David Cameron's notion of a 'Big Society' was dropped rapidly during the election campaign. One Senior Conservative Minister described it as 'Total bollocks!' I liked Steve Bell's cartoon in 'The Guardian' where this Minister was being punched to produce the 'Ooomph!' sound (Cameron wants oomph from communities, of course).
When our rubbish accumulates because the binmen are on strike due to cuts in their pay, workforce numbers, pensions, union rights , no tea-breaks for the next ten years etc, we'll organise our own collections. Better still we can round up the local rats (what price a modern Pied Piper?) to get rid of the food waste.
When our local schools aren't rebuilt or refurbished and our children knee-deep in water, we'll simply take over the chapel, convert it into a 'free' school and call it St. McDonald's, with obvious sponsorship. No need for a private catering company and the school badge will have the ubiquitous 'M' on it.
When the doctor can't come out on a house visit because he has to travel from Germany ( sounds familiar!), we'll make our own cures from foraged plants like doc leaves. We might even invest in a street 'witch doctor'.
I can understand the arguments put by Alex Andrews in 'The Guardian' last Tuesday about the Tories 'opening a crack for real activism'. My friend and comrade the late Jack Gilbert was a great advocate for and participator in community organisations, from village groups setting up allotments to the more widespread Credit Unions. I'd like to think Andrews' idealism is not misplaced when he says - 'Perhaps we can create networks of solidarity and mutual aid that will allow people to survive austerity and job losses.' However, survival is one thing and creating a genuine alternative another.
I cannot imagine the ConDems tolerating fullblown co-operatives which could challenge the hegemony of large companies who are strangling and dominating society. Of course, what Cameron has in mind is the shift of services away from public sector and onto voluntary bodies in order to destroy what he sees as dependence on the State. The tragic reality is that many people will be neglected and abandoned because charities won't be able to cope (just as homeless people are now) and only where it's seen as lucrative (as has happened with Care Homes) will the private sector move in for the killing.
I sincerely hope that the 'communities of dissent' envisaged by Andrews will emerge. However, Mayor Boris has just cleared one (the Peace Camp) from Parliament Square : not a promising sign for the future.
A BIG PARTY
S' we decided to ave a Big Party t celebrate-a Big Society (it woz-a best way t get on-a telly).
Better still,this bloke up-a street woz comin back from Afghanistan with a small wound on is leg, so summin else t celebrate.
First time since-a Jubilee and even them Thomases Welsh Nat's Welsh-speakers never turned up 'en, sayd they'd come along this time.
Ev'ryone ud be there cept Dirty Dick number 69 done f flashin all over-a local paper ; if ee come ee'd ave a good kickin.
It woz all ready, booze n buffet (even cold pizza f'r the veggies), journalist from-a 'Merthyr' with a camra, but telly coverin a Big Orgy up-a Rhondda.
Never seen tha soldier before, is mam wore a t-shirt sayin 'MAM OF A TOTAL HERO', ee limped bard,toasted-a Queen;
Thomases started complainin in Welsh, s' this eero Shane ee tells em - 'Fuck off ome t wherever!' They jest sayd -'We woz born in Merthyr!'
It did get better arfter tha, we ad a Big Cake we all shared and a Big Larf when some o the boyz pissed all over Dick's garden.
Shane showed the kids is scars an got to autograph a few girlz t-shirts; it got barkin as the evenin wen on with Big Drinkin Competitions.
Then Alan up-a road puts a dampener on the whool bloody evenin, stan's on-a table, one foot in-a cake remains an gives off t ev'ryone -
'Big Fuckin Party!' ee shouts is ead off, 'yesterday I gotta Big News, the Council's on'y laid me off an now I feel like a nobuddy!'
Shane yells out - 'Yew should join the army!' Thomases start singin 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau', I done a Big Spew in-a drain an a Big Party become a Big Pandemonium.
Our Close is quite remarkable. We have been living here, above Merthyr, for over 30 years and a good number of the residents are the same ones who were here when we first moved in. It's also quite unusual that, in a village where many houses are up for sale, so few ever go on the market in this street.
