Personal News

Llandaff, December 2002

Our most newsworthy event this year was our ten-day trip to Estonia, to attend the wedding of Creina's cousin Mark Pritchett and Klaire Tättar. We loved the long light evenings, the Old Town of Tallinn, and swimming in a lake at sunset. We were also greatly taken with the Estonian idea of having a simple wooden house in the country to retreat to for the summer, and fantasized for some time about getting one, if not in Estonia, then in mid-Wales. The trip was very memorable, and I have written about it in detail here.
    Another wedding we attended was in Surrey, which gave me the chance to show Creina the area where I lived between the ages of eight and twenty. It hadn't changed much: the small wilderness of woodland and heath, crisscrossed with streams and ditches, is still there, between the houses. The Basingstoke Canal has been cleaned up, though - it used to be so thickly covered with green algae that it looked solid, and the water was the colour and texture of treacle, with an indescribable smell. (I fell into it several times in my childhood.) Other expeditions to the countryside included a walk in the Black Mountains where we spent so long picking wild bilberries that we were caught in an apocalyptic rainstorm; for about twenty minutes there was more water in the air than air. We made the hour's drive back to Cardiff in our underclothes, and had to sneak into the house when no one was looking.
    In the autumn Creina and I went to Devon where we both read at a Poetry Picnic in Buckfastleigh. Afterwards, we visited Salcombe, the home of Creina's great-grandfather Frank Harnden, master of the sailing ship Uzziah, to do a bit of research into her roots. In the small Maritime Museum full of fishing nets and belaying pins, we found dozens of references to the Harnden family as one of the local shipbuilding and seafaring dynasties. Using Creina's original documentation (an inscribed family Bible) and with advice from the museum, we traced the family business to a flight of steps disappearing into the sea - presumably at one time there was a shipyard attached. But it's a start, and we are continuing our investigations by email and the Internet.
    This year I was shortlisted for the Welsh Book of the Year Award (for Dragons), which suggests I'm becoming a Welsh writer. I didn't win, but I got £1000 for the shortlisting, which was very useful. And one of my poems appeared on a series of posters displayed on Valley Lines trains and stations, along with work by my Glamorgan colleagues. Three of us took the commuter train from Cardiff to Trefforest one morning along with two camera crews, a radio crew and a press photographer, and read our poems to the bemused passengers. I was asked to wave my arms and look more like a poet. I seem to be more interested in fiction than poetry at the moment, though, and am planning to spend my sabbatical next year writing my much-postponed second novel.
    Work has been a bit more intensive recently, now that I'm responsible for our new degree in Creative and Professional Writing. I'm also teaching a new course in IT for Writers, which involves getting my students to create websites and weblogs (blogs). I also taught for a week at the Arvon Foundation's Lumb Bank Centre in Yorkshire (once the home of Ted Hughes), with my brother Richard, the first time we've worked together. He taught the fiction sessions and I taught the poetry ones, and there was time for a little walking, including a visit to Sylvia Plath's grave, and quite a lot of drinking.
    I still play badminton twice a week, and am now captain of my club's C team (played 6, lost 5). The other athlete in the household is Miranda, who lives for her half-hour playing with a pingpong ball before bedtime, ambushing it from under the bed, chasing it down the stairs, springing into the air to bat it back to us. Creina compared her double-handed forehand to Monica Seles's, except that Seles doesn't stop to lick herself between points.

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