Monthly Archives: January 2018

25/01/2018: Bogd-dawn in langwij

Since moving to Pembrokeshire five and a half years ago I’ve come to appreciate bogs. Bogs, mires, marshes, moors, swamps, mangroves (possibly) and all related upland and/or wetland areas. In Central Pembrokeshire they’re often referred to as “commons”, because the only land in or near any given village that hasn’t been successfully enclosed and surrounded by high-tensile barbed-wire fencing by its owners is generally poor-draining virtually unfarmable muck, and is thus given over to relatively rare grazing by the relatively poorer local farmers paying either a pittance or nothing at all to the local landowner who is usually descended from an Anglo-Norman warlord and usually probably hasn’t seen the land with his (or her, hahaha; but obviously usually his) eyes for several generations. And, thus, technically, never.here are terms like “rights of pasturage” and “court leet” that hark back to a feudal age we think ourselves far removed from, but whose rules and influence are there to be seen pretty much anywhere you look in modern British society; not just in the bogs.

I’m no expert on bog-based wildlife or anything like that. A lot of it is microfauna and microflora; so you don’t even necessarily see much when you’re traipsing around in it. There are protected species of butterfly (Marsh Fritillary, etc.) and dainty flowers that make some of the local mires SSSIs. There are sometimes skylarks where the marshes become more moorish. There are often red kites overhead (as there are increasingly all over rural Wales and England). There might be sheep, ponies, rabbits or rather unfortunate cows; but the bigger beasts stay away from the muddiest bits if they can. (They’re prone to getting stuck otherwise.) In Wallis there’s sometimes a couple of goats chained to a tree, looking for all the world like a sacrifice idly waiting for the local dragon to turn up. Where there’s enough flowing water there might be a heron.

Our river, Afon Wern, is essentially called Marsh River; and it drains the eastern slopes of Pembrokeshire’s highest mountain (or “hill” if you’re a racist) and Gors Fawr: the placid expanse of common land to which our home has centuries-old rights of pasturage which were unregistered in the ’60s and are therefore not legally recognized by Pembrokeshire County Council. Gors Fawr means Big Bog, and it’s home to Pembrokeshire’s only complete original stone circle. Some few thousand years old. Nobody really knows. The water from Gors Fawr actually comes into our leat before it’s allowed into the Wern; and while the majority still joins the Wern after escaping through the sluice channels in The Common, the fact that water from the land around those ancient sacred stones flows right outside the front of my house makes me very happy.

But this week I’ve been getting bogged down in words more than bogs. I’m learning Welsh. Re-learning, I might say; because I was close to studying for a GCSE when I first moved to England. But then I didn’t use it for over a decade, except on rare occasions when I was drunk at a party and wanted a “code” language in which to converse with a brother. Then we’d speak a debased form.

Now I’m learning Pembrokeshire Welsh; even Preseli Welsh, which is different again from the former, which is different to South Welsh, which is different to North Welsh.  This all pleases me. The notion of full standardization of language is always a con, and serves only to elevate one person’s tongue above another’s. Proper English might serve a practical use (as any standardized language does; usually the justification of state control over the provinces) but ask anyone with an ounce of intellectual curiosity and they’ll soon reveal a penchant for dialect from some or other corner of the country. I won’t pretend to know what Welsh attitudes are. It’s no doubt different in a country where standardization has been more recent, less strict, and (arguably) less successful. And in a country where a foreign language has gradually become dominant; first as a colonial language, with all the accompanying oppression, and then as an adopted majority native language, with all the accompanying ambivalence.

The concept of Landskeria simultaneously exists (in my mind, at least) as an earnest attempt to enrich our lives with joy and wonder through unbounded creativity, and as a playful satire on nationalism generally. I’m quite confident that it can be both. (Even if Welsh nationalists on Twitter think it’s some form of errant neocolonialism.) And it’s in that spirit (the creativity and the satire; not the neocolonialism) that I decided (partly spurred on by a discussion in my Welsh class) that Landskeria needs a language of its own; separate from, though undoubtedly also closely related to, English and Welsh.

The language will be referred to in English, at least temporarily, with the same word we use for the people, in singular form: Landskerian. This will be fixed later. Although English will remain our first language, and Welsh our second (technically of equal legal and administrative importance; but we must recognize reality), the intention is that Landskerian will one day join these two as a third official language, and maybe supersede both to become the ceremonial language de jure of our nation.

I will share with you what I have so far.

