THROUGH THE VORTEX
TIME LORDS OF PENERENGLYN
BOARD THE TERRACED TARDIS
My last visit is with two groups at the Penerenglyn Project, the Lilac Ladies and the women’s quilting group. Given its position at the foot of the Rhigos mountain and my predilection to labour to its summit by bike, I fear this is a practical joke and the lilac ladies are some crack aerobic class planning to whip me into a cardiac arrested heap before throwing me a hand made duvet and forcing me to spend the night on the hillside in a quilted bivouac. I should be so lucky.
The project is an architectural conjuror’s trick. From outside two cramped terraced houses, but once across its magic drawbridge and inside, it is a colourful warren of space and light, swoops and spirals that invite and never deter. Not a square inch wasted, not a minute of the day unfilled. Today, one swoop leads down to the lilac ladies and one spiral takes me up to the quilted ladies. I’ve been warned that the lilac ladies will eat me alive, an impression reinforced by the fact that I arrive during a weigh-in. My heart starts pounding as I guess the lilac ladies must be a tag wrestling team and I’ve arrived wearing Lycra leggings. As I frantically try to work out the best way to counter a flying body slam I overhear someone saying that if sex involves taking her pyjamas off she’s having none of it. This Japanese poetry is going to be fun.
And it is. Whatever they normally do, keeping fit, watching their weight or throwing each other across the room, tonight they give me their time, wit and wisdom. After an hour of laughter and reflection, rather than eating me alive they have produced a haiku perfect in its poignant simplicity and I feel as I’ve arrived not on Cannibal Island but at some oasis. I’m sure that everyone that uses the centre must feel the same too.
LISTEN TO THE CHILDREN
STOP WAR, MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY
THEY’RE DREAMING OF CHRISTMAS.
Buoyed up by this small success I bound up the spiral staircase ready to take the quilting group by storm. A dozen women, committed, focussed and firmly intent on the task in hand, confront me. They also ignore me. They’re here to quilt. I whip out my flip chart and hit them with my top drawer, wise cracking, show stopping intro. They still ignore me and continue to quilt.
Just as I’m plotting the quickest bike route to the Rhigos I spot a familiar face at the back. It’s my best friend’s mother-in-law. I was his best man and I haven’t seen his mother in law since his wedding when I regaled the reception with a speech that centred on his propensity for taking his clothes off at every inappropriate moment. The silence that greeted me was so resonant I can still hear it now. I’m wondering what little ditty she’ll come up with when I realise she’s gesticulating to me and miming what definitely appears to be a striptease. I also realise that the ladies have stopped quilting and all eyes are on me. I look down at my absurd but provocative lycra clad form and I’m in the grip of a terrible sensation. They know why I’m there. They think I’m a cycling stripogram.
When I stop pedalling I’m on the top of the mountain. Christmas lights are coming on the length of the valley, and it’s the day after bonfire night. Christmas comes early in the Rhondda. Optimism. Every place I’ve visited has been suffused with it. Optimism and generosity where you least expect to find it. Valleys Kids has tapped into and given it places to flourish. And I’ve given them a bit of Japanese. The last time anything Japanese came to the Rhondda was when their rugby team played in Penygraig thirty years ago. They were thrashed. They’ve taken a bit of a beating this time as well.
MY CHRISTMAS WISH
CYCLING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
SCARED CARS PASS AT A DISTANCE
ANTLERS ON MY HELMET
CHRISTMAS IS FOR KIDS
BRATZ STARE ME OUT, BUT BLINK FIRST
VALLEYS KIDS 1 BRATZ 0.