Archive for September, 2009

Starting Again from the Bottom of the Mountain

September 22, 2009

During my sick and deluded years as a Wannabe Welsh Woman I had competed in a choir and it had been enjoyable for us all, at the National Eisteddfodau. We had even won in the Wannabe categories!

After the whole ‘being found in the river’ experience I had a couple of pieces of poetry accepted by a postgrad. group of students compiling an anthology. This is the one I wrote in the agonies of rejection after failing to get a teaching post. It is playing with the idea of the Eisteddfod prize ‘The Throne’, or ‘Yr Orsedd’ and the name of a starkly, viciously beautiful mountain not far from here, called Cadair Idris, meaning Idris’s Chair. The beauty of the Welsh language is captivating, and I love the sound and seductive rhythms of  ‘cynghanedd’ but just as I fell inexorably out of reach of any teaching post, so can a climber find Cadair Idris a fair weather friend, to his peril! Yet will he climb!

Gorsedd Idris

Let my bastard blood

seep between your noble stones

and my shattered bones mingle

as quiet clay with shingle

free my spirit at dawn

in the manifold songs of birds

and eternity’s secret silence

quell all my wasted words.


There, that wannabe person, was buried or at least had a sort of funeral! The poor, stripped down kernel and spirit of me was all that stooped, unpacking a dream in the Welsh wind on a sunburnt hillside. As before, when all seems to have gone ahead and left you wondering where to start on a new course there is a lightheaded feeling and a distinct lack of luggage! My inventory read:

Nothing to lose but

2 fields, badly fenced, parched and overgrazed and I later discovered, registering zero in two vital plant nutrients. These mostly let to:

a fiery tempered and impulsive grazier.


a garden with a large shed, compost bins and two small greenhouses

a wheelbarrow

a fork, spade, trowel, rake etc

a marge tub of assorted seeds in questionable states of viability.

Also several fruit trees and bushes, mostly lost under waist and head high weeds.

I needed to stake my claim and ordered some fencing materials. When they came I had to carry all the posts one and then two at a time on my shoulders out to the field. That took over a day. I fenced off a section of one of the fields. I dug a hole for each fence post and so progressed at a rate of about 5 posts per day. After about a week all the posts were in place and Rod came and helped with the task of putting the fence wire on, which has to be tensioned. That was something I couldn’t have done alone, and which required a special pulley. It was perhaps a year later, during a visit by my parents, that my father and Rod made a style half way along the fence so that we could easily access the higher part of the field on foot. I taught Tamsin to jump it for tennis ball retrieving purposes.

The fence completed, further winter jobs included tree planting in the new part of the field now known as ‘The Orchard Field’. Rabbits subsequently came and ate a lot of those little trees, which was a shame as my mother brought them and helped me plant them. However, I ordered some rabbit protectors and planted some more from a little nursery of trees that I’d planted when we first moved here, and which had for some inexplicable but fortuitous reason not been rabbit ravaged. The resulting little spinney in what I endearingly call my conservation and woodland margin area is still linked inseperably with the happy memeory of tree planting with my mother. My younger sister gave me a pond lining and I later added a tiny pond to this area in the hope that it would be attractive to frogs and maybe even newts but so far, they have not discovered or occupied it. Last year I heard there has been a terrible disease which depleted frog populations around Britain, and that the movement of frogspawn was one of the causes of the spread. I was glad I had not contributed to this disaster, though that was more due to lack of gumption and frogspawn than good management!

Another arduous task which took up more time than a mere winter and which is always ongoing, was to clear the grass and weeds which had a stranglehold on the fruit garden. That is all I can say on that, other than that I didn’t use weedkiller for obvious reasons and it took much time and perseverance. Rod took to some riotous rhododendron with the chainsaw and I poured stump weedkiller around the battleground. We didn’t realise at the time that this toxic plant is also toxic in its gaseous form and so had bonfires of it. We live to tell the tale, perhaps not for as long as we might otherwise have done, though! Despite all these measures, the pernicious triphid is making a comeback and there’s nothing I can do other than keep cutting it back and mulching as I am now officially Organic in tooth and law, thus the stump killer is out of bounds!

In the depths of winter 2006 I submitted drawings, plans, including a business plan and an application to the Ceredigion Planning Authority for a 48 foot polytunnel. There followed pleasant telephone conversations, further letters, visits from planning staff who took photographs, further slightly more testy telephone calls, emails, outraged petitions and more visits. I reasoned, pleaded and gradually watched my plans for the business’s first summer get blight and wither and generally become aphidised beyond productive posibiliies. Their line was, it seems, “You can’t go ahead without our say so and we can’t go ahead because we are either off sick, on holiday or overloaded with backlog.” I was sidestepping frustration and preparing for a wedding. I let wedding plans occupy my mind and sewing dresses for eight bridesmaids occupy my useless hands.

