Norma Procter invited me to the unveiling of a plaque in Gwaelod-y-Garth village hall on December 6th, a memorial to the 16 killed in the Lan colliery disaster on the very same day in 1875. I had to go, even though every fibre of my being wanted to stay at home attending to more pressing matters – like working out slightly disrespectful anagrams of ‘Jane Hutt’¹ or bleeding the radiators or, oh yeah, re-writing a certain book. But I couldn’t let Norma down; she says http://dicmortimer.com/2011/09/23/cardiffs-mining-disaster/ was the catalyst that motivated her and the Gwaelod community to organise and fund the memorial, so it would have looked really snotty of me not to have turned up.
Here’s a thing: to drive from Splott to Gwaelod-y-Garth, four miles north-west as the crow flies, the wacky-races dysfunctionality of Cardiff’s transport framework is such that you must head south-east²! As it was bitterly cold down at sea-level, I wrongly assumed I would need a snow-plough up on Garth mountain and compensated by setting off far, far too early. I was already at the A470 Taff’s Well exit by 10.20, just minutes from my destination and with forty minutes still to kill. I parked in Pugh’s Garden Centre, rolled a fag and wandered off down the footpath that marks the line of the old Pentyrch & Melingriffith Railway. I love this part of Cardiff, especially where the footpath crosses the Merthyr-Cardiff line at Cardiff’s only pedestrian level-crossing (except for the one at Wingfield Road) (and the one at Parc Caedelyn). I had my smoke slap bang in the middle of the level-crossing, looking up at mist-shrouded Castell Coch from the frosty Taff watermeadows (note: this vantage point is not suitable for mortals) before strolling back to the car. I don’t wear a watch (I’m against them), so was amazed to see it was 10.55 on the car clock. Shit! Having been too early moments before, I was suddenly late! Thankfully there was no passenger to hear language that would curdle milk as I zipped up the hill to Gwaelod, parked with extreme difficulty in a tiny space on the narrow, steep, drastically misnamed Main Road, and slid anonymously into the packed village hall just as the ceremony was about to start.
I have a problem in crowded spaces: facial recognition. You know the old racist adage about the Chinese – “they all look the same to me”? Well, I genuinely think that about the entire human race. Old, young, woman, man, black, white, I find it really tricky to tell you lot apart – in the same way I wouldn’t be able to pick out an individual bird in a flock of starlings. And when I’m trying to locate one person (Norma) in a room containing 100, I’m in serious trouble. I sat at the back and concentrated on the short, eloquent, informative and perfectly-pitched bilingual ceremony, which culminated in Ann Gray, great niece of overman Abraham Phillips who died in the explosion, unveiling the plaque. For lots more on the disaster, the inspiringly dynamic and proactive Norma Procter has written a novel around Phillips’ story, The House of Abraham Phillips (available online). There was one bum note when Pentyrch councillor Craig Williams elbowed his way into the proceedings for no obvious reason other than self-promotion: a big mistake, because the few stilted, stumbling, insincere words Toryboy uttered did him no favours. Plaid must make the retaking of Pentyrch a priority in the next Council elections.
When it was over people milled around in the hall. It was good to hear Welsh being spoken so readily as a first language in the capital of Wales. I scanned the room for Norma. Guests had been invited into an annexe for ‘refreshments’. Having seen Rhodri Morgan and Tyrone O’Sullivan disappear like stampeding buffalo through the door (must be those mid-morning blood-sugar dips!), wild horses could not have dragged me in there unaccompanied. I started to feel awkward and conspicuous, then anxious and uncomfortable. And then weepy. Yet again. Oh Norma, where are you?
Then I spotted her, saying goodbye to people at the exit. She took me under her wing, before saying to a friend “This is Dic, take him to the guest room, he’s painfully shy.” I laughed unconvincingly. The nice woman ushered me through the throngs into the annexe. There I sat alone with a cup of coffee thinking about what Norma had said. “Painfully shy”…hmm…she’s a painter, she observes, she’s perceptive…hmm.
A very friendly chap came and sat next to me and we got chatting immediately. Rhodri and Tyrone, both surprisingly huge men, larged it in the middle of the room, joshing loudly and guzzling cake. My companion told me he was from Pontypridd, so I asked what brought him to the ceremony. “I represent Cemex³,” he answered. In a graphic novel, a thought bubble coming from my head at this juncture would have contained the words “Fuck me! If this guy only knew what I’ve written about Cemex…!” But I composed myself with the cool professionalism of the hardened reporter. Oh alright – I twitched, took a gulp of cold coffee and played dumb. He was freely forthcoming anyhow about the future of the quarry – information I will incorporate into future work. We could have talked all day, we left together – and I made a new pal. Only when I was back on the A470 hurtling southwards did I realise I’d spent time with nobody else. Doesn’t matter. Gwaelod-y-Garth has remembered.
“at Cardiff’s only pedestrian level-crossing” Well!
