for Pete & Elaine
A blue boat speeds into the harbour
and we too have been trawling
all evening, but in the car,
spreading our nets to catch
any quick-slipping memories.
In streets, houses and rooms
so familiar yet so changed
we are seeking out creatures
of long ago, our former selves
seeming a different species.
Lights of the windows, aquariums
where students bend over computers,
while we strain for elusive shapes,
dark movements on walls and ceilings
and snatches of voices and songs.
On the brink of a stone jetty
we feed the outgoing tide
with ashes of the last generation :
powdery dust of two lives
and below, the shoals unseen.
A remarkable couple of weeks for many different reasons!
Beginning with the viewing of the rough cuts of a documentary 'After Coal'. Directed by Tom Hansell and produced by Patricia Beaver of Appalachian State University, it goes back and fore between the coalfields of south Wales and Appalachian Mountains showing the parallels and divergences and focusing on vital cultural exchanges.
Also, it draws attention to the ways in which those two communities are coping with the aftermath of coal-mining.
It's an ambitious project and is still a way from being finished. I'm personally delighted that the music of Huw Pudner and Chris Hastings is included, after Tom attended one of our Open Mic nights in Merthyr and heard them there.
After the showing there was some constructive criticism and an interesting point from one of the students there, who knew little about the strike in Wales and was fascinated to find out.
I argued the case that the title is a misnomer, because we are very much living with the effects of coal today, in terms of vast opencast mines and private companies who ignore the wishes of many communities.
Tom agreed and told us that strip-mining (the American term) was an equally contentious issue in that area, but was far more divisive with more people seeing it as a job-provider.
It was fitting that a week later I went to the 'Death of the valley' demo outside the Senedd in Cardiff, organised by the anti-opencast group United Valleys Action.
Here a sombre and suitably attired procession, complete with coffin,fake vicar, bearers and Grim Reaper (da iawn Tog!) proclaimed the death of the Valleys, murdered by opencast.
A petition was handed to the Petitions Committee and it seemed like almost everyone did a speech or poem. The corpse was most eloquent!
Bethan Jenkins AM (I declare an interest here) called for an all-Wales group to fight the scourge of opencasting and this seems essential.
One man began the call for our local AM , shouting 'We want Huw! We want Huw!'........but no show, as always.
He's probably doing an impersonation of our past MP Ted Rowlands, who always managed to keep a foot on both sides of the fence : against it on the west, in favour on the eastern slopes!
Back to Merthyr and following the film we all went down High Street to the New Crown Inn for a jazz evening.
There was a real mixture of ages, gender and nationalities ; music being the force of togetherness.
Nobody can pretend that the town is always like this: there can be undoubted tensions and UKIP are on the rise in terms of votes. People still find it easier to blame their recently-arrived neighbours than address the true causes of banks,business and bullying politicians.
Yet, for an evening, you could believe.
A young band - made up from Merthyr pop group Moonbirds - took the stage and, though the drummer struggled with jazz, keyboard player and bassist were lively and sometimes adventurous.
They also backed female vocalists Olga and Delyth McClean, who performed enchanting solo slots.
I was just a bit disorientated. This was the very Crown where we used to hold benefits for CND and Anti-Apartheid in the 80s and 90s and also poetry readings. The voices of Ifor Thomas and Ian McMillan came at me from the walls like they were retro speakers of a verse juke-box.
Walls had disappeared since then, just as they did that night between such diverse people. The Crown's a genuine muso pub and it's definitely 'appnin Goj!'
A momentous event for me ( apart from undergoing a gastroscopy) was giving a talk in Welsh to an enthusiastic bunch of advanced learners who are called Cymdeithas Soar.
Previous guests had included the likes of Beti George and Hywel Gwynfryn , so I was 'nerfus iawn iawn'.
Well, I think I managed okay, interspersed with too many 'so's' and 'y'knows', though I especially enjoyed reading a few of my poems in Welsh to them and they were kind and receptive. It was certainly preferable to the medical test anyway!
