Who Shat?

10/18/2009

1 Comment

 
   'You can tell by what we carry that we come from Barry Town' we used to alter the words of the great Steely Dan to make them ones of pride at our town in Glamorgan, not the sneering condemnation of the place in upstate New York where songwriters Becker and Fagen attended school and which Roddy Doyle used for his Dublin trilogy. 'Barrytown people got to be from another world' was a mark of our importance, not the home of the Moonie sect!

   A place I  had always associated with holidays soon became identified with the world of work and vital friendships. With my mate Dave we headed every weekend for the Ship Hotel and afterwards the adjacent Fantasia disco, followed by the nightclubs of the Island.

   Apart from the Dan and Captain Beefheart, Bob Marley was in his ascendency and as we trudged ,or sometimes flew, across town and homeward bound,'My feet is my only carriage' would be our anthem. We got to see him at Ninian Park on a monsoon day, drunk on cider and playing footie with a flagon on the hallowed turf. We met Dave's schoolfriend Chalky White, top photographer for the then top music paper NME. Marley was superb despite the rain and sparse crowd. Whisperin' Bob Harris has described the vibes of violence coming from the terraces at that gig. What a load of Tosh ( Peter? )! The atmosphere was marvellous: at the end, I chanted out and another bloke replied with a 'Woy yoy yoy!'

   At the famous Memo (Memorial Hall) we saw bands like Deke Leonard's Iceberg and hung around a local group who modelled themselves on Cream. The lead guitarist indulged in very long solos, but was no Clapton. At their first ever gig in the Memo,sandwiches were provided and duly used as missiles by many of the audience to show their disgust. I don't think they ever did Manics though.

   After the revellry we inevitably ended up at Jim's Paradise restaurant, which opened till very late. Jim's was the gathering-place for all kinds of inebriates and dope-fiends and I once witnessed one punter ordering a plate of SpagBol only to collapse face-down into it. I don't think he was rescued either! One teacher I knew from Barry told me that Jim once accused him of not paying the week previously : to reinforce his warning he stabbed a large kitchen knife into the table, saying - 'You'll get that next time!' 

   In Barry I made some great friendships. Apart from Dave, fellow music fan and Bluebird, there was John who worked at the same garage and who was a Plaid Cymru supporter and socialist from the Valleys. Of similar politics and equally influential was Joan, who worked with me at a summer school teaching German school-pupils. Within a year, both died suddenly.
It was hard to accept.

   I also met fellow poet Tony Curtis and we briefly formed a Writers' Group. Tony was very generous and supportive and went on to publish my first poems and stories from his Edge Press.

   Every week I went to the local folk music club at The Railway Club. I had to write up events the following hungover day for the local paper and , amazingly, they only once rejected my copy as gibberish. Rod Tolchock was a regular there : one of the finest, forgotten singer-songwriters. Of course, that's not his real name, but I don't know what became of him after that, though I believe he went on to write poetry. Quite probably, he has re-emerged with a different pseudonym.

   This is a recent poem which refers to the closure of Merthyr pool due to an outbreak of a serious infection. It does malign Merthyr and Barry, but they're places I love for all their faults :-

                                          WHO  SHAT?

Who shat in our brandnew
all-purpose leisure pool?

There were suggestions
the disease could've come from abroad.
Two Councillors had recently
decided to join UKIP ;
when would others defect
(or should that be  defecate ?).

Nobody knows
the source of the faecal accident.
Kids still in nappies
regularly used it.
Someone after a very hot curry?

The one sure thing is
we've managed to re-create
the sensation of Porthcawl or Barry,
we've brought the seaside to the Valleys;
given the word float
a whole new dimension.

Whoever dumped their load
could indeed boost our tourism :
how about a Cholera Museum?
 
 
   'You can tell by what we carry that we come from Barry Town' we used to alter the words of the great Steely Dan to make them ones of pride at our town in Glamorgan, not the sneering condemnation of the place in upstate New York where songwriters Becker and Fagen attended school and which Roddy Doyle used for his Dublin trilogy. 'Barrytown people got to be from another world' was a mark of our importance, not the home of the Moonie sect!

   A place I  had always associated with holidays soon became identified with the world of work and vital friendships. With my mate Dave we headed every weekend for the Ship Hotel and afterwards the adjacent Fantasia disco, followed by the nightclubs of the Island.

