Thursday, July 29, 2010

Grey Skies, Green Waves

Think of surfing and your mind will most likely wander to some sun-kissed Californian coastline - all white sand and glittering, aquamarine ocean. You probably wouldn't automatically think of Pwllheli, or, gulp, Cardiff.

In, Grey Skies, Green Waves, Porthcawl surfer-writer Tom Anderson somewhat reluctantly forgoes the pleasures of exotic, foreign climes to reacquaint himself with the joys of surfing closer to home. That means freezing his arse off in various briny locales around the UK and Ireland.

Fending off hypothermia, and endangering his life in search of interesting North Atlantic surf might seem a tad eccentric but Anderson's quest is a compelling one. During his journey the reader is introduced to a host of characters from Britain and Ireland's surfing communities, from Christian practioners to event organisers of dubious morality.

We are allowed tantalising glimpses of secret and unlikely surf spots at Cardiff (honest!) and Port Talbot (I think). Anderson rides monster waves in the icy Scottish extremities of Thurso; swallows his oceanic pride to surf the Severn Bore; and deconstructs Britain's surf capital, Newquay.

There's plenty more to enjoy in this salty travelogue, not least the author's role in a Welsh tourist advert involving a flock of sheep. So, if you want to acquaint yourself with Britain's diverse surfing culture you could do worse than investigate Tom Anderson's enjoyable, Grey Skies, Green Waves. The book is published by Summersdale and costs £8.99.

Friday, July 23, 2010

HG Wells in Newport

Here's sci-fi author HG Wells pictured with Viscount Tredegar at Tredegar House in Newport in 1935. Wells is on the right. Viscount Tredegar was notorious for throwing lavish weekend house parties attended by the likes of Aleister Crowley, Aldous Huxley, Nancy Cunard, and Augustus John, as well as HG Wells. He was also renowned for keeping a menagerie of exotic creatures at his Welsh stately home. These included a boxing Kangaroo called Somerset, a bear called Alice, and an anteater whose name escapes me. Looking through newspapers of the period Viscount Tredegar's chief occupation seems to have been opening fetes and attending garden parties, usually with his pet macaw (Blue Boy) perched on one shoulder.

Incidentally, HG Wells, before he became a famous author, worked as a teacher at the Holt Academy near Wrexham. Unfortunately he had to resign the position after getting kicked in the kidneys during a school football match. True story.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Newport State of Mind

If you haven't seen it yet check out this parody of Jay-Z/Alicia Keys' Empire State of Mind, where the Big Apple magically mutates into downtown Newport, Gwent.

It has been fascinating to witness the response to this video over the last week or so. Not just the viral nature of its popularity and dissemination (well over a million hits, and featured on major TV news networks) but the reaction to it from Newportonians. Many of whom are not at all happy and feel that their city has been misrepresented.

Anyone with local knowledge will instantly recognise that the makers of the video (from London) have got their cultural references arse backwards. Shirley Bassey, Craig Bellamy, and Ryan Giggs belong to Cardiff. Plaid Cymru is less popular in Newport than the BNP. But does it really matter? Well, maybe it does.

Stereotyping Welsh people and landscapes is nothing new, of course. From John Ford's sentimental How Green Was My Valley to the Pot Noodle mining adverts we've had a lot to put up with. Usually Wales is reduced, in a synecdochical way, to a Valleys cliche. Interestingly, in this video the references are dominated by Cardiff. A sign perhaps of the cultural shift in power from the Valleys down to the capital city. For Newportonians - who regard Cardiff as a bit up itself - having their city portrayed as a part of Greater Cardiff must be somewhat galling.

It's worth noting also that this video is not entirely devoid of traditional prejudices. There is a moment, for example, where the girl in the Alicia Keys role makes a jokey reference to a pre-vomit before spouting: "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch". The Welsh language is equated, therefore, with puking up and is no different from those lame old jokes about having to wipe the phlegm off your face after speaking to a Welshman.

Having said all of that, if you read the song primarily (as I do) as a parody of Jay-Z's overblown hymn to New York, then I think it works. Newport becomes a down-to-earth counterpoint to the grandiosity of the Big Apple, and the song a homage to the ordinary. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band in Wales

Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band performed in Wales on just 3 occasions. Their debut Welsh gig was in Swansea at the Brangwyn Hall in 1974. I don’t know much about this event so if anyone has any info - it would be much appreciated. Their second Welsh concert was at Cardiff University in November 1975. In his new book, Beefheart: Through The Eyes of Magic, John “Drumbo” French (the band’s drummer) has an amusing anecdote about his stay in the Welsh capital. Apparently the band arrived late in Cardiff exhausted from a long train journey. The next morning, feeling ill and groggy, French turned on the TV in his hotel room and couldn’t understand what was being said. For a moment he thought he had gone insane and could no longer understand English. In a panic he phoned reception. The receptionist responded calmly in English and, embarrassed, French asked for the time. It had dawned on him that he was, in fact, in Wales... and the TV programme was in Welsh. Captain Beefheart played one other Welsh gig – that was (again) at Cardiff University, in 1980.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Gareth Edwards in Men Only

As you can see seventies Welsh egg-chasing hero Gareth Edwards once gave an interview to soft porn magazine, Men Only. It was published in April, 1979. According to the front cover: Gareth Edwards Speaks Out On Dirty Play. Sounds interesting sports fans.

Charles Bukowski: A Poorly Night

Think I've mentioned before on this blog that cult writer Charles Bukowski used to send poems to Peter Finch's Welsh poetry magazine, Second Aeon, which was based in Llandaff North, Cardiff. I have an image in my head of Bukowski, eyebrows raised, scrawling "Llandaff North", on an envelope before popping it into the post. Bukowski was living at the time at 5124 De Longpre Ave, Los Angeles. His once sleazy apartment (see pic) is now listed as an Historic-Cultural Monument (take note Cardiff Council). Anyway, amongst the poems that Bukowski sent to Llandaff North was, A Poorly Night, which actually mentions Wales. It's typical Bukowski in that it recounts a violent, drunken episode: the author has kicked someone's car and then thrown himself into a bush, thus destroying it. His long-suffering girlfriend tells him he needs to go see a shrink and then leaves him. The author responds by chucking a chair through the window. The poem concludes with the seemingly incongruous line: "how many dead beasts float and walk from Wales to/ Los Angeles?" If you want to study the poem in full you need to get hold of his poetry collection, Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Mary Millington Does Newport

Newportonians will be delighted to learn that Britain’s first Queen of Porn, Mary Millington, once did a photoshoot on the streets of their fair city (or town, as it was back in 1976). At the time Millington was the squeeze of Penarth porn baron, David Sullivan (aka Dai Top Shelf). It was for one of his illustrious magazines, Playbirds, that she did this 5 photograph spread. Three years later Mary committed suicide. If you want to pay homage to this momentous coming together of porn and Gwent you need to get hold of Playbirds Vol 1, No 2, 1976.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Strike a Light for Wales

This lapel badge was worn by supporters of Meibion Glyndŵr (Sons of Glyndŵr) during their arson campaign (circa 1979-95). Over 200 holiday and second homes in Wales, owned by English people, were targeted by the group. By all accounts a fair few insurance jobs occurred at this time, too. This particular example belongs to, ironically, the British Museum and is kept in their coins and medals section. I notice it didn’t make their recent A History of the World in 100 Objects project.