A couple of weeks ago I blew a gasket. Yes, me…I’m much mellower now than I used to be but occasionally I see or hear something that ignites my dormant temper. In this case it was a Facebook post. And I know that I shouldn’t take any notice of these things; usually I don’t respond and merely pass over the blurb in question. Occasionally though, I have a bit of a rant and this was just such an ocasion. An advert had been posted informing us all that a company was filming in the nearby village of Cwmdu and was looking for film extras.
So far, so benign. The problem began with the list of the company’s requirements:
“Knitting Group: Elderly ladies 60 and up x 10. Needed on Saturday all, Sunday morning and Monday afternoon
Cricketers: Men aged 40s-60s…” blah, blah, blah
And I bet you know what I’m going to say. I’m 60 and will soon be 61. That may sound old to some people, and clearly to the film-makers it is – but I DO NOT consider 60 to be elderly! What the hell? And I’m willing to bet that all of my friends out there of the same age don’t label themselves as elderly either. And film companies please note: in my own knitting/craft group there are several women much younger than this, and I’m wouldn’t be at all surprised to find there’s a rural cricket team somewhere that has a teenager sharing the crease with a 93 year old.
Anyway, after I’d bored Michael with this for a while I calmed down and things returned to normal. A few days later I was chatting to a friend in the townlet of Crickhowell and mentioned the outrageous slur on my mature condition when a voice piped up “Oh, I’m sorry – we didn’t mean it to be taken badly!”
This had come from a young woman who (if we’re going to be ageist, looked as though she should still be in school) unbelievably turned out to be the producer of the film. She was charm itself and of course I backed down completely. Wimp. Not only that, but she persuaded me that as they were still in dire need of extras, I should turn up the following afternoon at St Ed’s church hall and help out.
The film is about the battle of a small village to stop the building of a road through its heart, but more than that I don’t know. I sat around a table with a group of other knitters, only two of whom I knew (in fact I’d pulled my friend Angie along with me, having mentally dismissed others because they looked too young…). The rest of our troupe was made up by members of the WI of Tretower, and a very funny lot they were. We worked hard, I tell you: having applied ourselves to our knitting for what seemed like hours we were all then given some cross-stitch to do, before that was exchanged for a large banner and some fabric letters. Throughout all of this we carried on chatting to each other, requiring absolutely no direction to play our scenes. Most interestingly, when the banner was placed on the table in front of us and one of the crew handed out ready threaded needles, without a single instruction being given – and no pause in conversation – each of us automatically turned our attention to the task in hand and began to sew, like a pack of Pavlovian dogs. It must have been the easiest directing job ever – put a bunch of women around a table in a parish hall with cups of tea and a plate of biscuits, supply with various handicrafts and let the cameras roll.
I don’t know what filming had taken place in Cwmdu, if any – we were on location (that’s a bit of professional parlance for you) in Crickhowell. But Michael and I did pay a visit to Cwmdu last week. Not by car, but on foot, across the hilltop from another tiny place, the village of Bwlch (which means ‘gap‘, signifying some sort of pass through the hills). I’m aware that these names may pose a slight problem for the non-Welsh amongst you, the chief culprit being that ‘w‘. It’s a vowel in Welsh – pronounce it as though it rhymes with the ‘oo‘ from ‘book‘; unless you’re from the north and pronounce ‘book‘ to rhyme with the ‘ou‘ from ‘group‘. In which case you’re on your own.
To return to the walk: we’d seen Derek the Weatherman make this trek a while ago and as it was within 5 miles of home we decided to try it out. I downloaded the route from the website (www.bbc.co.uk/weathermanwalking) onto my phone, packed an OS map just in case, and we drove across to Bwlch.
After a slightly steep climb up the lane, through some gates and over a style or two we found ourselves on an extremely muddy pathway.
Having survived the mud we reached open fields and were tantalised by the sight of Cwmdu in the distance.
Before reaching this goal we came across a settlement called Felindre. I can’t tell you this is a village because it’s not – it’s far too small, but the place name is a combination of the words ‘melin‘ which means ‘mill‘ and ‘tre’ which means ‘town‘, but in old Welsh meant ‘homestead’. At one time this must have been an important location for the inhabitants.
The route took us across the bridge and there we found the main point of interest here, which is the small school which was founded in 1820 by Thomas Price.The slate tribute to Thomas Price outside the school. ‘Carnhuanawc’ was his bardic name
The Industrial Revolution drew people from all over Wales to the southern valleys with their coalfields and ironworks. Attracted by the promise of decent pay and an escape from harsh rural life, they were put to work in appalling conditions and sadly there was no going back. One pernicious aspect of their treatment (one of many) was the attitude of the factory masters and landowners to the Welsh language and culture. Something which began as a form of snobbery ultimately became a policy of deliberate suppression of the language by the Victorian establishment, an insult from which it is only now finally beginning to recover. I don’t have the time to go into it here – maybe I’ll do a separate post on it sometime – but men such as Thomas Price could see the harm which was being done. He was a churchman, scholar and poet who looked after more than half-a-dozen parishes in the area, at first resident in Crickhowell but then moving to Cwmdu. Possessed of an extraordinary intellect himself, he inspired Lady Charlotte Guest to create the first English language collection of the Mabinogion, the body of Welsh tales that had been handed down in the oral tradition since pre-medieval times. Amongst his many other achievements he founded this school at Felindre, where lessons continued to be given in Welsh against the growing opposition of the Victorian educational overlords.The negelcted remains of Thomas Price’s school
We walked further down the lane and crossed the main road into Cwmdu, where we visited the church of St Michael. Unfortunately it was locked – one of the few that we’ve come across that isn’t open to the public during the daytime. Thomas Price is buried here, by the way – but I think we’ve had enough of him. So we crossed the main road again and prepared ourselves mentally for the most strenuous part of the walk – at least, I did. Michael didn’t because he hadn’t looked at the map or the route (rookie error) and I hadn’t told him. But this was where we were going – can you see that wavy, subtle pathway in the centre of the hill, snaking through the bracken above and to the left of that tiny cottage…
Once we’d staggered to the top of that little bump in the earth, the path continued further upwards and onwards onto the next hill. Luckily we didn’t have a time limit, so it didn’t matter that we stopped every fifty yards to get our breath back. When we reached the top we agreed that the views were well worth the effort.A view across to Pen y fan and the central Beacons
The stone cairn on top of Cefn Moel
It’s easy to forget when spending the afternoon in such glorious surroundings that the world isn’t all sweetness and light. Once more we’ve endured the horror of a maniac behind a wheel ploughing through pedestrians going about their own, innocent business – this time in London. And although there are many other awful, bloody events taking place all the time, this one did hit close to home. But again we also saw the courage of passers-by, emergency service workers, police and security forces, and hospital staff. Londoners and visitors alike gave comfort and first aid to those who needed it. Yesterday there was a service at Westminster Abbey to reflect on the tragedy and the BBC showed an interview with the widow of the American man who’d been killed. She’d been badly injured herself but is thankfully recovering. It’s impossible to overstate the dignity and humanity this lady showed; her willingness to forgive the monster who’d robbed her of her husband was astonishing.
If only she didn’t have to.
It is a serious thing, just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world