Chapter 24

It was pulling towards eight o’clock when the car came to a stop in the yard of a noble-looking farmhouse in the hills above Llanrwst. We’d lingered in Bangor to see the city’s new buildings along Deiniol Road, which had been lined with trees just like in Cardiff, and the college itself looked just the same except that its colours had matured a bit, like every college worth the name. We had driven in a leisurely way along the coast so I could see Abergwyngregyn and Llanfairfechan and Penmaenmawr, patterns of how Wales’s seaside villages could attract visitors by their innate Welshness. In Conwy the bridge (new to me, but old to Mair) waddled across the river as if it had been there forever, and a fleet of small fishing boats speckled the waters of the estuary. And Mair insisted on showing me Llandudno. I couldn’t believe my eyes to see so much Welsh on its walls, nor my ears to hear so much on its streets. The Great Orme was looking at peace, at last, not brooding like an alien thing in its own land.

The Conwy Valley was in all its glory, and I saw the atomic train speeding through the trees like a bolt of blue lightning, with no sound except for a low electric hum, and a chord like three trumpets each time it approached a station.

“How fast does the train go?” I asked Mair.

“Oh, only about a hundred miles an hour.”

“But your father said that no-one rushed around in Wales today.”

“The train doesn’t rush. It’s just comparatively slow. You could get it to go at a thousand miles and hour, but what for? It’s only on the roads that we have to go very slowly, since the roads are the most dangerous.”

Once we’d arrived at the farm, Mair and I stepped out of the car. Before we reached the door, a man came out. A genial, pleasant, red-cheeked man with his two eyes like two stars fixed in his head.

“Good heavens!” he said. “Not… Not Miss Llywarch?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Well, come in, come in.  I haven’t seen you for years. Well… for a year, at least. How’s your father? Still pottering about with those old bottles? And how’s your mother? And who’s this handsome young man you’ve brought with you? Your boyfriend, yes? Yes, yes, I defy you to say otherwise…”

Mair could hardly get a word in edgeways. The man was like a raging torrent. She tried to explain who I was.

“This is Mr. Ifan Powell. Perhaps you’ve heard about the Man from the Twentieth Century…”

“Mr. Powell, yes? Well well well, you’re welcome here, my boy, very welcome. Eh? What was that you said, Miss Llywarch? The Man from the Twentieth Century?”

“Yes, sure. Perhaps you’ve seen the story in the papers or on the television…”

“The papers? Yes, for sure… Indeed, then… Very strange…”

The man was staring at me, having sobered up a bit. Rathe hesitantly, he extended his hand to me, and after I’d let go of it he looked at it.

“Well,” he said, “it feels like flesh and blood, at least. Yes indeed…”

“Oh, he is,” said Mair, “I can vouch for that.”

“Can you? Of yes, you can, for sure. Hi! Hi! Hi!” And the farmer stared laughing lasciviously. “You should know, my girl. Hi! Hi! Hi! Well, my boy, forgive me for staring at you like I did. It’s not every day that I get a visitor from the past, you know. No, indeed. Well, come in, you two, come in. Marged’s in the middle of making supper…. Mar-GED!”

Mair winked at me, and the two of us went into the house after the farmer. In the large, airy kitchen stood his wife, wearing a big white apron and with a big bowl of salad in her hand.

“Well, good heavens! Miss Llywarch!” she said.

“How are you, Mrs. Pugh?”

“Yes, but look here, Marged,” said her husband, “Do you know who this young man is?”

“No I don’t.”

“”Well, this is the man I was reading to you about from the Messenger on Saturday night, the man from the past.”

She dropped the bowl of salad onto the floor, the glass shattering and the lettuce flying and the tomatoes rolling away to every corner of the kitchen. Mrs. Pugh stood over the scene of destruction, in fear.

“Poor Mrs. Pugh…” began Mair.

“Don’t worry, Miss Llywarch,” said the farmer merrily, starting to laugh again, “there’s plenty of salad to be had in the gardens here”

“Yes, but what about my best bow, Arthur?” said his poor wife. “A wedding present from my mother thirty years ago…”

“Don’t worry, old thing,” said her husband, putting his arm round her waist, “it was worth breaking the bowl just to see the expression on your face. It was, really! Come now, give a proper welcome to the young man. He’s every bit as real as you or I.”

