I've just returned from a fortnight's trip to the USA, staying with friends and doing readings.
This is the first of a series of blogs on that experience..........
I knew everything about the States and I knew nothing.
Nothing truly prepares you for what's coming : not the movies or the songs, not The Simpsons or Glee (my young daughter's obsessions).
It was my first time.
'An American virgin!' I declared to a chuckling audience of students at Le Moyne College in Syracuse.
I landed at Dulles airport in DC and had a negative impression : security was even tighter than Heathrow.
I'd already practically stripped off and removed all metal from my body, including the plate in my skull (with some difficulty!).
At Dulles, they took everyone's finger and thumb prints and x-rayed down to the bone.
Unlike the effortlessly relaxed and efficient Vancouver of my homeward journey, the place was singularly chaotic.
Staff looked stressed and seriously lacking in numbers. Announcements were totally inaudible and the plane delayed with 'computer problems'.
Boarding the small jet to Syracuse, NY state, there were further delays when a mechanic (who wore the yellow vest of a road-worker) tried to tackle more 'computer problems'.
Normally a calm flier, I was very tired and anxious by the time we took off. I sat next to an enormous sweaty guy who resembled an American footballer and sneezed his germs in my direction.
However, flying over Finger Lakes and down to Syracuse was worth waiting for : the whole horizon lit up with a strip of bright red with dark above it ; the skyline glowing.
It was wonderful to be welcomed by my good friend Dave Lloyd, a Professor at Le Moyne and later his wife Kim and daughter Nia. I have known Dave since we were 19 year-olds at Aber Uni. and he was editor of the college literary magazine 'Dragon'.
Their small black dog Molly barked at me furiously ( she has an aversion to men, especially tall ones with dark glasses). I'm not tall, don't wear shades, but do qualify for the gender part.
Slowly I won Molly over though, particularly when Dave , myself and her went on an exploration through the land where his garden becomes a wild area, akin to a Nature Reserve.
Nose to ground and sniffing frantically, the little black dog led the way through waist-high weeds and bulrushes, following the tracks of deer, beaver and squirrels (both black and grey).
A dog's paradise I'm sure, this orgy of aromas.
I was more taken by the strong scents of pine from above and wild mint from below, as we made our way through this remarkable country close to Dave's house 'Bryn Hyfryd' (his parents were Welsh-speakers who moved to Utica, NY).
Dave was the perfect guide, telling me how the beaver usually appeared at dusk, having learnt to avoid daylight because that's when they had been killed by Man. I just caught sight of one's head; just a moment and hardly a ripple.
He showed me the stump of a gnawed branch and whole trees felled by them. I saw the edges of the large pond where they'd built up packed mud, the skilfully-built lodge and dam designed to keep some water always flowing.
There was a tree split in half where a deer-hunter had once built a hide, intending to shoot the ubiquitous animals. Dave had left a polite note warning the hunter and amazingly he had taken heed.
This is deer country and they were everywhere and nowhere (seen, then gone into shade) ; drawn to Dave and Kim's apple trees, we'd encounter them late night crossing the road, not tame but hardly shy of humans.
The large studio next to the house where Kim sometimes works on her sculptures was once a slaughterhouse for deer. How fitting that a vegetarian
artist should now occupy such a space: the gentle blood of creative flow replacing the violent gush of killing.
Further down from the pond, we followed the creek past an abandoned car, stolen then torched years ago (some things seem familiar).
Many forest sounds I couldn't identify (I needed my brother there, the expert 'twitcher'). Countless hawks and other birds of prey and surely a blue jay, away where I couldn't glimpse it.
All the way along to a waterfall, a curtain of rushing white despite the 'Indian Summer' of early Fall. The house of a man perched to its left, who regarded it all as his own property and would, Dave told me, shout at anyone who swam in the plunge-pool below.
Magical country, so close to the large clapperboard houses of affluent America with their star-spangled banners displayed (no special celebration, Dave and Kim concluded).
Later I would get a sense of Syracuse itself, a city once made great by the Erie Canal and all the industry which grew up around it.
But for now, I simply sat in wonder, gazing out on their garden which gradually merged into a land the Native Americans must have known so intimately, where the only routes were made by deer and beaver and not the heavy tread of mankind.
