I was talking to my new neighbour the other day, and she was telling me about all the vandalism in Pembroke, and all the dodgy happenings that go on. Apparently, my new place got broken into loads of times because there were some dodgy geezers living here. It was all pretty hectic it seems. Which is strange, because since being here I’ve felt really safe. It’s weird what can make you feel secure. The endless whirr of the fridge, the mumbling central heating, the passing cars, the voices outside; it’s a massive contrast to my old field – the silence that was so deafening you heard music, and the lonely owl hooting, and the call of the river birds in the distance.
So what about this vandalism then? I’m pretty sure it didn’t used to be like that. Any graffiti that appeared was usually done by one of us as far as I remember. I’d love to climb up onto the railway bridge at East End and rewrite “It’s Black Friday” as the late Joe Rawlins did all those years ago, a slogan which became almost as much a part of Pembroke as the castle, until the pesky council washed it off.
There is much that has changed. The Lion now sells cakes. Cromwell’s is a pizza place. The Castle Inn is a winebar. Middlegate restaurant is still there, though much changed, and so is Brown’s. The Cross Saws remains, The Kings, The George; there is much that is familiar. But the town is definitely looking like it needs a bit of sprucing up. There are loads of commercial properties for sale in Main Street. The shops are all closed, some of them, it looks like, for good. The only people still trading are the estate agents – property is flying off the shelves quicker that they can send out the details to applicants. The only properties that aren’t rising in price are the buy to lets, because the landlords are all trying to jump ship, and new ones don’t wish to play. They’re probably all off buying gold or bitcoin or something. The buy to let properties are still out of the reach of most locals though. As are the family homes, ex council houses now going for around 180k in some instances.
Can we perhaps notice a correlation between the rise in vandalism and the fall in living standards? It was the late eighties/early nineties when I was last kicking around here. I moved from the dock back to Jameston is 1992. There were some undesirables, but I knew them all. Is that all that’s changed? As they’re all young now, I just don’t hang out with them? The undesirables I knew in my yoof all suffered from the same problems as youngsters do now. Poverty, mental illness (less admittable to back then) a general feeling of malaise, of no future. That feeling is still here, 30 years later. But guess what? That feeling is everywhere. It’s no different anywhere you go, if you’re working class. There is always a subsection of society, struggling, hidden away, identifiable only by their 2am street brawls and their propensity to smash stuff and then disappear like shadows over the town wall. The people are the same, trying to pay rent, eke out an existence in a place where there are few opportunities, where the gap between the have and have nots is so wide. When I point out to people that West Wales in the poorest part of Northern Europe, they look at me in disbelief. Really? With Tenby and all the landowners and all the nice houses and Valero? But look at the prices. A waterside property in Pembs can be picked up for a song, in comparison to a waterside place in Engerland. And those prices can only go one way because of this. Up. Will this influx of money to the county do anything to improve the lot of the locals? Perhaps, if there were any local shops left for the new people to shop in, but there aren’t really, so they’ll probably just go online and use up all the Tesco delivery slots.
The county is collapsing in front of us, and regeneration schemes taking place seem to be generally scorned by the public on social media. There is a brilliant new course at the college that is teaching youngsters the techniques of medieval wall building in order to facilitate the town wall project. Little opportunities do come up, the trick is getting the youngsters enthused enough to take part. The apathy, the despair, the lost look of most of the young people I know, including my own two sons, is a hard nut to crack. Covid is contributing to something that was happening anyway, and is now accelerating quickly. The small business owner is always going to be playing a massive game of cat and mouse, taking enormous risk. It’s pretty easy to turn them against people who have lost their way, and their enthusiasm, and need help. It’s also pretty easy to turn locals against immigrants, because you just have to tell them that the immigrants are getting the stuff that they should be getting. Thing is, they’re not getting it. There’s still no provision for homeless people in the county. There’s still people renting properties with leaking roofs and leaking windows and with damp problems. Imperialism and late-stage capitalism, over the last thirty years, has half emptied Pembroke of everything that was here. Pretty much every business has changed hands many, many times in that period. Pembroke Dock is a literal ghost town. There’s nothing there I recognise from living there except for Josephine’s. I remember that so well cos it was my eldest son’s grandma’s shop, back then, and we used to live in one of the flats upstairs. The streets are desolate and dark and the people wander around as if in a daze, not knowing what to do with themselves. Small local projects can only go so far. We need broad scope. Big change, huge overhaul. A complete change of economic system. Otherwise, in another thirty years, we might just be a castle, on a dirt road, surrounded by estate agents.