   Apart from the Dan and Captain Beefheart, Bob Marley was in his ascendency and as we trudged ,or sometimes flew, across town and homeward bound,'My feet is my only carriage' would be our anthem. We got to see him at Ninian Park on a monsoon day, drunk on cider and playing footie with a flagon on the hallowed turf. We met Dave's schoolfriend Chalky White, top photographer for the then top music paper NME. Marley was superb despite the rain and sparse crowd. Whisperin' Bob Harris has described the vibes of violence coming from the terraces at that gig. What a load of Tosh ( Peter? )! The atmosphere was marvellous: at the end, I chanted out and another bloke replied with a 'Woy yoy yoy!'

   At the famous Memo (Memorial Hall) we saw bands like Deke Leonard's Iceberg and hung around a local group who modelled themselves on Cream. The lead guitarist indulged in very long solos, but was no Clapton. At their first ever gig in the Memo,sandwiches were provided and duly used as missiles by many of the audience to show their disgust. I don't think they ever did Manics though.

   After the revellry we inevitably ended up at Jim's Paradise restaurant, which opened till very late. Jim's was the gathering-place for all kinds of inebriates and dope-fiends and I once witnessed one punter ordering a plate of SpagBol only to collapse face-down into it. I don't think he was rescued either! One teacher I knew from Barry told me that Jim once accused him of not paying the week previously : to reinforce his warning he stabbed a large kitchen knife into the table, saying - 'You'll get that next time!' 

   In Barry I made some great friendships. Apart from Dave, fellow music fan and Bluebird, there was John who worked at the same garage and who was a Plaid Cymru supporter and socialist from the Valleys. Of similar politics and equally influential was Joan, who worked with me at a summer school teaching German school-pupils. Within a year, both died suddenly.
It was hard to accept.

   I also met fellow poet Tony Curtis and we briefly formed a Writers' Group. Tony was very generous and supportive and went on to publish my first poems and stories from his Edge Press.

   Every week I went to the local folk music club at The Railway Club. I had to write up events the following hungover day for the local paper and , amazingly, they only once rejected my copy as gibberish. Rod Tolchock was a regular there : one of the finest, forgotten singer-songwriters. Of course, that's not his real name, but I don't know what became of him after that, though I believe he went on to write ome poetry. Quite probably, he has re-emerged with a different pseudonym.

   This is a recent poem which refers to the closure of Merthyr pool due to an outbreak of a serious infection. It does malign Merthyr and Barry, but they're places I love for all their faults :-

                                          WHO  SHAT?

Who shat in our brandnew
all-purpose leisure pool?

There were suggestions
the disease could've come from abroad.
Two Councillors had recently
decided to join UKIP ;
when would others defect
(or should that be  defecate ?).

Nobody knows
the source of the faecal accident.
Kids still in nappies
regularly used it.
Someone after a very hot curry?

The one sure thing is
we've managed to re-create
the sensation of Porthcawl or Barry,
we've brought the seaside to the Valleys;
given the word float
a whole new dimension.

Whoever dumped their load
could indeed boost our tourism :
how about a Cholera Museum?
 
 
   National Poetry Day last Thursday and, from the viewpoint of media coverage, something of a non-event. The theme : 'Heroes and Heroines'. Poets not among them , it seems.

   To me, of course, every day is Poetry Day and at least here in Cymru our heroes and heroines are bards crowned and chaired at eisteddfodau. One newsreporter at the Poetry Society HQ told us that poets were reading there all day and also lots of young people (just to show that poetry isn't only for the ancients). To be fair, Simon Armitage was interviewed later and replied eloquently, explaining how poetry was something everybody could try, a genuinely democratic art.

   Almost all newspapers ( if they covered it at all) focussed on the poll of Britain's Top 10 Poets. Number One was T.S.Eliot for 'Cats' apparently ( never mind 'Four Quartets' or 'The Wasteland') : he was renowned for a hit musical. It was rather unsettling that most of the top ten were dead and Seamus Heaney didn't get a look in. Not-So-Famous Seamus all of a sudden.

   What you failed to get a sense of was the sheer plethora of events happening across the country : in schools, libraries, community centres and, in my case , a museum. I had the privilege of being poet-in-residence for the day at Big Pit mining museum near Blaenavon. It was tricky writing sonnets about pit-ponies underground with only the light of a miner's lamp, I can tell you.