Here were like-minded people, devoted to our language and culture.....I shall certainly be joining them in future.
CYMYSG O BOBL
Dim byd yn y ‘Western Mail’,
dim byd ar y radio neu teledu,
achos ‘sdim ffrae yna
‘sdim angen i alw’r heddlu.
Dyn y bar o Bortiwgal
mae Chicken Gizzards ar y bwydlen,
cwpl o gariad o Wlad Pwyl
yn yfed seidr o beren.
Merch ddel iawn o’r Wcrain
ei lais yn dansio’r bossa nova,
bachgen sy’n canu’r gitar
fel adar lleuad ym Merthyr.
Dim son yn y papur lleol
ond rhannu dros facebook, twitter hefyd :
jazz yng Nghymraeg, cerddoriaeth Americanaidd,
cymysg o bobl yn y Goron Newydd.
A MIX OF PEOPLE
Not a word in the ‘Western Mail’
or on radio or the television,
because there’s no fighting here
no need to call the policemen.
The barman comes from Portugal
there’s ‘Chicken Gizzards’ on the menu ,
a couple of lovers from Poland
drinking their pear cider brew.
A really pretty girl from Ukraine
whose voice is dancing the bossa nova,
the boy playing guitar with her
is one of the moon-birds from Merthyr.
Not a mention in the local press
yet shared on facebook and twitter,
jazz sung in Welsh and American music
in the New Crown’s people-mixture.
Jamie Bevan, live at The Imp in Merthyr
I've said it before, but this time I'll claim it without trepidation : Welsh music is happening!
I've watched every programme in the last series of Jools Holland and I thoroughly enjoyed it despite the proliferation of very ordinary acts. Imelda May from Ireland may have been retro but was always thrilling and I enjoyed the dark but vibrant country of Hurray For The Riff Raff (a band which unintentionally plugs one of Loach's best films!).
However, not one Welsh act featured, not even regulars the Stereophonics.
Some may say - 'Well, there's not a lot out there, is there?'
Except......there's a plethora of talent!
Like literature and art (everything but world class footie players, in fact) Cymru just doesn't come into it.
But maybe it's time to stop moaning about the London-based media and simply celebrate.
In terms of bands we have three of the very best - like the era of Gorkys, Manics and Supper Furries - these being The Joy Formidable, Future of the Left and Paper Aeroplanes. Like the days of Cwl Cymru, these represent north, south and west of the country.
While average groups on the London scene such as Vampire Weekend and London Grammar gain all the plaudits, these three offer so much diversity and originality.
While 'Wolf's Law', The Formidables second album doesn't quite match the spark of their first , there is still enough to excite. It opens powerfully with 'This Ladder Is Ours', but I was most impressed with the songs which stepped outside their characteristic driving rock. 'Silent Treatment' showed why they chose to cover Roy Orbison's 'It's Over' on a previous e.p. and 'Forest Serenade', 'The Turnaround' and the well-hidden title track, all prove there's so much more to the band, with poignant melodies and ever-intriguing lyrics.
They hail from Y Wyddgrug/Mold and are due to release a series of e.p.'s in Welsh. The cover of one ,' Tynnu Sylw', is to be created by Merthyr artist Gus Payne.......I'm really looking forward to these.
Cardiff's Future of the Left also branched out in their latest offering 'How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident'. While they maintain the bass-powered , raw sound and often surreal humour, there are interesting departures.
The half-spoken, half-sung 'French Lessons' is actually a gentle song and 'Why Aren't I Going To Hell?' packs the spirit of Beefheart.....the most iconoclastic band since Datblygu.
They're unique and very funny and would probably make Jools swallow his immaculate suit and spit it out.
Milford Haven's Paper Aeroplanes reflect the west coast sound, with words about coast and sea just like Gorkys. Based around the harmonies and song-writing ability of Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn their latest album 'Little Letters' is full of melancholy and songs about relationships, often failed ones. The exception is 'When The Windows Shook' an environmental song about their home town which manages to understand both sides of the story.
