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Torfaen Tales

Morfydds Time Warp

Dozing, I was, vaguely aware of the springy, spiky heather beneath my body. The summer sunshine soothed my aching bones. It was altogether more respectful and lover-like than Thomas, who had left me there on the hillside once he’d had his fill.

I heard the dog panting through the undergrowth before it stuck its damp nose into my face. My hands went up as my eyes opened reluctantly.

“Duw!“ I groaned, fending off its muzzle. “A sloppy kisser you are, dog.”

“Jackson, where are you?” called a woman’s voice some distance off.

I sat up. “Jackson, are you?“ The black labrador met my gaze with melancholy brown eyes so I smoothed its head.

It barked suddenly, and the woman appeared, striding through the heather. Her clothes were strange, hardly those a woman would normally wear.

Something else seemed strange, but it took me a little longer to realise what was wrong. By that time the woman was upon me.

“Sorry, did he startle you?”

Posh, she sounded. Welsh, but posh. Her hair was a strange mass of tawny colours and her brown eyes were rimmed with blue.

“Ah, the dog’s all right,” I replied, picking bits of heather out of my hair and straightening my skirt. “Tell me, what has suddenly become of all the iron workings?”

“What do you mean?”

Surely she knew what iron workings were?

“The tramlines? The trams? The blast furnaces over by there? Except they’re not.”

“There haven’t been any iron workings around here for many years now,” she said, sitting herself down on a tump.

“What do you mean?” said I, aware that I was repeating her question of a moment gone.

The woman ran her fingers through her hair. “Like I said, there haven’t been any iron workings around here in a long time. I think it all finished around the turn of the century … the 20th century that is, not the 21st.”

Well. I couldn’t have been more stunned if she’d lamped me one with an iron bar. All this talk of 20th and 21st centuries ….and she was looking at me suspiciously like I’d crawled from under a stone. A fine one to talk she was, in her torn trousers with her middle showing. Only good manners kept me from remarking that my mother would never let me over the front doorstep in clothes that were either torn or belonging to someone a good deal smaller.

“Why do you talk of 20th and 21st centuries?” I asked with an edge to my voice. “The year is 1836, or at least that’s what it says on the calendar in our parlour.”

“Have you come from Talygarn?” she asked gently.

“Talygarn? Where’s that?” I replied.

“Never mind,” said she, somewhat evasive. “Where do you live?”

“Over by there,” I replied, casting my arm wide. “Beyond the Garndyrus forge. And where do you live?”

“Abergavenny. Park Street. Listen, I’ve got to get home shortly, can I give you a lift somewhere?”

I couldn’t see any horse or cart about, but it sounded a better bet than trudging back up the hill. And anyway I was curious to learn more about this very odd woman.

And so we set out briskly down the slope with the dog at our heels.

“My name’s Rachel,” she offered.

“And mine’s Morfydd,” I replied with a toss of my black hair. I’d give her Rachel!

Even the road looked different as we crossed it lower down. It was black and hard. The day was turning out to be a strange one, that was for sure. Then we came to a clearing I’d never seen before. In the middle was a strange, blue, shiny sort of pod with four black wheels.

Rachel held up a piece of metal and the pod made a faint ‘click’.

“Hop in,” she said with a smile. She opened one side of the pod, like the wing of a shiny beetle, and gestured that I should sit in the chair inside. Then she shut the door. My instinct was to cut and run. I felt like a butterfly captured in a jam jar. But Rachel walked round to the other side of the pod, opened the other wing and sat in the chair next to me. In front of her chair was a black wheel, the kind of thing you’d use to close a valve. She touched something and the pod emitted a dull, vibrating purr. And suddenly we moved off, backwards at first but then forwards! Terrifying, but quite exhilarating. Whee! What a day it was for the world to turn on its head.

We went at such a pace I hardly had time to notice my surroundings. I was more intent upon Rachel’s ability to operate the pod, the way she turned the wheel a little to the left and right to negotiate the corners, trod on some pedals on the floor, and constantly moved a little handle by my side.

We climbed the hill in minutes, but when we reached the top I was astounded by its bareness. Gone were the iron works, the slag heaps, the tram lines. And gone were the houses.

