Tuesday 30 September 2008

Getting Medieval...

with the Freemen of Gwent. You might remember that we met them last week and liked the sound of it all. They were kind enough to invite us to their last event of the season and kitted us out so we could join in.

Sir V the Interior Designer
I don't know why they called him that, they just did

Does my head look big in this hat?
You can see it in his face can't you? He's just not sure about that hat. Still it kept him safe. I think he was hit by an axe at one point. Apparently it was a laugh.
We stayed over Saturday night and though it got a bit nippy under canvas at 3am, the children slept better than they ever do in the house.

This was at breakfast. Cooked over an open fire, they were the best sausages I have ever tasted along with fried bacon, egg, mushrooms, bread and butter and hot tea. Fab... and yes those stocks are fully functional but we didn't need to use them.

I cannot pin point why I enjoyed the weekend so much because it is hard to narrow it down to one thing. It was just huge fun. The company was great and we sat around the camp fire Saturday night. There was cider and mulled wine, good beef stew, stories, games and gales of laughter.
Perhaps it was good just getting to know folks, like minded loonies with a pechant for dressing up and make believe. V gets to turn into a Welsh rebel, I get to spin and felt and cook a bit more and the kids get to run wild in a safe place. I can't wait for the next one!

Friday 26 September 2008

The Big Pit, Blaenafon

Blaenafon wears a grey sky well I think.
The Big Pit, or Pwll Mawr is on the eastern edge of the South Wales coal field. Once a working mine, it was closed down in the early 80's due to geological problems and is now a mining museum. It produced steam coal rather than anthracite which was brought out of the Neath Valley (where I live, further over to the west).
The tour guides are all ex miners, some of whom worked here when it was still in production. So they really know their stuff. I laughed when our guide asked us what kind of coal was the best and I replied anthracite and he said steam coal was best... the Welsh are funny people sometimes.

Old trams.
These would carry a tonne of coal each. That is enough to keep a decent sized house warm all year.

The forge
The Big Pit was self sufficient for spares and parts. They made everything they needed on site.
This was one of the better places to work. But it still must have been terribly hot and noisy.

Maggie and Arthur
They used to take canaries down the mine as the first ever carbon monoxide detectors.
When the bird keeled over it was time to get the hell out.
Someone with a fine sense of irony named these two Maggie and Arthur*.
Apparently they get on very well...

The pit head wheel
These were a common sight all over South Wales and much of Northern England too. The last deep pit in Wales - Tower colliery- closed six months ago. The coal field is not exhausted yet, there are still plenty of open cast mines about, two in my valley alone, but few Welsh work there now. And frankly, after the underground tour, I can understand why. It must have been hellish. My father went down the pit at 14 years of age, leaving for national service three years later. He has always said that he preferred the Palestinian War to going back underground.

The widow maker
So called not because of the awful teeth, but because of the dust that it threw up.
My grandfather died of "the Dust" - a colloquial term for any miner's lung disease

The stock yard

Keepers Pond
This is out of Blaenafon, on the mountains that surround the town. This is a man made pond to supply water, not for the town, but for industry. Here we were standing on the very edge of the South Wales coal field and over to the right, about half a mile away is the remnants of Garndyrus Forge, where the pig iron from Blaenafon Ironworks was brought and made into machines, girders and sleepers for the whole world.

It was very cold up there and I did not fancy exploring. We headed down the mountain road toward Abergavenny, a rich, soft and gentle market town, starkly different from where we had just come from and V commented on how in just three life times that things could be so changed. I thought about my grandfather who died a few months before I was born but of whom I have been told so many stories that I feel as though I knew him well. I reckon George Gwilym would have looked at his grand daughter with her pretty car and free time and he would have been utterly delighted.

It has been said that coal stays in the blood for four generations, in which case it will not be out of ours until my great great grandchild is born. There is nothing romantic about mining, nothing at all, but I have stories from my family: of heroism in pit falls, of bare knuckle fights by the pit wheel, of cheats, lunatics, hilarity and sorrow that I will pass on to my own daughters so that they will not forget where they sprang from. There is nothing romantic about those stories either, most of them being about fierce and sometimes desperate times, but there is something about them that stirs me, that calls to me and I want my children to have that call too, a touch from the past to remember the pride of the Neath valley, a place that I hold very very dear.

* Maggie and Arthur - if you are interested, click on the link for a competent discussion of the Miners Strike of 1984-85

Tuesday 23 September 2008

V for Veet

My man is a laid back kinda guy. I know this because I did not hear any roar of outrage, I did not hear any cussing or spitting.
He just looked at me with pain in his lovely blue eyes.

Why did you keep it by the toothpaste?

It was only a matter of time I guess.

