It was incredibly changeable: on some days it would be a savage, menacing dark mountain, a sombre weight — I had almost said a threat — in the sky. Then in the evening, some evenings, when each rock on the skyline was etched sharp and distinct against the sky, the Saeth took on a quality of remoteness, almost of unreality. The Saeth in moonlight, like something out of El Greco’s mind; the Saeth with snow; the hard triangular peak of the Saeth ripping through the tearing driven clouds from the sea — with a mountain like that outside your window, you are not lonely.
Patrick O’Brian, Three Bear Witness, 1952. The Saeth — which means the Arrow — was the fictional name given by O’Brian to Cnicht.
Next day I had a more energetic task for Stan. First, while he dealt with the domestic animals, I took our trailer to Croesor Fawr. Gareth needed to borrow it because his own was misbehaving, and together we diagnosed a bent axle. That was a job beyond our skills and would have to go to the blacksmith. Then, after leading the new calf and its mother to the meadow, Stan and I went up the valley to repair the mountain wall where, as I had noticed during the gathering, stones had been dislodged by the frost or by over-energetic sheep. We have no hedges here, hardly any post-and-wire fences, and a few of slate slabs set on end. Almost all our boundaries are dry-stone walls.
For me the walk and the climb were everyday events, but to him they were a challenge. Although I set a very gentle pace, he was soon puffing but not, thank goodness, wheezing. We passed the carcasses of several ewes, skeletal already and their fleeces scattered, for foxes and ravens make short work of carrion. The ground was still giving up its long-imprisoned water, and streamlets tinkled down the slopes. When we finally reached the site I allowed him a breather. We were high up on the valley side above the power station, just below the scree and well below the summit of Cnicht.
“What’s that mess?” he panted, looking at the vast blue-grey tip spilling down the hillside opposite.
“Croesor Quarry. Slate. It closed the year I was born. All that tip is waste.”
“But where’s it come from?”
It was another very fair question. “All from underground. That’s why you can’t see any workings. Round here they’re really mines, but for some reason they’re always called quarries. There’s another one called Rhosydd over there to the left. Mostly out of sight, but you can just see some of its tips. That’s long closed too.”
“But they’re in the middle of the blinking mountains. How did they get stuff out?”
“Tramways. Sometimes on inclines, very steep, where the wagons were let down on cables.”
I pointed out the Croesor incline dropping down from the quarry, the tramway from Rhosydd running along a shelf cut into the rock just below the skyline to the head of another incline, and where the two inclines meet at the bottom and become the tramway down the valley and on to Porthmadog and the sea. I told him that the Rhosydd incline was still used until a few years ago for bringing fuel oil in for the pumps, which they keep going in case the quarry is ever reopened, though that seems unlikely. I told him that they pump Croesor Quarry too, by electricity, because it is now an explosives store.
“Cor! Hope it don’t blow up!” His eyes wandered up to the left again. “Nice waterfall, that.”
He nodded at the outlet from Llyn Croesor. Though no longer in spate, it was substantial, but today it was behaving as it should.
“Yes. There’s a lake above it that used to supply the waterwheel in the quarry mill, before the power station was put in.”
I told him about the wind scattering the cascade into thin air.
“Lumme! Reminds me. Need ter piss.” He looked around as if expecting to find a public convenience. “Where?”
“Anywhere. There’s nobody to see.”
“Cept you. Right char.” He hesitated, perhaps choosing between modesty and immodesty. Plumping for modesty, he faced the wall to unbutton and fumble inside.
“Wiv one bound Dick was free!” he cried.
The penny belatedly dropped. The phrase tickled him because it contained a double-entendre. He had been testing me. Hitherto, perhaps because English is not my mother tongue and I am not over-familiar with that use of ‘dick,’ I had failed the test. Now he thought I had failed again and his shoulders, as he buttoned up, seemed to droop. Not wanting to come across as a prude, I needed to get level with him, but in Welsh.
And we also needed to get on. There is a skill in repairing dry-stone walls which he could not be expected to have. The best way for him to help would be to pass the fallen stones up one by one for me to put in place. His legs having been well exercised, now it was the turn of his back and belly and arm muscles. I stood by the wall eying the tumbled stones.
