Living The Dream #3 Rose Tainted Glasses (sic)

People are sometimes accused of painting a rose tinted picture of their lives online. I myself have been know to post a positively skewed status or ten in my time, but we live in a world where the President of the United States claims to have invented the word “fake”, and that’s more than enough real life for this writer to deal with.

It’s not that my life is idyllic. I’m about to lose three teeth (at least), and my bank balance resembles James Bond’s code name at the moment. The car became a nest for some sort of rodent recently, probably rendering it a total right off. I’m supporting my girlfriend through a double bereavement, and I’m constantly concerned that somebody is going to pull the rug out from under my feet, burst my bubble, and insist that I get “a real job”.

But why would I want to share all that troublesome shit with the world; or at the very least with the handful of people who are generous enough with their time to read my stuff (thank you, dear reader. After all, I’m sure you have plenty of other things you could be doing).

I try to look for the positives in most things. It’s not always easy, but it is possible. The teeth currently hurt but they won’t once they’ve fallen out, there’s a few hundred pound going into my account shortly; a grant to take part in a Professional Development writing programme, and the car was already close to becoming a wreck; requiring a new suspension after just about surviving Festival No6. There’s nothing anyone can do about the bereavement. The best I can offer is a shoulder to cry on, some empathy, and as many hugs as required. 

As for the last fly in my ointment, it’s a worry I live with every day. You see, people like me don’t become writers. We’re fodder for the cannon and the factory floor, nothing more. We’re hothouse flowers, forced through a mincer to make up a willing workforce. À hundred years ago I’d be lucky if I got the chance to read, let alone write.

I suffer from imposter syndrome. I was raised to put in a hard day’s graft for an honest wage, and to be grateful for my good fortune. Where my reckless desire to stick two fingers up to the hive came from, I have no idea. When we were at school, we were taken on a careers trip to the dole office, as it was known at the time, where we were shown how to look for work, and how to sign on.

I once made the mistake of putting “Writer” down as a career I was interested in pursuing, whilst filling in my “Job Seeker’s Profile” during a brief period “between jobs”. This did not go down well with my “advisor”.

“I think we can get rid of this, don’t you Mr Stone?” she queried, as she went through my preferences. I suspected the question might have been rhetorical, as I sat and watched her delete my dream from the screen. I didn’t say anything of course. You don’t mess with a job advisor, not if you want to eat while you’re off work. 

Then there’s the fact that I strongly suspect I write drivel, and not the kind of stuff a “real writer” composes.

“Of course you like it” I say to my girlfriend when she compliments me on something I’ve been working on. “You love me, so you’re bound to say you like it”. This does not go down well.

“So you need total strangers to tell you you can write, before you’ll believe it” my girlfriend accuses. Ermm, yes.

And so I babble on for another post, and I pray that I won’t get caught out for being a fraud. No, I don’t view my life through rose tinted glasses, because it is tainted by the fear that I’m not a real writer, that I’m just putting off getting “a real job”. At the same time, I’ll be damned if I’m going to pretend life is shit. I’ve been up that particular creek before, and not only did I not have a paddle, I didn’t even have a canoe. I was also up to my neck in the stuff, with people rushing by me, in speedboats.

When was this? Why, it was back when I had “a real job” of course.

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Living The Dream #2 Mind Your Language

I was sitting sipping overpriced coffee from a tiny cup, in a nondescript hotel bar in the centre of the city. The wafer thin biscuit they’d put on the teeny saucer was no compensation for the miserly brew.

There were more mirrors than walls in the place. I guess the owners either wanted to make the bar look bigger, or were catering for a clientele that was very much in love with itself. I suspect it was the latter.

 

Anyway, I was there with a small cast of fellow actors. See what I mean about the clientele? (That was a joke by the way. A lot of the actors I’ve met are racked with self-doubt). We were rehearsing for two murder mysteries coming up later that month. I say “rehearsing”, but there are no scripts for these 3 hours + performances. They are totally improvised. What we were doing was cementing our characters’ backgrounds and connections.

