Mere pronunciation of your name can be offensive. This was brought home to me this week when, in the company of two Bernards, they both expressed their intense dislike of the American way of stressing the second syllable to make it 'Bern- ARRD.' One of them appeared to express a reluctance to even visit the States because of this and having met too many obnoxious Americans (not my experience, I must say). From my own background, I do actively dislike my full name 'Michael', the one my parents used to call me all the time and one my first poems were published under in Ireland. Perhaps it's because I've always associated it with a loveless home and the formality of schooling that I came to have so much antipathy towards it. And then, everyone who seemed to dislike me would deploy it like a weapon (or maybe I just believed they disliked me , as they used it?). One Deputy Head ( who was 'Merthyr Posh') would always greet me with the exaggerated formality of 'Hello Michael!' , then stare at my Adam's Apple to check if I was conforming to tie-wearing convention ( I was a teacher at the time, not a pupil!). It was a direct counter to my daily greeting of 'Orright?' which made him wince. Despite its associations with my father - who never had time for anyone but himself - I always liked my second name 'Geraint' and, living in England, the way it was inevitably mispronounced as 'Jer -AIN'T' (as in 'ISN'T'). My father used the shortened 'Ger' a gre
at deal and it sounded gentle and affectionate : the exact opposite of his personality. For a while, he aspired to be a writer and changed his name by de-poll to 'David Grant', so it sounded less Welsh ( how could you be a writer and be Welsh, was his Cymrophobic
theory). He couldn't even just adopt it as a pseudonym and when the letters to a 'Mr
D. Grant' started arriving at my Gran's house in Barry, where we both lived at the time, I had to stop her from giving them back to the postman. Choosing a name for your child should be thoughtful and meaningful and I can't fathom those who choose Scandinavian or Irish names without any connections with those countries. Worse still are the names of where they were conceived. I once taught a 'Carlton' (as in the hotel), but unsurprisingly never a 'Inialley' or a 'Backovan'. I have taught pupils with the most unfortunate names : one of the worst being in W.Germany where there was a boy called 'Bernd Dicks' (he could get away with it there, but should he ever move to Britain.....). The other was more recently and a boy actually called 'Ben Dover'. I think I might have put my foot in it and accused him of 'taking the mick' when he first told me! Surnames, of course, are harder to avoid. One girl I taught whose surname was 'Trollope' always kept insisting it was pronounced 'Trollopi', thus drawing attention to a word that most didn't know was a synonym for 'prozzie'. As a teacher, you soon get used to insults, often based around your nickname. The Comp. where I taught in Merthyr had a plethora of interesting nicknames, from a Head of Year called 'Hitler' to 'Dicky Bow Dai', 'Honey Monster', 'Action Man' and 'Sparrow Legs'. Sometimes it was simply the alliteration which attracted the pupils, like 'Potty Powell' and, at others, it was hard to explain the origin, such as 'Willy Pimp'. I never minded nicknames, so much as as those pupils who would find one aspect about you and constantly target it, knowing it would annoy. I vividly recall one girl who discovered my then small bald patch on the top of my head, just beginning its journey to full monkdom. She would duly focus on this almost every lesson, remarking on its rapid progress in the midst of my curly locks. She'd never shout anything out, preferring instead to comment in matter of fact manner, as if I knew nothing about it - 'Sir......yew know yewer bald patch is gettin bigger, don' yew?' I should've been wearing glasses at that time, but avoided them and squinted at the back rows of classrooms. I didn't want her attacks to be two-pronged! Now, when a few pissed Bluebird lads chant over to me on the train - 'Baldy! Do the Ayatollah!' I duly oblige and have a laugh. I always think of our ex-keeper and former Scotland international George Wood and one of my favourite chants - 'He's got no hair, but we don't care! Georgie, Georgie Wood!'
No offence like,
but yew’re a baldy bastard
with an ead like an egg,
if I woz t crack it open
yewer brain ud be
like a Cadbury Cream Egg.
An yewer breath’s more mingin
than my dog arfta ee’ve spewed up,
yew got warts on yewer face
jest like them witches
in ol Shakey’s ‘Macbeth’.
Ow come yew always sweat
like yew got taps
under yewer armpits :
B.O. = Bog Odour,
ever yeard of deodorant?
Yewer clothes ‘re so ancient
they’ll be back in fashion soon,
yew mus get em from Oxfam;
yewer trainers ‘re mankin,
yew look like a gypo :
where d’yew live, Bogey Road?
When yew talk it’s a bloody screech,
so igh-pitched the dogs go mad
an people in-a shops think
the fire-alarm’s gone off,
anybuddy ud think
yew’d ad yewer goolies chopped off!