Sadly this “leave a reply” box has no room to list them all.
Bearing in mind I’m not including vehicle level-crossings (eg Sain Ffagan) or level-crossings that are part of station access (eg Whitchurch), where’s left? Please tell me Gav so I can amend the piece – and then go and play there!
Sorry it’s the “someone wrong on the internet” bug, or maybe a feature. Too much time on my hands.
On the same bit of railway there’s a footpath from Wingfield Road that goes across the tracks to the Gabalfa housing estate. I wouldn’t suggest stopping in the middle for a cigarette though. If you’re looking for a quiet smoke the path from Pen y dre to Caedelyn would be a safer bet.
Cheers, text altered. Any more?
Probably not. I sometimes use the path at Ty Glas station as a short-cut from Maes y Coed Road to Llanishen, but that may not meet your criteria. Bit like how many Brains pubs aren’t built on corners. There has to be a right answer but it can depend on what you mean by a corner (and the arguments aren’t such fun now that many have gone).
Craig Williams did not elbow his way into the proceedings as you described. He was invited by the organisers to accompany Ann Gray who was a trifle nervous to say the least. I should know – I was one of the organisers!
Your cynical comments do not do justice to what was a very moving and sincere occasion – paid for entirely by the villagers with not a penny of public money in sight. No wonder you’d spent time with nobody else!
The presence of a politician from the Conservative & Unionist Party at a memorial to Welsh miners is, to this Welshman at least, the very definition of “cynical”. Are you unaware of what the Tories have been doing to Wales for 200+ years and counting? Two small examples: it was Williams’ laissez-faire predecessors in the 19th century who opposed, blocked, delayed and neutered mining safety measures that would have protected the Lan workers (bad for business); and it was Williams’ hero Margaret Thatcher who called Welsh miners “the enemy within.” The point of remembering is to learn from the past, not whitewash it.
Hey, Dic. Craig Williams is a very diligent councillor. At a local level, that is what counts. Being cynical – and let’s face it – rude about him, removes the humanity in all mankind. I value Craig Williams for what he is doing in the local community. Nowadays, Central Government is just that, Government. The biggest club in the country. How many career politicians do you know? Where are those inspirational figures of history? Just as Wales cannot go on blaming the Act of Union for all that has happened in the Rape of the Valleys, we cannot sink to condemning every individual for the policies of the party they represent or for what those who came before them did so horribly to Wales.
It is easy not to forget the part played by miners in the history of what we call progress. It is easier to forget the part miners played in the social and educational life of the people of Wales. Their penny a week funds created hospitals, schools, libraries…….. Colliers have made such a huge contribution to the world. While we all know what Thatcher did … and that the state of 19th century miners was grim, Tory bashing gets us nowhere. People need to get out and vote. Inspirational leaders need to come forward. The electorate don’t like yah-bo politics – and most don’t bother to vote anyway. We are all responsible for what we get in Government.
Dic, you inspired me. I didn’t know you only came to the Memorial out of that Duty. You had not duty to me. The only reason for the Memorial was to put right the wrong of Cardiff’s omission of Memorial – the fact that you so graphically wrote of in your blog.
I was delighted by the email you sent yesterday.’Hi Norma’, you wrote, ‘It was a really impressive ceremony and I’m so glad I went. We’ll talk properly soon I’m sure (got to make that Memorial Park a reality). I was a bit disorientated in the crowd, but made a friend in the Meeting Room and might have wangled myself a guided tour of the Quarry!
I am grateful too for the KIND words you have written in the blog about the actual event, but I find no profit in slagging-off a human being because he is a Tory Councillor. Craig Williams was invited by me to the ceremony because he is a good local councillor and because he does care about what goes on in his patch regardless of party lines. I also personally asked him to escort and announce Ann Gray, who was extremely grateful for his support. Your words about him are gratuitous and he deserves better.
You wrote to me that we would speak properly. I didn’t expect the first exchange to be on line in your blog in defence of a local councillor.There are places for your absolute cynicism – but personal attack on an individual who has given this cause his absolute support is unacceptable.
You could not be more wrong about Craig Williams Norma. A “career politician” is precisely what he is. Just four short weeks ago he was the Tory candidate in the Cardiff S & Penarth by-election. This means he had to be approved by Conservative Central Office in London. And that means he is in complete agreement with every detail of the Tory government’s evil onslaught aganst the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable and, indeed, the whole concept of a civilised society. So I take this particular Tory’s compassion with a sack of salt: it’s easy and expedient to “care” 137 years after the event, but what about people living right now? Many of the families of the Lan victims ended up in the workhouse; Williams’ poisonous prescriptions are visiting equally terrible fates on millions today. Wake up and smell the coffee Norma: to your “diligent”, “good” local councillor the Pentyrch ward is merely a stepping stone on his journey to bigger and better things – Cardiff S & Penarth was a dry run to give him experience. Eventually he’ll stand in a more winnable seat (probably have to be in England) and get his snout in the Westminster trough he craves.