 

If on the night of a performance for example, someone asked my character what colour my fiance’s front door is, my answer would match my fiance’s; or indeed that of any other actor whose character might have visited my fiancé on a regular basis. Yes, we go into that much detail, even though the chances of being asked to confirm the colour of a door are slim to say the least, but it has happened.

 

When we’d finished figuring out where we’d all been on what dates, and with whom, and what colours our respective doors were, we settled down for a natter, and I somehow had to find a way to subtly steer the conversation around to the subject of my imminent move to North Wales of course.

 

“Did I tell you I’m moving to North Wales next month?!” I declared, out of the blue; already swiping through my tablet, looking for photos of where I was moving to, which my girlfriend had teasingly sent to me via Messenger. And as for my grin, well I doubt I’ve worn a smile that wide since I was a child on Christmas Eve, telling my parents that Santa was coming.

 

“Yes”, said my poor beleaguered colleagues with a collective sigh. Undeterred, I continued. “It’s the language I’m worried about” I confessed. At which point, a young Polish actor piped up.

“Do not worry. Everybody speaks English there” she said, with a better grasp of English than many native speakers I’ve met over the years. Nevertheless, she was wrong.

 

“Not where I’m moving to. About 80% of the population are Welsh speakers where I’ll be living” I explained. Another actor (and fellow writer) confirmed this. “They’re massive on the language in North Wales, very passionate about it”.

 

To illustrate my dilemma, I mentioned about the time just recently, during a visit there, when I’d almost lost my cash card to the local ATM. I’d been on auto pilot at the time, and had forgotten to choose the “English” option on the touch screen. I was suddenly staring at a string of letters that made no sense to me at all.

I opted for the Big Red Button with a massive X on it, then snatched my card out of the slot, and started again.

 

Even after my move, it took me five months to figure out that we weren’t driving past Gwasanaethau Services every time we drove into the village, but that “Gwasanaethau” was the Welsh word for services. In my defence, I was usually distracted by the spectacular scenery during those journeys.

 

I have also had to tackle the toilet problem since moving here, not knowing the Welsh for either “Ladies” or “Gents”. Often there are pictures on doors to help you out; the basic trouser/skirt combination usually does the trick.

But a few months back, I did my first bit of acting work around these parts; as an extra in a Welsh Soap*. We were on location in a church, and during a break I needed to pee. Off I went to the loo, only to return a minute or two later. I approached another actor.

 

“Excuse me, I need the toilet and…”

“They’re just out the door, turn left, then left again” the actor directed.

“Erm…I don’t know which is the Gents” I confessed sheepishly.

The actor told me which door to go through, and I went off again, praying I wasn’t about to be set up for some traditional prank that the Welsh like to play on us English**.

 

I know two Welsh words so far; “know” as being able to speak them, spell them, and know what they mean. The first word is “Llys”*** and the other is “Diolch”. It’s a start.

 

Speaking of “starts” and the Welsh language, my first Welsh Beginner’s lesson is tomorrow morning; which also happens to be my 54th birthday. My girlfriend has suggested I ask her fourteen year old son (aka “The Youth”) to help me out, bless her naïve cotton socks. I’m sure we all know how that would work out.

 

ME: What’s the Welsh for “I like your hair”

 

THE YOUTH: Erm…it’s “Rwyf wrth fy modd â’ch gwaelod”**** (wanders off sniggering to himself)

 

It never crossed my mind not to learn Welsh once I knew I’d be moving here. Why would it? After all, during that rehearsal just over a year ago, my Polish friend never once expected us to understand Polish, in order for us to communicate.

 

“Ah, but Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, and the official language of the UK is English”, some have argued; to which my reply is “cau i fyny!”

 

Anyway, we’ll see soon enough whether it’s possible to teach this old dog some new tricks, but until then, diolch for reading.

