Published May 14th 2018 for International Dylan Thomas Day. @DyddDylanDay
It’s more about me than Dylan Thomas…
1969 ANNO DYLANI
“To begin at the beginning…” he said,
Often supposed to be the best of starts;
But my being sent to technical school,
Would likely stifle a love of the arts.
No aptitude for wood or metalwork;
Out of place when it came to surveying
And Geometrical Machine Drawing.
Did I pick the wrong school…I’m just saying…
I might have supposed that Mr Beddows
Was some kind of agent provocateur;
But at our school, boys had to do German
And couldn’t do French until the fifth year.
Working in a school run on old-school rules,
Our new English teacher had an aura
Of being a bit of a rebel by
Hiding ties with a crew-necked pullover.
Producing his piece de resistance…
Who knew French (not me) would turn out so good?
Handed us all a rather slim volume
With the dull title of ‘Under Milk Wood’.
Written by a strange young man called Dylan;
At least his first name sounded quite modern.
More rabbits on magic roundabouts with
Positively 4th Street still untrodden.
Once open this Pandora’s book had me
Hooked…line after line…in syncopation
(whereby ‘shifting of the normal accent’
Becomes the apposite definition).
Whoever thought English could be so Welsh?
Whoever thought it could be exciting?
Whoever thought a thirteen year old boy
Could be enthralled by needlepoint writing?
First Voice, when read by this young English man,
(OK, so he was no Richard Burton)
Immersed me deep in a sea of sounds which
To this day I have never forgotten.
The dialogue fizzed like life…like real life
That I heard every day on the street
Whether it was mine or Tony Warren’s.
Gossip never shy of the indiscreet.
Lovesick yearnings and marital disgust;
Filmic flitting from bedroom to kitchen.
What’ll the neighbours say? We hear it all –
Snide supposition and downright bitching.
Like people I knew who lived around here,
Although the setting was South Walian.
Real folk not like Lady Windermere’s Fan
The Winslow Boy or Shaw’s Pygmalion.
Driven along by hearsay and rumour,
Innuendo expanded like ripples.
Most passing over this young teenage head
Apart from Gossamer Beynon’s nipples.
But best of all was that it made us laugh;
Which till now in English had been lacking.
Much jollity had from each day until
The time we had to hand the book back in.
This kid who only ever read comics;
Who thought pictureless books weren’t any fun;
Went down to Gerrards bookshop in Nelson
And bought Thomas’s Miscellany One.
His Play For Voices extolled such a hold;
The word clouds painting thousands of pictures.
Made it the sacred text I would live by
And be more revered than other scriptures.
As an acolyte, I would not accept
Precedents set by the Christian church.
Forty days and nights spent on Donkey Down
All the while beating myself with a birch.
But I so wanted to be Welsh back then;
Perhaps my family tree branched a bit?
Wasn’t I born within spitting distance
(A good black hawk) of a coal mining pit?
Progress to Welshness was somewhat stymied
Until my passion was blessed with reward
A coach trip with Burnley’s Central Motors
To Snowdonia and Bettws-y-Coed
A hand-knitted Blue Peter jumper marks
The only photo of that long past time.
I’m standing outside Caernarfon Castle;
In the Investiture year ‘69.
With money burning holes in his pockets
A young tourist is easily tempted.
A key-ring or plaque with your name on it
(Although GRAHAM seemed always exempted).
But with my mind set on much higher things
Than souvenir paraphernalia;
I knew that trinkets would be no help in
My deciphering of “Dear Gwalia…”.
But a comfort stop on the North Wales coast…
Not needed for a young bladder, is it?
I found a gift shop in Colwyn Bay and
Made the most of a ten minute visit.
There I saw it…Y Geriadur Bach
The answer to my language conundrum.
This Little Welsh Dictionary popped up
And stopped English from seeming so humdrum.
Deep red like a school-issue Gideon
Superseding my Common Prayer Book
Which was blue and duller than Canticles
And bought for classes I never once took.
My book-buying passion extended to
Those Teach Yourself…books in yellow and blue;
I bought Icelandic and Russian as well.
Found it too hard…didn’t follow it through.
I guess I was a tad disappointed
The first time I ever heard Dylan’s voice;
Speaking with Received Pronunciation;
I guess the lad had been given no choice.
Boys like me who all thought we talked normal,
Lived in fear of being elocuted.
Where all our known words are taken away
And our every sentence commuted.
Marvellously-monikered Miss Mossop
Would provide us with the diction we lacked.
Ragged rascals like us hid behind rocks
Rather than enter her house with the plaque.
She could inflate the flattest of vowels;
Revive to the recommended pressure;
Give CPR and other consonants,
Just to twist a child’s tongue at her leisure.
But in a mill town back in the sixties,
Full of Lancastrian rites of passage;
There was never going to be the means
For a lad to be taught the Welsh language.
I took comfort in learning one Welsh word
Not for me ‘How now brown cow?’ like posh folk;
I’m grateful to the first of my heroes.
To Dylan Thomas I proffer my love.
For making me see the wonder of words…
Because of that I can’t thank him enough.