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Inundations: Battle of The Atlantic

By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-10-19
Inundations:  Battle of The Atlantic

(For Captain Jenkin Evan Jones 1904-1986, Thomas Jones 1898-1986, Captain David John Jones  OBE 1896-1973, Daniel Owen Jones 1904-1936, Henry Lloyd Jones 1911-1985, Charles Ellis Jones 1914-2005 and James Jones 1901-1969)

Closer to your men now

these breathless damp survivors

in a lifeboat

you have to remember

that you are the master

that you remain in command

the abandonment of your vessel

a torpedo followed up by

21 shells from the deck

and AA guns

a different kind of rain

waves of unkinder weather

the steel from another furnace

always crawling out of the sea

always returning to it

the sea keeps you afloat

the seas swallows you

do you think of your homeland

as you await the rescue

of your crew

how your ancestors’ great flood

honoured the Biblical flood?

come from God’s country

to the high seas

of a world at war with itself

a world on fire

in the absence of fraternity

(your brother wrote in his diary

of how he had watched the ships

in his convoy one night

going down

one by one

cargo by cargo

friend by friend

life by life

extinguished light by extinguished light

disappearing act by disappearing act

that boy that his brothers had lifted up

to a beam in a barn

to enable him to strengthen his arms

to balance against the weakness

born in his legs)

the sea keeps you afloat

the seas swallows you

years after your death

and those of your maritime siblings

one soporific TV afternoon

in my NATO assured home

I saw footage of the victorious

U-124 sailing into its home port

proudly bedecked with trophies

from your ship and others

for the adoring crowd

two years after this triumph

this raider lay rusting

at the bottom of the Atlantic

all hands lost

the new cemeteries

of the new warfare

among the resting places

of older sunken worlds

the sea keeps you afloat

the seas swallows you

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.

(Psalm 107, verses 23 and 24)

Posted in: Poetry | 0 comments

Hugging The Shoreline

By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-10-11

A brother and sister

nine and five

a weekend or a holiday

it's their time

that time of their lives

they’re on a beach

he’s lanky

in trunks of nearly

no colour

she’s blonde

and more effervescent

they can’t swim

so they play in the certainty

of the shallows

laughing uncontrollably

at their repeated failure to retrieve

their inflatable ring

that the wind is blowing

towards the estuary

flip-flopping from their outstretched little hands

they’re focussed on that inexpensive circle

absorbed in their simple game

by being alive

and being allowed to be alive

in the outdoor world

their father appears suddenly


something of Sean Connery about him

but not thinking of entertainment

their mirth turning to foreboding and guilt

as they are told that they are

on the verge

of stepping into the drop

from the sea shore

into the deep swallowing mouth

of the river

the same waterway on whose banks

they were born

they watch the ring dance upstream

and out of their lives

as they begin to trudge behind the adult

to the safety

of the striped windbreak encampment

in the dunes

and the unshakeable embrace

of a family that mourns

each loss of possession

however paltry

however badly made

in their non-throwaway existence

the boy later hears tales of children

who had drowned near that spot

and that when the sea had finally

returned their defeated bodies

it was found that crabs had eaten away

their eyes

he grows taller and realises

how useful cunning is

however he does not learn to swim

and at times is ambivalent about

the possibility of submerging


during Happy Hour

he haunts the edges

of the bars of the swimming pools

of Mediterranean hotels

in the presence of the jelly bellies

tattooed backs

and canine voices

of those of his countrymen

who express a hatred

for everything

that lies beyond

their island

he still keeps a distance

maintaining a hard border

impervious to the ocean

that surrounds him

and that waits for him

patiently and timelessly

Posted in: Poetry | 0 comments

Home Entertainment

By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-09-22

He could almost hear his late father say “there’s nothing on the telly!”, mimicking some long gone radio presenter.  So right, whoever it had been.  D switched off the TV and threw the remote at the wall, missing the framed photograph of his disapproving parents peering down at him.  A snort of disgust blew through his untrimmed nostrils and the room plunged into a post-entertainment gloom.

He climbed the narrow stairs carefully, not letting the arthritis get the better of him. In bed, he tried to weigh up his options now that he had been out of work for a few months.  Despite having the word “communication” in his job title, he could not communicate, at least not in the way his employers wanted.  They had no quarrel with the technical excellence of his labour but the distance he seemed to put between himself and his colleagues, his managers and the customers meant that he was unlikely to survive an appraisal system that placed more importance on bland personalities and blind obedience to bizarre work targets than in actual performance.  

