Swansea's most famous son outside of Russell T. Davies and yours truly (Gee Note: I'd argue that I'm even more famous than Russell T. but, alas, that would be a very short argument. Something along the lines of…
ME: I'm more famous than Russell T. Davies!
SOMEONE ELSE: No you're not.
ME: You're right. I'm not. Damn.) has to be the poet Dylan Thomas. Born in the Uplands region of Swansea in 1914, he lived there until the age of 20 until the success of his first volume of poetry, imaginatively titled "18 Poems", propelled him to the dizzy lights of London. Whilst there he developed a reputation as a drunk and a hell raiser as well as being a phenomenal talent.
Despite the fact that he put away enough alcohol on a daily basis that could effectively euthanize a large herd of cattle (Gee Note: He also smoked like a steam engine and yet in the bar closest to his birth place there is, or was until the recent smoking ban in Wales, a non-smoking section called "The Dylan Thomas Snug". Ah irony, thy name is The Uplands Tavern.) Thomas had made it all the way to New York by the 9th December 1953. Where he, er, promptly snuffed it. Amazingly it wasn't the drink that killed him, instead a lack of oxygen caused by pneumonia led to a fatal swelling of the brain. As a fitting tribute to the man the BBC aired a production of his radio play "Under Milk Wood" two months after his death with an all star Welsh cast led by Richard Burton.
The reason I bring all this up is that something got me thinking about Thomas today. See Dylan had something of a love/hate relationship with his hometown, and for every beautiful piece of poetry he wrote about Swansea, such as "Return Journey Home" a radio production about walking through Swansea after it had been destroyed by Luftwaffe in a three night blitz during World War II, he could be equally scathing about its faults. One of the most often quoted remarks that Thomas made about his birth place is that Swansea is the "graveyard of ambition". (Gee Note: Partly the reason as to why this is often quoted is because some bright spark at Swansea City Council decided to imprint the message "Ambition Is Critical" in the concrete outside of the city's train station as a "response" to Dylan's criticism. Which is all kinds of daft in my opinion. I mean most cities would have gone for a simple "Welcome to Swansea". Not us though. Oh no. Instead we have gone with an "aren't we soooooo witty" statement that comes across as, well, kind of petty really).
And the thing is it's hard to shake the feeling that Thomas was right. I’ve certainly been struggling with being ambitious recently. It’s partly the reason I haven’t posted in a while. Maybe I need a change of scenery. Like the neighbouring town of Bridgend perhaps. I mean that’s a place choc-a-bloc full of ambition. Take, for example, the case of Paul and Deborah Rees.
Paul and Deborah made headlines recently - most notably in the local newspaper the South Wales Evening Post, a publication for which no story is too small. It turns out the Rees family had been, like most of us, hit by the recent global economic crisis and were looking for a way to make a wee bit of extra cash. So Paul and Deborah took a pro-active approach and decided to go in to business for themselves. And hey, they went the right way about it, getting a grant of £4500 from the British government to help set up their new venture.
This seemingly innocuous act enraged the Evening Post, prompting a call to arms amongst it’s readers against a government gone mad. Why I hear you ask? Did Paul and Deborah want to set up a business where people could hire bazookas with which to shoot new born puppies? Or a stall where you could hire sticks to beat old age pensioners with? Well no, not quite. Paul and Deborah Rees have set up a business teaching people how to better harness psychic powers.
Cue a flood of anger on the Evening Post’s message board. Comments such as “Stop robbing Joe Public!”, “Mediums..what a load of crock!”, the completely incomprehensible “ALL THE MONEY LENDS AND BILLS OWEING COMPANYS WILL EMPLOY THESE I BET SORRY DEL BOY YOUR WORDS” and my personal favourite “I would like to point out that there are a lot of people out there doing voluntary work. Why not give them money? Oh no sorry, if it’s voluntary you can’t get grants.” (Gee Note: Er, yeah that’s why it’s called voluntary work. If you get paid it, er, stops being voluntary. Seriously that’s what it means. Look if you’re having trouble grasping the concept I guess I could draw you a picture or something. On second thoughts, perhaps not). In fact so large was the public outcry that the Post’s message board clocked up an amazing 45 messages. Considering most people usually read the Post for its classified ads that’s nothing short of a miracle.
The Post, sensing it was on a good thing, stoked the fire a bit more with a special “We Say” section, where a booming editorial voice told South Wales’ collective conscience how it should feel about all of this. “If more evidence was needed of how governments waste taxpayers’ money” it thundered, “Consider the couple given £4,500 to set up a business talking to the dead. A spokesman for the Assembly describes the "psychic mediums" business as a "unique venture". That’s one way of looking at it. One of the partners in the venture says: "If you lose a son, you have a medium." That is grotesquely insensitive and insulting to all those grieving parents who have borne their loss without resorting to this nonsense. The cash should be taken back.”
The newspaper obviously wanted to pander to the feelings of people such as Dale in Swansea who commented “It’s official, the government supports swindling vulnerable people. Why don't they invest money into a mugging business? It’s no different.” or “Psychic, my arm. They are cashing in on poor, vulnerable bereaved people. The lesson life has taught me is to treat people well when they are alive, it stops you from feeling the need to hand over your hard earned cash to con artists like the Rees’s. That 4 and a half grand would have been better spent on counselling for people that have lost a loved one.” as CM puts it (Gee Note: CM? CM Punk? No? Dammit that would’ve been so cool. By the way I saw CM Punk wrestle at a small show in my nation’s capital a few years back before he became a big star for the WWE. He was playing a bad guy and started off saying how good it was to be back in England, which was of course met with a loud chant of “Wales! Wales!”. Quick as a flash Punk exclaimed “Wait, you call this place Wales? Well that’s rather apt considering the size of the women in attendance here tonight.” I knew right at that moment CM Punk was going to be a big deal one day).
Which is all very noble. Except here’s the thing. Forget for a moment that £4500 isn’t a lot of money in real terms. No really, the amount the Rees family has been given is about the same as two people would earn over a two month period flipping burgers at your local McDonalds. And forget for a moment that if you’d want to claim back your slice of the £4500 then you’d get, ooooh, about 0.00007 pence. Instead think about this.
The Rees’s business, named the Accolade Academy, is predominantly a training institution for wannabe psychics. Seriously, Paul and Deborah offer workshops and tutorials where budding mediums can hone their craft, as well as offering career advice and guidance. And while the Rees’ will still be practicing mediums in their own rights, as far as I can tell the £4500 will be spent on Academy element of the business.
And really, why the hell shouldn’t the government give money to the Accolade Academy? I mean say what you want about the nature of clairvoyancy (Gee Note: I sure have on this blog previously), this venture is offering folks the chance to learn a new skill that could, conceivably at least, allow them to become self employed professional psychics. And so how is that any different to, say, an online writing course or one of those places where you can learn to be a driving instructor? I mean it might not be the most conventional of career choices, but because of the Accolade Academy somebody one day may be enjoying a successful career that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Which, let’s face it, in this current economic environment might be quite useful.
So if you ask me this outpouring of scorn towards the couple and the government that gave them a helping hand is uncalled for. In fact in my opinion it borders on the downright ignorant. And if this is what ambition brings with it, bad tempers and people blindly belly aching then to hell with moving to Bridgend.
I’m happy being ambitionless right here. In my ugly, lovely town.