To call my last week eventful would be like saying that the economy is looking frail; in other words, a total understatement.
It began a week last Thursday with the visit of the new Plaid Cymru leader to Merthyr.
Leanne Wood may be a Valleys' woman through and through, but her election proved she appeals to a much wider constituency.
Like myself, another old-timer of the political world in Merthyr had rejoined the Blaid to support her.It was interesting watching him as he observed her ease of engagement with people on the street. I knew what he was thinking - 'I've done the right thing!'
Hopefully, she will fulfil our expectations and adhere to her long-held principles of socialist republicanism. Not merely 'adhere' in fact, but develop them and, in time, apply them from government in the Senedd.
She has stated this week that she will work with Labour wherever their policies are 'progressive'. I think Plaid Cymru need to set out clearly what those policies should be, but, above all, argue for radical alternatives to Labour's lack of imagination and unwillingness to actually implement genuine socialism (republicanism remains anathema to most of them, of course).
The next day I spotted numerous red balloons in town. I wish they'd choose a more apt colour : a pale and putrid pink perhaps?
Were these the heads of Labour apparatchiks, blown up and fit for bursting?
Among those who gathered to welcome Milidee to Merthyr - in an engineered situation at a local training centre, designed to keep him away from the plebs - was a former friend and colleague.
He is standing for Labour in Cardiff in the forthcoming local elections and has been tipped a a future leader there. I taught with him at Radyr, where he showed scant interest in politics, except expressing a preference for Gordon Brown on one occasion.
He was suspended from teaching for cheating at GCSE coursework and the General Teaching Council upheld the school's decision. However, at his hearing he lied continuously about his then Head of Dept., a good friend of mine and also a former friend of his! This was all reported in the 'Echo' and the Head of Dept. was given no right of reply.
I could not bring myself to speak to him, knowing how much he'd hurt my friend. If this is an example of the kind of candidates standing for Labour, then it bodes very badly for the future. He will probably get elected and Labour could take control of Cardiff. A frightening proposition!
One week after a wind of the future blew through the litter-strewn streets of Merthyr, we were flung back into a Medieval maelstrom with the visit of the Queen of this Disunited Kingdom, Mrs Windsor.
On Tuesday 'Western Mail' reporter Peter Law said they'd be a small protest in Llandaf by British-based organisation Republic, but made no mention of the protest I'd helped organise in Merthyr.
I e-mailed him and he assured me it would be remedied the following day, yet nothing appeared. This was typical of both his paper and the 'Echo' all week, with their constant monarchist propaganda. You wonder whether their reporters were embedded with the police in Merthyr and told what to write!
The protest went well and parts can be viewed on You-Tube. Unfortunately, I missed the speeches as I was conducting a poetry workshop in Cardiff. I am assured by those present that the speakers, Bethan Williams of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, Bethan Jenkins AM and poet and law lecturer Tim Richards all made a great impact. Paul Flynn of Labour had been asked to speak, but declined saying he was doing his bit in the Common's Chamber!
While the Llandaf protest was British-orientated, ours was a gathering of Welsh republicans (plus a couple of anarchists), the majority being socialists and calling for a 'Gweriniaeth Gymraeg'.
It is so ironic that Mrs Windsor chose to visit one of the poorest towns in the whole of Europe during a week when her royal barge had been completed at a cost of £50 million pounds. When we hear of 10 wards closed at the local hospital, it seems an obscenity to spend such money on a family whose position owes so much to past wars and conquests.
How we need a band like The Clash now to fire up the young once again with righteous indignation!
I joined the demo outside Cyfarthfa Castle grounds, that memorial to the wealth, power and privilege of ironmasters the Crawshays.
Soon we moved inside the park, not far from where Mrs Windsor would land in her own helicopter.
Noting our presence, a large van with police reinforcements came. We were told by the cops to get behind the barricades ( sorry......barriers....getting carried away!.......I almost was later!).
We agreed to do so on assurances from the Commander that everyone else would have to as well.
One female protester had already been badly manhandled by police, so we were wary.
Many of us were from Merthyr, others from all over Cymru and there was a section of the Red Poets Action Faction.
Unlike Ebbw Vale the next day, there was a scarcity of flag-waving school pupils and the most abuse flying around came from a female scout leader.
I spoke to a few policemen who actually expressed sympathy for our cause!
One bloke yelled at me to 'Go home!' He was obviously prejudiced against people from Heolgerrig, up the road from there.
