Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Friday, December 28, 2007

An Aussie Christmas (whatever that is), described.

Christmas Day the weather was perfect. By perfect I mean mid to high twenties, blue skies and sunny. Not too hot for those of us cooking a roast. Not too cold for those celebrating in parks and gardens around the city. For there is no one way to celebrate here in Australia; it depends on where you come from, originally, and who you are celebrating with. If you are Vietnamese, Greek, Italian, Chinese, Dutch, Swiss, Faroese ... or one of the many other nationalities living in multicultural Melbourne ... We all do it differently.

We cooked a roast because my parents were British. But it was not a decision entered into lightly. It was bandied about on numerous occasions leading up to Christmas Day. Seth invariably raised the subject while smacking his lips because at seventeen years-of-age he is perpetually hungry. We never decide until a couple of days before hand; we wait for the weather forecast. If it is not going to be mild we roast. If it is going to be sweltering, we cook the meat early in the day and have a range of salads. A warm, sunny Christmas is normal to me. I have lived here most of my life but for my Mum and Andrew’s Mum (who is from the Netherlands) I doubt it ever feels like the real thing.

This year we had roast pork with all the trimmings. We also branched out and had an entree: Chicken and Asparagus Crepes, which were made by my Mum, as was the Christmas Pudding. We have ice cream on our pudding, by the way, and brandy cream. Hot custard would not be conducive even on a sunny day in the mid-twenties. We all ate far too much, of course, but ... I am running ahead of myself.

Christmas morning we rose early to prepare the veggies and to put the meat on. We had breakfast on the back deck in the morning sun (Sorry Sparkly, I feel like I am boasting). We then went to Church, as is our custom throughout the year. There were two things to note about the Christmas service this year. Firstly, someone had been to the two dollar shop and bought a number of pulsating Christmas lights which had been strung up around the Church. It was festive in a kind of I’m-getting-a-headache sort of way. It made me long for an advent wreath and candles. I am getting old, I think. The second item of note was that worship leader was wearing a very swish, silver grey suit with a canary yellow tie. He was the only person in the congregation thus attired and he copped a lot of good natured teasing. ‘Look!’ he finally said by way of explanation, ‘It’s new. If Geoff (on drums) can wear a Metallica T Shirt to church, I should be able to wear a suit.’ He was right of course. No one should have blinked an eye-lid. But to tell you the truth it was kind of scary; he looked like a Tele-evangelist.

After church we had morning tea as we sat around the tree and opened our presents. There were only a few genuine surprises this year but we managed to make the most of it anyway. There was a lovely Sinterklaas gift and poem from Carine in the Netherlands, a parcel from Winnie in the Faroe Islands and a board game from Paul which had to be tried out immediately! We had, of course, opened our surprises from Switzerland at Alice’s farewell dinner. One of the benefits of hosting exchange students and having far flung family is the feeling of being part of something global on Christmas day.

Our good friend Rose Ho and her two sons Joseph and John joined us for lunch. Happily we had bumped into Rose and John at the shopping centre Christmas Eve. After discovering that were both planning small family Christmases with no extra bodies we decided to combine. The Ho’s brought a salad, some nibbles and wine to add to the festivities as well as their lovely selves. It may seem strange that we would desire extra people on what for many is a strictly family occasion but for me growing up in Australia without extended family Christmas always involved others. Whether it was breakfast with the neighbours, lunch with friends, or a light tea with another migrant family, we forged a common bond. There is a precedence for inclusion, after all. It lies at the heart of what we are celebrating. Two thousand years ago, on the very first Christmas, a harassed hotelier found room for the Christ Child and welcomed him in.

So there you have it, Christmas 2007, done. We played Bocce on the back lawn between main course and desert. I am not sure what Mum put in the pudding but it seemed to have a soporific effect. We were all yawning widely before Rose and the boys had even left. We slept the afternoon away and ate light leftovers for tea. Actually we ate them for a number of days (we are still eating them). We normally go away camping on December 27th. But this year we are taking Priya back to her country of origin, the lovely Fiji Islands. It is a place we were fortunate enough to live in for four years and where we spent many a happy Christmas ... but that is another story ...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas letter to Sparkly

I have this friend called Sparkly Sparks who blogs on Yahoo 360. You might think it strange to have a friend called Sparkly but it isn’t, not really. I am Lizziejane to Sparkly We are both writers, that’s how we met, and we also share the enormous privilege of being Hanner Cymraes (that means half Welsh by the way, in case you were wondering). We made a deal, my friend Sparkly and me. I would tell her about Christmas in Australia if she told me about her Christmas in London. Well it is Christmas Eve and with a big hello to Sparkly, I thought I would set the scene.

