Personal News

Ceredigion, December 2006

Birthday Dinner

This year Creina and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary on 4th October (St Francis's day). Creina gave me a breadmaker and we have been having exotic breads for weekend breakfasts ever since. Six weeks later, it was my fiftieth birthday, and my mother, brothers, sisters-in-law and two cousins came to visit for the weekend. We did our favourite walk in the woods and on the cliffs at Llangrannog on a beautiful November day, with most of the leaves still on the trees. There were no dolphins or seals this time, but we did see two pairs of choughs, a rare bird in most parts of Britain but often to be seen here, foraging in the short grass at the cliff edge. We had a drink at a pub Dylan Thomas was once thrown out of (also not that rare in west Wales), and ate cawl and seafood chowder at the beach front cafe. Later we had dinner at the Harbourmaster Hotel in Aberaeron (mussels, fillet of Welsh Black beef etc), and my family set off on their long journey home to England early the next morning.

Work has continued on the house all year. The cellar, which is liable to flooding, has been stripped back to the stone in preparation for repairs which have still to be done. The decorating is now finished with the completion of a very pleasant downstairs spare room and adjoining shower room. The other thing we've finished is the roof, which has been hanging over us, so to speak, ever since we moved in. The slates have been repaired and replaced, a small tree has been extracted from one of the chimneys, and it is no longer leaking on us. We have to replace the porch soon, before it falls on one of our visitors, but we are pleased with our progress.

We had no holiday this year because I wanted to finish the long poem I had been working on since last summer. We visited my Cambridge college, Magdalene, in February, where I met some old friends and read some of my poems as part of their Literary Festival. And we've had other expeditions to London, Cardiff, and the Fforest Fawr in mid-Wales. But I spent summer writing in the new downstairs spare room (we thought it would be cooler than my study, and I stayed there even when August turned out to be cold and miserable because I liked the new decor), looking out of the window occasionally to see a red kite passing overhead. By early September, I had completed my book, Mandeville, about the medieval traveller who described the phoenix, the Amazons and the Land of Darkness as well as more familiar wonders like crocodiles and bananas, and I am now waiting for my publishers' verdict.

Meanwhile I have been suffering from gradually worsening pains in the left shoulder and arm which turn out to be caused by a trapped nerve in my neck, probably the result of years crouching over computers. I can no longer raise my arm above shoulder height. I have been seeing a physiotherapist, who gives me exercises and wants me to sew tennis balls into the front of my pyjamas to stop me sleeping on my stomach, which I have so far resisted. There is no improvement yet, and I am going to have an X-ray soon to see if we can pinpoint the exact problem.

Walking is supposed to be good for it, and I have been lucky to discover some beautiful walks I can do straight from the front door - one in a nearby valley, if I can avoid the bulls in the fields, and another along the coast to a huddle of abandoned lime kilns. Recently on this second walk I came across a sheep with its head stuck through a wire fence. I couldn't get it free, so phoned Creina, who found her way through the darkening and very muddy fields with a pair of borrowed wirecutters. As soon as I cut the wire, the sheep charged into the surrounding brambles, getting itself tangled up worse than ever and wrapping them tightly round Creina's shins, making her scream in agony. Eventually I was able to cut them both free, and the sheep rushed off to join the flock, with a dozen snipped brambles clinging to its wool. All the time it had been stuck, the other sheep had come to visit it and commiserate, a touching sight. We have now bought a pair of wirecutters, which I am going to take on all future walks in the area.

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