Out Now!

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Escaping Chuck

Newport was a good place to escape demons, or at least exchange them for others. There was the Kensington club – slap bang in a residential area but which played great music and even better bands.
The Stones may never have played Newport but Cockney Rebel did (see them here) and so did Dr Feelgood on a down and dirty stage in the Kensington.

Joe Strummer of the Clash began his musical career in Newport and dossed in a house adjacent to the taxi firm where I once mislaid a Christmas pudding.

And finally there was El Siecos – later TJ’s where Kurt Cobain played and later proposed to Courtney Love.

For more reflective drinking you went to the Murenger – the oldest pub in Newport and the finest. I’d certainly travel from Texas to sample a pint of Samuel Smiles – but then I’d probably fly back again if these strange men began singing.

Another out of the way pub was The Church House Inn in Portland Street. Pill. It was here that W. H. Davies was born.


Next to it was a paint shop called the Colour Centre. Here Gareth Williams delivered paint from a white van and sometimes delivered me to school if I woke up too late to walk.

This last picture is by courtesy of Andrew Prosser. To see his superb collection of photos go here

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Chuck Factor

As a student I worked in Mount Pleasant sorting office as a temporary Christmas postman. There I met John, who was called, Chuck because of how he delivered the mail. Chuck had a serious obsession with Buddy Holly to the extent that he invited those he wished to convert to his home, a small terraced house in Everton. He invited me.

He was a good bloke but I felt creeped out and resolved that I would never attempt to convert someone – (things were okay) – and that I would never become a fly in musical amber. Yes, I was living through a golden-age in music, but the thought of myself as a middle-aged man solemnly exhorting a smooth-faced youth to listen to Dylan, ‘Exile on Main Street’ or ‘Let It Bleed’ frightened me. I didn’t want to become Chuck.

Mind you conversion can work, but it involves copious wine Рred or white (not ros̩) Рjust lots of it. It also involves a very good sound system and an articulate zealot. Such a person was Gerald Smith, but we provided the wine.

It was in Swansea - where else – and we didn’t want Saturday night to end. This was the chance Gerald had been waiting for. No we didn’t want to listen to Classical music. It sucked. Yes we knew we were wrong but the ‘suck it and see’ philosophy had to stop somewhere. Beethoven seemed a good enough boundary stone.

As we staggered out of Gerald Smith’s flat, somewhere between Nine and Ten the following day – Mozart’s Requiem and Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra wrestling for space in our heads – we knew we had been changed. Damn it, we’d been ‘converted.’ To this day I know it has to be Also Sprach Zarathustra with Zubin Mehta conducting the Los Angeles orchestra, I just have no idea why.

When I first started teaching ‘our music’ prevailed until pomp and absurdity took it over the edge – where it hovered for a time – then plunged like a stone. Music became leaner, more sparse and eventually punk. I went with the changes, always keeping ‘Chuck’ in mind.

But punk bothered me. I enjoyed it live – drew the line at the Mohawk, gelling my hair into spikes and wearing black leather, suspecting, correctly I think, the aging toy-boy just wouldn’t suit. I couldn’t, however, bring myself to buy a record. The anger and vitality was great in a bar when you were on an alcohol high. But in your own space…? I became a ‘closet Chuck.’ The anger and brutal simplicity of punk spoke to youthful demons. I had other, more serious demons of my own.

Thursday, 12 February 2009


This was my very first Form. And my apologies to those whose names lurk in my mind but refuse to surface.
<From the back, Brendan Dowd, ?, ?,?, Anthony Woodley,?,?,Brian Fahey, Mark ?, Andrew Humphries, Russell Baldwin, ?,Chris Norville,
Middle row ?, ?, Brian Sims, Me, Kevin Obrien, ? ? Paul Tutton,
Front row Mark Walton, Mark Young, ?,? David Saunders, Stephen Batt, Gary Bird, Joey Mulchahy, Mark Madden. I love the Bash St. quality to this photo, and my expression -like what am I doing here?
The school can be seen here

St Joseph’s Junior High School for boys or Father Hill’s as it was more commonly known was the perfect school for someone who hadn’t the faintest idea what he was doing. The previous History Teacher, John Davies, made my life easy by having blue laminated handwritten history cards (with pictures) which the boys copied out or answered questions from. The entire Year 7 and Year 8 syllabus was there. All I had to do was tell a good story and make sure the cards were filed away in the right order, in the right cardboard box.

The school was subject to the benign and enlightened despotism of Bernard Dunne who, as long as order was maintained and the boys were enjoying themselves, left you pretty much alone, though he was always there if you needed help.

The Christmas term ended with a film hired by Alan Kethro and shown in the largest classroom where everyone somehow managed to squeeze in – much like the staffroom which was about the size of a large shoe-box and where you sat in each other’s pocket.

