Morag Colquhoon’s Exhibition

Exhibition at Mwldan

The new exhibition of work by Morag Colquhoun, showing at Oriel Mwldan opened last Saturday with a brief discussion between the artist and fellow artist Rabab Ghazoul. Attendance for opening events is never high but there was a better than usual interested gathering who came to hear what was said, and to be amongst the early birds to see the show itself. Ghouzal has been a mentor to the artist and has encouraged Colquhoun, being instrumental in the artist developing her work. The show returns to the recurrent themes of energy and entropy which the artist has been interested in, and has worked with in previous exhibitions.

At first sight of this particular show, there is the look of a laboratory in the way the exhibits are displayed. Detailed objects of apparent, fragile plantlife, linked to and backed by curves of painted glass, sit together  in clear glass cubes atop high wooden stools made for the purpose.  These stools with their precious contents, stand in rows, neat and straight, down the centre of the gallery, and for a moment it is possible to imagine that a microscope and a bunsen burner might be seen just around the corner. In fact of course there is no such thing. There are manipulated photographs, and videos and this is by no means a laboratory. There is however, a leaning toward the experimental involved when we realise that under close scrutiny, the delicate plantlife is not all that it seems, but it is in fact a series of minutely observed sculptures, modelled by Colquhoun in beeswax before setting them in harness to the glass pictures. The infinite care and skill in the detail captured in the wax plant modelling is breathtaking, and this is not a new concept for artists. It was, in fact popular during the Victorian era along with the painted glass. The title of the show is Energia, and involves seeking to display the energy of the world in its natural form within an original manufactured context. Alongside the exhibits of the wax models with their glass panels, is a video of a journey, a delightful journey by car with a simple Welsh lesson being instructed as progress continues capturing the ceaseless journey we take, recycled again and again on our personal voyage through life.

The exhibition is open daily at Oriel Mwldan until 30 November.


Dylan Thomas and The Pubs

The following review is written for publication in the Tivyside newspaper which serves the area around Cardigan in West Wales. The paper has a long reputation of always allowing a space for book reviews. Tradition says that many of the Tivyside’s readers are the kind of people who enjoy a good book, and especially one which talks of their land, their sport or their history. Even better if it written by someone they know or have encountered locally.  This is why when book reviews became relatively rare in  weekly papers, The Tivyside  continued to offer space for local writers and publishers to tell the public about their material. But systems change, and there is now a prospect that the full review cannot always be fitted in to the available space in the Tivyside. By placing it here, I hope that many people who would normally look for a review in the Tivyside, will take the time to come and read it here

Dylan Thomas – The Pubs by Jeff Towns, ( chairman of the Dylan Thomas Society).

Making a gentle assault on the long-time assumptions surrounding one of the most celebrated of poets from Wales and his relationship with pubs, is at the core of the latest book from Y Lolfa by Jeff Towns, the long acknowledged leading authority on Dylan Thomas. Towns has studied all aspects of the poet’s life and in The Pubs, he reviews the places where DT spent his days, and no doubt sometimes, his nights and what their attraction was; what drew him to them, beyond the obvious, the booze.

This is a beautiful book, to handle as well as to read;  a neat, hard-back with an attractive dust jacket. It feels more generous and yet less intimidating than a full-scale biography, bursting with the kind of slip-stream detail, that is eclectic, touching, funny and surprising by turns, so that one feels that one can actually imagine being in the pubs with the great man himself.

These pubs, in Swansea and Gower, Laugharne and London,  New Quay and New York, are each like a small country in themselves. They are distinctly individual, and each brings with it its own cast of characters, with whom Dylan Thomas delighted in friendship. The impression when following him from somewhere like the Fitzroy Tavern in London, to the Black Lion in New Quay, and back  is that he created for himself a larger, more extensive world in which to share exchanges, and in which to enjoy and relish those he might meet. He simply loved language, and was a storyteller because he was a good listener. Towns says ‘It was in these very pubs that Dylan would meet the people who would inspire so much of his work.’

There are plentiful small anecdotes, which are a joy and tales that one may have heard before, but never like this, in context. Conversation thrived in the pubs during the first half of the 20th century, moments of family history, insane barflies, queens of the sofas, and all surrounded by poets, musicians and artists. Something about that, about hearing the story in connection with where it occurred is what makes this new. Towns’ idea in short is to make us look anew at what the attractions of the pub really were to Dylan Thomas, and to measure his need for social company, an inbuilt audience, and the warmth of food and drink, against the image of him falling over  permanently drunk, a womanising, bohemian pained-poet stereotype.

Illustrated throughout by Wyn Thomas whose tantalising water-colours, capture the many pubs through which Dylan travelled adds an enormous quality to the book. They bring each building in its setting to life and in shades which surprise and add character.

The book is a special limited edition of 500 signed copies. It cries out to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, not only by those  with a steadfast and uncompromising love of Dylan Thomas and his work.

 The Pubs, is possibly one of the most interesting, and certainly one of the most informative, of the books ever written about the locations of the social life of Wales’s most celebrated poet, Dylan Thomas, accompanying him and his friends as it does, through the many pubs with which he had made a personal connection, at some point during his lifetime.

