In which The Author sees an underwhelming
set of festive decorations
Yesterday evening, Father Christmas came to town.
I’d forgotten about it, to be honest. I hadn’t seen any of the posters which Angela T. and Other Danny assured me were all over town. I didn’t experience the thrill of reading the Cynon Valley Leader until last night, so the announcements had passed me by. By five o’clock there was torrential rain, so I decided to stay in the pub anyway. It was far too wet and cold to venture as far as the library, where Father Christmas and his reindeer were due to arrive on the roof at about 7 pm.
The Christmas lights switch-on in Aberdare used to be a big event when I was younger. Even though I was in my late twenties by the time it fizzled out, there was always a real carnival atmosphere. The borough council, the chamber of trade and the local businesses would go all-out to make the whole event a ‘must-see’ for people of all ages.
Father Christmas would appear on the library roof, the lights would be switched on to a massive cheer from the assembled masses, and then the fun began in earnest. The shops and cafes stayed open into the evening; there was an outdoor market outside the Market Hall; a procession of floats and cars would make its way round the town, with Father Christmas at its head; gangs of kids would run around spraying silly string over everything and everyone, while the police watched benevolently from a distance. Just about everyone in the valley, it seemed, would be somewhere in the throng.
When the Community Programme and Employment Training schemes were operating out of Mardy House, the preparations went on for weeks so that their entries would make a huge impact during the procession. I remember being in the crowd one year as the Tower Colliery float came slowly past. It was just after the pit was reopened by its new owners. Riding in triumph like Roman emperors, bathing in the cheers from the crowd, came Tyrone O’Sullivan and his colleagues.
It was a great moment for the valley and its people. I even mentioned it in the opening sequence of the screenplay Gareth L. and I were writing, before Australian Emma came along and it all went sour.
Now, Aberdare is very much the poor relation in the great Rhondda Cynon Taff family, and our Xmas celebrations reflect that fact. In Pontypridd, the town council makes sure that their displays and Father Christmas’s arrival are something worth seeing. Here, the chamber of trade is little more than a talking shop trying its best to see off Tesco and Asda, which are slowly killing the town, not to mention the huge retail and leisure parks in Merthyr, a ten-minute drive over the mountain.
This mouse doesn’t even roar. Apart from the market, you can practically count the number of truly independent retailers in Aberdare on your fingers. The bottom end of the town’s main shopping street, with the exception of a long-established jewellers, a charity shop, Dorothy Perkins and the Co-op Bank, consists of two rows of whitewashed windows. It’s the first place people hit when they get off the train or leave the bus station and follow the signs to the ‘town centre’.
In Cardiff, the event is a huge occasion. Shanara worked late that night, and told me that there were thousands of people in town on a cold wet night to see the switch-on. It’s Cardiff, after all. They have stalls and fairground rides and bands and the traffic stops hours in advance so that people can pour into the city centre from miles around. They’re always able to get a top name to perform the ceremony – Charlotte Church, or some of the Welsh national squad, or John Barrowman, or someone instantly recognisable.
My brother saw the switch-on at first hand. He was outside the pub having a smoke when two council workmen wearing high-visibility jackets came past. They unfastened the panel at the base of a lamp-post, connected a couple of wires so that the lights came on, replaced the panel and moved on to the next one. It wasn’t exactly the sort of gig Dame Shirley Bassey would be crying out for.
I’ll try and take some photos later on and add them to this entry, so that you can see our Winter Wonderland for yourselves.
In the meantime – Bah! Humbug!