Of course, the police had lied to us, and it soon became evident that we were the only ones to be kept behind barriers. Now they claimed it was 'for the children's protection'!
When Mrs W. and Phil the Greek arrived, they were taken by her private limousine the couple of hundred yards from car-park to castle.
With shouts of 'Democracy!' and 'Cymru Rydd!', my friend and comrade Jamie Bevan rushed up the hill and dodged through police lines towards the car.
I followed waving Y Ddraig Goch and ,still inside those barriers, was hurtled backwards with a copper's push. I instinctively swore and another one shoved me more aggressively.
After the demo, the remains of the protesters were surrounded by police with tazers and accompanied by police on horses down Brecon Road. I'd left by then, but I was told they were kettled outside the Grawen pub and my friend the Bartzman wasn't even allowed in to get a pint!
Jamie was later kept in the police-station overnight and charged with a Breach of the Peace. When he was detained there, the poilice insisted he had asked for 'non-disclosure', in other words non-communication with anyone. This was another blatant lie on their behalf!
On release, he explained to us that he'd insisted on speaking Welsh there and the Sergeant had responded by threatening to have him 'for wasting police time'. Naturally, Jamie didn't relent.
Another protester was arrested in a bizarre incident. He was released after 9 hours ,the police again lying about 'non-disclosure',without charge and his fellow anarchist from Swansea explained that police believed the cigarette he was smoking was drugs.They later altered the charge to a Breach of the Peace, which was eventually dropped. Maybe they just wanted to identify the person under the black balaclava.
Jamie Bevan's case didn't come before Merthyr Magistrates until after 3.30 pm on the Friday. The reason given was that he was waiting for an interpreter. Coincidentally, this was about the same time the Windsors left Aberfan.
During the day his charge was changed to a Public Order Offence, as they knew the other one wouldn't stick.
In court we were dumbfounded to hear it was based on some incident in Brecon Road. No-one, including Jamie himself, had any recollection of this at all. It appears that the police have witnesses.
When Jamie is due to appear before the court again on May 24th, he will use video evidence.
Jamie is a remarkable man : a modern Lewsyn yr Heliwr, to use an analogy from the Merthyr Rising of 1831. He 's brave and idealistic and commited to a Welsh Socialist Republic.
I hope all fellow republicans turn up at that court session to support him.
Cefnogwch Jamie Bevan!
THE FRACKIN' CROWN ESTATE
They own the rivers,
they own the swans
commit treason if you eat
the frackin' Crown!
the frackin' Crown Estate!
they own the deer they shoot,
they own the grouse and pheasant
that they kill and mutilate
the frackin' Crown!
the frackin' Crown Estate!
they own the gold they wear
from their mountains over there
behind those padlocked gates
the frackin' Crown!
the frackin' Crown Estate!
they own the ocean beds
the revenue from turbines
you won't find the media debate
the frackin' Crown!
the frackin' Crown Estate!
hotels and whole estates
and minerals beneath your feet;
think they own your fate
the frackin' Crown!
the frackin' Crown Estate!
the shale, the gas, pollution,
selling our futures on the cheap;
think they own me and you, mate!
the frackin' Crown!
the frackin Crown Estate!
The latest Council policy in Merthyr Tudful is to divide the town into Quarters. What they haven't planned, however, is a Rebel Quarter.
This is due to be inaugurated next Thursday, April 26th, with a gathering of republican protesters demanding a real democracy for Cymru, as we are prepare for visiting foreign monarch Mrs E. Windsor.
Gwrthdystiad Gweriniaethol , Merthyr Rising 2012, will begin at 11.30 am outside the plaque to working-class martyr Dic Penderyn, at the town library. Speakers will include Plaid Cymru A.M. Bethan Jenkins, Bethan Williams of Cymdeithas yr Iaith and Tim Richards (former stalwart of both the Welsh Socialist Republicans and Cymru Goch).
I have no issue with the royals as individuals. For all I know, Mrs Windsor could be a lovely old lady who does not invite bloody dictators like King Hamad of Bahrain to her Diamond Jubilee celebrations, her husband not a xenophobe, Carlo and William certainly not animal-shooting aristocrats, Harry never a racist who once called a friend a 'Paki' and Andrew definitely not a trade ambassador with perverts and dubious dictators as friends and allies.
