Smithsonian ‘Friends Re-united’

4 Ladies of 'outstanding quality'

What do you get when you put a Poet, a Cook, an Artist and a Bureaucrat together in a room ? A fab re-union !!

So, it happened… the 20th June 2010, one year on, and in the Nation’s Capital city, in its most prestigious concert hall – The Millenium Centre – those of us who had crossed the ocean to another capital, Washington, District of Columbia, got together.  At the invite of the Welsh Assembly Government, with its immediate past First Secretary and the present Heritage Minister as bit part players, over a hundred of us enjoyed a wonderful afternoon as guests of BBC Radio Wales, under the masterful programme-presenter Frank Hennessey (himself a ‘notary touriste’) re-living those weeks on the National Mall.

The recording of Frank’s ‘Celtic Heartbeat’ programme (to be aired on the evening of July 3rd) featured many of the musicians who performed to rapturous audiences in the hot marquees on the Mall and the steamy ballroom of the Key Bridge Marriott.  Chats – live with friends in the U.S. (great to hear our dear friend Dr. Betty Belanus) – with various of us about our experiences, including a short recreation of the ‘Square Mile’ (a strange invention whereby visitors sat and listened to an eclectic mix of participants chatting about life back in Wales, and many other topics ) amused the gathered ‘public’ audience.  Why anyone would give up a lovely sunny afternoon to sit in a concert hall is slightly puzzling, but these free radio recordings offer a great chance to see and hear Welsh artists, and of course, Frank is an iconic presenter on our BBC Radio Wales national English language station as well as a major folk performer with his pals in his band ‘The Hennesseys’. 

Jon Gower, an increasingly important (human) element in the written cultural profile of  Wales, as well as an ubiquitous radio and TV presenter (who recorded a programme with Whitney, myself and John ‘the Rock’ Davies back in November 2009), added his own in-depth qualitative analysis of the Welsh experience.  For over two hours we enjoyed the music, the ‘crack’, the feeling of being ‘back together’.

Later we rejoined to a side-room for merry hugging and greetings with those not seen for many months, in my case, many not seen since that sad goodbye in July last year.  How I loved seeing Ifona again, she and her team welcomed me warmly; Gillian, the Welsh National Poet, Gwyneth Glyn, an iconic folk singer who lowers herself to greet me like an old and dear friend, Frank and Jon, Howie and Mabli, Sean, Angela, my heart-throb of a cook – we danced briefly, re-enacting our famous ‘smooch’ to a rendering of Ray Charles’ “I can’t stop loving you” at the pool party on the Saturday night one year ago.  Many, many others came from far and wide, Sean and Christine, Beth and Mathew, Gwenno and Lowrie.  Many couldn’t come – no AJP, our Har, nor Evs, Carwyn was working, both of them were sad to have had to absent themselves.  No worries, we already have plans to meet soon.

This dance has taken a year to finish !

We had such fun, thank you Ifona and your ‘gang’, thank you Fred – the Heritage Minister – for your eloquent words; thank you hugely, our ‘Rhodri’ (how we are going to miss his honesty and straight talking) for leaving your garden to come out of retirement for the afternoon. Thank you Dear Friends for making me feel ‘befriended’, how you flatter me, how you humble me, you artists, musicians, crafts-people of Wales, greeting me – ‘poor old Waller – like a long lost friend.  As the Minister asked, “why did we need to go to the U.S. to know ourselves and each other?”  Why indeed, but these hard earned friendships, forged in the camaraderie of a hot-plate of cultural exposition and the physically draining social exchanges later in Arlington, will clearly live-on here at home.

The year since we took Wales, in its many guises, to the United States, has been difficult for many of us.  Such was the impact of that intense period, such was the closeness of bonds formed and laughter shared that it has taken its toll and it has taken time.  As I wrote recently,  I have determined that this anniversary must mark the end, must give closure to me.  We cannot live on past glories, dwell in sadness on happy memories, wish wistfully for more.  The books are closed, the photos put away, e mails erased, facebook reduced, ‘T’ shirts packed deep in drawers.  In years to come –  in my case, no doubt from my wheelchair ! – the box will be re-discovered, opened with curiosity, words written in books, in letters, on photos, momento’s, pictures and films will bring it all back.  By then it will just be a short chapter in a very hectic, confused, long and  eventful life, but it will be a pleasure to revisit it.

Lonely Artists

Christine and Sean, sitting surrounded by empty seats, recently filled by 'friends', sums up the 'End' of the re-union

Goodbye D.C., “Thanks for the Memory”.  Adieu dear Friends, a bientot ! I’m coming home for good, my repairing is nearly done,  I’ll think of you fondly, if not SO often.

Hwyl fawr.


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