Mountain above Ton Pentre
You pass through the Valleys on the A470 en route to the picturesque Brecon Beacons.
You briefly admire the ironmaster's castle at Cyfarthfa from the Expressway and cannot fail to notice the 'Arches', or Cefn viaduct.
You may even head to one of our few designated tourist destinations such as Big Pit, the Civil War manor house of Llancaiach Fawr or the Rhondda Heritage Museum.
Once there was a Cowboy Village at the end of the Rhondda, but it disappeared with the gunsmoke into glooming clouds over the Rhigos.
Once there was a dry ski-slope near Merthyr, which was supposed to be a wet one ( as in snow from a machine); that too melted overnight.
There's still a Climbing Centre near Bedlinog, but the proposed white water rafting course never materialised and now, of course, there's one in Cardiff Bay.
If you go walking you head for Pen-y-fan, so you can say -' I've done that one!'
The Valleys are all slag-heaps and pit villages with no point left to them.
When I used to teach in Cardiff this was the prevalent attitude. People from the Valleys are supposedly parochial, as opposed to cosmopolitan Cardiff.
On the contrary, most Cardiffians knew very little about the Valleys, so I took pleasure in reminding them that their city was built on the very coal which came from our communities.
Rare exceptions were cyclists who used the Taff Trail, but found that, like most cycle tracks in Wales, this one too often merged into town and village.
In terms of cycling we could learn from England and the likes of Barnstaple and Wadebridge, where the tracks are almost entirely independent and bike hire is reasonably priced and freely available.
Walking is something that we need to publicise far more widely, as there exists innumerable interesting ones throughout the Valleys. Thanks to Taith Bevan I have experienced three of these in the last few weeks.
Never mind Coastal paths and National Parks, our own Valleys are a wealth of walking possibilities.
Above Mountain Ash is the hamlet of Llanwynno ( although I'm not sure what defines a 'hamlet', except I once smoked them!). We went on a long hike in a circle which took in a stream called Sychnant which was anything but 'sych' (dry) and the waterfall of Pistyll Goleu (nothing to do with 'pissing', but a little spout nevertheless).
This is the ideal walk because you begin and end at the Brynffynon pub and can toast the local legendary runner Guto Nyth Bran with a pint of the best real ale, after a seven mile trek. There are shorter routes, of course.
The next weekend, we three intrepid explorers set off to conquer the mountain above Ton Pentre. Sherpa Jamie Bevan took the lead, followed by the music-man himself Andrew Bartz, balancing on the uneven stones and myself taking up the rear and surreptitiously mainlining chocolate biscuits.
This was more difficult than the sheltered conifers of Llanwynno, as we headed upward onto boggy moorland and a huge cloud. I had never experienced such a weird weather sensation of fog and strong wind at the same time.
We carried on walking and landmarks of car-park and lake had been mysteriously lifted. We would've continued till we reached Cardigan Bay had I not suggested veering left towards the forest to begin our descent.
Amazingly, we arrived back at Ton at the point where the instructions specified and a welcome 'paned o de' at a local caff. With perfect timing, the rain came tampin' down just as we made our way back to the car.
My favourite hike - though one I'm still recovering from several weeks later - was the circular route down from the Rhigos (between Hirwaun and Treherbert) ,into Blaencwm at the very head of the Rhondda Fawr and back up to the Rhigos again.
Taith Bevan excelled with this one and not once did we stray, except to ask a fella in Blaencwm, who gave us several alternatives routes.
This walk took in all the varied Valleys' landscapes in one.
At the top of the Rhigos were carefully placed flowers where someone had a fatal accident. This mountain is renowned locally for its micro-climate and can be very dangerous for drivers.
Downward , we passed the remarkably preserved Stone Age settlement of Hen Dre'r Mynydd, with its remains of circular stone dwellings. Our path was often blocked by rusted car chassis and we debated whether they were there because of accidents or whether joyriders had torched and pushed them over the edge. We were glad it was a quiet Sunday!
After Blaencwm, there was a steep walk up to the high ridge overlooking the village: it took us past waterfalls in full flow. At the summit there's a Man U. flag and a plastic memorial to somebody's Taid (grandad).
Down into the forest and we thought we'd spied our first sheep of the three walks (so much for cliches!). They turned out to be beautiful mountain goats; the Billy goat looking rather menacing with his large, sharp horns.
'Don't stare 'em in the eyes! ' I suggested,' just like we were in the Wyndham!'
Finally, upward on a knee-cracking, heart-bursting path beside a fast-flowing stream, disturbing a heron which gracefully flew away doing its pterodactyl impersonation.
We'd seen the huge gap in the hillside left by the mine which once gave Blaencwm its sole purpose.
There's an equally large gap in the experiences of many in Cymru, myself included.
I know programmes like 'Weatherman Walking' have sought to remedy this ; but the Valleys are all too easily dismissed with stereotypes and cliches.
I would like to thank Taith Bevan and Balancin' Bartz for three fascinating journeys into the unknown........and for getting us home without recourse to the emergency services!
They worshipped at the Shrine of Plastic
before pushing cars off the edge,
torched and burnt before they somersaulted
down the steep slope and now only crows
pick insect offerings in rusted hulks.