Theirs is a folk-rock to rival the wonderful Thea Gilmore, with mood and tempo varied so subtly and words which are never sentimental.
The Welsh language scene matches the one in English and, as with literature (writers like Jon Gower, Gwyneth Lewis and Graham Davies) some of the acts record bi-lingually.
9Bach have just released their first album on Peter Gabriel's Real World label......Welsh language music becoming 'world', and why not?
Once a straightforward folk band, they now explore an area of trip-folk which really suits the vocals of Lisa Jen. I love their combination of the traditional with echoes of Portishead and Massive Attack.
They have given a re-birth to the harp , as has Aberystwyth's Georgia Ruth. She moves freely from English to Welsh on 'Week of Pines' with traditional and country influences and the imagery of Aber prevalent.
Merthyr alone boasts three Welsh language singer-songwriters , all of whom also sing in English at times. They are very distinctive performers, with Jamie Bevan singing about the town and its characters, Kizzy Crawford (still only 18!) moving more into jazzy interpretations and Delyth McLean with a voice which can soar to mountain top then drop to valley bottom :her new e.p. 'Lost in Sound' promises to show off this wide range.
All this and I haven't even mentioned the astonishing Gruff Rhys with his concept of 'American Interiors' (album, film and book) which shouldn't work, but absolutely does : it's so funny, quirky and moving.
Amazing times for Welsh music........but is anyone listening?
WE CAN SING
All the Big People walk past us
ignoring us on their way somewhere else.
We're on the margins,
busking, selling magazines or juggling.
We can sing or recite a verse
and they might turn heads to listen.
We're glad of a few coins
dropped into our cloth caps.
At night we sleep under bridges,
in empty car-parks, hidden doorways.
We wrap ourselves in the flag,
but it's no woollen blanket.
The Big People meet to discuss
what to do with us :
need us there as a warning;
our questions disturb their success.
Bloody ell I seen im!
I seen im down town agen,
Dress-up Dave bin away frages
an ee wuz wearin a crown.
In-a Works lookin at cheapo books;
not jest any ol crown
but a proper We Three Kings one,
though ee ad is sewt on.
Almos sif ee wuz gettin back
to is ol ways afta time
underground or in Outer Space,
or per'aps an institution.
Not even a placard sayin
'Balthazar Dave' angin,
but with all the glam an glitz
on is fancy ead-gear.
I seen im, Dress-up Dave,
ordinree up to is fore'ead
an then, a nest o jewels.
All ail King o the Presink!
The Welsh education system is going through a serious crisis.....and I'm not talking about dropping down international league tables or declining results at GCSE and A Levels.
Focusing on schools , the damaging and aimless system is a direct result of Labour misrule from Cardiff.
Yet what have the opposition offered? Plaid Cymru have responded with a paucity of policies ranging from laptops for every teacher (we only ever got the cases for them!) and cutting summer holidays ; very unpopular with teaching unions and not necessarily beneficial to anyone. Tories are predictably reactionary , while even the Lib Dems did advocate smaller class sizes.
Former Education Minister Jane Davidson's prize policy of the Foundation Phase , which deploys many teaching assistants and involves a great deal of learning through play, is having disastrous consequences on early years literacy and numeracy.
I can foresee its impending demise, because many teachers feel it has swung too far the other way and neglected the basics, meaning that many more pupils are struggling with reading, writing and maths.
Pupils must now make the rapid and traumatic change from this to a tortuous testing regime.
In the last month pupils from Years 1-9 have undergone tests imposed by the Welsh Assembly Government and therefore one of the main policies of Huw Lewis, absentee AM for Merthyr and present Education Minister.
These have been carried out to report back to parents, to check on schools and , above all, to prepare pupils for the international PISA tests. Wales has been slipping down the league, so these are very much 'testing for tests'.
