Oh Danny Boyle
The sheep, the sheep are bleating
From village green
To 'Glastonbury Tor'
These might have been the words of the 'Derry Air' (or is it 'Londonderry Air'?) which summed up the Irish connection in Danny Boyle's vision for the Olympic opening spectacular.
Cymru was represented by 'Bread of Heaven' (in English, of course) and Scotland by 'Flower of Scotland'; England by William Blake's anti-industrial poem 'Jerusalem'. Cornwall was obviously too small and irrelevant.
There may well have been a giant daff, thistle etc there, but I failed to spot them.
All my trepidations were more than realised. This was Boyle's erratic version of British history and culture, by which he means English history and culture.
As many in Wales have argued for years, the essence of being British is, in fact, Englishness.
The entire spectacle veered ludicrously between sub- Monty Python scenes of children trampolining on hospital beds ('That's where all the NHS beds have gone!' my daughter reported from Facebook) and an overall idea like the very worst 1970s concept album, a poor imitation of Pink Floyd as the pastoral scene was rolled away and chimneys sprouted up. Where were the flying pigs?
This was overseen by a man in a top hat played by Kenneth Branagh , who hasn't moved his face muscles during the entire series of 'Wallander'.
( 'My dad says - what the fuck is Abraham Lincoln doing at the Olympics?' another Facebook comment).
Boyle's vision also comprised the worst aspects of the Jubilee propaganda machine. Mrs Windsor was apparently whisked away from her doting corgis by James Bond and jumped from a helicopter into the stadium, like the deity she has become, to ensure that Danny Boyle will get his knighthood.
His self-glorification continued, as his films 'Trainspotting' and 'Slumdog Millionaire' were projected onto a normal 'British ' house.
Two black people fell in love in what seemed like a parody of 'Romeo and Juliet' (ethnic minorities covered ). One woman in a wheelchair danced with the rest (disabilities covered).
'My gran's laughing her head off, but she's got dementia!' Facebook again.
Despite Boyle's laudable attempts to celebrate the NHS, it all seemed like the misguided glorification of a Soviet dictatorship.
At a time when the NHS is being sold off and many hospitals built under Labour's appalling PFI schemes are under severe threat , the portrayal of a service where nurses seemed to morph into multiple Mary Poppins's was ludicrously out of touch with reality.
The musical section was as Anglo-centric as Boyle's homage to Shakespeare and Blake. He skillfully managed to alienate many in n. Ireland , Scotland and Cymru by ignoring any rock or pop from these Celtic fringes.
Van Morrison, the Manics, the Proclaimers.......... all totally ignored , as Boyle gave us a very English medley of music from the Beatles to Dizzee Rascal.
Suddenly, the whole fiery extravaganza gave way to the Olympic teams, in alphabetical order.
By then I had forgotten that it had anything at all to do with sport and was pleasantly surprised to find that there are places represented which consist only of a couple of rapidly disappearing volcanic atolls in the south Pacific.
These islands are the size and population of Dowlais Top, yet Cymru is too small to compete as a country it seems.
The argument about 'not being independent' seems spurious as well : how does Hong Kong have a team when it is now part of China?
Huw Edwards added the gravitas (hasn't he been knighted yet?) with commentary on the political situations in certain countries. He failed to mention that Bahrain is run by a torturing and bloody monarch recently welcomed to her Jubilee celebrations by Mrs E. Windsor! Western-backed Saudi Arabia, where women are still treated as chattels, had a few women competitors for the first time.
The Welsh footballers playing for Team Wengland in the Olympics had not sung the English national anthem; but that isn't good enough.
They were warned by the FAW well in advance of the tournament that their inclusion could jeopardize the independence of our national association ( indeed, Sepp Blatter's recent comments have reinforced the fact that this will be a 'one off') and also that they ran the risk of injury and suspension. Both of these could seriously impair our chances of qualification for the World Cup.
Where is rugby in the Olympics and why has football been so utterly irrelevant in the past?
Football fans have almost unanimously treated the tournament with disdain and after this year's desperate effort to sell tickets for the large stadiums, they will do so once again.
England regarded it with such importance that they contributed fringe players, including the keeper Butland who wasn't even a regular choice for Birmingham City last season!
