Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Of Wizards and Rebels, and the Frankly Unlikely

Carmarthen has an ancient and amazing culture and history. It's the alleged birthplace of Merlin for one thing, who is supposed to have made many predictions about the place, including that one day a bull would climb to the top of St Peter's church tower (this apparently did happen a hundred or so years ago when one escaped during the weekly livestock market). He also predicted that should the tree known as 'Merlin's Oak' be felled, Carmarthen would be swallowed by the sea. The local council has taken pains to avoid this eventuality, first patching up the ancient - and by now dead & decaying - oak with concrete and iron bands, and finally removing it to a place of safe keeping when it was threatened by a new roundabout.

Carmarthen was also as far west as the invading Romans got in their attempt to subdue the Celts. The oldest part of the town still retains the layout of the original Roman streets, and hidden away are the ruins of an amphitheatre, although little is made of it in terms of either cultural heritage or tourist attraction.

Later, less than two hundred years ago, the town was at the centre of the 'Rebecca Riots', during which farmers revolting against excessive road tolls dressed themselves as women (to avoid being recognised), and calling themselves 'Rebecca and her daughters' (a biblical reference) went on a tollhouse-burning rampage (something the owners of the overpriced Severn Crossing would do well to remember).

Another quirk of Carmarthen? A few remaining coracle fishermen still fish the river Towy from the riverbanks in town.

I could go on and on listing things that make Carmarthen unique. But one characteristic of the town seems to go quite unremarked by other observers. The fact is - Carmarthen has weird graffiti.

There's some, (though not too much) evidence of the usual 'tagging' in the town centre; but I've noticed some graffiti around the junction of Blue Street and Lammas Street where someone regularly scrawls the names of their favourite rock bands/artistes in chalk. What I find remarkable about this is that the bands listed are invariably those fashionable 20-30+ years ago: Rod Stewart, AC/DC, Depeche Mode, The Stranglers, Blue Oyster Cult, InXS, David Essex etc. The graffiti is regularly removed, presumably by business owners or the local council, but then reappears: neatly scrawled lists of slightly naff 'golden oldies' who are mostly unheard of by today's young trendies. Who is the mystery scrawler? Is it someone old enough to remember these bands the first time around and hence really old enough to know better? Or someone younger, trawling their parents' record collection for inspiration? And the neat lists look so polite and unrebellious. No in-your-face slogans, or even declarations that 'Phil Collins rocks!!!', just neat columns of has-been names (apologies to any die-hard fans of any of the above. But fact is, even for those of them still around, their heyday is over). Isn't graffiti supposed to have an element of subversion, a whiff of revolution?

My other favourite piece of graffiti was painted on a wall outside Marks & Spencer for several years. It was a poem, with the title 'For YOU', which invariably made me smile when I passed by. It read:
'You're as young and as old as the ocean,
You smile and skies unfold
Wind and heaven
Are still and solid
You have an unearthly GLOW...'

I always wondered if there was supposed to be more (doesn't it sound like there's supposed to be more?), but it was written in a very neat, unhurried hand, so I don't think the painter was interrupted at his task. And although it was there for a number of years, nothing further was ever added. It has recently been pasted over with home made 'pop-art' style posters - that area seems to be the wall of choice for the creative and artistic vandal-about-town.

They may not fit the usual stereotype of graffiti, but actually I think the examples above are subversive, rebellious, revolutionary - for the very fact that they don't fit the mould. They don't seem designed to shock, or claim territory or status, they're polite and even sweet. Think about it - how subversive is that? Perhaps they are actually the perfect graffiti for a town like Carmarthen: a town of wizards and rebels, a town of ancient heritage and the frankly unlikely.


deborah oak said...

Susan, I feel so grateful that I have visited Carmarthan and have experienced its quirkiness! Is Elvis still in the marketplace or has he traveled on? Hope the rain has stopped and you are basking in sunshine!

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd said...

There is in fact more to your "poem" -- it is the lyrics to a song called Halo by a band called New End Original. Isn't the internet a wonderful thing? :)

Moonroot said...

Oak, Elvis is still in the market, I saw him there thee other day and thought of you! And today the sun is actually shining - yay!
Jessica, thank you for the information about the mystery poem! I'll check out the links, thank you!

Leanne said...

I enjoyed reading your post about camarthen- I have a friend who lives in camartenshire, and I am going to post your blog address to her, I am sure she will enjoy reading it! The graffiti musings made me smile(yes I am old enough to remember those first time round too!)
Oh, and I didnt know Merlin was allegedly born in Camarthen, and me a 'fan' of his, and named my cat after him too!!


Mike Farley said...

I am sure that last time I was in Carmarthen with you I spied "Diddy" David Hamilton sneaking round a corner with a large packet of chalks. Definitely looked very dodgy...

Faerose said...

oh how funny - :D

Reya Mellicker said...

What a great post! I'm a big fan of public art, which is one of the many reasons I love blogging so much. I used to rent ad space in a weekly newspaper so i could exhibit whatever I wanted - drawings, messages and so forth. It was expensive but very satisfying.

Love the idea of the old band names written and rewritten on the walls. They are being immortalized over and over. How cool.

Tori said...

I really enjoyed this post.
I would love to visit your area someday.

Be well,

Tori said...

Hi Moonroot!

I tagged you for a meme- check out my blog!