Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Trust in God & put your arse in your hands

Something had to be done.  Years of battling against the ESC (Evil Silver Cheats) as I called them became an exhausting avenue of painful effort like flossing with razor wire.  Only a small incongruent band of us continued the role play of anarchic caged monkeys, throwing our shit at those who laughed at our impotencies through the ribald pages of various fanzines. I was described by Mike Lewis in the official matchday programme as someone with dubious sexual tendencies and a leader of a subversive enemy within who’s acolytes hang on every word (this is probably the only time in my life when I’m likely to be compared to Michael Barrymore, Jesus and Charles Manson). Many Jacks were at that time blissfully ignorant about the stripping down of our beloved Swansea City by London venture capitalists, who leered up the club’s dress and found something worth exploiting while its hair was being tousled by a man in strangler’s gloves.

Silver Shield's Neil McClure was heading for the oversized supernova marked ‘exit’ with our pitchforks embedded in his bulbous derriere; but inside the building lurked a sweaty Machiavellian bastard and companion to a fake Israeli spoon bender, who would eventually feel the cold grip of the law trying a similar act at Exeter City.  Mike Lewis sat astride a collapsing citadel, presumably prising off the light fittings and smelting the Welsh Cup before hawking the flatlining pigeon-guano encrusted corpse to a waiting Australian expert in rendering every last ounce of decaying flesh. Something had to be done. I couldn't continue to throw brickbats from behind the pages of an irrevent view in a sea of detritus.

My decision to contact Supporters Direct was a result of an article I had read in When Saturday Comes, which chronicled their work with other clubs of a similar ilk, size and supporter base.  It was one of those lightbulb moments; and while I did not leap out of the bath, rushing down the street in a trail of enthusiasms and Matey, I felt this was precisely what we needed to form a proficient opposition to the circling raptors and graffiti a line in the Vetch terra.

I contacted Dave Boyle from SD, and invited various luminaries and shakers from inside and out the gilded halls of cyberspace and an assortment of cerebral troublemakers; amongst them two quiet sentinels.  This gathering of concerned souls arranged in a small room at the Corus Sports Club in Port Talbot.  I seem to recall an unusual pre-meeting tension like a summit of wisened old TB-ravaged gunfighters waiting for the arrival of Frank Miller’s gang; which was apt considering that the club was facing High Noon.  Of course, that was my insight.  It could have been the fact that the buffet my mother ordered for our meeting had been eaten by the golf section, who pissed off leaving a table full of crumbs & soiled napkins for us to clear up.  Clearly a metaphor for the battle ahead.

The meeting was constructive and ran over by a considerable time.  I have very little recollection in my autumn years of the discussion points other than being pinched on the leg for somewhat 'flexible' discourse chairing. This was exactly the direction we should go, and the next steps to achieving it.  After that it was a case of getting Dave Boyle very drunk to the point of propping him up in the corner of the local Chinese take-away and opening the windows to my spare bedroom following his departure to rid my habitual space of his bowel and cigarette smeech. My daughter has post-traumatic shivers to this day.

My input, apart from this formative meeting, was mostly developing an identity for the Trust, specifically its mission statement.  From that point –and for personal reasons- I cast myself into the wind like the spores of a forgotten dandelion clock. The growing internet became a beacon casting light across the clarion calls of opposition; and the mobilisation of hearts and minds was not too dissimilar to the way that social networks saved BBC 6Music (which like the Swans, went on to greater things and is now considered indispensible).  I still wonder what could have been achieved at the Trust with my and my shotgun outrider DJ-S’s input.  Considering the extroversion, anarchic ideology and gobby sentiment, the club would indisputably be 100% fan owned; but probably aspiring to finally climb out of the Skrill League following sponsorship by a local confectioner's. Seemingly those shadowy introverts at that formative meeting were already plotting a course to defeat Petty, assume ownership and save this beautifully flawed football club.  I –along with thousands of Jacks- will be forever indebted to them.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Call of the West: But Who's Listening?

If you were unfortunate to be dropped through a wormhole from a different place and time, and subjected to the salivations of South Wales football fans, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this weekend's derby between Swansea City and Cardiff City was akin to the last scene of a Kurosowa showdown; hardened samurai massed across urban battle plains heaving under the weight of steaming angst; unblinking cohorts of testosterone backed up by attack helicopters.  Of course you would. But then such white noise would also ooze from any sponsor-heavy polyester top-wearing enthusiast from Milan, Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol. Apart from Bristol.

