Friday, 7 February 2014

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not - Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the more challenging aspects of living and working here again is the language. Welsh. Cymraeg.

It has always been my second language and so I can hardly say that I have ever really mastered it. Still, some of my best memories of song and poetry from childhood are in Welsh. And the little I knew is stored somewhere in my brain. Deep, deep down. But there all the same.

Now I take phone calls on a daily basis in Welsh. And though I struggle somewhat to reply, it is coming back. If slowly. How alien a language can feel in your mouth. 

That said I have to laugh at all the French and Russian words I've slipped in to these conversations. Out of habit. Or voids in my Welsh memory.  Indeed words that I'd searched and searched for when I really needed them in French or Russian conversations seem readily available now. Just pop into my head involuntarily. Thus far everyone has been too polite to point out the anomalies. But it gives a whole new sheen to the phrase: "excuse my French"...

But back to the sheep. Defaid. Or rather the lambs. Oen. As promised, here are some photos of the first lambs in the fields. Taken this morning before work. The ewes shouted a lot at me. Just trying to keep me at bay. At least in the first field. In the second, they all came over and stared at me. Either trying to frighten me with their steely gazes. Or just because they found me a bit odd. Either way they made me giggle. As did the gambolling youngsters. Full of spring and joy. Truly delightful.




Saturday, 1 February 2014

Holyhead / Caergybi

In the wake of today's Six Nations Welsh victory, I feel inspired to tell you about Holyhead.

Now let's begin by acknowledging that over the years Holyhead has been subject to a more than dubious reputation. Been much maligned, one might say. And yet this is as unfair as it is unfounded.

Holyhead is a port town. It is the end of the (rail) line. Any further, and you fall into the sea. But this does not make it a bad place. Indeed, some of the nicest, warmest people I have ever known are found right here.

Holyhead is the largest town in Anglesey. In the county of Anglesey, as opposed to on the island of Anglesey. In fact, Holyhead is not on Anglesey, but on Holy Island. Still, its size belies its power. Administratively speaking, at least. The ruling Council is in Llangefni not Holyhead.

But Holyhead doesn't need power in order to influence. It has its own resources. Firstly, Holyhead has a mention in Jane Austen's Emma. For being a port to Ireland. But all the same. Cilla Black also came by to celebrate the island's character during her days on Surprise, Surprise. Hurray for Holyhead, I think she called it. Now that's enough for me. But maybe others need more. So here goes.

In the middle of the town centre is the Church of St Cybi. A rather attractive structure built within a Roman fort. Hence the name Caergybi. Cybi's fort.

The ferry port serves Dublin and Dun Laoghaire through the operators, Irish Ferries and Stena Line. Ever busy, it provides an important link for surface transport to and from Ireland. But this is not the limit of the town's maritime heritage which dates way back and is celebrated in a local museum. Which I shamefully haven't yet visited. It's on my list...

When the A5 was built in the 19th century by Thomas Telford, it secured a major route for transporting the Royal Mail by stagecoach to London from Dublin. In fact, the A5 road runs from Marble Arch in the capital, to the Admiralty Arch in the port.

I am told that Admiralty Arch was designed to commemorate a visit by King George IV in 1821 on his way to Ireland. He is not the only member of royalty to have graced the town. Most recently, William and Kate were here. Prince Charles arrived at Holyhead on his first visit to Wales as crowned prince. The Queen came in 1977 for her silver jubilee. I was in the crowd that day. She came over and spoke to me. Can't remember what she said. But I have photographic evidence to prove that she said something to me.

Otherwise, the town is a busy, sociable place. Less overtly so than in years gone by, it might be said. And it's difficult to argue if you walk through the town centre.  Indeed, the town centre itself almost died a few years back. A few times, at that. Yet an element always remains and activities here simmer on, waiting for the economic boost that will give the town a proper kiss of life.

As in many places, Woolworths once formed the centre of its (shopping) universe. No-one went to town without visiting Woolies. Such that the workers were almost part of everyone's family. Most recently, the shop was usurped by a myriad of supermarkets and charity shops. And then, of course, it closed. Its demise left a hole. No replacement has fully replaced it. None has captured the community and warmth that was Woolies. A particular favourite in my life history as it funded me through school and college. And taught me many a thing into the bargain.

But along with the myriad of supermarkets out of town, even McDonald's has arrived in Holyhead. Some would call that great progress. I'm never so sure. 

Still, there's more to this town that I can tell you about here in one go. So I will return to it on numerous other occasions to share with you its depth. In the meantime, I leave you with some photos of the town to ponder on. Enjoy.