Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: humour (Page 1 of 2)

Lost in another world – some serious Welshing

You’d be excused for thinking I’ve dropped off the planet. I have in fact, been in another world. A mile-long-resource-list, race-against-the-clock world, in which I’ve pitted my wits against legal and institutional constraints in order to access information.

Mostly, I have been working in Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, a gorgeous Art Deco building, nestled half way up Aberystwyth’s Penglais Hill, which is home to the largest collection of maps, manuscripts, books and journals pertaining to Wales. After a rocky start, in which I inadvertently broke the library’s ‘no digital photos’ rule, I booked myself into a library tour. In English (yes, that serious), followed by a one-on-one introductory session with a librarian. Through these session, I worked out that I could in fact use the library photocopier to scan to my email address for five pence a page. Which is outrageous, seeing as I have a perfectly good scanner on my iPad. But preferable to paying the £20 per day photography fee. The only constraint being that each page comes through as a separate email. So, when not at the library, I’ve spent hours downloading and moving individual PDF pages into folders. But, LlGC weren’t about to change their policy for a jumped up Aussie with aspirations of writing a novel from the point-of-view of Owain Glyn Dwr’s wife. So, I figured I’d better just toe the line.

As it turns out, LlGC is an amazing place to work. The building is stunning and they have whole bays full of the books I have been online-drooling over for months. I’m not sure what the staff make of me. You see I keep turning up and ordering lots of items and I persist in speaking Welsh, even when English would be easier. However, on seeing my book list and my extensive use of the catalogue’s ‘saved items’ function, the librarian conducting the introductory session figured I wasn’t going away. At least, not for the foreseeable future, and, quite frankly, I’ve been having a ball. Even, if the poor staff are working overtime.

Now, in case you don’t know the lay of the land, Stiwdio Maelor (an amazing creative artist’s residency studio in North Wales), is over an hour away on the most direct bus route to the LlGC. Fortunately, my good friend Carolyn now lives in Borth (only twenty minutes on the train). I have therefore been doing lots of sleep overs. Ours is a Welsh language friendship, so in addition to harassing the library staff, I’ve spent my evenings nattering to Caroline, whose Welsh is way better than mine (bonus for me). When, our friend Gareth joined us for the weekend, it was like Bootcamp all over again, with miming, misunderstanding and lame jokes in the Welsh language. We stayed up late one night comparing childhood TV experiences (as you do). When asked about Aussie TV shows, the only program I could come up with was Skippy. Which for some reason, we all found hilarious in the early hours of the morning.

As Carolyn works for Y Lolfa, I scored an invite to their fiftieth birthday party. For those who don’t know, Y Lolfa is a small press specializing in Welsh and English language books with a Welsh focus. I hadn’t realized Y Lolfa was founded in 1960s during the heady days in which Merched y Wawr was established and in which, Gwynfor Evans won Plaid Cymru’s first seat in parliament. It seemed fitting that the event featured a video with fake greetings from the queen. The following quote from Y Lolfa’s editor pretty much sums up the tone of the evening:

In a world dominated by large corporations and bureaucracies Y Lolfa believes that ‘small is beautiful’ in publishing as in life. It was André Gide who said: “I like small nations. I like small numbers. The world will be saved by the few.”

In the midst of all this Welshing (my friend Veronica has assigned a verb to my activities), I also got interviewed by S4C. It was my friend Helen’s fault. She’d been asked to do an interview for the Welsh learner’s TV program Dal ati. Being a self confessed hater of public speaking, she suggested I might like to join her. I wasn’t sure the producers of Dal ati would be all that keen on an Aussie interloper. My suspicions were confirmed when the producers sent a list of questions to Helen and not to me. But due to the above mentioned self-confessed hatred, I decided a show of moral support was required. As it turned out the strategy back-fired on both of us because, once they realized that we were friends, who had met online through the SSiW language forum, their journalistic eyes lit up. Helen’s carefully considered responses were thrown out the window and, all of a sudden, the cameras started rolling. The result, Helen’s excellent Welsh turned to ice and my mouth went into overdrive (my own peculiar nervous reaction) and I proceeded to make a number of ridiculous statements which, if they don’t edit rigorously, will see me portrayed me as light-headed Aussie bimbo on national TV.

Helen and I spent so long licking our wounds after the interview that I missed the train to Borth. Which meant that I had to change for the Parti Penblwydd Y Lolfa in the tiny toilet cubicle of the Wynnstay Hotel. This meant ordering an obligatory drink in the Pizzeria which, incidentally, sold only crisps. As I was wearing a borrowed dress (thanks Carolyn), I wasn’t sure how it should look and, quite frankly, the Wynnstay’s mirrors weren’t nearly long enough. I ended up crowning the afternoon’s loopy utterances by asking a couple in the Crisperia whether they thought I had my dress on backwards. They, to their credit, took the question in their stride. The man even said I looked very nice. Needless to say, I left the hotel pretty swiftly after that and made absolutely certain I didn’t open my mouth at all on the bus back into town.

We had dinner at a Greek restaurant prior to the Parti Penblwydd and found out too late that they only took payment in cash. While Gareth made a dash to the teller machine, the waitress made polite conversation with me.

