An Unremarkable Photograph

I have a photograph tucked into the corner of the window ledge behind a chipped beaker of pencils.  The pencils I use regularly, the photograph I hardly look at. It’s an unremarkable photograph: I’m dressed in a green anorak and standing in front of a green hut; in fact, the greens are so similar they jostle with each other a little in jocular sibling rivalry. If I were standing a little more to the left, I’d disappear from view completely, camouflaged by the hills on the other side of the estuary.  My expression is hard to read – I’m squinting into the sun and smiling slightly.  My smile of choice is usually wide and, some would say, excessive so this shy smile is unusual – it doesn’t quite fit – but more of that later.

I have lived amongst words all my life. They people my world.  It was no surprise to many when I became a teacher; I love language, literature (poetry in particular) and I hope was able to communicate that love to my students. Having said that, I would not term myself a writer.   A teacher, yes, but a writer? No. I’m afraid, I just didn’t have the time.

Anyone with full-time commitments will know how valuable holidays are; they are luxuries to be grabbed greedily with both hands.  When I was still living and working in Spain it so happened that one of the occasional national holidays, the Dia de la Hispanidad, which is always on 12th October, fell on a Friday, which meant that a long weekend beckoned.

We decided to fly back to the UK to visit the Gower peninsula in South Wales.  It was the first time I’d visited there and was immediately bowled over by its beauty. The expansive beaches, the limestone cliffs, the wildlife were all wonderful – but these weren’t the only highlights for me.

We took a detour to a small town that boasted a castle, a café and had some connection with a local poet.

The sea breeze was brisk, tugging at my hair roots as soon as I stepped out of the car.  The halyards on the little sailing boats clanked in complaint, as they knocked against the mast whenever the wind changed direction; the herring gulls called across the estuary as sunlight shattered the pools further out along the beach.  It was a rough and tumble of a landscape, all hustle and bustle, all perpetually in motion.

But this wasn’t what I was looking for.

We skirted around the castle to the right and walked along the path by the estuary.  It was good to feel the sea air bite into your lungs.  I could hear my breath begin to rasp a little as we continued our coast walk. We called in at a boat house briefly, checking on directions and promised to return soon.

And so we climbed.

I stretched out to the stone wall, partly to steady myself, partly to feel its sun-cheered warmth against my hand, as both breath and bones complained at the unexpected exercise. We continued to walk on.

And then, there it was in front of me, waiting shyly at the corner of the cliff road, so close to the edge it could be about to float away across the estuary, carried by the gulls’ call and the October wind. The green hut I’d been searching for.

Peering inside I could see a desk, artwork cut from magazines, postcards, the odd ball of paper scrunched up near the tin bucket waste paper bin – and although I knew this was all fake, all folly, staged no doubt for tourists like me, my hands began to shake. To be honest, they shook so much that I had to steady myself against the wall again.

I smiled and turned to speak to my husband just as he took my photograph. Me, standing in front of Dylan Thomas’ writing shed on Cliff Road, Laugharne.  That was the first time I truly entertained the idea of being a writer.  I realised that if I wanted to take my writing seriously, then I should be a writer, seriously.

When we turned to walk back to Dylan Thomas’ boat house, where we had stopped earlier to check on our directions, I thought how his birthday would be in a few days’ time on 27th October and how everything I had seen and heard that day, the bird calls, the sharp breeze, the light, all of this was an integral part of his poetry and had seeped unawares into my own experiences too.

Dylan Thomas once said that, “The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.”  Equally, I knew that I would never be the same and I was very happy with that.

“O may my heart’s truth
            Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning”
(from ‘Poem in October’ by Dylan Thomas)

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