Ironically, this is at the very time when these tests have been criticised by numerous leading academics. Even in Shangai, which boasts the best results, they are questioning their validity.
For once a Head is talking sense and Robin Hughes (Sec. of their union , ASCL Cymru) has questioned whether they are genuine reflections of intelligence, because they 'squeeze out innovation, creativity and resilience.'
The experience of teachers in Wales reinforces this.
The recent WAG tests (modeled on PISA ones) showed no attempt at differentiation in terms of ability, yet any teacher practicing this in class would be castigated .
6 and 7 year olds are forced to do timed tests and are branded as failures from an early age. Even bright pupils have struggled with the reading matter and alien problem-solving (literally, in one case, with numerical problems involving aliens!).
The language test for this age group contained material about sea shanties! Even the dreaded SATs were more child-friendly.
Inevitably teachers are pressurised more and more into teaching towards these tests, thus wasting school time.
No opposition parties have raised concerns about a system which is becoming frighteningly Govian.
In the past I have put forward many proposals , often revolutionary. However, I believe the ten points of this manifesto are achievable and even a reformist party could adopt the majority of them.
1. Reduce all class sizes to 20. This is an absolute necessity and would lead to a dramatic improvement. Any teacher will tell you that more pupils can be given individual attention and behavioural problems are much easier to deal with.
2. All schools to be run as democracies, rather than dictatorships by Heads. Pupils and teachers to have the greater say in their running. Boards of Governors to consist of parents, teachers, pupils and locally elected representatives.
3 Introduction of choice in school clothing. Give pupils the right not to wear uniform if they want. For the sake of comfort, needless disciplinary time-wasting and expense, the abandonment of militaristic uniform makes sense, in line with most of Europe.
4. No Pass and Fail in exams, only degrees of achievement (originally the GCSE was intended to do this). Gradual return to the ascendency of coursework, with all of it done in school to avoid plagiarism (research done at home). This would give all pupils an incentive: at present far too many are failed at GCSE.
5. A Welsh national curriculum, but with the rest balanced between the global and local. To use literature as an example, the focus would be on Welsh writers in both languages, but there would be opportunities to study the likes of Brecht or Angelou and to research local writers.
6. Teachers rewarded for remaining in the classroom ; the opposite of the present situation , whereby progress is seen as leaving the classroom and becoming a 'manager'. With schools becoming democracies rather than being modeled on businesses, there would be less time in the classroom and more opportunities for staff to contribute to executive decision-making.
But the actual teaching would be paramount.
7. All inspections to be done internally or - in cases of concern - carried out by advisers. These advisers would be experienced teachers given sabbaticals to help any teachers through their problems, probation etc, produce resources, run useful courses and give exemplar lessons. Finance saved by the abolition of inspections could go towards the reduction of class sizes.
8 The Foundation Phase replaced by a combination of learning through play and determined focus on literacy and numeracy. Those who continue who need the latter should receive help in both until they can access the rest of the curriculum. In other words, there's no point in a broad curriculum without being able to read, write and cope with the maths.
9. Creation of a fully comprehensive system by abolishing private schools. Education is a right not privilege and nobody should be able to buy their way into the upper echelons of society. This could be done by withdrawing charitable status from these institutions and stopping the Armed Forces from subsidising them ( when members are abroad they can send their children to them).
10. Investment in new technology a priority. The finance could come from a more balanced pay structure, with Heads etc virtually superfluous. Tablets for all pupils should be the aim and some schools do already deploy this system. Education does seem to lag behind the changes in society and this would make schools more appealing to young people.
Giving 16 year olds the right to vote might well alter the priorities of our political parties, but I also think that politics should be studied in school , perhaps as part of PSE. Young people need to be aware of the various political philosophies on offer and make their own choices.
Comparisons with Gove's iniquitous regime in England mustn't lull us into complacency. By stealth, we are in danger of heading the same way.
TESTING FOR TESTS
We're being tested again
so we can all do better
at the other, bigger tests.
These are the Welsh ones,
but they want us to do well
in something called PIZZA.
