Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Treorchy should be proud of its young people

Sometimes I hear very denigrating comments about young people in Treorchy and in the Rhondda generally. I've recently found myself comparing them to their peers from a far more socially and economically privileged region.

I had to attend a meeting in London and stayed overnight in Wimbledon. At peak time the next morning, I walked down Lake Road and into the centre of Wimbledon to catch the tube to the meeting. Along the whole way, I was walking in the opposite direction to girls from Ricards Lodge High School for Girls, who were walking in to their school in Lake Road. It was easy to identify them as they wear a distinctive purple school uniform.

Most of these girls looked as if they come from reasonably well-off middle class families; the sort of young people you might expect to have been taught manners and consideration. Instead, they were walking two, three or more abreast in the street, not bothering to make way for anyone coming from the other direction. There are roadworks in the centre of Wimbledon at the moment, and the pavement space is very narrow in places. Trying to get past Ricards Lodge High School pupils was an absolute torment. They marched on regardless, pushing into me without cease. I had to keep stopping to wait for a break in the stream in order to continue on my way. I was astounded by the level of discourtesy and thoughtlessness of these girls.

Funnily enough, the whole question of pavement space and giving way is one of the first things I noticed after moving to Treorci. We have a similar situation here in terms of fairly narrow pavements and waves of school pupils moving to and fro between Treorci centre and Treorchy Comprehensive School. I was, and continue to be greatly struck, by how these young people almost never fail to notice someone approaching and make way for them.

Likewise, in the evening, I do not worry if I have to pass a group of youths, because they will also move aside for a passer by. That was something that used to cause me a lot of stress when I lived in Arnold, Notts. I used to feel quite threatened by such encounters. Here in Treorchy, I feel totally safe.

I want to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate the young people of Treorchy for the courtesy I have always experienced from them in the street.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

While the poor get poorer, Rhondda Cynon Taf council leader gets three salaries

One topic guaranteed to make me very, very angry is how so many of our so-called public "servants" and politicians feel it is fine to rake in the money, while the people they supposedly serve endure increasing hardship.

A Plaid press release reveals that the Labour leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, Russel Roberts, is making nearly £100,000 a year from three publicly funded sources. Mr Roberts got £58,962 in financial year 2010-2011 for his work as council leader, including £1,177 travel allowance. Incidentally, that was a 3% increase over his previous salary. This pay rise was granted at a time when council employees at humbler levels are being forced to accept changes in terms and conditions which could result in massive cuts in take-home pay of up to 40%.

Not content with a salary many times higher than the income of most people living in RCT, Mr Roberts also poked his snout into two other troughs over the same period, grabbing £23,544 from South Wales Police Authority as its chairman, while Cwm Taf Health Authority paid him a further £13,344.

As Plaid point out, the council leader's job is supposed to be a full-time placement. It is a wonder how Mr Roberts manages to give value for money to his three employers. Perhaps the answer is that at that level, value for money is no longer a criterion...

Living here in Treorci, I do not have to look far to see how people are being affected by the economic crisis in this country. Major difficulties are being caused by the relentless cuts in services that are being imposed on our community by RCT Council. Nevertheless, council members, led by Mr Roberts had no qualms about awarding themselves increased allowances.

The fact that Plaid Cymru councillors refused to accept these increases for themselves is yet another reason I am proud to be a Plaid member.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Treorci Sorting Office - Public Meeting

The strength of feeling regarding the proposed closure of Treorci Sorting Office was clearly seen in the fact that the public meeting was packed out. All the seats were taken and about 50 people were standing at the back. Many issues were realised. The most pertinent ones will be summarised here.

The representatives from Royal Mail could not hide the fact that the decision has more or less been made already to move all sorting office operations to Ferndale. Apparently this is necessary because Royal Mail only had a £39 million profit last year, while the quantity of mail sent decreased by 6%.

Royal Mail claims that the move would make no difference to residents of the Rhondda Fawr, because they will be able to collect all their mail, including special delivery and other items requiring a signature, from the counter at Treorci Post Office. Collection would be free, because Royal Mail would cover any charges payable to Post Office Counters. This is, however, a concession being made by Royal Mail, which presumably can be withdrawn at any time.

Local business owners expressed dismay at the prospect of having to queue for hours at the post office, rather than walking straight into the sorting office.

