I knew we'd blow it! We always do! Last season it was a solitary goal, though losing 6-0 to Preston didn't exactly help.

   15 minutes to the final whistle and it was 0-0 v. QPR away from home. I couldn't listen to the radio, the commentator's 'almost scored' raising of his voice when a shot was fired in by them or us was too much for my fragile nerves. Besides, last year I had obliterated the transistor.

   Instead, I preferred the steady downloading of text on my computer, making the match seem measured and pleasantly tedious as Test match cricket. Then, I boldly decided to switch on Final Score.

   On the 80th minute it came on screen. Ledley had scored. I resisted a wild, whooping scream, because I knew they would equalise in the 94th minute through a dubious penalty.

   I kept watch on the screen like somebody guarding their wallet in a crowd of pickpockets. Amazingly nothing changed as the minutes ticked over. Bloody hell FT QPR 0 - Cardiff City 1! We'd done it! Manish What'shisname didn't seem to realise the enormity of it all. A month ago, pundit Steve Claridge had practically written us off.

  'Winston Churchill.....Shakespeare......Admiral Nelson......Sir Alf Ramsey.......Sir Alan Sugar! Your boys sure got one hell of a beating!' Except that quite a few of our star players are English, even more from Scotland and fewer from Wales.

   No matter. Local hero Joe Ledley had scored and Darcy Blake had been transformed from a burger-addict to a New Tredegar  legend in a few months. Sparky and Macca are our Irish connection, so we have a multi-national team from these Islands.

   Three matches from the Premier, instead of on the verge of Administration. A truly remarkable achievement by manager Dave Jones, his coaching staff and the squad, especially given the fact that we'd signed no-one in the January transfer window due to a dire financial situation at the club. Despite Paulo Sousa's moaning, Swansea actually signed three :
Kuqi, Edgar and Cotterill.

   Now I don't care who we get in the play-offs, as long as it's not Swansea  coz they keep possession too long, Forest coz Earnie's bound to get one, Blackpool coz they've got the best midfielder in the division in Charlie Adam, or Leicester coz they've got that battering-ram Steve Howard up front.

   Truthfully, being a Bluebird  has been great over the last few years, even if last season was ultimately gutting and we still fear doing a Portsmouth (mind, they're at Wembley, aren't they?).

   This one's for my son  Ciaran, who bought me such a great birthday present a while back -

                                    THE BIRTHDAY BRICK

My son gave me a brick for my birthday,
the best brick I could possibly receive.

I'd never been given a brick before,
only ever been called Another Brick In The Wall.

The brick had yet to be laid,
it only existed on a future stage.

It would have my name and Bluebirds' Poet,
thousands would be able to tread on it.

When it was built it was the best wall,
it was more like a pavement,shared by all

the other Bluebirds.I thanked my son :
CCFC, generation to generation.










 
 
 
 
 
   Like the English 'Presidential' debate this week, when it comes to literature, Wales is very much on the margins. How many of our novels have been on Booker short-lists or in for the Whitbread? In recent years, only Abse's autobiographical 'The Presence' has made it, though Sarah Waters does have Welsh connections.

   Maybe we deserve it. Maybe our literature is second rate when compared to elsewhere. Is there an Amis or McEwan out there?

   Those writers who are acknowledged in British terms are almost always the ones published on the other side of Offa's Dyke : Niall Griffiths, Robert Minhinnick and Gillian Clarke being prime examples, though there is Owen Sheers, who was practically born and raised in the Hayfest and whose series about poets in specific places on BBC was so excellent on the whole (especially the programme on Lynette Roberts). Sheers has had to leave this country in order to make it , however.

   Perhaps we are doing it wrong this side of the Severn. We should be clamouring to get published in England by one of the major houses there, not sending our work off to Seren and Gomer.

    Yet, I have just finished reading a novel which has changed my life. Many books do this , of course, but not in the revelatory way that can only happen on rare occasions. Afterwards, everything has changed. 'Catch 22' did this for me, as did Kesey's 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' and, most certainly, '1984' and 'The Handmaid's Tale'.

   But this book is one from and about Wales , though with an important European dimension. It is called 'Everything Must Change' , published by Seren and written by Grahame Davies. I knew Grahame when he was a journalist at the 'Merthyr Express'. I didn't even know he was a poet then, never mind such a great novelist.

   The novel was longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year in its original Welsh-language form in 2005. As far as I know, the English version has received no prizes. For this novel, Davies deserves international acclaim. It is simply the best novel I have ever read from our nation.