I can't wait for that :
mine's a pepperoni and sweetcorn
with thick crust and double cheese on top.
We're learning all the right tricks,
past papers and I'm only ten :
I'll pass them with garlic bread!
My Bamps says he did the 11 plus
and they were like performing seals ;
I imagine him flapping for sums.
My mam says - ' Don't take no notice!
It's on'y coz ee failed!'
But I think he talks sense.
Maybe they're offering us pizzas
because they want us to perform,
to leap through the hoops.
Sitting and sweating in the classroom,
letters and numbers like fleeing fish :
wish I could honk, wish I could swim.
Out back the moon is grazing
orange then milky-white light
we've fed it myths and legends,
centuries kept fenced in
lowing over darkening moorland,
scratching away dust against oaks
in craters of its eyes
we search for ourselves
we would fly and pick
like birds on its back
out there, the seldom moon,
hide glowing above grassy tide.
I've known Tim Richards for a long time.
It could've been longer, as we both attended Aberystwyth Uni. in the early 1970s. While I was heavily into left-wing politics there, Tim concentrated more on 3rd World First. I recall that group collecting money and leafleting on the streets (well, street) and I must have passed him many times.
We met up in the early 80s and the first encounter was amusing.
I'd expressed an interest in the Welsh Socialist Republicans and myself and my wife went to Tim's house in Abertridwr to meet up with him and a few others.
I didn't know at that time, but my colleague and namesake at Pen-y-dre (who later became a great friend) was a prominent local Labour member, who even appeared on a party political broadcast. I later found out the Staff nicknamed him 'Mister Average' as a consequence.
I had never had any time for the Labour Party : reformist, Unionist and, in the Valleys, as corrupt as the Masons.
The entire meeting consisted of Tim and the others quizzing me about Labour strategies and eying me rather suspiciously. I was totally baffled!
This could've put me off, but I knew that this was my politics and soon became inspired by many of those involved, especially Alun Roberts, Robert Griffiths and, of course, Tim Richards.
Tim was my political mentor in many ways : an idealist who always stresses the need for involvement in local communities ; he has even been arrested for his beliefs when he expressed strongly republican views. The trumped-up charges could never stick against Tim's intricate legal brain.
The anti-poll tax campaign symbolized Tim's ideas of putting direct action into process and he helped many people who had been forced into court simply because of their poverty and inability to pay that iniquitous tax.
In those days Tim was a script-writer, journalist for 'Y Faner Goch' (monthly paper of Cymru Goch) and pamphleteer extraordinaire.
Though he had written verse in school in Swansea, it wasn't until the birth of Red Poets' Society (as we were then) that he took to it with the same fervour and energy he had given to many campaigns.
He has since appeared in every single issue bar the first and issue 5 ( available on our website www.RedPoets.org) features four poets : Jazz, Alun Rees, Sian Roberts and himself.
'Subversive Lines' ( published by Red Poets, £5) is his first ever collection and brings together most of the poems which have been in the magazines, plus some new material.
It illustrates all his characteristic traits : it's full of humour, imaginative twists , passion and verbal Molotovs.
On the cover is his own photo taken in The Netherlands of a car with a tree and plants growing out of it. It represents his desire to see a better world and through his poetry and life, to change people's consciousness.
'Crime Lesson' epitomizes Tim's view on what crime really is : the greatest criminals being those profiteers in the City who steal millions with impunity.
'The Sheep of Wales' is a veggie rallying cry (even though Tim isn't one), where he imagines a militant army of sheep taking over. It's like 'Animal Farm' condensed, revisited and reborn.
'Drunk!' and 'Stoned!' are excellent performance pieces, as is the explosive 'Fuck Em'. In the former he envisages the puking piss-artist as ' a non-lethal organo-chemical weapon'.
'Capitalists' encapsulates in just five verses what many would take tomes to express, hitting us with the subversive last line - 'they know all about money but its worth.'