Red Devils' flag flapping on the summit
of the ridge, waving like the young boy
taken before his climb ; black plastic lettering
of TAID overlooking the valley houses
running like channels coastward.
In the forest, making pledges of peace
to a herd of goats white as stream-surge,
the Billy's butting horns axe-like,
returning to pupiled stones of Hen Dre'r Mynydd,
carried out of time by wild sights.
The usual suspects in Merthyr precinct
The Red Poets did our first benefit for a good while last Wednesday at The Blast Furnace pub in Pontlottyn, an anti-opencast event organised by UVAG ( United Valleys Action Group).
Along with musicians Huw Pudner/ Chris Hastings and Merthyr's own Jamie Bevan we were delighted to show our support and help raisefunds for the cause.
It is vital that proposals to carry out opencast mining locally are resisted as strongly as possible so they are jettisoned forever. There's no future in fossil fuels and the air and noise pollution which are a consequence of these vast sites are intolerable. The proven incidence of asthma and lung diseases in areas close to the opencasting only reinforces the argument.
In the newspeak of the company behind it Miller Argent (and now Merthyr Council as well), all this is merely 'land reclamation'. But the land, once dug up, can never be reclaimed by the forces of Nature which existed there.
Years of strip-mining (as they term it in The States) and extension after extension leave a massive whole to be filled in : the wildness is banished and eventually replaced by a plasticky surface, a mockery of grass.
After 20 years of existence Red Poets is still going strong and Wednesday night provided the perfect platform for the return of local lass Sian Roberts (on top form), old-timers like Tim Richards with his signature poem 'Fuck 'Em' and youngsters like Josh Allen and Tom Rickarby who've only recently joined the throng.
Red Poets invariably thrive at such venues, working-class pubs with no pretensions.
As Sian Roberts rightly said in her intro. , ours is a poetry for the people by the people, not an elitist art-form which tries to be deliberately obtuse.
That's not to say we don't have variety : from Julie Pritchard's poem- and- song to John Williams' street couplets and Mike Church's up-to-date take on Dylan Thomas, there are many contrasts.
Much of the evening was filmed by Debbie Price who , along with other members of UVAG like Jim Davies and Dave Green showed what a talented group they are.
MC for the night was another member Alun Roberts, who has contributed a great deal to Red Poets over the years, including the power of his stapler to put together issue number 1 , after the printers failed to deliver.
It was great to be doing a benefit and I hope we can do more in future. In the past we have supported the Liverpool dockers, anti-poll tax union and Cymru-Cuba.
We missed our regular heckler Andrew Bartz and wish Jazz would return with his earth-quaking 'Giro City'.
Another invaluable poet down the years has been John 'Maesycymmer' Davies, sadly confined to a wheelchair for a number of years and we have all missed his rollicking humour and p-ing into the microphone.
This is the busiest time for Red Poets I can recall and we're so grateful to the singer-songwriters who join us, Huw and Chris and Jamie and Barry Taylor.
On February 18th we return to Clwb-y-bont in Pontypridd, with Jamie Bevan doing some songs as well. On March 12th we are at Newport doing an Open Mic. at Stow Hill.
On April 25th we are being let out of Cymru for the first time (unless you count Hay!) and the border guards have been warned! We are performing at The Bird's Nest pub in Deptford, London where exhibitions by John Williams and Gus Payne will also feature on the walls. A chance for our contingent across the border , such as Owen Gallagher and Alan Hardy, to come along and read.
At the Imperial Hotel in Merthyr on June 5th, as part of the Dic Penderyn events, we are lauching the very first collection of poetry by Tim Richards, 'Subversive Lines'. This will consist of the poems which have appeared in the magazines for every issue except the first one, plus some new ones.
And all this leading up to the launch of issue 20 at The Imp once again, in late September.
I'd say we are unique, not just to Cymru, but to Europe. Expect not to see us at the Hay Festival or on the pages of the NWR. Expect instead to see us at The Imp and in the 'Morning Star'.
People who think we benefit from being a part of this Disunited Kingdom should take a look around Merthyr, my home town. Once the deep mines and ironworks and almost every other manufacturing industry had gone, we have been left like a colony, abandoned. We're on crutches, hobbling from pawnbroker to Pound Shop, from Food Bank to Charity.
The Boomdays never happened here and, with all the Cuts, we've never been more Bust :-
NO BOOM, JUST BUST
Never seen a Boom in Merthyr
we've only ever seen Bust ;
Government stats say it's getting better
as we scrabble for a crust.
We'll be back to searching
for lumps of coal on the hillsides ;
Pound and Charity shops and Pawnbrokers
are the ones who thrive.
Get a job in the Retail Park,
get a zero contract or minimum wage,
stats claim there's loads of work........
you'll have to move to London to live.
They've cut all the benefits
like lopping off our limbs
and next come the Council cuts
making our brain-cells rust.
Cameron and Osbourne claim it's improving
and they've got the numbers to prove it ;
tricking us with figures like loan sharks,
while debts are screaming the opposite.
