Wales 2011, A Long Drive and a lot of Rain!

Wales Carnarvon Castle Rain

“Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?” –  Sir Thomas More – ‘A Man For All Seasons’

I was surprised that I was so easily persuaded to book a holiday cottage in Wales because most of my holiday memories of the Principality involve precipitation.

When I was a boy we used to go on family holidays to Borth in Mid Wales and stay in a caravan.  It always rained and all through the night there was a steady pitter-patter of rain on the biscuit tin roof and everywhere seemed damp, musty and cold.  Later we used to go the Plas Panteidal Hoiliday Village near Aberdovey and although the accommodation was an improvement the same could never be said for the weather.

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6 responses to “Wales 2011, A Long Drive and a lot of Rain!

  1. Good morning Andrew,
    There was me about to write to you about Ryanair, and you bowl me this googly!
    Where do I begin? Golly. There are more madeleine cakes (a la Marcel P) than I can even COUNT, in this litle posting from you!
    And a more poetic turn of phrase than usual.
    Could it be the “Welsh” thing, I ask myself? A – subconscious of course – feeling that now you are in The Principality, you should somehow “go native” and abandon your normal forensically clean and clinical (and immensely readable) prose, in favour of a more lyrical style?
    Whatever the reason, I am taken with the results.
    And it is not just the language, Andrew. You have been so caught up in this heady mix of poetic imagery, and imbibed so deeply from its cup, that you have become so drunk, that you have lost your sense of geographical direction! I jest of course Andrew! ( Well no, actually: you genuinely DID lose a sense of what is east and what is west! Yes, honest. You ask when? Let me explain, with a twinkle in my eye.)
    Do you know the Alun Lewis poem “All Day It Has Rained”? You will find it online. It could have been about his native Cynon Valley, but it was actually about the monsoon rains in Burma. He wrote it circa 1944 in combat with the Japs (he committed suicide before the hostilities ended).
    I ask if you know it, because trust me, Alun Lewis would have loved to have written:
    It rained in Welshpool, it rained in Newtown, it rained in Llangurig and it rained in Aberystwyth when we reached the coast and the road swung south towards our destination.

    But it is the next sentence that gets me scratching my head:
    To our left the sea was grey and uninviting, lashed with spiteful squalls of stinging rain as wave after wave of dark clouds swept in from the Irish Sea

    Now, Andrew, there WAS a tsunami in Wales in – I think – in 1607. And true, I have recently given up the habit of a lifetime*: daily newspaper reading. But I have heard of no recent Welsh catastrophe.

    And it would have taken just that, as the only way the sea could have been on your LEFT when travelling South, would have been an INLAND sea left by the tsunami wave!

    (Ah, no Dai! There is another explanation. All the gears, but one, in Andrew’s car, had packed up. And he had to make the journey using that remaining one.
    The REVERSE gear! Ha!)

    The road took us through the Georgian fishing port of Aberaeron which has a High Street

    Don't remind me. I once told the Mr Big of that town – an entrepreneurial supermarket wallah called John X – where to get off, and he followed me out of his superstore and down the High Street screaming abuse at me** in motorbike speed Welsh, that I naturally did not understand. In true Harold MacMillan style, despite actually being mightily unsettled by this madman hanranguing me!), I did my best attempt at urbanity and asked him "Could I possibly have a translation please?" … and all this did was make him even madder.

    But enough of all this! I, like you Andrew, have things to do. So I shall sign off now. I am still rolling one expression of yours around in my mouth, sort of "trying it on for size".

    Which one?

    This one of course:

    heavy grey clouds stuck like stubborn strips of Velcro to the tops of the sodden Welsh hills.

    A great image. Lovely.

    BTW, sell me some of your Velcro! My Velcro has been wearing white feathers for years!

    *Indeed, I would read the newspapers of neighbours and relations too! Often as many as 30 newspapers a week. I would sleep just 4 hours a night to give me more reading time.
    But that was yesterday. No more. Life is too short now.

