I spend a lot of time on the public transport system in Wales. I am not wilfully a non-driver, though my wife and older daughter would dub me a master of procrastination. I can't decide if they're right or not. My glaucoma might be a deterrent, but it shouldn't be an excuse. At my last check up I asked the Consultant about driving and he told me to consult my optician. There's experts for you!
What strikes me about the system is the total lack of consistency and planning. Despite the fact shops open on Sundays, there remain no buses and few trains on that day. Despite the fact that many work irregular hours in cities like Cardiff, buses and trains run less frequently after 6 pm and stop at about 11 pm.
In terms of pricing, the lack of consistency is appalling: I pay more for a return to nearby Hirwaun than I do to Cardiff! Single day Explorer tickets are all very well, but can only be used with the same company. A journey from Merthyr to Neath or Port Talbot will require switching companies and is actually more expensive than a long train one via Cardiff.
Local buses provide regular and resonably-priced services throughout the day, yet must fear that hooligan lager louts emerge after 6.15 pm, as that is when most of them cease completely in towns like Merthyr.
I recall with affection those Merthyr Corporation buses which would run past 10 pm. They were probably losing a lot of money, but they could have been rationalised and smaller buses introduced instead of the wholesale deregulation of Thatcher years, which ended with the inevitable monopolies anyway.
What's needed desperately is an all-Wales transport system, whereby bus , rail and ,indeed, cycle tracks, are planned in conjunction not in competition with each other.
This can only be achieved realistically if we have co-operative bus companies and a nationalised rail network, with full worker participation including the election and recall of management. Regular users should also play a vital part in the running of these.
The priorities should be the electrification of lines west ( ultimately, as far as Fishguard) and the Valley lines ( so I can travel home quicker after City matches!). North-south services, which have been improved of late, could be further boosted by the opening of new tracks, preferably linking Abergavenny with the north in an all-Wales solution.
If rail networks naturally provide north-south links, then buses must co-ordinate with these by providing express east-west services.
I once went by bus from Pontypridd to Bridgend ( once was enough!), a relatively short distance yet a major ordeal. It took one and half hours and seemed to double back on itself several times. Merthyr to Abergavenny takes just as long and means it's impractical to plan train journeys from that town.
I can understand the necessity for some buses to go through every village and estate, but fast buses are also needed and these would enhance people's opportunities of looking for employment further afield.
According to Traveline Cymru ( who are generally very accurate with timetables, by the way) the Merthyr to Swansea buses have been axed. This is a crazy situation given the way Swansea is developing as a city to rival Cardiff in terms of facilities and shopping.
Anybody who has travelled by train on a Sunday knows that every Sunday is National Engineering Day and a train journey is often taken by bus. These buses can add up to an hour on longer journeys , as they have to call at out-of-the-way stations.
Free bus travel for pensioners is in many ways an excellent policy, but all that subsidy is going into private firms. A fully co-ordinated Welsh transport policy should instead provide incentives to use an electrified train system, while cities in particular should develop trams ( I can't help thinking of the Super Furries song........... who else could make a great rock song with the line - 'We have reduced emissions by 75%.'? ).
Train fares have risen on a regular basis recently and the £7 return from Merthyr to Cardiff doesn't vary according to peak or off-peak times, as it sensibly used to. Such fares are coercing people into using buses, which inevitably means more road congestion. Profits are the driving force and not the Welsh people.
Cycle hire at stations and cycle tracks which run from them would be a massive boost for tourism and also help those who wish to take their bikes on the train and then cycle afterwards.
On a separate yet related issue, any future Welsh bus co-op's and Tren Cymru could play a much greater role in promoting our culture and especially our literature.
Private companies have done this in a sporadic manner with posters and , very rarely, writers addressing bemused travellers with their sonnets and haiku. A short extract from my poem 'Mouthy' once appeared on the Valley Lines, minus the swearing! Ironically , most of the sonnets from my book 'Walking On Waste' were written on those trains.
There are ample spaces for such posters on buses, trains, in bus-shelters, waiting rooms and stations themselves.
There's also a real opportunity for music and literature. Original music could be piped onto buses and used over train p.a's. Poetry could be read between announcements.
Imagine a journey from Newport to Carmarthen which begins with Catherine Fisher's work and ends with Menna Elfyn? It'd be like a literary tour of Wales without the need for coaches and guides.
