From where I sit at a desk in the upstairs study I can see the thick curtains of rain moving in across Cusop Hill, brushing over the summit like grey sheets of water, obscuring the green fields and dark hedgerows and copses of trees. Then the rain sweeps down across the valley and hammers at the windows and the French doors downstairs. The Welsh countryside obscured and vanishing.
Sometimes I wonder what people do during these tiring and hard passages of life if they cannot work. All day, housed and hemmed in by rain, I have sat writing notes on the traditional foods of Wales (bara brith or tea cake; bara lawr a chocos or cockles and laverbread; Glamorgan meat-free sausages), studying the poetry of Anne Carson and Eavan Boland, reflecting on the paradoxes of the young Simone Weil, drafting out fiction. Reading in itself is not enough at times like this, the mind needs a sterner occupation and I wish sometimes I had learned embroidery or weaving so that I could keep my hands busy too. But writing down thoughts holds the mind steady and there is a shaping and editing that is a kind of dry discipline and distraction. To work with no commercial end or goal in view but the work itself, the habit of hard work.
And rain brings in the night, darkness swarming over the house, the rain beating down.
Lines from Robert Louise Stephenson come back to me, his poem Windy Nights which I memorised as a child and that both scared and thrilled me, the way death comes so close, the way death came so close to RLS as a sick child:
‘Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?’
Ashes of the day and I sit on, writing and waiting for the hours to pass, the writing flat and habitual, the mind straining and tired. But this occupation is sober and holds me tethered to my own present, staying in the day. There will be other possibilities, other opportunities. Other days.
Right now I am just hanging in there and listening to rain splashing down the gutters, washing away the view, the downpour streaming like a vertical river, engulfing the house. Images come to me of fluidity and flight, of a staring face captured behind glass, a weeping eye transfixed in a darkening inchoate landscape, of loss and return and obliteration. Camera obscura and the digital manipulation of the flickering light, the swimming eye and ceaseless rain, grey and formless. Identity in a formless landscape, an identifying with this mysterious grey country I may never see again, the drifting and receding nature of Wales obscured by poverty and deadbeat apathy, a myth, a dream, a snapshot in dissolve. What is Wales anyhow?
And the questions swimming in and out of consciousness, unanswerable.
What Niall Griffiths writes:
‘When was Wales? Wales has never been, it has always been.” he rambled on to his next victim, Myrddin the schizophrenic, who fortunately was asleep. “I’ll tell you something for nothing.” he said, “true Wales is never more than a field away, and true Wales is always a field away, like Rhiannons horse in the Mabinogi. Got it?” ‘
And this is how it is, for now.