Marina Towers Observatory, Swansea
A week of mourning : two great men of the left and of peace have died, but I'm sure their impact will be lasting.
One, Pete Seeger, the inspirational American folk-singer and campaigner has rightly had international coverage while the other - a key figure in Welsh literature - was Nigel Jenkins who died aged 64 from cancer.
Though Nigel's death has hardly had a mention outside his beloved Cymru , I hope this will be rectified in years to come, as his work is fully acknowledged.
We had so much in common, apart from the surname and the fact that many editors confused us, so I did have poems taken just because they thought I was him!
When we both met the great Scots Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean many years ago I explained to him the difference between us - ' I am the Welsh Socialist Republican and he's the Welsh Republican Socialist!' I elucidated.
We both played blues harp, though Nigel was much more professional, wearing his harmonica belt around his waist with many keys, while I stuck with the trusted old E.
We shared a love of John Cale's music, though Nigel's preceded mine and I recall his very interesting review of Cale's album 'Words For The Dying' in 'Arcade' magazine in the 90s. Only later did I manage to catch up with his comprehensive collection of Cale and, even then, he possessed 'La Naissance d'Amour' , an album I couldn't get hold of and which, according to Malcolm Lewis in 'Planet' (another Caleite) was one of his finest ever.
Nigel was, like myself, an officianado of 'tidee beer', real ale that is. It's typical of him that one of his poems in 'Poems For A Welsh Republic' (which Red Poets brought out in Jubilee year) condemned Britain as 'a moribund weak beer monarchy'........even if it's less true today, with the proliferation of superb micro-breweries.
Like him I had my own foray into journalism as pop/ rock correspondent for the early 'Wales On Sunday', a broadsheet he helped fashion with John Osmond. He was far more experienced in this field however and played a key role in the pioneering left nationalist magazine 'Radical Wales'.
We even met up at a job interview where we were both candidates (his last post as director of creative writing at Swansea Uni.). When they asked me about journalism I knew I didn't stand a chance but, meeting Nigel as I was leaving, I realised that he did. He went on to do a wonderful job, inspiring so many students.
He was always an organiser and motivator and I remember him asking me to do a reading at a pub in Salubrious Passage ,off Wind Street . It was packed and buzzing and he had the excellent idea of inviting along Writers' Groups to perform their work, whilst also having a guest or two. It was this format that I used as a model for our successful Open Mic. nights in Merthyr, which have been going for over 5 years now.
I agreed totally with his commitment to a poetry which could take on almost any form or style, from haiku to satire, and from free-form to rhyme.
Some of his fascinating space poems can be found on the Marina Towers Observatory in Swansea Bay ( photo at the start of this blog). If you are ever that way, it's so rewarding to go there and soar upwards with his imagination.
As well as four poems in 'Poems For A Welsh Republic', he had three in the very first issue of what was then 'Red Poets' Society' and these can be read on our website - www.RedPoets.org
We were both 'dysgwyr' and the importance of Cymraeg throughout his work is clear. In 'Hotel Gwales' for example, there are a number of translations from contemporary Welsh language poetry, including his friends Menna Elfyn and Iwan Llwyd.
He was a committed man of Swansea, a proud 'Jack', though we never discussed the footie. His views on sport (especially rugby) were quite cynical and he saw the donning of national identity for a day as rather pathetic. It was, to him, part of the shallowness of Welsh identity.
Unlike myself, he was a party man , though never one to tow the Plaid Cymru line. As he was a local member I was so grateful for the tremendous support he gave to my daughter Bethan ( the AM for his constituency). He totally empathised with her politics and could fully understand the way she had been treated.
He possessed the barbed wit of a Harri Webb, the lyricism of a Dylan and the gentleness of Vernon Watkins.
His poem 'Advice To A Young Poet' is a must for all aspiring writers. It finishes with , ' but a poem's ending is not its end'.
The same could be said about a poet like Nigel.
TOWARDS THE UNKNOWN
er cof am Nigel Jenkins
From the Rhondda we began
a hike towards the unknown.
We didn't grasp it at first,
only the aerial and ancient hill-fort.
We had a map and instructions
which became irrelevant up the steep track :
the footpaths were blown skyward
and landmarks obscured by the fog.
We trudged across the boggy moor
cursing our hearts which raised alarms.
Below was a thick forest of conifers
in orderly lines like Roman legions.
The mine at the valley's head,
black whiplash strokes on green.
We carried on walking into cloud
until even the reason was unseen.
Pistyll Goleu , near Llanwynno
FEET FALL FREE
for Jamie & Andrew
We set off in pursuit
of Guto Nyth Bran -
not the streets of Aberpennar
and the Nos Galan race
and rain tipping down
like old farmers with sticks -
but a steady walking pace.
The sun popping its head
from out of the mist
now and again, losing
our sense of direction
despite a map, except one
with his third dimension ;
compass in his dizzy head.
Conifers too dark, no lift of wings
and reservoir where all's contained;
warning of a house and dogs loose.
Water running rapidly barefoot
down narrow forest paths :
I hear his feet fall free
at Pistyll Goleu's liquid light.
