Dylan Thomas was probably one of the biggest influences on me as a boy growing-up. When I was five my parents moved from Aberdare in the Cynon Valley to a village called Gowerton five miles west of Swansea. The "ugly lovely town" he speaks of in a great deal of his work was also the place where I knocked around and spent my formative years. When I return to Swansea now on visits home to see my mother, the seagulls squawk the same, yet I barely recognise the place, it has changed so much. The majority of the grimy, teeming streets of two-up two-downs that stretched for miles from St Mary's Church to the Brangwyn Hall are mostly gone now. As has, as it seems to me (easy for me to say as someone who now lives quite far away!), much of the character I loved about the old town: the old bus station and the endless queues for buses and toilets; the scalding hot, weak, sweet teas always on tap in the bus station cafe, and served by the woman with the cross-eyes; the smell of fish and chips from Bellis' Chipshop, caked and drowning in lots of salt and vinegar in greasy newspaper that always left your fingers inky black; pikelets and Welsh-cakes baking at Coakley's Cafe on Oxford Street. There were plenty of unappetising smells too, coming from the dingy alleyways strewn with litter.
I had teachers at my school who'd been to school at the same time as Dylan Thomas. My RE teacher, affectionately known as Zeke, described young Dylan as a thug. I believe my English teacher was himself taught English by Dylan's father. Thomas the fallible man had of course passed away by then - but we didn't care about any of that, we had the legend! As boys with a burning passion for the arts, my friends and I ate and drank his words. He has always struck me as a writer who can speak directly and with immediacy to the youthful mind. He was undoubtedly one of the biggest culural influences upon me in my early life. On Saturday afternoons my pals and I took coffee in the Kardomah cafe because Dylan had, and after opening time, under-age we sipped our beer slyly in The Three lamps public-house, because that's where Dylan drank (the fact the original had been destroyed courtesy of A Hitler and his Luftwaffe was we felt of little or no importance!).
I've been fortunate enough to be involved in three productions of Under Milk Wood during my life as an actor, and each time, and with each production being some years apart, I've always been amazed yet again at how fresh and wonderful his language is.
I think I know what I'll be reading next.