Bitches’ Brew

In which The Author is in seasonal mood

Depending on your particular reality tunnel, it’s either Hallowe’en, or Samhain, or Nos Cyn Gaeaf, as we say in Wales. This last one is particularly interesting, as it translates as ‘the night before winter.’ It tells you a lot about the old Celtic calendar, doesn’t it? In spite of that, it’s been unexpectedly mild for the last couple of days – and dry, for the most part. In fact, today is set to be the warmest 31 October in the UK records. Go figure…
I had to go to the Jokecentre earlier (see The Return of the Circumlocution Office) as I’d managed to confuse myself after last week’s shenanigans. I was called almost immediately, and I apologised for missing yesterday’s appointment. As it turned out, it had been rescheduled again without my being notified, and I was actually due there today. Apparently they’ll be changing everyone’s schedule soon. I can’t wait.
I returned to the Library and did a bit more work on the Street Names Project. I emailed Geoff E. this week, with an idea for a title that had come to me while I was having a bath. He liked it, so I’m using it as a working title at the moment. It also gave us a convenient shorthand – BBC – to save us typing it out in full. I really like the title of Geoff’s forthcoming book, The Men Who Marched Away, but TMWMA is a bit of a mouthful to say out loud and an awkward bugger to type.
As I told you in A Little Economy, I went through the Aberdare Urban District Council 1945 housing condition survey a couple of weeks ago. It occurred to me afterwards that there might have been a similar survey undertaking by the old Mountain Ash Urban District Council. I asked Denise in Aberdare Library, but there was nothing stashed away behind the scenes. Bearing in mind that the two authorities were separate entities until 1974, I wondered whether a similar report might be stored in the library there.
At lunchtime today I jumped on the train and headed for Mountain Ash itself. My first port of call was a grid of large houses behind St Margaret’s Church. As well as a housing condition survey, I’d been hoping to find an original street nameplate attached to one of the houses there.
In Trecynon, where I live, you can still see a number of cast-iron street signs which were originally put up by the Aberdare Local Board of Health. They’re very distinctive, with an interesting shape and rather old-fashioned lettering.


I already knew that there are still a few old signs dotted around Mountain Ash, like this one which I found on a previous exploration. I’d been hoping to find one in particular, which would be perfect for the ongoing project.


However, in Caegarw I drew a blank. I photographed the modern RCTCBC street sign all the same, as I’ll need it later on.
I made my way back into the town centre and headed to the library. Unfortunately, I’d somehow managed to leave myself a ten-minute window before they closed for lunch (seriously!) I explained what I was looking for, and the librarian looked rather lost. She hunted through a filing cabinet for a while, pulling out old MAUDC documents which probably haven’t seen the light of day in my lifetime, but we drew another blank there. She suggested that I tried the Glamorgan Archives. I’ll probably email them first, as I don’t fancy another wasted journey.
I caught the next train up, jumped off at Cwmbach, walked as far as the ASDA roundabout, crossed the footbridge over the A4059, and headed along Gasworks Road into Aberaman. There’s a street which I had a feeling might be marked by one of the old signs. Rather to my frustration, I found a couple of the ALBH signs in the side streets, but not the one I particularly wanted. I walked the whole length of the street, so I would have found it if it was there.
On the other hand, I did pass up one photo-opportunity for reasons of taste and decency. Halfway down one block of terraced houses, I found a house which had been decorated in grand style for today. The front door and window were painted with fake blood in a scene reminiscent of The Shining. A couple of doors away, I found a leaflet which was headed, ‘See what the Blood of Christ can do for you.’ It was very tempting to photograph them together; then I realised that I’d probably offend a good many friends by posting it online, so I changed my mind.
This particular leaflet was presumably part of the religious onslaught which has been a feature of the Aberdare scene today. On my way from the library to the station, I bumped into my pal Adrian T. He told me that he’d just ‘run the gauntlet’ of a couple of young Mormons, who were accosting people outside the bike shop. When I say ‘young’, I mean really young. I think it must be a condition of the Latter-Day Saints that you qualify as an ‘Elder’ as soon as you start shaving.
Further along the street, there were a couple of women handing out copies of The Watchtower as well. I spotted a gang of them on the Gadlys yesterday, too. I suppose they must have all girded up their loins in time for today’s pagan festivities. It would probably have been quite interesting to stick around and watch the God-off between the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
And, of course, in time for tonight, the witches have emerged as well. Not only did I have a close encounter with Clare the other day, as I told you in Meanwhile, at the Bus Station. Yesterday, I was walking through town and bumped into a friend of mine with his current squeeze – Jenny. I said ‘hello’ to him, but as it was raining, we both hurried on. I only caught a glimpse of Jenny as she walked past, but she was looking fairly rough. I realised that I’d probably had a lucky escape when I deleted her last text unread, early in January 2010. I spotted Clare again earlier, hanging around on Junkie Corner with a few prime specimens of Aberdare lowlife.
So far, though, Gema has yet to turn up to complete the unholy trinity of Fucked-up Almost Ex-Girlfriends. She actually unfriended me on Facebook after I posted the photos of my day out with Rhian in London. Personally, I thought that was taking stupid arguments to the next level. Maybe I shouldn’t fuck my luck by mentioning her. To increase the chance of her making an appearance today, Rhian and I have just booked our next day out in London.
Then again, I’m probably fairly safe for the time being. Apparently the Bi-Psycho has been banned from another pub recently. It must be only a question of time before she ends up on Pubwatch, and everyone can rest easily for a while.
Just in case, though, I’ll be heading home before the fun really gets underway. I’ll be locking the door as soon as I get home, closing the curtains, and displaying my South Wales Police ‘No callers, please’ sign in the front window. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when the forces of evil – and assorted crazy female near-misses – are out and about, after all.

