Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr
All tightly bundled into one package, and neatly thrown over Fair Fields park boundary breezeblock wall. Out of sight. Out of mind. Boys, diligent and hardworking, get up earlier than the cock to deliver the daily local newspaper. That very boundary separates pristine grass from the stoner’s woods. Hard working boys, they are. And beyond the forest of stubborn and overgrown hillside scrub, the disused railway line demarcates a story: an industrial allegory of what once was, of physical activity spent by many thousands of bodies: a legacy of people spending their time in exchange for credit to aide the march of progress. A line intersecting one face of Bridgend with another.
Underneath the ivy-strangled blackthorn trees that grew here, all from the wood pigeon’s mid-flight stomach movement some many years ago, the young stoners educate themselves through the conduit of experience of their soapbar cannabis crumble. Like amateur inventors, all drunk up two-litre bottles of pop are cut in half and transformed into peculiar vessels for intensified hazey enlightenment. Homemade bongs before the advent of the online how to videos: let us take a moment of pride in these young folk, for their ingenuity and their gumption. These young people will become the leaders of the culture of our near future, and quite rightly so. It’s not so often that twelve year olds learn this quickly. And with all the bleach and plastic polymer resin in the soapbar, their contraption accidentally aided their ingestion of dangerous and inorganic substances. Another bonus. Monster Munch, Wotsits, Crème Eggs and Lucozade beside the makeshift camp fire. A culinary feast. Wet feet all circled around a smouldering patch of Bridgend Echoes, these grand pretenders revel in their achievements. A giddy tribe. The second in command ignites a fart between legs, flames rise along his school trouser leg. Struggling to put the clever idea out as it grows in confidence up to his waist; the others delight in the entertainment. The leader nods his head in appreciation of this generous act. The tribe’s leader acquired the position through a stringent set of rules: he is older, taller, stronger, is more of a leader than the others and, the clincher, has the beginnings of a dropped voice. He is also the only one of the group to garner interest in the group of girls sitting by the swings, working their way through packets of fags, in the park over the breeze block wall.
The leader returns to his pot of Pringles. He needn’t share his bounty. Lessers among the group fall over one another to offer him a Fizzy Worm or a Malteaser. Those selected to feed him gifts of intense sugar spikes elevate ever so slightly in the hierarchy of this rabid community. The lowest ranked boys, all three of them, demonstrate how place and cultural timing can blend individual personhood into a collective similarity between bodies and faces. You’d struggle to tell them apart with their similarities of spotty faced, unwanted confrontations with budding manhood. Challenging one another to succeed or be superseded, they laugh in competitive hysteria. The role of the jester is currently available and all three are currently in the process of submitting their CVs and letters of motivation. Look closer, and indeed you will notice the subtle differences between these boys. Will the promotion be handed to the more well fed one? Who uses his gelatinous jowls to howl with great effect whenever the leader pronounces all and any a word sarcastically. Or the skinny, anaemic one? His party trick consists of taking his t-shirt off to reveal all his ribs almost breaking through his semi-translucent skin. He also comes loaded with a mud smeared nike cap and has honed in on a particular cackle influenced by the experience of intergenerational pain. Lastly, will it be the one with impared vision? For four eyes are better than two, so his mother has told him. He’s slightly chubby and slightly short, but compensates with a new t-shirt that just grew a strong green stain on its front, presumably from the algae when climbing over the breezeblock wall. He’s perfected a whine that allows him to get what he wants, when in the company of his mother, though this talent isn’t one he’s willing to tap into when sitting with his peers around the charred bundle of Bridgend Echoes. He wears clothes at least four sizes too big, since he saw a celebrity on MTV wear baggy clothes, and decided that that was most definitely for him. His laugh is a strong, genuine imitation of late night television & reckons that no one has yet made the connection. Under the baggy t-shirts though, are undertones of fear and anxiety that if leak out, accidentally suggest a desperation that definitely would not help his status. Something along the lines of, “please don’t point the light my way. I will fill my pants if you do. Please keep destroying the smaller one to my right, please.” As he sits there chewing on a curly wurly, a nightmarish vision of a laugh too forced, too loud and too long emanating out of his mouth comes to mind. Everyone in the group simultaneously stop what they’re doing and stare with disgust right into his glassy balls. Escaping this anxious narrative, which probably is in part aided by his enjoyment of cannabis, he returns to the image in front of him: of the anemic & skinny one adding more newspapers to the smouldering pile. Chewing his curly wurly, the baggy t-shirt one picks the caramel out between his teeth.
