Where the Ely meets the Taff has always been indeterminate. River
mouths move as if they were speaking. Silt accumulates then shifts.
The rivers themselves meander. In Cardiff's heyday the Ely looped
here like a Hindu snake. Railtracks crossed the peninsula to the Victoria
Wharf coal-stays on the tidal harbour. Penarth Dock station watched
from the far side. Grime and sweat. The substance big cities are made
from. By the 1960s the industry had gone and the wooden wharfs had
begun to crumble. The Ely meanders were abandoned in 1971 and the
river diverted through a new straight channel cut along their western
edge. The river now ran parallel to the Cogan railway. Revealed hollows
were used as landfill. The ancient Penarth Moors became a dump for
city garbage. By the 1990s the hollows were full, capped with three-feet
of impervious clay and redeveloped as Grangemoor Parc with the Cardiff
Bay Retail Park alongside. South East lay the Ferry Road peninsula,
the Red House, the Cardiff Bay Yacht Club, and the site for the in-coming
Sports Village and attendant housing. To the south west, up Dunleavy
Drive, are Ely Fields. Ely Fields? Secret, gated Cardiff. A thirty-acre
triangle of land with the river front on its long side and the elevated
Grangetown Link and Cogan Spur roadways on the others. Peer into it
as you drive past, most you'll see are trees.
This is home to the exclusive Grangemoor Court waterfront apartments
(£160,000 plus for a one bedroomed flat at 2004 prices) and
Cardiff's much-vaunted Celtic Gateway Media Park. WDA, Rhodri, suits
and smiles. Who creates these names? No park, no gateway, and hardly
Celtic. Penarth mud, drained. But the media are here. NTL's bespoke
65,000 square foot call-centre with its glazed atria and softly curving
maritime roof gleams white on the green sward . Opposite is BT's prize
ninety-million-pound Internet Data Centre (IDC). Known as Elinia House,
the complex is run by BT Global Services. No sign anywhere of the
rolling silt mud that this place once was. South is water. Sky is
blue. In the sun it feels like the Mediterranean.
The glass front of the IDC is riddled with words. High over the revolving
entrance run a series of names: Peter Pan Tinkerbell Roger Ellis
Norman Schwenk D.Z. Phillips William Carlos Williams William ap Will
William Williams Jones Walcott St Paul ap Iestyn A.M. Allchin.
Norman, poet, hat wearer, and American denizen of the Cardiff literary
scene for at least forty years hasn't seen his name up here yet. Nether
has Roger Ellis, nor, come to that, has Peter Pan, William Carlos
Williams nor A M Allchin. These are all fragments of my long web poem
R S Thomas Information, never published in hard copy form but now
here, hard as you like and in copious quantity, all over BT's Bay
masterpiece. I've parked my car on the roadside under the Link Road
bridge. The official car parks are all chain fenced and motor barriered.
The service roads look vulnerable, park and someone will remove your
vehicle with a rocket launcher. Or tow it away for scrap. At the entrance
a uniformed guard tells me that I can't just turn up here, I need
an appointment. These buildings are not like offices. They are not
. Inside the lobby is all curves and glass and R S Thomas deconstructed.
Risk ripening rescued red random rubbing reborn R. rooting rnld
ring remote rain rain rooting roof reason remoter root removes roses
return rigid. Three hundred people a day will walk past it. fescue
fuddled females flame fire flies flying failed flowed from fields
foolish fields foolish This is data in action. You look at it.
You read it. You don't take it in.
Back in the early 80s when the best home computer in the world was
the BBC B with 32k memory, no printer and a cassette-tape A-drive
I wrote a program in Basic which would compose Anglo-Welsh poems for
me. I set up a number of word pools containing the sort of vocabulary
the Anglo-Welsh were famous for - sheep, stipple, cariad, hillside,
hiraeth, chapel, pit - and then a couple of rules for how these words
could be combined. Up it all came on screen.
slate fences on farmer's hillsides,
shrouded cockles and grass-polished deacons,
the nation majestically watered
This was great. Machines that could do your work for you. I copied
the poetry down.
R S Thomas, Wales' greatest poet, dour and dark, was clearly next.
He was a Cardiffian who had deserted the anglicised-city for the north.
He'd learned Welsh to perfection and adopted a hard, revolutionary
line on the culture. A man who certainly needed to be celebrated.
I chose the most contemporary of devices open to me. The net. Using
real and imagined sources I build up a hyperlinked database of the
poet's history, his friends and acquaintances, his fans, his influences,
his childhood, his favoured lexicon. We are all identifiable by the
extent of our vocabulary and the frequency of its use. What would
his look like? I found out. In his lifetime he was nominated for the
Nobel Prize. He didn't get it. I wrote the history up. Did he ever
listen to Mozart? Certainly. Dion and the Belmonts? Maybe not. He
was a famous birder but not of the reworked feather-bearers I included.
Greeebe Hebron Goshandy Goosehandy Gobbler Grey Dipper Kingklank
Goldeneye Grodfish Godeel Golders Green Grass Basher h'm.
The database - the poem - grew like topsy. I built in a bibliographic
resource showing his extant books and where to buy them. There was
a newspaper story somewhere about him looking happy. I inserted a
clickable link. I wrote an imaginary walk of his through fields of
mangles and an encounter with the poet Childe Roland.
Someone e-mailed me to say that R S had moved to Criccieth. I pasted
it in. The piece was structured alphabetically to give it a base.
I mixed genuine R S vocabulary with imagined resources and developed
a host of cross-cutting links. When you arrived at the site there
was no intention that you should read the data sequentially, A to
Z. Far from it. This was a simulacrum of the real world where data
was to be grazed and processed, batched and filed, cut and pasted,
spliced and dumped. Visitors took it as how life was. His son Gwydion
said the work was elliptical. R S himself would have been appalled.
Back out in the Bay the heat is burning the shirt into my back. Along
the edges of the undeveloped areas of the site ragwort, wild carrot
and yellow toadflax sprout. Inside the IDC data hovers. R S on the
windows, R S in the cable, R S on the central servers. Data developed
and deployed. R S of the new age. Wouldn't have been appreciated.
In his hand he clutches a copy of Peter Meuiller's Distaff and
the catalogue of book-bound objects showing at the European Centre
for Traditional and Regional Culture at Llangollen, Clwyd. Childe
Roland's paper book in a bottle, his bindings of torn paper, colours
overlaid and rolling like waves, treaties with subject but no content,
gestalt whiteness, French and welsh merging, fel melin, fel ymbarel,
fel eli, fel melfa, fel tawel, fel dychwel, What are your plans for
the future, my lord, Ham and Jam? There is light in these works; sometimes
nothing but. Where else in this northern fastness can you find the
word for light repeated so often that it glows. The friction of the
signifier, the concrete base of Meuiller's brightness makes sparks
in the Welsh air.
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