“Where’s your home?” asked Rachel.

More dumbstruck I couldn’t have been if shot through the chest. I struggled to speak but my throat closed over and tears rushed from my eyes. I pointed and stammered. Even the road was missing, as though blasted from existence into nothingness.

“It’s gone!” I wailed like a little dwt.

She halted the pod at the side of the road, and I scrabbled at the inside of the wing. A handle allowed me to open the wing, and I staggered out and ran across the road. Rachel shouted. I realised I’d narrowly missed being hit by another pod. It was travelling so fast I’d hardly noticed it. All I could think of was my home and my family. Our Mam, Dada, Iestyn, Edwina, baby Jethro. Where were they?

Rachel came up beside me and put her arm around my shoulders.

“I think you’d better come home with me,” she said.

There seemed little else I could do. So we got back into the pod and headed back down the hill. I couldn’t bring myself to speak, and I could tell Rachel was deep in thought.

I’d only been to Abergavenny a couple of times before, but even so I could tell it was different. Like everything else I came across on this fateful day. The roads were full of pods, some large and some small. The houses were different, and so many of them! Finally we came to a halt, and Rachel motioned for me to get out of the pod.

So this was her home. Smart as a pin. I marvelled at how rich her family must be. She opened the door and ushered me inside. It was so clean and bright! And comfortable! She sat me down in a soft chair that would have pleased none other than a princess, let alone me, Miss Morfydd Mortymer from Garndyrus. The dog, Jackson, came into the house with us and trotted off by himself as if he owned the place.

“I’ll make you a nice cup of tea,” said Rachel gently. Before she left the room she picked up a little black box from the table, and suddenly from a big box on the wall came pictures and sounds. Pictures of people, all bright, happy and laughing. I wished I could feel that way, but my home and family had disappeared and so had my heart for anything else.

Rachel reappeared almost instantly with a good, strong cup of tea. A very fancy cup, too, I might add. No saucer, mind, but good enough.

And she showed me a calendar, telling me the year was 2005. 2005! How many years had I slept on that hillside! How could it have happened? Had that wily Thomas drugged me? You heard strange things these days … but it wasn’t ‘these days’ any more. Those days were now far off in the past.

Rachel took a small, silver object from the table.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” she said with an air of mystery. I could hear her faintly in the next room. She appeared to be talking to someone.

True to her word, she was only gone a short while.

“Where is your family?” I asked, wondering why the person she had spoken to hadn’t come to meet me. If I’d brought anyone home Our Mam would have been there like a shot, curious to meet any newcomer.

“My parents live on the outskirts of town. I have one brother and he’s away at University in England. This is my house, I live here alone.”

She lives here on her own? Why, her riches must be far greater than I had initially thought! Well, for a start, the pod must have cost her a fair penny.

“Whee! Your father must be a wealthy man,” I said, looking around at the fine furnishings. “Does he own one of the mines? Rich as King Solomon he must be!”

She laughed. “No, Morfydd. My father works in an office, the mines are all closed down. And I’m just an ordinary girl. Here in the 21st Century many single girls have their own homes. And we don‘t rely on our fathers, we buy them ourselves.”

“Never! You buy houses? Where do you get that much money.” Up to something illegal, I’ll be bound. I knew her type, Miss Rachel-Butter-Wouldn’t-Melt.

“I have a good job, but I’m not what you’d call really rich. I‘ve taken out a loan over 25 years to pay for my house.”

Well, maybe she was an honest woman. Time would tell.

She showed me around the rest of her house. The kitchen was quite unbelievable, and upstairs there was a bathroom! And clean, all spotless. There were two bedrooms and another room which Rachel called ‘her office’. Such luxury I found hard to believe. I couldn’t help wondering why one person living alone needed so many empty rooms. And there was a garden out the back with no sign of a vegetable patch or fruit trees, just flowers.

Rachel ran me a lovely warm bath and filled it with bubbles. Grand, it was. I felt like new when I’d got out and rubbed myself dry on towels the size of bed sheets. I put on a robe Rachel had left for me, and then she lent me some of her clothes. A skirt, thankfully, rather than the strange torn and shrunken trousers she favoured. And a beautiful pink blouse. She dried my hair with a strange machine which blew warm air and made my hair shine blacker than Ogden’s horse. If only Our Mam could see me now, I thought, wondering sadly where she might be. The wonders of the house had taken my mind temporarily off my great loss.

