By half past nine the parlour was full. Young people mainly, although there were some older ones there as well. I happened to sit next to a man who was about forty years old, who I quickly discovered was someone remarkably cultured. He’d been at college in Bangor studying Science and Agriculture, and had then come back to his home area to farm. He represented the area on the County Council.
“Yes,” he said, “there are a lot of young people here. They all belong either to the local branch of the Urdd or to the Young Farmers’ Club, or indeed to both. But increasingly, life is focused around the home. Every farmhouse in the area is big enough to hold an event like this, and the young people take their turns to invite each other to their homes. I think that’s one of the healthiest things about our culture. The days when young people had to hang around on bridges and street corners are long gone.”
I noticed that all the men were wearing loose colourful jackets and knee-length trousers, and apart from their short hair and cheerful faces they looked very similar to pictures I had seen of 18th Century Wales. The women were wearing long dresses which weren’t too long, and it would have been hard to find so much beauty in one place anywhere. Something else I noticed was the ‘orchestra’. Sioned, the daughter of the house, was playing the harp and I quickly saw that she was no novice. With her were two young lad playing the fiddle, one playing a mouth organ, and another playing the ‘clecars’ – that is, pieces of slate held between his fingers and clicked together to maintain the rhythm.
After the orchestra had played a rather strange but very fetching rendition of ‘Ben Rhaw’, I turned to my neighbour and said “You know what, I’m quite amazed.”
“Oh, indeed?” he said.
“When I saw these young musicians earlier, I expected to hear some eager but amateurish music, typical of the countryside. But… the BBC in my day would have been proud to have these on show.”
“I’m not surprised to hear you say that”, replied the man. “They often broadcast. Three of them have been in the Academy of Music in Cardiff. Rural families send their children to the academies on the slightest excuse, to learn to sing or play and instrument or paint or act or something. Of course, the courses don’t cost them anything.”
“Broadcasting is what these want to do then, is it?”
“No, not at all. These all farm, except the chap with the mouth organ. He works in a bank. No, there are scores of small bands like this throughout the country, and the Broadcasting Corporation calls on each of them in turn.”
The musicians struck a chord or two, and the leader announced the main dance of the evening. The young men and women rose as one and got into their positions upon the floor. Within a few seconds they were in the middle of a boisterous folk dance, smiling and shouting and obviously in their element. After that, another dance, quieter this time, with the dancers moving in a stately, gentlemanly way, the shouting having died down but the smiling carrying on.
The dancers sat down to get their breath back, and the leader called upon the impressionist. It was obvious from the reaction of the audience that he was skilled at his task. He imitated the local MP, to raucous laughter. Then the Home Secretary; I’d spoken to him on Llywarch’s videophone, and as far as I could remember he had him to a T. After him: the Prime Minister, to deafening applause. The impressionist finished his act with a number of local characters, and his listeners were aching with laughter.
“And now,” said the leader, “I have great pleasure. Siôn Colwyn is home from the Cardiff Opera for a bit of rest, and he’s with us here tonight. Would you like him to sing?”
“We would, we would.”
“Well Siôn, off you go.”
A good-looking young man stood up from the middle of the audience, and pushed forward through it. He gave a sheet of music to Sioned, and she sat down by the piano.
“Sing ‘My Grandmother’s Old Stick’ in Italian,” shouted some joker from near the back.
“As you’re not taking this seriously, Twm,” said Siôn with a sparkle in his eye, “I’m going to do the exact opposite. I’m going to sing ‘Che Gelida Manina’ in Welsh.”
The audience murmured approvingly.
“This is one of his setpieces,’ said the county councillor into my ear.
“’Your hand is cold as snow; let me warm it for you…’ sang the tenor, and from that velvety beginning through to the electrifying conclusion, the audience listened like they were under a spell. When the applause died down and I had regained my composure, I turned to the county councillor and asked,
“This… Who is this?”
The councillor smiled.
