Alun Richards, Tom Jones, Helena Attlee on Wales Readathon #dewithon21

This year there is no set book for Wales Readathon 2021 so I have chosen subjects of Welsh origin which appeal to me, but it seems I have borrowed books with quite substantial content and I may not comfortably finish reading all of them within the month of March. 

BOOK ONE within the ‘Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories’ edited by Alun Richards there are twenty-four famous Welsh authors.

BOOK TWO singer Tom Jones ‘Over the Top and Back: The Autobiography’ is quite a hefty volume and packed full of action.

BOOK THREE ‘The Gardens of Wales’ compiled by garden design historian Helena Attlee, photography by Alex Ramsay, is splendidly presented in true coffee-table style with absorbing information.

You can see I love a good dose of contextual facts and photographs.  

Reviews below—on with the show

PENGUIN BOOK OF WELSH SHORT STORIES
Edited: Alun Richards
First published: 1976
Second edition: August 2011
ISBN: 9780241955468
Number of Pages: 348
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd

There are twenty-four short stories in this slim volume ‘The Penguin Book of Welsh Short Stories’ edited by Alun Richards (some have been translated from the original Welsh) and I am going to list every one even though I am only half way through—

THE FASHION PLATE  –  Rhys Davies
THE GOLDEN PONY  –  Glyn Jones
ACTING CAPTAIN –  Alun Lewis
SATURDAY NIGHT  –  Geraint Goodwin
THE LOSS  –  Kate Roberts
THE BRUTE CREATION  –  Gwyn Jones
EXTRAORDINARY LITTLE COUGH  –  Dylan Thomas
A SUCCESSFUL YEAR  –  D. J. Williams
THE TEACHER  –  Gwyn Thomas
THE STRANGE APEMAN  –  E. Tegla Davies
BE THIS HER MEMORIAL  –  Caradoc Evans
THE RETURN  –  Brenda Chamberlain
TWENTY TONS OF COAL  –  B. L. Coombes
THE SQUIRE OF HAVILAH  –  T. Hughes Jones
AN OVERDOSE OF SUN  –  Eigra Lewis Roberts
THE HOUSE IN BUILTH CRESCENT  –  Moira Dearnley
BLIND DATE  –  Jane Edwards
MORFYDD’S CELEBRATION  –  Harri Pritchard Jones
A WRITER CAME TO OUR PLACE  –  John Morgan
A ROMAN SPRING  –  Leslie Norris
BEFORE FOREVER AFTER  –  Ron Berry
HON. SEC. (R.F.C.)  –  Alun Richards
BLACK BARREN  –  Islwyn Ffowc Elis
MEL’S SECRET LOVE  –  Emyr Humphreys

Backcover information reads ‘In twenty-four short stories, written by Welsh men and women, for the most part about Welsh people, we are treated to depictions of valley and mountain, country and town, as well as offered powerful and moving insights into the nature of the people.’

MY REVIEW: The calibre and wisdom of these fiction short stories blows me away, the people of Wales and the understated passion they have for their country shines through in emotive yet precisely documented stories of their era.  I was drawn into their despair and great joy of everyday life, studied and examined but never artificial.  So far the story which touched me the most is ‘The Squire of Havilah’ by T. Hughes Jones.  Behind the tale, behind the words is a great depth of understanding about a man most of us would have met or seen once and dismissed from our mind. Daniel Jones, a 40-year-old bachelor of Rhos-y-grug, is a misjudged man who, in himself, is hopeful of a wealthy future.  After being deceived and flimflammed at a fair into paying for the deeds to twenty acres of rich mineral land in Havilah, supposedly in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Jones dreams the life of a prosperous man as his farmhouse crumbles and his land turns wild around him.  Religion plays a part and Jones cannot visit his tenure because the First World War is raging.  There are other pertinent parts to the story and lessons lurk; perhaps distrust of fairground buskers.  But everyone has something going on deep in the recesses of their mind.  If you cannot help, at least acknowledge their hopes and dreams.
GBW.

OVER THE TOP AND BACK: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Author: Tom Jones
Publisher: Penguin Australia 2015
ISBN: 9780718180690
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Format: Paperback
Pages: 521 includes photographs

MY REVIEW: I will be upfront and say that so far I have not read all the chapters in the life of the inimitable Welsh singer Tom Jones.  But ‘Over the Top and Back’ has me hooked. I love reading about the lives of famous 20th century celebrities from when they came into the world until their later years.  Especially with lots and lots of old photographs like this one.  The ‘aah’ nostalgia moment happens and I remember his songs and where I was, or how old I was, when I saw him on B&W television or tuned the radio and heard his current hit.  Or bought ‘the single’ a small vinyl record. I discovered that Tom Jones adopted the name Tommy Scott for a short time but his real name is Thomas John Woodward.  In his early life, aged twelve, he contracted TB infection, not unusual in industrial Wales during that era.  He recovered after two years and wanted to be either a professional singer or a slate-faced cowboy.  He writes ‘From the kitchen of 44 Laura Street in Pontypridd in the forties, the odds of becoming one appear to be about as long as the odds on becoming the other’.  But as we know he did succeed—and what a ride—I lost track of the many famous people he met and worked with. Before knickers were tossed on stage, his raucous stage presence shone too brightly for the strict censorship laws of the time.  A censor once told him to tone himself down during the rendition of Rolling Stones song ‘Satisfaction’ because it implied sexual satisfaction. ‘Well, isn’t it?’ said Tom.  Can’t wait to read what happens when he tours America.
GBW.