Someone who runs a mail order business from Cwm Parc feared that with the sorting office gone, Treorci would receive less priority as a destination to be reached during bad weather. Weather was also a factor mentioned specifically by objectors with respect to Ferndale, because the Rhondda Fach is steeper and more difficult to negotiate.

Royal Mail further claimed the change would be "carbon neutral" since buildings generate a lot of carbon. Thus the extra travel involved in having 23 postmen currently in Treorci travel to join their 10 colleagues currently in Ferndale would be balanced by the loss of the Treorci building.

Objectors pointed out that these sort of calculations did not take into account the financial impact on the postmen faced with a much longer trip to work over the mountains. A union representative made further points about how the move to Ferndale would affect the postmen. The Royal Mail representatives refused to discuss these, saying they were not topics for a public meeting. The audience responded by giving the union representative long and loud applause.

With respect to carbon footprints, the Royal Mail was asked what their feasibility study had concluded about the option of moving the sorting office to the Burberry site. This has now been developed into a site with some of the highest ecological standards in the country. It turned out that this site had not been considered at all, perhaps because the author of the study was not aware of its existence. It further transpired that the feasibility study had been conducted in-house rather than being contracted to outside experts.

The meeting ended with a vague promise from Royal Mail to take our comments and objections into consideration. Nevertheless, the feeling was that the decision will not be changed.

A Freudian slip made by one of the Royal Mail representatives sums up their attitude perfectly. He meant to say "worse", but actually said:

"We are not looking to make the service work"

Friday, 22 July 2011

Treorci Sorting Office Under Threat

Royal Mail is reviewing the position of the sorting office in Treorci. There is a very real possibility that it will be closed down as early as September. The plan is to transfer the work to the sorting office in Ferndale.

This means that residents of the Rhondda Fawr will have to go over the mountains in order to collect their mail! Those needing to use public transport will be faced with a journey that takes 40 minutes in each direction by bus and involves changing buses in Ystrad Rhondda.

Royal Mail's response is to metaphorically shrug their shoulders and say that people can always ask for a re-delivery or arrange to pick up the mail from a designated post office. Using the post office option involves a 50p fee per item. Even worse, it is not available for items sent by special delivery.

This is just the latest in a series of blows to Treorci and the surrounding area. Here, at the top of the valley, we are constantly seeing facilities being closed all around us. We are frequently low on the priority list when decisions are made on new  amenities.

Treorci councillors Sêra Evans-Fear, Cennard Davies and Ted Hancock requested a public meeting between Royal Mail and local residents. At first, Royal Mail was only prepared to talk to the councillors. After further pressure, they have finally agreed to a public meeting.

Public Meeting on Royal Mail's plan to close Treorci Sorting Office
Tuesday 26 July, Oak Tree Hall, Cemetery Road, Treorci at 7 pm.

Although Royal Mail claim no jobs will be lost, sorting office employees say that the facilities in Ferndale are insufficient to cope with an increase in the number of people working there.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Small Nations Festival 2011: my first festival experience

I had a real blast at the Small Nations Festival 2011, which took place last weekend at Glangwenlais Farm, Cilycwm, near Llandovery. Aged 57, I was a festival virgin, on my own and terrified! My sat nav did not help by insisting there is no such place as Cilycwm...

However, once I got there, Small Nations 2011 proved mostly to be a marvellous experience. This totally subjective write-up will not even attempt to cover all the performances, but will focus on my particular favourites. The photos that follow are mine, but to give some of the flavour of the music, I'm including some videos I managed to find on YouTube (apart from the Mabon video, these are from other events).

Although naive to festivals, I knew:
festival = mud.
My new festive wellies lost their shine
seconds after I entered the camping field. 
The Small Nations Festival brings together performers and music from Wales and other small nations. Fittingly, the event kicked off early on Friday evening with a Welsh group playing music from another small nation: Klezmer Kollectiv from Cardiff. I had made extra sure to arrive in time to hear them, because klezmer is one of my favourite music genres. It's tough being the first act, but the Klezmer Kollectiv succeeded in getting a good proportion of the audience dancing and gave the festival an instant feel-good atmosphere.