   Actually, it entailed the writing of a single Big Big Pit Poem, a communal effort by many  Junior schoolchildren from Merthyr and Abertillery, unsuspecting members of the public who I press-ganged into contributing and staff ( some of whom are ex-miners). The result will be seen on the museum website -       www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/bigpit
   The great enthusiam of all those who contributed to the poem was truly inspiring. 

   Apart from this week, my best memories of Poetry Day are those spent on several occasions in Caerphilly Borough, taking part in their renowned whirlwind tour of schools.

   Four or five poets are involved and each visits up to six or seven schools throughout the borough during the day, doing readings and workshops. The whole thing usually begins with a mass Poetry Breakfast at one Junior school and ends with a get-together. The most memorable ending was a surreal beach party in Bargoed Library, which I wrote about in my poem 'On Bargoed Beach'. In Blackwood Comp. once , I found that I was visiting because I'd been won as a 'prize' by a pupil!

   The following is my most recent poem and I'm sure TV exec's will be ready and willing to respond -

                                STRICTLY MASTER-POETRY X FACTOR

Can't wait until
'Strictly Master-Poetry X Factor'
reaches our screens.

I'd have to prepare the perfect couplet
garnished with similes
in a sauce of reduced metaphor.

To construct  an elaborate villanelle
with those flourishes of structure
and all without a partner.

I'd have to make a sonnet sing
unerring in its lyricism,
in the manner of Shelley or Keats.

Out of my comfort zone,
I'd be challenged by a Masterbard
to produce a concrete poem for a Christmas card.

Then the Final, in front of those judges -
Heaney, Duffy and Armitage.
20 million viewers (six noughts more than a poetry reading);

to render a narrative ballad in terza rima
from the persona of the buried wife
of a mass murderer......who happened to come from Merthyr.

'What wonderful scansion!' would be the drool from Shamey.
'What mastery of rhyme!' the croon from Duffy.
Simon - for once not caustic - would proclaim me winner.
 
 
   Now that First Minister Rhodri Morgan is leaving (what a surprise!), it's time to look back on my career as a failed politician.

   I stood in the first election for the Senedd in May 1999, as candidate for the United Socialists in Merthyr and Rhymney. There was one major problem : we didn't actually exist!

   The group I was a member of were the Welsh Socialist Alliance, destined, of course , to become a major political force till it was hi-jacked by the SWP. We couldn't register under that name, so had to invent one. I stood for a fictional party : fitting for a story-writer.

   I stood against Alun Cox of Plaid Cymru, who even called himself a 'Welsh Socialist' in one official election poster and Labour's Huw Lewis, who has since been something of an absentee landlord (living in Penarth most of the time and sending his children to school there).

   Lewis was a rabid Blairite then, so the recent support of so-called leftie Jon Cruddas seems amazing. At one meeting, he accused me of 'living in cloud-cuckooland', but maybe that's closer to Merthyr than his residence. What has happened since - with Blair and Brown backing big business and the City and exacerbating the recession - makes my cuckooland a severe dose of reality to Lewis's monetarist advocacies.

   Looking back, I hardly campaigned from street to street and took little time off work. Retrospectively, I should have put much more into it.  Of my 580 votes, I often wonder how many mistook me for my namesake (who also lives in Heolgerrig), a former Labour activist.

   At the count, I delivered a brief speech calling for a Welsh Socialist Republic and was clapped by Plaid Cymru supporters. I wouldn't shake Lewis's hand afterwards. He has done so little for Merthyr. He has failed to campaign for an arts centre, preferring to call for a single theatre ( which never materialized). He has failed to fight against the scourge of opencast mining.

   Ludicrously, now he's joined the race for First Minister, the media suggest he is leftwing. His complete failure to oppose the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan (in fact, an apologist for the first one) was inexcusable. He has never advocated any genuine socialist solutions such as a nationalised Welsh railway network or been prominent in opposition to the selling off of social housing. In short, his left-of-centre posturing is sheer spin, like Alan Johnson at the Labour Conference evoking the ideas of Nye Bevan.

   Under Rhodri Morgan, there's no doubt the Senedd has enacted policies superior to those in England : on free prescriptions, student fees, abolition of SAT's and school league tables to name some.  However, we have not moved nearer a parliament with greater powers and there hasn't been a leftwing thrust based on ideals : where is the drive towards co-operatives, to get rid of fee-paying schools, to give Welsh equal status in all sectors, or to ensure the NHS serves everyone equally and cannot be by-passed by those who can pay?

