Our new quartet of regional poetry pamphlets have just arrived, with each celebrating a special place in Wales: its people, landscape, wildlife, and vibrant goings-on. This week our Friday Poem comes from Poems from Cardiff, our tribute to the Capital.
Paul Henry’s ‘Arcades’ inhabits the busy and eclectic Victorian arcades that wind around the city centre, telling a private tale of sadness, love, and hope. The poem was first published in The Brittle Sea, Henry’s bestselling New and Selected Poems.
It’s 1st March – Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus (or Happy St David’s Day) to you! This Welsh holiday has been celebrated since the 12th Century, and honours Wales’ patron saint.
On such a historic holiday it seems fitting to consider Wales’ history, and our Friday Poem does just that – ‘Perspective’, the opening poem from Docklandsby Damian Walford Davies, introduces Victorian Cardiff: the chilling and visceral setting of this intriguing ghost-story-in-verse.
‘When much new poetry looks no further than the poet’s navel, this kind of imaginative leap is a tonic.’ – The Telegraph
Damian Walford Davies’s compellingly eerie new poetry collection, Docklands: A Ghost Story, introduces us to a Cardiff architect – a man supremely sure of himself – as he is commissioned to transform an area in the busy docks. Docklands explores grey worlds at the edges of the eye, conjuring late-Victorian Cardiff’s hustling, booming, sullied docks – and the horrors they conceal.
Today, November 11th 2018, marks the centenary of the Armistice and the ending of the Great War. In commemoration, author and historian Mike Rees looks at the sacrifices made by rugby players from his home town of Newport, revealing details about their sporting and personal lives, as well as their brave and tragic last stands.
Rees is the author of Men Who Played the Game, which explores the development and importance of sport in Britain and the Empire leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, and the part played by sportsmen in the conflict.
The Great War was conducted on a scale hitherto unknown and its consequences remain with us to this day. Such were the losses, over 750,000 in Britain alone, that the idea of a ‘lost generation’ is firmly established in the collective memory. The existence of war graves, carefully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, throughout Western Europe and beyond serve as a reminder of the sacrifices made in this cataclysmic war. Memorials to the missing, their bodies never found, both move and shock us when we visit Thiepval on the Somme, with 73,367 names and the Menin Gate in Ypres with 54,896. Given the scale of these losses it is clear that communities throughout Britain were affected. As we now reach the centenary of the Armistice that brought to an end this dreadful conflict, it is an appropriate time to see just how those badly those communities were affected. Here I will look at the wartime stories from one community in particular – rugby players from my home city, Newport.
Newport Athletic Club has always remembered its war dead. The memorial gates at Rodney Parade contain the names of 86 members of the club who lost their lives in the Great War, among them 6 rugby internationals who represented Wales in what was to become their national sport. Playing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century these men, to a greater or lesser extent, played a significant role in the evolution of the game in Wales. More importantly, they made the greatest sacrifice of all after the First World War erupted.
The first of these men, Richard Garnons Williams, holds a special place in Welsh rugby history as a member of the first ever Wales XV to play international rugby. This historic event took place on 19th February 1881 at Blackheath and Wales were soundly beaten. Garnons Williams, a Newport forward, never played for Wales again.
Born in Llowes, Radnorshire in 1856, one of ten children, Garnons was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford before studying at Trinity College, Cambridge. From here he progressed to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and, on completion forged a successful military career with the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). This was followed by service with the South Wales Borderers (1st Brecknockshire Volunteer Battalion) where he reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. Garnons retired from regular service in 1892, although he did continue to serve in a voluntary capacity until 1906. This determination to follow a military career undoubtedly curtailed his rugby career, details of which are somewhat sketchy. We do know, however, that he played for Cambridge University, Brecon and Newport, from where he won his solitary cap.
On the outbreak of war in 1914 Garnons, by now aged 58, re-joined the British Army and returned to the Royal Fusiliers, the 12th Battalion. He was killed on 27th September 1915 leading his battalion at Loos when he was shot in the head following an attack on German trenches. The battalion had become exposed on each flank and Garnons had just given the order to retreat. He is remembered on the Loos Memorial.
Garnons, at 59, was the eldest of the 13 Welsh internationals to make the ultimate sacrifice in The Great War. He left a wife, Alice Jessie and a daughter, Barbara, who also served in France and lost her husband on the Western Front in 1917. A brother, Mark Penry, died when the HMS Hampshire was sunk by a mine in 1916.