His invective against news broadcasts and the right-wing press are equally scathing and ,again, the final line of 'Daily Hate' is packed with wit as he sums up the paper's attitude to Europe and its loathing of 'the whole bloody continent!'.
His poem 'Red Poets' Society' ( a name he prefers to Red Poets) shows his self-deprecatory humour; poets might like to think of it as show biz , but ultimately it's a minority interest - 'We got our fans,both of them.'
Two poems attacking the monarchy combine lacerating wit and a quirky vision, with 'Aliens' depicting them from another galaxy.
A series of poems look closely at the absurdity of modern life, using hyperbole to great effect -
'If you are losing interest in life and despairing of my reply please press 10' ( 'Helpline').
Two poems share his deep involvement in the anti-nuclear power movement in Wales and 'Necklace' is most moving, with its description of the effects of radiation from Chernobyl.
'Landscape Photographs' shows another side of Tim, with his enthusiasm for photography; though he realises that no photo can possibly capture the beauty of the scene -
' The mountains rule me
allowing me to capture them
fleetingly, on their own terms
in a simple photograph.'
Please come along to the Imperial Hotel, Merthyr Tudful on June 5th (7. 30 pm ) for the launch of 'Subversive Lines' as part of the Merthyr Rising events.
I know Tim has been busy writing down his political memoirs and there are many wonderful stories.
The following poem is based on one of these.
What I don't explain is that we actually got the wrong place and the huge lime-burnt graffiti couldn't be seen from the Garden Festival site in Ebbw Vale in 1992!
3 A.M. ON MANMOEL MOUNTAIN
Slopping in muddy ditchwater
as a piss-the-bed
sweating steep rock faces
burning in the lime
maps upside down
tired inside out
trying to find contours
the fanatical driver
reversing towards dark heather
the perfect backdrop
for words in lime
it's all been planned
except the fog
thick as a hangover
after a Skull Attack night -
over the next ridge
headlines of hypothermia
songs of martyrs
3 men of Gwent
2 men of Merthyr
went over the mountains
for the burning of lime
a path of potholes
slopes like wet slides,
white of bird-shit
splashed and spotted,
rubber gloves and masks
to perform operations
hallucinating sheep into buckets,
arms drooping to housing estates
backs throbbing like headaches,
ceasing to care
whether it was FEE WALES
or FREE WAFFLES
while below the final rivets
the blow-lamps and drills
finish off the structures
of a 3D advertisement -
brushing away the fog
painting in the stars,
a 40 foot constellation
FREE WALES our exhibit
burnt with the lime.
Cardiff City fans protesting against the red
At the end of a season where our megalomaniac owner sacked an excellent head of recruitment and then a successful manager....
At the end of a season where we have plummeted from outside the relegation zone under Malky Mackay, to the bottom of the Premier under Ole Gunnar Solskaer....
At the end of a season where we have been divided as never before : between those who boycotted the club, those who only wore blue and the majority (at the season's beginning) who embraced the red....
At the end of such a disastrous season, how is a Bluebird fanatic like myself supposed to be optimistic?
If Solskaer remains (as seems likely) I have serious doubts whether we have any chance of promotion from the Championship, even with the hefty 'parachute' payment.
I don't need to dwell on all his faults, just read Brian Davies's fan's-eye view on Walesonline for a telling analysis.
To summarize, we've moved rapidly backwards and downwards under Ole with poor team selection, tactics, motivation and signings (with the possible exceptions of Daehli and Cala).
Yet, what has happened to our fans this season is remarkable : a total transformation!
Many Cardiff fans have become ardent supporters over recent years. Ninian Park used to average about 13,000, which leaves around 10,000 who have known nothing except success, or the near-thing.
These fans in particular, had bought completely Tan's red dream, their arguments being the same as Bellamy's when he joined us i.e. 'It doesn't matter if we play in pink, as long as we're successful!' (note : Bellers is a Liverpool fan!).
