Wednesday 1 April 2015


G'day All Fools.  I mentioned my mother's birthday in passing a couple of days ago.  She was 95 on Sunday and almost all of her direct descendants gathered in a hostelry near her home for cake and lunch . . . and a glass of Champagne.  In order to attend the knees-up, we three from the still Irish branch (Bob, The Beloved & Dau.II) took the car-ferry across the Irish Sea from Rosslare to Pembroke.  It seemed a good idea when we booked in February.  When Met Eireann started giving out storms last week, it seemed less canny a choice.  The crossing on Saturday was rough and blustery, but the stabilisers on the slab-of-a-ship the Isle of Inishmore worked effectively and by keeping our heads down under blankets we were able to keep our breakfast down.

On Monday night, the tail end of a hurricane blew over the WEA and we slept badly through a chorus of wind-buffeted car alarms and flying dustbin lids. One of the the two bridges over the mighty River Severn was closed to all traffic due to wind, but we sailed over the other without much trouble through the abating storm.  As we crossed, TB received a txt from the ferry company saying that, due to adverse weather conditions, our 1445 departure was delayed by 2.5 hours.  So we turned off the hammer&tongs road to the ferry-port at Sanclêr/St.Clears and dropped down to the pretty village of Laugharne at the mouth of the Tâf Estuary.  We didn't go for the beach-combing but because Dylan Thomas, the poet, who lived there on and off from 1938 to 1953 with his wife Caitlin and their three children Llewelyn, Aeronwy and Colm.

He stopped living [there] in 1953 because he died as the result of a multi-day alcoholic bender in New York in November 1953. He was only 39. As usual with poets who died early, you can never be sure if their life-style had been different enough for them to live longer, it would have been different enough to make their poetry not worth having.  Dylan Thomas was notorious for his destructive relationship with the booze and spent pretty much every evening while in Laugharne at Browns Hotel toping with his pals under the watchful eye of landlady Ivy "no-relation" Thomas.  He gave out his telephone number as the hotel's because the little cottage on the cliff below the hotel didn't have any such amenity.  It was both romantic and tragic and it's hard for us of the central-heating generation to appreciate just how brutal it was living in such places during and just after WWII.

We were going on a sort of pilgrimage to see where Under Milk Wood was born - and that turned out to be a garage that went with, but was not attached to, the boat-house where the family lived.  Indeed the garage was barely attached to the earth, being cantilevered out over the cliff with the distal corner supported on a vertical steel column about 3m long.  This place has been restored in a similar way to Thoreau's hut in the woods near Walden Pond, to give something for tour-bus literati to gawp at. The Thomas atelier is shown as cluttered, austere and messy: the floor under his desk is littered with crumpled drafts of his works.  If you&I sat at the desk looking out over the mud-flats and water, the sheep-fields and headlands, we might not write like Dylan wrote [who could?!] but we'd have hearts of stone if we were not inspired by the cycles of tide and year that unfolded through the narrow windows.

We went on to the Boathouse which has been similarly restored to how it might have looked in 1953, except that two redoubtable Welsh ladies were running the kitchen and dining room on the lowest level as a tea-shop cwm cafe.  Dau.II and I tucked into a commemorative brace of welsh-cakes [self] and a confection built in equal parts of scone, clotted cream and strawberry jam [herself] with a pot of tea.  I am sorry to report that one of us lost that lunch during the crossing that evening.

If you haven't heard Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas's stream of consciousness memoir of the mystic-magical village of Llareggub then you haven't properly lived.  It has to be read aloud.  I love it but I take my intellectual hat off to Dylan's mastering the straitjacket constraint of the 19thC poetic form of a villanelle (the clever-clogs alternative to sonnets) to put the passion and loss of his father's dying into a crescendo of anguish.  If you can't get the cadence, Anthony Hopkins reading might help:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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