Recently I've been making paintings in series, like the following small oils (mostly 16x12 inches) on the theme of washed-up timbers.  First you find a Passage to the Sea: 


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There you may find strange objects:

                                  Wart-hog

                                          Tree Agony


The next came from a trip to Bardsey, the mythical island of 20,000 saints at the tip of the Llŷn in north Wales.  Sink a spade in Bardsey and you crunch bones, they say.  For centuries the island was a shrine, Wales's Santiago de Compostela: three trips there counted as one to the Holy Land on the salvation map.  Useless fact: Aberystwyth's pier points directly at the island's whale-back hump 40 miles out across Cardigan Bay.  Weird?  Yes, but Ynys Enlli (island in the stream or current) is special, with its seals, puffins, guillemots and sanctuaries.  I need to go back, twice.  Here's two more it prompted.  (Foot is photo-montage: painted, no one would take it for real.)

                                                 Rocking Horse

                                                  Inspecting

                                                  Croc

 

Bardsey Ahoy!

                                              Seal and Foot

Larger oils follow on The Basin, a sculpted bowl at the top of Rhondda which cried out for palette-knife treatment.

                                               Rocks 1

                                              Rocks 2

                                      Basin Flashback

 The Rocks, the Con Club and Harry the Blind


                                        Basin River

     Harry the Blind 

     The signpost outside our shop had a big

     Y on it showing the road split further up

     at Pen Pych, and every now and then

     a double-decker would smack Blaenrhondda

     right behind Blaencwm like a wet Echo.

     One fine day some bright spark on the Council

     had the post moved two feet in from the kerb

     without telling Harry the Blind who played

     piano Wednesday nights to cider-wallers

     in the Stuart.  Harry came down Bute Street

     shops whistling a favourite tune he didn't

     (Smack!!) play that Wednesday or again ever.

 

                  River

               It must have happened in the night

               when nesting birds lay heavy with sleep.  

               They woke like me, and shook their wings,

               startled by the river's crystal light:

               the rocks, mountain, ferns and sky all there,

               lustred on a satin sleeve.

                                                         Something

               told me, this moment was mine to keep:

               let age come to ache my bones, tremors

               and subsidence disturb my soul,

               I'll fly to the mountain like a bird.

 

Two portraits next of blokes who fought adversity in their own way: Gwilym took Richard Burton down a peg when he called for a pint at the Castle Hotel, Treherbert; and Gordon showed good grace on being dropped from the Black Lion Llanbadarn's pool team.

                     Gwilym Trefleming Thomas

Lines in Memory of Gwilym Trefleming Thomas

     At first light, on Bute Square,

     a hooter and the tramp of boots:

     comrades in arms, without guns.

 

     That first shift, off the farm:

     air down Lady Margaret, up Bute shaft,

     kept the dust off your lungs.


     Hundred per cent, you gave and got;

     hundred per cent, scarce a day lost.

     Dram for dram in a three-foot run,

     fills an ocean.


     Semaphore eyes see in the dark;

     your forehead, pockmarked with calamities;

     that nose, catacombs of erosion.


     Black boots, white scarf,

     laced and buttoned for all eventualities.

     You were gone, Gwilym,

     before the canary choked.


     Above St Mary's, the language is ripe.

     At the hairpin, they gob on scratchings of grass,

     resigned.

    

     You walk home,

     the moon on Cwm Saerbren;

     stump of kindling under one arm;

     magnolia, on the breeze, from your garden.   

Gordon 'Elvis' Ward


Tin bath by the fire; scrubber ready, and a hymn.

Go down the pub, Gwilym.

Trevor will fetch you up.


Big moon on Tydraw:

your face in fire-glow.

On the hearth, flames in a pint glass.


You come and go,

between pipe-smoke and pipe-smoke:

lungfuls squeezed out slow

as a pit-pony's fart.


... Say what you like,

Dai Morris was always in the game...

But that man Hain...


You clear your throat, the grate sizzles;

smack your lips and the room smiles back.


Talk fades.

You stare, unseeing, at wallpaper stains.

What comes, Gwilym, breathless, in the shadow?

Senghenydd, Cambrian, Aberfan...

a boy in a barrow?


Fifty years down the line

you wonder was it all worthwhile.

Somewhere, underground,

a drip of water resounds. 

 
 
 
 

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Ron Berry  (1920-1998) from Blaencwm, quit mining after an injury underground and took up writing.  Two of his novels were reprinted in the recent Library of Wales (Parthian) series, namely: So Long Hector Bebb, perhaps his best, about a brain-scrambled boxer, and Flame and Slag.  Rigorous in his craft, warm in company, Ron caught the fag-end aura of his patch bang on. 

Secrets, below, is a cropped version of Three Miners at Coedely, a photo taken by American Eugene Smith for Life magazine in 1950, last auctioned at Southeby's New York in 2015.

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     Secrets                                  

     It was a secret where they went

     and a secret what they did all day.

     They'd show up again on our streets 

     -white teeth, eyes white- in an eruption 

     of spit and smoke, like they owned the place.

     But they owned nothing, those who scoured

     the pavement for lumps in their gob,

     those whose backs broke in sagging beds.

     Cold mornings we'd hear the hooter

     and the tramp of boots off to war.

     But paupers they were every one.

     That was the worst kept secret: dogs

     of the earth, mugs, we'd say, expendable.

     They didn't own the dust in their lungs.


One night in March 2017 six fires were lit simultaneously on different Rhondda hillsides, leaving the fire-fighting services powerless to stop flames reaching down towards the houses.  No-good boyos with smart-phones?  Too much testosterone or plain frustration?                                           

 
 

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          Rhondda Burning

          Boys are out late tonight                                

          on Penrhys, Pandy and Bute mountain,         

          every twmp and knoll alight: 

          Rhondda burning, burning, burning...          

    

          Squirrels once went tree to tree                    

          from Blaencwm to Pontypridd.                    

          Now there's not a single leaf                       

          falls on Bwlch or Pen Pych:                         

          Rhondda burning, burning, burning... 


          When the last collier died

           a hooter sounded in the mine.

           Tonight a widow wonders why

           dawn breaks on four sides.

           Rhondda burning, burning, burning...


           See the fires rage all night

           on Penrhys, Pandy and Bute mountain,

           every twmp and knoll alight,

           Rhondda burning, burning, burning...