   In 'Everything Must Change' he creates two parallel worlds which nevertheless have remarkable connections : the one world is of contemporary Wales and a seasoned campaigner for Cymraeg called Meinwen and the other is France before and during the 2nd World War
and the character of Simone Weil, a political thinker and philosopher who believed in living and working with the rural poor and proletariat in order to fully realise their suffering.

    I have to admit I cried at the end of the novel and fiction rarely has this kind of impact ; songs regularly do though. Not since the stories of Bernard MacLaverty have I been so moved. I didn't want to leave Meinwen and Simone behind, but knew I must. The novel made me re-think my perceptions of Wales and Europe, of political struggles but , above all, it brought to life the ideas and conflicts of its two protagonists so vividly.

   I followed closely their journeys and their changes. How Simone's unique view of the world was fashioned by her times , but also stood outside those times and how Meinwen underwent such a radical development through painful experiences. In a way, Weil represents the complexity of Europe itself and Meinwen that of a modern Wales, yet both are so much more than mere ciphers for Davies's theories; indeed his own political agenda is never uppermost. 

   I could go on, but the best thing I can do is recommend this book. It's a grave injustice that it still exists on the periphery; if the battles of our people had been fought with bombs and guns then probably the London literati would pay more attention!

   This is a topical poem once again. I've noted that newsreaders wisely avoid pronouncing the name of the volcano in Iceland causing so much disruption : -

                                    BLACK DUST FROM EYJAFJALLAJOKULL

Black dust from Eyjafjallajokull
(I'm glad I don't play Icelandic Scrabble!),
grounded passengers under the bright blue.


I'm wondering if Bjork or Sigur Ros
will translate into song for us
those strange upper atmosphere winds.


The volcano dormant since the 1820's,
silica dust from the smoky steam,
the glacier's melting, farms deserted.


Gone the conspiracies, welcome meteorologists!
Having besmirched pensions with their banks,
now eruptions are travelling southwards.


Eyjafjallajokull sounds an invention of Lewis Carroll,
some Jabberwocky monster made of lava
belching sulphurous poison into the air.


Reach for inhalers, examine insurance policies,
take photos of the violet sunsets
before black rain sizzles down on all.
 
 
   Ty Newydd Writers' Centre in Llanystumdwy near Cricieth is a truly inspirational place. I've not long returned from tutoring a schools' course there and all the students ( 6th formers from Newport and district) fell in love with it and what it signifies.

   I have delivered adult courses there in the past, but this one was something else. The pupils came from a diverse range of schools and one college, from Hartridge with its tough reputation to posh Caerleon. They got on really well and relished being taken seriously as writers ....... and also as cooks/chefs! The sticky toffee pudding rivalled the short,pithy prose-pieces as highlights of the week.

   Workshops in the morning, tutorials in the afternoon and evening readings ( with guest reader Tom Bullough entertaining us in mid-week) provided so much stimulus and I was very fortunate to share tutoring with the excellent Anne Caldwell, a poet from Yorkshire.

   What crystallized the whole week was the anthology produced by students, teachers and tutors at the end and fittingly entitled 'Anthology of Friends' for this week. It brought together so much exciting and various work in prose, poetry, drama, artwork and photography.

   Ty Newydd's location - so close to the sea, with a sweeping view of Snowdonia across Cardigan Bay - is vital to its allure ; yet it is the atmosphere created which is more important. I recall one writer who described a tortuous course, where his fellow tutor was 'knitting chickens' by the end! So it isn't always as idyllic as this one was.

   One student said this ' has been the best week of my life' and none wanted to leave. A few years ago its very existence was in jeopardy, but I believe we now need a similar Centre in south Wales, possibly at Ogmore. It can be such a life-changing experience that if a mere fraction of the money spent on opera were invested in such a place, it would be invaluable.

   Later this year, an anthology of poems about Ty Newydd will be published, edited by Gladys Mary Coles. When I read the following contribution from the very spot it depicts, there followed a series of ghost stories to make the appearance of Lloyd George's phantom seem mundane..........


                                   THE  VOICE-MIRROR

Blank white page of Ty Newydd in the snow,
then, two trails of footprints across the lawn :
a poem or a story begins to grow,
tiny bird-claw messages like scratchings of thorn.
The half-circle, half-cone of the bay window,
so far from toy town Portmeirion,
the frames are five negatives of a photo,
images just waiting to be born.
Inside, by a crescent-chair, is the voice-mirror,
the very place where Lloyd George died :
his tones living one second after,
a sound like the back-flow of the tide.
Each word you read f