Klezmer Kollektiv busking in Cardiff:

The Zingaros 
The Zingaros are from Argentina, but they specialise in gypsy music from Europe. It was impressive to hear them singing in Russian and Balkan languages. A unique twist in their performance is when they fuse the gypsy style with a typical Argentinian tango, as in this video of them playing El Choclo:

The Mordekkers

This fabulous Welsh group were an absolute joy to dance to. Their music, featuring Welsh, Breton and other Celtic tunes, is wild, haunting, and simultaneously ancient and ageless. Much of this quality comes from the Welsh pipes and shawm (?) played by the very talented Peni. I will definitely be looking out for the Mordekkers in future. 

 Sleep and the lack thereof
To my huge relief, my brand new and untried pop-up tent did indeed pop up and all I needed to do was secure it with eight pegs. Knowing the official programme was running until 2am, I was prepared for a late night. Unfortunately, some of the younger festival goers wanted an even later night, or no night at all. In a tent, even a conversation at normal volume can be disturbing, and shouting from tent to tent is definitely so. This widespread inconsiderate behaviour upset most of the older people I talked to at the festival. Given that two fields are used for tents, it might be useful in future to designate one as a "quiet" field with strict curfew so that visitors can segregate themselves into those who want some sleep and those who do not.

In addition to the two performance areas, other covered spaces were available, including the Reggae Café pictured here. This served up a non-stop menu of reggae music, which I enjoyed while feasting on an excellent wood-fired pizza.

Several food stalls provided a good variety of food to suit all tastes at fairly reasonable prices, and there was also a very good coffee shop. I spent much time browsing the several clothes stalls, which had some beautiful things available.

Little Rumba

I wish there was a video available of this band, because their sound is so distinctive. Little Rumba, from the Welsh Marches, consisting of guitar + voice, bass guitar, fiddle and saxophone, mix together a variety of styles into something quite unique. Their music ranges from lush to humorous to sardonic to nostalgic, often with words to match. The best parallel I can make is not with another band, but with the poetry of John Betjeman. Do not miss any chance you may have to see them.

Brazilian trumpeter, guitarist, percussionist and singer Tonyho Dos Santos joins with Punjabi tabla player Raj Padam and the result is a superb, predominantly Latin sound! I hope to have many other opportunities to enjoy them. Here is Bangsambra playing Chan Chan:

Other happenings 

Numerous other activities and spectacles were available at the Small Nations Festival. A number of practitioners of different healing techniques made their services available in the Healing Area at the far end of the camping field. The camping field also featured a large bonfire each evening. There was a jamming area in the main field and story-telling in the workshop tent. Workshops included yoga, tai chi, meditation, digeridoo drumming and dancing, singing, plus some craft workshops for kids. The fire dancers added drama to the main field at night. Dick Turner, founder of the Festival, took six of us on a fairly demanding walk into the hills for a couple of hours on Saturday morning

Jamie Smith's Mabon
I danced a lot at Small Nations, but I danced longest and hardest to the sounds of Mabon. This is music I adore! I've long been a fan of bands like Wolfstone from Scotland and Lúnasa from Ireland, and was thrilled when I discovered a while back that Wales has an equal contender in Mabon. The place was packed, the atmosphere electric. There was a truly spooky moment when the band were playing The Tale of Nikolai, The Dancing Bear and the heavens opened, as if crying for the poor captive bear forced to dance day after day.

Here is the more upbeat Galician Stylee recorded at the Small Nations Festival 2011 - those who know me may recognise one of the bobbing heads in the bottom left corner :)

A toast to the stewards, the true heroes of Small Nations Festival!
Throughout the festival, I had noticed how hard the stewards were working in keeping everything clean and safe. On Saturday night, I needed their help very urgently. Returning to my tent in the early hours, I found somebody fast asleep inside, in my sleeping bag. The stewards on duty responded immediately to my panicked request for assistance. It took three of them to pull the guy out. He turned out to be a gatecrasher, who became abusive and potentially violent when being escorted off the site. I cannot thank the stewards enough for their help and compassion. They took me into their own camping area, where I ended up being offered bed space in a caravan for the rest of the night so as not to have to use my sleeping bag. Not only that, the stewards insisted on packing up my stuff and moving it for me. Some of them came up to me the next day to see if I had recovered from the shock. A most unpleasant episode turned into one of the high points of the event due to these wonderful volunteers. Thank you Sándor, Angela, Jamie, Maureen and the rest of you who helped me and whose names I do not know.

