A Week In Pictures/Yr Wythnos Mewn Lluniau

It’s more like a month in pictures this time – I have no idea where January has gone. It’s been a whole month of not working for the first time in six years and despite the rain, snow and storms here, it’s been wonderful just to slow down, relax and breathe. I’ve had time to walk, to tidy up in the garden, bake bread and enjoy days with no pressing deadlines. Even my to-do lists have been leisurely. I’ve lost that general feeling of anxiety and guilt of not quite getting everything done at the end of day, of always feeling something left not quite complete.

In my wisdom though – in case I missed spending most of my days at a desk in front of a computer – I decided to redesign this blog. Despite posting somewhat sporadically for the past few years I enjoy it, but have recently been feeling like I want more options here on design and layout. I’ve got a fairly clear idea of what I want it to look like – cleaner, simpler without that wordpress banner on the top for example…So I took the plunge and have signed up to Squarespace and am currently working through putting together the pages. Stay tuned.

We had snow here two weeks ago – a brief flurry overnight which hung around for a few days on the mountain tops then melted. We got a walk in up to Sugar Loaf which was beautiful – we hardly saw anyone on the way up, then on the top it was like market day in Abergavenny.

We also went to Meilyr Jones. I’ve liked him since he was in Race Horses/Radio Luxembourg years ago but never got to see them live. A natural performer, after half an hour of technical delays and faffing, he stands up, announces ‘I’ve always wondered if I could change the atmosphere with a click of my fingers’, launches into full trumpets and strings, and blows the January cobwebs away.

Christmas Gifts from Wales

Yesterday I mentioned I’d been making Christmas hampers. There are several people in my life who are difficult to buy for – who never ask for anything specific and for whom there’s nothing I can immediately think they need (there’s always a few…). However, since we moved here two years ago we’ve discovered some lovely local shops and producers that I was keen to share with my family. So, this year pretty much everyone is getting a hamper. Because who doesn’t always love something good to eat and read? This is how I got on – local producers called out below.

For those who love baking 

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Unbleached strong white flour from Talgarth Mill – a restored flour mill which makes the best bread and has a great cafe attached. Their flours are currently fuelling my own sourdough obsession. Nom nom ridiculously good chocolate from Pembrokeshire.

For coffee and beer lovers

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We’ve been loving Grey Trees JPR pale ale this year, but try their Caradog’s Bitter for something darker this winter. Coaltown Coffee Roasters have the best packaging and their Black Gold Signature Blend is ideal for mornings (afternoons, evenings…). Strong coffee and beer requires a good read, so here’s Richard Hell’s autobiography to accompany your drinking, and remind me of watching Television at Green Man this summer.

For those in search of something good to put on toast

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Having eaten at Y Polyn a few years ago,  I was intent upon going to Wright’s Food Emporium this year and a few months ago we headed over for a day trip to Carmarthenshire. It was 3pm on a rainy Saturday and Wright’s was heaving but we shopped for a few things and browsed Simon’s record collection whilst waiting. They sell their own range of produce – this plum and vanilla jam for example – and a careful selection of other producers like this honey from Coedcanlas. Sadly not available online, you’ll just have to visit yourselves – and try the rarebit with nduja whilst you’re there, I’m still dreaming about it.

For dark reading on dark nights

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Admittedly, this would be one for me. This selection of iconic photos from Kevin Cummings came out a few years ago now, but remains on my coffee table/footstool for regular flicking through. Dark pictures on dark days require cosy scarf-shawls – this one from Number 46 in Abergavenny is ideal.

For lovers of Welsh art and craft

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Every time I visit family on Anglesey I always visit Oriel Ynys Mon in Llangefni, Wales’ national collection of Kyffin Williams paintings. This beautiful book is a curation of his portraits with annotation and anecdotes on each by the artist. Fforest is a place I’ve wanted to stay at for a long time (one of their granary lofts in Cardigan please) but until then I’ll settle for one of their blankets.

So that’s my selection, I’m off to finish my wrapping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Week In Pictures/Yr Wythnos Mewn Lluniau

imageIt’s been a busy few weeks – preparing for Christmas, finishing off at work and wading through all the rain we’ve been having. No floods here thankfully, but weekend after weekend of rain. On Instagram this week I was asked how many words there are for rain in Welsh. I didn’t know how many, but there are a lot, and all describe quite specific states of rain. All in all it has been doing everything from pigo (spotting) to piso (no translation required there) here most days. The land is sodden and walking is difficult – literally wading through mud. My favourite rain phrase though is mae hi’n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn – it’s raining old women and sticks. Makes as much sense as raining cats and dogs, I suppose.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetAn early Christmas present was a copy of Jack Thurston’s lovely Lost Lanes Wales. I spent a few pleasant hours reading through it, particularly the rides around here – beautifully described and photographed, it covers our local Iron Mountain (the Blorenge), the three peaks of the Skirrid, Blorenge and Sugar Loaf, then heads further along to the Valleys before continuing all around Wales and the Borders. When January comes I’ll need some things to keep me busy. There is even a local wild swimming spot near here that I didn’t know about – one to find next summer.