TO FRONTIER / TO WILDERNESS
Led by the small black dog down
the shaved lane of lawn
sniffing close to ground
to frontier to wilderness
calls of hawks
following deer trail
pausing at gnawed-out tree
tooth-grain of flesh bark
packed mould of mud
at rim of pond
daytime water unstirred
except waking ring of fish
beaver retreated to lodge -
stacked sticks and log load
learnt the fire of gunsmoke
the stalker's tree
split in half
by trigger lightning.
Cover of issue 19, by Gus Payne
There's a new currency in Merthyr and it's called the 'Red Poets' magazine!
Last Thursday, after the launch of issue 19 at The Imp in Pontmorlais, I took a taxi home.
The driver was an ex-pupil who asked about the event and then proceeded to quote a gritty poem he'd composed while at Pen-y-dre about life on the Gurnos estate.
I was on a high, stimulated more by the success of the evening than a few pints of Pale Ale and impressed with his rap-like delivery.
'Will you take the mag. as payment?' I chanced.
'Yeah, of course! Look forward to reading it.'
This was the culmination of a marvellous night, despite missing stalwarts like Tim Richards (holidays) and John Williams due to illness.
There were many excellent poems performed by the likes of Julie Pritchard, Chris O'Neill, Jonathan Edwards and Mair Pitt and the Bartzman even did 'Winging It'.
I'd like to thank Marc Jones for his hard work as co-editor and Gus Payne for a most thought-provoking and arresting cover; also Gerhard Kress for the back cover image.
Marc wrote an Obituary for Alun Hughes, a regular contributor and astonishing character who died recently. I was astounded to find out about his close links with the ANC and his work for Naval Counter-Intelligence in the 2nd World War.
I didn't realise that - like Dowlais historian Gwyn Alf Williams - he joined Plaid Cymru in his later years. He was always a staunch socialist and republican.
The whole evening was a celebration of poetry and music and Jamie Bevan and Steve Shipman were so good they even drew in a couple of German tourists to experience Merthyr culture.
Jamie's new material ( including one in English!) was as stirring as ever and Steve's cover versions of the likes of Woody Guthrie were expertly executed. His case full of mouth-harps made my old one in 'E' seem like something from the Antiques Roadshow!
The issue includes three poems in Welsh and we should have several again in the next one.
Phil Knight's article makes a strong case not just for a Green Dylan Thomas, but a fervently republican one as well. He claims that Carlo being made patron of the Dylan Thomas Centenary festival next year would have made the man laugh and vomit at the same time!
In view of the present campaign to save the Chartist Mural in Newport from destruction, Jonathan Edwards' poem is timely and an excellent reminder of how important that is as a commemoration of Welsh history.
Red Poets are back on the road this autumn with up-coming gigs at the Castle Hotel, Tredegar on Oct. 30th and Oxfam Bookshop in Swansea on Nov. 20th.
Next year we'll be publishing a book of stroppy left-wing verse from Tim Richards and we hope to produce a book every year as well as magazine.
As London-based socialist poet Owen Gallagher has said 'RED POETS' is the socialist poetry magazine.......possibly the only one in these islands.
You can order a copy from myself or the website www.RedPoets.org for £5 (plus P & P).
Crawlin on Em’tee
Now I know wha-a Big Society is really,
it’s like a ewge ole in-a stomachs
of my small famlee.
My two kids, Jade an Shania,
I carn afford t feed em no more,
school olidays ‘re worse ‘an ever.
I tried f’r jobs, got big ideas,
but arf a time don’ even yer :
slike droppin paper down a disewsed pit.
My mam as t work, my dad’s on sick ;
las thing I want is charitee,
but the Food Bank ave saved me.
‘Mam, I’m starvin! Wha’s f’ tea?’
Beans, beans an more beans ;
all yew yer on telly’s ‘bout obesity.
Shania an Jade are dead scrawny,
there’s a big ole in theyer lives,
theyr crawlin, not runnin, on em’tee.
