Both my older children have said to me they could never live in London and I would certainly concur. I always feel a sense of panic on the crowded tube and lost, even if I do have some notion of the geography. The bus is preferable, at least it gives you an idea of where things are in relation to each other.
Some people relish the anonymity of cities, but I'd rather have a feeling of belonging in a village or small town. When I returned to Aberystwyth to live as a student I felt it was a town to fit my head. Even Barri (where I lived then) sprawled too much to the east , while I knew every inch of Aber (though curiously still have problems with street names).
I grew up in Penparcau, a village near Aber and like Heolgerrig, where I live now, loved it's proximity to both countryside and town. Penparcau had the hill of Pen Dinas with its strange unfinished monument, the rivers Rheidol and Ystwyth and sea at Tanybwlch. The town was a walk away for an adventurous six year-old, with a half-pier where we could plunder machines for chocolate.
Cities always seem to define themselves through areas anyway, rather than an entirety and Cardiff contains so many contrasts, between say rough Ely and posh Pontcanna (to use two stereotypes). Although my older children have both lived in Cardiff, I don't think they have put down roots there.
As a teenager, I lived in two very different village communities which starkly defined the influences of the city. The first was Horseheath on the border between Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, a farming community though some worked at a nearby factory.
Much more than the city, the classes did mix, though my friend the Rector's son would never play with the village lads as I did endlessly, both footie and cricket. The palatial landowner's house up the road was another matter and his two gorgeous daughters were beyond our chances, even if they did travel on the same bus to school.
Most of my friends were sons and daughters of farm and factory workers
and I soon picked up their distinctive accent. My Grammar school divided between 'city' and 'country' and I soon sided with the latter, loving the burr and rounded vowels which were the opposite of swallowed Cockney of Cambridge.
When we moved to my stepfather's house between Whittlesford and Duxford it was a different world completely. This was a middle-class area of no name, which housed commuters and every morning I made the same trek to the train as they did. There was no sense of community whatsoever and it could have been a suburb of Cambridge.
My wife is from Belfast and shares my antipathy for cities. She spent too long surrounded by streets and estates not to value the closeness of moor and mountain, even though she doesn't appreciate the hostility of some neighbours in Merthyr.
When I lived in the city for five years I disliked it intensely, even somewhere as attractive and easy-going as Cambridge. The best of times was during my first year on our newly-built estate, where old allotments existed and we could roam them picking fruit. In retrospect, I think I only liked it because it reminded me so much of my filching days in Penparcau, where a badge of pride was a tale of being chased by a farmer brandishing a gun!
Cambridge offered no freedom to someone brought up to swim in Cardigan Bay, skim stones on rivers and make labyrinthine dens in bracken and gorse. Though I cycled everywhere, there seemed no way out of its endless streets and its murky river was no companion.
It belonged to someone else : the students or tourists.......definitely not to us.
Though we played footie and cricket for hours on Jesus Green, it was never ours like the cow-field we claimed in Horseheath, with two old branches for posts, cow-pats to dodge and a boggy ditch for the touch-line. Jesus Green was smooth and lawn-like and could've been anywhere.
Even now, Heolgerrig has little left of community, which revolves around the Primary school if anything. Now the Thomases have left, our Post Office is no longer a bastion of Cymraeg and one of our two pubs has recently been shut. New housing estates are being built despite the recession and it is falling further into commuterdom.
Yet there's such promise in the Waun and Aberdar Mountain. Cattle have at last returned to the Waun, though the grass is so long they seem to be drowning in wild rye. The landowners have given up - for the present at least - their stories about cows collapsing down old mine-shafts; a ruse to prepare the way for opencast mining.
The mountain gives up its crops of wimberries and blackberries in abundance and there are always exciting visitors such as the Tawny Owl which shrieked so loudly from our oak tree the other night that my young daughter was sent scurrying downstairs like a petrified rodent !
This is a poem about being in Cardiff and its negativity, though I don't always feel this way.