imageFinally, a night out in Cardiff seeing Euros Childs. The third time we’ve seen him in the past twelve months – second with the full Roogie Boogie Band – and he/they just get better. Cardiff was the last night of the current tour and it was good to see him on home turf.

imageI’ve also been finishing Christmas hampers of (largely) Welsh produce. Check back tomorrow for updates!

 

 

 

A Week In Pictures/Yr Wythnos Mewn Lluniau

It’s been grey, wet and ever so windy here over the past two weeks. We attempted a walk up Corn Du and Pen y Fan only to to find it so blustery on the top of Corn Du we didn’t get any further. Pen y Fan stayed tantalisingly out of reach, even though it would have only been another ten minutes’ walk on, but we decided it wasn’t the day for it. Whilst we were making that decision a fell runner passed us, leaping up among the rocks on the top with just a pair of shorts and a single long sleeved top on. He was hardier than us in our full walking gear. The Pen y Fan itch will have to be scratched on a better, calmer day.

No, it’s been the weather for staying in, baking and life decisions. I finally attempted some bara brith, after much complaining that they just don’t make it down here like they do where I grew up in North Wales. It turned out beautifully from just five ingredients: fruit soaked overnight in strong tea, allspice, flour, sugar and one egg.

Heading towards Christmas and the end of the year always makes me reflective. What have I achieved this year? How do I feel about another year passing? It’s been stormy weather at work this year too. Lots of changes, uncertainty, stress. Somewhere on those hills or in my kitchen I took a decision that has been a long time coming. It’s a decision that puts me back in control and firmly says ‘Don’t like it? Change it’. So I did. After nearly six years in my present job, I resigned. I leave at Christmas and start the New Year with a blank slate.

I haven’t talked about my job on here as it feels far removed from my life here in the valley. It’s a metropolitan career steeped in cities and politics, which I leave behind as I drive towards the hills. I soak overnight in the peace and utter quietness here ready for another day of what often just feels like fire-fighting. I’d like to find a way to better blend the two next year – I’m not sure yet what that could be, but I am sure of one thing: brighter days are ahead.

P.S. For all logophiles and nature lovers out there, Robert McFarlane’s Landmarks is a lovely read, charting the (often disappearing) words we use to describe our natural world. Ideal for broadening the vocabulary on Christmas walks. 

 

Green Man /Dyn Gwyrdd 2015

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I’ve been in a post-Green Man funk all week. Three days of music, ale and food have left me feeling a little bit bereft now it’s all over. But, what a weekend.

Personal highlights for me were Television, Courtney Barnett, Super Furries, Teleman (again), The Wave Pictures. There is so much good stuff at Green Man that line up clashes inevitably arise – The Wave Pictures and Television being one, so we caught just the end of The Wave Pictures on the basis of, really, when am I likely to ever see Television again? Slowdive and The Fall were others that got away. For the sheer joy of being there – Seazoo on the Green Man Rising stage were infectious in their enthusiasm, their audience and their lo-fi pop, Sweet Baboo and The Pictish Trail brought duets and comedy to the Walled Garden, and one that came to life live rather than the recorded version was H Hawkline.

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I also tried to make the most of the wider festival this year, going to readings and comedy in the Babbling Tongues tent. Gwenno bilingually interviewing Gruff and Huw from Super Furries and making a highly professional job of it was fantastic, as were their anecdotes about meeting on top of a train to Bala (‘it was a very slow train’) and turning down a million pounds from Coke for an advert. Mojo should have got Gwenno to interview Mark E Smith in their slot with him – their interviewer happily admitted they’d drawn straws in the office for the privilege and he’d got the short one. Mark E Smith certainly lived up to his reputation on that score. Nell Frizzell talking to Grainne Maguire about her ultimate playlist reminded me how seldom we get to hear women just talking to other women about music.

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The Green Man ale tent was even better than last year, seemingly with more stock meaning that popular ales weren’t selling out on the first day.  It was great to see Pamplemousse from the Waen Brewery and good old JPR Pale Ale from Grey Trees that we normally just buy in bottles, on tap.