THE GARDENS OF WALES
Author: Helena Attlee
Format: Hardback | 128 pages | Colour photos
Dimensions: 250 x 267 x 17.78mm | 910g
Publication: 2009
ISBN: 9780711228825
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd

MY REVIEW: I have a library copy of ‘The Gardens of Wales’—like Tom Jones autobiography, it is well thumbed—and the picturesque gardens are simply stunning.  There are fine examples of unusual topiary but it’s the flights of fancy created by dedicated visionaries which I find jaw-dropping; whole gardens and parkland over untold acres with water features, profuse flowers, statues, fine lawns, hidden paths, grottoes, ancient trees, and the hard work and dedication by gardening staff.  All set against a backdrop of magnificent heritage listed Welsh homes, er, mansions, maybe castles.  Anyway, they are very grand and I hope I get to return to UK one day and visit them.  For example Wyndcliffe Court, Monmouthshire ‘Warm stone terraces, bulging topiary and a good splash of colour (plus trickling fountain and bowling green) the garden of Wyndcliffe Court bears all the hallmarks of designer H. Avray Tipping’ an artisté who loved the contrast between cultivation and natural landscape.  I admire the classical architecture of the follies, or summerhouses, often a miniature version of a stately home, fashioned for a couple to sit and partake of their view.  This book has become a bit of a rarity, however, Helena Attlee has made a career of studying and writing about spectacular gardens in many countries around the world. Both she and photographer Alex Ramsay live in Wales. Alex Ramsay’s image of the layered Orangery Terrace, Aviary Terrace and Top Terrace at Powis Castle, Montgomeryshire, is a sight to behold.
GBW.

In March 2020 last year, for the shared Wales Readathon, I ordered ‘One Moonlit Night’ by Caradog Prichard which unfortunately arrived late so I posted my review in April. It is a fascinating almost-autobiographical novel and well worth reading. But history is trying to repeat itself and the 2021 deadline is looming fast.

I will finish these books, meanwhile a halved review is better than no review, right.

See you next year, Book Jotter—darllen hapus!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Travel Tribute to H V Morton and Wales

This faded old book jumped out at me.  I believe interconnections exist everywhere in many forms but none so strongly as with books.

I spied this hardback ‘In Search of Wales’ by H.V. Morton, with sixteen illustrations and a map, resting on one of the tables at UQ Alumni Book Fair.  It was published by Methuen & Co. Ltd London in 1932 and purchased by the Parliamentary Library in Queensland, Australia, on 27 July 1932.  My photographs don’t convey the substance of this volume.

Apart from my purchase giving me a tenuous Queensland connection, since I have been blogging I have come to know bloggers from Wales like Book Jotter, and people with ties to Wales, so I guess I was curious to find out some early 20th century history.

There is a city named Ipswich, west of the capital Brisbane, Queensland, and it has Welsh heritage from the founding families, the legacy of coal mines, and street names I can’t pronounce.  It was going to be our capital city but being situated inland away from sea ports (and always hotter in summer) Brisbane took over the coveted position.

When I look at the B&W images in this book, I can’t help but feel strong emotion for those Welsh families, the people who came to Queensland in 1851 and started afresh.  Whether it was out of necessity, assisted passage, general interest or just sheer bravery, it was a long way to come to start a new life in a totally different land.

The three photos (below) are 1. Cornfields, 2. Druid ceremony conducted by the Archdruid at the Gorsedd Stone, 3. Cockle women of Penclawdd on the seashore.  It looks cold!  Throughout there are two-page spreads of dramatic valleys, stoney castles and heartbreaking portraits of mining men and soot-covered boys.

My new old book was deleted from the Old Parliament Library catalogue on 22 October 1996 and I wondered where it had been since then.  ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘I am enjoying it now on 10 May 2019’.  Then I saw a small pencilled Dewey notation on the back cover map UL914.29 Mor.  It had probably languished in the University Library.

As yet I haven’t tracked down all the details of author, Henry Vollam Morton, and even though he was a well-known journalist and travel writer, the information in the final pages doesn’t give much away.  There is an insightful personal comment (photo below) which ends with three tiny icons, perhaps foreshadowing today’s social media links.

Further material tells me that the author’s book ‘…is more than a travel book, it is a sensitive interpretation of a country’s people and their history.’  He wrote a series called ‘The Search Books’ and further along it reads ‘Since that time Mr Morton’s gay and informative travels…have gained him thousands of readers.’

At this late stage, a book review would be rather tricky—okay, it would be hard for me to get my head around.  H.V. Morton travels far and wide through Wales and writes in depth.  The voice, the style of that era (nicer than brash Bill Bryson) is easy to read and written in a friendly, personal way with warmth in every chapter.  Allowing for the off-key words we don’t use today, there is factual information and humorous stories, and in Chapter Six he asks the usual traveller’s question and receives a great reply—

“The first village, commonly and charitably called Llanfair, provides the stranger with an impossible task among the Welsh place-names.
Its title is: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllandysiliogogogoch

This is no joke.  It is only too true!  The full name, however, is never used but it appears only slightly amputated in the Ordnance Survey maps.
The postal name is Llanfair P.G. or Llanfairpwll.

I entered the first inn and said to those who were drinking in the bar ‘I will buy anyone a drink who can pronounce the full name of this place.’
There was an ominous silence until an old man, finishing his beer, stood up and sang it!

‘And what does it mean?’ I asked.
‘It means,’ I was told, ‘the Church of St Mary in a wood of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St Tysilio’s cave close to a red cave’.” 

Sounds magical to me.  Daith yn hapus!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

IMG_20190509_132036
Another beautiful coincidence – it is not springtime in Australia, it is cool autumn weather. Yet these daffodils, a Welsh symbol, were outside my local supermarket the day after I purchased the book at UQ Alumni Book Fair.

Further reading from Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, England, and HVM Society
https://hvmorton.wordpress.com/2019/02/17/great-british-car-journeys/