At present, there are many retired couples, widows and widowers. When I first arrived quite a few worked for nationalised industries: a bus mechanic for Merthyr Corporation next door, fitter for British Gas up the road and Welsh Water manager opposite. During the 80's these were all privatised and now only the manager has moved out to a big house not far away.The few new residents tend to be self-employed, reflecting the inflated price of property even in Merthyr.
It's hard to work out why so many have stayed. It's not as if there's a great community spirit, indeed there have been serious disputes about left-open gates and even an assault case brought before Merthyr Crown Court last year, involving families who had previously been friendly!
Some families are chatty, open and laid-back, while others are sticklers, not giving balls back and moaning about kids playing on the street. Last weekend, my young daughter and her mates decided to go car-washing along the Close, to make a few bob. While some were generous, others shooed them away like stray dogs.
.....or sheep, cows, horses......all of which used to wander into the Close and remain in gardens, because of our proximity to grazing land, which is no longer fit for animals and signed as a DANGER!
The stability must be down to other factors. For one, the Close is on its own, not part of any sprawling estate like nearby Shirley Gardens (a friend from there is always bewildered how a once great iron town could have such a prissy estate name). On the map our Close is a question-mark, without the dot.
The answer also has to be its nearness to the Waun, an area now overgrown, but once cropped short by the aforementioned farm animals. The Waun leads out from the long curve of the question-mark, opening the street onto moorland of foxes, wild flowers, streams and oaks.
Though there's a new Primary school built directly onto the backs of some houses, the overall atmosphere is one of prevailing quiet. People do turn their cars at the bottom and parents park to pick up children, but it's nevertheless a haven.
It's a Famous Close as well, as evinced by this week. I met the film actor and former presenter of 'Soccer Sunday' Jonathan Owen standing outside his parents' house, where we discussed Cardiff City for some time. X-Factor runner-up Lloyd Daniels walked up the Close last weekend holding an acoustic guitar and heading for local pub The Red. Rock band The Blackout ( who hail from Heolgerrig) played an acoustic set the other day at their old school's fete within hearing distance, if it hadn't been pouring!
There are a few fanatical car-cleaners and one made me think of my old mate Pete 'Doc' Smith, who lived on the main road up here while teaching in the same school as me in Merthyr. He was a public school educated leftie who'd attended the same school as Attila the Stockbroker. He wore Doc Martens to school when they were banned and trousers torn at the knees. He got away with it because his posh accent always impressed the Deputy Head. He once read a poem of mine about car-cleaning and ( as a Freudian) declared - 'It's obviously about masturbation!' I dread to think what his thesis on R.S. Thomas might have come up with.
All day and all evening he has rubbed and shone from hub-cap to roof with his sponge and chamois.
My Freudian friend 'Doc' Smith would've relished interpreting this shiny-headed policeman, this multi-gym body-builder :
what his wife would've done for all that attention, from purple-painted toe-nails to spring catch of tongue;
how he stooped and bent to alloy wheels, how he swept his cloth across the windscreen, how white foam flowed down the drain.
Alzheimer's is my greatest fear: it even beats the Bluebirds losing to Swansea in the Play-off Final at Wembley, or a return to teaching as a Supply. It's in the family and each year whenever there seems to be a breakthrough in its cure ( I think the tincture of daffodils was the last one), I am filled with hope.
At the age of 18 I returned to Wales by accident, to find that my Gran was beginning to suffer from it. My mother had decided to join my stepfather on his work travelling abroad, which left me with no home to return to over the holidays when at Uni. She hadn't really explained what I was supposed to do.
They'd fixed me up with a summer job at a three-star hotel near York. Almost all my belongings were crammed into the caravan the hotel owner put me in ( shared with a thousand spiders who crossed my face at night). When the owner finally asked me to bury the contents of another caravan's toilet in the hotel's grounds, I'd had enough. The job was shit (literally!).