Meanwhile, at the Bus Station…

In which The Author rejects the hand of friendship

After doing a bit of shopping yesterday evening, I decided to catch the bus home. The sky was extremely dark, and the lunchtime forecast hadn’t been too promising. Even though I’ve got a proven track record of getting into the house just as the rain starts, my luck is bound to run out eventually.
When I got to the station, there were a few people waiting for the various buses heading north out of Aberdare. I was counting out my fare when a vaguely-familiar voice said ‘Hi, Steve.’
It was Clare.
We haven’t spoken at all since we quarrelled on- and off-line, over a year ago. We’ve seen each other around town, of course. Aberdare’s a small place, and you’re bound to bump into everyone you know sooner or later. Last time I saw her, we were on the same bus the day I photographed the war memorials around the valley. However, every time I’ve seen Clare she’s been with some piece of lowlife or another. As I’ve pointed out several times already (most notably in Not Born Beautiful), they’re not the sort of people I want in my circle of friends. I don’t even want them at one remove – and if Clare and I somehow picked up where we’d left off, I’d have no choice but to have them in my orbit.
In fact, the bloke she was with looked like a prime specimen of lowlife. I’ve seen him around the place as well. Life in a goldfish bowl has that effect. I don’t know his name, and I doubt very much whether we’d have very much to talk about. After all, I’m not into drugs or petty crime.
So, when she asked me if I was going to start talking to her again, I pretended to think about it for about half a second.
Then I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’
She mumbled something which was obviously intended for me, then carried on talking to her friend. My bus came in and I got on without looking back.
Starting with Clare, from now on I’m going to be far more selective about the people I spend time with. If that means that I’m called ‘a snob’, or ‘rude’, or ‘ignorant’, then so be it.
I doubt very much whether I’m missing out on very much, to be perfectly frank. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time on the periphery of that scene. As I told you in Zigzagging Down Memory Lane and Leaving No Turn Unstoned, my favourite music, books and films are often products of the drug culture. Even so, I’ve never indulged in that scene personally. If I want to ‘expand my consciousness’ (whatever that means!), I can usually do it through music or books. I’ve never wanted to experiment at first hand.
You see, I noticed a strange phenomenon many years ago, while hanging out with the stoners and/or trippers. If you read the literature of drug use (the Beat Poets, for instance, or the psychedelic papers of the late 1960s and early 1970s), they all maintain that drug use ‘heightens your appreciation’ of Music, Art, Films, whatever…
It sounds tempting, doesn’t it? For instance, I’ve often wondered whether Christopher Priest’s debut novel Indoctrinaire would be any more terrifying if I dropped some acid first. Would sitting in a room with a bunch of people who’ve all read the book, and all dropping acid before we started discussing it, enhance the experience?
Personally, I doubt it. To judge from my previous experience, the only topic of conversation in a drugs group is the drugs themselves: how much they cost; who the end-customer bought them from; what the effects are like (good, bad, or different from the last lot); what the group did last time (pretty much, sat around and talked about drugs); what the group is going to do next time (pretty much, sit around and talk about drugs); and so forth.
On the rare occasions where I have been present, and have tried to steer the conversation on to a different topic, it soon returns to its set trajectory. It’s like being a man in a rowing boat, and trying to shift the battleship it’s tethered to. Even trying to raise the subjects which are supposedly ‘enhanced’ by the drugs experience – music, films, art – doesn’t appeal to them. So much for the hype!
So I hope you see why I don’t feel at all bad about rejecting Clare’s friendly overture yesterday. She’s firmly established in that crowd now, and I never will be part of it. We had little enough in common to begin with, and now we’ve got hardly anything in common now – apart from living in the same town where we’ll cross paths every now and again. That simply puts her up there with the thousands of people living here whom I don’t know, and will probably never know. Perhaps we’ll have some overlapping friends in our relative circles, but I doubt it. I’m taking positive steps to keep well away from the Aberdare drugs scene now. If I have to lose friends and alienate people as a result, then it’s for my own safety and security.
Believe me – I’m telling you straight!