The Pubs published by Y Lolfa is on sale price £19.99 (signed limited editions only)


New Kid on the Block

The Pembrokeshire Herald, is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with amongst local newspapers in West Wales. In dealing with matters which others might ignore and speaking out on issues which affect the local populace, it is gaining a reputation for being altogether more assertive than we have come to expect from the press in this neck of the woods. Alongside this its take on the arts, and sports, along with excellent presentation all of high quality must surely present a new and attractive prospect for advertisers and for readers too.

For many years The Western Telegraph, has been the generally accepted source of local news for a population which stretches from Milford Haven to the borders of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. There are other smaller locals, Tenby and Milford have their own, and there are locally produced Welsh language papers too, but until now there has been no real challenge, no actual competition for the Western Telegraph itself. For some years the Telegraph has had its critics and the main criticism levelled is that the paper has not raised its game to suit the modern world. It is still too big for itself, too many irrelevant little stories on too many pages. Maybe the challenge presented them by the new kid on the block in the shape and content of the Pembrokeshire Herald will work to shake things up a little. The Herald stumbled into being, with all the charm and uncertainty of a young runner, but now with a few miles under its belt its pace is smoother and more certain; its aim more direct and its appeal more varied.

I spotted it as a winner at its first showing, and wrote congratulating the editor and saying I thought that an ongoing soap might work to bring in readers and that I would love to write it. As an ex-journalist, and an author, it is a very appealing prospect.  It is known to work, refer if you don’t believe it to Bridget Jones Diary which began in 1995 in  the Independent newspaper, written by journalist Helen Fielding, and ultimately became what it is today, several best-selling books and three films. Then there was also Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith in The Scotsman which has produced at least half a dozen best-selling novels since appearing in the paper as a soap column. People get hooked on soaps, and these days there is the additional location of the Facebook page, or an online blog to continue the story for those switched on  just as the Archers have been doing, and a weekly episode in the paper for others.

I do not know what the then editor thought of the idea. He did not get back to me, which was hardly surprising it being the first week they had compiled and gone to press. I still like the idea of a geriatric Mrs Jones, looking for love throughout Pembrokeshire. I imagine that some of the people I know would make great characters and though some of the men I have dated might run for cover, it’s not a bad idea for something which could run and run.

In spite of there having been no reaction to my generous offer, I still give a big thumbs up to the Pembrokeshire Herald for its fresh appeal and hope it continues to gain readers and make its mark on the area. If you haven’t read it yet, it comes out on Fridays and is well worth a 50p flutter!

Pint-Sized Plays at Small World

There is an appropriateness is putting something pint-sized into a small world, and the fact is the two together worked brilliantly. 

‘Pint-Sized World’, showing last Saturday at Cardigan’s Small World Theatre, offered a varied programme of inventive and  superbly performed short dramas, all of which were extremely well-received by the audience. These short 5-10 minute plays, were originally intended to be performed in pubs when pint-sized was the brainchild of playwright and author Derek Webb, who introduced them as a novel way of taking the dramatic arts, into an already established, social setting, ergo; The Pub.

Judging by the success of their production at Small World, these performance gems are experiencing no difficulties in progressing into taking over other venues.  Since the early days in 2008 when the majority of the few plays performed came in from local people in West Wales, Pint-Sized Plays has become an international playwriting competition and is hotly contested with entries from, among other places, Australia and the USA besides a regular flow from all parts of the UK.

The plays at Small World were presented by Almost Random Theatre who travelled from Oxford to be there and were joined by local mini-companies. The standard of  performing and directing were first class and the plays which had been selected to be produced were a mixture of this year’s winners and a small selection from past winners.

The great thing about a programme like this, is that each of the plays is completely different from the next, since there is no specific requirement laid down for the competitors, other than that the play’s running time is within the stated length. The evening programme opened with Knight Intruder by Dorothy Lambert, a sitcom style, humorous piece, in which Russ Abbot look-alike Richard James, Cheryl Rayner and Nick Wears, set the bar high in the quality of acting, delivery and how to pace humour, in preparation for that which followed, all of which held up consistently to give some brilliant performances. Directors too are to be congratulated on making imaginative use of small space learnt by working in  pubs.

Some of the plays work better than others, and for a variety of reasons. The surreal offering ‘Anger Management for Dogs’ by Rupert Haigh and played by Kyran Pritchard and Dan Abrams was incredibly funny and hugely enjoyable, for those present who may have loved the Monty Python style humour, and the dog-like characteristics, though for some in the audience it was apparent they were not quite sure what was going on. Were these two actors actually playing dogs, sitting at a table? Yes! Brilliant.

There were four of this year’s winners on the programme, all of them well-received. Brought to Book by Lou Treleaven, Roadkill by Clare Reddaway, Eternity by Elan David Garonzik, and Lifetime by Angie Farrow.‘Pint-Sized World. Volume 1’, an anthology of 20 of the winning plays is available from price 9.99. It is an ideal tool for professional theatre companies, drama groups and school drama classes.



