Waifs and Strays

In which The Author does his good deed for the year

This morning, in rather grey and drizzly conditions, the Cynon Valley Plaid Cymru gang convened outside B&M in Aberdare once again. On my way there, I passed Ann Clwyd’s pop-up shop in Canon Street. There were about a dozen of the Labour Party faithful in there, probably wondering what the weather was going to do.
I met David Walters as he was heading for the rendezvous, and we staked our claim nice and early. Even though we’d got there first, we were soon outnumbered (considerably) by the Labour crowd. They’d obviously decided to try and stake out the prime spot – and failed again. Even so, there was hardly anyone around. Most of the people who passed were the same people we saw a fortnight ago. A combination of weather and a Bank Holiday weekend seemed to have emptied the town centre.
David and I chatted about the morning’s headline news – yet another royal baby, perfectly timed to distract the public’s attention from the real issues. David commented that he’d been annoyed by the way the TV schedules were cleared to give blanket coverage of Diana’s death in 1997. I told him that saturation coverage of her death had also overshadowed the news of Jeffrey Bernard’s death, just a few days later.
Then I glanced across at one of the Labour Party supporters trying to hand leaflets to the few passers-by in Commercial Street. She was an elderly lady, standing near the shop doorway with a piece of red cloth draped over her head and shoulders. I couldn’t resist making my next remark.
That reminds me,’ I said. ‘Mother Teresa of Calcutta died that week, too.’
Ann Clwyd arrived a few minutes behind her outriders. She took a fall while campaigning a couple of weeks ago, and injured her wrist. This morning she had her arm in a sling. Maybe, as more than one person has suggested, she was going for the sympathy vote.
Brian arrived next, closely followed by Peter (the election agent). Gwyn and Joyce turned up, and immediately one of the Labour people tried to give Joyce a leaflet. In return, Joyce gave her one of Cerith’s. If you’ve been involved with small-town politics as long as the rest of the group have, it’s inevitable that everyone knows everyone else. Elections here are always good-natured, with a lot of friendly banter between rival supporters.
Peter, Brian and I grabbed some leaflets and set off towards the Black Lion again. Peter had already covered his end of the town, and after my blitz a fortnight ago (see More Nooks and Crannies) we were just left with the remainder of Daviestown and Foundry Town. It didn’t take us long to polish off Wind Street, then we split up and I took the area between Monk Street and Ynysllwyd Street.
It’s laid out as an orderly grid, far more logical than the older part of Trecynon. Even so, Daviestown is an area where I still get lost easily. It once took me about twenty minutes to get to The Morning Star for a quiz one dark Sunday night. Even worse, Sam H. and I once took the best part of an hour to find Liz and Nigel’s house when they were hosting a party one Xmas holiday. The following morning I emerged from their front door and saw the Catholic church at the end of their street. My first thought was, ‘Where the hell did we go last night?’
All the streets of Daviestown are named after members of the same family: John, Mary, Elizabeth, Griffith, Jenkin, Rachel, and a couple of others I can’t remember. Once again, you’ll have to wait until Geoff and I publish our Street Names Project to learn the reason why. The advantage to leafleting that area is that most of the front doors open straight onto the pavement. I only came up against a handful of steps or driveways; instead Brian and Peter, who were working their way through the rest of Foundry Town, had those delights to contend with.
I came across a pleasing number of Aberdare Local Board of Health nameplates, which I need to photograph for my collection when the weather improves. I finished all of the right-hand side (going uphill) in pretty quick time. I was starting on the return leg when I spotted the others finishing off in Herbert Street. We polished off the rest of the area in less than ten minutes and headed back into town.
David rang me just as we arrived back at B&M, to say that they’d called it a day as well. We met up in Canon Street and discussed a plan for the next leg. They’re going to attempt Glandare. Best of luck to them! It’s all gates, steps, driveways, and the occasional external letterbox (if you’re lucky!) I had enough of that nonsense in Park Grove and Ash Grove. Glandare is many times bigger. It’s not a mission to undertake lightly (or single-handedly).
I’ve somehow managed to double-book myself this weekend. I told them I’d finish off the waifs and strays on the Gadlys and return any surplus to David tomorrow. I had a chat with Cerith on the way towards the Library car park. Elwyn, the webmaster of Aberdare Online, has asked him to ask me if I’d write something about the local election campaign. I haven’t bothered with his site for ages, so I’m in two minds. He might be able to twist my arm, but I doubt it somehow.
The few streets I’d missed on my earlier travels weren’t the only waifs and strays I encountered this afternoon. I was walking up the slope from the Library car park when a dog shot downhill past me. It was a really nice-looking Staffordshire Bull Terrier, wearing a harness, galloping towards St John’s Churchyard. I couldn’t see anyone following him, so I tried to call him back. He was well and truly in the zone, though. I was worried in case the dog decided to head into the town centre, with heavy traffic on all sides. At the top of the slope I met a man who was heading into town, but he wasn’t the owner. By now the dog had vanished behind the Jobcentre. He could have gone anywhere from there.
The first of my waifs and strays was Afon Dar Close, a cul-de-sac of big new houses adjacent to the St John’s School playing fields. The street name doesn’t make any sense to me, being a bizarre hybrid of Welsh and English elements. I’d never set foot in it before, and I don’t envy the local postman. There are two houses side by side as you enter the street, then a big house which is Number 4. (I looked in vain for Number 3 before pressing on.) Number 9 is opposite Number 8, then there are another ten or so houses which count up from the one at the entrance to the estate.
I was on my way back to the main road when the dog rocketed past me again, heading towards the end of the new houses. I tried calling him again, but he didn’t veer from his intended target. I decided that his owner probably lived in one of the new houses and thought no more of it.
I was back on the main road, making my way towards Lidl. Suddenly the bloody dog sauntered out of a side street and strolled casually up the middle of the main road, paying no attention to the traffic. I tried calling him again, but he was completely focused. Then I lost sight of him as he dived into another side street.
I leafleted Wayne Street, and was heading along Wern Row when I met a tall worried-looking chap holding a lead in one hand.
‘You haven’t seen a dog running around, have you?’ he asked.
‘Brown staffie, wearing a harness?’ I smiled. ‘I’ve seen him three times.’
The chap explained that he’d come over from Merthyr to visit his girlfriend on the Gadlys. The dog (whose name was Lucky) had managed to sneak out and go walkabout. Unfamiliar with the area, Lucky must have been having a great time exploring the nooks and crannies of Aberdare West, as I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. I promised I’d keep an eye out for him.
The chap gave me his girlfriend’s address and phone number, just in case I came across Lucky when I was finishing off the area. I didn’t see him again, though. I called his name several times while I was walking around, but he could have gone anywhere. I came into Aberdare, called into the Glosters, and put an announcement on Twitter and Facebook. Kath S. replied a few minutes later, to say she’d seen him legging it down Oxford Street. A number of my friends shared the status too, so we soon had a dragnet out.
I hope Lucky turns up safe and sound. If he makes his way home courtesy of someone who’s seen my status and/or Tweet, we’ll have proved the value of social media again. All my efforts (and everyone else’s) to get Cerith elected to Westminster might fall on stony ground. Even so, if we can help to reunite a worried man with a lively dog then my afternoon hasn’t been entirely wasted.

