Chapter 12

The service that night was everything that the priest had promised. The church was full, the singing enthusiastic, and Mr. Rhys the Minister was a first class preacher. Indeed – and this was a bit of a surprise to me – there was more than a little of the old Welsh hwyl[1] in his manner.

The thing which made the deepest impression on me, even so, was something that he said in his sermon.

“Some people,” he said, “remind us all the time of the olden days, and make out that Wales was more spiritually free when she was politically enslaved. But those people mistake spiritual freedom for otherworldly depression. The Master’s Church is healthier in Wales today than it has hardly ever been, since now it is able to do its own work. It no longer has to labour to maintain the Welsh language within its sanctuaries, nor spend all its time protesting against Wales’s land being taken, its people moved and its life trodden down. It’s no longer an unhealthy place of retreat for a disappointed people. The Master’s people are no longer weeping by the rivers of Babylon, but rebuilding Jerusalem with hearts full of thanks to God.”

We’d only just arrived home when Mrs. Llywarch came to Llywarch and me in the garden and said,

“Alfan, the Home Secretary wants a word with you on the videophone[2].”

“The videophone?” I said.

“Haven’t you seen that, Powell?” said Llywarch. “Come with me.”

We went into the house and into a room which looked like Powell’s study. Beside his desk, by the window, there was a big cupboard that had no door, and which to all appearances was empty. Llywarch pressed a button on the side of the cupboard, and a light came on inside it. And not just a light. I saw a sumptuously furnished room, and a middle-aged man with fine curly hair looking straight at us and saying,

“Good evening, Llywarch.”

It was obvious to me by now that what was in the cupboard was a kind of television, but I couldn’t see any screen. And the man and the room appeared in their natural colours.

“Good evening, Emrys,” said Llywarch. “I’d like to introduce a friend to you. This is Mr. Ifan Powell from the 20th Century. Powell, this is Mr. Charles Emrys, the Home Secretary of the Welsh Government.”

“How are you, Mr. Powell?” said the Home Secretary, with a kind smile, bowing his head ever so slightly. “To tell the truth, Llywarch, it was Mr. Powell that I was calling you about. Part of my work is to know what’s going on in Wales, good, bad and indifferent. And when I saw in yesterday’s papers that Mr. Powell was among us, I naturally felt that it was my duty to meet him if at all possible.”

“Naturally,” said Llywarch.

“What do you think about the new Wales, Mr. Powell?” asked the Home Secretary.

“Well, sir…”

“An unfair question, perhaps since you’ve been here such a short time. Well, I won’t waste time now. Are you free tomorrow night, Llywarch?”

“I’m supposed to have a Deacons’ meeting at six, but I could…”

“No, no, you’ll do nothing of the sort. You must be there as a diligent Deacon. Would it be possible for you and Mr. Powell to come over here for supper after the meeting? We’ll have a late supper tomorrow night – Mrs. Emrys will be glad of that, since she needs to open an exhibition in Ceredigion tomorrow and she’ll be fairly late getting home. How about it?”

“Many thanks, Emrys. We’ll both come. About nine?”

“Splendid. Good night.”

The Home Secretary and his room faded into the darkness, and the cupboard was empty as before.

“And that’s the videophone,” I said.

“That’s the videophone.”

And we went through for supper.

About eleven that night, Mrs. Llywarch said,

“I don’t know about you late-night revellers, but I’m going to bed. You’ll be tired too when you get to my age.”

“Really, Mrs. Llywarch,” I said, “you look like a 25 year old girl.”

“Thank you, Mr. Powell. Did you hear that, Alfan?”

“Mm? Hear what?”

“That I look like a 25 year old girl.”

Llywarch put his glasses on and looked carefully at his wife.

“Hardly, my love, hardly.”


“That is to say,” said Llywarch, leaning back in his chair and preparing his speech, “I’d hardly say that such a description does justice to you, with all due respect to Mr. Powell. If you did look like a 25 year old girl, I’d have nothing to do with you.”


