What separates the Winners from the Losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.

Indeed, and Donald Trump should know !  I’m not so sure how my score is adding up….. a minus times a plus is still a minus – isn’t it ?  But, a minus times a minus will never be a plus, despite what your maths teacher told you, no way !

So, here I am, hobbling around on one bad leg and one worse leg, oh yes, and a couple of aluminium crutches.  Am I bovvered !!

Well actually, I’m doing fine all things considered; be sure that the minute self pity shows its ugly head something will happen to put you in your place, and your problems in perspective.  Do you remember my post back in November in which I showed you a beautiful lake/reservoir in mid Wales (where a boat had been partly sunk), last week a terrible tragedy shook the whole of Wales.  In that very spot a woman driver escaped from the cold waters as her people carrier sunk taking her husband, mother and two foster sons to their watery grave.  We can all feel her pain, or think we can… Then a letter from my dear friend incarcerated in an English prison again made me see my blessings, and so……. I vow to be a winner. AND my birth certificate definitely proclaims me to be what I say I am – Welsh, so suck on that Mr Trump !

Willow theatre gathering

April 23rd is the birthday of the Bard and at the Willow theatre it was celebrated in style with some very strange music !

I was determined to do something over the Easter weekend, having done little in the days before.  A phone call from my friends at the Shakespeare Link at Penlanole, near Rhayader, inviting me to attend the birthday party they were holding for one Will Shakespeare, was the first item to lift my spirits.  Saturday afternoon saw a hundred or so thespian types and musicians who’s repertoires did not include anything to be found in my collection, sat around in the newly blossomed willow theatre.  It is nice sometimes to enter into a new hive, alien to that to which I may normally gravitate, and feel the buzz of culture and intellect that abounds therein.  The trouble is it inevitably makes me feel inadequate !

A theatre of willow makes a lovely shady glen in which to enjoy some culture.

The willow theatre, a great open air 'Globe' especially before the 'natives' come out - midges are a major plague later in the year.

The language of Shakespeare is best heard spoken by those that understand the intonation, the expression, the contemporary meaning and adorn the words with non-verbal communication.  I enjoy hearing the eloquence of the speeches when delivered by voices which are in tune with the Bard’s meaning.

I lament the terrible teaching of the Plays I endured at the hands of bored, uncaring teachers in my Boy’s Grammar School. ” If only we could have heard it spoken by such as these”, is what I said to myself as I sat and enjoyed a short respite in that sunny open air theatre.  A little ray of culture in my otherwise urbane life.

Or so I thought !  The very next day another, altogether different, sort of community based culture crossed my path.  This time it was not of Olde English origin but from across the water, a little Gallic flavour added to a small Welsh village.

A boule court under construction in a small Welsh village

This little strip of stone dust will soon be a hot-bed of internecine warfare where cannon-ball-like missiles will destroy harmony and lifelong bonds of kinship - well if darts are anything to go by it will !

From some alcohol induced mist came the idea of creating a Boule court in a corner of the playing field in the village in which my sister and partner live in west Wales.  After ‘due process’, entailing a proposal, seconded of course, long discussion and deliberation and eventual approval by the ‘committee’ empowered to rule on such serious matters of community cohesion, permission was granted.  Partly it was carried by virtue of the ‘sponsorship’ deal which had been brokered allowing the whole project to be financed ‘at no cost’ to the ‘community. (Though it must be noted there was insistence that the ‘sponsors’ should be thanked and proclaimed on a prominent plaque affixed near the court).

I’m not sure how I feel about this ‘dilution’ of Welsh culture.  The insidious creep of European laws and ‘thinking’ is becoming a worry to me; my love of Willy S is based on his articulate destruction of the French by Fluellen and his mate ‘Harry’, two true Welshmen.  How would they feel to see French canon-balls being thrown on a Welsh court – “tell the Dauphin we will match his balls on all the courts of France” !  What’s more wasn’t it here, in this part of Wales, that the last French invasion was sent packing by some crazy woman wearing a horse’s head ?  Mrs Marie Llwyd or some such……

I had to sit and witness the first ‘ends’ being thrown – the sole privilege and right of those to whom had been entrusted the installation of this ‘Agincourt’, this ‘Crecy’ this ‘Parc des Prince.  Built here, in this disputed land where Romans and British, Celts and Irish, Normans and English battled ceaselessly, a court on which all the battles of history will be replayed over six shiny canon-balls and a little wooden ‘Jack’ (shouldn’t that be ‘Jaque’ ?), a Trojan horse indeed.  Before long Beouf Bourginion avec Champignon  will be being served, along with ‘pomme-frites’ in the village pub.

