Day 128 A Lammas Fire
In the morning I meet Ernie the gardener as Ainsleigh and Jennifer invite him for cups of tea around the patio table and we hear his tales of the second world war, and how it was hard to settle afterwards and how he had to move around a lot trying to find a way to feel content. He came back to Hay some 20 years ago and tells us the tales of being a very young man around here, 17, before he was called up in 1941. He had a brand new bike he was very proud of, once went riding with a friend, who got a puncture, offered him a lift home on his handlebars and they were arrested and charged 50 shillings each in court. The police officer paid his fine for him! When he got back from the war his bicycle had been stolen by the troops, he thinks, for they drank a lot and these things often happened. He never got his bike back but the police officer gave him another one that had been handed in. Times have changed, have they not!
Ernie tells us of the deep crater that still lies not so very far from here where several bombs were dropped; they don’t know why, maybe the pilot was tired and on his way home and found it easier to discharge them here.
The big news in the lane is that the next door neighbour is seeing Jerry Hall who he met at Hay book festival, and the older but still potent news is the last man to be hung, for killing his wife in their mansion along the lane a little, a Mr Armstrong in 1922. In the town Ainsleigh shows me the two firms of solicitors, facing one another across the street, where they always have.
I hear again about the H week Anita & Susana in Hereford told me about, the week when they will unleash. There will be energy saving events all across the area, and in the Golden Valley. The Taly y bont on Usk group who have a hydro power station have lent them their two electric bikes before to show people and let them ride out for a few minutes, and they wonder if they will be able to do so again.
At Hay festival fellow core group member Dave Prescott made a transition garden at the entrance to the festival site on a piece of waste ground to try and raise awareness, with sculptures, and plants. I ask if it can still be seen but the land is farmland and reverts back to farm usage when the festival is not on. Ainsleigh muses on how to persuade those that arrive at the festival by helicopter to find another way. It is stark, is it not, the contrast between the different people’s living in our land?
I admire the array of pots of jam in Ainsleigh’s pantry, all made by himself from fruit from the garden. I taste the quince and the blackcurrant, they are very excellent jams indeed. I learn, on the walk into town along Offa’s Dyke; gorgeous and quick, over the bridge and the brook that runs through Ainsleigh’s garden, and we are in Wales, of the different pectin amounts in the different fruits, more in blackcurrant, less in strawberries and raspberries, and little in cherries. Jennifer has told me how the quince jam she once made turned almost to toffee, and I feel eager to try my hand at this art, on my return home.
As we cross the bridge and into Wales, Ainsleigh talks of his hydro electric system. It generates enough power for three 3 houses, though it is not switched on now as rain fall has been so low his year but he bargained for 3 months of year of non use when he put the system in.
I notice that the water in the brook, a tributary of the Wye, is clear and clean. Ernie has told me that trout live in it, and otters and minks.
Within ten minutes we are in the centre of Hay.
After a little potter around the town we cross another bridge, the main one across the River Wye, and with it have crossed the old Shires border from Breconshire and into Radnorshire, now technically both part of the big conglomerate county of Powys, and we are at Phoebe’s community garden, just in the field, to the left of the bridge.
When Phoebe Boulanger wanted to start a garden she didn’t wait around, she rented a half acre plot from a friend of a friend and three and half months ago, back in April, whilst I was walking. The garden is already selling its produce, and has already brought in enough to almost cover next year’s rent, £200. The plot lies beside a huge field planted up with organic oats which Phoebe is hoping they might be able to buy from the farmer or persuade him to sell locally.
I spend a pleasant afternoon reacquainting myself with the town of Hay, a stroll past the castle, and a sit in the Granary sipping tea and watching the world go by, catching up on a few e mails.
Later I set off to return to Ainsleigh’s, but now cows are in the field I must cross! I look at them, my fear no longer so acute as it has been, but ready to leap into action if it is required.
Three lots of people have passed me coming the other way.
The lead cow looks at me and then returns to eating.