The polytunnel planning permission was finally granted in June. Before the tunnel could be erected, we needed to make a level space for it. We called in the man with the digger, who by then had a lot of summer work and he couldn’t come for 6 more weeks. I worked on the veil. Rod built a temporary shelter for all the young wedding flower plants, tomatoes and aubergines. I bought bags of compost, pots and poles to meet their growing needs.  The wedding was called off. The weather turned wet as June turned to July.  One rare sunny day true friends and family came to help put up the polytunnel. Apart from an idle but mischievous breeze, the conditions were ideal. A lot of exess topsoil which had been mounded up during the levelling process occupied half the capacity of the polytunnel and had to be dug back outside. The volunteers set to with generous willing and worked furiously through the swealtering day to a cider swilling evening. At last I could ‘move in’!

I washed the aphids off each aubergine plant, leaf by leaf, and planted them in the new polytunnel beds. They were mulched with well rotted manure which Ian and I barrowed up the hill and then ripped white card, to reflect light to their hitherto light starved leaves. The plants grew amazingly and looked beautiful and sturdy. Their pale purple flowers burst forth and then, like bare-bottomed toddlers, wearing skirts but who’ve forgotten their knickers, the aubergine fruits began to appear beneath the petals’ frills! I had about 60 aubergine plants.

It was about that time that I sat in the polytunnel reading John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, to take my mind off my grief over the broken engagement, the pain, and my incomprehension of how things had suddenly gone so wrong. I remember drinking gin in the afternoon and writing terrible bitter things in my diary. I had sleepless nights and tried to relax in the warm, private womb of the polytunnel, but I had damaged the atmosphere with my rage and grief and attempts to cat nap failed. So did the aubergines. In their ones, twos and eventually dozens they rotted at the ‘toddler’s bottom’ stage and fell onto the mocking, curling card mulch. The blight on the tomatoes which had set in before I planted them into the polytunnel ruined that harvest too, and presumably polluted the beds for future ‘solenaceae’ crops. I resented the unapologetic, uncaring planning authority. I filled the house with large bunches of would have been wedding flowers and enjoyed the endless supply of sweet till you’re drunk on them sweet peas’ scent. I wanted to bring some cheer to my hurting daughters too. We regrouped as a family, if not as a business!



Hitting the ground running

September 22, 2009

Ready? So here’s a brief paraphrase of the story so far in fast forward.

I got married at age 22 going on 12 and my parents knew it…all of that! But God sorted it all out over the years. Isn’t he so Gracious!

The refining was furious while I worked in my first couple of jobs. Several lessons in life; humiliations and discoveries how fallen and broken the world is made me lonely for soul satisfying beauty and purity though we lived on a beautiful coastline and if we looked inland, it was towards a stunning national park. Pregnant, I was chucked out of my second job, and I felt betrayed…I was a slow learner! 😦

Little did I know at the time how, as I sat all night just weeping and sleepless how the beauty I longed for was going to come to pass. My true friends did; Julie and David. They had a hand in its origins.

Despite it’s meaning, Rod wouldn’t agree on the name Abigail. I wrote her name in large letters in the sand, having gone to the beach to walk and think: Ann Marie.

About a fortnight after that compromise was reached she was born. Her eyes were dark like the solway on a stormy day. The cherry blossom outside the hospital so pink and frothy in celebration. The wildflowers Rod brought from summer meadows brought beauty and prophesied freedom, yet my baby cried with hunger; we were still confined and regulated by clipboards and starvation regimes!

As Ann Marie took her first steps on the sun-dappled mossy pathway through the woods where I took her to learn to walk, our second child’s heart began to beat as she grew secretly within me.

Rod was working as a carpenter but took time out to  rennovate the house we had bought. we had moved South to be nearer our parents and had to buy a wreck in order to make that move. House prices where we moved from were much lower. It was while I held plasterboard sheets aloft for Rod to nail into place that I became inexplicably faint. We finished all the work on that house when Catherine Eliza was 11 years old.

In these years while the children grew I joined St Michael’s church, and Rod soon did too, where he was born again, I worked on the garden, my Welsh, In Coleg Ceredigion, at Plas Lluest, first as a volunteer in the plant nursery, later as a horticultural trainer, but was driven away by a vindictive boss after losing a battle for fair and decent treatment of the clients with those whom they should most have been able to trust, and as a cleaner so that I could I spend a year doing an Art foundation course. I took my GCSE maths. I was laying in place all the foundations on which I had in mind to start training to do teaching.

We moved again, while I worked at Coleg Ceredigion, to a smallholding  just North of Aberystwyth. Soon afterwards I began work as a receptionist at a surgery in Aberystwyth. I was able to do two Welsh courses while I did that job and pass an ‘A’ level and get accepted into Teacher Training College on the Welsh Medium Course.

