Monday 16 September 2019

Rain and the Mabinogion

It rained all week. 
Playing out of doors was out of the question. Harvesting water-cress from the  streams flowing from the old mine workings, creating dark tunnels through the long-stemmed ferns, temporarily damming and redirecting the brook, glissading down the gleaming slag heaps: all needed the acquiescence of the sun.
The cottage was not large. The front room was holy ground, its curtains forever pulled except for the rituals of birth, marriage and death. The kitchen was full – from the great range at one end, to the copper boiler and mangle by the back door. The dining room was the only place of refuge. There I was marooned.
I had been allowed to go to my bedroom, but one day I left the door open and the cat got on my bed, a considerable crime. But this time an even greater offence was announced by my Grandmother’s shrill scream.
“Ach-y-fi! Michael has left the door open and the cats kittled on the bed!” 
Sure enough my bed was full of fur, kittens and blood and I was confined to the dining room to amuse myself and keep out of trouble. 
I counted the spaniels on the mantle piece: two. I counted the ducks flying up the wall: three. I tried hiding under the table and making ghostly noises, breathing on the window and drawing with my finger, crawling about hooting pretending to be a train. For some reason my father was not his usual placid self.
“Boy, go! Go! Go! … and read a book,” he added constructively. 
There are times when tone of voice carries unspoken meaning. I knew I had to find a book fast. Under the newspapers on the window sill were the only two books in the house. One was the great, black family Bible; I could hardly lift it. It did not look welcoming, certainly not as inviting as the coloured books of Bible stories in Sunday School. In the corner was one other book. It was ‘Tales from the Mabinogion.’
“What’s this Dad?” I asked.
Suddenly his voice mellowed. “Those are the old stories of Wales. Tales of princes and dragons and magic, the times of King Arthur.”
I was hooked. Suddenly a secret door had been opened. A door that no-one at school even mentioned and only Dad and I knew about it.
The stories were long and hard. The names were strange. But through the mists of incomprehension they told me that there was a different world to the prosaic, a secret past that cast long, unseen shadows. I found with delight that hidden among the leaves were Gwyddno Garanhir, Elffin, Cerridwen, Taliesin, Arthur, Bran, Culhwch, Olwen and Twrch Trwyth. There in print were all the echoes of my childhood.