Getting around this time of the year is not always easy.
My problem is that when I venture out alone it is usually dark so I can’t see the little icons on the second, magic gear knob — the one that engages the four-wheel-drive. So after I’ve had a little slide I have to stop and look for the light switch and maybe also my bifocals. But the problem is, for the occasional night driver, when you get your head in just the right position to see the hieroglyphics on the knob, your own shadow falls exactly on that very same knob — spooky?. You can drive one hundred miles at night in Wales and only see five other cars but when you are stopped on the back road to Staylittle, rummaging for your reading glasses, another car will blind you with its headlights and, finding you stationary on a mountain pass in the middle of the night, the driver will get out, or at least wind down his window, to ask you if you are alright and discern with his knife sharp perception that you are definitely not alright, but then, probably you never were.
I go to Delife to have my Welsh lesson. It is beyond Staylittle which used to be called Stay-a-little, a much better English name for such a friendly place, albeit a tad exposed and chilly in winter, on the west side of our hill where the weather comes in from the Atlantic, whistling up the Celtic Sea, carefully avoiding Ireland, to dump its full ferocity on the Cambrian Mountains where we live.
You wouldn’t think that language had anything to do with altitude but it has! In the sheltered valleys of Mid-Wales only the road signs are still bilingual; the indigenous population was long ago polluted by generations of English speaking in-comers, who passed by on their way to Ireland but dallied, drawn by the beauty of the place and the passion of the people and the strangeness… Nothing is more sexually enticing than strangeness (good old genetics, it just loves difference) so they stayed and fell in love and intermarried and, with the collusion of the government, bought up their children to speak English.
Farmers don’t marry for love; they marry for land, nothing is more alluring to a farmer than three hundred acres of prime pasture and so the farming families who are rooted in the land have not intermarried to the same extent. They live on the hills and they still, by and large, speak Welsh.
The frontier between these two foreign lands, with their amazingly different languages, runs around the edges of the hills at about 200M and that is why I go to Delife for my Welsh lessons. Although the Government pays lip-service to the promotion of the Welsh language, with the recent round of cuts, my previous class folded. But, up in the hills where neighbours still chat in Welsh and the sort of folk who settle there want to join in, a kindly lady minister is running a class in a pub, without training (I assume), or vetting, or funding, or overheads, or fees, or forms, or appraisals, or even cake — it is the only class that I have ever come across that is not struggling for numbers.
Dyna beth od — Tybed pam
That’s odd — I wonder why!