Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Man in the Cave

 The extended Hughes family at Fachongle Ganol around 1895.  Above the door, the name is spelt "Vachongle".  Simon is the little boy on the extreme right.

 Simon and his new wife Beatrice, pictured on the occasion of their wedding in 1916.

One hundred years ago exactly.......... there was a man who hid in a cave.

Simon Hughes was a member of a large family living at Fachongle Ganol in the early years of the twentieth century.  The family members all belonged to the congregation of nearby Caersalem Chapel.  In the old photo of the Hughes family in front of "Vachongle" (taken about 1895?) Simon is the boy on the extreme right.   He was conscripted into the Army during the First World War.  We are not sure of the date, but there are clues.  On 28 December 1915, the Cabinet agreed to introduce conscription for unmarried men aged 18–40.  So we can assume that early in 1916 Simon was called up and undertook military training, probably in Bedfordshire. There he fell in love and later that year he married Beatrice Williams.  It doesn't appear that he ever saw active service,  but at some stage he became a conscientious objector and “escaped” from his barracks.

(Prior to 1916 conscientious objectors were simply treated as criminals or army deserters.  However,  in 1916, with the Military Service Act, Britain became the first country to give legal recognition to individual conscience, which is now enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Quakers were heavily involved in the struggle for pacifism to be recognized, but we do not know whether Simon had joined the Quakers.  At the end of WW1, there were 16,000 men registered as conscientious objectors. Over 4,000 "absolutists" were either in prison or in penal colonies because of their refusal to participate in acts involving the killing of others; most of the others had to go through a tough tribunal process and were allocated to non-combat duties.  There were between 700 – 900 Conscientious Objectors in Wales and in 1917 it was no soft option. For many it meant hard labour and poor rations. Often 'Conchies', as they were known, were abused by their peers, and were humiliated and sneered at and sometimes called cowards and shirkers by their own neighbours whose menfolk were dying on the front line. Whilst in prison they were often subjected to brutal assaults, and they had little sympathy either from the guards or from the authorities. In Wales for example five objectors died in Caernarfon and other prisons as a result of the treatment they received.)

 The inside of the "Druid's Cave" in Ty Canol Wood.  It must have been very damp and draughty.  There is just about enough room to sleep on the floor, in a somewhat contorted position........
At any rate, when Simon "went missing" he left his new wife behind in Bedfordshire and made his way back to Cilgwyn, where he went into hiding.  Army officers and the police hunted for him, but he moved from house to house and the community closed ranks in order to protect him.  On one occasion he was having dinner in his old home when an Army sergeant with a troop of soldiers tracked him down and hammered on the front door. Mr and Mrs Hughes kept the soldiers talking while Simon escaped through the back door.  For much of the time he was reputed to have lived in the “Druid’s Cave” in Tycanol Wood.  The local police made a great show of hunting for him, but always contrived to fail in their endeavours.    While he was in hiding  (in December 1917?) his father-in-law Daniel Williams died, and he penned a moving and poetic tribute to him in Welsh which included the words:  "Under strict law and oppression Made by greedy men......... I am unable to bear you to your grave."

At the end of the war he came out of hiding, was reunited with his wife Beatrice, and left the district.  He became a shop-keeper, ending his days as manager of the Co-operative Store in Tonypandy.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Launch of "Martha Morgan Country"

The launch of "Martha Morgan Country" is now set for Sunday afternoon, 3rd April, in the Boat Club, Parrog, Newport.  Mistress Martha Morgan of Plas Ingli will request the pleasure of your company (between 3 pm and 5 pm) for afternoon tea and griddle cakes.  Rhiannon James of St Dogmaels (who has been playing the role of Martha Morgan in our photo shoots) will be present for the occasion, and this will be an opportunity to see some of the fabulous photos taken by photographer Steve Mallett for the project portfolio.

And since this is all about creating win/win scenarios for the tourist trade locally, we hope that as many accommodation providers and others involved in the tourist trade will come along, with a view to setting up web site links and other mutually beneficial opportunities for attracting more visitors to the area.  This isn't just about promoting the Angel Mountain / Martha Morgan brand -- but of course, if we sell more books as a result of this initiative, I won't complain........