This season, relatively rapidly, as we dropped down the league and after Moody and Malky were jettisoned for no good reason other than the owner's arrogance, our fans have increasingly worn the blue and joined the protests.
Adversity, failure and a dictatorial regime has united us.
The club shop in Cardiff centre sells red produce and is invariably empty ,while shops under the stands sell almost entirely blue and retro scarves are very popular. On 19 minutes 27 seconds, every game they are raised to celebrate that important moment in our club's history.
Even a friend who was once a staunch defender of Tan, actually wore an old jacket with a Bluebirds crest to the last home game.
The CCFC Supporters' Trust has called for Vincent Tan to create a feel -good factor and change back to blue.
I doubt he will. Like getting rid of Solskaer, it would be an admission of defeat and he doesn't operate like that.
He's used to total adulation in Malaysia : witness his mass birthday party and the huge dragon cake the size of Kenwyne Jones's pay packet!
He's more likely to repeat his dictum - ' If you don't like what I'm doing, find another owner!'
Yet his mad plans go ahead, with a 5000-seater stand being built with prices similar to the Grandstand. Chances are it will be empty all next season.
It could be called the Etien Velikonja Stand in honour of the player Tan signed without Malky's knowledge and who has been a very expensive disaster.
The present unity among Bluebirds fans is the most positive aspect of the whole season ( along with Marshall's goalkeeping).
This was symbolized by the March for Blue before the Liverpool home game on March 22nd.
All the supporters' organisations helped to get people there and thousands turned up to parade from Canton to the stadium.
The mood was good-humoured and exhibited the best side of our fans. I couldn't help thinking how many of there had begun the season wearing red.
If fans are so fickle, what's to stop many changing back?
Surely, they can be bought off again by Tan's millions and a degree of success?
Well, I'd like to think there's no turning back. Tan and his entourage look lonely and isolated decked in red and the players must've felt very uneasy.
As to myself, like many others I shall keep on marching and campaigning for our true identity to be restored.
A football club is like a family and our family history has been despoiled. The Bluebird, in all its mystery, must fly again.
MARCHING FOR BLUE
'You shall not pass!'
he boomed, standing in front
of the car with inside adorned
in Liverpool regalia, the occupants
local yet red-shirted,
boy with GERRARD on his back.
'Support your local team!'
another shouted at them,
with even their reg. declaring LFC.
'You shall not pass!'
'Brian Blessed' my friend laughed
and all the way from the Admiral Napier
to our blue and white stadium
we chanted and halted the cars.
Not one red shirt to be seen
and even in the Executive windows
a scarf from the 60s hung
and our owner's 10 per cent
sounded like some politician
inventing stats to save his skin.
We were like a large family
brought together for a ceremony;
on historical 19 minutes 27 seconds
we raised our colours and sang,
after Ali had announced in welcome
ADAR GLEISION once again.
Up on the forestry track
where dogs are often walked
and you might see foxes crossing,
gave us a rhyme
her mam had handed down -
" The cuckoo comes in April
She sings her song in May
She changes her tune
In the month of June
And July she flies away"
She'd heard the call first time
this year early in April
from deep on the Waun -
without any prompting
she smiled and recited
to us like a rare song -
days later we heard the bird
but not a sight of it -
the woman's voice returning .
Wilfred Owen's 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'
In the 'Guardian' recently, Simon Jenkins argued eloquently and forcefully that the commemoration of World War 1 is a mistake.
He makes the point that there are other significant historical events which should have equal emphasis (such as the Peterloo Massacre) and I can see his reasoning.
Certainly, here in Cymru, events like the risings in Merthyr and Llanelli and the Chartist revolt in Newport need to be remembered and assessed in terms of contemporary relevance in particular.
In terms of Merthyr 1831, modern-day loan sharks are very similar to the 'truck shops' of that time and multi-national companies such as Miller Argent ( doing opencast mining) behave with the same greed and arrogance as the Ironmasters of the 19th century.