When yew’re thinkin ‘bout
the job yew ad in Oovers,
when yew carn get round
even on-a mobility scooter
jest remember –
we’re the town
what discovered Viagra
when the on’y fags yew cun get
look like long, thin compewters
an there’s no gold left
in–a attic f’r-a pawnbrokers
jest remember –
we invented Viagra
when yewer time down under
stops yew breathin proper,
when yew begin t spend longer
down-a surjree than anywhere
the accidental birthplace o Viagra
when even-a mountains an rivers
don’ make yew gasp no longer,
when yew carn make a stand no more
an-a missis calls yew a Droopy Trooper
welcome t Viagra Falls
in ome-town Merthyr!
I thought I saw this on tv after the great bard died : Heaney gets off a plane in Dublin after winning the Nobel Prize and is immediately greeted by a young man who looks uncannily like Conor O'Brien of Villagers.
Of course, I could well be wrong, but I'd like to think that in Ireland - where poetry and song have long been close siblings - this did happen.
Because I believe that something fresh and thrilling is occurring with the emergence of this Irish band.
Sure, in the last decade or so there have been many singer-songwriters who deserve to be widely listened to like Karine Polwart and Thea Gilmore, yet there has been a distinct dearth of groups able to combine poetic lyrics with melodic, challenging music.
I've searched for the influences on Villagers and you could find them in many of the masters, including Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and Sufjan Stevens.
In their native land, their lack of 'Irishness' has been commented upon, yet O'Brien (the undeniable front-man) never succumbs to a Trans-Atlantic drawl suggesting he's from Dun Laoghaire, somewhere south of Louisiana.
There songs aren't place specific, though they often use sea imagery in the second album. They are about as far from the Americana cliches of the Mumfords as Polwart is from Laura Marling's attempts at being the new Joni Mitchell.
It's been interesting just spreading the word about them. When I texted a friend with just ..... (awayland) Villagers
.....he thought I was bored and would be saying 'Mister Moon is in the building' next ! Now I've explained, he's as enthusiastic a fan as I am.
Another just started doing the YMCA dance in complete misapprehension!
Conor O'Brien is to Villagers what Guy Garvey is to Elbow : both unique singers and original songwriters. Yet, like Elbow, they're very much a group not back-ups to a solo performer.
Their first album 'Becoming a Jackal' is far more personal and shows its influences more readily, yet was deservedly short-listed for a Mercury Prize and the second '(awayland)' is also on the short-list. It would be good if the judges got it right for once and awarded it to them.
Contrary to rock mythology about '2nd album syndrome', the latter is actually an improvement.
Music and Dun Laoghaire both need a boost right now. The latter because - according to a long-time resident I spoke to last weekend - it's more depressed than ever, with a high street full of charity shops (sounds familiar!).
Music, because there really are so few bands to match them lyrically and musically : they are increasingly inventive and diverse in style.
The first song I heard was 'The Waves' from the second album, played at Glastonbury this year and the televised highlight of the whole festival. It is even better live than on the recording.
It is a mounting crescendo, as the sea gathers force and becomes more and more threatening, till it breaks down at the end with the repeated refrain of 'approaching the shore'. It reminds me of John Cale's incredible version of 'Heartbreak Hotel' and its screaming finale.
The words throughout move deftly from viewpoint to viewpoint, a rarity in poetry never mind rock, and at one stage take the persona of a bland character who refuses to accept the environmental damage we are inflicting upon our world and the doom of 'honey-bee cemeteries'. O'Brien rarely makes a generalised statement, yet when he does it is telling - 'One man's innocence, is another's chance'.
It's a song which embraces the vitality of the waves (of both sea and sky), yet ultimately acknowledges that the sea is a symbol of ecological abuse and a portent of disaster.
In total contrast is the optimism of the opening song 'My Lighthouse', a sparse and simple love-song which employs that sea imagery effectively and without a hint of pretension.
O'Brien's voice on this is closer to the Sufjan of 'Seven Swans' and it shows how the albums are never over-produced: music matching lyrics like two voices in harmony.
Many of the songs can be deceptive and none more so than 'In A New-Found Land You Are Free'. What initially appears to be a song about a new-born child and its discovery of life takes a very different , darker turn, and yet still manages to be optimistic in its sense of freedom ( a release from pain maybe?).
