteered many rhymes for Noone and Ralls, even Marshall and Scott Young (you really can't escape him).Though they asked me for ones for Dikgacoi.
From the Bridgend area, they included a fair share of Swans' fans and one girl wrote a poem about a derby match where we were the red devils, while Swansea were 'angels in white' !
But the Swans - for all their excellently-run club with 20% supporter ownership - don't have this particular project : a tour combined with writing workshop.
The workshops do need a bit more time, especially after lunch and I do think their tour should take in the outside of the stadium as well.
There is much to be seen : the Keenor statue and his extraordinary story, Bluebird gate and plaques, the memorial garden and , of course the pavement of bricks.
Just a glimpse at those inscribed bricks will tell you how vital blue and Bluebirds are to the club's past. My son bought me one with 'Bluebirds' Poet' on it and I am so proud, even though it's a little faded.
There are rumours on the messageboards of a change back to blue.
I think it's possible, not for sentimental reasons or because Tan wants to win the fans support or create unity, but for simple commercial reasons.
Everyone now buys retro shirts and scarfs, but nobody dons the red. Sales of new shirts must be at an all-time low. Can't be good for business!
'Lucky red' meant relegation and is now causing panic and talk of Solskjaer being sacked.
A return to blue would make sense on every level, as players who have left like Fraizer Campbell (whose goal celebration mocking Tan was the best of last season) and Mark Hudson have stated.
One girl at my workshop sported her blue scarf and declared herself 'Blue, through and through! ' (note the rhyming).
Workers at the ground in red looked as if they were wearing a company uniform (which, in a way, they were).
Anyway, it was great to be back........me and Danny Gabbidon,eh?
OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER...........
summoning our ire
making us into criers
players without desire
footie's looking tired
tactics are dire
appointed by Tan the Liar
we are in a mire
hopes soon in a pyre -
Pulis is for hire,
but.....will he be fired?
Capoeira in Sesimbra
under the slatted shade
of a promenade shelter
in the afternoon blaze.
In the circle, the roda,
in white tunics of martial art
high kicking and swung limbs
but never a touching.
Grins and not threats,
the berimbau sets a rhythm
the calls and responses
of exotic birds, agility of dolphins.
Dance, clap and sing
in the circle of their world,
a bare-chested man handstands,
a child close-by mimicking.
Capoeira in Sesimbra :
sound-patterns on Atlantic breeze,
a body-swirl, a street-swim,
a game that everyone wins.
Protecting the warship at Cardiff Bay
to our cities
warships in the Bay
helicopters over the Castle
dividing every roadway
the arms dealers
the drone fliers
to take over
machine-guns on the Hayes
riot helmets in Arcadia
bomb-sniffers in John Frost Square
the democracy protectors
the friendly-dictator supporters
the great contradictors
DIM CROESO I
A DIFFERENT FUTURE
High metal structures
dividing the roads
circling the parks
surrounding the hotel
where the leaders plot.
I have been here before :
the police stations
the army barracks
the centre of Belfast.
With friendly blue baseball caps
and reassuring badges of
'LIAISON OFFICERS' ;
bulging with weapon musclery
(concealed) , of tazers and truncheons.
Every side street blocked off
by wire-visored vehicles
and a helicopter overhead
tries to shred our chanting.
I have been here before :
the spying lights of choppers
and Saracens like small tanks,
lamps put out for road-blocks.
From Cymru, Alba, Germany, America,
like Chartists from their valleys :
tributaries joining into a river
meeting the sea at the city,
crossing the bridge with banners,
setting sail for a different future.
I wouldn't pretend to be an expert on the politics of Scotland and, as a socialist and republican, I certainly don't view the coming referendum as a means to independence.
However cynical I remain about the limited capability of an electoral system to create genuine change, I'd still argue that it's an imperative to vote 'Yes'.
Real independence can only be achieved when a country fully controls its own economy (and I don't mean Scottish based capitalism!), through a combination of sweeping nationalisation and co-operatives.
Real independence can only be attained when a nation frees itself from the hierarchical and anachronistic structure of an unelected Head of State and that is replaced by a democratic one , whereby the Head of State comes from any sector of society and is a representative figure.
Real independence means not belonging to an alliance like NATO, with all its machinations and arms deals, with its support for dictatorial regimes (such as Saudi Arabia) when it suits the global strategy and economic greed for resources like oil.
Therefore, my argument is that what Scotland is actually voting for is a form of 'Devo Max Max', as it will still be under a British monarch, heavily influenced by the Bank of England, in NATO and, unfortunately , not run by a socialist government in the near future.
Despite its avowed social democratic policies, which make it indisputably to the left of Brit Labour, I cannot see the SNP carrying out the necessary land reforms or takeover of the energy companies and transport. Though all these are far more likely to happen given a Scottish Government with considerably more power.
