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Culture

Letter from Penrhyncoch

26 Nov 2022 6 minute read
Bridge, image by Deborah Jones

Niall Griffiths

Lockdown was like that famous ‘trombone’ shot in Jaws when Chief Brody’s horrified face was sucked into the camera while what was going on behind him blurred and receded; that is to say, the close became intimate and the midground became remote and indistinct.

The wonderful phrase ‘dyn o’i filltir sgwâr’ took on a greater resonance and significance and I began to more appreciate the peculiar truth of it; the spiders in the house, the birds in the garden, the way the sunlight changed throughout the day on the crimson beads of the rowan tree, all throbbed and pulsed with extra value and weight.

The lanes no longer rumbled with traffic and no people passed the windows. Buses and trains were stilled in their depots and sidings. The unpeopled fields and coppices that I’d never bothered to explore became new lands; the village and its environs were the world. I lit out.

They’re gorgeous, the lanes. The one that branches out from the lower Garth will take you to the mound of mouldy boulders that was once the house in which Dafydd ap Gwilym was born and the flanking hedges blare with blooms and hum with pollinating insects.

Colourful little birds flitter and chirrup in and out. Blackberries buzz in their saps. The stile you’ve often walked past, hop over it now; there’s no-one else here with whom to share the virion and it’s ravages, and this is all open. Safe.

Gimcrack bridge

Traverse the field between the bothered and bleating sheep. Slalom through the molehills of their dung, and the molehills. The trees and the air are alive with all manner of wings.

Go through the rackety gate at the foot of the field, where a slab of slate has been used as a gimcrack bridge across the busy little stream for who knows how long. Sit on the slate. Look down into the water.

It’s not a deep pool, but it’s constantly aerated and enriched by the constant flow through it. It’s become a favourite place; on sunny days I will bring cider and sandwiches here and marvel at the submarine activity. Endlessly fascinating, it is.

The fish teem and range in size from pine-needles to bananas. And the streaking colours; brown now green now grey now golden as they twist and flicker to catch food and light. Their interactions; their business. Drop in crumbs and watch them pounce, a mini feeding frenzy, their muscular little bodies breaching brief visits into the element that is mine and not theirs.

Caddis-fly larvae trundle, tiny tanks, in their armour. Newts miniaturise dinosaurs and when they walk ashore their forelimbs appear to reach and grasp clumps of air and pull it to their chests.

A gaggling gang of white ducks sometimes visits, and friends have seen deer supping at the water, but I’ve yet to have that joy.

Footballer, image by Deborah Jones

Grass-rootsy

Over the bridge, up onto the higher lane, veer left. Past Cwrt garage which lockdown has turned into a La Brea tarpit; the vehicles motionless in leaked oils like mastodons in the ancient gunge.

Past the school, the chapel, the football field; crows and seagulls the only players now, but one day the games will return and once again you’ll stand on the sidelines on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, the game at its most grass-rootsy, the official’s ears too close to the crowd’s disgruntled mouths, every crunch and thud of body on body, smack of the ball, profanity, eructation, screech of the ref’s whistle.

And the kites silently slicing above it all, looking down aloof at all the clamour. The cruciform shapes of them in the sky.

It’s Anfield distilled, boiled down to its essence, and you know it’ll come back at some point and yet, that day, it all felt completely lost and irretrievable, in the heat shimmer above the growing-out and browning grass.

Into the village maes and the war memorial behind knee-high spiked railings, as if it has a wildness that requires restraint. The PO/general store, closed. The garage and attached mini-mart, closed.

The air seems to thrash with invisible imps, infinitesimal dragons, and you wonder if your senses of smell and taste have been reduced in the past few days and whether the dry cough is due to American Spirit tobacco or something else and whether the slight muscle-aches could be blamed on over-doing the gym time a little (two days later, groaning under a duvet on the sofa and surrounded by a static blizzard of snot-crispy tissues, you’ll know the answer).

Photo by Deborah Jones

Forbidden

Past the football club/bar, closed. Unavailable, now, the cold lager and the pizzas, the wooden tables on the raised patio.

Many an afternoon and evening spent fuzzy and happy on that patio, and in the lean-to at the back of the bar where middle-aged guys with bellies and plaid shirts and stetsons play ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ and drag their electricity cables through ankle-deep ponds of rainwater.

Sparrows in the eaves. A jackdaw on the roof. It’ll all come back.

And up the deserted main street to home. That’s the village circled, or most of it anyway.

Behind and upwards is the Pendam mountain, effectively a foothill of Pumlumon, and up there are megaliths and lakes and forests and crags and moors and ridges and valleys and colossal skies and old and mysterious ruins and sigils and glyphs in the earth and crashings in the branches but that’s the wider world and it is forbidden right now; in this time of plague, your world both shrinks and expands.

Bring closer what is already close and let what is further away get temporarily further.

That was then. Now, today, the football is back, the doors are open, the lights in the bar re-burn, and your square mile is a galaxy entire. Lockdown unlocked many things.

And the little slate bridge is still there, of course, and what goes on underneath it will never stop going on.


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Gareth Westacott
Gareth Westacott
2 months ago

‘Bring closer what is already close and let what is further away get temporarily further……… Lockdown unlocked many things.’
Beautiful prose!

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