Our second Newport international was one of the cities’ greatest all round sportsmen, the Wales half back, Louis Phillips. Lou was born in Stow Hill in 1878 and was later a resident of Gold Tops, a prosperous residential area in the town. He made his mark as a swimmer, cricketer and international standard water polo player but it is as a rugby player that he is best remembered. A product of Monmouth Boys Grammar School, he won 4 caps and played half back, partnering club mate Llewellyn Lloyd in the Triple Crown winning team of 1900, the year that heralded the beginning of Wales first ‘golden era’. Lou looked set for a long and distinguished run in this emerging Welsh team but a serious knee injury sustained playing against Scotland in 1901 brought his brief rugby career to a premature close. A qualified architect by profession, Lou continued to display his sporting ability by becoming an international golfer and twice Welsh Amateur Golf Champion.
On the outbreak of war Lou joined the 20th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers where, after first refusing a commission, he served as a sergeant. On the night of 14th March 1916, while out with a wiring party near Cambrin, France, Lou was fatally shot in the chest. The loss of this immensely talented 38 year old was keenly felt in the sporting circles of South Wales.
Probably the best known rugby international to lose his life in the war was Charles Meyrick Pritchard. Charlie was born in September 1882 in Newport and attended Newport Intermediate School and Long Ashton School, Bristol before taking his place in the family wine and spirit business. A well-built, thirteen and a half stone backrow forward, Charlie made his Newport debut in January 1902. By the following year Charlie was a travelling reserve with the Wales team and in 1904 he won the first of his 14 caps in the game against Ireland. In December 1905 Charlie had his finest rugby moment when he was the stand out player in the Welsh victory over the All Blacks. Known for his all-round skills, it was his deadly tackling that drew praise in this momentous victory. Fellow Newport hero, George Travers said that Charlie “knocked ‘em down like ninepins”. Following this historic achievement, Charlie went on to represent Wales until 1910, although he did miss a number of matches through injury, and was part of the Grand Slam winning side of 1908. He also captained his club between 1906 and 1909.
When war broke out, Charlie was quick to enlist and joined the South Wales Borderers as a temporary Second Lieutenant. By October 1915 Charlie was a captain in the 12th Battalion and arrived on the Western Front in time for the Somme offensive of July 1916. He was quickly into the action and wrote home detailing some of his experiences. Tragically, on the night of 12th/13th August Charlie was instructed to lead a raiding party on German trenches. Despite fighting bravely in a successful raid, Charlie suffered serious injuries and was taken to No 1 Casualty Clearing Station. After being reassured that his men “had got the Hun”, Charlie replied with his last known words, “Well I have done my bit”. Charlie, a resident of Llwynderi Road, Newport, was buried in Choeques Military Cemetery and left a grieving widow and two young children. This legendry Newport rugby player and war hero was 34 years old.
Johnnie Williams was the most capped Welsh rugby international to die in the Great War and, until 1976, jointly held the record for the most tries scored by a Welsh player. Born in Whitchurch, Cardiff in 1882 and a product of Cowbridge Grammar School, Johnnie spent the majority of his career playing for his home club. However he began his career at Newport where he played between 1899 and 1903, scoring 19 tries and a dropped goal in 50 appearances for the club. In 1906 he broke into a strong Wales team to play the touring Springboks. Although this match was lost Johnnie only experienced defeat once more in 17 matches in a Welsh shirt. Noted for his swerve and sidestep, this pacey winger played in 3 Grand Slam winning teams and captained his country against France in 1911. Johnnie also toured with the British Isles team to Australia and New Zealand where he played in 2 of the 3 tests and was the second top scorer with 12 tries on the tour.
When the war began, Johnnie left his job as a partner in a coal exporters based in the Cardiff Coal Exchange to join the 16th Battalion of the Royal Welch Regiment. By now a captain, Johnnie led his men in the attack on Mametz Wood, part of the Somme offensive. After ‘going over the top’ on 7th July, Johnnie was severely injured which resulted in the amputation of his left leg. Despite being able to write to his wife Mabel following his injury, thirty-four-year-old Johnnie died of his wounds on 12th July. He was buried at Corbie Communal Cemetery.
Phil Waller was born in Bath in 1889 and educated at Carmarthen Intermediate School but it is as a Newport Rugby Union international that he is best remembered. On leaving school, Phil was apprenticed as an engineer to the Alexander Dock Railway Company and, by 1907, he was a regular member of the Newport pack, specializing in the line out and the loose. A year later 19 year old Phil was in the Wales team that defeated the touring Australians 9-6 and kept his place for the 1909 Five Nations tournament. All four matches were won ensuring that Phil became one of the few players to have defeated a southern hemisphere country and win a Grand Slam in the same season. The following season Phil played in the victory over France but lost his place for the first visit to Twickenham.