There was also a Christmas concert where I was inveigled into being ‘Uncle Bulgaria’. Someone, Peter Williams I think, had acquired genuine costumes, and four of us dressed up as Wombles and mimed to ‘Wombling Free’. For the nostalgic, or those of an adventurous disposition you can hear it here.

The school had a certain cavalier attitude towards Health and Safety, though the dinners were good. On one occasion I was teaching an English class the joys of Jabberwocky. Unfortunately no one told me, or the class, that on this day four windows were being replaced in the classroom and no other classroom was available to us. Moreover it was raining hard outside.

It was pure but dangerous magic, largely because it was the Seventies, a dumb but happy decade.

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Crash! A pane splintered. Glass on the desk.
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe, Crash! Crash! More glass.
A shard of glass pirouetted across the room.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch.

And there I stood ‘in uffish thought’ thinking ‘God, haven’t they finished yet’ as another sliver of glass ‘came whiffling through the Tulgey wood’ and went ‘snicker snack’ on the floor.

The boys, stoic to the end finished the poem, occasionally ducking, but keeping rhythm. Then the men stopped. They hadn’t brought the replacement panes, and they’d heard the poem before so they went and left us in a classroom with four windows open to the elements and a small gale blowing outside.

We roared the final verse:
"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

The Junior boys was a happy school, but all good things come to an end. A new purpose built Comprehensive – St Joseph’s at Tredegar Park had just been built, and there three schools would be combined.

A month or two before hand Sister Pauline, the new Deputy Headmistress came down to the boy’s school to fit pegs into holes, round or square, or any damn shape at all - as the Timetable dictated.

This worried me. I was a History Graduate – happy enough to teach some English, but who taught Religious Education through gritted teeth. There was little choice in a small boys’ school where there wasn’t enough History to go round. What I dreaded was being lumbered with it permanently as a timetable convenience.

Sister Pauline was (hopefully still is) a lovely woman. She solicited my views on Religious Education and I enthused on the Old Testament, Jezebel, Baal, child sacrifice and the insatiable appetite of Moloch. ‘The boys really appreciate the historical background,’ I finished. And I watched her eyes glaze and knew that whatever else I did, I wouldn’t be teaching Religion in St. Josephs.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

A sound spanking

I was finding it too easy to slip into Clay Cross. At least I'd established the 'fact' that a late 1950's American gumshoe was living in Newport and had opinions on nearly everything. I wrote one more letter after this which I won't post because it was needlessly cruel. Cross however was oblivious to the fact and probably still is.

A dying culture

I find it a sad and indeed depressing feature of the Argus that it invariably over emphasises the faults of certain sectors of British society – stevedores, steelworkers and teachers – as a substitute for a whole culture dying on its feet, and authority afraid to lift its finger.

It is no accident that no child of mine is enjoying a British education. Of what value is an education system that has lost both confidence in its aims and the authority to enforce those aims?

The result is that all are reduced to the ‘consensus standard,’ a standard all too easily accepted by the ‘confused and overawed parents’ June Moore feels so much sympathy for.

A standard of acceptance is largely created by the amplified opinions of press pundits, those jack-of-all-trades (when it comes to quick criticism) and master of none.

With all due respect to a woman, I nevertheless suggest that had June Moore herself experienced a sound spanking when in her teens, she would understand a little more profoundly the nature of rightfully exercised authority she now too easily denigrates.

In my opinion it is in the ill considered populist defiance of long accepted authority on the part of a ‘selfish’ media that the responsibility for the long term decline of this once great nation lies.

Clayton Z Cross Bryngwyn Road Newport.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Pattern for Leaders

Bloody but unbowed Clay Cross made another stab at winning friends and blowing it. But was I getting too close to his mindset? I had to read the Guardian afterwards then realised I preferred Clay Cross.

Pattern for Leaders

I feel obliged to make some form of response to an article by June Moore on May 31st. In it she displays an attractive compassion for the neuroses of the modern student, a compassion that is illogical, misplaced and - dare I say it in this brave new world of burnt bras - predictably feminine.

She can however be commended upon highlighting a most important issue, namely the role of a university in this century of turmoil and stress.

The highest spiritual achievements of man have always involved struggle – a struggle not only with his own inchoate fears but with the forces he strives to overcome.
Struggle involves pain, also sacrifice and distress, and there will always be casualties, those that never quite make the grade. But it is my contention that the stresses – I prefer to call them challenges – do not go nearly far enough in moulding the present generation. What we seem to be offering them is an undemanding liberalism, thoughtless and pallid in its uniformity.

Do not think however that I am finding fault with the student youth of today, most of whom are as seriously minded as my own generation.

The fault is rather with the system that pushes kids into university when they lack both worldly experience and maturity. Further education is designed as a means of achieving these attributes but, in my view, a period of national service – be it in the armed forces or in organised community activities would do the job far better.

In his book ‘Who Needs a Degree?’ Dr. H. S. Sputz reveals, after selective studies of students on the campuses of ten US colleges, that only 15% expect to put the knowledge gained at University to any practical use.