A slow smile broke across Mrs. Pugh’s face, and she extended her hand to me.

“Forgive me, Mr…”

“Powell,” said Mair. “Ifan Powell.”

“Well, forgive me if I’ve been impolite. I shouldn’t have behaved as I did…”

“All’s well, Mrs. Pugh,” I said. “I’ve forgotten too soon that seeing a creature like me from another world… or at least, from another time… is bound to be a shock.”

“Not at all, my boy,” said the farmer. “No-one has the right to be shocked these days. The work ‘shock’ ought to be taken out of the dictionary, with so many wonderful things happening…”

“Sorry to cut across you,” said Mair, “but is there space for Ifan and me to stay here tonight?”

“Good heavens, plenty!” said the farmer. “Isn’t there, Marged?”

“The two front bedrooms are always ready,” said his wife. “And even if they were taken, we’d be sure to make room for you and your friends, my love.”

And she smiled warmly at Mair. The Welsh women of this age possessed a remarkable dignity.

“And you know what?” said Pugh, “You’ve chosen a good night to come here. There’s a ceilidh[1] happening tonight.”

“Oh Ifan!” said Mair, sparkling, “the very thing I’d hoped you’d see.”

“I’m fortunate, indeed,” I said.

“Take them through to the parlour, Arthur,” said Mrs. Pugh, “so I can clear up what’s left of this bowl and get supper ready.”

“I’ll send Sioned to help you,” said her husband. “Sio-ned! SIO-NED!!”

It was obvious that Mair was almost bursting to laugh. A blonde-haired girl came into view, a solid, rosy-cheeked girl very much like her father. She greeted us cheerfully with no shyness, and when her father explained to her why the bowl had been broken, she laughed heartily. Men from the twentieth century weren’t a shock to her, at least. Nor to her brothers, three of them, that we met in the parlour setting out chairs and stools ready for the ceilidh. They were all eyes and ears once they’d understood who we were, but awkwardness or shyness – not a bit of it. I led out a sigh of relief.

After a supper that left me almost too full to move – it was one of the biggest meals that I’ve ever tried to eat – Mr. Pugh took me out into the garden for a lungful of the evening air. He offered me a packet of cigarettes – Emperors was the name on the packet – and filled his own pipe with tobacco.

“Don’t you smoke cigarettes?” I asked.

“Never touch the blighters,” he said. “Although, remember, they’re much healthier than the cigarettes of your day. You won’t get cancer with these. But The Golden Leaf is my tobacco.  The tobacco of the gods, my boy.”

He lit his pipe, and he and I leaned against the gate into the farmyard, looking over towards the mountains of Arfon standing like blue towers against the golden air of the sunset. He pulled on his pipe for a while, then turned to me and asked,

“Well, Ifan, what do you think of this new Wales? Be honest now, no beating about the bush.”

“I like it,” I said.

“Hmmm. Yes, it’s a decent little country. Not perfect, mind. But what country is? There are many worse. Yes, my boy,

Pa wlad, wedi’r siarad, sydd

Mor lân â Chymru lonydd?[2]

He carried on staring at the mountains as he puffed his pipe. After a while, I asked,

“How big is this farm?”

“This one? Oh… about sixty. Yes, sixty-five acres, to be precise.”

“Is that big enough to support six of you?”

“Good heavens, yes. Half of it would be enough the way we farm today. Theres none of the slapdash farming of your day here, remember. We farm by the inch, not by the acre.”

“How so?”

“Well… think about our ditches, to start with. You see that field just ahead of us? You see the cattle on it? They’ve been there for weeks, but the pasture’s just as good as it was in the beginning. What’s the secret, you might ask? Silk Mist. A dose of Silk Mist on it every Monday morning, and a fieldful of the hungriest creatures won’t manage to clear it.”

“But surely the land tires…”

“I’d scarcely believe it. Tire, when it’s being fed every week? Don’t ask me how the stuff works. Ask Llywarch. All I know is that the stuff grows and keeps on growing. In its season, of course. In its season.”

“You grow all sorts of things,  I expect.”

