by Gordon Lewis and D.F.Lewis.
Published 'Enigmatic Tales' 2000
I picked my way slowly up the crumbling stone staircase winding within the tower of a ruined castle. My throat constricted with fear as I ascended, knowing that when I emerged into the sunlight I would be terrified by the height, not just that of the castle wall, but that it would be accentuated tenfold by the prominence the old Norman castle was built upon. I edged out of the opening at the top, keeping my back firmly planted on what was left of the wall. I surveyed the scene as I did 30 odd years before, when, as a 16 year old lad, I had no fear of heights. Nothing had changed except my age. I was trying to recapture the time I stood atop the tower without fear, aiming to perform a daredevil stunt just to impress a group of girls picnicking within the precincts of the castle. It was just one of the girls I really wanted to impress, a girl named Dorothy... Dorothy Smith, the girl we boys called ‘Goldilocks Dora’. The girl with the startling blue eyes and golden hair, so unobtainable to us lesser mortals. It would have been fantastic just to say — ‘I once walked out with Dorothy Smith, the prettiest girl in the world.’ So she seemed not only to me, but to any of the adolescent boys for miles around.
* * *
More than three decades later I stood there again, shaking with fright, in spite of undergoing therapy to try and conquer an accursed phobia. Something to which I had become a victim after an accident that left me lying in a coma. A coma whence I was lucky to emerge, not just alive, but in fairly good physical shape… but leaving me with a morbid fear of high places... Acrophobia they called it, something I had to live with the past 3 years before leaving Fremantle in West Australia to visit my birthplace, to satisfy a longing, or as Welsh people say, my ‘Hiraeth’ for the homeland.
I composed myself to a degree, knowing I had the opening to the top of the stone steps within inches of my feet. I just wanted to look again at that perilous crossing over a narrow parapet, to what was left of the castle keep, approximately 40 yards away from the tower. It seemed impossible that it was I (albeit a younger me) that made it across without falling. Not many had succeeded, especially without the aid of ropes. One young man had fallen, luckily breaking his fall before landing on the steep grassy slope, to go tumbling down to a small copse at the foot of the hill. He however, was confined to a wheel-chair for many years, recovering to walk, but only with the help of crutches.
The day I successfully traversed those hazardous yards long ago I recalled with clarity — just like an action replay of the whole occasion. My plan was to move along just a few yards, pretend I was going to ‘chicken out’ after stumbling, but holding on, whilst calling for help (not that there would be any). I wanted an audience… so attracting the attention of the girls, in particular ‘Dora of the golden hair’.
All went according to plan... Regaining a foothold, I continued along the parapet, in front of my captive audience. I had no fear and I just knew I was going to make it... And make it I did, to reach the tower. My energy was spent, but I was so elated, I recovered quickly to make the comparatively easy descent to the inner court yard, expecting some kind of applause. But there was none. All except one of the girls walked away to continue with their silly picnic. I didn’t mind, for the one remaining was my Dorothy... or so I thought!
Her vivid blue eyes were flashing, not with excitement, but anger as she spoke... I think for the first time directly to me on a one to one basis. To say I was taken aback would be putting it mildly, as the girl of my dreams said those fateful words.
“You silly bloody fool, Denzil James. You could have broken your neck, which is a pity... Go back and do it again, this time you may kill yourself, and a good job too... I’m tired of you ogling me in Chapel every Sunday! What makes you think I could walk out with you, is quite beyond a joke.”
Crestfallen, my world in tatters, I walked away like a whipped cur with a tail between the legs, until I looked back to let my eyes traverse the parapet I had inched along; at least I had accomplished something
Mind you, when I recall what I looked like then, it’s hardly surprising she wouldn’t give me a second glance. Forced to wear those silly steel-rimmed glasses to a correct a problem with my eyes, and like most of the boys of my age, I was cursed with the adolescent acne, earning the nick-name of specky-four-eyes.
There was never another opportunity to try to impress that lovely girl, for soon after that episode in the Castle, I was devastated when the news came that Dorothy was leaving the area. Her father had secured a good position in a mining area of Yorkshire. Within weeks they were gone. Dorothy was now more remote than ever. My intention to smarten myself up once my eye treatment was succesful, and acne was no more, would be to no avail.