‘There are lots of Welsh speakers out tonight (like they are normally locked up). Is something going on?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘it is Y Lolfa’s 50th birthday party.’

Upon which, her eyes grew wide. ‘And you’ve come all the way from Australia?’

It was tempting, oh so tempting to reply in the affirmative. But I didn’t want ‘dreadful liar’ added to my already going-down-hill reputation. Turns out this was wise because, during the party, the three of us were discussing something that involved pushing buttons. The verb to push was unfamiliar to Gareth.

‘Gwthio? He asked.

I said, yes, gwthio, and mimed the action of pushing a button. For some reason, Gareth had confused the verb to push with the verb to pull. So Carolyn said tynnu and mimed the action of pulling a lever. Through a series of repeat actions (which may have included a few other verbs) we established the contrasting meanings, at the end of which we looked up into the eyes of a startled onlooker, ‘Er…do you always communicate like this?’

‘Well, yes, of course, doesn’t everyone?’

Juggling on a six lane highway – some thoughts on the creative life

Today as I sat at the busy intersection of two, six lane highways I watched a man juggling. Not on the footpath, no. He was standing in front of the banked up traffic performing as if his life depended on it. I envied him his brash confidence and, perhaps, because of the way my day had panned out, I also sensed his creative desperation.

There was nothing wrong with my day, per se. Only I wasn’t writing. At least, not sitting at a computer. But there is this buzz that goes on in my head. Even when I’m not at the screen – characters chattering, scenes forming, a strange giddy spinning of thoughts that won’t go away until I’ve written them down. Making notes helps. But it isn’t enough. Because you don’t know if a scene is going to work until you’ve written it fully and you won’t know if it has worked, like really worked, until you’ve written the next scene and the next scene. Which is fine when you are not juggling multiple commitments.

I’m not complaining. I’m going to Wales in twenty-one days three hours and seven minutes (who’s counting). Most of my tasks are self inflicted – like getting my phone unlocked, finalising dog-sitters, updating my driver’s license so it won’t expire while I’m away, and madly trying to scan documents so I don’t have to carry hard copies to Wales. I’m also trying to do lots of reading so that when I meet academics in the field I can ask semi-informed questions. So, no, don’t feel sorry for me at all. It is totally self-inflicted.

But there is another aspect to my juggling. See, part of the creative experience means participating in writing related events. I’ve been fortunate to be part of the Women’s History Month Celebrations at Eltham Library during March. I have also been asked to chair an HNSA event. Added to which, I am writing an article on coming-of-age novels for the Historical Novels Review. As a consequence of these commitments, I will need to read multiple free books (yes, I know, someone’s gotta do it), not to mention analyse their themes and write about my impressions. Again, I am not complaining. These are amazing opportunities. But they don’t involve  interaction with my fictional world. Nor do they help the buzz in my head.

I have another task which is self-inflicted. I’m calling it an act of daughterly redemption. You see, last September when I booked myself the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London, I didn’t think of my mum’s birthday. Not when I paid for my Air BnB accomodation. Or when I organised with an Aussie friend to meet in Llangollen to do some walking in the Berwyn Mountains. Not even when I locked in my residency dates at Stiwdio Maelor. Or when I started planning a holiday with my son and his family in the Lake District. Mum’s birthday simply didn’t enter my head. Until she started talking about it…

‘I will be eighty in April. Imagine that, Elizabeth! I never thought I’d see eighty. What shall we do to celebrate?’

I didn’t answer. Or confess. Only screamed silently into my pillow that night.

Then Mum got sick. We were told she only had a couple of months to live. My brother flew home from Africa. There were tears, serious conversations, funeral discussions. In the midst of all the emotion mum lost some of her teeth. It didn’t seem important, in the scheme of things. Neither did my trip to Wales. Or for that matter her birthday. Our calendar had been wiped clean.

Then against all odds she rallied. The doctor said she wouldn’t be leaving us in a hurry. Our thrice weekly visits dropped back to sustainable levels. My brother headed back to Africa. Normal life resumed. We even started bickering. It was time to confess.

I’m going to Wales again Mum.’

‘That’s nice dear, when?’

‘April,’ I said, a little too quickly.

‘Oh, for how long?’

‘Two months. I’m going for research. I’ve got all the accomodation booked. I’ll be visiting the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol and meeting academics and viewing sites. I’ve got a new English grandchild. I’ll visit him too. And go on a language camp.’

‘You’ll miss my birthday.’

‘Yes. I’m sorry. It’s too late to re-schedule.’

‘My eightieth birthday.’

‘I need to do the research mum. It’s my job.’

Mum’s eyes narrowed. ‘It’s not a real job though, is it Elizabeth?’

Now it is pay back time. Mum needed to go to the dentist. If she is going to live her missing smile is important. Fair enough, I wouldn’t want to end my days looking like a pirate. My brother is back in Africa (though he will be in Australia for the birthday). As I don’t have a ‘real job,’ the dentist visit fell to me. I booked an appointment. Turned up at the surgery. Only to find I had booked at different location. For which I hadn’t retained an address or phone number (yes, I’m not only bad at birthdays, I’m generally sh*t at life). I made a second appointment. Right there in the waiting room, so there would be no mistakes.