Although he never played for Wales again, Phil was selected for the British Lions tour to South Africa where he played in all 3 tests. Taken with the country, Phil stayed in South Africa playing rugby and working in Johannesburg as an engineer. In August 1915 Phil enlisted as a gunner with the 71st Siege Battery SA Heavy Artillery and saw action at Ypres, the Somme, Arras and Cambrai. About to go on leave, driving to the nearest rail link, he and a colleague were killed by stray shellfire. Phil’s colleague was the son of South African statesman, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, the man who initially proposed the observation of the two minutes silence on Armistice Day. Phil Waller, buried in Red Cross Corner Cemetery, Beugny, near Arras, was 28 years old.
Billy Geen was, like fellow war casualty and Newport rugby international Lou Phillips, a resident of Gold Tops in Newport. Born in 1891, this nephew of Frank Purdon who had won four caps in the 1880’s, was educated at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire and then Oxford University. A fine cricketer who represented Monmouthshire in the Minor Counties Championship, Billy made his name as an extremely talented rugby three-quarter and won three ‘Blues’ playing on the wing outside the great England captain, Ronnie Poulton-Palmer. In his first Varsity match Billy scored three tries in a famous Oxford victory.
Billy played his club rugby for Newport and was a member of the team that defeated the 1912 South Africans 9-3 in front of a crowd of over 18,000 at Rodney Parade. Selection for Wales against the same opposition followed and, despite a controversial defeat, Billy kept his place against England. He also played against Ireland that year, this time in the centre, but lost his place through injury.
With the outbreak of war Billy joined the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps and quickly became a Second Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion. He saw action in the Second Battle of Ypres and was tragically killed at Hooge on 31st July 1915. Billy was last seen leading his men in hand to hand fighting, one of 17 officers and 333 other ranks of this battalion killed in the exchange. This ‘dazzling left wing’ with ‘dancing footwork’ was one of 740 boys from Haileybury College to be killed in the war. Billy’s body was never found and he is remembered as one of the 54,896 names on the Menin Gate. He was 24 years old.
Perhaps, of all the Newport internationals killed in the Great War, it is the death of Billy Geen, a young man in the prime of his rugby career that best represents the loss to Welsh rugby. However, at this time it is only right to remember all thirteen Wales rugby internationals lost in this dradful conflict as well as countless other rugby players throughout the land. Heroes every one.
The Eisteddfod will soon be in full swing in Cardiff’s beautiful Bay area. We can’t wait to welcome you to Wales’ capital city – and to introduce you to our resident Cardiff expert, Peter Finch, who will be signing copies of his new book on the Welsh Books Council stand (84) on Wednesday 8 August, 1:00pm.
As you prepare for the marvellous week ahead, we thought you might enjoy learning a little more about the Welsh capital – so here is our interview with Peter Finch, who – as ever – is full of fascinating insight into his home city.
Peter, you have been writing about Cardiff for quite some time now, with the first ‘Real Cardiff’ book having appeared in 2004. What do you perceive as the most radical change Cardiff has undergone in the last decade? Changes to Cardiff seem to work in twenty year cycles rather than decades. We didn’t have the Bay nor the Barrage, the Millennium Centre not the Senedd in 1980 but by 2000 we did. In 2000 and other than right on campus there was barely a purpose-built student let available anywhere in the city. Today they are everywhere, gargantuan, gleaming, glowing, growing, rocketing up in every district from right next door to the old Gaiety Cinema on City Road to the city’s highest of new high rises, the Bridge Street Exchange, at the bottom of Charles Street. In the pipeline are plans for more. Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) erected against a background of weak planning control and easy to manage building regulation they are the cash cows of property developers everywhere. Put them up and then apply for change of use. The cityscape will never be the same again. In 2000 we had a green belt running right round the city. Today that belt has shifted to become instead a green wedge, a green splash, a green smear. In its place are the city’s new districts. Plas Dwr, Churchlands and all the others. Cardiff expands. And expands. And expands.
