Chapter 28

I had a grand welcome from Dr. and Mrs. Llywarch. I had to tell them the whole story, with Llywarch scowling furiously as I told him about Captains Steele and Lewis-Sharpe.

“The rascals” he said, “The absolute rascals.”

“Never mind,” said Mrs. Llywarch tenderly. Ifan’s safe now. The Purple Shirts won’t get their hands on him again.”

I said that the Purple Shirts weren’t all bad by any means, and that the lads in Nant Gwynant were polite and civilised.

“Even so,” said Llywarch, “it’s a shame they can’t be got rid of altogether. But there we are, the worst of them have had their wings clipped now. Well, Ifan, hurry up with your tea. We’re going to have dinner with the Home Secretary.”

“Oh?” I said. “Is the invitation still open?”

“Yes. He’s keener than ever to meet you after your experiences with the Shirts.”

At six o’clock on the dot, Llywarch’s car came to a stop in the small car park in front of the Home Secretary’s house. I had expected to see a huge and splendid palace, but I was disappointed to see a house which was very desirable and yet quite ordinary in its size.

“No,” said Llywarch, “cabinet ministers don’t live like kings. The country pays all their costs, but their houses and their incomes are very reasonable. Come in.”

It wasn’t a butler who met us at the door, but the Home Secretary himself. He was a noble man, and spent some minutes apologising for allowing the Purple Shirts to kidnap me.

 “It’s all right, Sir,” I said, “You couldn’t help it…”

“We could have given you an escort,” he said. “We cabinet ministers don’t have escorts ourselves, but we could have taken more care of you. Anyway, you’re perfectly safe now. No-one will interfere with you for the remainder of your time here.”

Mr. Emrys little knew, I said to myself, that I was intending to stay in his Wales to live. He took us through to the main room in the centre of the house, and after pressing a button in the wall a partition slid out and enclosed us into a small and cosy room.

“Why don’t you want the synthetic vapour walls like I have, Emrys?” said Llywarch. “They’re much more convenient than these partitions.”

“I hate them,” said Charles Emrys. “I like having proper solid walls around me. I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that the old things are the best. What do you think, Mr. Powell?”

“Don’t bring me into the argument!” I said and they both laughed.

Very soon, I understood that Llywarch and I were not the only guests that evening. Before dinner, various others had arrived. Robert Treharn the novelist, Iolo Mawddwy the poet and dramatist, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, the head of the Wales Radio and Television Corporation, the editor of The Messenger, and a shy, quiet young man whose name was Gwern Tywi. He’d arrived with a bundle of tools in a portmanteau, but nothing struck me as unusual about that. The others went up to him one by one to congratulate him warmly. I thought to myself that carrying a portmanteau was hardly enough of a feat to congratulate anyone for.

The men sat around in twos and threes sipping iced blackberry tea, except the editor of The Messenger and Robert Treharn who sipped something stronger. Those two came towards me and took a great interest in me, not only because I was from the Twentieth Century but because I had been captured by the Purple Shirts.

“And you’re a novelist, Mr. Treharn?” I said.

“So they say.”

“Have you written much?”

“Just fifteen books. But the novel isn’t what it was in your days. These vandals…” (and he looked in mock hatred at the editor of The Messenger) “…editors of national newspapers and heads of television corporations and the rascals who make films, they grab a novel from your hand before the ink’s even dry and make it into a television series or a film that the author himself hardly recognises…”

“Don’t listen to him, Mr. Powell,” said the Editor. “The man’s scribblings can be bought as a book as well…”

“Oh, I publish about ten thousand copies for the few people in Wales who still read. But these…!”

“Yes, we who give him his daily bread,” said the Editor. “We publish a chapter from his novel every day in The Messenger. And he’s glad of that …”

The two continued to provoke each other until dinner. The Home Secretary walked around, adding fuel to this  and that conversation, and I admired his skill in getting other people to talk more than he did. At the dining table, Treharn the novelist wanted to sit by me, since he, like I, was a meat-eater.

“There are too many vegetarians in Wales today, Powell,” he said. “And they’re as uptight and self-righteous as the teetotallers were in your century. Thank goodness there’s someone else here who can appreciate beef.” And he eyed the big joint of beef which was on the table greedily.

The Home Secretary stood up to say grace. As I raised my head I noticed that Treharn was staring up at the ceiling.

