Thursday, June 26, 2008


I want to apologize for not posting lately. I've had some things going on in my life that I need to know more about before I go publishing anything about them. They've taken time and effort to work on, so . . .

In the meantime, here's an assignment for all five of my readers (LOL!): What does it mean to you to be listened to? What does that look like, "walking around"? Does it make a difference if the person you're addressing is someone you have authority over? Or who has authority over you? What about between equals?

I'd be interested to hear!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Eighteen

Monday, 3 April, 1989
Holford to Minehead to Selworthy to Holford
Day Eighteen

The skies were clouded up again this morning-- yesterday was a special reprieve.

The important thing today was to do the laundry. Mrs. Ayshford directed me to the nearest launderette, seven or eight miles up the road in Williton.

Facility turned out to be on a side street with no parking. No parking anywhere around there. I dumped the car with the hazard lights flashing in a double-yellow-line zone near a driveway outlet across from a store, so I could run in and ask if they knew where I could park the silly thing. Before I got two steps away an old lady of the hard, trousered variety came up and told me I just couldn't leave the car there, that was a no-parking zone.

I told her I knew that but I just needed to know where I could put it.

Well, she didn't care about that, I couldn't leave it there. (It wasn't her driveway, incidentally.)

I'm not sure why but all at once I totally lost it. All the frustration came welling up and I exploded in tears and told her I didn't give a damn and I'd move it in a minute, thank you please, go away and leave me alone.

The clerk in the store suggested a place on the street a couple blocks away and I drove over there. In the end this was all in vain, since the detergent dispenser in the launderette wouldn't accept the coins. This, after I'd walked up to the bank for change (shop wouldn't give me change; no change machine in the laundry).

So I said to hell with this place and drove on to Minehead.

Asked at a Shell station where the launderette was. Ended up driving past both of the ones they recommended and having to ask directions again at an ironmonger's. They were very nice and told me which one was the cheapest, to boot. Left the car where it was and took my backpack full of dirty clothes back down the street with me.

Well. This laundry was definitely cheaper, at 80p a wash, than Williton's. But it had no soap, either. Nothing for it but to shoulder my pack, dirty socks playing peekaboo below the flap, and go down the high street and find a shop to sell me some. Located a discount store and bought the smallest size Persil they had. They didn't give me a sack to put it in, which is typical around here.

So I just brazenly carried it back exposed. It's not like anyone knows me here, after all.

And the machines worked all right, so the clothes were washed and thank God for that.

As long as I was this far west, I decided to continue over to Selworthy, which is a National Trust town. Some people might think it was terminally quaint, but I rather liked it. If Real Life means plastic signs and McDonald's wrappers in the streets, I'm for necrophilia.

I left the car at the carpark up the hill below the church and walked back down, and in and among the houses on Selworthy Green. White walls (cob?), good recent thatch jobs, spring flowers everywhere. Very peaceful. Down along the road there were some bits that looked to be very ancient, like an old stone barn that had been incorporated into a dwelling, but these structures were behind walls and very private.

I especially liked the wooden signs at the crossings of the footpaths, telling how far it was-- by foot-- to the next village. I followed one such path a little way. After a short time I came abreast of a house on whose broad front lawn a small flock of sheep, including several new lambs, were grazing. If these sheep had been told anything about being timid, they weren't heeding it. The ewes especially came up to the fence and bleated and bleated, telling me explicitly that there was going to be no fooling around with their lambs if they could help it. Yes, ma'am!

At the top of the little paved road, where it turns to go past the church and the carpark, was a gate leading to a dirt track and a hiking trail. This led up to Selworthy Beacon. It wasn't far, only a mile or so, so I unhesitatingly passed the gate and headed uphill.

The path goes through a wood and along a little stream for most of its way. But then you come out onto moorland, all clothed with an unfamiliar yellow flowering shrub that looked none too pleasant to wade into.

The path, or more so, the road, continues up to the north until you get to the windy cairn-marked top, the Beacon. On clear days, they say, you can see all the way into Wales. Today with its foggy overcast one could only view Bridgwater Bay, with the great oceangoing ships blending their gray with that of the water.

I couldn't help but think how good it would be to have someone with me now to admire the view, obscured as it was. But would anyone else ever be so impulsively passionate about indiscriminate hill-climbing? I almost wished I could have someone magically transported to the top for me, so I wouldn't feel guilty about making them do the walk, in case they didn't like the view. I tried to picture Nigel* there with me, but it wouldn't fit. Nigel*-and-Emily* would have been a painful redundancy. But Nigel* without Emily* in such a circumstance would be abnormal and anomalous.

There's a National Trust shop down in the village. I bought some Somerset postcards and a jar of elderberry wine jelly. There was also a place that served cream teas but it, alas, was closed Mondays.

I continued in my quest to partake in this most civilised of ceremonies when I returned to Holford. But there, too, the shop across from the cottage only kept their tea shop counter open till 5:00, and it was just past that now.

Braving the rather brisk wind in my tweed blazer, I walked up the road into the depths of the village, as far as the lychgate of the church. Very pretty and worth more exploration when the wind and I can meet on more equal terms.

Took the evening off, spending most of it in the downstairs parlour (marginally warmer than the room). Watched the 6:00 o'clock news but most wrote postcards and journal and read Walter Scott.

I asked Mrs. Ayshford about the heat. She said, well, she supposed they're country people and just don't mind the cold. So, she said, having a heater in the guest room just never occurred to them. It seemed unlikely to do so now and I decided, at £8 a night, what do you expect? I can perfectly well survive by wearing my longies under my flannel nightgown and keeping as much of me as possible under the two duvets . . .

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Setting Forth

This evening found me in an unfinished room above a Christian coffeehouse/drop-in center/mission in a very depressed town in my county, sitting in a circle with maybe fifteen other people, discussing what makes, breaks, and sustains Community.

A week ago I had no idea of being there.

But five years ago I came to southwestern Pennsylvania to pastor a church in a "safe" suburb of this same very depressed town, and I had hoped my new congregation, with all its talents and capabilities, would embark with me in mission to that rundown community.

It didn't work out that way. A lot of things didn't work out the way I'd hoped and planned.

This past Sunday, I was worshipping with the Piskies for a change. The curate announced that they were forming a group to go down to the Christian coffeehouse/mission in Very Depressed Town on Tuesday to start mission training.

And I thought, You wanted to do something there; here's your chance.

So I carpooled down this evening and started the training.

It's five or six Tuesday evenings, plus all day Saturday the 28th. The hope thereafter is that you'll volunteer at least two hours a week at the coffeehouse.

Maybe. We'll see.

But for some reason, I'm feeling it's wisest for me to take one week at a time. I'm not sure why. It's not like I don't have the time for such a commitment. Maybe my mind is so full of vague hopes about work and jobs, I feel I have to keep my options open.

At any rate, I'm planning to go Tuesday by Tuesday and see what happens. I'll keep my ears, mind, and heart open, receive the training, and get a better picture week by week of what God wants me to do with it.