‘There was a moocow coming down along the road’

In which The Author finds a piece of comedy gold

Yesterday, while browsing in a charity shop in Aberdare, I came across a 1973 Pelican Books edition of The Complete Plain Words.
Originally written by Sir Ernest Gowers for internal use within the Civil Service, the book quickly entered widely circulation. The aim of the author was to encourage people to write clearly, accurately and concisely; ‘to help officials in their use of written English as a tool of their trade’.
The 1973 edition, revised by Sir Bruce Fraser, retains most of the bizarre examples of Government-speak which Gowers was trying to eliminate. I read the first six chapters last night, and found myself wondering how many of today’s barely-literate school-leavers would cope when confronted with a sentence like this:
I regret however that the Survey Officer who is responsible for the preliminary investigation as the technical possibility of installing a telephone at the address quoted by any applicant has reported that owing to a shortage of a spare pair of wires to the underground cable (a pair of wires leading from the point near your house right back to the local exchange and thus a pair of wires essential for the provision of telephone service for you) is lacking and that therefore it is a technical impossibility to install a telephone for you at… (Gowers, 1973: 32).
Gowers then translates this into normal English:
I am sorry to tell you that we have found that there is no spare pair of wires on the cable that would have to be used to connect your house with the exchange. I fear therefore that it is impossible to install a telephone for you (Gowers, 1973: 32).
(The answer to my question is obvious, of course – they’d just use a mobile phone.)
Elsewhere, the book quotes an example which made me laugh out loud. Here it is, in full:
Why do so many writers prefer complexity to simplicity? Officials are far from being the only offenders. It seems to be a morbid condition contracted in early manhood. Children show no signs of it. Here, for example, is the response of a child of ten to an invitation to write an essay on a bird and a beast:
The bird that I am going to write about is the owl. The owl cannot see at all by day and at night is as blind as a bat.
I do not know much about the owl, so I will go on to the beast which I am going to choose. It is the cow. The cow is a mammal. It has six sides – right, left, an upper and below. At the back it has a tail on which hangs a brush. With this it sends the flies away so that they do not fall into the milk. The head is for the purpose of growing horns and so that the mouth is to moo with. Under the cow hangs the milk. It is arranged for milking. When people milk, the milk comes and there is never an end to the supply. How the cow does it I have not yet realised, but it makes more and more. The cow has a fine sense of smell; one can smell it far away. This is the reason for the fresh air in the country.
The man cow is call an ox. It is not a mammal. The cow does not each much, but what it eats it eats twice, so that it gets enough. When it is hungry it moos, and when it says nothing it is because its inside is all full up with grass (Gowers, 1973: 69).
Gowers, E. (1973) The Complete Plain Words (2nd rev. edn.) Harmondworth: Penguin.

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