What you need to understand about Christmas in Australia is that it is a summer thing: a season of peaches and cherries and strawberries, of salads and cool drinks, ice cream and air conditioning. The Festive Season starts way back in November when we turn our clocks back. The weather warms as daylight lengthens and the parties begin. It is not just a Christmas Season. It is also the end of the academic year. Exams are finished and students are celebrating. There are end of year concerts and BBQ’s. Carols by candle light is an outdoor, picnic-in-the-park event. By the last week in December the whole country is winding down for holidays at the beach.

But before we can go on holidays we have to do the Christmas thing. This year we have had two days of torrential rain in the lead up to Christmas. We have jumped puddles and dashed from door to door under dripping umbrellas. We have pulled moth balled cardigans out of the bottom drawer all with an extreme confidence that the rain is temporary. Today Christmas Eve the sky is full of soft scudding clouds tomorrow the sky will be blue from end to end. Lawns are mowed and gardens trimmed the roads are busy and the shops are packed as people make their last minute purchases.

Last night my Mum and I went to the Melbourne Welsh Church. We had a service of lessons and carols in English and Cymraeg. It is the first time we have done this and I think it will become a tradition. The Chapel was packed and as the Reverend Sion Goch Hughes lead us in worship, the hwyl was amazing. For that is the other thing about Christmas in Australia. It is a migrant thing, a time of absent friends, of crackling phone calls and distant family; a sometimes displaced sensation of seasons back to front, a time for drawing together and remembering...

I will write more later, but for now to my friend Sparkly and to all my friends on Blogger and Yahoo 360, Nadolig Llawen which is Merry Christmas, by the way, in the language of Heaven.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Alice is Leaving us Soon ...

I have a new water bowl. It’s is the lounge, which is considerate, considering how hot the weather has been. The only trouble is that my bowl has a tree in it. Liz’s has hung some shiny balls on the tree. I wanted to tell her that I don’t need my water bowl decorated but, for some reason, she was looking all misty eyed ... and I didn’t have the heart to mention it. Never mind. It is a nice green water bowl. I just have to stoop low and crawl over a mound of paper packages to enjoy a refreshing drink.

The weather is warm and summery. Most days the sky is blue from end to end. Fortunately we have wooden decking and can lie in the sun and keep an eye on things. Life is pretty busy at the moment. Phoebe is working almost full time at the library and going out every night doing all sorts of busy miss-twenty-year old things. Seth is working full time for an environmental contractor which I think is code word for watering trees. Liz is busy getting ready for her master class with the author Alison Goodman and she is very excited about it. Priya is still at school, until Friday. That’s when my work begin.

Andrew has started a new job with Exxon Mobil (some people have to keep working). I don’t know what he is doing. He seems to spend most of his time in the studio spying on me. Yes, that’s right spying. That’s the sort of people they employ in these big oil companies. Andrew’s boss is in America now, so he is making the most of the work from home policy. No one consulted me about it, and I am finding it rather restrictive. For some reason Andrew doesn’t want me barking at birds or welcoming the postman while he is in international phone meetings.

Alice is busy packing. She leaves on Friday but we are trying not to think about it. Tomorrow night Jack and Ness are coming for her farewell dinner. It will be a Christmas Dinner complete with pudding and Christmas Crackers and farewell gifts. I am going to miss, Alice, even though she has made a concerted effort to discipline me. She is going home to see her dog, Toffee, who I gather is better behaved than me. I have tried to show her things are different in Australia — more egalitarian less authoritarian. I have made symbolic forays into her room to rummage through her rubbish in order to illustrate this. When she complains I remind her that’s what international exchange is all about, respecting difference and growing in tolerance. She has learned a great deal, thanks to me.

Tonight she is having a farewell party with her school friends. Sunday she had two farewells, one at Church and one at AFS. Tomorrow is the family party and then the countdown begins. I’m not going to the airport. Someone has to stay and take care of things. I may not be as well behaved as Toffee but I will make sure Alice’s bin is empty for Grandma’s Christmas visit.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Britian's Got Talent

I love this video. It makes my spine tingle. Cymru am Byth!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Varuna Awards for Manuscript Development

This is my blog, right? My form of narcissistic self expression. It is the place where I blow my own horn, beat my own drum. And it is not really boasting because no one actually reads it.