This won't be an airplane trip, where, once you're belted into your seat, your destination is a foregone conclusion. It will be a pilgrimage taken on foot, me setting forth with my staff and sandals, taking in every mile of the landscape, every step of the way. Where the journey will take me in the end, I don't pretend to imagine.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Steady On

I heard from the chairman of my Committee on Ministry this afternoon. I'm on the docket for the July 7th meeting, hopefully to find out why so many restrictions have been put on me regarding prospective fields of ministry, and to see what can be done about it.

And my response was not relief and gratitude, but gut-level panic.

Steady on, girl. The only reason ever given to me for the restrictions was that I seemed to "need more mentoring than usual." I know what I can and will say to that. But there's always the paranoid fear that There's Something They're Not Telling You, something so awful you'll melt in terror to hear it about yourself.

I lived with that sensation when I had trouble with my presbytery in the Midwest, nine years ago, at the start of my ordained ministry. To make things worse, that COM's attitude was that if I didn't know what I'd done wrong, it just went to prove I wasn't "self-aware" enough to pastor a church. They weren't going to enlighten me!

It made me wonder if, all unbeknownst to myself, I was going out in the village at night and gibbering obscenities under people's windows.

When at last I (and most of my church session) couldn't stand it anymore, I was driven to hire a crackerjack employment law attorney (who was also a Presbyterian deacon) who made the COM chairman 'fess up. My sins? I'd refused to let the retired pastor of the church resume and continue his ministry through me, and I'd proved how "unpastoral" I was by preaching a sermon series on the articles of the Apostles' Creed!

Oh, dear.

That was another presbytery, another COM, another COM chairman. It was the former chairman of the COM here who came up with the "needs an unusual amount of mentoring" rationale. I have to wonder, did this opinion of his come from conversations with the presbytery in the Midwest?

And are they still angry at me because I faced them with that attorney? Angry enough to muddy my chances here?

Good grief, I hope not.

But if I'm going to prove on the 7th that all that-- however much of "all that" there really was-- is in the past, the stomach will have to give the thinking duties back to the brain.

Thank God, I've got three weeks to get my head, stomach, and heart all back where they belong!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thoughts on a Concert

This isn't a music review.

I went to the grand finale Pittsburgh Symphony concert down at Heinz Hall last night.

It was originally slated to be the Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem. But as I hear it, conductor Sir Andrew Davis left the orchestra a few months ago (not under the happiest of terms, I understand) and the conductor they scheduled in for this weekend, Yan Pascal Tortelier, didn't feel like doing it. Or something. At any rate, he preferred something French, so instead we had Fauré's Requiem and the Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony.

Fine with me; I've sung and know both the Brahms and the Fauré more than once, and the Organ Symphony and I are acquaintances from my college days, if not best musical buddies. And given it was the PSO and the Pittsburgh Mendelssohn Choir, I was sure they'd do well with either Requiem setting.

So there I was, up in my balcony seat, and first thing I notice through my opera glasses is that someone, the chorus mistress or the conductor, whoever, had decided to seat the choir fruit-basket style.

That's where you don't sit in sections, you're all mixed in together, a soprano next to a bass next to an alto next to a tenor next to a bass next to a-- you get it. I'm thinking whoever it was wanted to get more of an overall blend, versus the sound coming obviously one this section or that.

If that was the idea, it worked. Not to say they wouldn't've blended nicely if they'd been arranged the usual way. But the PMC is good enough that each chorister can maintain his or her part without needing to be propped up by others of the same voice.

I know one of the tenors; I'll have to ask him what he thought of the arrangements.

I suffered somewhat of a handicap listening to the Fauré. Because I've sung it before, I was anticipating entrances and lines and so on. I was remembering past performances. I was thinking of non-musical associations with the piece. So I wasn't as emotionally involved in last night's performance as I might have been.

At the same time, because my row was very crowded, I couldn't let myself go as if I were participating in this performance.

What? Are you accusing me of ever, ever singing under my breath in the audience at choral concerts? Me? Never!

Well, maybe . . . A little . . . during the crescendos . . . But with the row so crowded last night, I really couldn't . . . much . . . .

The soloists, soprano Nicole Cabell and baritone Lucas Meachem, were both very good. They both had great tone quality and good for them, they both sang from memory, without scores. Though Miss Cabell, unfortunately, in her Pie Jesu solo scooped a couple of times from the "pie" to the "Jesu." And things got a little out of hand at the end of the Libera Me, when Maître Tortelier was leading soloist and choir in a very staccato, accented ">li >ber >a >me" and Mr. Meachem, who was standing, of course, with his back to the conductor, got ahead of things.

But I'm not complaining. Mr. Meachem is a very tall and impressive person and is as worth looking at as listening to. He was wearing a three-piece suit, and a silly objecting voice inside me was saying, "That's sooo out of style! That's straight out of the '80s!" But my majority verdict was, "I don't care. He looks damn good in it. In fact, most guys in the 1980s looked damn good in theirs, too. Bring back the three-piece suit!!"

Miss Cabell was graceful, shapely, and trim in a raspberry-colored ruffled strapless gown. But I did wish she had thought to put up her long wavy hair! Up in the balcony, all we could see was hair and nose!

But maybe it was the fault of the lighting engineer. No one looks her best lit from the top.

The Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, after the intermission, was for me a trip into the past. I remember playing that album when I was working the front desk late nights at my college residence hall. And somehow, the music got me thinking of vague dreams and half-formed plans of twenty and more years ago . . .

Sometime in the '80s I got an idea for a house I wanted to build for myself. It's basically an energy-efficient Arts and Crafts style four-square.

The program was based on my becoming a successful architect with a large studio and office in her home . . . and on my marrying a musician. This unidentified, imaginary bridegroom was to be a professor of music at the local conservatory, and he'd regularly bring his colleagues and students over to play chamber music in our front room. Therefore, it had to be designed to accommodate them. With enough room for at least a baby grand.

Unfortunately, the only music major I knew well was the kind of guy I had to build a fire under just to keep a conversation going. Too much work.

Oh, yeah, there was also a violist I dated for awhile. He had the affrontery to say the Beethoven Violin Concerto was no good because it didn't give the violists that much to do. So much for him.

I've taken a stab a time or two over the years at drawing up my dream house, and maybe, even now, I'll see about getting the drawings done. Call it "Residence for a Music Lover" or something like that. Architects used to do that sort of demonstration project all the time.

But back to last night's music. The Organ Symphony was well-played, in general. 99% of the audience, I'd say, rose to give the PSO a standing ovation. The 1% included me . . . years ago, after being exposed to some truly magnificent chamber music artists, I decided I would not give cheap, peer-pressure standing ovations. If I stand up to applaud, it's because the performance was so great I'm compulsively launched out of my seat. And tonight, I thought Maître Tortelier had the orchestra playing so loudly in the finale that the sound got muddied up. I'm sure it could be done better, and when it is, I shall stand.

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Seventeen

Sunday, 2 April, 1989
Holford to Taunton to Glastonbury to Wells to Holford again
Day Seventeen

Had breakfast at 8:30, down in the sitting room. The family’s black and white border collie named Roly came in and begged with his big brown eyes, but had no better luck than his predecessors. When Mrs. Ayshford discovered it she hauled him away. Which was too bad, as I liked the company.