 

Landskralphabet

That’s not the real term, but it’s the name of the text doc I’m working on to outline a simple phonetic alphabet which will serve as the bricks and mortar for the written (and trasnferrably oral) Landskerian language. It’s based on English with a little Welsh thrown in for good measure. The English letters c, q and x have been jettisoned in favour of, respectively, k/s, kw, and ks; the first because I have always hated c, as I imagine many English-learners do; the second because q and x strike me as consonant clusters and not true digraphs. The Welsh double letters ll, ch, and dd are included as lh, kh and dh. (I think these types of two-letter consonants which make a single sound are referred to as “digraphs” so that’s what I’ll call them.) Most other included sounds, which ought to (between them) replicate the majority of sounds available in both languages, are present in a recognizably phonetic form. 23 core single letters are pronounced in their basic form, which ought to invite something like a consensus among anyone likely to actually see any of this: a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, y, z. They all do a different job, and are all thus necessary. I’ve (so far) only added one new letter, which is “ə”. I think it’s called a “Schwa”, but I just call it an “uh” at the moment, because that’s the approximate sound. It’s the most common vowel sound in English and not uncommon in Welsh; sometimes it’s represented as e, u, o, a… depends when and where it appears in a word. Take “word” as an example. Most of us say that as “wərd”; not “word” at all. In fact, most English people say “wəəd” because most English people only pronounce a r if it’s near the beginning of a wəəd. Here’s the working (wəəking) alphabet, with digraphs and diphthongs included alongside their core letters:

a (aa) “father”=”faadhə” (ae) “hay”=”hae” (ao) “out”=”aot”
b
d (dh) “this”=”dhis”
e (ea) “here”=”hea” (ee) “hair”=”hee”
ə (ə) “the”=”dhə” (əə) “girl”=”gəəl”
f
g
h
i (ie) “eat”=”iet”
j (jh) “church”=”jhurjh”
k (kh) “loch”=”lokh”
l (lh) “llan”=”lhan”
m
n
o (oe) “no”=”noe” (oi) “boy”=”boi” (ou) “power”=”pouə”
p
r
s (sh) “shop”=”shop”
t (th) “think”=”think”
u (uh) “look”=”luhk” (uu) “caught”=”cuut”
v
w (wh) “soon”=”swhn”, “view”=”vywh”
y (yh) “by”=”byh”
z (zh) “vision”=”vizhən”

I’m more or less pleased with the above and confident that using those letters, digraphs and diphthongs I can replicate all of the sounds I might want in my language. But I am just slightly troubled by the idea of a perfectly “logical” set of letters (including a delicious new addition in the form of ə) being compromised by the innately less “logical” inclusion of the diphthongs and digraphs. If I could conjure up 22 (I think?) new symbols that were clear and unambiguous I’d favour those over the double-letters. Of course I have to consider keyboards above pens, but, ultimately, both must be catered for. Special modifying symbols are a maybe. I’ll consult with the other Landskerians over the coming months. In the meantime we’re working with these. And I’ve come up with a set of numbers from one to ten, and a translation of a verse from a poem I wrote in 2017. These will follow as images with accompanying comparisons for curiosity’s sake. Which is, let’s face it, the only sake of any of this.

Count to ten in Landskerian!

cap2

You can use the above to practice counting to ten in Landskerian. Roll your R on “tres” please. I haven’t decided whether ten will be “dejh” or “yondejh” yet (mirroring the numerical presentation). I think we can assume that the first use of “dejh” means 10, and that subsequent multiples (20, 30, 40) would be dawdejh, tresdejh, kwasdejh, etc. if we want to keep things simple.

The world’s first verse of Landskerian poetry

Captureup

The verse here is the first from a simple poem I wrote in 2017. I say simple, but obviously it’s laden with hidden meanings and depths. The form is simple. The themes involve drainage as a literal thing and a metaphor, and accompanying cross-considerations of ecology, pollution, defecation, sanitation, sewerage, precipitation, corruption, etc. The Google translate is included just to show I put some actual effort into the Welsh translation! That’s not to say it makes sense. I couldn’t tell you. Ask someone who can actually speak Welsh. I wanted to keep the rhyme scheme in this, and most of the rhythm, though I allowed the third non-rhyming line to deviate. I also used the real name of the river in the Welsh one (Wern, or Marsh – some added ambiguity for you there). I also swapped “veins” for “hand”, retaining a sense of empowerment or control, keeping the rhyme, but losing the commonality with rivers. Bowel became bola (mutated to mhola) which is stomach, but sounds right. And “baw” means “mud” rather than “drains”, but confers a similar meaning I think. And I like that baw is also used for “feces” (especially an animal’s) in Welsh. Notably in the poem “Preseli” by local poet (and local hero) Waldo Williams, where the call-to-arms against an invading beast signifies the campaign to prevent the MOD from seizing the Preseli region for the armed forces after WW2. My Landskerian translation is mostly a made-up word-for-word translation of the English. I’ve had to change the rhythm a bit, and the rhymes are replaced for echoing assonance (as an -a sound usually signifies a plural or a simple present verb conjugation in Landskerian; at least so far!) The one real difference is that in this version the river (vən-tuu; literally river-water) rises (rusha) when (pen) rain falls (we-tuu; literally air-water) falls (vola). I can’t remember why there’s an r after “wetuu” but… you know… this is a work-in-progress.