What no one? Yes, no one, because they are too busy flying their own flag. In which case I can stand on my soap box and shout as loud as I want. Ok here goes.

I got through to the second stage of the Varuna Awards!

What was that? You didn’t hear me. Ok I’ll say it again.

I got through to the second stage of the Varuna Awards!

That’s better isn’t it. But I am so excited I find I must say it again.

I got through to the second stage of the Varuna Awards!

and again

I got through to the second stage of the Varuna Awards!

And again

I got through to the second stage of the Varuna Awards!

In fact I find I can’t stop




And I find I can’t stop smiling. I am a bubble floating and I feel so happy I could burst.

Eh? What’s that? You don’t know what Varuna is. Wash your mouth out! It is the centre of the universe. Yes, seriously. It is a very prestigious award. Here is the link. http://www.varuna.com.au/diary.html

Scroll down and you will see my name. It is fourth from the top under literary fiction. My first name starts with E and my surname starts with C. That’s it Elizabeth Corbett.

Di I tell you I got through to the second stage of the Varuna Awards?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Horrible Midnight Experience

Frank McCourt survived a miserable Irish childhood to write his first book. Kate Holden rose above drug addiction and prostitution to realize hers. The American academic, Barbara Ehrenreich, did a parade of drudge jobs to find the material for her book, Nickel and Dime, whereas I live in Vermont. I had nothing to write about, nothing, until my Horrible Midnight Experience.

It was a dark and stormy night (I am writing for the popular market where cliché is an art form). Rain poured from the heavens as thunder made an eerie booming across the floorboards of the sky. Biskit trembled on his sleeping mat and looked up at me with beseeching brown eyes. How’s that for mood evocation? Does it sound like Bestseller material?

‘Oh alright,’ I said, smiling at Biskit. ‘You can sleep inside tonight.’

Andrew was away. It wouldn’t hurt for Biskit to stay in the living room. Seth was also away and he normally rescues Biskit in the middle of thunderstorms. He is that kind of boy and Biskit is that kind of dog. His demeanor seems to say, ‘please love me.’

I went to bed early that night. Alice stayed tapping on the computer for a little longer. Phoebe also opted for an early night. Woo hoo! Girls night in. We were all in bed, reading, by ten thirty. I am not sure how to novelize that bit. It is one of the problems of trying to sell my life story. But it is important for plot development because the thunderstorm had passed and Biskit could easily have gone to his kennel. A promise is a promise, however (even to small dogs), so I let him stay inside.

Anyone who has had baby will know what it is like to be woken by a cry in the middle of the night. If you are fortunate and already have had three or four hours sleep you can rise and do what you have to do with reasonable equanimity. If you are woken within half an hour of falling asleep you stagger drunkenly from your bed with violent, time-to-end-it-all feelings. But when your dog wakes you in the middle of the night (the dog who by your grace is sleeping in the living room), and he is barking at possums, and even when you yell at him he keeps on barking, it is like finger nails on a blackboard, quite indescribable really.

‘Right,’ I said. ‘That’s it!’ I sprung out of bed (this is the action part of the story), my bare feet making a rival thunder storm. (Biskit did look very sweet, by the way, a little white smudge in a darkened room. But this is sleep we are talking about. Sleep is a sacred thing.)
‘Come on Biskit, out.’ I held the laundry door open, grimly.

He looked at me nonplussed. He normally gets a treat when I put him in his kennel.

‘Out!' I pointed, forbidingly. 'No treats tonight. You have been very naughty.’ I wouldn’t have minded if he was frightened. My heart would have melted. But possum watching was a recurrent problem and it did not tug at my heart strings.

Biskit wasn’t having any of it. He took one look at my empty hands and decided to make a dash for freedom. I was in no mood for games. I cut him off. He turned and ran back into the house. I yanked the door open and charged after him. Crunch went my bare toe against the cement step. Not my big toe, my pinkie toe. My tiny little left foot toe and it was bleeding. ‘You rotten dog,’ I roared. ‘Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!’ Something in my demeanor must have changed, because Biskit responded almost immediately.