‘Lovely,’ mum said. ‘We get to go out twice.’

But here’s the thing about the ‘going out.’ Mum can’t walk. She has no upper body strength either. She can barely manage to transfer from her wheelchair into the car. At the dentist today she sat on the sliding part of the dental chair. It took three of us – me the dentist and the assistant – to stop her slithering all the way down to the end. The dentist decided to examine her in her wheel chair. After which, Mum needed an x-Ray. I had to hold her upright in a small space on a spinning stool while she bit down on a thin metal object. Next week, we will go back for extractions, then fillings. After which, there will be denture fittings. Basically, I’ll spend the next twenty-one days three hours and seven minutes in a dental surgery. Which is where the desperate juggling at the traffic lights comes into the equation.

‘Remember this on your eightieth birthday,’ I said to mum.

‘Yes, dear, I will.’

‘My brother might be there to help you blow out the candles. But I organised your dentures.’

It won’t be enough. It will never be enough. But I’ll be in Wales – immersed my fictional world. So, I’m happy to concede this particular sibling honour.

An S.O.S. from Biskit the family dog

Help! If you are reading this, I’m in danger. The only place I feel safe is rolling around in the dirt beneath the house. But now Andrew’s setting booby traps. No, I’m not joking. It’s real. All around the world, small white dogs who were originally bought for the youngest daughter who left home are under threat. Seriously, Andrew’s on the phone at the crack of dawn and late into the night. He speaks in code, of course. Uses phrases like site remediation and safety procedures, but I hear those American accents and know he’s operating on a global scale.

We had explosions the week after Christmas, then there was thunder. I managed to force my way through the barriers along the sides of the house only to find miles of deadly blue cabling had been installed. I had to chew my way out. Liz doesn’t realise. Why doesn’t she realise? She thinks this is about dirt and fleas. I dragged a length of cabling out to demonstrate the situation. The next morning the secret international phone calls stopped. Andrew hunched over his mobile phone trying to communicate with the outside world. He said he’d have to ‘go into the office.’ Liz didn’t seem too worried. She never does. She just flipped over to 4G and kept on reading. About Owain Glyndwr, for heaven’s sake, a fourteenth century Welsh malcontent. She needs to forget about Wales and  and start focusing on what’s happening in her own backyard.

When Andrew got home from ‘the office’, that night, he found the cable. Grim. That’s the only word for his face. He hammered on Liz’s study window. Called, it an ADSL line. Used the words, No WIFI, No phone. Liz turned pale, saw the effect it was going to have on her social media profile. She sided with Andrew. Yes, you heard me. She sided with Andrew. Called the ADSL police. Had those trip wires re-installed in no time. Now my days are numbered. I’m hacking into Liz’s blog to get my message out. She’s going to be furious. I’ll be kept in close confinement from now on. But if you’re reading this, you’ll know the truth. So, please, please, please come and rescue me.

Owain Glyn Dwr’s offspring – and Iolo Morgannwg’s meddling

Researching a novel is like tackling a giant jigsaw puzzle. You start with an image in your mind. In this instance, a woman alone in a prison looking back over her life. But before you can form that image you need to tip the pieces out on the table and begin sorting them – into corners, edges and colours. Or in this instance, historical details, character motivations and story threads. To this end, I have been reading reading books on kings, medieval daily life, women’s roles, soldiers, armour and most recently a book on growing up in the middle ages.

Growing up? I hear you ask. Do you intend to give a blow-by-blow account of your protagonist’s life?

No, but experience tells me you need to know a great deal more about a character than ever appears on the page. Even if I do not fictionalise Marged’s childhood, I need to know what it looked like. Added to which, she raised offspring of her own. According to the nineteenth century antiquarian and genealogist, Jacob Youde William Lloyd, Marged bore Owain Glyn Dwr eleven children. A shattering number for anyone considering writing a novel. I mean, the woman would have spent the whole time, pregnant or giving birth. Which may have been the case for many medieval women. But in story terms, there are only so many times you can show the pacing husband, difficult delivery and lusty newborn infant before people start to yawn. I shared this problem with my Welsh class in the bar of the Celtic Club (yes, there is a price to having me as a tutor).

‘I’m going to have to kill a few children,’ I said’. Eleven is an impossible number.’

‘You can’t do that!’ A circle of shocked faces. ‘You have to be accurate.’

unknown

They were right, of course. That is one of the challenges of writing historical fiction, the balance of crafting a good story against the historical record. Every novelist sets their own parameters. For me (and it seems my Welsh class), it must involve a degree of accuracy.

But eleven children! When were they born? What were their personalities? How did they all live before the revolt? What about afterwards, when their lands were declared forfeit? How did poor Marged stop them from sickening and squabbling while hiding out in the mountains of Snowdonia? (yes, insert the remembered pain of taking four children on family holidays here). In fact, this book was beginning to take on the feel of a vicarious form of post traumatic stress syndrome. But, apart from becoming a mass murderer, I could not see any way out of the situation.