Mose Fan Fan and band
Singer and guitarist Mose Fan Fan, originally from DR Congo, is one of the stars of the rumba Congolaise style. I love the Cuban influence, the syncopation, the intricate weaving of melody, the laid-backness of this music. Despite having had a very active day already, I found it impossible not to carry on dancing...

Here is a typical tune:

Drumming away
The programme was too packed for me to fully explore the workshop programme. I did attend one singing session and then a drumming and dance session on Sunday afternoon. After this finished, some of us took the drums to the main marquee, where we carried on playing until stewards told us something would be happening on stage shortly. The happening turned out to be a jamming session by various performers. Wonder of wonder, they started off by taking up some of our rhythms, and we were able to carry on playing alongside. This was yet another highlight of a brilliant event!


and us!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Book review: Bedd y Dyn Gwyn by Bob Eynon

In Bedd y Dyn Gwyn [White Man's Grave], the multifaceted Bob Eynon takes Welsh learners straight into the gung ho world of  the classic comic, The Boy's Own Paper.

It is February 1895 and young Welshman Cris Hopkin is newly arrived in Lagos. His mission is to penetrate deep into the jungle to map the course of the River Yorba. Tough, hard-drinking John Carter agrees to be his guide.

Hopkin meets pretty, young Wendy Benson, whose father disappeared while exploring the same region. She begs to come on the trip, hoping to find out something about her father. Surprisingly and very out of character, Carter not only does not object, but positively encourages her.

The story unfolds with all the components of a classic adventure tale fitted into just under 50 pages: man-eating crocodiles, warring tribes, treachery, treasure and Lise, the mysterious and beautiful young witch doctor.

After many trials and tribulations, the good get their just rewards, the wicked their come-uppance and all is as it should be.

Although this is not the sort of tale I would normally read, I did find it a lot of fun. The language was relatively easy to understand, with a helpful vocabulary at the back of the book. The story line made a welcome change from the tedious over-emphasis on mundane life in the official course book that I have to follow for my class.

Buy Bedd Y Dyn Gwyn from The Book Depository and get postage-free delivery worldwide.

Book review: Pwy Sy'n Cofio Sion by Mair Evans

Pwy Sy'n Cofio Sion [Who Remembers Sion] by Mair Evans is written specifically for learners of Welsh. Leni is a young and ambitious girl who is seeking to make a name for herself in broadcasting. Working in a small, backwater radio station, she is asked to look into the mystery of Sion Tremthanmor, a rock-folk musician who vanished many years ago. Leni sees this as her first chance to move towards fame. Although asked to do only library research, she goes out into the world in a hunt for the truth.

The book is approximately 80 pages long. The story is well told and truly gripping in places. I found the language fairly challenging for my current level (Sylfaen 1). Someone doing the Canolradd course would find it far easier going. In addition, the vocabulary given at the bottom of each page was somewhat sparse for my needs. Overall, however, it was a most enjoyable read.

Pwy Sy'n Cofio Sion is available to buy with free delivery worldwide.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

South Wales Geocaching Event

Pressures of work have made me late in writing about the South Wales Geocaching Event held just outside Tenby during the early May Bank Holiday. This is a regular annual event in its own right, but this year was also part of the build-up to the UK Mega Event. This will be held in Swansea later in the year. Unfortunately, the organisers did not realise that the dates clash with the National Eisteddfod, which means that I for one will not be able to attend.

I want to sing the praises of Trevayne Farm camp site, which hosted those of us, who wished to stay in tents or caravans. I got hopelessly lost travelling there, and even after phoning for directions ended up circling aimlessly round Saundersfoot and various small roads and even narrower lanes. Eventually, I phoned again in tears, and the nice lady from the farm drove out to find me and guide me to the site.

It was the first time I have been able to camp in years, and I enjoyed it a lot. I prefer a tent in which I can stand upright in at least one spot. Unfortunately, being on my own, I can't have the sort of canvas bell tent I used to have, as it is too heavy for me to lift up the central pole together with the tent. I ended up with a polyester tipi. It was fine in most ways, but the camp site is in a very open windy location, so nights were filled with very loud flapping noises!

The Tenby area was a great choice, because it is stuffed full with really good geocaches. Very many of them belong to Mushroom Mike, who was also organiser of the main event. He has some really sneaky hides.  I was proud of managing to find several tough ones, but was beaten by one.

