As I was young and easy

Young Dylan

Today is Dylan Thomas’ 100th birthday.

Now God knows I would have loved to have invited him round for a cup of tea and a cupcake – for Dylan I would have even cracked out the cake tin and checked the flour for mites and made him one myself, and not even my daughters get that on their birthday.

Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly for a poet in love with the bottle, Dylan was dead long before I was born.

He never saw 40, let alone 100.

Thomas’s poetry has never been less than loved, by the public at least, in his lifetime and after. His centenary has been the subject of many events, centred around his semi-mythical writing shed. (Like many writers, he did a lot of things in his writing shed, very few of them actual writing. Thank God there was no internet in those days, or he would never have got anything done.)

In intellectual circles, though, Thomas can be treated a little sniffily. The Wikipedia entry for Thomas describes his work as ‘accessible’, which is code for ‘a bit TOO popular, often read at funerals’.

Well, whatever. I adore him. I can recite big chunks of his poetry, and often will, unprompted. It’s hard to get me to stop.

I first saw Under Milk Wood as a little girl, when my sister performed in the play at school (‘call me Dolores like they do in the stories’).

Before I saw Under Milk Wood, I was a reader. But after, I fell in love with words. Drunk on assonance, seduced by the lavish imagery. And the alliteration! Oh the alliteration.

If you have never listening to the beginning of Under Milk Wood read by Richard Burton then I envy you. I have heard it, read it, countless times and it can still make me shiver, go all goosebumply.

Back then I couldn’t have told you why Dylan’s words got so tangled round my heart. It wasn’t his rock and roll roistering reputation. I knew nothing of that back then. He was just a name on a page; he looked pretty respectable.

Now though, I can tell you why his poetry was so potent. It is that combination of sweet and sprightly melancholy, lyrical but imbued with sadness. I can tell you this because it has given me a taste for energetic sadness; for poetic, word-heavy morbidity that runs through my record collection – from The Bluetones to Johnny Flynn – and my dvd shelf.

Cheery sadness – so long Dylan and thanks for all the paradoxes.

There was something else though. Thomas wrote about ordinary people in the most passionate and compassionate of ways.

In Under Milk Wood we see his sense of the sacredness of humanity. The high point of this is the description of Bessie Big Head, the lowest and the least of the people of Milk Wood.

Look up Bessie Bighead in the White Book of Llaregyb and

you will find the few haggard rags and the one poor

glittering thread of her history laid out in pages there

with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first

lost love. Conceived in Milk Wood, born in a barn, wrapped

in paper, left on a doorstep, bigheaded and bass-voiced

she grew in the dark until long-dead Gomer Owen kissed her

when she wasn’t looking because he was dared.

That is the beautiful tenderness at the heart of Thomas’ writing – that life is precious and must be treasured – the one poor glittering thread of her history laid out in pages there with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first lost love.

But in the end he didn’t take any love and care with his own life, it seems. Dylan had a lot to say about death, did Dylan (hence his popularity at funerals). Like much of his writing and his life, it is contradictory, ambivalent. But mostly he thinks death can bugger off. And death caught up with him all the same, as it does with all of us.

His wife Caitlin outlasted him for many decades. She died in 1994 and on the front of the paper the next day they printed her death notice under this:

‘Listen. Time passes.’

And so it does.

Dylan Thomas portrait:

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Miss out Monday – Number 6’s guide to the week in social media


As Ferris Bueller pointed out, life moves pretty fast. And never faster, in the 4G superfast broadband free wifi 2014.

This can sometimes be a problem for the harassed blogger attempting to present her half-baked commentary on contemporary events. Especially as I am – by nature – something of a ponderer (and, what’s more, a ponderer with a full-time job, two children and a number of time consuming hobbies).

This combination has hampered my blogging habits of late, I must admit.

I will come across a news story, start to muse upon it, honing that killer opening sentence for a couple of hours. Then I do the school run, teach a few children this and that about assonance, do a bit of marking, hang some washing out.

Then 12 hours later or so, say about 11pm I log on again to start writing and LO! Hadley bloody Freeman has written something pithy about it or – even worse – the Stockport-Pixie Owen Jones has done his usually articulate magic on the subject.

And I read it, and when I read the comments and they are all ‘GOD I AM SO BORED OF ALL THIS! MOVE ON!’**

Curse those childless journalists with mornings and afternoons at their disposal.

Although to be fair, many of these pieces often read like they haven’t exactly given it a great DEAL of thought. I know, I know everyone’s a critic and writing opinion pieces is MUCH HARDER THAN IT LOOKS but this frantic pace does them no favours. Leaving aside things you read on this blog – of course!- how many times to you get to the end of a comment piece and think, Christ what the hell was the point of that?