EVERYBODY'S SOMEWHERE ELSE
Today like many others
on the streets
in the city
waiting for the green man,
it's normal to be mad
everybody's somewhere else
talking to themselves :
tiny ear-pieces you can't see
and tiny microphones
you can't detect
I don't reply
I don't wide berth
everyone lost in private sound :
and invisible nets
their palms are screens
their fingers pad,
their faces books
of pages failed to print,
arms raised in praise of masts
everyone is where they're not
and by the time they match
the voices to the flesh,
they'll be bedded down
where there is no searched or found.
Unlike professionally-opinionated Prof. David Starkey, historian and master of the ludicrous generalisation, I don't pretend to have a PhD on 'The Street' and the effects of gangster rap. Though I have to say to him, why now? Why not any other time in the last decade or more, when this rap has been just as influential?
I cannot pretend to know what it's really like to be young in the cities of England ( because most of those rioters were young ); to feel that intense pressure to join a gang, to be part of its close network, its comradeship and to feel the pull of violence and criminality, so the mean streets of Hackney resembled those of L.A.
The part played by gangs in the riots may have been important, but it was also an abandonment of their traditional roles, which suggests the leaders weren't in control. As one commentator said - ' If you're operating a large drugs syndicate, the last thing you want is the place crawling with police.' Gangs left their territories and forgot allegiances for once, with a common purpose of crime always manifest. Though many of those prosecuted were individuals caught up in the mayhem.
When I first began teaching in Merthyr in one of the most deprived areas in Europe over 30 years ago, there was an outbreak of gang warfare on the yards. It was very vicious as they were vying for control; 'boyz' out to prove who was hardest.
It was no accident that this was also the most oppressive and violent era in education I've experienced, with the cane used regularly and almost every teacher using some form of physical punishment. One serial offender once told me he'd prefer the cane to detention any day : it was over much more quickly. This lad went though school being punished and emerged to spend a lot of time in Her Majesty's institutions ( and I don't mean the armed forces!).
Violence bred violence and, as the system improved markedly to favour the pupils, the influences of gangs waned. They were replaced by individual criminalised families and others who warranted a undue influence by being 'rock 'ard'. However, generally school created an alternative atmosphere to the destructive forces of the estate and sometimes, the home.
For many, it was very difficult though. With parents who didn't care or single mothers constantly struggling to survive, many couldn't be changed by the school's 'other world'. These weren't always pupils without academic ability. I recall one girl ( who I wrote about in 'Sara's Story' in the book 'Child of Dust') who was extremely bright. She would invariably volunteer to read in class and was a vocal and articulate presence at all times. She was highly creative and her poems and stories were a revelation.
One day I found her writing a letter in class. I asked her who it was to and she told me her boyfriend in jail. I found out later he was a drug addict and well-known pusher.
After that I noticed an alarming deterioration in her personality : from an outgoing, lively character, she became sullen and withdrawn. Soon, she dropped out of Year 10 completely and I learnt that not only had she been taking hard drugs, but she'd become pregnant as well. The sense of waste and missed opportunities was tragic, yet she tried in vain to finish her English coursework from home.
How to break this feeling of rejection by family and society isn't easy to solve, of course. Job opportunities and an education system which values everybody and fails none are fundamental.
Moreover, education can do a lot more to find and encourage pupils' talents. Many disaffected pupils are also the ones who can express themselves very well through poetry and music and they aren't given enough chances to do so, with music not inclusive enough and poetry-writing marginalised.
To encourage a sense of belonging, local history must be the foundation-stone of the History syllabus. It should involve both individual and group research into family and place. This is certainly an area which has declined in recent years and the Welsh Bacc. could play a significant role in reviving it.
More vital is that youth clubs should be run which actually empower young people. It's interesting to note that in the weeks preceding the riot at Tottenham, 8 out of 13 youth clubs in Haringey had their funding cut. These clubs should have direct links to the Councils, so youngsters can make their voices heard and, above all, see that their proposals are taken on board and executed. Even more importantly, young people should have opportunities to carry out changes to their environment, helping to design murals and skate-parks and , indeed, construct them.
