10.00 am. The start of a four-day retreat to Abertillery — the well-spring of my family, culture, history, and beliefs. The 10.00 am train to Shrewsbury was cancelled. (Woe betide anyone who journeys on a Sunday.) I waited out the delay at the town’s Starbucks; (my first patronage). But what the heck! Today, I’ve neither an agenda nor deadlines. My only imperative is to settle in the moment, live deliberately, and listen to the internal ruminations of the spirit. Abertillery, my hometown and centre of the known universe, has been the place to which I’ve always returned and found, if not answers, then more appropriate questions.
En route, I played, on an old 5th generation iPod, music that I associate with my undergraduate days at Newport, Gwent (my journey’s end, today, and accommodation), as well as more recent enthusiasms (Scott walker and Henry Purcell), and reflected upon the discontinuous thoughts and recollections that the music invoked:
Observations for the day from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 10, 2015-), 18:
I shall not die / prophecy: my guitar work will feature later in the compositional output, so I must continue to prepare / be responsible to myself / composition is the redirection of what already exists / music is the soul’s breath / a copy of the ER CD for CW / buy the boys a selection of those albums that had meaning for me when I was growing into music / Strength in guitar playing is the ability to ally beauty and danger / if life consisted only of music, it would still be thoroughly worthwhile / what is the significance of ecstasy?
The trains stops at Abergavenny, under whose skies my mother died at Neville Hall Hospital:
I arrived at Newport station at 3.20 pm. Having unpacked at the hotel in a most orderly and economic fashion (the Travel Lodge provides only one small shelf for all one’s belongings), I walked onto the thoroughfare (such as it is). The police presence is much in evidence; this is, now, an edgy city. I’ve felt safer in New York. Inebriation and beggary are on every street; whole rows of shops are either boarded up, hollowed out, or secured fortress-like. (So much for city status.):
The older the landmark, the more likely it is to have survived. For example, opposite where the Wimpy restaurant was situated at Austin Friars in the 1970s (and where hamburgers and chips were served by a waitress, and the ketchup was dispensed from a squishy, plastic tomato-shaped bottle) the subterranean lavatories remain intact. I found that oddly consoling:
One day, there’ll be insufficient material continuity with my past in relation to this place to enable me to make an imaginative reconstruction.
5.30 pm. Wetherspoonery:
6.30 pm. I caught up with news and events. On this day in 1960, forty-five miners lost their lives in the disaster at the Six Bells Colliery, Abertillery:
The underground explosion was believed to have been caused by the ignition of firedamp (a flammable gas). When, in 2000, I was preparing the exhibition Miner Artists: The Art of Welsh Coalworkers, I interviewed John ‘Chopper’ Davies, who’d worked at the colliery. He shared an experience he’d had of drawing the colliery, from his imagination, on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy
at precisely the time the explosion took place. He recounts that, first, his arm went dead; then he lost control of his drawing hand to someone or something else. Once the limb had returned , he realised that there was now at the centre of the drawing a figure of a miner he had no recollection of having drawn … The ghost in the picture, Davies suggests, represents the spirits of the dead miners.