A few weeks ago, Nick Clegg admitted to weeping to particular songs. Of course, messageboards were typically cynical in their responses, many just saying that Clegg himself made them cry. One 'Evil McBad' on the 'Guardian' website actually gave Clegg's top 30 , all songs entitled 'Liar'.....I didn't know there were that many.

   In the 'Guardian' following this, many critics described those songs that made them cry and I didn't find one that I empathised with. Hardly surprising, given the highly personal nature of responses to music. I could recommend songs so imbued with poignant melancholy I believe it would have all listeners dyhydrating instantly ; however, I feel certain few would agree.

   In terms of instrumental music, I'd have to say that Abdullah Ibrahim's 'The Wedding' and Weather Report's 'A Remark You Made' would be certain selections. Both possess a strange sadness which confounds and both 'speak' more profoundly than any words.

   Yet, that's probably me : I no doubt imagine a script to accompany the sax or piano phrasing which is unique. When it comes to lyrics, I'm sure it's even more a matter of individual reactions. I have no albums by Scots singer-songwriter and leftie Dick Gaughan, yet his version of Adrian Mitchell's poem 'Vistor Jara of Chile' always leaves me teary-eyed.

   Because I love the poem and recall Mitchell's gentle sing-song reading of it and because I know a good deal about what happened to Jara and the terrible tragedy of it, I identify completely with the song. To hear Gaughan's gruff-edged voice sing about Jara's hands as 'gentle' and 'strong' accentuates those feelings.

   It's definitely the same with Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and their song 'Sometimes the Father is the Son' from the album 'Barafundle'. I have no doubt that this song takes me back to Aberystwyth when I was a boy and my uneasy relationship with my own father. The song summons up waves and beaches and a relationship which can be toppled upside down.

   Because my wife is from Belfast. Because I was once dismissed as a 'heathen' there. Because I know there are so many borders in N. Ireland and we broke through one of them by marrying, when priests gave us 'less than a year', I have to say that Christy Moore's 'North and South '( written with Bono and Edge) is one of the most moving of all. More than any other, this bring togetherthe personal and political in a single image.

   It's about love which reaches across the 'river' (literally a border between Catholic and Protestant in Derry City). It's also a song in which Moore comes to terms with his own rebel past. It is an admission that, for too long, both sides have played the 'same old tune'. I think this could be the theme tune for the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, though in the end it's a matter of love conquering those barriers , not political compromise.

   Nowadays it's much more likely that a female singer-songwriter will move me to weepdom, especially Thea Gilmore. Also, it's much less easy to say why in the case of songs like her masterful 'Slow Journey II' from the album 'Harpo's Ghost'.

   It has a cloud-climbing quality and reminds me of many dreams I have had, though not precisely. It is lonely, dark and haunting and , above all, full of yearning. It doesn't link immediately with any memory or experience I've had, rather a shared emotion. Above all, there is the cello (my favourite instrument) that other 'voice' suggesting a search but no definite destination, except perhaps the end of a dream.

   Music can be happened upon in the most unusual circumstances. Sometimes rather unlikely places make for a more exhilarating experience than any gig or concert.



                                    PIPER ON THE FERRY

Climbing high up
on the ship
across the Irish Sea,
rocking and rolling
the wake no dead,
seagulls scavenging.

Above the decks,
loungers, bars, cabins,
to the funnel
and its sickly fumes.

Nearby, playing on his own,
no audience applauding,
no hat pleading ;
the Uillean piper.

Making the waves dance
a jig then a reel,
finding the airs
there in the breeze,
foam on his lips,
breath a banner blown.

He has no cares,
the piper keening, crying
to the gulls
to follow the up-flow
of music raising our wings
as they grow.
 
 
 
   It's a marathon, but not the London running variety. Learning Welsh seems to have been endless and on my gravestone will read -' Bachgen bach o ddosbarth Cymraeg erioed, erioed' ( to paraphrase Joseph Parry's epitaph ).   As soon as we settled back in Wales, myself and my wife began attending classes. She had studied it before and is a Gaelic-speaker and excellent linguist, so I was rapidly left in the slow lane (and I'm a non-driver!).

