-   I like wearin' red see, cos it's dead lucky! 
    -   How do you mean? We didn't do too bad in blue did we?..... F.A. Cup Final, Carling Cup Final and Play-off Finals.
    -   Yeah, but we didn't win, did we?
    -   So the only reason we've been doing well is cos of the red, right?
    -   Yeah, that and all the money them Malaysians have put in.......which they wouldn't of if we hadn't gone red.
   -   Where do you think that money comes from ?
   -   Malaysia?
   -   Uh.....loans , but! It's all borrowed and one day we'll have to pay it back with interest, just like Sam the Man. We still owe him millions, don't we? We might just have to name the bloody stadium after him to shut him up!
   -  Yeah, but when we get in the Premier.......
   -   No guarantee, but we'll have to spend even more on players just to avoid going straight back down.
   -   Just gettin' there......Imagine!
   -   I know, but all I'm sayin' is, don't get carried away......Anyway, how many of our true fans actually refuse to buy any red merchandise? Think about that! And those who boycotted the club completely...though I think that was over the top.
   -   Like Bellers said....it don't matter. We could play in pink, we'd still be Cardiff City.
   -   Yeah,  but he's a Liverpool fan, isn't he?

                                            *******************

   Standing at the summit of the Championship and I'm getting dizzy. Being top of the league is a rare luxury for Cardiff City.
   Even when we've been promoted in the past, we've tended to do it the hard way, with Play-offs and memories of Andy Campbell's cracker v. QPR at the Millennium.
   It's like staying above a brewery in Belgium ( which a friend once did!), breathing in the hoppy fumes and eagerly anticipating the next long draughts.
   Football is now about squads rather than teams and ours is undoubtedly
stronger than for years, with internationals like Kim and Cowie on the bench. Also, we've got players totally committed to the club, rather than loanees and a manager who is tactically flexible and a very good motivator.
   Of course, we're a bit fortunate that there are no teams , such as Norwich and Newcastle in recent years, who stand out as real challengers. Yet it's possible that teams with a lot of talent like Bolton and Blackburn could reinforce in the New Year and make the kind of mid-season leap Reading did last year.
   The other week I met a fan I've known for a long time and someone who has supported the club longer than me.
   'Have you been down at all?' he asked.
   I explained my stance on the ridiculous re-branding. I followed a club, not a brand, I told him.
   Even he was contemplating buying a half-season ticket, longing to be part of what could be a victorious and  historic season.
   I don't blame him. I wouldn't have missed what I've seen.
   The Bluebirds are still my team, as they are for many others!

                        ************************************

                                 O  BLUEBIRD!

They've taken down the pub sign
and it's now like the handle
of a large fork, all ready
for digging the grave.

Maybe a bluebird once flew
from a Music Hall song
out of a soprano's mouth
long before the white cliffs;

straight down the long shaft
of Tudor Street ,under the railway bridge
disturbing the fussy pigeons,
to settle on stone terracing.

Inscribed on so many bricks,
collected in so many fanzines :
'O Bluebird of Happiness!'
just like a ballad's name.

On the stands we still chant,
keeping it alive despite
the redness of the brand,
each breath an air-current upward.

       
 
