“The Workies was busy when we worked there, but back in the Seventies, you’ve seen nothing like it. People would come from miles around. There were queues right around the block, and that was at five o’clock, nothing opened until seven. There were people everywhere, all over the place, rain or shine, almost every week. It was the place to be back then”. Pearl
Once again, at this table, sat across from my father wondering to myself, does anything ever change? Then as I look down and study the grain in its mahogany finish, I remembered the day my mother bought this very table, while living in club. How many times had I sat at this table? And furthermore, how many times have sat at its edge asking my father a question that I felt, warranted some kind of sensible answer? Only to be fobbed off with a laughable gesture (to which I’m always reduced to laughter), in an attempt to avoid any form of philosophical or intellectual exchange. I only asked him if living in the Club had changed him in any way, to which, in return he gave me his trademark look with a sharp raised eyebrow and a grind of his teeth. Then after a long pause, he pulled the wallet from his back pocket, threw it on the table and said, “Yes, it fucking robbed me”.
Change, it seems obvious to me, makes up the very fabric of who we are, where we are going, and consequently how or if, we will get there at all. Much like the tide, or the sands of time, change is inevitable; for everything that moves forward, subsequently, must succumb to the effects of change. As Jack Johnson would have it, “change wont leave you alone”, and while Ozzy’s always going through “changes” a certain Miss Crow reckons it “will do you good”. So why do so many resist this very nature of existence, refusing to change at all, not even in their ways. Winston Churchill once said that “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. While perfection is subjective, one could ask is there not always a little room for improvement; to be the best person that we can be. According to the great Mohamed Ali, “a man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life”, although, Prince is of the notion that “a leopard never changes its spots” and that is that, and as much as I am inclined to agree, I have learned, as Heidi Priebe (writer for Thought Catalogue) states, that “the values of others are often unchangeable” no matter how great our attempt, but, if we listen, and try to understand their views, we may at least learn something.
“I was much more quiet, shy, and afraid to tell people before I worked in the Club. I soon learned though. In that place nothing was what it seemed, those who I thought where the nice ones always turned out to be the worst and vice-versa. I had to toughen up pretty sharpish. If you didn’t, they’d walk all over you. It did wonders for my confidence. I was taking no shit from anyone from there on in. That’s when I learned to stand my ground”. Pearl
It would seem that each and every turn brings me right back to here, the cross roads, or the great intersection, which turned it all around. Before this, destiny as they call it, was on course for destination-somewhere-else-completely, and when I think about change, there has been no greater example than this point in time. Much like a plot from Tarantino’s classic ‘Dusk till Dawn’ (for want of a better analogy), one minute, you’re on the run from a heist gone wrong, trying your best to make it to the boarder, then bang, out of nowhere, enter the ‘Titty Twister’, or in this case, The Tumble Workies. Although, less vampires, more Phoenix nights, including an uncanny display of characters.
A shrine to legends of the Mynydd Mawr, and the legacy of a generation lost, the Great Mountain Workingmen’s Club had been a hub at the centre of the community in Tumble for over a hundred years. Built in 1893 to water its local anthracite miners, and to house its first committee, the Workies (as known to its locals) to many had become a second home, although for some, including Prince, it was their first, and second to none. To my family however, besides having a significant impact on our life, the club was merely a house that stood upon the hill. That was until the autumn of 1997, where things took quite an unexpected turn, which would see Pearl, my mother appointed one of its permanent residents, and becoming the first member of our family to run the club since Great Uncle Jack Alden back in the fifties.
“That place was a different world, filled with so many different types of people, really interesting characters, and how the crowds in the day were so different to the ones in the night. When we first moved in, I was amazed. To a fourteen year old it was a fair ground packed into a mansion, and I had free rain of it all.
You would sit there sometimes and you would never know what you’d see next. One minute there’s a guy shouting around, trying to sell fish and eggs, and as soon as he leaves, in comes another guy with a roll of carpet under his arms, trying to sell a vanload of knocked off goodies. They would come through those double doors like that all day. It was around the clock madness. If it wasn’t racing or poker, it was snooker or darts. There was football and rugby, bingo and fat-club, and this is where everyone would come to trade. A wheeler and dealers paradise, you could get almost anything for a few pints. The place was packed from the time we opened to the time we closed. But when the doors shut and the latch went on, that place was mine.