I am looking at you, Comment is Free (which I have recently renamed, Lucky That, Because That Comment Would Have Been Poor Value In Poundland).

I think that’s the rush to get published that means that journalists have little time to reflect and say something crafted. It has to be out there *quick* – and quality suffers.

This also means that, if you aren’t online all the time (and you aren’t, are you? No one is. Except the journalists. And, at the moment, me) you can miss stuff. An entire news cycle can happen in the time it takes to recover from a hangover; and in twenty years it will be a question in a pub quiz and you will think, bugger! that was that day after Mike’s 30th when I stayed in bed all day.

So I wonder if, as a kind of public service, maybe you might like a summary of the week on line? Guaranteed comprehensive, thoroughly researched and in no way partial!

Well here it is anyway:

Everything that happened this week on social media w/e 25/10/14

UKIP released a ‘fun’ ‘charity’ single, the charity in this case being UKIP (20p in every 79p to go towards hounding immigrants and stirring up intolerance, which is an interesting use of the word charity, but that’s UKIP for ya).

The ‘singer’ Mike Read withdrew the single the very next day (see what I mean!); this means that this song lasted about the same time as his ill-fated (translation, absolutely crap) Oscar Wilde musical Oscar!*

(Though early rumours suggest that Mike Read is in line for a Breakthrough Award in the MOBO’s next year – we’re all rooting for you brother. Your struggle is our struggle.)

UKIP tried to milk this story for a little longer by claiming they had intended to donate the proceeds to the Red Cross Ebola Fund ALL ALONG (despite failing to mention this before the decision was made to withdraw the single, and despite the Red Cross not in fact having an Ebola Fund. UKIP’s marketing and PR guys must be quite an interesting bunch.)

That must have been the shortest meeting in the history of the Red Cross:

Red Cross Donations Manager  – right so I’ve called this meeting to discuss the donation by UKIP of….

Everyone in the Red Cross – (shouting) NO!!!!!!!!

Red Cross Donations Manager – right, ok let’s go down the boozer then.

Some little girls (and one boy) said the F word a LOT to make a point about sexism.

There was a fair amount of OVERWROUGHT SHOCK – mainly from lots of Americans who, it turns out, get REALLY upset about swearing.

It also turns out that Americans are pretty relaxed about whacking children with hands, sticks and indeed any available implements (even the children in this clip, who are reading from a script and I presume paid actors, hence a ‘whooping’ would seem somewhat unfair).

Fastforward to the end of the week and Americans are very much LESS upset by the fact that there have been 87 school shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012.

All of which leads me to conclude that America Is Broken ™ and on this subject, I have more to say.


UKIP have a Commonwealth Spokesman and he’s an absolute corker. Seriously if you haven’t seen this, get yourself a cup of tea and something to bite down hard on, and maybe a cushion to hide behind in the worst bits.

There are limits to the famous UKIP appeal to the disaffected working classes, and that limit is Liverpool. UKIP put up their secret weapon on BBC Question Time, the VERY SHOUTY Louise Bours and every populist knee jerk gobbet that fell from her lips was met with stony silence.

She was reduced to shouting ‘Hang the paedophiles! And police murderers!’ and still only nothing but the gentle scraping of unionised, fairly-paid tumbleweed.

(One wonders idly – if Louise Yeah She Bores Me Too and Winston Shouts-Incoherently are the acceptable face of UKIP, WHAT are the rest of them like?)


Renee Zellwegger appeared looking 10 years older than she did a short ten years ago.

Shockingly, and seriously, brace yourself for this, it seems she may have had some plastic surgery! I know, earth shattering stuff. Why would a woman reaching middle age in an industry obsessed with youth and appearance resort to surgical intervention?? It’s beyond inexplicable.

Russell Brand has become Jesus and everyone is scorning him. And we all know what happens next in that story.

Katie Hopkins said nothing this week. Nothing at all. For which relief, much thanks.

* I may have made up the exclamation mark

Ferris Bueller photo

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Done up like a Kipper

ukip-v1As those who know me in The Real Life will know, I have been laid up, off sick and generally out of action for the last few weeks. A pretty frustrating time – not least for the people close to me who have had to listen to me moaning about ALL THE EXCITING THINGS I AM NOT DOING – but one small consolation has been that I have been able to keep up to date with the way politics is going in the UK at the moment in lots of detail.

