25 July, 2012

I get off the bus from Cardiff and lean against the wall with my heavy laptop bag and my heavy heavy black shoulder bag. The sidewalk is barely four feet wide. I have landed in Lampeter.

Someone in the bus is looking at me. She'll be thinking, he can't get very far with all those bags. She'd be right. I don't know where to go, so I pretend to be waiting for someone to pick me up. (Hate to appear like a foreigner - but then, I've got flip-flops on, so what do I expect!)

It takes a while for everyone to get onto the bus - cards to scan, change to be given - and then the bus pulls out - and there is the Castle Hotel across the street almost exactly opposite. It's the B&B I found online as the best bargain in town, despite one derisive user review. I cross the road, up the stone steps and into the bar. Yes, they have a room. It's up three flights of stairs, and it's OK, and it has wi-fi, and it will work for a night or two while I take a look around and find my Welsh feet.

27 July, 2012

I have landed in a lovely place. It is not spectacular. It is gentle and old and green and smells of bracken and mown hay.

28 July, 2012

In the morning, the Lampeter Food Festival on the lawns of the college. Happy people - many, perhaps most, speaking Welsh.

I read on a board beside the people-watching benches at Lampeter's central roundabout that Dylan Thomas stayed at the Castle Hotel during the war years. I wonder which room!

Later, over a pint at the pub at Aberystwyth Railway Station: these are the people I shall spend the next year with. These are the people I shall watch and talk to and learn from. Short, bald people, rough, brute-faced rugby players, drinkers of beer. The women fleshy, diaphanous, arms bare against the wind, showing their white skin.

29 July, 2012

Walking to the Dublin ferry on the new pedestrian bridge that links the town of Holyhead to the dock, I see the name of my course director, the Welsh poet Menna Elfyn, inscribed on a sculpture that bears a line of her poetry.

18 August, 2012

Thoughts on a cloudy day - fortification against the prospect of a Welsh winter, perhaps: that gray is in fact the infinite refraction of light, not an obscuring of it. Truthfully, it is probably both - but still, I think, this is a good positive way to approach a year in one of the rainiest places in Europe!

23 August, 2012

Almost six months since I talked to her on the phone I meet my course director, the effervescent Menna Elfyn. We have coffee and sweet mid-morning pastries at the lightest and airiest of the many Lampeter cafes. It is very good to hear about the course, how it is structured and who will be on it. We talk about words and music.

Menna is much in demand for books, plays, radio, libretti, readings etc, so is a great tutor to have. She took me round to meet Dic Edwards, the other director of the program, but he was out of his office.

28 August, 2012

This morning was my first gathering with a group of fellow Welsh learners. We met in the Black Lion for coffee. I was graciously welcomed, even though it was clear I didn't have a clue what anyone was talking about! Our host swiftly seated me at the beginners' end of the table, where I spent the next hour and a half trying to pick out one or two words I understood. The other "beginners" had been at it for at least three years! Much as I love the online Welsh course I started back in March, it has its own techniques, and none of them involve asking obvious questions of others - like, who are you? what's your name? or where do you come from? As you can imagine, this is a handicap at a coffee morning! There are limited opportunities for practising "I will buy the old cat." However, seeing those other beginners managing to get complete sentences out, often after titanic struggles, motivated me to hang in there and stop by the library on the way back to my college room for a set of how to CDs.

2 October, 2012

Read a group of my poems at the Lampeter Writers Worshop, and had them critiqued - slowly, one by one! Very intense. How awful was it? How hurt was I? I was at least pleased that they did not hold back. Maybe because I am a new member and they don't know me! I got a sense of whose opinion I wanted to listen to, and whose I preferred to ignore. Perhaps I was 60% happy, 40% devastated!

19 October, 2012

I seem to write naturally in a way that is not particularly exciting. I do not gravitate to subject matter that titillates, or injects sensational storylines to excite the reader. I am not that interested in creating page-turners that rely on the engagement of basic emotional states such as fear, anger, hatred, aggression, jealousy, or that exploit illicit or sexual hooks - drugs, violence etc. Most best-selling books and media do this, at least in today's market.

I am more interested in awe. In musical terms I am not a Verdi. Most writers are Verdis, probably have to be. It may be that the nature of prose requires titillation just to keep the reader reading. (Poetry is usually short enough so the reader's interest can be sustained without titillation.)

And they always want a twist at the end - as if life itself needs a twist at the end, to make it worth living. Who would bother to read through all those pages unless there's a surprise in store?

25 October, 2012

Went to my first one-on-one writing surgery this afternoon. The dazzle of the spotlight and nowhere to hide. Painful. No anaesthetic.

21 November, 2012

But what about Shakepeare? Wasn't he the master of titillation? (No surprise that he was Verdi's favorite.)

25 November, 2012

Two great concerts two days in a row. Yesterday lots of Bach (and arrangements of Bach) at a choral concert in Aberaeron - with the added attractions of a terrific baritone for some arias and a fine cellist playing movements from the cello suites. This afternoon in the university fabulous clarinet playing and piano accompaniment in Mozart, Schumann, Brahms etc.