When Is A House Not A Home?

Finally, the powers that be are trying to instigate a double council tax on holiday homes. Many locals are jumping up and down in joy, but many are not. Why is that?

A lot of people have in in their heads that as tourism is our main industry, then the houses all being sold as second homes to people from outside the county is all fine and dandy. But is it really?

There’s an ex-council house up for sale in St Florence for nearly 200k. Yep, you heard right. It’s on an estate where there are so many generations being forced to move into houses together due to rising local house prices, that there is nowhere at all to park, so anyone new will be fighting a losing battle before they start, and then they’ll probably complain to the council that there’s nowhere to park. I remember that same estate when I was a kid, playing down there with friends. There were just a normal number of cars. Now, it’s completely ridiculous.

These holiday homes, second homes, whatever you want to call them, quite often get let out as Air B&Bs while the owners aren’t around. I’ve spoken to a few owners of guest houses around the place, and they’re all saying that their businesses are being affected by the enormous amounts of Air B&B in the county. So this hike in council tax that the second home owners are gonna get, they could quite easily pay with just one weeks income, offset against tax, and et voila, they hardly notice the new council tax rules and nothing changes.

Meanwhile, villages are shrinking because no-one lives in them, businesses and local shops and post offices suffer because no one uses them, and then they close. Wintertime, everything around here looks like the Marie Celeste. Summertime, you can’t move around the county because the London traffic has made its way from Piccadilly Circus to here.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of holiday parks, caravan sites etc in this county. If people want to buy a holiday home, then fine, they can buy one of them. They’re supposed to be holiday homes. That’s what they’re there for. People can still play their status games – some caravans are getting on a for a quarter of a million quid. Some people just love to tell you all about their houses and homes and what they’re worth. There. Show off your caravan with its deck and sea view. What’s the point of emptying the caravan sites and guest houses of holiday makers and cramping them all up into delightful little rural cottages?

I’ve said it before but it needs saying again. You try renting a small affordable property around here to live in.  Go on. I dare you. But you’ll find a little cottage for your week’s holiday quick as a flash, because all the nice little places are now in the clutches of the moneyed classes. If you’re homeless in Pembs, there’s literally nowhere to put you. All the council houses are being sold up, or have already been. There is no housing available any more for local people. Local covenants aren’t strict enough, even if they are in place. Pretty soon our prices will be like the prices in Cornwall. And we wonder why our young people abandon the county, land of very little opportunity and super high property inflation.

If someone has a holiday home in west Wales, a bricks and mortar (or more often stone) place, we should at least make it so they can’t rent it out. Because that’s not bringing money to the area. It’s bringing money to someone who lives elsewhere, and taking from the legit holiday establishments which we already have. It doesn’t even need staff, so results in no employment, apart from a cleaner for two hours on a saturday. It’s way too easy for the owners of these properties to just cover the extra council tax that they’re going to have to pay. A few hundred quid isn’t much in the scheme of things to these people.

This council tax hike is definitely a step in the right direction, and it shows that finally, people up top are beginning to see the effect these properties have on our local economy, and the damage they do to communities and the locality. The four million it will raise in extra revenue will be much welcomed. But we have to also support local tourism businesses, and not let their trade get taken by opportunists. Enough of our housing stock is now going to the new breed of work from homers.

The new housing project in Solva looks promising, and is to provide affordable homes. Let’s hope they’re actually affordable to people on Pembrokeshire wages. Real Pembrokeshire wages, the jobs you see advertised for 15k a year full time. Make houses affordable for those people, otherwise affordable is a complete misnomer on every conceivable level. Don’t change the rules in a few years’ time. Make sure they aren’t lost to people who will use them as spare houses, when they already have one.

Close this gap, before we all fall down intro the chasm. And congratulate the councillors who are pushing this. For all the people who say councillors aren’t worth their money – and in some individual cases I’d agree – I’d also argue that some of them clearly are.

In Estate

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.

I know Why the Bird Cage Swings

I know why January lasts so long.

Psychologically, everyone breathes a sigh of relief on Boxing Day, and then proceeds to spend the next few days in a state of confusion and limbo, where no-one really knows what day it is, and everything is all topsy turvy. You’re bored of the decorations, and maybe you rip them down, throwing the dusty lights into boxes which by next year you’ll regret, because you’ll have to untangle it all.

We then sit and wait, while the longest week in the universe gives way to New Year, which is followed by another ghostly day or two, and then the clockwork towns start to whirr again, and everything is supposed to go back to normal.

By this time, most people have forgotten what normal is, because Christmas has been going on since about September. The days are still dark but the pretty twinklies have all come down. By the time the snow comes, the lights are out. January is essentially, five weeks long, because that post-Christmas feeling begins way before January does.

And we’ve still got February to go.

