“The far interior of our fate, to civilise and to create”.
The bi-sexual poet W. H. Auden wrote those words in his poem New Year Letter 1940 as the world around descended into chaos and darkness. Attached to those words was a pen portrait of his Eden, the hills and mines on my backdoor in the North Pennines.
For me this has for nearly 20 years been a seminal influence on my thinking. Just now I have been far away from the North Pennines and from Auden and lounging in some other similar and lush culture. The family spent a fortnight at Fort Belan beside the Menai Strait in North Wales. The sun smiled. A true fortnight’s delight. The Tour De France was on and we had managed to see this at the Grinton hill climb before going away. Then the Tour was followed by the Commonwealth Games. Humanity at its best, true internationalism. Humans can achieve great good. From the 1920s onwards the Welsh architect William Clough Ellis was doing this at Portmeirion. A landlord who did not spend money on a selfish display of oppressive extravagance like Penrhyn Castle at Bangor which we also visited, but one who took a Welsh hillside and estuary and created a fantasy all can visit and stay in. I’ve stayed at Portmeirion in December 1986. And whilst Clough created his fantasy, world history has come and gone. Portmeirion has seen off the Nazis and the Communists. Will it see off the atrocities of the Middle East?
For while we were away, almost cut off from Wifi and with limited 3G and with me positively not facebooking, the world was tearing itself apart in Gaza and Irak. The cradle of civilisation, the Biblical town of Nineveh, all witnessing to 21st century terror.
Clough was an atheist but more than that he was a tolerant eclectic human full of warmth. I warm to him. I bought his own text on his village (also well known to fans of Number 6). We saw his work in several other places including the Lloyd George Museum. It was there we read of Lloyd George’s views on Palestine.
Oh dear, if he were alive today would he wish to change his sentiments? He expressed the view that the inhabitants of Palestine had no reason to complain about the arrival of Jews. I wonder what made him think he was qualified to give that opinion? I wonder whether ISIS or whatever it calls itself would have had the potency and traction it has gained without the fuel the West’s engagement with the Middle East since the time of Portmeirion’s creation has provided. Hammas springs from Yassah Arafat, a secular revolutionary. It is much “safer” than the religious edge now alive in Syria and Irak.
For me Portmeirion, its creator, his friends like the Keating’s and their modest house now with the National Trust at Play yn Rhiw testify to a quiet quality which is quint essentially British. I was away from the SNP debate whilst away but have been rather relieved that in the Salmon/Darling debate, Darling won. Britishness is about unity in diversity, it is not about judgement, exclusivity. It is about Commonwealth and the Queen’s opening message for the Games was unusually forthcoming in her assertion that we are greater together than divided.
I have enjoyed our fortnight’s summer holiday, a true holiday, lots of seaside ice creams, tea room like the end of Bangor pier, beaches at Porth Dinllaen (never been there before), plenty of uses for the National Trust card, back at home and back to work. The cares of the world will impinge. What will I do? Thankfully after a couple of lean years, we have work flowing again, So I will work and I will pray, and some will laugh at that. But short of taking up arms, agitation, advocacy, charity and prayer, stand as they always have as the most most of us will do. And to do even that we need to be inspired. Holidays help to inspire and so can faith.