Thanks for reading, if anyone did.

Landskerian Culture Minister,

A Velky

08/01/2018: Memento Wombli

Serious political contemplation has very much taken a “back foot” to drainage this winter.

It’s not that the winter of ’17-’18 has been peculiarly wet. More that the territories of New Landskeria are perpetually wet. Thousands of gallons of water (probably, IDK imperial measurements?) are being hurled our way every second of the day and night, from the north, from the east, and (when it rains) from the southwest. Afon Wern is a constant raging reminder of the perpetuity of all that is not human, and of our own ephemeral existence as sparks in creation’s dark. But even more than that, it is a river. A river which drains the eastern slopes of the highest peak in Pembrokeshire, and the highest, and probably the boggiest, bog in Pembrokeshire, and (last but by no means least) the freest and no doubt one of the muddiest settlements in Pembrokeshire: our home.

So whenever it hasn’t been raining (or snowing; we have had some proper snow this winter, for the first time in five years) I’ve been out there digging. I had to give back the pickaxe I borrowed from mum, so V kindly bought me a much wider fibreglass-handled pick from Wickes. It dwarfs its predecessor. And me. Alas, no treasure has relinquished itself to me from the murky depths of the mud and rock beneath our sodden drive. Only shards of pottery, porcelain and glass. And waste pipes. And older, deeper drainage systems. Perhaps roman. Or just pre-1960s. And electric cables. And water pipes. And mysterious brick-walled chambers.

Every day I dig, an unforeseen object blocks my path, and slows my pace. The straight line I plotted out has become a serpentine passage to who-knows-where. At least it’s still mainly going uphill. Because the water will always flow down the hill. Until it gets into that weird pen thing that I think might have been a sheep-dipping pit, and V thinks might have been something to do with wool. Then it disappears into a rocky hole and under The Lawn. To who-knows-where. (Well, the river eventually; then the sea. And then back again for more of the same…)

December was tiring, but fun toward the end once school broke up and Christmas and New Year’s Eve approached, with their festive promise. We were supposed to be going to England, but ended up staying here because of dogs and (theoretically, I suppose) a fish. We also had our second and third set of guests in our holiday-home. And fortunately both sets seemed to have a better time than the first. Even though the boiler packed up twice during the second lot’s tenure. Our own boiler (and our aga) also stopped working on Boxing Day (I think) because we forgot to have the oil tank refilled. This facilitated some lengthy learning opportunities of the heating-engineering variety. I can now control pressure, and remove air from both the water system and the oil. Between boiler-tinkering and faffing about with a car that seems to magnetically attract nails to its tyres, the holiday involved more admin than I might have chosen. But at least some of it was of the practical variety, rather than phone- or computer-based. I have no problem with computers (as any of my hundreds of friends* will tell you). But I hate phones, and probably always will. Give me screwdrivers, drills, saws, axes, etc. any day. They don’t talk back. Which is fortunate, because I’m usually swearing at them.

What else has happened? We hired a power-sander and power-sanded some floorboards. The girls both performed in their first school play. Sybil had a line: “Ni’n hoffi canu a dawnsio”. She was a star. I mean, literally; she was representing a personification of a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its own gravity. And she did so quite well. Fury was a sheep, and she picked her nose. Both enjoyed the singing.

Christmas with Marek. NYE with Samantha and Harry. For Christmas I got a Japanese saw, a bottle of Xinomavro, and a framed picture of Alan Partridge performing air-bass to Gary Numan’s 1982 single “Music for Chameleons”. We made short work of the Xinomavro. I’ve been enjoying the saw ever since, and have almost completely wiped out the laurels on the 2 acres of New Landskeria that lies south of the C-road. I haven’t yet worked out where to put the picture.