No offence like!
War is very much on my mind this week : the horrific pictures from Gaza of a city and surroundings pummelled by superior and relentless Israeli military might.
The media try to be balanced, yet there is no balance in reality. It reminds me very much of n. Ireland, where the Catholic nationalist/republican population were occupied by both RUC and the army and constantly threatened by Loyalist paramilitaries.
The two sides are in no way even, as Israel prepare for a ground invasion which will see a lot more than the 700 Palestinians (many being being children) already murdered. The Israelis possess bomb shelters, both private and public to retreat to , as well as sophisticated equipment designed to take out Hamas' missiles.
Historical context is vital and never provided : from the highly problematic creation of a Jewish state imposed on Palestine, to the refusal of Zionists to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and the distinct probability that their Secret Service poisoned him.
Their intransigence has created Hamas and Hezbollah and will almost certainly lead to Palestinians in Gaza supporting more extreme jihadists in future.
Again it recalls the situation in n.Ireland, where the British army was initially backed by the nationalist/republican people as saviours, only for them to kill innocents on Bloody Sunday and show their true colours.
All these terrors of warfare only reinforce the necessity for a negotiated settlement and Israel, just like Britain in the six counties, will sooner or later have to come to terms with that.
The last person in the world they need to persuade them to join together for talks is so-called Middle East peace-broker Tony Blair. He should be sitting in front of an international court accused of war crimes, not lecturing the two sides on 'de-escalation'.
As we tend to glorify the armed forces as 'heroes' , we should remember that many with severe injuries as a result of conflict - both physical and mental - are totally ignored by the authorities as soon as they are no longer needed.
These soldiers are nothing but 'cannon fodder' for the grandiose designs of a disintegrating British nation-state and its rapidly fading Empire, as it still tries to act as an international policeman. ( Of course, this is selective and there was no talk of intervention in Bahrain, an ally, as this monarchy killed and tortured its Shia citizens. Indeed, Mrs Windsor endorsed this regime by inviting the King to her Jubilee celebrations!).
All this makes it fundamental that we in Cymru take a lead in Britain and insist that the armed forces do not recruit school pupils.
I was shocked to find that, over the summer, one Comp. in RCT was actually advertising for a member of staff whose prime responsibility would be the setting up of a cadet force within the school! What were the Labour controlled Council doing, allowing this to happen?
Last Wednesday I was proud to take part in a small demo outside the Senedd, organised jointly by CBayRDay and Cymdeithas y Cymod, a Christian pacifist group.
It was held because a petition was being handed in, with 1,400 signatures, to Roger Williams AM, Chair of the Petitions Committee, calling for a complete end to military recruitment in our schools.
I was astounded to find out that Britain is the only country in the whole of Europe which defies the UN Human Rights Charter and allows them into schools.
The Children's Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler (who is always keen to adopt UN directives) must put pressure on WAG for Wales to fall in line.
Private schools - which often have their own cadet forces, shaping the officer class - may unfortunately be outside the jurisdiction of WAG, but Comprehensives aren't.
As a teacher, my 30 years experience was based primarily at two Comp's, one in a working-class and one in a middle-class area. In both instances, the army was equally intent on recruitment.
They play all manner of war games with the pupils and portray themselves as an organisation offering training in various trades.
Now, with the overriding propaganda of 'heroism', without a serious questioning of the occupation of Afghanistan, it is even easier for them to glamourise and glorify war.
It is not just children in deprived parts of Cymru who are being targeted. Pupils in middle-class areas are enticed into believing they are officer material or ,in some cases, suitable for the trained assassination techniques of the SAS ; while poorer kids are led to believe that it is the only way out a life of unemployment. Tragically, it often is!
Instead, we should be looking in Cymru to our great poets such as Hedd Wyn, Waldo Williams and Gwenallt, who have exposed the realities of war.
In song, however, the finest anti-war songs of the last decade or so have both been written by the American Tom Waits, namely 'Day After Tomorrow' and 'Hell Broke Luce'.
You couldn't imagine two more different songs either : the former a slow, sad ballad, a letter home from a soldier caught in a conflict he wants no part of, not fighting for freedom but 'Another day in the world here.' While 'Hell Broke Luce' is shout-sung like a mangled parade chant, exploding with black humour with lines like - 'I left my arm in my coat'.
Rather than the army visiting our schools, why not more poets and singer-songwriters , giving an alternative message?
A GIFT FOR SURVIVAL
I’ve a gift for survival
and I seem blessed,
yet never touch the holy water
as I leave our house.