* * *
It wasn’t across a crowded room I saw her face. That face that had haunted me over the years... At least it looked like the face I remembered, though more than 30 years had passed since I saw her looking up at me from the courtyard of that ruined castle near the Welsh border. I had returned to London after that brief Welsh visit to my birthplace, to re-live the days when I was a foolhardy specky youth.
The face I saw, older of course, was featured in a life-sized portrait of an attractive woman in the window of a fashionable London book store. It was an enlargement of the dozens of photographs on the covers of books displayed, in neat arrangement around an announcement advertising a book-signing by the author of the book; just three days away from the day I stood there gawping at the photographs in amazement.
Though the name was not that of the girl I knew so long ago, I was convinced it was she, none other than Dorothy Smith... that was...!
Had I not gazed on that younger face from a distance, obviously something of which she was aware, even though she called it ‘ogling’. Those vivid blue eyes were still there; everything about her was how I imagined the girl would be — but there was the name — obviously a pen-name with a play on the words of her maiden name. The title of the book too was reminiscent of those heady days of Autumn in farmlands around the Brecon Beacons where we grew up, ‘Once upon a harvest time’ it was entitled, and Dora Goldsmith was the writer of the book displayed. The photographs just had to be of ‘golden-haired Dorothy Smith’, the girl I knew over three decades before.
One thing was certain, I would be at the book-launch and the signing that followed, but waiting for a quiet moment when I wouldn’t be hustled along in the rush for a signed copy… if indeed there was a rush… but, of course there would be a rush even though I now knew nothing about the author.
* * *
It was quite impossible to get anywhere near the pre-sales party, it being an invitation only launch. I was surprised that so much interest had been aroused by the book, so had to content myself with biding my time, impatient to prove that I was right in my assumptions.
I crossed the busy London street to find a place to eat; apart from feeling hungry by this time, there were three hours to kill, even before the scheduled time of the book sale. I found a window seat in a rather swish restaurant opposite the book shop, where I intended to spoil myself, celebrating, I hoped, a momentous occasion.
Money was of no consequence and, I supposed, no matter how rich and famous Dorothy had become, I would not be overshadowed by her success. My wealth had accumulated, not just by my own efforts. My father had been a a small-time builder in his birthplace at the head of the Swansea valley. Deciding there was more room for his skill on the continent of Australia, he applied for entry for himself and his whole family. It wasn’t on just a whim that he decided to uproot us all; he had found out that his skills would be well accepted in the growing country of Australia. Some months after Dorothy Smith left the valleys, I was on my way... half the world away to Perth in the antipodes.
Both my brother and I took to the life and the business of property building in a land hungry for well built new homes in the booming years of the mid twentieth century. The construction firm my father joined went from strength to strength, taking him with his two sons on his coat tails to eventual directors of a successful enterprise, all of us becoming rich beyond expectation during the 3 decades of frenzied building for those in need of fine homes. My father died after 25 of those years, and I succeeded him as managing director, until I met with an unfortunate accident. Nothing as spectacular as falling from a high building, but a freak accident whilst out riding. My horse was spooked by a snake, and I tumbled off his back to strike my head upon a rock. I lay in a coma for several days to recover without a great deal of damage, except that the brain injury had brought on acrophobia. Not something that would affect my life to any great extent, but a good reason to retire early to realise a cherished ambition to travel the world, making my first priority, a return to the ‘Land of my Father’s’. I had remained a bachelor, not that there had been a lack of suitable partners, but I had been disinclined to tie myself to one woman. Certainly, I was not carrying a torch for Dorothy Smith; I had forgotten all about that teenage crush… that is, until I saw those photographs of her, and knowing she was across that London Street, and soon, I would confront her — not as the specky-faced, bespectacled young Denzil James, but as a bronzed, well- built, set-up man of 50 plus with a Welsh-Australian accent. Of course I knew she was most probably married or committed to a family, but at least we could be friends, anyway. What I wanted to see most of all was the expression on her face when I confronted her.