Great Collection from Penfro Poets

I know so many people these days who write poetry, but does that mean they are all poets? This is a question I can’t really answer, because I have written poetry from time to time in my life, but never seen fit to call myself a poet. Perhaps my dilitante way of doing it – now and again alongside other kinds of writing, is why I am not a poet. All the people in a new book out this month are poets. Each one of them spends time and energy developing style, looking for content that interests them, and taking the trouble to hone what they write to its potential perfection. They meet together for a regular session of sharing; sometimes taking advice, and sometimes ignoring it and going their own sweet way. The following review of their chosen work in a book named after their meetings,  was written as usual for the Tivyside, but here goes.

Penfro Poets

Penfro Poets, is a new collection of work, the title of which comes from a group of local writers who meet on a regular basis at Rhosygilwen to learn, to discuss, and to compose poetry. The group originally grew out of the Penfro Book Festival, and is made up of a variety of people, of mixed ages and backgrounds, all of whom are enthusiasts in the world of poetry, and though some of them are more experienced than others there is no lack of talent and skill on display here. Topics and subject matter are wide-ranging, and this must surely be one of the joys of opening a collection like this, to discover so many different voices speaking in so many contrasting ways about life itself, its tragedies, its mysteries, and its beauty, all of these themes taking the reader into the hearts and minds of those who choose to make poetry out of their own life journey. Some of the writing is about travel, foreign and familiar parts are recalled and given a new face. Some, like Glen Peters in The Cockle Pickers, recall with feeling, a tragedy where others have suffered, and others like Anne Byrne-Sutton also look back on the personal tragedies of war and illness, and in Wendy Smit-Taylor and Rosemarie Barr, lost loved ones from the family are captured forever in words.  Dave Urwin’s Quetzalcoatl’s Return is a fierce conundrum drawn from an  Aztec prophesy, and has within it one of the rare qualities of poetry, that it can be read again and again to release new meaning. Silvie Morris, very much a part of the group, writes in her native French of ideas and familiar objects like her much loved desk, or secretaire.  In The Hunter by Jackie Biggs, the power of the hawk, whose strike binds him to the landscape is captured and the language takes poetry into a visual art form. All of this interesting diversity is what the book is about. When Brenda Squires and Peter George set up the Penfro Poets meetings they began something which has happily developed a distinct life of its own. Peter’s words in Uley Bury; ‘step by step, trodden by generations, before the calendar and the counting of days’ is almost a definition of what poetry and song have been and still are, to mankind. And those who do it because they love to, like this small group of aspiring local people, some of whom also join together at the Cellar Bar, and whose voices excel in this collection, are well worth a listen. Penfro Poets is priced £2 and is published by Menter Rhosygilwen, available online at and

Tales from the Land of Magic

I remember when I first read the Mabinogion seeing it in one version refer to Dyfed as ‘the land of magic and illusion’.  Over the years since then I have heard stories, here and there, referring to the magical nature of the county, and a new book recently published by the History Press, has brought even more to my notice. Beautifully written, with a natural conversational style, there is a lot to enjoy here. This was my review for the Tivyside.

A new collection of Pembrokeshire Folk Tales by Christine Willison offers a genuinely original take on stories which have been told over and over, and woven into the county’s identity for many generations. The author’s name will be known by many people in Pembrokeshire, from her former role as Arts Officer for the County Council, but she has also been recognised elsewhere for some years as a successful performance storyteller.

It is in this guise that she has collected and researched throughout the county of Pembrokeshire, always looking for the stories that somehow belong to their location and the idiosyncrasies of its people; stories which relate to the human condition, to the fears and joys of inhabiting a land which is a vast repository of tales woven to fit the spirit of place. There is a genuinely unusual structure to the book which makes it immensely readable, and unlike most collections, it reads like a novel with a continuity which presses one to keep turning the page in order to discover what might happen next. For anyone, who enjoys folk tales, this one it has to be said, offers something unusually rewarding. Some of the stories are familiar, certainly those taken from the Mabinogion will be known to many, but it differs so much from the run of the mill collection, that whether the tales are familiar or new, the reader becomes hooked. The trick is that here, the writer becomes the story, just as much as the tales she is telling. She does not simply write the words which others have written before, she writes herself into an adventure where she wanders into the world of fairy, recognises the tylwyth teg and mermaids, and accompanies the ‘little’ man into the land around special places like Pentre Ifan, and Nefern, and , all becomes real, and somehow more relevant and interesting because of her relationship with the stories. She strives not only to record, but to understand and somehow inhabit the stories as they are told to her, and she is equally moved to tell the occasional story back to her companion. She refers to the Preseli Hills as ‘the county’s backbone; where the tales that arise from the very rocks and cliffs are as ancient and resistant as the landscape.’ So there are stories from Crymych, from Frenni Fawr and Frenni Fach, then others from St Davids, from the Islands, some more recent and others so old that they are known to almost everyone, but told now, here, in a new and different way. This is an admirable effort to attract new readers to the folk history of the land, which evidently holds Christine herself spellbound and may inspire others to see and hear what lies beneath the modern surface of an ancient and mysterious landscape.