I love the vigour and verve of 'Earthly Pleasures' and 'Judgement Call', both knowing fully the strength of a chorus. O'Brien implies criticisms of organised religion and inequalities in society, but always in a subtle , angled way and never heavy-handedly.
Guitars are used sparingly and layered keyboards often feature, like the sediments exposed on cliff-lines. Piano is like the sun reflecting off shiny rock surfaces.
I admire Villagers because they defy all categories : they aren't a clunking guitar band, or nu-folk, yet can master tunes and words very much like Becker and Fagen in the early days of Steely Dan.
The last laugh goes to the donkey at the end of the final track 'Rhythm Composer', only going to show their unique combination of wit and melancholy.
To misquote them ( from 'Nothing Arrived') - 'I waited for nothing, but something arrived.'
That something is a band who could change the face of music : sons of Heaney, their country and the sea and , beyond that, of visions and dreams.
I have a vision of him landing
(still don't know if I've seen it
on film or in my imagination),
greeted in his homeland airport
and the first hug from a young man.
Not a baton or some grand torch
passed on, but what would it be?
A branch of rowan maybe,
bright orange berries, leaves green,
a perfect perch for a calling.
To be nurtured, carried, held firm
like the neck of a guitar, slim bow
or the wooden rim of a bodhran ;
as words and music migrate
yet always sing of home.
Youssou N'Dour in concert
Over the last few weeks there have been a series of programmes on BBC 4 about Folk Music, the Blues and finally World Music.
Many have been intriguing and informative, others cobbled together from the archives. In other words, typical 4 fodder.....but essential viewing nevertheless.
The two folk programmes were very different. The first looked at the history of its development in Britain.
I say Britain but (another feature of Aunty Beeb) this really meant England. This showed the way it moved out of the clubs to become an integral part of the music scene.
Apart from the exclusion of most Celtic influences, the programme lacked an overall narrative, a shaping voice who could demonstrate the interaction with the States (especially Dylan) and the development of a distinctively English folk-rock sound with the likes of Fairport Convention (akin to American bands such as The Byrds and The Band).
The second programme consisted entirely of archive footage and was often a revelation.
It was astonishing to see Steeleye Span welcomed onto Crackerjack like a mainstream pop group.
Some acts were clearly only of their time. The insipid Donovan was given a lot more air time than he deserved, while Pentangle struck me as true pioneers of folk-jazz, which was later taken to another level by bands like Moving Hearts.
Sandy Denny was at her emotive best with 'Crazy Woman Blues', yet the Richard Thompson song would have put you off his music completely ; a very annoying choice for the one who has not only survived, but made many recent classic albums.
It ended with Billy Bragg rather then Robb Johnson or Chumbawamba (in their folk manifestation), plumping for safety over genuine political challenge.
The finest of English folk today is to be found in the Anti-capitalist Roadshow, while the Scottish and Welsh varieties have many excellent singer-songwriters, as does Ireland with Damien Dempsey.
So, their conclusion came over as rather dated.
The Blues programme was equally safe, though it did comprise a number of truly great performers , for example B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Champion Jack Dupree.
I always like the little facts that are captioned, including one explaining how Dupree was a boxer before musician, hence the name.
I was astonished to see The Kinks doing a stunning blues song and wished they'd carried that love of the Blues more into their later material.
The programme missed the likes of Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters. Surely footage of these must've been available?
Still, for someone not versed in the Blues, it was a reasonable starting-point.
It would be interesting to see a programme about the influence of the Blues on singer-songwriters ( a much neglected area) : especially Meic Stevens, John Martyn and Kevin Coyne, all three with unique voices and styles ( much like Richie Havens in America).
The first of the four World Music programmes looked at the way it was adopted by record companies and Western artists and transformed into a very popular genre.
I once found Welsh language punk band Anrhefn in the 'World Music' section of a Cardiff record store. Despite John Peel's advocacy, Welsh language rock was still regarded as somehow distant and foreign in our own country!
The programme's theme was about the hunt for 'the new Bob Marley', though bands did get a look-in as well, particularly Zimbabwe's Bhundu Boys.