There was no pressure for me to leave the restaurant. I had ordered several courses and it was way past 2 o’clock when I had the final coffee. I paid my sizeable bill and walked out into the May sunshine to head for the book shop, to what I hoped would be a very pleasant and eventful meeting.
I wandered around the vast book store, occasionally glancing into the department organising the sale of Dorothy’s book, waiting for the moment of a lull in the sale — the moment that didn’t come. I decided to tag on the end of a small queue, hoping that no one tagged on to me, but I was unlucky in that respect… then it was my turn.
“Whom shall I make it out to,” said the author, with the distinct lilt of a Welsh accent, certainly more than I had been left with after mixing with the folk ‘down under’.
“Could you please write to: You bloody fool Denzil James. I hope you break your silly neck.”
There was moment of shocked surprise before she looked up into my eyes, and I knew I struck a chord — knew for certain that it was definitely the woman into whom the girl I knew as Dorothy Smith had blossomed.
“You... You,” she stuttered, completely taken aback. “You’re not the Denzil James, the one with those funny glasses and all those spots?”
“Yes the one, but not quite the same. No glasses or spots, the one that couldn’t keep his eyes off you in chapel. Or was it ogling you called it?”
Aware that those behind me were getting restless, I quickly urged her to meet me later, in the same restaurant across the street.
“Please say you will, if only for old time’s sake… there is such a lot I want to tell you, certainly so much I want to know about your obvious success at this writing career of yours. You certainly have made a name for yourself, even if you have changed it from the old days. But somehow I knew you would be as brainy as you were beautiful.”
She became embarrassed, and something behind those blue eyes told me all was not as it seemed; there was just a hint of sadness too, as she hurriedly scribbled something on the flyleaf of the book I placed before her. As she handed it to me she said:
“I am scheduled to finish here at 4.30, I’ll meet you outside the store soon after that time... Thank you for buying my book...” she said as she attempted to smile at the customer behind me...
As I left the book store, I suddenly wished I had never attempted to meet Dorothy Smith (aka Dora Goldsmith) — things (or, especially, people) rarely lived up to long-held expectations. It was like remembering a jewel and finding a fossil; I had been blinded by her entourage at the signing; I could not help fretting over the trappings of her fame and, now I realised what it was, over her mock willingness to extend any contact with a mere punter, like myself, a punter who had, by some accident of fate, known her in a more impressionable epoch — more impressionable for both of us.
During one’s youth, one spreads seeds in a seeming fertile ground with the (perhaps unthought) hope of harvest in the future. Each act an investment. Each human-to-human touch a search for something other than itself.
Now was the time to cash in. But was there? Only a woman I hardly recognised — someone who had never been able to spy the worth beyond my specky skin. So why should she spy anything but the crust of my middle age? Would I ever dare give her the pleasure of meeting me after she finished with the book signing? I would simply slip away. That would be best...
I found myself at the entrance to a tube station. Even in the pre-rush hours it was as if I was being borne along on the wave of the ever-hurrying London crowds, to find myself descending to the depth below the streets of the city, not knowing where I was heading. In spite of the milling crowd I felt I was not alone, as if someone was watching my every move. A feeling I had sensed ever since leaving the street of the book store.
I teetered on the edge of the platform. The vertigo of acrophobia had never attacked me before at such a low level. Heights were comparative. But, here, simply a few feet above the throbbing rails...
I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder. I turned to see if this were a precursor to some ‘care-in-the-community’ eccentric, teasing with his (or her) fingertips before finally shoving me into the path of the approaching train… or was it somebody helping me to regain my balance...?
I somehow imagined it would be Dorothy, having followed me from the book launch… eager to renew our encounter. It was not her, Or it was her. I couldn’t be certain. A figure peeled off from the crowd before I could focus on the details that made a shape into a recognisable person. It was as if the rest of the eager passengers regrouped so as to protect the departure of whomsoever had thus helped me from the dizzying edge. I tried to recall the vivid blue eyes and the angry words scolding a certain Denzil James for his foolhardiness...
I determined to return, after all, towards the uncertain venue she had half-heartedly suggested for our meeting. Either she would be there or she wouldn’t. Either I would be there or I wouldn’t.
Perhaps two strangers would meet each other, instead.