*The soap is called “Rownd A Rownd”

**For the record, I consider myself a Yorkshire-man first and foremost

***See Living The Dream #1

**** This joke will only work if the translation is correct.

Living The Dream #1 Translation Experiment

“Ydych chi erioed wedi difaru symud yma?” Gofynnodd ffrind, wrth i ni sefyll yn y drws ystafell wydr a gwylio cynnydd yn lleuad llawn dros y goedwig silwedig, i’r chwith o’r byngalo symudais i mewn i flwyddyn yn ôl i’r dydd.

Gwelwyd y wiwer goch yn y goedwig honno yn ddiweddar. Nid wyf wedi gweld un fy hun eto, ond rhowch amser iddo. Mae hwn yn le lle mae’n rhaid i chi aros am bethau, hyd yn oed pan fyddwch ar frys.

 

Yr unig synau y gallem eu clywed ar y pryd oedd y twit a dau o ddau dylluanod yn gorwedd rhywle yn y coed cyfagos, a fy anhwylderau anhygoel fy hun wrth ofyn y cwestiwn dwp hwn eto; a chan gyfaill sy’n ddeallus iawn.

 

I fod yn deg i’m ffrind a’r chwilwyr blaenorol hynny, mae’n bosib y byddaf yn colli rhai agweddau ar fy mywyd *. Roedd y cyfle i fod yng nghanol amgylchedd prysur a masnachol helaeth i ddechrau. Neu y cyfle i ddod i mewn i fy hoff siop gomic llyfr annibynnol ** a thori drwy’r nofelau graffeg pryd bynnag yr oeddwn eisiau. Yna roedd y tocynnau rhad ac am ddim a gefais yn rheolaidd; i fynd i’r theatr, yr opera, y bale, dangosiadau ffilm, a gigs cerddoriaeth, yn gyfnewid am adolygiad. Peidiwch ag anghofio y ffaith fy mod yn agos at fy nghynhonnell incwm sylfaenol ar y pryd, roedd Cwmni Mystery Murder I wedi ei ail-ddatgan; y gwaith a gymerodd i mi o gwmpas y wlad.

 

Roedd y rhain i gyd yn bethau yr wyf yn hapus i roi’r gorau iddi am gariad pan oeddwn yn codi ffynion ac yn symud y rhan fwyaf o’m nwyddau bydol i Ogledd Cymru, felly gallai fy nghariad a minnau setlo i lawr gyda’i gilydd. Symudom i mewn i gartref ysblennydd a ddarganfuwyd i’r ddau ohonom, yn agos at y man lle bu’n byw ers bron i 30 mlynedd.

Roedd gan ein cartref newydd ddigon o le ar gyfer ein casgliadau llyfrau cyfunol, ynghyd â rhywle arall y gallem barcio ein car a’n fan, ac mae lle i westai allu ffitio â’u cerbyd hefyd. Ddim yn gyffrous gan hynny? Byddech chi petaech chi’n byw o gwmpas yma.

 

Lle nad yw fy nghariad a minnau’n byw yn dawel, ond rydych chi’n fwy tebygol o weld gwiwer goch cyn i chi weld tŷ arall o fewn pellter cerdded i’n cartref sydd â pharcio oddi ar y ffordd a modurdy. Yn wir, rydych chi’n fwy tebygol o weld pentwr o gac ceffyl creigiog yn y ffordd.

Mae’r rhanbarth hon o’r wlad yn ddrysfa o lonydd cul, ac mae gan y rhan fwyaf o bobl yma y rhagwelediad i wthio eu drychau adain pan fyddant yn parcio eu cerbyd. Na, efallai na fyddai fy nghariad a minnau’n byw mewn palas, ond pan ddaw i barcio o gwmpas y rhannau hyn, rydym yn byw fel breindal.

