Before we start:
I don’t normally do this but there are one or two things that need to be explained. First of all Caul (say cowl) is a thick meaty (hopefully) soup, and Heddlu ( Hethlee) is the police. The word derives from ‘peace’, so they are peacekeepers. Actually they are just normal cops, but there is so little crime here that they are always up for a chat. I’ve set this story in a real area (you won’t find the farms though) and there is a reference to Aber. This is colloquial for Aberystwyth. There are other places in the area that begin with Aber (it means river mouth) but Aberystwyth is the most important. Hospitals in Wales are known by their names, not where they are. so Bronglais (Bron - glice) is in Aber. Oh yes, and Elerie is pronounced El-lair-ie with the stress on the ‘lair’.
There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills
It’s a movie cliché, the dusty old prospector comes in to town, with his mule, yelling ‘there’s gold in them thar hills’ and goes into the saloon. He invariably loses his poke in a crooked game and gets shot. Which movie? Was it ever in any movie? I don’t know, but there are so many things that we think happened in movies, which didn’t happen, that it just might have.
It wasn’t quite like that for me, to start with, in our local hills, mountains really, there is so much rain that dust is practically unknown, and I’m not old, well not that old. My mule was made by Toyota, but I didn’t have it with me, and the gold wasn’t metallic, although it is there, wedding rings for royalty are made from it, nor was there a poker game, crooked or otherwise. But as well as some very nice things that happened, there were some unpleasant goings on too, rather like the poker game, but which I survived.
Now, get yourself a glass of your favourite poison, at the time of writing it has just been announced that any quantity of alcohol is bad for you, so I can say thank goodness for that and let’s stop worrying about it, get yourself sitting comfortably and I’ll tell you all about it.
I guess you’d call me lucky, although that’s relative and I’m not going to run through a catalogue of misfortunes to persuade you otherwise, family deaths and illnesses, not to mention my wife’s suicide and the effect that had, and whilst I’m sure you don’t want to hear about all this, I certainly don’t want to dwell on it, or I’ll be back in my cups again. Anyway, it was due to the last mentioned event that whilst my mind was not on what I was doing, away with the fairies wouldn’t be inaccurate, that I gave the girl in the newsagents a fiver more than I owed. She pointed this out to me and handed it back, at which point the person behind me said that I should buy lottery tickets with it as it ought to be lucky. I’m still not sure I can follow the logic of that, but that is what I did.
It was in the evening a day or two later when I was talking to my daughter on the phone that I told her the tale.
“Have you checked?” she asked.
I admitted that I hadn’t bothered so she asked the numbers. I’m not too sure how she did this, you must be able to get the results on line because a couple of minutes later there was a sudden silence on the end of the phone.
“Are you still there?” I asked.
“You’ve just won five million pounds,” she replied. “Give or take.”
Naturally I expressed my disbelief.
“You used to tell me not to use language like that,” she said. “But it’s true, you really have won. What are you going to do?”
“Well, apart from claim it I’ve no idea.”
And I didn’t, but two things I wouldn’t be doing. Firstly I wasn’t going to ‘spend, spend, spend’, and I was definitely not going to say, ‘it won’t change my life at all’. You just bet it would.
I had some years before bought a small bungalow on two acres of land between the Cambrian mountains and the sea, handy for both without being exposed to the extremes of weather from which either can suffer. I kept a few chickens and ducks which provided company and conversation, albeit rather one sided, and I worked doing odd jobs, house maintenance and whatever came along, enough to keep the wolf from the door and provide me with a glass of this or that when the fancy took me.
The first thing I did was stop working. Five million gives you sufficient income to do that provided you’re not too extravagant. Sorry folks, but you’re going to have to find someone else to do the bits and pieces.
The other thing I did was start to explore the surrounding countryside. and in particular the industrial archaeology of the area. I guess archaeology is putting it a bit strongly, but tracing the old tramway tracks and mine workings is very interesting and the breathtaking scenery makes for a fine day out. There is some of almost anything you can name somewhere in these mountains, and many of the workings go back centuries as the various metals and minerals have been extracted. I did not, of course, dig or move anything other than a few tufts of grass and the odd bramble.
In point of fact I feel somewhat iffy about the mainstream of archaeology which often seems to me to be little more than grave robbing. I mean there is a difference; they carefully dig and expose things, measure and photograph, which they get paid for, but do they then put it back as it was? They do not. What they do is put it in museums where it invariably gets put into a store and nobody ever sees it again. The people they call grave robbers sell the stuff to people who put it away and no one ever sees it again. Where’s the difference? The robbers aren’t followed by TV cameras. Unless they are caught.
And another thing ... The ancient Egyptians, for instance, believed that you needed all the stuff they were buried with for use in the next life. And archaeologists dig it up and take it away. They, of course, don’t share the same beliefs, in fact they think those beliefs are ridiculous, and they are usually either Christians or Muslims and their gods don’t require that kind of thing, and so to them it doesn’t matter. But just suppose it does matter, that the beliefs of the dead Pharaoh were in fact correct; that would mean that they had just fucked up someone’s next life. No chariot, no food, and your mummy locked away in some dusty store room in a country you’ve never heard of. Piss you off no end wouldn’t it? Now, I can hear you yelling abuse at your computer screen, surely he’s joking, but as an an-atheist I can tell you that the practises and beliefs of Christians and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and all the rest are, to me, quite ridiculous; when you’re dead you’re dead, simple as that, Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is best and usually correct. So what right do Christians et al have to dig up and remove just what they want ignoring the beliefs of those who went before. Hmm...
So I just like to look and see what people did, where that tramway went, and just how difficult some of these things must have been.
And that is what I was doing up in the mountains one sunny afternoon in late spring. I had left a faint track, probably made by sheep, and was inspecting some workings when the swirling mist of low cloud enveloped me. I was somewhat taken aback by this, the day had seemed fair and although there was some cloud I hadn’t thought that this would happen. It wasn’t a great problem because I was properly dressed for walking in the hills, and I carried a back pack with the survival gear that is recommended so I was in no immediate danger. I had, of course, O.S. Maps and a compass, but they were of little use without vision, but my mobile phone would summon assistance if it should be necessary. So there were no immediate problems. Apart from the fact that I didn’t know where I was with any degree of precision. I had parked the car in a small area at the end of a lane many feet below and walked a couple of miles up to where I thought I would find something of interest. I had then ‘wandered about a bit’ concentrating on those things of interest.
Now there are several points about low cloud that cause problems. First, it’s cold and damp, and second, you can’t see very far. But more than that, if you have an active imagination you begin to wonder if you are seeing things in the swirl of murkiness. Was it John Buchan who wrote about the cave men who only came out when they couldn’t be seen? Were there really wild beasts, big cats perhaps, roaming the mountains? And wolves, surely you would hear them, wouldn’t you? They howl, don’t they?
I knew I had walked into a sight depression, and so I moved to where I thought I might see further if the cloud lifted. As I did so I experienced a frisson of fear as I was convinced that I saw the vague outline of a wolf in the swirling mist. Seconds later I froze as I saw it again, this time more definite as it came towards me. It materialised as a border collie. Be still my beating heart! The dog stopped a few feet away and looked at me for what seemed a rather long time. It then turned, looked over it’s shoulder and gave a single bark, then moved a few feet and barked again. Clearly it wanted me to follow. Hey, Lassie come home, okay, wrong breed but still, I decided I had little to lose if I followed since clearly the dog belonged to someone who lived somewhere near, and in all likelihood that was where the dog would take me. Blind faith in an unproven hypothesis.
.... There is more of this story ...