Laugharne has the last laugh

Martin Rowson writes for about Dylan Thomas, drink and cultural vandalism at the Laugharne Weekend

Last weekend I was in Laugharne in South Wales for the annual Laugharne Weekend, a dependably wacky and eclectic mix of comedians, musicians, writers and, for the second year in a row, one cartoonist.

When they asked me along for this year’s bash, I offered the organisers some added value on top of my usual foul-mouthed guide to the 37,000 year long history of visual satire. Given that Laugharne famously was where Dylan Thomas lived and about which he wrote Under Milk Wood, would they like me to do a really (and I mean REALLY) big visual representation of their most famous resident? Like, for instance, on a distant hill?

That, in practice, proved too daunting, but it was agreed that I would produce an image on the large lawn beneath Laugharne Castle, employing as my brush whatever you call one of those things they use to mark out football pitches. And the image itself? Obvious! Dylan Thomas as the Cerne Abbas Giant!

Then, just days before the gig, I was told the local council had nixed the idea of using the lawn. Still, they’d got the agreement of the Three Mariners Pub, in which Dylan used to drink himself stupid, so I could knock off a nice big mural on the wall opposite there instead.

So, last Saturday morning, slightly hungover from the night before (when I’d managed to draw Sir Peter Blake at dinner, which vague likeness the great man signed) I clambered on top of a pub table and, with a pot of emulsion and some brushes from the nearest hardware store, I produced my artwork, to a few grunts of admiration from the small yet critical mass of early drinkers settling down for the duration.

Martin Rowson Laugharne mural
Dylan Thomas mural in Laugharne © Martin Rowson

I spent the rest of the day hanging out with the likes of failed cartoonist Phill Jupitus, going to some gigs, doing my own gig and, late at night, drinking fine wines with the legendary Bard of Salford John Cooper Clarke, until 4am. He too I drew, with a very great deal of black ink.

Notwithstanding, I got up reasonably early, checked Dylan was still on the wall and set off back for London, a tiny part of my brain wondering how long that emulsion would last in the damp Welsh climate.

What I didn’t expect, quite so soon, was the email from one of the organisers saying there had been complaints from the locals; complaints, moreover, about the aspersions I was casting, by inference, on their sexual capacity when in drink (or so it was reported to me). I spoke to the local press about these complaints, but before the interview was even over, the Giant had been entirely removed from the wall, with a power hose.

Well, what can you say? Either this is the greatest piece of cultural vandalism since Lady Churchill burned Graham Sutherland’s portrait of her husband or the Taliban blew up those Buddhas, or it’s how you’d expect a mucky scrawl on a wall to be treated by a decent and responsible local authority. Personally, I’m rather flattered, and not entirely bothered as it only took me about 15 minutes, and it only took that long because my hand was slightly shakier than usual. And, of course, next year I can do one even bigger.

Still, it’s a warning to all of us who engage in very public cartooning. So I have this piece of advice for anyone who’ll be ‘tooning in the Square in Shrewsbury (alas I won’t be there as I work weekends, and Laugharne claimed my time off for April). Make it mean, but keep it clean!

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