Taunton was my first stop today. Took an unclassified one and a half lane road from the A39 south to Crowcombe. Very pleasant, tree-lined, with little traffic. It was actually turning out sunny and there was a place to pull off and shoot pictures, looking towards Bridgwater Bay.

After Crowcombe it was the A358 into Taunton. Devil of a time finding a place to park, till it occurred to me I could put the car on the street, it being Sunday.

First visit, to the church of
St. Mary Magdalene near the center of town. But I'd diddled around too much if I'd expected to attend services there. Church was at 10:15 or so and I got there at nearly 12:00.

I guess there was some advantage to having the building to myself to explore and take pictures of. It's a very nice
15th Century Perp church. The ceiling, recently repainted black with all sorts of green and white shields and gilded angels, is stunning. Lots of fine sculpture in the double aisles. Rather odd terrarium-looking altar, though. Unique is the word.

Also very nice pierced decoration on the tower.

Wandered around town trying to find a phonecard box. Located one near the river and called down to Kent to a B&B there that looked interesting. So I have a place for Thursday night. And I called Phyllis Johnson* in London and asked please could I stay there Wednesday after coming to hear [Hector Berlioz'] Romeo & Juliet that night. Oh, yes.

So, very good-- except that I couldn’t get my card out of the phone. Called the British TeleCom toll-free repair number. All the man could suggest is leaving the card there and having them send me a new one. But I needed it back now! Luckily, it popped back out even as we spoke.

The blue and white bridge over the River Tone looked so pretty in the sunlight that I walked down a ways, past the
castle, to see it better. Watched the ducks on the water and the clouds in the sky. The castle was converted to a high class hotel ages ago [not entirely true, I now find; part of it is the Somerset County Museum], but you can walk along the river in the castle gardens. There were some large bushes growing there, with bright yellow flowers growing all over them like cheerful pompoms. I've never seen a shrub like it before. I wonder what it is? I like it.

Tramped around trying to find something to drink. Settled for a bottle of ersatz raspberry fizz water at 20p at a formica-topped cafe. Definitely an Experience.

I passed through one street down by the church and noticed how packed it was with artsy-craftsy supply shops. All those pipe cleaners and beady glue-on eyes, and for what? And it hit me what a reprehensible waste all that is. How can people have such trash in their homes, and pay good money for it, too, and spend good time and money making such things? I realize most people don’t feel such moral repulsion against it, but it is hard to wonder why something that seems so painfully obvious to you shouldn’t be apparent to everyone else.

Walked north of the river only as fair as the railroad station. After that, I took off for Glastonbury like a good little architectural tourist.

Up the A361, not too many miles from Taunton, I saw something that looked an awful lot like Glastonbury Tor but on closer inspection was not. It was a ruined chapel dedicated to St. Michael on top of a mound called the
Burrow Mump, near Othery. And of course I had to double back, park the car, and climb up.

Other people had the same idea. Families and couples out in the sunshine. Great view of the
Somerset Levels and all the little towns below.

That done, I came down and drove the rest of the way to
Glastonbury. And wondered how I could’ve been mistaken about the Tor, once I’d seen the real thing in the distance.

Found a carpark (free on Sundays) not far from the town center and walked to the Abbey. Could get a little weird there, since not only was Glastonbury a great Benedictine center, but because of the
Arthurian connection, various New Agers and other fringies find it an attractive pilgrimage spot as well. Several shops on the High Street for me to stay out of, though for the most part it seemed pretty laughable.

Judging from the size and compass of the ruins,
Glastonbury Abbey when complete must’ve been a jaw-dropper. Just incredibly huge. Very Norman in feel, even in its Gothic parts. Lots of dogtooth ornament. And some original floor tiles left, in situ. You look at them by lifting up wooden covers. They’re all below existing ground level, which is higher than that of four hundred years ago.

Funny thing, though. Durham Cathedral is older than Glastonbury; the building is, at least. But Durham doesn't seem so incredibly remote and ancient as Glastonbury does. Maybe it's because here it's all ruins, so the place is arrested in the past. Up in Durham, the cathedral is used and lived in, as it were, and it's part of the everyday life of the Christian church-- regardless of its current bishop! So Durham belongs to Today, old as it is. There I got a sense of fruitful rootedness and living tradition. But here-- whatever's living is living several centuries back, and it pulls you into a world that is a long time ago and culturally, at least, very far away.

Which would explain the airhead-looking types sitting around soaking up vibes from the stones (what the sensible Benedictines would’ve said, I can’t think). There was one man, Western but with hair, beard, and robes like an Indian guru, sitting meditating in what was once the chancel. I considered taking his picture but decided it’d be a poor idea. If I showed such a thing, my audience might think I approved, which would be bad, or know I was holding the man up to ridicule, which would be worse. As much as I may deplore his creed I have no right to compromise his dignity.

I do have to wonder how much of this New Age business would be going on here if the Abbey were still an intact, functioning church. I mean, how much of this myth and legend stuff is us modern people putting our ideas on the Past, which isn't still around to defend itself?

Wandered around the grassy grounds contemplating the trees and flowering shrubs, including what is supposed to be a scion of the original
Glastonbury Thorn. I used to love that story of Joseph of Arimathea planting his staff in the soil here-- did I ever actually believe it, or just want to, like the story of Santa Claus?

Visited the abbot’s kitchen, the only building really left intact. It was used as a Quaker meeting house for awhile. I was disappointed to see how some idiot had defaced the exhibits with vulgar writings and drawings. Real grown up, turkey.

Drove round to the
Tor, but wasn’t so good at following the signs. But that was all right, since the road where I ended up got me closer to the stile to one of the footpaths than the official parking lot would’ve. Left the car at the side of the street and headed up the hill.

It is a big hill. The best way to climb it is to go round the curve, though I trusted my shoes enough to risk taking sideways steps diagonally up the grass. Wasn’t wet by now, fortunately. The clear, dry weather was holding beautifully.

The ruined chapel here, too, was dedicated to
St. Michael. He seems to get the ones mounted up on pinnacles, doesn’t he? Like the one at Burrow Mump, this place was also thoroughly betouristed, with couples lying or wrestling around on the grass and children running in and out of the remaining tower. You just have to accept it and appreciate it for how it is, even if you’d prefer it quiet and to yourself.

The pagans, literally, had been at the place, scribbling their graffiti over a plaque, claiming the hill as their personal free-love site for some dark celebration . . . I don’t see St. Michael being too thrilled with that-- let alone, God.

From the top you can see all over that part of Somerset-- down to Glastonbury, the black and white cows grazing in the fields, and northeast all the way to Wells, its cathedral readily apparent. The sun was dropping lower, its light becoming more golden, backlighting the grasses of the hillside.

I came down a different way, meaning I continued my original counterclockwise progress all round the tor till I came down again to the stile I’d originally crossed. There were sheep even on this touristed mound, and little lambs ramming and butting one another, or running away behind their mothers if anyone got too close.

Back to the vehicle, then down to the town again, and caught the A39 up to

When I’d parked the care there in Sadler Street, opposite the gate, it was just on 6:00 o’clock and the
cathedral was closing. I went in anyway, just for a minute.