I mentioned this problem (in an electronic form of a hand-wringing) to Gideon Brough, a historian, whose book The Rise and Fall of Owain Glyn Dwr is due for release in December, thinking he may know of of a cave, or safe-house (big enough to house eleven children) or, failing that, evidence of an illness that wiped out half the family. His was answer was in fact, infinitely more satisfying:

Contemporary sources only appear to confirm four children born to Owain and Margaret; Gruffydd, Maredudd, Catrin and Alys. Iolo Goch’s poem says that they came in pairs, the longer list of names you might have read appears to have been invented by Iolo Morgannwg centuries later.

Next Tuesday, after Welsh class, someone asked how my research was going (actually, they may not have asked but, as I said before, there is a price). I told them about the Morgannwg theory.

‘But,’ one brave soul asked, ‘why would Iolo have made that up?’

Indeed, why did Iolo make anything up? He was probably the biggest literary forger in Welsh history, creating a vast body of work, reputedly dating back to the druids. The whole bardic ceremony at the Welsh National Eisteddfod is, in fact, a product of his fecund (always wanted to use that word) imagination. Now, it seemed he’d also foisted an imagined family on Glyn Dwr.

family-tree_23-2147512823

At this point, I hear a collective howl from all those who claim descent from Glyn Dwr. You are out there, I know you are, Wikitree and Geni.com attest your existence. But do take heart, there are also rumours of multiple illegitimate offspring. So many, in fact, that I wonder poor Owain had time to pull his braise up, let alone lead a national uprising. But for my part, I’m sticking with the four children mentioned in the contemporary record – Gruffudd, Catrin, Alys, and Maredudd -because four is far more manageable in terms of crafting a novel. In fact, I may have even lived that situation.

Border protection: in which the family pooch takes on the local authorities

In case you didn’t realise, Liz has recently spent seven months in Wales. And in case you didn’t also realise, I was for a time effectively homeless. After all my faithful years of service, after dog sitting four growing children, not to mention the parade of exchange students. My plight was reduced to an ad on Facebook. 

Fortunately, Jo, responded, and I must say she treated me in the manner in which a family Pooch should be treated. I slept on her bed every night, had cuddles with Ella, and went to play with Midge during the day. It was doggy heaven. 

But now Liz is back and I have to put up with with Andrew again.

It may surprise you to know Andrew’s dislike of me is mutual. He took my baby safety gates down while Liz was away and refused to put them up again. Not in the shed. Or down the side of the house. Liz wasn’t too impressed. But Andrew was determined. They’d work together from now on, he said, make sure I didn’t get out. 

Yippee! I thought, escape is imminent.

So far, my efforts to break free have been fruitless. Not one escape, not one, tense, ‘look what you’ve done now!’ exchange. It seems seven months apart may have diffused the ‘it’s me or the dog bomb.’ Meanwhile, I get left home with Andrew while Liz is out speaking Welsh in Melbourne’s pubs. 

Misery!

Until I remembered under the house strategy.

Liz doesn’t like me crawling under the house. Especially when she has just paid Aussie Pooch to hydro bath me. But I can’t think of a better way to get rid of that horrible clean dog feeling. I roll in the dirt, gnaw old bones and pick up fleas and, most important of all, when Liz gets home she starts up the ‘maybe we should put up a gate’ argument.

Andrew won’t consider it, of course. His strategy was to build barriers, first with chicken wire, then with planks, and finally with a kind of scorched earth policy in which he flattened the vegetation along the entire underside of the house and walled it up. ‘Hey Liz,’ I said. ‘Is he related to Donald Trump?’

It took me a few weeks to get through that round of border protection. But last night I succeeded. There was only one problem, I couldn’t get out. Andrew had screwed my escape route closed. I had to lie under their bedroom floorboards yapping until Liz crawled out of bed, found a screw driver (yes, she learned to use one in Wales) and set me free. 

‘Biskit,’ she said. ‘Give up. You can’t win this.’

I know she’s wrong. Because I’ve tallied up the hours Andrew has spent ‘protecting’ the side of the house. And it’s quite a few. Added to which, one day soon, he’s going to forget to close the gate and I will break free. At which point, the ‘it’s me or the dog’ bomb will start ticking all over again.

Angry Birds: how I nearly failed the Aunty test

One of my more recent pleasures is having my brother and his family settle in Melbourne. This means I get to be Aunty Liz to my nephews, let’s call them, Gideon and Jonathan. I have in fact, been Gideon’s aunty for eighteen years but the small matter of him living in Africa limited tangible expressions of this relationship. When asked, recently, whether the boys could stay with us for the weekend, we agreed readily. Though, of course, I had forgotten how much energy was involved in managing teenagers. Especially when the said teenagers have quite distinct needs. 

Gideon is small and particular and funny and needs loads of time to himself. Jonathan is sporty and outgoing and busy trying to establish himself in Melbourne. He also eats a lot. I had forgotten how much fuel teenage boys need. I shopped for Shapes and bread and fruit but Jonathan got home before me and Andrew had recently flown in from Huston, Texas, so there wasn’t enough food in the house. 