Plus, we’re still in lockdown. Everyone is skint. Some friends of mine had bailiffs at the door the other day in the middle of a pandemic demanding cash. This was due to an unpaid council tax bill. The guy lost his job due to Covid and had to move in with elderly relatives. The council wouldn’t let him set up a payment plan. So, bailiffs knocked on the door and hassled people in their 70s and 80s at 8.30 am. This was a bit much for my friend. The next door he attempted on his own life and was sent to A&E. He waited for hours. He was then given a Zopoclone and told to go home. He has an appointment with a mental health team in two weeks-time. Meanwhile, they’ve given him some anti-histamines.

He can’t find another job. He’s not in a great place. And there’s no one to help. Good work, Pembs County Council. You couldn’t just set up a payment plan? This is their whole attitude. I have friends who are still waiting for their OPD planning application to be looked at after nearly two years. I have another friend who got planning last March and the council still haven’t signed it off so that he can start work. However, the other day, when some tree surgeon buddies were doing a job, a guy came out an told them he was calling the council. The enforcement officer was on the phone within ten minutes, accusing the workers of cutting down a tree that they shouldn’t have, threatening that if the tree had been cut, the planning permission would be taken away.

When I emailed the enforcement officer last week to tell them I had sold my plot which failed at OPD, the response was instant, enquiring as to whether everything from the site had gone. The new owners are going to dismantle everything to save me the stress, knowing that I have suffered enough at the whims of PCC, but the enforcement officer couldn’t resist that last little bit of demanding attitude. It’s not enough for them that they took away my home and business. No, they want to me to take everything apart, piece by piece, alone, in order that I may pay maximum penance. I was diagnosed last week with Fibromyalgia. Doctor reckons the stress of the last few years is what’s done it. I believe her. Many times over the last few years I’ve been close to the bone like my buddy, who is now waiting for the council run crisis team to get round to helping him. From what I’ve seen of their service, the help doesn’t really extend to much. You end up having to save yourself.

And how do you do that exactly?

Well, no matter how many self-help books you read and how many times you go to CBT to get rid of negative thoughts, there’s no arguing with the fact that the reason we’re all so messed up is because humans were never designed to live in this high impact stressful world full of rules, where modern slavery takes the form of underpaid work, where there is no leisure time, or funds for leisure, where everyone is struggling constantly just to get by.

Mental health provision is simply paying lip service and ticking a box. There is no help in this society, How can there be? Are they going to conjure my friend up a job that he can enjoy and that will pay him well enough to cover his bills and enable him to afford a reasonably priced property to live in? Unlikely.

If you get through this world with all its injustices, without developing some stress related disease or another, then you are truly blessed and have walked the tightrope. For the majority of us, there is nothing to do but wait for the inevitable. To be ill and have an NHS that no longer works because of privatisation. To be dictated to by a council who are only interested in you if you’re working class and have done something wrong, to be skint and be unable to find meaningful work that pays properly.

If you need something from PCC anytime soon, forget it. They’re all super busy and working from home. However, if you flout a rule, or even if you don’t and someone just thinks you have, they’ll be round like a shot. If you’ve been emailing them to no avail, and phoning and being left on hold for hours, just to be told the person you need will call you back, and then they never do, best thing is just to tell them you’ve built a shed or cut down a tree. Result. Callback in ten minutes. Absolutely foolproof. Don’t thank me. Public service is my job.

Schadenfreude

Since moving to Pembroke I’ve been chatting online with a lovely new friend called Rita who lives up the road. As I’ve been sorting out my place, I’ve been looking for inspiration, and Rita sent me some beautiful pics of her place, which of now makes me want red walls like she’s got. We share tastes. She has fairy lights everywhere, lovely dark wood furniture. The place is certainly a credit to her and her husband. My walls, being an ex-rental property, are all bright white, which is great for showing up spiders, but it’s a little bit stark.

I swear I will never take for granted the fact that I can turn a hot tap on, and that I can press a button and heating happens. After five and a half years of living off-grid, and pretty roughly, it’s luxurious indeed to be warm, and to be moving my books in, and arranging things how I want them, and feeling like I have a comfortable safe home.

Contrast this with the predicament suffered by those boys staying at Penally camp.

Yet again, social media is full of “send the buggers back” type comments, as well as much worse. These comments are written by people that, by sheer luck, were born in a country where things are pretty shit, but we’re not being war torn and oppressed by Imperialist countries who want our resources but who are actually pretending that what they want is democracy in whatever country they’re liberating this week.

The scenes at the Capitol last week were extremely interesting. One, because the public stormed the Capitol. Two, because many people believed it was a set up by actors and they had been let in. Three, if it wasn’t a set up it shows a distinct lack of organisation on America’s part, and shows that the democracy that they’re trying to instil all over the valuable resourced world is not actually present in their own country. The American elections never pass by without allegations of fraud and cheating. Just this time it’s got more serious, because The Donald is a brat, and is throwing his toys out of the pram. But America created this monster all by themselves, and their halo is slipping for us all to see. Well, for nearly all of us to see.