 
   In my book of fiction 'Child of Dust' (Gomer), I included a story called 'No Ordinary House'. It is an unusual one for me : symbolic and surreal ; you might say Kafkaesque, except I had no intention of imitating that great author. 
   It tells of an artist who has all but given up his work. An integral part of his peculiar house is the well situated in the middle of it, down which he drops everything he creates, even his most rudimentary of sketches.
   This reminds me of a friend who was so discontented with every creation (painting or collage) , that he decided to black them all out.
   As a writer, it's possible to feel this quite often, even when I'm at my most prolific.
   The other week another poet said to me (he can often be brutally honest) - 'I've got good and bad news to tell you at the same time......My dad said he loved your book 'The Common Ground' ; trouble is, he said everything you've done since then has gone downhill by comparison.'
   Despite the fact that my first full-length collection was actually called 'The Common Land', I was simultaneously delighted and devastated.
   The delight came briefly ; the devastation lasted longer.
   Sometimes the seeming pointlessness of it all can hit home. Usually, when you receive royalty statements showing lack of sales.
   It can also be when you are asked to write poems which aren't used.
   Recently a relative requested one for her charity and simply never got back to me after I sent it ( was it that bad?).
   I wrote a poem for a Beatles tribute anthology and found it was too late, the editors had decided and not asked me to contribute anyway. Didn't they know I grew up with the Fab Four, singing along to every hit and playing my tennis racket guitar as I did so? Didn't they know that Lennon was my working-class hero?
   I had already been too late for the Bob Dylan anthology, so it was becoming a habit.
   If they ever do one on Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits or The Who, then I won't be fooled again!
   And then.....I was proposed as 'adopted poet' for an organization called Venture Wales.
   I couldn't find out much about them, but they seemed to be a 'not-for-profit' body funded by the Assembly. I duly sent them a poem about my young daughter making a rocket in her Science class......adventurous, experimental, bold and.......... it turned out, totally inappropriate as far as they were concerned.
   After a meeting with one of their chiefs ( an executive, I'd say) - during which we agreed to disagree on everything about Wales, including the round ball or the oval - I couldn't work out why they'd suggested me. 'A meeting of opposites' I was told, but it was more like Gerry Adams being asked to write a eulogy about Mrs Windsor ( mind.....after Martin McGuinness's meeting....).
   On the train back home I made up my mind to reject their offer, then immediately came up with an idea for a poem.
   It was about the kind of place I'd like to see in Merthyr and one I'd visit often, a restaurant which would also be a kind of arts centre. I wrote 'A Restaurant Called Ysbrydoli' and they rejected that as well, even though the tale it told - of a man who ventured forth into the chip-fat wastes of MacJungleland, to create an eating-place based on poetry, music and mushrooms of the non-hallucinogenic variety - did seem highly apt to me.
   Alongside these disappointments there was one success though, I have to admit, I wasn't optimistic about that either.
   Morlan is a multi-faith cultural centre in Aberystwyth and they asked me to write a poem about Christmas. It didn't have to be in the least religious, they assured me. This was a good thing, as my ideas tend not to have any Christian basis.
   The exhibition - which includes the following poem - finishes on December 21st. I'm quite surprised they accepted it, given the subject-matter.
   The character in the poem is quite 'barkin', as are many of the various characters from my next book, coincidentally entitled 'BARKIN!' 


                            
  

Presen  t  Myself

We’re gonna ave fun later

me an my new fren,

pull a cracker or two t’gether.

She’ve dressed up as Santa

got black stockins on er;

a presen t myself.

 

 

Int nobuddy  left,

I buried my on’y brother

an my sister thinks I’m weird.

My neighbours always say ello

an then I yer em larf.

 

 

My long mac angin,

my bobble at an spotty wellies

wha’ever the weather.

I yer them whisperin

through-a walls as I offer er

a leg o chicken.

 

 

‘Sylvie!’ I sayz, ‘yew are

the one I bin waitin for!’

I wuz always too shy b’fore,

my tongue trapped, rabbit

in a snare ; she shakes

er rubbery ips, got proper air.

 

 

My sister ad a doll once

er bes’ presen, it even cried.

I flung it out-a window,

‘Yew little bastard!’ the ol man yelled.

I wouldn urt Sylvie ,

she’s s soft an willin.

I lay er by-a Christmas tree.


  
 