Right, I thought, this is going to take a bit more forethought than I had envisaged.

 

We had an ESL dinner at church which meant I had cooked a risotto. This, combined with curry, rice and some home baked muffins did the trick for an hour or two. Andrew, due to the residual effects of jet lag, volunteered for the early Saturday morning sports run while I looked after Gideon (I am so good at this morning routine that I can do it in my sleep, literally). Having to take my hearing aids out the night before, helps significantly. I woke at a not unreasonable hour Saturday morning and thought, why is Gideon in the shower? Half and hour later, when I woke again, I thought, why is he still in the shower? Turns out the Wiggles played, over and over, down low, sounds like running water. Who would have thought? 

Around lunch time, Gideon and I met Andrew and Jonathan in our local cafe for brunch. Yes, turns out we are a hipster aunt and uncle. We asked the boys what they would like to do that evening. Jonathan wanted to see Captain Marvell, Gideon, Angry Birds. We searched for a cinema in which both movies were playing simultaneously. Northland, had an almost perfect solution as long as Andrew and Jonathan left early and cycled to the cinema, leaving Gideon and I to follow in the car in time for the shorter Angry Birds. The movies would finish within fifteen minutes of each other and we would buy dinner (yes, hipsters on steroids, or perhaps, just making up for eighteen years of neglect).  

Now, I had never been to Northland Shopping Centre (I’ve never done the 1000 steps either, or been to the MCG). Call me unadventurous but I wasn’t exactly lining up for the Northland experience. But I punched the address into my iPhone, started the navigation program, and set off nice and early. We arrived in plenty of time. Which was good because I parked pretty much as far from Hoyts as possible. Speaking of which, I haven’t been to a Hoyts since I left Neighbours country. A fact that will become patently obvious as the story unfolds. 

We bought our tickets. The woman mentioned something about Extreme Screen. But, you know, it’s a long time since I have been to a Hoyts cinema and I was looking for a number. Even though it said, Extreme Screen, on the ticket, right where the number usually sits, and even though we walked past a theatre labelled Extreme Screen. The penny did not drop. I saw L 12 and even though that is clearly a row and seat number and even though, theatre number twelve didn’t have a row L. The penny didn’t drop. Not when the movie didn’t start on time either. Or when there were no children in the audience. I thought: gee, it’s amazing how many adults have nothing better to do than watch Angry Birds on a Saturday night. It wasn’t until the film started to roll that I felt my first twinge of unease. Gee, I thought, fancy Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant being the voices in Angry Birds. It wasn’t until the words Florence Foster Jenkins filled the screen that the penny dropped.

‘Gideon,’ I said, ‘this isn’t Angry Birds.’

‘No,’ wide, serious eyes, ‘I don’t think so either.’

We left the cinema. The young girl who had sold me the ticket had great tact. I didn’t sense an inner eye-roll, or even the smallest hint of oh-my-God-what-loser in her manner, at all. 

‘Angry Birds started twenty minutes ago,’ she explained, politely. ‘But we have another session starting at 7.00.’

I turned to Gideon. We can go in now and miss the beginning, or we can wait until later. What would you prefer?’

‘I just want to see Angry Birds.’ Gideon replied, in what I am beginning to recognise is his wide-eyed, serious, trade mark style. 

By which I deduced he meant the whole movie.

Fortunately, we live in a technological age. I was able to convey the change of plans to Andrew and Jonathan, grab a quick, pre-movie bite with Simeon while waiting for the next session, which would be playing in an ordinary numbered theatre. I am still none the wiser about the Extreme Screen experience. But if Gideon’s doubled over laughter is anything to go by, Angry Birds was worth the wait and, I think, I may have even passed the Aunty Test.

The Blundstone Report – how my boots stood up to the vagaries of Welsh weather

Those who’ve been following this blog for some time will know I have a slight (cough) tendency to obsess over small and seemingly unimportant matters. In the case of my planned visit to Wales, this amounted to what in our family now call: great Welsh footwear crisis. I had been told by a friend that my Melbourne boots wouldn’t stand up to the weather in Wales. I didn’t want to wear hiking boots for seven months, or wellingtons. What was I going to do? Cancel the whole trip?

As these deliberations reached a fever pitch, my long-suffering husband weighed in on the argument, suggesting I buy a pair of Blundstone Boots.

‘Blundstones!’ I replied. ‘They’re ugly.’

‘Not the new Urban range.’

I perused the website, considered telling Veronica I wasn’t coming, took my measurements and ordered a pair of Blundstones with red elastic elastic sides. They arrived. The family heaved a collective sigh of relief, and the inhabitants of Corris enjoyed the benefit of my extended visit.

Blundstone Urbans

Blundstone Urbans

Now I am back in Australia and the number one question people are asking is: how did the Blunnies held up? On social media, in letters and telephone calls, even the newspapers, are all asking the same question. Have Blundstone developed a product that will save the feet of Wales?

Hence, the Blundstone Report.