So, I see one significant conclusion from Danny Boyle's ceremony and that is that the perception of British and English cultures as synonymous is an essentially colonialist one, in direct contradiction to the passing multi-culturalism he was claiming to exemplify. Cymraeg, Gaelic, Scots Gallic and Cornish played no part. Until Britain is finally and irrevocably dismantled and we have political systems which fully reflect our identities , it will always be so.
The butcher's apron's soaked in blood
from Ireland to Africa
and Llanelli to Merthyr ;
it hasn't yet dried out,
staining hands in party mood.
The age of the public meeting must be almost over, but that does not mean that politics should stop taking to the streets. One friend of mine sees Facebook as the prime means of dissent and solidarity, while another is from the old school of fly-posting and demo's.
I believe that both are equally valid, as shown by our recent republican protests in Merthyr Tudful, which seemed to be one of the most effective in the country.
We plastered the town in 'Gweriniaeth Gymreig' posters prior to the events, managing to evade the cops, who were actually more vigilant just before the Olympic torch was due to hit town.
We also handed out leaflets in the precinct and managed to get insulted by a few passing monarchists, who nevertheless refused to stay and argue their cause.
The combination of official protest with speeches outside the Library and a more spontaneous demonstration at Cyfarthfa Park proved successful, though it would have been good to see more of those who promised to attend on our Facebook page turning up on the day.
Therein lies both the power and danger of the internet : some are quite content to exist in a virtual reality of activism, but not to physically engage in it. Yet it is highly effective in drawing together like-minded people.
It can be an easy option to sign online petitions, but these still have their place in rallying support and making politicians and others take notice.
During my brief stint in Plaid Cymru recently I'm proud to say I did have some effect , as I urged them to take to the streets regularly and focus on local issues of current concern.
As people rarely attend public meetings, this an important way of connecting with them, as the Trots have found over the years. Though selling papers shouldn't be the point, rather to show that politics isn't a matter for others to determine, but a means of involvement for everyone.
Not every person can be an activist, but in making that step from apathy to trying to change the world, it can empower and liberate. I have witnessed this in both anti-opencast and anti-poll tax campaigns in the past, where people changed from believing nothing could be done to wholeheartedly committing themselves to action.
During the Plaid Cymru Day of Action about the impending closures of Remploy factories, one woman I spoke to was incandescent. She explained how her life had been destroyed by the recession and , that very day, her small business (which I knew well) at the bottom of town had closed down due to financial pressures. Business rates, she told me, were beyond. She made the link between her own plight and that of these factories : to her, it all part of one demise ,an economic system which showed no concern for people's livelihood.
Sadly, for most mainstream parties the only time they take to the streets is with a forthcoming election.
Is it any wonder that the majority are highly suspicious of their motives? It's like they are buying votes with promises.
The notion of a much longer term altering of consciousness is more associated with the Far Left, though cynics would simply say that's because they stand no chance in elections. The success of Melanchon's party in France and Syriza in Greece would suggest that the tide is turning in this respect.
In this country, elections have been masks of changes rather than matters of principle and I certainly hope that alternatives can arise to change this.
Returning to our republican protests, it was noticeable that with local elections coming up, some sympathetic Plaid activists avoided taking part. They clearly saw it as an unpopular cause and were afraid to argue the case.
Thisis how the abandonment of ideals begin and the case of Lord Elis-Thomas - who once served the writ in the Commons so Provisional IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands could stand for election - should be a warning to all how easily politicians can be assimilated into the system. Here is someone who became a Lord against his own party's wishes, supported nuclear power in defiance of their policy , grovelled constantly to the monarchy and mocked their aspirations of full independence. Perhaps he is better off in the Labour Party, though there are too many others in the Blaid with similar sympathies.
So , political actions need to operate on as many levels as possible : through the culture of songs and poems, the fly-posted sloganeering, internet groups and tweeting, street campaigning and even, sometimes - when a local issue is sufficiently burning - those public meetings.
The Occupy movement may have disappeared for now, but something else will replace it in these times of struggle and hardship. Each country must develop their own form of protest , though they must not operate in isolation. In Cymru, our history of strong civil disobedience must surely play a part in determining this, still alive in the activism of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith.
Lets hope we stand as a human wall against the battering blows of ConDem cuts from London, yet a wall that is the beginning of a much larger building, one that is no longer like a prison, but always open to to the light of visions.
