Tuesday, October 02, 2012
We'll Keep a Whetstone in the Hillsides
Subterreanean lakes of ale were siphoned through our slate-slaked systems as we laboured on the screenplay for a Welsh James Bond film. Little survived of my notes the following day, apart from "HELENA BONHAM CARTER - LESBIUN!" scrawled on my forearm in Żubrówka.
But I do recall a scene in which we imagined the childhood trauma that warped the Welsh Bond into working for MI6. Being abandoned in a slate quarry by troglodyte parents would be one:
[Dark interior of the Llechwedd Slate Mine, Blaenau Ffestiniog. A small boy in grey flannel shorts, blazer and cap stands alone, holding a gently deflating balloon. A canary perched on crag provides the sole splash of colour as water drips hollow from the walls]
Boy [plaintively]: "Mam!"
[The canary falls dead at his feet]
Siencyn and I knew Blaenau well. He, a southerner from sunny Llanishen, had been scared sobbing to his brackish bed by tales of the Bwgan Blaenau - a trouserless quarryman who sharpened insolent children into bradawls for the splitting of the slate.
I had often peer through the clouds crowding over far Ffestiniog and thanked Hendwrch, the Badger God of Unforeseen Coupling, that I was a native of neighbouring Dolgellau.
But Iago was different. Like his native Swansea, he burned with the brio of sodium in a swimming pool - fast and fierce, but warm and always watchable. He decided that we were brandishing the Welsh-speaker's sawn-off sense of humour in Blaenau's general direction, thinking that we complain and denigrate solely to indulge and exalt.
For one of the few occasions in the history of our crab-clawed country we were in fact being totally and utterly honest - a word that did not even exist in Welsh until we filched it from the French. That's right, from the French. Iago trusted in our duplicity, and we let him down.
Even the all-embracing National Park shuns Blaenau. A sooty enclave within the painted playground of Snowdownia, it has few links to the sunlit lowlands beyond a steam railway and the unicycle path over the Crimea Pass hewn by circus fugitives.
Blaenau is industry's vision of that disembowelled baboon in Cronenberg's "The Fly". It is Wales's last revolt against progress, and a warning to the curious geologist.
A few weeks later Siencyn and I were relaxing with some mushroom flummery among the oak garlands of our living room, when the telephone rang. We stared it for a while. Siencyn picked up Pshîla the cat and pressed what he thought was re-dial before I found the receiver and yelled a greeting over the cacaphonous Celtic Katzenjammer.
"It's me Iago, mun!"
"Arright Iargs, where are you? Pshîla's got Siencyn in a five-point pindown and the nettle brandy's taking the edge off my evening. so why don't you pop round? Bring the missus."
"Can't. We're both in bloody Blaenau Ffefuckingstingiog."
"Second honeymoon. Surprise for Kylie-Marie, like."
"In Blaenau?! Bet she's delighted. Don't you remember what me and Siencyn told you about the rain, the slate, the Council Scousers whining in the slagheaps, the Sundays, the consonants - Oh God! the consonants?"
"I thought you was joking and it's really some Tenby in the sky. Kylie-Marie could be crying, but I can't tell 'cause of the rain. And we're indoors."
"Well, Iago bach, I'd love to chat all night but this perique won't smoke itself, so -"
"We need your help mun!"
"Again, Iago, I'm several hundreds of miles away, simultaneously and at the same time overstimulated and sedated by fermentation and fungi, and own neither a car nor a sense of empathy, so once again -"
"Can you just tell us where to get something to eat? We're in this guest house, and they laughed when we asked about dinner. Laughed without opening their mouths..."
Iago had once spent an evening buying drinks for an "SAS officer" whose convenient knowledge of Welsh had helped him recruit the "Tibeeshans" of Tibet to imaginary espionage. Sending the boy into a Blaenau pub would lead to his having "Deddf Eiddo!" tattooed on his intestines with a tool fashioned from his own overdeveloped coccyx.
"Drive down to 'The Grapes' in Maentwrog," I counselled. "The village is twinned with Roger Corman's out-takes, and you can expect the longest silent stare since the doomed London type arrives in the Cornish pub in Hammer's splendid 'The Reptile', but they do pre-killed food and the main road to Minfford and freedom is but a black and lurid tarn away".
"We got here and was so shocked that we just smoked this bag of weed and now we can barely move. What we going to do?"
"You could send out for fish and chips, but don't ask for scampi - some of the blokes who come up for air from Llechwedd feel for amphibians and might track you down. Your wife is a woman - surely she must have some chocolate?"
"Like I said, we're half-Marleyed so the Valleys Family Pack of Revels is long gone. Plus the freezing fog keeps the blow swirling at knee-level, or chest-height for the staff, so everytime we try to go downstairs we gets another hit. It's mental."
I thought hard, then rapped out a number. "This is my brother Morthwyl's phone. Just say the following - 'Blaenau. Stoned cormorant. Bird's yours. Duw ffyc aye'. Ignore the gnawing sound. He'll find you. Now hang up."
Morthwyl located the creature that had once been Iago deposited at "The Brondanw Arms" in nearby Llanfrothen, a hamlet celebrated throughout Wales for having expelled its vicar in the 19th century - from the business end of the giant Sumatran rat that the Independent Calvinist-Methodist (Calvinist) minister has raised like a son, rumour has it.
A word with the Assembly Government, and Iago got a job fashioning Welsh-shaped marital aids for the enervated satraps of Umm al-Quwain. Parts of him feature on a series of Emirati postage stamps.
Kylie-Marie stayed in Maentwrog, where she entertains the impious with her cimbalom at the 24-hour graveyard. And as for the good people of Blaenau and Llanfrothen, they sing and dance and await their next visitors at dusk.