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How Green is Her Valley

October 1, 2012

I’m back from Wales. I first went to Wales in November 1976 to spend half term with E, my favourite school friend, at her family’s massive sheep farm in the Gower Peninsula. That’s Dylan Thomas country. The cliffs, of which there are many, have ancient names. We were fifteen and prone to existentialist debate in our windbreakers. When we weren’t reciting John Donne poems that is, then running on the empty family beaches as fast as we could as far as we could with our eyes closed. Then we’d go back to E’s artfully renovated barn and listened to loud Supertramp. There was gooseberry fool for dessert. One of the things I’ve most wanted to do since getting back to Britain was to see E again. Now she lives with her dashing fellow, C, in Powys, mid Wales, on another farm, organic beef this time, in a farm-house that would make the curators at the Victoria & Albert design and decorative art museum weep over its authenticity.

First we shopped at a greengrocer. Check out the basket baskets…

We were in Hay where there’s a huge literary festival, hence bookshops with quirkitude busting out their windows…

There’s also a Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra of startling quality (that was Friday night in Brecon of Beacons fame) and loads of Cambridge PhD types who’ve come here to raise gorgeous pixie children in peace and actually not that much isolation. What I’m trying to say is that culture penetrates Britain to its so-called outskirts and stays there riching and enriching. Where learning and liberality do not extend, I’ve learned the proper adjective is naff. Anyhow, Hay isn’t naff, au contraire. Check out the delightful butcher shop signage. No one ever looks like they’re headed to the slaughter when painted storybook style…

To the farm. Share my incredulity that I was here if you will. Apparently whitewashing isn’t so much a Wales thing as a peasant thing. It goes well with moss. ivy, slate and lavender culled from the garden.

Of course this was a posh place in its time. You can tell from the munificence of the windows. I mean, this is Elizabethan glass. Some of it original ELIZABETHAN glass…

The quirky marks are to ward off the devil, naturally…

Of course there was a pantry. We picked the blackberries for crumble. There is a sort of woman who is brainy, beautiful and brilliant who can make a mean crumble. I am not that woman but E is….

Crumbles el al are made in this below, eponymously referred to as an Aga, an oven which has assumed mythic proportions in the United Kingdon, for those living in the country with any elan and/or roasting inclinations. E’s and C’s runs on oil non-stop and did a great job of skate wings in tomato sauce, next day a steak and kidney pie (courgette quiche for the guest)…

Don’t eat off the pewter plates; they’re full of lead…

The requisite taxidermy squirrels playing cards glass box…

This old, old, old, old, old thing? It came with the place…

Okay, fine. First get a couple of fires lit…

Then head out the door, the amazing door, of which I have 45 other pictures…

 

Brave the geese (no wonder Rome was guarded by the honking, hissing brutes)…

Say hello to the so vulnerably quizzical cows… 

And climb a hill with E. I was too cowardly to swim the rapids with her and her lively pals on Saturday.  I did dare use a chamber bucket, however, since the bath house requires a flashlight to get to out in the dark garden, which is disruptive for all concerned come 3 am. I hope those guys got in a moonlight walk on Saturday night mind you. And had fun at the Hiring Fair, a leftover from the post-feudal indentured farm slavery days, when  hands would get a fifth upfront and blow it on the rustic arcade. Note to all: if you go to a farm in mid Wales you will need rock and roll festival rubber boots. Hunter wellies kind of go ineluctably with Agas. E kindly loaned me hers and wore her third best shoes, and turned me on to fleece lined tights which she wears with her kicky tweed skirts and Fair Isles, so much more characterful than my jeans and fleece. I’m still looking to E not just for style cues but life cues. Alas, a crumble made in Hammersmith with Tesco 2 for £3 blackberries isn’t going to taste the same.  Thank you, dear E, for the lift from Abergavenny, the whiskey-honey marmalade, and all else. I had a Wales of a good time.

ps If you want to see better documentation of E and C’s house, check out the November World of Interiors. It’s that cool.

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