Cawr by Gus Payne / Cover of 'Bach Yn Ryff' Jamie Bevan
Courtesy of repeats of the innovative S4C series 'Fideo Naw', I've recently revisited roc Cymraeg from the 90s in particular and realised just what I missed.
In the 80s, with DJ John Peel as musical guru, I would listen avidly to punk band Yr Anrhefn and the most challenging but original of all Welsh groups Datblygu, who were greatly influenced by that genius Captain Beefheart.
Records were hard to find and I once discovered Yr Anrhefn in the World Music section at HMV! Now they have a whole Welsh shelf, but no Welsh language bands on it.
At the time my Welsh was rudimentary, but I did my best to pick up some lines, words and phrases. Singer-songwriters like Dafydd Iwan and Meic Stevens were much easier to comprehend and the latter's songs such as 'Dic Penderyn' and 'Bobby Sands' I really relished. Seeing him perform at a Welsh republican event in Cardiff further convinced me of his special place in music.
I believe that had he decided to record only in English, then Stevens would be up there with Dylan and Cohen today and it's a sad indictment of the dominance of the English language that he is still so marginalised.
The same applies to Geraint Jarman, who began as a poet and now publishes verse once again. He doesn't even get the recognition he deserves from Welsh-speakers, who tend to pigeon-hole him as 'white reggae'.
Yet every Jarman album comprises so much more , especially the best ones like 'Gwesty Cymru' and 'Rhiniog' : the music ranges from rock to more funky and folky influences and Tich Gwilym was simply a guitarist to rival the very best. Jarman's lyrics were always those of a true bard.
So, to the bands I missed out on and notably Y Cyrff, Ffa Coffi Pawb and U Thant. The first gave rise to Catatonia, the second boasted a certain Gruff Rhys as singer and the third must have been quite phenomenal live (they even started the Bluebird fans 'ayatollah' according to legend).
Today, I think the talent in terms of Welsh language music lies with the many singer-songwriters, so varied both in music and lyrical emphasis. In English, on the other hand, it's bands like The Joy Formidable, Paper Aeroplanes and Future of the Left who lead the way.
This is the best scene since the absurdly-named Cwl Cymru of the 1990s, a secret that has to be let out one of these days.
In a way it's more intriguing, simply because it's such a long way from Future of the Left to Georgia Ruth, like the train journey from Cardiff to Aberystwyth, where they're from respectively!
Welsh singer-songwriters tend to be more original than Welsh language bands because the latter are too in awe of the Super Furries and too inclined to imitate them (Sibrydion being just one example). However, the singer-songwriters feel greater freedom to borrow and adapt.
Interestingly, all four I'm looking at have released bi-lingual material recently, just as Gorky's Zygotic Mynci did in their heyday.
Firstly there is Huw M. (or Huw Meredydd Roberts) who , on 'Gathering Dusk', has 5 tracks in Welsh, 4 in English and one in baby-talk.
While the English lyrics come over as rather sentimental at times, the Welsh songs are more edgy such as 'Ystafelloedd Gwag' and the more playful 'Brechdanau Sgwar'.
Huw M. is influenced by the earlier Sufjan Stevens but never lets that music overpower him and his version of the traditional song 'Dyma lythyr' is one of the album's high-points.
Lleuwen Steffan's 'Tan' comprises songs in both Welsh and Breton and, as she lives in Llydaw at present, that's not surprising.
Her music blends folk and jazz effortlessly and reminds me of the sadly-missed band Gilespi and what they could have gone on to do with a smaller group of musicians.
Out of the four, she is the most experimental, taking standard folk forms and developing them with quirky rhythms and distinctive vocals : her voice has all the agility of a jazz singer .
The opening track 'Lle Wyt Ti Heno Iesu Grist' is a classic with its staccato strings, breathy singing and quick-step harp. Her Breton songs are more traditional, while songs like 'Paid a Son' show how she can evoke a sensual mood so well.
She is a unique talent and I look forward very much to her next offering.
Aberystwyth's Georgia Ruth is very much the artist of the moment. She featured greatly in the WOMEX international music festival at the Millennium Centre as both performer and presenter and won last year's Welsh Music Award for her debut album 'Week of Pines'.
I like the importance of her harp-playing on the album and I'm told she is even better live.
She is undoubtedly under the spell of Joni Mitchell, yet I'm sure she will gradually break away and find an even more distinctive style. There is enough on the album to suggest this and the imagery of her lyrics is subtle and never pretentious, such as the title track and 'Mapping'.
With his backing band Gweddillion, Merthyr's Jamie Bevan sounds the most traditionally folk of all four (tin whistles, pipes and accordion providing some the backing). Characters from Merthyr and the streets of his home town play a crucial role in his songs, like 'John the Lamb', a portrait of an infamous landlord and his pub in the 1960s.
Opening track 'Bron' is Radio Cymru's record of the week this week and Frank Hennessey has played the raucous singalong 'No Lentils In Cawl' several times on Radio Wales.
'Bach Yn Ryff' is a lively and tuneful e.p. and Jamie is happy to venture into English. It would be interesting to see what would happen if his folk persona met up with electronic experimenters Twlc Tlwc (with whom
he has close associations) and produced some music.
