Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Hartpury bee shelter

A deviant route from Aberystwyth (Welsh: mouth of the wiggly river) to Wokingham ('Wocca's people's home') can take you past the Hartpury Bee Shelter. It's down a road beside Hartpury church, some way from the village.

Not perhaps a 21st century approach to bee husbandry, but how fascinating - a rack of skeps with beekeepers "looking out" for swarms to capture and re-skep.

I met two beekeepers there on the same mission - they told me something about foundation that perhaps is best not published.

The church is an ancient gem. In the graveyard is buried, lavishly tended, a victim of the 1999 Ladbroke Grove train crash, which was really a very sad thing to behold.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Discreet history in Catalonia

During an extended stay in Catalonia in and around several sites heavily involved in the Civil War, we found memorials few and understated (although, to my eye, Catalonian sympathies were pretty clear). In the scale of things, that ghastly business is all still fairly recent so it is not hard to understand sensitivities.

There is a relatively recent programme of establishing memorials. The Girona cemetery has an imposing long metal memorial naming an unhappy number of local-born Republicans who are somewhere in unmarked graves, most being post-war executions - it's less than 10 years old. There's stuff about this to be read.

We went on an outing to the old France/Spain frontier between Portbou and Cerbère, which commands stunning views and offers various ghostly ex-border buildings. Low-key signage pointed us to some display materials on the refugee plight in 1939, a surviving Francoist memorial (these are very rare - it was pleasantly defaced with red paint), and a 2016 Catalan plaque commemorating the International Brigades.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624

(I sang a bit of The Red Flag, but it seemed a little inadequate).

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Celtic Challenge

I think the Celtic Challenge must be one of the most undersung endurance tests I have witnessed. Open boats (Celtic longboats) are rowed by crews of 4 and cox from Arklow to Aberystwyth; journey time is between 18 and 30 hours, with teams of 12 spelling the boat duties. The sea is cold and quickly becomes rough. Additionally, it is dark at night.
Vartry coming through the harbour trap, to Irish delight

The race is run every 2 years: weather cancelled the 2016 event which was postponed until this year. About 15 crews left Arklow on Coastguard advice at noon, Friday 28th. Tracking software predicted the winner arriving at Aber harbour at 6am on Saturday, and I actually thought about getting up to see this happen. But then I thought "stuff it", which was good as overnight the weather had been unkind and the prediction had become 10am.

Aber coming through the harbour trap

First over the line was the Irish Vartry crew, with Aber men coming in just 30 minutes later, both boats receiving enormous applause. The very unkind conditions caused all but one of the other crews to retire: third in was a women's boat.

Brave boys and girls embark on a mid-ocean rescue trip

It is, of course, event of the year (well, every other year) for the longboat clubs and so very well known in some communities. But Aberystwyth town makes little of it: no sign of the BBC, S4C, Cambrian News, or even the ubiquitous Keith Morris. Well, I'm doing my bit.

Other pictures exist.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

PAU Canolfan Chwaraeon/Sports Centre

Three helpful people staff the reception desk.

Me: Do the lockers take the new pound coin?
Person 1: Yes.
Person 2: I don't know.
Person 3: The man from the company came and did something to all the locks a few weeks ago. So they might.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Great Expectations of Newcastle Emlyn

It was one of those days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.

Newcastle Emlyn - Castellnewydd Emlyn yn Gymraeg - means "new castle"; "Emlyn" was one of the seven cantrefi of Dyfed. It has a castle alright, but to my untutored eye it doesn't look so new.

  1. The GWR once ran a rail spur into Newcastle Emlyn, closed to passengers in the 50s and freight in the 70s. There is effectively no trace of it in the town, unless you look really hard.
  2. There are many food outlets to be found; I used the Number 11 coffee shop in the morning (a splendid 1950s experience, and you can get free Wifi from the Barclays branch opposite). For luncheon, whereat pie and chips, Tŷ Croeso1.
  3. It's easy to see what Newcastle was once like, although I think most of that is [nearly] history. Of especial note was the charity shop devoted to whippet rescue (bugger labradors and dalmatians, eh?).
  4. Very nearby is Henllan, where there was a WWii Italian POW camp. Many lovely traces of this can be found, although I suspect the buildings were probably admin. (inhabited by British persons) rather than cell blocks (inhabited by Italian persons) for the simple reason that they are still standing.