   Since then, I've attended lessons in Ysgol Santes Tudful and also the Scala snooker club in Merthyr, where the local Menter Iaith used to hold them. We moved from table to table trying to pot the mutations and often ending up pocketing our own whites with tied tongues!

   Here I had an excellent teacher Phil Meaker (a local Joiner) who had learnt himself and so understood all the problems involved. I even progressed (prematurely, I'd say) to the 'dros y bont' class, but we tended to focus on comprehension, when what I needed was lots of conversation.

   More than a decade ago I was taught by Rob Hughes, now of Bedlinog, the best of all my Welsh teachers. Rob insisted on speaking Welsh all the time, which was the right tactics and had a real knack at making you feel confident. It was no surprise that he went on to become 'Dysgwr y Flwyddyn' a few years back and to head the Welsh dept. at Tredegar Comp.  Sometimes I meet him after Bluebirds' games and we have a chat (like me, he's a fanatic). Rob came from a Welsh family who lived in Reading and when I met him spoke English in a Reading accent and Welsh in a Gog one ( due to his teachers' influences). Now he speaks both in a Valleys one!

   For the 9 years I taught in Cardiff I stopped attending lessons, as I was too busy. I lapsed into a listener at the many Urdd Eisteddfodau we went to.

   When I took early retirement last year, I vowed to return to this marathon with a clear focus. I have yet to 'hit the wall', though writing any extended pieces certainly seems like high wooden fences.

    I've begun to gain some 'hyder' in speaking and enjoy reading the learners' magazines 'Acen' and 'Lingo' and watching certain programmes on S4C such as Bandit and Pethe.

    My weekly lessons in Hirwaun are always stimulating and I have another fine teacher. There's also a great atmosphere , as the class have been together now for a year and a half. I'm sure they're sickened by my spoffy self saying ' Mae e'n hawdd iawn!'

   I feel that I'm running longer distances in terms of forming sentences, but can still trip and stumble on mutations. At times I wish I could mutate.........into a computerized dictionary!  At other times, I think I'd be better off actually doing running rather than extending its metaphors.

   However, I do enjoy reading poetry in Welsh (especially with a translation adjacent)  and I've begun to write some poetry in Welsh also. 'Lingo' will be publishing my poem 'Croesi' which is, appropriately, about learning the language. Writing haiku is challenging, as Welsh words all seem multisyllabic.

   The race has begun, but I've no idea where the finishing line is or how long it's going to take.I'm not in the least tired and take on quite a few 'paned o te' en route.

   The following poem is a tribute to the yellow poppy which has been adopted by Plaid Cymru as their emblem (though their logo resembles that of BP!). 'Y pabi melyn' has followed me from the shoreline near Nant Gwrtheyrn to the streets of my village, Heolgerrig. May 'yr iaith' be just as ubiquitous.

                                Y PABI MELYN
                             { for Rob Hughes}

Y pabi melyn grows in a crack
on our drive by ivy, moss and dandelion.

The first year it has come!
Our garden has to tend itself,

more tulips appear each Spring,
but now they're stripped stems.

I remember it at Nant Gwrtheyrn
(that village reclaimed for the language),

a tutor pointing out its wildness
on the climb from the stony beach.

Now it's a dish for the sun,
the stamen alert as aerials.

Y pabi melyn, Cymru's other flower :
may it thrive in street-crannies forever.

  

  

  

  

 
 
   First signs of Assembly election fever in Merthyr. Well, not exactly 'fever', more like a mild sniffle! I don't expect more than a few sneezes before May 5th either.

   My neighbour opposite has put up his inevitable Labour posters(two so far). He's an activist who used to spend all his time haranguing the then Labour Council for their intransigence over opencast coal-mining. Now, he fully supports our absentee AM 'Ewge' Lewis, though is highly critical of that other reluctant convert to devolved politics Peter Hain.