And by ‘consolation’ I of course mean ‘incredibly depressing experience’ because politics in this country is currently right down the toilet, up the U bend and lodged in the sewer behind a big plug of grease, baby wipes and half a disposable nappy. In fact British political life currently looks a bit like this FATBERG, but with Farage’s grinning face on it:

Anyway, the upside of all this is that I am now a Certified Expert of Matters Politic, having recently graduated from the University of Twitter. (Don’t worry, it’s a real qualification, not one of those fake ones you always read about in the Daily Mail. I have definitely put in the hours.)

Ask me anything! Here’s a few FAQ to get the ball rolling:

Q – Is the UKIP Calypso racist?

A – What an outrageous suggestion! Firstly, how could a white man singing in cod-‘Jamaican’ accent about the evils of immigration be considered racist? It makes no sense. Also, surely the brave championing of the calypso genre by lovable Mike Reid (self-appointed guardian of the nation’s morals since 1984) will make sales of Calypso music go through the roof! He’s like a cultural ambassador.

Moreover, I checked on the Daily Mail comments and apparently saying this is racist is like saying ‘it’s racist for a black man to sing opera’ (because white people own opera, as we all know).

Lastly, only a true genius would think of rhyming ‘misdemeanours’ and ‘vacuum cleaners’ – surely an Ivor Novello is just around the corner?

(Sidebar – was anyone else deeply disappointed that the UKIP victory song wasn’t sung by THIS Mike Read instead:?)












Q – so, if the UKIP victory song isn’t racist, then UKIP aren’t either?

A – No, absolutely not. The fact that Nigel Farage doesn’t want to live next door to Romanians or hear foreign languages on the bus just shows his softer side, his adorable vulnerability.

(If he has such a problem with foreigners, it must be a terrible trial for him to actually go to the European Parliament, or indeed his own front room, poor love. My heart goes out to him.) Also, the recent alliance with the racist, far-right, Holocaust-denying, Janusz Korwin-Mikke demonstrates Farage’s steadfast commitment to cultural diversity.

Another foreigner too – this time a Pole! How upsetting for Nige. SAD FACE. 🙁

Obviously there are countless other examples to UKIP’s long term commitment to embracing the full gamut of political opinions; I will leave you to peruse these at your leisure:

Q – How important is charisma in a leader?

A – Charisma is vitally important in a leader, especially leaders who wish to begin wars or lead their groups into suicide pacts or ‘coalitions with the Tories’ as they are sometimes known.

Obviously, being a charismatic leader can sometimes lead you into a spot of bother, for example when you start wars because you feel a bit grumpy and someone’s eaten the last bit of bread and you only have the crust left and everyone knows you don’t like the crust. Or when your psychiatrist keeps telling you that Charismatic is just another word for sociopath.

Q – So what is a bad leader then?

A – Oh this is easy! There are some very obvious things you can do to not be a bad leader.

Firstly you mustn’t be too passionate. Or obviously Welsh. (If you must be Welsh, you must be discreet about it.)









Or too grumpy.

gordon brown





Worst of all, you mustn’t be a grumpy man pretending to be cheery because the papers say you look too grumpy. They hate that, when you do the thing they said you should do. It’s like their worst thing:







You mustn’t be too posh.


Or too common.

images (2)






NEVER be a woman –







– unless it’s this woman.









NEVER EVER wear a jacket that looks like a working class person’s jacket, because wearing a working class person’s jacket is disrespectful in the extreme.


Being able to eat a sandwich in public without dropping anything is also incredibly important, apparently.

One of these men is a strong charismatic leader, and the other is hopeless. Can you tell which one is which, just by looking at a photo of them eating a bacon sandwich. Of course you can! Anyone could. It’s easy isn’t it? Good.




Actually there’s only two things that save you from being a bad leader. You must be able to wear this outfit.










See? don’t that lot make you feel so SAFE?? You get it now, don’t you?

And secondly –  be able to lie in a REALLY SINCERE WAY.











Q – Gosh this is confusing.

A – shhhh, don’t worry – this man will tell you who to vote for! And everything will be JUST FINE.










Q – so who will win the election next year?

A – THAT’S ALL WE HAVE TIME FOR TODAY! More of your questions tomorrow….

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Do not feed the trolls


The news that Chris Grayling wants to punish trolls by locking them in the highest room of the highest tower for a thousand years with a dragon guarding the entrance will come as a shock I imagine to those, like a fresh-faced young man I met at a party a few years ago, who believe that ‘the law doesn’t apply on the internet’ (and therefore he could sell WHATEVER PLANTS HE LIKED on there, right?).


Um no, not quite.

You can see how he got that idea though, particularly back then.

