July 12, 2019

There’re now pressures and dangers within the job that appear to be actively encouraging me to move beyond it in the next few years.

7.00 am: The taxi didn’t arrive. 7.08 am: Having waited as long as I’d dared, I hurtled through town, with my luggage trailing behind me, to the station, for the 7.30 am train. In my mind’s-eye there was an illustration from a childhood picture-book of a portly gentleman in a tweed suit and mustard waistcoat, with a suitcase in each hand and his fob-watch swinging, running in a sweat for all he was worth.

I was en route, first, to Newport, where I’d deposit my bags at the modestly-priced hotel, and, thereafter, to Abertillery (my childhood home-town) for the afternoon and evening. At the close of work yesterday, I reviewed, selectively, my dairies from 1983 and 1986, so as to prepare for the return, and remind myself how the town and I were back then. Our relationship was always ambivalent. However, my attention during this visit would be as much upon understanding the present and anticipating the future, as upon re-engaging the past.

8.00 am: Sun break:

9.40 am: The second leg: from Shrewsbury to Newport. On the train, a group of three men earnestly discussed a design problem that they were working on. Opposite me, a Muslim girl slept beneath her headscarf. The sunlight dappled the carriage interior, creating a strobe-like effect. The world passed by, cinematically:

I arrived on time, but managed to leave the station by the rear exit, rather than by the front entrance. When I got to the modestly-priced hotel, the reception desk was vacant, and remained so, in spite of hailing, for fifteen minutes. Things could only get better. I ate my first Gregg’s vegan sausage roll for lunch. It was almost convincing. Although the ‘meat’ looked uncooked. A delicacy best eaten with eyes shut, I suggest.

12.15 pm: Off to the bus station to catch the X15:

I took a bone-shaker of a vehicle to Abertillery. It’s a circuitous route that takes twenty minutes longer than in the days when there were no bypasses. So few travel that far by public transport these days.

Arrival. It’s less ‘home’ every time I return:

I went to Weatherspoon’s for some iced refreshment. An employee came up to my seat and asked: ‘Are you from headquarters?’ Perhaps, because I was the only person in the room with a button-up shirt, I looked official:

There’s a melancholy in returning. The place that I knew in my youth has changed considerably. Shops that once had sturdy family names above them now have silly titles like ‘Darth Vapor’ and ‘Deja Brew’. Buildings have been either demolished or else gutted and refurbished. There are so many shops and houses in a state of semi-renovation. They’ll remain like that for some time to come if the European Union cash-cow dries up:

When does a place cease to be what it was? And I have changed considerably too. The town and I have grown apart.

I revisited the library in which my mother worked as an assistant, when I was in secondary school. An air-conditioner has been installed; the interior sounds very different, as a consequence. It masks the passing traffic, to some extent. I recorded the ambient sounds of the library’s interior while I wrote notes:

Perhaps I should reinvigorate the Aural Diary. This was a kind of acoustic version of my instagram account.

I was sad to see the Kickplate Gallery’s absence. But it’s astonishing that the gallery was set-up in the first place, and lasted as long as it did. Throughout the afternoon, and into the early evening, I made recordings on the road side of traffic, distant conversations, and the movement of the trees as a breeze picked up. Cafes close around 4.00 pm, so it was to pubs and bars I headed for sustenance:

Me: Could I have an iced orange juice, please?
Barman: Certainly! … Oh! … I don’t have any ice. [Goes off to fetch some from elsewhere.] … Ah! … We appear to be fresh out of orange juice. [Goes off to fetch some from elsewhere.]

I recalled Monty Python’s ‘The Cheese-shop’ sketch.

Places aren’t distinguished by their sounds in the manner that they are by their visual aspect: landmarks, architecture, geography, and so forth. Some do have, what are sometimes called, ‘sonic markers’. For example, the peculiar chimes of a clock tower or peel of church bells. Abertillery has neither. It does, however, possess a distinct reverberation, as sounds from the base of the valley bounce off the sides of the mountains either side. The phenomenon is impossible to capture in a recording – far too subtle and spatial. But it can be evoked in the studio.

My dinner companion never turned up. Unavoidably indisposed, I’m sure. So, I took the 7.32 pm bus back to Newport.


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