Here’s our round robin of some of our doings over the past year.
In March I was having a big office clearout. As I emptied a fat file into the WPB, an Indenture of Sale fluttered out. It was the record of the purchase of Murmur-y-Don by my great-grandmother Jane Williams in 1923. She bought it from a Mr. T. Wilks who lived in Ewshot House, Ewshot, Hampshire, 250 miles away from Harlech.
So I rang my niece Emily.
Because five years ago, unaware of any connection, Emily and her husband Alex bought Ewshot House, Ewshot, Hampshire.
Perhaps the windiest spot in the British Isles is the point where our drive debouches on to the main road at Good God Corner in Harlech. In January passing motorists had to take swift action to avoid a fat old man running down the middle of the road trying to catch two wheely bins cascading end over end on their way to Llandanwg Beach, having first deposited their contents all over the road and the National Trust field.
Our old blue Aga in Harlech was installed in 1968 and like many other celebrities it died this year. In May the impossibly beautiful Firebird arrived, creamier and plumper than any Aga but at first glance similar to look at. It does the cooking, the hot water and the central heating. It’s only broken down twice so far and we think it’s great.
Budapest for Von’s birthday in January. What a great city. It had us from the moment we read the notice on the tube trains: “Each passenger may carry one bundle of wrapped tree saplings.” Photographer Zsusza Rosza showed us around and we had a little too much goose and foie gras.
We went to have lunch with James & Jill in Bergues, Northern France in March. Great food, packed restaurant on a Thursday lunchtime, nobody died.
Back to Belgium again in July to buy an incredible amount of beer and wine. I still haven’t run out of beer.
In late July we went to Apulia and had the most wonderful holiday. Von’s niece Victoria Seeley married Troy Salter in Sorrento and we ran into my niece Lucy and the Day family as one does. Then we spent another week in the southern heel of the country. A really enjoyable time.
Later that month we ran into the Day family again, this time in the cloistered grandeur of Magdalen College, Oxford, where great-nephew Jack Norman (that’s Shân and Paul’s clever lad) was marrying Dawn.
Getty Images, the $2.9 billion market leader among picture libraries, takes over the distribution of Corbis, the world’s second largest picture library. They now control about 80% of the world market.
Customer: I want to use this picture for a half page, world English language book usage. How much?
fotoLibra: That’ll be £74, sir.
Customer: £74! I could buy it for £10 from Getty!
fotoLibra: Well why don’t you?
Customer: Because they don’t have this picture, stupid!
Another year to forget for Welsh rugby. Wales used to be the land of the jink and the swerve, but all we have now are huge units who trundle forward in straight and predictable lines while more agile opponents dance between us and score tries. It’s not right. Chwarae teg. Although change the shape of the ball to Round and they did very well in the Euros.
Brilliant showing by the Brits in Rio, 2nd in the medal table after the USA and beating China, Russia, Germany and the usual suspects.
Among the live sport we saw was England v Sri Lanka with the Wiz at Lord’s, England v Wales at Twickenham (not the 6 Nations game), Saracens v Scarlets at Allianz Park and the Varsity Match at Twickenham with Marcus & Sandra.
I felt the Sports Personality of the Year should have been Alistair Brownlee, for the most sportsmanlike act I have ever seen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS0GkCfljqk
We had Von’s brother Nick and his girlfriend Rosie to stay in Harlech in February. We rode on the world’s longest zip wire. Leaping off was pant-wettingly terrifying but once on the move exhilaration took over. What fun. Bloody freezing. Tors and Troy came for Easter and Christmas, James & Tessa in October.
In London Jane came to stay from DC, Wim & Moni from Utrecht, Mike & Martha from NYC, Barbara from Düsseldorf and Damien from Lyon.
Went to stay with our friends James & Tessa at their cottage in Norfolk. Walked along Holkham Beach in hurricane force winds. Milo was airborne part of the time, and had to be hauled down like a barrage balloon. The bloke I sat next to at dinner claimed his name was Tim, but turned out to be David Archer from The Archers. Blimey. What an exceptionally pleasant fellow.
Instead of a summer barbecue, we had a huge ham so we could talk to our guests instead of sweating over a hot grill. It was my 70th birthday and I didn’t feel a day over 68. I have this theory that I’m actually ten years behind my birth age. This makes me sixty now, which is fine, but it was rough when I was fourteen years old and at Haileybury. Had a long chat with Dede about The Four Horsemen of the Eucalyptus, assigning powers of eternity, the horrors of desecrated coconut and her new man, with whom she only has a teutonic relationship.
Enjoyed Twelfth Night in the round at Hornsey Town Hall, Cameron Brown rocking at the Chelsea Arts Club, the Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, Paul Jones and the Blues Band in Enfield. I read War and Peace (two favourite quotes: “I can see through you and three yards into the ground under you” and “Lay me down like a stone, O God, and raise me up like a loaf.”)
It’s 30 years since Follies: A National Trust Guide was published and to mark the occasion the Folly Fellowship informed us they would be holding a tea party at our house. About thirty people turned up and it was brilliantly organised by Peter Godfrey. Wim came over from the Netherlands to help celebrate. We had a cake in the shape of the book with the cover photographed on to the icing. So clever!
I’m now a great-great-uncle. Welcome to Finn Lees, my brother’s daughter’s son’s little chap, and a big welcome too to latest great niece Minnie Artemis Baker, a daughter for Birdie and Mike and a sister for Barnaby Bob (Minnie was my mother’s secret embarrassment. She was christened Minnie Elaine Young, and as a teenager she was not best pleased when Disney introduced Minnie Mouse to the world).