FLYING DOWN TOWN
When you're out flying down town
wear black for camouflage ;
don't run to draw suspicion.
Carry buckets of paste in bags,
walk quickly if they spot you,
take off down an alleyway.
When you're out flying down town
before the visit of torch or crown,
with your wings made from posters ;
become the crow, rook or jackdaw,
flap your jacket arms
and imagine the rooftops.
This is a town where darkness
is breathing out of drains,
where chimneys and sills grow trees.
When you're out flying down town
leave your name behind in the pub,
watch out for those flashing talons.
The other day, while rummaging in a top cupboard for a map of Brittany, I was struck in the eye by the 'Collected Poems of William Wordsworth'. Its sharp edge cut me and I was in agony.
Was this a sign? Was it telling me to stop writing poetry altogether? Alternatively, was it a message to read more verse, rather than the Welsh learners' novels I have been consuming for the past year?
Or, was it saying that I should be more organized in my life and start to tidy up all the clutter in cupboards and shelves, which my wife describes as 'obsessive hoarding'?
I have been reading Kristian Evans' interview with Robert Minhinnick in the latest 'Poetry Wales'. Rob's always interesting, if predictably controversial, about Creative Writing workshops, which he claims should be banned and the performance poetry he' despises'.
I agree with some of what he says. There's certainly a tendency to produce the workshop-type poem and, with our literary magazines dominated by academics who have a vested interest in the Creative Writing industry, it's no surprise that such poems crop up in them more often than they used to when the likes of Rob were editing.
Yet he still teaches such workshops at Ty Newydd, so he must think they fulfill a role.
In the autumn, I will be giving a series of six workshops at Bargoed Library and I hope that they will stimulate those who come along. I believe they can play a vital part in people's development as writers, as long as they don't become over-dependent on them for inspiration.
I am definitely in agreement with Minhinnick about science. He argues that we need Creative Science workshops far more than writing ones. I would place science on a par with writing and also think he's got an excellent point saying that writers should embrace science as a fascinating source for their work.
At school, I only found Physics of any interest when we sprayed water everywhere, Biology for that teacher's peculiar form of torture and Chemistry when the gas was left on!
Yet now I have become a Large Hadron Bore! I can send my entire family to sleep in seconds by talking about the Cern Collider and the Higgs Boson particle. No matter that it's the origin of matter and recreates the situation just after the Big Bang, I enthuse and they would probably prefer a lecture on the rules for off-side in footie!
So how about a combination of the two........Creative Science workshops leading to poetry and fiction? It would undoubtedly appeal to me.
As to performance poetry, I have to disagree with Minhinnick. He seems to be going the way of Dannie Abse, who once insisted that 'all poetry is performance'.
I feel it's perfectly acceptable to write specifically for performance and it appears elitist to suggest that all poetry must stand the test of time. Just as some poems are for occasions, so some are written to entertain or provoke.
I believe Rob decries the sloppiness of some performance poetry and he is correct there. At times these rely on punch-lines and can only be listened to once. Writing for performance should never be an excuse not to make every word vital.
At its very best ( I'm thinking of the days when Peter Finch and Ifor Thomas deployed props) it can be hilariously funny and also disturb the imagination with its challenges to language and conformity.
What I admire about Minhinnick (apart from almost all his work) is his constantly restless creative energy.
He is forever seeking out new forms and fresh approaches, but nearly always through an organic process rather than deliberation. Yet still he is determined to delve deeper into his 'bro' of Porthcawl, while showing a sweeping international perspective.
His restlessness and unique imagination was there from the off with 'A Thread in the Maze' and now he is embracing prose as liberating and viewing poetry as rather juvenile.
I can see from his own literary journey why he argues this. I believe he's constantly seeking to make things anew, to find things which challenge him artistically.
Though he may well disagree, I see him (like myself) as essentially a poet : even his 'essays' (which he rightly says should never have been called that) are shaped by his desire to think in imagery.
A prose writer is principally moved by narrative and/or character, while poets like myself and Rob respond mainly to sound and metaphor.
I hope he never abandons poetry ; it would be a great loss. I suspect he won't.
