Chapter 15

Llywarch and I went for tea to one of the most modern restaurants in the city. A room made of glass – that’s how it looked to me – with the glass all blue and yellow. Everyone was helping themselves from a long counter. In front of me there was a big panel with all sorts of food listed on it. A girl gave me card with the number 571 written on it. Llywarch showed me how to press the figures 5, 7 and 1 on the panel, and then enter the food that I’d like to select. He did the same, only his number was 572. When we got to the far end of the counter, everyone’s trays were waiting for them with the food ready to go. Amazing.

We sat by a small table in a rose-coloured bay within one of the long glassy walls. Llywarch pulled faces at himself in the mirror behind us, and I laughed.

“There’s a bit of your daughter in you, I see,” said I.


“A bit of an actor.”


Llywarch liked that.

At one end of the room there was a round stage, and through a door at the back of the stage came a number of youths with instruments in their hands. Each of the musicians was wearing a slack, colourful evening-costume – bright red, with blue pockets and lapels. One sat by a grand piano and started jumping up and down on the stool like he was riding a horse at a trot, and then started hitting the notes. The trumpet joined in, then the clarinet, and the saxophone, the trombone and the drums, and I’d never heard such a pandemonium.

“Twenty-first century Jazz?” I asked.

Llywarch spread out his hands.

“Something they call ‘Cerdd-dantata’” he said. It’s a development of Canu Penillion[1], they say, though you’d never tell. It’s swept the world, as far as I know. It’s ‘Kerdantata’ in London and New York, ‘Querdantate’ in Paris – quite a craze. Some sort of singer will come to the stage in a minute, and you’ll understand. He’ll break into the tune somewhere or other, and sing something in the style of hir-a-thoddaid[2], and then stop. Breaking in again then, and so on, until he and the band are all out of puff. It’s an ordeal.”

I looked at the bandsmen in amazement. They blew, they fingered and they drummed until each of them was dripping with sweat, and then, when the racket was at its loudest, stopped. For some reason, the listeners clapped their hands. Then, through a door in the back of the stage, came a tall, blond youth, also wearing a red-and-blue suit, and he stood at the front of the stage with a very sober expression on his face. There was more applause.

“Heaven help us,” said Llywarch, in obvious discomfort. “This is Sim Sanders, the apostle of Cerdd-dantata. I’m sorry to have brought you to be tormented like this.”

“Not at all,” I said. “It’s interesting.”

Llywarch looked at me doubtfully. Then, the pianist attacked his piano, the wind section gripped their instruments, and the drummer drummed like a thing possessed. Sim Sanders stood without moving so much as an eyebrow, his hands folded, while the din mounted all around him. Then, totally without warning, he opened his mouth and in a tenor which wasn’t at all bad sang a line in English about loving a girl on a dark street in the pouring rain. He closed his mouth just as suddenly and the instrumentalists kept at it.

“One two two,” said Sim, and then sang the same line in Welsh, and closed his mouth again. He went on, from verse to verse, for at least ten minutes, alternating Welsh and English, and finishing on an impossibly high note. He wiped his brow with a large yellow handkerchief. Then he bowed, clicked his heels and disappeared.

I looked over at Llywarch, who was scribbling some scientific formula with a pencil on the back of his paper napkin.

“And you’re telling me,” I said, “that this racket is sweeping the capital cities of the world?”

“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?” said Llywarch. “The demand for Welshmen to sing songs like that – in Welsh and English, Welsh and French, Welsh and Spanish – is insatiable. Sim Sanders has only just come back from America, and made a substantial amount of money so they say, singing ‘Kerdantata, the popular traditional rhythm of wild and wonderful Wales’. The old singers of Pennillion would be spinning in their graves. But there we are, this sort of thing is unavoidable once a country gets onto the map of the world.”

Llywarch and I rose and walked out of the glass restaurant into the sunshine. He looked at his watch.

“You know what, Powell? Time’s marching on. I need to go to the Deacons’ Meeting at six, and I’d like to drop into the laboratory before that. Do you think you can find your own way back to the house?”

“Of course I can,” I said. “I’m getting pretty familiar with this city now.”

“Splendid. Remember to be ready by half past eight. The Home Secretary doesn’t like anyone to keep him from his supper. Goodbye.”

I watched him go down the street, fit and handsome[3]. I little knew at the time that I wouldn’t see him again that evening.

[1] See the footnote in Chapter 9 on Cerdd Dant and Canu Penillion

[2] One of the 24 strict poetic metres that make up the tradition of Cynghanedd.

[3] In the original, the author can’t resist a bit of cynghanedd himself here: “ar hyd yr heol, yn heini ac yn hardd”.

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