New Welsh music is on it's way.........where to , I'm not sure.....but hopefully the ears of the world.
( I wrote this poem in response to Jamie's song 'No Lentils In Cawl').
Cawl Yr Iaith
Dw i’n moyn lentils yn y cawl
ac Eisteddfodau heb gystadlu.
Dw i’n moyn ymuno a’r cor
sy’n canu yn y tafarnau.
Dw’n lico gweld yr oen bach
yn y cae nid yn y llestri.
Dw i’n lico cerddoriaeth Gymraeg
ond ble mae e ar y teledu?
Dw i’n edrych ymlaen at farddoniaeth
gyda’r gwybodaeth y strydoedd.
Dw i’n edrych ymlaen at gawl yr iaith :
bwyd symyl heb farwoliaeth.
'He does what he wants'
It's rarely safe and steady being a fan of CCFC.
Just when you think everything is hunky dory : in the Prem with the best manager I've known (yes, better than Scoular, DJ or Frankie), just after we've beaten Man. City, drawn with Man U at home and, above all, beaten Swansea.......just when we've signed class acts like Caulker, Medel and young Theo.....it all goes awry.
Moody, the head of recruitment and manager Malky Mackay's trusted side-kick gets the boot from owner and full-time megalomaniac Vincent Tan, Malky himself is told in an email from Tan to resign or be sacked and then summarily dismissed.
The players only find out about it on TV , as Tan does his best to out-crazy the Venkys at Blackburn. Malky is supported fully by just about every pundit, manager and , indeed, Cardiff City fan.
Afterwards, there's even talk of the return of Dave Jones ( will he bring back Bothroyd and Chopra?). Tan himself is quoted at 66-1 to get the job. Any significance in the demonic numerals?
Finally, the candidate everyone seemed to want, Ole Gunnar Solskaer, is appointed and we win away at Newcastle in the FA Cup, his first game in charge. Moreover, both subs score in very good imitations of the 'Baby-faced Assassin' as a player.
If we carry on doing well, there's no doubt that 'Ole, Ole, Ole!' will be embraced by those selfsame fans who were so enraged at the treatment of Mackay.
Many like myself, truly wish Tan would sell up and get out, so we revert to our traditional colours and bluebird badge. However, this is wishful thinking at present.
Should Solskaer fail to keep us in the Premier though, I believe there will be a very strong backlash.
So far , he gives the impression of being an excellent choice. He is intent on signing the right kind of players to alter our style of play to one more suited to the top league, rather than the overly defensive and cautious approach Malky understandably deployed.
Solskaer has rightly identified this problem and will change tactics to encourage more possession and patient build-up, rather than the tendency to play long balls out of defence.
Some players will find it hard to adapt. Ben Turner for example, is a resolute defender, yet never comfortable on the ball and , too often, passes long straight to the opposition.
In times of such upheaval it's hard to look at the many positives from this season to date.
Amazingly, despite the conflicts caused by our intransigent owner, players have tried to remain focused, even though our poorer run did coincide with the tribulations.
Craig Noone has come into the team recently and looked the part, Campbell threatened without sufficient support, Theo has been dangerous as an attacking full-back and Medel superb as the modern 'libero' (in front of the back four).
Keeper Marshall has saved us on many occasions with truly world class stops and how captain Caulker doesn't get into the England squad is totally baffling.
Mutch and Kim have promised, well......much. The former looks a real prospect, especially when running at defences.
Yet in many games the one player who has oozed Premier class has been one Peter Whittingham. Against Man U he executed several long passes to Campbell which, from the boot of Giggs would've had the commentators swooning.
Though he has scored less goals than usual, he has had many assists (often from free-kicks and corners) and has been asked to take on various roles ( wide, defensive midfielder and play-maker) and risen to each one.
It seems shocking to me that, in picking their ideal Cardiff teams for the West Ham game, not one of Wales Online's experts selected Whitts. Odemwingie and Bellamy, both of whom having been largely ineffectual, are preferred, as is Kim, who seldom looks like scoring.
Whitts may be a little slow, but he has improved markedly over the years, under both DJ and Malky.
He began as a talented left-winger, signed from Villa for only £200,000. He was always full of skill and scored many spectacular goals, some from free-kicks. As penalty-taker and dead ball specialist he is one of the best.
He never used to tackle much , track back, or use his right foot and this meant he would get stick from some fans.
In the last five years he has acquired much more aggression, defends well and even uses that right foot.
This week Solskaer signed his first player, Norwegian international midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem, described as a 'quarter-back' (I thought that was American football?), and pundits have suggested that Whitts' place is threatened.
I sincerely hope that one of our longest-serving and most improved players continues to play a major role.
When I recently bought a blue away shirt for my daughter, she let me decide the name on the back. I had no hesitation!
He is special. His goal celebrations are so fascinating because they are so different : he'll shrug his shoulders or give a bewildered stare. When he scored with a header against West Brom I honestly thought Campbell had got it because he ran away in jubilation, while Whitts collapsed on his face!
He is football's anti-hero. A genuine rarity.