Everyone thinks that their own fire ant mound is bigger and more vibrant than their neighbour's nest, and makes such a loud hum that the whole world cannot ignore the discord. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the animus embedded into 40 miles of soulless tarmac buttressed by the Welsh cities of Swansea and Cardiff; traversed by scenic bays, vertiginous mountains and industrial installations belching ash like a chain-smoking uncle.

Unfortunately these twin Cambrian outposts had over the years decayed to the point of penury, resembling a duet of addled tramps noisily waving blood-caked fists at moving reflections in a shop window. And this is where we resided over the generations; sucking at crumbs from the rich man's banquet. A soundtrack to the funeral march of coal mining communities smashed by the Tories.   Supporting Swansea since the 70's was like dating a toothless-yet loyal hag; always expecting something special on your plate but finding a crumpled note, crudely scrawled "there's only dog shit for tea." Our cyclical sense of demise framed by a penchant for loathing borne out of delusions of something better out there. 

Years of animosity festering for no reason other than idiocy channelled by the bellicose phobia of fat bigoted men in designer gear. Pubs smashed to pieces like the sacking of Carthage; young people chased into the sea (though luckily the mythical swimming Cardiff escapees didn't flee into the neighbouring Aberavon Beach waters, or an affliction of toxic shock from a sargasso of tampons and disused nappies would have flavoured the humiliation). Police escorted bus trips that would take us past a gauntlet of ire.  I recall our convoy passing the river Taff and sat open-mouthed as an OAP with his grandson, dropped his fishing rod and angrily waved his cock at us.  As a welsh football fan this was mystifying: both clubs were on their respective arses of bankruptcy, eking out performances in the horrible mausoleums of Ninian Park and the Vetch Field (I have written about this previously Why should attending such sporting events hold more peril than a Barrymore pool party?

The games were nearly always dismal affairs; terse barrel-chested (mostly Welsh) yeomen kicking seven shades out of anything that advanced; almost aping the vein-distending nail-bitten terrace stressors. Attendances reflected the pointlessness.  For me the most memorable events of these dire basement clashes were: 1) someone's bathroom window behind the west stand smashed by a deflected clearance; 2) a Cardiff mod so overwhelmed by chasing our bus on his Lambretta that he crashed into stationery traffic; 3) repeatedly barracking a linesman with 'skidmark' due to the strategic brown streak on his shorts (he never appeared for the 2nd half).  And how could we object to Cardiff's 'The Ayatollah" -a spurious recall of Iranian funeral head-slapping-  when if a football landed on the roof of the Vetch Centre Stand, flakes of asbestos would rain down on our heads, resulting in the very same unison movements in brushing off the cancerous dust?

Of course, we've both finally found ourselves seats at the rich man's table; the toothless hag has been spurned for a vajazzled wag that feeds us cordon bleu and empties our wallets.  Gentrification and culture flows like fine wine.  But make no mistake; those ingrained passions and nail-bitten stressors will rise up again like the undead who were never rightfully despatched by a bullet to the head; and no perfumed wig effete continental fannying on the field will hold them at bay.  Hyperbole about 'the biggest derby in football' will foam from the Tawe and Taff rivers; but for the rest of the world it'll demand about as much column inch as a skateboarding wombat or a tweet from Melvyn Hays.  The next day we'll all just carry on, tattooed with some temporary bragging rights; wondering if there'll ever be anything left in the country to worry about.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Hidden Town

I recently took a bike ride exploring areas of Port Talbot; largely off the beaten and corroded tracks of a tearful town dying on its gangrenous feet.  I wanted to visit the dark areas where the population at large avoid as if they were part of an exclusion zone around a spent Soviet atomic plant.
I traversed narrow back alleys, where sagging brickwork and burnt garage doors held each other up earnestly over discarded sofas and TV sets that were once considered luxury items.
Moving south, on the edges of the town I gravitated to an old deserted warehouse; a place I had long wished to visit to produce some suitably atmospheric and desolate shots to go with one of my suitably atmospheric and desolate albums.  This tired raped old shell of a structure sucked me into its myriad corridors and rooms, before spanning out into a huge space where shafts of sunlight spread like radioactive fingers in the asbestos dust disturbed by fleeing pigeons through roofing apertures. I inhaled an almost overwhelming scent of acetone. 

