THE LAST TRAMP IN WALES
1. Introduction 2. The Last Tramp, by Byron Rogers 3. Note on Byron Rogers
It was the American humourist Mark Twain who, abandoning humour for a moment, observed that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life (but failed to spot the difference between the two, that death doesn't get worse every time parliament meets). But Twain could easily have added a third certainty to his list: change, whose role in human affairs is usually to cause havoc in both our daily and subconscious lives.
Even within the evolutionary eye-blink of one person's life, every town or village, no matter how small or large, changes in front of our eyes. Buildings rise and are occupied; are abandoned and then fall or, which is more likely, are demolished. We stand by, helpless, as whole fields, woods and farms are bulldozed to make way for the latest housing or commercial development, the results rarely, if ever, meeting with the approval of those who grew up under the old order. Every new stretch of ribbon development in a rural area sends the local population into spasms of head shaking and bewilderment, and in the process the character of our countryside is diminished in some indefinable, but very real, way.
The remorseless flight to the country of recent years has seen the price of rural and semi-rural housing shoot off the map of human comprehension and children of long-established families can no longer afford homes in the towns and villages they grew up in. Soon, every village in the country will have no-one whos lived there more than a few years and something, surely, will be lost along the way. A pretentious nouveau-riche estate of two hundred houses, built at the expense of a childhood picnic spot, may be a get-rich development opportunity for some nameless spiv but a community it certainly isnt, nor will it ever become one, as any newcomer would quickly discover:
'Excuse me; could you tell me where the local shops are around here? Try the supermarket ten miles down the motorway. Is there a village hall here? There's a golf club. Where's the local pub? You have a drinks cabinet, don't you? And the library? Amazon.com are very good for books. The Post Office? What? Oh, and where's the parish church? What's a parish church ...?'
The way we live, as well as our built heritage, is in a constant state of flux as well. Our architectural heritage has preservation societies to protect it from neglect or vandalism, but we all become guardians of the past eventually, our mission to preserve our lost ways of life, or at least record their death throes. While growing up in Ammanford in the nineteen fifties there were countless trades and occupations that seem quaint now but were perfectly normal to us at the time. The practitioners of these modes of living have long disappeared from our streets as surely and irrevocably as our woodlands, their ways of life disappearing even as we watched them go by. Then we blinked and they, and our childhoods, were suddenly gone. We're speaking here of the tramp and the rag-and-bone man; the gypsy peg-seller and the itinerant knife sharpener; the sioni winwns (Breton onion seller); the tinker, coalman, rentman, tallyman, breadman, eggman and the popman, for ours was still largely a door-to-door and small shop economy; and then there was the most exotic of them all, a Sikh peddler and his battered old suitcase. This gentleman, whose turban was an object of intense curiosity to us children of the fifties, was the archetypal peddler of his time. Proceeding methodically along our impoverished terraced street he'd knock on each door before opening a vast suitcase containing what seemed, in those post-war years of austerity, all the riches of the east. Aladdin's cave couldn't hold such wealth as his bottomless suitcase. (Ignorance can stray perilously close to racism at times and whenever this gentleman appeared, some children might be snatched up from the street by their parents just in case, though just in case of what we never knew.)
Shops were somewhat different then, too different in that there were shops. Our retail needs today are likely to be met by a once-a-week shop at a local supermarket, though if we want to see how our ancestors managed we could turn to the pages of Kelly's Directory, a sort of Yellow Pages of its day, listing the businesses and services on offer in the main towns of Britain. Listed in the entry for Ammanford in 1910 are all the long-vanished occupations that supplied our wants and needs at that time, trades and services you'll see now only in black and white films: blacksmith, boot maker, cabinet maker, corn and flour merchant, cycle maker, draper, dress maker, flannel manufacturer, haberdasher, milliner, nurseryman, pop manufacturer, saddler, school attendance officer, tailor, temperance hotel, town crier, vaccination officer, wheelwright, Young Men's Christian Association, not forgetting the town's two artificial teeth makers and the shadowy George W. Jolly, 'private enquiry agent', all thriving in one small Welsh town.