“Deciding which cerrig I want.”
“Stones. But,” I added, “it can also mean your balls.”
“Me cobblers?” He hooted with laughter. “Yer want me cobblers?”
“Not for this job.” I smiled. “They’re much too small.”
He pretended to be hurt. “Howjer know? I’ll show yer.”
He rapidly unbuttoned again. I almost panicked. My little joke was backfiring.
“No, Stan,” I said quite roughly before he could go any further. “Don’t run so fast. Please.”
This time he seemed really hurt, and cringed like a reprimanded puppy.
“Awright. Sorry.” He buttoned up.
“Would you pass that one up, please?”
I pointed to a stone as big as a football, and with an effort he heaved it up. And so the work proceeded. Before long it was done. It was not a big job, but I thanked him for his help.
He brushed lichen and dirt off his hands and stood for a while gazing silently down the valley. Burying his hurt? Absorbing a lesson? A chough wheeled over our heads, calling raucously.
“Strornery, innit?” said Stan at last. “All them walls.”
“Yes. There must be thousands of miles of them in Eryri.”
“And all made of cobblers!”
From our high vantage I pointed out Garth Llwynog, the flat lands of Traeth Mawr beyond the valley foot, then Porthmadog and Moel y Gest, and finally the grey expanse of Cardigan Bay, bounded ahead by the horizon, on the left by the coast of Ardudwy with Harlech castle poking up, and on the right by the coast of Llŷn as it sweeps past Pwllheli and Llanbedrog to the headland of Trwyn Cilan, maybe twenty-five miles away.
“Big, innit?” he said. “The sea.”
“Go south-west beyond that headland and there’s nothing till you hit Ireland. Or if you miss Ireland there’s nothing till you hit America. Or more likely the West Indies.”
Stan showed no interest in such distant geography, but when we got home I brought out the local one-inch Ordnance Survey map and he pored over it. Never having seen one before, such things as contours and conventional signs had to be explained to him. But he got the hang. He traced the chequered black line of the railway that had brought him up the coast to Penrhyndeudraeth, the red line of the road to Garreg, and the yellow line of the road to Croesor. He found the cross-hatched line of the tramway. He located roughly where we had been today, and marvelled at the emptiness — apart from contours and crags and lakes — of the land to the north.
“Cor,” he said. “Like looking down from the sky, sort of.”
Mam found us at it, and we explained.
“I hope you showed Stan the tramway from Rhosydd,” she said.
“Yes, I did. Why?”
A dreamy smile had come over her face, as often happened when she revisited her younger and easier days. She told us how, when Tad first brought her to Garth Llwynog more than twenty years ago, she would sometimes walk up the valley of a summer evening. Rhosydd, like most quarries of any size, had its own male voice choir, and after work, when light and weather allowed, it would march along the tramway to the incline head, and sing. And all the haymakers in Cwm Croesor, seven hundred feet below, would lean on their rakes and listen as the echoes rebounded from Cnicht to Moelwyn and back.
“Cor!” said Stan, yet again. Mam and I smiled at each other. “Wotcher laughing at?”
“Côr,” we explained, “is Welsh for choir.”
When I went up to bed that night I found Stan by the landing window, gazing out at the ethereal vista of huge spaces full of moonlight. For once he said nothing, but simply smiled.
The next three days we spent on marking and cutting. First we helped Croesor Fawr and Bryn y Gelynen, and then they helped us. The neighbours were clearly curious about our newcomer, but courteously so. There was, however, little time for conversation, for such days are full. Because all the ewes are still down after lambing, no gathering is needed, but there is always much to do.
First the lambs have to be separated from the ewes. Neither like it. Mothers and offspring constantly slip past the dogs and rejoin each other. But finally they are segregated into different pens. One man works through the ewes looking for those that have been scouring — suffering from diarrhoea — and clips away the fouled wool from their tails to discourage the maggots that love to breed there. Two catch lambs and carry the females straight to two more men who stamp their fleeces with the farm’s mark, for lambs are not shorn in their first year. Ram lambs are carried to four more men, working in pairs, who castrate them. They are then marked too.