For those who do not know, Blundstones are a Tasmanian boot manufacturer, arising from the the amalgamation of two competing footwear companies, owned by early English settler families – the Blundstones and the Cuthbersons. The family businesses existed separately from 1853 and were amalgamated in 1932. In recent times, they have thrust their elastic sided boots into the fashion market.

Now before you throw up your hands in horror and exclaim: Saeson! what would they know about Welsh weather? I ask you to hear me out. We all know that the Welsh language was once spoken throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Much of the early Welsh poetry still in existence was in fact composed in what we lovingly call Y Hen Ogledd, and, as Cuthbertson is originally a Scottish name and Blundstone a Lancashire name, Blundstones are in fact Welsh in origin and therefore more than a match for the national weather forecast.

Y Hen Ogledd

Y Hen Ogledd

Of course, we cannot judge the Blundstone Boot on its origins alone. Not everything that originates from Wales is good (think Rolf Harris). We must test each individual case against a rigorous set of criteria. Fortunately, I been on a secret Welsh mission to do just that.

Criteria one: the occasional test:

Wales in a very bootist country. People are denied access to public buildings on the basis of their footwear. Menacing signs like this can be found throughout the land.

No dirty wellingtons in the office

No dirty wellingtons in the office

For a boot to be suitable in Wales it must be able to be worn in a range of situations. During my seven months in Wales, I wore my Blundstones to Chapel, to the eisteddfod, in cafes, out hiking, to the pub, in the library, on the bus, on the train, from London, to Aberystwyth, on the Mon and Brecon Canal, while driving the car, in the supermarket and even in the holiest of holies Merched y Wawr meetings. I can safely say that I was never refused entry on the basis of my footwear.

Criteria two: the wet foot test

The winter of 2015-16 was the wettest Welsh winter since they started recording rainfall. Added to which Corris, is one of the soggiest little microclimates, in the wettest part of the most gloriously green British Isles. The fact that England has drowned numerous Welsh valleys in order to supply water to English towns is testament to its wetness. Yet, in those seven months, in all that teeming rain, I only had damp feet once. This came from the rain trickling down my waterproof pants. Once I started waterproofing the Blundstone elastics it never happened again.

Criteria three: the disbelieving eldest son test

The final and most exacting test was conducted in Romsey a lovely little market town in Southern England where my son and his family now reside. In an effort to adapt to English way life and become a-jolly-good-chap, my son has taken to striding through muddy fields in his leisure time. He asked me to join him one evening.

‘Have you got Wellingtons?’ He asked, donning a spiffy new pair off knee high Wellingtons with drawstring tops.

‘No, only my Blundstones.’

He looked down army feet with that peculiar mix of disdain and pity eldest sons reserve for their ageing mothers and said:

‘It’s pretty muddy out there.’

Setting out, I felt supremely confident. But it pretty quickly became apparent this wasn’t Wales. It was flat, for a start, with less than adequate drainage, added to which, a number of heavy vehicles and been churning up the public pathways. We slithered though acres of oozing brown mud. At any minute, I expected to feel the cold, wet seep of defeat. It didn’t come. When my son asked me how my feet where at the end of the walk, I wasn’t sure who was more surprised to find them dry, him, or me.

No, I didn't lie at customs

No, I didn’t lie at customs

On this basis, I can safely pronounce Blundstones the ideal footwear for Wales. In fact, the findings of the Blundstone Report, are so conclusive, I am calling on the Welsh Assembly Government to establish a National Footwear Strategy. Forget Independence, or Brexit, or the future of the of the Welsh language. There are people in Wales with wet feet and a small Welsh company with a factory in Tasmania has found the solution.

I suggest you purchase shares before the news goes viral.

Blog twenty four o Gymru – a word on Welsh fairy tales

I haven’t blogged for a while. The reason – I’m desperate to get this pre-submission draft of my manuscript finished before heading back to Melbourne. If you know anything about my novel, you will know it is a historical novel set in 1841 on board an emigrant vessel bound for colonial Australia. It has two English viewpoint characters and a Welsh one. My Welsh viewpoint character is a storyteller. His traditional Welsh fairy tales both mirror and affect the other character’s journeys. A tall order for a first novel, perhaps? Or outright ridiculous? In polite literary circles, you may hear it called an ‘ambitious project.’

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As a consequence of this ‘ambitious project,’ I’ve read countless Welsh myths, legends, and fairy tales, primarily in the English language. One of my aims for this time in Wales was to increase my Welsh language understanding of these stories. You can therefore imagine my delight when Gwin Dylanwad advertised a series of Welsh language talks on the Mabinogi. The series wasn’t an event for Welsh language learners. I was definitely the least fluent speaker in the room. But I spent four pleasurable evenings listening to Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird discuss the amazing body of medieval Welsh literature that is known to the English speaking world as the Mabinogion.

The Medd a Mabinogi series was followed by a session on the Tylwyth Teg ( fair family), by Gwyn Edwards. Half way through the evening, Gwyn started talking about Llyn y Fan Fach, the story of a mysterious lake woman who married a mortal. Her father’s only condition being that his daughter mustn’t be struck causelessly, for on the third blow she and all of her dowry would return to the lake (at this point, the feminist in me is compelled to add that it should have been the first blow, causeless, or otherwise).

