There’s a tide in the affairs of men, A moon in the affairs of women.
Death and Nightingales - Eugene McCabe.
Without respite, a month’s worth of rain fell over a day, through a night.
Unrelenting from lead black skies, in truth, it felt like a judgement of spite.
After the flood waters had fallen, I walked the debris-littered river beach,
tattered plastic festoons hung from trees branches, fluttering, wind strewn.
Where white-grey sand had lain, once flecked with old red sandstone,
brought down from Pen-y-fan*, to rest and lie for a while on the river shore.
Now all is gone, a few bared stones hang on, a tree trunk fallen long ago,
exposed by the floods scouring rip and roar. And everywhere,
the signs of man’s disrespect, of careless stupidity, for the hills, for the rivers,
and the old meadow lands, where I walk each day, raked by desolation now.
The heron has taken up its usual quarter, eating anything that moves nearby.
But the salmon avoids its spring run to the reds, where they were born.
The moon commands the spring tide to rise and stem the waters flow,
and cleansing will slow, so maybe the salmon will stay far out at sea.
The woman, walking the river shore, hunkers down on her knees,
places the blue river glass she’s found to her eye and feels once again,
the coloured glass in her hand, shaped by the sand and the rivers flow,
smoothed over months and years, while the silent ghost moon looks on.
*Pen y fan is the highest mountain in South Wales.
In February 2020 a storm hit South Wales. A month’s amount of rain fell in two days. Pontypridd town was flooded, and so many homes and shops were devastated by the floodwater. Three Bridges were closed — thankfully not the Victoria Bridge, which carries one of the main road arteries connecting the town to the motorway network. Shops have moved to vacant premises which are above the flood zone. It’s a slow process. And even now many retail premises are closed, and the town has the feel of a place that is going through hard times and an unstoppable decline.
Homeowners who suffered the worst of the flooding were those whose homes had been built along the sides of the river, but sometime back had been flood-proofed and thought safe. Such was the scale of the flooding on this occasion, no flood-proofing stood a chance of holding the floodwaters back. It was a warning that, with climate change and the ominous reality that flooding on this scale in these narrow spate river valleys will become regular events, we had better be prepared and change so much of what we do.
Mountains stripped of trees by clear-felling so that the ability of the mountains to “hold” water and slow its movement to the river are seriously impeded; together with farm land left bear over winter so that there is a continuous erosion of soil and, again, no holding back of rain water. And everywhere the concretisation of large areas so that water just runs off even more swiftly into a river already gorged with flood.
The town is steadily pulling itself back together. I’m constantly amazed by the resilience folk are showing in the face of what has been two devastating blows, the flood and Covid19. But the struggle to survive the hardship life throws is at the heart of valleys people.
But like Covid19, the floods and extreme weather events, such as the floods of February 2020, have been a warningthat lifestyles and industry have to change. Its dismaying to hear of the call for a return to the old days, when the economy will get back to “normal” and the destruction of Earth continues. The announcements of the release of the vaccines has been accompanied by a call to return to normality. But what on earth does that normality mean? And at what price?
The floods that besieged Pontypridd, a small town in Wales have also been replicated all over the world. A flag is being waved. Sit up and take note.
And we wait for February’s rain whatever that will bring!
Lightest pale yellow whitening, stretching away moorland grass, waving with the winds shift, slow gusts flow on the uplands plateau, distant raven specked black wheel, unhinged mating glide soars, in white grey clouded skies above the flat worn track.
Sinister Catherine wheeled turbines, hypnotically spin now, the latest transient seal that this margin land has no value, this hard edged landscape has no worth in any time, giant windmills that stud and transfigure the landscape, the latest scarring, killing the calm of the ghost road,
another sacrifice made of wilderness, and in this time a land of golden plovers and the call of curlews, nothing is sacred where sustainability is concerned. I walked wild on the high slopes when I was a child, in a sheep trailed playground on black curtained slopes,
too many lives unlived, cut short and each one, someon’s child, someone’s daughhter, someone’s son. For so many days I’d walk out on the ghost road, through summer, through winter snows,it was a place to breathe clear air, a place to be alone, a place to sketch Ffynon Saith’s black worn stone,
on the flat mountain plateau tops, where men once walked, with open still splayed nerves naked in white daylight, so many breathless men, taking the air on a Sunday, in the silence of a long year, in those hardest times, too many deaths, too many sudden unannounced leavings
a gathering place for the collection of remnants, of a day’s thoughts, a place to make sense somehow and of blanking out teenage doubts, a place of quietness, a place for forgetting, a place of dreams.
I wrote several years ago the following thoughts when constructing a long narrative history of my family titled — “An examination of time.”
The photograph above is like many archive images of the South Wales Valleys in the heyday of its industrial past and the coal industries peak. It is not only familiar because it mirrors so many other photographs of the Rhondda. But the image is all too familiar because it is a photograph taken in 1910 of the village in which I was born in 1950, grew up and left in 1969. The landmarks familiar to me are there in the photograph.