ODE TO WHITTS
He sits on his steps
outside his house supping tea,
takes his dog for a walk along the prom,
on Play Station all evening long
while the others are out on the town.
He heads a great goal
then falls flat on his face,
curls a free-kick into the net with grace,
powers an unstoppable pen.,
or his corner bends onto a willing head.
His goal celebrations the ultimate anti
as he walks away almost apologetically,
never punches the corner flag
kisses the badge, does a heart sign,
swings babies, golf clubs
or does a somersault like Earnie.
He'll raise an eye-brow maybe.
Whitts, quietly-spoken, with a hint of Nuneaton ,
can execute a long pass as good as Giggsy
and , with the years, he's tackling back
and using that once obsolete right peg.
In an age of the tweeting
ranting look-at-me celebrity,
Whitts, with his unshowmanship,
is humble and extraordinary.
Last Sunday we returned from the balmy clime of sunny Aberaeron to the remains of snow on roadsides and furious overnight lashing storms. The selfsame ones we'd experienced in that west Wales town nights before.
We returned to our disused trampoline, a warehouse of acorns for squirrels and pigeons and only used by the neighbours' cats .......and not to spring up and catch blackbirds on oak branches! It was overturned like a stray leaf and our white picnic table was upside-down resembling a makeshift raft.
A strange piece of sheeting had been blown against the fence and looked suspiciously like a piece of roofing ( packaging, on close inspection).
All evening and through the night the rain hammered down and I missed the sense of the nearby sea and river Aeron meeting in all its frantic gushing.
Any smugness about our mountain location was dispatched by my young daughter next morning , who was woken by an unwelcome shower......from her ceiling!
Our notoriously prone dormer roof had succumbed to the constant downpours and a crack appeared above her head where the drip-drip began.
And I know that our minor crisis was as nothing compared to the many left homeless and flooded over Christmas, yet it is still really annoying.
Yet in Aberaeron you are always aware of the sheer vulnerability of the place .
The sea - never as ferocious as up-coast Aberystwyth - was nevertheless as powerful as I've witnessed, with bucking bronco breakers, white manes splayed. There was a stampede till they reared at harbour walls and threw their load of stones and silt.
The river Aeron as well was so gentle one day and the next a full-flooded torrent : a viewing bench submerged and mallards trying to seek out the reedy calmer waters.
The sea rose up and river sped and a few sandbags outside the harbour houses seemed as inept as our felt roof against the elements.
A visit to Aberystwyth the Monday before Christmas was conditional on the weather. We made of to the Arts Centre and supermarket, bit the town was impossible : it was in M25-ish gridlock with a house collapsed and diversions and cars at a stop.
Ice-caps melt, seas swell and flood defences seem totally inadequate. Our 'weather weirding' of Jet Stream low pressure systems with isobars like contours of high-peaked mountains is incessant.
The consequences are felt everywhere, yet river and coastal towns seem built from sand.
Precious places threatened by this carbon future made all the more stark by our continued reliance on opencast coal feeding power stations like Aberthaw .
My brother recently visited Aberaeron and was amazed at its transformation. He remembered it as shoddy and nondescript.
Now it's a modest and colourful jewel on our coast with Balamory houses painted alternately in different colours from pastel shades to bolder ones, yet never brazen, like the plethora of ice-creams at cafe Y Cwch Gwenyn overlooking the harbour.
One week there is time spent in a different world where, for my wife and son (who spend so much time driving normally) the pleasure is to leave their cars like workday clothes hung in a wardrobe.
It's a world of honey ice-cream, chips from the renowned New Celtic, the chance to buy a bargain in the £1.20 shop's half-price sale and a couple of pints at Tafarn Cadwgan while watching Cardiff City blow it yet again ( well, it's not all escape!).
A world of skimming stones and feeding ducks and imagining, as in childhood, that your bed's a boat afloat on the wild westerly and you're gliding past bewildered gulls and red kites high above the arcing coastline.
A world where 'mae'r Cymraeg yn byw' in chip shop and pub, cafe and Costcutter, not just as a sop or sign ; more steadfast now against other storms, the crash of coins or steady erosion of American English and its grinding slang.
ABERAERON IN THE GALES
Houses creak and strain in moorings
like boats with their yellow buoys :
an orchestra of rigging plays
high-pitched notes on the ropes.
Mint, lemon, strawberry and blackcurrant,
the windows of these ice-cream houses
are rattled and beaten storm-percussion.
Late night revellers cling to a band
of bright lights on eaves of Y Cwch Gwenyn,
before they're blown onto the street
and their drunken laughter's lost
into a gale speeding so fast
even the local policeman's notebook
is blustered inside out.
Awake in early hours , my head
is a thunder of rolled barrels
from next-door Tafarn Cadwgan
and in my dreams we are adrift
and manned by the three grandfather clocks,
old sea-dogs well past their chime.
Sand-sculpted dogs (photo Edwyn Parry)
DOWN TOWN SAND-SCULPTOR
Small red mat of beach
on down town paving-stones
against the wall of Smith's
(soon to be closed down).
Out of his pile of sand
he's shaping a resting hound,
with one beady eye-jewel
from a bright pebble.