   Soon the fence down the road - which has been waiting for years to surround Trago Mills giant cheapo retail outlet - will declare itself for UKIP as ever, in keeping with Trago owner's support for the rightwing party who would abolish Wales altogether!

   Speaking of Brit nationalists, the first leaflet through the letterbox came from the BNP and shows a young woman's face covered in blood. No, second look, it's not blood but a dragon without two tongues. Which is why, presumably, the only Welsh on the leaflet is ' Mae Cymru yn fy nghalon', which is ironic as their symbol is actually a Union Jack heart!

   It informs me that there are already ' more Muslims in Britain than Welsh people!', but fails to tell me how many Welsh Muslims there are. It also fails to tell me how many British Christian fundamentalists there are, who support separate schools to teach creationism and preach homophobia. As expected, fear and prejudice are the motivations.

   Although I don't regard myself as British at all, I would conceivably vote for a genuine socialist alternative which didn't fully recognise Cymru's right to self-determination. However, in Merthyr the choice is limited.

   Locally, Plaid Cymru are virtually non-existent and it seems incredible to think that leftwinger Emrys Roberts once came close to winning the seat at a General Election and that the Council was run by Plaid in the 70's, when they were busy selling off council housing stock. I have generally voted for them despite this, but most of their views and policies seem desperately out of touch.  Like all the other main parties, they have failed to question the inevitability of the cuts, leaving that to astute trade union leaders like Mark Serwotka, originally from Aberdare.

    Yes , there should be cuts of course, but only in defence, the monarchy and the Lords. The culling of the public services and arts (like that of badgers.......also supported by Plaid) is totally unnecessary and , in fact , counter-productive. Even from a free market perspective they are absurd, because so much of the private sector depends on contracts from public sector and paying people to be on the dole is a complete waste of money, as well as skills.

    What has happened to Plaid's ambitious proposals (for a reformist party) during the General Election for a 50% tax on anyone earning over £100.000 per annum and a maximum wage? I realise this may not be within the remit of the Assembly, but these laudable policies (which few Plaid politicians even bothered to mention before the election), have no radical equivalent in the lead up to May.

   I'd like to see a party advocating workers' co-operatives and banks throughout Cymru and advocating the full nationalisation of water, energy and rail at the very least. In the NHS, a party which ensures that doctors were always available for patients, not helplines or privatised out-of-hours agencies and stops consultants from having private clinics. Why should doctors, nurses and teachers be trained and financed by the state, only to leave and work in private hospitals and schools? As a means of abolishing these, BUPA and their like should have to train their own.

   I'd like to see a party willing to admit that the Foundation Phase hasn't worked and has drained resources. Instead, they should invest in  SENCO's (literacy & numeracy specialists) for every Infant/Primary school. All early years learning must focus on these fundamentals, so that every pupil then has access to the curriculum. Far too much is taught in Primaries in numerous subject areas.

   There must be an immediate cap on class sizes in Primary and Secondary schools, where they are rapidly increasing and where classes of over 35 are not uncommon. No class should exceed 25 and , within 5 years, this must decrease to 20. Standards of achievement and behaviour would improve markedly as a result.

   This would need investment, just as all other public services need to be expanded as George Monbiot recently argued in his pragmatic and well-argued column in the 'Guardian'. The logic is irrefutable. Not only would it mean a healthier and better-educated population, but they will also spend more and boost the economy. Most of the finance could would from
a tax on bank transactions and reclaiming money from tax-dodging individuals and corporations. 

    Withe the exceptions of a few journalists and trade unionists, there are hardly any advocates for such alternaives, certainly not within the ranks of the Labour Party. I wonder if it's worth bothering to vote at all in this town where the Chartists fought so courageouly for suffrage. What a bland and drab collection of parties we have!


                              THE  CANARY-CHILD
                                 (for Gus Payne)

Boy in a cage, no way out
for the child collier in yellow shirt.
From the back, pit-dark threatens
though he's pleading
to a shaft of light.

His lips form a whistle,
till he begins to sing.
The lamp is welded
to green-scaled breeches ;
a metallic part of him.