I have driven down roads
while buses are being torched,
through roadblocks when troops
are blacked-up with the night;
down the shops with my wife
who can’t walk for losing breath,
or picking up my wee grandchild
who smiles a future I’ll not make.
There’s a map of this city
I’ve drawn in my head,
it’s like a code I’ve learnt,
my allies the names of streets.
Yet, I do cross over at times,
can’t help loving the parades,
those marching bands; if I’m a traitor,
I’m not one for confession.
The most I’ve held in anger
is a tennis racket not a gun,
but I know they’ll give us nothing
till we break borders and rise again.
Most of us are probably guilty of racism in some form in our lives.
Having experienced it as a child moving from Wales to England in the manner of mockery of my accent (I rapidly altered it to fit in), I know also that I've used offensive terms in the past without thinking, such as 'chinky' for a Chinese take-away.
As a dedicated footie fan, it is often stated that football is simply reflecting the state of society. However, I would argue that - despite recent serious incidents - it has actually been in advance of society in the last decade.
The 'Kick It Out' campaign has made a significant impact, helped by the multi-racial nature of most of our teams and the proliferation of black pundits on the media.
However, there should be no excuse for complacency and even at Cardiff City (where we have had very few problems in the past) it does still exist.
We need to think again about how we define racism, as it is seen predominantly in terms of black and white or in relation to the prevailing war effort of the British nation-state i.e. the demonisation of Islam.
However, the two areas which need to be addressed at my club and ,I believe, at others, are very much specific to the clubs themselves.
Chants about Swansea fans are inevitably accompanied by racist slurs against 'gypos' (gypsies) and this is completely ignored. This suggests that gypsies are seen by those in authority as fair game, or not even a racial grouping as such.
As the Romany community possesses its own distinct language, culture and nomadic life-style this is patently absurd.
This must be addressed immediately if the 'Kick It Out' campaign is to have any credibility whatsoever.
The other area of racist abuse is the anti-English chanting used on a regular basis.
Once again, this seems to be tolerated simply because fans from English clubs do the same thing against Welsh teams, especially in their stadiums
( though not everywhere, by any means).
Anti-Welsh and anti-English chanting should be considered alongside all other forms of abuse and it took my friend and comrade, the late Jack Gilbert ( an avid Derby fan) to bring this to my notice emphatically.
Jack was right a decade ago. Things haven't improved, despite the fact that most of our team are now English , including our star player Peter Whittingham and captain Mark Hudson.
'Kick It Out' needs to come to terms with these hitherto unchallenged forms of racism, as do the fans who (in many cases) unwittingly use them.
It's obviously ludicrous to attack the 'English' with - 'SAME OL' ENGLISH, ALWAYS CHEATIN'!' as if it were part of some conspiracy against the Welsh clubs which anyway (in our instance) is so full of English talent!
In my home town of Merthyr there are equally worrying undercurrents, which have always existed, but have merely been transferred from one target to another.
On a positive note, I was talking recently to a friend and comrade at the Socialist Party stall down town, when a familiar figure approached.
He had been a prominent fascist campaigner in the town in the 80s and 90s and I fully expected a diatribe.
Instead, he signed their petition, gave a small donation and said - 'I used to be NF, but I'm with you boys now....all the way!'
It was very heartening to see how people like this could change, yet there are too many others so deeply entrenched you wonder if they will ever alter.
On our street alone are two individuals with extreme right-wing views. This is a town with a Labour MP, AM and now Council as well.
One woman blames all immigrants for our problems, taking our jobs and houses and also living off benefits. Ironic, as she stopped work at an early age to live off sickness benefit!
The other is the subject of my poem, an eccentric and regular pub-goer. whose bigotry is entirely focused on Muslims.
Every time I talk to him I dread it : knowing how he'll raise the same old subject-matter and that my counter-arguments won't matter a jot.
I have experience of others with very similar views, including one taxi-driver I know very well who is against the monarchy and critical of bankers, yet still blames immigrants (particularly from Europe) for the woes of this country.
Just because the BNP has no overt presence in Merthyr doesn't mean there is no racism and I believe that our Council and elected representatives need to face this and seek to educate, highlighting the history of our town, built by many immigrants from all over the world, including Ireland, Italy, Spain and England.
IT'S THA MUHAMMED ALI!
Met im goin down'ill t town,
fit an lean despite the beer,
is ol clothes mingin as is ouse.
We talked 'bout pubs closin down
an some openin, 'bout-a smokin :
as many things as pavin-stones.
'Tha band,' ee sayd,' from Liverpool,
them with-a guitars.....they started it!'
( ee wuz on 'bout mewsical noise).
As if we woz strollin back in time
t when they'd bin discovered ;
but I knew ee'd get there soon.....