Jenkins makes a more pertinent point when he says that we should celebrate the best of humankind and not just the worst (which war demonstrates).
Thus, the Chartists, the founding of the Trade Unions and the fight for women's suffrage should have a much greater focus.
The only positivity regarding remembrance tends to be related to the monarchy ; suiting British establishment propaganda in much the same way as war acts as a unifying force for a 'Great' Britain which is gradually fracturing.
English Education Secretary Michael Gove and right-wing historians like Max Hastings would have us change the perspective of that war given in the likes of 'Blackadder Goes Forth' ; as an exercise in mass murder by imperial powers intent on an Arms Race.
To their credit, the BBC doesn't seem to be unduly influenced by this and , from what I've seen of their recent programmes, has shown commendable balance.
In the new drama series 'The Crimson Field', the sheer absurdity of World War 1 is often shown. Set in a field hospital, it poses questions through the lives of the main characters : nurses, doctors and casualties.
Though too many issues are dealt with in single programmes, the writers are clearly aware of the complexities.
Surgeons wine and dine while the soldiers are patched up and rapidly returned to the front. The alarming contrasts much like Sassoon's best satirical poems.
A once eager Irish soldier all too suddenly turns into a rebel when denied home leave and ends up 'doing a Yossarian' and appearing naked on parade decrying the British uniform. The background of Irish rebellion which led to the 1916 Uprising, is suggested if not developed.
A soldier accused of deliberately wounding himself in order to get back to 'Blighty' is shot as a deserter. This certainly happened in many cases. The way he is seen 'as a ghost' by others is an effective metaphor in what can be a rather heavy-handed drama.
It is hardly the anti-war bitterness of 'O What A Lovely War', nor is it part of Gove's revisionism. It raises vital issues and tries to give a background.
Two programmes on BBC 4 complemented this very well.
'War Requiem' used Benjamin's Britten's operatic settings of Wilfred Owen's great poems together with dramatised sequences. The elegaic tone was prevalent, though I felt it was too formal for verse which became more starkly realistic and horrific as the war went on.
The programme about Ivor Gurney was more contentious. Its presiding thesis was that Gurney - both in his life and art - thrived as a result of the war.
As a celebration of a poet and composer whose work is too often neglected , this programme was effective.
Overall, however, it was seriously flawed.
Gurney didn't actually seem that different from Rosenberg, Owen and Sassoon , who all produced their best work as a direct result of involvement in combat.
Saying Gurney needed the war is much like saying Heaney needed The Troubles : it doesn't make either conflict a necessity.
Gurney's poetry was unique : he cared so much for his native Gloucestershire and had that love of locality which neither Owen or Sassoon possessed.
His songs were truly remarkable : composing such haunting, ethereal music whilst in the trenches was a genuine act of genius.
He is a poet who deserves to be placed alongside the likes of David Jones, Hedd Wyn and Herbert Read and the fact that much of his best work was written during his many years in a mental institution after the war was astonishing.
In this year of commemorations, I have been conducting workshops with Merthyr Writers' Squad based on World War One.
It's very interesting to note that one Primary school are producing their own drama based on local history and these pupils knowledge of Merthyr's relationship with that war was a revelation.
In particular, they had researched our former MP Keir Hardie and his avowed pacifism.
To return to the Simon Jenkins article, at least this commemoration has led to these young people carrying out their own research and engaging with the past.
You never know, it could have a profound affect upon our future.
HANDS SOON HARDENED
Rows of shells, Five Nines.
Moustachioed men supervise.
The shine of lethal bombs
like boots of troops on parade.
Women workers wearing masks,
strange nurses tending weapons ;
wielding wooden mallets like clubs
to stopper the open tops ;
women in overalls with long hair
tied and wrapped in head scarves.
Rails of warfare, purposeful and direct
as slogans on recruitment posters.
Bullets the size of torsos,
churns of gunpowder not milk.
Soft hands soon hardened
by the solid press of iron.
Thoughts overseas to broken lines
and holes which cannot be plugged.