Max Boyce: Revisiting Berwyn’s tales
In an exclusive extract from his new book Max Boyce: Hymns & Arias – The Selected Poems, Songs and Stories, Max shares two stories involving Berwyn, one of his favourite and earliest comic creations
One of the great characters I have written about over the years is my old friend Berwyn, who hails from the little village of Rosehill near Cardigan in west Wales.
He’s a hill farmer but he could be found every Sunday morning at the car boot sale in one of the local farmer’s fields, Cae’r Bont. He’d sell brass candlesticks, wax flowers, old paintings, porcelain and all manner of bric-à-brac.
One Sunday an American couple from Chicago of Welsh ancestry were visiting the ‘old country’ and they came across Berwyn at the car boot sale.
The American, searching around in Berwyn’s bric-à-brac, noticed among the Swansea porcelain a . . . human skull . . . and he enquired, ‘Please, sir, may I ask whose skull is that?’
‘That,’ said Berwyn, ‘is the skull of Owain Glyndwr, the last native Prince of Wales.’
‘Oh my God,’ exclaimed the American. ‘You mean Owen Glendower?’
‘The very one,’ said Berwyn.
‘My God, did you hear that, honey? The skull of Owen Glendower. I’d love to purchase that and take it back to the USA and show it to the Cymmrodorion Society in Chicago. How much do you want for such an historical artefact?’
‘One thousand pounds,’ said Berwyn. ‘Plus VAT.’
‘Then, sir, you have a deal.’ . . . Oh my God! Cymru am byth . . . !
Berwyn wrapped the skull up carefully and added, ‘If I may say, a wise investment, a shrewd purchase that can only increase in value with time.’
A few years later the American was over in Wales for a family funeral. Once again he visited the car boot sale at Cae’r Bont Farm, and there was Berwyn as usual selling brass candlesticks, wax flowers, old paintings and porcelain, and the American noticed among the bric-à-brac a small human skull.
He enquired of Berwyn, ‘Please tell me, sir, whose skull is that?’
Berwyn replied proudly but in hushed tones, ‘That, my friend, is the skull of the last Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr . . .’
‘But that can’t be,’ exclaimed the American. ‘I bought the skull of Owen Glendower some years ago and that one is much smaller.’
‘Yes,’ said Berwyn. ‘That was when he was a boy . . .’
Berwyn’s and the Aeroplane Ride
One of my favourite stories about Berwyn is when he went for a first ride in an aeroplane.
He had always dreamt of a ride in a small aircraft, so on his eighteenth birthday his father took him to Cardiff Airport, where you could book flights on small private aircraft.
Berwyn was so excited when they taxied down the small runway in a four-seater, twin-propeller Cessna Sky Hawk with a range of 640 miles.
They took off and flew over Cardiff Airport, tears of joy streaming down young Berwyn’s face.
Thirty minutes later, they landed back at the airport and Berwyn said excitedly, ‘Oh, I enjoyed that so much, Dad, but it went so quickly. Can I go up again, Dad . . . ?’
His father said, ‘I’m sorry, Berwyn, I can’t afford another hundred pounds. We’re only struggling hill farmers.’
The owner and pilot of the Cessna, retired Wing Commander Henry (Biggles) Smythe, approached Berwyn and his father and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind but I overheard your conversation with Berwyn and I have a proposition to make to you. I’ll take you both up in my Cessna Sky Hawk and if you remain absolutely silent during the flight . . . I won’t charge you.’
Berwyn’s father, a shrewd man of Cardigan (known to be careful with their money) turned to Berwyn and said, ‘Did you hear that? If we remain absolutely silent during the flight we won’t have to pay. So not a word, Berwyn . . . Dim Gair . . . Not a word.’
The little aircraft took off flying into the sun and climbed to 13,000 feet. It began a series of belly rolls and death dives before flying under the Severn Bridge, narrowly missing some 33 kV pylons and Aberthaw Power Station and Cement Works before landing safely back at the airstrip.
Captain Henry Smythe got out, removed his flying goggles and said to Berwyn’s father, ‘May I say, Mr Morgan, I’ve been pulling this stunt, this wheeze, for many years and no one has remained absolutely silent during the flight before. Tell me, Mr Morgan, out of interest, was there any moment when you nearly said something?’
‘Oh! Yes,’ said Mr Morgan . . . ‘When Berwyn fell out.’
Max Boyce’s new book of selected poems, songs and stories including new unpublished material and his first for almost thirty years is published on 1 November.
He will be signing copies at bookshops across Wales including Storyville in Pontypridd, Bookish in Crickhowell, Griffin Books in Penarth and Waterstones in Swansea and Carmarthen.
You can buy a signed copy of the book here. Max Boyce: Hymns & Arias – The Selected Poems, Songs and Stories (Hardback)
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