Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storyworks Blog: Back in time

Overweight but very well corseted, my Aunty Mali carried herself with distinction. Grey hair pulled into a bun, invariably smartly dressed and shod, she was well-known to many people in Wales and highly regarded as a conductor and leader of the Welsh hymn-singing festivals known as Cymanfa Ganu. She is particularly present in my mind at Christmas and New Year. Christmas Day she’d come to spend with my family and, at New Year, on several occasions she took me to the very special New Year celebrations out in the Gwaun Valley. We’d go there in Aunty Mali’s Morris Minor. It wasn’t a long journey. But for me as a child it was like going to another country.

In the Gwaun Valley in North Pembrokeshire, New Year was traditionally celebrated – and so far as I know still is – not on the commonly recognised New Year’s Eve but on January 13th, the New Year’s Eve of the old calendar. This has been so ever since the calendar changed back in 1752.  It has given me one of the memories I most treasure.

The Gwaun Valley is quite a short car journey from Fishguard where I grew up. Hen Nos Calan was celebrated was at the farmstead of Mr and Mrs Saunders Vaughan. They were great friends of Aunty Mali and Mrs Saunders Vaughan was well-known to me too. A short, squat woman with a loud unmistakeably coarse voice, she used to come into Fishguard each week with a huge basket full of fresh eggs and go round selling them to people she knew or who’d put in an order for them. Each week, she’d arrive at our house in Vergam Terrace. I loved listening to her talking.

Many, many people from throughout the Gwaun Valley would come to the Saunders Vaughan farmstead to celebrate Hen Nos Calan. There’d be a number of different sittings for supper. Old men. Children and young people. Middle-aged people. And finally the old and young women who’d been serving everyone else. After supper, and in several different rooms of the farmhouse, there would be singing. Old men in the smokeroom, young people in another room, everyone else in the large sitting room.

I think I was very lucky. When Aunty Mali took me to Nos Calan, it was when the Gwaun Valley celebration of it was at its height. Later as I recall, it somewhat declined although from what I understand, it has by now regained its place as an important annual event in various parts of Wales. I remember being quite shy of it. Because of my then lack of fluency in Welsh, I didn’t feel I fully fitted in. But, my goodness, am I happy that I was there and part of it on a number of different occasions. Those celebrations gave me a particular experience of Welshness I would otherwise not have had.

Not surprisingly, Welsh New Year has been much in my mind this week. Locked Down here in London and remembering those events from my childhood, I’ve felt a long way away from Pembrokeshire. Emotionally though, I recognise that those experiences of another time and another way of life are deeply inside me. Only loss of memory could threaten their ongoing place inside me. Writing this particular blog today brings them vividly back to mind. I feel glad to be writing it. Indeed, writing a weekly blog is generally a fascinating stimulus to memory and thought.

So, for me, that’s an extremely good reason for writing it.  It makes me remember things. It makes me think and it makes me very grateful that I have got readers. So, to any of you reading this at the start of 2021, I send best greetings. Blwyddyn Newydd Da. Happy New Year.

PS: Top photo is Aunty Mali wearing a jacket that now belongs to me. Bottom photo is me at a young age in a photographer’s studio holding a most peculiar toy.

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One Response to “Storyworks Blog: Back in time”

  1. Pam Says:

    What a lovely memory, Mary! And your description of the discrepancy in dates sent me on an exploratory journey around the Julian and the Gregorian Calendars. Apparently, Saudi Arabia adopted the Gregorian calendar in 2016.
    Now to explore Hen Now Calan.
    Happy New Year and may you get back to North Pembrokshire soon,
    Pam

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