Of course, the images of the monarchy has been cleverly reconstructed following all these perceptions, as a recent article in the Guardian's G2 illustrated clearly. I look forward to Welsh language poet and novelist Grahame Davies reinventing Carlo in his forthcoming role as press officer for him.
Can we expect even Charles to emerge from this change as a hip green warrior embracing the wind-farms he once described with such horror? Certainly, he'll need to avoid claims of hypocrisy, as the 'royal family' will receive up to £40 million from the sale of the ocean beds owned by the Crown Estate to windfarm companies.
I don't expect the gwerin to rise up and overthrow Mrs Windsor when she comes to Cyfarthfa Castle and Aberfan this week. I do expect to see lots of schoolchildren provided with Union flags to wave, in a staged show of support much like the demonstrations of grief for N.Korean dictator Kim Jong II when he died.
In face, whenever the opulent palaces of some autocrat like Gadaffi or Sadam Hussein are shown with such disgust on the media, I am merely reminded of the luxury our monarchy live in, with their numerous palatial residences and servants to do their bidding ( including lickspittle poets and writers). Our taxes, through the £7.9 million Civil List, paying for them. The arguments against the monarchy are manifold , but one of the most impoirtant is they act as a unifying force for a Britain which cannot deliver meaningful prosperity and equality to the Welsh people and , indeed, to working-class people throughout these islands.
The more people identify with them, the less they identify with their class and culture. It is the Orange Order theory writ large. In other words, divide and rule in order to subjugate.
I am heartened to learn from a friend who has been to N. Irelnad more recently than me that even in a Loyalist town like Bushmills the red-white-and-blue of the pavingstones is fading fast and there are actually street names in Gaelic! Perhaps with a degree of independence and power-sharing, even those Loyalists who had fanatical allegiance to the monarchy have begun to change.
In Cymru, we have been fixated too long on the British nation-state, born out of capitalism and now dying with it.
The benefits which come from the monarchy are equal to those which come from being part of Britain. Both make us one of the poorest areas in the whole of Europe!
Those who are better off might say - 'What have we to gain from being a republic?'
I would reply - 'What have we got to lose?'
Our jobs? Our homes? Our futures?
These are already being threatened or lost.
Yet, with the election of Leanne Wood as leader of Plaid Cymru, I believe there's a new spirit afoot.
We can envisage a very different Cymru: one where we are equal citizens and not subjects who are expected to look up to a family whose position is due entirely to an accident of birth.
We can envisage a Cymru with an elected President who would represent us, yet wield no power; much like Ireland, but not necessarily coming from the professional classes. It could be anyone who has contributed greatly to the people of Wales.
Even a writer.........you never know!
To those who say we live in a democracy, I would answer - 'No, we do not!'
How can we, when a family lives in such wealth and with such status ? The people of Wales, not the Crown Estate, should own all land underground and the ocean bed.
If there are moves, however tentative, to abolish the House of Lords because of an archaic system of hereditary and nepotistic privilege, then why not the monarchy? Surely, the same principles apply.
And so........back to Merthyr this week, where a band of dedicated Welsh republicans will gather to say we do not welcome Mrs Windsor to this town where, in the Rising of 1831, 20 people were killed by the forces of the Crown and Dic Penderyn was taken to Cardiff and hanged, with many others transported to Australia.
THE 5 QUARTERS OF MERTHYR
First the Cafe Quarter appeared on signs
and visitor maps around town
until, with the opening of an Oriental
it finally became real.
Controversially, the Learning Quarter,
once called Merthyr College
taken over by the University of Glamrock
with new buildings sprouting like dandelions
(cynics would say - 'Teach 'em to fill in forms!').
What after? The Culture Quarter?
With Theatr Soar and the Canolfan,
the Old Town Hall resurrected at last;
street theatre every weekend
outside takeaways, recreating Old China.
There must be the Retail Quarter
out of town by necessity,
away from empty, charity, pound, mobile,
card shops and pawnbrokers;
go window-shopping for roller-blinds!
And the fifth one, the Rebel Quarter,
across from the Dic, by the plaque
to the martyr, making us more
than a sum of our parts, a place
you can't count on to conform.
It's been a strange week. I woke up at precisely 4.48 am on the first morning of our short break in Llandudno. My wife thought I was rummaging around for indigestion tablets.
'Just writing!' I assured her.
I wrote the first draft of a poem about Tai Chi. I 've been thinking of giving it a try, but fear it might herald the onset of Bopadom.
