Soccer Sex Socialism; Life & Soul

South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), October 20, 2001 | Go to article overview

Soccer Sex Socialism; Life & Soul


Poet and medicine man Dannie Abse has just published his autobiography and Stephen Johnson discovers a Cardiff lad who thought a great deal about football. . .

Aged 16, and full of the bravado of youth Dannie Abse marched into the offices of the Western Mail and Echo and demanded a job as a columnist.

The precocious member of the sixth form at St Illtyd's College, Splott, proudly announced that "I can write better articles than that idiot Beverley Baxter."

Young Abse was shown the door and journalism's loss was the gain of both the worlds of literature and medicine as Dannie Abse went on to become a a doctor and a poet.

That brief encounter with the gentlemen of the press is recounted in Abse's highly entertaining autobiography Goodbye, Twentieth Century, which is will be available at all good box stores next Thursday, October 25.

At that time Dannie had no idea that he and his two elder brothers, Wilfred and Leo, would ensure that the name Abse would become and integral part of Cardiff history.

His brother Leo, seven years older, went on to form in Leo Abse and Cohen, one of the biggest legal firms in Wales, and as MP for Pontypool, was instrumental in bringing about the liberalisation of the laws which penalised homosexuality and restricted divorce.

It was also Leo that introduced Dannie to the power of words when he took to the soap box in Llandaff Fields and gave a speech which, to this day, Dannie Abse can recall.

'It is given to man to live but once and he should live not to be seared by the shame of a cowardly and trivial past, but so live that dying he might say, "All my life and all my strength have been given to the finest cause in the world, the enlightenment and liberation of mankind."

Recalls Dannie Abse: "I was moved perhaps for the first time by words, by the order of words - not by poetry though, but by rhetoric."

It is said that the past is another country, and nothing shows that truth more clearly than the flood of essays that poured forth from Dannie Abse's pen and written in a little blue exercise book with titles such as On Fascism, On Socialism and On Jazz, but its also a past which blurs for Dannie Abse: "When I look back almost feel estranged from my own past and innocence."

Though somethings never change, as Abse, a keen footballer, who, while at med college, enjoyed football "as much as I have sexual intercourse", recalls a headline in the Echo 'Bluebirds Flatter to Deceive'.

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