I always recall one imaginative guard who, as we neared a scorching Merthyr announced over the p.a. - ' We are now about to land in Merthyr. The temperature is 25 degrees and rising.' Our stand-up comics could sit down for once and take over occasionally to entertain. You never know, folk might even throw off those ubiquitous head-phones!
Artwork should be just as widespread as poetry, with exhibitions on the move everywhere and waiting-rooms a place for our print-makers to show their stuff.
And how about all those drab shelters livened up by murals, sculptures and, indeed, graffiti artists?
In short, an integrated transport system for Cymru could also be a cultural one : lines of communication in the widest possible sense.
Buses, like trains, can provide inspiration..........
THE GIRL OO BECOME BLONDE
Sittin on-a bus t Cardiff
nex to the minginest person as always,
windows shut an I'm gaggin.
Then this girl, jest by Whitchurch,
does this really weird thing
('bout 16, dresssed in Chinos an Converse) ;
she puts a back cap over er air,
short black air an simple
not like er fren's purpley streaks an spikes;
takes out a long blonde wig
from a plastic bag an puts it on ;
nobuddy bats an eye-lid.
The girl seems appy an pats er wig
an I carn elp wonderin what for :
some date with a bloke oo likes em fair?
Is it some disguise, or t make er
look a lot older in a bar?
On a bus fulla baldies and silveries
an the mankiest person in-a universe,
the girl looks more like an actress
getting ready f'r er latest role.
Last week saw a most historic event in Wales : the election to a party leadership of the most left-wing candidate ever. I was delighted to have played a small part, by voting for Leanne Wood number 1 and no others. When she won the leadership race of Plaid Cymru I was sitting in a surgery in Merthyr. The doctor must've thought I was petrified at the possibility of a brain transplant with only local anaesthetic, as I entered his room with tears in my eyes. My older daughter, on the spot as ever, had just texted with the message 'LEANNE!!!'
She was as shocked as me. I had expected Elin Jones to win convincingly, as had the BBC in their poll that day (mind , they did get it wrong over the Milibands). I refused to vote for Lord Thomas, who had abandoned independence, seemed obsessed with making pacts with Labour
, is avidly pro-nuclear and a member of a House which should be abolished.
Likewise Elin Jones, who is pro badger-culling and fox-hunting to appease her farming constituency and, more significantly, anti-Trade Union. She advocated AMs going through the picket lines of public sector workers in order to attend the Senedd, which hardly illustrates any solidarity with some of the lowest paid workers in the country.
Having known Leanne through campaigns and also the magazine 'Celyn' over many years ( though not well, it must be said), I am fully aware of her socialist and republican principles, which she has adhered to despite the mockery of the media in some instances.
Her unflinching ideals mark her out as exceptional in Welsh politics and, indeed, in politics generally, where short-termism is the order of the day and politicians will do anything to appeal instantly to voters (usually,involving the royal family or the military).
I believe many people, like myself, joined the Blaid to vote for her and support her. There is a great admiration for her decentralist socialism, which isn't merely lip-service to co-operatives and ownership of Welsh resources. There is also great respect for her feminism which preaches equality for men and women and her embracing of the Welsh language to such an extent that, even as a learner, she won the backing of Cymdeithas yr Iaith.
She will have to be very strong to maintain her ideals, especially in the face of those in her own party who do not share them. Her vision of a very different Cymru, where people are valued and take part in the running of their own industries is by no means the 'Fisher Price' politics of Elin Jones's gibe in the leadership election.
Rather, it is Toytown politics to accept that we go on fiddling with a system which is evidently broken.
Of course, the media in Wales( particularly TV and radio) immediately responded to her election with typical snide remarks. BBC TV's political correspondent Betsan Powys was obviously thinking about her OBE when she referred to Leanne's 'Mrs Windsor' expulsion from the Senedd in terms of a juvenile aberration. Moreover, she kept insisting that Ms Wood wasn't a 'safe pair of hands'.
I sincerely hope that Leanne Wood responds fully to the faith placed in her by many. I am disappointed that she has agreed to meet the aforesaid Mrs Windsor, as she has no Constitutional obligation to do so and it would be a chance to express her republican views more widely if she refused.
However, her early statements about public sector pay are a promising challenge to a Labour Party which still takes its support for granted in so many urban areas of Wales.