When they told him that he was surplus to requirements, he stole from the bank accounts of the board of directors.  This was a pragmatic move in his way of thinking.  Vengeance had been exacted against an employer that had never understood him, never tried to understand him.  Also, as the Welfare State had been dismantled a few years ago, he really did need the money.

He was bored of a life of emails, liking, sharing, live chats, help desks, activation codes, usernames and passwords. Spam mail was the highpoint of his day.  He had created an online fake identity and gently berated officialdom in this guise.  Thoughts of bitterness and rebellion churned his mind.  Listening through earphones to an early rock and roll album, Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories, he fell asleep.

He woke in the middle of the night with a start.  An idea had taken hold of him, a method of registering his contempt for a self-satisfied, self-congratulatory world and providing his own home entertainment. He chuckled, went into the garden, and, by torchlight, unlocked the many padlocks that secured the large metal, single storey structure that abutted the house next door.  This had originally been a storage container and the legend Findus Crispy Pancakes was still visible on its side though faded now and invaded by ivy.  He turned on the lights and surveyed his workshop.  All seemed in order and he swung carelessly on his chair, dreaming.

D spent several weeks perfecting his technique, making adjustments to computer programmes and hacking into the production departments of those broadcasting companies that interested him the most.   His equipment was linked to a 25 metre high antenna camouflaged among a group of plane trees that shielded the building from curious gazes.

One damp autumn Sunday early evening, he was ready in his lair, tuning in to his target, a particularly decadent antiques TV programme.  His software scanned the fawning over antiquities, and each time the word “worth” came up, it inserted the word “nothing” as a replacement to whatever immediately followed.  He giggled, happy that the slowed-down, anonymous voiceover had succeeded, at least in the local transmitting region.  It was pure comedy, observing so-called experts smugly pronouncing on the various items that members of the public had brought hopefully to the location and the delighted response by them to the revelation that their treasures were in fact worthless.  The show was taken off air when the remix was noticed and D shut down his apparatus to minimise the chance of being detected.  He allowed himself a little dance of celebration, then sat down, embarrassed by his unusual display of emotion.

The following day he bumped into his neighbour whilst retrieving his wheelie bins.  Ilyich was upset as the police had called that morning and had searched his house on some unspecified security matter.  He ran a small business from his home, dealing with communication solutions.  D was even more convinced that the authorities were clueless.  An apology was issued by the producers of the show, explaining the incident away as a technical hitch and there were numerous complaints from outraged viewers. In a news report, the head of the Security Service described the “nothing incident” as a cyber attack, an assault on the right of the ordinary citizen to enjoy without interruption a “national treasure lovingly crafted by the greatest television industry in the world”. The game was on.

D laid low for a few weeks, studying, mixing audio tapes and boosting his mast.  He decided that he would next activate his “studio” for a late night screening of the vintage movie First Blood on the lesser known Testosterone network.  He managed to replace the vocal of the character Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) by overdubbing it with excerpts from the opera songs O Sole Mio and Lolita, Serenata Spagnola in the scene in which he enters the command tent set up in the search for his former soldier, the fugitive John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone).  The dialogue of the sadistic Sheriff Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) in this exchange was altered to a touching admission, in a shrill voice, of his undying romantic love for his quarry though the face and body language spoke of revenge, hunting dogs and hatred of outsiders .  This was a more ambitious act of civil disobedience and usurpation and D felt that he had actually improved one of his favourite films with his slick, competent and imaginative editing.  There was little feedback to this intervention due to the lateness of the hour and the irrelevance of the film.  However, some enthusiasts had noticed and an online cult emerged, seeking to unearth similar occurrences by trawling back through thousands of hours of films, good and bad.

Over the coming months he paid close attention to the domestic political scene, especially the vocal styles of the Cabinet members.  When the tragic story broke of fourteen slaves dying in a fire at their accommodation, he sensed his chance.  He would expect from the Home Affairs Minister, Ms Serena Todd, a suitably solemn, studied response to include a rejection of the growing practice of slavery, a commitment from the Government to stamp it out again.  But when her statement was repeated in a later bulletin, he had inserted the sentence “of course, we don’t care about the lower orders..I would love to have slaves working on my estate..”  The broadcast was cut almost as soon as it began but it was too late.  Even though it was apparent that she had little control over the hijacking of her interview, she had been made to look silly and, in some people’s view, honest. Todd resigned that night.  Riots had broken out in six major cities, many districts were ablaze and a mob had cornered the family thought to be the owners of the dead slaves in a secluded part of the Eastern sector, lynching them from their own apple trees.