Whatever the case, within the scope of the next hour, I would reap what I had sowed.
I found myself out in the daylight again, but having wandered aimlessly from the Street I needed to be in by 4.30, I had become disorientated, then uncharacteristically decisive, I looked about me for some prominent feature above the skyline of the stores opposite. I reached the curb edge with the traffic flowing like a slow wall of water. My head whirled and I felt the same sensation I had experienced dozens of feet below my feet. I swayed like a tree in the wind as, again, I felt that presence, the touch on my shoulder. Was it restraining, or urging me on? A taxi-cab pulled up just feet away from me, and as it discharged its fare, I became its next passenger. Remembering the name of the famous book store, I called out its name to the cabbie, and we became a part of the traffic tide.
I kept looking at my watch as the minutes ticked away towards the time of our meeting, and as half past the hour of four was minutes away, I was almost pleased we were not going to make the meeting. I accepted that Dorothy Smith would remain the girl I knew — I would never know the woman she had become... Did I really want to know the woman? Maybe it would shatter the illusion of the golden-haired girl Dora.
It was almost 5 o’clock when I paid off the cabbie. I walked to the entrance of the book store just to look once again at the life-sized portrait of the woman, the writer whom the girl had become. The window was empty around the portrait, so her book must have been in great demand. The book...? Where was the one I bought? I suddenly realised I hadn’t picked it up after Dorothy had signed it for me... Did I really want to read it? Of course I did; at least I would one day display it with a touch of the theatrical, showing it to friends, whilst boasting that I knew her when she was a slip of a girl.
Of course it had to happen... I turned to enter the store to see if my book had been left for me... and there she was, walking towards me, smiling a strange smile, forced in some way as she nervously glanced at the young man who was ushering her along.
“It was nice to see you again Denzil. Sorry... can’t stop, I have left your book with the manager.” Then pointedly she added. “I wrote what you wanted on the flyleaf... Perhaps we will meet for a longer chat one day.”
The stern-faced young man’s eyes were restless. After he examined me closely, his eyes were darting around… looking concerned, as if waiting for something to happen. Behind them, was another watchful man, almost a clone of the one holding Dorothy by the elbow. I managed a hurried ‘thank you’, before they hurried past me and into a waiting car.
With that she was gone... At least I had the book. Perhaps there would be something within to indicate when we could meet… there had been a wealth of meaning in that last thing she said...
There was indeed a sheet of paper between pages 112 and 113 (a sheet of similar size and quality as the book’s pages themselves). I assumed it was entirely blank until I discerned — in faint 4H pencil lead — the word ‘Hiraeth’. (I imagined the barely tangible person I sensed was watching me when on the underground station platform had started to gently write it, leaning on the paper hardly at all). It was a clue — or rather, a spur —for an indefinable longing… to understand, to find, to renew, to re-enact... Love would always be a memory, unless I grabbed it as it came around again like a comet...
This word ‘Hiraeth’ which I found faintly written in the edition of Dorothy’s book I now owned (and as yet, not read) a word teasingly etched upon a wayward leaf, should have drawn me ineluctably back to the valleys and hills of Wales. After all it was a Welsh word. It could have meant something important, yet tantalisingly distant, dizzingly swaying above in the highest heavens. It meant a lot. So much more if there had been a date for a meeting where this tale began. The word seemed to encapsulate the steel rimmed specs, the specky skin, the spooked horse, the archipelagos of acne. Yes, the pitted map of a visage so familiar to mirrors and the still waters of ponds.
No, I was not drawn back to Wales, though I had spent a good part of my life in Australia, that huge sprawling continent of the lowest common denominator... I now needed more focus, more point. And, strangely, I was drawn towards France (Paris, in particular) yes towards the Eiffel Tower. I knew I was aiding and abetting Fate, an often pointless Fate, but there was (in my dreams at least) a vision of that sharp-rearing, age-seasoned, land-locked, sun-gilt sword of tapering, surging power skywards...
