Postcard - Weekend in Wales
February 2000©Nigel Spiers
We have been invited to stay for the weekend with friends of friends in Wales.
We decided to go by British Rail – a 3.5-hour journey, as opposed to driving which is an endless weekend traffic jam. Driving’s fine in London as long as you don’t need to go anywhere and you are born to queue. Apart from a small fracas on the train with a very stupid woman, at which time Roz and Oliver turned the other way and pretended they weren’t with me, the trip went fine. We were duly met at the station by our host who drove us to their country home 30 minutes from Welshpool.
The next morning we looked out our window – bloody hell! – this is just like Christchurch in winter – hard white frost for miles and bright blue skies. The house is nestled at the bottom of a beautiful valley with rolling green hills, Larch forests and streams all around us. I’m immediately brought out of my reverie by banging my head on one of the 400-year-old low wooden beams in our bedroom.
Our hosts, who remind me of the Good Life couple from TV, have risen at 5.00 am and are trying to keep their young dog quiet so their townie visitors can sleep in. In fact by the time we have breakfast at 9.30 am they are on their third meal of the day. Ollie is playing out in the fields with Spike – an 18 month old German Shepherd. They are tearing around with their tongues lolling out the sides of their mouths, dribbling and with a wild look in their eyes. They have the natural affinity of animals of approximately the same mental age and interests – sticks, balls and frogs.
Meanwhile I have foolishly offered to help Glyn with the hedging. Hedging, I’ve now learnt, is quite an art form here. You first plant a range of shrubs and briars along the fence line then trim the sides leaving the tops to grow tall. When they are about seven feet high you put on a pair of heavy leather gloves, bend the stems down horizontally and thread them through the base of the hedge. The original fence posts and railings eventually rot and you are left with an impenetrable and very attractive barrier to man and beast. After a few hours I’m absolutely knackered and mine host tells me that this job is normally done by 80 year old retired farmers – bullshit!
About this time two old farmers come by and the first says in a broad Welsh accent “Good morning I’m Dai” and the other farmer says “I’m Dai also”. I’m immediately suspicious – nobody really talks like this do they? Surely they are taking the piss. However I’m totally disarmed by their frank and disingenuous faces and shake hands, aware of my own dull voice. The Welsh country accent is more like singing than talking with a huge range of light and shade and beautiful mellifluous tones.
In the afternoon we all watch Wales Vs Italy on TV. The game is prefaced by extensive pre-match analysis from a team of bygone Welsh heroes such as Gareth Edwards. However the highlight of the match is a series of interviews with Graham Henry. He has quickly been taken into the hearts of the Welsh and you can easily see why. His speech is abrupt and taciturn as you would expect from an International Rugby coach but all the while his eyes are twinkling and he has a wicked and very dry sense of humour. Above all it’s his candour which appeals and you can’t help but imagine yourself spending a marvellous evening with him at a lovely little Welsh pub after the game.
The next day we take a walk around Glyn and Lizzie’s farm. From the tops of the hills you can see for miles towards the ocean and on the other side over into England. It’s almost like the Irish Sea and the mighty Atlantic have conspired over the last few thousand years to push the Welsh landscape into a concertinaed series of smooth narrow valleys. Now I see why people live here – it is poetry in motion and so peaceful.
Meanwhile back in London – spring has sprung – yes it’s official. The daffodils came out in a rush yesterday morning and Roz and Ollie walked for miles in Regents Park luxuriating, with the rest of London, in the most gloriously sunny spring day.