It was then that I came across numerous youths spray painting the empty plaster walls.  The iridescence ascended from rubble-strewn floors like sinewy limbs of  vibrant ivy holding up the swaying structures.
They were mostly six-form metal skate-punks, and at a stroke of the aerosol bucked the media stereotype for graffiti artists.  These were no skunk-addled subway crazies or street hoods marking their turf;  but ordinary kids using their urban environment as a canvas.
There appeared to be a delineation along class lines.  The obviously more prosperous lads with their backpacks teeming with large pallets of coloured paint enveloped themselves in giant triptychs of detail and complexity, impervious to anything but the concept;  whereas the lesser proletariat contented themselves with a small handful of primary spray, marking simplistic tags in the available space.  There appeared to be an unwritten understanding that nobody shits in another artist’s nest.  None of them appeared to notice or resent my presence; a ghostly visitor to an art project.
Graffiti artists (and artists they most certainly are) get a filthy press; pilloried as vandals and wanton destroyers.  Yet the same people who vent such spleen on these kids blithely tolerate the nauseating bilge on billboards from Sky or Coca Cola.  None of them bats an eyelid when the airbrushed horror of David Cameron promises to save the NHS.  This town has choked its residents for decades, given them cancer, smashed their hopes, destroyed the very aesthetic and culture of their existence.   If only people could comprehend the level of effort, commitment and talent that goes into such a sub-genre of art, one assumes attitudes would change.  Don’t hold your breath.

For me, the discovery of such concepts are hugely enlightening, and every bit as (if not more than) exciting as a visit to the Tate or indeed some stuffy exhibition of Neolithic cave paintings.  The smell, the colour, the ideas and the narrative are of now, and should be cherished.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ground Zero

I meandered across from my Swansea Bay office to view the demolition of the Vetch Field, which for the less-informed is the abandoned former home of my cherished Swansea City FC.  This cathedral for the crushed optimist; this gathering place for the aspirant-cynic; a quiescent sentinel to penury yielding its soft concrete underbelly to giant excavators ripping away remorselessly at its bleeding soul like fireants in a termite mound.
I was not alone in my curiosity and desire for a last nostalgic glimpse.  Several middle-aged men appeared singly and sporadically at the open North Bank gates accessed by the demolition crew, craning and elevating on tip-toes for a final look at the razing like paparazzi at a celeb autopsy.  One could detect the sort of moistening of eyes and grating-throatiness associated exclusively with Welsh men at a funeral. 

It then dawned on me: while events pass us by like vapour, it is structure that frames our existence and retrieval.  To crudely paraphrase:  if you build it, they will come …if you dismantle it, they will cry.  Melancholy oozing from the sepia-stained back pages of memory and time.  It took approximately three minutes for this wistful fog to clear from my eyes with the sight of several scampering rats, followed by a famine-riddled feline.

And let us approach this vision and sip a tonic of realism.  Surveying the fingers of buckled corrosion reaching out through smashed concrete terracing, it’s quite clear that Vetch Field was a shit hole.  All that bleary-cheeked yearning for a return to the stadium cannot mask memories of broken glass cemented onto perimeters, asbestos sheeting hanging from the Centre Stand flanks like the rotten dermis of a homeless leper; rusting barbed wire strangling the walls like knotweed; weeds growing out of turnstiles and crumbling plateaux yawning with deep canyons that could disappear children.
Observing the North Bank’s diminishing piss-reeking silhouette against the winter gloom, it could almost be a Balkan concentration camp or an abandoned site for wartime chemical experimentation;  a testament to how much the owners of the club throughout the years actually cared for the fans, allowing them to fill their guts with mechanical slurry, wade shin-deep in overflowing urine and be herded like livestock into an enclosure that could have become their tombs.

It was refuge for the bigot; a haven for the profane; a recourse for those who wished to bathe in the fumes of danger.  Not at any stretch a safehouse for families, women and minorities wishing to support their team untethered by fears of the violent stereotypes haunting its confines.

I had staggering memories at the Vetch Field that wrought my childhood, adulthood and as a parent taking my son every week and watching his wonderment at the developing soap opera that was Swansea City FC.  Those days will travel through my soul as the happiest times with my boy; and with every day that he is not here with me adds flavour and light to those priceless memories in times of gloom.  The Vetch Field gave this to me, and my love for it will be locked in a frozen capsule of joyous reminiscence.