My cache hunting resulted in me walking about 17 miles over the long weekend as well as driving a bit to get to some locations further away. I found 25-odd caches, including some in Tenby, Saundersfoot, along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and near Begelly. Many of the walks took me through glorious woodland, full of green light and bluebells. Deciduous woods are among my favourite type of scenery, and I was delighted to spend so much time in them over the weekend. I did not have a camera with me, but have taken a few pictures with my phone, which I hope give some idea of what I saw.

This reminds me of Robert Frost's poem, although this wood is very green
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth"

Together with the main event, we had the camping event organised by Mollyjak. There was also a wedding-themed flash mob in Tenby on the Friday morning. I did not attend, because I did not want to  mark an event that I consider to be of no relevance to life in Wales (I think royals and their families/hangers-on serve no useful purpose to any society anywhere!).

The camping event took place on Saturday evening. Mollyjak (Lilian), with her willing helpers, made some truly marvellous cawl and Welsh cakes, which I found all the more delicious since they made my only hot meal of the weekend. Otherwise, I went "cavewoman", eating fruit, dried fruits, nuts and jerky! The Welsh theme of the event continued with everyone being asked to wear something Welsh or at least something red.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Marwolaeth heb Ddagrau by Bob Eynon - book review

For me, one of the best ways to boost language learning is to absorb the language through reading books. As a relative beginner, I have a very limited choice of titles in Welsh, even more so than in other languages it seems, because Welsh is so very complicated! I've read a couple, which were about adult Welsh learners and their daily lives - yawn, really not my type of book! Recently, following a recommendation from my tutor and from a fellow student, I decided to start exploring books by Bob Eynon.

Bob lives in Treorci, although I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting him. He writes books aimed specifically at Welsh learners, in a number of genres.

In Marwolaeth heb Ddagrau (death without tears), private detective Ceri Llewelyn is asked to investigate the death of Mrs Adelina Luscombe's son, Nick. Together with his new secretary-sidekick, Debra Craig, Ceri starts asking questions round the small Cotswold village of Stavely, where Nick used to live with his mother before moving to London. The answers he finds raise even more questions and the trail takes them to London.

Was Nick a heroin addict and did he fall downstairs to his death accidentally while under its influence? Was anyone present when he died? Who is the mysterious Arab who accompanied him to Stavely? What did the Hells Angels have to do with the case? Why was Ceri slipped a Mickey Finn in Nick's favourite nightclub?

Eventually, Ceri and Debra are led to a hippy commune in Wales, and then back to Stavely for the final denouement in the best detective mystery tradition.

At approximately 60 pages of fairly large typeface, the book was a comfortable length to tackle given my slow reading speed in Welsh. The storyline kept my interest to the end. Bob Eynon structures the book using a limited vocabulary, which is listed at the back of the book. The list is extremely helpful, but using it does require a basic knowledge of how mutations are used in Welsh. Words and phrases are repeated throughout the book to enable them to sink into the brain. Some typical sentence structures taught in Welsh classes are also used. This is done in a natural way within the story.

Marwolaeth heb Ddagrau offers Welsh learners a pleasurable way in which to consolidate what they have learnt and expand their vocabulary. Available from The  Book Depository with free delivery worldwide.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Wind farms in the Rhondda – simply a NIMBY matter?

Wind farms are springing up all over the hillsides of South Wales and many people are not happy about this at all. Looking out of the window of my study, across the valley to Cwmparc and the Bwlch mountain, I cannot as yet see any. However, it is not necessary to go far to start seeing the white blades of the turbines rearing up from the hills.

Wind Turbines overlooking Gilfach Goch - geograph.org.uk - 550450
Wind Turbines overlooking Gilfach Goch, by Martin Edwards [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The latest is the Ferndale Wind Farm, with 8 turbines, each 74 metres high, on the slopes between the two valleys of the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach. It is due to become operational this summer. Speaking to Wales Online, local councillor for Ferndale, Ceri Jones, pointed out that the project was approved despite the opposition of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council and 95% of Ferndale residents.

Of course all the usual arguments and counter-arguments for wind farms apply. There is the aesthetic argument that they are ugly, spoil the landscape and make it unnatural. I'm not totally convinced by that one. For a start, the landscape here is already man-made to a significant degree. Moreover, I think I prefer to see a wind farm than a nuclear power station any day, particularly if it is close to where I live!