'What we need's another war! A big one!
They'll start it , wait an see!
It's all down t tha Muhammed Ali!'
'Yew mean the champion boxer?'
'Nah, im in Iran...all called Muhammed...
yew might as well number em!
They'll drop the atom bomb,
they wanna go to eaven, see...
it's theyer on'y destiny!'
I tried to divert is path, well trod,
towards the City an tax-evadin compnees,
but ee wuz in a trench, rifle ready.
It's not as if I'm an animal person. Unlike friend and fellow Open Miker Jim Davies, who has even had a Central American bat named after him (mind, he did discover it!). I was a cat person, in that our family's grey tabby was bought as a kitten and we grew up together. He was friendly and easy-going ; the opposite of black cat Tommy who followed on. Purchased from a cat refuge, Tommy could be vicious and crazy, but also very entertaining. He would leap up and knock the front door, catch flies and jump to sit across your shoulders, digging in his claws as if you were a tree-trunk.
Despite loathing Biology at school (it was so dry and distant from the natural world), I was always fascinated with books about animals and three of my favourites were Kipling's 'Just So Stories', Jack London's superb 'Call of the Wild' and Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals'.
I had never read anything like the latter : it was very funny ,seemed exotic and was set in Corfu. If I ever go there I hope there's a Gerald Durrell tour, though I doubt it somehow.
As a teacher I used the book whenever possible in class and found it just as rewarding after many years : so well-written compared to Roald Dahl's predictable autobiography 'Boy' for example; so witty and revealing about Nature and family relationships.
Nowadays, my experiences with animals are related to our house and garden and my daughter's.
Plagued by rats , we have tried a variety of solutions, till I found that simply not feeding the birds sent them packing. I do mourn the fact that tits, finches, sparrows and nuthatches have also abandoned our garden.
However, with the rats duly dispatched we have seen a return of grey squirrels. One head-banging squirrel even tried to befriend his reflection in our French windows! His ardour left him with a migraine the size of a twmp!
In the past our moss-covered garage roof and oak tree have attracted important visitors. A couple of homing pigeons have stopped off en route to wherever to re-fuel. Once we even had a tame jackdaw ( apparently famous in the village at the time) settle on our patio : he would fly onto your arm and chatter away like a chopsy child.
In the absence of any pets , the squirrels and birds are so vital and I've been pleased to observe the normally shy jays come to our oak to feed off acorns. Hedgehogs were regular visitors, but I haven't seen one in years and last summer was the first one that I noticed a scarcity of bats, whose feeding flight-path crossed close to our outhouse. It was a worrying absence : I loved to stand in the dark and watch them winging just above my head, back and fore, back and fore, in an insect-eating pattern.
If our garden has its own eco-system dependent a great deal on the oak and garage roof (ideal material for making nests), then my daughter's place is a different matter.
The first time we entered the house just for viewing, there was a living bat on the sitting-room floor, sleeping in daytime.
Next, her garage became the perfect nesting spot for martins and I was given the thankless task of removing the beautifully-crafted bowl, fully downed with four gorgeous fledglings.
I tried to do so carefully and put it in a high location in the hope that the mother would hear her chicks and find it, but I am still haunted by the thought of a cat or hawk finding them.
I miss the roaming animals we used to come across often in our village: cows and horses grazing on our hedges and lawns and, of course, the ubiquitous sheep which - down the road in Georgetown's old terraces - would take cover in porches. Grey urban sheep, stained by exhaust and rain.
My latest book 'Moor Music' features a poem 'Came the Ram', which describes the day a large and rather menacing ram was loose in Heolgerrig. It was quite astonishing the fear such a woolly creature could create!
Within our house I am 'Person In Charge of Insect Disposal': spiders, 'Granny Greys' ( woodlice), Daddy Long Legs, flies, wasps and bees have to be coaxed out or carefully removed.
Dust mites are, however, another question altogether and perhaps I shouldn't have informed two other family members about them quite so graphically when they began sneezing and blamed those creatures.
Millions of them!
Feeding off flesh flaking.
If I had microscopic eyes
I wouldn't need to hallucinate them ;
I wouldn't need to be paranoid,
wear a surgical mask in my home ;
put every cuddly toy in the freezer,
open the windows even in winter,
hoover carpets mornings and afternoons,
chase them away with the duster.
It's not even them I'm inhaling,
it's their excreta, air-borne :
dust mite cack down nose and throat,
I sniff and splutter, must get out.
I'll sleep in a tent in the garden,
let the wind blow away my dead skin
like leaves across the moorland.
Dust mites everywhere! Millions of them!