Wednesday 1 February 2012: It's a sad story
I'm back at the abandoned farmhouse that formed the subject of my blip 3 days ago. I've chosen to use this image of the net curtain because it seems to stand for the tragedies that take place around us without our knowledge and hidden from view.
After my last visit I contacted my regular local informant, the Simon Schama of Cwm Gwaun. He's lived in this neck of the woods for almost all his nearly-eight decades and what he doesn't know isn't worth knowing. I'd emailed him some photos of this farm, Greini, and asked what he could tell me about it. He rang me straight back. "It's a sad story" he said.
Five children were born here: James (1926), Edgar (1927), William (1928), Gwynne (1929), Robert (1930) and Doris Mary (1936). Robert died just after his first birthday but the rest grew up and, it seems, remained here, never marrying. The last brother left alive farmed the place until he "lost the plot" and died, only a year ago, aged 82. His sister was taken into a care home, unable to manage her affairs. The wretched condition of the house after lying empty only a year suggests it must have been in a sorry state already, although intruders have ransacked the place.
My friend described how, as youngsters, the five siblings would walk into town of an evening, a distance of about two miles. They would never walk together but all strung out separately along the road. They would each buy a bag of chips and stand at opposite sides of the square to eat them, one in the doorway of the bank, one by the town hall and so on, watching one another but not speaking. Then they would march home again, in the same formation. "We called them the Greini infantry."
Their parents ruined their lives said my informant. They controlled them and wouldn't let them do anything, wouldn't allow them to be children. He didn't elaborate although I was curious to know more. He's always a bit evasive but you have to be cautious in these parts because just about everyone is related to everyone else. However it seems that my original hunch was correct and this was a place where misery prevailed. To my surprise, when I got round to the front of the house it was dated - 1910. I suspect there was an earlier dwelling here, judging by some older farm buildings. I wonder what happened between the construction of the new house and the arrival of this brood of benighted offspring.
Now the place is in limbo. There are no relations, the family has died out apart from the old woman in residential care. The few fields are neglected and overgrown, the cowsheds deserted, the last of the hay mouldering in the barn. This time I took away the Mrs Beeton which yielded a couple more handwritten recipes (for fruit cake and for Christmas puddings), the pamphlet 1000 Questions about Poultry, and a pair of sheep shears. I also rescued some pieces of crockery from a skip. I don't think anyone will be claiming them.
One of the greatest Welsh poets, not Dylan but R.S Thomas, wrote in his characteristically mordant style about the bleak and bitter lives of the Welsh peasant farmers and, although Creini is a valley farm, I think his poem The Welsh Hill Country provides a fitting eulogy. If you prefer you can hear it recited here.
Too far for you to see
The fluke and the foot-rot and the fat maggot
Gnawing the skin from the small bones,
The sheep are grazing at Bwlch-y-Fedwen,
Arranged romantically in the usual manner
On a bleak background of bald stone.
Too far for you to see
The moss and the mould on the cold chimneys,
The nettles growing through the cracked doors,
The houses stand empty at Nant-yr-Eira,
There are holes in the roofs that are thatched with sunlight,
And the fields are reverting to the bare moor.
Too far, too far to see
The set of his eyes and the slow pthisis
Wasting his frame under the ripped coat,
There's a man still farming at Ty'n-y-Fawnog,
Contributing grimly to the accepted pattern,
The embryo music dead in his throat.