And you know, there’s a
wonderful effect that you get looking squarely down the nave: The line of the foliated capitals of the shafts of the clerestory lead your eye swiftly down the righthand side, swooping down the downward curve of the upper, inverted strainer arch, up its upward counterpart to the left, then flying back towards you along the lefthand row of clerestory capitals. Incredibly dynamic. You feel you can see the forces go. It all works a lot better than I’d thought.

And of course the carving in the capitals, above and below, is worth seeing for itself. So marvellously crisp (I hope it’s not all 19th Century restorations).

Having plenty of time in this part of England, I didn’t push things here today. But one thing was important, that I felt called to do. I passed up to the front of the nave, just before the Communion rail, and asked God that if-- no, when I come to forgive Lukas* for his behaviour at Iona (for he must be forgiven, else I’ll suppress this and it will only add to my general sickness of soul), I will truly forgive him, honestly and completely, and not keep pulling his offense out again, to his hurt or to my own. The thing must be made right between us, it

There was a young clergyman locking up, so I just verified that the Chapter House would be open tomorrow, and allowed myself to be shepherded out with some other stragglers.

I did not leave the cathedral grounds then, not a bit of it. The sun was striking full on the
west facade and also illumining the north flank. And you know me-- I like anything with the sun on it. I think I killed a whole roll of film just on the Wells exterior. They’ve been cleaning the masonry and it all looked golden and lovely. I had good fun shooting the high-up statuary with the telephoto. They’re what that facade is all about. The doors themselves are ridiculously insignificant.

I was still there to see the
funny clock on the north side mark 6:45. Then I got an ice cream (loosely-speaking) from a vending lorry and wandered out and back in to see the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace.

It was closed, but the moat and walls with the swans and ducks gliding by below could all be seen in the most welcome and fortuitous light. The mallards are wonderful, the way the color of their shimmering neck feathers changes from royal blue to grass green to velvet black and back to teal again, depending on the angle of refraction.

You can go in the gateway of the palace and look into the inner court, but no farther except for one or two days a week, when there are tours. The Bishop still lives there. I tried to imagine one of the Coverdale* guys rising to this estate. Somehow I can’t picture any of them feeling comfortable in such splendour.

It was proper time to head back to Holford by now, being well past 7:30. Trouble was, my petrol gauge was riding on empty and here it was Sunday evening. I’d seen an Amoco station selling 4-star at £1.76 a gallon (miracle!) on the road above Bridgwater last night, but now I had no idea exactly where it was or if it was even open. Just what I needed, to run out of petrol. I didn’t help myself by getting onto the wrong road out of Wells and wasting fuel going all the way to Wookey Hole before I realized my error. Back and got onto the A3139 as planned, west towards Highbridge. Coasted as much as I could. I don’t know how much reserve this car has when the needle’s on empty, but I wasn’t taking chances.

Came out onto the A38 and after a bit came to a British Petroleum garage that was open. Damn, £1.87/gallon-- but read the old one about beggars and choosers as said. How nice then to pull away from there with a full tank and spot the Amoco a few miles closer to Bridgwater-- and open.

Proper good sunset this evening, but it was quite dark as I again drove the curving road towards Holford. All sorts of fun with the brights, trying to see how long I could keep them on before having to dim them for an oncoming driver. It’s near impossible to negotiate that road on the low lamps, especially if you’re trying to go as fast as local expectations would have it.

Decided since, except for the ice cream and that raspberry fizz, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I’d pop over to the pub and have a meal and a glass of
Somerset cider. The barbecued chicken was the least expensive, and came with a jacket potato, mushrooms, and peas, for about £3.45. Glass of medium-sweet (but hard) cider for 52p. Brought Walter Scott [Heart of Mid-Lothian] along to keep me company, though the cover of that Everyman Edition doesn’t take kindly to being propped up on tables.

There were several other people in the Plough, including a group of people in their 20s. The guys were making some rather rude suggestions to the girls, which struck the young ladies as more funny and provocative than repulsive . . . It made me think about cultural differences-- not national, but class-related. But maybe it has more to do with religion. I couldn’t imagine any of the guys in the young adult class at my home church or in Coverdale* making personal comments about a female friend’s private anatomy to her face. I couldn't imagine them making such comments at all! Here and now over supper, I decided that as long as these people didn’t attempt to draw me in, I was going to ignore it and not let it make me nervous.

Returned next door to my room at around 10:00 and vegetated with the book until turning in.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Sixteen

Saturday, 1 April, 1989
Aberbran to Brecon to Holford, Somerset
Day Sixteen

Yesterday evening Mrs. Jones told me they’ve had 400 ewes in lamb the past week, plus another 150 owned by their son David (David Jones-- now that’s a charming name) [particularly for an old Monkees fan]. As I looked out my window onto the farm court when I got up around 8:30, I could see from the people crisscrossing it that they were hard at it.

I finished dressing and breakfast by 9:30, and then took Mrs. Jones up on her offer to see a bit of the livestock.

She took me first into the sheep shed, where they’d put the ewes that’d recently given birth. "This one here was born just an hour ago." It was a wet little black thing, still being licked dry by its mother, the remains of the umbilicus dangling from its little belly. The ewe trims that off herself. I asked, and so far they’ve had no trouble with mothers rejecting their young.

Sheep, meaning sheep dung, smell different than cattle. It’s kind of a sweetsy smell. It might be a bit much if you didn’t get used to it.

Next we went to the cattle shed, where the Charolais cattle, all blond with knobby heads, were feeding. The Joneses had taken them in for fattening. They also have a few Herefords but the Charolais is the coming breed and the former are becoming more rare. I told her about the Hereford Association and its
icon in Kansas City.

That shed also housed some ewes who were on the verge of giving birth. But none were ready immediately.

Paid my lodging and departed sometime after 10:00. Headed up the road to Brecon. I stopped first at the Post Office in its suburb of Llanfaes (yes, Brecon has an official suburb or two) to ask where I could find a card phone. The man told me where there was one in Brecon proper, but warned me it might be a little difficult to drive to it because of the parade.

And so it was. Streets closed and bobbies routing traffic round and round the narrow streets. I finally found a place where I could leave the car, and went back and asked a policeman. All in order, found the phone where he said and called down to Somerset about lodging for the next four nights. Place I wanted was full but the man suggested another not too far away, in a town called Holford, that was going for £8 a night. Called there and made my reservation.

That done, I headed back to the main square to watch the parade. It was really just a marching of the local militia, attended by the City Fathers in their regalia. But the band played and then the 43rd, I think,
Brecon Infantry marched by (with their mascot goat) and everyone cheered. I must admit that thoughts of IRA and Welsh Nationalist terrorists crossed my mind, but nothing untoward happened. The ranks marched off down the street and the crowds dispersed.

I headed for the National Westminster (solely by means of guesswork) to cash some traveller’s cheques. It wasn’t till I got there and found it closed that I remembered it’s Saturday. So I used the cash machine out front. £20 out.

Just as I finished, the town officials, the band, and the regiment marched around again, to the cheers and appreciation of the re-formed crowd.