D sat back, wide-eyed at what he had unleashed, taking in the breaking news bulletins on a bank of monitors.  He opened a bottle of champagne and raised his glass to the assembled TVs which at that moment switched to a Security Service spokeswoman announcing that they were close to making an arrest on charges of terrorism, inciting insurrection and theft of intellectual property.  D froze, spilling his drink when there was a loud banging at the door and Tech Police forced their battering ram into his shed, his world.  As the handcuffs shut, he went into a kind of fit, curling into a tight ball, speaking in tongues with guns pointing at him and the cameras rolling.


The Visitors

By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-09-11

It’s funny what you remember and what you forget.  Is it a choice or an accident? Or somewhere between the two?  I don’t know but I can’t forget that night and its aftermath though, if I’m honest, I would choose to.

It had been a fairly ordinary Friday in late April, a day of work and of fitting in those things that have to be fitted in around work.  In those days I earned a living of sorts in a seafood processing factory several miles away from my home.  The commute took me past flinty escarpments with their suggestion of standing stones and down a blackthorn valley with sparse, ancient cottages like the one I rented.  I parked my car on the grass behind a make-do building covered by corrugated iron sheets the colour of port in a former port town.  The equipment for processing the produce of cetaceans had been inserted into the vacuum left by the decline of traditional farming that was due to a series of bad harvests, a collapse in trade deals and the foot and mouth epidemic that had led to the mass cull of cattle and pigs.

In the stench of dead dolphins and over the searing buzz of the mechanised knives, a rumour arose, first debated in the morning ten minute break, developed during the twenty minute lunch and fully formed by the time the last mugs of tea of the shift were empty.  One of the migrant workers had asked if any of us had seen strange lights in the area over the last week. He claimed to have observed white, yellow and red lights both above and below the horizon, moving at enormous speed.  A couple of the smokers nodded but then they always did when they were smoking.  One colleague said that she thought she had seen something not quite right in the sky while driving recently but it had happened so quickly and whatever it was had gone by the time she’d stopped.  Cigarette smoke spiralled upwards to a cacophony of seagulls. I looked for these birds and wondered when they would be available on supermarket shelves.

I had nothing to contribute to the debate and kept to myself the conversations I’d had recently with some sheep farmer neighbours of mine. Several of their animals had been found dead on the moor which was not that unusual but these beasts had been marked with strange geometric shapes gouged into their corpses.  This had been kept out of the news as no one paid much attention to such small fry now that the new agriculture was dominated by massive conglomerations and horrors dressed up as opportunities.

The workplace emptied with a palpable feeling of relief and expectation and a haste that always impressed me.  I waited for the cars of the others to leave and I started on my way home.  My first call was to a market where I picked up some flowers, wine, and two packets of horse burgers.

I pulled in next at the care home, a former mansion, where we had installed my mother when she had become too much for us.  I entered the impressive but dismal hallway and signed my name in the visitors book. There weren’t many staff members around at this time of the day.  I found my mother on her own, tiny in a large chair, looking out over the gardens. I kissed her, introducing the flowers.  She was not interested in them so I left them on a nearby table. The conversation was a struggle but her eyes still shone. I was happy that she was well cared for but I couldn’t shake the thought that this was a pointless exercise.  I said goodbye and drove the last few miles home.

Mary was waiting for me at the cottage.  We caught up with the day’s news and thoughtlessly switched on the TV. We fried the burgers and sat down to eat as the sun was sinking from view. I had the wine to myself as she had just started maternity leave.  We didn’t say much as we were tired and we had already said most of what we wanted to say.  We both lifted our heads, however, to follow a news item concerning an incident in which a car had crashed off a road in our locality the night before, its driver apparently dazzled by a light approaching from the sky.  The motorist was uninjured but spooked, barely able to look the reporter in the eye.

We collapsed onto the sofa, exhausted, me a little tipsy.  We must have fallen asleep soon after, leaning into each other.  I awoke briefly a couple of times and half-noted on these occasions that the light was switched off and that I couldn’t see the TV standby light. I was too sleepy to realise that we had not caused this.

