“People travel to wonder at the height of great mountains,at the huge waves of the sea,at the long courses of rivers,at the vast compass of the ocean,at the circular motion of the stars; and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.” St. Augustine
August was a month of milestones for me and one was that I finally got my bus pass. I have never felt that I deserved something quite as much as that little plastic card and I am determined to exploit it in case some youthful bureaucrat decides free public transport for the over 60s is a luxury too far in these austere times.
The day after it arrived in the post I caught the number 75 bus and ran homewards on the local community track. Once a railway line carrying coal from the from the Ocean and Wyndham/Western coal mines to Cardiff Docks, it is now enjoying a resurgence as a traffic free route linking the communities of Nantymoel, Ogmore Vale, Lewistown, Pantyrawel and Blackmill with everywhere which can be reached on the Lon Celtaidd/ Celtic Trail NCN Route 4: Fishguard, Chepstow and all points between the last time I looked.
As an aside, if anyone who is influential in the field of sustainable transport initiatives is reading this, how about some words of praise for those of us who use Shank’s Pony as opposed to bicycles as a method of getting about. I get a bit peeved that two wheels are often portrayed as the main solution to carbon free ways of travelling so let’s have a shout out to the walkers and runners who are also doing their bit.
Anyway, on this particular trek I was hoping to work out whether – in about 60AD – the Ogmore Valley topography had influenced the doomed decision of the local Silurian tribe to escape the onslaught of invading Romans by racing across the Blaenau towards Briton Ferry. Whilst there have been lots of changes in the last 2000 years (and particularly in the last 200), the geographical features of the Ogmore Valley remain an almost text book example of what happens to landscape when a glacier recedes. It begins as a v-shaped valley and transforms into a u-shape; there are interlocking spurs, truncated spurs and hanging valleys including the waterfall that flows over a vertical bare rockface at the head of the valley and which gives Nantymoel its name.
Had the Silurians gone in this direction and made it through the Bwlch Gap to the ancient ridgeway linking the valleys of the Rhondda and the Afan, the story might have had a different ending. In the event they went due west over Mynydd Baiden and were caught. What happened next is remembered in the place name of a re-entrant north of Port Talbot which known as Cwm Lladdfa – The Valley of Slaughter. If things go according to plan it will also be remembered in my next creative project which – at the moment – I’m calling The Roman Rout. I’m sure that once the maps, artistic interpretations and creative non-fiction writing are complete, it will have a more poetic title.
I have promised myself that I will only get started on The Roman Rout when I finish the book that I am currently writing which brings me to my second milestone, the Augustinian leap . I had spent months dilly-dallying, prevaricating and procrastinating but things came to a head in August when I realised that I had no excuses left for not completing it: time, ideas, a workspace, even the title – these were all mine. Unfortunately I still found it difficult to motivate myself to put pen to paper (actually fingers to laptop but you get my drift). I did lots of other things, some which needed to be done and some of which were nothing more than time-wasting frippery. I even applied for some jobs I didn’t really want and which, if I got one of them, would probably mean the end of writing the book on Creativity and subsequently, The Roman Rout.
I had managed to get myself into a state of mind called being “simultaneously incongruent” – i.e. having two clear and distinct thought processes contradicting each other at the same time. The first was that I wanted to continue researching and writing both books; the second was that most of my researching and writing in the past has been done in response to deadlines from college tutors, magazine editors or publishers. As none of these were in play I couldn’t find a reason to justify committing the time, effort and resources the projects needed. At the least excuse, I had begun putting writing into second place behind whatever distraction presented itself.
One afternoon I was sitting in my tiny camper, which serves very nicely as a mobile writing room, staring out at the same landscape the Silurians had raced across in their ill-fated attempt to escape the Romans. As so often happens I was struggling with what I was going to write about next. The title of the chapter was Legacy but that was as far as I’d got. I put a new screen up on the laptop, typed “What’s the point of this chapter?” and then started answering the question with sentences starting “I want to…”
With a moment of clarity, I realised that I hadn’t applied the “what’s the point” argument to the underlying concepts of either of the books I intended to write. Looking at Mynydd y Gaer on the Glamorgan uplands I knew what the point of The Roman Rout was and still is: it’s a story which needs to be told and I have a peculiar – as in particular rather than odd – set of skills which will do it (and the Silurians) justice. Deciding the raison d’être of the book about creative practice has taken a bit more time and a lot more soul searching but eventually I think I’ve got the answer. And it’s only partly to do with me waffling on about anything and everything that takes my fancy without having to worry about referencing and intellectual defences.
Fate took a hand when I was offered one of the jobs I had applied for and didn’t actually want. Finally I had run out of wriggle room. After a little bit of self-analysis I concluded that the reason I have been avoiding writing the the manuscript on creativity is because I didn’t want to finish it. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone and not taking the risk of writing a book that no-one will actually want to read. After a little bit more self-analysis, I concluded that probably the most important facet of my personality is my contrariness. This is the point of the book: there is no point. It’s a celebration of taking unknown paths simply because they’re there and I like travelling.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” St. Augustine