44) Lockdown 20: Wales

Marilyn Campbell is a friend and writer who divides her time between Wales and Aix-en-Provence. We are both members of an on-again, off-again writers group in Aix called The Plumes. Here is her report from Wales.

View from the upper valley towards Abergavenny

We live in the United Kingdom but just now, it is in some ways less United than ever. Our nation is made up of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Centuries of invaders from the South East pushed the Celtic Nations West and North. They live with their distinctive language and culture to the fringes of these islands. The invasion of Covid 19 has followed the same path.

It infected London and the South of England first and hardest. Here in Wales we are at least two weeks behind, and our infection rate is lower. The governments of the devolved nations, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have chosen their own routes to cope with the pandemic adapted to our local populations and the spread of the virus.

We are lucky to live in a small market town named Abergavenny. It is famously known as ”The gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park.“ It is a poplar destination for tourists. From the beginning of the virus outbreak, the Welsh Government decided to close our National Parks and glorious beaches to non locals.The police stopped English tourists close to the border and told them to go home. Even now, with the latest Lockdown easing we are only allowed to go out five miles to wave or shout at family or friends observing social distancing. The rules are much tighter than in England and more in line with Scotland and Ireland. The nationalists are no doubt happy to see the national borders more clearly drawn.

One of our seven hills called The Blorenge.

Politics aside we could never have coped with an influx of outsiders in our stretched local hospitals which have so far just about managed. The support and respect for our National Health Service (NHS) has never been higher. There has been an upsurge of community spirit. Otherwise closed restaurants have provided meals for hospital staff and owners of holiday cottages have made them available for those on long shifts unable to get home. Locals have made extra scrubs from old curtains and plastic visors on 3D printers rigged up in their garages.

One of our old 17th century pubs, The King’s Arms.

The town Abergavenny is named after the River Gavenny, It sits in a natural bowl surrounded by seven hills. They encircle us like a comforting hug, called a “CWTCH” in Welsh. We have been teased by one of the sunniest spring seasons on record. The skies, pollution free, are clear and star gazing a joy. Lockdown rules have always allowed a daily walk for exercise so we have had time to watch the wild flowers smoother the local flood plain, known as the Castle Meadows . At the rear of our home is a symbolic circle of standing stones. Centuries ago the Romans built a fort in the town , we have a Norman Castle, and many buildings that survive from Tudor times. Local roots run deep.

Abergavenny castle keep.

View from Marilyn’s apartment overlooking St. Mary’s Priory.

Bridge built in the 1500s still carrying local traffic and resisting floods.

Spring is lambing time. We have many more sheep than people in the high country. Nature has entertained us with flourishing of new life emboldened in the quieter atmosphere. The bird song is only broken by sirens from ambulances and noise of helicopters arriving at our local hospital. It is normally a quiet place only hassled by the accidents of over enthusiastic climbers or racing motor cyclists.Their eerie wail reminding us the deadly virus is stalking out there.

Spring lambs in nearby field.

On a personal level we do not shop. The local shops and market vendors re-invented their businesses to bring out deliveries of fresh produce.The town is a well known gourmet centre with a famous annual Food Festival. Our many restaurants have reorganised themselves to cope with take out and deliveries. We have a milkman, a farm fresh egg man, a newspaper boy, and a regular supermarket delivery. One restaurant has featured a menu from a different country every weekend. This weekend is Tom Jones’ birthday so everything Welsh. We are probably eating too well as my expanding waste line will testify.

Silent small businesses in Nevil St. Abergavenny

We are endlessly participating in “ZOOM” meetings to improve our French language and Art Appreciation. The Hay on Wye Literary Festival transmissions on “HAY PLAYER” have been wonderful and my husband is looking forward to the Cheltenham Science Festival online on “U-TUBE” next week. Theatres and musicians are struggling but we do our best to support them. I have managed to write and print a weekly local news bulletin for neighbours who are not up to coping with the internet. We have impossibly long lists of recommendations on the BBC I-player and Netflix yet to watch. I have read lots and finally finished knitting a jumper that it is now too hot to wear.

BUT, just outside our close family we know of those who did not survive this virus. We haven’t been able to visit any of our family since February. Our six grandchildren are not going back to school yet and wave at us on screen like we are gold fish in a bowl. Conflicting advice and endless graphs leave us confused. Our son and wife, both doctors, are braced for another spike of infections as the lockdown eases.

It may seem that we are lucky to be in a golden place but nevertheless it feels more like a golden cage and the outside world scary. Hopefully we will be reassured enough to venture forth when our cautious Welsh Government decides to open the door and let us out.

The Sugarloaf mountain. There is a thriving vineyard on its slopes.

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