Humour, Local History, Wales

Under Fire!

The first of February was the last day of the season for shooting pheasants in the United Kingdom and presumably the last day for taking pot-shots at innocent little ladies walking in the woods which is what my friend and I were doing that day.

Hoods up against the sharp wind, we leaned on our stout sticks and felt our way through the frozen puddles along the bridal track from Bwlch y Ffridd to Gregynog Hall — so muffled were we that we could have passed for the ghosts of Margaret and Gwendoline Davies, the great patrons of modern art, who will have passed this way a century ago.

“That’s where von Ribbentrop used to stay in the thirties,” said my friend pointing out a building on the far side of the wide valley. I pricked up my ears but before I could question her further we became aware of several large four-wheel-drive vehicles crunching through the snow in the valley below and stopping one after the other to disgorge men with guns who seemed to be scrambling to take up positions along the valley, parallel with our route along the track. “Are they hunting today? Is it a shoot?”

“Shootings over for this year… I think” said my friend.

Young men with dogs and sticks appeared above us in the wood lashing at the tree trunks and clapping.

“Beaters?”

“I think we had better turn back and quickly.”

Bang!

“They are bloody shooting!” In a state of extreme arousal we slid and stumbled our way past the gunmen, along a fusillade that rained lead shot down through the trees like unearthly hail. They weren’t firing at us and probably were 30 feet away but it really was quite exciting!

I bet von Ribbentrop came here for the shooting or perhaps to meet Mrs Simpson (lovers evidently) as they both wooed the future king — it’s a small world.

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Democracy, Local History, Wales

Time warp

Llanidloes hasn’t changed much in two hundred and fifty years.  Take away the cars, cover the yellow lines with horse manure and replace the plastic awnings of the market stalls with canvas ones and you could be back in 1749 when John Wesley, evangelical Nonconformist rode into town and stood and preached on the stone by the market hall where dogs today, as they have for centuries, cock their legs.

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1839 was the year that the people of the town rioted because three London police constables were sent to arrest the leaders of the town’s Chartist union.  The Chartists believed in one-man-one-vote, a secret ballot, annual elections, pay for Members of Parliament and the abolition of financial and property qualifications for MPs and that each parliamentary constituency should contain the same number of voters.  That is all.  The authorities were so unnerved that the little town of two thousand people was occupied by the military for twelve months.  It had taken five days for the troops to arrive in this remote part of Wales and this was known as the ‘Five Days of Freedom’, our ‘Celtic Spring’.

Townsfolk stormed this building to free the Chartists

Townsfolk stormed this building to free the Chartists

Yesterday was St.David’s Day, and the market was held as it is every Saturday and has been for centuries:

It is the first town on the River Severn, set in the most beautiful countryside, a good place for the dawn of democracy and a cracking place to do your shopping.  The small independent shops and market stalls, between them, can  service the towns every need.

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Local History, Uncategorized

Man Eats Dog

I have been writing the biography of a man who lived in Wales through the depression of the 1930s; he was a famous international amateur footballer but also a notorious poacher and wit; I have been reading endless accounts of long forgotten football matches and interviewing his large family and friends, hearing their stories and cobbling together some sort of narrative.  The interesting thing is how it demonstrates the nature of story telling.

When someone repeats someone else’s oft-repeated anecdote it is sometimes difficult to be sure what the point of the tale is.  The chap I was writing about told his children many times about going to help a farmer with the harvest and noticing that the farmer’s dog was nowhere to be seen.  Later for lunch they had a stew of unusual white meat that the original teller of the tale remained convinced was the dog.

Man eats dog — what was the point.  He had repeated the story throughout his life — it had made a big impression on him him.

Was he disgusted?  What did he say it was like?   Quite tasty.

Meanwhile I was struggling with my hero’s poaching, not just the stealing but the ecology, as locally long-extinct species appeared in the family pot and fish roes were boiled up, in the breeding season, for bait.

Then I remembered the poor farmer’s wife with all those hungry helpers come to take in the harvest with no payment in prospect apart from one decent meal and my hero’s narrative reached me over the years.

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H.B. ‘Gurra’ Mills in about 1923 — reproduced thanks to his family.

You can access his full biography on the ‘Published Work’ page of this website.

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