“All sorts… within reason, of course. Pasture, two crops of hay, wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, turnips, carrots, all sorts of green vegetables… and a little tobacco.”


“Of course. What do you think of this Golden Leaf? It’s my own tobacco, my boy. A variety of tobacco developed to grow on high ground; every farmer around here who likes his pipe grows it. Do you think I’d smoke anyone else’s tobacco, apart from my own? Not for a fortune.”

“Talking of fortunes… does farming pay reasonably?”

Pugh spat on the ground.

“Listen, my boy. I know you won’t say anything to the taxmen, you don’t know them. But between you and me, I’ve feathered my bed pretty well these last twenty years. Every farmer worth his salt has done the same, if he’s not a silly fool.”

“Dr. Llywarch was saying that it’s very hard for a man to become a millionaire in Wales today.”

“Oh, did he now? He’s going around with his eyes closed, then. I know two or three, without going fifty miles from here, and I don’t know what you’d call them if not millionaires. Well, perhaps they’re not worth millions of pounds, but if they’re not sitting on a few hundred thousand then my name’s not Pugh.”

“But how did they make their money? Dr. Llywarch said it didn’t pay for a man to own more than one shop or more than one farm.”

“It doesn’t pay for a man to own more than one business, that’s what Llywarch meant. That is, it doesn’t pay for him to own a chain of shops or a chain of farms as businesses. He can own as many buildings or as much land as he wants, and rent them out, and make that pay pretty well. Take one of the men I was talking about earlier. Ifor Môn, who lives over there towards Llandudno. He had a shop, a clothes shop, that he inherited from his father. He did really well with it. He opened a second shop. Heavy taxes, it didn’t pay. What did he do but rent that shop out to a young man, and received as much rent for it as he was allowed to? And that’s what he’s been doing ever since; opening shops then renting them out. And he’s made a decent fortune from the rents.”

“The government’s inconsistent, then.”

“No, not at all. The government’s aim isn’t to prevent people from making money, but to share businesses and farms among as many families as it can. Preventing the country’s business from ending up in the hands of a few large capitalists. Independent families are the government’s policy – as many of them as it can have.”

“But families aren’t independent if they’ve got to pay rent to a landlord instead of owning their own places.”

“You’ve put your finger on it again, yes indeed. And you’re right. And there’s a law for that. A man can’t rent out a farm or a shop for more than ten years if the tenant wants to buy it. That man from Llandudno, that’s what he had to do. He’d open a shop, let it out, collect rent for ten years. But by then the tenant had made enough money to buy it off him if he was any good. If he hadn’t, then the government was willing to give him a loan. Then, Ifor Môn had to sell. But he made money out of it; rent on the shop for ten years, then sell it. And he did that with a couple of dozen shops. Of course, he had to pay rental tax, but any which way, he lives like a king today.”

“Couldn’t you do the same thing?”

“Me? Buy farms and rent them out? My dear boy, what for? I make plenty to live on and plenty to put aside, and I’ve not no desire to speculate. Of course, I’ll have to help my sons buy their own farms before long. And I can afford to help them. And of course, the government will really stick their noses in when I do that. The boys will have to prove that they are completely independent of me, otherwise I’ll have to pay rent tax or second-business tax.”

“The taxman isn’t all that easy to fool, then?”

“No he isn’t, Ifan, to be honest. But when you think about it, who’d want to fool them? We’re doing well enough, and they have to do their jobs as well. And after all, these taxes go to help this dear Wales of ours, don’t they?”

The farmer turned away from the gate, and the twilight was closing in on us by now, heavy with the intoxicating scents of late May. I saw the lights of cars coming up the wide driveway from the main road.

“Ho,” said Pugh, some of the neighbours are arriving. And I can hear Sioned tuning her harp in the parlour. Come on, Ifan, we’ll go in now. There’s a good night ahead of us tonight.”

[1] Actually a ‘Noson Lawen’ or literally a ‘Merry Evening’; something a bit more intellectually stimulating than what’s normally thought of as a ceilidh, but just as much fun.

[2] The last two lines of an Englyn written by Caledfryn (William Williams Bryn-y-Ffynnon, 1801-1869):

“What land, when all is said and done, is  /  As lovely as peaceful Wales?”

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