Friday, 3 April 2015

Welsh vallies

We would appear to be in the most glorious North Walian valley, where the peaks of the hills are covered in a table cloth of mist, and the only audible sounds are babbling brooks and newly born lambs.

The sheep in these parts are a fluffy breed, whose lambs have rather charming ginger cuffs. I've never really had a chance to watch new born lambs playing before. I didn't realise, like kids in a playground, lambs gather together in big gangs and rush about causing mayhem and getting into all sorts of scrapes. There were a group of about twenty which we stood and watched for some time.

This part of the world feels particularly magical. It's absolutely steeped in legend. The nearest village is called Rowen. It has a lovely-looking pub, a little village shop and a beautiful three-aisled chapel.

A river runs through the village, and there's a glorious little walled graveyard under trees in a water meadow. The roads are lined with daffodils, and moss-coated dry stone walls. Little lanes wind up the hills, disappearing into mist. The air smells of wood smoke and gorse.

The telephone box in the town has been turned into a little tourist information station - a gwybodaeth - with leaflets and a shelf of books for local people to swap. One of the little posters in there was written in English and some disgruntled local had scrawled "Cymraeg?" across it, meaning "why is this not also written in Welsh?" The person who obviously looks after the phone booth had added a note saying; "instead of writing Cymraeg graffiti, why don't YOU translate a Welsh version instead of moaning!" Good call, I'd say.

We woke up this morning at Nathan's sister's house and spent the morning with Nathan's niece, Jen, driving to Oswestry, the place of my birth, where we bought Easter eggs for the family at great expense.

Sam cooked us a lovely roast dinner and we were joined by Celia, Ron and Julius.

The journey further North was ghastly in the driving rain with terrible traffic jams. But as we hit the coastal road, the sky started turning blue and this evening has been dry. I hope the skies are clear tonight. I'd love to sit and stare at the stars.

I understand my blog for Monday this week failed to print, so I enclose it as a special bonus here... You lucky people...

Monday 30th March: portrait 18.

I arrived at Finsbury Park tube today, just as the world, his wife and several of their extended family were getting exiting the station. There were queues around the block at the bus station outside. Frankly I'd have given up and walked. I had no idea that the Finsbury Park area was so popular with commuters. I used to come to this station when I lived in Crouch End, but never remember it being so rammed in the rush hour.

I've been with Julian today, in his mrs' vicarage, mixing Oranges and Lemons, which is the bonus track on the Pepys Motet album. Keen readers of this blog will remember that it features the recordings of 200 separate bells, struck, we believe, about 4000 times! It is the stuff of madness: overtones, undertones, harmonics, multi-phonics... They're all in there in abundance, and the effect is striking, if nothing else! ('Scuse the pun!)

We worked all day, but for a brief sojourn when we went off to Stroud Green Road for a bite to eat in an Italian deli. That part of town used to be incredibly edgy and quite exciting, but on the fringes of Crouch End, it's become mega chi-chi la-la organic moi-moi ja-ja. Back towards Finsbury Park, it starts to become familiar again, with its shops selling Indian fabrics, hair extensions, yams and knocked-off bottles of perfume.

We returned from lunch to find the vicarage in darkness, and ventured onto the street to find all of Julian's neighbours similarly in the midst of power cut. A bloke opposite, wearing some sort of medical white coat, seemed particularly upset, telling me he was in the "middle of a procedure." Bizarre.

By the time I left, both of our ears were bleeding. Bells, a church organ, a choir and a synth pad are all quite dense sounds, so we're going to sleep on it, and fine-tune the piece tomorrow when our ears feel a little less trashed.

From Crouch End, I walked back to Finsbury Park, which locals sometimes refer to as Crappy Rub Sniff as a homonym of what the area would be called if all the letters came in reverse order. I've always found this hugely amusing. Upton Park goes one stage further, revealing Crap not Poo if spelt backwards.

Anyway, I digress. I took the Victoria Line from Finsbury Park to Euston, which is a particularly quick journey. I find the Victoria line to be a very pleasing line in this respect. When I lived in those parts I could get from the tube stop down to the Royal Court at Sloane Square, where I worked, in seventeen minutes.

At Euston I met lovely Ruth from the Rebel Chorus off a train from Brugge where she'd spent the weekend with her husband. These days Ruth lives in Coventry, so my only option for taking her portrait for the Pepys album cover was to catch her as she made her way from one train to another.

Ruth sang on five out of the six Pepys Motet movements and was in the original gospel choir when we performed the piece as a forty part motet back in 2010. She features very prominently in the Great Fire of London movement, singing the first few lines; "Jayne called us up about three in the morning to tell us of a Great Fire in the city. She says above three hundred houses have been burned down." Jayne Birch was Pepys' loyal servant. No one knows a great deal about what happened to her. I believe Pepys included her in his will despite her having long since married and left his service. Under any other circumstances, someone of her status would have lived and died completely unnoticed, but her status as the person who first told Pepys about the fire - the man whom himself has told us more about the fire than anyone else - secures her a little spot in history.

Because Ruth sang this particular line, I've always seen her as Jayne, and that's why, in the photograph, she is holding a placard with the word "Jayne" written on it. It's actually one of the first words in Pepys' diary which which isn't written in shorthand. Real names like Jayne and Axe Yard (where Pepys lived) didn't really have shorthand characters, so he wrote them in full.

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