 

Felly, mae fy hen ffrind a minnau yn sefyll yn y drws haul. Mae’r ystlumod eisoes wedi ein diddanu gyda’u sioe nos. Mae’r nosweithiau yn dod i mewn, ac felly mae’r sioeau hyn yn mynd yn gynharach gyda phob nosw.

Dilynodd un ystlum mor agos fel ein bod ni’n camu’n ôl, oherwydd ofn y gallai ein taro ni. Rydym wedi gweld dwy sêr saethu hyd yn hyn, a beth mae fy ffrind yn honni ei fod yn Venws. Gallai fod yn iawn. Mae cael gafael ar thelesgop da yn uchel ar y rhestr o bethau yr hoffwn eu gwneud, unwaith y byddaf yn gwneud digon o fyw boddhaol o’m ysgrifennu; er mwyn manteisio mwy ar y diffyg llygredd golau yma.

 

Roeddwn i’n gwybod y byddai’r un lleuad arian y byddai fy ffrind a minnau’n gwylio yn cwympo allan o’r tu ôl i’r treetops yn fuan yn disgleirio ar y ddau gopa mynydd y gallaf eu gweld o gefn y byngalo yn ystod y dydd.

Rydw i wedi byw yma am flwyddyn yn awr, ac yn gweld llwch eira y brigiau hynny yn ystod fy ail tymor yma. Ar hyn o bryd dyma’r adeg o’r flwyddyn pan fydd coed yn colli eu gwyrdd a throi aur a brown.

 

Pe baem yn sefyll ar ddrws y gegin, i flaen y byngalo, byddech chi bron yn gallu gwneud trydydd mynydd mynydd yn y pellter, wedi’i chwistrellu â goleuadau cartref oddi wrth un o’r pentrefi cyfagos; yn ogystal â’r goleuadau teithio prin hwyr y nos yn y car, beicwyr, neu gerddwr yn troi eu ffordd ar hyd un o’r lonydd. Yr unig sŵn i’w glywed o’r ochr hon i’n cartref fyddai pryfed rhaeadr, llai na phum munud o gerdded i ffwrdd.

 

Gallaf gofio munud o siom ar ein noson gyntaf yn y lle newydd pan glywais y swn honno, gan ei gamgymryd ar gyfer y tyfiant cyfarwydd o draffig y gallaf ei glywed yn gyson yn y cefndir pan oeddwn i’n byw yn Leeds. Roeddwn i’n arfer byw dim ond ugain munud o gerdded ar hyd y llwybr doll o ganol y ddinas; yn ddelfrydol i ddyn sy’n ceisio gwneud ei farc ar fap diwylliannol dinas fawr, ond nid yn union o gymorth i “fynd i ffwrdd o’r cyfan”.

Cymerodd foment neu bump i mi weithio allan mai’r swn yr oeddwn i’n gallu ei glywed, yn wir, yn ddŵr o un o’r ddwy afon gerllaw, yn cwympo dros y creigiau a’r cwymp, a pheidio â chwythu’r peiriannau, gyda’u gwyllt yn ysgogi gwenwynau i’r atmosffer.

 

Mae gan fy nghartref enw, nid rhif. Fe’i gelwir yn “Llys Menai”. Mae’n Gymraeg. Ystyr “Llys” yw neuadd, llys, neu palas o ryw fath; er fel y soniais eisoes, nid ydym yn byw mewn palas, rydym yn byw mewn byngalo.

Mae’r “Menai” yn yr enw yn le, fel yn yr Afon Menai cyfagos. Fodd bynnag, os ydych chi’n cyfieithu’r gair “Menai” o Lithwaneg i’r Saesneg, mae’n golygu “celf”.