I do not do deference, I do not grovel to power, I’m with the underdog. A cursory reading of this blog should tell you that. As far as I’m concerned it’s not possible to be too “rude” about a Tory. As for Welsh Tories…well, see my blog of last year ‘Tory Taffs’ for a hint of the total contempt I have for them. If it’s an anodyne, let’s-just-be-nice, phoney consensus you want there are countless websites to provide it (try Media Wales or the BBC for starters). And, if you find my writing “unacceptable” (scary word – am I to refer pieces in advance to the Thought Police to check for acceptability?), you can always click on that ‘x’ in the little box in the top right corner and never be bothered by it again.
You have clearly not considered the fact that Craig Williams was paying his respects to a member of his family who died in the explosion in 1875. Furthermore, as a card-carrying member of the Labour Party, I do NOT need a lecture from you about the history of the mining industry in Wales!
I write this, not for your blog but as a personal message to you. Norma Procter burst into tears when she first read your article on the Lan colliery. She was appalled at your hi-jacking of the occasion to carry out a politically motivated attack on what was a poignant and memorable event – an event into which she and others had put enormous effort.
I think that a very large bunch of flowers would be appropriate in this instance.
…..and see the things you gave your life to broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn out tools…….
Oh so I’m “politically motivated”, whereas card-carrying Labour party member Derek Thomas is, of course, quite neutral. Your previous comment was a classic: “I do NOT need a lecture from you about the history of mining in Wales” – er, actually you do: had it not been for my “lecture” there still wouldn’t be any memorial to the Lan dead. However, I do understand how peeved you must feel taking history lessons from a Welsh republican.
I hi-jacked nothing. I wrote a blog about MY perceptions and MY experience of MY day in Gwaelod-y-Garth. That’s all. What’s interesting to me now is what your reactions reveal about the deep, unresolved conflicts in this part of northern Cardiff. I feel another blog coming on…
I note that you have taken down my correction to your ‘claim to fame’ in having instigated the establishment of a memorial to the Lan victims. I repeat that the original idea was conceived by a local lifetime Gwaelod resident – Mr Arthur Welsby – at least three years before you appeared on the scene. Incidentally, the fund for this memorial is still open. Like to make a contribution?
SARCASM ALERT! You’ve got me sussed Derek: I’m just a fame-hungry wannabe on the make. I’ll make a contribution as soon as I’ve paid the Leccy bill from the penny-jar.
Oh, Dic! Your passion is consuming! I know what you say, but in a democracy, we are committed to use whoever is elected. I repeat the CW is a good local councillor. Previously, we had a good local councillor who was a Labour candidate, but the electorate chose otherwise. At local events, the local representative is doing his job by attending.
I am sure that CW is ambitious. At 26 or something like it, I would expect that from any young man, whatever his job or persuasion. At least, he works hard within the community – in other words, he does his job.
As for the Lan Memorial not happening without your Blog, there is a truth there as far as my own involvement is concerned. I had been researching my book and came across your writing in the process….. but I know that my neighbour and the few older residents who knew about the Lan disaster have always been aware of the omission. It was an idea for which, suddenly, the time was right. I hope we get the Memorial Park…… and do you know, we will need CW to push that forward.
So you hate Conservatives. I suspect that is pretty wide spread! I have extreme political views, too, and hate much that is done in my name. I understand your stance in terms of YOUR political views but do not understand why a personal attack on a guest at a Memorial had to be part of your writing on this non-controversial issue. CW came because he was part of what we were doing. He has had no publicity for his involvement so in this instance you are striking out a a cause that does not exist. But as you say, it was YOUR experience of YOUR day and YOUR writing. We keep smiling here in N. Cardiff, keep as active for our causes as we can – and if you watch the press, you will know that we have fought many battles with ‘authority’, succeeded and survived.
Watch your blood pressure, Dic. We campaign on with whoever is elected to ‘serve’ our community.
The piece was rattled off in less than an hour on my return from Gwaelod-y-Garth. It was spontaneous and improvised – and, I freely admit, not one of my better efforts. It wasn’t really about the Memorial, that was just the context, it was about me and a few of my current interests/moods: anagrams, Cardiff’s transport network, old railways, level-crossings (!), time-keeping, nicotine-addiction, road rage, Taff’s Well Quarry, Tory and Labour politicians, formal social occasions, prosopagnosia (!!), bereavement, shyness, etc. Believe it or not, the aim was to amuse. Righto, I’ve got the message loud and clear: I failed in that aim. But now that the comments add up to more than the original, I’ve got breadth, depth and variety on the blog without having to do the work myself – great!
I’m sure we’ll never fall out Norma. Relationships are built and tested in conflict, not harmony. x
Happy Christmas, Dic! See you in the Memorial Park if not before.