Completing the tribe, a girl with a freshly pierced nose, and lime green hair sits with correct posture with crossed legs cushioned by her school bag on top of a tree stump, casually sips a can of Vimto and reads something oddly foreign to the boys. She says she is reading a thing called a novel. The boys’ faces responded with a confused mixture of derision and desire. Why she is comfortable to read a book when all they can muster is a combination of farts and howls is sadly beyond them. And as the inflamed flatulence around the base of the jester’s trousers disperse for another round of entertainment, she puts the book down and, baring her teeth, smiling and laughs. This time, the jester has a look of marked concern. He slaps away the fire as soon as his natural and renewable gaseous product is lit. His panic serves to entertain the crowd even more. Like a provoked sea anemone requesting no further public address for the day, his arsehole retracts.
While others were reciting their Welsh or Geography course work, the group spent their lazy Tuesday afternoon tucked away in the woods surrounding the local newsworthy stories slowly turn to ash. Having worked their way through a few spliffs and the passed-around bong, quiet took ahold. The trees began to sway, they began to dance between and with one another and the diffuse daylight breaking through the trees began to play tricks on their vision.
From across the park, retiree Mr. Derek Davies has been listening in on the howls and screams from within the woods ever since he made a cheese sandwich for himself and for Gladys, his other half. He is more aware than anyone of the £100 fine for trespassers caught beyond the point of no return. Without really, truly being aware of it, Derek Jones lives for drama: for something to befall him, for that juicy story to continue propping up his mannerisms and habits. Life has always offered him a plate of nutritious, hot food, only for it to give him the shits for days. He shouts his findings, for Gladys’ benefit, who naturally responds by shuffling towards the conservatory to where he is perched. Followed by a: tut. Followed by a: tut. Followed by a: tut. Derek puts down his binoculars. Soon, he will have stopped complaining. Later, when Homes Under The Hammer gets going, he will have completely forgotten, paving the fictive ground for it all to arise anew tomorrow. Content, though they are - the people living here. I never suggested otherwise. Or that in the end, when all is said and done, the good people of Bridgend do anything other than very much love their families and extend generosity to those less closely bonded by blood, upbringing or kinship. However much they bang on about their neighbours, and like you and I they very much do, they still feel a deeply empathetic compulsion to make sure the enemy is alive and well. That’s not to say that Mr Derek Jones will not always be ready with a frown, and Mrs Gladys Jones will equally be ready with a tut, for the next time the pair, hand in hand, walk past a truant or a vagrant or a vagabond along the avenues that lace and link block after block of window-punctured box-shaped dwellings.
Bridgend’s own one-man-and-his-castle repetition. Though, ‘man’ here is a suitable placeholder for someone, anyone more necessary. One house after the next, almost identical to one another, save for the varying degrees of algae rooting into each exterior façade paintwork. A high-bracket earning queen or king of the castle, relative within the lower middle-class to working-class socio-economic bracket, can easily be spotted by the material property of one’s castle window frames and sash. Be these window frames wood, real wood that is, then s/he is most likely reaping the rewards of a recent promotion within the private sector: manufacturer middle management perhaps, whereby s/he must delegate all the tasks preordained during the weekly meetings; whereby s/he is afforded the role of minute taker and subsequent disher outer of tasks for those hierarchically below in the pyramid to compete amongst themselves for, who then presumably all then go home to their plastic-frame windowed, algaed homes.
Elevated to those who know and sublime to those who need not know otherwise, Bridgend’s suburbia offers a certain constant value, a reliable backdrop for experience to flourish. Avenues are flanked on either side by proud horse chestnut trees, bi-annually clipped in human events set on defying natural order. Removing each tree’s material manifest form, of a Fibonacci sequence of growth into upward space of least gravitation resistance, back down to their stumps and their stump’s stumps, is the aim of the Bridgend County Borough Council’s game. And as the seasons roll on, new growth does attempt once again to move towards the light. Stalk and stem shimmer unapologetically in the air, blue as their backdrop allowing a true glory of leaf green expressed into the world. Modern pilgrims wander up and down the pavemented avenues, moving at a steady pace towards their future destination. All depending on the sun’s position above in relation to the spinning sphere on which we individually inhabit an ever so small patch of the crusty outer bit, chance meetings between one avenue pilgrim to another, there is a tipping of a cap followed by a morning, afternoon, or evening rolling off the tongue. And while the interaction formalities continue, the west-highland terrier doesn’t mind if she deposits her digested dissent against her master’s species’ desire to seal and remove with tarmac all things from the natural ground below, adding to the collection of chewed gum which escaped the mouths of the school students that patrol this stretch. Streets, avenues, roads and cul-de-sacs dance fluidly with time and the seasons: with the cold, the wet and the monotone.