As to myself, I feel that self-same restlessness, yet an overriding fear rather than thrill, when I think of embarking on a story. I am out of my element, like a seal on the rocks. I decide to bask rather than move around awkwardly.
My restlessness leads me to Cymraeg and to poetry; to the sounds of another language, that of my forefathers ,but also of my children (in education at least......though it's fundamental to my older daughter's work and social life) : where past and future are two rivers meeting at an estuary.
Enw yr un afon yw Gorffennol
ac mae e’n symud
yn araf ac yn ofalus
fel hen ddyn yn y pentref,
gwisgo cot brown, het llwyd
a siarad mewn llais sibrwd.
Mae e’n cymryd llawer lawr :
meddyliau am y rhyfel,
am y daith i’r ddinas,
am yr hen iaith oedd yn ddiwerth,
y dociau oedd yn tyfu;
rhifo pob rhan o’r glo.
Enw yr ail yw Dyfodol
ac mae e’n brysio
yn gyflym ac yn ddiofal
fel bachgen ifanc yn y dre,
gwisgo siaced wyn, cap glas
a siarad mewn llais uchel.
Mae e’n cymryd llawer eto :
meddyliau am ffindio gariad,
am y daith i’r tywyllwch
pan fydd e’n gadael adre,
y cwrdd yn yr aber
ac ar ol, y mor anferth.
Cymru Goch were certainly a prophetic group : many of our campaigns have proved to be well ahead of their time. We were born out of the demise of the Welsh Socialist Republican Movement, some of whose members were detained in jail on remand only to be released when found innocent of any violent actions.
The likes of Robert Griffiths and Gareth Miles went on to join the Communists, while others simply dropped out of politics altogether.
But most of us formed Cymru Goch, which I always thought of as the Welsh Socialist Party, only to be told it was a group. Ironically, at the recent republican evening in Cardiff, stalwart Tim Richards described it as a proper party!
We were essentially a small band of socialist republicans, though we did produce a monthly newspaper 'Y Faner Goch' for many years. In Merthyr, we published our local equivalent 'Llais Merthyr' and caused a stir on the opencast issue.
We didn't operate within Plaid Cymru. Many of us had been in that nationalist party and become totally disillusioned with their lack of commitment to any form of socialism, let alone republicanism. The complete sell-out by former WSRM supporter Lord Elis-Thomas was the ultimate betrayal.
Though the WSRM had looked to n. Ireland for inspiration, Cymru Goch developed a distinctively Welsh approach, with civil disobedience at its core.
Our socialism and republicanism were as one and the monarchy represented (as they still do) the very height of the hierarchy we abhorred. Ousting them was as integral as public ownership to the dismantling of the class system.
Marc Jones - until recently a Plaid Councillor in Wrecsam - was another stalwart and he has claimed that the Red Poets is our greatest legacy. I believe there are others, less obvious yet equally important.
Certainly what marked us out as very different from any BritLeft group was the way that art-forms like poetry ,film and music were a fundamental part of our existence.
Many Cymru Goch members were poets and others started writing after the then Red Poets' Society began to publish annual magazines and perform on a regular basis.
When we campaigned against Thatcher's Poll Tax ( as part of the Anti-Poll Tax Union) members made a film and it was shown at public meetings.
In many ways our fight against the Poll Tax epitomised the best of Cymru Goch. We were able to involve many people who had never taken political action before in our 'Can't Pay, Don't Pay' campaign.
We held meetings advising people what to do should the bailiffs be sent to their homes, as Labour Councils were carrying out Tory policies just as they do now with Cameron's Cuts.
In Trelewis & Bedlinog, member Rod Barrar was elected to the Council on an anti-poll tax agenda. I recall one Council meeting where he put forward a motion opposing the use of bailiffs, only to be barracked by Labour Councillors. He then read out their own party policy, which told them not to do so!
We ourselves refused to pay and I ended up in Merthyr Magistrates Court fully prepared to refuse the fine and end up in prison. However, just as my case was coming up, Thatcher decided to abolish the hated tax, which hit the poorer people, just as the savage cuts in benefits are doing today.
I paid the fine, but I am proud of the role we played and the fact that we always tried to co-operate with other leftist groups who took part in civil disobedience. No major political parties were involved and Plaid Cymru opted for the symbolic gesture of 100 members refusing to pay.