Our assignation (Dorothy’s and mine) I just knew (how? — I still don’t know) was to be in the vicinity of this tower. But, first, imagine my journey towards this all-important venue. I took the ferry — eschewing the Channel Tunnel, a route too reminiscent of the recent ‘fright’ in the depths of the London subway — but I still managed to sense sidelong, sloppy shapes and figures going in and out of focus as they seemed to follow me about on the vertiginous deck, caused by the surge of those ever present cross currents beneath what appeared to be an unusual English Channel millpond and most real passengers were above deck, in the fresh air. I tried to shrug off my paranoia about my pursuers. They seemed to have specky skin, although it was difficult to determine whether there were any other distinguishing features. They reminded me, somewhat, of the lower-scale employees of the family firm inAustralia — people I had usually no contact with, but now they were coming home to roost...
I tried to blot such people from my mind — as my train from Calais approached the purlieus of Paris.
It was quite dark when the train pulled into the Paris railway station, and once again I had to rely on a taxi-cab to whisk me off to the hotel I had booked to stay in. It had been my intention to visit one or two places of interest that evening, but ‘Maytime in Paris’ wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The view of the distant Eiffel Tower at night was just a blur of twinkling lights — and the occasional flash of lightning — through a curtain of lashing rain… there was always tomorrow, and I had all the time in the world, or so I supposed.
I lay on my bed, not yet prepared to retire for the night. I remembered I had only skipped through the book I had bought; it really wasn’t my ‘cup of tea’; historical romances were something I never could get interested in. I had accepted that the faintly written word ‘Hiraeth’ was not a message at all, and my reason for this Parisian visit was for another reason entirely.
It had been suggested by my mental therapist that my condition need not be permanent, and that I could cure myself gradually by ‘biting the bullet’ so to speak. His prognostication was that on my trip to the other side of world I should visit high places that were tourist attractions where there were others enjoying the experience, old and young alike without fear, hopefully helping with their presence. Providing there was easy methods of access, I would gradually become used to being not afraid of heights... Places like ‘The monument to the fire of London in Pudding Lane’ — the castle near my birthplace — even ‘Snowdonia’ in North Wales — and the real reason for my visit to Paris, ‘The Eiffel Tower’. The Welsh castle and The Monument I had already tackled, and I have to say, they had not helped that much. I was not at all comfortable, but I had at least reached to the top of both, but without looking down! Not even a quick glance. It was my intention to take the lift (just a stage at a time) up the Eiffel Tower, but something made me hurriedly alter my plans.
I knew nothing of the woman Dorothy had become, so I turned to the very last page of the book, or rather the notes on the protective jacket, where it was normal for a brief pen-picture of the writer to appear; something I had hurriedly read just once before. There was no mention of a relationship, family or such, just a brief synopsis of her career. Success in journalism and the books she had written in her beloved Wales... not in the area we both grew up in... but Snowdonia, by amazing coincidence, Llanberis, the place I intended to visit again, determined to reach the summit of Snowdon... the easy way...by the mountain railway that began its ascent to the top from that little Welsh Parish at the foot of the mountain. But why the haste...? There were some words indenting the print from the reverse of the glossy book jacket. Turning the flap over there were two words of Welsh... ‘Mehefin Pedwar’. I racked my brains trying to remember the Welsh lessons at school. I had been brought up in an English speaking household, but I remembered numbers in the Welsh language, also the days of the week and the months of the year. What Dorothy had written was the date ‘June 4’. Could it mean she would be in North Wales on that date? I couldn’t for the life of me see a reason for all this secrecy. It could only mean she wanted to be there without having ‘minders’ hurrying her along… and she did say ‘we will meet’ again. Perhaps I was assuming too much… grasping at straws… but I had intended a trip to Llanberis... the Eiffel tower would still be there… unless it was struck by lightning. June the fourth was only a week away... So I argued — why not the ascent to the top of Snowdon first? There would be a greater incentive, wanting to be there with Dorothy.
Like life itself, one can never really recall each turning. We are a series of different selves as we take our rite of passage through each of our sea-changes... And, in a similar vein, I cannot now exactly remember how I switched directions, how I abruptly lost interest in Paris and the impossible (to me) challenge presented by the imposing Eiffel Tower, an architectural wonder of the world which I had before described floridly and (in hindsight) so inappropriately whilst there.
