' It's a total waste o money!' he declared to a friend opposite, who nodded agreement.
'Ow cun the Council spend all tha money on a ewseless thing like tha? It's problee funded by Ewrop!'
He was commenting on a sculpture/memorial near Butetown, Rhymney, which I have interpreted in the poem below.
Of course, the £180.000 spent on it could have been put towards hospitals or schools, but why not cut needless jobs like school inspectors or headmasters and save that way?
Instead, councils of whatever hue - from Labour Brent busy closing most of its libraries, to Plaid Cymru Caerphilly which has recently got rid of the excellent Schools Library Service - are carrying out the ConDem cuts with little consideration for the longterm future of the arts.
There's no name on that sculpture, nor does it say who created it; but google it and you'll find it's called 'Simnai Dirdo' (Twisted Chimney) and was made by famous New York sculptor Brian Tolle. Every time I pass it fires my imagination, changing its meaning according to the angle it's seen. Like the best of art, it can alter people's consciousness forever, if you really look closely.
I'd like to have replied to that man - 'Look and you'll see........and if you don't see at first, keep looking!'
This has been a week to focus on the arts in Merthyr. Over a week ago I appeared on the Radio Wales Arts Show presented by Nicola Heywood-Thomas and this was the topic. All three of us in the studio: novelist Des Barry. Prof. Dai Smith and myself agreed that not only is the future much brighter for the arts here, but that a great deal of talent exists.
We were optimistic despite the inevitable vox pops which expressed views like - 'There's nothin t do yer!' and ' Ev'rythin appens in Cardiff!'
How wrong they are! Theatr Soar offers a full and eclectic programme of events in both Welsh and English and the anticipated opening of the Old Town Hall in Spring 2013 will give the town another dimension. I would like to see a first class exhibition space there, a cinema giving alternatives to the Hollywood production-line and a bar (selling real ale, of course) with a performance area for local bands, singer-songwriters and poets.
October 20th in Merthyr Tudful gave just one indication of the vitality of literature especially, in a town with such a strong literary tradition.
It began with the first Young People's Literature Festival held at the Soar and adjacent Canolfan. As this was my brain-child some months ago, I was particularly pleased to see it come to fruition.
This was down to the Committee and notably the really hard work of Louise Richards of LitWales. A much longer festival was envisaged with months of workshops culminating in a final performance and anthology of pupils' work. Indeed, this could still happen in future, though it may not be in Merthyr.
The day began well when local AM and Assembly Minister Huw Lewis pulled out of his short introduction as one of his children was unwell. This was fortuitous, as I might have been tempted to heckle him with - 'Did you find your way up from Penarth?'
Renowned writer and illustrator Jez Allborough kicked off the day ( after the usual stirring intro from Phil Carradice) with an entertaining session. His work is aimed at much younger children than those present and I felt that Welsh writing for that age-group ( Years 6 & 7) should've been spotlighted, especially as newly-appointed Children's Laureate Catherine Fisher was present.
Six schools attended (four English and two Welsh language) and pupils were very enthusiastic and responsive throughout. Most of the writers concentrated on their own work at workshops, while some got the children writing poetry. Many books were sold and signed and the entire day was undoubtedly a success.
All this was not covered by the local paper, nor was the evening launch at The Imperial Hotel of Mike Williams's first poetry collection 'The Acolytes', a very good publication from Mulfran Press.
Mike's may be a Pontypool boy originally, but he is an adopted literary son of Merthyr, having appeared in anthologies produced by the Council's Arts Officer Gus Payne and become a regular at our Open Mic. session at The Imp.
Mike's reading and explanations were fascinating. After a long and distinguished career as a scientist he began writing poetry in 1992, inspired by visits to Ty Newydd. It was fitting he should launch the book among friends and supporters.
One day in Merthyr doesn't prove we have a cultural renaissance. However, it is a beginning and shows that despite the doom and gloom of cuts and unemployment, there are positive developments in the Valleys.
THE CHIMNEY SNAKE
Thick twist of brick-look steel
close by the roadside,
no name defining
and nobody makes a claim.
The geometry of it,
sharp lines turning light!
It's a curved chimney
with a door never opened.
It's a snake, venom gone,
its head emerging
a plinth for anyone.
If you could enter,
if only you had the key :
full of soot and ash
from terraces, furnaces, collieries.