“And me looking 55 years old? No, no. No I wouldn’t, not on any account.”

“Dad, can’t you ever forget that you’re a Professor?” said Mair.

“I had forgotten. I forgot some minutes ago, and I was speaking not as a Professor, but as a jealous husband, jealous of what’s left of his own youth and of his wife’s middle age.”

“Alfan, give over,” said Mrs. Llywarch, “and come to bed.”

“Soon, my love, soon. I want to read for a bit before I do. You go.”

“I’m going, indeed.”

Mrs. Llywarch kissed her husband on his forehead, and Mair on her cheek, and extended her hand to me. And then, like a fine lady from the age of chivalry, walked along the room and up the white stairs.

“As for me,” said Llywarch, “I’m going to my books. I’m lecturing in the college tomorrow morning, Powell. But in the afternoon, I’ll take you to see the Welsh Parliament at work. Be good!”

I noticed that I was now alone with Mair. She had her back to me, whether deliberately or not I couldn’t say.


“Yes, Ifan?”

“Will you play the piano for me?”

“I’ll do something better than that.”

She went over to the wall beside the piano, and at the touch of her finger a big white radiogram slid out of the wall. Mair put a tape in it and closed the lid. I heard a tenor singing. The song was “The Old Musician”.

“That’s not… that’s not David Lloyd singing?” I said.

Mair nodded.

After David Lloyd came the voice of Bob Roberts, Tai’r Felin, singing “Little Mari, my love”. A lump suddenly came to my throat. Somewhere, in the distant years, Tegid and Dr. Heinkel were waiting for me, guessing what might be happening to me, wondering if they’d ever see me again. And here I was, living after they had died, listening to the voices of their age. And almost, almost wishing I could stay here, because Mair was here.

“Tell me, Ifan…”


“Did you see David Lloyd and Tai’r Felin?”


“And hear them singing in the flesh?”

“Many times.”

“You were lucky.”

She rested her head on her hand and carried on listening.

“We still have tenors and ballad-singers, gifted and able. But I’d have loved to see the ones that you saw.”

“Don’t you have films of them?”

“Yes, lots of them. But they don’t satisfy.”

Soon the radiogram fell silent. Mair rose and pushed it back into the wall. She turned, and looked at me.

“Can I tell you something, Ifan?”

“Oh, do so, Mair.”

“Last year, the Film Department of the National Theatre made a film entitled Boudicea. It was made in Welsh, but an English soundtrack was added to it and it became very popular in England and America and the Commonwealth countries. I didn’t get to play the role of Boudicea; I was rather young for the part, they said. Mari Anthony was Boudicea; she’s our biggest actress, at the moment. But I got to ‘shadow’ her – what you’d have called an understudy in your day. And getting to shadow Mari Anthony is a privilege, believe me.”

Mair moved slowly towards the window.

“I think,” she said after a pause, “that Boudicea’s last monologue before taking poison on the battlefield is one of the great moments of Welsh cinema. I’d like to recite it.”

She reached for the switch, and the room went dark. Only the city lights shining through the window fell upon her face, and her face at that moment was something that I’ll never forget. She began quietly, but from sentence to sentence her aspect went from that of a young impetuous girl to an angry woman, then a rebellious sorceress, and then an old, old woman. When she finished with the words “The night is falling on Britain; and the sun will rise on it no more until it sets upon the eagles,” I was silent with admiration.

She stood there for a long time, looking out over Cardiff, having forgotten both me and herself. I didn’t dare move. I was in the presence of art. After what seemed a long time, she turned her two big dark eyes upon me.

“You recite something now.”

“I can’t recite.”

“Sing, then.”

“I can’t sing.”

“Well, do something.”

She was looking at me with such appeal, that I wished I could do something to satisfy her. But I hadn’t recited anything since I was a child, and I’d never been a singer. There was one thing, however, I could do. If I dared. I crossed the room towards her.