This is around midnight, remember, and I had been rudely awoken from a very satisfying sleep. I stumbled, half-seeing, towards our well stocked medicine cabinet (a jumbled up basket in the linen cupboard) only to find the Band-aids were missing. This is where persistence comes in, the ability to push one’s self beyond the pain barrier. It is the stuff blockbusters are made of. Except the heroes are not generally middle-aged, mussy-haired women wearing pink pyjamas (the reviewers will say I challenged genre expectations). I rifled around in the basket and found one creased Bandaid with its wrapping barely intact. I was not even thinking about Detol or cotton wool. That could wait until morning. I just had to cover the toe up so it wouldn’t dirty the sheets (always keep your priorities).

Surprisingly I was not in much pain. At least, I didn’t think I was. But, as I sat on the lid of the toilet and tried to make my fingers open the Band-aid wrapping, I realized I felt rather giddy. In fact, very giddy, the room seemed to be spinning and my head was having a sort of a darkened-dots-experience. I was on the verge of fainting. How did I know that, I hear you ask breathlessly? I don’t know. It is one of life’s mysteries. It gives my story depth and timeless appeal. I knew because I knew. So I put my head between my knees.

You will be pleased to know the head between the knees thing works. If, like me, you have never fainted, you may have thought this vital first aid technique sounded a little far fetched, old-wives-taleish or over simplistic. But it works. As I sat, head down, breathing deeply (lucky I closed the toilet lid) my head began to clear. I stayed there for a long time, just waiting. Only when my head was once more on a horizontal plane and my hands had stopped shaking, did I sit up and put the Bandaid on my toe. I didn’t make an assessment of the damage. That could wait until morning. My primary objective was to keep the sheets clean.

I woke early the next morning which is a tragedy of mammoth proportions. Sleep is a many-splendored thing and Biskit’s naughtiness was reaching into my dreams. My toe was throbbing. I moaned and rolled over. Andrew wasn’t even there to comfort me. If I got up early, no one would be there to show any sympathy. Those lazy girls didn’t have sore toes, they would be sleeping soundly. Thankfully, at that point I remembered the Gloria Jean’s coffee. (I hope you are impressed with all my brand placements. I expect to make millions out of them them).

After my Gloria Jean’s coffee I felt great, a new woman really. I thought I had better do the first aid thing. A quick wash under the tap in the middle of the might, a dab with a dirty hand towel and a Band-Aid probably wasn’t adequate, I realized, in the clear light of morning. I unwrapped my pinkie toe and bent down to have a closer look. It was very red, sort of raw looking and my toe nail ... my toenail ... well, it was missing. I poked it with my finger. No hard shell, just a jelly-like feeling. I had ripped my toe nail clean off. No wonder I almost fainted.

As you can imagine, I have been dining out on this experience all week. I have made two trips to the Doctors to have my toe dressed. I have been limping around with my pinkie toe bandaged. I have been unable to wear shoes, unable to go running. If people failed to notice my suffering I brought the subject round to it with tactful questions like: ‘I suppose you have noticed I am limping.’

My friend Sue, who lost two toenails, said my toe nail would not grow back as I expected, just peeking out from under the skin and slowly inching its way along the exposed nail bed. She said the nail bed would simply harden, over time. I am watching with interest. It conjures up the possibility of a sequel to this story with recommended footwear for exposed nail bed sufferers, my own fashion label, perhaps, even a fist aid manual or an an opening in the romance genre: “As Andrew ran his hands over her firm calves and massaged her foot she arched back as the pleasure and pain shot through her, a bead of sweat forming on her brow as his gentle caress ...”

No! I am not going to write anymore. You will have to buy the book. I wrote this blog to pique your interest and because my son Seth said if I blogged about my toe, he would definitely read it. Isn’t that what every writer wants: a guaranteed reader. I could not disappoint.

A few Family Events and Photo Links

We have had a number of family events these past months.

  • Father's Day
  • Phoebe's 20th Birthday
  • INSIDEOUT's new Album Release
  • Andrew's Birthday

I have not put photos of each event on this blog but you can find them if you scroll down the right hand side of my blog to the link that says MyFlickr Photo Albums or follow this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97676510@N00/sets/

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Winter’s recoil
Light cotton cardigans replace winter woollies
Clothes from the bottom drawer moth balled and musty

Doors open
Windows breathe deep
First flush of roses blooming
New season’s stone fruits shyly appear

Barbeque time
Heavycover removed
Wheeled into summer position
Scraped and cleaned of last year’s grease
An hour less sleep
Chips, dips and chilled glasses of chardonnay
Countdown to Christmas and languid summer evenings

Fashion week
Racing carnival atmosphere
Men in suits and women’s flummery
Caulfield and Flemington, office sweeps and Melbourne Cup

Plum pudding ingredients
Walnuts and raisins, currants and glace cherries
Calendars, gift wrapped and posted, tinsel greetings

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Great Australian Diet

I work in the library. I am a sucker for books with unusual names or titles. When doing a weekend shift at Balwyn library recently, I came across a book called The Great Aussie Diet. It wasn’t the title that grabbed me this time, however, it was the author’s name. Dr John Tickell. Now I don’t know about you, but I do enjoy a good name. It must be a lag over from my maiden name which was, Dicks.

