Good morning antipodean friends and loved ones! It’s a day off, and my fellow workers have hitched to Aberystwith to cloud-bathe by the beach, after telling me that my tangled blue hair looks like Edward Scizzorhands this morning. I’m perched atop a window seat with my stockinged feet on the radiator, listening to “concerning hobbits” while I write you some fresh new faff.
I’ve been spending most of our downtime here blasting my sci-fi playlist and reading Ian M Banks, William Gibson and Gene Wolfe. I finished reading the Player of Games Culture novel and then furiously played every game I could find in the house with anyone who would entertain me. But I digress; here is the down-low of the last two weeks:
County Kerry, Ireland (via Cork) to Mahynclleth, Wales
– I still can’t pronounce Mack-hin-ghlyth properly after having heard it about thirty times, so not bother. The first few times I heard I though – oh man I’ll never be able to get this right, every time I hear it sounds different than I remember – and then I realised that NO ONE knows how to say it and everyone who lives here just makes it up as they go. –
We did the “Rail and Sail” discount trip Cork-Dublin-Mahynclleth, and this was a grand way to do it (grand is Irish for “fine” if I haven’t said that already). We shared the train seat to Dublin with a couple of ten year old boys whom I was desperate to ask if they knew how to play Magic the Gathering but suppressed my weirdo stranger impulse. The wifi on the train, which we had learned about with such enthusiasm, turned out to be eye-gougingly slow, so we couldn’t book ahead for a hostel in Dublin. Isaac’s -where we stayed last time- had a print out nailed to the door informing us that the hostel was closed until further notice (oh January), but salvation came in the form of Paddy’s Palace two doors down. The net was broken there as well and we were foundering in a sea of technology-dependent artificial poverty until I remember the spare credit card. The Zoe-Deschanel-esque desk girl laughed all my stress off and gave Daniel the key to the room before I worked this out, bless her quirky can-do smile.
Another rush to the bus stop in the pitch black, and this time I exercised my Jedi skills of finding-the-stop-just-as-the-bus gets-there. At the Stena office a natty lady was dragging the cashier into a circuitous argument over getting her change in pounds stirling, which turned out to be worth about £5, as we traded glances and body language with rest of the queue in a silent mime of good-natured exasperation. The ferry seemed huge and had the abandoned, vacuumed air of an RSL club at first light. I went for a walk onto the nearest open deck, and thrilled in the cool pre-dawn air, the terns and the sea-spray as the port drifted by and the Liffey fanned her fingers out to become the sea, couched in the polite curious glances of the ferry’s regular trucking crowd. The sun swelled up over the forward horizon and splintered rays of light played over the sparkling, undulating waves, and I found myself simultaneously impressed and bored. It was beautiful, divine even, but I’m quickly racking up sunrises and sunsets here in the northern Winter and I’m starting to feel as I stare in awe at almost every one that similarly incredible sunrises and sets in fact stretch backwards and forwards I time almost infinitely, and there is always another I-can’t-believe-this-sunrise around the corner. But that is thinking from a humanity-wide, global perspective, and really, I’m not going to be a part of so many turns of this earth, and maybe that impulse in me that glories in every celestial display is the correct one.
We arrived at the beautiful green cliffs and port town of Holyhead in the full splendor of said sun, and realised it was the first truly sunny blue day we’d seen since (not in-coincidently) flying to Ireland a month ago. Anthropological pondering aside, that was definitely something to be grateful for. We walked through a curving facade of brickwork arches from the port to our platform and laughed at the Welsh signage on the train. We arrived four and a bit hours later in Mahynclleth to find all the shops shutting and -without Internet access- much difficulty in contacting our host. We begged two minutes in the doorway of the closing Quarry Cafe to get the phone number we needed. Technically we weren’t meant to arrive till the Sunday but I called to see if we could bunk in that night anyway, but got the answering machine. We could hardly sit down and wait by the phone since we still don’t have a UK sim, so after another failed ring-thru I told Sharon, of Blaeneinion that we’d be staying at the White Lion Hotel for the night, and would call her early in the morning.
Despite initially gritting our teeth at the cost of the hotel (£25 each rather than the usual £12-15 of a hostel), we had a great time. We sat at the bar and ordered “guest ale” (a great concept) and hot chips and eavesdropped on the Welsh-lingo locals. Upstairs, the tiny carpeted corridor, trapezoid bathroom, the palpable slope of the bedroom floor and the watercolor of a WWII bomber over the bed all added serums charm to our very first night in a hotel together. Waking up to “Mach” in the morning, it felt more like how I imagine Switzerland: old, tall, colorful shops with domesticities above, set in gentle hills with the soaring Snowdonia mountain range just behind. Sharon phoned the White Lion directly to say she’d be at the clock-tower at eleven to get us. This clock-tower, which we’d heard marking not just the hours it every quarter since arriving, has clearly been teleported from Bowerstone, Albion.
Sharon arrived just late enough for us to hear the bells peal and bundled us into her loved bush-whacked Pajero, dazzling me with her lop-sided grin, dusky eyes, disheveled hair and dramatic giggle. In between laughs she pointed out, unnecessarily, the beauty of the Blaeneinion valley, forested at its lowest points where the road curves intimately with the flow of the river, the steep slopes above it green with pastureland going wild, and the crests of these iced with forestry pine. I know now that forestry is about as bio-diverse as a day-old sandwich, but it still looks green and rugged to me.
We’ve got a caravan to ourselves, painted army green to blend in with the hills, near a bunkhouse that sleeps our fellow Wwoofers: two English girls and a slightly older english guy, all long-termers on the Wwoofers scene and familiar with many enviro-activism circles; a tall blond surfer from the sunshine coast who is Ocker enough that we had to have a group intervention against his callous (sexist/homophobic/racist) humour; a Finland-Swede studying Chinese philosophy and martial arts in Manchester, and a French boy who’s just arrived and whom Daniel is betting is an engineer. This is the first time we’ve worked with more than one or two others and it’s been different and good. The more people you meet and have to break down boundaries in yourself to live with them, the easier it becomes to break down these boundaries, to acknowledge differences and define yourself and your journey, and to appreciate what the histories and personalities of strangers can have to give to your own history and personality. The three English Wwoofers have already worked together before. Listening to the girls talk about their fascinating subculture and the latent net of friends they seem to have spread about these isles, I hope that Daniel and I can continue traveling through this culture long enough to intersect with them again.
We’ve spent the last two weeks planting trees in the furthest field on the Blaeneinion property, and it’s been a labour of love. Tree-planting is enjoyable work, and we’ve had a huge amount of work to do with clear guidelines, precise time-keeping, a fun and flexible team, and the best two weeks of cooked lunches I’ve had in my life. I think my favorite part of the day though, is opening up the canister of black coffee and vegan biscuits or dates. I’ve started drinking a lot of black coffee, with the emphasis being equally on a lot and black. We have planted ash, alder, birch, rowan, crab-apple, wych elm, hazel, hawthorn, sweet chestnut, wild cherry and oak. I hope as i plant each one that it will be there for five hundred years or more, and wonder about this while my coworkers talk about peak oil and changing energy/fuel needs and uses.