This view through the campervan door on consecutive days is a perfect cameo of Welsh weather. The patch of grass that’s visible on the right hand photo is just out of frame on the left. If you’re lucky you can make out the ridge of Talybont forest on the left whereas it’s clear on the right.
The campsite we stayed on is a place we’ve used several times. Right next to the canal it’s only a short distance to a place where we can easily launch the kayak, and we’re far from alone in seeing this as a perfect place for energetic walks and even more energetic bike routes over the hills on the Taff Trail. All day long the supremely fit come bowling into the campsite with their Volkswagen T5’s magnificent legs and haggard faces looking for all the world like sturdier versions of the crack smokers on the green outside the flat in Bath. I’ll get to them later.
Notwithstanding the physical challenges available, there’s also an awful lot of wildlife to be seen, although how you would get to experience any of it from the saddle of a bike is debatable. Ironically we saw more wildlife than we ever expected by just sitting still on the grass outside the van. There was a field mouse who took an hour to make his mind up and then shuttled back and forth collecting the crumbs we’d thrown down. He was sleek and almost chestnut in colour, quite beautiful. There were the two hedgehogs in the dusk and innumerable birds; sparrows, dunnocks, blackbirds, an amazing kingfisher bursting out of the hedge, buzzards, robins, wrens, blue tits, coal tits and woodpigeons – all seen without moving a step from the van. I was racking my brains to remember this line from W.H. Davies:
WHAT is this life if, full of care,W.H. Davies “Leisure”
We have no time to stand and stare?—
It’s a bit corny, but then I remembered its uncanny echo of Milton’s Sonnet 19 on his blindness “When I consider how my light is spent”, that ends –“They also serve who only stand and wait.” – there’s a real spiritual point to standing still and waiting, that challenges our cultural obsession with success, hard work, achievement.
So we’d run out of milk when we got home and I wandered down to the supermarket to get some. Sadly, since the fire at Green Park Station, the milk vending machine has been disconnected. As I walked back in the sunshine a loud argument was being conducted across me on the street. “I’m effing desperate, I am” screamed a woman at the obviously sick man who was just in front of me. She was forging on, head down in that characteristic junkie walk. He shouted back – “It’s just here at the end of the block”. I knew in a second that they were off to meet one of the several dealers who work this area and use the corner as a rendezvous point. Sure enough as I followed them to the end of the road they were there, with a mobile standing on the corner; she was still shouting needlessly into the receiver. Then two, three and four people turned up to join the queue. They have the hunted look of those who have been shriven by their lives, bent over like the trees on the ridge of Freezing Hill, parchment skinned, incoherent bog burials.
The deal was a messy affair in several acts. She borrowed some crack from someone in the queue and stormed over to the privacy of the bushes at the edge of the green where she shared a pipe with her benefactor and walked back miraculously calmed. Arguments broke out – there was shouting and swearing until the dealer cycled up and then for ten minutes noisy negotiations broke out. People stormed off and returned chastened; shouting, more shouting, a big man was throwing haymakers at an invisible enemy. There were dangerous looking dogs barking. Eventually she got her drugs and sat calmly in full view, injecting into her neck. She wandered off again into the woods and returned with a bicycle. It was sad; so appallingly sad, to see these ruined lives.
Where do you even begin to find a way through this mess? There’s a strong association with mental illness, homelessness and alcohol – any or all of which could be tackled if we chose to resource it, but blaming the victim is always cheaper. In a world without the prospect of employment, drug dealing looks like a rational choice where the most successful and profitable business are centred on greed and entirely disregard the consequences. The street is a dangerous place so getting a dangerous dog is a rational response once again. I was having a conversation with a financial advisor recently and he told me that if you’re simply interested in making money and don’t give a hoot for ethical investments, then oil and weapons are the star performers. The tanks, guns and landmines are just flying off the shelves. The same old saw comes back every time – “We have seen the enemy, it is us”.
And then I remember A F Woodman who was the music teacher who introduced me and so many others to music – the “brandy of the damned” – according to George Bernard Shaw; and I remember him shouting at me “I know you can hear it, Pole – but are you listening?”