In the surgery I’m on the long seat that’s never quite wide enough. There are notices everywhere around me warning against noise: coughing? (join our cancer survey), flu (vaccinate now if you are over 60) and Bin It (if you have a cold). No one I can hear is making a sound. That’s not quite true. There’s a mumble in Polish going on between mother and child in the distant corner. You can hear the phone ringing in a back office. But apart from that the whole place is spookily quiet.
The over-weight guy with hair greased upright on his head like this was still the 80s has been told to go outside to smoke. I can see him sitting on a low surgery wall. He’s encased in a great green parka with an RAF roundel on the back lettered up with the logo of The Who. He’s come back in once waving something that looks like a hookah and asked if it was okay to smoke electronically and has been told no. When they call his name he won’t hear. He stares into the distance, watching the traffic, enjoying the NHS air.
Why am I here, again, god the third time in two weeks? Because the cyst has again been doing its stuff and making walking more or less untenable. Although I did manage it round at least a dozen studios and open houses yesterday as part of the Made In Roath art extravaganza. I say managed it. Mostly what I did was sit on people’s stairs, sofas, chairs and garden walls. Recover, up, on to the next venue, sit for relief, try to imagine it wasn’t happening. Sort of worked.
At the festival’s highlight, The Actual Museum of Roath (a shed in a garden on Werfa Street), Sir Alfred Street and Dr Glen Roy explained to us all the true history of the district. To think that I’d been deluded by library fact for so long. That cave painting they discovered in the caverns under Roath Park Lake was, of course, the outline of a prehistoric Clarks. For years I’d thought it was of a rusty bike. And the economic wars with Splott over Roath’s access to the sea via Clifton Street I’d put down as internecine fighting between mods and rockers. Chairman Moy’s long march to the Wild Park on the edges of Llanishen I’d managed to miss completely. As I had the discovery of the great Mappa Maindee with Roath shown there as twice the size of India. Which it is, of course.
In the film, Sir Donald Street (who looked a little like Sir Alfred but with a beard) showed off a collection of Roath artefacts of wondrous variety: The Elm Street Marbles, bronze age cooking pans, slippers from the age of the Vikings, Ifor Novello’s once syphoned petrol in a bottle. I left truly chastened by the extent of my misunderstanding of the past.
Round in Arran Street where Luke Rice was displaying his new take on Broadway (the American version totally shadowed by our own native working-class bohemia) I met Wing Tang. Wing’s trick was to do two minute instant portraits, drink a beer, and then do the same portrait again. In pencil. Succeeding versions became increasingly shaky with the faces more real but the hair increasingly fuzzy. For a pound he agreed to do me. No beer, he’d run out. The result was a reasonable likeness, if stern. Finch unsmilingly facing what's next.
There must have been something in the air. I managed the walk from there to a viewing of Betina Skovbro’s Facing The Park photos with only one stop (Sandringham Road). Betina has gone along the run of terraced houses that face the Mill Park’s Waterloo Hill end and photographed the inhabitants – adults, children, pets – and then had them blown up larger than life size and affixed to the insides of their windows. The super-sized residents stared out at the park, smiling. Almost everyone had taken part. The warmth was palpable.
I get given stronger painkillers. New stuff with a higher opiate content. Do not operate machinery, it says on the label. If you are on ladders, do not work without a firm hold, warns the Information for the User leaflet. Alcohol will increase the effect significantly. That’s it then. No more whiskey-fuelled wallpaper hanging for me. TV and Viking slippers instead.
Along Newport Road on the way back to the car I pass house gardens in which inhabitants have dumped the past’s detritus. White goods with their doors hanging off, bed frames, sodden mattresses, mounds of brick, stone and fractured mortar. Roath’s past given up on waiting for the future. Unless Sir Alfred and Dr Glen would like it, of course.
[in the photo - The Museum academics - TRE Harris, Dr Glen Roy and Sir Alfred Street]