She doesn’t think I pose a threat.
I try calling Ainsleigh to ask if there is another way round to his house but there is no signal.
I enter the field, and walk across it heart in mouth, but the cows chew their cud pacifically giving lie to the maligned tales I have been telling about their kin.
I reach the further side of the field and turn back to look.
The cows are still chewing the cud.
I feel good.
My fear was less and I have crossed a field of cows again!
Are Welsh cows friendlier? They kinda look so. Or is it just that the season of cavorting is over and at this time of the year they are more settled?
Once back at the house Jennifer tells me she was chased in that field once by a pregnant cow, and I wonder if the herd of huge heifers that chased me were pregnant?
I discover to my horror, later, as Ainsley and I walk back to Hayfield the community garden for its inaugural party at which I am to tell tales and open the evening, that the cows are with their bull, the large black creature I had immediately taken for leader, was a male. He had looked me up and down as I had hesitated at the gate and resumed eating; I posed no threat, he had obviously decided. We cannot tar every herd with the same brush apparently, just as is true with folk so it is with cattle.
Once at the garden we find a wonderful diverse group of 20-30 folk from both sides of the border and I am delighted to find that the Welsh bardic tradition is alive and well – my tale is followed by the inspirational tales of the garden’s inception told by three of the protagonists, Phoebe, Bob and Thais. It began just 3 and a half months ago in April and is already making money to pay for itself and feed the people involved.
It is a place to hang out and have fun together too and have fun we certainly do.
We have poets, singers, musicians, a peace gong (made from the metal of guns in Poland) drums, and an umbira, a comic, a group of women who lead free singing, a fire dancer called Ali newly moved to Hay and come home; a feeling I had when I found Totnes, and a traditional teller of the Mabiginion amongst us.
We are told the old Celtic tale of Lugh by Lynn Webster Wyle and are reminded that it is Lammas and I remember that I had wanted to be sat at the welsh border for this special time of the year and here I sit, around a fire in good company, with the old traditional entertaining skills alive and well, casting my mind back to the equinox in the west and my leave taking, Beltane tale telling in far off easterly Lewes, midsummer passed in the northern reaches of our land, and rejoice at what has come to pass, and acknowledge the good counsel of heeding our dreams!
The tale of Lugh has metaphor of an eagle and an owl in it and I feel curious as to the imagery there; the two hunters; the all powerful man turned into an eagle, hunter by day, magnificent and hidden from daily view in the heights, brought to its weakest by love of the most beautiful woman, the woman mistress of no one but her instincts and turned into the owl who flies the night sky alone, wisest of all birds. The two are partners still and fly together sometimes.
We sing bella mama and we close with the universal peace greeting, I am wished sunshine on my way and I wish for no more aeroplanes.
I am moved by the gathering overlooking the town and overlooked by the hills, doing what folk have done since the beginning of time and still, it is good.
Day 129 The Three Keys of Hay
Ainsleigh shows me an article in “Chemistry World” www.chemistryworld.org that talks about the reality that scientists “might not have the whole periodic table to work with in the future” Andy Extance, July 2010, as supplies of such metals as lithium and indium used in batteries for example, are a limited resource too, so it is perhaps wise not to think too much along the techno fix notions of replacing our current oil based technologies with renewables but rather think about using less and rethinking our whole growth model. In August ‘s edition of the magazine Richard Pike, chief executive of RSC, http://www.rsc.org/AboutUs/News/PressReleases/2006/NewCEO.asp argues the case for “greater transparency and challenge “ over key issues and “better engagement between stakeholders so that we can identify and achieve the right solutions, rather than sailing into the abyss” he is concerned at the disparity between scientific and educational worlds and what is being taught to our children and that they are not being given all the facts and figures because they are not being made freely available to all.