All these require investment and trust. Some are already happening with regeneration programmes, yet need to be co-ordinated so they are seen as levels of true democracy and participation and not just another 'scheme from above'.
The following poem is set in a rough, tough estate in the Valleys, but it could be a lot of places where trainers mark out a gang's territory. Poetry and artwork, rap and song : the children of such areas have so much to offer and we must not let them down.
Two Trainers Tied
Two trainers tied to telephone wire,
flick-tongued tightrope walkers
left them behind ; the gangland sign
declaring – ‘ Do not enter!
This terrortree is owers!’
Two trainers are like trophies
of animal ears always listening
to the conversations complaining
that somebody has fallen far
down to the white lines.
Two trainers marking a no-go area :
if you’re the wrong person
at the wrong time you’ll be dangled
like a puppet, then strings broken,
your limbs found in the gutter.
Two trainers like flags of the poor
hoisted from shoulder upon shoulder,
a ladder of bodies aspiring upwards ;
emptiness steps and stops mid-air,
along the wire waves of fear.
They went in without a care for the law or the disdain of the outside world. They attacked violently, burning and invading, only concerned with what they could acquire. Innocent people died and the fires flamed for days. Yes, the invasion of Iraq was a prime example of neo-imperialist looting.
This scenario uses what I call 'Left Switch', which I deployed in my poem 'Them Blue Ooligans' depicted the police as football hooligans on the rampage. My friend, comrade and fellow Red Poet Tim Richards has used this successfully on many occasions.
I am not trying to be over-simplistic in equating last week's riots in England with Blair's Iraq debacle, but I am picking up on an excellent point made by an Iranian-born rapper on Newsnight last week, where he argued that the rioters were merely following the example set by the upper echelons of society. He said that looters were behaving just like countries, who invade in order in take what they want (oil, in the case of Iraq).
Of course, such parallels are fundamental to any understanding and both Cameron and Miliband have stressed that the whole of society must take responsibility, even as they demonise the rioters while excusing the war, even as they allow the likes of Michael Gove to pay back money for goods acquired on expenses, whilst jailing one woman who simply received a pair of stolen shorts and actually slept through the riots!
There is, in short, a marked disparity between grand statements about collective guilt and their actions. The incident which sparked the initial riots in Tottenham - the police shooting of Mark Duggan - will be dealt with in due course ( whenever that is!). Yet if the police involved had been instantly suspended on discovering that he hadn't fired a bullet and was almost certainly executed on the streets, then Cameron would've been setting an example to the rest of society.
Instead, the police are universally praised for their bravery at the same time as being criticised for a lack of robust tactics. What can be more 'robust' than killing a man in such a way? If the Norwegian police could detain Breivik in much more fraught circumstances, then why not Duggan?
Bankers and tax evaders have long looted our society, playing on fear and greed in the international markets. Have they been punished in the retributive manner now being seen against so many rioters? No, they have been rescued by our taxes and rewarded by a resumption of the very bonus culture which caused the problems in the first place.
The rank hypocrisy does not stop there. Why are no journalists confronting Boris Johnson and fellow ex-Bullingdon Club members Cameron and Osbourne with their own pasts, when they went on the rampage, wrecking pubs and restaurants in Oxford?
There has been much speculation about the causes of the riots, but the malaise of capitalism hasn't often been raised. An exception was a fascinating article in the 'Independent' by Chumbawamba's Boff Whalley, who showed clearly that the word 'anarchy' had been much misused and abused by the tabloids.
What happened in England's towns and cities was the antithesis of true anarchy, a state without leaders but with an order greated by a belief in the basic goodness of humanity. It was leaders who created the conditions which led to them : poverty, heavy-handed policing and stringent cuts.
As the week's events unfolded it was very interesting to observe the changing use of language. They began as 'UK Riots' and then gradually the 'England Riots' became synonymous with British ones, as if England and Britain were interchangeable.