“It may be a surprise to you,” he said, “but not to us. Siôn has been singing in La Scala. He trained in Milan, and you can tell that from the way he projects his voice. He’s sung in all the capitals of Europe, but like many of his generation he came back in the end to the Cardiff Opera House.”
“A big thank-you to you, Siôn,” said the leader.
“Giovanni Coluino, his name is, boy” shouted the wag from the back.
“Fair play, fair play,” said the other, and Siôn blushed a little. It as obvious that Giovanni Coluino was indeed the name he used in Milan, and that he’s had a lot of ribbing for being shy of his Welsh name, although he insisted that all he’d done was to use the Italian form of it. By now, however, the whole world knew him by his proper name. The audience didn’t give him any peace, though. He sang a tenor piece from the opera by Iddon Morris that I mentioned earlier – a piece which didn’t mean much to me – and to my joy he finished his performance with three Welsh folk songs. I don’t expect ever to hear anything sweeter.
And so from item to item, from dance to comic sketch, from sketch to duet, and from duet to dance again, the evening went on. Eleven o’clock passed, then half-past, with the company still in full swing. But at five minutes to midnight, the leader called for quiet, and thanked Mr. and Mrs. Pugh for their welcome and for the tea and cakes that had been produced halfway through the meeting. Everyone rose to their feet and sang the national anthem, and then, one by one, they walked out of the parlour and into the sweet-scented night.
“Well, Ifan,” said Pugh to me after the last of them had left, “thank heavens that this doesn’t happen in our house to often. It’ll be hard getting up tomorrow morning after singing late into the night.”
“But you’ll be going to another one of these somewhere else tomorrow evening, won’t you,” I said.
“No danger. The kids will be going to one in Hendre… wait a minute… a week on Thursday? But Marged and I won’t be there. Having one here, about twice a year, is enough for people our age. No, give me chapel on a Sunday and market day on Wednesday, and I’m happy enough to stay home for the rest of the week. Tell me Ifan… did I see Miss Llywarch out in the garden on her own?”
“I don’t know.”
“Uh… yes I did, my boy. It’s just possible that she was waiting for you. Am I right? Don’t stay out and get cold, the breeze has an edge to it. Well… it’s time for the old farmer to be returned to store now. Good night, my boy.”
“Good night, Mr. Pugh.”
I watched the kind old man go off, yawning. Whoever said that old rural characters were disappearing? They were with us still, even in this nuclear, interplanetary age. Keeping Welsh life alive had kept them alive too.
When I went out into the garden the moon was rising over the wooded ridge to the east. Slowly the garden lit up, and I saw Mair standing by the stile beyond the apple tree, looking towards the mountains. I crept towards her with the idea of grabbing hold of her without her hearing me. But a twig broke beneath my foot, and she turned her head. The moonlight fell directly upon her face, and she was beautiful.
“Smell the honeysuckle, Ifan.”
“I don’t see or smell anything here except you, Mair.”
She melted into my open arms and rested her head on my shoulder. I felt her heart beating against me, and I was weak at the knees with love.
“I love you, Mair.”
No response. I looked down at her face, and her big eyes were wide open and serious.
“Did you hear what I said, Mair? I love you.”
“And I love you as well, but I’m afraid to say it.”
“Does this fear have to ruin everything for us?”
“I can’t escape from it, neither can you.”
The quiet of the night closed around us, and we said nothing. I’d have preferred some radio-energy to have destroyed the two of us that moment than for anything to come between us and separate us. But did we have to be separated?
“I have an idea.”
She looked up into my face, and read my eyes.
“Is it a good idea?”
“The best idea anyone ever had.”
“Tell it to me.”
“I’m not going back to the Twentieth Century. I’m going to stay here with you.”
“Shush, my love. Don’t say anything. It’s settled.”
I closed her lips with a kiss, and the night stood around us like a wall of moonlight. The scent of honeysuckle was in our nostrils and the soft grass of May was under our feet. The world was young again.
 ‘The Shovel’s Head’
 ‘Your tiny hand is frozen’, from La Bohème, by Rossini.