But let us not be blinded by nostalgia.  How many of us have fond recollections of a kindly grandpa who regaled us with his benignity and colourful stories that filled our young imaginations? …only for the maggots of the ages to dine on his brain, leaving an embittered impossible man.  Would we aspire to rekindle those halcyon days that had long since died?  Would we wish to stand in dog shit because of the pet we loved as a child? 
Let it die in peace and dignity.  Long live Liberty.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Down the Tubes

Now that Jamie Oliver has been sent packing with his hostess trolley full of macrobiotic earnestness from US schools content to pack the pie-holes of the nation’s waddling blimps; the story brought back an olfactory whiff of rancid memories from my own days in state primary school. In this case the life-changing lunch villain was liver and mash This brown lump of organic compound came in square shapes replete with protruding tubes like some hideous gravy-covered road kill from a Quatermass movie. The dinner ladies, no doubt knowing a thing or two about presentation, slapped it onto our plates like a karate auctioneer.
The real cuisine trauma though was reserved for the ‘scraping bowl’; a large metal receptacle into which we would dispose our uneaten food in the knowledge that local pig farms could share in the misery. The sight of a 3 foot high tottering tower of liver haunts my taste buds to this day, to the extent that any attempt to serve me dishes consisting of organs would have to come as part of a package including a tranquiliser dart and three months of post-traumatic counselling.

But what is it about school dinners that provoke a sense of communal revulsion? Was it the thought of Mr Hedges, the maths teacher reaching first for the custard jug -only for the sight of an erroneous nasal clipping dropping into the yellow gloop? Was it the realisation that at some stage a pea with the outer strata of an asteroid would hit the fat girl tucking into her flame-seared gypsy tart? Was it the hirsute dinner ladies serving a rehabilitative programme decreed by the Nuremburg trials? Who cares?  School dinners were a rite of passage alongside dropping a pen and looking up Miss Evans’ skirt; putting dogshit in the caretaker’s mop bucket and stapling the posh kids’ duffel coats to the desk. It’s what made us what we are in this country today: bitter, hopeless empty souls gazing out a window of despair as the clouds of hopelessness drift by, dripping tears of lost ambition. Turkey twizzlers? Kids today don’t know they’re born, etc….

Friday, November 19, 2010

Red Flowers from a distant memory

November is always the month that this nation indulges in a spot of collective angst naval-gazing; trembling hands hovering nervously over a collection tin, wondering if the poppy was still patriotically significant in this day and age.  Marks of respect and solidarity nowadays come in the forms of garish rubber wristbands; and those unlucky enough to get contact dermatitis from wearing the bloody things would probably set up a Facebook page or something.  The less IT literate amongst us may even hang a bedsheet from the nearest bridge with a crudely daubed slogan, leaving it to dissolve in the elements, with the painted letters running like the mascara of a drunken spinster.

The poppy has evoked a series of debates about the relevancy of it.  After all, its primary purpose is to commemorate a war that happened over 90 years ago (with subsequent wars and conflicts bolted onto it for good measure like an old car supplemented with extra parts scavenged over the years to keep the rust bucket roadworthy).  Media commentators and public figures questioned the validity of wearing a small paper flower -and the BBC edict to do so- likening the societal backlash to not wearing one as ‘poppy fascism’  …a stupid phrase given the circumstances.  Perhaps the next annual Holocaust convention will be likened to a ‘roomful of gasbags’.
The problem arises from the expectation that you should wear a poppy, especially if you have a respectable job; i.e. teacher, nurse, civil servant, newsreader, lawyer (I made the last one up).  To not do so would hardly result in a lecture about being bayoneted in the face while suffering the twin evils of mustard gas and trench foot, but probably result in a raised eyebrow and some huffing in those morning office meetings.  This year I bought three poppies, simply because it was obvious that they were going to become detached by coats, seatbelts, etc.  However, my third purchase was on the 11th November, and having a meeting that morning  do you think I could find a bugger anywhere?  The blind panic that engulfed me was totally unnecessary.  If we don’t want to wear a bloody poppy then we shouldn’t feel guilty about it.  Equally if we want to imitate some fatuous WAG on an ITV reality show, fork out 85 quid and become adorned with the latest jewel-encrusted designer effort, then that should be OK too.  Shouldn’t it?