The most skilled jobs — castrating and clipping tails — naturally go to the most skilled, of whom I am counted one. Catching and marking lambs calls for less skill but some stamina, for while a lamb is a much lighter burden than a sheep, after carrying several hundred your body begins to scream. Stan was therefore put to these tasks, alternating with the neighbours’ young men and boys. He began with the stamp — in our case a capital G — dipping it in the tub of green dye and pressing it on the flank of a lamb held by his partner. Time was when we used pitch, but the woollen mills find it easier to remove dye from the fleece. After dinner on the first day he graduated to catching. To begin with it is easy to pluck lambs from a tight-packed pen, but as the crush dwindles they become elusive. The catchers have to chase them and need ever more agility to grab them. And if the supply slows slown, the castrators complain bitterly. In reality they are glad to ease their aching muscles, but they still complain, for it keeps the youngsters on their toes.
Over a very late tea on the first day Stan admitted not only that he was exhausted but that he no longer viewed lambs with quite the same romantic eye.
“If only they wan’t such buggers ter catch,” he brooded.
Over a very late tea on the second day he had a suggestion.
“Wotcher wants, Dino, is sort of railings what yer can move. Keep pushing them in closer. Stop them ruddy lambs bouncing around. Yer got anyfink?”
I understood what he was getting at. Portable fences, with which the area of the pen could constantly be reduced to keep the lambs tight-packed. We looked in the barn. There were a number of wicker hurdles, fine for stopping up a gap in a wall, but incapable of standing up by themselves.
“They’ll do,” said Stan, “but they needs feet. Like them barriers they puts up when they digs holes in the road.”
Our life being one of make do and mend, we have always tackled minor jobs ourselves. There is a bench in the barn, a fair selection of tools, and plenty of scrap timber. Then and there I set to and began fixing transverse feet firmly to the uprights of the hurdles. At first Stan was inspecting the tools, then watching me, and finally doing it himself, and efficiently too. We were very late to bed and very early up. But, thanks to Stan’s new weapon, our cutting next day went faster than the previous two. Why had nobody thought of it before? The neighbours were impressed and, when told whose idea it was, loud in their praise. Stan was even more exhausted when he went to bed, but happy. After a couple of days to allow the lambs and ewes to be reunited and the ram lambs to recover from their operations, the whole flock was turned out on the mountain.
Time was rushing past, and I was making no progress in my self-examination. Stan’s strength, however, was building up, helped by the exercise, the food and the orange juice; and the good news came through that his sputum test had proved negative for TB bacilli. And as he learnt how a hill farm works, he adapted better and better to our daily round. I had heard a talk on the wireless about London children evacuated from the blitz to the countryside, how some had pined with homesickness for their grimy restrictive streets and others had taken to their new spacious surroundings like ducks to water. Stan fell, beyond any shadow of doubt, into the second category.
It was far from a matter of my workload being halved by this second pair of hands, but it was considerably lightened; and so was Mam’s. And this meant more time to spare, especially in the evenings. We would sit together after tea. Mam was usually mending or knitting. I was usually reading. Stan just sat and, if Wmffra was around, stroked him. He was clearly thinking, just as he had spent months thinking as he recovered from TB. When I asked what he was thinking about, he simply said “Fings” and would be drawn no further. But his eyes were often on me, which made me suppose he was thinking about me. It was a strange feeling.
Although Stan had no money, he wanted none. For a while, I confess with shame, I feared his past might betray him, and kept a close eye on the cash in the house — Mam’s purse and my wallet. But nothing was ever missing. Whenever Mam sent him to buy something for her at the post office he punctiliously gave her back the change. We kept him, of course, in food and anything else he needed, but when we offered payment for his help he turned it down.
“Fanks, but no. In Lunnon, money mattered. Here, it don’t. Anyfink I does here I does fer love.”
That phrase having more than one meaning, it left me no clearer than before. But it slowly dawned on me that my original reading of his make-up had been badly astray. On the outside he was indeed artless and callow, but behind it was hidden a private and very different person who only occasionally emerged. He had, when you got to know him, a deep sensitivity and insight. What he found difficult or impossible was putting it into words, for he seemed as reluctant as me to show his emotions. But he was naturally observant as well as naturally intelligent, whether at hitting nails with a hammer or at spotting a sheep that was out of sorts. And he picked up all manner of skills.