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Oh yes, it rained. It rained from Thursday afternoon to Monday morning with approximately 4 hours of sunshine in between. It rained so much it almost made me feel guilty for getting to go home at night, get dry and warm, sleep well and go back the next day in clean clothes. First timers at Green Man might not have realised they were surrounded by mountains, so low was the cloud overhanging the site all weekend. Super Furries playing Hello Sunshine precipitated the biggest downpour of the weekend on Saturday night and we sat there: midnight, the rain pouring down, dripping off our noses, watching five grown men in furry suits and I thought ‘yeah, I wouldn’t be anywhere else right now’. 

Countdown to Green Man

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Framed Telegramme Paper Co gig posters above my desk

Following on from my last post about the Abergavenny Food Festival, we’re also on a countdown (four sleeps!) to Green Man. On only ten minutes from here means that I can get to experience all that’s best about festivals without all the bits I’m really not cut out for. And first on that list would be the camping. I’m not a great sleeper at the best of times (hello, 3am!) and under canvas, on an airbed, in a field with hundreds of others would pretty much guarantee a fully sleepless night with ensuing grumpiness the following day. So, we get to come home, sleep in our bed, have a shower, stretch out the aching limbs after sitting in a field for three days, and really it’s a perfect way to do a festival.

After last year’s Green Man I bought these two posters as a memento from the lovely Telegramme Paper Co – the orange one is Sharon Van Ettan and the other is Deer Tick (who weren’t playing there but were on tour in the UK last year). I got these framed and up on the wall recently over the desk in the upstairs hallway. They’re lovely pieces of art in their own right – beautifully designed, printed and on thick, heavyweight paper. A world away from the bluetacked posters I used to have on my teenage bedroom wall.

So, five days to go until Green Man and the weather has a bit of work to do to dry the fields out and get some sun shining. They’ve already published their day by day running order but I’m trying to put off organising our ‘schedule of bands and stuff we want to see’ as I like to do that over our first beer when we arrive. The we can argue over whether it’s The Fall or Television on Saturday night before Super Furries (Television for me), and Courtney Barnett or Father John Misty on Sunday night (Courtney for me, but I’ll probably find myself on my own for that).

Now all we need is some sunshine!

A little blog redesign

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Edward Thomas’ poem ‘The Lofty Sky’ as painted onto barn at Tair Ffynnon/Garden in the Clouds, Brecon Beacons

One of the things I’ve spent a few hours doing this holiday (it has rained A LOT) is to do a little update for this blog. I updated the theme a few months ago (to Hemingway) but I just wasn’t really feeling the blocky layout – it felt a bit too masculine, a bit too stark perhaps. So, I switched it to Nucleare, another free WordPress theme, and I’m really happy with the fresh, clean layout.

It was easy to switch themes over but in the process of doing so I realised I had been using categories and tags pretty much interchangeably. Apparently, that’s not quite the thing. It seems categories are ways in which to bunch posts together by theme – and so to use more sparingly – and tags are more specific and therefore can be used more plentifully. So, I spent a fairly boring hour assigning categories to all my posts – here, I couldn’t find a quick or easy way to do that except go through each post and manually add a category. As a result, I hope the blog is more navigable – I’ve edited down the categories from about 15 original and slightly random ones (heating anyone??) to four main ones:

  1. Cottage – here I’ll group all the posts about the house, the renovations, the interiors. Over the coming months I’ll chart the process of the refurbishment we’ve been going through here so there’ll be plenty of befores and afters coming up. And yes, there might be more about heating.
  2. Garden – the garden project continues as well as continued growth of the dreaded ground elder. Hopefully there’ll be more pictures of vegetables flowers than weeds as we continue work outside.
  3. Wales – as I continue to explore this ‘new to me’ area of the Brecon Beacons and south Wales I’ll highlight some of the best local places and sights.
  4. Words and Music – I was a little unsure about this category as it feels like a bit of a catch all but essentially here’s where the free time stuff goes when I’m not working in the cottage or garden.

Finally, I’ve also become possibly one of the last people to get with Instagram so there’s now a button on the right sidebar and the bottom of the blog where you can follow me there.

I hope all this makes Hidden Valley Wales a bit more readable, all feedback appreciated!

Evenings at the cottage (a non-heating related post)

I’ve posted a lot about the garden and outdoors on here but not so much about the inside of the cottage or what we do when we’re not outside during the day. Would that be interesting? It can’t be worse than more heating.
I’ll start with our evenings. We don’t have a TV here at the cottage yet and are just enjoying listening to music during the evenings. We usually listen to 6Music during the week, but on Saturday nights switch to RadioWales. I’ve been listening to Adam Walton for years now but Bethan Elfyn is a real find.
If there’s nothing on the radio we switch to vinyl. This has been an ongoing project for some time now – re-building the record collection. Through a mixture of record shops and ebay we’re getting there.
That, and a glass of wine/beer and we’re happy.