Even if a Labour Government were to be elected next May in the Westminster elections (though a coalition with the LibDems is a likely scenario), they have stressed constantly that they will continue with the ConDems policies of austerity and cuts and their failure to back Trade Unions also, does not auger well for the resolution of issues such as pensions, wages and workload.
The way in which Scotland has been governed by the SNP only reinforces a degree of optimism and their intention to get rid of the destructive , divisive bedroom tax and scrap Trident are policies which bode well for the future.
Present policies on tuition fees ,the NHS and an education system which rejects Labour's Academies - which favoured the middle class and promoted elitism - all suggest that Scotland will be an even better place for the majority should they vote 'Yes'.
One point which is rarely made is one which I feel would be a vital argument here in Cymru , should we ever have the opportunity to choose whether we want 'independence'.
That is a sense of purpose and belonging : being part of something you can truly believe in, instead of an antiquated Disunited Kingdom based on war and Empire and a monarchy which represents all that's wrong with the hierarchical class system.
Like successful workers' co-operatives such as Tower Colliery, people need to feel valued and that their voices are heard and, crucially, that they accrue the benefits financially, rather than all the money being in the hands of the very few.
Though we do not have oil wealth in Cymru, what we do possess is a people yearning for a much better world . people full of talent , potential and skill is as much a resource as any ; it is more lasting than oil!
In order to offer an alternative to the many who are disillusioned with politics and often cannot be bothered to vote or take part in any action, it's no use focusing solely on elections and their inevitable short-termism.
Living in one of the poorest countries in Europe we have very little and so, nothing to lose.
Every ideal has to be shown to benefit the way people live and we can no longer define ourselves in negatives.
To illustrate my view, it's not enough to say that we don't have the likes of Academies and Free Schools : we need to create a unique, fully bi-lingual, comprehensive system where money and privilege play no part.
In short, a Welsh education system which reflects our values and our history.
I 'm completely aware of the contradictions here.
How can you appeal to those who are apathetic for all kinds of reasons, one being their lack of any confidence and initiative ; traits of a country which has been treated like a colony, our resources used up and our towns and villages left to decay.
But I believe that many are searching for a different way of life, one where they aren't ripped off every day by loan sharks and companies out for every penny of profit , no matter what the human cost.
If Wales Votes 'Yes' is, for now,a fantasy......but one worth thinking about.
IF WALES VOTES 'YES'
If Wales votes 'Yes'
we're in danger of losing
the Everything we don't possess.
Don't forget, it's heavily subsidised
by central government grants
and generous Westminster hand-outs.
We've got roads financed by the EC
running from neglected hill farms
to our abandoned valleys.
If Wales votes 'Yes'
we'll have the language
thrust so far down our throats
we'll have to fill in tax forms
in perfect cynghanedd,
our dentists be qualified in cerdd dant.
If Wales votes 'Yes'
we'll top every league for unemployment,
disability benefits, obesity, diabetes....
We'll demand all the nothings
we used to cherish, in our mess
we'll mourn our once Great Emptiness.
It's been an extraordinary couple of weeks attending various events in Cardiff. To begin with myself, Andrew 'Barkin' Bartz and Jamie Bevan went to see the Tuareg band Tinariwen at the World Proms in St. David's Hall.
I've long been a fan of those nomads of the desert blues, who were once part-musicians and part-guerillas fighting for the Tuareg identity and language in Mali.
While their music was hypnotic and alluring as ever, the atmosphere was too stilted.
It needed people to get up and dance or , at least, stand up and sway about to the sun-beating rhythms.
With a predominantly Promy audience, it was too restrained and actually finished at 9.15 pm.
As Jamie commented - 'They only just got goin!'
The rest of the evening made up for this slight disappointment.
We sampled two of the three microbreweries on Westgate Street (it should be renamed Real Ale Avenue) and the new IPA at Zero Degrees and Punk IPA at the newly-opened Brewdog were luscious brews indeed.
I could've done without the Limoncello Jamie insisted on getting (as it was strongest).....useful for cleaning out drains!
On the X4 home Andrew began a Dadaist experiment with the two of us and I jokingly suggested we should include the whole bus.
Jamie decided to carry this out and the result is described in my poem 'Y Bws Barddoniaeth'.
A couple of days later and I was in Cardiff for the well-attended rally and march against the Israeli onslaught on Gaza ( Jamie and Andrew were also there ).
My younger daughter was a little confused and asked - 'Why are we marching with all these Indians?'
I think by the end she'd got the message that, 'In our thousands, in our millions....we are all Palestinians!'
It was the most inspiring protest since those opposing the war in Iraq and , though we passed the presence of ISIS at the Nye Bevan statue (he would not have been impressed), the sense of solidarity and indignation at Israel's terror tactics was prevalent.
