Monday, August 21, 2006

Stellar Street

OK, what's the most culturally significant street in Wales? Cwmdonkin Drive? Pah! Cwmderi High Street? Don't be ridiculous! No, the bricks and mortar epicentre of twentieth century Welsh popular culture is Newfoundland Road, Gabalfa, Cardiff.

As has been mentioned in previous posts it was here that B movie actress, and former Mrs Marlon Brando, Anna Kashfi once lived. But it is also the road in which poet RS Thomas was born. Kashfi lived at number 100, Thomas at number 5. There you have it - cultural polar opposites but geographically at least, practically neighbours.

Today I fought my way through a sea of demented genealogists at Cardiff Register Office to purchase a copy of Thomas' birth certificate (see pic detail). What immediately struck me was the missing "s". I'd always been under the impression his full name was Ronald Stuart Thomas but "Stuart" is noticeably absent from the certificate. I legged it into Waterstones to consult the latest Thomas biography for an explanation. Apparently he adopted the name Stuart at university to differentiate himself from other students called Thomas. Of course!

So despite being, on the surface at least, such disparate characters - Kashfi and Thomas do have something important in common: both altered their names and in doing so set out on a path of self-reinvention. Joanna O'Callaghan became Anna Kashfi who became Mrs Brando; and mundane Ron Thomas eventually mutated into esteemed priest-poet RS Thomas.

Anyway, for more psychogeographic thrills take a detour down Newfoundland Road next time you're in the Gabalfa area of Cardiff. And if you actually live there how about putting up a couple of plaques?

*Special thanks to poet Grahame Davies for alerting me to the RS Thomas/Newfoundland Road connection and for indulging my weird obsessions. Nice one.