They are long gone of course, and the street hawkers, peddlers and other door-to-door vendors went with them, but it was the tramps, at least in Ammanford, who lingered on longer than the others. These men they were always men were the last vestiges of a once numerous social class, vagrants who tramped the length and breadth of the land in search of somewhere to sleep and occasionally work as well. Tramps have been around for centuries but the last great economic upheaval that created the twentieth century's reluctant nomads was the depression years of the twenties and thirties, whose awful unemployment and poverty flung thousands onto the lonely and inhospitable roads in search of work. If, as was usually the case, they didn't have the fares to travel from blighted regions like the South Wales valleys to wherever opportunity beckoned, well, they just walked instead. And walked; and walked; often for months on end, from one short-term job to another.
But where most saw their tramping days as a temporary expedient to be endured until a lasting job was found, and roots could be put down in a new place, a significant minority, curiously, fell into this way of life permanently. In youth I well remember a couple of such tramps who used to call at our house in Ammanford where they would be given food and a little money before they went on their way. I never knew where they stayed for they were, unsurprisingly, not very forthcoming on this matter, but there were plenty of old huts and abandoned buildings where they could find shelter until, like swallows, something triggered a migration and they disappeared. Like the swallows, they seemed to wait until the earth had made another turn around the sun, at which point they'd re-appear at about the same time the following year.
Now, these tramps are no more, and their successors on the bottom rung of the social scale are given different, much more contemptuous names: down-and-outs, dossers, derelicts, drop-outs, dysfunctionals, nutters, losers, new-age travellers, the homeless, the unemployable, and are usually treated with far less kindness than the old tramps seemed to have been.
One of these seasonal migrants to Ammanford, a bearded Scotsman we knew as Harry the Tramp, hung on to this peripatetic way of life well into the 1970s; long enough, in fact, to attract the attention of journalists and sociologists, eager to gain an insight into the psychology of these, by now, figures of great curiosity. For when people who are different arrive in large numbers then society fears, even demonises them, but will usually tolerate small numbers if they pose no threat to our so-called traditional ways of life. If they are really rare (and harmless), society may even find their long-lost life-styles romantic. When gypsies travelled in their gaily painted horse-drawn caravans, theirs was an attractive, even enviable, way of life. But as these vehicles gave way to large metal-framed mobile homes with all modern conveniences, parked in numbers on bleak waste lands or car parks, society, especially national and local government, has grown hostile, even racist, towards gypsies. Yet these travellers, now dealing in scrap metal where their more romanticised predecessors repaired pots and pans and told our fortunes, are still the same people really, and hardly deserving of their current vilification.
In 1970 Harry the Tramp real name George Gibbs was fortunate enough to find a sympathetic and articulate chronicler for his life in the person of Carmarthen-born journalist Byron Rogers, who documented his story in a newspaper article. This article, later reprinted in a collection of his journalism, the delightful An Audience with an Elephant and other encounters on the eccentric side, is reproduced below with the kind permission of the author.
1. Introduction 2. The Last Tramp, by Byron Rogers 3. Note on Byron Rogers
THE LAST TRAMP
by Byron Rogers
from: 'An Audience with an Elephant and
other encounters on the eccentric side',
Aurum Press, 2001
By the time you read this the subject of the article will have disappeared into Wales as effectively as any goblin or guerilla of the Middle Ages, as completely, in fact, as David Livingstone disappeared into Africa. George Gibbs is one of that shrinking body of men steadily eroded by the processes of government who can still do this, as for nine months of every year, in 20th-century Britain, he is beyond the reach of postmen and phone calls. Gibbs comes at the end of a very long tradition: at 53 he is the last of the wanderers [Note: this article first appeared in 1970].
