It’s now 30 May. Our time in Wales, and in Aberystwyth, is drawing to a close. I love Wales, I’m fond of this town, and I feel attached to the terrific people that we know here. I’m looking forward, of course, to what’s to come on this European holiday, but Jean and I will feel regret waving goodbye on Friday morning.
One thing Jean is very pleased to say goodbye to is the pain that’s been afflicting her since about five days ago. A tooth ache emerged, and got worse as the days wore on. On Monday, she visited the dentist, and was given a filling. The pain failed to fade though, and many pain killers and panadols later, she returned to the dentist to ask for the tooth to be pulled. Instead, however, he removed the nerve, and has given Jean some anti-biotics. Since the second visit this morning, the pain seems to have subsided, and she hasn’t needed the medicines. All looks good now.
Jean suggested I post a blog, giving it the title of “From Llangollen canal to root canal”, but I told her I’d already come up with “Dental as anything”. She must be on the mend because she laughed. I’d have been the worst person in the world yesterday.
Yesterday, we attended a Peter Francis auction at Carmarthen, where Tom, Jean’s dad, had submitted a 5 ft x 7 ft painting by Rolf Harris, depicting the Australian outback. Tom hoped it would fetch around £600. Most of us couldn’t imagine the painting doing well at all. It had been many years since I’d seen it, and I saw just how damaged it was. After 24 other items sold at amounts well below their estimated sale value, some around 50 quid, the auctioneer began on the Rolf Harris.
The auctioneer told the story of how Harris had whipped up the work at the end of a show in Aberystwyth in 1988, when Tom was the stage manager. Harris had suggested it be donated to the children at the local hospital. But the ‘children’ didn’t want it. The Aberystwyth Arts Centre wanted it taken to the tip. Tom had taken it home, and nailed it to the wall in his garage. There it stayed for 24 years, peering down on Tom’s garden tools, tins of petrol etc. Mag, Jean’s mum, had also wanted the piece taken to the tip. Listening to the auctioneer, our hopes of getting much money had by now sunk completely.
We nearly collapsed when the opening bid was £2,500-00. No one in the room bidded. It was all online and by telephone. Tom’s painting, which had languished all those years in his garage, sold for £3,300-00, more than five thousand dollars in Australian money.
The most excitement I’ve ever seen in the village of Bow Street (the most excitement the residents themselves have ever seen) took place this morning when the Olympic torch came through the village. Traffic bound for Aberystwyth was at a complete standstill probably for the first time in history, while roads further on were closed temporarily. Eventually, cops on motorbikes arrived from over the hill, followed by several large, colourful floats carrying raucous revellers heralding the approach of the runner with the torch. Finally, the torch could be seen. While the village didn’t exactly have teeming crowds greeting the torch, there were plenty of adults and school children out in force, cheering, shouting and waving their red dragon Welsh flags as the young runner passed along the A487, being the main road through the village. I ran along with the torch runner (along the side of the road), videoing occasionally. He completed his run at the Rhydepennau pub, and then lit a lantern which a woman presented to him. His torch was extinguished, the woman boarded a bus with the lantern, and the bus drove on to the next destination. The torch will rest tonight in Bangor, in north-west Wales, near Anglesey.
I visited the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University. I met Karl Death, Deputy Director of External Affairs and himself an academic, specialising in environmental security studies. Karl said with a name like his, I was not likely to forget it.
Since I hold a Master of International Affairs from the Australian National University,and since Aberystwyth is the birthplace of the study of international relations, I’ve long been keen to visit the university here. Karl, and the administrator who was with us, tried to locate a famous academic for me to meet. But Steven Smith is long retired, John Bayliss is gone, and Ian Clark is visiting Australia (!). Andrew Linklater was around somewhere, but probably working from home – it’s marking time after all!
I browsed the library opposite the Dept for about 20 minutes. Unsurprisingly, they deal with a lot of IR theory here, and a lot on European politics. Again not surprisingly, there is also a focus on Welsh politics (& the Welsh Assembly). Oh how I would just love to take a couple o’ years off work and do a PhD in Aberystwyth…
We gathered this afternoon at the Vicarage Fields in Aberystwyth for the arrival of the Olympic torch. In fact, there is not one but many torches. Those given the honour of running with the torch carry it for a mere 300 metres or so, before someone else carries an entirely different one. Each runner is allowed to keep their torch, and, funny enough, one thinking runner somewhere put her torch on e-bay and is now about £100,000 richer.
At the Vicarage Fields, a young man called Kyle Thompson ran the final leg for the day, which is considered an honour. He arrived to excited shouts and screams from the waiting crowd before mounting the stage and lighting the cauldron, which will keep the Olympic flame alight while the torch ‘rests’ overnight. We were in the crowd too, and were excited for Kyle’s family, whom we know through close friends of ours.
Right now, we are sailing on a barge down the Llangollen canal. We’ve hired the barge with Ann and Barry and family. We are having a ball. We started off at Trevor, and sailed through the incredible Llangollen canal aqueduct, hundreds of feet above the picturesque river Dee. There are no barriers, and no one advised us of the potential safety pitfalls. As we started to go through the aqueduct, I realised that if I’d accidentally slipped back, I’d have gone quickly to my death. You should google and YouTube anything you can on the aqueduct.
Of all the atrocities committed in Northern Ireland during the long years of the Troubles, there was one that always stood out above the rest for me, and that was the one that occurred at the war memorial in Enniskillen in November 1987. Eleven people died that day, including a young, 20 year old nurse, Marie Wilson. Within a day, her father, Gordon Wilson, forgave his daughter’s killers. He said it was the Christian thing to do. It was highly controversial at the time; many people were stunned that such forgiveness could be possible. But I was impressed, and thought then that some day I’d like to go to Enniskillen to pay my respects.
In her Christmas message that year, the Queen praised Gordon Wilson’s courage, and commitment to his Christian faith. It is said that the atrocity at Enniskillen and this extraordinary act of forgiveness contributed to eventual peace in Northern Ireland.