 
   As a learner, my answer would be an emphatic 'Oes!' Not just because it's easier to say either.
   However, figures from the 2011 census would suggest the opposite, as the percentage of Welsh-speakers is slightly declining and it has become the minority language in the heartlands of Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.
   First Minister Carwyn Jones rightly pointed out that even young people educated through the medium of Welsh tend to use English outside school with their friends and that is a real cause for concern.
   I'd suggest that his Government have failed to be proactive enough in remedying this situation and , indeed, in producing a series of policies which promote Welsh.
   In terms of young people, it's absolutely crucial to engage them in committing to the language out of desire rather than compulsion.
   It may be difficult for some to accept, but one Welsh-speaker on TV, who had abandoned the language, was correct in his assessment.
    It's a fact that too many schools operate punitive measures when pupils speak English. These are totally counter-productive and only add to pupils' rebellion against the system and their elders.
   Instead of punishment, schools must instead offer incentives to those who regularly employ Cymraeg. Above all, they must emphasize constantly that a young and vibrant culture exists in Welsh.
   It's no use confining Welsh culture to Urdd Eisteddfodau and trips to Llangrannog and Glanllyn. Pupils need far more opportunities to meet Welsh authors and artists, see contemporary drama, listen to scientists and be open to Welsh music from roots and rock to classical.
   The songs of Meic Stevens and the Super Furries should be as much part of their lessons as the novels of T. Llew Jones are now.
   S4C must appeal to young people (both fluent speakers and learners) as a matter of urgency. Contemporary and exciting  dramas are fundamental to this, as are programmes covering sport and music in a topical, entertaining manner.
   The teaching of Welsh in English language schools must be treated far more seriously. At present, it's too often a sop.
   In Primary schools there must be a mass re-training of teachers, so they become proficient in Welsh and then a move to make it essential in the Education departments of our universities. In far too many instances, only a few teachers bother to teach it properly.
   In Secondaries, Welsh needs to be shown not just as a living language, but one which can be used regularly in future employment. Too often it is regarded as peripheral to the curriculum and, in some schools, constitutes only  half a GCSE, along with subjects like RE.
   The Urdd, together with Menter Iaith, should channel more energy and resources ( as they did years ago) into promoting youth culture.
   I'd like to see a revival of the gigs they used to organise to bring Welsh-speakers together in social environments. Too many current events are stuffy and conservative.
   In terms of everyday use of Welsh, a very basic yet vital aspect would be the wearing of the red 'C' badge by every Welsh-speaker in their workplaces.
   In shops, pubs, banks etc, it would be extremely helpful to both speakers and learners and the Assembly Gov. could offer awards to businesses who encouraged this scheme.
   One of the most important changes should be in the heartlands themselves .
   Ed Miliband talks about the mistakes of his party in the past, when they failed to realise that ghettos would be created when immigrants haven't had the opportunities to learn English.
   It is equally applicable to the heartlands of Wales and the Assembly Gov. must encourage all those moving to these areas to attend lessons and courses in Cymraeg. Again, it should be a matter of incentives and not compulsion.
   If Welsh is to thrive, then the private sector must come on board. They have generally failed to do so voluntarily, therefore the Assembly Gov. must try to pass a law as soon as possible to ensure they become entirely bi-lingual.
   If this is vetoed by Westminster, then that will send out a clear signal that they are not committed to the future of the language.
   Though the census was depressing about the future of Welsh in parts of Wales, it was encouraging in others and places like Casnewydd/Newport show that Cymraeg (like that old lager advert) can reach parts it never had before.
   Moreover, the statistic that two-thirds of our people now regard themselves as Welsh before British is most heartening. This seems astonishing when you think of this year's unprecedented propaganda, with the flag-flaunting fervour of the Jubilympics.
   There's no doubt that possessing an Assembly with distinctive policies has helped greatly in this sense of a separate identity. In the face of a Tory -Liberal Gov. from London, Welsh Labour have revelled in this. However, should Miliband be elected in future, I wonder if - with his 'One Nation' brand - they would be able to maintain this.
   As a learner, I meet many others - young, old, Welsh and English - with similar aspirations. We may not agree politically ( some are pro-monarchy), but we all agree on one thing : 'Mae Cymraeg yn byw!' ( 'Welsh lives!).

   This is a fairly recent poem I wrote in Welsh , then translated non-literally, into English.


Y  LLYFRGELL YM MHARGOD / BARGOED  LIBRARY


 

Capel o geiriau,

cynulleidfa o lyfrau


y seddau gyda’u cefnau galed ;

weithiau, dyma’r ysgrythur newydd


piben yr organ ond dim swn,

cerddoriaeth yn y brawddegau ym mhobman


llechen yw’r  cyfrifiadur :

chiliwio am y gwirionedd yna


mae’r drws ar agor i bawb nawr,

meddyliau yn eistedd yn lle y cor.


           ********************************


 

Chapel of words,

congregation of moods

 

the pews with their hard backs ;

new scriptures sometimes stacked

 

organ pipes yet no sound,

music from sentences all around

 

tablet of the computer :

searching for truth there

 

you’ll find an always open door,

your thoughts can sit in place of the choir.


 
 
