I took a trip to our nearest town a few days ago, to buy some groceries. It is a short drive, from the Cych valley, up and over, to the broader valley of the Teifi. A pleasant route along largely single-track roads between high banks covered in, depending on the month, snowdrops, primroses, daffodils, bluebells, wild garlic or foxgloves. The journey is something of a mild roller coaster, with the last few miles, once you start dropping down toward the river, reminding me of coming into land in a aeroplane. The slow descent, the engine quiet, coasting, occasional course corrections, and short bursts of power to momentarily recover height, even the turbulence of bumps in the road, all add to the illusion. Then, finally, a moment of stillness, before re-joining the world of people and purposeful activity.
The ostensible purpose of the trip, to buy the groceries, was soon completed by a few minutes shopping in CK’s supermarket. CK’s is the older supermarket in the town. The staff, some young and some older are generally cheerful and I much prefer it to the shiny new Co-op with its loathsome automatic checkouts.
My shopping done the real point of the journey could be indulged in; a coffee in the Cwtch cafe in the high street. The Cwtch is one of the scruffier cafes in Emlyn, but the coffee is good, and, best of all, both the cup and milk start off good and hot and so the coffee can be enjoyed over half an hour or so, even if sat outside with a book, as I usually am. Being a regular customer, I have earned the greeting of ‘the usual’ when I arrive, which is an additional small pleasure.
I enjoy these little excursions; a pleasant change of scenery and the feeling of people around me after the quiet and sometimes enclosing atmosphere of the Cych. The little town is, of course, struggling, but today was Thursday, which is cattle market day, and so the car park and high street were busier than usual with the local farmers, with their 4 by 4s and trailers. I do not want to get into the pros and cons of vegetarianism, but, albeit unthinkingly, I enjoy the presence of the cattle market in the heart of this little town. The sounds and sights it brings, the business and the feeling of purpose and connection with broader community. Not new or original observations maybe, but real to me.
This feeling of community has been a new thing for me. I have been living here for coming up four years now, but its novelty has not worn off. It was not anticipated, though the friendliness of the people, as experienced on various trips and holidays, had always made an impression and was one of the chief reasons for moving here.
I think I hadn’t known I was missing the ‘community thing’ until I experience it. I have been lucky in the past, nearly always living in attractive places, and hardly meeting anyone who was actively unpleasant, but this is different. It is hard to pin down, but I characterise it to myself as a change of emphasis in human interaction. Here, whenever you meet someone, in whatever capacity, you seem to meet the person first and the role they occupy second. There is an immediacy and a human touch to the contact, which, in turn, seems to bring about a corresponding openness and relaxation in me. I find myself chatting in a way I never did while in England.
As I sit, reading, looking around, I enjoy the snatches of Welsh that come my way from people talking in the street. The Welsh language is supported at government level; not just taught within state schools, but actually prescribed as the language of teaching.
Because I enjoy it, I fear the loss of this local feel and culture. It is so vulnerable. Already areas I visit in Pembrokshire are becoming anglicised. One little community that lies at the end of a favourite walk of mine, made the news the other day for being, I think it was, 95 percent holiday homes. This area is not so honey-potish and so may be slower to change but I would hate to see this special quality go.
Of course, as an incomer myself, I am, to some extent, an agent of the very change I fear. But then maybe there is more than one way of incoming to a place. I hope I come with respect and humility and an appreciation of what is here.
It is soon time to head back. It has recently rained and I catch glimpses of the distant Preselis through gaps in the high hedges as they catch the sun and look bright in the clean air. I realize again how beautiful they are and how lucky I am to have ended up here and what a huge opportunity it presents. But how do I express all that I would like to express? Time is short I know, which begins to add impetus, but still, I have no real idea.