Despite short and erroneous columns in the 'Guardian ' and 'Independent', they never happened in Wales. Why is this important matter not discussed in the Anglocentric media?
I believe the reasons are as complex and manifold as those about the causes of England's Riots. After all, Gloucester and Bristol kicked off, yet not the more deprived cities of Cardiff and Swansea.
Our levels of poverty and unemployment are undoubtedly greater than England, though both are more entrenched and we benefited a good deal less from the New Labour regime, so the shock of relative poverty isn't so recent.
However, I genuinely think that , like Scotland, there are factors in our favour. With a comparatively new and gradually developing Senedd, we are witnessing a period of increasing self-confidence and the 'Yes' vote was indicative of that.
The expenses scandal which rocked Westminster and created mass disillusionment with politicians affected Wales, but AM's have shown much more openess and affinity with the struggles of the people. Despite dire economic circumstances, this self-confidence has seeped downwards.
Moreover, while the ConDem Gov. has illustrated its sheer callousness by abolishing EMA's, maintaining fanatical testing in schools and raising tuition fees, the governments in Cardiff Bay and Edinburgh have carried out Social Democratic policies which showed they did care about young people : refusing to get rid of EMA's, insisting on an education system without 'exam factories' and divisive Academies and not raising tuition fees.
Of course, many are totally alienated in Cymru : they don't vote because no parties represent their interests or alter their lives. Youth unemployement is rife and growing rapidly. Yet, especially in the Valleys, a semblance of community does remain. Despite it all, there's a fierce sense of belonging, reinforced by the static nature of those towns and villages over the last few decades.
I've merely touched upon the reasons why we avoided the riots of last week, but I believe that our education system, more caring government and sense of hope against the odds are just some.
NOT THE WELSH RIOTS
The riots never happened in Wales.........
because we're too civilised,
because we actually believe
in real communities
because we're all in prison anyway,
because the English started it
and we've got to be opposite
because we have a sense of belonging
and a sense of the future,
even if we've no idea what it is
they never happened in Cymru
because the only blackberries
are growing on bushes everywhere
because bards are enthroned not queens,
because of the Merthyr and Chartist Risings,
because our history's waiting to be reborn
because we couldn't be bothered,
we're all too high or low,
too exhausted after so many elections
the riots never happened in Wales
because we abolished SATs and league tables
which branded so many as failures
because someone, somewhere really cares
and we're busy lining up
for our free prescriptions
because of our pacifist traditions
and when we talk about 'the City' we mean footie,
because we have a lot less people to envy.
One person who had a profound effect on my political beliefs was a fellow garage-worker, who I met on my 'gap year'. It wasn't called a gap year then ; it should've been dubbed a 'I- haven't- a- clue-what-to-do' year really.
I wrote the poem 'John' about his premature and sudden death from a heart attack. He was one of many people I adopted as father figures, as I never got on with my own.
In his 20's, John had walked out from the Valleys' Depression to seek work in the nascent car factories of the Midlands. Now he was retired, but working part-time 'on the pumps'. In the middle of our many political discussions, he once told me - 'as I get older, I get more revolutionary.'
At that time he veered towards Plaid Cymru and that same year another Plaid activist in Barri persuaded me to go along to a local meeting addressed by their one Councillor, John Dixon , then of Dinas Powis. As an anarchist, it didn't take long for me to realise that I had little in common with them.
I feel now as John did then, just months before his untimely death, that every day reinforces my belief in revolutionary politics. I recently spoke to one prominent member of Plaid who dismissed Marxism sweepingly with - 'Is anyone a Marxist nowadays?' To which I instantly replied - 'Yes, I am actually!'
But it's much more complicated than that. Culturally and historically I identify with Cymru, Britain being a product of Empire, war and monarchy and Europe a conveniently constructed economic market. I want to see a socialist republic in Wales as I do in every country, each different according to their relative histories. Trotsky's 'world revolution' has never been more pertinent and we must organise globally as well as nationally and locally to overturn capitalism which thrives on the Markets' greed and gambling with the lives of the poor.