   Not as if I'm a fan of 'Strictly...' Not like I'm one to get up  and bop at any family occasions.
   After all, I was the one crashed out on the floor at the disco clutching my bottle of the cheapest plonk. A right plonker, you might say!
   Yet, a secret : I like to dance in private to music I love and have even devised a stealthy long stride to John Cale's moody 'Midnight Feast'.
   And three songs about dancing feature among my favourites of the last couple of years. All very different, but extraordinary in their own ways.
   Before these, not many dancing songs made an impact.
   The first was definitely 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' by Procol Harum, with it's 'skip a light fandango' : a strangely surreal scene.
   The only other I can recall is one of the best ever out of Wales, 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?' from Racing Cars, a Valleys' band. This was based an an equally excellent film about a dance competition which becomes a struggle for survival; a microcosm of social Darwinism.
   Three  mostly contrasting songs which share a theme, by three of the songwriters I most admire.
   The first is 'Sweet Dancer' from last year's Waterboys' album 'An Appointment With Mr Yeats'. How this album failed to make the Mercury Prize shortlist is beyond me : it's one of the finest of the century.
   As a poem 'Sweet Dancer' works because of certain lines, but as a song Mike Scott has raised it to another plane because of the engaging melody, his vocals together with those of Irish indie singer Katie Kim and the swirling fiddle-playing of Stevie Wickham.
   It focuses on one moment perfectly, as a solitary, rather crazy girl dances on a manicured lawn, outside a house where we presume her feelings have been repressed.
   The emotional weight of the song is also in its address. The singer makes a direct plea to the listener to 'let her dance' and 'lead' those men ' astray' who would stop her.
   The chorus simply repeats the phrase 'Oh, sweet dancer!' so we identify totally with her, especially as her dance seems so individual and, above all, precarious.
   Things have happened in her life to mean that only through this Isadora Duncan-style free expression can she show her true feelings. Yet those men are clearly threatened by her movements on the immaculate lawn.
   The exchange of vocals between Scott and Kim mean that the voices of both poet and girl are evident and give the song more subtlety than the poem itself.
   The second song is outwardly similar, though musically continents apart. Neil Young's 'She's Always Dancing' is from his latest album 'Psychedelic Pill'.
   Like Yeats' poem, Young's song is also about one girl who finds liberty and inspiration through dance.
   Instead of a single moment however, it's as though her whole life is encapsulated in her desire to dance.
   Musically, the song could've come from almost any of his Crazy Horse offerings down the years. He has obstinately refused to move on and, because much of this album is looking back on his hippy past ( with no sense of shame, I'm glad to say), it's fitting there are so many echoes of classics like 'Hurricane'.
   The girl dances to release herself from the rules of society and to become innocent again. It epitomises the best of the 'hippy spirit', that idealism which Young regrets we have lost and which he expressed with such righteous indignation in songs like 'Ohio'.
   Her dance makes her into a kind of shaman, giving her contact with the forces of Nature. The fire imagery which becomes more important as the song progresses only stresses this elemental , pagan atmosphere.
   Like the girl in 'Sweet Dancer', she 'lives in her own world', yet appears in control and full of power, unlike the vulnerability of Yeats' dancer.
   Young is very much the observer, the admirer : paying homage with his gliding, floating, soaring, seering guitar.
   John Cale's 'Face To The Sky' is from his latest 'Shifty Adventures From Nookie Wood', his best album since 'Fragments Of A Rainy Season'. This song is far more ambitious, both musically and lyrically.
   On the face of it, it's not about dancing at all, though the video shows dancer Freya Jeffs gyrating gently on a large chessboard.
   Yet Cale has managed to convey the gradual development from stasis to movements, stirred both by the present situation of 'homecoming laughter' and a  journey into the girl's mind , with her memories of  'wild men standing still'.
   In keeping with Cale's religious tendencies, this is very zen. She becomes empowered and can 'hold back the fears in the wind'. It's as if she throw off her burdens and achieves a meditative state.
   The music is multi-layered and mysterious as words themselves : quick-stepping drum beats, Eastern patterns of keyboards, synth chords crashing and bass-lines like the amplified sounds of her feet slapping a surface. Cale's voice like the echo of a cello.
   This is the most intriguing of the songs, though I like them all for various reasons.

   Sometimes dance can be communal rather than individual and my poem below describes how vital it is to the culture of Brittany.


                                    DANCE  FESTIVAL, BREIZH

Festival on a platform
at the edge of the cliffs
in Breizh : sea sounds
and salt smells joining hands.

Each village, each town
a costume and a band :
bombardes, pipes and drums
like waves over sand.

Till performers and audience are one
like Stivell once in Cardiff
raised on shoulders down Queen Street :
folk of the paving-stones.

Families and dancers in lace,
men in shorts and women in bonnets
all linked by small fingers :
with tide's rhythm and sun's pace.
 