There were obvious contrasts between the way the latter's music was destroyed and sanitized by a major record company and the experience of Senegal's Youssou N'Dour.
He was dropped by his record company and promptly went on to record the massive hit '7 Seconds' with Neneh Cherry.
She described the song in overtly political terms, as a call for resistance (rather like Marley's 'Get Up, Stand Up').
'7 Seconds' remains one of the very best songs bringing together African music and Western pop.
But the real joy of watching the programme was, for me, about rediscovering artists I had sadly forgotten.
The qawwali singing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was - with Portuguese fado - the most transcendental experience.
It's no wonder Jeff Buckley called Nusrat 'his Elvis'.
I loved the anecdote about his concert at the Womad festival. He was supposed to perform for 45 minutes (about one and half songs in qawwli terms), but ended up singing for over 4 hours, with people joining the audience as he went on.
With lyrics based on the poetry of Muslim Sufism (that mystical, philosophical branch of Islam which Richard & Linda Thompson joined), listening is something of a spiritual experience, even for this die-hard atheist.
When it came to the next programme - an A-Z- of World Music - I couldn't help filling in the alarming gaps.
Where was reggae? Where was S.America's finest singer-songwriter Victor Jara (also an exponent of Chilean traditional music), who was murdered by the Junta there for his politics and his songs?
This A-Z was rather anodyne and only touched upon politics in an African context, showing the outstanding Tinariwen, who used to be both Toureg guerillas and members of a musical collective.
The documentary about Youssou N'Dour was far more satisfying than his quite recent concert which followed it.
While the concert showed him going through the motions, the documentary was fascinating.
N'Dour was portrayed as both a remarkable musician and man : someone devoted to his country as much as to his music.
Always drawing on its traditions, the rise of N'Dour - with a voice singularly combining his religion, nation and the influence of Western rock -
showed him as very much the man to replace Marley.
His collaboration with Peter Gabriel on 'Shaking The Tree' was utterly thrilling, as were his live performances with their vibrant dancing.
Yet N'Dour never became the superstar who left his land behind ( see Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey for our Welsh contrasts).
In fact, he actually stood for President in Senegal and - in a very frightening campaign - had to stop soldiers from firing on his supporters.
He is now Minister of Culture and trying to put into practice the manifesto his songs often expounded.
After Marley, he was certainly the most significant figure within that weird term 'World Music' : rightly a hero in his homeland.
in the undergrowth
blues rai reggae qwwali fado
people from all over
needing each other
(roots seeking water
leaves asking sky)
the creepers choke and suffocate
come in may guises
from raised guns to forms of paper
(searching for birds of various colours -
their plumage and dalliance
across the air
wires can only approximate
the celebrations of sunlight.
I taught for nearly one year just down the road from Seamus Heaney's home of Bellaghy.
His sister taught in the same school and her features were unmistakably of the same big-boned family.
He was not on the syllabus then, yet we lived constantly in the presence of that snagging northern Irish dialect he used so frequently in his earlier work. Words like 'a pockle' (meaning a nuisance) and phrases like 'the skrake of dawn' (very early in the morning).
I had the great pleasure of going to see him read at a pub in Bellaghy and, though he signed a book, I never spoke to him, as he seemed surrounded by friends and family and I felt out of place.
It was wonderful to hear him read those poems about farming and his upbringing and to think that so many of the audience felt intrinsically part of them. Even the most simple of things such as 'Blackberrying' he could render special and resonant with meaning.
Here were the people of his townlands.
'Townland' wasn't a word I had ever encountered before : small settlements and farms around one equally small village, like Rasharkin.
Everywhere my wife and I went (she taught at the same school), we moved in his presence ; from the boat across Lough Neagh to the many farming families we taught.
In late autumn potato harvesting time the classrooms emptied. Pupils took to the fields to help their parents and the Head turned a blind eye (he too was a potato-farmer!) . Their education inevitably suffered, yet they had very low expectations in that Secondary Modern.
When the media proclaim about the benefits of N. Ireland's Grammar School system, they conveniently forget about the 60% odd who have to attend Sec. Mod's like the rest of us in the 60s. Most are stamped as failures from the age of 11!