The potential impact on birds is more worrying. There have been incidents of birds being injured by flying into the turbines, such as the red kite which suffered fatal injuries near Aberystwyth. Furthermore, studies have found that the areas round wind farms are being abandoned by birds. The turbines act like giant scarecrows to chase them away. This affects feeding and breeding areas and also migration routes.

Nevertheless, I believe that the major issue is that this is one of the latest examples of the continuous exploitation of Wales and its resources. The wind farms in the Rhondda are not going to bring down the price of electricity paid by local people. In fact, a survey published last June by Consumer Focus Wales found that people in Wales pay more for electricity than people in the rest of Britain, and people in South Wales pay more than people in North Wales.

For about 150 years, the miners of the Rhondda gave their strength, often their health, and sometimes their lives to produce coal, on which so much wealth was created. Practically none of that wealth was brought back into Wales. The mines dominated the local economy. Since they closed, little has been done to create other work for local people. The legacy of health problems left by coal mining places a huge burden on the Welsh Health Service.

Now, as we move from coal to alternative energy sources, the Rhondda is again being asked to contribute, but get nothing back. Is it any wonder that people are angry about the wind farms?

In her consultation document Greenprint for the Valleys, Plaid Assembly Member Leanne Wood puts forward a number of proposals to regenerate the former coalfields of South Wales. One of the points raised at the meeting to launch the initiative in the Rhondda was that any future wind farm developments should be organised jointly with the local communities, and that the communities should receive a share of the profits. Even more importantly, investment should be made into developing and funding small-scale alternative energy projects, such as roof solar panels and garden-scale wind turbines.

The Rhondda is at times derided by outsiders as a bleak problem area. It was not the people of the Rhondda who caused the problems, but those who exploited them and their resources and gave nothing back. In the wind farm issue, history appears to be repeating itself. It is more than high time for this pattern to stop. That is why I oppose the Rhondda wind farms in their current form and support the alternatives being proposed in Greenprint for the Valleys.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Wild women helping Welsh learners - Book review of Merched Gwyllt Cymru (Beryl Griffiths)

One of the problems with learning a language is the limited accessibility of reading matter that is simple enough to be understood with the limited vocabulary and grammatical constructions possessed by a learner. Children's books might seem to be an obvious answer, but in fact they are not a solution. A toddler who speaks Welsh as their first language, for example, already knows phrases and words that I have yet to meet.

I found this out to my chagrin a year into learning Welsh, when I was not able to understand a Postman Pat book I found in the local Tenovus charity shop! Also, there's a limit to how much Postman Pat I want to read...

One answer is to turn to books written specifically for learners, with purposely limited sentence constructions and listed vocabularies. I will be featuring some I have found useful in future posts.

The other answer is a bilingual book, which has the text in Welsh on one page and in English on the facing page. I have just finished such a book: Merched Gwyllt Cymru - Wild Welsh Women by Beryl Griffiths.

This  is a collection of short biographies of Welsh women throughout history, who broke with convention in one way or another. It starts back in the mists of time with a retelling of the myths of Ceridwen, Arianrhod and Blodeuwedd.

We meet the warrior queen of the Iceni, Buddug (Boudicca) who led a rebellion against the Roman colonisers, and the princesses Nest, Gwenllian (a lesser known earlier Gwenllian, not Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's daughter) and Siwan of the 10-13th centuries.

Catrin o Ferain was called the Mother of Wales after her death in 1591. She outlived four husbands, while navigating her way through the political turmoil of the Elizabethan era. Her descendants were found in most of the families of the North Wales gentry.

Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby fled from Ireland so as to be able to continue with their relationship in peace, finding refuge in Wales, where they became known as the Ladies of Llangollen. Their home attracted many prominent authors and poets. William Wordsworth managed to offend them in a sonnet, referring to their house, Plas Newydd, as a "low roof'd Cot".

Ann Griffiths, who became converted during the revivalist period at the end of the 18th century, went on to write some well-known and loved hymns.

Another featured writer, this time of novels, is Elizabeth Amy Dillwyn (1845-1935), who triumphed over financial adversity and became a successful businesswoman.

Buy Merched Gwyllt Cymru and get free delivery worldwide.