Mary woke up, murmuring that she wanted to go to the toilet.  She was about to get up when I pulled her back by her arm.  The room was bathed in a light coming from outside the window.  I knew that there was no moon that night and that vehicles could not access the building from that side.  I very carefully peeped over the top of the sofa and gasped when I saw a tall figure dressed in some kind of illuminated space suit standing completely motionless at the window. I saw no identifying marks on the clothing and could not see the face through the helmet.  I quickly ducked back down and whispered to Mary what I had seen, exhorting her to stay quiet and not move.

Our hearts beating almost audibly, we clutched each other and remained tensely still, holding sweaty hands.  I  prayed that no harm would come to us or the baby and tried to summon up the courage to confront the intruder.  However, the motive for the watcher’s visit was not clear and as time passed it became more and more possible, and hopeful, that our presence had not been detected.

A little before dawn, the night visitor at last moved away from its position and the room was immersed in the kind of darkness that occurs for a short time after a bright light is extinguished. As the day was about to begin to break, I regained my confidence and rose cautiously, keeping an eye on the window and taking my shotgun from out of its cabinet.  I nervously crossed the threshold to patrol the exterior, gun at the ready. I poked the barrel into bushes, around the car and aimed it futilely down the rough track that led to that place.  Nothing greeted me save the barking of the awakening dogs of the nearby farms and the chill of the morning of the night before.

I got back inside and tried the lights.  They worked. I gave Mary the biggest hug my dwindling energy reserves could muster.  She put the kettle on and we drank a cup of tea in silence and relief, me with the weapon across my knees as the world stirred around us, a world that had appeared to have changed forever.

Later that morning, we packed a bag or two and left for the in-laws in the town. She would stay with them while we tried to work out what to do for the best.  I left them and walked the short distance to the police station to file my report. To my amazement, I was not met with incredulity as it had been a busy night for unexplained sightings.

On the following Monday, two officials who claimed to be from a Government Department I had never heard of, The Ministry of Mystery, called on me at work. The manager allowed us a cramped storeroom and they interrogated me about what had happened. Both had the same unidentifiable accent and were polite enough, asking the type of questions I would have expected.  There was something awkward about the whole exchange, however. Maybe it was me, maybe it was them.  When they had finished, they shook my hand and left.

They would return a number of times over the following weeks to ask the same questions at my home, also interviewing Mary at her parents.  I had the impression that they would have liked me to retract my statement.  I told them that I knew what I thought I had seen and very definitely felt, at which they just smiled.  I noticed on at least two of these occasions that they had to make their excuses fairly early in the meeting as they both appeared to be either fatigued or ill.  After a while, I became suspicious of these unnamed and enigmatic bureaucrats. When a couple of phone calls revealed no record of such an organisation, the visits suddenly stopped.

Mary was worn out by the whole thing and lost the baby. She blamed me and we grew apart. I stayed on at the cottage and remained at the factory until I could no longer stand the smell, the people, the place, the memories.  I left the area and took a job on a ship in the resurgent whaling industry, making good money working out my disappointment and rage in the slaughter of huge animals, and keeping away from UFOs and their occupants.


Posted in: about | 0 comments

Saturday Night Special

By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-09-02

Jimmy Jangles prepared as he always did one late Saturday night to watch his favourite TV sport programme, Melee of The Day. He seemed to have watched this every week of his life as far as he could remember. His father had also been a fan though the format had apparently been somewhat different in those days. The broadcast was preceded by a news bulletin which ended with the advice that those not wishing to know the results of MOTD should leave the room. He duly acquiesced to this tiny bit of theatre and stood at the open kitchen window, feeling the slight breeze on his face and listening to cats wailing. There was no one in the street as many people were doing exactly the same as him.

He was summoned to his viewing chair by the cheerful, bouncy, electronic theme near-tune and sat down with one hand gently caressing the remote, the other gripping a glass of gin and tonic. A grab bag of caviar flavour crisps lay on the low table between him and the 110 inch TV that provided the only illumination in that room and that was in essence the room.

The presenter, Johnny Bland, beamed his smile, introduced the two pundits, Oliver Overbite and Alan Contemptible, and commented briefly on the events to be shown, claiming, with the right amount of gravitas in danger of being ruined by mirth, that it had been a very busy Saturday with some memorable action and debatable points.