The ‘culinary odyssey of City Road’ is marvellously well documented in Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City. For hungry Eisteddfod-goers, where would you recommend trying first? .CN, the internet suffix for China, is the name of the city’s best Chinese eatery by far. Here you can get top end Sichuan king prawn in chilli and pepper sauce, healthy option Kung Po chicken, and north east China salad in a style you’ll find hard to beat anywhere else in the city. Failing that and for kebab fans Al Wali’s Omani Restaurant half way down and hiding behind a bus stop is pretty decent. For Omani read Persian or Iranian or Egyptian, or Middle Eastern. City Road is a feast from one end to the other offering meals at price points everyone can reach.
If you could be transported to any period of Cardiff’s history, which would you choose? I think I’d want to see the heroic period of Cardiff’s industrial expansion in action first hand. That would mean arriving in 1861 at the Royal Arcade and finding the very first Cardiff Free Library on the first floor. Out the back they’d have a time machine, naturally, so having got here I could then get back. I’d use it to slide back a further few years to 1849 to see Brunel move the Taff in order to build Cardiff General Rail Station for his South Wales broad gauge railway. I’d spot a few numbers and then rush forward to 1886 to visit the brand new Coal Exchange, have a drink in the just opened Grand Hotel on the new Westgate Street, buy some cockles at the brand new indoor market and finally climb up the shiny new statue of John Bachelor to top his head with a road mender’s lamp, traffic cones not yet having been invented. This was the period that made Cardiff, when the population boomed and when modern invention and business innovation flooded the place. That flourishing must have been simply thrilling to watch.
Psychogeography is a particularly inventive way of mapping a place – how did you first become interested in it? The Situationists who flourished between the fifties and the seventies were international social revolutionaries and avant garde artists. I was running the journal second aeon at the time, a Welsh-based home for a world of avant garde poetry, so naturally I took note. These people interested me. They were an onward growth of the Dadaists and the Surrealists and seemed to me to be right at the cutting edge. One of their members was Guy Debord – the man who invented psychogeography, the exploration of mainly urban environments for what they were rather than where they led. The sense of place became more important than the place itself. Why not view a city as an entity rather than a destination? This was something I needed to try for myself.
What did you find most challenging in your process of writing Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City? In writing these books you don’t sit about waiting for inspiration to strike, no hoping for those rays of Blakean stuff to come pouring down through the air and infest your work. None of that. This is work.. I need to immerse myself in my subject. Research it, walk through it, think about, talk about, listen to it, feel it. I make notes. Constantly. I record things on the camera, take snaps, use the phone. I check out the maps. I check out the old ones and then the new ones. I check just how the used to spell the name of the place I am interested in. Why was Rumney called Rompney? Why was Cardiff called Kairdiv?
I accumulate what I need to say and then find a way of starting out and saying it. The starting is so important. Get that right and the rest will flow. I work hard walking and thinking, note book always with me, and into it I make notes of how my start might go. The walking helps the flow. I ignore passers-by, I ignore interrupters, I am working so this poor and rude behaviour is entirely reasonable.
It’s also true that you then need to check and then check again. I reread and redraft. I get help from others to check too and I listen to what they say. I recheck my spellings. I look at what others have said and I try not to repeat them. I acknowledge them if I do.
What’s the most challenging? Transcribing interviews. Getting that right. And remembering to ask the right questions in the first place. I always double check with my interviewees. I let the subject see what I intend including and ask them if they are happy. If they aren’t or I’ve got it wrong somehow then I put it right.
And finally, in the closing pages of The Flourishing City, you wonder about Cardiff ‘how it could be’, and tell us, ‘Cities are never finished’. Is it also true, then, that you’ll never be finished exploring this city of yours? I think that once a city gets above a certain size there will always be new things to discover about it. Not only is Cardiff big enough to keep me permanently involved but it is also changing constantly, often at a bewildering rate. No matter which part of it I find myself in there are always new things to look at, new roads to walk down, new paths to follow and new routes to create. Tracking the lost can be just as thrilling as delighting in the newly discovered. The moment I finish a volume of Real Cardiff something new or different or previously unseen appears. Buildings get built. Buildings get torn down. Populations flourish. Roads and walkways bend and turn offering new and different vistas. This capital of ours is a great Welsh place, far more involving than most people think. Try it. Just arrive and open your eyes. Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City will give you a few hints.
The National Eisteddfod is coming to Cardiff, and with just a few hours to go, we couldn’t think of a better Friday Poem to feature than Dannie Abse’s ‘Return to Cardiff’.
