Story of my election campaign, part 2Posted: April 14, 2012
“What a coincidence!” I said to opposing candidate Ivor Jackson as we met on the same spot while out canvassing yesterday, Friday April 13th. It was not just any spot but Pantycelyn Farm, the home of the 18th century Methodist preacher and hymn writer William Williams, creator of almost 1,000 hymns, mainly in Welsh and including ‘Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah’.
Pantycelyn, a graceful house still inhabited by William Williams’ descendents, gave its name to Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, Llandovery’s comprehensive school which Carmarthenshire County Council, chaired for the past year by Ivor Jackson of the Independents, intends to close.
Why should our paths cross unexpectedly at this very special house? For the moment, it’s one of the stranger incidents of the campaign, which seems to have been going on for ages although I collected my leaflets only on Wednesday and now is Saturday.
My first day learning to be a postman was on the western side of Llandovery. All the hazards of a postman’s life, which I had stumbled upon while a temporary employee of Royal Mail when, years ago as a student, I helped deliver Christmas post, came flooding back. ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs and large dogs between you and the letter box; doors without a letter box; and a 21st century phenomenon, letter boxes so effectively draught-excluded that they repel all attempts to push mail through them. Some houses advertised ‘No Unsolicited Callers’, which I imagine includes election candidates. The streets were almost deserted.
The next day, Thursday, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, the Assembly Member for our constituency of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, kindly came to boost my campaign. Good weather, a few more people about. Patrick, my husband and a (semi-retired) photographer, took some shots of us standing on the castle mound above Llandovery car park, to illustrate one of the pledges in my ‘manifesto’, to work to cut the parking charges.
We headed to Maesglas, one of the longer streets in the town, in fact the street where Ivor Jackson lives. Rhodri Glyn Thomas knocked on the odd numbers, and I knocked on the evens, aided by my granddaughter Zoe, who noted down the concerns raised by the residents we met. Car parking charges were among the issues. One elector said that it was too far for her to walk into town, so she needed to drive, but the coming of residents-only parking zones (in 2011) and the 50p minimum charge in the car park, for up to an hour, were big discouragements. Fifty pence is far from a trivial amount, especially to pensioners, and Llandovery has an elderly population because there are too few jobs for people of working age. Another issue, and a very big one.
I like walking around Llandovery, which is a town of colourful and carefully tended gardens, Georgian buildings, a cobbled market square, and a ruined 13th century castle. It is also a town with a shrinking commercial heart. Today I walked past the closed-down Royal Mail sorting office, a garage site up for sale, some empty houses, a gift shop that shut its doors this afternoon and a clothing seconds store that stopped trading a few days ago.
The issues today spanned the range from the future of the town’s swimming pool, to rocks falling from the castle ruins, to late-night drinkers causing a nuisance. I got chatting to a man sitting in his garden, and he said: “Didn’t you know about the Co-op’s application to sell alcohol until 11 o’clock at night? A lot of people around here will be scared to go out.”
Back home I looked up the licensing applications and yes, on March 14th the Co-ops in Llandovery, Llandeilo and Kidwelly applied to sell alcohol from 6am to 11pm Mondays to Saturdays and from 10am to 10.30pm on Sundays. In Llandovery, next to the Co-op, is a peaceful development of over 50 bungalows, mainly for independent elderly people. Somehow the idea of late-nighters visiting the Co-op in search of booze does not sit easily with over-70s wanting a tranquil night’s sleep. There are houses on the other side of the store, too. Could the applications for such extended hours be anything to do with the plans for Sainsbury’s superstores outside Llandeilo and in Cross Hands? If so, the response smacks of desperation, and I say this as a Co-op member.
Store opening hours were not mentioned yesterday, in the countryside east of Llandovery. The issues were different, including the lack of broadband, and the distance from the general hospital in Carmarthen, some 30 miles from the farmlands on the edge of the Epynt. On a doorstep in Llandovery one voter made a similar point, the problems of travelling to Accident and Emergency in Carmarthen and the short opening hours of the minor injuries unit at Llandovery Hospital, 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
No canvassing tomorrow, but planning for the week ahead, including sending leaflets by post to addresses I haven’t been able to find and planning the routes for delivery and canvassing. Regardless of the outcome, it’s all very educational. Maybe, on my travels, I’ll meet the other candidates on the road, but it’s hard to think of anywhere more iconic than Pantycelyn.