They began as usual with the most spectacular event. Highlights were shown of a bomb attack on a northern discount shopping centre that had left 63 people dead and over 150 injured. The huge array of CCTV cameras available and the inclusion of smart phone and dash and helmet cam filming meant that most of the hostility was available to be viewed by paying customers. Contemptible was very impressed that the bombers had planted a second device in the narrow road that led to the shops, timed to go off as the first injured were being helped onto a convoy of ambulances. Vivid depiction of bodies being extricated from burning vehicles was repeated for purposes of analysis, being frozen when certain points were felt necessary to make. Jimmy was treated to the awful spectacle of distraught paramedics treating their colleagues and the long line of blazing, blooded ambulances framed in a sepulchral drizzle. Overbite felt that the follow up detonation was “unsportsmanlike”and fell foul of the much misunderstood offside rule, predicting that these terrorists would endure a wretched season as a result of the type of tactics employed in this cunning ambush. Contemptible disagreed, saying that attackers should always given the benefit of the doubt in such cases and a heated argument followed that ended when Bland, a slightly faded national hero, acted as referee, the screen filled by his face as he moved ironically but seamlessly on to the next encounter.

This turned out to be an entirely different kind of beast. This time Jimmy watched a distressed man dressed in an all purple outfit run amok in a bookies with a bread knife and a deodorant aerosol can. This was especially visceral entertainment replayed in grainy images of disembowelment and blinding with a background of banks of TV sets relaying live pictures of the new horse racing, a cross between the Grand National, the Charge of The Light Brigade and medieval jousting. The assailant was overcome by the surviving gamblers and passers by and was lifeless by the time the police armoured personnel carriers and the helicorpsecopters arrived. A small crowd had gathered across the road to watch, careful not to stand too close to one another in case of further danger.

Jimmy at one point thought that he recognised one of the victims as his cousin Eric who had recently moved to the midlands to find work as a forklift driver at a body armour warehouse. If he remembered, he would try to ring his aunt the following day or, failing that, replay that part of the show and zoom in for identification purposes.

There was a rather muted discussion of this crime in the studio, partly because of the personal nature of the offence, partly because the transgressor’s face was visible and therefore known to some extent. The three experienced former sportsmen were visibly uncomfortable. The terms and conditions of their healthy contracts prevented them from reminiscing on how things had been in the time of football before escalating aggression, both on and off the pitch, and the increasing susceptibility of large crowds to terrible devastation had led to the abandonment of conventional sporting events and venues.

No one was really sure how the civil war had started or even who was involved. Jimmy seemed to recall some social media spat getting out of hand and then people coming out from behind their computers when the country was broken up into different parts. But he thought that he could have been wrong especially as the combination of painkillers and alcohol was now making him confuse erotic with erratic and love with loathe. He had been this way since he had lost his job in a photographic equipment factory when it had gone onto short time working due to the necessity to observe two minutes silence in remembrance of the latest deaths for much of the working day.

The last featured atrocity was an assault on shoppers at a vast second hand car sales centre by a man driving a white van. He drove at speed along the lanes between the rows of cars and began to hunt other motorists, ploughing into them, throwing many into the air. He finally drove out wildly onto the nearby motorway where both he and his vehicle were obliterated by a cement lorry that he’d failed to see in his wing mirror.

Contemptible stood up and tried to analyse this event by rather hamfistedly operating an interactive screen to illustrate this latest act of terror. He allowed himself a whistle of admiration when he played back the scene that showed this particular murderer actually buying the van at the site of the carnage immediately before unleashing his killing spree. On the other hand, he felt that the reversing of the van over a number of prone victims was, well, contemptible. Much of the footage of this massacre came from the belt buckle cams of those present including the casualties and, equally harrowing, the dash and rear cams of the van.

The Bomb of The Month competition was mentioned and the merits of the ten entries considered. Jimmy thought that No.7, the petrol bombing of a petrol station that was about to close down on a forsaken part of the east coast, won his vote. He was at heart an old romantic and art lover who appreciated the bold colours of towering flames against a black sea sky and the fact that, in his view, these were activists protesting against the end of their community. He was especially drawn to the compelling, high camera views of the mob carrying their Molotov cocktails, advancing wordlessly across the forecourt towards the kiosk like something out of the Peasants’ Revolt or Children of The Damned.

Bland ended the transmission on an upbeat note, thanking his co-presenters and all those people who had allowed permission for the show’s producers, the New Blood Sport Broadcasting Corporation, to use their films of the violence. With a wink, he let the audience know of a new companion for MOTD that would be aired in mid week, Celebrity Melee of The Day and, as ever, he repeated the lie that what he had just presented to the nation were merely isolated incidents.