Then off again we were in the pod to this strange place, the supermarket. It was a building far bigger than a barn, all clean and shiny and very well organised. So much food I had never before seen, so many things in boxes and packets, all bright colours. People walked around with large, shiny trolleys and collected what they wanted off the shelves, then formed an orderly queue to pay for their purchases. And such purchases! Rachel explained that you could buy food from all over the world. And this supermarket sold much more than just food. Clothes, books, and those strange machines full of chattering people. TV, she called it. My head was reeling with all the new things I’d had to take in. Not the least was the money, all different. Pounds and pence but no shillings.

“Now, there’s the matter of tonight,” said Rachel, serious as she steered the pod (called a ‘car’, she said) back to her home. “I’d made arrangements to go out with some of the girls. You can join us if you like. A few drinks at my place, then a couple of pubs, then we thought we’d go to that new club, Space Experience.”

I nodded and smiled. Rachel could have been speaking a foreign language for all I knew, but I was starting to relax and enjoy where this strange turn of fate was taking me. Whatever tonight held, it was sure to be interesting.

“You and your friends,” I mused. “Have none of you husbands? Do you not marry?”

Rachel laughed merrily like a brook chattering over pebbles. “Of course! People still get married, but we don’t all rush to do so. I‘m only twenty-three, I probably won‘t marry until I‘m at least thirty. Provided I meet Mr Right, of course!”

It all suddenly became clear as sunlight. Rachel could laugh and make light of the situation, but it was plain to me that she and her friends simply weren’t attractive to men. All this independence nonsense, having money and buying houses. I grinned smugly to myself. Morfydd the maneater, they called me. I might not have two ha’pennies to rub together but I never had any trouble catching a man’s eye. I’d show them how it was done!

Back at home Rachel bade me sit in the kitchen while she prepared something for us to eat. A strange concoction but filling and delicious and topped with wonderful melted cheese. Then we went to her room where she chose clothes for me to wear. I tried on a pair of her black trousers and decided I looked quite the thing with my belly on show. Rachel said I had the figure for it. And a sparkly little top like hundreds of diamonds stitched together which barely covered my modesty. And the shoes, crippling to walk in, but very elegant. Then she painted my eyes and lips with make-up, and I hardly recognised myself. Like an actress, I looked, with my painted face and fine clothes.

Rachel instructed me in what she wanted me to say to her friends. Not a word about my life in the year 1836. Not to say anything, really. Pretend I was very shy. A distant cousin who was visiting from over the valleys.

“The truth is just too complicated,” she explained. “If we start talking about your time travelling we’ll never get out of here tonight, and I think you’ll enjoy yourself, Morfydd. Then tomorrow we’ll think more about what on earth we’re going to do with you.”

I felt indignant, like she thought I had no mind of my own. But it was easier to let matters ride and make the most of the moment. For soon there was a tap at the door and the first of Rachel’s friends arrived. Two sisters, Kim and Tammy, with hair like silver-spun silk and big blue eyes. One in pink and one in black, both showing their long legs under the shortest of skirts. Underwear I had that was more modest than the clothes these girls wore in public!

Then another girl, Beth, with no hair at all!

“She shaves her head,” explained Rachel in a whisper having seen my face. “It’s fashionable.” Fashionable for getting rid of lice, more likely. These girls didn’t fool me.

Rachel had laid out little bowls of food and dimmed the lights. Then she brought out two bottles of champagne. I had heard of champagne, but never tried it. And it was wonderful, like drinking a glass of little twinkling kisses.

The last friend to arrive was Mary, a buxom figure of a woman clad in sparkling blue and showing off a cleavage low enough to make a baby cry. With curly blonde hair and come-hither eyes she reminded me of Ceinwen from Lower Farm.

Looking around I felt I was a match for any of these girls. And sorry it was I felt for any man that came within range.

Before leaving, we put the finishing touches to our beauty with more lipstick and perfume. Rachel slipped some money into my pocket without the others seeing.