Took my time going back to the car. Bought some postcards in a souvenir shop but didn’t see anything else I couldn’t live without.

The husband of the couple staying at the B&B had climbed the
Beacons yesterday and told me last night how to approach them by car. So I took the A470 southwards and soon found the turnoff for the Mountain Center.

They wanted 50p for the parking lot. Oh. Didn’t have it. When I went in to get change, the info officer told me that actually, to do the Beacons I needed the Mountain Rescue Post, farther down the A470. Though he wasn’t sure they would be worth climbing today, as visibility seemed rather low. I assured him it looked better outside than it did through his window, and asked if he thought I should wear my heavy coat or my nylon mac with extra sweaters beneath. He recommended the latter.

So. Found the right carpark, off the road opposite the roadhouse called the Story Arms. Put everything I figured I’d need in my backpack and headed across the highway. Beside the gate was one of the omnipresent British TeleCom phone boxes, though whether it was working is a tossup.

Over the stile and up the hill. Except for a planted coniferous forest on my right, there were no trees in view. The trail, such as it was, was rather muddy, and I was not thrilled to see how quickly I was getting tired. Even more fun when I got part way up the first bit of hill and decided, well, maybe I should go back and get my flashlight and my Swiss Army knife . . . .

So I retrieved them and began trudging up again. Got going at about 1:30. There were some other parties within sight, some of them were Army men. A few of them were stowing their gear into vans in the carpark when I went back.

There were two types of trails marked on my Ordnance Survey map-- one in black dashes, that cut more or less perpendicular to the contours, and one in red dots, that swung round an easier, more gradual way. Going by my seeming lack of stamina today, I decided to take the easier route, though it was the longer way around.

Going from by prior experience of hiking trails, there wasn’t much of one up this hillside. It was more of a system of ruts and gullies, some with water and some without, only distinguishable as a path by the innumerable bootmarks. Some pretty ill-placed bootmarks in some places, too. I’m getting practiced enough to know to go for the rocks and tussocks-- I’ve never heard yet that mud is very good for suede.

I read something somewhere that said not to absolutely trust even the Ordnance Survey maps. I could see now why they said that. There were a number of stone walls on that hill that weren’t even marked and it would’ve been very helpful to know how far I’d come.

Pretty soon I saw no others besides myself. It was very gray weather anyway and I got to thinking how hill climbing is so often a matter of faith. Earlier, at best, it’d looked like it did the day I drove up to Conques, as if I just might break out into sunlight if I went high enough.

After a time I came to a fence with a stile. Before I reached it two Army guys crossed it, coming back. Their hair was sopping wet and I wondered if it was raining on the top. If so, I hoped it’d stop by the time I got there.

On further, and I came to a stream (Nant in this neck of the woods). This was not how it was marked on my map-- unless-- oh, oh, yes-- I had taken the steeper trail after all. Yes, I had. Well, always one to make things difficult . . . Picked my way across as best I could, thankfully avoiding stepping into the water itself, then followed the ruts on up the hill.

My hopes of a clear day after all seemed to be waning. The wind picked up and drifts of fog blew down in visible trails off the top of the mountain. It was possible that meant all would soon be clear above, but I doubted it. The valley below became so fogged in I could not see where I’d been. All around me it was incredibly quiet, except for the songs of birds. Above me a lark, barely discernible through the mist, sang out her song of exultation as if the gloominess of the day hadn’t the least effect on her.

The fog grew thicker. But I wasn’t really worried, since the track, such as it was, was disgustingly plain. There was no missing that scar, as if some large vehicle with a variable wheelbase had ripped up the side of the hill, the gullies ornamented with boot tread marks. It was essential to keep an eye on it, though, because you never could tell when the solid place on which you trod would peter out into a water-filled hole.

Tried singing "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" (Tune: Aberystwyth) but I’ve never learned all the verses. Frustrating. "Once to Every Man and Nation" (Ton-y-Botel) comes easier:

"Toiling up new Calvaries ever,
With the cross that turns not back."

Came to a cross path, added my stone to the cairn that marked the junction and, having checked the map, took the fork to the right up to the summit of Bwlch Duwynt. Part way along there, two other silhouettes came looming out of the fog ahead of me, coming up a path that converged on mine. I immediately remembered Carcassonne and hung back till the two, both men in bright orange macs, had passed by.

I was able to relax a little, though, when I passed through the fog to that summit and practically stumbled over a family sitting there in the damp eating their lunch. And more people were coming down from the top of Pen y Fan, the highest of the Beacons.

It’s about another kilometer to that, according to the map. At this point you’re walking along a ridge with a pretty good drop on your right hand, or eastward, side. And that’s where all the storm was coming from. And by now it was getting to be a real storm, with strong winds and rains. But I was already this close to the top that it seemed silly to turn back, even if I couldn’t see five feet ahead of me. I could see the cairns marking the path on the lefthand side, and feel the path as it sloped gradually upwards. As long as that was so I knew I couldn’t get wrong and I was still on the way to the 886 [meter; 2,907 foot] summit.

Pretty soon, after passing others coming back, I caught sight of the two men I’d seen before, standing by a monstrous cairn. The trail no longer went upwards and I said, "Is this it?"

Yes, I was told. And they headed down.

I stood there a moment or two despite the sleet, allowing myself time to actually be there at the top-- and despite there being no view whatsoever. The cameras were useless.

So I put them in my pack and turned to go. The two men were standing by the side of the trail, pulling on their waterproof trousers. They hailed me, and, seeing that they were two whitehaired men in their 70s, I decided they were ok. Besides, there were tons of others around, fog or no.

They were both Welsh, local; one was Vernon and the other Roy. They’ve climbed these hills in all weathers and always put on their
foul weather gear when their regular trousers get wet. They decided I needed more protection and pulled out a spare mac and insisted I put it on.

So it fell out that we went down together, talking as we went. As we approached the path back to the summit of Bwlch Duwynt, one of them said, "All right, which way do we go now?"

I, having to be a showoff, took no time to consider or check the map-- and promptly chose the wrong way (couldn’t see the right way, actually). At which I got a short lecture about wondering around in the fog by myself. The silly thing is, if I’d been by myself, I wouldn’t’ve been so glib and thoughtless about it.

As we went, I bore with their chiding me for wearing cotton jeans-- they said I should have worn my wool flannels, at least. Learned all sorts of things, such as that Vernon’s daughter and grandson live in Connecticut, and he’s a science major and a certified genius but was turned down by Cal Tech. Did I think that was because he’s from Great Britain? I really couldn’t say. And Vernon’s been to Connecticut, but doesn’t like it-- "It’s a jungle." I thought he was speaking of the urban jungles of New Haven or Hartford but he clarified, "There’s too many trees. You can’t see anything. No point in walking there at all."

Well, you can’t accuse Brecon of that fault. But I tried to explain that there can be real excitement in breaking out above a timberline. He does approve of Martha’s Vineyard, though. Only place he’d be willing to stay.

They told me that fifteen-twenty years ago when they first started hiking the Beacons, this monstrous rutted track under our feet was just a little sheep trace. "Now they call it the M4," said one.

"The mountain’s popularity is killing it," said the other.