MTV, Playstation on a projector, a real full size snooker table, gambling machines and a bar, I was in heaven. To top it all off, Keith, the secretory of the club, told me I could drink as much coke as I liked. That was it. I would be up all night sometimes skating around the big room, or riding the disabled wheelchair around the bar on an endless supply of caffeine and sugar, and every now and again the odd pint of ale. Although, dragging myself to School was sometimes a killer, I can tell you. That place had a big impact on my life”. Glyndwr
It is believed that there is at least one moment in everyone’s life that changes it all, according to Author, Nicholas Sparks, “there’s one undeniable moment or set of circumstances that suddenly alters everything”. For my mother, my brother and I, this was one of those moments, or to be more exact a multitude of moments, to which I refer to as the club-years. For us these were the game changer that would take us on a road to discovery and enlightenment, but for Prince it was much in the same. While we grew, and reveled in the unraveling of a plot that thickened, Prince continued to walk the path that he had beaten, over and over, only now he did so with less constraint.
“They say the changing rooms at the back of the building are haunted. Haunted by fuck. I slept there all night once back in the eighties. Joyce, who was running the place then, bet a few pints that I wouldn’t spend the night in the changing rooms. No one thought I’d take that bet. They weren’t half fucking wrong. I guessed if there were any ghosts in that club then my Uncle Jack Alden was one of them, and as far as I knew he was the only one that had died there, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to give me, any shit.
I have to say, those changing rooms looked spooky in the middle of the day, the night only made it worse, but I’d stayed in many a shit-hole, so I thought fuck it, free beer was free beer. Once I was in, I was in for the night, and there was no getting out. Well, not without triggering the alarms, and then all bets were off. As soon as those lights were off and the doors were locked, that was it, I was stuck for the next twelve hours. I sat there in the quiet for a bit, I lit my fag and just listened. There
wasn’t a sound. Then all of a sudden… I was out for the count. Slept right through, until Joyce let me out. The bet was all mine; beer on the tab, thank you very much. I did wonder if I would see anything mind, but, if Jack Alden was there he didn’t want to tell me anything, and even if he did, he might as well talk to a wall, because he was getting nothing out of me”. Prince
Amongst the four clubs in the vicinity, all in very close proximity, each provided everything a ‘kid’ could ever need. As I vividly remember, they were filled to the brim with toxic smoke, where each and every breath made your eyes bleed and your lungs combust, but what they lacked in basic living conditions they made up for in copious amounts of pop, squash, crisps and peanuts. In one club, they even had a chocolate machine and, one of my favourite things in the whole world, my grandmother May, who was a permanent fixture. But as much as theses last two always swayed my vote, the club that stole my heart, was that at the heart of its village.
Much of my youth was steeped in the culture that radiated from these walls. It was here my face was pained and my body was bruised, twice a week, in admiration and to impress my karate champ cousin. It was here I remember trying ‘Fagots (meatballs) and Mushy Peas’ for the very first time, and it was around the grounds of this club I smoked my first cigarette. Here, the parties were bigger, and as we got bigger so did its discos, along with its drink, to which I owe very little thanks if hangovers are anything to go by. However, its greatest impact would come during the club years, the transition phase where, like the shiny curtain from ‘Stars in your Eyes’, we walked in through one side, “And tonight Matthew…” and out the other totally transformed.
Within those four walls, that I had so many times heard my mother refer to as my father’s love affair, what we discovered was the school of life, and what ever education had failed to teach us, we were about to learn ten fold, all under one roof. Here we learnt Politics, economics, law, and not just common law but, every law. That includes: Murphy’s Law, Sod’s Law, domestic law, what law? Fuck the law, and quite often the law of physics. We learnt sports analysis, sports science, and even sports language, which was, as I discovered more colourful and divers than that of which I had been used in growing up in the Prince residence. Besides, history and geography, which was infinitely rich in the Gwendraeth Valley, and the daily topics of nitty-gritties warts and all, one of my favourite lessons of them all was psychology, for the club offered the ultimate training ground, or what some may refer to as a psychologists wet-dream.