Our visit to y gogledd followed by son's stay with us, which he managed to combine with work and a story about unemployment in his home town of Merthyr for Channel 4 News.
He'd searched for an angle and , without prompting from me, decided on pursuing a link between poetry and unemployment, which would focus on the poet Jazz from Penywaun. Jazz is a Red Poet of long standing, though he hasn't appeared in the magazine for a number of years.
After saying it would be 'impossible' I did manage to organise a last minute Poems 'n' Pints night at our regular venue The Imp in a matter of days and thankfully enough turned up to fill the small room.
Jazz did his signature poem 'Giro City', a poem which he's used successfully in the past to clear Penrhys of rodent problems, break up riots in Brynmawr and send punters in the Millennium Centre scurrying towards the fire exits in panic!
My son's item appeared on Wednesday's News and , though characteristically bleak, was also sensitive and certainly Jazz did us all proud when he spoke very eloquently.
I made a cameo appearance waving my arms about. I was glad I couldn't play 'How Do You Solve A Problem like Maria?' on the mouth-harp, as requested by the producer.
And so, off up north.........my wife likes to drive through Wales on the A470 and, on a bright day, it was stunningly picturesque weaving our way past Cader Idris, through the slate country of Blaenau Ffestiniog and on to Y Eryri's lakes and mountains.
Llandudno has a reputation as Costa Geriatrica, yet there were more young families there than pensioners and it is an interesting place to visit.
Last time we were there was for the Urdd Eisteddfod. It was a wet and windy Whitsun and we attempted to walk towards the prom, but were blown back townwards.
Then it seemed dull and dreary, but this time we embraced our closeness to Y Gogarth (the Great Orme) and did the Victorian thing of a trip up and back on the trundling tram.
My young daughter's desire for a more risky form of transport was only satisfied after we ventured up and down again straight after on the cable car, this time spotting the famous wild goats which roam the area. Apparently brought here by the Windsors, I did suggest picketing them with republican slogans, but nobody was up for it.
A visit to Oriel Mostyn proved to be the disappointing aspect of our trip.
I should've written 'pretentious claptrap' on the Visitors' Book, but refrained from doing so.
They showed no interest in my joint exhibition with Merthyr artist Gus Payne, 'Dim Gobaith Caneri', and I could see why. Conceptual art and overblown abstract justifications were order of the day........blobs and dots and whole room of photos of cows.
If MOMA in Machynlleth always inspires, then this is the antithesis. The cafe summed up our experience : there was a bowl full of scones, yet when I asked for one I was told these were only 'for display'!
To my mind, galleries should be as eclectic as possible, but always seek to reward those with genuine talent and imagination. Despite being an excellent space full of light and white walls, Oriel Mostyn does neither of these.
Llandudno itself is a curious mixture of the inevitably tacky amusement arcades, the long stretch of well-preserved pier, gradual dereliction of the Grand Hotel and sheer variety of shops and cafes, some with distinctive overhanging entrances.
It was heartening to actually hear Cymraeg spoken in the bargain bookshop, because otherwise I could have been fooled into thinking I was in the north west of England, judging by accents of trippers and shop assistants.
We returned through England, the Shropshire-Hereford route relieved only by Wenlock Edge on one side and Long Mynd on the other.
The only real satisfaction was a stop at Ludlow Food Centre, a foodie and boozie heaven recommended by my son. Here there were pies and quiches galore and real ales and ciders never heard of before. Both my older daughter and I went for a 7% local farmhouse cider because.......'you only need a bottle after all!'
Back to re-work that poem written at a ludicrous hour about seeing Peter Finch doing Tai Chi at Ty Newydd Writers' Centre.
I'd like to emulate him and learn the dynamics of being able to attack somebody, armed only with a fan. It might just come in useful next time I'm up in Llandudno and offered a virtual scone!
PETER FINCH DOING TAI CHI
Outside the house of scribes and scribblers
of wordsmiths and wordcrafters
on a small slate island in the flowerbed,
he was a moving sculpture.
At first I thought attention-seeker
till I realised how oblivious
to watchers in the sun
along the long lawn to the stile
and a sight of the sea after.
An intent, intense art
in slow motion pulse of light,
arming himself to attack
with a leaf or redirect
the breeze to take a pen skyward.
A man of both feather and earth,
I could not have placed a title
on his level plinth,
his arms and palms tracing
currents of air, ley-lines beneath.