.....For as long as there have been hearth fires and home acres some men have been forsaking them, to wander. Outraged legislation indexed their progress, spitting against 'vagabondes, roges, masterless men and idle persons' and 'myghty vagabonds and beggars'; up until the nineteenth century, with its glimmerings of official enlightenment, society hounded and reviled its tramps because in their way they represented, like Soviet emigrants, an adverse comment upon it. Yet then tramps acquired a haze of romance, particularly with growing urbanisation. They were the men outside, the bronzed wanderers, men with no axes to grind (though ironically this is how many earned their livings), with no families, no pasts no future. The romance was, or course, in contradiction of the facts. Tramps, the manager of a reception centre told me, were usually 'physically or mentally disabled, or socially inadequate'. Besides, very few of them now did wander: what remained were derelicts or alcoholics shuffling through city centres. Philip O'Connor, author of Vagrancy, advised me to invent such a man: he doubted whether he existed in life.
.....Finally I found George Gibbs. Since 1968 he has been some thing of a minor celebrity in Wales. Then, trying to light a fire in a deserted house near Llanelly, he had the good fortune first to push his hand up the chimney, and enough blasting powder came tumbling down to have sent him, the house, and most of the street, into kingdom come. It was the year before the Investiture.
.....Gibbs spent his winters at the Stormydown Reception Centre near Bridgend, leaving each year with the spring, and by summer could be anywhere between Glamorgan and Anglesey; the difficulties in contacting a tramp are legion. I rang some of his regular stops a Carmarthenshire farmhouse, a Newtown presbytery without luck. But there was one thing which characterised Gibbs: his fondness for the police force. Like an unofficial Inspector of Constabulary, he dropped in on their stations, chatted to them, discussed their families, promotions, moves, smoked their cigarettes and drank their tea. The Dyfed-Powys force offered to pass the message 'up the line' as they put it, to say I was interested in meeting George. A week later I was rung up from Machynlleth:
.....'Mr Gibbs.' said a voice, 'is just entering town.' Which made him sound like a gunfighter.
.....It is 9.30 a.m. in Machynlleth. A smell of fresh bread drifts through the town. In the sky the first of the day's Royal Air Force jets are beginning their passes along the valley, as in the municipal rubbish tip George Gibbs is waking up. He has spent the night in an open shed which contains agricultural machinery, where across the entrance he has placed a series of planks and oil cans to detect intruders, so it is difficult at first to make him out in the gloom. Then there is a slight movement among a heap of old coats and sacking in the corner of the shed, and two large white eyes, like lemur's, peer out. Somewhere in the huddle a radio is switched on and pop music flares in the darkness. Mr Gibbs is awake.
.....All night he has slept on some planking, covered by his coats, his feet in an old dog-food sack. He has slept well, as he always does. 'I can't sleep in a bedroom any more. I roll around all night. But when I sleep on a hard surface I sleep all night.' Gibbs has slept well in abandoned boats, in telephone boxes with his knees pulled up like a Mexican, even, he confesses shamefacedly, in public lavatories. But mostly he sleeps in far more comfortable surroundings, in empty houses, on dried bracken in snug barns. He walks some 8 miles a day. All over Wales he has places to sleep in at 8-mile intervals. After a week with him one begins to suspect that he has hides at such intervals to heaven.
.....It takes Gibbs a long time to get up. Finally, at 10.00 a.m., a small crumpled figure comes blinking into the morning. He is wearing an old black beret found on a rubbish tip, to which he has fixed a Women's Institute of Wales badge found on the roadside, a cavalry twill sports coat given to him by a Caernarvon lady, and a sweater issued at the reception centre. On his feet he has a pair of ladies' slippers found on Barmouth rubbish tip, which will be replaced that week by a pair of wellingtons found on Machynlleth rubbish tip. Rubbish tips to Gibbs are the equivalents of all those marvellous wrecks bursting with consumer goods in Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson. He scours them, poking about in the packing cases and ashes, the seagulls' one rival. They clatter irritably up as he passes.
.....Gibbs is a curious, shuffling, knock-kneed little figure. He weighs very little, like most tramps just 8 stone. Of a tramp found dead by the polices he told me: 'The sergeant who found him said he was just like a sheet of cardboard to lift, a sheet of cardboard. He'd been dead a fortnight, I think. Poor old Paddy.'