Ultimately, it was the mass campaign that we took a lead in which defeated the Poll Tax.
Another lasting legacy is the opposition to Tony Blair and PFI.
While the majority of Labour members and supporters (even some leftwingers) saw him as a saviour, we embarked on our 'Tony Is A Tory' campaign, which highlighted the lack of difference between his policies and Thatcher's.
All this was proved to be true, as he embraced PFI, invaded Iraq, deregulated the banks, privatised the Health Service and established Academies in England.
Wales under Rhodri Morgan never had the 'clear red water' he maintained, but he did dig a 'thin pinkish ditch'! To his credit, he did abandon PFI.
We had warned about these schemes from the very start and activists like Marc Jones and Tim Richards must take the credit for their foresight. We organised a Conference in Merthyr's Castle Hotel to look at PFI's consequences. Everything said on that day has come to pass.
You have only to look at the crisis engulfing Baglan Hospital to realise this. A £66 million hospital will cost over £300 million and the hospital is being downgraded to the extent where many people will have to go to Swansea for essential services such as A. & E.
What Cymru needs now more than ever is a fully-fledged Plaid Sosialaeth Cymru, which is completely commited to establishing a socialist republic, without the trappings of a nationalist party, inevitably an uneasy coalition of right, centre and leftwingers.
There can be no 'Cymru Rydd' without the people controlling and owning the country (especially its water, transport and energy). There can be no independence without socialism which destroys the class system.
There can be no proper rule from the Senedd in the long term without breaking free from a Britain which looks to an anachronistic and aristocratic hereditary head of state : we must have an elected President to represent our country.
I appear on Sianel 62 online reading the following poem. It is dedicated to my former comrades in Cymru Goch.
Coch fel y baner
coch fel y ddraig
coch fel y gwaed
gwaed yr oen
yn Ffair Waun,
lle oedd y gwrthdystiad yn ddechrau
coch fel y gwaed Penderyn
oedd yn rhedeg trwy’r nant
i lawr mynydd Aberdar
coch fel y gwefusau
sy’n siarad a’r dyfodol
pan briodiff gobaith a chyfiawnder
nid goch y rhosyn
cafodd ei toriadau
wrth y llwyn
ond, coch y gwaed
sy’n llifo eto
yn yr afonydd y pobl.
Y faner Prydain
ym mhob man
yn y dre tlawd fi
dros ffenestri y siopau
dros y llyfrau
dros y bagiau
dros y taflenni
dros y posteri
fel wyneb Tito neu Stalin
y cwpl rhyfedd
Olympiaid a frenhines
yn priodi y flwyddyn hon
dyna’r briodas i gadw
yr Undeb sy’n colli canghenau
fel coeden yn y storm.
When we arrived to live in Merthyr over 30 years ago it seemed full of 'characters'. In the streets, pubs and especially my workplace, a Comprehensive School, there were many fascinating eccentrics.
Fascinating yet, at times rather frightening, because there was often another side to their strangeness.
The first who made a great impression on me was undoubtedly 'Billy Sticks', who usually stood at the infamous Burton's Corner (where prostitutes were said to hang out).
Billy sold the 'Echo' and had a characteristically plaintive call. He was an emaciated man (hence the nickname) with long grubby mac and an inevitably disgruntled expression.
He is the subject of two of my earlier poems and also the writer Grahame Davies (once a reporter at the local paper, now lackey of the Crown) has an interesting story about how he once tried to save Billy from being attacked and was set upon himself.
On one occasion Billy ended up in Court after he was accused of pleasuring himself in front of several elderly ladies on their way to chapel. The judge appreciated double entendre and gave him an 'absolute discharge'! Few bought his papers again.
One of the other memorable characters was 'Omo' or 'Daz', a gypsy from the equally infamous Bogey Road, where he lived surrounded by old slag-heaps. His photo - superbly captured by Al Jones - is on the cover of my book of fiction 'Child of Dust'.
He looked like Fagin but was, according to Al, a gentle man. He never washed and was always black as a miner come straight from the pit ; he nickname a classic example of Merthyr humour.