I recognised the story immediately (yes! a significant comprehension milestone). It is one of the stories I’ve used in my novel. I have walked the rocky mountain path to Llyn y Fan Fach (lake of the small place) a tiny mountain top lake at the northern end of the Black Mountain. I’ve read multiple versions of the story, know it like the back of my hand. At least…I thought I did. Except, the fairy father’s condition in Gwyn Evans’ version of the tale was different. Three causeless blows had been replaced  by three blows with a piece of iron.

The change wasn’t inconceivable. Welsh fairies don’t like iron. They don’t have wings either. They often dress in green. But that’s irrelevant. I glanced about the room, wondering what my class mates thought about this iron addition to the tale. They didn’t seem too perturbed (savages). Then again, they mightn’t have had so much riding on the situation. I on the other hand, sat in a heart pounding, cold sweat, thinking, OMG, the Welsh language version of the story is different. I’m going to re-work whole segments of my novel, just when I thought I was close to finishing.

Half way through his explanation of the tale, Gwyn Evans stopped, smiled, shook his head. ‘O mae’n ddrwg gen iDw i wedi gwneud camgymeriad – Oh, I’m sorry. I have made a mistake.

Mistake! I held my breath.

‘Nid oedd haern un o’r amodau – iron wasn’t one of the conditions. Dim ond tri trawiad heb achos – only three causeless blows.’

No iron! I found myself melting in a warm puddle of relief.

After they had finished wiping me off the floor, the remainder of the evening passed without further trauma. Here are some of the things I have learned about Welsh fairies:

  • They don’t have wings (as mentioned)
  • Neither do they like iron
  • Some people think they are human sized
  • Others that they are diminutive
  • They live beneath the earth
  • Time in fairy land is different to human time
  • If you get caught in a fairy circle it is hard to escape
  • Though their are methods
  • This by the way is a serious topic – and not hypothetical
  • Some believe fairy tales are the remnant of a folk memory harking back to a previous time – when trees, and stones and cairns had spirits
  • Others that they are simply the way to explain the inexplicable
  • Others still, that they are inherently evil
  • You must never try to steal from the fairies, or double cross them
  • They have been known to steal children
  • Reward people’s virtue
  • But whatever the case, you must always be careful
  • And even if you don’t believe in fairies, the tales are worth listening to

 

Blog eight o Gymru – a London interlude

On the 1.06 Arriva train to Shrewsbury, when the guard came around, I held up a handful of tickets. 'Excuse me. I think I might have to change trains. Can you tell me in where please?

Yes. Certainly. The guard took my tickets and started shuffling through them. I saw his eyes widen, the nervous swallow of his throat. 'It looks like you're on the 1.06 from Machynlleth to Shrewsbury, the 2.33 from Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton, the 3.20 from Wolverhampton to Stafford, and then the 3.42 from Stafford to London Euston.'

'Ahh…that's why the tickets were so cheap?'

'Yes. But look, I've put them in order for you.

***

Following Google maps from London Euston Station to the St Pancras Renaisance Hotel with my handful of return train tickets, a borrowed suitcase, my cheap blue Kmart backpack, and slightly muddy Blundstone boots, I stopped in front of an impressive red-brick, turreted edifice: St Pancras Renaisance Hotel. I checked the email itinerary. It seemed to be the right place. I looked down at my boots. Hmm…maybe I wasn't dressed for this occasion? As I approached the glittering glass doors the concierge was clearly of the same opinion. He swooped down on me.

'Good evening, madam. Can I help you?'

'Yes. I think, I'm meeting my husband here.'

***

Approaching Drury Lane Theatre to a Saturday night performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I briefed Andrew on our seats.

'I booked them at the last minute. I couldn't stomach £95 a ticket. We're in the top balcony. RESTRICTED VIEWING. The website said we might have to lean forward occasionally.'

We climbed up and up to our seats. After we had finished staunching our nose bleeds, I said: 'Well this is nice. If we lean forward, we can almost see everything. But…I'm glad I didn't choose the seats that said: RESTRICTED VIEWING – POLE.'

The young couple who had chosen POLE were clearly of the same mind. As soon as the lights went down they scooted across to a better position. We joined them. After that, we really could see almost everything.

***

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. I said: 'Why don't we hire one of those Santander Bikes and ride along the Regent's Canal?'

'Good idea.' Andrew agreed.

So did most of Greater London. Those who weren't cycling were walking – along the same tow path. It was narrow. I had visions of myself shooting off the edge and sinking to the bottom of the canal with my iPad and iPhone (do I hear a collective shudder). We got to Regent's Park. I said:

'Perhaps, it's time for lunch?'

'Yes.'

'We just have to park these bikes.'

But here's the thing about London bikes. They don't come with a temporary bike lock like in Paris. You have to find an empty bike dock. In our case, two empty bike docks. But it was bright and sunny and most of Greater London also thought lunch in Regent's Park was a good idea. Google told us we should have downloaded a Santander App. But I'm on a pay-as-you-go phone plan and Andrew is on an Australian phone plan. So, this wasn't an option. We decided to cycle back to our hotel.