Heaney himself was a fortunate one and attended St. Columb's College in Derry after attaining a scholarship there. His much-studied poem 'Mid-term Break' relates to this time and the tragic death of a brother in a road accident .
He was a brave writer in more ways than his remarkable poetry, criticism and translations. He once refused inclusion in an anthology of British verse, citing his Irish identity and lack of allegiance to Mrs. Windsor.
At times during the upheavals of The Troubles, I felt he did pander to British propaganda. His narrow political vision always seemed to blame his own people for the violence of their struggle, whereas historically the republican population turned to the Provos out of necessity not choice.
I believe this arose from his rural background more than anything else.
In the area of Co. Derry where he grew up, Catholics and Protestants would mix more freely than the cities of Belfast and Derry and also coastal towns of the east like Ballycastle (essentially Catholic) and Portrush (Protestant).
The common communication and currency was undoubtedly farming and they had much in common. Though discrimination existed, it wasn't at the intense level of urban areas.
Furthermore, the Catholic Church was far more conservative in places like Bellaghy (as a leftist, I was derided) and extremely suspicious of the increasingly Marxist Provisional IRA.
When Heaney worked and studied in Belfast he moved among the middle-classes, who again mixed freely, Catholic and Protestant. He had little experience of working-class districts like The Falls and Shankill.
Having said that, he still wrote a number of powerful poems highly critical of the British occupation if his country.
One is 'The Toome Road', which describes the intrusion of military presence and its link , in his mind, to 'erectors of headstones' -
'How long were they approaching down my roads
As if they owned them?'
The use of 'my' and 'they' are telling.
His poetry had more effect on me than any other writer from the mid-70s onwards and I looked forward to his new books with the kind of excitement I did later for the albums of Tom Waits.
Each was so different in approach and content, yet grew organically from his body of work : from the bog people of 'North' to those moving elegies of 'Field Work'.
It was always so rewarding teaching his work at GCSE and 'A' Level, as I felt I could give an extra insight to their inspirations.
He brought together his wide learning from Celtic mythology, Irish history and the Classical tradition so naturally, it never felt like he was being deliberately difficult.
So many events, sights and even sounds bring back his poems and when, in Japan, I heard the curious mating-calls of frogs I couldn't help thinking of 'Death of a Naturalist' and Heaney's description of his boyhood experience.
I seriously wonder if any other poet will have the kind of profound effect on my life and work which Seamus Heaney has had.
I do wish I'd spoken to him that time in Bellaghy, just to say thanks and tell him - 'I write poetry too.'
Of slow, slow country accent
over the lough
of the dialect words
like amethyst dragonflies
hovering over the ponds
of flags of bog-cotton :
small white fists
defiant in the marshlands
of the road-block, word-block,
night-stopping light and gun
pointed at the head
of blackberry ink staining
and thorns splintering deep :
the flow of juice and blood
of rotting flax turned
to linen-white sheet and map
of a body breached
of the word-cut ;
of feet, both left and right,
leading talk to potato yield.
* To reply to 'Student' (no email). I went to one of these Grammar schools and it was generally dreadful. It was a myth about their excellence. In n. Ireland the majority of pupils are condemned to failure. Of course, this also happens in our so-called Comprehensive system, but at least the sense of failure isn't built into the entire education system, as it is with the selection process.
In n.Ireland I know (from my wife's intimate knowledge of it) that it favours the middle-classes (of both sects) and exacerbates class divisions.
I would like to see a genuinely Comprehensive system, with no private schools ( similar to Finland), the very opposite of what is happening in England.
My wife went to a Grammar school in the six counties and holds the same views as me.
I felt great guilt. If only I'd phoned sooner. If only I'd contacted the police earlier than I did.
All those years ago, when my stepfather came to lodge in our house, after we'd moved from Aber to Cambridge.....
He taught me chess and snooker and deliberately let me win just to boost my confidence.
I never carried on with chess when he left my life at the age of eleven to become a 'mystery man', meeting my mother but never me in those years when divorce was an even muckier business.
I did play snooker again at Uni. Though my degree was in English with a subsidiary in Pinball Studies, snooker was one of the many 'modules ' at the Old Union building (including table footie and newspaper reading).