 

Rwy’n hoffi hynny, mae’n briodol. Lle rydw i’n byw bellach yn hafan ar gyfer artistiaid, awduron, cerddorion, crewyr. Rwyf o fewn pellter cerdded i fynyddoedd, rhaeadrau, caeau, llynnoedd, afonydd, coedwigoedd, a gyrru pymtheg munud o arfordir Cymru. Ewch i arddangosfa gelf o gwmpas y rhannau hyn, ac rwy’n gwarantu y byddwch yn gweld mynyddoedd a’r môr yn cael eu harddangos. Rwy’n byw mewn Parc Cenedlaethol. Daw pobl am eu gwyliau yma. Yn wir, mae bwthyn gwyliau ar frig ein gyrfa.

 

Gan fod Northerner, dosbarth gweithgar lliw-wlân, yn byw mewn baradwys gwledig fel hyn, mae pethau breuddwydion; y math o freuddwydion sy’n gorfodi pobl i dreulio wythnos yn wythnosol allan mewn swydd y maent yn ei gasáu, fel y gallant fynd i ffwrdd a chuddio am bythefnos unwaith y flwyddyn, am wyliau.

Felly, wrth ateb y cwestiwn yr wyf wedi ei ofyn dro ar ôl tro dros y deuddeng mis diwethaf dywedais “Ydych chi wedi gweld lle rwy’n byw?”

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Living The Dream #1

“Do you ever regret moving here?” asked a friend, as we stood at the conservatory door and watched a full moon rise over the silhouetted forest, to the left of the bungalow I moved into a year ago to the day.

Red squirrels have been seen in that forest recently. I’ve not spotted one myself yet, but give it time. This is a place where you often have to wait for things, even when you’re in a hurry.

 

The only sounds we could hear at the time were the twit and twoo of two owls perched somewhere in the nearby trees, and my own incredulous silence at being asked this stupid question again; and by a supposedly intelligent friend.

 

To be fair to my friend and those previous inquisitors, it is possible I might miss certain aspects of my city life*. There was the opportunity to be at the centre of a busy and commercially abundant environment for a start. Or the chance to be able to pop into my favourite independent comic book shop** and browse through the graphic novels whenever I wanted. Then there were the many free tickets I received on a regular basis; to go the theatre, the opera, the ballet, film screenings, and music gigs, in return for a review. Not forgetting the fact I was close to my primary source of income at the time, a Murder Mystery Company *** I freelanced for; work that took me all around the country.

 

These were all things I happily gave up for love when I upped sticks and moved most of my worldly goods to North Wales, so my girlfriend and I could settle down together. We moved into a roomy home she’d found for the two of us, close to where she’d been living for nearly thirty years.

Our new home had plenty of space for our combined book collections, plus it also had somewhere we could park both our car and our van, and still have room for a guest to be able to fit their vehicle in as well. Not excited by that? You would be if you lived around here.

 

Where my girlfriend and I reside isn’t palatial, but you’re more likely to see a red squirrel before you spot another house within walking distance of our home that has both off road parking and a garage. In fact you’re more likely to see a pile of rocking horse shit in the road.

This region of the country is a maze of narrow winding lanes, and most people here have the foresight to push their wing mirrors in when they park their vehicle. No, my girlfriend and I might not live in a palace, but when it comes to parking around these parts, we live like royalty.

 

So, my old friend and I are stood at the conservatory door. The bats have already entertained us with their nightly show. The evenings are drawing in, and so these shows are getting earlier with every dusk.

One bat swooped so close as to make us step back, for fear it might hit us. We have seen two shooting stars so far, and what my friend claims to be Venus. He could be right. Getting hold of a good telescope is high on the list of things I want to do, once I make a decent enough living from my writing; in order to take more advantage of the lack of light pollution here.

 

I knew that the same silver moon my friend and I were watching creep out from behind the treetops would soon shine down on the two mountain peaks I can see from the back of the bungalow during the day.

I saw snow dust those peaks during my second season in this region. Right now it is that time of year when trees are losing their green and turning gold and brown.