Seth has an allergy specialist called Dr Weiner, which the Doctor’s receptionist pronounces as Dr Winer. Well, I think Tickell is the same. The good Doctor pronounces it with the emphasis on the ell but in my mind he is Dr Tickle. On that basis, I thought the book warranted a closer look. That is what we do at the library: sample the products. It is lucky I do not work in a chocolate shop for then even Dr Tickle would not be able to help me.

Now I must also confess that, apart from the name, I have had my eye on the diet books for some weeks. Through a process of piggery and inactivity (let’s call it what it is) I have become a little over weight (ok a lot). I still jog, of course, but I also spend a lot of time typing and reading. I knew I had to turn the tables somehow and Dr Tickle’s book was tempting me. As I flicked through its pages at afternoon teatime I was attracted by its down-to-earthiness. It was so Australian. Its motivational page had gems like: Don’t eat crap, or: If you feel lousy the first few days, its your own fault for eating so much muck, and: My Dad dropped dead at 60 you will too … I thought this is the book for me!

I am not going to bore you with the details of the diet. It is all in the book. Just do a keyword search and include the words: Tickell and diet and you will find it. Priya tells me Dr Tickle has even been on TV so it must be good! Needless to say it involves starvation and deprivation, all diets do, no matter how they are couched. But I am sticking to it and so far have lost 3 kilos. Tickle has become the buzzword in our house. I have tickle snacks, tickle soups and when tempted to indulge in a non-tickle lick or sneaky eat, I have my children behind me saying: ‘Mum! Would Dr Tickle allow that!

The Great Australian Diet experience has already been life changing so I thought I would follow one other piece of Tickle advice. This one involved kangaroo. Dr Tickle advocates the consumption of kangaroo as a low cholesterol red meat alternative. Now I have eaten kangaroo in my youth. I have also noticed it becoming a more common sight in the Safeway meat cabinet but … I had no desire to revisit my youthful flirtation with roo steaks and had so far avoided making a purchase. One week, however, while sauntering round the supermarket feeling smug in my now loose jeans; and inwardly congratulating Dr Tickle on his wonderful diet; and avoiding the chocolate aisle; and the chips; and the biscuits; and patting myself on the back for being so strong, I thought, why not …

The marinaded kangaroo mini roasts sat in our home freezer for two weeks, no one seemed to have any enthusiasm for them. So, on my cooking night, Monday, I thought I had better bite the bullet.

‘What are we having for dinner?’ It is a common enough question in our house but, tonight, when the word kangaroo bounced off my tongue, I did not get the usual response. That’s ok, I thought. People need to break out of their comfort zones, be willing to try new things. I was a pioneer really.

Now the kangaroo was a funny colour. I am not sure if it was the natural juices or the marinade, but as turned on the oven and unwrapped the Safeway polythene, I knew I would not be able to touch it. Ours is an open-plan house and, as you can imagine, it took a degree of ingenuity to remove the mini roasts with the tongs while maintaining a chirpy I’m-looking-forward-to it smile. It wasn’t a great success. There was an unofficial moratorium on all normal pre-dinner activities, this night. Everyone was sitting round with glum faces, watching. Nevertheless, I popped the kangaroo in the oven and began to prepare the vegies.

The trouble is, I have heard stories about kangaroo … Comments like: ‘It’s ok … but it’s a bit gamey … the cooking smell is the problem … it’s a bit strong, really. As I sliced the carrots and spliced the broccoli, as I cut the ends off the asparagus, I found myself breathing through my nose (well it works for vomit!). It’ll be alright, I thought, as long as I don’t smell it. It’ll be fine. I’m a mature adult, I repeated, even as my cheeks began to swim. Chop, chop my knife was busy. Gulp, gulp my mouth was watering.

‘I’m not going to be able to do this,’ I said, at last.

The silence was deafening.