No, it was Mount Snowdon where I was bound. I had been there before, staying in a small Guest House in Llanberis itself, where a banner had been stretched across the street welcoming back one the town’s brave inhabitants from his stint in the Gulf War.
This time — incredibly — I was led, by the nose, as it were, to another guest house establishment (the previous one where I had stayed having become something quite different concerned with mountain rescue) — and I was quite stunned to see a nameboard above the door spelling out ‘HIRAETH’. This seemed to be a very apt name for someone’s home, even better than ‘Cartref’. But for reasons too obvious to labour, it was most remarkable that I’d been attracted hither of all places.
In the backyard, I noticed a frightened horse. It whinnied, then snickered, as I tentatively walked down the crazy-paved path towards HIRAETH and from within, there echoed the yaps of a tiny-sounding dog.
It was in the evening of June 3rd and I knew my suitcase held that all- important book. It was as if I feared not recognising Goldilocks (as I tutored myself to think of her) if I did not possess her older effigy, albeit by means of a two-dimensional photograph on the back-flap of the dust-wrapper.
I knocked. I hadn’t booked. Like before, I depended on serendipity to ease my way through life. I had travelled wide over the current Britain — on the off chance of resting my head, even at the height of summer (as now), more often than not I landed on my feet and found a comfortable billet.
The woman who answered my knocking upon the door of HIRAETH was a homely, plump Welsh woman who spoke with that delightful lilt so familiar in the Land of my Fathers. She wielded a huge rolling-pin and flour was peppered over the ample folds of her black apron. I was pleased (but not surprised) to be told that there had been a late cancellation and I was smartly shown a delightful ensuite room with a view of the mountains, a room tastefully and traditionally decorated.
After exchanging small talk and a little bit of Welsh bonding, she left me to unpack. I shivered. For the first time since arriving in Wales I felt apprehensive. Goldilock’s minders etched against the rearing horizon as they trooped up a distant mountain flank. It was only imagination, I hoped. More suitable for my dreams-to-come than waking reality.
The years since I left Australia seemed but a passing phase. Idly following my nose (rather than being led by it), I had achieved little, except visiting parts of the old country I had not had the opportunity to experience before I was whisked to a world away by my ambitious father. I had been ready to return to Australia until the day I saw Dorothy’s photographs in that London book store. Why was I pursuing the notion of meeting her on a one-to-one basis? Curiosity, I supposed, intrigued by the feeling all was not well... Why had she taken the trouble to leave a message in Welsh? A message obviously intended for me. She would have surmised I would turn to the book’s jacket notes, the most natural thing for an old acquaintance to do.
I strolled about the village of Llanberis, re-acquainting myself with the bar of the inn near the rail terminus, after checking the times of train departures for the main summit among the five peaks rearing skywards from the village.
“Dinner is at half past seven,” Mrs Morgan’s informed me as I left the guest house. “A lovely bit of Welsh lamb specially for you,” she added, her button-nosed face wreathed in smiles.
I was ready for dinner long before that time, impatient for the dinner gong to ring out, as I sat in the small but comfortable lounge at ‘Hiraeth’, a name appropriate, as I could smell the dinner being cooked, reminding me of the days when I was a young man. I whiled away the time by reading ‘Once upon a harvest time’, laying the book closed upon the low table at my side as Mrs Morgans entered to inform me that dinner would be right on time.
“Oh... I see you reading that book… written near here it was... I wonder how Mrs Rees-Powell is coping, waiting until the men who killed her husband are captured?” She spoke English with quaint deliberation, it being her second language.
“Mrs Rees-Powell?” I queried. “Who is she, what has she to do with the book?”
“Why... that is the proper name of the authoress… look you — she was the only witness to the killing of her husband... In danger, she is until they catch the men who broke into ‘Plas Bryn’... the big house on the road between here and Bettws-y-Coed...”
It began to fit! I wondered what June 4th, the very next day would bring.
The dining room was less than half full, and having commented upon it to the diminutive waitress, I was informed that most of the guests this time of year were booked for bed and breakfast. Llanberis, though a popular place as a stopover because of the terminus for the rack-railway climbing more than 3,500 feet to the five peaks of the mountain. The thought of being up there three times as high as the Eiffel tower sent a spasm of fear through me, but I was determined to set out on that train in the morning, even if I kept my eyes closed.