I stood in York station without a clue where to go (actually, it was between grandparents in Weston and my Gran in Barry), when 'Cardiff' came up on the schedule. That was it!
My Gran had been one of the first women in Wales to attend university, but had to leave prematurely ( because of the First World War, I believe). She was a Primary teacher for most of her life, so teaching's in the family as well as the dreaded illness. She also had a great love of poetry and I enjoyed reading to her from her 19th century verse anthology, especially the expansive , daring poems of Whitman, so unlike her own preferred Keats and Wordsworth.
Initially, there were only a few signs of Alzheimer's. She coped reasonably well despite her serious eye condition ( I may have inherited that as well). She completed the 'Daily Telegraph' crossword every day and was sharp with her many sayings, like - ' Speak clearly if you speak at all. Carve every word before you let it fall.' I imagine her pupils in Rutland must've become accustomed to that one.
But soon her mind began to deteriorate faster than her eyesight. Her recent memory disappeared and she'd do things like bake sponges, put them in tins and forget about them. Her large larder was full of Victoria sponges in various states of decomposition. She began to ask the same things over and over again. She became very depressed, having moments of lucidity when she fully realised her condition and its inevitability.
Her sister Alice ( my Aunty Al) had suffered greatly with it, so she knew what was to come. She'd wandered the streets in her nightgown and had failed to recognise anyone, even her closest kin.
My Gran's descent into this utter abyss of the mind and eventual incarceration in a psychiatric hospital was so harrowing. I've written poems and stories about it, but never really come to terms with the tragedy.
The following poem is about a one-time friend and colleague who isn't much older than me -
See him on television in a wheel-chair, programme about carers and Alzheimer's. Shock knocks me : brain-quaking.
Years ago, in a circle in the Staff Room and he was Head of Geography, sharp as an arrete at lunchtime quizzing, friendly comments, open as a plain.
Now , on the screen, his wife pushing him, his features first seem unchanged ; yet his eyes are terror-dark caves and his mouth distorted into a crevice all his thoughts fall down.
I am used to recycling material. After all, my latest book 'The Climbing Tree (a novella aimed primarily at teenagers) was recycled from 'Waste' : a full-length stage-play of that name which no theatre showed any interest in performing.
At present I'm busy turning a long narrative poem I wrote for teenagers (apparently, they don't read long narrative poems) into something else.....a balloon perhaps? In the process, I really hope I'm improving it, just as I feel I did add much to the play as it gradually became a story, not least a sense of hope at the end where there was utter despair.
I believe I grew up in a fairly progressive household. After my parents separated, I lived with my mother in a small village. She was an expert at recycling the bricks we 'liberated' at night from the nearby builder's yard and our long garden path was made from them. Also, we always had many exotic plants in our garden, courtesy of the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge. My mother would recycle these with much aplomb. Above all, I recall the early days of plastic, sandwich bags and how she'd wash them out and hang them on the line to dry like small, transparent sails. She was very advanced, but also (having spent most of her life as a 'Cardi') adept at penny-pinching.
All this brings me to the project I've been involved in all this week. I've been visiting Primary Schools in the Pontypridd area as part of the Envirovision scheme.
My role was to get the Year 5 pupils to make up song lyrics and next week they'll be putting them to music. Hopefully, they'll be able to adapt the words to different forms, such as rap and R & B. I began with the idea of products made from recycled materials, but soon found that inventing their own Superhero was a better idea, especially when they drew it first, with all his/her/its special powers.
I wrote two poems especially for the workshops, but the second was to provide the stimulus. Some writers don't like working with younger pupils and I can understand that if they aren't used to it. However, with a 10 year-old daughter (whose pencil-case made from old tyres I nabbed to demonstrate) I was used to their 'level' and found the children very enthusiastic and imaginative.
It would be great to hear the results of their words put to music and it may all be the start of a future Tom Waits or Thea Gilmore. Below is the poem I wrote, complete with 60's hippiedom in its finale.