Vernon complained about how the US National Parks all charge admission. I felt it would be useless to point out that yes, but that money goes to pay for trail upkeep. You’d never have an eroded disgrace like this in Rocky Mountain National.

We talked about me and what I’m doing in England a little bit. It was obvious they thought I was some kind of undergraduate, until I told them otherwise. Even so, one of them asked, "What does your mother think about her daughter being out doing this sort of thing on her own?"

I tried gently to convince them that Mom’s had a lot of years to get used to it.

So comes the question, "How old are you?"

At which point I sweetly request to keep my own counsel and the other man reminds his friend that it’s not polite to ask ladies their ages. Damn right.

The fog lifted successively the lower we went. I got the cameras out again but they still weren’t much good-- misted up inside.

We took a shorter way down than the way I'd come up, and came out at the opposite side of the pine forest.They shared their coffee and tea biscuits with me back down at the carpark. I have long since decided that it’s rude to refuse such hospitality by insisting on touching nothing but tea, so I drank the coffee and thank you for it.

They yelled at me a little for being up there with no compass or matches and I suppose they were right. Somehow I can’t get all that worked up about a great bald-headed hill, but I could see from my map that if I’d gotten off on that other path it would’ve been a damn long way before I’d’ve found a road. (Still doesn’t scare me much, though-- I’d’ve noticed pretty quickly that the contours didn’t match those of my intended path on the map.)

Vernon gave me a lift back to my car and showed me the route to the M4 at Cardiff and then back to England. I bade him thanks and farewell, then sat there awhile resting and eating a meat pie I’d bought in Brecon and had intended to have at the summit. It was 4:30.

That done, I put my muddy shoe to the gas pedal and took off south down the A470, the interval wipers going most of the time. Though sometimes it really rained in earnest. Could’ve missed the entrance for the M4 because some jerk Welsh Nationalist had spraypainted over the sign, but I kept my eyes open and made it onto the eastbound anyway.

It felt very fine to go 70 mph (80!) again. (The Welsh gentlemen had said I looked like someone who’d do that on the motorway-- "She’s got that glint in her eye." Oh really?) This despite the rain . . .

Came across the Severn Bridge above Bristol at around 6:30. I knew I was back in England proper when the toll booth man greeted me with, "‘Ello, ducks!" Righty-oh, mate!

Joined the M5 at Almondsbury. Skirted Bristol which was a little too bad, as I really want to see the
Clifton Suspension Bridge again.

The lady at the B&B had given me directions and they were decent ones-- hop off the M5 above Bridgwater and look for the A39 to Minehead. It was starting to get dark pretty quickly, with the rain and all, but I was now in Somerset and that was a happiness in itself.

Back to twisting, rolling, well-wooded English lanes here. Amused by a deer-crossing sign shot full of holes somewhere near Nether Stowey. Bad hunting, gentlemen? Cannington is a pretty town, as I noticed when I went through. And where have I heard of
Nether Stowey before?

Holford’s about three miles west of there. The B&B, the
Forge Cottage, is right smack at the edge of town, next to the 16th Century Plough Inn and across from the very 20th Century Texaco (raised petrol prices and all).

Mrs. Ayshford wasn’t in, being on duty as a cook at the pub. Mr. Ayshford let me in and showed me to my room. I’m not sure why, but that bothered me. Maybe it was his London accent. At any rate, I told myself not to be so sexist.

I requested an iron and ironing board and did up the shirts and skirts that’ve been crammed in clean but wrinkled since Iona. That over, I put on my radio headphones and vegetated, listening to BBC comedy shows.

I do believe I’m becoming acculturated. I can understand M25 jokes: "The M25 is the only motorway in Britain where the hedgehogs go faster than the cars. They thumb their noses at the drivers as they cross during rush hour." Then there was a program about "Britain’s only Communist football team," called Lenin and the Rovers. I just sat there listening, too tired to do anything but fall over in suppressed laughter.

Was treated to a cheap thrill during a trip to the loo around midnight. Mine host apparently had the same idea and came out of his room wearing nothing but a pair of black briefs. Very cheap, and not too thrilling under the beer belly. He saw me and popped back into his room like the proverbial rabbit. All very well, but I hope the Mrs. doesn’t work late every evening.

The room is adequate in size and has a sink. What it doesn’t have is a heater, of any kind. Nothing for it but to appropriate the duvet from the other bed as well . . .

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thanks for the Warning

I got a call the other day from an elder at the Daniel's Run* Church, where I preached a few times last winter. They need me to supply their pulpit for their next Communion Sunday, since IrmaLou*, their graduate minister, still hasn't been cleared by the Presbytery South of Here* to do the sacraments. We settled that I'd fill in, and then the elder said, "We're having our Strawberry Festival next Wednesday evening. You ought to come."

It assuredly is Strawberry Festival season in southwestern Pennsylvania. I don't know where the strawberries come from, California or Uncle Charley's back patch, but the ruby fruit is going to be fêted. One should go to at least one Strawberry Festival in a year, so I decided to drive down to the one at Daniel's Run.

I'd say they did well out of it . . . profuse attendance, loads of willing helpers, and enough pie and cake (strawberry and otherwise) to replace Hoover Dam.

I made myself narrow down my choices, and took my food to a table in the deeps of the fellowship hall. Where, in the fullness of time, I noticed that the people across the table (who were all unknown to me) were talking about the process of calling a new minister.

One woman said, "I feel so sorry for the poor pastor when he does his sermon before the congregation so they can vote on him! He must be so nervous!"

The man in the group disagreed. "Oh, no, by that time he's gotten through the interviews with the pulpit nominating committee [PNC] and he's preached a neutral pulpit sermon at some other church and no, he shouldn't be nervous by that time. Maybe if he's fresh out of school . . . but no, he wouldn't be nervous!"

I gained permission to enter the conversation and said I agreed. Besides, you should be over your nervousness about preaching by the time you get out of seminary. However, I said, "It isn't fair on the candidate when you preach a certain way before the congregation and they vote you in, then start complaining afterwards about the way you preach. After all, they saw what you were like when you preached your candidating sermon!"

I asked him if he were a member of a PNC. No, he said, he was with the Presbytery South of Here and his job was to work with nominating committees and pastor-candidates to make sure the process was going right.

He said, "We're making a list of questions the PNCs should ask pastors to prevent that."

"Actually, I was thinking more of questions pastors should ask PNCs to make sure they understand what's really going on in a church."

We discussed that a little, then he reverted to the matter of candidating sermons. "We advise PNCs to tell the candidate what the congregation is used to. Expositional, topical, theological, social, whatever. He [the candidate] should preach his candidating sermon like that."

"But shouldn’t he preach the way he’s used to? I mean, isn’t it cheating to do something just because it’s what the congregation wants to hear so they'll vote him in, and then revert to his usual style afterwards?"

"Oh, no," replied the official of the Presbytery South of Here. "After that, he should only give the congregation what they want. If he can’t or won’t do that, he shouldn’t take the job."