Monday 22 September 2008

The Tale of Blodeuwedd - part II

Lord Goronwy worked for a whole year on the spear that would be able to kill Llew. Long and wickedly sharp it was and heavy, made of iron and packed full of incantations to make the man whom death would not touch mortal to its blade.

Llew and Blodeuwedd were at the sheep folds this fine spring morning. They were good fat sheep and Llew was pleased with his good fortune. Playfully, he wanted to show off to his beautiful wife and took to showing her how he well he could balance. This gave Goronwy his chance.
Llew was between boundaries, not on earth, not in air but balanced. One foot on the back of an animal, the other on a fence and there (being neither one thing or the other) he was vulnerable.

The spear flew straight towards his heart but at last minute the animal bucked and Llew was thrown enough for the spear to catch him between his ribs. As he fell to earth, he did not die but was instead transformed into an eagle. With a heart broken cry to his false bride, Llew flapped wounded into the shelter of the mountains. Blodeuwedd did not care but ran to the arms of her lover who carried her away to his lands where they lived happy, heedless of the sorrow and pain that they had left behind them.

Long and bitter was Gwydion's search for his student and friend. The eagle hid himself so well that it took a full year of searching the mountains to find him. But at last Gwydion heard news of a poor bedraggled, heartsick and bloodied eagle that was seen to roost in the tallest of the pines in the forest. Nothing but skin, bone and feathers was left of Llew the Archer. He would not listen to any words spoken to him but instead scanned the horizon to the south where lived Blodeuwedd. Every so often a shudder would run through the bird's wretched frame and the wound would re open and bleed afresh.

Weeping so hard that he could not form words, Gwydion sat himself under the pine tree and let the touch of his hands upon the harp speak of heart break and loss so potent that even the breeze on the mountainside could not move for sorrow. And the eagle flew down to the middle branches of the pine.

Encouraged, the bard lifted his voice to make song of love and betrayal and a wound so deep that even an immortal could die of it. The trees around creaked and groaned in sympathy. And the eagle flew down to the lowest branches of the pine.

Gwydion then whispered the name of Blodeuwedd and at the sound of her name, the eagle fell from the tree into the arms of his friend. Gwydion staggered but held tight and the eagle became a man once more, terribly wounded, but alive. Sorrowful still but now hopeful too Gwydion carried Llew back to Math ap Mathonwy who would heal his body at least and nurse him back to health.

Another year passed. Blodeuwedd and Goronwy lived far away but at last even they heard of Llew's recovery and a terrible fear came upon them. It was the Law that Llew had a right to challenge Goronyw to battle and who can best an immortal on the field of combat? The spear that Goronwy had laboured a year to forge was thrown against him and Llew of the Fair Hand threw true. Goronwy died with the name of another man's wife upon his lips.
When the news of her lover's death was brought to Blodeuwedd she fled, mad with grief and terror, into the rocks behind her home. Llew gave chase, wanting only to make peace but she could only hear his shouting not the words of forgiveness that he uttered. Panic struck she struggled up the near vertical face of rock until one crumbled under her foot and, her arms spread wide as wings, she fell toward the valley floor.
Llew screamed in helpless loss and at that note of horrible pain, Mathonyw cast one last spell for Llew and Blodeuwedd and turned her into an owl.

She fled, this pale and lovely creature who fears to come out in the brightness of day and shuns the haunts of men, but hides her sorrow and shame in dappled moonlight. Calling -Who?- at the steps that follow her still - is it her Lord or is it her lover? I do not think she knows.
We remember her tale and remember her name - Blodeuwedd, flower face, the ghost of a faithless wife.

The end.

The first part of the story can be found here Part One

Sunday 21 September 2008

Owain Glyndwr Festival

Today found us just outside Abercrave in the fields behind the Ancient Briton Pub for the third annual Owain Glyndwr festival.
The guild were running a demonstration there and we were asked to dress medieval-ish. No problem for me, I wore my Christmas ceilidh dress. A square of muslin tied on with a plait of yarn served as a headdress and I was good to go. I do so love dressing up.

Unfortunately my louet, though it runs beautifully and is incredibly versatile in the yarn it can produce, is not the most beautiful of spinning wheels. I have been thinking about getting an ashford traditional to take to demonstrations (Deb is using an ashford pictured in the centre) or maybe even a mazurka if I could find one at a reasonable price.

Here are the archers. These chaps meet in Margam Park which is quite close to us. We have been thinking of joining a re-enactment society for ages but haven't found a suitable one yet. These are certainly close but I think V wants to do sword work rather than just archery. I love the long bow but I find them utterly impossible to use, they are a clear foot larger than me for a start plus you need a wrist of sprung steel to bend it even a little.

These are the chaps for us I think - The Freemen of Gwent. It is unfortunate that they meet in Chepstow, too far for a weekly meeting, but we could probably make it once a fortnight. They seemed a nice friendly bunch too.

and so good with kids!

