In which The Author is on the campaign trail again
To celebrate my membership of Plaid Cymru, I joined Cynon Valley’s candidate Cerith Griffiths on the campaign trail in Aberdare yesterday. I already knew some of the other party members, like John Daniel, David Walters, Hywel Davies and Cerith himself, but the rest were new to me. David introduced me to the others, and we drew up a plan of action. With 15,000 leaflets to be circulated we had a lot of ground to cover.
We met outside B&M (formerly Woolworths), which is pretty much the focal point of the town. It’s said that if you sit by the statue of Charles I near Charing Cross Station, sooner or later everyone you know will walk past. In Aberdare, the same is true of the little seating area outside B&M.
The Plaid gang had decided to pitch up early, in case the Labour crowd headed for the same spot. (In spite of the complex politics in the outside world, Cynon Valley looks set to be the traditional two-horse race.) It was a glorious day, but rather breezy mid-morning, and we brave souls who’d ventured out wearing T-shirts were soon regretting it.
Rowland Davies and I have several things in common, one of which is that we’re both happier to drop leaflets than to talk to the voters. Cerith threw himself straight into campaigning, chatting to a crowd of young people outside the shop. John, David, Hywel and Peter (the election agent) staked out the approaches to Commercial Street, where they could hand leaflets to people as they passed. A couple of them made their way into Maesydre, an easy-to-handle residential area just off the main street. Meanwhile, I helped myself to a batch of leaflets and headed towards the Black Lion, the imposing (and closed) pub at the top of Victoria Square.
I’d reached my GPs’ surgery when I realised that I’d walked straight past Chapel Row. This little terrace of half a dozen cottages is tucked away off Monk Street, and boasts an old Aberdare Local Board of Health sign at its entrance. I’d accidentally found another photo to add to my collection of old signs.
I was walking back along the row when I bumped into my old pal Jazz Gerrard, a well-known local poet and political activist. He and a young lad named Jamie were delivering pizza menus. I get about half a dozen of these through my door every week (see A Load of Crap
) and the market seems pretty close to saturation point. (I put mine straight into the recycling bag – Iceland do perfectly acceptable pizzas for just 89p, so what’s the point of spending a tenner for the same thing?) Let’s just hope people didn’t do the same when they picked Cerith’s leaflets up.
I headed up Monk Street, and immediately recalled my earlier conversation with Cerith and David. They’d commented on the large area which I was able to cover on my own in a short time, as I told you in Nooks and Crannies
. I told them the trick was to concentrate on streets with no front gardens and no steps to the front door.
Well, the north side of Monk Street caught me out – virtually every house has steps. Some of them have low dividing walls or fences between them, so I could step easily from one to another. However, with most of them I had to go up three or four steps to one door, back down to the pavement, up to the next door, and down again. I suppose it’s good exercise for my back, and it was a nice day to be out and about.
It was a relief to turn into Clifton Street, where everything is on one level. That didn’t last long, though. Once again, my useful advice came back to bite me in the arse. Every house on one side has a large garden with a drive leading to the front door; every house on the other side has steps.
Jazz and Jamie were hot on my trail, and Jazz suggested we could pool our workload. I gave him a handful of my leaflets, he gave me some of his menus, and we hit every other house with one of each. I don’t know whether it actually made the process any quicker, but it seemed to.
I did another half a dozen houses on Monk Street before turning into Pendarren Street. This was another assault course of steps, gates and driveways, but I was in my stride now. I’d put the leaflets into my bag so I was able to pull one out and roll it up by the time I reached the next door. That saved me a bit of time. I’d done the entire street and turned into Graig Street before I realised that I must have put a leaflet into Auntie Maggie’s old house. It hadn’t even crossed my mind to give it a second look.
I was heading towards the first house on Graig Street when I spotted something entirely new. I’ve been looking through a great number of old maps and census returns for the Street Names Project. Coupled with my personal experience of exploring the place, I think I know Aberdare fairly well. The little cul-de-sac leading off Graig Street took me completely by surprise. I knew it was in my list of streets for the book, but until yesterday I’d never set foot into Brondeg Terrace.
You can’t even see it from Pendarren Street, which must be why I’d never noticed it before. The houses on the left are large and quite grand, with steps leading up from the pavement. The houses on the right are a bit smaller, with small gardens leading to the front door.
At the end of the terrace is Fairfield House, ‘a generous detached double fronted eleven bedroom residence of character, occupying a prestigious position set within mature large well established gardens and grounds, approached by a private sweeping entrance drive, yet well placed within easy proximity to the Town centre of Aberdare.’ (Those aren’t my words, of course.)
