No chance to update during the Hay festicval which was crowded, muddy and rained out. Jimmy Carter flying in to share on his experience of peacemaking, Gore Vidal sardonic and scathing about the Bush regime, George Monbiot shouting about war crimes, talks on failed states by Ashraf Ghani and Joe Steiglitz compelling on the cost of the five-year war in Iraq, $3-trillion and rising. The greater cost of course relates to the cost to Iraqi citizens with their horrific death count and displacement, devastation, trauma. The human cost that cannot ever be quantified.
Fresh strawberries and cherries on sale to munch in pouring rain. Poet and novelist Owen Sheers celebrating his love of lonely Welsh valleys. Listening to Dai Smith speak on the critic and thinker Raymond Williams, who came from the Welsh borders, the son of a railway signalman at Pandy who never lost his passionate attachment to local community in the Black Mountain. Dai Smith, Williams’ biographer, was introduced by Eric Hobsbaum, 91 years old and with a mind as sharp as a blade, succinct and rapid. There was Diana Athill, also in her 90s and facing dying and death with equanimity. Not just eqaunimity but humour. Saying to an enthralled audience that it had been very difficult to stop leading an active sexual life in her 70s. The staid Brit audience agog.
The weather, an obsessive topic, clearing. I crave the sun and cannot get used to the grey skies and damp sweet air of the mountains, the chill and sudden downpours. Each week I travel through to Hereford in England by bus along twisty lanes past redstone cottages and ruined Norman castles to attend an AA meeting at lunchtime in the Quakers meeting house. A crowd of regulars who bring along their sandwiches and angst. Cups of tea and shared experience, strength and hope. After the meeting I walk around magnificent Hereford cathedral with its restored chapel that now has stained glass windows dedicated to the Herefordshire poet Thomas Traherne. Near the Cloisters tearoom there is a walled garden bright with late irises, lupins, ageratum, acid-green euphorbias and snowy virburnums. Grey walls, flagstones cut to a hefty breadth, and pale marble tombstones.
And then there are drives through the countryside, the pasture meadows and hedged enclosures and copses of woodland dense on the green hillsides. It is a quiet beauty but not domesticated.
Near the churchyards, the tombstones with the same names seen so often, Gwynne, Davies, Hughes, Morgan, Thomas, Tryfford, Rhys, Jones — there are cursing wells, old sites of resisteance to the Christianising of Wales, the fierce and dour chapel culture. There are burial mounds and neolithic stone rings, Celtic lettering on slate and stone, the remnant of Offa’s Dyke, boundaries of an eigth-century Mercian kingdom. The gnarled hawthorn looking like an abandoned bride hear grey stone ruins. The ancient Chapel-y-Fynn, standing on an older pagan site, is circled by black yews, silent guardians of the Old Religion. Rooks cry from tall alders and beeches bear rectories, house martins flash from the eaves of tumbledown Jacobean homesteads. I saw a rare soaring raptor above Hay Bluff one evening, a red kite.
It is a time of transformation and new beginnings but I am mostly conscious of endings. My beloved ridgeback was put down by the vet last week and follows me about with devotion in dreams so that I wake sorrowing and unable to accept I will not see him again.
And my father suffered a massive strolke and is dying in Maui, far from the Scottish mountains of his youth and the granite mountains of Africa he loved so deeply. The distress around his dying compounded by family muddles, my sisters not speaking to one another. I heard for the first time that my younger brother was alcoholic, a bitter enraged man in his 40s, refusing help and blaming his wife and our father for everything that has gone wrong in his life. Grateful that I am sober and able to be of use to him should he decide to get sober.
Endings, the grief and loss associated with change and unfamiliarity. Uncertainty. But feeling the spaciousness and calm within, moving forward one day at a time. Welcoming strangeness and the beauty of new experience.