Wales, and Cardiff in particular, haunted the imagination of the great Dannie Abse. In Welsh Retrospective he writes movingly about the Cardiff of his childhood, home of his beloved Bluebirds football team, and also about the small village of Ogmore-by-Sea, location of early holidays and for many years his home in Wales. Selected from the whole of Dannie Abse’s writing career, the book includes such well known and well-loved poems as ’In the Theatre’ and our featured poem today, ’Return to Cardiff’, alongside many previously uncollected poems. Welsh Retrospective gives fascinating insights into Dannie Abse’s Wales and his versatility as a poet.
Listen to Dannie Abse performing this remarkable poem at Seren’s First Thursday event, December 2009:
Though certain parts may be seeing rain this weekend, the warm weather continues – and what better time than summer to explore all the UK has to offer?
Our Real Series – a collection of intimate and entertaining guide books written by local writers – offers an insider’s view of the places it celebrates. The most recent addition to the series is Real Cardiff: The Flourishing City by Cardiff author and legend Peter Finch. So whether you’re an armchair traveller, or someone looking forward to a trip to the Welsh Capital sometime soon, we hope you enjoy this glimpse into the history of Cardiff – specifically, the area in which famous children’s author Roald Dahl grew up.
The whole of the Real Series – and all our other Seren books – are 50% off until midnight, Sunday 29 July, on the Seren website.
ROALD DAHL’S CARDIFF NORTH LEY
I catch the train at Cardiff Central. This is the City Line which began in the city’s north east and now, after looping in a great U through the city’s heart is about to head north again. I’m in the two-car Sprinter and I’m standing. Every single seat is occupied by pupils from Bishop of Llandaff High School. Kids, bags, blazers, headphones, chewing. The windows stream as the train steams. Around us is railway land, an industrial cityscape full of rail sheds, engine bays, carriage washeries, repair shops and assembled new track in stacks like a giant train set. This south west of the city on view from the tracks is the capital with its guard down. Backs of mosques, tottering streets, unkempt gardens, the yards of Brains brewery, warehouses stacked with building materials, and even more open and right now empty rail beds. It reminds me of London, how the land looks as you reach Paddington or Waterloo. But it doesn’t last. After the carriages have disgorged a hundred uniformed school kids at Fairwater, the cuttings emerge, wooded banks and scrub masking the housing above. It’s leafy suburbia giving an impression of empty countryside. A green west Cardiff, a place that doesn’t change. It’s freezing. This is January. The train has reached Radyr where it will rest a while before returning the way it came. I’m off, up the footbridge steps, plastered thickly with Network Rail road salt. No one but no one will slip and sue here. In a previous, smaller, steam-filled incarnation, the Radyr train would have served Roald Dahl’s father, Harald, who did a daily commute in to what was then called Bute Road Station. His ghost is there on the platform now, eye glasses, three-piece suit, white starched collar. He looks like a disapproving headmaster. His railway season ticket was found inside his expensive leather wallet when he died in 1920. That was on April the 11th. The ticket was valid until the 23rd. Like most in Cardiff at this time Harald’s business was coal. With his partner Ludvig Aadnesen he had established a business as a colliery agent and provider of all that ships docking in the world’s leading coal port would need. Provisions, ropes, oil for their lamps, food. The profits flowed. In 1917 Harald had bought Tŷ Mynydd (Mountain House), set on rising ground a mile north of the Radyr rail station. As befits the successful businessman Harald was, here was life on a grand scale. 150 acres of land, outbuildings, cottages, a piggery, lawns, formal flower borders, terraces, its own electricity generator and an enormous Victorian house. In photographs it looks like part of Hogwarts. It had multiple chimney stacks, mock Tudor gables, a tiled roof larger than most churches’ and greenhouses to the side to rival those of Dyffryn House, to the west of Cardiff. This is the place Roald, the great author, remembers with nostalgia, recalling the fields full of shire horses and dairy cows. There are photographs of him as a four-year-old out on the lawns and terraces, in the fields among the sheaves of corn, sitting on the wall of the piggery and of the house itself, which is resplendently decorated with both the Union Jack and the Norwegian Flag. No Welsh dragon in sight. Like Cefn Onn, Tŷ Mynydd also had railway connections. The house had been built in 1883 by George Fisher, Director of the Taff Vale Railway. When he died in 1891 the property passed to his son, H. Oakden Fisher, Chair of both the TVR and the Cardiff Gaslight and Coke Company Ltd, although his real interest lay with the military. He was Lieutenant Colonel of the Glamorgan Volunteer Artillery. Harald bought the estate in 1918. When he died in 1920, his second wife, Sofie Magdalene, moved to smaller premises back in Llandaff. Tŷ Mynydd then became the