One of the most impressive was Welsh — the more impressive because until now he had had no language other than Cockney, and with a limited vocabulary at that. After a month and a half he could talk quite intelligibly with our neighbours and in the shops. After three months he was, for all practical purposes, totally fluent. I was proud of him, and with every reason he was proud of himself. Best of all, his Welsh — or his new life, or both — seemed to liberate him and bring out a maturity which had hardly showed before. His speech became not only more flowing and more correct but very much richer in vocabulary. Conversation was now a great deal easier. It was as if he had been imprisoned by his Cockney and constrained by the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Elephant. I suspected that the transformation had begun with all those months of thinking while he was immobilised with TB, and that it was being completed by the spaciousness of Croesor.
Another skill, utterly different, was the simple but essential method of walking in rough terrain, where he learnt by his mistakes. To anyone like me who is brought up to it, there is only one way: to plod at a deliberate and constant rate, uphill and down. Novices labour uphill but tend to scamper down. I had indeed warned Stan to beware of slate, which when wet is deceptively slippery underfoot, but the dangers of scampering had never crossed my mind. On our way down off Cnicht, quite soon after he arrived, we came to a gentle grassy slope. As always, I plodded. But Stan ran. Halfway down he yelped and fell. He had landed awkwardly on a tussock and twisted his ankle. No great harm was done. I put him on my shoulders and carried him home, and in a few days he was as right as rain. But he had learned his lesson.
He also began to learn about working with dogs — only began, for the process is long — and after a month could get them to do simple tasks. Luckily Giff and Gaff had taken to him, which they do not always do with strangers. I taught him, too, to drive the Ffergi, and as soon as he turned sixteen he took the test and passed with flying colours.
A further skill he acquired was with the shotgun. During the winter the foxes had been on the warpath, and one night had actually got into the coop and taken three hens. It was a while since I had culled them, and I took Stan up above the valley head to where they tend to live. Foxes range far, and from there they can prey both on the poultry and rabbits in the valley and on the grouse high up around Llyn yr Adar. We took the gun and, to winkle them out from their lairs under the rocks, a terrier borrowed from Gareth at Croesor Fawr. I had already bagged one fox when Stan asked to have a go. I told him the rules for firearms, and he proved a natural, bagging another with his first shot.
A few days later I had to go into Penrhyn for a chat with the bank manager, and Stan suggested he should go out hunting again. I had no objection. There were plenty more foxes to be exterminated, I trusted him now with the gun, Gareth once more lent his terrier, and the weather was fine. But when I came out of the bank I found fog rolling up Traeth Bach from the sea. On breasting Pen y Bwlch I found Traeth Mawr already full of it, and it took much longer than usual to reach home. When Mam reported that Stan had not returned, I began to worry. It is inhospitable terrain above the valley head, a jumble of crags and of little lakes and bogs each hidden in its secret hollow, easy enough to navigate when you can see but treacherous when the cloud is down, especially to those who do not know it intimately.
I had told him, should the cloud appear, to come down at once. If I went up the obvious way — following the tramway to the power station and then the water supply pipes to the reservoir, and from there straight up to the ridge — I ought to meet him coming down. But by the time I reached the ridge there was still no sign. I tried shouting, with no reply. Fog muffles sound. But I had my whistle, which I use occasionally if the dogs are far away. I blew it, and immediately heard a bark, followed by a shot which sounded eerily like the detonators at the Elephant. It seemed as if they came from my right, and I walked that way. After a while I blew the whistle again. The answering bark and shot were closer now, and shouting finally brought the terrier to me. His tail wagging in welcome, he led me to Stan, who was sitting damply at the end of the tramway from Rhosydd, the point from which in balmier days the quarry choir had sung.
“Fort yer wuz never coming,” he said, grinning. “But ta.”