That party believe that Plaid Cymru have tried to attack them from the Left before and failed. When exactly that took place I don't know, because there has never been a leftist leader previously who could actually inspire Trade Union allegiance and appeal to those who are totally disillusioned with all parties.
The Labour Party in Wales may like to think of itself as a bastion against Blairism yet, after years of control in the Senedd and on numerous Councils, it has not solved the underlying economic problems facing our people, nor can it do so as a party lacking any imaginative ideas to change society.
It is laughable when Labour harp on about the greening of the Valleys. The biggest mark over Merthyr is the vast opencast at Ffos-y-Fran which , like coal and lime tips of old, totally dominates this town. It sends out a clear message - ' Yes, we are still an internal colony.......still ripe for fossil fuel exploitation!' Our Labour AM and MP were non-existent in the campaign against it.
So, while I greet Leanne Wood's victory with much enthusiasm, I am also wary that, like Lord Elis-Thomas before her, the system may change her and she may not alter the system.
WHEN I LOSE FAITH
When I lose faith in my team
and the keeper fumbles, a defender stumbles
and we lose again,
when there's no solace
in my action-replay brain ;
there's a rhythm of steps to the next game.
When I lose faith in my nation,
when the flag cannot wrap around
and warm the poor through winter nights;
when even some with yr iaith
see us as small and insignificant ;
there's a song can lift from valley to mountain.
When I lose faith in those I love
as we bicker and blame
and want to escape and run
as far away as we can,
every habit a hooking snag ;
there's forgiveness of kiss and hope of hug.
When I lose faith in my art,
when rejections fall onto the doormat,
when sentences tread so heavily
they print a too familiar path,
when poems and stories pile like leaves ;
there's a wind swirls me, making me dance.
When I lose faith in my politics,
when ideals I cherish are mocked
as fantasies and everyone seems out
for grabs or whatever can be bought
and a different world is just a paper thought ;
there's a march, a speech, a chant with arms linked.
When I lose faith in myself,
when I wake up and death is freezing
down my spine making me inert,
when dreams appear better places
than my home, where I cannot be reached ;
there's a smile or joke
White heat of the disco ball in the local church hall, promising a dazzle-dance, a girl and a chance. White heat of the summer barley fields, the rolling dens, electric touch of skin on skin.
White heat of technology faraway in the skies, Concord leaving sound behind and those Neil Armstrong strides.
I have enjoyed 'White Heat' on television so far, though it only touches on the spirit of the 60s.
It is too much of an artificial construct and the dialogue rather stilted. In order to deal with the awakening of issues of gender, sexuality and Civil Rights we are suppposed to believe that posh yet revolutionary protagonist Jack has succeeded in bringing together six very different students as his tenants in a London house owned by his MP father.
However, this seems too much like a Big Brother experiment, created so that the major concerns of the times can be dealt with. I'm sure that Orla, the devout northern Irish Catholic, would never have agreed to Jack's diktats on 'free love' in the first place and others would have resisted.
I admired the way the character Charlotte (played by the gorgeous Claire Foy) was developed through her totally credible conflict with her parents, even though her clothes change from 50s to 60s in the taxi and wielding of 'Lady Chatterley' were both too forced.
I recall going out with a girl very much like her, who even wore the same red PVC coat! I thought she was beyond me and I turned out to be right! She liked me 'as a friend' and soon after I stopped seeing her she began dating my nemesis, the Head Boy who owned a motorbike and captained the rugby team.
My youthful years straddled the decades, so the 60s were my teenage era.
The kind of class warfare I indulged in were constant battles with teachers who all had their own forms of torture, either physical or the sheer boredom of lessons.
The only street fighting I did was when we used to raid houses with bangers on Bonfire Night, or attack students with pea-shooters on Rag Day. My brother was one of them ; being set in concrete for charity, if I remember rightly.
There's no doubt my background was completely different to any of the characters in 'White Heat' : son of a single mother who had always considered herself 'shocking' when it came to any sexual matters and who flirted with Communism and CND, I was never confined or restricted; if anything given too much licence.
In fact, my brother was probably the most rebellious by being the most conservative. He joined the Armed Forces and showed no interest in a popular musical revolution which always engrossed me.
On the other hand, my sister often tried to 'out-shock' my mother. She studied Social Anthropology at a London Uni. and visiting her I glimpsed something of that world depicted in 'White Heat'. She left Uni. to work at a kibbutz in Israel, doing 'a gap year' before anyone had even coined that phrase.