In a perverse way, I have to agree with that. If a congregation is that narrowminded or set in their ways, a pastor-candidate should know it ahead of time and run as fast as he or she can back where they came from. But when it comes to the Christly duties and responsibilities of the man or woman of God-- good grief! Mr. Presbytery Guy, are you telling me that if a congregation only wants fluff and ear-tickling, the preacher has to give them fluff and ear-tickling till the Trump of Doom? Or if all they want is mind-games with academic theology and no action or application of it, the obedient preacher has to keep on spinning out the theories? Or if the congregation's appetite is voracious for the latest sentimentalized self-centered Gnostic heresy or if their cup of tea is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the pastor is obliged to let them have it?? And what's more, your presbytery will require the pastor to let them have it, or leave?

I didn't put the question to him quite so boldly. What I said was more like, "Well, like, my habit in preaching is to give them law and gospel, in that order. Are you saying that if the congregation wants nice little stories that'll make them feel good, I should give them the nice little stories?"

"Yes," the Presbytery Guy responded. "That's what you should do."

What could I say after that? But I could think: Ye gods, sir, whatever happened to the Book of Order article that says it’s up to the pastor to decide what to preach on and how? More than that, whatever happened to the Biblical injunction to preach the Word in season and out of season, to warn the flock day and night, to rightly discharge the duties of a minister of the Word of God, as one who will have to give an account before Jesus Christ Himself?

Whoa! it's good to be warned. I'll keep this in mind if a church in that jurisdiction is ever interested in me. I guess when it comes to the ministry of the Gospel in the Presbytery South of Here, them as has, gets.

Or in the case of some pastors, gets out.

And if the PNC has told the incoming pastor that the congregation only eats coconut cream pie, he'd jolly well better not offer them strawberry shortcake!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Time Warped

The other night I was looking up something on a health website. As health websites tend to do, it featured links to other articles the reader might be interested in.

"Ten Reasons Why You're Always Tired." Or something like that. Worth clicking on, since these days I get at least eight hours of sleep, sometimes nine or ten, but still feel drowsy by late afternoon.

(As for feeling bright and cheerful to pop right out of bed in the morning, let's not even bring that up.)

This article suggested that if it takes you a long time to get to sleep (as it does me), maybe you should rethink spending time in front of the computer or the TV just before going to bed. Sitting in front of the bright screen inhibits the body's natural output of melatonin, the chemical that tells you a) it's getting dark, b) you're getting sleepy, and c) it's time to get some shut-eye. Turn off the computer or the tube at least an hour before bedtime, and you should get to sleep faster and have better sleep.

Hmm, think I. There may be something in that. Night is my computer time, mostly, and I've noticed that I can sit in front of the screen for hours on end, feeling tired and tired and more tired, but not exactly sleepy. Could melatonin inhibition be keeping me awake? That, on top of the stimulus that's pushed into my brain by whatever I'm working on and whatever I'm picking up surfing the Web?

Very possibly.

So for the past few nights I've tried not going on the computer after 10:00. Which, given my habit these long evenings of working in my garden till the light is gone and then coming in to make and eat dinner, means I haven't come up to work on my computer at all. And so, no new posts on my blogs.

But tonight I thought I should post something. At least as an explanation. Even if it wasn't exactly worth waiting for.

There is one other thing, about this, however:

Two years ago I was having trouble with falling asleep in the middle of the day, sometimes when I was behind the wheel. My GP sent me to a pulmonary/sleep specialist. I'm sitting in the Great Man's examination room, he walks in, and without preamble says, "All right, who made you come see me? Was it your husband? Your boyfriend? Your roommate?"

I was surprised at the question, but I gave a straight answer: "I came of myself."

"No, you didn't," he said. "Nobody ever comes of their own volition. Somebody always makes them."

A bit (no, a lot) more of this from him revealed that he was convinced that every problem with daytime sleepiness is caused by sleep apnea, one symptom of which, of course, is snoring. He was sure sleep apnea was my problem, and once it was confirmed by the sleep study he was prescribing for me, he'd get me set up with the CPAP machinery.

I was permitted to get a few words in edgewise, and I mentioned that when I'd been working intensively on something (like a sermon), I found it hard to get to sleep afterwards, even when it was very, very late.

"Your work has nothing to do with it. Your subconscious mind is keeping you awake because it knows you're stopping breathing in your sleep and it's afraid of that."

At which point I began to wonder if he were getting kickbacks from the CPAP machine sellers.

Well, I did the sleep study and no, I did not have sleep apnea. The Great Man thankfully left the explanation of the results to a medical assistant, who basically told me, "Hey, if you're only getting four or five hours a sleep a night, you have to expect to fall asleep in the middle of the day."

But after seeing that website article about the melatonin-inhibiting tendencies of staring at a computer screen just before bedtime, I have to wonder why the Great Pulmonary Specialist was so tunnel-visioned as not to think of it.

I think it's worth considering, myself.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Fifteen

Friday, 31 March, 1989
Caernarfon to Aberbran
Day Fifteen

Was up reading till around 2:00 last night and, not having the nerve to risk waking people up by going down the hall to the lavoratory, I went to bed with a dirty face. That’s one of the drawbacks of not having a sink in the room.

Yesterday Mrs. Hughes had asked if I’d like a grapefruit for breakfast. I’d said, yes, that would be nice . . . But I certainly wasn’t expecting her to go to the effort of sectioning one with mandarin orange pieces and a cherry. It was a nice touch.

Packed up my things and put them in the car, but left the car parked on Victoria Road, out front, while I visited the castle down the hill. Spoke to Mr. Hughes, or rather, Dr. Hughes, as I was leaving. Turns out he’s a retired Presbyterian minister. There’s something about being here that makes you realize just how strongly the roots of the American Presbyterian church grip the soil of Wales. In many of the hymns, if nothing else.

To the
great castle of Caernarfon today, then. The day started out overcast but cleared up to the extent that I’m sure I took a lot of pictures twice, once in shade and once in light. Seeing the effect the sunshine could have on the stone, I kept feeling a kind of idiot surprise. You’d think I’d gotten so used to the light effects through cloud that I’d forgotten things could look any other way.

I probably lead my life like that. I’m so used to this narrow, dull range of mediocrity-- of accomplishment, of emotion, of spirit-- that I no longer remember that something brighter and stronger is definitely possible. I hope clearing away the obscuring clouds isn’t in my purview, however. I wouldn’t know the first way to go about it.

Edward I and his successors certainly built themselves one whopping big castle. I started out at the Granary Tower and gradually worked my way around counter-clockwise, exploring every chamber, stair, wallwalk, or other nook or cranny that was accessible. Saw a plethora of fireplaces fitted out with genuine, original Carnarfon arches (I wonder if those chimneys ever smoked?). And I wondered how all these towers had looked with their storeys properly floored, all those beam holes in the their walls fitted with beams, and a roof over all.

The Eagle tower is restored to that condition. But I think it’d be good (there are so many towers there) if at least once chamber was fitted and furnished as it would’ve been in the 14th Century, with painted plaster on the walls and everything.