Friday 19 September 2008

Of Whitebait

We went to the Worm's Head for lunch today

Not a peculiar name for a pub but a spit of land into the sea at the furthest point of the Gower peninsular. There is a causeway at low tide so you can go and see seals basking on the rocks.

Lunch was fresh fish. These poor little things were swimming last night, But I think whitebait tastes too good to live. I almost got V to eat one until he saw a tiny eye glaring at him through the breadcrumbs.
%&($! Thats a whole thing!
Yup *crunching with relish*
%&($! *shuddering at the monster that he married*
said monster just giggles

The view from the table

We sat there in the afternoon sun watching some poor dab try to surf in knee high waves while two loonies parascended off the facing mountain. I debated whether I would be any good at having a go. V thought it would be asking for trouble - especially after whitebait.

We finished off with Joe's ice cream down the marina. It was a pleasant afternoon.

Thursday 18 September 2008

The Tale of Blodeuwedd

This in an old old story and there are many tellings of it. The best is to be found in this edition of The Mabinogion but for this time and in this place, in the company of friends this is my telling.

Math ap Mathonwy was a mage and a bold one. He held in his heart a student most dear, one Gwydion ap Don, a wise man and harpist who sang birds from the sky to rest on his hand.
These men had a student, a fair, clever boy but cursed from his birth from the mouth of his dam
- no name to honour him, no bride to warm him and no death to release him from life's sorrow and pain.

By deftness and cunning the boy won him a name - Llew of the Fair Hand for his skill with the bow but no maiden to love him and to bear him a child, no warmth in his bed 'gainst the cold of the night.
No wife could be found for Llew of the Fair Hand.

But the wizard and bard took boughs of an oak tree and sweet scented blossoms as soft as the mist. They wove them with music and words of enchantment and sang them a lady as fair as the moon.
Blodeuwedd they named her for the flowers that formed her and gave her to Llew to have and to hold.

But magic is fickle and not to be trusted. No heart had the lady to give to her lord. She loved another, one Lord Goronwy and together they plotted how they could be free.

The four seasons turned and Goronwy he laboured with metal and fire on a magical spear. Making the weapon in darkest of hope, fashioning murder in the heat of the forge.
More another time, tomorrow maybe...

The second part of the tale can be found here

Wednesday 17 September 2008


I saw a ghost tonight on my way back home from work. She was sitting on the gate post by the farm. Her stark white face caught and staring into the headlights. She seemed stunned by the fierce glare but turned quickly and floated on her noiseless wings away into the softness of the moonlit mountain. I was delighted to have seen her so close. I have heard her night-time calling in the woods below my house all summer but she is too shy to come out in the day. I love that she is there though.

Her name is Blodeuwedd. And her story is an ancient one and sad - a tale of a bride made from flowers and given in marriage to a man whom she did not love, a story of faithlessness and violence, of eagles and owls, magic and revenge.

Perhaps I might tell you it here some time... when it is not late and the fire has not burnt down to ash and I do not have sleeping children to carry to their beds.

But for now, goodnight my friends.
I hope you have owls or other sweet noises to carry you into sleep tonight

NB: the picture is not mine, unfortunately I don't know who made her - sorry

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Evening thoughts

The light is changing. Even in full sun.
I can feel Summer's kiss goodbye.
Tonight the fire is lit and across the valley
Crynant mountain is dressed in mist and shadow.
Night gathers round my home

I know many people love autumn - for them it is their favourite season - all the colours of fire and gold rich against the ripening earth. Porridge in the morning, warming soup and bread for lunch and casseroles in the oven for tea. Crumbles, pies, custards and puddings.

But oh how I wish we had had a summer, maybe then I would not be so reluctant to turn my face to the change in season

Monday 15 September 2008

Blackberry Whiskey

For this you need:

sugar, blackberries and whiskey.
An ordinary blend will do. I like to keep my single malts neat.
And you need a suitable jar to shake the stuff up in

Add the sugar to the whiskey
and shake like hell.
Add the blackberries and shake a bit more

It looks a bit murky right now and Zac is unimpressed


- all the more for me at Christmas time.

Sunday 14 September 2008

Haiku - Seeds

these pinpricks of life
dormant but so powerful
awesome potential

for One Single Impression.

Photo of poppy seed from Wikipedia

Saturday 13 September 2008


Three girls went hunting...

up the slope

across the bracken patch

through the trees

over the rill

to find blackberries.

Not many, it must be said, but enough to make a pot or two of jelly. A special taste of autumn to carry us through the winter.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Hello Again

So here is my new place - a clean slate.
Unexplored options and new directions.
No ties, no restrictions, no expectations of myself.
I have reached the edge of my map as it were
and I am in new territory.
Here be dragons my friends.