Having thoroughly lost his bearings, he had strayed far to the south but, on stumbling across the Rhosydd tramway, had realised where he must be. So he followed it round to the incline head, from where there is no way ahead or up. He intended to descend the incline, but from above its gradient appears to be almost vertical and his heart failed him. Confident that I would come to the rescue, he had done the right thing by staying put and keeping the dog with him. But although in reality the gradient of the incline must be about forty-five degrees, even I would hesitate to descend it in a fog. There is in fact, if you know about it, a much easier way down. So I led him back towards Rhosydd and found the old packhorse track which slopes gently down the Moelwyn side of the valley to the village.
Yet another skill which Stan added to his repertoire — or dug out of his depths — was a truly astonishing one. After about a month he evidently decided he had done enough thinking during our leisure hours after tea. One evening he picked a small stick off the wood pile beside the now unlit fire and asked to borrow the pocket knife I always carry with me. With it he began to whittle, stripping the bark and cutting shallow but neat diagonal grooves around the stick, which resulted in a pattern of lozenges. He regarded it with satisfaction, chose another stick, and shaped it with more difficulty into a clothes peg such as Mam uses on the washing line.
Seeing that he was experimenting, I suggested he try making a wooden spoon. After rootling in the kitchen drawer for specimens to imitate, he found a bigger piece of wood and soon had the makings of a very respectable spoon. True, it was a trifle asymmetrical and, with my straight-bladed knife, the hollowing of the bowl proved problematic. But it gave me an idea. His birthday was imminent and I had so far been stumped over what to give him. Next day, when I was down in Penrhyn, I asked John Pierce the ironmonger if he had any tools for fine wood carving. Yes, was the reply: a kit of knives and gouges that had been in stock since well before the war. The box was shop-soiled and I could have it at a discount. I bought it on the spot, and when Stan opened his presents — no more than mine and a new-knitted sweater from Mam — he was delighted.
With the gouges he finished his spoon very commendably and immediately set about a more ambitious project. He chose a knot-free log some four inches in diameter and tried to turn it into a human head. It being of oak and hard, problems arose. I had two suggestions. One was to use saw and chisel for the rough shaping. I introduced him to the vice on the bench in the barn and showed him how, by observing the grain, to chisel without splintering off too much at a time. And I suggested a softer wood such as alder. He tried again, and what emerged after much delicate work was a portrait of Mam. He lightly incised irises and pupils into her eyes so that she was not staring blindly like the bust in the museum. He spent much time sanding everything smooth. Her hair was no great problem, because she wears it drawn tightly back into a bun and it is therefore smooth too. The final result was not perhaps entirely true to life, but it was easily recognisable, and when he presented it to her she was deeply moved.
“Yer next, Dino,” he announced. At this stage he was not yet fully into Welsh mode. “But yer going to be a bugger. Not yer face. It’s yer hair.”
I saw his point. How does a sculptor represent a tangle like mine, which tends to be long and wild? Stan spent hours staring at our ceramic bust of Lloyd George whose hair, if not really long and wild, is part-way there. But pottery is a very different medium from wood. And by chance it was I who solved this problem too. When next I was in Penrhyn I visited the public library. It is only a small branch, but there I found a book on modern sculpture which included several photos of portraits by Jacob Epstein. Their finish, far from being smooth and polished, was craggy and rough-textured, and all the more powerful for that. Even more to the point, their hair was little more than roughly blocked out. I borrowed the book, and Stan crowed. He found a large log of alder in our pile, and with his inborn and untutored talent he set about carving me life-size.
It took him a month of evenings, a month of painstaking care. He worked at the kitchen table, in our presence but not close-up. Wmffra liked to lurk nearby and pounce on the chips as they fell to the floor. Sometimes Stan would come across to gaze at my face from a foot away, then go back to ponder for half an hour before whittling off a single flake. While I could see the general progress, I could not see the detail, and was not allowed to. At other times the head lived under a cloth on the windowsill, and I nobly refrained from peeking. Mam was allowed to look, but not to comment when I was around. From the way she silently squeezed Stan’s shoulders I deduced that she was pleased.
