I had to cross the border from Wales into England to hear R. S. Thomas, an acerbic anti-English Welshman, described as a “dear.”
Back in Wales, where he was known as a prickly advocate of Welshness, he’d been skewered as a “fascist.”
The “fascist” label was pinned on Thomas by a Welshman over a dinner of Welsh lamb at a small inn in Aberdyfi, Wales.
In a future blog, I’ll say more about the meal of roast Thomas with fascist dressing. For now, let me set the “dear” scene at the Rhydspence Inn, a fourteenth-century hostelry in England.
My wife and I had gone into the bar before dinner, where the inn’s owners, an English couple, Pam and Peter, greeted us. When I mentioned that Betty Vernon, who later became Thomas’s second wife, had urged us to stay at their inn, Pam burbled, “They’re dears!”
The “dears” often came for lunch, Pam told us, from Betty’s home in not-distant Titley, and sometimes they’d stay overnight, always in room one, which she proceeded to show us.
As soon as Betty and R. S. arrive at the door, Pam continued, Betty asks for a pink gin. And on one occasion, R.S. kidded her when she ordered French fries to go with her salmon.
Perhaps Pam’s favorite memory was of each departure of the “dears”: Betty would urge R.S. to give Pam a kiss, which he did reluctantly, shy and embarrassed.
A shared bed before marriage – pink gin – French fries with salmon – a shy kiss: “These nail-parings / bore you?” Thomas asks.
Double beds and French fries with salmon may be nail-parings, but shy kisses and “They’re dears!” are not. They break apart popular images of R.S.
Literary paparazzi itched to click whenever they came upon Thomas standing in front of a stone wall looking like the Old Man of the Mountain of Franconia Notch, New Hampshire.
Thomas was stone-faced in his attitude towards things English. Also he cast verbal stones at Welsh people and things that did not match his standard of Welshness.
But in England, an Englishwoman delighted in calling Betty and Ronald “dears.”
Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:
“These nail-parings” – “Correspondence,” Between Here and Now, 85.