Boules comes to west Carmarthenshire

Boule en Pays de Galle. The first'ends' of an invasive competition that will soon displace the endemic 'pool' in the hearts of Welsh warriors. The clack of shiney balls will reverberate throughout the tranquil Welsh countryside. 'Merde' !

Already the first serious competition is planned for the evening of  festivities which celebrate the wedding of our second-in-line to the English throne, what ever will the Prince of Wales think ! Welsh wedding parties differ in number only from Welsh funerals  – one less person at the latter – in the inevitable arguments and brawls that mark the nightime wakes.  Why on earth introduce more fuel to fan the flames of nationalism; isn’t a party to honour an English King-to-be, in the heartland of Merlin, sufficient to set men against men and fish-wife ag’in fish-wife ? (mark ye well, the language will be so !) What purpose is served by flavouring the whole feast with Garlic !!

I’m really just jealous that they wouldn’t let me join in;  well done you Knights of Llanfallteg, you warriors of the Lansker.  I now have to go to France to get my very own set of boule, then you can watch out – and I have a secret weapon!  Do you know how similar this genteel French game is to the rounders that our American cousins play ?  It just so happens that I have a visitor arriving who is probably a real hot-shot pitcher on that American rounders court; watch her pitch a boule ball Messrs DO, DJ, JD !!

Was it just coincidence that my nostrils and vision was affronted by Wild Garlic in the very lane leading to this jousting court !

The wild garlic of the hedgerow.

Ramsons, that all pervading of hedgerow and woodland 'stinkers' !

Strange how coincidence plays out – I have just spent several months in a mountain valley, on a farm named after the growing of that very plant – wild, or cultivated by the nearby Augustinian abbey at Llanthony, is not known – Grafog seems to imply the growing of the plant as the common Welsh name is ‘Garlec’, though this seems most likely the modern version.  It is a potent healing plant, historically famed for the treatment of any respiratory infections and viruses.  The Physicians of Myddfai recommended it for the curing of ‘Noises in the Head’ – “take a clove and prick it in several places in the middle, dip in honey and insert in the ear, covering with black wool”….  During the First World War ramsons were commonly employed in the treatment of supporating wounds, being applied on swabs of sterile sphagnum moss.  My Grand-mother used it for all infected sores and wounds.  In the C9th Laws of Hywel Dda, King of Dyfed, a ‘mediciner’ was expected to be paid 4 ‘legal’ pence for the ‘application of ramsons to an infected wound’.

Now not many people know this but, that was exactly the amount one had to pay the Doc for ‘blood letting’.  Again, funny how coincidence plays out…..

I had recently been researching ‘blood letting’, not of humans however, horses !

Blood letting instrument called a 'Fleam'.

This curious little 'tool' came into my possession recently. It is a Fleam, and is used for blood letting of horses.

A rather curious little ‘tool’ – more correctly ‘instrument’ – came into my collection recently.  At first I had no idea what it was, though it looked for all the world like a tool for setting up ‘points’ in some electrical circuit related to a motor engine.  It is in fact called a ‘Fleam’, the word deriving from the old French (yes, our Gallic neighbours again !) ‘flieme’ which in turn is derived -and altered – from the Latin ‘phlebotomus’ and the Greek ‘phlebotomon’ , a fact I mention not merely to demonstrate how very very clever and knowledgeable I am, but more-so to illustrate that the act of ‘blood-letting’ (in the medical sense) is a long practised solution to man-kind’s illnesses.  However I had no idea what purpose the letting of blood from horses served, until my old farmer friend at Grafog put me onto it !

Fleam scaled by spectacles, this instrument is for blood-letting of horses.

To give an idea of scale, my spectacles next to my newly acquired 'fleam', one would be no good without t'other ! Not in my case anyway...

Apparently a very valuable product was obtainable from mares when in-foal. PMS, pregnant mare serum, was a necessary and sought after product.  The sharp blades of the fleam – three different thickness blades – are ‘tapped’ (with a small wooden staff), only one of them I should add, into a prominent vein on the horses neck and the blood is drained into a glass vessel.  Normally a pint of blood was taken for which there was a very welcome payment – apparently around £5 in the 1940s and 50s, more in fact than the horse was generally worth !  The serum is gonadotropin (I suggest you ‘google’ it if you have a particular interest) and it contains a rich and potent hormone called ‘placental glycoprotein’.  this hormone is variously used in the farming world for increasing the fertility, or ovulation, in cows and pigs.  However there is record of it being used to treat sterility in women.  I was particularly curious as to  its use in the World Wars, a suggestion it may have had a role in manufacture of blood plasma, but thus far I have been unable to find reference to this (if anyone knows anything of this, please let me know).