.....He is bespectacled and bearded, and quite spectacularly grimy, a small boy's dream figure of personal hygiene. He talks occasionally of romantic little morning dips in the River Conway but cannot quite remember when he last had one. 'I prefer showers meself. It's clean water. In a bath you're lying in dirty water,' says George with the cold objectivity of a man who has not been in either for a very long time.
.....He was born in Glasgow in 1917, the son of a sailor missing at sea during World War I; he himself went straight to sea after leaving school, ending up as a cook, and took to the roads after his own wartime experiences as a merchant seaman. He left the sea, having had what amounted to a nervous breakdown, 'always thinking of the other ships that went up, the bombings and such like'. He told his mother he was off to look for work, and did work for a while as an itinerant agricultural labourer, but in 1948 he came to Wales and really went on the roads. He never told his mother he was a tramp: to the end of her life she believed he was a farmworker. The Gibbs family are not given to writing letters, and George does not know where his three sisters and brother are. Since 1948 he has been out of Wales twice, once when he went on a long tramp to Kent in the early 1950s, and contracted pneumonia, and once two years ago when he was given a rail warrant by the Stormydown Reception Centre to go home. On that occasion he found that his mother had died a few months earlier.
.....George is not very forthcoming as to the point when his itinerant labouring tipped over into tramping, but it seems to have been a quite gradual process. At first he worked regularly: now the last time he remembers working was over six years ago, for five weeks in a Flintshire brickworks. 'Quite interesting work,' he says airily. On tramping itself he says, 'Once you get on to the road it gets into the system. It's like smoking: you get a craving. I just can't get off.'
At Machynlleth he has just lit his fire and is perched in front of it like a small Fisher King, dangling his billy can in the flames at the end of a stick. George puts his tea in the bottom of the can and allows the water to boil up through it so one can almost eat the resulting mixture with a knife and fork, As he sits he talks in a soft, unflurried monotone no incident can disturb. George says 'Oh dear' a lot of the time; as an exclamation it covers the gamut of his feelings, which seem to run from mild surprise to mild upset. When we found a huge black catamaran beached miles from anywhere on a remote beach near Aberdovey: 'What have we here? Dear, O dear,' he repeated in surprise. Again, when he saw some modernised buildings, 'Ruined that, they 'ave dear, O dear.' George is like a whitewashed wall: one longs to scribble all over it, to make some kind of impression.
.....He is proud of being on the roads. On page after page of the occasional notebooks he keeps are reflections on the life and the lore, He lists the old tramping signs that were once scored on trees: does he ever make them himself? 'No, I never do. Who's to read them?' The signs fall into two categories, invitations and warnings; the latter seem to be more numerous. Thus a circle bisected means that the householder could call the police Ø; Z indicates extreme warning, the tramp should move on at once Others are amusing: two axe-like symbols mean that the householder will help the tramp but will also expect work first; a triangle means the house is a police house. A circle is the symbol of a generous persons; two small concentric circles of a rich person. Poring over this lore, George communicates it to nobody.
.....He did, however, earlier this year meet an Irishman travelling south. 'He only had a little bag, no frying-up equipment ...'. A long pause. 'I think he was a hitch-hiker.' This is George's most telling recrimination against a fellow wanderer.
.....He himself is anxious to establish his credentials. 'I think I must be the only fellow on the road with a radio.' 'I think I've got the only pram with two reflectors on it.' 'I think I must be the only man on the road who's had six prams.' On the sides of his pram he has written the names of the Welsh towns through which he passes. He was given it by a café owner in Caernarvonshire: the pram is battered and old, but to George it is wardrobe, medicine cupboards desk, larder and trunk.