Finally, on my birthday, he presented me with myself, and I was knocked back. I instantly recognised myself. My gaze was not blank, for I had pupils and irises. But my expression was not in the least what the mirror tells me. Others’ eyes, I suppose, see differently from one’s own. I was looking at a face which, despite the rough finish, carried an aura of competence and kindness and at the same time a hint of weariness and wariness. Was that really how I came across? Yes, said Mam, it was, exactly. I did something I had never of my own volition done before, and gave Stan a long hard hug. He was plainly over the moon at his achievement and at my reception. But I felt his body trembling.
Yet, howling success though Stan proved in so many ways, one thing about him was a sore disappointment. Let me give a couple of examples. Croesor is, or was, a cross-roads. The road up from Garreg carries on to peter out at the highest farm. Crossing it alongside the village is an even smaller one, winding over the hills from Tan y Bwlch. This had once continued all the way to Nanmor, but from a point not far beyond the village it is now difficult even for a tractor. It is said to have been a Roman road. That had always interested me, and I hoped it would interest Stan. Beside this road, too, is a little spring known as Ffynnon Helen, Helen’s spring. So I showed it to him and told him it was supposedly named after the mother of Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor.
“Oh yus,” he said airily. “I knows about them Romans. Julius Sneezer building the Tower of London and all that.”
Oh dear, oh dear. I tried to explain that Caesar had built nothing in Britain, let alone the Tower of London. But his eyes glazed over.
Another time, when he had given me a vivid first-hand description of the bombardment of London by the V1s and V2s, I remarked that the Germans had developed them on the Baltic and launched them mainly from Flanders.
“What’s the Baltic?” he asked. “Where’s Flanders?”
I know I was wrong. I know I should not have expected a mind entirely in tune with mine. But I found myself irked by his ignorance of the most elementary history and geography such as I had absorbed early in my school days. To me, it took the gilt off the gingerbread.
After our tribulations of the winter, the summer, from June right through to August, proved to be dry and fiercely hot, the hottest in living memory. We sweltered. The stream off the mountain which supplied our water almost dried up. I hoped that Llyn Cwm y Foel would not run low, for it was the reservoir for Blaencwm power station, and if there was no electricity at shearing time we would be in trouble. But the gods were kind. Not only the fine weather but the power continued.
Early in July we gather the sheep in order first to wash the sweat and grease from the fleeces, which if present detracts from the price, and then to shear them. Again it is a case of cooperation with neighbours, and this was Stan’s introduction to gathering. It is not a job for novices. Someone who cannot control dogs and who does not know the terrain can do far more harm than good. On both Moelwyn and Cnicht it is a matter of men and their dogs starting on the farthest boundaries and sweeping the mountainside, driving the sheep before them in the required direction. The distances are considerable, the ground rough, and the work hard. All Stan could do was stand at specified places and act as a stop to prevent the sheep outflanking the dogs and doubling back. But finally the flock is brought down to pens near the river where the lambs, which are not washed or shorn, are separated out. Those which escaped the net at the cutting are separated again and set aside for marking and, if rams, for castrating. We also, once again, set aside sheep that have been scouring and need treatment.
All three of the upper valley farms wash in the same deep pool in the river, where there are stone-walled funnels leading to it on both sides, for Garth Llwynog land is on the north bank and the others on the south. Sheep are released in batches from the pens and driven into the funnel. Then comes the hardest work of all. No sheep likes taking a bath. To ensure that it goes completely under, each has to be picked up bodily and thrown in. Because it weighs getting on for a hundredweight, this is a job for the strongest, working in turn. Some men are stationed on the far bank to make sure the sheep climb out on their proper side, while others stand on the near bank to drive them back to the lower fields. By the end of the day everyone is worn out.
A few days later we shear. My heart is always in my mouth. The weather has to be dry, for the merchants will not buy fleeces if they are wet and their weight distorted. Indeed, since none of us has the accommodation to keep the sheep under cover while they wait to be shorn, we simply cannot shear when it is raining. The actual shearing takes place in the barn, where as much floor space has been cleared as possible. Tad had replaced our old hand shears with electric ones, which demand less skill, give a faster and cleaner cut, and are less liable to nick the sheep’s skin. Our neighbours had at first looked at them askance, but had soon started to borrow mine. They still do, sharing the cost of repairs and replacements. With luck we can muster five skilled shearers.