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Should some fat be trimmed off the Welsh publishing industry?

There has been a big fuss over the past few days about the proposal from Culture Minister Ken Skates to cut the budget of the Welsh Books Council by 10%, and thereby to reduce the subsidies paid to the Welsh publishing industry:

Famous writers have attacked cuts they say will lead to fewer books being published in Wales

There was even a 38 Degrees petition, signed by almost 2,000 people:

We ask Ken Skates and the Welsh Government to stop the proposed 10.6% cut to the Welsh Books Council, which comes after a decade of standstill funding for the Welsh publishing industry.
The cut is more than twice as much as planned cuts to other cultural organisations such as the Arts Council of Wales, and represents a major threat to the future of Welsh publishing and literature.
Stop the proposed 10.6% cut from being approved, and protect the future of the Welsh books industry.


The great and the good have come out in force to condemn the proposals, on the grounds that somehow Wales will become "less civilised" if grant aid is reduced.   The Society of Authors (of which I am a member) and the New Welsh Review have joined the campaign to stop the cuts, and after coverage in The Guardian, BBC, The Bookseller and the Western Mail, the Minister has backed off and has agreed that the budget for this year should remain the same.:


So it's a bad idea for fewer books to be published in Wales? Hang on a moment. Why should we accept that simply because a few well-known authors and grant-aided publishers say so? The Welsh publishing industry is very heavily subsidised, to the extent that many books are published which would never have seen the light of day in England. That is because across the border publishers do not, by and large, publish books if they do not think they will sell and turn a profit. They have to carry the risks. In Wales, in contrast, many publishers inhabit a comfort zone in which subsidies enable them to publish books which hardly anybody actually wants -- and which will never repay their costs via sales. In other words, they are entirely non-commercial, and are products of a system entirely dependent upon subsidies and grants.  It's easy to say: "Ah yes, we need those books anyway, because we need a vibrant publishing industry and because these books help us to define ourselves as a nation." Hmmmm.... 

Actual sales figures for books in Wales are seldom publicised.  That is because it suits everybody to keep as quiet as possible.   It is widely known that in Wales a book is counted as a "best seller" if it sells 700 copies.  At that level, if the publishers were operating in a real commercial world, a book might just about cover its costs -- there is no way it could be considered as a best-seller. 

Don't get me wrong.  I have had fantastic support from the WBC, as have all other Welsh publishers, and I would be very sad to see its staffing and its services reduced because of budget cuts.  But I wonder if a little more exposure to the hard commercial world might actually make the Welsh publishing scene a bit leaner and more efficient, without in any way threatening our civilisation and our great Welsh cultural traditions?  For example, just to encourage publishers and writers to think a bit more seriously about what the market actually wants, and to take marketing rather more seriously, it might be rather a good idea to insist that if a book sells fewer than 1,000 copies in its first two years, any grants and subsidies paid must be paid back..........  and by that I mean REAL sales, involving real money, and excluding all returns.

Carningli looking good.......

Today, after months of seemingly unstoppable rain and wind, the mountain was looking great again, in its winter colours.  The ground was frozen hard, for almost the first time this winter, and all the springs had sheets of ice around them.  And the sun was shining....!!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Another shooting day for Martha Morgan Country

We have been out and about again for Day Two of the "Martha Morgan Country" photo shoot -- blessed today by dry and reasonably bright weather -- if a trifle cold for Rhiannon who was the one in the rather flimsy period costume!

Anyway, we achieved a great deal, and Steve thinks he has probably taken around 300 photos since we started at 10 am this morning.  In due course, the locations will be revealed, but for reasons to be revealed, things are currently shrouded in secrecy........

Until we release the best of the photos, here is a nice raven to keep you company.......

Monday, 4 January 2016

Some new locations

How well do you know North Pembrokeshire and Martha Morgan Country?  Here are a few images to test your knowledge......  where were these photos taken?

Striding purposefully....

This is a very effective photo, found somewhere on the web, which I like to think of as Mistress Martha striding purposefully towards somewhere or other!  It's a nice shot from a warm spring day, with not many leaves on the bushes, and dandelions, buttercups and celandines in abundance.  I hasten to add that this is not Rhiannnon, who is modelling our current shoot for us.