His skin dark as mud-flats,
stubble sharp as marram,
he's so intent and focused;
just a turn at coin-clack.
His hands move like waves
constantly smoothing out stones,
his blood the unseen currents
and ear-shells listening distances.
Sometimes money drizzles down
from people in their tides,
as he softly continues sculpting
the lying dog into life.
Aberystwyth from the jetty at Tanybwlch - photo, P.Jenkins
I'm standing at the edge of the stone jetty at Tanybwlch near Aberystwyth.
Suddenly, I feel a lightness and fear of falling I never experienced as a child here : too many nightmares about cliff-edges.
I'm scattering the remains of my stepfather down into the sea, which sometimes whips up as a serpent of spray so characteristic of this area.
Simultaneously, my brother - a sure-footed risk-taker and flier - is letting loose my mother's ashes from a wooden casket with a metal plaque on it.
My sister stands bare-foot on the cold pebbly jetty, lost in a large green riding-hood cloak.
I am spilling him out as a fountain of powdery ash to join her, just as he willed.
They had talked about buying a house there, overlooking the harbour : his enduring love of boats and her affection for the town where she spent her formative years, yet also a marriage which would gradually deteriorate ( to my father).
My brother says - 'It's our turn next!'.....but I have no intention of making that too soon and step gingerly back from the brink.
Some of my stepfather's ashes remain on my hand and I am content to leave them there.
There is no great sense of sadness among us, just an acceptance.
My mother died five years ago, but my stepfather died very unexpectedly during the summer.
I can recognise and admire his great love for her and how that meant, for many years, that he never wanted to share her with her own family though - truth be told - she was never inclined to being an enthusiastic mother or grandmother, quite the opposite.
The evening before we had toured Penparcau and Aber in a memory-trail of intense nostalgia.
It was too much for my sister, whose recollections of our flat and council house were all disturbing and full of unhappiness.
While those of our grandparents' flat in Caradog Road must have summoned a deep sense of loss, as she was brought up by our 'Nanny' when my mother had mastitis and rejected her.
For my brother - who has returned less frequently - it must've been a fascinating journey into the past with some buildings changed so little and others,like his old school Ardwyn, now transformed into flats.
For me it was less unsettling or surprising. I have gone back so often as a student, teacher-trainer and when my older daughter was studying there.
But the scattering was something different.
'Will you write something for the occasion?'my brother had asked.
'I don't think so!'
But then I wrote a haiku yn Gymraeg the day before. I would know when we got there if it was fitting to read it and it didn't feel right.
Neither my mother nor stepfather had any affinity with Cymraeg and, in fact my mum, like my dad, had an antipathy.
I recall her referring on a number of occasions to the Urdd as the 'Welsh Hitler Youth movement'. She was never one for understatement!
On the way home I showed my haiku to my siblings and translated it. My sister liked it and my brother felt I should've read it out (maybe that's for another time in Aber).
Lludw yn yr awyr,
y mor yw'r cartref olaf :
ymuno a'r ddwr.
(Ashes in the air,
the sea is the final home :
joining with the water.)
My brother had researched both tide and wind direction, so we avoided possible pitfalls and the jetty provided the perfect platform.
My stepfather always said how much he loved Aber and my mother very much belonged there, though she had always resisted becoming an adopted Welsh woman.
As children, we had played many times on Tanybwlch storm-beach and both my sister and I had learnt to swim in the cold and treacherously shelving sea there. It hardened us and we both prefer to swim in the sea rather than pampered and chemical pools.
To our house my brother brought just some of the clear-outs from my stepfather's place and amongst them a folder my mother had inscribed with 'Mike's Poems'. There were books, magazines, newspaper cuttings and even old school Speech Day programmes (the one year I won two prizes, they got my initials wrong!).
In among all this were several poems written by her.
I knew she had begun writing some when she attended the Univ. of the 3rd Age in her 70s and had read one in their magazine.
Unlike my dad, who had real pretensions to be a writer (when he didn't have pretensions to be a sailor, pilot, painter, photographer etc etc), my mother possessed genuine talent.
I just wish I'd read these when she was alive and discussed them with her.
She may have wanted rid of her children and made this evident (who was it told me I had been a MISTAKE?), yet I do owe her a good deal when it comes to poetry.
I remember her early readings of Dylan Thomas into a tape-recorder, her love for Manley Hopkins' verse and the anthology 'New Poetry' she gave me which inspired me so much.
So the sentiments in this - one of her poems - are quite extraordinary : a strength of maternal bonding she never showed through the years, when her main priorities were always the men in her life (though not my crazy and sometimes dangerous father).
I cannot write poetry.
In my school poetry,
Was always Iambic Pentameters,
And making things rhyme.
How can you float the rhythms inside you
On an eternal dee-dum dee-dum?
I cannot write poetry.
My son can write poetry.
For him the words can flow,
With the fullness and force of the milk
Which he sucked with such strength from my breast,
That it fountained the facing wall
If he moved his lips away.
So may his words
Spread and coat the walls of the world.
My son can write poetry.
I cannot write poetry.
For me creation was always the rhythm
Of mine and other bodies
Fighting or indulging the elements
Of Space, Weight and Time.
