Caerleon - Ffwrwm
I used to go to the annual Welsh writing convention on the Newport university campus organised by Anne and Gerry in the village of Caerleon near the city of Newport, South Wales. The same people, mainly women, would come each year. It was like a club with about 200 members. Lots of intelligent people to talk to over the excellent copious amounts of food in the canteen.
There were lectures every evening in the theatre and constant workshops throughout the day. We were overloaded with literature and culture. On the Wednesday we would pile into a coach and have a choice of a tour to Barry, Cardiff or Hay on Wye, the town of books on the border between England and Wales, famous for its Literary Festival. This was the only time I would proudly announce my mother was from Swansea and that I was indeed half Welsh!
I would stroll down the main street and head for a unique destination. Ffwrwm. it was the Welsh word for seat. This was an 18th century walled garden which housed five craft workshops, an Israeli jeweller called Rafi. Oy vey I bet he had an interesting story how and why he ended up in such a sculpture garden with a metal sculpture of duelling knights Arthur and Mordred in their final battle.
On the last night we would listen to a performance by a large local male Welsh choir in the theatre. The routine was always the same and sometimes I would wander off into the outside world. A world beyond the campus.
And then there was a fascinating shop selling Celtic Arts and Crafts, Celtic crosses, pendants and knotwork jewellery. Amongst the spiritual magazines, Celtic and Arthurian books I observed the good looking long haired left over from his former spiritual hippy life owner.
I was fascinated by the shop and it's contents. We began to speak and I asked who had crested this oasis. The doctor was the reply. His landlord. I had heard about The Doctor before as he was not particularly well liked amongst locals. He was a controller and manipulator I was told and imagined he owned Caerleon. I announced that I would like to meet him. Why who knows? Someone who had created a haven with an Arthurian throne carved from a whole tree trunk and organised a cultural centre with a cafe and home cooking was worth meeting in my book.
It was agreed I would be introduced at tea time as The Doctor always arrived to hold court. I chatted with the man about books and magazines. He randomly gave me a. Spiritual magazine as a gift. To kill time I turned to the classifieds with the usual ads for angels, tarot cards, palmistry, crystal ball readings and all that off the wall jazz. Suddenly I caught sight of an interesting advert. Trips to Brazil to be healed by the physic surgeon Joao de Deus. In fact there were several adverts by people creating package holidays. I pointed this out to the owner of the shop.
I was interested because I had lived in Brazil from 1970-71 and spoke Brazilian Portuguese. He then confessed that both he and his partner had been seriously ill and had gone there to be healed. They were believers. He then produced, like a conjurer, a stack of photos taken sur place. He claimed they had both been 'touched' by the great man who did not accept payment. They had lined up with hundreds of ill people under a waterfall. He described the town of Abadiania, central Brazil, that had mushroomed into a destination full of guest houses for the internationally sick people who now flew into an unknown place in Brazil in the hope of a cure. I was transported back to the country that had greatly influenced my earlier life through language and the magic of Tropicalismo of the 1970s.
Then I was informed The Doctor had arrived for his tea and crumpet. He had long white hair tied back in a pony tail. He sat on a piece of sculpture that was a long bench, chest and swollen belly out and arms placed along the top of the bench. He was obviously a commanding figure! He was king of the castle! My host went up to him in servitude, saying that Jilliana wanted to meet the creator of the amazing sculpture garden.
Wearily and bored he looked up at me standing next to him. "And what have you got to say to me?" "Interesting conversation, I am a writer". "Sit down, my dear, have some tea", he patted the bench for me to sit next to him. I had passed the test. Then he fired questions at me like bullets. "Where do you live?" "London", "which area?", "Notting Hill" I said proudly. "Which street?" "Kensington Park Road", then he blew my mind asking "what number?" Never had I been asked by a total stranger that question. This was not a joke. He was totally rude and disrespectful. "Why?" I retorted. "Because my dear, I own the restaurant and photo gallery and Outsider Bill Hopkins is my tenant right opposite where you reside!!!"
I was speechless at the synchronicity. Then he wanted to know the value of my house. So there we sat in a sculpture garden in Southern Wales far from the madding crowd talking about the material things in life - property. Not a likeable man. Dead I expect by now. But I checked out the lovely shop and it is still in business and online for all to see.
But I will always remember my meeting with the powerful Doctor. Thank God he wasn't mine!!!
Written in Athens September 2015.