.....Today, as he begins to pack up after the night, it contains a ground sheet (a piece of wartime barrage balloon found years before on some forgotten rubbish tip), two radios (both of them gifts), a first aid box, an old cap with ear muffs, two very clean towels and a shaving kit (says heavily-bearded George of the latter, 'It's in case I go anywhere special'), mending threads and needles, a pair of sunglasses, the Bible, a camera (a gift for which he cannot afford films), a toilet roll, a knife, fork and spoons, some lard (which he prefers as more nourishing to butter), tea, sugar, an elderly pork pie, some cereals, a bottle of VP wine (his one alcoholic drink), a bottle of paraffin for his spirit lamp, a wrapped up frying pan, some lighter fuel for his stick lighter (another gift) and a pair of shoes too large for him to wear but too new to throw away. 'I've got everything,' reflects George, 'except the kitchen sink.' The pram also contains his occasional books, old notebooks he has found or been given. On one, in a large, round, child-like hand he has written 'George Gibbs Esq., Scotstoun, Glasgow, Scotland': it was the last time he had an address, a quarter of a century ago. He records in these books, in a weird macaronic mixture of Welsh and English, the deaths of his heroes: 'Judy Garland found dead in her flat, Chelsea, Mehefin 22, 1969. Dydd Sul. In another I came upon the fruit of 25 years' tramping, a neat list of Welsh convents, presbyteries and colleges with crosses, and circles to mark the degree of their hospitality There is also a list of the best places to sleep (it includes a police cell).
.....Strangest of all there is a roster of police names: force after force, town after village, the constables, sergeants, inspectors. George notes their progress with the attention of a herald to a ruling caste, and supplements these with cuttings from local papers so the plump, untroubled faces beam out at one. Some have signed their own names. The police force has no more uncritical lay admirer than George Gibbs,
.....His passions, in fact, are two: the police and Wales. There are Welsh-English word lists, sad little dates from Welsh history, even this touching entry: 'Give me the Welsh-speaking people any day. They are more kindly and friendly. I will stay in Cymru, and be buried here.' The Welsh, he says, are sympathetic to tramps. 'But don't put that down,' he says in sudden unfeigned alarm. 'You'll have the English coming over.' He has taken all Wales to be his bedroom.
.....From Machynlleth George was turning south. In the three months since he had left Stormydown he had moved north in a slow arc towards Anglesey and was now going south along the coast. He travels his 8 miles on a good day, but intersperses these with rest days at intervals. 'It's not an easy life. I wouldn't advise anyone to take to the road. It was really tough when I used to roam in the winter, maybe two to three inches of snow. I have difficulty getting my old pram through snow.'
.....He is fortunate in having good health. Apart from his pneumonia in the early 1950s he has been ill only once, when he went down with flu at Christmas time, 1969, having been soaked in a downpour on the way to Stormydown. The flu resulted in a spot on his lungs and he had to spend a month in hospital. He says of himself: 'I've never been ill actually on the roads. Getting the air, day by day, and walking ... quite healthy me.' Yet he has little energy and tires easily. His teeth are bad. In his pram he has a jar of home-made jam which he has not opened in two years. 'Can't. It would play holy mackerel with my teeth, that.'
.....There is an even tenor to his life, which all untoward events disturb, to send great ripples across it. Thus I came across the news of my coming on different pages of his books. Yet he accepted me the way he accepts everything and was soon introducing me to policemen. 'This is Mr Rogers. He is writing the history of my life.' They looked incredulously at his Boswell as we shuffled by.
.....George plans his trips in a very loose way. He has a vague overall target, like Anglesey, but changes his route as it pleases him. 'A man like myself going on steadily, not bothering anyone bound for anywhere. Anywhere does me. A man who goes everywhere bound for anywhere.' This is the week up to his stay in Machynlleth.
.....Tuesday night: A chicken shed, between Barmouth and Dolgellau. George has slept here before. The farmer, who has been here 20 years, says that, of all the tramps who once called, George is now the last. 'We would think now that there was something missing from the year if he didn't call.' George sleeps just outside the chicken wire. Piled neatly are some old paperbacks he left the year before, and which the farmer has let lie. Before he sleeps, George, who is unable to light a fire here, asks the farmer for some hot water for his tea. The chickens grieve and scuttle. 'Nice listening to the chickens,' says George, 'nicer than traffic.'