The opportunist Simon Hart has condemned the Penally Camp boys protesting their living conditions. Basically, he had a quick shufti on Facebook to see which was the wind was blowing, and then he decided what to think and say.

Paul Dowson has also decided to use this local fear as part of his next campaign, joining UKIP and therefore becoming a UKIP councillor. He can see the voices clamouring, and he is pushing the tide as far as he can, making full use of the natural propensity of the tide to come in.

The statements on Facebook concerning these protests, have even surpassed the ones that have come before. I see many well-meaning people trying to fight them, trying to reason with them. But there’s no point. The more logic you give people, the less truth they want to hear. The people round here don’t want the truth, and they don’t want unity. They like the division, they enjoy the Facebook arguments. A population brough up on Eastenders has been trained to think that division and conflict is key to life. It’s not. As a theatre graduate, I can tell you that conflict is just the key to drama and a successful long running soap. It’s time people learned to see the difference.

This is real life. These are real lives. These are real people. They have been forced to leave countries where the everyday is like nothing anyone round here can ever imagine. They state that the barracks are good enough for the army. What, the army that went over and shot the families of these boys that live there now? Those trained killers, you mean?

What makes someone join the army? Who likes going and shooting people? How many of them enjoyed watching the footage that Julian Assange brought to the public view, of American soldiers shooting men in the street for no reason? That footage carries a warning on YouTube. Assange is rotting in jail because he allowed us to see it, but so many people refuse to see it, to watch it, to even care that it’s out there.

How many people have argued a point with you and then when you’ve talked them round in circles they say things like, well, I don’t follow politics.. They’re all useless?

Everything is politics. The local council decisions for our everyday lives are politics. Bin day is politics. Planning permission is politics. Bailiffs are politics. Unemployment is politics. Invading Iraq is politics. If you’re going to scream that we should send the buggers back, then you really should know what we’re sending them back to, and why that situation exists.

These guys aren’t spending their lockdown having a look at furniture on ebay, or choosing paint, or getting a new mop for the nice new floor. They’re not making choices about décor, or getting annoyed with ‘er indoors ‘cos she wants shelves putting up. They’re not calling the drain guy or getting a new washing machine.

Their lives consist of cold, no proper home, the charity of others, the generosity of the country that insists on continuing to join in with Imperialist domination of their country, and this bunch of entitled locals, who think that because they were born in a relatively safe country, that that somehow gives them the right to talk in the way they do about human beings, who are at the mercy of every corrupt government available.

I have news for you lot. You will all see similar hardships in time to come. Not like they have, because you’re sheltered, in Wales. But when your pension has disappeared, and you assets are worth nothing, and your inheritance disappears up the tax man’s arse, and when you lose your job and can’t get another one, or when your high wage earnings come to an end because of global laws of economy and you have to downsize from your executive home, then remember, your birthright is a corrupt, inept country, that can’t even handle a pandemic properly, that has no trust from its citizens, that encourages dissent, and causes its own crime epidemic by creating poverty and inequality. Your birthright is overpriced homes, and influx of Saesneg, and the loss of all you worked for due to one bad decision, piece of luck, or whim of a bank manager.

You’re not special because you’re British. You’re part of the biggest, most corrupt, Imperialist, thieving, slave trading bunch of clowns in the world. Don’t be feeling so proud. Don’t be feeling so smug, or comfortable. Your fall is coming. Who will care about you? Who will help you? Where will you seek asylum?

Head Funds

I think I’m going to wait until all the episodes of Pembrokeshire Murders have been on the tele before I watch it. I can’t cope with cliffhangers, so I like to binge watch things. Although of course, it’s not like it’s a surprise. I remember the stories well, and remember when they happened.

The programme has certainly caused a stir locally if social media is anything to go by. We usually get to see our county on the tele presented as the wild west landscape of wonderment, or holiday destination extraordinaire, or on Escape to the Freaking Country for the fiftieth time running. I’m looking forward to seeing the parts of Pembs on the tele that are usually hidden. I hear there’s a housing estate in it. That’s gonna be a shock for all the people looking to buy property in the area. They have estates?

The human psyche has long been fascinated by the concepts surrounding all things murder. Is this a residual process whereby they deprived us of the spectacle of public hangings and executions and now we have to get our fix from Midsummer Murders or The Ted Bundy Tapes? Mindhunter on Netflix has resulted in a whole new bunch of fans for Edmund Kemper, the Co-Ed Killer, currently languishing in jail in Sacramento. I say languishing. He actually spends his time reading audio books for the blind. I wonder if they’re aware that the charming voice lulling them to sleep with the latest Agatha Christie is actually the same guy who cut his mother’s head off and threw darts at it, and that’s nowhere near the worst thing he did. Look it up if you don’t know. You’ll be appalled. But this 6’9” terror of a figure, who killed his grandparents when he was 15 and managed to talk his way out of the asylum due to an IQ of 146, outfoxing every psychiatrist they sent to him, comes across as a gentle giant. So gentle in fact, that when he turned himself in, the police who knew him from the local bar refused to believe he was the killer. He had to persuade them and insist that they come and arrest him. They reluctantly picked him up, but still didn’t believe him, leaving him uncuffed in the car.