(I laughed at him all the same, in the style of lawyers everywhere when a non-lawyer says something, anything at all, about the law – I THINK YOU WILL FIND IT’S A BIT MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.*)

For early users of chatrooms (like me) the internet did for a time seem like a fresh and hopeful place, where everyone could speak their minds freely and just hang out, ya know, like, chattin’?

The original trolls were people who took the conversation in chatrooms and forums ‘off topic’ (How quaint that sounds to modern ears. How we used to frown upon the change of subject! Tsk tsk.)

But yes, I would agree that the internet can seem frankly lawless, though these days the internet seems a lot less like Eden and a lot more like the Wild West.

Anyone who spends any time in the New Wild West knows that some pretty vile and vicious things happen out here. Death threats, rape threats, suicides – these are sadly so common as to be almost part of the landscape. And so SO often, individuals seem to left to hang out to dry without the protection of the law or even of the rules of common humanity. I have more to say on this topic but, for now, let’s stick to the subject of the Troll.

In particular –  as a long-term resident of Flaming Valley, Troll County, Wyoming, I think it’s worth pointing out that no one really agrees what a Troll is.

Trolls all write things on the internet, but that is about all they have in common.

I would argue that only some of them need to go to prison (otherwise, apart from anything else, we would have to build a LOT of new prisons).

And just like the Wild West, it’s often hard to work out the goodies from the baddies, because they don’t always wear a white hat or sport a twirly moustache. (At least not one you can see from their avatar.)

And one man’s brave pioneer is another man’s land-grabbing oppressor of indigenous peoples.

Now I don’t know about you but I don’t have the utmost confidence that Mr Grayling and his colleagues can be trusted to understand who are the black hats and white hats in, for example, #gamergate.

So here, Mr Grayling, is Number6’s guide to internet ‘trolls’ and suitable punishments. You’re more than welcome:

1. The super fans

These types have always been around but in the old days they were confined to hanging outside stage doors wearing customised t-shirts and holding hand-made teddy bears for the objects of their ‘affection’. Sometimes extreme loyalty spills over into a tiny bit of harassment of people they don’t like – for example, someone who might be snogging the object of your obsession, like poor old Paige Reifler

Of course we are many of us prone to a little obsessive behaviour from time to time and who among us, really, would be happy with anyone checkin’ out our internet history?**

Suitable punishment – related to fan-dom e.g. ritual burning of home-made shrine to Harry Styles.

2. Single Issue Fanatics

Explaining why the world is WRONG and they are RIGHT, often at considerable length with little punctuation to help them. Again, this lot have always been part of the rich human landscape, but before they would usually stay in their bedrooms writing long long screeds about the parlous state of the world until they were forced to leave to go to the shops and buy more green ink.

In fact without the borderline obsessives, many great social changes would never have taken place, for better or worse – Mary Whitehouse was certainly in this category, but then so were Martin Luther and indeed the suffragettes. So, no willies, boobs or bums or uses of the F word on the telly throughout the 1970s and 1980s BUT votes for women – you have to take the rough with the smooth.

Suitable punishment – compulsory inclusion of balanced counterarguments before they are entitled to publish anything (SIFs are allergic to OTOH).

3. Keyboard Krusaders

Fired up, stressed out cousins of the Single Issue Fanatics, these types would be horrified at the idea that they could be considered trolls. They are Brave Truth-Warriors, fearlessly fighting the forces of evil from the safety of their keyboards. (Face to face, they crumple.)

Ukippers mostly fall into this category, and indeed have developed their own jargon to fight the good fight of the oppressed white man, usually consisting of excruciating puns (LibLabCon, Bliar etc) and calling people who disagree with them ‘sheeple’ and ‘brainwashed’.

Suitable punishment – for Ukippers – forced to vote Green. For others, forced to leave house and breathe fresh air for a bit on a nice long walk.

4. Menimists

Angrily fighting the good fight against stereotyping of men by threatening women with rape and calling all feminists ugly lesbians and bitches.

Suitable punishment – six months placement as voluntary worker at Kids Company with Camila Batmanghelidjh.

5. Professional trolls.

Saying controversial things for a job, like prostitution but without any of the dignity.

Oh you know who I mean, but here she is anyway:


Suitable punishment – having to do an actual, real job for ever (suggestion – fish-gutter) while everyone ignores them. NB we can ALREADY DO THIS SECOND ONE PEOPLE – GET IN!

6. Beavis / Butthead

The kind of people who follow Ed Miliband’s twitterfeed just to type ‘eff-off Beaker’ at EVERYTHING HE TWEETS. Who are these people and WHO do they think they are talking to?

Suitable punishment – unnecessary. Simply being this person is frankly punishment enough.

