Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr
If you could say but one thing about Bridgend it would be... that Bridgend... is... definitely a, uh… a… What? No, I didn't. Why? Well, I clearly don't have the answer to that. Um… Sorry, what was I saying?... Hang on, do I? No, I definitely do not. Okay. So, back to Bridgend… Do I though? Seriously? Really! Okay, fine. Well okay, yes, I do have the answer to that. It’s in my hand. Sorry, I thought you meant my other hand. Yes, you can have it back. When? Oh well, soon. I’m not really finished with it just yet. Okay. Okay, I hear what you’re saying. Okay, yes you can have it now. Okay. Okay. Great. Right, anyway - so, Bridgend. If you had to reduce it down to just one noun, just one word that summarized it as closely as you possibly could get to, one singular word out of the hundreds of thousands within the English dictionary, it would have to be that Bridgend is definitely a place. “A place” in this instance is technically two words, I am aware, with “a” being the article and “place” being the noun, but it would have sounded 1) less professional of me to say Bridgend is, “definitely place,” and 2) if I had said, “just two words,” it would not have had quite the dramatic suspense located in your head as you read it and 3) articles don’t count, ask your English teacher, or if you’re not at school ask the cleverest person you know. Either way, Bridgend exists and I don't have to prove that to you. Prove it to yourself, if anything.
Bridgend, as a place, is a relatively nondescript place. Un-enthralling. Quiet. Restless. Where everything is and nothing at all. All life, all one would ever need to know, have or be is found right here, in Bridgend. It offers its inhabitants a sense of safety that nothing new, nothing different will come to be. Nothing to fear, dear suburbia. What exists is what we know and that is the way we like it. No Tomfoolery. No Jack the lad. No Jane the… erm… Jane the pain? No naughty girls or boys running out of sight. Definitely not. No. Nothing untoward happens here.
Everything sleeps, besides the dog over the road, maybe Mrs. Evan's maybe Mr. Pete Jones’, keeping up the audio test: we can all still use our ears to good effect. Cheers, Sparky or Hector or Dogface McWoof (we live in a post-irony society so, you know, anything goes). Bridgend is a beautiful town if, like me, your fictional narrator of these fleeting words, you happen to find beauty in the grey tones within the ever-present blanket above, kindly diffusing direct sunlight that would otherwise glare too harshly into old Mrs. Powells' old eyes. She only just got her cataracts done last month, you see. On the NHS it was. Took a bloody long time and all. The glorious grey of the flat surfaces under toe. Man has done a beaut of a job here, adding a cosmetic yet practical layer of reconstituted planet earth stuff, assembled from different areas, different materials, different compounds and different elements of the old spherical mother, placed neatly and smoothly on top. Tidy. Keep it clean, flat and straight, please. Straight lines imply a functioning society said one necessary man to another. We must make what is organic rectilinear! Agreed, we must move it to the top of the agenda! Tidy.
An orderly grid of never-ending concrete slabs. Oh, to dream a dream! Safe to walk over. Safe to trundle from location A) to location B) and back to location A) again. Safe to break glass onto. Safe to drag a mattress along. Not safe to fall from heights too high onto however, but you need some personal discretion in life. Safe to push tescos trolleys far away from their car park homestead and to find new rest in any one of river Ogwr’s fine tributaries. The grey buildings! These grey buildings are another remarkable feat of man's moving of composite elements from one location to another. And oh how the locals do revel in the architecture of the architects commissioned by the politicians who, from an adequate distance, decide how Bridgend should become. So generous these politicians are to assist in the perpetual progress of taking everything that can be taken out of the individuals hands and placing it in the hands of a very important and very important and very important few. Did I say these few were very important? Keep it schtum, but they most certainly are. A gradual disintegration of community is experienced here, but in a manner that doesn’t stop for reflection for any length of time: life continues at pace. Amongst the dereliction of collective belonging in this town, and with gracious thanks for the distant English, the distant politicians and the like, we are and will remain proud, fond and deeply satisfied with the place we call home.
Behold! A wonderful new Shopping Centre. We were all collectively thinking we need more material want in our lives. And dear politicians, if you could kindly facilitate the quantitative easing of our affordable homes into the so desired castles that price us out, we'd greatly appreciate it. A moat around the front garden wouldn’t go a miss too, that way next time my neighbour Des drives home from work, he’d only go and fall into a bloody moat full of crocodiles! Anyway, if you do that for us, we might name a street or a newborn baby after you. Think about it.
Before Levi Williams hurried into Oldcastle General Practitioners' Surgery, the itch causing the scratch to spread to the reaches of this lad’s cracks and crevasses, and before Stacey Collins couldn’t hold it in any longer with mini skirt pulled up and knickers pulled to the side, crouched, pissing outside Wendy’s Cuts Hairdressers, Mary Ann Williams pushes the pram along the broken paving slabs of Nolton Street. She’s late for that perpetual meeting with no one nowhere about something sour to the taste. She’s already walked past Consequences Tattoo Parlor, past Albert’s Takeaway, past Lucky Star Takeaway, past Burt’s Chippy, past Cancer Research charity shop, past O.G.W.R D.A.S.H Rehabilitation, past Will Hill betting shop, past Ladbrokes betting shop, past Kevin Wong’s Takeaway, past Oxfam charity shop and past the various boarded up previous small businesses. She finds herself, in this fictitious moment, in front of the boarded up windows and doors where once McDonalds offered its service. McDonalds vacated Bridgend some fifteen years previously and never another tenant. In the center of the town, as well. Still empty to this day. And as she pushed the pram forward, destination unknown, Greg James, from the other direction with a clean-shaven face and shirt buttoned up to the top, walked towards her. As he got closer, he glanced into the pram. His face wore confusion as the two crossed one another on Nolten Street. He looked at Mary Ann, who met his gaze fractionally, and both then quickly defaulted to each staring at their own patch of forward moving ground. It wasn’t the first time he’d met this image of Mary Ann taking a pram filled with large cuts of red meat for a walk around town. Greg forgot quite soon after.
Boys, diligent and hardworking, get up earlier than the cock to deliver the daily local newspaper, the Bridgend Echo. All tightly bundled into one package, and neatly thrown over Fair Fields park breezeblock wall. Out of sight. Out of mind. That very breezeblock wall 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 an activity, a legacy and a history of people physically spending time to aide the march of progress. A line intersecting one face of Bridgend with another. One has one story, the other has another. On the other side of that railway line, that land’s story contains much more than the endeavours of these young boys and girls on this drizzly afternoon.
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 can 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 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 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, over the breezeblock wall, since he made a cheese sandwich for himself and 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 negative 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 closed 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 empathic 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 the human species’ obsessive tarmac desire to seal and remove 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.