He was a slick, single-minded and successful salesman then, living off commission and dedicated to life on the road, wooing firm after firm.
He was equally dedicated to my mother and when they married I was 17 and living with them Our relationship had become much more tense.
I was used to living with my mother and being aware of the unseen,visiting lover. Suddenly, I was thrust into a situation where I shared a house with this relative stranger, who had been in my life many years previously.
I believe he expected the compliant ever-eager boy I'd been then, not the complicated adolescent obsessed with literature; an aspiring intellectual into Soft Machine and James Joyce.
He worked all hours and was very possessive of my mother (not that she'd ever given me any attention).
I was uprooted from a village where I had friends and he had to cope with a stroppy sixth-former.
At eighteen and off to university, they told me he was going to work on the Continent. I now know this was an invention : they simply did not want me to live with them.
However, what could have been a rejection turned out to be a vital part of my life, as I went to live in Barry with my paternal grandmother and returned to Wales at last.
I only saw them occasionally after that, when they visited me at Aber. When I married and had children , they made it obvious that we were not welcome and, like my siblings, I became estranged from my mother and stepfather.
Even when my son played a concert in their home town for the National Children's Orchestra, they showed no interest in supporting him.
It might seem astonishing, but my mother was never a maternal person and we always regarded ourselves as 'responsibilities'.
She was the exact opposite of her own mother, who only had one child, but relished looking after us, especially my sister who she had looked after in her infancy with such devotion.
My stepfather was used as an excuse for this lack of contact, but I knew it was just as much my mother.
When she was eventually confined to a Care Home and imprisoned in a bed all day long, he would often phone seeking advice and assistance. Through those calls and her great concern for her welfare, we gradually became closer.
It was ironic, because when they were fit and healthy they would never have rung!
Yet then I felt needed and however distant, the telephone line became our strong cable of connection.
Since my mother died in 2008, this had become so much more important to him.
He had no family left of his own and therefore planned, for many years, so many schemes which never came to fruition.
Through our phone-calls, we became friends again.
Though I'd moan when he rang too often, I knew how much he enjoyed our conversations.
He frequently talked about moving to this area: a bungalow maybe, though none was ever quite right. A flat more likely in sheltered accomodation, though how could he ever travel down, even if I came up and accompanied him on the train?
In truth, I could tell from his house why he could never have moved.
It was precisely the same as when my mother had lived with him.
He had suspended time on purpose, to keep alive those memories.
The only difference being her ashes kept on top of the piano, awaiting the time when they'd be thrown together into the waves at Tanybwlch beach.
I don't feel burdened by guilt now I know that a neighbour visited him the day he died and told us how well he seemed: much better as the weather had cooled somewhat.
He should have gone into hospital yet adamantly refused, stubbornly remaining in that house - so full of my mother's presence - to the very last.
I phoned the police after I failed to get through time and again and they found him lying by his bed.
I still keep thinking he will ring.
WAITING FOR YOUR CALL
i.m Ian Garratt
I am waiting for your call;
I shall be waiting hours, days,
weeks, seasons and years,
even though I witnessed you
laid waxen and still.
That is the line we knew,
not railways planned to take,
or motorways which stretched
in your thoughts like pain
which kept you awake.
Once or twice each day
and though the ringing's stopped
I'm listening out for it ;
know how voices interlink
like palms or fingers of sound.
Even though I hold your book
with numbers in a hand
so thin and web-like,
I'm waiting for your call:
feel sure my dreams will connect.
- We're gonna stuff you Redbirds in November.....or is it Ladybirds?
- Oh aye, very funny! By then Arsenal will have bought your best two players.
- No way! Arsenal are bidding for everyone who's decent......none of your players, of course.
- Well, we're just bedding in. Malky's finding the right team and formation.....besides, we're going to sign another couple before the deadline.
- You'll need more than a couple, you'll need.......
- So what was your first result this season then?
- Yeah, against Man U and not West-bloody-Ham!
- Still, you were at home.
- We'll see......you'll be down by Christmas I reckon.
- You never know, we could have some wonder-kid coming up through the ranks, say that Rhys Healey, or even.......
- That Etien Veronica? Scores shitloads for the Under 17s and cost the same as Michu.