“I don’t have much truck with this praying, either, Powell,” he said. “I’m an atheist, you see. It’s not fashionable to be an atheist today, but people have to put up with me. Now, my friend, let me get hold of that beef there.”

Mrs. Emrys at the end of the table could see that Treharn was longing for the beef, and invited him to carve it, with a sly smile on her lips. Treharn buried the carving knife and fork in the meat, and starting slicing it for us both.

“Steady on, Treharn,” said Iolo Mawddwy the dramatist, who was sitting the other side of me. “You’re like a cannibal.”

Treharn stared at him.

“If there were more meat in your bellies, you dramatists,” he said, “there’d be more meat in your dramas. There’d be flesh and blood on the stages of Wales, not cabbages.”

Mawddwy kept his composure despite his contempt for the novelist. Like some of the others, he obviously considered Treharn rather coarse for refined society. But Treharn could not be shamed.

“These dramatists,” he said under his breath. “They’re in the public eye too much. ‘Author, author!’ That’s what’s in their little minds from January to December. The poor novelist who lives and works out-of-sight isn’t ‘nice’ enough (to use a word from your century, Mr. Powell) to dine with them.”

“Uh… Mr. Powell,” said Mawddwy, having decided to change the subject. “I’ve decided to write a drama about you.”

“About me?”  

“Yes. A man who arrives from the Twentieth Century…”

“Too late,” said Treharn from the other side. “I’ve already started a novel about Mr. Powell.”

“Treharn,” said the dramatist, annoyed. “Have you got a monopoly on men from the Twentieth Century?”

“The first to the mill[1], isn’t it, Mawddwy? You know the old saying.”

“It takes less time to write a drama than to write a novel. I’ll have finished before you.”

“We’ll see,” said Treharn. “I have one advantage over you. I eat meat.”

Treharn sank his teeth energetically into the beef, and some of the others couldn’t stop themselves laughing. Iolo Mawddwy smiled sourly; but before long he was laughing as well. No-one could be cross with Treharn for long.

After dinner, the Home Secretary took us to a room in the back of the house. I saw at once that it was a sort of private cinema. Then was a square screen set up on the wall, and two or three rows of comfortable chairs arranged in front of it.

“This,” Llywarch told me, “is where secret films are shown. Charles Emrys is like a magpie. He gets hold of all sorts of documentary films from all over the world. And he has something very new and very secret to show tonight, if I’m not very much mistaken.”

Once we were all seated comfortably, Charles Emrys stood before us to say a word.

“It’s obvious to all of you, my friends,” he said, “from the selection of people you see alongside you, that I have something important to show you. But before going any further, I must ask the Editor of the Messenger and the Head of Radio not to reveal anything that they see on this screen tonight. I shall be holding a press conference before long, and you’ll have everything that can be published there. This tonight is just a foretaste of what you’ll have later on, so that you will be ready for it.

“We have here tonight two young men, each of whom have quite amazing stories to tell. Mr. Ifan Powell is one of them, the man from the Twentieth Century, a man who has travelled from a past age to be with us today. We extend a warm welcome to him. The other is Mr. Gwern Tywi. As you all know, he arrived back in Wales about three weeks ago, having led the second mission from Wales to the moon. The mission itself was no secret; Gwern Tywi and his companions had widespread publicity. What is a secret – until now – is the film that he has brought with him to show tonight. I’m fairly sure, and I know about pretty much everything of importance that happens in the world…” – the audience laughed – “…I’m fairly sure that this is the first film that has successfully been made of life, or the lack thereof, on the moon.

“It’s generally believed that conditions on the moon render it almost impossible to film there. Yet through an innovation by a Welsh scientist, who is not here tonight and remains anonymous, Gwern Tywi was given a chemical invention that made it possible for him to record this unusual film. I impress upon you, Gentlemen, that this must be kept secret. It will be released in due course, after it has been shown to the Worldwide Council for Moon Exploration. For international fairness, that must be done first. It’s a little treat for you and me, a terribly secret treat, for us to see it tonight. Now then, Gwern, off you go.”

Gwern stood in a small booth in the back of the little cinema with his projector, and the lights were dimmed. When I saw the first picture projected onto the screen, I caught my breath. It was I colour, of course, but it was astonishingly three-dimensional. It was as if I were looking through an open window at a big, sunny field in the middle of a wood, with a number of men walking quickly back and forth. I could hear them talking clearly. Then I saw something that looked like a huge rocket surrounded by scaffolding, it’s shiny tip pointed skywards. Gwern Tywi’s shy voice came through the loudspeaker alongside the screen, explaining that this was the ‘Gwalia II’ rocket that had taken them to the moon, and he introduced the crew members one by one as they appeared on the screen.

