Tuesday 16 September 2014

Dylan Thomas: White Van Man

Unless you own the Celtic Manor luxury concrete bunker on the outskirts of Newport, it is unlikely that you have noticed the economic boom which BBC Wales insisted would be kicked off by the recent Nato summit.

No sooner had they arrived, spent a few hours talking and dining, than they were off. The steel security fences have come down, and life has returned to normal. In most of Wales you would not know it had even happened, had it not been for the breathless reports on the telly.

The fact that this was all taking place miles away down the M4 must have had the press office in Carmarthenshire burning the midnight oil. How could they get in on the action?

Having failed to get President Obama to come and admire Kev's bungalows in Llanelli, or Chancellor Angela Merkel to visit Towy Community Church's bowling alley, someone had the bright idea of taking Dylan Thomas's replica writing shed to Nato.

Look! Here it is parked outside the Nato conference venue:

Dylan's writing shed visits NATO summit

No, I didn't know that Dylan Thomas wrote in the back of a white transit van either, but this is the picture which the press office chose to illustrate its piece Dylan's Writing Shed Visits Nato Summit.

Note the complete absence of any Welsh on the van. Perhaps it says "Sied cyfansoddi" on the other side, facing the jet fighter parked on the lawn.

The Council's Principal Arts Officer told the press office that she was very keen to lure President Obama into the replica hut, along with other world leaders, to show them the replica boiled sweets and replica jacket.

Whether any of them did set foot inside, we don't know. As the press office hasn't issued an orgasmic piece on what it would probably call the "presidential pilgrimage to see the bardic shed" (or van), we can probably assume that neither Obama nor any of the others took the trouble.

The council is immensely proud of the "bespoke" replica shed, and Meryl Gravell no less has popped up in numerous press releases to sing its praises. Let's hope for her sake and that of the press office staff that they are not woken in the middle of the night by the sound of rattling ghostly glasses, obscene language and a strong odour of whisky because, to be perfectly frank, Dylan Thomas would not be very pleased to be a tourist promotion gimmick at a meeting of military top brass, presidents, prime ministers and associated hangers on.

On a tour of the US in 1952 he memorably told a professor in New York that he was a Communist. That was at the height of the McCarthy witch hunts. On his final tour in 1953 he gave a free reading to the Socialist Party of America.

Whether he was ever a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain is not known, but there is no doubt that Thomas was well to the left. More to the point, he was strongly and consistently anti-war.

In his poem A Refusal to Mourn the Death by Fire of a Child in London he makes the point that politicians who "seek to politically exploit the death of innocents are as culpable and cynical as those who cause them".

This quotation is taken from an interesting article on Thomas's politics by Sean Ledwith writing in Counterfire. He would have been horrified at the thought of being eulogised by the ruling class, Ledwith says.

Thomas also famously ranted that he was "sick of all this Celtic claptrap about Wales. My Wales! Land of My Fathers! As far as I am concerned my fathers can keep it."

That was in reaction to attempts to commercialise and stereotype his Welshness. 

Carmarthenshire County Council clearly does not know much about Dylan Thomas, and we can safely assume that the military types at the Nato conference haven't spent much time studying his life and works either.

Before it went to the Nato summit, the shed was the council's prize cultural exhibit at the National Eisteddfod in Llanelli.

Showing its customary tact and cultural awareness, Dylan Thomas's replica shed was the council's main cultural contribution to this great national celebration of the vitality of the Welsh language and culture. A dead poet who wrote only in English, when there are plenty of living poets from Carmarthenshire writing in Welsh; Menna Elfyn, Einir Jones, Dylan Tudur Jones, Mererid Hopwood, Eurig Salisbury and Catrin Dafydd, to name but a few.

Here's Catrin, in English. Somehow I don't think Kev and Meryl would approve of any of our living poets. If any of them have writing sheds, they would be well advised to be cremated in them when the time comes to avoid being turned into fairground attractions at military junkets.

The shed was last seen trundling off towards Ireland.

Dylan’s shed en route for Ireland


Anonymous said...

Can you put in a good word for me with Kev and Meryl and see what long term plans they've got for the shed as I could do with a new one.

Anonymous said...

Oh this is so funny! Plus, the replica shed is a replica of a replica isn't it? The one in Laugharne having been constructed at disproportionately great expense and decorated with screwed up balls of paper etc as a replica of the supposed original. I suspect, like photocopies, the replicas get poorer and poorer. I'd visit it though - if I thought I'd get a toke on Dylan's (replica) opium bong.