Last week I took a break from looking after Mum. Her new carer is working out really well: she comes in the early evening for a couple of hours, from Tuesday to Friday, and did last weekend for me too. Two of my cousins and one of my sons mucked in and I felt comfortable enough to go away. I had long wanted to do a Dylan Thomas based visit to South Wales. I have an aunt there; she lost her husband a year ago on the 14th November, so it seemed a good thing to visit her and indulge myself at the same time. Then another aunt and uncle wanted to get away too, so we rented a cottage in The Mumbles together, five minutes from Swansea, and an hour away from Laugharne.
I was lucky enough in my early teenage years to attend a youth drama club in my home town. This was in the early seventies, and sizeable pieces of concrete slabs were put together to create a very functional cubic space for a couple of studios, and it was well equipped with lighting, and sound equipment. It had a good sized cafe and kitchen and office space. I attended Brycbox from my thirteenth to sixteenth year, and was involved in a couple of productions, The Crucible, and Under Milk Wood. I wrote this piece originally for the Brycbox Facebook Page.
I ended up in Laugharne on a day that was to an apocalyptic one for Paris, where I might as well have been for a few days away. But I tipped up here with my Uncle and two Aunts.
We were in a place I didn’t know how to pronounce, (it’s ‘Larne’), until the Satnav informed me, because of Bycbox. I was Lily Smalls in Marion Spacey’s Under Milk Wood in 1975. Llaregub’s ‘sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea’, (intoned by Graham Pollard as Captain Cat) is Laugharne, where DT holidayed and lived and wrote and drank.
I loved Under Milk Wood at 15: phrases, “you can hear the dew falling”, ‘tidy wives’, ‘ mind the sun wipes its feet”, ” nothing grows in Polly Garter’s garden but washing and babies”, “no good boyo”, “Organ Morgan, it’s organ, organ, all the time with him”, and the delicious, “call me Dolores, like they do in the stories”, were often in my head, as non-sequiturs to random events in my life. I had never heard of Dylan Thomas before Brycbox, and it would be a while before I read his poetry. But, when I did, it was alchemical in its effect on my heart and stomach. I was transfixed. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the night…..’, and ‘Fern Hill’, and ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’, ‘And Death Shall have no Dominion’………they beat and chime and resonate with me still.
My uncle and I walked up past the tiny little garage where DT used to painfully craft his lines, to his and Caitlin’s boat house on stilts. We appreciated our luck, in a terribly wet weekend, of having the advantage of being able to see the most marvellous view of the wide estuary, of the fishing boat bobbing sea, of Milk Wood itself. It’s simply a very, very big, very beautiful vista. If you ever get the chance, go see.
And I took my little paperback script, with my name and your names scribbled over, and showed the people who looked after the place, and they were actually interested, and admired the photo of Laugharne on the front and commented on the difference to today’s scene. The lady in charge of the cafe who served us coffee and her experimental cranberry and orange welsh cakes was a friend of the Thomas children and was in an original production of UMW in Laugharne itself. Absolute magic. As a pilgrimage it couldn’t have gone much better, except that we then went to Brown’s hotel, which has to be one of the best pubs ever. Big brown leather furniture, and a huge wood fire.
Brycbox……..Brycbox was a safe place to have all the hormonal surges of being 14/15, that awareness of sexuality but knowing it wasn’t quite for me yet…….that was Lily Smalls. I left the other to the Polly Garters and the Captain Cats, who were just older teenagers, of the Brycbox world, to the closed doors at parties, dope fumes furling through keyholes.
Do you remember the UMW production? The stage set was very ‘modern’ with scaffolding, and precarious raised platform stages. Butcher Beynon’s set, where I did my piece, was raised high, and accessed by ladders. I loved doing my Welsh accented “Oh there’s a face! Where you get that hair from, Lily?”. I was good at accents, not much good at acting. I was encouraged by our wonderful director Marion Spacey, native of Merthyr Tydfil, who brought along to see our production the actual daughter of DT, Aeronwy, who bizarrely lived in the borough. I owe a hell of a lot to Marion.
I wasn’t long at Brycbox, just a couple of years, but they added magic to my life.