Is this where the fascination lies? Is this why we can’t get enough of these stories? Is it because the guy next door, walking past you and bidding you good evening, may well have a decapitated head in his bowling bag and you would have no idea?

One of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims escaped Dahmer, and ran into the road, screaming. He came upon some police, who he begged to help him, but Dahmer turned up, told the cops they’d had a lover’s tiff, and that his boyfriend was just drunk and hysterical, and they gave the victim back to Dahmer, only for him to murder the 14-year-old boy later on. Like, seriously?

Ted Bundy was able to pick up victims by putting his arm in a fake plastercast and asking girls to help him carry his study books to his car. His behaviour was so believable it’s a ruse that worked countless times. Is this why we have such a compulsion to hear every detail of a crime? Are we assessing the possibility of the level of danger around us? Are some of us worried that we may become the danger?

I won’t lie. There have been many times that I have got interested in the fact that a body will burn in three hours if you use dry pine. If you sweep up the teeth and bury them in four different places, then you’ll get away with it. Well. You might not. But they won’t have a body. There is a lot to be learned from these thorough and detailed documentaries. I must also confess, that whenever I watch stuff about the Unabomber, a lot of what he says makes perfect sense. It would have been nice if he could have got his ideas across without the nailbombs. But a mind like that in a society like this is asking for trouble. And that’s the trouble. There are an awful lot of minds like that in this society. But they’re not always making nailbombs.

Most of the hardcore psychopaths, the most controlled ones, the ones with the largest Machiavellian streaks – are the ones running the hedgefunds, and the ones running the country. They’re the ones allowing the insane developments in London along the Thames, where a 1-bedroom flat is a million quid, and they’re purchased as property banks by oligarchs and investors. The last three mayors of London, including our own dear Red Ken, and your own dear Boris, and the other ones’ dear Sadiq Khan. None of them have said, hang on… that’s public land. Why is it being developed by investors into luxury apartments? They just say, oh my, thanks for the donation old chap, and everyone goes home for tea.

So of course, they make wonderful programmes for TV, to get us addicted and setting ourselves up for a nice binge watch with some biscuits, to gawp at the psychopaths, and say, oh my, what a crazy guy. I’m glad he’s locked up, out of harms way. Instead of looking around at all the psychopaths and saying, wait a minute… How come this lot are running the show?

Happy New Fear

It’s the new year! Are you hopeful that it will be better than the last? It begins with Assange not being extradited, which has to be a good thing, but also with him being refused bail, which is not. Never was there a more fitting metaphor for the state of our country right now. Talk about PushMePullYou. This coincides with more doom mongering over Covid. A new year, a new strain, a new worry. Fabulous.

In more down to earth news, I’ve seen on social media that there are a few people who have moved to the area who are now looking for an NHS dentist in Pembs. I hate to break it to you, but this is one of the things you should research about an area before you get here. The truth is, there are hardly any NHS dentists locally, and you’ll never get on their list because the dentist list is even longer than the housing list.

Next you’ll be wondering why there aren’t enough ventilators in the half a hospital we have in Withybush. You’ll get ill, and you won’t be able to get a doctor’s appointment. You’ll be lucky to get a doctor. Some practices are totally full, and taking no new patients. If I had a pound for every time I saw someone getting upset because they couldn’t see a doctor, then I wouldn’t have to be writing this. If I had another pound for all the operations that get cancelled, then I’d be living in Mustique and enjoying myself. I have an elderly friend who has had his hip operation cancelled three times in the last four years. He’s still waiting. I think they’re hoping he bails out before they have to get round to him. If it wasn’t getting done before Covid, then it’s certainly not getting done anytime soon.

I had some weird lurgy over Christmas, but when I did a Covid test, it came back negative. The same with some friends of mine. So, this lurgy we were all getting. If it’s not Covid, what is it? We were pretty rough with it. I’m still a bit weak now, and it kicked off on Boxing Day. That test. Does it test for the new strain? Is there a new strain? How do we know that the thing we have isn’t the new strain, if the symptoms are the same? What’s to differentiate one lurgy from another? Remember last Christmas when everyone had that weird flu? Everyone I know had it, pretty much, and some people were extremely rough. It was weird, it was new, it was harsh, but they say it wasn’t Covid.

My dad’s bowling chum died this week from Covid, 77 years old, no underlying health issues. My dad, living in Frome, in tier four, aged 82, hasn’t had it, but his friend from Bath, tier two, died. There is no logic anywhere.

