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The 2010 CONFERENCE Overview

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Geoffrey Winch


My Conference (2010)


Mary Simmonds


The weekend began on a slightly stressful, and, you could say, synchronistic note given the subject of our conference. I had arranged to travel to Street with Anna and Richard who live nearby in Cardiff, but when I was about to leave my home in Penarth early on Friday morning Richard called me to say that a water main had burst during the night flooding their road. However, the floodwater had already subsided by the time I arrived leaving only rivulets of water running through rust-coloured mud. We set off in a buoyant mood and as soon as we arrived at the Wessex Hotel the Powys magic began to work and we were all at ease.


Arriving early with Anna, our conference co-organiser, meant that Richard and I had time to do some walking.  Glastonbury beckoned so we followed the off road route which took us along the bank of the river Brue with the Tor in view at all times. The Brue is a deep, narrow channel of water which stretches in a straight line towards the Tor. At one time it must have been a reen (the Welsh spelling) or rhyne (its Somerset form), an early form of swamp drainage. The milky mist that hovered over the flat former marshland created a mystical atmosphere and I almost expected to catch sight of some Medieval pilgrims along the way.


Street to Glastonbury was a good hour’s walk so we opted to return by bus, in time for the start of the Conference. Anna and Louise had already welcomed everyone and allocated rooms which turned out to be very comfortable and well appointed. Some even had Jacuzzis! With everyone settled it was time to meet and greet Powys friends -- old and new -- over pre-dinner drinks. I relished my dinner after the long walk, and the wine and amusing company added to the enjoyment. It was soon time for our first speaker, Paul Weston, who talked about his synchronistic encounters with JCP’s novels and his particular regard for A Glastonbury Romance, which he had read three times.


The bookshop was the first stop in the morning after breakfast to buy some Llewelyn books before listening to Harald Fawkner, who never fails to impress. His is an unique approach to the novels of John Cowper Powys and this criticism of A Glastonbury Romance was no exception. I look forward to the reading the transcript.


One of the high points of the Conference in terms of pure enjoyment was Stephen Powys Marks’ presentation of his Great-great-great-great-grandmother Caroline Powys and her Journals.  Extracts, read by Kate Kavanagh, were often laced with humour. Who can forget Miss Strahen, a dinner guest at Hardwick House, who according to Caroline, compensated for her ugliness with her intelligence and happy disposition!


The sun came out in time for the afternoon walk up Wirral Hill. Paul Weston led our large group to the locations where many important pieces of action in the novel take place. The first was Pontparlčs bridge, the rather unassuming structure I had crossed the previous day now revealed as the scene of John Crow’s vision of Excalibur. Then onwards up Wirrall Hill to witness, thanks to the clearer weather,  the wonderful 360 degree view of the Somerset countryside. A few of us rounded off the afternoon by enjoying the tranquillity of the Chalice Well before hopping on the bus again and back to the hotel.


Dinner and good company were followed by more treats: firstly the mesmeric John Cowper Powys captured on film, ironically defending modern marriage in a debate with Bertrand Russell, then the evening’s entertainment devised by Louise de Bruin and Chris Wilkinson. This was the story of brother Will’s life in Africa, told through the words of his devoted sisters who travelled half the world to see him. Readings by Pat, Kate, Cicely, John, Richard, Sonia, Tim and Patrick, accompanied by projected photographs of the family in Africa, transported us to the slopes of Mount Kenya. The performances were so real that I felt that the spirits of those family members were with us in the softly lit room.


The warm evening meant that we could finish off a really enjoyable day with a glass or two of wine on the hotel patio. Admittedly we didn’t have the view of the river Dee and Dinas Bran as we do in Llangollen but the company was still good. The morning came too soon for some of us, but revived by several cups of coffee, we enjoyed Professor O’Hear’s philosophical interpretation of A Glastonbury Romance in which he draws parallels between JCP’s and Wagner’s treatment of the Grail story. All too soon it was time time to pack up and say goodbye for another year.


Tan tro nesa ffrindiau!


From The Powys Society Newsletter, No 71, Nov 2010

Mary Simmonds

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