I’ve always been anti-war.  The blood-soaked follies of Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that in certain given circumstances, war is a tool too-oft used to promote the vested commercial and imperial interests of national bullies.  War is akin to a load of drunken lads gatecrashing a houseparty, raiding the fridge, pissing in the aquarium, shagging the host and beating up her boyfriend, before setting fire to the pet dog who trails a frenzy of burning shit across the lounge.  They then up and depart, leaving a smouldering aftermath of chaos and emotional debris that takes aeons to repair. 

However unavoidable war is, one cannot doubt the fortitude of those who have to face death.  We’ve all had what we consider to be awful traumatic events in our lives that we’d all prefer to avoid and forget: car accidents, fights, relationship breakdowns, financial worries, Lenny Henry …but how can this even scratch the surface of a daily fight for survival in conditions that would pollute the Gates of Hell, surrounded by the bloated decaying cadavers of friends we once sat next to in class learning our ABCs, chasing around the yard, catching butterflies, climbing trees, swapping cards, nicking sweets from the corner shop?  How could we even begin to fathom the sense of helplessness that young men feel when they are sent out each day with the thought that they may never return alive to feel the glow of woman next to them or enjoy the warmth of the summer sun on a quiet sunday afternoon in the garden?
First World War
My great grandfather stands as the reason why I wear a poppy every year.  Private Sydney Hooper (‘Pop’) was a gentle unassuming man who liked to sing little limericks to a four year old boy with shiny eyes who sat on his knee and demanded to see the bullet wound in his right hand and examine the gallantry medal nestling in a small velvet-lined wooden case.  These twin trophies were the consequence of his capture of a pillbox armed to the teeth with German machine guns.

He never spoke much about the Great War or the effect it had on him.  A small child could never comprehend PTSD or ‘shell-shock’.  I remember those days at the height of the Summer of Love.  He would take me up to Bethany Square, where there were lines of benches occupied by his comrades; many of whom had eye patches, empty sleeves where arms once were, refashioned bases of walking sticks to replace legs lost on the fields of Flanders, and faces spattered with a myriad of black and red holes.  To a man they were rendered deaf from the constant artillery bombardment, and the local air filled with the high pitched whistling of mistuned hearing aids.  Yet they still retained a sense of quiet dignity and perspective.  Bitterness never entered the lexicon of their discourse.  Every one of them oozed with the essences of enduring politeness, optimism and kindness.  In the face of a sixties counter-culture that railed against the establishment and its tools of war, these old men never argued with the idealistic hippy youths that confronted them, preferring to agree with them that war was and is wrong;  and despite the huge generational differences, won them around.  The bizarre sight of iridescent long-haired youngsters joyously chewing the fat with old mutilated men who’d spat in the face of Satan will stay in my mind for always.

In the intervening months and years Bethany Square featured less and less of Pop’s friends; dissolving like the embers of a rain-soaked fire.  In 1969, pneumonia took him to them. Even then he departed in quiet dignity. Bertrand Russell once wrote: war does not determine who is right - only who is left.  I miss him, and can only wonder what he would think about my hatred of the sneering violent decadent something-for-nothing superficial rotten country we are living in today.  He would probably take me to one side and lighten the mood with another limerick.  Best we forget.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Skidmarks on the Highway

There comes a sinister virus blown in with seedlings from the right that has bestowed absolute power on a select few clawing their way through narrow apertures of naked ambition, pounding to pulp a wake of withered effigies that once burned with lights of integrity, and plunging the bollock knife deep into honest flesh - twisting it to maximize trauma.

Thoughts tailspin to halcyon days where opinions mattered, personalities feted, individuality for the purpose of goodwill cherished and decency was a magnificent feast for all. These aphorisms became separated from their families, herded into remote warehouses, strung up and butchered; and the mutilated corpses driven off late at night in a bus showing the destination: ‘My Way’. In generations to come social historians will discover mass graves, being able only to identify the wretched bodies of hope and sincerity through rotting dental records. Carbon dating will construct a picture of when there was such a thing as society. And they will laugh.

Cynicism leaks like a pungent effluent from the pores of our streets. Take a look out of your window. You will experience lateral blurs from warped elliptical bodies stuffed in polyester crossing your sightlines. Puffing and swearing rotund shapes waddle towards benefit queues and credit agencies; years of self-neglect and abuse-by-proxy etched in scowls barely masked by ascending plumes of exhaled smoke. Faces reddened with injurious anticipation of another day spent getting something for nothing, with exertion and sacrifice long discarded in a graveyard of verbs; their yellowing decay strangled by the grubbing weeds of corruption and fraud.