May is a complicated month – not quite winter, not quite summer, but oh so full of memories. It reminds me of the days when my grandmother still baked birthday cakes in the shape of butterflies, horses, and dinosaurs. It reminds me of the blueberry bush in my back yard and the deep, woodpile splinters I somehow manged to get every spring. Mostly though, in the past few years at least, May reminds me of the day my childhood home burnt down.
Of course I no longer live in this house (for obvious reasons) but even in Wales, these May-time memories find me. Perhaps this is why, a few weeks ago, I was so excited to lead my third Half Moon walking and writing workshop: Past and Present.
With the help of some local friends, I mapped a walk through the industrial, woodland, park and village landscapes of Aberdare, a lovely mining town in the south Wales valleys. I hoped that the varied landscape would inspire other writers to consider not only the unique geographical differences across Aberdare but also the juxtapositions between their own past and present, childhood and adulthood, histories and futures. I hoped that through this workshop they would get a chance to experience this town and this month in the way that I always do – reflectively and with a hint of nostalgia.
Together we walked and talked about old train lines, Welsh poets, cholera reports, mining disasters, and Victorian children. We wrote about songs that were sung to us at home, the oases of our childhood, the wealth divide in Wales, and the impact that changing landscapes have on our emotions and identities.
At the end of our walk, we ate a hearty lunch in the garden of a family owned pub called the Gladys Arms. After my own short yet exposing reading, I was delighted to hear the participants open up and share their own work about ghosts, bridges, home, death, divorce, and inner strength. About an hour and a half into our workshop the owner told us the pub was closed but that we were welcome to stay – she left the back gate open. That little bit of small town charm was the perfect end to a memorable day.
Although I would like to share all of the work written by the Past and Present participants I only have one piece for now. This was written by the very talented Bethan Jones – writer, PhD-candidate, and Welsh Government hot shot. Her piece was inspired by the last stop on our workshop, an old iron bridge.
Untitled (at the Iron Bridge)
We balance on iron tracks, following the hoof prints of long-dead cart horses, the slips and scuffs from their shoes grooved into the worn metal. When we falter, fall, like we always do, we start again.
One is easy, spreadeagled like albatrosses; two and three short skips and jumps. We keep our balance over four, then five. But six requires concentration.
The iron creaks beneath us.
How much history can metal hold? Our weight, all seventy years of it combined, teeters. The metal holds. Shaking, we move on – skipping seven and jumping to eight.
The studs that held the wooden rails are long worn away and cold water flows beneath us. We catch our breath while it moves, sunlight breaking and fragmenting. Ten is a challenge – arms spread, weary, counting the tracks that are left.
We’re not even halfway across.
We slip and fall.
If I receive any more piece from those who attended this workshop I’ll be sure to post them. In the meantime, please enjoy a selection of photos from the day below.
I already cannot wait for my next Half Moon workshop in August! However, between now and then, do keep an eye on the website for any upcoming events led by the wonderful Helen Calcutt and David Calcutt.
Thanks for reading. I do hope all of you have had a thoughtful May as well.