The name rang a bell because Geoff had mentioned it in The Men Who Marched Away. A century ago it was the home of Captain T. Ernest Malyon. He was the secretary of the Bwllfa Collieries, and also a key figure in the local Territorial Army, heavily involved with recruiting during the Great War. Now Fairfield House is on the market for the modest sum of four hundred grand (give or take a fiver). The picturesque description comes from the estate agent’s website. I spy with my cynical eye another private nursing home.
I’d just dropped a leaflet into the exterior post box of Fairfield House when I bumped into the local postman. I told him I was a bit confused, confronted by a flight of steps which didn’t seem to lead anywhere. He told me that it led to the door of Brondeg House, at the end of the terrace. I thanked him and found myself back on track. A minute later I was back in Graig Street and knew where I was again. Luckily there are houses on only one side, so it didn’t take me long to get to Unity Street at the top of the incline.
This is the sort of street I like to find when I’m leafleting – like my own house, they open straight onto the pavement. If anything, I had to slow down slightly because it took me a bit longer to roll the leaflets up between doors. When I got to the entrance to Ty Fry I crossed to the other side of Unity Street and headed back down the row. I knew that I wouldn’t have enough leaflets to do the whole of the large estate and finish off the rest of the area. (If you live in Ty Fry and you’re wondering why you didn’t get a leaflet yesterday, please rest assured that it’s nothing personal.)
I did a few more houses on Monk Street with gates and short driveways before I found myself in Highland Place with a nice easy run of terraced houses. At the far end I found Harlech Place, tucked away at an angle, and Arnott’s Place, which is in the Street Names Project, but which I’ve never seen in the bricks-and-mortar before. The return journey along Highland Place took me up steps and down driveways again, before I returned to Monk Street.
I skipped Heol-y-Mynydd too, again because I didn’t want to run out of leaflets in the middle of a run. I also confess to omitting one very large house because the gates were closed and a fierce-looking dog was wandering around the garden. I shouldn’t imagine that anyone who can afford to live in a place like that would be likely to vote for a left-of-centre party anyway.
I crossed the main road and headed into Danygraig with a sense of relief. I’d forgotten that these large houses aren’t actually the last houses on the road to the mountain; that accolade goes to Graig Place, even further up, and Graig Cottage, right at the very top. Beyond this point the road winds up the mountainside and over the top to Maerdy. Incoming traffic hurtles around this bend and onto Monk Street, so I took a chance and sprinted across to Graig Cottage.
After dropping a leaflet in there, I nipped back to Graig Place and found myself in another nightmare of gates, front drives and weirdly-placed letterboxes.
Here’s a quick suggestion for anyone who wants my vote next time: If the postman has to negotiate a maze to deliver items of mail, householders should be legally required to have an external box near the boundary of their property. (Cerith, you can have that one on me!)
I was conscious that I needed to pick up a few houses on Monk Street before I called it a day. By taking the short cut up Graig Street, I’d managed to bypass the stretch alongside the Catholic Church. I estimated that I had just enough leaflets left to cover that block, plus the whole of the south side of Monk Street, and cover Trevor Street as well.
(By the way, nearly all the street names I’ve mentioned are connected to the heyday of Aberdare’s industrial past. I’m not going to tell you what the stories are, of course. You’ll have to wait for the book!)
It was about five to twelve. I wondered what time the rest of the gang would decide to call it a day, and headed into Trevor Street. It’s another assault course of steps and gates, so I lost a bit of time here. There were a few people about, and most of them seemed quite pleased to take a leaflet from me. (Whether that’ll translate at the ballot box is another matter, of course.)
Back on Monk Street I did the descent in sections, crossing the busy road to pick up the block near the church, and then finished opposite the surgery. I had fewer than twenty leaflets left when I arrived back at B&M.
‘Not a bad estimate, was it?’ I said, showing them to Cerith.
Between us, we’d broken the back of Aberdare town centre. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen a single window poster for any party on my travels in the past two hours. Neither had any of the others. Normally the Labour diehards are off the blocks before Plaid get their materials back from the printers. Very odd.
Peter’s going to finish leafleting Daviestown this week, as it’s on his doorstep. In the meantime I’m waiting for a call from David, so that I can pick up another batch and cover Trecynon over a couple of evenings this week.
Cerith told me that he’d had a very good response from most people he’d spoken to. Everyone seems quite positive about having an enthusiastic young candidate who’s offering a change from the same old same old. Even Jazz, the embittered old cynic that he is, told me that he’d probably swing in our direction on 7 May.
However, the Cynon Valley is like an oil tanker that’s been travelling in the same direction for a long time. It’s not going to be easy to turn it around any time soon.
At least we’re waking people up, though, and showing them that they don’t have to just engage in what I refer to as ‘ancestor worship’ any more.
My old pal Jock recently told me about a slogan which had been around in Scotland at the time of the independence referendum: ‘Don’t vote Labour for your parents – vote Nationalist for your children’.
You can’t say fairer than that, can you?
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