As a Welsh transplant to the wilds of Essex, St David’s Day for me is always a day of hiraeth – I love my little bit of Essex, I love London but for me ‘home’ is Wales and always will be.
…it means a deep sense of longing, a yearning for that which has past, a sense of homesickness tinged with grief or sorrow over the lost or departed. One attempt to describe hiraeth in English says that it is “a longing to be where your spirit lives.” This description makes some sense out of the combination of words that describe this feeling. The place where your spirit feels most at home may be a physical location that you can return to at any time, or it may be more nostalgic of a home, not attached to a place, but a time from the past that you can only return to by revisiting old memories. Maybe your spirits home could even be neither of the above, one from which you are not only separated by spacehttps://www.felinfach.com/blogs/blog/hiraeth
There’s a deep sense of homecoming as you cross the Severn – preferably via the ‘old’ bridge, which in Wales is a measure of how bad the weather is. You know it’s windy when they close the bridge to lorries and high sided vehicles, and really windy when they close it to everyone. This sketch is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the experience, but it’s not far from the mark! Even the Things know that the Severn Bridge means we’re ‘nearly there’, although no words can describe Thing Three’s disappointment at not being able to see ‘the Whales’ when he was about three and London sister and I took them home for a weekend.
Once you’re over the bridge, of course, you have the big decision: ‘over the top’, which takes you down via Devauden and up over the ridge between the Usk and Wye Valleys, with a final sweep down the long hill through Llansoy and into Raglan, or down through the Wye Valley itself, through Tintern and Redbrook before you hit Monmouth over the Wye Bridge. The M48/M4/A449 route never enters the discussion: why would you take the motorways when you have the Usk and Wye to guide you home?
When I was a child in Cardiff, St David’s Day meant dressing up in Welsh costume and wearing a daffodil with its stem wrapped in damp kitchen roll and tinfoil. There would be an Eisteddfod – a Welsh festival where competitions are held in music, poetry, drama, and art – in the morning and then we’d have a half day. In Raglan we had the Eisteddfod but not the half day, which seemed a bit unfair!
Now I’m a grown up and living in Essex I have to make do with buying myself daffodils, though last year my beloved planted loads of bulbs in the garden which are just coming out. We had leeks with our dinner too.
I waited till the weekend to make Welshcakes, as they are delicious but time-consuming. My sister bought me a little bakestone for my birthday a few years back, which means I can cook them properly – any heavy based frying pan will do, but it’s just not the same. My mum always made these cakes, with a last giant one at the end made of the scraps rolled out and that one was Dad’s. They are best sprinkled with sugar hot off the griddle: my beloved has been known to butter his but he’s a bit odd sometimes. I still use my mum’s recipe, which I am going to share here so you can make your own.
- 8oz self-raising flour (or 8z plain flour with half a teaspoon of baking powder)
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice (I use more, I like ’em spicy – yesterday I used 1/2 tsp mixed spice and 1/2 tsp cinnamon)
- 2oz lard
- 2oz butter (I use Stork these days for baking)
- 3oz currants/mixed dried fruit (not glace cherries, you heathens.)
- 3oz caster sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- small amount of milk if needed
Rub in the the fat and flour. Add the dry ingredients and mix. Add the wet ingredients and mix into a dough. Form it into a large ball and knead it a bit but not too much. Stick it in the fridge for twenty minutes.
Roll out your dough – not too thin, you’re not making biscuits here. Cut out using whatever cutters you have handy. Preheat your bakestone/griddle/heavy based frying pan and melt some butter or add some oil. Cook gently – if you cook it too fast you’ll have a burned outside and a raw middle. Like pancakes, it’s trial and error here.
Put your cooked cakes on a wire rack and sprinkle sugar on them. Don’t forget to quality test them as you go. You’ll know you’ve done it right if they don’t have time to cool down.
For a Christmassy version I use cinnamon instead of the mixed spice, fresh orange peel and dried cranberries.
This week my beloved has been looking at houses in Wales, as he’s been watching Escape to the Country again. Although he’s Essex born and bred, his mum’s first husband was Welsh, his aunt also lives in Wales, and his cousins do too. I would LOVE to move back, but in this case I am being the voice of reason and saying things like ‘yes, but what would we do for a living?’ He says I can be a freelance consultant sort of person and every time he shows me a house he lets me pick a studio…. maybe it’ll happen!
Back to my ‘real’ life
This week my blog post on reimagining the handling collection at the Museum was published: this is the first in a two-parter, and my colleague has written part two on what’s happened to all the things we aren’t keeping. I trained up this week on how to update the collections management system, which means I have no excuse not to do the technical side of the project. Luckily there’s a batch option otherwise it’s going to take me years.
I’ve also had a lot of meetings: some have been in my role as a union rep, supporting colleagues who are impacted by the restructuring process in the museum. They have all impressed me with their passion for not only their roles but also for the conservation work of the museum. Working at one of the smaller sites means I don’t often have contact with other departments, so I’m gaining a much wider view of the museum’s work and also getting to meet (if only virtually) some people who really do espouse the values the museum wants from us: collaboration, generosity, integrity. A couple of them have even made me want to cheer during the meetings, which so far I have resisted.
I finished my socks during a meeting where I had a ‘watching brief’, and I’ve been working on the Galaxy in a Bottle – So. Many. Black. Stitches. It’s looking lovely and I like that you can still see the sparkly fabric through the stitching. I don’t think I’m going to be able to frame it in a hoop, sadly, but this may the time to experiment with framing on stretcher bars.
February is finished on the temperature tree – you can see how warm most of the month has been by all the green leaves. Winter chill seems to have returned with a vengeance though, so March might look very different.
Next up this week is the Tunisian crochet socks, as I have finally found the tension. They’ll be my commute project as I get to go to the office twice this week! The kids are also going back to school in what feels like a highly-organised operation by the teachers. I think they are looking forward to it, and I know I am.
Today I am going to start making this suffragette sash for the Ireland sister. I can’t remember the last time I did any fabric painting so this should be fun!
So that’s been my week! Cross your fingers that the return to school goes well, and I’ll see you same time, same place next week.
What I’ve been reading:
Hardware/The Big Dig/Deep Pockets (Carlotta Carlyle) – Linda Barnes