The other day, we battled against bucketing rain down the little path that leads between castle and sea , to Dylan Thomas’s boathouse in Laugharne. Seagulls swooped against sandbanks, the sea was gently ruffled. Rows of cottages stretched down to the sea, and I whispered to myself – you can hardly help it – ‘sloe black, slow, black, crow-black, fishing-boat-bobbing…’ though it was grey and not bible-black.
We passed the shed where he worked, and I thought that with such a view, I’d have done very little writing. In the cramped little boathouse, I tried – and as is sadly usual in houses that have become museums – just failed to feel the poet’s presence. I thought that life must have been very difficult for the little family crammed into those four cottage-rooms, especially in the days before washing machines and fridges; but our companion, who knows a good deal about Thomas, told us that contrary to what we might have imagined, Caitlin was a good housekeeper. In spite of, and maybe because of, the deluge, it was an evocative and memorable visit.
A few weeks ago, we were at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea. While we were there, it was crowded and lively – the café full of visitors – a crowd of teenage musicians, families with young children, grey haired busy ladies, one of those men who is an expert on everything, and tells you so – everyone just hanging out and having a good time. We saw the exhibition, and enjoyed it , and marvelled how long ago the nineteen-fifties seem now.
The Centre feels like a focal point for Swansea people, a place that if it wasn’t there, would leave a huge gap. And now, it seems, it isn’t going to be there for much longer. It’s hard to find out exactly what’s going to happen – different stories are flying about, but it seems that Swansea University has bought the site, and it isn’t going to continue in its present form. The exhibition, the excellent bookshop, the friendly staff, the space for performance and talks, will all be gone.
Maybe Dylan Thomas wasn’t someone you would have liked for your best friend, maybe some of his poems are windy and wordy – but the best of them haunt you . When I was a girl I had an EP record of Thomas reading some of his poems. It got lost, stolen or strayed years ago, but I can still hear that wonderful honey-and-whisky voice rumbling away as I read the poems on the page. Swansea without the Dylan Thomas Centre? It doesn’t bear thinking about.