'We can ride in the bus lanes,' Andrew said.

'Are you sure?'

'Yes.'

We rode in the bike lanes. I think it was allowed. I think London Cabs might also have permission to use the bus lanes. There were quite a few of them. It seemed everyone in Greater London had now left Regent's Park and were whipping past us in cabs. Those who couldn't get a cab, were thundering past on huge red double decker buses. As I pedalled along Marleybone Road with with my cheap blue Kmart back pack and my Blundtsone boots churning like windmills, I thought: it's possible I'm going to die here in London.

***

I didn't die. I'm now safely back in Corris. I had a lovely time in London. Thanks for coming Andrew Corbett.

 

Blog five – a matter of false information

Those who know me and can be bothered counting, may have noticed this is my fifth visit to the UK in the last ten years. You may also have observed that now and again (cough) I like to talk about the place. I mention the walks I’ve been on in Wales, the beachside amusement arccades, pubs which allow dogs (very civilised) the way people eat mushy peas with their fish and chips (maybe not so civilised) and how the Brits have a tendency to strip down to their Y fronts whenever the sun peeks out from behind a cloud (need I comment?). What you may not realise, is that I may have been guilty of giving you false information.

The misinformation, has its origins three years ago when, one Sunday, during my month long Welsh language Summer School, I decided to walk from Borth to Aberystwyth. It was a warm, blue sky, day, with only a whisper of cloud. I meandered along the Ceredigion Coastal Park, taking in the heather covered hillsides and spectacular sea views. Just short of Aberystwyth, I stopped for a drink at the cafe attached to the local caravan park. Having spent a number of summer holidays in Aussie Caravan parks, I enjoyed seeing how the Brits (largely from the Midlands judging by their accents) did the summer holiday thing. No, sun smart campaign, judging from the lobster-coloured backs of the children paddling on the beach. No trees for shade, or sun shelters and some of the caravans had two doors. Oh, my! How quaint! Semi-detached caravans!

Roll forward three years, and you will find me a little further along the coast with a group of Welsh speaking friends looking out over a different caravan park. The day wasn’t quite as sunny and, if I’m honest, it was a tad more windy (like blowing a force ten gale). As I sat shivering on the walls of Harlech Castle, I fell to making random summer holiday observations:

‘We don’t have castles in Australia so … this is not a normal summer holiday activity for me (nor the chattering teeth). Do many people stay in tents? Those semi-detached caravans you have are quaint.’

Silence. Four sets of eyes turned on me. ‘Semi-detached caravans?

‘Yes. I’ve seen them, near Aberystwyth.’

‘Really? I’ve never seen one.’ One by one, they all agreed.

Now at this point, I probably should have backed down. Four born and bred, British people, one who has an onsite caravan in a Welsh caravan park were telling me there was no such thing as a semi-detached caravan. What other evidence did I need? But here’s the thing about me. As well as telling tales of Brits sunbathing in their Y fronts, I may also have mentioned the semi-detached caravans a few times. Okay, so more than a few – and I was pretty damn sure they existed. I mean, why else would a caravan have two doors?

Our holiday finished without further reference to the great two door caravan fib. But back in Corris, I could not let the matter rest. I knew the Corris Caravan park wasn’t far away. I set off, camera in hand, to gather evidence. Imagine my delight when I came upon this scene.

I immediately sent a Facebook message to my friends.

‘Tystiolaeth!’ (Evidence)

‘Efallai’ (maybe)? The friend with the onsite caravan wrote. ‘Neu jyst carafan dau ddrws’ (or just a two door caravan).

No need to tell you what I thought of that idea. Who would be potty enough to make a caravan with two doors. Another friend messaged that she would best visiting the seaside town of Aberdyfi later in the week. She would do some research. I decided to join her This was too important a matter to leave to prejudiced minds.

We set off after dark, two middle aged women sneaking round a sleepy caravan park. Fortunately, we were in west Wales, where the crime rate is quite low, or we may have been arrested. Especially when we started circling two door caravans and peering through windows.

‘This one only has one storage box,’ my friend said.

I had to admit she was right.

‘And one number plate.’

Right again.

‘And look this one only has a name.’

I looked at the caravan in question. Number two, Seaspray, and there was only one storage box. I had to admit the evidence was stacking up against me. But what to do? How to tell my Aussie friends that a glorious West Wales holiday in a semi-detached caravan was no longer a possibility? And what about all my other stories. Maybe those men weren’t wearing Y fronts after all?

I’m not sure where all this doubt would have lead too, if not for the quiet persistence of my friend with the onsite caravan. Quite apart from our nighttime escapades, he’d been conducting his own quiet research. It’s called the World Wide Web, in case your interested. Far more sensible than creeping around caravan parks at night. Here’s the picture he sent me.

There may not be semi-detached caravans in modern Britain but once upon a time they did exist. In fact, if enough people make enquiries about semi-detached caravan holidays in West Wales we might be able to bring them back again. Meanwhile, I’m conducting another branch of research. Can someone please tell me why some British caravans have two doors?

 

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