.....Wednesday: Towards Dolgellau. First stop Barmouth rubbish tip, where George spends an intent half hour, disturbing the seagulls and finding only some week-old newspapers. He collects the week-old papers. As night comes on he settles down for the night in an open barn some 2 miles from Dolgellau: he has walked some 7 miles. He lights a fire, drinks yet more tea.
.....Thursday: Towards Dolgellau. First stop Dr Williams' School, a girls' boarding school on the outskirts of Dolgellau. He always stops here. This time he knocks on the kitchen door and is given some roast beef sandwiches and tea. It is his first meal of the day. George reaches Dolgellau about midday and claims his Social Security benefit. This is the first breath of economics in his world. A tramp can claim a day's requirement, the amount of which is left to the local office, but which in George's case varies from 40p to 60p. At Dolgellau it is 60p. It is, in some ways, a cruel sum: just the minimum to keep a man alive. Yet to George it is a bonanza. Though he is entitled to the rate daily, the nature of his wanderings means that he rarely claims it more than twice a week. He encounters little difficulty at the Social Security offices as he is by now well-known to the officers. They fill in his name and age and seek to establish when he last claimed. Cases have occurred where the quick and the very quick among tramps have succeeded in getting to more than one office in a day, leaving a trail of benefit claims. With his 60p he buys milk, ten cigarettes, a packet of tea, and two pork pies. He begins the slow winding climb out of Dolgellau. The night is coming on as he wheels his ram over the pass towards Abergynolwyn, a slow little figure lost in an eternity of cloud and rock. He plays his radio. That night he sleeps in a barn under Cader Idris. It is his most romantic place, a foot deep in dried bracken. He lights his paraffin lamp, makes tea with hot water from a nearby guest house, and eats his two pork pies. And so to bed.
.....Friday: To Abergynolwyn. He rises at 10.00 a.m., his usual time, drinks some more tea, again with hot water from the guesthouse, and starts. It is a glorious day. He wheels his pram along the perimeter of Tal-y-llyn lake to the village, where he buys a tin of rice and calls on the policeman. He and PC Edwards talk about the old, dead tramps. 'They're a dying race,' says the policeman. His wife gives George some sandwiches and a pair of good old shoes. The shoes disappear into the pram. Everyone seems to be glad to see George. 'Oh, it's you,' says one old man. 'Now I know summer is really here. You're the first swallow.' George goes off the roads early, about 4.00 in the afternoon, as he is tired. Because of traffic, he is careful not to walk at night. He sleeps in an isolated little shed some miles from the village. As the dark comes in across the mountains, he lights a small fire, heats his rice and eats his sandwiches. He plays his radio into the small hours.
.....Saturday: To Towyn and beyond. On the way he passes one of his old sleeping places, or rather what remains of it. The place, an old cottage, has been demolished by the local council to make a lay-by. George mourns briefly for it: 'There was an old mattress there. I used to sweep the floor with my little brush.' At Ysguboriau Farm nearby, Mrs Gwenda Jones greets George: 'This was one of the old tramps' calls. We gave them bread and butter and tea. But they've all gone. This one must be the last of them.' We plod thoughtfully on, through Towyn, to a railway crossing house. But the night has come and is full of cars. George decides to stop at a rubbish tip a mile from the house. Using the pram he drapes his ground-sheet into a lean-to tent, lights a fire and fries some old bacon, 'what you would call a rough lay-down'. The night is warm.
.....Sunday: A rest day. George ambles the last mile to the crossing house. It is being modernised but the doors are still open. George does not like the modernisation. 'Oh dear, all this was wood once, wooden floors, wooden walls here. They've ruined it. I was quite warm. They've ruined it completely.' He eats little today, some old bread and lard he has, and brews up. He plays his radio endlessly, pop, political reports and drama wafting into the bowed little head.