The 60s did keep invading and disturbing our old-fashioned Grammar School.
There was a drugs raid once and many of my friends were hauled out of lessons and interrogated by police on the premises. One of my friends ( whose brother was well-known for designing one album cover of a certain Elton John.......whatever happened to him?) was viciously attacked down town ; he had long hair and was mistaken for a student.
We had one influential English teacher who was an Asian escapee from the apartheid regime in S. Africa and spoke about it on occasions. He was an inspirational teacher of Shakespeare and mostly tolerant of my heresies. He was a rarity then : someone who possessed a life outside the classroom and was unafraid to share it with us.
6th formers in the late 60s were increasingly defined by the teams we supported, but especially by the music we liked and , at one stage, SOUL versus BLUES was as big a conflict as Oasis and Blur became for my older daughter's generation.
Though I favoured the Blues and went to see John Mayall's band play locally, I savoured being apart from the mainstream: the only one who followed Soft Machine and preferred T.S. Eliot's words to those of Bob Dylan.
One thing I vividly recall are the many times we visited an open psychiatric hospital outside town. We went to see my sister there, as she had fractured her skull whilst out walking on a mountain in Israel. She was fortunate to survive and was knocked back to infancy.
The place was full of casualties of the 60s : suicides and breakdowns, drug addicts and victims of a time of excess, where no such consequences had been foreseen.
However, for every victim like Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green, there was a hero like Lennon and none of this prevented me from going to Uni. and experimenting, if not fully, then to a considerable degree. I gained a BA in English with a subsidiary in Piss Artistry.
At Aberystwyth, the 60s hung on into the next decade in the form of many hippies there, whose dope-fuelled parties we attended and who did possess the wealth and privilege of Jack in the series.
However, there were signs of a change. Almost all my friends came from working-class backgrounds and had the kind of anger and desire for change more closely associated with the punks.
My best mate was an example : Manchester accent, black leather jacket , long black hair, he quoted Nietsche and read the anarchist paper 'Black Flag'. His hero was Rimbaud and he once attended a Fancy Dress Ball as a Kamikaze pilot, dive-bombing terrified females on the dance floor. In the early 70s, he was a walking prophecy of punk and a sign that 'Peace & Love' was turning darker, becoming more nihilistic.
Black heat of a flag, a fist, a future where rules would be fired and you could charcoal a world without leaders.
Black heat of anger : bottles thrown like grenades and glass shattering on the night-time, sleeping town.
Black heat of Beefheart : tributaries of Blues, dream imagery and jagged jazz poetry joining in a torrent to cut deep chasms, gullies.
SHE WORE A RED MAC
Everyone was after her,
even my friend Ben
who was more interested
in the demise of Harold Wilson.
She was a Marianne Faithfull
to our rock fantasies,
a Twiggy to our doodled designs,
to our aspiring lenses, Julie Christie.
After two months of spluttered hellos
and passing her house on my bike
on the way to nowhere in the hope......
a mutual mate Chris was go-between.
Our first date late on the Rec.
I affected a gruff accent,
she kept asking if I had a cold :
nearest I got, pushing her on a swing.
We did walk together after that.
She wore a bright red PVC mac.
I even plastered my curly hair down
to turn it into a Beatles mop.
She was so pretty, my arm was limp
as I tried to wind it round her.
She went stiff as a mannequin,
the red plastic colder than leather.
Later on in our non-relationship
she said - 'Chris called me frigid!
What do you think, Mike?'
I nodded wisely, cleared my throat.
Looked it up in a dictionary that night.
Soon found out she was meeting Chris,
he was starting a band, playing their first gig.
I vowed to be more insulting next time.
I once did a series of workshops at a school in the Vale of Glamorgan. In one classroom was a globe and on it Wales simply didn't exist! The name of 'Birmingham' covered the whole country. The other weekend I stayed at a Guest House in London run mostly by Slovakians.I tried to explain to one where I was from.
'Wales!' she looked at me curiously, as if I'd said 'Mars'.
'We are different. England's here and Wales is here.' I help up two hands to show our geographical position.
'Ah!.......Ireland!' she replied.
I didn't bother to try and imitate Tom Jones. It was too early in the morning and my toast was about to pop.
