8.30 am: Following a hearty breakfast, I caught the X15 bus to Abertillery:
I’d only one objective for the morning: to make an assault on the summit of the Arael Mountain. But first, I trod the old path across the Foundry Bridge to the house at the bottom of the terrace, which had been my childhood home. Revisiting the place is a dispiriting experience. I should cease the ritual:
From there, I descended Station Hill, walked towards the local park, and climbed the slope that opened onto Old Blaina Road. At the tree – that has stood and stood and stood – I asked: ‘Shall we begin talking, now?’ This would be a morning for business of the highest order:
How many times, as younger man, had I walked this road and either ‘spilled my guts’ to God or else auto-ruminated on some great matter that was violently stirring the waters of my life back then? Some issues require specific places at which to be unfurled. This road and the Arael Mountain have been (will always be) ‘sacred’ (set aside) for me in this respect:
The gateway to the Arael is narrow, rocky, and on a steeper incline than any part of the way that lies beyond. It’s the inverse of what one might except. The path, which zig-zags to the top, is far more overgrown and verdant these days. In my teens, I could see clearly the whole length of the valley above the tree tops. Thankfully, the foresters had made several openings upon the far vista. Those rows of terraced houses, huddled together like keys on a typewriter, had a significant influence on my early aesthetic development:
There is a rent in the mountain close to the top caused by geological subsidence. It’s now deeper and more precipitous than I remember it. But there was no other way up other than to climb across it. I had to take a risk. (Such is life, sometimes.) The summit was exactly as I remembered it: an uneven carpet of grass and ferns sloping upwards to a high horizon. This place is mine – but not in any proprietorial sense. It’s the socket for which I’m the plug. (For the record: this is where I want my ashes scattered):
Instinctively, I followed the sheep paths parallel to the mountain’s edge. In the mythos of this area, malevolent fairies inhabited this terrain. Beware! I lay down, as I always did, with my back to the world, and faced heavenward:
In that moment, little seems to matter, everything seems possible, and nothing else encroaches. There are some problems that I’ve taken to the top of that mountain and left there. Others have returned with me to the foot of the climb. But neither they nor I have come back unaltered. The process of articulation, the one-way discussion, and the unbearably honest and searching examination clarified and distilled the former and consoled and emboldened the latter.
2.30 pm: I took lunch with an old school friend. We’d not seem one another since 1975, I suspect. He’d remained in the area; there was no reason to leave. The roll was called: friends who had died prematurely, or retired early due to poor health, or ndeveloped type 1 or 2 diabetes, or divorced, or disappeared without trace, or kept their distance for no discernible reason:
6.00 pm: Having ridden a bone shaker of a bus to Newport, via everywhere imaginable on route, I ate with a friend from my undergraduate days at Newport art school. Our conversations habitually cover art, art education (bad mostly), theology, Christian experience, the dangers of religious subjectivism, the possibility of delusionalism, the nature of friendship, and the pitfalls of loneliness. He listens like a woman. A rare quality in a bloke. 9.30 pm: He drove me back to Llanhilleth.