Ceredigion, December 2015
At the start of this year I was on research leave, working on a book-length poem based on the Welsh prose epic The Mabinogion. In March I went to the writers’ retreat at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland. I enjoyed working in my room and watching the snow outside my window as it swept through the glen; it has snowed on all three of my visits to this beautiful place. I left with a lot of writing done and a new passion for the ukulele, to which I was introduced by one of my fellow residents. I now have two, a tenor and a soprano, and Creina and I are trying to work up a duet, with her on the piano. As a solo performer, she has mastered the Moonlight and gone on to the Pathéthique.
While I was in Scotland, Creina was back in Llanon, supervising a major restoration of our roof. We hope and believe this is the last big job we will have to undertake on the house. As a final stage of dealing with the damp problems, we have replaced the gas fire in the lounge with a woodburner, as we were told that disused chimneys always leak. It took us a while to get used to it (feeding and tending a woodburner is an art) but it has really come into its own this stormy winter, and the house has never felt so cosy. We had a delightful day last month gathering driftwood on the beach, but mostly we get our wood delivered.
In April I was made a Fellow of the Welsh Academy at an event held in the National Library of Wales, and in November we returned to the National Library when I gave a lecture there on the seventeenth-century scientist Robert Hooke and his pioneering work on microscopy. My poem on The Mabinogion is now finished, and we are waiting to hear from Faber. I’m not quite sure what I’ll be writing next, but probably more poetry.
We combined our holiday this year with a reading engagement at the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival, spending a week in a converted barn we rented through the Duchy of Cornwall. It was our first visit to the east of the county, and we had a peaceful time walking through the country lanes and on the Moor. The house itself was the best self-catering accommodation we’ve ever had, with house martins flying in and out of the eaves, and we plan to go back next year. The Festival, where we met some old friends and made new ones, made a fitting climax to the holiday. Later in the summer, we had a briefer working holiday, when I took part in an international medieval congress in Leeds, and we stayed in an Anglican monastery near Huddersfield as guests of our friend Nicolas Stebbing CR, who had stayed with us earlier in the year. This gave us a taste of the monastic life, listening to plainchant in the chapel and eating high tea in silence while one of the monks read to us from an improving book. Next day we drove north to visit another friend, Sister Philippa, who is a member of the enclosed Benedictine order at Stanbrook Abbey. We attended a service in the starkly beautiful Modernist chapel while sheep grazed outside the window. Also this summer, I had a trip on the scenic Cambrian Coast railway to the Llŷn Peninsula to read at Tŷ Newydd, and a walk up Cadair Idris with my regular walking companion Steve Horn.
Two good friends have died recently. John Hurlock, who, with his wife Freddie, had been at the centre of the lively social circle we met through Creina’s attendance at Lampeter University Chapel, died at the age of 94, shortly after moving to Presteigne on the Welsh border, where Creina attended the funeral. My former PhD student John Kuntz of South Carolina died aged 68. He had visited us many times in Wales, which he always said reminded him of his childhood home in Tennessee. Both Johns had military backgrounds, one a Group Captain in the RAF, the other a Sergeant-Major in the US Special Forces.
Our cat Miranda is now fourteen, and has had some health crises this year. In April we took her to the vet because she was passing blood, which turned out to be cystitis. A few months later, she had a worse case, with a lot more blood, and had to be kept in overnight for tests. She was put on a drip, and came back with shaved patches on her neck and both front legs, which looked incongruous on such a shaggy cat. This time it was a case of E. Coli which had spread to the bladder. Since then she has had a further infection, and is now permanently on medication. I have become very expert at pushing the tablets down her throat. She is much better and in good spirits.