I set aside these negative thoughts, prepared to enjoy my food, turning my back to the window as the sun etched shadows of the mountain behind me.
Mrs Morgans had been right about the lamb; I had forgotten how delicious Welsh lamb was, compared to anywhere else in the world. I complimented her as she appeared at my elbow. As she left, she said:
“Oh, by the way, Mr James, I heard in the village, our famous writer was seen entering ‘Plas Bryn’ this afternoon, escorted by the Police she was. I wonder if she is out of danger at last... It has been a terrible time for her...”
When I retired for the night, I wondered if I would be beset by dreams. More than enough had happened to colour my sleep, I was sure — but my room at Mrs Morgans’ place possessed a restful ambience, with pastel shades and subdued ornamentation (not that such things would matter once I’d turned the lights off). In any event, I laid quietly on my back for a while, not even attempting to fall asleep. Thoughts autonomously swirled around my mind (normally a bad omen for dreams or even nightmares later in the night) and these thoughts centred around Goldilocks aka Dorothy Smith aka Dora Goldsmith aka Mrs Rees-Powell. How many more names would I eventually learn about as I traced the paths of destiny set in motion by that book signing session? Then my mind remembered the rumours of dark dealings and murder, implications of which piled up as they stemmed from Mrs Morgans’ few words before dinner. Perhaps those so called ‘minders’ I’d sensed on the tube platform, again on the tilting ferry and, yes half glimpsed this very day as they scaled a Mountain in Indian file, perhaps not ‘minders’ at all but inimical creatures, ones that were more mixed up with murder than minds...
All fading in my own mind, as I had a full-blooded dream (instead of dozing thoughts) about St Paul’s Cathedral back in London, that grimy grim city where I had renewed my contact with Goldilocks. I almost felt like a character in a book, perhaps one of her books, as I clambered up to the famous Whispering Gallery and, with my condition almost overwhelming my faculties, I spreadeagled my body against the curved wall as I painstakingly circled the inside of the great Dome — my front turned to the vast echoing auditorium below. The cathedral’s mighty organ bellowed; I could hardly discern the hooded figure within the distant plinth as it struggled with the stops. Then my eyes almost zoomed in to spot a white glare instead of a face, an insect proboscis instead of a nose, wiry feelers instead of fingers and large riding boots pummelling away at the pedals...
I woke with a start. I remembered that the organ had suddenly stopped towards the tail-end of the dream and I heard whispering as I pressed my ear to the cold gallery wall. The words were Welsh.
The morning had already broken and Mrs Morgans presented me with eggs sunnyside up, grilled kidneys, mushrooms and, surprisingly, some waffles drenched in molasses. I politely nibbled as much as I could stomach and mentioned to Mrs Morgans that today — June 4th — I was to complete an ambition of mine (a rigorous challenge for one afflicted with my condition) taking the mountain train to the summit of Snowdon. Imagine my disappointment when she announced she’d heard rumours that urgent engineering inspection was going to prevent train journeys for today.
“Ivor told me. They’re having to check the edges,” she said.
“Check the edges?” I shrugged, not bothering to query further.
“And, oh yes,” Mrs Morgans continued — as she placed a platter of rather fatty looking back-bacon in the centre of the table — “Mrs Rees-Powell the writer is making a presentation to our local war hero in front of the pub opposite this evening. Everybody’s going. They’ll welcome a stranger or two, why don’t you come with me?”
I nodded non-committally. I had already decided I was going to climb up the mountain. Even at my age, I’d heard people who had made such a climb — more an uphill walk than a climb. A long walk, yes, but I had been told, the slopes were, in the main, not too severe.
Mrs Morgans broke into my thoughts again... “Sorry I forgot the bacon, there’s plenty there, help yourself...” she said as she made to leave to attend to others.
But I was already replete, and I wasn’t partial to bacon that was not grilled to a crisp. The sight of the fatty bacon did nothing to help the queazy feeling in my stomach already churning at the thought of what I resolved to do when I left the guest-house.