Jimmy muted the set and gulped down another G and T, washing down sleeping pills that he knew would not do the job tonight.


Straight Out of Nowhere and Back Again

By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-07-19

September 1977. Elvis was dead and it was time to go back to school. I had done well in my “O” levels but I was in the grip of the music and attitude of punk rock and the possibility of not conforming to the expectations of the authority figures that seemed to increasingly surround me.

I lived in the village of Llechryd, on the banks of the Teifi River in West Wales, a collection of two chapels, a church, a public house, a hotel, a post office, a primary school, a shop, and expanding local authority housing where my family home was located. I spent much of my teenage years in the company of my near neighbour and best friend, Geraint Evans-Williams. He was a year younger than me, the son of a minister of religion from North Wales. Rugby, fishing, weekend discos in former mansions, the radio and limited television were the only distractions on offer now that we had rejected God.

From his bedroom, we plotted our own counter-culture. We formed a casual musical unit, Edward H. Böring, the umlaut chosen for effect, the name chosen as a satire on the pop group Edward H. Dafis who represented the straitjacketed and utterly tedious modern Welsh entertainment. Geraint’s musical hero was Elvis Presley especially his early work while I was fan of The Adverts, The Jam and The Stranglers. We wrote hundreds of short, pithy and irreverent songs, powered by acoustic guitars and twigs being struck against used Fairy Liquid bottles. As we were bilingual, we wrote in both languages, and like many young people in that situation, experienced a kind of dual identity. Our longest track, and the easiest to compose, was the psychobilly Gregorian chant Aberfan, an endless, lugubrious intoning of those three syllables, in essence an almost non-lingual sonic elegy to fallen children.

Though nearly all of what we crafted was a private, childish self-indulgence, we did have a moment or two of ambition and self awareness, a guess that our raw anti-music, our anti-talent, could be exposed to an audience. We filled a C90 cassette with our efforts and sent it to Huw Eurig, a member of the then popular group Y Trwynau Coch ( The Red Noses). We didn’t give our real names-Geraint became Dai Marw ( Dave Dead) and I became Capten Duw (Captain God or God’s Captain) and it is possible that we did not even include our address. To support this submission, we pretended that we were a five member group by using two cassette players to make it sound like that number of bad musicians, embracing the do it yourself ethos of the punk movement. I can remember only one pseudonym of the other three imaginary fellow travellers-Cleif Cleifion (Clive Patients).

We discovered in the Welsh language newspaper Y Cymro that our low tech and anonymous effort had caused some interest in the conventional world of our country’s emerging popular music. As a result, we came out of the shadows for a short time to make our only contribution to this particular genre.

We were amazed to be invited to record a session for the BBC Radio Cymru show Sosban and were summoned to the Llandaff studio in Cardiff. Geraint’s father Arthur drove us on a grey February late morning in 1980 the twenty seven miles to the nearest railway station in Carmarthen.

Eurof Williams, the radio producer, was bemused and fairly patient in the 60 minutes or so allocated to us. As soon as he heard us, he barred Geraint’s guitar as he felt its steel strings produced too strident a sound. Luckily, my Spanish guitar was acceptable to him though I couldn’t play it. We managed to record two tunes but Eurof thought that one of them was unsuitable for BBC listeners. This was “Mistar Urdd” which was an attack on the mascot of the Welsh League of Youth or Urdd Gobaith Cymru, and the idea of marshalling young people in general. The chorus of this reviled, nihilistic, latter day nursery rhyme was simple and direct-”Cachgi Mistar Urdd”. Cachgi means “coward”. Unforgettable but that’s all I can recall at this distance.

The one surviving track, Hen Wlad Fy Datcu (Land of My Grandfather), was an assassination of both the national anthem and the rules of mutation. The premise of the lyric was that, never mind our fathers, our country and its culture were still mired in the age of our grandfathers. A rambling interview accompanied our cacophony.

Despite the censorship, the truncated session was actually broadcast the following Saturday morning. Richard Rees, the presenter, was a good sport, describing us as the “chwyldroadol” (revolutionary) Edward H. Böring! I cringed as I listened, both glad and mad that no one in my home was listening with me.

We did not capitalise on our small success. My great friend and former fellow pupil David Edwards of the truly pioneering Cardigan rock group, Datblygu, once told me that he had been inspired to start his music career by our example. Geraint and I went our separate ways, he to Charleville-Mézières in France in the footsteps of another of his heroes, Arthur Rimbaud, me to a Youth Opportunities Programme scheme at the local library. I consider my collaboration with him as a kind of apprenticeship, the beginnings of a need to conjure up some kind of literature, of not allowing the weight of having to earn a living erase all creative thoughts from my mind.


