CITY SLICKER - SWANSEA

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The Independent Culture
As it takes on the mantle of UK City of Literature and Writing, a look at Dylan Thomas's "lovely, ugly" town.

Shopping: Novelty number plates are available from the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Centre if you have the surplus income. If not, the usual chain stores can be found in The Quadrant. The new M4 link to Cardiff is taking a lot of trade away from Swansea city centre so millions are being channelled into a new precinct in front of the castle. Swansea itself is particularly good for novelty love spoons and cassettes of Under Milk Wood (there are two rival versions: "Hopkins or Burton is it Sir?").

Publication of note: Pilgrims can follow the Dylan Thomas route or the Amis Trail. The Dylan takes in Cwmdonkin Drive, where he wrote his best early work. Less than half a mile away is the house where Kingsley Amis wrote Lucky Jim. Locals still claim that Amis fils had a broad Swansea accent in his youth. Broadcasting legends such as Wynford Vaughan Thomas, John Morgan and Philip Burton all worked at the BBC's old Swansea Studio.

Most ubiquitous item of clothing: The Anorak as modelled by the comedian John Sparkes during his Shadwell phase. Not all residents are train spotters - it just rains a lot. More fashionably: little A-line skirts with lace-up boots or Doc Martens are de rigueur among under-20 girls who frequent nightclubs in the Kingsway. Surfwear is compulsory in certain quarters.

Meeting places: The hottest spots for office workers under 25 are Ritzys and Tramps in the Kingsway. Unreconstructed males congregate for Bass in the White Rose (Mumbles). Trendies aim for the arty Camelot Suite. Coolest is the Bristol Channel Yacht Club(members only) where Sir Kingsley takes up residence every August. Browns at Laugharne (40 miles) is the pub from which Caitlin Thomas used to carry Dylan home.

Something borrowed: Swansea has inherited some of its cultural exhibits. The Pavilion of the singer Adelena Patti was moved to Swansea from Craig y Nos in 1932 and the Brangwen Hall (right) was built to house a collection of panels commissioned from Frank Brangwen for the new House of Lords - but rejected as not being good enough.

Food: If you're really into local dishes try laver (seaweed). Supplies can be bought in black plastic bags from Swansea market. More up-market, try laverbread (cooked seaweed) or even laverballs (deep-fried seaweed) as served in No 1 Wind Street. Also available: Welsh cheeses, cockles and sewin (sea trout).

Hottest restaurants: You can get Welsh food at No 1 Wind Street and Spanish at La Braseria, a sawdust-on-the-floor style bodega run by a genuine Spaniard called Manuel. Genuine Austrians run the Mozart in Walter Road and Italians Puccinis in Bryn-y-Mor. The best and most expensive night out is at the Fairyhill Country House Hotel in Gower. Breakfast at the Harbour Front Cafe in Mumbles is highly recommended if you can stomach seaweed and crustaceans the morning after.

Obsessions: The local chamber of commerce would have you believe Swansea is obsessed with Dylan Thomas (Dylan Thomas Square, Dylan's Bookshop, Dylan's Diner, Dylan Thomas Theatre and the Dylan Thomas Pub at Llansamlet). Paul Durden of the Iconoclastic Foundation actually markets phials of Dylan Thomas Sweat and Dylan Thomas Condoms under the logo "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night".

There is still rancour that Cardiff was chosen as the Welsh capital in 1955. Swansea was a fashionable 18th-century watering hole when Cardiff was just a dangerous quayside, but lucrative coal exports changed all that. Football matches between Cardiff and the Swansea Jacks have to be well policed.

Latest gossip: After many years the vital M4 link was recently completed at a cost of £15m, but it was closed three times in one week just before Christmas because of "wind".

Fads: Swansea is big on surfing. All year round surf can be found at Langland and Caswell Bays.

Other places to visit: Laugharne (40 miles) if you're on the Dylan pilgrimage. Gossip had it that DT used his masculine wiles to get AJP Taylor's wife to buy him the Boat House. Gower (15 miles) is the location used for romantic trysts in TV versions of Amis's That Uncertain Feeling and The Old Devils.

Places not to visit: The Port Talbot area (10 miles) has exported more actors than any other part of Wales. In the words of one: "One look at Port Talbot should tell you why we'd do anything to get away".

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