property of the architect Sir Beddoe Rees, MP and for a brief time in the 1930s was turned into St Maur’s College, a small private boarding school for girls. In 1967 the house and most if its outbuildings were demolished. This was the first full-blooded rush at clearance following the war. Cardiff was expanding. Property developers had no interest in the preservation of inefficient, draughty piles such as Tŷ Mynydd. On its lands a whole housing estate could be build. It had to come down. I take the road up out of the station’s gully. Already the old shunting yards and waste ground lining the river have been populated with high density brick town housing. There’s little public space. Most structures are distinct from each other, laid at angles as if thrown there like dice. Room for breath is restricted and corners are rounded. Access is on turning roads named after De Clare, Norman Lord of the City, Aradur Hen, an ancient local croft that gave us the name Radyr, and Goetre Fawr, the farm that once worked these lands. Behind the aptly named Junction Terrace is a field replete with three grazing llamas, tall-necked beasts which, despite the ll of their name, are about as common in Wales as kangaroos. Food To Go which has signs offering coffee and warmth is closed. I head up along rising Heol Isaf in the direction of the Village of Fire. In 1841 the ten cottages of Pentre Poeth (Warm Village) were all that existed of what is now Morganstown, upper Radyr – that part of Cardiff north of the M4’s périphérique grip. This is where the workforce of the developing fire-filled ironworks at Pentyrch lived, an element of Cardiff’s lost industrial heritage. Heol Isaf was and still is the main road to Tŷ Mynydd. It’s no distance to cover. In my ears I’ve got Emmylou playing through the buds. 1970s country, when what she sang was the edge. Alabama down home. Dahl wouldn’t have stood for this. He preferred Beethoven. The Tŷ Mynydd estate has been built on; the fields are gone. The line of the original entrance path running up from Tŷ Mynydd Lodge has been preserved in the rising bends of MaesYr Awel. The detached late-sixties houses along it turn eventually to a U-shaped cluster of apartment blocks. Cwrt Tŷ Mynydd is the appropriately named first; after that the developer gave up and resorted to names with a strong English resonance – Norfolk Court, York Court, Windsor. It’s a marketing thing. Here, near the eastern edge of Wales, where the language thins, the Anglo norm dominates. Beyond the apartment courts, circled like a residential wagon train, there’s a copse, ancient pine trees, all that remains of what once was here. For the Dahls of the nineteen teens this would all now be virtually unrecognisable. A local walking his young daughter to the primary school at the former estate’s southern end tells me, yes, he knows about Dahl and the great house. He points me back towards the still extant Tŷ Mynydd Lodge which faces Heol Isaf. And there it is, the gatehouse preserved, doing time now as an up-market B&B. The Llandaff Society have installed a celebratory plaque above the front door. Over the years since Roald would have known it the building has been much extended. But there’s enough original left for the Dahlian spirit to soar. I can see him outside, short pants, laced leather shoes, hat, overcoat with enormous buttons. Mama holding his hand.
Today marks the official release of Sarah Philpott’s The Occasional Veganand to celebrate we are hosting a blog hop – two weeks of content from some of the UK’s best foodie blogs.
What is a blog hop? A blog hop is when group of bloggers all join up to write about or engage with a certain theme. Our theme is delicious vegan food – specifically the food you’ll find inside Sarah’s stunning new book, The Occasional Vegan.
From March 21 – 05 April, a selection of brilliant bloggers will be sharing recipes, giveaways, reviews and articles about The Occasional Vegan. Get a sneak peek inside the book and find out what experienced bloggers think of it by following along – each blogger will be publishing something new and different.
We will kick things off on the Seren blog with an author interview, recipe and video on March 21, and from there on a different blogger will take the reins each day.
You will have the chance to enjoy tasters of food from the book, and also to hear about Sarah’s vegan journey and the inspiration behind her delicious recipes. Sarah will also be available to sign copies of the book.
This weekend we co-hosted Cardiff’s first weekend-long poetry festival in the beautiful Cornerstone building, and were thrilled to see so many people enjoying the programme of events.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to our sponsors: Tidal Lagoon Power, the Rhys Davies Trust, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff. Thanks are also due for all at Cornerstone, who hosted us in their beautiful venue, to our official festival photographer David Hurn, and to the talented line-up of artists and authors who took part: Jonathan Edwards, Paul Henry, Brian Briggs, Philip Gross, Cyril Jones, Damian Walford Davies, Rhian Edwards, Gillian Clarke, Gwyneth Lewis, Richard Gwyn, Clare E. Potter, Susie Wild, Emily Blewitt, Katherine Stansfield, Stephen Payne, David Foster-Morgan, The Spoke, Little Rêd, Robert Minhinnick.