My collection of tools comes to the fore this time of year, shows, fetes and vintage gatherings are on every page of the diary from now until late September.  I recently gave an evening talk accompanying a small exhibition in the village school at Llangynidr near Crickhowell for the local historical society – though very few forsook the sunny evening in the garden !

Tools on a table

A mystery of wood and metal challenges the Llangynidr history society members.

It is always interesting to hear people’s ideas and guesses as to what certain items are !  In a hall I usually have a predominance of small hand tools and table-top items, some of them domestic, to more easily demonstrate their use and methodology.  At the larger outdoor shows and gatherings what I display will depend on what the venue is and the main theme – sometimes mixed vintage, sometimes agricultural show – and of course what facilities I am afforded.  I have my own marquee should I wish to erect it, normally I do this only for a two day show as it is a big job to get it up and take it down.  Sometimes I may take a selection of tools relating to a particular activity, such as haysel or peat cutting, sometimes (and what I really like to take) one of my wooden horse drawn carts will make an appearance.  I’ve two shows this next week and I haven’t yet decided what to take; much will depend on whether I am able to handle items or indeed even walk about !

This rather nice little poster was made by Madam Llangynidr to advertise my recent talk to the history society, I like it !

Busy times ahead, and I am still struggling to get restorations finished, especially my cart for which I had the new wooden cart wheels made, and of course my recent acquisition of my Williams’ Bros. butter churn.

Unsurprisingly I have done little to earn a crust this past week, however, sitting in a camping chair and using a crutch as a pointing aid I did manage to get my little group of the Cwmbran Walling Bretheren to begin a new restoration.  We had rather thought we had run out of suitable dry stone wall to rebuild in the Blaen Bran Community woodland, little did we know !  A whole stretch of medieval field boundary lay in wait.  Exciting indeed, even for me on a crutch and a prayer – trying to even stand let alone walk on an uneven up-hill slope was not easy and may actually have been a little silly !

An old mountain wall reveals its soul

This is how I first look at an old wall, how is it built, how are the stones placed in relation to each other... this one hints at several centuries of guardianship of this hillside enclosure.

The wall is a continuation of the piece we had been rebuilding for the last three weeks (one day each week of course !).  On the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1848 the enclosure is quite clear, it is a large ‘field’ and is the total inclosed land of the old Blaen Bran farm.  My interpretation is that the farm became a permanent dwelling and farmstead after the disollution of the nearby abbey of Llantarnam, a significant Cistercian house.  Most probably, following the Acts of union, the old hafod of Blaen Bran passed to one of the sons of the home farm lower down the slope and the walled encloure was built to protect its hay and corn fields.  Somewhere within the woodland will be the old banks that separated those parts of the big field, but they lie lost in the afforestation that took place after the closure of the colliery in the 1940s.

Stripping out the old mountain wall of Blaen Bran, Cwmbran.

The merry men strip-out the old mountain wall ready for reconstruction, carefully done to ensure historical integrity is preserved.

The first job was to assess the wall and work out the dimensions and the build methodology which creates the type of wall indicative of a particular period of history.  The typology of dry stone walls is not generally accepted as a method of dating the build period (by Archaeologists) but I am continuing to add to my ‘models’ and to test them against walls as I find them.  This one is unremarkable in that it is typical of the style of build throughout the C16th and C17th.

Whilst the rebuild will enhance the skill of my little team, the understanding of the wall and its purpose in the landscape of its day furthers our understanding of Ancient Cwmbran and the Cistercians. (see http://www.ancientcwmbran.co.uk)

I’m not generally one to look too far into the future, tomorrow is enough of a surprise to me.  I have been looking a little farther recently, not least because I have some journeys to make and some hosting to do but NEXT year ?  One of my dear sisters reaches another milestone soon and is already planning the ‘alternative Olympic games’  for 2012, We are going to invade an island I have so longed to visit, Orkney.  It is full of archaeological treasures and wildlife of such rarity it will be a visit of a lifetime.  Why though, why, did she have to tell me !  I’m having enough trouble trying to ‘forget’ August this year !

From a very distracted Welshwaller, Happy May Day,  Happy Wedding day William Wales and Katie fach, and fingers crossed that my computer literate daughters remembered to put in the bids for the Olympic games tickets – Eusene Bolt and Scara Brae in one summer…….. how many shopping days to Xmas !!

Slow down world…….. I’ve so much fun to come this summer yet, oh YES  I  DO  !!

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