Posted in: Music | 5 comments

The Little Red Riding Hood Murder

By Paul Steffan Jones AKA, 2017-07-05

The summer of 1946, the first since the end of World War Two, was a chance to appreciate the benefits of peace alongside the work of rebuilding the battered nation. Swansea had suffered catastrophically at the hands of the Luftwaffe, especially in a three night blitz in February 1942 in which over half of its town centre was destroyed . It was a time to at last look forward to the future. However, the tranquility of the nearby village of Penllergaer was disturbed in that hopeful June by a sadistic crime that remains unsolved and remembered to this day.

On the cold and rainy 27th afternoon of that month, 12 year old Muriel Drinkwater began to walk the last mile of her journey home from where the school bus had left her off, singing as she went. At the railway bridge, she met 13 year old Hubert Hoyles who was going in the opposite direction as he had visited her parents’ remote farm, Tyle Du, to buy black market eggs and butter. It was a rough path that meandered in and out of woodland and her mother caught a glimpse of her as she emerged onto a lane about 400 yards away only to disappear into the trees. She put the kettle on but would never see her again. When her daughter did not return home, she and her husband went to the village to search for her, assisted by a policeman and a dozen men as glowworms sparkled in the gathering gloom and mounting panic of the twilight forest.

The next morning, PC David Lloyd George found the red glove in the undergrowth that led him to Muriel’s body, her eyes open and one hand raised in a final, pleading and defensive action. She had beaten about her head, raped, and shot twice in her chest. Two days later, the police discovered the murder weapon close to where it had been used, a 1911 Colt .45 pistol that was found to have been manufactured in 1942 and issued to US forces in Europe. It was distinctive in that it had modified perspex grips. American troops had been billeted in a local mansion during the war and the police theorised that one of them may have been the source of the firearm. Food remains in the vicinity of the gun were evidence that the killer had lain in wait for his victim.

Scotland Yard detectives were brought in to support the investigation which was not uncommon in those days. Hubert Hoyles recounted seeing someone in the woods the week before the attack who was:- "30 years of age. Thick fluffy hair, stern looking and appeared agitated, had a menace about him...a wickedness. He was smart looking, wearing a brown corduroy trousers and a light brown sports jacket". The police visited every house in a 150 square mile area and interviewed 20,000 men. More than 3,000 mourners attended the schoolgirl’s funeral. The numbers are large but so far have added up to nothing as far as identifying the killer is concerned.

Strategic bombing had created an air of fatalism and a relaxation of inhibitions among some who existed in targeted, rearranged cities. There was a glut of guns available to those who wanted to further their criminal careers, whatever their objectives, whatever their needs. In February, George Orwell’s essay “Decline of The English Murder” had appeared in which he bemoaned the scarcity of the “perfect murder” to read about in one’s News of The World i.e. one committed by a solicitor or dentist whose outward respectability masked his decision to enlist poison to conceal his adultery and illicit financial affairs. Homicide was changing.

The author Neil Milkins suggests that the murderer could have been Harold Jones who killed two young girls in sexually motivated acts in Abertillery in 1921. He had been found not guilty of the murder of Freda Burnell, aged 8, and had been given a hero’s welcome on his return from his acquittal. Fifteen days later, he murdered Florence Little, aged 11. He pleaded guilty to both murders, most probably to save his neck as his 16th birthday and the gallows were fast approaching. He was released from Wandsworth Prison in 1941.

A team of retired detectives led by Paul Bethell, a former Detective Chief Inspector with South Wales Police, was set up to re-examine unsolved murders and decided to consider this case despite it being well outside its period of interest. As a result, a DNA profile was obtained from semen on the victim’s mackintosh in 2008 and it is believed that this is the oldest case in the world in which such a profile has been secured. To date, there has been no match in the UK National DNA Database, or to members of the murderer’s family in that database, but a link was established to the killing of 11 year old Sheila Martin who was raped and strangled with her own hair ribbon in woodland near the Brands Hatch Motor Racing Circuit in Kent on 7 July 1946, less than a fortnight after the death at Penllergaer.

In 2010, a decision was made by the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on National Records and Archives to remove the Muriel Drinkwater files from public view until 2032, to prevent the murderer, if still alive, finding out what the police knew 64 years after his crimes had been committed.