There were a good number of other people going over the castle as well. (There was one school group, presided over by a matronly teacher with a very loud voice. She had no hesitation about using it to bring to general notice any minor infraction by one of her charges. If I’d been one of those kids I’d’ve died of embarrassment.) Still, when I saw a suspicious-looking man on his own in one of the passages on the south side, I took my time until he had moved away. Another episode as at Carcassonne I don’t need [There, in a tight place between the double walls the previous December, I was, shall we say, indecently accosted by a sleazy character. I broke free right away and ran for the main gate, but it made me a little sick to know that if he'd really wanted to pursue and catch me, he could have].

Saw everything there was to see till I got round to the Queen’s Gate, by which time I was very tired and said to hell with the rest of it. I don’t think God’s going to hold one tower and two stretches of wall against me.

Left the castle and went over to the pedestrian shopping street and bought a steak and kidney pie for lunch. I ate it sitting near a monument while I contemplated all the bilingual signs and wondered about Welsh grammar.

Got another pie and a macaroon for tonight, then returned to the castle to visit the shop. Was closed for inventory. Got my postcards at a shop (or siop) outside the castle walls.

And I called ahead to South Wales about tonight’s lodging. The place near Brecon named in Staying Off the Beaten Track was full, but they recommended me another place, where I booked a room.

Back up at the car, I marked my route and headed out by 2:30 or so. Took the Porthmadog road, the A487, south to where it joins with the A470 south of Ffestiniog. North Wales is definitely coal country [Wrong. Slate.], though I’m not totally sure if those subsided heaps of flat gray stones on the hill sides were of coal slag or were slates.

The day stayed fine, the landscape was beautiful, and I was one frustrated little kid at not being able to pull off anywhere to really look at it. In the North stone walls line all the roads, as in Scotland, and there was no place to squeeze off. Too bad, especially as there was a spectacular rainbow at one point.

I saw the funniest thing in the hills between Dolgellau and Machynlleth. As I came around a curve there was a person in the road, trying to flag me down. Thinking there had been an accident or something, I slowed to a stop, wondering if I’d be able to assist if required. The woman approached the car and said, "Some sheep are coming down the road. I’m taking them up that lane. We’ll be out of the way in a few minutes." She then dashed over to give the same message to the driver behind.

And in a moment here the sheep came, from around the bend ahead of me, appearing from behind the curve of the hill. They came not slowly and phlegmatically, as I’d expected, but trotting and gambolling like little dogs, seeming to grin as they advanced, even as puppies do. All seven or eight of them overshot the turn and came bounding up to their shepherdess (in wellies and oiled jacket) and she, in the Welsh version of the lingua franca used between sheep and shepherd, gave a command. At that, they all turned and scampered up the little lane and out of sight, with no other urging or coercion, followed closely by their keeper.

The traffic started up again. Even in my amusement, as I went on I couldn’t help but be reminded of what Jesus said about "I am the Good Shepherd of the sheep. My sheep know My voice and follow Me."

Sometimes as I drove I listened to Welsh radio, seeing if I could pick words out here and there. It sounds more graceful than it reads. And sometimes I turned the radio off and sang all the hymns to Welsh tunes I could remember: Hyfrydol, Cwm Rhondda, Aberystwyth, Ton-y-Botel, Llanfair . . . Rather frustrating to find that after this time away from the Presbyterian hymnal, I’m a little rusty on the words.

I did pretty well with keeping to my projected route. I only went wrong once, when I took the turnoff for Llanadarn before Aberystwyth. I turned around and rejoined the A487-- then found if I’d kept on I would’ve bypassed Aberystwyth and saved myself a few miles. But that’s all right, because if I had, I would’ve missed the view of Cardigan Bay shimmering silver in the afternoon sun.

The landscape becomes more pastoral, rounded, and homely the further south you go. Golden light bathed the valleys and hills, and highlighted the roadside hedges that now replaced the rubble stone walls. The yellow green hills were punctuated with sheep, grazing against the crisscross of the sloping fields.

I headed southeast at Aberaeron, on the A482, through Lampeter. I pulled off to check the map in Llandovery and found I was all right, I’d gotten onto the A40 as I should. It was past 7:00 by now but the light was holding beautifully.

I had an Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map of the Brecon Beacons area with me and it was a good thing. The lady at the B&B had given me directions, but for some reason, probably habit, she’d given them as if I were coming from the east, not the west. But the hamlet where the farm is, Aberbran, is on the map and I hadn’t the least bit of trouble knowing when to look for the sign for the turnoff.

There was a black and white cat that ran across the lane as I approached. "Out of the way, moggie," said I. "I don’t want to hit you."

The actual name of the place is Aberbran-Fach, or little (farm) at the mouth of the black water, to distinguish it from Aberbran-Mawr up the lane before the bridge over the Usk. I pulled into the yard and was greeted by the usual brace of black and white shepherd dogs, and could hear the bleating and lowing of some of their charges across the court. Pretty soon the owner, Mrs. Jones (very Welsh) came out. Though definitely what I’d call pushing elderly, she insisted on carrying my bag in. Fortunately her husband carried it upstairs.

Basic good white and tile farmhouse with an Aga stove in the kitchen. They’d made some "improvements" by pasting weave-cloth photograph vinyl wall covering over the plaster between the antique timber beams. A little off, but for £11 you can’t have everything.

And Mrs. Jones was so kind and filled me full of tea and Welsh cakes down in the parlor. There was a fire going in the fireplace and it was good just to sit and rest.

The cakes look like little pancakes about 1½" across, but they’re thicker and are more of a shortening bread. "A lot of English people want to put butter on these," she announced in a tone that fully indicated the cultural ignorance of any who would even consider such a thing. As would not I, of course not. Besides, no butter had been present to tempt me to such a desire.

I hadn’t seen a newspaper in ages so I picked up one of the tabloids they had there. Well, I’d heard the Sun and the Star were sleazy rags and now I discovered it first hand. I suppose one simply pretends not to see the young ladies displaying their mammaries on Page 3 and turns on to the important news of the latest Hollywood or Royal scandal and the editor’s current sanctimonious posturing. It gets pretty thin, though.

There was another couple, from London, staying there too and around 9:00 they returned from a steak dinner in Brecon (dream on, kid). The TV was on but no one really watched it. Mr. Jones dozed in his chair and everyone else talked about Welsh.

They don’t really speak it in south Wales, Mrs. Jones informed us, though they can read it well enough. I’m starting to pick up some vocabulary and even some pronunciation. I find it is inflected from the front-- initial consonants can vary depending upon a word’s place in the sentence [Well, sort of. Not exactly inflected, but mutated.]

General adjournment of guests for upstairs at 10:00 or so. Me, I sat up and worked on the journal till after 2:00 . . . It was fun going to the loo around midnight. All the lights were off, it was pitch black in the passageway, and I dared not turn any lights back on. So I had to feel my way along, avoiding the narrow place at the top of the stairs, and feeling very shaky where the floor in the kitchen wing sloped perceptibly downwards towards the bathroom door. (The bathroom floor sloped severely, too.) Getting back was much easier, since I knew then what I was doing.

Ate the meat pie I bought in Carnarfon this afternoon, lest it go bad. Tried not to leave crumbs around. Less luck with the chocolate I followed it with. Got a bit on the white bedspread. Moistened my washcloth in the water from the carafe and did my best to get it out. Talk about klutzy.