Lurking there, ready to leap in,
is the coin-cat, fed fat
on pennies, crowns and shillings ;
he will pounce as soon
as the canary-child stops singing.
 
 
   Excuses abound in football. Players, managers and fans are experts. The more superstitious will blame the wrong underpants, or a particular route they failed to take, for the first time, to the ground.
 
   Wales's new manager Gary Speed tried to blame the pitch at the Millennium Stadium for his team's inept display against England last week- end. I was there. Wales's defenders seemed to fall all over the place in the first 15 minutes, while England mysteriously stayed on their feet. England's players, especially in the first half, managed to play incisive passes, yet our young captain Aaron Ramsey (a great passer of the ball) invariably found the opposition.

   England were motivated to play well by our fans booing of 'God Save the Queen', yet the Welsh players weren't similarly inspired by England fans booing 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau'.

   I unashamedly booed the 'Queen' and will always do so. I know quite a few English republicans who would've joined in. If the English national anthem had been Blake's wonderful 'Jerusalem' I'd have probably hummed along!

   Gary Speed should look to himself and players if he wants to progress as a manager. He'll have to learn fast  and blaming the pitch merely detracts from our abject performance.

   He got everything wrong. Firstly, Aaron Ramsey is too young and inexperienced to be captain and it distracted him : I've never seen him play so badly. Secondly, we didn't compete and close them down first half at all, playing too deep and leaving the lone striker Morison isolated ( it was like Tosh's teams). Thirdly, why wasn't Vaughan selected? He's a regular Premiership player for Blackpool and on fine form ; when he came on as sub. he was our most effective player! Finally, both Bellamy and King were out of position, presumably in an effort to negate their attacking full-backs. In the first half, Bellers looked lost and King never plays wide for Leicester.

    For all his qualities, Cardiff City's manager Dave Jones is master of excuses. He's probably been giving Speed private tutoring.

   When we recently drew at home to lowly Barnsley the fans were to blame according to DJ. Apparently, our nervousness transmitted to the players. Sitting as ever in the Ninian Stand, I failed to detect any biting of nails. Like most old-timers I am pretty philosophical about our chances , and would actually be delighted if we reached the play-offs, never mind automatic promotion.

   No, the biggest factor influencing our form until yesterday's great win v. Derby has been DJ's poor signing of a loan keeper and the form of Jay Bothroyd. Bywater has been totally unconvincing and Heaton's commanding presence yesterday only showed what we've missed. While Bothroyd's head hasn't been right since he played for England and he should've been dropped. However, after scoring the penalty yesterday, he returned to his best.

   DJ's blaming of everything except himself doesn't help. He vilified young full-back Adam Matthews after one defeat, yet protected his summer signing Lee Naylor after many poor performances when fans criticised his selection. Ironically, Naylor hasn't played since, despite DJ insisting he wasn't going to be influenced by fans! Not only that, we've signed JLloyd Samuel, a left-back, on loan : hardly a vindication of Naylor!

   If we reach the play-offs, let's hope he gets the tactics right, as he did v. Swansea at the Liberty this season and failed to do v. Blackpool at Wembley last. Also, let's hope the grass is perfect at Wembley, otherwise.............

                               THE MANAGER'S EXCUSES

Well, the pitch was too hard,
too soft, too bumpy, too rough.

The ref? We had two good shouts
for penalties he refused,
three goals disallowed,
he kept blowing up for stupid fouls.
The sending off was appalling,
I know their player was stretchered off, but.......

The media should leave us alone,
they're always having a dig,
they expect us to win every game ;
okay, we've lost four on the trot
and we've not played well,
but whose fault is that?

It's the crowd, our fans
are so n...n....n...nervous
it's getting to the team ;
imagine being booed at half-time
just because we're 3-0 down?
What's that all about?

We've had injuries, too many loanees,
players with personal problems,
players on International duties
(now that's a distraction!).

The press have been saying 'RESIGN!'
but who are we going to get? Mourinho?
what's he, a horiculturalist?
Even he couldn't cope with our pitch:
they'd be better off appointing Titchmarsh.