The point is, really, that your chances are only as good as the care you receive and a bit of luck. If you’re new to Pembrokeshire, you’re going to be shocked the first time you hit Withybush. A&E takes around seven hours before you are seen. This was pre-Covid. Christ knows what it’s like now. I broke my back a few years ago, and was on a trolley for 13 hours before being seen, and before being given pain relief. A friend of mine had a heart attack, but had to lay his symptoms on real thick before he got taken to Morriston. He had mild pains, but his friend, a guy who knew about these things, made him tell the nurses his symptoms were worse than they were, otherwise they’d have sent him home with painkillers. Turns out he’d been having a pretty rough heart attack for hours and ended up with a stent. His understated personality would have been the death of him.

A little look at the housing market locally shows us that Pembrokeshire is the new Cornwall. Thanks to countless TV shows that emphasise just how much you can buy in Pembs for city terrace money. Covid is making this process happen even faster. Some properties are being purchased without even being viewed, by desperate city people trying to escape the virus, safe in the knowledge that their job can be done from home, and they no longer have to hang out on the M4 corridor.

Ironically, the eco-OPD trend is resulting in land prices hitting the roof, as speculators and dreamers make their way West for the good life. As they’re coming with money, they’re usually successful in their plan, much to the chagrin of Plaid Cymru, who are insisting on a moratorium on the matter. I can’t help finding myself agreeing with them.

So. In answer to your question. No. There aren’t any NHS dentists. You won’t get one. And getting a doctor will be hard. If you get Covid your chances are slim, and if you have chest pains, you’re better off saying they’re worse than they are. Make sure you don’t need a hip operation anytime soon. You won’t get one. But it’s ok, because the beaches are lovely.

The great trick they’ve played, is to persuade us that this is all due to Covid. It’s not. But they’re doing a great job of hiding the country’s ineptitude behind the virus, which they probably nickname, Operation Scapegoat. Chances are, even if you were somewhere with a still part functioning NHS, you’d still be screwed, because that’s how privatisation of the NHS works. They’ve been doing it right under our noses. It’s good to see that you’re all beginning to notice.

So, enjoy the landscapes, the views, and your large country property, but unless you’re super loaded, then you can wave goodbye to your teeth.

Terra Firma

I’m not Preseli voice anymore folks. I’m Pembroke voice. I have moved. Elvis has left the building.

This time last year, which seems such a short yet also such a long time ago, I was writing a Christmas column about being homeless. Now, with a new place in town, I can go into this Christmas a little more optimistically. Let’s not forget though, that there are plenty of homeless people that don’t have a column in the local paper, and so you never get to hear about them. They are there, though. And it wouldn’t hurt us to have a think about why they’re there, in the sixth richest country in the world.

Anyhoo. I digress.

A lot has happened in Pembroke since I last lived round here. In many ways, much is the same. Golden Park Chinese takeaway is still there, praise be. But Cromwell’s is a pizza place. And Gateway is gone, although I see there is planning for three retail units. I hope one of them sells dustpans and brushes. When I was moving in last weekend, I took a wander looking for stuff that I needed. Pembroke. Full of art. Not one mop. In some ways that’s a good thing. But in others, it’s a bit sad that the big superstores in the Dock like Tescos and B&M have completely monopolised the domestic implement market. Luckily, going back and forward to the land I’ve just moved from, collecting stuff and cats, I was able to take full advantage of CKs in Narberth and avoid the traffic light palaver of the Dock for an extended time, although I know I can’t avoid it forever. It’s too convenient.

It’s weird being back. I feel like I’ve come home. I met my neighbour, and it turns out I already know him. Met some other neighbours, and they’re really nice. That in itself is a major culture shock.

Getting back on the grid was of course not without its teething problems. Ever moved into a place with token meters? Wot a laff. When the lights and the heating and the hot water came on, I could have cried. I don’t know how I managed to live so roughly for so long. I feel like I’ve come out of prison.

I used a tenner’s worth of gas in two days by jacking the heating right to the top and having constant baths, so now I have to slow that down a bit. But not yet. The luxury is too much to handle. The hot running water. The warmth. The big rooms. The multiple rooms! I’ve lived in such a tiny space for so long, that here I feel I need roller skates just to get from one end of the house to the other.

To be in a building again, to not even hear the rain, or notice the wind, to have an inside toilet and not to be constantly damp and cold, is weird, and wonderful. There is space for my sewing machine, and my lace making stuff, and I am writing this at an actual table and not on my lap on the rickety caravan bed. I’m not panicking about getting this written before the solar power runs out and all goes dark.

So. My off-grid adventure is finally over. Five and a half winters of varying degrees of hell. Since sleeping indoors, my face has gone puffy when I wake up. But the stress wrinkles are fading away already. Swings and roundabouts.

I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I tried. If I hadn’t I would never have known. The dream of getting land and living on it only works if you have plenty of resources. I realise now that it’s not the poor man’s way of getting a farm. It’s just another rich man’s way of doing it. They already have plenty of ways to do it. And now they have another with OPD.