   This is a poem I wrote a couple of years ago when Rhodri was at the height of his bungliness; two years back, for instance, he suggested that global warming might not be such a bad thing and when asked about Iraq on Question Time, he refused to give a view saying he had 'not looked at the issues'.

                            RHODRI IS A TREE-ALIEN

Rhodri Morgan really is
a Doctor Who tree-alien!
It's no accident
he was mistaken for one
when trying to enter the BBC.

How else do you account
for his mysterious absence
when war was declared on Iraq -
'I wasn't there!' he whined.
Well, now I can disclose
he was on his own planet
in immortal combat with a Time-Lord.

How else do you account
for his speech lauding
the benefits of global warming,
when his own constituency
could be covered in coral reefs?

And all those late or missing appointments
with Lizzy Windsor or to commemorate
the veterans : he was far away
in another galaxy trying to learn the words
of the Vulcan national anthem
(it's not the first time we've been run by an alien).  

     
 
 
   Now that First Minister Rhodri Morgan is leaving (what a surprise!), it's time to look back on my career as a failed politician.

   I stood in the first election for the Senedd in May 1999, as candidate for the United Socialists in Merthyr and Rhymney. There was one major problem : we didn't actually exist!

   The group I was a member of were the Welsh Socialist Alliance, destined, of course , to become a major political force till it was hi-jacked by the SWP. We couldn't register under that name, so had to invent one. I stood for a fictional party : fitting for a story-writer.

   I stood against Alun Cox of Plaid Cymru, who even called himself a 'Welsh Socialist' in one official election poster and Labour's Huw Lewis, who has since been something of an absentee landlord (living in Penarth most of the time and sending his children to school there).

   Lewis was a rabid Blairite then, so the recent support of so-called leftie Jon Cruddas seems amazing. At one meeting, he accused me of 'living in cloud-cuckooland', but maybe that's closer to Merthyr than his residence. What has happened since - with Blair and Brown backing big business and the City and exacerbating the recession - makes my cuckooland a severe dose of reality to Lewis's monetarist advocacies.

   Looking back, I hardly campaigned from street to street and took little time off work. Retrospectively, I should have put much more into it.  Of my 580 votes, I often wonder how many mistook me for my namesake (who also lives in Heolgerrig), a former Labour activist.

   At the count, I delivered a brief speech calling for a Welsh Socialist Republic and was clapped by Plaid Cymru supporters. I wouldn't shake Lewis's hand afterwards. He has done so little for Merthyr. He has failed to campaign for an arts centre, preferring to call for a single theatre ( which never materialized). He has failed to fight against the scourge of opencast mining.

   Ludicrously, now he's joined the race for First Minister, the media suggest he is leftwing. His complete failure to oppose the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan (in fact, an apologist for the first one) was inexcusable. He has never advocated any genuine socialist solutions such as a nationalised Welsh railway network or been prominent in opposition to the selling off of social housing. In short, his left-of-centre posturing is sheer spin, like Alan Johnson at the Labour Conference evoking the ideas of Nye Bevan.

   Under Rhodri Morgan, there's no doubt the Senedd has enacted policies superior to those in England : on free prescriptions, student fees, abolition of SAT's and school league tables to name some.  However, we have not moved nearer a parliament with greater powers and there hasn't been a leftwing thrust based on ideals : where is the drive towards co-operatives, to get rid of fee-paying schools, to give Welsh equal status in all sectors, or to ensure the NHS serves everyone equally and cannot be by-passed by those who can pay?

   This is a poem I wrote a couple of years ago when Rhodri was at the height of his bungliness; two years back, for instance, he suggested that global warming might not be such a bad thing and when asked about Iraq on Question Time, he refused to give a view saying he had 'not looked at the issues'.

                            RHODRI IS A TREE-ALIEN

Rhodri Morgan really is
a Doctor Who tree-alien!
It's no accident
he was mistaken for one
when trying to enter the BBC.

How else do you account
for his mysterious absence
when war was declared on Iraq -
'I wasn't there!' he whined.
Well, now I can disclose
he was on his own planet
in immortal combat with a Time-Lord.

How else do you account
for his speech lauding
the benefits of global warming,
when his own constituency
could be covered in coral reefs?

And all those late or missing appointments
with Lizzy Windsor or to commemorate
the veterans : he was far away
in another galaxy trying to learn the words
of the Vulcan national anthem
(it's not the first time we've been run by an alien).