Saturday, 7 January 2012


Plygain, pronounced plug-ine (as in wine), is a Welsh tradition and something very, very special.

Imagine a minuscule chapel nestled on a hillside in the middle of nowhere or at the centre of a tiny village. Imagine it packed to the gunwales, with standing room only. The vicar welcomes everyone to the evening (in Welsh), announces Y Cylch Cyntaf (the first round). and then sits down. The room is full of silent anticipation, punctuated only by a little coughing and shuffling of paper.

Then a man gets up, walks to the front and starts to sing - unaccompanied - an old Welsh carol. When he finishes, he returns to his seat and all is silent again. After a few moments a family group walks to the front and sings in four-part harmony. They are followed by a father and his two sons. And so the singing progresses.

Eventually all those who wish to sing have taken their turn, filling the space with their voices. Nothing has been planned in advance, there is no set running order. They just take their place at the front as the muse seizes them. Then the vicar declares the start of Yr Ail Cylch (the second round), and the man who started off the singing returns to the front. And so on to the end, each in the order of their first appearance.

Tradition demands that no carol should be repeated, so each parti (or group of singers) will rehearse three or four. As there is no planning of either content or running order, if an earlier singer performs the carol that another participant or group intended to sing, there will be a rapid turning of pages to find another suitable song. Everything is unaccompanied, the quality is variable - many of the singers are getting on in years and their voices are not as strong and true as they once were - but the effect of the whole is utterly spellbinding. The singing rises to the rafters of the tiny church and continues for as long as there are people to sing.

This is no traditional church service. It is more like competitive carol singing, but without prizes or applause. The word plygain apparently derives from the Latin for cock crow - originally the services were held on Christmas morning, with people leaving home in the dark. They would then sing to welcome the dawn and the coming of the Christ child. Now plygains are held over a period of weeks through Advent and up to Twelfth Night. The one we went to last night was the last for this season. I have never been to one before - mainly because they are never advertised. Those who normally go know when they are, the order of the churches being repeated year after year. But having been to one, I fully intend to go to as many as possible next year. There is absolutely nothing like it.

The evening ends with the carol y swper, in which those who have taken part (the men only) literally sing for their supper. A beautiful end to an enthralling evening.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


This goal is much harder than the first one.
There are so many memories bound up in this house. Many of my good friends are here. I love my ever-so-slightly eccentric lifestyle up here on this hilltop. I enjoy the freedom that living in the back of beyond brings, and having the space to grow a huge garden and keep animals has been wonderful.

But there are a lot of negatives.
The house is too big. It always was, but R and I had plans to use one half as a holiday let. That isn't going to happen now. There is also still so much to do with respect to the renovations, and I don't think that I could ever recoup the money it would cost, not if I did it to the standard that I would like.
And with land and animals come responsibilities. It is difficult to go away, even for 24 hours, without making copious arrangements. Land and property needs to be maintained - yesterday two of the corrugated roofing sheets blew off my barn in the storm, soaking a lot of the hay I have stored for the sheep. This really isn't a Good Thing, and I'm not sure I have the energy to do it for much longer.

Robert has done the smallholding "thing" for many years too, and has happily moved on from it. He is currently renovating an old house about 20 miles from here and we intend to move there when it is finished. The house is in a small market town on the Welsh/English border. It is sweet, lovely and oh so tiny. We are going to have to distill the contents of two largish houses into one little bijou property.

Strangely enough, it is not this aspect that worries me. Stuff is, at the end of the day, just stuff, and I think it will be an interesting project to decide exactly what is important to me and what is not.
I will miss the outdoor space though. The garden is minuscule at the new place, little more than a courtyard. There is an outside possibility of buying a small, adjoining plot of land which would make a very nice veg garden. I am keeping my fingers and everything else crossed about that.

But on the positive side, we will have the time and freedom - and the money - to travel. It is something I have missed over the last 10 years here. There are friends all over the world we have never visited and would love to go and see. That just wouldn't happen if we were keeping livestock seriously.
It will also be nice to live somewhere at a lower altitude where it doesn't rain constantly. Or snow at the drop of a hat. Or have so much wind that it takes your breath away. The tiny garden at the new house is also a little suntrap. I'm sure I remember quite liking sun...

I know it is the right thing to do for us, but equally it is going to be a huge wrench to leave here. I just wish it would be possible to keep this place so that I could visit it whenever I wanted, but that is just stupid. It would deteriorate further if I did, and that wouldn't make me happy either.

Anyway I have at least 6 months of decluttering and divesting to do before I even have to worry about it!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

In the arms of Morpheus

Sleep is a wonderful thing.
The coughing stopped long enough to allow 6 hours of uninterrupted sweet oblivion.
I would like to order the same again tonight, please.

Monday, 2 January 2012

A clean slate

It must be said, there aren't many benefits to catching a festive Christmas cold that leaves one coughing almost 24/7 for a week or more. But the resulting insomnia does carve out rather a lot of free thinking time

So, after devising menus and shopping lists for the next few weeks, mentally rearranging all the furniture and planning the 2012 veg garden rotation, thoughts eventually turned to New Year's resolutions. I have never had much truck with the "I will keep my desk tidy this year" type as they seem to court failure, and I can find plenty of other things to beat myself up about. But goals are different. Something to work towards, rather than necessitating large-scale behaviour modification. There are lots of things that could go on the list, but I managed to distil it down to three (in order):

1. Get married
2. Move house
3. Run a half marathon

That's probably enough to be going on with for one year!

Hang on a minute. Did she say “Get married”?
In the words of my No. 2 niece when she heard the news, “She can’t do that, I haven’t met him yet!”

I guess a little of the back story is needed here.
Way back last year, when my friend Cheryl put me up for sale on EBay (well, actually she plied me with wine and filled in a profile for a dating site, but a bit of poetic license is permitted), I little imagined that this is where I would be right now. In fact I found the whole idea very scary. But my guardian angel must have been looking after me; after weeding out a number of wholly unsuitable respondents, a couple of meetings with very pleasant, but not at all right gentlemen, I met Robert.

We had a couple of false starts, largely due to my inability to arrive anywhere at the right time, but finally met up – in the carpark to my local animal feed store, which I like to think was a good omen! After that it seemed to take no time at all before we were almost totally in synch with one another. We are very different people, but find we see eye to eye on most issues, particularly the important ones.

And then, a couple of weeks before Christmas, he proposed. I am sure there probably are good reasons why we should wait, but I sure as heck can’t think of any. If there is one thing that the last few years have taught me it is that life really is too short. I talked it through with R’s family. It wasn’t the easiest conversation I have ever had, but they all freely gave their blessing, which was very important to me.

So, I find myself at the start of a new year with a wedding to plan.
Life certainly has become interesting.

(And I’m happy to report that no. 2 niece has now met him, and does approve!)