They fool themselves that they’re saving the planet, but with such an impossible task to set it up, in that only 30-odd families have actually achieved it in ten years, tells me that there needs to be another way of doing it. A way that is accessible to all, not just to the moneyed classes. A social housing solution where everyone is off grid, and the infrastructure exists to support that. Basically, a complete overhaul; of society itself and of the housing situation in this country, in order to provide for our most vulnerable, and give them the bare necessity of somewhere to live, which I am lucky enough to now have.

To buy a place is, ironically, the only way to make it affordable. Rent for this property is twice the amount of the mortgage. That’s insane. And it’s unsustainable. And it’s why people try and live in fields. But a word to the wise. It’s not how they make it out to be. When hippies try to sell you a dream, remember, that’s all it is. A sell. It’s all about the money. The dream of a comfortable home should be achievable for all. Not allocated to the lucky few. In my new life as a house dwelling activist, I can fight for that. Fight to provide for all and not just myself. Remember. There are no individual solutions to social problems. But there is an individual need to be warm to fight. I’m warm now. And I’m ready for the new fight.

So Merry Christmas everyone. Wherever you are. Stay warm if you can, so that next year, we can buddy up, and help the ones who aren’t warm this Christmas. I was one of the cold ones last year. People have helped me. My life has been full of angels recently. We can all be an angel for someone else. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? 😊

A Christmas Carol

I’m not quite sure how December got here so quickly. It’s blimmin’ Christmas again, and usually I tend to get a bit humbuggy about the whole thing, but I think this year we all need a bit of light in our lives, and I didn’t complain at all when fairy lights started to appear at the beginning of November. It was nice. Perhaps I’m mellowing out.

A Facebook friend of mine, Jeffrey, keeps posting these wonderful images of Christmas how it used to look. He’s this lovely elderly chap, who keeps me entertained with his fantastic pictures of old buses, and historical Pembrokeshire. Now, as Christmas approaches, he’s filling my newsfeed with all sorts of images that I haven’t seen for a very long time. Old Christmas images that have been lost for what seems like forever.

There are pictures I remember from my grandad’s house, old Christmas cards, the ones you got in the packet every year. Jeffrey always writes a lovely little caption and always includes the words “happy”, “nostalgic”, “memories”, “carefree”, and he makes me feel like the last forty years didn’t happen, and that I’m still hanging out in my grandad’s garden at his red brick council house, while uncle Donny meticulously arranges marigolds and pelargoniums in neat rows, colour coded and millimetre perfect.

It’s nice to look back on those memories and let yourself feel the feelings which they evoke, but it also can leave me with this strange melancholy. Those times are gone. Those “bygone, nostalgic carefree” days will never return. We’re trapped in a nightmare of our own making, where the young people know no different, and everyone from my age up to Jeffrey’s is desperately trying to recreate the good old days. But the good old days are gone. They were fake. They were a temporary sticking plaster on a nation ravaged by war, designed to placate. That post war boom, age of appliances and comfort, council house projects, the NHS, the smashing of slums, the indoor toilets, the televisions, the welfare schemes, the sense of hope and socialism, has given way to a crass, destructive world of enemies within enemies, where no one can be trusted, where communities are dead, where doors are locked, where greed is supreme.

Every success that someone has, is countered by the failure of someone else. Every time someone acquires riches and wealth, somewhere, someone else is losing it. Like the butterfly fluttering that makes hurricane a thousand miles away, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For prosperous times in the UK, others have endured bad times, in places where the UK has been to plunder. For all our country’s wealth, somewhere we took it from someone else. For every extra cotton count someone has in the plush bedsheets, an extra person is made homeless through no fault of their own. As we enjoy our Christmas with family, there are many that have no Christmas with no family. For every present we get, there’s someone losing a loved one.

Did I say we needed some light? A bit of cheering up? Are you depressed now? I apologise. I think what I’m getting at is this. In our capitalist society, the good fortune of some, is always at the expense of others, and I think at Christmas, it’s as good as time as any to remind ourselves of that. The best way to happiness is gratitude. We need to all stop for a moment, and look at what’s happening in our country, and we have to stop ignoring it because we’re busy shopping. We have to see the homeless people, the people living in poverty, the ones about to lose their jobs and therefore everything they’ve worked for as they can’t afford their housing payments. The ones who are missing out on pensions because they were told that their money was being protected, while all along it was being gambled as recklessly as if in Vegas, and when it’s all gone, the big bosses just shrug their shoulders and say, sorry, while collecting massive dividends from share prices that were made big by the loss of your pension.

How many times have you wanted to phone a few companies during the day, but have only got to one call, because it took so long, the automated service didn’t work, you were on hold for an hour, and the person you eventually spoke to gave you poor information? That, my friend, is capitalism.

How many of you are waiting for hospital appointments? How many of you can’t get into your doctor’s surgery? That’s capitalism too. How many of you are wondering why you can no longer rely on the police when you need help? Capitalism. How many of you are losing your job? How many of you are self employed and losing your business? That’s capitalism. As the country falls apart, we have new people every day realising that the system they thought was working for them actually wasn’t. This is the point where we all need to take stock and say… “you know what’s going on here, don’t you? That’s right. Capitalism.”