‘It’ll be alright Mum,’ (what would we do without Phoebe). ‘Just make a nice gravy.’

A gravy! Of course, a gravy, and sauce and mustard and pickles …

‘No it won’t,’ Seth said. ‘We shouldn’t be eating our national symbol.’

‘Doctor Tickle says it’s healthy,’ I offered, half heartedly.

I won’t tell you Seth’s response. It doesn’t bear repeating.

When Andrew got home, I asked him to carve. Actually, I asked Seth first (only because I was making the gravy), but he couldn’t do it. Not because it was kangaroo by the way but because of the funny elastic netting it was wrapped in (yeah right!).

‘Andrew I said, please carve. ‘It’s kangaroo and we’re fall feeling a bit sensitive.’

‘No worries,’ he said (what a guy!). I just kept my eyes down stirring.

I am not sure what sort of emotional intelligence rating Andrew has. Perhaps his mother locked him in cupboards when he was young … maybe it was one of those unlooked for mind associations … I might even have misheard him, but … as he carved those mini roasts with a smug smile on his face, I swear he was humming the theme song to Skippy.

So, we ate our kangaroo. It was a strained silent meal. The only one enjoying it was Alice (and of course Andrew). She had eaten kangaroo before, she said. We all smiled thinly and kept chewing. The carrots were nice: still crisp not soggy. The asparagus wasn’t overcooked and I enjoyed each broccoli florettes, immensely. The gravy was a highlight, of course, and the potatoes were roasted to perfection. I’m not sure what the kangaroo tasted like. I ate mine covered in mustard.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Blog Cymraeg, arall - another Welsh Blog

Take your violins out. I have an emigrant tale to tell. Reach for the tissue box your heart’s strings are about to be pulled. Except, I am going to tell this story in Welsh.

We have been learning to express the notion of, when I was young, I used to … and I wrote this story, all by myself. Ok, it is a little repetitive but if you have read any of my earlier Blogs Cymraeg you will be used to that.

Roeddwn i ’n arfer chwarae pel-rwyd pan oeddwn i’n ifanc.
When I was young I used to play netball.

Roeddwn i ’n arfer gwbeud gymnasteg, hefyd, a jwdo, a dysgu tenis a mabolgampau.
I used to do gymnastics, too, and judo, and tennis lessons and athletics.
(Are you feeling sorry for me, yet?)

Roeddwn i ’n arfer dysgu nofio a dysgu marcho gaeth, hefyd.
I did swimming lessons and horserding lesson, too.
(Have you worked out what, I used to is in Welsh yet?)

Roeddwn i ’n prysur, iawn pan oeddwn i ’n ifanc!
I was very busy when I was young

Roeddwn i ’n arfer chwarae hoci a chwarae pel-meddl pan oeddwn i yn yr ysgol awchrad. I used to play hockey and softball when I was in high school.

Roeddwn i ’n arfer gwneud drama, hefyd, a roeddwn i ’n arfer dysgu guitar a dysgu fliwt. Roeddwn i ’n arfer mynd i ’r clwb ieunctid eglwys, hefyd.
I did drama, too, and I used to learn guitar and flute. I went to a church youth club, too. (What about the word for, too — of course it is hefyd).

Pam reoddwn i ’n arfer dysgu cynifer chwaraeon?
Why did I learn so many sports?

Pam reoddwn i ’n arfer gwneud cynifer hobiau?
Why did I do so many hobbies?

Dydw i ddim yn gwybod. Rydw i ’n meddwl am fod fy rhieni yn migrants.
I do not know. I think it was because my parents were migrants.

Mae ’r rhaid i ni gwneud mwyaf on cyflon!
We must make the most of my opportunities!

Rydw i ’n canol oed nawr.
Now I am middle aged. (This is your chance to add a comment such as — no Liz, you are so young. Andrew I expect you to be first.)

Dydw i ddim yn chwarae pel-rwyd na tenis, na, hoci, na pel-meddal.
I do not play netball, or tennis or hockey.

Dydw i ddim yn gweud jwdo na gynasteg, na mabolgampau.
I od not do judo or gymnastics or athletcis.

Dydwi i ddim yn chwarae guitar neu ’r fliwt. Dydw i ddim yn reidio yn ceffyl.
I do not play guitar or flute. I do not ride a horse.