I had been working pretty flat out by then for two or three years without any break, just work and study and domestic duties. I had forgotten how to relax and was beginning to suffer again with depression. It is so subtle at first. A few years earlier, when I’d lost sight of why I was alive, I came to a horrid realisation of my state when Catherine, then about age four had said, “Mummy, I remember when you used to smile.” It really is no good just pretending everything will be alright if you keep on going in the same direction. It was the same again this time. I’d hit a dead end and had nowhere to go but down.

The teacher training began just as I began to come out the other side. Not an easy state in which to undertake very tough new challenges, but I did it. There are a few memorable times both up and down, but all of us on the course had at least some of that initiation. There are the secure and professional type teachers who have the emotional maturity to be guiding and supportive of trainees and there are the old guard who put trainees through their paces and make them jump through hoops because they think its character forming and there are the downright amoral and immature ones who do all they can to obstruct the progress of the trainees in every aspect of their would be development! I had one of the former and one of the latter as mentors during the training year and developed a great respect for one ‘in the middle’ while I worked as a supply teacher. On the whole I felt that most heads and teachers were supportive.

I never became a fully qualified teacher because I couldn’t secure a post in any school. I nearly had one in Mydroilyn but because the local authority couldn’t process the necessary paperwork, I didn’t get paid, or a contract, and Rod could see how things were slipping and it did look as if I was being taken for a ride, driving right to the south of the county twice a week for half days of work, sometimes only to find I wasn’t wanted and had to drive all the way home again, yet I’d turned down full days of work to honour my Mydroilyn commitments.

The real turning point of resignation actually came during my training year: God was gracious to bring things into focus the way he did and when he did. Gracious to me, that is. I hope that the head teacher who had to deal with the situation will see things that way when we all give an account! This was the way I let go of the dream:

I had worked for hours the night before on preparing for a science lesson on food chains. I had all the other lessons planned and written up as you have to but my piece de resistance for the day was to be the role play/food chain lesson. I hoped that it would earn me good marks in the assessment which the head would make for the college. It was most irrational of me, but when he took out an assessment form at the beginning of a maths lesson that fateful day I felt my heart sink into my boots and in a moment of weakness I didn’t bother to crank it back up to my chest again as I had learnt to do on so many other occasions as a trainee teacher in the petri dish! I went through the lesson somewhere below satisfactory, by my own reckoning and I remember nothing more about it. At the end of the lesson the head gave his verbal feedback It was fair and done without bias or malice.

I took the marking out to the car as it was lunch break, so I could cry without being observed and play a track on a Delirious CD. ‘Find me in the River’ Which I also had used for an RE lesson. I felt sure it would revive me ready for the afternoon’s lessons and yet all that happened was I found myself crying all the more and genuinely in some distress. I played the song again and again and still the tears fell unabated. I was face to face with God in that river. “OK”, I prayed.” I know what this is about.” I had had it in my heart all those years that with or without God’s blessing, I was going to be a teacher; I was going to win and do it and be someone. I had taken enough sneering and derision from people who had made it in the world’s eyes, and I was going to make it too. But here I was, moments before the end of lunch break due back in class to start my star science lesson, in floods of tears and grovelling in a heap before God. “Ok”, I prayed: “You, only You is all I need. I will let go of the teaching dream if I can have You first. I still desperately want to teach but I want You first”. It hurt to say those words because I meant them. I was stricken and broken and hopeless and I had to get out of the car and walk back into the class where the rest of key stage 2 were filing in because I had to take the whole of KS2 for Science, not just years four to six. The head saw the tears and the brokenness and took over. Humiliation but relief.

So if you don’t know God and you are reading this, don’t trifle with him. If you make him promices you better keep them! He won’t give you anything less than his best; costly and precious, and if you try to go your own way it will get very painful.

I did hold on and hope but I’d lost my grip…gradually the ropes I’d learnt slipped out of my hands until by the summer of 2006 I knew that I wouldn’t be going back to teaching, even as a supply teacher after the break. We had a family holiday in Portugal, I read ‘The Heavenly Man’ by Brother Yun. Meanwhile Britain and the rest of Europe had a monumental heat wave.

That autumn I got all my teaching resources and sorted out the burnable from the potentially useful. The size of the bonfire was gratifyingly huge. I most particularly enjoyed watching the reduction to flakes of breeze shaken carbon of the first teaching practice file. I celebrated my freedom with some bitterness and regret. Catherine cried because she of all people kneew what it had cost me. The last vestiges of my ‘worth something’ self, in the form of hefty text books and teachers’ resource books I exchanged for a fraction of what I paid for them at a shop that would profit enormously from selling them a second time around! (more…)

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