And of course the year 1910 has great signifigance for anyone with a knowledge of the history of this place and the fight by mineworkers forjustice and a living wage in the Rondda and especially those from Tonypandy and Llwnypia. It is the year of the great strike that paralysed the mining industry and left families to strugge in penury and hunger. The subsequent levels of infant mortality and deaths of pregnant mothers was shocking and the highest in Britain. Perhaps the moment this reality struck home was when I discovered the record of my my grandfathers burial and grave to discover there were nine bodies interred.
However my interest in the village is not simply taken up by the associations it evokes or its unusual quality. My curiosity has also focused on the question of the location of the camera when the photograph was taken. The camera in some way had to be suspended high above the ground. However I know that no buildings of that height existed in that part of the valley at that time or since. So I am puzzled as to where the camera was positioned. It is a mystery.
And then there is the matter of the black speck (left of centre in the photograph) which on magnification becomes the form of a young girl running towards the camera. Or at least that was my memory of the photograph when I first viewed and examined it many years ago. I also seem to have elaborated an understanding from the time when I first came across. I rationalised that the photograph must have been taken near the No 6 shaft of Glamorgan Colliery, close to the old dram road tunneled beneath Ynyscynon Road, where the drams could be drawn by long steel cables to eventually spew the pit spoil onto the hilltop known as Mynydd Brithweunydd. Its other name was the “blood field”, purportedly the site of an ancient battlefield. (I wonder how many people know of the blood field and the reason that red bleed of a peat bog each Spring was given that name.)
I’d believed the terraced street to be seen was Ynyscynon Road and that somewhere out of view was my grandfather’s house. And that behind the camera also out of view was a row of tenement housing known as “rotten row” in which children might have friends but with whom they were forbidden to have any romantic attachment and on no circumstances was marriage to be entertained. Such was the fear of the poverty and disease that was believed to be rife there — so called “diphtheria and TB families”.
As mentioned previously the photograph was taken in 1910 the year of the miners strike and the Tonypandy Riots and five years before my mother’s birth. I wondered whether the running girl had seen the funeral procession of the Canadian soldier who had died in 1918 during the great influenza epedemic – which my mother had said was her first memory three years of age.
Or whether the girl herself had died during the influenza epidemic, or hopefully, had survived the poverty and hunger of those days. I wondered too whether she would have seen the great Chestnut tree outside the Ynyscynon Hotel, and the green where men played horseshoes — men including my grandfather. I remember as a child running through the dilapidated walls of the Pub’s old garden and sitting on the rotted out hulk of a great tree that had stood outside the Ynyscynon Hotel. But then it was pulled out and the green tarmacked to make a parking place.
Some two years I’d last looked at the photograph I found myself examining it again — touching base — reconnecting — with what exactly?
But on looking at it again I noticed that the image had changed. Or at least not that the image had changed but that my understanding of it had changed. The image does not in fact show Ynyscynon Road, Trealaw but Partridge Road, Llwynypia a differently named stretch of the same road further along the valley. And the pit shaft was not No 6 but an air shaft or some other kind of minor shaft.
Today in 2018 my understanding of the photograph has undergone another change. I have been researching the number of coking ovens operating in the massive Glamorgan Colliery complex. More specifically I was also researching the number of brickworks operating on the site and the number of women employed in the brickworks. My interest had been spurred by the fact that I was born in the house of a woman who had worked in the brickworks and whose lungs had been badly scarred by her employment there. But I have never been able to find photographic evidence or any detailed account of the numbers of women engaged in this physically arduous work. I found this reference today:
“The colliery (sic Glamorgan Colliery) was also famous for making bricks from clay mined at No 3 pit. Women using hand moulds produced 10,000 bricks per day.”
The photograph below clearly showing the stacks of the brick works in the huge industrial combine hat was the Glamorgan Collieries — locally known as “Scotch” colliery after the Scottish shaft sinkers that were brought in to do the task.
I also happened upon another photograph that I hadn’t seen before which was the reason for the change in the understanding of the original photograph that I began this post.
I had known that there had been heaps of pit waste higher than the houses of Ynyscynon Road. But I was genuinely shocked by the huge mound of pit waste in the centre of the photograph. I had never understood that the slag tip was so enormous. My grandparents’ house is hidden by it, as is my great aunts’ home. It then dawned on me how the original photograph had been taken it was from the heights of this mountain of waste.
However my understanding underwent another change the slag waste heap was not shown in another photograph as the same one taken in 2010. The puzzle of the original photograph remains unresolved.
