Sunday, 30 November 2008

Cadwallon, Scourge of the Saxon Scum

A full-on Welsh operation it was yesterday.

Started the day with a listen to Barafundle, the delicious Gorkys album from 1997, which (as has been the pattern for the weekend) bumped me into tears more than once. Some times the father is the son/Meirion Wyllt choked me up especially much.

It was very misty up on the Mancunian Flats and as we moved along the M56 towards y Hen Wlad fy Nhadau the banks grew thicker. In need of piss, we stopped at a Little Chef on the way in the midst of the swirl, reminiscing about lollipops past and family car journeys, pausing only to admire the Daily Express/Star/OK Magazine stand by the door. A smorgasbord of balanced and perceptive journalism to go with the rest of the waffles. We got jogged off track a little, heading towards the Wirral and Hoylake and The Coral and LT's first boarding school. The road to Wales has been changed and there is no sign to Croeso you to the place any longer. I'm sure it will catch up but I miss the mark.

We had decided it was time to investigate the mysteries of those towns that lay just beyond the A55, towns I had faithfully driven past on my way to Ventodotia. Clwyd is a kind of a shadowy area in my universe, held in contempt for years for not being Welsh enough, for breeding Flintshire Scousers like Michael Owen and Ian Rush, for being hilly rather than mountainous. I even found the word Clwyd embarrassing during the 80s, perched beside the proud eagles of Gwynedd. Perhaps it was all a little uncomfortably close to England for me. Things get greyer as I get greyer, popkids; things that once were close are now further apart and vice versa; and my curiosity is roused.

Buckley was up first, an "historic brick making town", that even now I can't really fix to a physical space. It floats in a blank around the Expressway, and I don't think this was all down to the fog. It was pleasantly chilly. Wales was that much closer to winter than Manchester. The mist had been left in slightly lower ground. Apparently they used to carry bricks by donkey down to the river Dee and out to the Empire at large. There was an anonymity on the surface, but flashes of something different every now and then. I have never seen so many adverts for "Fake Bake" in such a short few steps as I did that afternoon. There was an Ethel Austin (as there was in every one of the towns we visited) and a plethora of pharmacies. Old people and cheerfully trrapped kids shuffled about. I bought a souvenir bottle of water. There was a gorgeous frost in patches that had been untouched by the wintry sun. But there wasn't much to keep us there, the project had to continue.

Next was Mold, Yr Wyddgrug. Further upland, so it involved climbing a bit of a hill, by car of course, and some gorgeous views of hills and cloud and Wales. After the scruffiness of Buckley, Mold was a "market town" with all the bric-a-brac you'd want to shake an antique stick at, and loads of people milling around the moribund Woolworths. There were a couple of neat bookshops, but no off-licence. It had the air of some self-importance, something I hadn't really expected. I'd imagined these towns would be aware of their liminal position in my psyche, be ever so slightly cowed by their historical insignificance; but there was a county of Flintshire to run and here was where it was expected to happen. We bought some bric-a-brac and went to Tescunts, picking up some Polish beers and sloe gin and a Welsh brandy called Black Mountain that I'd never heard of before. A couple of slender secrets were being lifted from the Clwydian slopes. I was trying to read the phrenologies of the high streets.

We'd planned to fit Denbigh in our scheme, but we'd left about three hours later than we'd planned, so the ring road tightened around us. Just time for Rhuthun; Lou's pick. A very nice place, the Welshest so far perhaps, a link on drovers' routes across the country in centuries past. Lou had visited there with her school, and we'd driven through there on our way to Johnny and Junko's wedding. I hadn't really seen the Vale of Clwyd before, and I was mightily impressed. Wales was rising up from the earth around us, Ruthin was dangling its streets down the hillsides. A hill-top town, in retrospect a little like Shaftesbury in Dorset. It was deserted. 3pm on a pre-Christmas Saturday, fresh pay jingling in pockets, plenty of well-nourished-looking shops, but next to no customers. It was when we went to the market that the mystery was solved - Wales were leading Australia 15-13. I bought LT an early Xmas present, a globe with raised edges to represent the mountain ranges of the world. We ate fish and chips (our usual Welsh treat), and slinked back under untropical pink skies to England.

That night I read about Cadwallon, ap Cadfan, who had raged out from Gwynedd and slaughtered the population of York, according to Bede. I'd never heard about him before. He made me think of a different Britain that was and might have been.

Your pal, Coc x

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