*otherwise lawyers would never make any money, and that would never never do.

**how many times, for example, would it be normal to have watched this video clip? I am asking for a friend:

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By destruction, dwell in doubtful joy


This Sunday at 5am, when all sensible people were sleeping off the effects of a high-summer Saturday in the sun, I was lying in bed 200 miles from home squinting at a live stream of a little bit of my heart being reduced to rubble.

I am aware that to most people, the idea of being attached to some cooling towers, concrete monstrosities, and eye-sore on the landscape, seems bizarre at best.

I wrote last year about the sorrow in Didcot when the coal-fired power station was turned off for the final time. Since then, we’ve swapped tower-related gossip and rumour – when are they being demolished? Couldn’t they be saved, somehow, to loom above us as they have always done?(No, said English Heritage. They aren’t ‘unique’ enough to be listed, despite their pleasing aesthetic qualities. Pfft.) And if their days WERE numbered, how could we mark their passing?

There is no doubt that there is real affection for the towers. We even have nicknames for them. The Milk Bottles. The Cloud Makers, after the ways the steam would gather into soft fluffy cotton wool balls and sheepy fleeces, particularly on clear days. The Bumper Cars (no I don’t understand that one either). Didcot Cathedral or the Cathedral of the Valleys.

In fact almost everyone I speak to in the town and the surrounding villages feels extremely fondly about them. Their dads and granddads, uncles and brothers helped build them, sometimes losing their lives in the process. I have heard more than once that ‘my dad’s signature is on one of those bricks’. For many people in the town, there are happy memories of working there, part of a community of workers. They were an unmissable part of the landscape for 40 years and naturally we wanted to be there when they disappeared.

For sentimental reasons, so we could be together when it all ended, but also because bloody hell who wouldn’t want to miss three 100m cooling towers get blown up? That’s not the kind of thing you get to see every day. Also, possibly, we were kinda hoping the debris might squash the neighbouring Daily Mail building, thereby destroying Didcot’s REAL eyesore.

But RWE Npower, who had snaffled up the power station for a bargain price in the great Tory Asset Jumble Sale of the late 20th century, had other ideas. Like a killjoy over-anxious grandma, Granny Npower was determined that we should all just stay indoors in the warm and dry.

‘It will be too dusty! It will be too loud! You can watch it from Far Away on a hill! Oh no, actually you can’t because that would also be too exciting and you will get all dust on your nice clean clothes. Anyway we don’t know when we might demolish it. Could be 2am, could be 3, might be later, look just come after a nice nourishing breakfast, when we’ve had chance to run the hoover round and get the Mr Sheen round the place so it’s spick and span.’

So it was hardly surprising that 3000 people signed a petition to persuade Granny Npower to move the demolition to a later time, so that we could all get up early to watch the towers we had driven past every day come crumpling down.

Granny Npower wouldn’t budge, but then neither would the Didcotians. They DEFIED Granny Npower, dressed in her high vis vest, tutting into her walkie talkie about health and safety; they stood quietly on public roads and footpaths, or sat patiently on deckchairs on high ground in the early morning gloaming to see the old girls finally sink to their knees and film it on their iphones. Anarchy in the 21st century is a blurry video clip shared on Twitter (#didcotdemolition).

Not me, though. I am in deepest Wales, and after bidding a sniffly goodbye on Saturday morning I was forced to watch the gut-wrenching moment on my phone via a live stream with my dodgy rural internet connection.

What the hell am I crying for, though? I only moved here ten years ago but I never found them ugly, only pretty awe-inspiring up close, sometimes taking my breath away like standing under the side of a ship or at the foot of a great cathedral. From a distance, I loved the clouds they made, and (sometimes, excitingly) the Didcot Snow that fell. I particularly loved the way the pinky-mellow evening light would reflect off them like gently curving cliffs.

Most of all I loved the things they represented. The story I hear over and over is that they were a landmark, the first sign of coming home. They certainly meant that for me, but they held another meaning for me as well.

The towers, like the power station, meant the town was connected to the outside world, a living breathing place. Like the factories and pit heads and slag heaps I grew up with, they may not be picturesque, they might even look ugly to most, but for the people who live and work here, this is what makes a community. We might not have a castle or a stately home or a cathedral, but the Cathedral of the Valleys was a place that brought the town together, linked us with one another, made us who we are – the people that made the lights come on when you flicked the switch.

RIP – and if anyone can nick me a chunk of rubble, I am DEFINITELY interested.

Watch the moment of final destruction here (it’s actually pretty coolio).

Some wonderful photographs of Didcot, including some great ones from this weekend, here:

What the towers look like today…




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