Rachel had organised something she called a ‘minibus’ to provide transport for the evening. It turned out to be a large pod with at least ten seats, driven by a jovial man named Eddy.

‘Pub’ turned out to be a fancy name for a hostelry or inn. The first pub was warm and quiet, with just a few old fellows partaking of pints at the bar. Having discovered champagne I decided it would be my tipple of the evening, whereas the others moved onto things called cocktails. Nothing to do with cocks or their tails, just pretty coloured drinks, sweet tasting and sweet looking in their glasses decorated with fruits.

By the time we reached the place known as Space Experience I could feel the effects of the champagne, but I’ve never been one to let the drink go completely to my head. There were more people in this place, and loud music boomed in my ears. Difficult to hold any type of conversation it was, except of the flirtatious type conducted with the eyes. My confidence emboldened with the drink, I selected my first victim and caught his eye.

Andy, I think he said his name was. Dark hair in spikes on the top of his head which looked strange, but I noticed many of the men favoured this style. He’d certainly had a few drinks also, for he was none too steady on his feet. Perhaps too intoxicated to be bothering with. So I gave him the slip.

Stood alone at the bar was a tall man with long black hair caught at the nape of the neck. Perhaps he had come from further back in time than I? The prospect of another lost soul was attractive. All I had to do was catch his eye. Easy! And Rachel and her friends still sitting together like a mother’s meeting, not a man between them.

I felt another man close behind. “Robbo!” he called to his long-haired friend. “A glass of champagne for this fine young lady, look lively!” He whisked the empty glass out of my fingers and slapped it on the bar. ‘Robbo’ did as he was told without protest.

So then I had the two of them at my beck and call, Robbo and his fair-haired friend Alun.

Musicians, they were, wetting the whistle after having played at another pub. And fine ones for flirtation and banter they turned out to be!

Robbo said he and Alun lived at Garn-yr-erw, at the top of the mountain, so I thought I’d take my chances and get a lift home with them. Yes, I had to give it another try. I refused to believe that my own century had completely gone, that everything familiar and comforting had been pushed aside by this high-speed twenty-first century. So cracked in the head I was, so badly missing my family, that I even felt homesick for the iron works. Yes, they could keep their bathrooms and champagne. It was a good rough blanket and the frost of an early start in the morning that I yearned for.

Alun and Robbo linked my arms and led me to the minibus they had waiting outside.

Their friends hooted their approval.

“We’ve found us a singer, lads,” announced Alun. “You can sing, can’t you, love?”

“Of course, I’m a proper Welsh girl!” I retorted.

I caught a last glimpse of Rachel and Beth through the window, performing some kind of dance, packed onto a little square of floor. Sat down as if rowing a boat they were, and the girl in front almost showing her breakfast. I would have liked to say goodbye and thank Rachel for showing me kindness. I wondered for a moment how I’d get the clothes back to her, but in an instant we were off through the maze that is Abergavenny.

Jammed into the seats like birds in a nest we were, singing fit to burst. The musicians had their instruments with them but they were all packed away in their cases. So we made do without.

Only trouble was, I didn’t know any of their 21st Century songs so I didn’t get much of a chance to show off my fine voice.

I could hardly determine anything in the darkness but before long we were climbing steeply. This had to be the ascent of the Blorenge. And as the road began to flatten out a bit I prodded Alun and he called for the driver to stop.

“Why’s she want to get out here? There’s nothing for miles,” queried one of the band members.

True, there was none of the usual glow from the furnaces. But I was convinced I could see a light in the distance, and I prayed it was the Puddler’s Arms lit up for all to see. I was prepared to take my chances and try to find my way home.

I planted a kiss on Alun’s lips and he latched onto me, all beery breath and wandering hands.

“Thanks for the lift, folks. Time I was off,” I said with a cheeky grin as I slipped out of his grasp and went for the door handle. Luckily it opened, and I was out in the starlit night with not so much as a shawl to cover me. The silly little shoes Rachel had given me were useless for tramping across the heather so I cast them away and made my way barefoot. No sign of any more lights, but I hoped I’d find my way before Jack Frost caught up with me and gave me the kiss of death.

by Karenne Griffin

Last Modified on: 05-11-2015

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