 
   It has been another week of appalling flooding and the people of north east Wales have felt the impact more than most.   The city of St. Asaph was turned into a lake overnight and other places such as Ruthin were severely hit. In St. Asaph , 91 year-old Margaret Hughes was drowned in her own home ; another tragedy after those in the West Country, which included a rough-sleeper killed when a tree fell on her.
   What I found terrifying was the footage of the beautiful village of Llanfair Talhaiarn being overcome by the force of the River Elwy at night-time. It was nightmarish : like the subconscious emerging to become reality, with the river bursting its banks and breaking through defences.
   It was saddening to see residents packed into Leisure Centres. Surely in a civilised society they could foot the bill for people to stay in hotels and guest houses? When it comes to war, they soon find the money!
   Ruthin's Glasdir Estate was affected very badly, with 400 evacuated. Built three years ago and marketed before that by the WDA as a prime site, it's no wonder they felt bitter and cheated.
   The whole estate was built on a floodplain, yet they were assured that protection was in place and there was a one in a thousand chance of flooding!
   First Minister Carwyn Jones visited these communities, as did Environment Minister John Griffiths. Jones was the only serving politician I heard mention global warming, yet his own government must take a responsibility.
   The Welsh Assembly Gov. have failed to stop the increasing use of opencast methods of mining coal for power stations like Aberthaw and so are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming.
   The only solution is for Cymru to take complete control of its resources through nationalisation and co-operatives. In that way, our energy policy can be planned and determined and prices kept at reasonable levels.
   As I've argued previously, we need a totally different form of nationalisation, with elected management and decision-making which includes consumer representatives. It must be non-hierarchical and have little resemblance to the old form, which was modelled on autocratic private enterprise.
   We can no longer call these awful floods of winter and summer mere natural disasters : they are all part of a wider environmental demise.
   As the Jet Stream moves southwards with ice-caps melting, sea levels and temperatures rise and we can fully expect these floods to be far more regular and serious.
   There is no power without ownership and just as the purely Nationalist solution fails to take this into account by offering no real socialist alternatives, so the Green one is still based on the delusion that capitalism will somehow deliver if you put pressure on it.
   An Energy Cymru could operate both centrally and in a highly devolved fashion : planning and executing large hydro-electric schemes for instance, while backing solar and wind farms owned and run by local co-operatives.
   Housing ( call it 'council' or 'social') must be a priority; not only with grants for insulation and solar panels, but with new houses built fully insulated and sustainable.
   To built up barriers, bail out the wealthy insurance brokers and then back fossil fuel answers is sheer hypocrisy, and WAG as well as Cameron are guilty of it.

                            ***********************

    For many years, flooding and its aftermath have haunted my imagination.
   When I first came to Merthyr we had one year of extremely bad flooding and one resident of the old Rhydycar cottages (which looked nothing like they do now in St. Fagan's) died as a result. In my first collection 'The Common Land', there's a poem about it.
   However, my latest novella for teenagers 'The Climbing tree' focuses on this issue throughout and ,recently, I used the book as background to write a 'Letter From The Future' for the Sustainable Wales website www.sustainablewales.org.uk
   I was asked to do so by fellow writer and green activist Rob Minhinnick, who is one of the forces behind that organisation.
   We had a short debate about the date of my letter, as he wanted it placed in the next century.
   I decided on 2084. I'm not trying to claim any great comparison with Orwell here, but in my view the events of the recent weeks have borne out my choice. Unless we act urgently....
   I realise now that two songs shaped my imagination when I wrote 'The Climbing Tree' and my short 'Letter' from 2084, though this is retrospective awareness : two very different interpretations of the same theme.
   The first is Randy Newman's 'Louisiana', which was prophetic when you think of what happened in New Orleans many years later.
   It is from the viewpoint of a person caught up in the floods, who has suffered greatly as it 'Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time , / Six feet of water on the streets of Evangeline..' It also shows the cynicism
of the character as he describes the patronising response of President Coolidge.
   Peter Gabriel shares with Newman an uncanny ability to inhabit many different persona and in 'Here Comes The Flood' there's a dystopian world with a flood of almost Biblical proportions.
   The character takes a similar route to my character Oz in the book and 'Letter', though Oz doesn't actually appear in both ; he is revered and spoken about.
   Here, however, he describes the beginning of his strange journey......

                                            OZ'S     TALE

Trudging down valley against the current
but with the gradient, along the ridges
against the tide of flood-refugees.

Is it a kind of madness moves me?
I am no saint. The constant rain
sludging the paths, dragging me down ;

the drench-damp seeps into bones,
hollow pipes ready for bursting,
my head is the only dam.

I meet them : families, couples, singles
who have lost everything, some
who have even lost themselves;

aiming towards Mynydd Gobaith
where they believe there'll be light
and the storms will finally cease.

I always think of my comrades,friends,
those taken to the trees, bird-people
with claw-feet but still no flight.

Ahead, the cities and the towns
(what remains above the rising),
searching for cries and hands in the drowning.