“I’ll never forget your father throwing a Rissole from the Kitchen out into the big room, it was Bingo night and the whole room was packed. I don’t know whom he was aiming at but it wasn’t whom he hit. Caught in the cross fire, I can see it now, the rissole connected right at the back of Ruby’s immaculate hair. I wanted to die, but I couldn’t stop myself laughing. Ruby was so lovely, and she was always done up prim and proper, but that’s what made it all the more funny. I nearly peed myself. Your fathers a fucker, see, he used to play hell in that club. Winding everybody up. If he wasn’t scaring the staff, he was playing practical jokes on the customers. They all knew what he was like though, and he always got away with it. There was no telling where he would be next. I once found him hiding in the dumbwaiter (the small lift that went upstairs), he was going to jump out and scare me. That thing was tiny I don’t know how he got in there. He eventually caught one of the girls with it though, scared them half to death, cruel bastard”. Pearl
In the company of thieves and fighters, the grumblers and tellers, the revellers and gamblers, and the jesters and foe, the club was a psychological minefield; with no day like the last it always offered something that would leave you in awe. But amongst all this wonder, the one thing that puzzled me the most was, Prince. For the passion I had gained for something I cared so little, he had eventually gone and lost; what was new to me, had been exhausted by him; after six long years, It would seem that when we were preoccupied by the changes that were bestowed upon us, he too was dealing with the shift in normality. Like a middle aged Kevin Mccallister, Prince had in a sense, been left ‘Home Alone’, and while we marveled in what he had known so long, Prince, spent his days sharpening his skills, while turning the Great mountain Workingman’s Club into his own personal amusement park. But when the lights went out, and it lost its spark, it was time to go home.
For me however, this was home. I had taken a paintbrush to each and every one of its walls, doors and frames. Shared a conversation in every one of its 71 rooms, some of which, most will never see. My family and I ate Sunday dinner here almost every week for six whole years, and every birthday Christmas, and bank holiday was spent at its bar, with all those we loved. It’s where I played my guitar until my fingers bled, and my band and I had played its first live audience. I had climbed every step and most its walls; sat and dreamt in all its corners, and I’d even walked and laid upon its roof; under which I’d laughed until I cried, sometimes vice versa, and many a times over. It was here I lost my way, once or twice, and it was here I found myself again. It was here I met so many interesting people, many I call a friend, and many who have long left this world. This was my “love affair” too, it was my school, it was a journey, and it helped me discover who I am, and this, will never, ever, change.
“I could hear a noise coming from down stairs, I turned to my side and your father was snoring away, so I knew it wasn’t him. I jumped from the bed, grabbed the nearest thing I could use to bash who ever might have broken-in, over the head. Then ran for the door that led out onto the landing. I was shitting myself. The next thing I knew, half way down the stairs, your father was right behind me asking what I was doing? There’s someone in the bar, I told him. “So, what are you going to do about it?” he said. It was obvious that who ever was there, wasn’t there by accident. With the noise they were making, they meant business.
Well, I’m going to stop them, I told him. He pulled me back and just stared at me for a moment, then said, “What, with that?” while glaring at me as if I had gone and lost my marbles. When I looked down, I discovered that in my haste to bludgeon our intruder, clutching at anything to do the job, there in my hand was a wire coat hanger. Fuck it, I said. I dropped the hanger and pulled your father back upstairs again, and phoned the police, who informed me, they were already on the way.
We could hear the banging downstairs, while we waited at the window for the police to arrive. Then, suddenly we could see the blue lights, as the car came around the corner. Then like something out of ‘The Goones’, we watched them drive straight on by. Fucking Wallies. They by-passed us and went straight to the Tumble Hotel. We could see them in the distance just driving around and around the hotel, while we hung out of the windows waving helplessly to grab their attention. Your father and I were fucking bouncing. By the time they got there, our intruders had long gone. We guessed the blue lights gave them about a ten-minute warning. In that time they had managed to escape without a trace, but not without the Prize.
Trying to raise money for a local charity, that month we had decided to put our Money Bottle (4.5ltr Bells bottle), which contained our savings, out on display in the bar for everyone to guess how many pound coins it took to fill it. Silly me. That night, I forgot to lock our bottle in the safe room. It had been out on show in the bar all day, and it would seem that someone had taken a shine to its contents. They made off with exactly £2,416, that night. The sad thing is, to them it was nothing. To us, it was over a year’s savings and an Anniversary break we would never have. Bastards, if I could go back I know what I’d do with that hanger now”. Pearl
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