Learning Welsh is like being in a large maze hewn out of bramble and gorse bushes, so there are no easy ways through gaps. You're there trying to follow the clues, printed or visual, along those many passages. Sometimes you're on your own, sometimes there's a group of you, but always there's a glimpse of those who have made it.
They are standing elevated on a raised platform in the middle which is called yn rhugl (fluent). There are bridges to cross (dros y bont) and you keep catching your clothing on the barbs of the bushes.
The things that seem to hook and snag are different for each person, but quite often, it's the degree of difference between spoken Welsh and what is taught in text books.
I spent a decade away from this maze and found that when I returned , those bushes had grown a lot higher, so I could rarely catch sight of the winners.
At least there's a guide, a teacher, to help us find the right path, though ultimately it's down to us.
Along the puzzling ways I've often taken the wrong route, shied away from asking directions in Welsh. However, I do know that I'm getting nearer to that platform and that, once there, I'll be proud to look out on a country forever changed.
My wife and family have long since left the maze : reached the centre and gazed over at those lost ones wandering and searching ; left by the exit, to enter a society which is dwyieithog (bilingual).
To them, the rewards have been considerable, not in monetary terms, but in achievements. My wife is responsible for Welsh at her English language Primary and organizes the school Eisteddfod annually. In the past her classes have competed successfully in the Urdd.
My older daughter is the Plaid Cymru spokesperson on the language, so it is fundamental to her work and also her beliefs.
My son used to write for 'Golwg' and do reports for S4C, though now he has entered the subterranean maze of the media in London, busy and frantic as the Tubes.
My young daughter is now at Welsh language Comp. and it's a daily fact of life for her. I wish though that her teachers wouldn't be so oppressive in enforcing the speaking of it : such tactics are counter-productive!
It's a sad endictment of S4C and publishing in Welsh that she and her mates all spend their time watching tv in English (often American) and only reading novels by the likes of Jacqueline Wilson.
For me, learning Welsh has always been a struggle but, since I took early retirement, the bushes of the maze have flowered and I've rediscovered a sense of direction.
While I do read magazines such as 'Lingo' and 'Acen' (now defunct unfortunately), I have found that literature is a much more enjoyable 'map'.
At present I am reading my second book in the cyfres (series) NOFELAU NAWR, Mihangel Morgan's 'Modrybedd Afradlon ' ('Reckless Aunts'). It takes a long time to get going, but lifts off half way through. I do prefer the last one I read, 'Pwy sy'n cofion Sion?' ( 'Who remembers Sion?'), where the subject-matter of a disappeared singer-songwriter appealed to me more.
I rarely watch S4C. I used to watch 'Bandit', but that has been inexplicably axed, with no apparent replacement. I try to follow the drama series 'Gwaith/Cartref' ( a Welsh 'Waterloo Road',only funnier), but find it quite difficult as the characters speak so quickly.
At level Canolradd 2, I like to think I'm half way there, gazing up at the stars and hoping for a leading one.
I have written several poems in Welsh despite my limited vocabulary and, for a while, feel I'm heading for the very centre. I can even spot those on the platform waving and shouting encouragement.
But then, I speak and stumble and lose sight of them again.
I want to be there, to write more fluently, read more readily and speak without being aware of how far it is, how short a distance I've actually travelled.
Cymraeg is not just a reclamation of my nation's and family's past, it exists for me in a modern literature I want to grasp and many songs I listen to daily yet can't fully comprehend : by the likes of Lleuwen, Huw M., Meic Stevens and, above all, Geraint Jarman who, it seems to me, has never had the credit he deserves.
The melyn melyn (bright yellow) of gorse flowers light my way and the berries from bramble are words I pick and savour.
Y Geiriau Cymraeg
‘Croeso pawb!’ I welcome.
They are all tenses in one.
They cannot decide whether
to stand or sit down.
They came straight from school,
yet are dressed for a period drama.
They remind me of my ancestors :
the haulier of Cilfynydd
and estate manager of Wenvoe.
They pick up magazines and cds,
switch on the tv and join in
like friends of the family.
They are strangers here
despite familiar-sounding names.
I wish they’d linger longer :
‘’steddwch lawr!’ I demand.
When they leave, their echoes
insist I raise my pen.
Notes - y geiriau Cymraeg - the Welsh words
croeso pawb - welcome everyone
‘seddwch lawr - sit down