How do people live?

Swans on the Taff, Cardiff.


How do we construct a life as we go along? The things we do and say, the actions that make us who we are? Sometimes all of this is bewildering. I look for clues everywhere, including under the bed. I find a few empty boxes, some crayons, a broken hunter watch belonging to Taid (my grandfather) which saw out four years in the trenches in World War One but was not able to resist my two-year old daughter swinging a toy hammer. Bits and pieces.

Tom Pow, the Scottish poet, told me the other week that he had been working in a prison and a disturbed long-term inmate had started declaiming, to the world at large, How do people live? – a question perhaps more appropriate, and less taken-for-granted than might at first appear.

Part of the aim of this blog is to reflect on the mutable universe, and the roles that we play within it. One of the delights of having a camera app on your mobile phone is that you can snap things at random, which taken together in the course of a day can cast a peculiar light on that very general plea, made by the prisoner of how do people live, at a very unspectacular level.  It is something I will never grasp entirely, but which can be illuminated by these fragmented moments, taken at intervals with no plan or purpose, amounting to a broken narrative of what passes by. With no plan or purpose, but always stalked by memory.



Warning sign, near Cwrt-y-gollen army camp.



Ancient tree at the bottom of Gypsy Lane, Llangenny. When I was a kid it blew my mind to learn that this tree was here when the Normans arrived.



Bridge where I once played.



Where do we go from here?






7 Comments on “How do people live?

  1. My first partner’s father was from near Llandovery, and the family farm was called Cwrt-y-Gollen: it was right on the county line between Dyfed & Powys, so a different authority supplied electricity from that which emptied the bins. We used to go to there every summer in the early 80s, get stoned in the fields & read all night. There was a copy of Pound’s Active Anthology (now worth quite a bit), which is where I read Bunting & Zukofsky for the first time. We’d sometimes be there for the lambing, so there’d also be a lamb dying in a box at the foot of the stairs. I remember my father-in-law telling me about how long it took him from moving to London to stop dreaming in Welsh – about fifteen to twenty years. She got in touch again recently, after about fifteen years – there are evidently units of time, borders at which we either lose or seek to preserve aspects of ourselves. When I was younger they seemed to come along every six or seven years, but of course time speeds up.


    • Time speeds up in part because each unit of time that passes is a smaller fraction of the whole life lived; and this makes us more prone to the kind of reflections described by both of us here. I find it astonishing and quite enlivening, in a strange way, to discover that so much of what we reflect upon, when we reflect upon the past, resembles a kind of link the numbers drawing. There are shapes and textures that keep coming up, and that’s why we are drawn back to them. I don’t think I ‘dwell in the past’ any more than is good for me but the present and future increasingly make more sense in terms of what I have learned about the past.


      • I understand you may feel the need to encode revelation, but would you mind unbrrrtzapping ‘a kind of link the numbers drawing’ in the above? I feel we tremble on the verge of a breakthrough or a breakfast or something…


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