- Bloody 'ell mun, you certainly know your Bluebirds.
- Yeah, I used to support them, before they starting losing!
( This conversation takes place in somewhere like Aberdare, where there are Bluebirds & Swans).
Don't think I've ever felt such thrill and trepidation before the first Home game.
It's like my younger daughter on the high ropes of Aerial Extreme, balancing way above the ground, yet afraid of falling despite the harness.
( Our harness is knowing that, with the parachute payment, we'll most likely come straight back up if we should go down this season........but I'd rather not speculate.)
I know we're not as well equipped as rivals Swansea were, despite being Champions to their play-off victory.
They've played possession football a la Barcelona for years, while we've relied on teamwork, resilient defence and brilliance from Marshall, Kim and occasionally Bellers, Whitts and Noone.
Realistically, I ought to be totally pessimistic.
However, I believe we'll do okay once we've settled in, found the right formation, selected the right players and signed a couple more (hopefully a striker and winger).
Some of my wariness comes from manager Malky Mackay. He is undoubtedly one of our best ever, yet reluctant to get rid of players he signed and who aren't up to the Premier. He must be ruthless and admit that the likes of Kiss, Gestede, Smith and also Velikonja (who has only played a couple of times) need to move on.
Then there's the matter of team selection.
While I can understand playing two holding midfielders away from home (Medel and Gunnarsson the obvious choices), it's a different matter at home.
It's a shame we didn't sign Ince as we definitely need a winger, though Conway and Noone should be given a chance to prove themselves.
At home, he should select one defensive midfielder (Medel) and play either 4-1-4-1 or 4-1-3-2, depending on the opposition.
Having seen nothing of Cornelius yet , I can't judge if he's up to playing a lone striker role, like King Kenny did. Campbell can do the job if he is given enough support and service though.
Kim's position is vital and he must be allowed the freedom to roam 'in the hole', whereas Bellamy could be deployed wide or centrally.
The latter's form is a real worry. He tried so hard all last season, yet was out-of-sorts during the final stretch, in contrast to Conway, whose form improved as the season went on and he gained more upper body strength (most likely from his boxing).
Bellamy needs to be rested occasionally and that will need more strength in depth than we possess at present.
If we could sign either Maloney or Mcmanaman from Wigan I would be delighted, but the likelihood is a player from the Continent such as Montero.
Facing Man City on Sunday will be even more testing than West ham away., especially after their demolition of Newcastle showed how they will be serious challengers for the title alongside Man U and Chelsea.
I was disappointed with Malky's selection v. the Hammers : Brayford or McNaughton(who finished last season in style) should've played at right-back, Hudson alongside Caulker rather than Turner (who is often too slow and a poor passer).
Having said that, I trust our manager to get it right.......eventually.
GET EWSED T LOSIN, MUN
Better get ewsed t losin, mun,
pickin up points when yew cun.
Int no red gonna elp yew out,
before yew know it, down 'n' out.
Yew'll be glad of a bloody goal,
or a 0-0 draw away to Ull.
Ee cun pour in millions tha Vincent Tan,
but-a Premier's ruthless t so many fans.
Yew should plan f nex season like Readin done ;
get-a parachute, ang on t players, mun.
Still, long as yew beat-a Jacks yew say,
does the rest of-a season matter anyway?
Well, one good thing, yew might return t blue,
when ee sells an buggers off in is bright red suit.
Whatever you do
they're looking at you
Snowden's told us
what we always knew
an e-mail, a text,
a facebook status
a message, mobile call ;
views or no views
yes and no people,
I-don't- know people
details as boring
as making a stew
Snowden, like his namesake
in 'Catch 22'
has spilled that truth
all over the world
you could be praising Security Services
for the good work they do
preaching violent revolution
or duelling with haiku
whatever,whatever,whatever you do -
they'll be looking at you.
I would talk with the statue
in the Bay
renowned and ignoring
for the sea
(welcoming hillsides inland)
I'd say -
you've neglected us so long?
Only now stepped
into family history?'
(his pub name
not exotic stage one)
'And did you ever chat
with my Gran?
Sample those phrases
she carved so carefully ;
sculpted, yet spoken.