Thursday 7 April 2011

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to Wales I go

I'm away to spend a weekend in a Welsh stately home. No, I haven't managed to shake off my proletarian social circles and elevate myself to the Wooster classes. I'm going to Gregynog, the country mansion bequeathed to the University of Wales / Prifysgol Cymru for educational purposes.

It's the 2011 conference of the Association for Welsh Writing in English, this year's theme being Wales and Revolution. Given that my main academic interest is Welsh literature and my obsession is politics, especially revolutionary politics, this thing is catnip. If only I'd had the time to write a paper for it.

Highlights for me include Matthew Jarvis's 'Writing for Revolution? Reading the Red Poets', H Gustav Klaus's 'Voices of Anger and Hope, 1840s-1940s' (I drew on his work for my PhD), and Röms and Edwards' 'Restaging a Revolution: Wales' First 'Happening' (Cardiff 1965), but all the others look uniformly fascinating.

The other attraction is that Gregynog is a beautiful house set in wonderful parkland: plentiful opportunities for photography. It's good socially too: being outside Wales, I rarely get the chance to catch up with those in my field, some of whom taught me at BA and MA level. I can pick up new ideas, moan about work, and of course buy a lot of books.

The final advantage is that it's one of the few places in the country which doesn't have a mobile phone signal, or it didn't last time I was there: it sits in a bowl below rolling hills. No TV, no phone, perhaps not even wi-fi. Just clever people being passionate about important things. Good job there's a bar.

The place is also home to Gwasg Gregynog (the Gregynog Press): they make the most beautiful books and prints, none of which I'll ever be able to afford (like The Romantics in Wales, a snip at £795, or this bargain £150 edition of The Afanc King and the Sons of Teyrnon with linocut illustrations and beautiful typography). Birdwatching fans with deeper pockets might like Of A Feather: Avian Collective Nouns and Terms of Assembly, accompanied by a number of beautiful woodcuts. A snip at £1750. Any graduating students looking for a way to express their gratitude for three years of enlightenment and learned repartee are welcome to pop a copy in the post.

Actually, the Press annoys me. It makes the most beautiful, hand-crafted books and prints, but these things cost a lot to make. William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement aimed to demonstrate that beauty wasn't necessarily expensive: they largely failed, but the intention was there. For Gwasg Gregynog to sustain itself selling tiny runs of deeply obscure titles to very rich people seems undemocratic, to say the least. I'm torn: the existence of these objects is a good thing: the exclusiveness certainly isn't.

This is Kyffin Williams' Rhosgadfan, printed on specially-commissioned hand-made County Mayo paper, limited to 100 copies. Mmmm…

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