Journeying to Wales on a train with amusing guards and singing ticket collectors.





I love going back to Wales, no matter how I get there. I may have lived elsewhere for many more years than I ever did in Wales, but that seems irrelevant. If I drive, I still get thrilled when we pass the ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign on the Ross Spur and turn on the radio to BBC Wales, even though I cannot understand a word. My voice flexes and limbers up to become like the valleys and mountains of my home town- soaring and dipping, wild and green, deep and dark. Within minutes of speaking to anyone, all traces of the North has disappeared and I am back with the clan. On the train, I listen for the first Welsh voices and tune in to the patterns and music.

Nevertheless, I cannot say that I relish the journey by train. Sadly, the line  wearies its way to Cardiff, stopping at every minor halt along the way , and usually I strap on the headphones , and resign myself to three hours of cramped chugging along. This time, however, the experience was very different, entirely due to the humour of the guards and ticket collector. On the way down , the guard began by announcing ‘Hi everyone! I’ve got some good news for you happy travellers. The driver has found Derby station.’ In Birmingham he reminded passengers to take all their belongings with them, especially children, as , due to cut-backs, the company would no longer feed them if left behind. He followed up by congratulating the driver on making up lost time but felt it was due in no small part to him being ‘starved and longing for his dinner’.

I assumed this was a one off, but on the way back today, I was serenaded by one ticket collector with ‘It’s a Lovely Day Today’, and on the final leg, the next collector rapped spontaneously from the text of the ticket, in rhyming couplets! ‘ Your ticket is a single, It makes my heart leap and tingle’ . Please, Cross Country trains, reward your wonderful people. Your velour seats may be hard and shabby, but the conductor made me feel a lot less crabby. ( Sorry- I’m very, very tired…)



In Celebration of Dylan Thomas – with thanks to Ian McMillan

Today is Dylan Thomas Day on Radio Three with the sublime Ian McMillan hosting. It was such a joy to wake up to hear Richard Burton’s reading the opening of ‘Under Milk Wood’ . I felt as if I had woken up in the valleys again, not in the Nottingham suburbs of reality. Through the joys of cable, I will be watching ‘Under Milk Wood’ tonight because  a new version starring Michael Sheen and Sir Tom Jones among a stellar cast is being broadcast on BBC 1 Wales and will be on iplayer.

Surrounded by metaphor at the start of the day- what could be more inspiring than Thomas? One of my favourite quotes from Thomas on poetry:

“You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick… You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps… so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.”

I remember reading Under Milk Wood for the first time in my first year at Ebbw Vale Grammar School; of course, I could not truly understand it, but its cadences and musicality, the reality of its Welshness made me shiver with joy. i still get goosebumps when I read Thomas , or any good poem, come to that. Poetry for me is visceral, as well as intellectual, and I have come to love above all this poem- In My Craft or Sullen Art  , which you can find here :  ‘ He says that he writes

‘for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.’
I should have no excuse then, not to go and write- perhaps sitting in a pub with a beer and a pen , in good company. Seems appropriate.



Write a little everyday.

This advice has been given to me so frequently recently, that I am beginning to think there might be something in it… As a time-served procrastinator, I need some push to actually sit down and get that poem drafted, or finally finish the story I’ve been messing about with for weeks. A recent week at Moniack Mhor with Arvon convinced me that only devoting a time every day will result in my writing ever improving.

So today I have washed a set of clothes and dried them, helped a friend for six hours with her marking, eaten three meals, watched a programme on strange animals, sent three texts, consulted Facebook on five occasions, and Twitter even more, played Scrabble against myself, thought about having a little nap, had a little nap and wrote down the title for a poem I am thinking about. Going well, then.

In the meantime, here’s something I made earlier :



your thin-lipped smile

                                      his unlocked mouth

your barren heart

                                     his fertile heat

your winter hands

                                     his greedy arms

your reek of distance

                                     his musky skin

your sour fast

                                     his luscious feast

your fading echo

                                       his voice,

his lips,

his tongue.


Copyright Jan Norton 2014