It took me back to W.Germany in the 1970s, when I had equal difficulty. My Ian Rush impersonations weren't that clever, especially as I had hair like Kevin Keegan except his was permed and mine natural.
All this comes to me after a week when both Miliband and Clegg issued rallying cries in defence of the Union. Miliband argued that Britain must remain united because people in Glasgow and London suffer the same privations.
He didn't go on to say that those in Athens and Madrid also struggle to exist because of the failures of austerity measures and the demise of capitalism. His theory doesn't hold up.
For one, the SNP Government has attempted to make growth rather than cuts a priority, so the situations in Glasgow and London aren't the same. For another, the logical development of this is the advocacy of international socialism not British nationalism and I doubt Miliband would embrace that.
Clegg's call for the UK to remain as one entity was much closer to traditional Tory British nationalism. When summing up 'our' shared history he immediately referred to past wars and the way people had fought and died together.
This is the most common definition of Britain which avoids Empire and exploitation.
It is the kind of negative and bellicose definition which Welsh nationalism has too often veered towards in the past. You have only to look at the less convincing poetry of Harri Webb and R. S. Thomas to realise that hatred of the English seems our abiding passion.
Yet, if we are to have a genuine debate about independence, such as the referendum in Scotland has provoked, then we need to address this.
For too long, we've seen ourselves in these negative terms: as what we aren't, rather than what we actually are.
Narrow Anglophobia only leads to blame culture of the simplest kind. We must take responsibility for our own predicament, rather than continually fobbing it off onto the perceived enemy.
Our self-confidence may have grown with the emergence of the Welsh Assembly, but we are still unable to shake off the legacy of being an internal colony.
When our coal, iron, copper and then cheap labour economy all collapsed, to be replaced by limited light industry, public sector and retail, it only enhanced our feeling of dependence on British institutions.
This is why the lesson of Tower Colliery need to be applied throughout Cymru. If the Tower miners could succeed as worker-owners and run their own pit for so long, then why can't such a structure be applied elsewhere?
The most familiar comment by the many who doubt our ability to stand as a nation, is that we couldn't exist economically.
Yet, you wonder if these people look around them now. Under Labour conditons barely improved, but under the present ConDem Gov. we are in a dire situation. Unemployment is rife and even a third of graduates getting jobs are filling posts they could have had after GCSEs!. Skilled workers and graduates' talents are totally wasted, leaving them bereft of hope.
Benefits are cut and wages frozen. Town centres symbolize our plight : with pound shops, charity shops and pawnbrokers now familiar sights.
I truly believe that a new vision for Wales - such as espoused by the likes of Leanne Wood in Plaid Cymru - would mean a gradual transformation of our economy, as we fully utilise the many skills available, control our natural resources and take complete charge of our infrastructure.
We should learn from Scotland, but not rely on a single personality in the way Alex Salmond is seen to represent their desire for self-determination; for all his guile and charisma, he is a willing partner of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Moreover, he is a pro-monarchist who would embrace NATO.
We need to become a thoroughly modern democracy, with an elected President as representative ( as in Ireland, but less orientated towards the professional classes). We need to express our anti-militarist tradition and distance ourselves from an organisation which seeks to interfere in the running of other countries through the use of force.
We must not hold out for a future where water becomes our 'North Sea Oil'. Of course, our plentiful water and , indeed, energy potential, would be crucial, but far more important is the need to fully realise the many abilities of our people and ensure that they aren't forced to go elsewhere to use them.
I want Cymru to be there on that globe, not overwritten by Birmingham. I want it to be a country recognizable in its own right, not mistaken for Ireland.
I was not surprised that only 7% of the people polled last week favoured independence. If it seems an irrelevance to them, then I can understand that . Yet the Tower experience tells us that we can do it if we believe and fight hard enough and, in our nagging uncertainty, we are definitely our own enemies.
SO MUCH POWER
And the Lords refused to vote
for their own abolition.
Soldiers declined to admit
the pointlessness of every war.
The monarchy justified its credibility
by shaking, in gloves, the hands of the poor.
Bankers blamed the global crisis,
which had nothing to do with them.
The newspaper proprietor had so much power
he didn't know what was going on.
Celebs told their stories to reporters
then moaned about unnecessary intrusion.
Police wanted more guns to tackle crime
as they got away with killing.
Companies sold us dreams of machines
to take away any need for action.
Politicians brought inspectors in
to scrutinize everybody but them.