The speeches were varied and I was very proud of my older daughter Bethan , who spoke most eloquently in Welsh and English.
Marching as a family, it brought back the days of Anti-apartheid and CND when we'd regularly take to the streets.
Of course, I'm a good bit older now , still ardent yet somewhat cynical about the effects of such rallies.
Only ITV bothered to send cameras to a demo with over 2000 attending, while the BBC and 'Western Mail' were noticeable by their absence.
Ironically, all the emphasis on walesonline/ Western Mail and the Beeb was on one isolated incident they dubbed as a 'riot'.
I witnessed it and what happened was that several drunken racists hurled glasses and chairs at peaceful demonstrators in Mill Lane.
No police accompanied the march incidentally, which is unprecedented and feeds conspiracy theories about the racist attack.
It was all over very quickly and I found it disgusting that both the Beeb and walesonline used amateur footage as the only comment on the whole protest......not one interview or recording of speeches!
What do such demos achieve?
I've been on so many over the years that I'm bound to have doubts. Certainly , the millions against the invasion of Iraq didn't affect Bliar's bombardment.
However, the people out shopping in Cardiff will definitely have a sense of the strength of feeling against Israeli war crimes and many joined in as we were marching.
Media coverage , albeit limited, did help the cause, though walesonline actually put the figure protesting at a few hundred (most probably a police estimate).
If people continue to see the futility of peaceful protest, they will be driven towards direct action.....and who can blame them?
A week later and I was back in the capital, this time for a concert by The Joy Formidable at The Globe.
The venue is probably the size of most folk's lounges in Cyncoed, but made for a very intense atmosphere.
Support band Sun Up were excellent and the Norwegian singer even told us how she was a Cymrophile ( is that the word?). In her Norwegian school, while others picked the likes of Britney Spears for projects, she chose Wales because she loved our flag. When she drew it , it ended up looking like 'half-dinosaur, half-dog'!
Y Wyddcrug's Formidable were on top form, with a much better set than at Cardiff Uni last year : a great balance between the best songs from the two albums, with a couple a new ones which promised lots.
I particularly liked their Welsh language number, building up from hushed opening to a raucous ending.
The band are unusual because the bassist Rhydian and drummer Matt are as much focal points as the singer and lead guitarist Ritzy. Their banter and wild antics make them a wonderful live act, though it's only on the albums you can appreciate the rather oblique and subtle lyrics, with their frequent animal analogies.
Two highlights were undoubtedly the acoustic 'Silent Treatment' and their a capella 'Turnaround' where Rhydian and Ritzy went into the audience to perform a touching duet (not far from where I was standing!).
I cannot fathom how they aren't EWGE and just one outing on Jools will do it for them.
Maybe the media are waiting for Wales to happen again, without realising it already has!
Y BWS BARDDONIAETH
Dada ar y bws i Ferthyr
cerddi cymunedol yma
un llinell i bob un
pobl ifanc a hen bobl,
rhai sydd wedi meddw
rhai sy’n colli eu traed
yr siaradwr a chanwr,
y dyn sy’n casglu llinellau –
‘Ey drive, ow ‘bout a las line?’
y dyn sy’n darllen yn y blaen
gyda pherfformiad swnllyd ;
y teithwyr yn clywed
mae’r galon fel y lleuad
ac mae’r fuwch yn dawnsio –
‘Da da drive, da da !’
THE POETRY BUS
Dada on the bus to Merthyr
communal poetry there :
one line for each person
young and old people,
some who are drunken
some who’ve lost their feet
the speaker and singer,
the man who gathered them –
‘ Ey drive, ow ‘bout a las line?’
who does the up-front reading
with a performance full of sound
and everybody listening
the heart like a moon
with the cow dancing –
‘Da da drive, da da!’
One thing's certain, the coming footie season at Cardiff City won't be boring!
As we showed last season, even when getting relegated we managed to do it in style, typified by our 6-3 defeat to Liverpool which (though marred by the worst refereeing display I've ever witnessed) did show our manager's attacking intent.
In the light of selling three of our best players and another (Jordon Mutch) due to go this week, pessimists will argue we're in free-fall......ready to do a Wolves or, worse still, a Portsmouth, blighted by a crazy owner and inexperienced manager.
Optimists like myself tend to look for positives.
Yes, Solskaer made a series of dreadful clangers in the Premier. However, hopefully he'll have learnt from them and will try to field a more settled side, change formation less often and make it clear to players what their roles and responsibilities are.
I believe he does want to get us playing a different kind of football, more about keeping possession and passing from the back.
Pessimists would argue that only Marshall remains of our decent players and he may decide to follow the others back to the Premiership......and who would blame one of the very best keepers in that division last season?