.....Monday: Towards Machynlleth. He walks 6 miles, calling at two houses for some hot water where he is given some bread and couple of raw onions. He stops the night at a cluster of modernised little cottages standing in a courtyard, all for some reason deserted. He makes a fire in the fireplace, fries his bread, and eats it with raw onions. So far in the week he has only once asked permission of a farmer to stay the night: nobody minds, says George, as long as he leaves the place tidy. Each morning he cleans up rubbish.
.....Tuesday: The last four miles to Machynlleth. He arrives early the afternoon, having called in the morning on the Rector Pennal, who gives him bread and butter, a cake and some tea, an tells me that he too doesn't know what's become of the tramps. At Machynlleth George goes to the Social Security office, and is given 40p.
.....'I don't feel envious at seeing a family through a window in winter. I hope they're not the same as I am. I wouldn't like anyone else to be out in the weather like me. I see how happy they are their fire. It makes me happy. I had an experience once, about ten years ago, in an old mansion near Oswestry. It hadn't been lived in for ten to twelve years. I got up to the attic. I'd just set out my candles, an old newspaper to read, when I suddenly saw the paper se to the height of one foot, or thereabouts. When I saw that I went all cold and shivery, the coldest I ever was. There was no draught. I packed up as quick as possible and got out. There was something in that room, I went down the stairs into the pitch- black. But I think I would stay there now. I've slept in graveyards, in the coke holes of cemeteries, nobody bothers you there. Kids don't come into graveyards and the dead don't do any harm. It's the living you've got to watch.
.....'The old-timers are all dead now, either found dead on the roadside or in derelict buildings. I'm not worried about whether I'll be found dead. Everyone has to die, wherever he is, at sea, in a car, in a field, on a quayside. My ambition is to die in Wales, and be buried here.'
.....Like a swallow, he begins to move South. The holiday cars flooding into Machynlleth shy away from the intent little figure on the road, like horses shying from some creature which has somehow sidestepped the processes of evolution. He disappears into Wales.
Note: Mr Gibbs has now come in from the roads. Latterly he had taken to spending his winters in a hut at Lampeter Station, so the district council, seeking to raze the station, was obliged to offer him a home under the 1977 Homelessness Act. He was by then of pensionable age, and the council's action had made homeless a man for whom homelessness was a way of life. It has to be the most wonderful of all bureaucratic ironies. Mr Gibbs has exchanged his pram for a bungalow in Lampeter, and the last time we met he gave me a visiting card.
[Byron Rogers, 'An Audience with an elephant, and other encounters on the eccentric side', Aurum Press, 2003, pages 28-39. Reproduced by the kind permission of the author.]
1. Introduction 2. The Last Tramp, by Byron Rogers 3. Note on Byron Rogers
Note on Byron Rogers
Byron Rogers, a Welshman from Carmarthen who emigrated to England, has filled a good few column inches with characters and places that have passed his way as a journalist and biographer. Brought together in several collections, they make an impressive body of work. Consistently the funniest and most unusual journalist writing today, he is a historian of the quirky and forgotten, of people and places other journalists don't even know exist or ignore if they do.
He writes for the Sunday Telegraph, Guardian and Saga magazine and was once speech writer for the Prince of Wales, but in recent years has researched and written five books. The first three were: An Audience with an Elephant and other encounters on the eccentric side (2001); The Green Lane to Nowhere: The Life of an English Village (2002); and The Bank Manager and the Holy Grail: travels to the weirder reaches of Wales (2003). His biography of J. L. Carr, The Last Englishman, came out in paperback in 2003. Carr, novelist, artist and schoolmaster, is perhaps best known for his novel, A Month in the Country, which was made into a successful film in 1987. Byron Rogers' latest collection of journalism is The Last Human Cannonball and other small journeys in search of great men (2004). Just the titles of these books give pretty good clues what to expect once you start turning their pages. His biography of Welsh poet and Nobel nominee R. S. Thomas, The Man Who Went into the West, was published in 2006.
1. Introduction 2. The Last Tramp, by Byron Rogers 3. Note on Byron Rogers
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010