And much of that creation got buried
In brussel sprouts and other things.
I cannot write poetry.
I am glad my son can write poetry.
When he was late inside me,
I pick-axed the rocky soil
To grow food for my family.
'There's dreadful she is', they said,
'The baby will be born dead.'
But he came from me
So swiftly and easily,
And with so little pain in his coming,
That I thought he was a pre-natal indulgence
In too many kippers!
How could any poet put that in a poem?
I cannot write poetry,
But I am glad my son can do so.
Thea Gilmore at the Globe, Cardiff
An eavin and jam-packed Globe on Albany Road, Cardiff and such a contrast from the last time I saw Thea Gilmore live, only a couple of years ago.
What has happened between-times is remarkable, as that gig in Aberdare was very sparsely attended.
At the time it was a big disappointment to the organiser Geoff Cripps, who I met recently at a full-to-brimming gig he had also organised, at the Muni in Pontypridd. When I mentioned I was going to see Thea again he commented that she had 'crossed over'.
I wasn't exactly sure what he meant, though her concert did suggest it to me.
At any rate her influence abounds, even though it may not be directly acknowledged. I hear it particularly in the songs of Milford Haven's Paper Aeroplanes and winner of Welsh Album of the Year for 'Week of Pines', Georgia Ruth.
Both acts deliver songs full of emotion, devoid of cliched lyrics and showing an admirable diversity of musical styles, just as Thea has through the years.
As someone who bought one of her first albums 'Avalanche' many moons ago at a now disappeared record shop in Cardiff, I recall the assistant advising me to get Neko Case instead.
I've never regretted that purchase, though it probably wasn't until I listened to the double cd version of 'Songs from the Gutter' that I truly fell in love with Thea's music.
Since the Aberdare concert she has acquired many fans as a result of Radio 2 exposure, the fact that her Sandy Denny song 'London' was played on TV during the Olympics and a series of catchy, tuneful singles.
The fact that she may have 'crossed over' into the very 'Mainstream' she once castigated on the song of that name doesn't greatly bother me. This is because, between the somewhat throwaway singles like 'Love Comes Looking For Me', there are so many songs to inspire.
Her vocals live are more intense than the recordings, especially the latest album 'Regardless' which, with a full string orchestration, is slightly over-produced.
The acoustic settings of her performance were far more spare, with just guitar or keyboard, cello and violin (with her 7 year-old son joining in on fiddle for one song.....a future star for certain!).
My one major quibble is that her own words weren't that clear, whereas her husband Nigel Stonier , who was a very good backing act, could be heard at all times. It may have been a matter of balance, because there was no problem at Aberdare, where the band was bigger.
For a fan like myself, accustomed to almost every song, this was less of a problem than for a first timer.
From the beginning, Stonier has played a vital role in Thea's work, producing her albums, co-writing songs and, also playing guitar and keyboards ( at the Globe, a borrowed one he coped with masterfully).
I liked the way she focused on more recent material and there is a real sense of maturity about it : a number of songs speaking to her children ( in an imagined future) such as 'I Will Not Disappoint You'.
I wish she had chosen to do two of the strongest songs on 'Regardless' rather than those singles : 'Let It Be Known' and 'Punctuation' are both deeply philosophical and full of original imagery........they may not have suited the acoustic setting though.
It was fitting that she included several of her Sandy Denny songs from 'Don't Stop Singing'. Together with Stonier, she put Denny's lyrics to music and, as her own vocal style is very close Denny's, this was an album which should've received a lot more acclaim. Some of the songs are very harrowing and relate to Denny's tragic life of lonely alcoholism when her child Georgia was taken from her.
As well as a powerful cover of Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold The World' were a few songs from her Christmas album 'Strange Communion', which is the only Christmas album (yes, not even Sufjan Stevens' epic!) I'm likely to ever play.
'Sol Invictus' and 'Cold Coming' are two of the most evocative seasonal songs you will ever hear; sadly, she only performed the latter.
I'm sure there are many out there who've never heard of her, though they may well laud the likes of Laura Marling, media darling.
Thea performed one song new to me ( in total antithesis to 'Mainstream' and 'Everybody's Numb' from the album Harpo's Ghost) ,which gave sympathy and sound advice to young aspiring artists in the music business.This was 'Beautiful Hopeful' from an e.p. called 'Beginners'.
The audience at the Globe would probably have stayed all night for encores: we were in no hurry to get home for our Horlicks and hot water bottles.
Thea Gilmore had undoubtedly conquered the Globe and , who knows, she could go on and do the same to its much larger namesake!
I hope that anyone who becomes Gilmorable will embrace her truly amazing back catalogue.
As she announced, with some astonishment, 'I released my first album at sixteen!'
She's now 35 and can write like a sage : listen to 'Punctuation' and you'll hear an earthbound psalm.
AT THE GLOBE
Here at the centre
of the Globe,
walls of ice-plaster,
heat of magma music,
a spiral of black and white
twisting, turning, rising.
If some words are lost
up into the balcony of rock,
we are still carried
on thermals of voice,
heads bubble and steam
surprising the stubborn surface.