    ** and grandstanding like mad to all his customers who were thronging the street.



  2. Thanks for this Dai, and especially for correcting my wayward sense of direction!

    Actually, this difficult drive got even worse six weeks later when I received a notice of prosecution from Powys Police for driving at 36mph in a 30 mph zone in Aberystwyth. I have sent them a copy of this account of the journey in the outside hope that they will take pity on me and let me off or at least let me attend a speed awreness course instead of taking the points.
    Thanks also for signposting me to Alun Lewis – it’s a sad story and a great poem.




    • Ah Andrew!
      I have just written from 5.45am until 7.40am into your blog. I was just on my final para, and I pressed a key in error – God knows which one, I was trying to finish quickly for breakfast and use two digits instead of my usual single digit of my ten – and the whole lot has vanished!
      And if I say it myself, it was really good stuff.
      Ah, shucks!
      It is not as though it is the first time this has happened to me down the years.
      I have always told myself, write in WORD then copy and paste it into the email/blog.
      But the trouble is, that I throw that rule out the window when I plan on only two or three paras.
      Which is what I planned on here, but got carried away and two hours later was just coming uo the the finishing tape … when that lot happened.

      It is moments like this that help one understand what TE Lawrence must have felt when – on his way to his publishers in London – he left the only copy of the text of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the refreshment room at Reading Station, for it to be lost for ever.

      And then he had to go home and start all over again.

      Which is what I will do after breakfast.



      • Good Morning Dai

        That was most unfortunate. I don’t want to appear smug but I always write in Word and then cut and paste – it’s a lot safer, but then you know that of course.

        You will know as well that something equally disastrous happened to Thomas Carlyle and his book ‘The French Revolution: A History’. In 1835 he finished volume 1 and gave it to his friend John Stuart Mill to read and comment. Unfortunately it was the only copy of the work and Mill’s servant allegedly mistook the book for household rubbish and used it to get the fire going one morning! Carlyle apparently kept no notes and had to completely rewrite the first volume entirely from memory (which I suppose it what you will have to do now) after he had completed volumes 2 and 3.

        Ben Elton and Richard Curtis were presumably aware of this story because they used it as a key part of the plot line for Blackadder III in the episode ‘Ink and Incapability’ when Baldrick burns Doctor Johnson’s dictionary.



  3. Right Andrew,

    Like Sisyphus I start my ascent again …

    It is now 12.26pm as I start this, and I’m sure I cannot replicate the detail and quality of the stuff I wrote this early morn.

    Golly! I was cooking with gas back then, I promise you.

    Mind you, my short term memory, really is totally SHOT. (Incipient Alzheimers?) So I cannot TRY and replicate the detail, even if I wanted to. For you could hold a Luger pistol to my head and ask me what I wrote about 6 hours ago, and I would have to say “I’m blowed if I can remember a single thing. Shoot me now.”

    But ask me the names in alphabetical order of my Standard One school register of 1954-5, and I can – on a good day – rattle them all off.

    Thanks for not picking me up on the “uo the the” typo on my last posting: you guessed it meant “up to the” !

    Put that one down to exasperation.

    I am going to break off for lunch now. And afterwards, I am going to thank you for an even nobler gesture you made me re “All Day It Has Rained”.

    Oh, and before closing …

    Commiserations re the Fuzz in my native land. If it is any consolation to you, their counterparts in your beloved East Midlands, once got me for speeding up Carlton Hill in Nottingham. The three points have been cleared a while now, but it still rankles with me.

    Thanks for the story on Carlyle., BTW. (A great anecdote that matches the TE Lawrence and is up there with the story of Tolstoy’s wife writing by hand SEVEN full copies of “War And Peace”!)

    I was only up in Ecclefechan three weeks ago. Carlyle’s house is – just about – worth a visit. I last went with Larissa about 8 years ago.

    I tried re-reading his selected essays three years ago, but found them even more unreadable, than I did when I first had a bash at about 25. And it is not just about time making things feel dated. It is something to do with literary style.

