Within the first hour of my exploration of Rhayader during my Residency with PeerGrouP and NTW, I found myself sitting on a bench, in the sun, stopping. And listening. It’s noisy for such a quiet place.
The clouds above me were striped, like finger tips and toes that have spent too long in the bath…and there began my journey…30 minutes on a bench, with an instruction to find Smithfield Auction…mmm…Smithfield Market in London was my first thought - meat. Sure enough, it was the auction for sheep. But it was not only that, it was a “who’s checking out who, who’s checking out what?” meeting - a language that sounded like gibberish, with looks and gestures that were barely perceptible, with the odd comment in English, “don’t rush now” and “you’re a bit overdressed”. You talking to me, or the sheep?
The first 2 days continued in a constant state of unknowing and therefore an active state of being present, opening all senses to receiving and welcoming in. I was overdressed for the Scout meeting too, I was not wearing shorts on the circuitous route to a hut in the middle of a frozen field, under a starry sky.
My first night was spent in a hidden house, a bathroom with 3 windows behind one another, with balustrades appearing through walls, the back door metres higher than the original front door and a railway sleeper holding up the first floor. All a bit topsy turvy; it used to be the Railway Inn, place of many a tipsy topsy turvy night. No wonder the police station and prison cells were built opposite the Railway Inn. Still overdressed, I began to be fascinated with lines. Perhaps needing a sense of order. Then there were the dams - calm lakes that suddenly became aggressive waterfalls with sheer drops, reservoirs for Birmingham’s water. And the railways that once existed to carry the workers from Rhayader to the building of these dams - let alone the mainline railway that once existed. And what about the internal lines? Families and communities divided, disconnected, joined at the hip? The station that now is a Council Depot and place of many a diverted road sign. Lines that connect. Lines that divide. Natural order, man-made chaos. That afternoon I was busy forging metal, hammering and curving. It was hot. I began to undress.
Mid way through our time there, was a night spent in Rhayader. There was a live band in the pub. Let’s say, a certain gentleman took a shine, well, more than that, he began to strip in front of me. I was still overdressed (I had to be, my zip was broken, so I was covering it up). Was this a mild taster of the yesteryears in Rhayader? Was this customary? I was still obsessed with lines - this one was curvaceous - and he kept his t-shirt on. Phew.
Next day, I decided to bike the original railway, from the town, past the purpose built Elan village, to the top reservoir. Order. I needed order. I wanted to feel the land, follow the lines to work, and back into town. Thousands of men worked on these dams. Thousands. The landscape was permanently changed, in many ways. How was I going to find a way to show what was interesting me, in my short stay here, to my peer group and community? There was a derelict house in town, where we had our first lunch, on horizontal doors. Wallpaper peeling off, in layers, snippets of stories emerging … I was curious and attracted by this state of undress and transformation. I found a map of the time this house was built. There were no reservoirs, no Elan Village at this time. There was a mainline railway. Standing in that house on the morning of our group “showings” I was perplexed. My mind in a state of chaotic undress, vulnerable, confused - which dress to wear today? And when I got out of my way, my nose appeared - my beautiful leather clown nose - and there was the clarity and safety of not knowing anything that was about to happen. Relief, at that point of élan, where Clown exists - the liminal space, between the lightning and thunder. And so my guests appeared, along with their sticks from Bud. And so we went on a journey of chaos, laughter, connection and revelation.
When I walked out of that house and shut the door, I was immediately joined on my last walk in town, by the above certain gentleman. Pure coincidence. His memory of that night was as clear as the first one above the Scout hut. And, he was appropriately dressed.
Thank you, generous Rhayaders, fellow creatives, PeerGrouP and NTW.
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