Saturday, July 30, 2011

Merthyr Tydfil

My friend Lottie sadly moved back to The Magical Kingdom of the Netherlands two months ago, but agreed to come back to Blighty for her hen do weekend to - where else? - Merthyr Tydfil, in the Valleys of Wales. We were accompanied by Kimb'uh, who would normally shun such an adventure, but acquiesced as it was the bride-to-be's choice. Lottie and I saw a show on Channel 4, or the like, which profiled the effects the benefits changes will have there as Merthyr has the highest proportion of people living on benefits in the UK. There are families with three generations - grandparents, parents and grandchildren - where none has ever had a job. This was somewhere we had to see.

After the lesson that was Middlesbrough, we were no novices to the harsh reality of post-Thatcher Britain, but we enjoyed Merthyr's own special take on British life outside the M25. Though poor, The Boro was bustling and everyone seemed happy enough to be living there. Merthyr was much sparser and absolutely everyone mentioned the bad state of the town and lack of good jobs in the town. I was quite surprised how many non-white immigrants we saw. But the innkeeper where we stayed told us the immigrants come because they're OK to take the jobs "our boys won't do", so I guess there is opportunity for some.

We spent a long part of the day in the Gurnos Estate, one of the largest housing estates in Europe, and Wales' most infamous. There we took up like locals, sitting in a parking lot drinking beer bought from the Indian man running the off-license, buying chips from the Turkish men running the kebab shop. Then onto the Gurnos Social club where we ordered beers in a room that was the one place I've ever felt at risk in the UK - there was an energy of mischief and trouble in the air, so we quickly departed with our beers to the other side of the club which was more gender balanced and had a better vibe.

Over a couple of hours there we enjoyed passing the time, and Kimb'uh made friends with an eleven year-old girl whose father left her alone in the pub (to speak to strange adults, apparently) and tried to convince her to go to university rather than get pregnant as a teen. Her brother's 17 and has two kids, and she's a gypsy, so her chances of being unwed and childless come 20 are pretty low.

Dinner at the town's best Indian restaurant, followed by drinks at the peerless Vulcan and Merthyr's only club, the Kirk House, both of whose patrons fell short of the fashion standards of Middlesbrough, but outshone them in natural gruffness. Not too late a night for us, in bed about 1:30, full on beer, curry and shock.


The trip was preceded by Lottie's hen weekend drinks and dinner at the Charlie Chaplin and Castle Tandoori

Me and another Merthyr Tydfil-bound passenger waiting for the train

The countryside around the town is actually very beautiful - it reminds me of interior Alaska.

But the town planners saw to a different aesthetic for the people of Merthyr

Lottie passing a couple of ladies with benefit boosters

The Trevithick Monument - In doing research for Merthyr, we came across a picture of this lonely, forlorn monument amidst a scene of general decay and immediately put a pin in our Google map of places to visit.

I assume this closed as no one lives to a pensionable age in Merthyr anymore.

The entrance to the Gurnos estate!

Drinking in Gurnos centre parking lot, local style

Out on the town

The town centre was completely dead (and the 24-hour Tesco closed) in the morning

Says it all...

Shaun H. Coley | Shadwell | Tower Hamlets | London | UK |