Letter from Brynmenyn
Near our house is a park where balsam is king.
An old railway line runs through its grounds, and the river – a glassy garment – drapes through green, vermillion, and braeburn hues, crisp and autumnal.
Once known as the Black River, the Garw isn’t as rough as it once was. The locals whisper that the fish are on the move. Hush. Not too loud now, or we’ll ruin things again.
We pray for the return of the eog. We tell our children how they swam upriver, leaping against the current. The ancient salmon were huge. So big that our heroes rode on their backs.
We come to the park at twilight. Our toddler points at the line of Narnian light, a relic of the estate once situated here. Ghostly ironwork, dark and resilient.
His finger reaches for the halo before he lets out a sigh. A high-pitched “lamp” or “licht” uttered between ruddy cheeks and lantern eyes.
The faithful dog walkers circulate like Magi. Hats and scarves. Sticks and staffs. Westward leading, still proceeding, following illuminated familiars. Four legs dart across the viridian, lit at the collar by stellar LEDs. The slower breeds drift like corpse candles.
“Here, boy”. Whistle. Whistle.
A lady with a flask is enveloped in decaffeinated steam.
We come together. To think. To walk. To gather decoration…
Our son, approaching a year and a half, has just realised that holly bears a berry as red as any blood. His joy is hampered by his second discovery that the holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn. He retreats towards my leg, teeth visible, sobbing profusely into my knee. I look, stoop, pull him closer while his mother continues to gather evergreen. Intoxicated by pine, the garland takes shape in her mind.
Siren noise. Blue lights. Even the balsam interrupts our walk. An invasion.
He’s half Dutch and half Welsh – two peoples whose wet and windy lore is not often compared. Our tales are leavened with sunken cities, rusting bells, and a coastline filled with footprints.
Both peoples contain a saline streak, a love of shellfish, and an eye fixed on the wave. Both peoples grasp the land, the oude kerken always there like ghosts of Christmas past.
For the Dutch, their hymns are the tap of klompen against a hoe, or the continual clank of diggers strengthening the Afsluitdijk. Is that too stereotypical? For the Welsh, the hymn itself is far more stubborn. Ni bydd diwedd byth i sŵn y delyn aur. In Sainsburys Bridgend, the choirboys duel the ho ho of the shop floor:
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in;
be born in us today.
Theological mystery mingles with mulled wine and boxes of tangerines.
We decided to make our own decoration this year. I say ‘we’, I meant ‘she’. I’m glad though. The aroma of long-baked orange peel is frankincense on our coats. Paper stars and candlelight look forward to welcoming a genuine wreath. Our son is inevitably involved.
As we walk, I uncurl his fingers and discover that he has picked-up some stones which he’ll try and feast-on later. He grins as we continue. He’ll be trilingual but, for now, he just says “yeh” or “lamp” …
…he points at McArthur Glen in the distance, an unlikely Pharos. Masses congregate via the M4. An eternal sale dwelt amongst us.
Ten-pound Bratwurst or a donut for a fiver? Or maybe a special, gingerbread, mulled wine, speculaas, deluxe coffee from one of the chains?
No thank you. We’ll avoid the crowds and the 50s playlist ‘Rocking round, and around, and around the tree’…. Give me Plygain any day.
The cockcrow carols are his: Ar gyfer Heddiw’r bore, Carol y Swper, and Wele, Cawsom y Meseia. He’ll weave the wreaths of future yuletide and plant tulips, not knowing the colour contained in each bulb. He’ll nibble oude kaas and Caerphilly. He’ll speak Dutch to his mother in the dark wood pew…if he wants to.
Not only will Siôn Corn be known to him, but his doppelgänger, Sinterklaas will also squat in his mind. Arriving earlier than Siôn, De Sint rides a white horse from Spain – not a reindeer in sight. He dons a bishop’s mitre, gives out satsumas, looking older than our Coca Cola version.
The path passes some horses and a lonely donkey. I lift my son up:
“Look, a black cross on his back.”
He moves freely from one place to another, not just December-time, but every day. Asyn will be ezel on Monday and donkey on Tuesday. We pat the creature, wishing him well.
Our little one walks, his arms stretched wide like a lemur. New, Clarks’ shoes muddied already. Puffins and seabirds adorn his rain suit, flying freely on his attire. Landing here and landing there without restraint.
We reach the river again and he decides to sit in its cool, splashing down with his hands, looking into its mirror for that other boy that frustratingly mimics him. A woodpigeon blesses our time before we lift our eyes, eager for a glimpse of starlight.
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