The most recent biography is of Megan Lloyd George (1902-1966), Liberal and then Labour MP. I enjoyed hearing of her riposte to a farmer during hustings on Anglesey in 1928. Accused by him of not even knowing how many ribs a pig has, she invited him to join her on the platform so that she could count them!

However, it is the women from the lower levels and margins of society who make the most colourful impact in this "wild" parade. These include Marged ferch Ifan, who, standing over 6 feet tall, was not only a rower, wrestler and innkeeper, but also a renowned harpist. Jemima Nicholas, a cobbler and as tall as Marged, single-handedly caught 12 French soldiers who had come over the Channel as part of an invading army. They are joined by the thief Mary Lewis, the gypsy Alabina Wood, Betsi Cadwaladr, who ran away from home at the age of nine, travelled the world and went out to be a nurse in the Crimea at the age of sixty-five, and Annie Ellis, who emigrated to America and kept a lodging house in the Wild West.

While not women at all, the "Rebeccas", who led their "daughters" in mass actions to destroy tollgates, also get a chapter.

My favourite wild woman, however, is definitely Gwerfyl Mechain, who lived in the second half of the 15th century. Not only did she dare to enter the then male world of poetry, she proved to be as accomplished as any man in mastering the extremely difficult Welsh verse form cynghanedd. Her poetry includes discourses on women's concerns such as rape and domestic violence. She was also at times raunchier than many of her contemporary male poets. Criticising men for "Leaving the centre without praise / The palace where children are gained", she continues with her own detailed description and praise of that part of the female anatomy. I was amused to note that while the Welsh page cites the next five lines of the poem, the author refrains from supplying a translation for the English page!

In all, this was a most enjoyable book and I learned a lot of new things. I don't pretend that I was able to read all the Welsh. Nevertheless, I was able to read quite a lot, while casting occasional glances at the English text when I got stuck. I found this less wearing than having constantly to look up words in a dictionary. I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to anyone at my level of Welsh (Sylfaen) or higher as an enjoyable and informative way to practise Welsh. Since the book is bilingual, I would also recommend it to anyone who wishes to find out something about Welsh women who stood out from among their contemporaries.

Buy Merched Gwyllt Cymru and get free delivery worldwide.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Croeso i fy myd / Welcome to my world

So many people are curious why I have chosen to bury myself in a small place in Wales. I dedicate this blog to them and to anyone else interested about living in Wales, more specifically in the Rhondda. I will write about life in Treorchy, places I visit in Wales, learning Welsh, Welsh culture and other related topics.

Most people know the place where I live as Treorchy. Its real name is Treorci, meaning town on the river Orci.

I moved to Treorchy in February 2008. All the 54 years of my life up to that point had been spent in cities: London, Bristol, Zagreb, Sheffield, Nottingham. I was sick of city life, depressed by the faceless suburbs, the concrete, the traffic and the crowds.

I changed all that for this view from my study:

On my first morning in Treorchy, I woke to the sound of lashing rain. Living in Wales means having to get used to rain very rapidly! This was January, 2008, while I was still living in Nottingham and getting the new house organised. I had arrived at 1am and had nothing in stock. Having left the house to hunt for breakfast, I was soaked through within minutes.

As I walked down the hill, I turned and look back up the mountains behind the house. My heart leapt at the view. Being wet did not matter, being cold did not matter.

I was joined in my new home by a man I had loved deeply for many years. He was originally from Penygraig, a few miles down the valley, but had spent decades in England. He was excited at the thought of returning to his roots as being Welsh was a source of great pride to him.

We were not permitted to be happy. A nervous breakdown caused by personal and professional stress together with the grief of being rejected by his adult daughters had wounded him too deeply. Even before he joined me, he had set his life on a course of destruction, which resulted in his death in June 2010.

My first instinct after David died was to flee. I was alone, a long way from my daughters and scared. By chance, just three weeks after David's death, a temporary choir was formed nearby for the TV series Codi Canu (S4C). I love singing and so became a member.

During the first rehearsal, as we sang our way through Cwm Rhondda and Y Tangnefeddwyr in Welsh, I felt shivers up and down my spine. On the way back home, I marvelled at seeing the valley more beautiful than ever before. It was golden in that warm June evening. That was when I knew I was going to stay, regardless of what would be.

Wales has adopted me and worked its magic deep in my soul. I am not Welsh by genes, but take the liberty to pronounce myself Welsh by choice.

I have found my home.