7.20 am: To the bus station, where I boarded the second X15 of the day headed for Abertillery and beyond. The rain would not deter me (or so I thought), as it had done on other occasions. I was ‘macked-up’ to the hilt. My plan was to walk the route, as far as it was possible, towards the summit of the Arael, beginning at the Old Blaina Road base camp. This is the path that I’ve trod since childhood, and one of the putatively haunted zones on the mountain. En route, my aim was to audiograph and photograph the surroundings. The microphone would be my lens, the sound recorder, my camera and glass plate. Listening for the ‘moment’ is no different to looking for it. Friday felt like Saturday. The dark clouds constrained the sunlight. Morning felt like evening. I know this weather well; it has served to objectify a deep-seated melancholy.
As yesterday, the bad weather and I travelled together. The rain poured relentlessly; cars oozed large plumes of water into the air; and travellers boarded the bus complaining: ‘It’s ‘orrible!’, ‘Jeez!’, ‘What a day!’, ‘There’s weather isn’t it!’ Warnings of flooding and high winds bounced onto my weather app. The valley seen through the condensed and dribbling bus windows looked like paintings by some South Walian landscape artist who never was:
9.00 am: On arrival, I headed for Wetherspoon for a latish breakfast at the Pontlottyn – which was, when I was young, a fairly up-market store selling quality household good and clothes. It had a vacuum tube network that transported metal vials containing receipts and money from one part of the store to another: ffffumpphhhP! I loved it. (You can evoke sounds using words too. Recording is only the most literal means of rendering.) As I waited and wrote in the hope that the rain would ease, the eatery filled with senior women communing over coffee and hot chocolate, men consuming a traditional breakfast and a pint of ale, and very young mothers manoeuvring prams between the tables. I suspected that some patrons spend their whole day here.
10.00 am: The rain abated. But no sooner than I got to the end of Somerset Street, the torrent returned. The National Grid transformer off Somerset Street is still exuding a 50 MhZ hum. I so enjoy these things:
The normally polite tributary, below the St Micheal’s Church, that feeds the Ebbw Fach river, coursed ferociously. I hid under the umbrella of the local library, where my mother once worked. It was here that I discovered my passion for the industrial history of the area. (This wasn’t taught in school; the history of England predominated.) Mum would pull from old Manila boxes, bander copied typewritten texts written by local enthusiasts, which I poured over in the Reading Room. (The best education is self education.) The library’s staff room hasn’t changed. I used to meet her there after school, before walking home together.
The weather app suggested that the decidedly bad conditions would persist for the remainder of the day. There was a risk of disruption to travel. Furthermore, my Mack wasn’t as resilient as I’d anticipated; I was experiencing a slow soak. So, it was back to the city, where the climate was less inclement. I would adapt my project to the locale. One has to remain flexible:
In the early evening I met Mr Williams, who was one of my peers at the Newport art school in the late 70s and early 80s. We ate at the Bridge Street Wetherspoon. Our conversation took off where it left off the last time we’d met there. Working-class art, Socialism, Christian delusionalism, marginalised artists, the virtues of painting, the necessity of craft and discipline, and the difficulty of launching and sustaining a career were, again, the topics on the menu. When the music got too loud, we headed onto the streets and for Clarence Place, where we walked the block, touched our former art school, retold the stories, and licked the wounds of our worst experiences back then, as only former art students do:
Having followed the riverside path and crossed the freeway, we returned to the town centre once again. Moving in the direction of the Transporter Bridge, the pair of us reminisced like surly old codgers in a slice-of-life TV documentary. We yearned to return (but only to the best of the past), lamented Newport’s decline, reconciled ourselves to what cannot be undone, and vowed to keep going. (When you’ve come this far in art, there’s no turning back.):