And while those thoughts go through our heads, we can spare a thought at last for all those people we forgot about during our busy lives. The poor, the lonely, the elderly, the cold. Their days are spent surviving, not shopping. We are lucky. We need to show gratitude. But we also need to understand that it could be much, much better, and not just for us, but for everyone.

Because what is the point in things getting better for just ourselves, when for others, things are getting worse? If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that it’s about time we had a bit of humanity around the place. It’s teaching us what lies are, what selflessness is. It’s teaching us that capitalism was never there to save us, and that it’s too precarious to continue. It’s not protecting our key workers or our society from collapse. It’s not protecting our economy and it can’t cope with a crisis.

Now we know these things it’s time to act. Not as individuals, but as a group. A group of humans who want everyone to be ok. Capitalism taught us to be greedy, to be selfish. Let’s show it that we are human, and that we’re above that. And then let’s take steps to make sure that no one is ever left to die hungry and cold again. Let’s build a society that works. It’s possible to make it right. But first we have to accept that what we have now, is very, very wrong.

Good Henry of Pembrokeshire

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Mini Man, Henry, since he died at the weekend. So many stories going around about him, and why he chose to live like he did.

Everyone has their reasons for the choices that they make. I wonder though, could more have been done to help him? How many more Mini Mans are there out there? There’s someone with a pitched-up tent this week at the council offices. They have nowhere else to go. There are plenty of people in that position, all over the country, with literally, nowhere to go, for whatever reason.

The stories surrounding Henry are tragic. But I’ve also heard a lot of stories about people trying to help him over the years, which goes some way to take a little off the edge of the sadness felt at his death. There have been many outpourings for him since the weekend, and all words I’ve seen written or heard spoken have been good words.

People have an understanding of his plight, a respect for his choices, and way of life, no matter how alien it was to them. I heard stories about 12 Christmas dinners lined up, brought for him by neighbours, but that he never touched any of them. I’m not sure if that part of the story is an embellishment, designed to amplify his attitude to society and offers of help. I’m not sure how much help he accepted, and I don’t know his reasons for doing so or for not. Perhaps he felt that he didn’t want to be seen as a charity, and didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. It was impossible to not feel sorry for him though, passing his place. But he was clear about needing to keep his dignity intact.

I’ve never seen the county so united on something, and it’s really nice to see. Everyone is showing kindness, compassion, things that have been missing a little from the county of late. There’s a unity that Henry has brought, that nothing else has been able to bring. His death has united everyone in a common humanity, where people are thinking of someone else, of their life, of their situation, and of their tragedy. These are all attributes that we have, as humans. It’s good to remember that. It’s taken the death of Henry the mini man to bring the county together. What a hero he is. If only he knew.

I can’t help wondering what would have happened to him had he been living up here though, I’ll be honest. My neighbours would have reported him, and smoked him out. They wouldn’t have brought blankets and kindness and Christmas dinner. They’d have complained that he was spoiling their view. And now, on his death, just like they celebrated making me homeless by getting me evicted from my own land, they would be chinking their glasses at his passing, glad that they no longer had to tolerate his dirty face or his old bicycle. They would celebrate, and write mean things on facebook about how they saw him as weak and terrible because life had treated him unkindly. They’d see nothing good within him. They wouldn’t cry for him like the little girl who saw Henry put his washing out in the rain and wondered how he could get dry. Instead of bringing him warm things and making sure he was ok, they’d be stripping everything he had from him, and they wouldn’t have been satisfied until he froze to death and his heart gave out and they could finally get rid of his mess that brought down their property prices. They would no longer have to share space with an undesirable. They wouldn’t have to look at him and wonder why he was there. They would no longer have to care.

Maybe the outpourings for Henry are about guilt. In that we all knew we probably could have done more. But we didn’t. The people that were kind to him should be proud of themselves. They’ve displayed a humanity that seems so rare in the modern world. A world where selfish needs overtake compassion and kindness. Where no one wants to understand. If Henry had been a refugee, living there, like he was, and then he had died, what would have been the reaction?

There are many lessons we can learn from Henry. He is the best teacher Pembs has ever had. Respect him. Remember him. There, but for the grace of God….

Kick the Councillor

I see all over Facebook that Councillor Josh Beynon is getting the crap kicked out of him again. This time it’s because he put an appeal out for the Penally camp residents. Predictably, the comments range from, send the buggers back, all the way to, nuke ‘em. Meanwhile, In the left corner, we have the “bleeding hearts” calling the naysayers thick. It’s all go in Pembs, let me tell you.

Sleepy seaside Pembrokeshire. Home of Tenby, Pembroke Castle and the Preseli hills where the Bluestones at Stonehenge came from. Quiet drives, lovely scenery, cliffs, wild sea, calm beaches, bustling little towns, it has it all. Holidaymakers have been coming here forever. People have been coming here to retire forever. It’s so bloody nice. But underneath, this fissure runs that makes the San Andreas Fault look like a split hair. The division in the county is so vast that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. It’s not just the boys at penally that have kicked this off. It was like this during Brexit too.

