A Ballad of Lost Youth
( I found this song in the book Below the bridge. A photo historical survey of Cardiff’s docklands to 1983, published by the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, 1984. Authors: Catherine Evans, Steve Dodsworth and Julie Barnett)
This poem was written by Terry Rees and was chosen to publish in the book as a result of a competition who was run in conjunction with the project, and where the inhabitants of Butetown were invited to participate.
So what are you doing in Cardiff?
I’m going to see Tiger Bay.
It’s twenty-nine years since I’ve been there,
I’ve almost forgotten the way.
Tiger Bay! You’ll be lucky, it0s gone now.
They demolished it, didn’t you know?
There’s tower blocks where there were houses
and council flats all in a row.
I went down there last in the fifties
and took in some jazz on my round,
where Terry and Ian and Geoff played,
and filled the Quebec with their sound.
But can you remenber a cafe
in Bute Street, two hundred and eight?
A man, Sam On Yen, was the owner,
his grub irresistible bait.
Before Chinese food was the fashion
he showed us its juicy delight,
with more than enough for a dollar
and eating for half of the night.
Alas, the Quebec is now silent,
so also the man Sam On Yen.
He’s gone to the Land of his Fathers;
you’ll not eat his cooking again.
From night-school I sometimes went mitching
to Tiger Bay, when it was dark.
I met a few friends to go boozing,
it one hell of a lark.
We drank at the Dowlais and Windsor
with never a moment of fuss.
Big Tim always went for the beer
(he looked a lot older than us).
So little I knew when I started
to drink under age with my group,
though they said it was best Windsor bitter
it could have been brwon Windsor soup.
We whistled at girls as they passed us,
we gobbed in the streets like the men,
we puked in convenient doorways;
oh, a wonderful time we had then!
Still younger, I came with my parents,
we three on marine pleasure sped.
We rode in a tram along Bute Street-
‘All change if you please, Pier Head!’
What joy in that rumbling tram-car,
I’d climb the steps to the top shelf;
up there in the front was no driver,
so I’d sit there and drive it myself.
Then after a trip in a steamer
we waited again for a tram.
Nearby a kids’ game was in progress
but I had to stand there with my Mam.
There aren’t any more paddle steamers,
the Campbells have left Tiger Bay.
They’ll know the date in the Museum,
but the last has long since sailed away.
Has everything gone I remenber?
Shall I recognise nothing at all?
are alleys not played around James Street?
Do children in daps not play ball?
Go down with your memory, walking,
and find yourself what has gone.
Those adults were yesterday’s children,
by now they have kids of their own.
It’s not only buildings that alter,
you surely have noticed just how
young people grow older much younger?
They have different rituals now.
I’ll keep all my memories, thank you,
but visit once more Tiger Bay
to look for that last paddle steamer,
be on board as she paddles away.