Ceredigion, December 2012
As I write, there are two helicopters flying around outside the window. When we lived in Cardiff, this sort of thing just meant
the police were chasing car thieves again, but there is said to be only one helicopter in the whole of Ceredigion. Perhaps the
other one is the Pembrokeshire helicopter. We havenít had this much excitement since the Olympic torch was carried through
the street outside our house in May. A friend was working on the security arrangements for that; his colleagues were so
anxious about it that they referred to it (in Welsh) as the Beacon of Doom. We were able to watch it from our bedroom
window, unlike the crowds who stood in the rain for hours while support vehicles, police motorcyclists and forerunners went by,
and rumours went round that it was so many minutes away. It finally went by so quickly I barely had time to take a photograph,
but then going fast was the point, I suppose.
In May I launched my collection of short stories, Singing a Man to Death, with a reading at the University Bookshop. My
brothers and sisters-in-law came and stayed with us for the occasion, and we did my favourite walk through the Peris Valley
and along the coast path the next day, in scorching sunshine this time. It has been a good year for my writing: Cinnamon, the
publishers of the stories, have accepted my historical novel, The Book of the Needle (no publication date yet), and Faber will
publish my collection of poems Muscovy next May. A CD of me reading my Whereabouts poems, plus some
others, is just out from my Canadian publishers, rufus books. Iíve been casting around for new things to write, and briefly thought I might go to
Kazakhstan to research an epic poem about the origins of the apple, but my most productive project this year was a critical
essay on the poets W.S. Graham and Philip Larkin.
Nine years after moving in, we feel we have finally finished making changes to the house. Our kitchen, with its massive walls of
whitewashed stone that look as if they were hewn from meringue, has always been the room that impresses everyone, despite
its cramped space and dodgy décor. We couldnít do much about the space, but we got some better units and appliances, and
went to a warehouse in Ammanford and chose some sheets of pink granite for worksurfaces and splashbacks that are more in
keeping with the rest of the house. It is now even more like a grotto than before, but the mineral character has a certain charm,
and you can look at the patterns in the granite while chopping carrots.
After years of rainy British holidays, we went to Alsace this year in the one really hot week of the summer. We divided our time
between Strasbourg and Colmar, staying in delightfully quaint and atmospheric hotels. Itís not an area the British visit much, and
we were sometimes taken for Germans. The black-and-white houses with their windowboxes of red and purple geraniums seem
German, as do the delicate white wines, and the rather heavy food, dominated by sauerkraut, sausage and baked goods. We
lay on the cobbles watching a son-et-lumière display on the west front of Strasbourg Cathedral (I smelt of vanilla for some time
afterwards from my encounter with the remains of a crêpe), visited the huge mountaintop castle of Haut-Koenigsbourg and
tasted wines at a vineyard at the mountainís foot.
In September Creina attended the funeral of an old friend, Jean Willett, a grandí dame par excellence, who had died at the
age of 100. Jean and her son Steve were the first to befriend Creina and her grandparents when they arrived in Umtali,
Rhodesia, in 1949, and later welcomed us to Cardiff when we arrived there fifty years later. Creina was one of two friends
Steve invited to speak at the funeral. In October, Marymount, the school in Umtali where she taught French from 1972 until its
closure in 1976 held a reunion in Kingston-upon-Thames. It was thrilling to see how a school which had existed for a mere
twenty years had fostered such a lasting affection in its pupils and staff.
I am still playing a lot of chess, and had a successful year, winning a couple of minor prizes and reaching my highest grading
ever. The highlight was a draw against the then-Welsh-Champion, a veteran who has played some of the all-time greats of
chess. (On the other hand, I had losses to a couple of talented eleven-year-olds.) Through a contact of Creinaís at Lampeter
University Chapel, I have recently taken up fencing again, a sport I was keen on at school but hadnít practised for more than
thirty-five years. It is a lot harder than I remember, and here too I am getting beaten by eleven-year-olds. Itís entertaining to
overhear their conversation in the changing room afterwards, though Ė one of them was talking about a classmate who had
been out with all the girls in their year. ďHe has sixteen exes,Ē he said enviously.