Helen Bailey was murdered together with her beloved dog Boris. Their bodies were not discovered for three months. We can guess who did it, but the case hasn’t come to trial yet. Mike Raggett’s partner Dee Lesley died over Christmas. Carole Blake, one of Britain’s top literary agents and a friend since 1972, died suddenly in October. Christina Speight of the Folly Fellowship. Von’s old boss and colleague Peter Driscoll. Nobel prize winners’ publisher Peter Owen, who memorably told me “I went to one of those faith healers once. But they don’t do teeth.”
And virtually every celebrity you can think of.
It was the fiftieth anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, when 116 children were killed, and Owen Sheers wrote a moving television poem ‘The Green Hollow’. But the most damning comment came in a documentary on the tragedy: “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” — George Bernard Shaw, The Devil’s Disciple, quoted at the end of the Aberfan enquiries, 1967.
All fine. Nothing to report.
We had a tree taken down in Harlech. I went to get my new chainsaw to log it. It started very quickly, idled at 5000 rpm for a minute then seized solid. I couldn’t turn it over. I took it to Major Owen in Penrhyndeudraeth, and they read its obituary over the phone to me. The replacement parts would cost more than a new chainsaw. “But it’s brand ne …” I began, then I remembered that my ‘new’ chainsaw had come with the insurance for the flood which triggered fotoLibra — fifteen years ago. So I got a wonderful early Christmas present from Von, a Stihl MS-180. And now we have wood. Lots of wood.
You might guess we are pretty enthusiastic Remainers. Mike and Martha came over from Manhattan to participate in our celebrations after the inevitable win, and on the morning after Martha wordlessly joined me in the kitchen as I stood there in my seedy, saggy dressing gown listening to Cameron’s resignation speech on the Today programme. I shed a tear — not for Cameron, but for my country.
The Phucking Phaeton is no longer. No longer with us, that is. We bought an old Audi A6 Quattro Avant, and the garage was too frightened to take the Phaeton in part exchange. So I put it on Autotrader for £2,750 more than the garage were about to offer, and it sold for cash at the asking price three days later. I shall miss it. What a great car. But what stress and agony it caused us. We’ve still got the MGF — one careful lady owner since new.
Being 70 Nick felt I would benefit from a rally driving course so in October I went to thrash a 4WD Mini Cooper round a field on the Cambridge borders. What fun!
Oh, and remember the Wilks family from whom we bought Murmur-y-Don in 1923 (see COINCIDENCE)? We discovered that sons Spencer and Maurice Wilks went on to invent the Land Rover, and became Managing Director and Chairman of the Rover Car Company.
Milo is one of the most popular dogs on the London Borrow My Doggy walkies list, despite being riddled with (now expensively cured) sarcoptic mange. He visited a Poodle Parlour for the first time and returned pompadoured and gorgeous. He has a legion of adoring fans, prominent among whom is Camille from Brazille, who has sent him Christmas presents and a love letter anticipating her return in February. Bembo The Cat has made it quite clear he will not tolerate the drive to Harlech and so remains behind as King of Mount View, despite the challenge of neighbouring Ocicat. Timothy The Tortoise celebrated his 60th with an extra helping of tomato and cucumber.
As we were going to be in Italy for nearly three weeks Milo’s kennel bills were going to cost rather more than our holiday. So we found a wonderful website called HousesittersUK.co.uk on which we posted pictures of our house and animals. We had dozens of applications to house sit and eventually chose Evgenia and Paul, who did a splendid job of looking after our boys and our house. At the end when Evgenia collected all her things together to leave, the people carrier-driving cabbie said “I’m not taking all that stuff. That’s a house move, not a fare.” and drove off. You guessed it — Uber. So we called Addison Lee who took everything with a smile and without demur.
CHRISTMASSES IN 2016
We had two, one with Emily, Alex, Octavia, Albert, Isidora, Jo, Paul, Shân, Paul, Milo and Poppy in Ewshot, and one with Nick, Tors, Troy, Louise, Milo and Carrie in Harlech. Both were perfect examples of familial harmony and masterly cooking and management by Emily and Von respectively. Fine food, no fights, no fusses. I am lost in admiration for what women can do. I remember Mary Kenny writing some forty years ago: “Men come in at the top of the food chain wearing fancy white tocques and calling themselves chefs. But frankly any fool can fabricate something edible out of two pounds of fillet steak, a gallon of double cream and a bottle of brandy. It takes a woman to make a meal for six out of a few leftover sprouts, half a loaf of stale bread and a tin of spam.” (I’m doing this from memory, please).
On Christmas Morning we went to the service at Llandanwg Church, buried in the sand dunes and dating in parts from the fifth century, making it the earliest Christian site in Great Britain.
Which reminds me: when the first Christian missionaries came to Greenland they discovered the native Inuit didn’t know what bread was and had no word for it. So they taught them the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily seal.
Can it be any worse than 2016? Remember the old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Well, we certainly had that in 2016. Peace and blessings to you all, with lotsaluv from Gwyn & Von.
SOME STUFF I’VE LEARNED
- Cheval de Frise is the name given to broken glass set into the mortar on top of a wall to deter burglars.
- The Portuguese name for a turkey is a Peru. A chili turkey would be a piri piri peru.
- The little strings that hang down from Orthodox Jews’ clothes are called Tzitzit.
- The Llanaber parish register of burials for 1844 has an entry for the burial of ‘a bottle of beer, found dead on the shore, 14 March.’
- A Trump campaign official said. “Jared Kushner, the son-in-law … is a snaky little motherfucker, a horrible human being.”
- The Welsh word Cynefin means ‘the landscape with everything in it’ – place, people and nature intertwined. In other words, Sharawaggi.
- After the Duke of Wellington had held his first cabinet meeting as Prime Minister he commented “An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.”
- Texture is just touch plus time.