Some time before Christmas I set out to trace the course of Pont Hywel’s old mill race. They had the mill downriver from ours, but their mill-race (through which the leat no longer runs for the entirety of its length) is much, much longer. A couple of miles perhaps. It begins opposite the end of our own, in-between The Lawn and the Brambles. A fallen ash lies across the river here. I’d once thought it fortunate that the widest point of the river adjoins our land. But fortune is not the only reason for this. A line of boulders were put there to break the current some time over a century ago, thus creating a diversion for part of the current behind what is now The Forbidden Island, flowing south almost parallel to the Wern proper, though growing more distant as it gets farther south, and benefiting from the drainage of the eastern fields belonging to Plas y Meibion.

When they stopped using Pont Hywel’s mill (perhaps the same time they stopped using ours; a short while after the Second World War) the diverted part of the river was either re-diverted or re-diverted itself back into the Wern only about ten or twenty metres south, in a little waterfall. Thus, at some point in the past half a century, The Forbidden Island was formed. It is very unlikely to be accurately depicted on anyone’s land registry title deed. It is represented as a small field on ours. Now the boundaries that restrain the beasts are far back behind the boggiest ground of the West Bank, nowhere near the island. The island is untended, unloved, and unclaimed. Or at least it was

Somewhere between the island and Plas y Meibion’s ditches, when I charted the path of the former leat, I found a sheep’s skull. And I returned to claim it with Marek on Christmas day, so V could incorporate it into her costume for the fantasy-themed murder mystery dinner party we were hosting on the 30th. Marek seemed somewhat bemused by the walk, which (like most central Pembrokeshire walks) mostly featured mud, barbed-wire, and brambles. I admit, it’s probably not a walk I’ll do very often. It’s not a public footpath for one thing. Although with a modicum of maintenance it would be a very lovely route, affording advantageous vistas of the marshy land between the Wern and the Plas y Meibion ditches. The field in-between looked like it rarely (if ever) holds cattle, and was too wet to provide any kind of marketable crop. I’m not sure whether it’s a viable habitat, or just a field where damp fodder is grown for farming subsidies. Whatever it is, it looked very peaceful.

Following a successfully mysterious murder-themed party (uniting, temporarily, members of clans Keeble, Velky, Kynaston and numerous client clans) in which only Sybil guessed that Harry was the murderer, and a (somewhat) traditional New Year’s Eve game of Lord of the Rings Risk in which good vanquished evil as it usually does, and probably ought to, 2018 arrived, with a bit of a cough, and a bit of a hangover, but some pleasant clarity of aspect. Perhaps the day itself was muggy, but the moon was wonderful, and a frosty stillness soon returned to the mornings. So I assembled my pickaxe and ventured out to claim the large trumpet-shaped object Harry and I had spotted in the brambly undergrowth where the parking area of The Sheds thickly borders The High Mire. The object turned out to be far more exciting than I expected. It’s part of an air-horn, which might have in turn been part of a steam whistle on a ship. Or an air-raid siren system. Hard to say for sure, but it’s fun to shout through. Even though I haven’t cleaned it properly yet.

The digging is hard in the frosty clay. It’s not all toil though, this rural life. I had a lot of fun with that saw; and I even took my spade over to the brambles, to dig some rotten wood and soil from around what I thought was a pig-pen, but which I now think might be (or at least might be better marketed as) a neolithic passage tomb. This afternoon, after their first day back at school (and Fury’s first ever full day at school) I took the kids over there with half a bag of popcorn to show them the stones, and the pool that drains from The High Mire, and the piles of murdered laurels. They liked it all. Especially the popcorn. We imagined what it would be like living in The Mill. Sybil was excited by the idea of rope bridges and rope ladders to attic bedrooms. Fury looked quite worried.

Later on I found a fox skull on an unexplored corner of the second island of The Common. On returning with my prize, I joked with Sybil that a bestial noise we heard outside might have been the headless fox coming to reclaim its skull. She correctly pointed out that a headless fox would have difficulty making a bestial noise. I asked her how she would make a noise if she had no head, and she said that she’d make a noise by kicking me in my head. So we left it at that.

We’re coming to the end of Bogwoppit, which we’ve been reading at night (or rather, which I’ve been reading to them at night; it’s a bit advanced for their current skill-level). And I’m coming to the (bitter) end of Savage Continent, having finished Sapiens over the holiday. My editors Adam and Dave are suffering through my publicly undemanded third poetry book, Has Doubts Volume Three: In the Men’s Room. And I’m contemplating future career options: web-editor, copywriter, community-manager, tour-guide, tree-surgeon, navvy… gameshow host? Only time will tell.

The weather is appropriate. The environment is revealing. The economy is stretched.

Your (gameshow) host,

A Velky

* Facebook friends. I don’t have hundreds of real friends. Nobody does.