The first photograph of this article also shows the hulk of buildings, brooding ominously above the village which, I as a child and into adulthood knew as the local hospital. But unbeknownst to me, in reality it had started as a “Workhouse”. In all the time that I had been living and growing up in the village I never heard it once mentioned, or reference made to the “Workhouse”. I know that people feared debt, destitution and homelessness — and the resulting “Workhouse” and all that it entailed. Perhaps that pervasive fear meant that people remained silent. One of the village characters was a Mr. Christmas who was left as a foundling on Christmas Day at the gates of the “Hospital” — he was give work as a kind of janitor and had accommodation in the Hospital where he lived and eventually died. His story was told to me as a child as I was curious about the stories of some of the odd characters who haunted the village like question marks without explanations…not once in relation to Mr. Christmas was there any mention of the workhouse although that was its function throughout my mother’s childhood up until the second world war.
The removal of the tips that towered over my grandfather’s and his sister’s house taking place when I was a child. The viewing point where I suspect the first foto in this article was taken And above the village the Hospital stands, the exact same buildings as the “Workhouse” — there is nothing like fear, fear to silence people, the greater the fear the greater the silence!
I count the species in the orchard hedge Maple, Blackthorn, Hawthorn and Hazel thrive Blackberry and Honeysuckle intertwine Elder pruned and cut hard to renew two Oaks, two tall Maples break the line a Red Admiral sits on a Buddleia leaf needing to find a place to hibernate. An idyllic scene a man laying a hedge the clear blue skies under an autumn sun but never far from my mind that other world Of war in Syria, the unrelenting brutality and the suffering of people in these times and of the silence of the people of my kind and of the silence, the discordany unravelling of the myth of the Wests superiority of the myth of the Wests democracy of the myth of the Wests morality.
Politicians assume the cloak of Pontius Pilate and wash their hands of responsibility.
This is a message from the borderlands an endless void a windswept land like all deserts stripped bare of features. So I whisper the message — If you could have heard all that I’ve heard. If you could see all that I’ve seen if you could have been there, far out there and if you could have listened to peoples words, listened to those broken hurting people and that place out there, in here, in me, in you. The dark frontier, that secret place you know I know, we know, we all know, but deny its existence.
But for me there is no choice. I cannot deny its imprint on my mind, my memory is not deaf or unfeeling, its not blind. But I wish sometimes that it might be so. Now what do I do with these memories, the words I do not wish to store, and hold like some mad treasure trove, archive of horrors of mankind, of humankind the stories told and told again.
The faces change but the pain and fear, the words remain. It’s unending, it’s our narrative as long as we survive this story will evolve and grow for we are humans. I worked amongst the desolation, fragments, survivors, of lives that might have flowered in their right time. And that endless unknowing of what might have been of who would I have been if that had not been done to me, to who I was, a child, and unsuspecting. Imagine the innocence and the quiet trust.
And all that time of working to heal — denial. A total blindness to the reality of the harm being done to children everywhere you look. It’s a reality, take a bus or a train, sit in a café you will be close to someone who has survived. And then the guaranteed denial that fact is fact In the face of all that. And then that sound of wheels within wheels grinding, the noise of conversations and the deals in closed rooms to keep silence, to protect the perpetrators and prevent the door room from being opened and the truth from being known and shared.
Forty years of denial, obstruction and frustration. Our lives are brief, a mere fluttering in time. So open the door wide and let the light in!
Child Sexual Abuse By Powerful Westminster Figures Covered Up For Decades, Inquiry Finds.
Etudes 1 (Après Ravel: Le Tombeau De Couperin — 1. Prélude)
A fish only exists on the flat screen a lion only exists in surround sound an elephant is only real in digital form although a 3D moulded form can be provided if they are dying out they have been recorded of course the smell is absent but that doesn’t matter they are not a part of our world they are not a part of It the disconnect between animals and It is permanent
Etudes 2 ( Après Debussy: Images #1, L 110 — Hommage A Rameau )
Space is constructed from flat lined edges in digital Wi-Fi time only Earth has decided to wrap itself in plastic (plastique) Earth has brought It upon itself. So It must be so. The laws of science of how It has all come to be means only misery Deep Time has no meaning
Etudes 3 (Après John Coltrane After The Rain)
The first law of It is “more” The second law of It is It’s never enough The fourth law of It is out of sight out of mind The fifth law of It is there is just today The sixth law of It is there is no consequence The seventh law of It is worrying is pointless The eighth law of It is don’t talk about your worries The ninth law of It is that there are no Laws The twelfth law of It is that there is no It.
Etudes 4 (Après Arvo Part — Stabat Mater for Choir and String Orchestra)
Earth is burning my soul is crying Earth is in flames and there are not enough tears to put out the flames Earth is burning my heart breaks but we must defy IT no more excuses resist
Rereading a review by Hilary Mantel of CS Lewis’s writing on grief – Guardian Saturday 24th December 2014 I came across a quote from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking…which led me to another…
“This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself. I have been a writer my entire life. As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.”