    I still seek an opportunity to enter the block that was painted up as a chapel by one of the Italians.

  5. Likewise nearby is Caws Cenarth where you can spectate on the making of award winning cheese. A jolly good outing!

Other pictures exist.
No post boxes of note were seen.

1. Later, The Harbourmaster in Aberaeron for apple crumble.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

John Roberts, Telynor Cymru: parti pen blywydd 200 oed

John Roberts, Telynor Cymru was born 200 years ago and there was a celebration at Gregynog.

The fun kicked off in St David's (now de-consecrated) cemetery where he is buried. Robin Huw Bowen and Meinir Olwen (who came especially from France) appeared with two triple harps: affairs were supervised by an agreeable Rector

and there were many of Roberts' descendants in attendance, of whom Peter Ingram gave an address. The Rector spoke mostly in Welsh, and Ingram mostly in Romany, so I nodded knowledgeably throughout and felt very cosmopolitan.

There were umpteen events at Gregynog: I went to Ingram's hour of stand-up gypsy comedy that was very jolly, culminating in a performance by a real Patagonian guitarist/singer, who looked Spanish and sang in Welsh. Or it might have been Spalsh. Or Wanish.

Highlight was the evening concert with five [count them] triple harps, abetted by flute, fiddle and double bass. Bowen told us lots about the instrument (Telyn deires yn cymreig), its history and Roberts' connections and importance. He noted its beautiful curves and observed that the pedal ["English"] harp looked like a broken down old nag in comparison. They also fetched out Roberts' own harp from Llandrindod museum, which I have now heard played!


Next day the rain abated and I walked down to Caersws for the train: en route, this rather forgotten memorial to dead young men appeared:

Further photos exist.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Anna Meredith (Get It Loud In Libraries), via Bevington Street

To Liverpool, to see Anna Meredith, with Spike. I struggle and fail to think of a weirder gig I have been to.

Ms Meredith appeared punctually with her band. These were Man 1 (tuba and classroom glockenspiel), Man 2 [hatted] (percussion), Man 3 (guitar, wow!) and Lady 2 (cello, wow! bis). Ms Meredith played keyboard [sic], clarinet, classroom glockenspiel and snare drums. There were also 2 Apple computers that seemed to be important to the overall effect. Ms Meredith often played her snares very loudly, often choosing moments when the Hatted Man was also choosing to play loud - we liked this. There is a poorly captured video of one of these instants. Passim there was animated back projection illustrating the themes of Varmints. My photographic record of this failed utterly, so just take my word that it was marvellous.

The attendance was about 45, including guest list, which either tells you that they're a bunch of philistines on Merseyside, or that I am, for once, well ahead of the curve. Being shy, retiring types we hugged the back wall until, having played Nautilus, Ms Meredith instructed us all to come to the stage. We obeyed (but most of us were less responsive to her instructions to dance). Ergo, Spike and I stood about 1m from her, and had we blown kisses at either the drummer or cellist, they would have noticed immediately (we didn't). I took lots of photos; mercifully, most of them were crap but here is a not unflattering one of Ms Meredith:

When the tuba player came onstage, he was carrying what looked like a binbag which he proceed to put on - it then turned out to be a very hip garment. During the cellist's solo he sat upstage right and I captured this picture which makes that clear (I think).
This picture also illustrates the shadow effects at stage back, exploited fully by the happy fat dancer we met, and by me rather less successfully in another short video (best seen sans audio).

These people were consummate musicians who played with a production quality very rarely heard live (although KC manage it). Both guitarist and cellist had at least 13 fingers (each) since there is no other way they could play with that complexity that fast. The drummer's skill with very quiet bits matched his skills with loud bits, the use of a tuba instead of a bass was inspired, and Ms Meredith's compositional skills with those complex interlocking rhythms leaves me unable meaningfully to compare her to anyone else.

The gig was part of Get It Loud In Libraries which is an absolutely inspired concept. So if the gig wasn't striking enough already, we were in a library.

I'd travel a long way on Trennau Arriva Cymru to see her again

Earlier, we had travelled to view the near derelict Bevington Street council housing, of which more anon.