One thing strikes me here. If you look at the comments on both sides, all you’re really seeing is fear. Everyone knows that stuff is somehow off. But no one can work out what’s happening. The angry ones who hate the Penally residents see “them” being given more than they themselves get. They see charity being given to other people. They wonder where the charity is for them or for their families. That fear manifests as anger, and you see the rough language which people use to express that anger. These are people that haven’t really caught up that you can’t laugh at Friends anymore. They’re wondering what all this liberal thinking is about.

The liberal thinkers all see that everything has gone to shit. They in general have a bit more resources than the ones previously mentioned. Not always, but a lot of the time. Perhaps have better jobs, nicer homes, a bit of disposable income, a bit of time, a spare bedroom. They have the time to be sympathetic. They feel that as they have enough, or more than enough they can afford to give a bit more. They pride themselves on the fact that they’re educated, and that they can see this human tragedy unfolding when other less educated people cannot. They follow politics a bit. They know a bit about the history of not only the war in Iraq, but of Imperialist rule in general. They know a bit about how America and us like to go round duffing up other countries and nicking all their sweets. They follow finance markets and see the effect of wars around the globe. They’re concerned about climate change as well as their own investments. They care about the world. They have time to. The luxury to.

On the other hand, the less “educated”, the ones who work a million hours a week or are bringing up kids alone, who aren’t really paying attention, because they don’t have the time, or the inclination. Because they’re struggling, all they see is their struggle being ignored, while others get help. Others that they’ve been told they should hate because they fight our boys abroad. The boys that joined the army because they couldn’t get a job at home and wanted a good salary and future. Who wanted to be trained in something but there’s no training available anymore and to get into college requires more GCSEs than you’re inspired to ever take.

I hate to say it, but it all seems a bit class based to me. The proles have had enough, and the ones a bit more well off have also had enough, but they see the situation from opposite ends of the spectrum, and therefore come up with completely different opinions and solutions.

Ultimately, though, if you look closely, the things that bother them, are the things that bother the other ones too. They’re just affected in a different way. The sense of injustice felt by kind people, who are doing ok, and want to help others do ok, people like Josh Beynon, who works from the heart and with kindness, see a solution in collecting items that the guys in Penally will need, which certainly improves their immediate conditions. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his own. But in this instance, these are the guys he’s choosing to help. The people who are angry with him for this, are only angry, because they would really like someone to come and do the same for them, but they don’t feel seen in the same way. This is because it’s assumed in our society that people should not want hand-outs, or need hand-outs. So they feel guilt at their situation, because they do. If these people who are angry at Josh had enough for themselves, and their families were safe, with enough for themselves too, and they felt accomplished in their lives, and happier with their lot in general, they’d find more room in themselves to feel sympathetic to the plight of others.

It’s not that they’re mean or selfish, and they certainly feel sympathy and empathy for their own kind whom they see in such positions, because they are a tribe and a crew and a group and human nature is thus, to feel that way, to look after their own. Their kin. But if they looked a little deeper, they would see that the same system that keeps them poor, and struggling and lost, the same system that takes their pensions, treats its own citizens poorly, is the same system that bombs these other people from their homes and countries. While imperialist billionaires profiteer by starting and continuing their endless wars, the people at the bottom are left to pay.

War ensues afresh. They turn us against our fellows from another country, and then for their next trick, they turn the locals against each other. All the while, everyone, on every side, completely missing the point that it’s the failures of a Capitalist system that are to blame, not other people.

If a bunch of horses are in a big field, with lots of grass, and lots of space, and they’re all satiated and full, you won’t get any problems at all from those happy, fulfilled horses. The minute you make the food scarce, get everyone hungry, and then you introduce some nice hay, at that point you’re gonna have yourselves some problems. Those horses will fight tooth and nail for that hay, all believing that their need is the greater, all wanting to be top of the tree, head horse, the one that gets the food.

If you create scarcity, you create problems. Our society has created scarcity and now we’re all horses fighting over resources. Why is there a housing shortage? Why are there food banks? Why are there people freezing on the streets? Why is our mental health problem bigger than it’s ever been? Why do we have homeless veterans? It’s not because of refugees. They’re here for all the same reasons that we’re in need. We’re the sixth richest country in the world. We shouldn’t be fighting over who is the most entitled to get help. It shouldn’t even be a question.

We shouldn’t need to rehome all the refugees from countries we’ve bombed. We shouldn’t have to do Children in freaking Need. We shouldn’t have to have food banks and homeless shelters. We shouldn’t need charity and people collecting clothes for the needy. Josh Beynon shouldn’t have to be out and about, giving up his time to help people, just to be told he’s helping the wrong people. We’re all the right people. Our governments should be helping us. But they’re not.

Josh isn’t your enemy. Your government is. Pick on them.