Dydw i ddim yn hoffi chwaraeon.
I do not like sports. (I expect thhe tears are flowing freely now)

Rydw i ‘n dysgu Cymreag. Rdyw i ’n rhedeg a gadwn heini. Rydw i’n darllen llyfr a rydw i’n ysgrifennu llyfr. Rydw i’n mwynheu garddio ac embroidery.
I learn Welsh. I jog to keep fit. I read books and I write books. I enjoy gardening and embroidery.

Rydw i ’n hoffi yn ganol oed.
I like being middle aged.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Of Sticks and Stone

A Welsh drover was accustomed to attending Barnett fair. He had set out from Wales on what was to be his droving last journey. He would marry on his return. He had already carved the spoon and given it to the girl he loved.

Though he had benefited from his travels, he wouldn’t say he was going to miss the droving life. His Mari was sweet of temper and fair of face with hair the colour of spring daffodils and it was a long hard walk from Wales to London with wide rivers and many streams to cross, herding cattle and horses, not to mention the sheep and geese. No he wouldn’t miss it but he had it in mind to see the sights of London, once more, before he ceased his roaming. He would see the White Tower built on the very mound where here the head of Bendigeidfran once lay buried. He would see Llud’s great gate and the mighty Thames with its upper and lower pools for shipping. Grand, it would be and what a tale to tell Mari on his return.

So it was, after having seen the great city with its merchants and traders and its elegant concourses and courtly men and women dressed in their finery, and having supped in style at the Anchor and having tasted it’s fine ale, he found himself, at last, on London Bridge with gold jiggling in his right pocket and a stout Hazel staff in his left hand (for everyone knows a stout stick is as necessary to a drover as teeth are to his dog). It is by reason of this same stick, the stranger who greeted him would have known him to be a traveller from among Cymru.

He was a queer looking fellow, the stranger. A good deal shorter than the average person and wizened as an old oak. The very sight of him made the drover’s thumbs prick. That and the soft mossy cut of his cloth, the green of his linen and hose, marked him as one of the fair family.
Now the drover was a wily fellow and knew himself to be safe. Didn’t he have a cross in his pocket made from the sapling branches of a rowan and, besides, what possible harm could come to him on old London Bridge?

‘Do not take it amiss, good sir,’ the fair one bowed low, ‘If I ask you where your staff is from.’
Well, it wasn’t what the drover expected. He looked down at his stick. It was indeed fine. It had served him many a year. Never cracking or wearing, only mellowing. He had never once been tempted to replace it.

‘Why do you ask me, good sir?’ It was wise to be circumspect when dealing with fairies.
The stranger dimpled his green eyes winking. Here was magic, the drover could feel its glaucous mist gathering around him.

‘There is treasure hidden beneath the ground from which you cut that stick. Lead me to it and I will put you in possession of a great wealth.’

Now the drover knew he was on dangerous ground and found himself greatly troubled. On the one hand, he was tempted by the prospect of riches but he was, alas, mortally afraid to have dealings with the fairies. He stood, one hand on his staff, the other curled around the cross in his pocket. ‘I have wealth enough’ he said, finally.

‘I see you are in fear of me,’ the man of the woods nodded, approvingly, ‘and it pleases me that you are not greedy. I will meet you some months from now on the slopes of Craig y Dinas and you can show me the hazel from whence you had your fine stick.

After which, the drover could only agree for he did, indeed, come from Vale of Neath.
The drover returned to his home and married, settling happily with his wife’s family. Many months passed in which the drover saw no sign of the little man. He began to think he had imagined their meeting on the bridge. He was most attentive in prayer, mind, and went nowhere without a bit of iron about him, but as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, he congratulated himself on having made such a narrow escape from the fair ones.

The long dark winter drew a heavy cloak about them that first year of marriage and the mountain winds were cruel. The frost on the water bucket was thick of a morning and, as his Mari grew round and ripe, the drover knew they would soon have another mouth to feed. He found himself thinking about the treasure, now and then, and wishing he had opportunity to spend it. So it was, one evening at dusk, a dangerous time for all kinds of sorcery, the drover was walking near Pont Nedd Fechan, at the head of the Neath Valley, near the mighty stone fortress of Craig y Dinas, when the little man stepped out in front of him.

‘I have come for my hazel staff,’ he said, twinkling.

There was no help for it the drover was trapped. He pointed to the root of a fine hazel and said, ‘yonder is where I cut my stick.’

