LAST RESORT: Swansea: Home of first division tosh

There are plenty of literary pretensions in "this lovely, ugly town" - Kingsley Amis cut his teeth here. And if, as he did, you like the odd drink, you've come to the right place
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The Independent Travel
It's not the "City By The Bay" that Tony Bennett crooned about. And unlike San Francisco, it has no tramcars (the last one meandered to Mumbles more than 30 years ago). Swansea does not present its best face to the traveller. Entering by road or rail, you are confronted by evidence of its industrial origins. Still, at least the presence of an oil terminal on the city boundary means that four star is competitively priced.

Much of the city centre resembles a post-war architectural desert, the concrete buildings thrown up after intensive levelling by the Luftwaffe. So why go to Swansea?

Sadly, it can't be for a paddle. The beautiful beaches of the nearby Gower peninsula are pleasant enough, but there was a spate ofviruses at Oxwich Bay a couple of summers ago, allegedly caused by entering the water here.

Best perhaps to dip into a good book. This year, Swansea has been revelling in its role as 1995 UK City of Literature and Writing. The languid figure of Dylan Thomas casts a somewhat alcoholic shadow over the city. Thomas was raised here, and later made his home in the small seaside town of Laugharne, 30 miles away. "This lovely, ugly town," he called Swansea, but the Festival organisers chose to accentuate the positive. Indeed, they managed to entice former US President Jimmy Carter to be honorary president of the celebrations on the back of his admiration for Thomas.

In the glossy Festival brochure, two other Swansea literary figures were conspicuous by their absence. One, the late Kingsley Amis, was a former university lecturer in the city and was well known for his curmudgeonly reputation. He even accused Thomas of being outstandingly unpleasant and peeing on his friends' carpets, heaven help us.

But the most glaring omission was that of John Toshack, football idol and the Third Man of Swansea literature. The title of his slim volume of poetry, Gosh It's Tosh, whets one's appetite. It was written while he was leading the Liverpool attack. Toshack later created sporting history when, as player-manager, he took Swansea City to the old First Division for the only time in their existence.

Overcoming a cruel accident of birth (he first saw the light of day in Cardiff), Toshack quickly became a folk hero in Swansea and now lives locally. Despite this, his poetry did not feature anywhere in the city's celebrations. A cruel oversight, but let's compensate with a quick quote:

We're coming in to land at Speke,

My legs are feeling very weak,

We've just returned from Barcelona,

And now I'm going for a sauna.

(From 'Return From Spain', Duckworths, 1978).

But back to the question - why go to Swansea? Have I mentioned the best market in the British Isles, where you can buy seaweed to fry with bacon for breakfast; fresh cockles from Penclawdd, and melt-in-your-mouth cakes? Or the pub-crawling potential offered by the hostelries lining the sweep of the bay between the city and nearby Mumbles?

Did I tell you about the St Helen's Ground, where you can watch cricketers toil as the oil tankers negotiate the sandbanks of Swansea Bay? Glamorgan's Malcolm Nash was once bludgeoned for six sixes in an over here by Gary Sobers. "Think I'll write a book about this," mused the bowler. "Anyone know what to call it?" The most sympathetic suggestion was Gone With The Wind.

That's the sort of literary pretension they have in Swansea. Who needs Kingsley Amis and his sort?

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