‘Come up with a solution, any solution, and I’m gonna agree with ya’
– two Jamaican men in an Easton street, Bristol.
It’s my last morning in Wales. The sky hangs heavy over this steely, stunted, security-shocked city. A few more clouds and military helicopters and the whole cumulus’ll come crashing down under the great burden of its own greys.
‘And other spirits there are standing apart
Upon the forehead of the age to come;
These, these will give the world another heart,
And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum’…
‘We can’t just say it’s all bad man, we have to think about what could happen.’
– Jimmy, Cardiff.
I awake in the northern suburb of Roath Park, Cardiff. I’ve set an alarm, but what has me up and out of bed are the affections of a dog, Ropo, who runs into the room and licks my face and feet with his barbed and tickly tongue until I manage to shoo him away. I have tea and breakfast with Sebo, an accomplished photographer and, typically for that profession, overly perfectionistic and self-critical. Since the couple moved to Cardiff from Finland after Hanni got a PhD scholarship nine months ago, Sebo’s been volunteering at local galleries and organising small workshops, as well as occasional bits of work here and there for the BBC.
He’s also made friends with the guys at Punk Bikes, a small cooperatively-run bike shop on the junction between Newport Road and City Road to the east of the centre. My back brake has started rubbing against the wheel and the spring seems to have gone awry, once again – this curse previously afflicted me across the Midlands and Nottingham – and I’m starting to despair. At my insistence we cycle at a slow pace so I can keep up (!), and we cycle past a collage of neon and ruins, cuisine houses that span the continent of Asia besides tatty phone shops, neglected Victorian townhouses turned into cheap bedsit lets and, a little behind the scenes, garagelands besides one-way streets cutting hither and thither on this quiet sunny morning. We follow one down til we reach a tight alleyway marked with stylised graffiti. Here’s Punk Bikes, and the service is friendly and off-the-cuff. I’m shown some of their bizarre home-made cycles, odd trikes and bikes which somehow succeed in travelling from A to B. The brake spring is adjusted though they’ve no brake pads suitable for my old-fashioned bike, so I’m pointed elsewhere and head out. The repair’s overpriced but the ethos is sound, though by the end of the day the spring will go again.
‘I’m worried, there’s a generation of young people, some around thirty, who have never had a job in their life. And what’ll happen when they get older, and these people retire then? There’ll be no-one to do the jobs, cos they won’t have the skills.’
– talk at the Miner’s Institute, Blackwood.
I wake up in Aberdare, a little tired after another late night writing and trying to catch up with emails. Sleep deprivation’s dragging over many days, and the recent journeys have pushed my abilities, covering the most miles and steep hills in recent days. Fatigue I can deal with, but the slow starts are hard. There’s not enough time in the day for all the things I am trying to do. It’s not simply writing what’s happened, but arranging the different places I’ll be staying over the coming weeks, as well as keeping up with the modern dance of emails and their replies. Cut away meetings and emails, and what would remain of the activities of the average workplace?