He also makes the point that many students agreed that national service, with its character building properties, is essential as a forerunner of the university course if the student is to achieve ‘full realisation of academic benefit potential’

I would then, very seriously argue that an imaginative integration of academic pursuits with the rigors, hardships and comradeship of military training would create a pattern for the leaders that the needs of this century demand.

Clayton Z Cross, Manley Road. Newport

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Regrettable Remark

A friend...maybe, or a pink-livered liberal. I guess he's putting Clay Cross in the 'bad' and 'prejudiced' camp, nothing a Smith and Wesson wouldn't sort out :)

Mr Roger Tanner’s Plaid Cymru candidate for Pontypool criticises an American for ‘blind prejudice’. May I ask if there is a better example of ‘blind prejudice’ than Mr Tanner’s unfortunate remark that ‘Americans only look at foreign countries through very dark sunglasses’.?
I have met many Americans and found good and bad, fair-minded and prejudiced – as in every other nation. Mr Tanner’s view of Americans is merely a narrow-minded caricature.
The electorate of Pontypool judged well in giving him a mere fraction of the total vote in the February General Election.
D S J Newbridge

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Brobdingnagian ignorance

This one almost got it before the soapbox appeared and he got on it:)

Moderate movement

My first reaction to the letter from Clayton Z Cross (May 9th) was that it was a joke in incredibly bad taste.

Indeed I am still not convinced otherwise, for it is difficult to believe that a letter so completely asinine could be genuine.

Mr Cross appears to regard Wales as a creation of the tourist industry instead of a nation with Europe’s oldest living language and a literary tradition extending back to the Sixth Century AD

Such Brobdingnagian ignorance stuns the imagination and leaves it supine.
Mr Cross refers to the activities of Welsh nationalists as leaving ‘much to be desired.’

May I ask him to state what these activities have been, apart from having two people democratically elected to the United Kingdom parliament.

He also seems abominably ignorant of his own nation’s activities and would be wise to let memories of America’s activities in Cuba and Vietnam subside, rather than attempt to draw anaemic parallels between them and moderate and reasonable movement for political devolution in our over centralised state.

I would also suggest that Mr Cross, by his puerile and ill informed observations, has done America’s tarnished image scant good in Gwent, and such comments as he has made make one turn to the image of his multi racial utopia provided by the news media: one governed by a venal president and racked by racial prejudice.

One does not need to turn to minority political parties to discover the world’s unpleasant face and far more plausible scaremongering can be done than imputing Machiavellian motives to democratic attempts to ensure a fairer distribution of decision making in Britain.

M.R.V. Claremont, Newport.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Ignorant Assessment

My apologies to a blameless continent. Clay Cross kicked open a hornets' nest.

Ignorant assessment

It is not often we see the American point of view in the Argus, but after reading the contribution from Clayton Z Cross, perhaps it’s just as well.

Mr Cross reflects the views of many politicians in his fine country in founding his assessment of international affairs on complete ignorance, blind prejudice, and a monumental inability or unwillingness to understand foreign cultures.

His belief that Wales was the mere invention of the British Tourist Board is a case in point. Wales of course has a history seven times as long as that of America, and the Welsh, Mr Cross may be amazed to know, inhabited this part of the world many centuries before the English.

The conflicts with Cuba, Vietnam etc which Mr Cross mentions are not attributable to their respective nationalisms, but to American imperialism – the belief that the American way of life is far better than anyone else’s and must be imposed, by military or economic means, on the rest of the world.

Welsh nationalism is an attempt to preserve and develop a Welsh way of life, different and in my view preferable to the British/English or American ways of life (though I would not presume to impose it on other countries)

The fault of Mr Clayton Z Cross and many like him all over the world, is that they can recognise nationalism in others but not in themselves.

It is a well documented fact that Americans only look at themselves through very dark sunglasses.

R. T, prospective Plaid Cymru candidate for Pontypool.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Nationalist Activity

The first Clay Cross letter written when devolution was just a word. The heading is that given by the letters' page in the Argus.

Nationalist Activity

Like most Americans I’ve always regarded Wales as a particularly cute idea of the British, a tribute to the ingenuity of your tourist board.

Recently, however, my ideas have taken a turn for the worse. Maybe I have an inbuilt Geiger counter when it comes to the presence of subversive activity. Maybe I’m just curious.

But the recent activities of the Welsh Nationalist movement leaves much to be desired, and reminds an outsider of similar patterns of ‘nationalist’ activity that were eventually to lead to such sinister conflicts as Vietnam, Cuba, and, in your own backyard, Northern Ireland.

The United States of America embraces all nationalities – Germans, Poles, Irish, and, of course, the English. But first and foremost we are American citizens and proud of that fact.

What ever happened to the United Kingdom?

Clayton Z Cross,
Manley Road

Surely no one will bite?