How we fare does depend on retaining him and also who we recruit to replace Mutch . I really hope that it's Man. Utd's Jesse Lingard on a season's loan, as he is an outstanding talent who can play both in the hole and as a winger.
It also depends on who we sign in central defence, a key area of weakness last year, though we do have proven defenders at Championship level like Hudson, Turner and Connolly. We desperately need a player with pace who can cover for Fabio when he makes those forward runs and inevitably leaves a gap behind him , which quicker teams will exploit on the break.
Some of Solskaer's signings look very astute, others a gamble.
Le Fondre, Macheda and Dikgacoi have all excelled at this level, while Burgstaller and Guerra may struggle to adapt, just as Kim did for so long.
Yesterday's friendly match against a strong Wolfsburg side showed the class of 'Alfie' in particular; so often seen as a super-sub, I was very impressed by his touch, work-rate and understanding with Maynard.
Finding the right combination will be the challenge and it may be that against certain teams Kenwyne Jones's more robust style will be the answer.
In the absence of Craig Noone - who really rose to the Premiership challenge - I believe Ole will go for a diamond-shaped midfield, with Dikgacoi sitting deep, when he is fit enough.
Full-back remains problematic. Brayford is a better all-round full-back than Theophile-Catherine, while John a slightly better defender than the attack-minded Fabio (who ought to be a winger).
Centre-back is a bigger problem though and was our undoing last season. Caulker will be the player we miss most and replacing him is crucial.
I would like to see a young and fast defender to play alongside Hudson, who is a natural leader and fine reader of the game. Like Caulker, he can also chip in with goals from set pieces.
As was shown against Wolfsburg, Juan Cala is very erratic and liable to do what I'd politely term 'mistimed tackles', which will get him sent off, as he was v. Sunderland at the end of last season.
Without natural wingers I would agree with that diamond formation , but hope Ole finds a place for Mats Daehli, who was mysteriously placed on the bench for the whole of yesterday's game. He is our most gifted player on the ball, though needs to improve his striking.
Our key player will be Whittingham, who could score far more with the extra time and space in the Championship and whose delivery from free-kicks and corners will be crucial as ever. One of these days he may even celebrate a stunning curled-in goal!
We still have a big squad, with lots of competition and also choices for Ole to make.
I hope we get a good run in the League Cup (whatever it's called now!) , as this will give a chance for fringe players to stake a claim and stay match fit.
Looking at the Championship, it's the likes of Forest, Watford, Fulham and Norwich who stand out.
Having said that, our first match is Blackburn away this Friday and you can bet that former striker Rudy Gestede will score and it will be set up by....Craig Conway.
Though I'm ridiculously optimistic, I still won't make any predictions.
OPTIMISTIC AS A BRAZILIAN
like a Brazilian
before the World Cup,
I can't wait
for the season to start.
To the last I'm online
for rumours of rumours
of comings and goings
and messageboard banter.
Our new signings
with exotic nicknames
like 'Kiko' and 'Burgi'
will, of course, change everything.
Even Tan's red elephant
of an empty stand,
sitting over us
with ghosts of promises
hissing in the breeze......
even our owner's
dismissal of fans
can't spoil that feeling.
We're going to score goals
like Germany in the Semi,
watch out for sniffer Alfie,
Whitts curling them in.
Yes, optimistic as a Brazilian :
but, look what happened to them!
'This was not an earthquake. This was the work of men.'
No earthquake but the work of men.
There is nothing left.
Imagine that :
destroyed in seconds.
The Israeli tanks
circling in the distance
like carrion crows.
The Red Crescent diggers
uncover bodies days decomposed.
The same species
have done this :
every man, woman, child
they dub a terrorist.
Searching for a reaching hand
movement among the wreckage,
small gesture of future
in Devastation Desert.
always the possibility
of a telling noise
sound of a jet,
a missile's threat.
Hide and seek
on the beach,
the broken down
buildings of fishing
Scrap metal gatherers
shards of once was,
scrabbling a living,
both family and friends ;
shouting out, playing.
Arrived from the sky
and nowhere to hide,
the only count-down
a pilot's machine ;
shield with arms
over their eyes.
Four boys found
not by the chase
or outstretched hands
or laughing tease.
Instead, seek and kill :
broken scatterings, like shells.
You can place bets
on everything else.
Who's going to score first,
who will Suarez bite next!
So why not the chances
of a Palestinian being killed
to an Israeli citizen?
You can weigh it up
in column inches,
or so-called balanced reporting.
Boys on a beach playing games,
children on a rooftop
or lying in hospital.
Described as 'shields'
by spokesperson from Israel,
placed there deliberately
by the evil Hamas.
Decide then : who's the bully
and who's the victim
and place your wager.
The odds are widening daily.