I often saw him down town, as I did another whose nickname eludes me. He was an ex-boxer and spent his days railing at passing traffic and challenging cars with his raised fists. Everyone said he'd suffered severe brain damage in the ring, but he is one of the many casualties of boxing not recalled, as our town glorifies its contribution. You have only to read the poems and stories of one of Merthyr's best ever writers Leslie Norris (himself an amateur boxer) to realise the tragic consequences of that brutal sport.
In later years, two characters stand out. I often saw Dezzy down the bus-station, where he was regularly collapsed on the floor. The place was his home and when vaguely sober it was obvious he had many friends there. He died lying down under its plasticky tubing and the cops tried to raise him, believing he was in another drunken stupor. I have written about him in my story 'Bus-station Clinic' (yet to be published).
The most colourful character in recent years was Dave.......call him 'Dress-up Dave' if you like. I believe he came up from Ponty and now spends his fancy days in Cardiff.
I've also written a couple of poems about him and his various guises. He once dressed as a policeman and was in deep conversation with real cops in the Arcade.
My wife and young daughter encountered him one time in Walter's Photographers dressed as Edward Hitchcock, the brother of the famous auteur! This was one of his most original.
I witnessed him as Crocodile DunDave, Mexican Dave , Dave Atlas (not a pretty sight!) and even Michael Jackson Dave. He always wore a label of explanation, even when it was obvious.
He seemed to fit perfectly into the 'barkin' atmosphere of Merthyr Tudful and his move to Cardiff was baffling.
In school, there were so many characters it seemed like every other person was larger than life.
One who made his presence felt had actually retired, yet still appeared on the supervision list. He was a well-known amateur inventor yet once wrote an entire exam out on a roll of wall-paper and held it up in front of the class!
He was renowned for not knowing the names of pupils he taught and one Parents' Evening decided to bring along the photos of classes and ask parents which children were theirs.
Another teacher used to teach half of Pink Floyd in their Cambridge days. He was a genial charmer outside the classroom, who sometimes turned into a psycho inside it. Once he kicked a boy called Ratty in the goolies as he lay on the floor and another time chased a pupil down the corridor brandishing a chair leg, only to stop and greet a colleague with 'Good morning, Robert!' in mid-pursuit.
A fantasist teacher was well-known for his incredible stories and I did manage to incorporate him into a poem, though I changed the context completely.
He regaled both staff and pupils with his remarkable exploits : how he had played cards underwater, his feet trapped in a Giant Clam, or how he'd stood on the wings of a plane and kept balancing there even after it took off.
Another teacher nicknamed 'Dick Bow Dai' was the epitome of this Jekyll & Hyde syndrome. A dapper man with an array of bow-ties, he had a serious drink problem. All his wit and good nature could turn in a second to vicious temper and he would hurl board-rubbers at pupils.
I particularly liked one older teacher who often wore black beret and wellies to school (a Geography teacher, of course!). She had a distinct aversion to germs and at times wore a surgical mask in class ; when pupils farted she would instantly deodorize them.
As time passed, teachers' tortures were banned and rightly so. However, the greyness of conformity presided over education and such characters sadly disappeared.
Our Open Mic. nights at The Imp in Pontmorlais have attracted a few along over the years: a renegade actor from 'Pobl y Cwm', Gerhard the bodhran-maker who once played with The Chieftains, Bartzman the prize heckler and, above all, the Pirate who turned up in full garb brandishing his harmonica (check him out on our Facebook page).
I'd spotted him down town earlier heading for the Civic Centre
and thought he was a distant cousin of Dress-up Dave.
He enlivened the evening, even if he did end up picking a fight with one of our regulars.
There's a newclear scientist
lives up Dowlais Top
oo knows wha's goin on
an there's a pirate,
a fully-fledged buccaneer,
walkin round ower town
there's a cannon up by Cyfarthfa
an ee sits astride it,
but ee int firin nothin
there's-a Council always yappin
bout the colour o bags f re-cyclin
an there's a pirate oo's watchin em
there's a trolley stuck in-a river,
Tai Kwando at-a Leisure Centre,
but ee int sailin or fightin
coz ee's buyin a cheapo cutlass
an a small inflatable parrot
from ower best Pound Shop
once stood 'gainst a well-known Tory,
ee knows the tewn o 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau'
an ow to ambush poetree
picks barneys with minin engineers,
leaves nex day soon as ee can ;
posh pirate leggin it f'r Englan'.