With that Mrs Morgans returned to my table; she seemed to have adopted a motherly feeling for a fellow Cymro as she suggested the following:
“If you intend tackling the walk up the mountain, call in the Rescue Centre and they will check if you are properly equipped. Of course they are really more concerned with the more adventurous climbers who take the dangerous routes, but one of the men there has helped people with fear of heights. Actually he is a cousin of my late husband. He is called Glyndwr Morgan, tell him I sent you, and, by the way, a donation to their work will help, but not compulsory, mind you.”
She was a dear old soul, inclined to run on a bit perhaps, but I decided I would take her advice. But she hadn’t quite finished with her guardian-angel performance.
“You’ll find a little packed lunch for you, you’ll probably need it when you sit quietly looking at the magnificent view from the top.”
My heart turned over at how easy she made it all sound, but not enough to put off my resolve. So with my stoutest shoes on my feet and dressed sensibly, I made for the Mountain Rescue Centre, and to my polite request to speak to Mr Glyndwr Morgan, I was surprised to hear the man say:
“You’re speaking to him, people call me ‘Glyn’, and before you say anything, I know who sent you — Mrs Gwen Morgans — she is the only one who uses my full name.”
I told him of my full history and the blow that caused this stupid fear of heights. That I had already started a self-cure therapy and questioned if I was wise to tackle the obstacle of the mountain.
“I’m walking the track myself ahead of the engineers today, setting off soon, why don’t you tag along with me, chatting with someone is the best way, and I have to tell you, I was once bordering on having a phobia of your kind. You really should not try and do it all by yourself and you are most welcome to come to walk the track with me.”
I was buoyed up by his suggestion, almost looking forward to the idea. There was something about the man that inspired confidence, and I accepted his suggestion readily, at the same time asking if I could make a contribution to the Centre’s funds… and this was gladly accepted as I stuffed some paper money into the box on the desk.
When I queried how long it would take, he said it would be around tea-time when we arrived back at the centre. The weather was set fair and he envisaged no problem, and when I mentioned the evening’s presentation, he said:
“Never fear, I want to be there too. With bells on... Sergeant Jenkins is a relation of mine...”
I was beginning to think everyone in the village were related in some way or another; perhaps this chappie knew the lady I was hoping at last to meet for longer than a brief exchange of words. But would that be enough? I had other matters in front of me...
It was perhaps amazing how I could even envisage such a climb — walk — hike — trek — call it what you will — to the summit of Snowdon. Almost as if I had already met an imposssible challenge by even considering such a feat. My father, as I mentioned earlier, was a builder, a Master Builder. The Eiffel Tower and St Paul’s Cathedral lodged in my mind as symbols of his achievements ‘down under’. Humanity, in some shape or form, had constructed such wonders of the world — and my father had been a vital component in this great march of humanity. I felt that, somehow, they were his buildings...
I glanced at the imposing bulk of Snowdon against a dull-gilt sky and I imagined a structure upon which the mountain had been hung like a theatrical backdrop. God’s Structure, if not man’s — reaching downwards into a heavenly antipodes...
I smiled and placed more money into Glyn’s box. I shook his hand and
he seemed to know instinctively that I did not need him for what I was about to undergo.
The breakfast still lay heavy on my stomach. But I had no real physical need to scale the mountain, I had already accomplished this feat in my head and my eyes could see clearly for the first time — as if I had been dizzy all my life — but now the giddyness had left me, I could recognise it for what it was, what it had been.
The sun now silhouetted the mountain with an unimpeachable clarity, strands of gold sliding along its flanks : A corona’s promenade.
I smiled and I prayed as I saw a golden-haired angel pushing a wheelchair towards the pub opposite Mrs Morgan’s Guest-house. A specky-faced man was seated in the wheelchair, seeming to be pedalling hard with his feet in riding boots… as if, ridiculously, he believed this action helped his minder push him along.
I closed the dust-wrapped book, with a longing. Irrationally I dreamed of a spooked horse. The harvest was over...
Yesterday was history... Tomorrow… A mystery? But somehow I knew I would reach new heights — unafraid — a hand, smaller, softer, clasped in mine...
Hiraeth and Heaven were one.