She raised her eyes.

“I can’t recite or sing, nor perform anything. If I could, then I’d do it for you rather than for anyone. But there’s something I can say, at least.”

“What’s that?”

Her voice was low and I could see, even in the pale light that came through the window, that she was blushing a little.

“It’s a compliment; a ‘tribute’, perhaps I should say, if my Welsh was as good as yours. You are the loveliest girl I’ve ever seen.”

She held her head down and turned the bracelet that was on her wrist many times.

“I don’t believe that’s true,” she said at last.

“Why do you doubt me?”

“There were very lovely women in the 20th Century.”

“Very possibly. They weren’t in the same league as you.”

She moved away from me and looked out through the window. The she said,

“When a critic says that I’m lovely, on the stage or in a film, then I’m glad, To be honest, my head swells a bit. When you say the same thing… I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“I’m just… afraid.”

I studied her carefully.

“Mair… did you ever have a boyfriend who said anything like that to you.”

She smiled.

“Of course. Young girls always have boyfriends.”

“Well then.”

“But that wasn’t the same thing either. You’re a voice from the past, Ifan. That makes a difference…”

“But I’m flesh and blood. Feel me…”

“I know that. But we must remember… a few days and you’ll be going back…”

“I’m not sure”

She turned and looked at me.

“What are you thinking?”

I bowed my head.

“Forgive me, Mair. Perhaps I lost control of myself there for a minute. But… I can say this. When I came here, I didn’t expect to meet anything who would mean anything to me. You have made me want to stay here.”

She came a step or two closer towards me.

“Ifan. I’m speaking completely seriously to you. It’s only two days since you saw me for the first time. Two days isn’t enough to form an opinion of anybody. You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know about my temper, my fickleness, or the track record I have for breaking mens’ hearts. Don’t set your heart on me. I could play with you like I’ve played with others. But I won’t. It wouldn’t be fair. Not to a man like you.”

I didn’t know what to say. Earlier, I hadn’t set my heart on her especially. I found her appealing, she attracted me, and I was fond of her. But now, now that she’d put this barrier up between us, she meant more to me than ever. I was perfectly sure by now that I wanted to stay.

“Will you believe me, Ifan?”

I shook my head.

“Oh well,” she said. “It’s time we got some rest. Perhaps the morning will bring us both clearer heads.”

“Can I kiss you, Mair, at least?”

The two dark eyes looked at me pityingly. She said slowly,

“It’s not the practice in Free Wales for two people to kiss each other when they’ve known each other for so little time as you and me. But apart from that, I can’t let you. My kisses are dangerous.” She held my hand tenderly. “Good night, dear Ifan.”

When I raised my head, she’d gone. I stood there for a while, taking stock of the situation. Mair was, after all, speaking sense. I’d have to go back. Tegid and Dr. Heinkel would be waiting for me, I’d be expected back in the office, and all my relatives and acquaintances would expect me. I gave up thinking, and went to bed. But once there I couldn’t sleep. The little radio fell silent and the coloured lights darkened, and I had still not slept. Last night, thinking of Mair helped me to sleep. Tonight, it was keeping me awake.

[1] Hwyl, in this context, lacks an obvious English translation. The word itself has two literal meanings: ‘fun’, in the sense that ‘cael hwyl’ is to ‘have fun’, or ‘sail’ as in the sail of a boat. However, it also has a particular meaning when used by Welsh evangelicals, where to ‘cael hwyl’ in a church meeting is to sense the presence of God in a particular way and to experience a particular freshness and fluency in all that takes place: the breeze of God’s Holy Spirit ‘fills the sails’ and carries all before Him.

[2] The author coins a Welsh word, “gweleffon”, which means ‘videophone’ but sounds much more like ‘telephone’, hence being much more apt and, in the context, quite funny.

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