I go to the Globe for the storytelling event that has been arranged and speak to an audience that includes an American lady, a Rasta who normally lives in Thailand, and two Swedish volunteers on a nearby biodynamic farm who they say sadly cannot make ends meet without selling potatoes to London. The highlight of the evening is Val telling the tale that Dave Prescott stayed up till 3 in the morning writing, unable to sleep till the tale was born; to present to me as the gift to take on to the next place, a gift which comes with three keys; very fitting, as I had presented them with the golden key tree tale from Malvern.
The tale is just beautiful, moving, and exquisitely read by Val. It tells the tale of a garden that once existed for a special time and really deserves its own special telling, and maybe should wait to be told when it reaches the home it is destined for some days hence.
I eat veggie chilli and talk to Val, Phoebe, Kath, and Megan, and as we chat I slowly realise that my plans to walk England and to skirt the Welsh border to hear the tales of Wales is here coming true, that this is Wales, and some of my companions are Welsh, and that I am hearing real Welsh tales, and Kath talks of Henry VIII’s England; for he moved the border when he wanted to marry Ann Boelyn, for she was Welsh, and he would not marry a Welsh woman. There is then some ten miles or so of Wales that is now England, as can be plainly seen by the place names here and about, and this town that I am in is Welsh for sure, but once this was not the border at all, that I have been walking through Wales for miles without knowing it, apart from the magic that crept up upon me as I walked west.
Val tells me that Lynn the silver haired storyteller wrote a book of the fair Bloddeuwedd, flower created woman, called “Becoming the Enchanter” and I resolve to seek it out once I am home.
I learn that Hay on Wye is twinned with Timbuctoo and we all laugh at our once shared ignorance that this was a real place and not one of fiction.
After the tale telling a man who sat quietly by, just listening, asks about the Hayfield Transition Community Garden, talks of his passion for permaculture and asks if he can come along and join in, and once more I enjoy the feeling of noticing how one by one people come and join in.
My day ends in frustration that I cannot get a signal on my phone here in Hay and people are trying to contact me to talk with me, my friend, Dyana, from Hereford, my lovely partner, James, and Hal Gilmore, TTT colleague and transition trainer who is in Hay with his family and hoping to meet up. The frustration is fuelled further by my realisation that I have become reliant on a machine to communicate by.
Day 130 The Key
Lunch with an old friend, Dyana, finally contacted in a field where I find my phone will work, absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of market day; social occasion as much as trading day; a feast day, a rest day, a catching up day, a work day, a good day – life as it should be in a market town that is not too big and not too small, with a river running through it, and little winding streets, with a castle on the top, straddling the border of two lands that once were all one.
We meet Jan of the Primrose Earth Centre; she is on her market stall, selling fresh fruit and veg from their award winning permaculture garden that has been growing food for 25 years. She and partner Dr Paul Benham offer permaculture courses, courses for inner transition, and B&B at their farm just 5 miles from Hay. http:/ www.primroseearthcentre.co,uk .
Earlier, the library, and a tale telling to children and their mums, and question time, and the little boy who didn’t like to weed, and a tale of forest gardens that his mum delighted to hear for there are two old trees in her very big garden and she wanted a no dig, take care of itself way of gardening it, so I give her Martin Crawford’s name and tell her of his new book, and am thrilled that a simple question about the thing a little boy disliked turned out be the key to something wonderfully useful. A lesson indeed when every comment holds an answer if we know the right question to ask.
I meet Lynn again, fortuitously it turns out, for she asks about the gift I received from Hay and I look about for the key I have with me; the piano key that Val brought to me here, fresh from its repair, and cannot find it! I look around and realise it is still sitting on the storytelling table where I had left it. We notice how Lynn has been right there to remind me of things I have forgotten whilst in this place, and I am deeply touched by how yet another guide has appeared in my story to offer assistance, in the guise, this time, of not a knight, nor three gentlemen, but a magical silver haired lady teller of old Welsh tales, who tells me Abbey Dore, the place where I will rest my head one night’ s hence is a special place and I recall Ainsleigh finding it for me on the internet and I realise it is a place of significance for me and I feel a thrill down my spine.