    I mean to say, Montaigne preceded Carlyle by over 200 years, but his essays seem like they were written just YESTERDAY.

    I will be back after lunch.



  4. Right, Andrew, here we go on the rewrite!

    First, I want to say that I thank you for your sheer class in not putting me right on the Alun Lewis “rain” poem.

    I confess it is over 30 years since I last read that poem. And in those three decades, the subconscious in the human brain can do the strangest things.

    And in my case, knowing all about Alun’s suicide, I had put 2+2 together and made not four … but FORTY-four! I had assumed that the monsoon rains of his time in the Indian subcontinent had been what had got his creative juices going in that poem.

    But how little I knew! I now find out from this excellent web page

    that he actually wrote it in 1940, and it was prompted not by monsoon torrents, but by relentless British DRIZZLE.

    He must have got used to plenty of that drizzle in his native Cynon Valley. He came from the village of Cwmaman, which is to all intents and purposes, up a bit of a cul de sac. There is however a road that leads up to the top of the mountain and my favourite place in the Welsh Valleys: Llanwonno.

    That road is (almost inevitably) called “Mountain Road”, and the Lewis family home where he spent his boyhood and youth has a blue plaque outside it. I have taken several people there, including the actress, the late Anwen Williams. (We were an item for about 2 years in the early-mid 1980s. One day I will tell you about the irony of her appearance in that Hugh Grant movie “The Englishman Who Went Up The Hill And Came Down A Mountain. )

    But most South Walians are oblivious of Lewis’s fame: they have never heard of him. But mention “Cwmaman” to them and quick as a flash, they will tell you that the three original members of The Stereophonics all came from there. (Kelly Jones, Richard Jones and Stuart Cable: the last named – like A.L. – also committed suicide a couple of years back.)

    Indeed the poem of A.L.’s that I am most familiar with is his “The Mountain Over Aberdare”, and several times in my life I have driven from the Rhondda Fach over the top down into Aberdare and stopped in that lay-by where you get a fantastic view of the town spread out before you. And I recite those bits of the poem that have stayed with me down the years.

    But back to Alun Lewis and the “rain” poem.

    Golly, to think that he wrote it in Longmoor Army Camp! The number of times I have driven past it down the A3. I had no idea.

    And the “Edward Thomas” thing too is interesting.

    About 6 months ago, I took my carer to Adlestrop to show her that brilliant bus shelter with the old GWR railway station sign. It must have been my tenth or eleventh visit. Her first.

    And I have done the Much Marcle/Dymock trip too.

    But that was not so much because of my interest in Thomas: more, because of my interest in (and admiration for) his bosom pal, the great Robert Frost.

    And whilst I have worked in Petersfield, I have never been to the villages of Steep and Sheet. Although, I did always know about Thomas living in Steep.

    So that is a place I must visit, if there are enough months left to me. Alas, my legs won’t manage any kind of serious gradient any more.

    No doubt Andrew, you will write about Mwnt in the days to come. I was only listening about a year back to an old cassette of my great hero Gwyn Thamas (from my home town) talk in the inimitable way that only HE could, about a visit there.

    I was never able to do any business in the hotel, but I loved driving that little road from the A487, especially in Spring when all the gorse turned the greens and browns to a bright yellow: a hue that Vincent would have loved on his palette!

    (Mind you, methinks he’d have loved oilseed rape even more!)

    Then after eating my fish and chips in the car and listening to Ian Skidmore’s inimitable logic on Radio Wales, it would be off to Aberporth and my next regular call.

    I will sign off now.

    Sorry that this is piece from me never quite got out of second gear.

    Inevitable, I guess, following the disappointment of the loss of some really good stuff this morning. Quite what I wrote about I cannot recall, except to say that it was not THIS !

    I had so wanted to raise my game to match your lyrical Welsh piece.

    Still, I live to fight another day.

    Tomorrow – if you don’t hijack me with another lyrical beauty from your Welsh trip – I will endeavour to add further comments on your Ryanair page.



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