In the course of planning my visit with R. S. Thomas, scheduled for August of 1992, I wrote and told him that I’d booked a room at Carreg Plas. He responded, saying that he didn’t know it, and anyway it was probably run by Englishmen who were perfectly happy in the United Kingdom of England, Wales, and Scotland.
Not wanting to get off to a cranky start with Thomas, I wrote back and asked him to suggest a Welsh-owned B & B. No, he answered, best stick with your plans. The Welsh have skivvied for the English for so long that they don’t know how to properly manage things themselves.
It was my first experience of being caught in the collision of contradictions that was R. S. Thomas.
The day I arrived at Carreg Plas was blue-sky warm, and so was the welcome I received from Barbara and David. Immediately, they served me a pot of tea with cakes; then showed me to my room, the Aberdaron, chosen, I felt sure, because they knew I was there to meet R. S. Thomas, the former vicar of St. Hywyn’s Church, Aberdaron.
In the evening, David made certain that I had dinner companions, then served Barbara’s delicious roast chicken dinner, followed by apple pudding with custard and whipped cream.
The next morning, about 11:30, R.S. parked his white VW hatchback in front of Carreg Plas, went into the lounge with me, and enjoyed the coffee that David and Barbara served. The English couple could not have been more hospitable to the prickly Welshman, and my recollection is that his response was gracious.
That afternoon, Thomas took me to his stone-cottage home and then to the Church of St. Hywyn in Aberdaron. Back at Carreg Plas, there was tea for us in the lounge. When Barbara’s dinner was ready, David seated us and served a fish savory, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, two kinds of potatoes, several veggies, and a pudding with fresh fruit.
Clearly, the English couple had accorded me – Thomas, too – gracious Welsh hospitality. And, needless to say, I didn’t tell them what Thomas had said in his letters . . . .
Until . . . .
Twenty-one years later my book A Masterwork of Doubting-Belief: R. S. Thomas and His Poetry reached Aberdaron, carried there by a friend, an Episcopal priest in New Jersey. She gave the book to a woman named Sue, who has achieved remarkable success in her efforts to make Aberdaron and St. Hywyn’s Church a pilgrimage destination for lovers of Thomas’s poetry.
And Sue did something for which I am grateful – grateful, because it helps me paint a more rounded portrait of Thomas, and because it allows me to say thank you to David.
Sue showed my book to David of Carreg Plas, who is now the treasurer of St. Hywyn’s Church.
David read the exchange of letters between R.S. and me, told Sue that he remembered when I had invited Thomas to Carreg Plas for dinner, and said, “I was skivvy to R.S. that evening.”
Later, he said that “R.S. was indulging his usual hobby horse, which he was trotting out.”
R.S. had a number of hobby horses; this one being his vision of a Welsh-speaking Wales – a Wales in which people were still rooted in the natural world and steeped in Welsh history and poetry.
It was a view through nostalgia-tinted eyeglasses. But Thomas was clear-eyed in his recognition of what would be lost if the world’s small countries with their distinctive languages and cultures were to pass away.
Writing to me on October 6, 1995, he said: “There is a conference of minority cultures in Barcelona in November, where I will be part of the Welsh delegation.” The delegates acknowledged the significance of small-country cultures to the development of Western civilization; also the contemporary importance of developing dialogue among them, while simultaneously preserving their particular tongues and traditions.
In my blog next Sunday, I’ll propose a reason for why R.S. dug his spurs with almost cavalry-charge intensity into his Welsh hobby horse.
For now . . .
I’m sorry, David (if you get to read this blog), that R.S.’s venting of his anti-English spleen reached you after all these years. (I’ve often wondered what he said about this American when I was not within earshot.) But I’m grateful for the opportunity to say a hearty thank you for the hospitality that you and Barbara showered on me . . . and R. S. Thomas . . . on August 12, 1992.