The point blank execution of a girl by an unknown assassin with a powerful handgun in a secluded place long ago was an act of brutal excess that still resonates in our own age of murder, regrettably accustomed as we have become to regular news of predation on children.

Muriel’s family left the area and their isolated smallholding has become subsumed by a modern housing development. This coldest of cold cases maintains a troubled presence in the minds of the elder inhabitants of the village while the mute witness of Penllergaer Forest continues to keep its secrets.


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Like many men, I have always been fascinated by tales of courage especially in the theatre of war. I was thrilled when, at an early age, my father gave me the barest bones of a story concerning a member of his Treherbert family who was apparently executed in the Spanish Civil War. My father didn’t know how this man had been related to us, didn’t even know his name, and believed this unlucky ancestor to have been a journalist. When I began to become interested in my family history, my research, in the main, was to corroborate this tale but was to uncover a much more intriguing account.

Thomas Isaac Picton was born in Treherbert in 1896 and came from a family of Pembrokeshire miners. His father, also called Thomas, shows up, aged 18, in the 1881 census living at 8 Tynewydd Huts in the Rhondda Valley, with his uncle John Coles who had been born in Landshipping, Pembrokeshire. Landshipping was a heart-breaking landmark in the journey of the Picton family for on Valentine’s Day 1844, forty miners including women and boys died there in the Garden Pit Colliery when the eastern Cleddau river (Cleddau Ddu or Black Cleddau) burst into the shaft 67 yards below. Included on the monument to the dead erected by local people are the names of six Pictons and five Coles. Four of the Picton dead were a father and his three sons. Such bad luck doesn’t always encourage you to stick around.

Thomas Isaac Picton was also a miner. When The Great War broke out, he enlisted and stayed working with coal, becoming a stoker on the mighty battleships. He was twice decorated for his bravery including during the Battle of Jutland where he spent some time in the water. His Royal Navy service record measured him at 5 feet 4 and a half inches with blue eyes and dark brown hair and swarthy complexion. It noted that he had a tattoo commemorating his mother in a cross on his right arm. He was discharged with “defective teeth” and had spent 24 days in cells during his war years and 14 days in detention. The crammed calligraphy of a busy war observes in brackets that he “broke out” of the latter.

He was an avid boxer who was Wales amateur middleweight champion and he had also been the Navy light heavyweight champion. He managed to get a small number of professional bouts but was primarily a bare knuckle mountain fighter. At least one of his confrontations led him to prison. On one occasion, he left Cardiff jail after serving a short sentence for assaulting a police officer, wearing the boots of a prisoner who had recently been hanged.

As was the case with large numbers of working class people of the inter war years, he became radicalised and was a close friend of Communist Councillor George Thomas of Treherbert. In his early forties, Tom joined the International Brigade, older than the typical volunteers, most of whom were also swapping the uncertainty of their blighted industrial zones for the uncertainty of the Spanish Civil War. In common with hundreds of his fellow miners of the South Wales coalfield, he made the choice to illegally leave his country to fight the rising tide of Fascism in a country he had never previously visited. For entertainment on the journey through France, he was put into a ring to wrestle a bear. This seems an almost cartoon-like scene to the modern mind, a form of larger-than-life existence we have almost forgotten.

On their arrival at the barracks of the International Brigade, they were issued with ill-fitting uniforms and ancient firearms with ill-fitting ammunition. Some would go on to fight Fascists in another war, facing opponents who had honed their skills in killing machines above Guernica and other memorable places. Tom, due to his First World War experiences and his prowess as a boxer, may have been better equipped for the fight than many of his comrades.

He fought in the Battle of Teruel and was captured soon after and imprisoned in Bilbao. He was murdered by his jailers in April 1938 after he had punched to the floor a guard who was beating a fellow prisoner with his rifle butt. The Rhondda Leader newspaper of 29 October 1938 reported that he had been “put up against a wall and shot”. His body was never found.

These warriors are still remembered, still commemorated. Their sacrifice and their willingness to enrol in “the march of History” are still revered by those on the Left and their selflessness continues to haunt our unconfident, cynical age. I am proud that a member of my family was among them. Before I fully knew Tom’s story, I wrote a short poem, “Icons”, whose third line seemed to aptly describe his stance :

Not game footage

but I’ve outlived Stanley Baker

as non-pacifist fist anti-fascist

in humidity following Biblical rainfall

we all rust


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