The mix of events combined spectacular poetry readings, beautiful music and thought-provoking film. Take a look at the slideshow below, where we have brought together photographs taken by the wonderful David Hurn, by Cornerstone photographer Chas Breton and by Seren’s Marketing Officer Rosie Johns.
What about next year, we hear you ask? Will the festival return? Well, we’re pleased to say that we are already thinking about it…
I have seen first-hand the positive work done by Assembly employees, particularly the LGBT staff network group Prism and Seren Books and I would like to congratulate the Welsh Assembly on their award. It didn’t surprise me though – given how influential people from Wales have been in British LGBT history, and by extension in societal history here and abroad.
In 2017 we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Wolfenden Report (1957) and the fiftieth of the Sexual Offences Act (1967). I was delighted to be invited to speak at a House of Commons event on the roles played by people from Wales. I took as my theme that great period of flux in the mid-twentieth century when so much happened with regard to LGBT people: prosecutions against gay men reached its highest point; in 1931 there were 622 prosecutions, a figure which rose to 6,644 in 1955 – because of a law that prohibited gay men from simply being. We know that Alan Turing was convicted for nothing more than confessing he was a homosexual, and whilst gay women and transgender people were not prohibited under law, simply being so was socially unacceptable and discrimination was high. When society began to question the purpose of this law, particularly following the sensational Montagu trial (1954), an increasing number of people began speaking up.
Opponents included Roy Jenkins MP, and Rev. Llywelyn Williams MP from Abertillery among others, but it was Pembrokeshire’s Desmond Donnolly MP who first brought the subject of decriminalising homosexuality up in the House of Commons, a risky move at the time. Robert Boothby MP pressurised the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe into considering the situation and reluctantly Maxwell-Fyfe agreed, tagging homosexuality onto a commissioned report on prostitution, which became known as the Wolfenden Report.
Initially the Wolfenden committee refused to speak to homosexual men, as they could not consider talking to criminals. Welshman Goronwy Rees, described as the most ‘lateral thinking and perceptive member of the committee’, thought differently and complained that few members had ever encountered a homosexual ‘in a social way’. He persuaded John Wolfenden, the chair, to meet some homosexual men and to accept the testimony of Peter Wildeblood, who had been imprisoned following the Montague trial. Wildeblood had subsequently written a book and Wolfenden therefore considered him an ‘attention seeker’. Rees also facilitated the inclusion of Patrick Trevor-Roper, a Harley Street consultant; Carl Winter, the director of the Fitzwillian Museum; and author Angus Wilson. Only these four self-identified homosexual men appeared before the committee but they played an important role in influencing the outcome of the Wolfenden Report.
The recommendation of the report for more leniency towards homosexual men was on the whole positively received, but whilst the recommendations on prostitution were enacted, those on homosexuality were not. Maxwell-Fyfe, having reluctantly commissioned Wolfenden, was now stalling it and Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister and personally supportive of change, felt that it would cost the labour party too many votes.
When it became apparent that nothing was going to happen, Tony Dyson, an English lecturer at Bangor University, wrote to every notable person he could think of, asking them to sign an open letter to The Times requesting Wolfenden be enacted. Writing on Bangor University headed note paper, Dyson was placing himself at great risk of being either arrested, sacked or both. As it happened, the university took no action against him – a progressive reaction at the time. The Times obituary for Dyson in 2002 drew attention to his contribution: ‘it is difficult to comprehend,’ they said, ‘the danger of living as a homosexual before the law was reformed in 1967, with the ever-present threat of criminal proceeding or blackmail.’
On the back of The Times letter, Dyson and others set up the Homosexual Law Reform Society, the first openly gay campaigning group in Britain – others followed. What was needed was someone to spearhead a campaign to get Wolfenden enacted and that person was Leo Abse, Cardiff solicitor and MP for Pontypool. As a backbencher he was able to concentrate on unpopular causes and did much for women’s rights, among other achievements. But even he struggled to get this bill through and it was Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary, who gave the final push needed for the legislation to pass and so changed British society for good.
Of course others have been at the forefront: Katherine Philips; Mary Lloyd; Cliff Tucker; Cranogwen; John Randell; Cliff Gordon; Jan Morris; Gwen John; Ernest Jones; Cedric Morris; Griff Vaughan Williams; Lady Rhondda – I could go on and on about the number of Welsh people who have influenced LGBT and British life.
