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