Temporary pens have been put up in the corners of the yard, and are kept filled. From them each sheep is carried by hand to a shearer straddling his bench and placed upside down between his thighs, in which position it does not struggle much. He cuts the wool from its belly before tying its legs with strips of cloth and turning it on its side to clip from neck to rump. Then the other side, and the fleece peels off as one. The whole process, for a skilled shearer, takes barely two minutes. Another two men haul the shorn sheep away, mark it with the stamp and green dye just as the lambs were marked three months ago, and untie the strips. Yet another with a dog shoos the marked sheep into an empty pen and from time to time drives the penful back into the field. Two boys — one of them, in this case, Stan — take the strips back to the shearers and pile the new fleeces onto an ever-growing heap. From time to time the womenfolk come out with vast pots of tea, which allows a break for everyone to ease aching muscles and for most to have a quick smoke.
By the time we finish and the neighbours can go home, the sun has usually set. We still have to let the sheep in the fields back into the ffridd, and next day to pack the wool into so-called sheets, which are like huge calico pillow-cases. There is normally well over a ton of it. Then, a few days later, the merchant I always deal with comes round to inspect. He makes an offer in tune with current prices, and because he is a local man, trusted and well respected, I accept it. We load the sheets onto his lorry, which takes two journeys to cart them all to Penrhyn station where they are weighed. And he pays me in cash, which I put straight into the bank.
This year, no sooner were the sheep safely shorn than there was a downpour. Thunder and lightning rolled round Cnicht. My heart was back in my mouth, for if the weather was breaking it might put paid to hay-making. Being a simple job, we do this by ourselves without help from neighbours. Garth Llwynog’s few small fields on and near the valley floor, where alone there is good rich grass, have to be managed with care because they serve a variety of purposes. In one the pigs rootle and churn up the ground and manure it. On two others the cows graze. Two are reserved, most of the year, for hay. All these are used in rotation, year by year. The rest are for holding sheep before and after lambing, shearing, dipping, and the annual sale.
For that reason I cannot grow much hay, and normally I need no more than will feed the cows over the winter. There is thus no point in having a full-blown tractor mower. I have only the walk-behind auto-scythe to mow the hayfields and a few patches a little higher up the mountain. The result I rake and stook by hand, and when dry bring it in to store in the barn. Weather permitting, I could quite easily do all this by myself. Now, with two pairs of hands, it was even plainer sailing, for the rain proved short-lived and dry conditions returned; and so, for a month, did relative leisure.
One evening after tea there was a knock at the back door and in came Clough. Mam, it transpired, had bumped into him and told him of Stan’s prowess as a sculptor, and he was here to see for himself. He was installed at the table, Mam put the kettle on, and my bust was brought from its seat of honour on the dresser and placed before him. For a full five minutes he gazed, turning it this way and that, comparing it with the reality. Finally he looked at Stan.
“Stan,” was all he said, “I’m beyond words. You’ve caught Dino to perfection. You’re a genius!”
Stan beamed. “Thank you very much.” By now Welsh was his normal tongue. “May I do you next?”
“I’m a vain old man, Stan, and I’ve been wondering how to ask you if you would. Yes please. For any fee that you care to name.”
“Oh, no fee,” said Stan at once. “I’m not doing this for money. Not yet, anyway. But the trouble is, we haven’t got any alder left that’s big enough. May I raid your log pile?”
“Better still, I’ve got a big alder in Coed yr Allt that needs to come out. I’ll get them to fell it. It’ll be green, though.”
“Better green than seasoned. Much easier to carve. I’ve learnt that already.”
We chatted for a hour, and Stan’s eyes never left Clough’s face. Over the next week he took the tractor down to the Plas to collect his alder log and roughed it out with saw and chisel in our barn. Thereafter he was often out at the Plas of an evening, working on it in Clough’s presence. When I asked what they talked about during these sessions, he smiled and said, in Cockney, “Fings.” When I asked, not for the first time, where he had dredged up these skills, he stuck to Cockney.
“Dunno. Faces always says fings ter me. Specially yours. Like I told yer at the museum. But I’ve only jest found out how ter do summat about it.”