“Men have been making successful trips to the moon for some years now,” he said, “and I had the privilege of being part of the third international mission to land there. Three years ago the first mission from Wales went, crewed entirely by Welshmen. You know about the tragedy that struck that mission when their rocket, Gwalia I, was struck by a large meteorite and destroyed. Two years ago I was asked to form another crew from Wales, and we went in the rocket that you see before you now, and landed, and returned successfully, but we were unable to film anything. Then, a little over a month ago, we went again with some brand new apparatus. You are now seeing the crew enter Gwalia II, twenty-three minutes before lift-off.”

We heard the terrifying roar of the jet engines, and the bright rocket rose from its cradale and pushed its way up past the tops of the trees and into the heavens. Then we saw film which was taken with a telescopic camera, showing the leviathan flashing through the blue sky, jettisoning its lower stage when it was about a hundred miles up, and we saw that drifting back down to earth by parachute. After that distance, even the telescopic camera failed and the next images we saw were the film recorded by Gwern’s own camera.

“It took three days for us to reach the moon. You’re now seeing the night sky through the rocket’s window. Pictures like this from rocket windows have been taken for years, of course.”

But to me, they were amazing. The stars and planets shining nakedly as only a man on a journey through space could ever see. Interspersed with images of the stars were pictures of the crew eating, reading, steering and staring, playing cards, holding devotions, and sleeping. And then, the face of the moon came into view, growing and growing as the rocket drew closer to it. I noticed that only about a quarter of it was illuminated.

“As you know,” said Gwern, “the differences in temperature on the moon’s surface are enormous. The sun shines at its equator for a fortnight without setting, and then it is in darkness for a fortnight. Terrible heat, and then terrible cold. We decided that the best place for us to land would be on the edge of the Mare Nubium, close to the South Pole, after the sun had been shining upon it for two or three days. The temperature there was something like the temperature on a sunny day in Wales in the middle of winter.”

Slowly, the Gwalia landed, and through its windows we could see craggy bluish-white mountains rising into an almost-black sky. The audience around me let out a gasp of astonishment, and I remembered that these views were as new to them as to me. We saw the rocket crew putting on their oxygen suits and stepping out one by one into the desolate landscape. It’s not easy to describe what the camera showed from then on. Words haven’t yet been invented to describe the colour, or the desolation, or the paralysing fear that stalked me, at any rate, as I saw these little men stumbling unsteadily between the bright rocks, like so many drunken teddy bears. Suddenly, one of them fell on his face.

“Siôn Conwy was the first to faint,” said Gwern, as though nothing particular had happened. “Now you see two of us carrying him – or trying to carry him – back to the rocket. The hardest thing on the moon is carrying anybody or any thing.” Soon another of the crew fell. The same performance again. And then, after some unforgettable scenes, the film went red, then green, then blue, then yellow, and then disappeared from the screen.

“I apologise for the quality of the film, my friends,” said Gwern. “We succeeded in recording that much, thanks to the new chemistry that we were given, but from that point onwards the film failed because of excessive radiation. There’s no help for it on the moon. The apparatus has yet to be perfected. The amazing thing is that we were able to keep this film unharmed while we were there. After forty-eight hours there, the heat was beginning to get unbearable and we had to start back.”

I had no doubt about Gwern’s heroism once I had seen the film and heard the rest talk about it after it had been shown. The editor of The Messenger and the head of radio were talking animatedly with one another in a corner, the one, I’m sure, dying to show the pictures in his paper and the other on the television screen. But an order was an order from the Home Secretary. Both of them knew that the privileges he had extended to them weren’t something to be toyed with.

I left the Home Secretary’s house that night like a man in a dream, with the soft multicoloured lights of Cardiff all around me deepening the enchantment. I was in a rich country , and in an age which was achieving astonishing things and yet keeping its head. The old rough and tumble of the 20th Century had passed away. These Welshmen could handle progress with wisdom and achievement with humility. Yes. This was a era to stay in.

[1] A Welsh proverb, ‘Y cyntaf i’r felin gaiff falu;” literally, ‘the first to the mill gets to grind.’ The equivalent English idiom is probably ‘first come first served.’

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