So economically I remain an avowed Marxist. While I can see that tinkering with the present system can have short-term benefits and would praise the efforts of the One Wales Government and the SNP to introduce universal policies such as free bus passes and prescriptions, this is ultimately 'pissing in the wind'.
In the end, SNP leader Salmond (seen as a role model by Plaid) knows that getting elected is all about not offending too many Scots and supporting the monarchy and, worse still, ingratiating himself to Rupert Murdoch to ensure that the 'Sun' in Scotland fully supported the SNP.
In short, Marx was right in his analysis of bourgeois democracy. It has an appearance of power, but the real power actually lies with the multi-national corporations. Gas and electricity prices rocket and many people will die this winter as a result, but the solution of re-nationalisation isn't even whispered by social democrats.
Yet it is the only solution to ensure price control and fairness for all. Of course, it must be very different next time around. The workers themselves must own the companies, so they have a continual interest in their improvement. They must be run on a democaratic basis, with management elected and accountable at all times.
As stock markets plummet, cuts abound and prices soar, as benefits are slashed and pensions and jobs threatened, the whole nature of capitalism should be questioned. In the long term, any system based on division, greed and 'boom and bust' will fail. Marxism is a relatively new philosophy in historical terms and, with the exception of Chile ( destroyed by their own military in league with the CIA), there have been no revolutions which fitted Marx's ideas of the majority of workers taking their place in history.
In the midst of all this, the best hope for social democracy in Wales (i.e. Plaid Cymru) are looking to their US-based guru Adam Price to return like Lenin to the Finland Station (there the analogy ends) and save us all!
The 'Western Mail' has spent the 'silly season' touting him as Wales's future 'Salmond factor', with a possible interim leader such as Leanne Wood.
Yet his absurdly argued 'Flotilla Effect' doesn't even do justice to reformist politics. More like 'the floater effect' , whereby it's impossible to flush the shit down the pan. The shit being capitalism and its unending series of crises.
Price's arguements about the benefits of being a small country in Europe are patently ludicrous. You have only to look at neo-liberal Ireland to see that. A succession of right-wing governments doling out the very low corporation tax Price advocates, have led that country to the brink.
His analysis is devoid of any Marxism, as befits a Harvard scholar. The problems created in Ireland with an unregulated banking sector and exploitative companies would merely be replicated in a capitalist Wales.
Furthermore, I am an anarchist as well, because I believe power must be distributed as widely as possible. Co-operatives need to be run democratically, as do educational establishments, with no hierarchies to cause endless friction as a result of bullying by management, headteachers etc.
With revolutionary politics coming to the fore in the Middle East and north Africa, it is positive aand refreshing to witness what can be achieved without resorting to the militarism of those oppressive regimes.
I am not naive enough to suppose that peaceful revolutions will inevitably happen in Europe in the near future, but simply do not see reformist social democratic parties like the Greens, Plaid or even some elements in Labour being able to deliver.
They may dismiss revolutionary politics as deluded, but I believe their adherence to a corrupt and ultimately destructive system is far more dangerous. Passing the Plaid stall this week at the National Eisteddfod I saw Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas sitting in splendour : monarchist, pro- nuclear power and peer. The system changes them, they do not chnage the system.
THE ROAD DOWN
The desert lands, flat and treeless
and dust in our throats
no water could wash away.
The motel where we stayed
on the road down, the noise
of other refugees from the Great Collapse.
This Leisure Centre where there is
no enjoyment, close to shopping malls
and diners I couldn't show my face.
The school where I disguise myself,
where I learn silence about a mother
stranger I haven't heard for years.
The hall we call home,the floor
we room, the mattresses we bed down,
and dreams I balance on top of canyons.
My father says - 'We're at the bottom, darlin'.....
there's only lookin' up from now on.'
I tell no-one where I'm living.
If it had been a flood or hurricane
we'd flown from........but job, house, debts ,
gone without breakages, except out heads.
I want to crack the mirror where
my mom's eyes stare back, to break
every neon mocking what we've become.