Llandaff, December 2003
Only four years after arriving in Cardiff, we are on the move again,
this time deeper into Wales, as I have a new job. It has all happened very suddenly.
We had just abandoned our fantasy of moving somewhere cheap and idyllic in the Welsh
countryside so that I could give up teaching and concentrate on writing (which had got as
far as spending several weekends driving around looking at houses) when
an advert appeared for a post as lecturer in creative writing at the University of Wales,
Aberystwyth. Aber, as everyone calls it, is a small but lively town on the west coast, dominated
by the tourist trade in summer and the university for the rest of the year. It's as remote as
we could have hoped, with the Cambrian Mountains to the east, Snowdonia to the north, and
quiet hill-country to the south. Some of our Cardiff friends were amazed we would want to live
there - 'You do realize it's a Welsh-speaking area?' It is. Every morning, waiting for the bus,
I hear people saying 'bore da' to each other, but they say 'good morning' to me, having worked
out I can't speak the language just by looking at me. Next year, I am planning to take
Welsh lessons so I can say 'bore da' back to them.
Part of the draw was the university, which
has an excellent reputation. The campus is on a hill overlooking the sea, and the view from
my office window is spectacular. I've been brought in to help restructure and expand the
creative writing programme. Everyone is very friendly, and the department runs smoothly. I
particularly enjoy teaching in my office instead of having to go all over campus rearranging
the furniture in unsuitable rooms.
I am living in a small rented cottage by the sea.
Creina, meanwhile, is in Cardiff most of the time, looking after Miranda and showing
prospective buyers round the house. On alternate weekends, she drives to Ceredigion and we
look at houses together - we are hoping to buy one in the country, where the prices are more
favourable than in Aber. The other weekends, I return to Cardiff on the Traws Cambria bus,
a four-hour journey. On our solitary weekdays, Creina has been doing a lot of work on her
family memoir, and I've been writing poems. It's an uncomfortable time in our lives in some ways,
but an exciting one, too, and we're looking forward to a more peaceful and productive life when
It's hard to believe we've done anything else this year. In March, I went on a course at
Aldeburgh, learning to write opera librettos at the famous Britten Pears school. Whether I will
ever write an opera is doubtful, but I had a wonderful week, sharing a flat with a composer,
a tenor and a distinguished poet, writing miniature pieces which were performed on the spot by
some very talented musicians and spending evenings by a log fire in the pub, talking music.
In June, we spent a week in a log cabin in Rhayader in mid-Wales, surrounded by sheep, and
did a lot of walking and driving, at one point coming within about ten miles of Aber without
knowing how important it was just about to become to us. We also made a couple of visits to
our old home town, Winchester, one in May for a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the
City Guides, of which Creina is still an associate member, and one in June to take part in a
poetry reading in the Cathedral. On one of the hottest days of a lovely summer, we walked up
Pen-y-Fan. The mountain was fairly crowded; a military-looking man gave us a spare bottle of
water, and we petted his enormous dog which sat on my feet and licked both of us. We asked what
breed it was and nearly fainted when he said it was a rottweiler. Apparently they're very
gentle if properly brought up. I had to trick Creina up the last few yards of the climb by
saying the view was better just over here. At least, I said afterwards, you can tell
everyone you've climbed the highest mountain in South Wales, but she said she would have told
them that anyway.