Wales is a small country but in LGBT history it has always had a huge presence – and that is why the Welsh Assembly award shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
December’s Short Story of the Month, ‘The Pheasant’, is published in memory of the author, Glenda Palmer Vibert, and is based on a true account of one of her grandfather’s experiences as a poacher in Llanelli.
A man faces harsh justice for stealing a bird – but will the law prevail?
Elizabeth Francis made no concessions to the twentieth century. As far as she was concerned, Victoria was still very firmly planted on the throne of England. The calendar may say nineteen twenty, but that was ignored by Elizabeth. She was a tiny woman, small and finely boned, but having a strength that belied her apparent delicacy. Her dark, Indian-straight hair was hardly streaked with white, while her black eyes looked boldly on life.
The burly police constable hesitated, foot on step, nervously fingering his note book and pencil. Elizabeth Francis’ sharp tongue was well known in the small, fiercely Welsh industrial town. Many a would-be complaining customer had been shrivelled by Elizabeth as she stood, hands on hips, barely visible behind the mound of home grown vegetables on the market stall. This was the stance that met Constable Parry’s wilting gaze now.
“Who says that my Richard was poaching?”
“Well, er- that is…”
David Parry grew more nervous.
“Witnesses you must have, not some old gossip.”
‘Wil Toplis saw him, he did, with that old pheasant in his–”
Elizabeth Francis cut him short.
“Wil Toplis?” she spat sneeringly. “He couldn’t see a cow in a field!”
David Parry backed away. He had delivered his message, he had done his duty.
Elizabeth Francis went in and slammed the front door shut. She stood for a few seconds in the long dark passage of the house. The grandfather clock with its silly swan face ticked with a comfortable velvet tick. Poaching again, she thought. Why can’t that wife of his control him?
She made her way into the cramped kitchen with its glowering range and its high-backed settle, upon which a small, red-haired child was curled reading a comic.
“Come here child. Take a message to your idle father.”
The child stood before her grandmother. Their eyes met, the same dark, deep eyes, the grandmother’s hard, the child’s wide and questioning.
“Tell your father that I want to see him – and not when he feels like it, but now.”
“But he’ll be in work now.”
“Nonsense! He’ll be in the West End; your father never wastes good drinking time by working.”
The child slammed the little gate of the house shut and set off down Sandy Road. “Always me,” she grumbled to herself, “always me running messages.” Her small hands were red from helping Mamgu with the washing and her arms ached from working the washing dolly.
A car swooshed past her going all of twenty miles an hour, mud splattering the hem of her too big dress.
The pub was crowded with noise and smoke as the child pushed her way past sweating, furnace-begrimed men, slaking the thirst of red hot ingots with the strong, thick ale brewed locally.
“Have you seen my father?” she asked no one in particular. A furnace blasted face looked down at her above a white sweat-cloth.
“Draw fana,” he said to her in Welsh, “over there bach.”
He pointed to a corner of the bar where a tall, red-haired man was holding court, talking in rapid Welsh to a spell-bound audience of three or four tin-plate workers in their metal-soled clogs. Dick Francis saw his youngest daughter and, mellowed by beer, lifted her in his arms and swung her above his head.
“Fy merch I,” he announced proudly, “my daughter.”
“No need to say that man. With that red hair she couldn’t be anyone else’s child.”
The men laughed and made a fuss of the girl, who was oblivious to their laughter and teasing.
“Mamgu wants you,” said the child breathlessly and a little afraid.
“Tell her I’ll come at stop-tap,” said Dick, placing the child on the bar counter.
“But she said now,” said the child urgently.
Something in her tone convinced him this was not a request from Elizabeth, but a command.
Dick swore softly to himself. What right had his mother to treat him like a child? After all, he was married now with four daughters of his own, and a wife that had much the same spitfire quality as his mother – far too much he sometimes thought.
Nevertheless, he bade farewell to his mates and walked unsteadily towards his maternal home, the child trotting at his side.
Mother and son faced each other in the little parlour.
“Well?” said Elizabeth, questioningly.
“Well what?” answered her son sullenly.
“You know very well what. I’ve just had a visit from David Parry – it’s poaching you’ve been again!”
“Who says I’ve been poaching?”
“Wil Toplis, you fool, he’s been after you for years, swore he’d see you behind bars and this is his chance.”
“Damn Mam, he’s always saying that but he’s not done it yet.”