 

If we were stood at the kitchen door, to the front of the bungalow, you would just about be able to make out a third mountain peak in the distance, sprinkled with home glows from one of the neighboring villages; as well as the rare late night travelling lights of a car, cyclist, or walker winding their way along one of the lanes. The only sound to be heard from this side of our home would be the rush of a waterfall, less than five minutes’ walk away.

 

I can remember a moment of disappointment on our first night in the new place when I heard that noise, mistaking it for the familiar growl of traffic I could constantly hear in the background when I lived in the city; a mere twenty minutes’ walk along the toll path from the city centre. This was ideal for a man trying to make his mark on the cultural map of a major city, but not exactly conducive to “getting away from it all”.

It took me a moment or five to work out that the noise I could hear was in fact water from one of the two nearby rivers, crashing over rocks and falling, and not the roar of engines, with their exhausts spewing poisons into the atmosphere.

 

My new home has a name, not a number. It is called “Llys Menai”. It is Welsh. “Llys” means hall, court, or palace of some sort; although as I’ve already mentioned, we don’t live in a palace, we live in a bungalow.

The “Menai” in the name is a place, as in the nearby Menai Straits. However, if you translate the word “Menai” from Lithuanian into English, it means “art”.

 

I like that, it is appropriate. Where I now live is a haven for artists, writers, musicians, creators. I am within walking distance of mountains, waterfalls, fields, lakes, rivers, woods, and a fifteen minute drive from the Welsh coast. Go to an art exhibition around these parts, and I guarantee you will see mountains and the sea on display. I live in a National Park. People come for their holidays here. In fact there is a holiday cottage at the top of our drive.

 

As a dyed-in-the-wool working class Northerner, residing in a rural paradise like this is the stuff of dreams; the kind of dreams that compel people to spend week in, week out in a job they hate, just so they can run away and hide for a fortnight once a year, for a holiday.

So, in answer to the question I’ve repeatedly been asked over the past twelve months I say “Have you seen where I live?”

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* That city being Leeds, Yorkshire

** OK Comics

*** Murder One

 

 

Live

Some thoughts and photographs about live music, by my girlfriend. Coincidentally, we share an early live music experience; despite her being a Dartford lass, and me being a northerer. And that shared experience was brought to us by a band from the Midlands, somewhere in the middle (natch)

DLB Photography

Festival No.6 2014 212 (2)Festival No.6 2014 643 (2)Green Man Festival 2015 529 (2)IMG_9170 (2)IMG_9259 (2)

Gigs and live music have played an important part in my life since I saw my first band at the age of twelve. The memory is still vivid. It was 1978 or 79; my first year at secondary school. My mum had allowed me to go along with my class mate Marie Smith and her older brother, who acted as responsible adult. He was just sixteen and I had a crush on him, although  I can’t for the life of me remember his name now. I know it was one of those years because Marie left our school at the end of the first year and we lost touch. I was a small, excited, sta-pressed trousered, Fred Perry Shirt and monkey boot wearing ska lover and I was as giddy as hell at the prospect of my first gig.

The Specials played Rainbow Theatre in London as part of the…

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Welsh business, Halen Mon salt and taking the plunge into self-employment

A thought provoking and informative piece about self-employment in North Wales

Moel Faban Suppers

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There’s no doubt that Wales is a nation of self-employed and small business owners. My partner, when he first moved here from Leeds and started to get to know people, would ask what they did for a living and was constantly met with a series of unexpected responses.  “I’m a…poet, yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner, vegan cake maker, photographer, musician, mushroom grower, actress, chakra dance teacher, gong therapist, outdoor instructor, silversmith, the voice of the Welsh Peppa Pig!…. finally he asked me if I knew anyone with a ‘normal’ job?

Err, the answer to that is probably no. But I do know an extraordinarily large number of self-employed people.

Figures from a House of Commons Briefing paper 2016  report 5.5 million businesses listed in the UK with 99% of them being small to medium-sized, although 96% are considered micro businesses (employing less than 10 people) while the number of sole traders has…

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