|To the mountain and secluded places...||
(extract from the 'early Sixties' section of the unpublished autobiography of David Calderwood)
...endeared all sorts of interesting people into the area of Wales where my grandparents lived - writers, poets and at least one dropout Oxford Don. These intellectuals attracted friends of like minds and the local pub the Brondanw Arms (run by my Auntie Neli and Uncle Jack) would buzz with stimulating conversation almost every evening. Neli and Jack offered all their customers amazing hospitality - little wonder it was such a popular “watering-hole". They were great times and had a huge influence on me. I was in awe of these people and I wanted to join their number above almost anything else in the world.
I will try to sketch you a picture of the bar and its regulars. First I must blow away the clouds of tobacco smoke. Everyone seemed to smoke back in those days. Ah, that's much better, now I see a clean, large room with a slate floor and (usually) a most welcoming open fire. At one end was a dartboard and at the other the bar. Tables, chairs and a couple of old Welsh settles were scattered around. The bohemian crowd's preference was for standing, perhaps this was to permit them more of an audience? The locals seemed to mix well with them but on closer inspection the customers were very definitely segregated into two groups. I will mention here three individuals that I knew. Philip O'Connor was a wonderful eccentric. I recall bumping into him in the middle of nowhere on the Croesor road. He wore long sideboards and walked with a stick. He addressed me with his squeaky, almost castrati voice, "David, do you enjoy drinking?” I told him that I did in moderation. Then he grasped me by the lapels and squeaked "Yes, but only excess is exciting!” Then he went on his way without another word. In his 1962 book ‘Living in Croesor’ he described the pub as "...partly a waiting room, where one might a lifetime wait for Godot..." That was an excellent description because there certainly was a great deal of philosophical dialogue in the place and not a little acting either. I'm sure that Beckett's characters Vladimir and Estragon would have been happy to sit in the corner and conduct their futile dialogue over a pint of the local beer.
Christopher Wordsworth, a literary reviewer and journalist, was yet another of the bohemians who drank in the bar. Later I was to envy the fact that he was tutored in Oxford by CS Lewis (a favourite author of mine). I had read a piece written by Chris (using the pseudonym A. N. Other) describing some of his experiences living rough in the barren moorlands of Snowdonia. I was shocked by the deprivation he suffered and thought back to my youth when I wrote to cousin Brian saying that I wanted to run away from home and do exactly the same thing. With hindsight I realised that I would have failed where he succeeded. Chris was a tough thinking man. Another regular was the artist Tom Kinsey. He struck me as a charming chap and always greeted me with kindness. An anarchist, mountain climber and CND supporter. I never did see any of his paintings but apparently they reflected mountain life brilliantly. Oh what fun we all had back in those splendid days...
At that time a sensational national Sunday Newspaper headline described the local bohemian community's activities as sexually immoral. This allegation was based on a recently published book and there was a link between the book's author and my old shorts-wearing work colleague Bob Emmett the chemist and ornithologist. Bob's sister Isabel was the author. She had written a fascinating and revealing text entitled ‘A North Wales Village, a social anthropological study’. In her book she disguised my home village's name by calling it "Llan" but her sketch map makes its location obvious to anyone who is familiar with the area. Isabel Emmett was married to a local person and based her work on observations between 1958 and 1962 when she lived in the locality. Her Ethnographic studies were most revealing; she spoke of the bohemian crowd in the pub saying that they comprised both an intelligencia and a handful of "penniless eccentrics" whose behaviour causes much amusement and food for talk in the parish. Additionally Isabel wrote about overheard conversations in the public bar where rather well spoken English folk describe the village as a type of Hampstead or even Greenwich Village!
I'm not sure if the book and newspaper headlines did bring about the bohemian flight from the environs of the village but I rather doubt it. I can't really imagine such publicity having any effect on that hardy tribe! However over time they drifted away and were replaced by others waiting in the wings. Of one thing I am sure - the village will always be a focal point for interesting people whatever the fashion of the day might be. The Brondanw Arms looks very different half a century on but it continues to maintain high standards of hospitality. This is the description given by TripAdvisor - "Have visited many times over the past two years and always find the hospitality and food to be of a very high standard. The food is wonderfully prepared and presented using fresh local ingredients. There is a well stocked bar and the owners are friendly and will go out of their way to ensure that you enjoy your visit - the very best gastro-pub in the region!"
Perhaps, as Dylan sang "the times were a-changing" but the thread of continuity runs on. The managers of the Brondanw Arms at the time of writing are Gruff and Carol Jones. Gruff is a grandson of my Auntie Neli and Uncle Jack. Long may it continue its ministry to the hungry and thirsty hoards who visit this most delightful part of Wales.