As if by magic, for that was what it was, the stranger produced a spade and pick and proceeded to dig around the roots of the hazel. By and by the drover, having not been given permission to leave, decided to join him. They worked together, side by side, until they came to a very broad, flat stone. The stranger was strong and, downing his spade, he prised the stone out of its bed in the earth revealing a flight of ancient stone steps leading down into the ground beneath of Craig y Dinas. The drover’s heart fluttered like a caged bird when the stranger turned to him with his winking gooseberry eyes, and said: ‘Have you the courage to enter with me?’

Now the drover was no coward but he found, nonetheless, that his knees were shaking. On top of which, his feet were bewitched. How else could he explain his reasons for stepping onto those ancient stairs? They walked, the stranger in front, the drover behind, for what seemed like a thousand years and came, at last, to a vast cavern. Duw! Such riches. The sight of it took the air from his chest. There was gold in the cave and silver, too, great mounds of it, and mountain after mountain of precious stones. There were rubies as big as a man’s fist, and emeralds and sapphire, diamonds, amethyst, onyx, malachite, jasper and cornelian. Indeed, it seemed that every valuable stone that ever existed was hidden beneath Craig y Dinas.

It was then the drover noticed the sleeping men. Goodness, there must be more than a thousand of them. A host. There was no other word for it. Each one clad in plate armour with a helm on his head and a shield on his arm with sharp sword in a jewelled scabbard by his side. They were a king’s warriors, a mighty king. The drover could tell by their raiment.
In the middle of the cave was a great bronze bell.

‘Beware lest you touch it,’ the stranger warned, ‘you will wake the army of the King.’

‘Which King?’ The drover asked, turning puzzled eyes upon him. For the Welsh have no King of their own and their last great Prince was Llewellyn.’

‘The King,’ the stranger turned his impassive gaze and pointed towards the end of the cavern.

‘Arthur of Legend.’

Suddenly all was illuminated. The driver saw a man mighty in stature and awesome in presence, armed, ornamented and majestic, he was also in repose.

‘How long have they been thus,’ the drover asked, in hushed, solemn tones.

'You do well to ask, the fair one replied. ‘It is over a thousand years.’

‘Who are they?’ He asked, but deep down he already knew. For here were Arthur’s warriors, indeed.

‘They wait for a time when all our enemies will be defeated,’ the stranger said, nodding. You may share in their treasure, drover, but you must never speak of it.’

The drover gathered as much of the gold and as many of the precious stones as he could carry but as he worked his eye kept turning, time and time again, to the bell. How he would love to see them wake. How he longed, just this once, to march with Arthur’s mighty army and to defeat the enemies of his country. He was enchanted, there was no other explanation for it, suddenly he knew he must ring that bell. He worked slowly, circling the great dome, waiting for his opportunity and when it presented itself, he seized its clanger and pulled. Duw! How it rang. A great peel echoing from here to the top of Craig y Dinas and out beyond over the whole land of the Cymru, as many thousand warriors rose up before him, the steel of their arms a flame and the ground beneath their feet trembling. They stood to attention as a great voice spoke from their midst. ‘Is it time?

The stranger was so frightened his eyes were pinpoints of fear as he cried out, ‘The day has not yet come, sleep on.’

‘Arthur awake!’ The voice rang out, again. ‘The bell has rung, dawn is breaking.’

‘No!’ The stranger called out more urgently. ‘Sleep on Great Bear the time is not yet, here.

At this, a great roar came from the throne as Arthur, himself, stood before them. The jewels in his crown were brighter and more numerous than the stars in the sky. His voice was strong and powerful, mightier than the ocean itself, as he called out: ‘Sleep on my warriors, the morn of Wales has not yet dawned.’

After which the drover found himself in a great whirlwind, tumbling and turning, swirling in a confetti of leaves and twigs until at last he landed with a thud on what could only be dewy grass. He lay for what seemed like an age gathering courage before opening his eyes. Oh, what joy! To find himself upon his own dear mountain, above his small cottage and there, in the garden, hanging out the wash, was his own beloved Mari. Here was wealth, indeed. Except, where his hands had once held riches, they were now empty. He walked slowly down the mountain at once heavy for his loss and also rejoicing. He did not speak of his adventures to anyone lest the stranger return again one evening.

Alas for the drover he never did. Over the years the drover tried, many a times, to find his way into the treasure house beneath the rocky fortress. Wandering the solitary hills with his Hazel staff he covered the length and breadth of the Neath Valley but, even though he dug over every inch of Craig y Dinas, he never found Arthur or his cave with its concealed entrance of sticks and stone.