These people here on the Welsh border, holding true to our older heritage, here before the Romans, are an important part of my journey at this Lammas time and I wonder about the harvest I have begun to collect here, and what the final harvest in Totnes will reveal to me, and I remember Mac of Embercombe, reminding me of the nature of the lands through which I would walk, when we met beneath the Malvern Hills, and how he spoke of the power of women that once was accepted and expected in our land, and I feel the woman in me delight in the return in our times to an acknowledgement of this power, with no need to seek power doing men’s work any longer, but to able to allow the power of woman to flow naturally in us.
My welsh blood runs proudly within me for the very first time in any meaningful way, and I thank my mother for passing on her grandmother’s name, given to her, and through her to me. Wynn, pure, it means and there is something powerful rising in me now in the connecting to my Welshness and a real delight in the magic of this border land where I feel a pull similar, but different ,to the pull of Totnes. It is deeply beautiful here, and the rightness about the lay of the land, and the higgledy piggledy and yet somehow just rightness of the streets make me feel deeply content.
I talk to Hal, who with wife Mel, little son Arthur, and baby Fleur, have finally caught up with me, as we stand and gaze in delight at Hay bluff with the town nestling haphazardly perfect in the valley before us from the other side of the river in Hayfield Transition Community Garden, about our shared love for this land, me with fond memories of a first visit with my partner some two summers ago, and he with tales of leading trekking expeditions over the hills of the Brecons. We talk too of the experience of spending time with transitioners, and that of folk who have never heard tell of it, and how different that feels, and I talk of my longing to write for those who have never heard tell; to share with everyone the joy, the fun, and the inspiration that come from joining in with others and making the changes we would all like to see.
I talk to my love, in a corner of the garden, just by the compost loos, where my phone has picked up a faint signal, and all is well in my world, for today at any rate.
Phoebe has been kept busy the entire day selling potatoes and when we finally leave the garden it is nearly 6. We go back to her house in the hills where she gives me a gift. She had been thinking about it all night and is shocked on arrival this morning at the bookshop where she works part time to find the very book “The Ninth Wave” Russell Celyn Jones, Seren 2009 (new stories from the Mabinogion) she was planning to give left lying in her in box, just waiting. Things happen like that, in Wales. (and I suspect, in other places too, if we are ready to notice.)
I decide not to read the book for it seems to speak of something close to my heart and I do not wish to read and risk plagerising when I write up my tales so I send it home to enjoy on my return, as a memory of a special visit to Hay upon the Wye one Lammas time.
I have been happy here, and I shall not forget it.
Home of our forbears, home of our heritage, keeper of the magic, key to our future;
Thank you to people and land both.
Around the camp fire I heard the celebration of our connection to our land, to our past, to our present, to our future, in the singing of the ballad of the women heartbroken who lose their loves in battle, left to rear fatherless children, in the poems that mock the disenchanting disenchanted who dare to call themselves teachers, in the tale of the eternal struggle for love and understanding between the genders, in the plucking of the guitar strings, the sounding of the peace gong, in the humming of those that love to sing, in the comic mockery of a world gone crazy, in the poems of beauty and innocence, in the wild and whimsical beauty of the fire dance, and in the song of our beautiful mother the earth, our collective talents celebrated, as we ever have, the past, the present , the future; this our Celtic heritage, not forgotten by all, holding on to a truth that has become lost to many beneath the thick covering of disenchantment, maya, that has surrounded us for many a year since the new ways came and imposed, not blended, took by force, not received as gift, stamped on not loved, valued, acknowledged, and who now have run rampant, left us almost bereft of, cut off from, out roots, in the wake of their tyranny.
May we now integrate these two cultures; the Roman and the Celtic, and recognise that both bring gifts, and need one another, in recognition and celebration of equality of status, in recognition and celebration of difference of talents; the eagle and the owl, powerful, focussed and leaderful; wise, instinctual and true to nature.